Friday, June 15, 2012

goodnight, stars: day 4 - newness

in junior high and high school, you had folders to keep all your schoolwork in. over the course of the year, the fronts and backs of those folders would become a testament to who you were. years into the future, social scientists at the smithsonian could take your beat-up folder, study the various doodles, song lyrics, stickers, taped on pictures from spin magazine, names of your favorite bands, notes to your friends, quotes from whatever, and your own bits of poetry, and they might be able to figure out who you were, what you valued, and what kind of person you wanted to be.
the stuff on that folder was you more than you could ever describe yourself to be. that's what I've attempted to do.

with all the love, s

Thursday, June 14, 2012

goodnight, stars (day 3): why "stars like rain?"

today, I'll answer a question you might or might not ever have wondered: why is the name of this blog stars like rain?

well, I'll tell you: the first title of the first novel I ever wrote was called may the stars fall down on you like rain. it refered to the lines of a song that my main character's mother used to sing to him when he was a child. he then repeats those lines ninety (yes, ninety) years later, while staring up at the stars next to a girl with whom he's fallen in love.

the novel was a ghost story, a romance - one that not many people got the chance to read. I was inspired to started writing stars by my favorite television show at the time, most haunted, and after reading other young adult paranormal novels. as we know, though, there are many, many paranormals, and my story got somewhat lost in the fray. come to think of it, it became a ghost itself,  lurking, tapping, trying to make itself known. it ultimately remained trapped in the past.

over the course of a few years, I learned it's a little dangerous for a writer to build her blog-dentity around a story that saw only the thinnest slant of light. this is another reason why I've decided to start fresh. I have more stories to offer to you people than the one about a haunted hotel in the mountains, and I'm not keen on keeping myself trapped in the past.
onward to tomorrow, friday, when my new site will be (fingers crossed) up and ready. I'll link to it from here. it'll feature inspiration, snippets of writing, and whatever else strikes my fancy. see you.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

goodnight, stars (day 2): quality people

as I announced yesterday, I will be closing down stars like rain this coming friday and offering up a new site that I've been working on that I feel represents me better.

on a whole, I will be striving for something more in line with minimalism: "a style of art in which the least possible amount of form shapes, colors, or lines are used to reduce the concept or idea to its simplest form (geometric shapes, progressions)." with regard to words and writing (or acting), I will again pull out the wise advice of john wayne: "talk low, talk slow, and don't talk too much."

this, I feel works for me. but, what I'd like to do today is highlight just a handful of  people and blogs out there in the writing- and reading-related internet world that I feel are particularly good at offering criticism and entertainment, or compiling or commenting or being generally helpful.

my girls at ya highway have a talent for wading through a lot of white noise and presenting their followers with good, honest, essential information. kate hart was also my very first ya internet friend, and she's so smart I sometimes think she's a robot designed to conquer us all.

in what can be a mighty self-serving blog world, tracey neithercott (through her blog words on paper) has a great knack for bringing people together and making them feel a part of something creative and grand. recently her followers created a collaborative short story which rules.

I think I came across the rejectionist after googling something having to do with grunge music, but I stayed because of her relatable, sometimes crazed and bittersweet ways, encyclopedic brain, and enthusiasm for a life well lived, smart things and people (and grunge music).

whenever phoebe north posts a review of a book, I read it. she's s sensitive reader, a lover of well-executed stories, and never blows smoke. in that way she's like the public television of book reviewers.

there are many, many other smart, lovely, and helpful people out there, but these are the folks I look to most in cyberspace.

see you tomorrow -- we will talk about ghosts.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

goodnight, stars

sometimes I go to the high desert and hang out for awhile.
(that's me there. I didn't stay in one of those trailers. I stayed in a tent we pitched on the same property in a small patch of shade.)
marfa, texas (a 10+ hour drive west from dallas) has become my favorite place to go to take it easy, read, get my thoughts straight, and simplify (you can read about my west texas adventures last fall if you'd like). inspiration in marfa comes from the open landscape, the quiet punctuated by the sound of trains and dogs, and the sun. there are not many people; there are, though, javelinas and deer and lots of wind and brightness. there is also art: big, minimalistic pieces that fit perfectly into the landscape.

 this is a small part of an installation by donald judd on the grounds of chinati in marfa:

