By Leslie Lindsay
A curated newsletter on the literary life, featuring ‘4 questions,’ reading & listening recommendations, where to submit, more
Leslie Lindsay|Always with a Book
~MUSINGS & MEANDERINGS~
Happy May, y’all!
Can I give you a little advice?
Writing Tips From Famous Fiction Authors:
“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”
“The first draft of everything is shit.”
“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time—or the tools—to write. Simple as that.”
“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”
“Prose is architecture, not interior decoration.”
“Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.”
“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”
“Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that-but you are the only you.”
Which quotes resonate with you? What might you add? Are there any here you disagree with?
Respond here in a comment, or find me on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.
~Leslie : )
This issue of Musings & Meanderings is jam-packed with some really great stuff to get your [writing and reading] year off on the right foot. Coaching, book recommendations, journals to submit to, reading recommendations, author interviews, recently published prose, and a quick 4 questions insights interview with Ann Putnam on her novel, I WILL LEAVE YOU NEVER (SWP, May 9 2023)
By the way, I do not get any ‘kick-backs’ or other kind of payment (in-kind, or otherwise) for mentioning these classes/workshops/books/individuals. Sharing because if helps me, maybe it’ll speak to you, too.
Some Writerly Things:
- Writing the hard things. Aren’t they all!? This one-time workshop offering might be what you’re looking for. Taught by Suzanne Roberts, author of Animal Bodies, and offered through Lafayette Writer’s Studio, it’s about silence, shame, and more. August 17 from 7-9pm.
- Here’s another one-time offering from Tin House, featuring Diana Khoi Nguyen and my new favorite style of hybrid writing: image + text. This is a two-hour virtual workshop with writing prompts. Check it out.
- I’m a little bummed that Jellyfish Review is now…closed <gasp!>. After seven years. Check out their final letter from the editor.
- Writing and Rushing? Does that ring a bell? The faster your write, the sooner, you get published!? Or something like that? Not so fast. Debut author Richard Mirabello (BROTHER AND SISTER ENTER THE FOREST, out now from Catapult) tackles this and more in his Memoir Monday The Lit Lab essay. Along those lines, you might also a previous Musings & Meanderings post on a similar writerly topic.
- Have you read Ann Napolitano’s HELLO BEAUTIFUL (Dial Press/PRH, March 14 2023) yet? Pretty great. Here, she answers a few questions about writer’s block, feeling like an imposter, her love for basketball, etc. for LitHub.
- This concept of writing and anthropology really appeals to me. Fieldwork, interviews, sensory impressions, and more are all pieces of the writing puzzle. Check out this class/workshop offered by Writing Workshops and led by Dr. Elise Chatelain. Meets virtually, starting May 10
New! Featured Author|Insights
I WILL LEAVE YOU NEVER
“Ominous and original, Ann Putnam’s novel is characteristically lyrical and precise. It is at its heart a love story, where characters facing loss uncover the generative quality of love.”
–Beth Kalikoff, author of Dying for a Blue Plate Special
Without responding in complete sentences, what would you say I WILL LEAVE YOU NEVER (May 9) is about?
How to live in joy, not fear, when the sky is falling.
Where did you write I WILL LEAVE YOU NEVER? Do you have any special writing routines or rituals? Do they change with each project, or remain constant over time?
I began it in the car, on the drive home from Glacier National Park, where we’d taken the children, not knowing a grizzly bear had just killed 3 people. That experience wound up as a short story, called “Zoe’s Bear,” but the novel that came out of it had no bear in it at all. It became one story, then another, then another, my constant companion over the miles and years. Still, it had mortality in it in various forms, both strange and familiar. I wrote it at my desk at home, on planes, in emergency rooms, doctor’s offices, PTA meetings, gymnastic and track meets, traffic lights.
Do you have any special writing routines or rituals? Do they change with each project, or remain constant over time?
Don’t we always want to know how a work came into the world? What’s the magic trick? Maybe with some incense, chants, a candle lit, a shaman or two? Nah. I pretty much always begin unceremoniously, with a little notebook or a spiral set of 3×5 cards where I write words and phrases up and down, and all around. Anything too linear and I frighten myself to death. Little whirls and spins of words and phrases scattered over a little piece of paper and I’m braver than I ever thought I could be. Then I do a cluster. I put a trigger word in the center of a circle and draw spokes of words coming from them and then other words coming from other spokes, not knowing how any of it fits together. But it’s the only way I can start without terrifying myself. The idea of starting a novel, holy moly! I couldn’t do that. I can only write these little snippets of images/words here and there. But when I find myself writing a phrase or word on my wrist, or my car registration or cereal box or in the margins of a book I’m reading because I can’t find paper fast enough, I know I’ve plunged headfirst into the stream.
