How Do I Want To Be Read by Serena Rodriguez

I can remember the first time I read Bluebird, by Charles Bukowski. I was sitting on the floor amidst a loud group of young people, drunk on youth and whiskey. But this poem. It made all the noise in the room, all the laughter and gossip, come to a halt. My heart hit the pause button on this life and I fell into his words. They became entangled within me. They took my breath and tucked it away in some old heartache. His words made me stop. I devoured every single letter, every syllable, and sentence. This. This is how I want the words that I weave to be experienced.

Serena Rodriguez

Inside Story by Julia Goldberg

1. Julia–you’ve just published your first book–INSIDE STORY. The focus is a guide to writing creative nonfiction. I found the tone and approach very helpful. What in particular can the reader expect to learn?

My hope is that the book has appeal to many different types of creative nonfiction writers, from students to working writers and everyone in between. Inside Story delves into various categories of nonfiction—from memoir to journalism to the lyric essay. Each chapter endeavors to provide explanations about craft, writing exercises as well as references and resource lists. So, it’s a way to both learn more about the genre but also very much a practical guide to reporting and writing creative nonfiction. I have read many craft books myself, so I tried to distinguish my book in terms of it sounding like me—it has, I hope, much of the information one might find in a textbook, but it has a voice as well.

2. Was it easier–or more difficult–to write a book than you expected? You’ve been an editor in numerous capacities, including the Santa Fe Reporter but this is a different kind of endeavor. What surprised you?

I was surprised at how challenging it was! I’ve written on deadline my entire adult life and have written many long-form reported pieces. I worked as an editor on another book (Best Altweekly Writing, 2009-2010 from Northwestern Press). So I am familiar with many of the components needed to write a nonfiction book, such as research, reporting, organizing and, of course, the actual writing. But the accumulative process—writing for hours every day, day after day, and still not being finished, was a challenging—invigorating and difficult—experience. It set a bar in terms of my appreciation for the stamina it takes, for sure.

3. Anything else you want to add?
The book isn’t just my take on reporting and writing. I’ve been lucky in my career to both meet and read many amazing writers. I interviewed and reference numerous people for this book, whose own perspectives and experiences are in each chapter, and I’m very grateful for that.

4.How can readers buy a copy?
If readers are in Santa Fe, they can buy it at Collected Works. The book also is available on Amazon and all other online retailers. I’m also doing a giveaway on Goodreads May 24-June 23, so they can enter and maybe win one!

Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/Inside-Story-Everyones-Reporting-Nonfiction/dp/0997020776

Goodreads giveaway link: https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/237632-inside-story-everyone-s-guide-to-reporting-and-writing-creative-nonfict

What Are You Reading And Where?

I was having a cup of coffee with a friend who was telling me about his travel plans, and also about what he was reading. This led me to muse on where we read as well as what. Putting the question up for crowd sourcing led to great answers! I’m going to share them in a set of ongoing posts.

***

Janet Brennan: Anne Hillerman, Song of the Lion. Read several chapters each night.

Isabel Winson-Sagan: 2nd sex on the couch with a tiny dog

Michelle Holland: The Museum of Extraordinary Things, Alice Hoffman. Listening to the audio tape on my commute from Chimayo to teaching every weekday at Los Alamos High School. I’ve been listening to novels rather than the news for the past four months or so.

Judith Sherman Russell: Space operas sitting in the car waiting.

Hannah Duggan: Saga Vol. 2, in my bedroom.

JenMarie Macdonald: The Neapolitan Quartet next to my napping babe

Wednesday Nelena Sorokin: Half a Yellow Sun, in my bedroom.

Nate Maxson: Disgrace by Coatzee. On the bus.

Maternal Mitochondria–what are we reading?

A blog contributor recently asked me to post what our collaborative duo (me and daughter Isabel) are reading. Here goes, in no particular order:

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.–dystopian Future

Scheherazade Goes West: Different Cultures, Different Harems by Fatema Mernissi–feminist art criticism and memoir

Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay–says it all!

