Posts

Writing Emotion: The Craft of H IS FOR HAWK, by Helen Macdonald

Image
Today in my craft post, I'm going to talk about a straightforward skill… while referencing a book that's wonderfully un-straightforward.

H Is for Hawk is a memoir by Helen Macdonald that weaves together several threads, the three biggest of which are: her experience of training a northern goshawk; her analysis of T. H. White's memoir about training a northern goshawk; and her grief following the death of her father. In terms of balance and weaving, it's beautifully done. In terms of psychological insight, it feels searingly true. And in terms of the expression of emotion, it's stunning.

It's also an uncomfortable book at times, in ways that recommend it. And it's a fascinating memoir for a fiction writer to read while thinking about how to write character. H Is for Hawk left me with a lot of questions, for the book and for myself.

If you just want the straightforward writing lesson, which is on the topic of writing emotion, jump ahead to the *** below. If …

To the Student Stuck in a Toxic Home during the Pandemic

Image
A number of friends and mental health professionals helped me with this post. You know who you are. Thank you.

To the student for whom school is a safer place, but now you’re stuck at home in a toxic environment during the pandemic,

I see you. You’re not invisible. In fact, a lot of people see you and are thinking about you. I can’t tell you how many of my friends and colleagues have brought you up in the past few months, and expressed worry for what you're going through. Hang in there.

When schools started sending students home in March and April, I thought of you immediately. I waited with you to see if schools might open again in a few weeks, but of course that didn't happen. I waited with you hoping this country would get its shit together and start prioritizing realistic approaches to containing the pandemic, so that you'd be able to go back to school in the fall. And now it's clear that many of you won't be able to do that. It's also possible that those …

A Book Is a Story — But Which Story Is It?: The Craft of THE CHANGELING, by Victor LaValle

Image
Before I start talking about Victor LaValle's beautiful book, a point of housekeeping: Now that an eon has passed, I've finally updated my praise and awards page for Jane, Unlimited. I have a bad habit of never getting around to this task until it's time to start clearing things out for the new book. The nice thing about it is that I get to revisit a book that's dear to me, years after I've stopped thinking about it. Jane is a book that divides readers for sure. I want to thank everyone who got that book and took it into your hearts and brains. If you don't know about Jane, Unlimited, here's a quick intro: An orphan named Jane arrives at an island mansion owned by a friend, then quickly starts to get the sense that strange things are afoot there. At a certain point, when Jane needs to make a decision, the book breaks off into five different decisions she could make — and each decision takes her into an adventure in a different genre. There's a mystery …

Checking in Again — Plus, Cognitive Dissonance and Restorative Justice

Image
Hi there everyone.

This is such a challenging time.

Every day we're having to sit and watch in disbelief as people lie to our faces about COVID-19, how bad things are, and what to do about it. We watch in disbelief as nonviolent protesters are arrested and accused of violence — while the police use tear gas, rubber bullets, pepper spray, and batons against them. We watch in disbelief as white women pull guns on Black people after saying the actual words, "White people aren't racist… No one is racist." Our president lies so often, so willfully, childishly, self-centeredly, and so without compunction that FactCheck.org, a nonpartisan advocate for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics, has a Donald Trump archive that is 107 pages long. And now I read that we've started executing federal prisoners again — despite what we all know about how flawed our criminal justice system is.

It can be hard to keep on top of how awful eve…

A Book Is a Web: The Craft of MONDAY'S NOT COMING, by Tiffany D. Jackson

Image
I've decided to write some essays on the craft of fiction writing, each focusing on a particular and specific skill, and each referring to a stupendous book that serves as an example of that skill. That way, I get to dive into some nitty-gritty craft topics while also recommending good books.

This post contains some spoilers — though not the biggest spoilers! — for Monday's Not Coming, by Tiffany D. Jackson.

***
Today I want to talk about a particular writing skill that, when done well, is often invisible to the reader who isn't looking for it. That's because it's a skill that prevents the reader from being pulled out of the book. It's a little hard to sum up in a few words, which is why I plan to write several paragraphs about it :o), but my first attempt at summing it up is this: in a masterful book, most building blocks — most aspects of character, most events, most settings, most every single thing that matters — serve multiple narrative purposes at once.

Y…

Messy Writing, Mean Cowbirds, and More

Image
Hey there everybody. Here's a little bit of pandemic distraction for your day. If you're not interested in messy writing or mean cowbirds, skip to the end for a beautiful piece of interdisciplinary art from Juilliard!

First, I have a project (of questionable success) to share. I'm a left-hander who spends a gigantic proportion of my time writing by hand. In the past few years, as I grow older, the toll on my body grows worse. Arm pain! Hand pain! Shoulder pain!

In hopes of giving my left side a break now and then, I'm finally doing something I've meant to do for a long time: teaching myself to write right-handed. I did a little research online, I watched a couple videos (because right-handers hold their pens VERY differently from left-handers!), and then I commenced muddling through.


Every day, with my right hand, I print one entire page of writing on the topic of whatever crap is in my head, using both pen and pencil.

Then I do a page of doodles, based on a penman…

On Coping

Image
Hi again, everyone. This is really hard, isn't it?

First, I want to plug two services that are working harder than ever right now to save independent bookstores felled by the pandemic. As an alternative to Audible (which is owned by Amazon), please, please consider buying audiobooks from Libro.fm. And as an alternative to Amazon for hard copies of books, please, please check out Bookshop.

So, on the topic of coping. I thought I might describe what my days are like right now, the challenges that arise for me, and how I've been trying to meet them. As it happens, I have some special qualifications for meeting some of our current emotional challenges... because I've spent the last 25+ years living with and recovering from PTSD, which means that I have a lot of tools and perspectives that are helpful in traumatic times. All around us today, people are experiencing not just physical but emotional anguish that may be traumatic, whether directly from COVID-19 or from the ef…