Over the last year or so I am finding I have more and more unread or half finished books on my desk and shelf. I think that has to do with an issue of focus and depression. And I have revision tasks I’ve put off and off for far too long as well. My Monte Stories manuscript I am now calling simply Carlos Montoya I’ve yet to get back to in a more meaningful way. And this is distressing because I’ve always prided myself on my work ethic. Maybe in the past I have had a way of focusing on work and distracting myself from family, personal and work issues.
So what are my excuses? The year has been stressful and I chalk it up to grieving personal losses. I blame my lack of discipline and my own loss of a literary way. I don’t stick to schedules of reading and writing I make for myself. I devote most of my time to teaching and grading–prepping for classroom lectures. So balancing family issues and work have gotten the best of me. I have blogged quite a bit on this site about the need for the writer to balance writing and teaching and obviously I have put teaching first and the writing has fallen by the wayside unfortunately.
So what to do about it? Well I did happen to get my stuff together in terms of applying for a sabbatical from my school. So I do have the time in the near future to focus on my writing and my revision. And now I want to get on track by focusing on a lists of books and a goal of reading. My thought this last weekend was to to do something I’ve wanted to do for a while–reading more of Donald Barthelme’s suggested books from his syllabus. There are 82 books listed on here and hopefully I can get back on track by devoting more time to read these 82 selections or as many of these 82 as I can.
Can I stick to it?
I’ve been listening to One Hundred Years of Solitude as an audiobook and watching this documentary on Marquez’ life and work. I’m still taken by the idea of a large story following several generations–seven generations I think and I’m taken by the idea he was influenced by his Grandparent’s stories where local stories, fantastic details and family legends mix together. I also love how the doc is unapolegetically in Spanish.
Put together a quick listing of song titles I think work with each chapter of my book. Saw a few other writers I admire do this and so I thought I would try. More and more I like the idea of a movie-style book soundtrack. And I am finding this a fascinating exercise. Many of these titles are songs I listened to while drafting and revising and many I found recently as many of the characters and chapters refer to films and or songs in dialogue.
Ch 1 Animales has a very strong Los Lobos influence because I admire them so much. This is a bluegrass tribute I find beautiful:
Ch 2 Relles’ Boy and Ch 3 Little Mocos were both heavily influenced by Good Morning Azlan. I listened to this album nearly consistently for weeks as I drafted and re-drafted these early chapters.
Ch 4 Cornbread is all about the notorious criminal though I chose a upbeat track–maybe because I have so much sympathy or empathy with his character. Also the narrator has so much joy and love in learning about the man. Also the track is very quick and the chapter was meant to be this way–quick and elliptical–bopping from sad and funny story to sad and funny story.
Ch 5 Birthdays introduces the old folks or the grandparent characters back in their day–someone mentions Wheel of Fortune at the birthday–las dias–and the band I imagine would play this during the festivities. Also the family at the party sing together as I remember the old folks doing and I imagine them singing “de colores”:
Ch 6 Bear and Peaches is about a husband and wife feuding so the Hank Williams track is something the old folks might’ve listened to on the radio. I was actually amazed how popular Hank Williams was with the old folks:
Ch 8 Dogtrack is about the uncle who is a bad influence on his crew of boys and so I like that Emeterio might be listening to Al Hurricane on the truckito radio traveling out to the dog track:
Ch 7 and and Ch 9 are war stories essentially and the boys ask if the experience were similar to The Longest Day. This is a film I remember watching as a kid and thinking this was what military service was though the stories in the book contrast the film.
Ch 10 belongs to the crew of boys and so the child version of Las Mananitas seemed appropriate:
Ch 11 follows Emeterio’s downfall and he mentions drinking and partying as the fruits of his labor:
Ch 12 This feud between brothers ends with Emeterio going to jail and the other Santiago left alone to deal with family and bills. It also ends with a street fight and so this War track seemed appropriate.
Summer is for reading. And I have quite a few books stacked next to my bed. I used to worry about having too many books hanging around and felt bad if I couldn’t finish them all. I’ve since changed that thought. The more books the better.
Here are a few of the books I am working through:
Starting listening to this book on tape at the gym after watching the film trailer on Youtube. I like Ridley Scott and love science fiction. The book reads almost like science writing or nonfiction. Reminds me of Arthur C Clark’s 2001 series. Each section/chapter is a new problem for the protagonist to science his way out of. Also the story of Weir self-publishing the book and then becoming published by a major press is almost as interesting as the book.
This one is by Charles L. Adams who taught a course for years on the work of Frank Waters. I loved seeing very early short stories and passages from Waters’ more obscure books. Waters is a writer I’ve admired for years because his work is primarily set in New Mexico and Colorado and I admire the themes of the individual struggling for harmony within surroundings. PS: Found it at Myopic Books in Chicago.
Chameleo is the second book I’ve read from Robert Guffey. I read his book on conspiracy theory as art and found the work to be fascinating. I like conspiracies. This one feels Phillip K. Dick inspired. PS: Ordered this one from Guffey’s Cryptoscatology blog.
