We are so excited to have Ammi-Joan Paquette with us today—writer and agent extraordinaire. I have had the pleasure of being in Joan’s presence a number of times, and I can tell you first-hand that she exudes a warmth, wisdom and a kind of magic. Truly. And I believe Nowhere Girl radiates the same amazing trio.
800 rubber trees. Wow. That is a deeply striking image. How does this road play a part in your story?
Right from the start, the image of this tree-lined road burned itself clear and sharp into my mind—compounded by the fact that this road was the very one that Luchi would be traveling upon in her journey south. In the process of writing this scene, which began as a simple description of landscape and surroundings, I suddenly visualized in my mind’s eye what the view might be like for a girl who has grown up in a prison, living her whole life behind bars. When she looks out of the car window on this narrow road, and sees tall bars sweeping up into the sky on either side of her, what kinds of things might be going through her mind?
Oh, I can only imagine what complicated feelings Luchi would have…
Luchi is in the process of undergoing a complex emotional transition: while the prison bars she grew up with represented her captivity, they also stood for safety and protection, and were a huge part of the past that she has left behind—along with everything else she has ever known—to venture out alone and unprotected into the world. This tree-lined road ends up capsulizing an important moment in Luchi’s internal journey: looking up, she views the larger-than-life “bars” of the trees as a sign of some larger protection being afforded to her, though she is alone in the world. This little echo of her past within her present gives her strength and confidence to proceed with her journey, and is another step in the process of growing up and moving forward with her life.
I always amazed at how one image can evoke, and perhaps even create, such a resonant emotional landscape for a character. Your description of the way this road mirrors Luchi’s internal journey is just gorgeous. And it rings so so true.
Thank you, Joan, for sharing this bit of your book with us. Nowhere Girl is out now, so go on and get it! And you can get in touch with Ammi-Joan Paquette at http://www.ammijoanpaquette.com/.
Thursday, September 22, 2011
Thursday, September 15, 2011
There has been so much sad news in the past few weeks from Vermont and Texas; many in our close-knit writing community have suffered damages and losses from flooding and fires. But like Tam’s post last week, the stories I keep hearing are not just heart-breaking, they are also filled with heartening accounts of courage, strength, and a kind of generosity that rekindles faith in the goodness of people.
With these thoughts and images swirling around in my head, I struck out last evening for a walk through North Beach and up to Coit Tower—that nozzle-shaped citadel perched on top of Telegraph Hill, built in 1933 per the posthumous instructions of Lillie Coit, (1842—1929) a dedicated volunteer firefighter who smoked cigars, often dressed like a man so she could gamble in the male-only establishments in North Beach and shaved her head so her wigs would stay put! Although Coit Tower was erected to commemorate the brave firefighters of San Francisco, it has served over the years as a focus of honoring many heroes; this past week, it has been illuminated by red, white and blue floodlights in memory of the brave souls who lost their lives in 9/11.
It is, of course, always the survivors who are left to grieve and to try and put their lives back together. It seems that one of the ways to do this is to tell the stories. In fact, survivors are the storytellers. All good stories are survival stories, narrated by those who are left behind to tell them. I have just finished reading Julie Orringer’s incredibly moving and compelling The Invisible Bridge. Based on the experiences of her family in France and Hungary during WW11, it’s filled with heartbreak and tragedy, but is at it’s core, the story of survival. I don’t mean in any way to reduce tragedy to an opportunity for a good story, to an inspiration for a great plot; it’s just that I’ve come to not only realize that all good stories must play out through conflict and tension, but that all narrators are survivors. Even Susie Salmon in The Lovely Bones, telling her story from her own Heaven. Even Death, in The Book Thief; I suppose you could say he is the ultimate survivor.
We’re all survivors in one sense or another. If you’re still here and have a story to tell, then that’s exactly what you need to do.
Thursday, September 8, 2011
|My street. (Jared Katz: http://www.blackdogphotos.com/)|
|A photo of my grandmother that someone|
managed to save. She seems to be guarding
Today, my gratitude rises and spills over for all of the people who have helped me and family over the last week and a half. And my love and healing thoughts go out to other Vermonters still dealing hard and deep with Irene.
Thursday, September 1, 2011
We had good friends visiting from Venice, California last week—both artists; a painter and a designer, whose unique perspectives and sharp observations always make for lots of stimulating conversation.
On the top of their to-do list in San Francisco was the Gertrude Stein exhibit at MOMA. After several hours of braving the crowds and pondering the art, we adjourned to a cafe for a glass of wine to discuss the show. At one point, Tom, the painter, mentioned that, although he loved Matisse, he felt he was a lazy painter. I rose to Matisse’s defense—how could such a prolific artist be considered lazy? Well, apparently, he used paint directly out of the tube, never bothering to mix a color of his own. Oh, well.
Coming from an art’s background, I could sort of understand. And as a writer with a painting background, I am always noticing the comparisons between the visual arts and writing. Not only do they share a common vocabulary, (tone, landscape, shape, allusion, illusion, portrait, well drawn, colorful, bland, abstract, delineated and on and on) there is much in the creative process that applies to both. I couldn’t help but think about what makes one a ‘lazy’ writer?
The use of cliche is the obvious, whether it be that tired phrase or the easy stand-in for a real emotion. Cliches simplify what is complicated. And then there's the use of sentimentality instead of digging for authenticity. Honestly conveying real emotional complication is a lot of hard work!
Which is why revision is so essential to the writing process. I constantly have to remind myself that it’s okay to use that cliche in early drafts—a cliche is a place marker for areas that need to be deepened and made authentic. Using cliches in early draft work isn’t lazy, it’s practical. But not doing the work to deepen in revision is unforgivably lazy.
I'm not actually sure that's a very good analogy. Using paint directly from the tube is more like using the simplest, most obvious word. Was Gertrude Stein being lazy when she said "a rose is a rose is a rose"? ( or was she just being weird?) A rose can be many things; it can be called by it's Latin name, Rosaceae, it can be described botanically as floribunda polyantha, it can be specific as in Damask Rose or Glowing Peace, Betty Boop or Livin’ Easy. But sometimes just 'rose' is enough. Sometimes the simplest word is the best choice.
Thinking about words and being lazy, I'll confess a rather odd and irrational habit of mine—a pathology for ‘saving’ letters. When I’m editing, say changing the word ‘slither’ to ‘glide’ I feel compelled to save the ‘li’ and the ‘e’, even though it would be easier to delete the whole word and type in the new one. Is that being lazy? Or a little crazy?
But back to Matisse—was he really a lazy painter? I don’t know. Maybe he just happened to like the colors the way they looked right from the tube. And really, what's so wrong with that?