(that's me crouching in the middle. it was 10am and very hot.)

this is a more all-encompassing view from the top of a hill:

I've always been drawn to things that I find simple but powerful. no frills. for me, west texas is like that. rothko paintings are like that. judd sculptures are like that. good songs are like that. good books are like that. I would like to produce things like that. heck, I would like to be like that.
whenever I leave west texas, I try to take something of it back with me. I get very  meta, almost annoyingly so. I want to straighten up my cabinets, make a pile of clothes to take to goodwill, stop watching so much television, call my family members, tell them I love them, and then ditch my cell phone; I want to start writing friends letters on paper and send them postcards.  I want to say "howdy" to strangers more often. I try to listen more.
here's what I'm getting around to saying in a rather roundabout way: I launched this blog, stars like rain, in february of 2010 after being inspired by t.c. boyle. it has seen some good days, and in some ways, through some posts, I feel that it has represented me well as a writer and a person. I am aware that as a writer, even an unpublished one, it is  important to "promote" yourself and "connect" with potential readers, but what happens when that "connection" starts to feel inauthentic or forced? when that happens there's no connection or a connection built on a quicksand foundation. things may start to get a little icky.

that's what I feel has started to happen here. it's not that I've lied in any of my posts or said anything blantantly misleading or attention-grabby. it's more so that I've felt obligated to "connect" in this, the typical writer blog format, and in that way I feel as if I've been inauthentic. I see so many posts on other people's blogs, apologizing for being "bad bloggers" or announcing the necessity of a hiatus or a trimming back from daily to bi-weekly posting. I know why this happens. many times I feel like there is no possible way for me to  contribute in a meaningful, non waste-of-space, kind of way to subjects (reading, writing, ya) that isn't already done somewhere else on the web in a better way.

so instead of apologizing or announcing a hiatus, I am announcing a sea change.

 stars like rain, in its current incarnation, has simply run its course. my plans are to close it this friday and introduce a new, different site, one that I feel will represent me better, one that will reflect a kind of minimalistic beauty (like the desert!), one that will allow you, commenting friends and quiet strangers, to know me better, one that will allow us to talk about things, one that is hopefully not typical. who knows, perhaps that site will run its course, and there will be another great change again in a couple of years.

I do want to say that there are those out there that do the writer blog thing well, infinitely better than me, and tomorrow I'll highlight some of those. now that I think of it, if you have a suggestion for a writing blog par excellence, please leave it in the comments. on thursday, I'll provide the answer to the burning mystery behind the name of this blog, and on friday I'll link to the new site.

I'll leave you with this: aside from big sky and sun, there are many art galleries in marfa. while this bit of graffiti shown in the picture below generally makes me giggle, what makes me giggle even more is that this same bit of graffiti was there the last time I was in marfa, back in october. no one cares enough to cover it up, not even the people who run that gallery. so funny. 

thank you, dear reader, thank you!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

road trip wednesday - imprisoned

road trip wednesday is a "blog carnival," where ya highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question. they then ask their readers to answer it on our own blogs.

this week's question: what else do you do with your books?

answer: I give them to prisoners!

over spring break, I went on a service trip to boston along a group of college students. twice that week, we spent our nights volunteering in the basement of a church in quincy for the prison books program.

this is how the program works:
prisoners write snail mail letters c/o of a local bookstore stating a little bit about themselves and requesting a certain type of book (most of them request dictionaries, also there's a lot of requests for history books).

volunteers read the letters and go through a library of donated books to pick out one or two that best fit the prisoner's request.

other volunteers (like me!) read the letter again to make sure the request matches the book pulled, pack it up media mail-style, and get it ready to ship.

I'd never heard of a program like this until the service trip, and since then I keep most of my read books in a "donate pile." the next time I'm down in austin I'll take them to the inside books project, which gives books to texas prisoners specifically.

without sounding too corny, the work these types of programs do remind me what kind of power books have. their content is powerful, and the act of ownership is powerful. it is an immensely beautiful thing to say, THIS BOOK IS MINE.