And then comes the music. At first a mood—then a theme for each character, drawing mainly upon movie soundtracks. Sweeping, dark, poignant music floating in my head and heart completely divested of the movie from which it came, is my muse. The English Patient, The Ghost Writer, Million Dollar Baby, The Hours, E.T. to name a few. And that sends me spinning into free-writing, which often begins with: “I have no idea what I’m doing” until, suddenly, I do, and find I’m not free-writing anymore, but I’m in story, and then in a working rough draft. It’s that draft I spend months, maybe years revising: cutting, polishing, deepening.
Only once have I ever outlined a work and that’s in the current project. I have a whiteboard in my office, where I’ve outlined the first working draft to see where I’m going, where I’ve been. But I haven’t touched it since. Still, it’s a comfort to see all those words lined up so nice and tidy, and behaving themselves. All this is to say that the dance I do every time is with fear and trembling when writing is supposed to be hang gliding over the Grand Canyon. Absolutely fearless. Yet this is my writing life, for better or worse, and the way I have lived it.
“Ann Putnam’s I Will Leave You Never is a heartbreaking, gracefully rendered story of the quiet moments between and around the devastating ones and of the beautiful inner workings of the heart and minds battling their way along life’s toughest roads.”
–Laurie Frankel, New York Times best-selling author of This is How It Always Is and One Two Three
If you weren’t writing, you would be…
If I weren’t writing, I’d be sad, bereft, and things would not be right with the world, or with me. But let’s imagine I’m not writing, but sitting at a Paris café, maybe, Les Deux Magot, where Hemingway wrote, and drinking a cappuccino as I watch folks go by and I’m thinking how nice it is to just sit here as long as I want. Then my mind gets busy, and I begin thinking of Hemingway and what book I’ll choose for my next class at the maximum-security women’s prison where I sometimes teach. I’m thinking of the coiled razor wire they’ve recently installed and wondering if I’ll have my claustrophobia at bay in time. I stretch my arms to the sky and feel as lucky as can be to be here under this azure, Paris sky. And I know I must write about this and can’t wait another second to begin. But for the grace of God, as the saying goes. For Whom the Bell Tolls. That’ what I’ll teach.
“Never [seek] to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.”
What book did you recently read that you can’t stop thinking about?
Descent by Tim Johnston. A family goes on holiday at the foot of the Colorado Rockies. The son and daughter go up a trail jogging and biking and only the son comes back. The book is so exquisitely written, so full of human drama and tragedy and finally a joy that comes at great cost. It’s probably too long, but I’ve read it three times just for the gorgeous language. Things like this really do happen to people. And Tim Johnston caught what happens to a family when they do.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Ann Putnam is an internationally known Hemingway scholar who has made more than six trips to Cuba as part of the Ernest Hemingway International Colloquium. Her forthcoming novel, Cuban Quartermoon (June 2022), came, in part, from those trips, as well as a residency at Hedgebrook Writer’s Colony. She has published the memoir Full Moon at Noontide: A Daughter’s Last Goodbye (University of Iowa Press) and short stories in Nine by Three: Stories (Collins Press), among others. She holds a PhD from the University of Washington and has taught creative writing, gender studies, and American literature for many years. She has bred Alaskan Malamutes, which appear prominently in I Will Leave You Never. She currently lives in Gig Harbor, Washington.
For more information, to purchase a copy of I WILL LEAVE YOU NEVER
You can connect on Instagram HERE.
Browse my Bookshop.org see what I’m reading in 2023, and other titles featured on Insights|Musings & Meanderings …and more!
Some Recently Published Interviews, Prose, Etc.:
- This piece, MODEL HOME: A Study Under Compression, in On the Seawall, is something I am so proud of. It was conceived in a craft store when I wandered down the model train aisle. At home, I already had the moss and tiny house and vials. I wanted to depict something with words and photography that would spotlight my family falling into disarray…my mother’s mental illness, the ‘perfect’ home, the family divided. This was my answer. It’s my first text + image publication. Here’s a sampling:
- I am bowled over by the reception my poem, CREVASSE, received by Luke Johnson in the Spring 2023 issue of Ballast. Check out our dialogue about one another’s work HERE. Also, that landing page! Swooning.
- You can find some of my other poetry at Empyrean Literary Journal. This piece was conceived in a workshop at StoryStudio Chicago in which the prompt was to combine two totally different things with one’s childhood street. I chose my grandfather’s profession as stained-glass artist and the year 1989. The resulting piece is COLLAPSE.
