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😀/🥱exhilarated or exhausted? not enough time in the day! why I love September
+3 books, 3 writing opportunities, a not-this-year birthday cake, and an essay by me!
Sometimes there are so many wonderful things to read, to eat, to learn, there just isn’t time in the day. (Anyone else have a gazillion open tabs in their browser? Hikes, books, podcasts, movies, essays, recipes, a sweater you can’t afford?) The choices feel exhilarating and daunting. September is my favorite month, my real New Year.
I have an essay, MIRRORS, out this week at MEMOIRLAND (a great newsletter to which you may want to subscribe) about divorce, car maintenance, and shopping. I’m proud of it. Please do, give it a read. And, ICYMI, I had another essay up last May, about mistakes and shine theory.
I’ve just finished TOM LAKE, by our national treasure, Ann Patchett, and there was much about the book I adored. The landscape, the kindness, the distinct daughters, the tender way they appreciate their mother’s history as she recounts a time in her life when she was an actor, in love with Peter Duke, another actor who would later become a star. I adored the falling in love section! I felt happy dwelling in both the past and the cherry-picking present of the story, which is no small feat. Often when a novel straddles two storylines I find myself yearning to be in story A and rushing through story B. That was not the case here. I admired the honest way the book dealt with climate change, abortion rights, the pandemic, and the patriarchy without those themes taking over. Yes, those issues are present in our lives, but we still have to cook dinner, or, as is the case in TOM LAKE, pick the cherries in the middle of covid lockdown. What left me a bit outside the experience of the book was the lack of strife, of sibling rivalry, of discord, boredom, impatience. Everyone just got along so well, day in and day out, picking cherries! I prefer books about love despite strife (like life, well like my life at least), not about love in the absence of strife.
I finally got around to reading the wonderful novel, GOODBYE, VITAMIN, by Rachel Khong. Split from her fiancé and wallowing in feelings that her life hasn’t turned out as planned, thirtyish Ruth quits her job, and arrives at her parents’ home to find a complicated situation. Her father, a history professor, is only erratically lucid. He’s losing his memory and her mother is angry, in denial, and refusing to participate in her husband’s care. As the father slips away, comedy (yes, laugh until you cry) takes hold and helps transform Ruth’s grief. It is a beautiful, playful, and ultimately satisfying novel full of love despite strife.
What have you recently read and loved? Hit the comment button—let me know!
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KAREN KARBO and I are huddling up to bring you a wonderful writing class this October. If you don’t know Karen, please check her newsletter, Karbohemia Confidential in which she writes with love and humor about her adopted home, Collioure, France. Karen also is the brains and hospitality behind the Come to Your Senses Writing Retreats. (I’ll be faculty with Karen and the incredible MEG WOLITZER, in September of 2024! We’re half-full). But, what I want to tell you about is the class:
Taking Apart the Little Clock
There are so many demands on our time—and where did our attention spans disappear to? Whether you’re an avid reader or writer of fiction, perhaps the sprawl of a novel feels daunting. Enter the short novel, the novella, the novelette! Perhaps you imagine reading one in a single fit of bliss, or are called to write and have more to say than can fit in a short story. A novella is a sweet/sleek length (under 200 pages) with specific attributes: concision, fewer characters to wrangle, temporal agility, and compression. In this six week workshop we will read and discuss five amazing novellas with the dual intent of figuring out how to write one of our own, and to train ourselves as receptive readers. Our focus: how has the writer worked their magic?
Sound interesting? For more details, including the early bird pricing, shoot me an email, respond to this newsletter, or leave a request in the comments.
It’s an embarrassment of riches! I’m also teaching with my friend, JEN LOUDEN, at her East Coast Retreat in the Pocono Mountains. This retreat will be a week of refilling your well, and generating a ton of work. Jen is a wonder. An energizing force who believes in you, yes, of course she does. But more importantly she creates an environment of inspiration, energy, unscheduled time, and reflection so that by the time you leave, you believe in your project and yourself! In need of terrific prompts, a writing coach at your fingertips, yoga, delicious food, beautiful surroundings, some craft discussions with me, and a new friends to support your work? This retreat is the ticket. There are only a few spaces left, so hop on!
Finally, a craft book, STORY GENIUS, by Lisa Cron. I have to say, I resisted this book to my own detriment. I choose to believe in the mystery of creative writing ouija boarding rather than brain science. I spent no time imagining before I began the history/desire/mistaken beliefs of my characters that would drive all the action in the book. I just set off, thinking it would magically arise from the mists. And sometimes it did. Sometimes it didn’t. (Hello novel in a box in my basement.) Of course no book is the mystical key to writing, but I’m finding this one helpful.
Here’s a prompt/series of considerations for you:
What from your character’s past makes what happens to them in your story/novel inevitable?
What is the lens (history/beliefs) through which your character views the external events of your story/novel?
If the external actions of your story/novel will change your character, it begs the question, who is she at the start? What will she be changed from?
What is your character’s third rail—their inner struggle that has the potential to destabilize them, and set them free?
What does your character deeply want, and what are their mistaken beliefs about themselves, their choices, and the workings of the world?
Big thanks if you’ve bought me a coffee! I’m grateful you took time to offer support and drop me a note. Yay you! The cute button below is for anyone who'd like to join in.
Remember how I said up top that I prefer stories of love despite strife? Guess what? My husband had a birthday last month and we weren’t getting along. Maybe that has never happened to you? (I won’t bore you with why, just know it wasn't my fault 😉.) Anyway, here is the cake I didn’t make him.
1½ c canola oil
1½ c sugar
1 t salt
1 t ground cinnamon
2 c flour
2 t baking soda
3 c carrots, finely grated (about 1½ lbs)
1 c almonds, blanched, finely chopped
Preheat your oven to 325.
Blend oil and sugar in large bowl with a wooden spoon. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
In another bowl, sift together salt, cinnamon, flour, and baking soda. Add the sifted ingredients to the egg mixture, and stir until they’re thoroughly incorporated. Add carrots and almonds and mix in well.
Grease a 9 x 12 inch cake pan. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 1¼ hours, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (but slightly wet).
Remove from oven and place cake on a cooling rack. Leave cake in pan, when completely cool, cover with frosting. (In the photo above I baked the cake in two round cake pans, which you can also do. When you grease the pans, flour as well. Start checking for doneness at about the 50 minute mark.)
Cream Cheese Frosting
8 oz cream cheese, softened
4 T butter, melted
2 T vanilla
8 oz powdered sugar
With an electric mixer, beat cream cheese until light and fluffy. Gradually add the melted butter and continue beating until completely absorbed. Add the vanilla and sugar, beating well until icing is smooth. (I always try to add less sugar, so I begin with 5 oz and slowly add more to the desired sweetness.)
And here we are, all made-up!
Stanley! Here he is, bringing his ears.
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