Las Madrinas: Life Among My Mothers by Ana Consuelo Matiella–memoir of the border and feminine Mexican archetypes

The Art of the Russian Matryoshk by Rett Ertl and Rick Hibberd–we love nesting dolls and all they imply

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Monday Feature by Michaela Kahn: D.H. Lawrence in Summertime

D.H. Lawrence in Summertime

Long and long ago, I read my first D.H. Lawrence novel, which happened to be “Lady Chatterley’s Lover.” I was in early high school and I honestly didn’t get it, though I knew it had once upon a time been banned, and that it was in some way “racy.” It was years later, in an English class in college, that I fell in love with D.H. Lawrence, reading his novel, “The Rainbow.”

The language, the descriptions, the narrative, the scope of the story and way that landscape and the cycles of nature were interwoven into the whole – they seduced me completely. Here’s a short passage from the beginning of the novel:

“They felt the rush of the sap in spring, they knew the wave which cannot halt, but every year throws forward the seed to begetting, and, falling back, leaves the young-born on the earth. They knew the intercourse between heaven and earth, sunshine drawn into the breast and bowels, the rain sucked up in the daytime, nakedness that comes under the wind in autumn, showing the birds’ nests no longer worth hiding. Their life and interrelations were such; feeling the pulse and body of the soil, that opened to their furrow for the grain, and became smooth and supple after their ploughing, and clung to their feet with a weight that pulled like desire, lying hard and unresponsive when the crops were to be shorn away. The young corn waved and was silken, and the lustre slid along the limbs of the men who saw it. They took the udder of the cows, the cows yielded milk and pulse against the hands of the men, the pulse of the blood of the teats of the cows beat into the pulse of the hands of the men.” – D.H. Lawrence, from “The Rainbow”

I wrote a thesis on it, using the principles of ecology and systems theory, rather than literary theory, as a way to interpret Lawrence’s work and words.

In some small way, D.H. Lawrence is partially responsible for my living in New Mexico. Knowing he’d lived in Taos for several years, I wanted to visit the place where he had been. My first trip down from Colorado to his ranch just north of Taos, was a kind of pilgrimage. I wandered around the little cabin, lay on a bench under the giant pine tree that Lawrence describes and which was later painted by Georgia O’Keefe, and stood in the cool white-washed shrine where his ashes are mixed in with the concrete memorial.

At some point in summertime I always think about D.H. Lawrence … his books for some reason resonate with summer energy for me: whether its “Sea and Sardinia” (one of the greatest pieces of travel-writing I’ve ever encountered) or his poems from “Birds, Beasts, and Flowers.”

Monday Feature: A web of hand-me-downs by Michaela Kahn

A web of hand-me-downs –

 Earlier this week I got a text from a friend of mine, someone I’ve known since Middle School, about a song she thought I’d like. She recommended the whole album, actually, but steered me to Ane Brun’s YouTube music video for her song, “Do You Remember.” It’s a great song – very strange and simultaneously sad (the lyrics) and yet happy (the music). The video itself is like its own universe, sort of Steampunk meets the the Dust Bowl.

 The exchange got me thinking about all the art that has been passed on to me over the years by friends, family, teachers, even strangers.

 There’s my step-sister, so much more worldly-wise than I at thirteen, who made a whole 90- minute video tape of various MTV videos she thought I needed to know (being MTV-less, myself). Another friend introduced me to most of the Pop music that I am still listening to today. There’s an Uncle (in-law) who introduced me to the Le Mystere des voix Bulgares and the movie Duck Soup. My husband introduced me to Wim Wenders movies, Miles Davis, and the paintings of Leonora Carrington (no wonder I fell in love).

 For literature, there is another list of great books and poems that have been passed on to me by others. Whether it’s the teacher who told me to read Gregory Bateson or the stranger at the Boulder Public Library who told me to read his book of poetry, “Tony the Bricklayer.” But with literature I’m more often the one trying to pass along favorites. Over the years I have passed on the names of dozens of writers and works to friends, colleagues, family, strangers. I become part of their web of hand-me-down art.