- Thrilled to have this byline in LitHub! Here, I chat with 82-year-old poet Pattiann Rogers about her new collection, THE FLICKERING (Penguin Poets, April 2023).
- Y’all, I am super-excited about this illustrated review in DIAGRAM, which has sorta been like a dream place of mine to get work published. It’s a beautiful melding of all things that bring me joy: fonts, words, ideas, art, books, and the human body. I mean…the only obsessions missing for me is architecture, travel, nature, and basset hounds. Check it out and the book, YOUR HEARTS, YOUR SCARS: Essays by the late Adina Talve-Goodman (Bellevue Literary Press, Jan 24 2023), which happens to be a Powell’s pick for January.
- Hippocampus Magazine…Juliet Patterson’s SINKHOLE: A Natural History of a Suicide (Milkweed, September 2022).
- Kathryn Gahl in conversation with me about her poetic memoir, THE YELLOW TOOTHBRUSH (Two Shrews Press, September 2022), about her incarcerated daughter, perinatal mood disorder, more in MER, November 28, 2022.
- Sarah Fawn Montgomery’s HALFWAY FROM HOME (Split/Lip Press, Nov 8) in Hippocampus Magazine, about her working-class unconventional childhood in California, moving across the country to pursue writing, home, displacement, and so much more November 13, 2022.
- Prose in SEPIA Journal Oct/Nov 2022 issue. Interiors is about an Appalachian family, black bottom pie, trains, and ear aches. It was inspired by my own family lore, and also: this journal is STUNNING!
- An interview with Lauren Acampora about the pursuit of art, the suburbs, growth and stagnation, more as related to her highly anticipated novel, THE HUNDRED WATERS, in The Millions
- A review-in-dialogue with Kristine Langley Mahler about her debut, CURING SEASON: Artifacts, in Brevity. We unpack home, displacement, found forms, more.
- An essay about an experience at a workshop/retreat, featuring design/architecture, and how we are all works-in-progress, in The Smart Set.
- Speaking of Apraxia: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech, 2nd edition (Woodbine House, 2021) through some online retailers, your local library, used bookstores (it’s now officially out-of-print), and the audio edition is downloadable (with additional PDFs, resources) through Penguin Random House.
There’s more to this newsletter. Keep scrolling.
What’s Obsessing Me:
- Jane Friedman recently brought this search engine to my attention and I am obsessed–ddmm is all about stock images for whatever your heart desires. You can filter to show results for creative commons only. I searched up ‘floor plans,’ and was instantly drooling.
- Along those lines, I have started thinking about a playlist for my WIP. Many writers do this to get in the writing mood/mindset, and while that might work for you, I’m using it as an accompaniment for the book itself, sort of a multi-sensory read. Check out the Natural Language Playlist, which is an AI-generated mixtape concept you can download right to your Spotify account. Pretty slick!
- Renee Gladman has been a writer/artist I’ve only recently discovered (maybe within the last two years), and I really love what she’s doing by blending drawing with writing. Makes sense, right? This interview with Fred Moten through the Paula Cooper Gallery is really fascinating. And also, the shop–lots of great books, posters, more. Like, I really have to hold myself back!
- I love, love this (newish-to-me) concept of visual narrative. For someone who loves art as much as a words, it’s perfect. Check out this visual review from Gabrielle Bates.
- Kinda digging this poetry chapbook, GALAXY by Rachel Thompson from Anvil Press. It’s an oldie (2011), but goody! Check out that cover…swooning.
You are reading Musings & Meanderings, a consistently inconsistent weekly newsletter about the literary life from Leslie Lindsay, and home of an archive of bestselling and debut author interviews. I’m also on twitter and instagram. I try to answer comments as best I can. Feel free to find my book suggestions on bookshop.org, and also check out the authors I’ve hosted in in-depth interviews HERE.
In the meantime, catch me on:
Reviewing books and talking about them with others on-line and in-person is one small way to engage with & support the literary community.
Thank you for letting me guide you on your bookish journey.
Let’s walk this bookish path together.
Some of you have been reading my reviews, interviews, and meanderings for more than a decade now. That’s huge and I am so humbled. Thanks for being here.
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Wishing you much renewal & sunshine
Created by Leslie Lindsay. I’m a proud book nerd. Connect with me on Instagram, and Twitter. See what I’m reading on Bookshop.org. Find my reviews on GoodReads. I’m also a Zibby Books Ambassador.
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