In my latest Theme: A Story’s Soul post at DIY MFA, I dive into a literary theme that’s difficult for writers to explore and painful for characters (and people in real life) to experience. Isolation isn’t the same as sequestering yourself during an illness or retreating somewhere to meditate. Rather, it’s a state of aloneness in which, because of your location or emotional state, you feel cut off from others. And when a story effectively illustrates isolation as a literary theme despite its challenges, it can offer intriguing insights about setting, relationships, and the human spirit.
Last year I read Sage Cohen’s Fierce on the Page, a collection of essays that encourages writers to transform their attitudes and habits so that they can unleash their creativity, overcome fears, and define success on their own terms – all ways in which they can practice ferocity in their craft. One of my favorite essays from the book is Chapter 14, “Build a Cathedral,” which Cohen begins with this allegory:
… [A] traveler in medieval times comes upon a stonemason at work. He asks, “What are you doing?” The man looks weary and unhappy. He responds, “Can’t you see I am cutting and laying down stone? My back is killing me, and I can’t wait to stop.”
The traveler continues on his way and comes upon a second stonemason. “What are you doing?” he asks. “I’m building a wall,” says the stonemason. “I’m grateful to have this work so I can support my family.”
As the traveler walks on, he encounters a third stonemason who seems to be doing exactly the same work as the previous two. He asks the man, “What are you doing?” The man stands up straight. His face is radiant. He looks up at the sky and spreads his arms wide. “I am building a cathedral,” he answers.
Wow. It’s such a simple tale, but the shift it made in my perception of my writing was like feeling the earth move under my feet.
How about a fun post today? As much as I’m grateful for writing last week’s tribute to the late Ursula K. Le Guin, I feel the need to do something lighter this week. Oddly enough, I know which topic to choose. Three of my book-blogger friends (Mogsy @ Bibliosanctum, Nandini @ Unputdownable Books, and Zezee @ Zezee With Books) recently posted Top Ten Tuesday posts featuring ten books that have been in their TBR piles for a while. I enjoyed reading their lists so much that I decided to do my own – and go figure, I came up with twelve books instead. 😉
So, in alphabetical order, here are the twelve books that have been waiting longest for me to read them. Let’s start with…
In early January, I was at a local bookstore when I came across Ursula K. Le Guin’s most recent book, No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters. This collection shows Le Guin, who excelled at writing a wide range of literature (fantasy, science fiction, children’s stories, essays, poetry), exploring yet another form of writing: blogging. Yes, No Time to Spare is a collection of blog posts, in which Le Guin shares her thoughts on family, the publishing industry, society and the world at large – and, perhaps most notably, aging. And I knew, just from holding the small blue hardcover and perusing the pages within, that it would be different from any UKLG book I’d read before.
Yet there was no question in my mind that I’d buy it. Because, after all, it’s Ursula K. Le Guin, my favorite writer ever. I’ve loved everything I’ve read from her in the past, and the thought of bringing No Time to Spare home was like opening my inner circle to a new friend whom I felt I’d known forever.
How fitting that this book, where Le Guin was contemplating the final frontier of life, was the last one she published, and the last one I bought by her, before she passed away.
Today I’m over at Writers Helping Writers to share a recent writing-related experiment: I created a map for an important location in my manuscript’s setting. It turned out to be a fun exercise that exercised a different part of my creativity – and best of all, it was immensely useful for the story I’m working on. So what are some the benefits of mapping your story’s setting? How do you go about creating your own setting map? Find out at the link below. Plus, there might be a photo of the map I drew. 😮 Continue reading
When I noticed my next DIY MFA post was scheduled for the week of Valentine’s Day, I decided it was time for a case study on an appropriate and timeless theme: Love. If you think about it, though, love is one of the most frequently discussed and deeply profound themes in literature. Plus, the most compelling thematic explorations of love touch on romantic love as well as love of other forms (kindness, compassion) and in other types of relationships (friendship, family). This is the case with the two example novels in today’s Theme: A Story’s Soul post, and I hope you *love* the end result (or, at least find it informative). 😉
Do you listen to music while you write? Has a specific song or music artist ever influenced one of your stories, poems, etc.? This has happened with a number of my published poems. Thus, Poetry & Song is a limited-run series where I share one of my published poems and the song that “helped me write” it. I also offer insights into why I chose that particular piece of music, as well as any other inspirations for the poem.
With the past two Poetry & Song posts, I’ve realized – or, rather, remembered – how personal some of my sources of inspiration have been. Today’s is no different. A few times while writing this post, I felt… well, uncomfortable, but not in a negative way. It wasn’t so much the idea of sharing the story behind this poem, since other people in real life already know it. Rather, it was the act of revisiting that inspiration, and reliving the warring emotions tied to it, that made a heart-wrenching situation from the past fresh again.
So, yes, “At A Loss” isn’t a happy poem. Neither is the song that helped me write it. But what makes this Poetry & Song combination unique is that, together, they provided some much-needed insight on an unraveling friendship. If it makes any sense, this post chronicles the first time I learned an important life lesson from my own poetry.
I’m sort of glad now that I decreased my blogging schedule again. Because January was a blur, and not a fun kind of blur. I was buried with work at my day job for most of the month, which cramped my free time to a minimum and zapped my blogging time to… well, zero. But some good things happened in January, too, and I can’t forget or discount any of that goodness.
That’s why I’m grateful for this series. What’s Making Me Happy reminds me of the highlights, fun events, and other recent joys – and after a month that drags you down in some ways, it’s a nourishing perspective to have. This month’s Happy post is twice as delightful, too: I’m covering both December and January, with three joys from each month. And with my slower blogging schedule, this bimonthly format might be the way to go from now on. What do you think?
Let’s start with…
Isn’t it fun to look back on the books you’ve read in the past year? I always enjoy doing this, though I also prefer to wait until January to share my lists of favorites. Somehow the books I read around Christmas and New Year’s have a habit of shaking up those lists – and that certainly was the case again!
Out of the 56 fiction books I read in 2017, I’ve narrowed my favorites down to a top 10 of brand new books and a top 10 of previously published books. Plus, like with my Favorite Reads of 2016 post, I’ve added something fun for readers at the end of this post. 😉 So let’s dive in!
Remember how I said that I’m changing my posting schedule next week? That’s because I have two posts for you this week, including my first DIY MFA article of 2018. 😉
Today it’s a case study on legacy and immortality, themes that aren’t examined frequently in literature but can be insightful and profound when that examination is done well. So what makes Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel a brilliant example? By using a museum, historic plays, and two characters who represent different ways of building a legacy that can impact the next generation.