in one of the letters I read, a prisoner asked for a dictionary because he was studying for his GED. the volunteers pulled him a dictionary, as requested, but also a bonus book: aldous huxley's brave new world. brave new world! as an english teacher, I almost broke into tears. brave new world was one of those books I read in high school that made me love, love stories and helped me understand sadness and that the world is larger than myself. I couldn't help thinking as I packed it up what this novel might spur in the mind of a total stranger.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

everything was beautiful and nothing hurt

flashback! it's the fall of 1993. dallas. I'm 12 years old and in the seventh grade. my mom has taken me to see pearl jam. they are my favorite band in the WHOLE world. at some point during the set (toward the end I think), eddie vedder has the crowd sing "happy birthday" to a writer who I have never heard of so that he can tape it and mail it to him later. that writer's name was kurt vonnegut.

being the impressionable seventh grader I was, I quickly went out and bought a novel by kurt vonnegut: cat's cradle. now I don't know if that novel, and by extension that concert, and by extension that band, caused me to be an english major and, later, a writer, but I don't think that's too big of leap.

I was floored. cat's cradle was the first domino tipping over. I've read at least fifteen of vonnegut's novels since then. I remember many of the lines: we laid together. together we laid like spoons! everything was beautiful and nothing hurt! I have some signed, leather bound books of his - my dad bought them for me because he knew I was a fan of "kurt vonnergurt." in high school art class I tried to sculpt his head out of clay (a bit much, I know). it was very hard, and I gave up. his head is complicated.

but. I give credit to kurt vonnegut for helping me love the strangeness of stories and language. his novels were the first things I really connected with on a literary level. since seventh grade, my tastes have morphed and shifted, and now that I'm writing, my writing is nothing like his. but. I give that paperback copy of cat's cradle a huge amount of credit. and I give credit to people like e.v. who led me and who knows who else in that venue that evening to something wonderful and unexpected that landed and has stayed in our hearts.

kurt vonnegut died five years ago yesterday.

Friday, March 30, 2012

book review - wanderlove

this review of kirsten hubbard's wanderlove goes along with tracey neithercott's ya book club. after the club chose wanderlove (which is set in guatemala and belize) tracey asked us to perhaps focus our comments on kirsten's use of setting specifically - how crucial a role we felt it played, how we as writers could learn from her descriptions. I'm sort of going to do that in this post, but I should also say here that kirsten and I share an agent, so I'm predisposed to adoring her and everything she writes.

first, there is this story about the buddha: when he finally came back to his home after many years of meditating under the bodhi tree, his wife asked him why he had to leave his family in order to become enlightened. the buddha replied that he never actually had to leave to become enlightened, but he would have never known that had he not left.

I'm reminded of that story when I read other stories about travel. the travel narrative is well-worn ground. but most of the travel narratives that come quickly to my mind are about boys/young guys (the adventures of huckleberry finn, into the wild, on the road). there are less narratives about girls/women finding themselves through travel and an exploration of place, and those stories tend to be less entrenched in the collective popular mind - I'm thinking pilgrim at tinker creek by annie dillard, in country by bobbie ann mason, the land of little rain by mary austin, or more recently wild by cheryl strayed).

it is as if travel (either alone or in a duo, if you're huck and jim) is a boy thing. for rowan in wanderlove, that's what travel was - an act of coming to terms with oneself through accumulating anklets and cutoff shorts, growing a ponytail and being generally a rugged dude. over the course of the novel, that changes a bit. but we also have bria, who embarks on a strange journey to a strange place to try to come to terms with herself, and part of her reinvention also involves clothes and a hair alteration (among other things more profound things, of course).

stay with me: there is this other saying attributed to buddha: “no one saves us but ourselves. no one can and no one may. we ourselves must walk the path.” however, one of the great things about kirsten's characters is that both of them learn through each other, through strangers, through friends as well as independently, proving there is not just one proverbial path.

as much as I love my collection of buddha quotes, I have to remember that his story is that of a boy, siddhartha, going on a solo journey to find himself - and thus it is typical. stories about girls traveling can take a different shape and be no less significant. there can be the taking of literal and figurative "plunges" and rides along "bumpy" roads, and while they are capable of saving themselves, girls aren't so arrogant to deny a little help along the way. kirsten gives us a bria that starts out stubborn and hard-line, but then transforms remarkably.

by the way, this is my favorite line from the novel: "so jack concocts several pitchers of mocktails, which taste like watermelon smoothie mixed with cough syrup and agony." so funny. the ghost of a terrible hangover creeps up my throat just reading that sentence.