The year before last I read quite a few of Luis Alberto Urrea’s nonfiction and last year I finished the the Saint of Cabora and then the Queen of America. This summer I am enjoying Urrea’s border world similar to those of his historical fiction and his creative nonfiction. Also found this one at Myopic books.
I’ve been anticipating this graphic novel sequel to the popular novel. The artwork by Cameron Stewart is gritty and beautiful and the writing actually has surprised me. Set seven years following events of Fight Club Tyler Durden is very much alive and continues to create chaos. Actually he’s more of a villain than the alter-ego. I was also surprised to find Palahniuk himself within the pages of the first issue. And I am enjoying the book though I’ve read a few negative reviews–here for example. Found this one at Escape Velocity Comic Books in Colorado Springs.
The House of Order–stories, the first collection of composite stories by John Paul Jaramillo, presents a stark vision of American childhood and family, set in Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico.
In the article “10 Famous Writers Who Hated Writing” from The Huffington Post, Bill Cotter discusses his “dark feelings” regarding what he labels as “the commission of the act of writing.” He lists quotes from famous authors revealing their angst on the very act of writing and he also discusses the problem of his own inarticulateness. And I must agree when Cotter jokes he would rather go to the emergency room rather than have a writing commitment.
And the more I teach the more I empathize with my first year students and concerns over writing and composing essays. I often say their concerns as writers are very similar to my own. Even in creative writing, my chosen field of study, I feel students have a point when they complain over drafting basic components of a short story assignment. I am just as susceptible to internet distractions and slothful tendencies. And I often dread approaching the work of revision.
Currently, I have a novel I’ve been wrestling with. I also have a novel I’ve been chipping away at for years. And perhaps the more you know about writing the more you are jammed up. The more I teach and learn the more I am self-critical and also I over-think the simplest of revision exercises. And maybe I am just reaching the age of worry over my talent if I have any and the limitations of talent. Perhaps subconsciously I worry about not fully developing as a writer. More and more I have broad stories with broad notes–more free writing really. And I struggle just to get my broadest thoughts down on the page regarding scenes or characters. Sometimes I just type where I want a character to go or what I want them to do and I have no way to get them there. I often say that writers suffer more from inarticulateness than most others. Lately I’ve been joking I would rather work with dogs or own a bed and breakfast than sit and work. I’d rather sit and watch MST3K.
This all reminds me of a George Orwell quote:
“All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery. Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”–George Orwell
Perhaps the difficulty of writing–the illness in composing and revising–is what makes it great. PS: It took me hours to write this.
This film is from 2009 and from director Bobcat Goldthwait. I missed it because of a limited release. I most admired Robin Williams playing a frustrated writer and teacher in this dark comedy. Love the scenes in poetry class.
“I used to think the worst thing in life was ending up alone, it’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel alone.”
Based on the surrealist novel by Michel Faber, the film adaptation was much different than the book. I admired director Jonathon Glazer’s experimental style and how images drove the story instead of plot or dialogue.
What does a scanner see? Into the head? Down into the heart? Does it see into me, into us? Clearly or darkly? I hope it sees clearly, because I can’t any longer see into myself. I see only murk. I hope for everyone’s sake the scanners do better. Because if the scanner sees only darkly, the way I do, then I’m cursed and cursed again. I’ll only wind up dead this way, knowing very little, and getting that little fragment wrong too.
And Richard Linklater’s film adaptation visualizes Dick’s themes of shifting realities–internal and external–and also shifting identities so perfectly in its animation. It’s funny how today we are reading post-modern novels with shifting narration, and Dick’s work was seen as genre and a lesser form of novel writing back in the sixties and seventies. I’m looking forward to tracking down his so-called “straight” novels.
The first time I heard Thug Notes I found it very funny and engaging. I played it for my Lit 111 students. We liked the break down in a less elite language. And I love to see books and ideas from books featured in so called new media. I wonder though if this quick summary of books perhaps might be what Bradbury was warning us about? Will quick summaries like this or another quick summary like SparkNotes take the place of reading?
Now I’m thinking I’d rather see videos like this on from The Pen Pixie:
A few years back I made a joke to D about teaching and writing. I told her I was deciding to be a bad teacher and to focus on my writing. I told her I would be selfish. I would put my class work on cruise control. This was difficult to do because I feel such a responsibility to my students and I spend so much time note taking and creating lessons and lectures. It didn’t help that Sergio Troncoso inspired me with the care and attention to his students I witnessed in his workshop. Resolution: This year I will try to devote more time to the work. I always say my teaching is investigating story and writing, but I recognize I need to work harder on revising manuscripts rather than generating new material. Update: currently the Semi-Orphaned novel in stories manuscript is away at the editor and I am anticipating a mass of notes for revision. Actually I’m waiting for Jennifer C. Cornell to kick my ass. She was incredibly helpful with what became The House of Order manuscript. I’m slowly and surely starting to understand the importance of an experienced and assertive editor. And her notes are the most rigorous and detailed I’ve seen from an editor. Invaluable for the work. I’d also like to complete the Monte Stories manuscript later on this year. That is another manuscript–possibly another novel in stories–I know needs much work and development. This should be an interesting year of struggling for balance.