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My favorite reads of 2012

Choosing my favorite books of the year is both difficult and delicious. I read for so many different reasons: For language. For the love of story. For the opportunity to deconstruct how other writers structure plot and develop characters and keep my interest (or not). For the opportunity of having my neurons rearranged and my eyes exchanged for others’ so that I can experience the world anew. I read for comfort and discomfort. For pleasure and sorrow.

These are my (current) favorites of all the 2012 books I’ve learned from and lived inside, the books I curled up with, the books that goosed me. Some are written by friends and teachers, some are the latest offerings from beloved authors, and some written by strangers.

THE CUTTING SEASON by Attica Locke. I love novels in which history is a character, onstage and present. That’s what Attica Locke does in this half-mystery novel, half-literary exploration of how history – both personal and national – shapes us and our choices.  Read More 
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Taking a break, and sweet potatoes

I’ve been approaching this week with some trepidation: this is when I return to writing fiction after a hiatus.

I’ve been busy during this time-away: Reading and critiquing work for my manuscript group, and planning and teaching writing workshops. Writing the script for a dramatic program to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the execution of Ethel & Julius Rosenberg, to be held in New York City next June. Reading some amazing new and forthcoming fiction – THE OBITUARY WRITER by Ann Hood, and THE COMFORT OF LIES by Randy Susan Meyers and ALL THIS TALK OF LOVE by Christopher Castellani and KIND OF KIN by Rilla Askew. And most recently, I’ve had four delicious days with growing grandbabies and gatherings of my extended family.  Read More 
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Writing across boundaries and out of our safe zones

Although I’ve tackled this subject before, I keep returning to it, unsatisfied. It’s a hot-button issue and one that’s close to my writing heart. Because even after all the eloquent arguments around racial stereotyping in the novel THE HELP and recent discussion about Michael Chabon’s choice to write African American characters in TELEGRAPH AVENUE, readers and writers still ponder the politics and risks of writing POV characters whose skin color and experiences differ from the writer’s.

We’ve probably all participated in these conversations about cultural appropriation and trivializing stereotypes. What interests me most as a writer is the implicit criticism of the white author of THE HELP for even attempting to tell the story of the black maids – because how could she possibly know their hearts, how could she presume to speak their voice? I think one adjective used was “cringeworthy.”  Read More 
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Homage to book groups

You might think I’m nuts to travel 500 miles to attend a book group discussion, but that’s exactly what I did last week. My friend Rita invited me to join the book group she started eighteen years in the Society Hill/Queen Village/Bella Vista/Washington Square neighborhood of Philadelphia. They were discussing my novel, HOUSE ARREST. I said, “yes, of course. I’d love to.”  Read More 
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The Writing on the Wall

I just finished reading a new novel and it blew me away. Typically when I finish a book I’ve really enjoyed, one I think I might want to blog about, I wait a few days to let my responses marinate, settle. But this book wasn’t typical and I can’t wait to tell you about it.  Read More 
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By the light of a padiddle

After a summer of interruptions, I’m back to my novel-in-progress, trying to satisfy my characters that I’ve returned for real, that I didn’t abandon them. They’re not entirely convinced.

To be honest, I’m not convinced either. I don’t yet know where this novel is going. But I believe in the truth of E.L. Doctorow’s statement, "Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

Unfortunately at the moment my writer-car has a single headlight – a padiddle – and that one is dim.  Read More 
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Two weeks without writing. Yikes.

Vacation is over and I’m home. I didn’t write a word of fiction in two weeks; I can’t remember the last time that happened. Usually I write on vacation. This time, I decided to take a break from my characters. My two delicious grandchildren might have had something to do with that decision.

Instead of writing, I’ve been time travelling - decades back in time - to recapture muscle memories long unused. Like the unconscious sideways sway my body begins the second 12-week-old Abel settles on my chest in the BabyBjorn. How to maintain that baby-sway while cooking a scrambled egg for four-year-old Josie or drinking coffee or checking email on my laptop. Not that we had email back then, of course.  Read More 
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Reading Kingsolver and Chabon

Some books create worlds so complex and multifaceted that it’s difficult to write cogently about them, much less reduce them to three or four or five stars. Sometimes my reactions are complicated too, and take time to sort out. I’m glad I’m not a book reviewer by profession; as a fiction writer, I read novels for enjoyment of course, but also to learn - to deconstruct a compelling voice, make mental notes about an unusual perspective or dissect a clever pacing device.

Recently, I’ve read advance copies (thank you, HarperCollins) of two admirable and complex novels: FLIGHT BEHAVIOR by Barbara Kingsolver and TELEGRAPH AVENUE by Michael Chabon. I’m still chewing on the varied delights offered by both of them, and still second-guessing my criticisms.  Read More 
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Writing for change, and Matthew Shepard

I recently led a workshop called Fiction for Social Change, as part of the Writing the Counter Narrative program at World Fellowship Center. If you’re not familiar with World Fellowship, check it out. It’s an amazing community in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, sort of a progressive summer camp for adults and families. Their motto is “where social justice meets nature,” and that’s a pretty good description.

World Fellowship was a perfect venue for this workshop. Although I’ve taught it before (at the San Miguel Writers Conference in Mexico last year and as a panelist at the 2012 AWP Conference), I continue tinkering with the content – refining the exercises and looking for new examples of exemplary politically-themed work.  Read More 
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All those who wander

This morning I drove from the White Mountains to mid-coast Maine. Not a difficult drive, unless you happen to be geographically challenged. I’m the kind of person who, when someone asks which way to go and I offer an opinion, anyone who knows me goes in the opposite direction. For this trip, my daughter Jenn generously lent me her GPS, plus I have maps, and a mapquest app on my phone. Using all these tools and suggestions from Robby (who was born with a GPS hard-wired in his brain), I chose my favorite kind of route, mostly two lane roads meandering through small towns and countryside. Still, I was worried about getting lost.  Read More 
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