More Barn Than House

“When a house is completed it is such a disappointment. No rafters. No mysterious hollowed-out shadow spaces above them. And nothing to hang the hammock onto and swing–which is why we like barns and sheds and find unforgettable that house raised twelve feet in the jungle with a palm-thatch roof and only two walls, open to the forest, complete in its incompleteness. (Maybe that’s what makes a great book, being more barn than house?)”

I just finished I Swear I Saw this–Drawings in Fieldwork Notebooks, Namely My Own by Michael Taussig, in an effort to wrangle some inspiration from someone I deeply admire (and whom I have already written about) for my own fieldwork, which is fast approaching. However, I was unable to completely separate my mental categories for ‘fieldnotes’ and ‘fiction novel’, because about as much effort goes into each one. With a little mental twisting, though, Taussig’s ideas for fieldnotes absolutely apply to the creative process of plotting and writing a novel.

It’s a wonderful little book about those moments when drawing supersedes writing in your fieldnotes–moments of such high intensity beneath which an iceberg of depth lies, a world of meaning in which only a drawing–visceral, corporeal, immediate–can evoke, etching the artist into the moment as writing cannot. Taussig takes a turn towards evaluating the entire fieldwork notebook, weaving together bizarrely disparate examples and people in an enactment of the very subject of his writing–fieldnotes as the halfway products, the undersides, of chance and fate.

“Maybe that’s what makes a great book, being more barn than house?” As I read this wondering in chapter four, I underlined it, then added a star, and then a heart for good measure. Little markers to myself that I had found something truthful on page thirty-three. A novel that is too complete is boring. I have always loved best those with room for interpretation, and been struck by how, if no room is given, I (or others) will make room for interpretation–the growth of fandoms is certainly testament to that.

Completed houses are white painted walls, working plumbing, fresh tile or carpet, and price tags. Barns are lofts, hay bales, little streams running beside them, the smell of animals, a horseshoe nailed above the door. Novels begin by the exchange of a house for a barn–mundanity for adventure.

So I will keep in mind that a good novel has cracks in it. It has squeaky hinges and rickety ladders and places for ambiguity. Places to hang a hammock.

Review: The Head of the Saint

head-of-the-saint-cover

I have officially read 3 of the 5 books I swore to read in 2017.  I just finished The Head of the Saint by Socorro Acioli. I have been attempting to obtain this book for a year now, and I finally caved and bought it online. I discovered that during that year, while I ruminated on how much I wanted to read it, I unknowingly wrote the book in my head. I only realized I had this when I was confronted, within the first two chapters, that the book is nothing like I expected it to be–in an excellent way.

Our protagonist Samuel is on a mission to fulfill the last request of his dead mother–to go back to her hometown and find his father. He arrives there with less than the clothes on his back, and takes refuge in the head of a giant statue of Saint Anthony, where he discovers he can hear the prayers of women looking for love.

Acioli tells this tale in a roundabout, matter-of-fact sort of way that I haven’t run into before. The understated way the story is written masks the bizarre nature of the occurrences in this small town, so that the reader almost does not realize anything is out of the ordinary.

I enjoyed this book a lot, finishing it in an afternoon. I did feel that Samuel’s characterization was inconsistent, and all other characters were exceedingly flat. It felt at points like I was reading about a boy navigating a town of stock characters, static and predictable.

But that was not enough to put me off the novel, and I was effectively immersed in the Brazilian town of Candeia. One notable detail are the names of the characters: every one of them was charming and offbeat, especially Madeinusa, whose father mashed together the beautiful phrase ‘Made in USA’.

I’m also glad that I read the ‘about’ section, because it turns out that Acioli developed this book at a workshop led by Gabriel García Márquez, who handpicked her based on her story synopsis. WHAT.

Two Recommendations

My extended family is in town today, so I don’t have time to write a very long post–I’ll make up for it next week. My friends are doing some amazing literary things right now, so I thought I’d spread the word. Below are a blog and book recommendation.

  1. The Edwin Project: Zoe Kaplan is reviewing old science fiction stories published in magazines owned by her grandfather, circa 1950s. She is reading through the volumes and deciding which have stood the test of time, and which truly have not. Follow for 50s slang, corporeal ghosts, and mysteries of the universe.
  2. Waters of Salt and Sin: An epic new release by Alisha Klapheke, starring a sea-faring salt witch in a quest to rescue her. The author is awesome, and so is the story. High-stakes sailing, creepy sea wraiths and a unique magic system, and some killer worldbuilding lie within.

I’m off to go play Apples To Apples with my grandparents.

peace edit.jpgpeace out

 

Recalibrating

I’m over halfway through the current round of revision of The Book of the Dead, which has been going swimmingly. Until yesterday. I was in the middle of one of my favorite scenes, about to re-introduce a character, when…bam, all of the sudden I can see an arc for him that I have never contemplated.

It literally stopped me in my tracks. I had to write down the bare bones of the idea, close my laptop, and stop working to let it incubate.

On one hand, it’s fairly late in the game to be making a big change. This was supposed to be a semi-final draft (if such a thing even exists). On the other, the new trajectory that came to me in a flash solves about three problems that I’d been worrying over: one about representation, one about reception, and one about pacing.

So today, when I was supposed to be polishing up a chapter, I am about to re-structure three. We’ll see how it turns out.

Morph/eme/s

I always thought my mom was the language person in the family (in her career she has taught French, Russian, and Spanish), but it seems I’ve inherited at least some of it. I’m passable at Spanish, in love with American Sign Language, and currently brushing up on my Kichwa for my upcoming return to Ecuador.

I’ve spent a larger portion of this week that I probably should have working on creating a compiled Kichwa dictionary from a bunch of sources, for personal use. Kichwa, or Quechua, is the largest indigenous language in South America, and pretty dang fascinating,

First off, it’s only been recorded for about fifty years, meaning there’s a whole bunch of spelling variety, but it’s all correct. Secondly, there are no irregular verbs (you heard me). Thirdly, it’s an agglutinative language–so you can potentially have very long sentences in just a few huge words. Working on this dictionary has really allowed me to make sense of some morphemes, which is very helpful when learning the language. As my friend says, if you know the little chunks of a language, even if you don’t grasp everything in a sentence you can start to understand a little.

For example:

  • iyai: idea, thought
  • iyana: to think
  • iyarina: to remember
  • iyachina: to remind
  • iyashalla: thoughtfully
  • iyayuj: intelligent

So I might not get it all if a Kichwa speaker says something complex, but if hear ‘iya’ in there, I can at least take an educated guess. Pretty heckin’ awesome.

Dodging Doubt

It’s that time again, when I depart from my mountaintop university, drive six hours, and end up back home in an existential crisis. It comes from lack of structure.

How will I attempt to abate this? Writing, of course!

I plan to knock out a final-ish draft of The Book of the Dead in the next month and a half before I leave for Ecuador so I can hit the ground querying when I get back. My goal is at least half a chapter a day, using the process I detailed in this post. I’m fighting a lot of doubt right now over just about every aspect of the story, so hopefully total immersion in it will belay that.

I found a quote on tumblr that I will be referencing when I feel  this way: “when u dont like ur art take a deep breath and remember u created it from nothing, like a god” —hypeswap

I think this can apply just as well to writing. Nothing like a power trip to chase away hesitation. I’d love to hear others’ ways of coping with doubt.

 

Published!!!

Way back in January I made some New Years Writing Resolutions, and no.3 was “Submit a short story to my school’s literary magazine.” Well, folks, I submitted one, and I was accepted! The release party was last night, and you can now find my short story “Cake” right here, in the 2016-17 version of The Peel, a very cool literary magazine.

I was asked to read the story at the release party, which I did, and I didn’t throw up, mess up, or start laughing uncontrollably into the microphone. The crowd was the kind that snaps when they like a line. It was an incredible experience, and the implications haven’t quite sunk in. I’m a person who’s been published. A published person. P U B L I S H E D.

The story is about a cake (surprised?) and only a page and a half long. It was actually a writing prompt I did last year and buffed up to submit on the last night of the deadline, which goes to show–well, I’m not sure what, but it goes to show something.

And after that brief celebration, it’s back to the despair of exam week. Good luck to any fellow students out there!

cake edit

Image 1: An attempt at a context-based visual pun