All this thinking about where the art and music in my life comes prompted me to look a little deeper into my experience of this passed-on art. I realized that when I listen to a favorite song, one that was shared by a friend, my own memories and emotions surrounding the song are also layered with memories of the person who gave it to me. It’s richer for having that connection. It got me wondering whether, in some ways, this is an essential part of what art is all about –that intricate web of interconnections that develops between the people who love it.

Bibi Deitz Muses on the Right Book

Note from Miriam: I enjoyed this essay a lot, as I do all of Bibi’s work. It was surprising to see a favorite but obscure novel–John Williams’s novel, Stoner–as part of the piece. I highly recommend it.

Sometimes the time is just right: A book I opened in the past that couldn’t hold my attention to save its life might captivate me now. Or a book I loved a few years ago might no longer charm me, or a book I hated with a fiery passion might strike me as first-rate, or at least less objectionable, later on. Through anecdotal research, I’ve found this happens to everyone I know. I can’t explain this phenomenon, but to hazard a guess, I’d say it has something to do with where we’re at in any given time of life. Sometimes Kerouac seems mighty and brilliant (see: when I was sixteen); sometimes Hemingway is irreproachable and Bukowski a genius (see: same time period through now, though these days I have a very different outlook on their misogynistic natures, which I try to keep separate from the writing itself, but find rather impossible to do). Or: I hated Chris Kraus’s I Love Dick with the the fury of a thousand demons behind me when I read it a couple of years ago, but I have met enough people who adore that book whose taste I respect and admire that I would consider giving it a second spin.

Thing is, when I read I Love Dick, I was in a particularly tenuous spot in my life. It’s possible that I was projecting every frustration and fear from my personal experience at that time onto the book. Or it’s possible that it is, indeed, the worst book I’ve ever read. 

Is it possible, then, that we never really know what we truly feel about any given book? And, if so, does this extend to every work of art? Is it possible that I will find the Ellsworth Kelly drawings with which I fell so helplessly in love a couple of winters ago at the Met derivative and reductive later on? What about the painters I’ve loved since childhood, Manet and Matisse and Picasso? Are certain artists and writers, for certain people, untouchable, while others are up for debate? 

This is all to say that I just started reading John Williams’s Stoner and haven’t really stopped. I started on the train yesterday morning, and read some more on the train yesterday evening, and resumed my reading on the train this morning. I feel as though this is not enough. I will resume this pattern this evening on the train, but I also suspect that I will find a nook somewhere over the next week in which to curl, turn my phone on silent and read for many uninterrupted hours. 

However, this was not my experience when I started reading the book a couple of years ago. I first heard of it from a professor, who’d read a few of my short stories and suggested that I would like the book. His exact words: “. . . if you haven’t already, check out John Williams’s novel, Stoner. Which has nothing to do with pot. It’s a character’s name. And if you read the book’s description, you will start yawning and wonder about my taste. But, trust me. Read it. I’m not going to say anything about it. But . . . when I saw what’s resonating with you in terms of Dubus, I am willing to bet a lot that Stoner will blow your mind away and change your life, the way it changed mine.” 

As an aside, this professor was referring to an essay I wrote about Andre Dubus’s astute and concise use of characterization in his stories; and, as a further aside, I find Dubus to be only more compelling as the days pass. So, perhaps there are some writers who are with us for all time, and with whom we will never find fault. (And, if so, I’d like to take this moment to add Amy Hempel and Raymond Carver to my personal list.)

That said, it’s certainly true that I project onto whatever I read. That’s just part of the process. If I’m in a grumpy or tired headspace, it’s possible that I won’t enjoy what I’m reading as much as if I’m feeling great. And if I’m in an ongoing grumpy and tired place, perhaps I will just hate everything I read. 

But that’s not right either, because Dubus took me to a transcendent and much happier place when I read him in a weird time of life. I discovered him three springs ago. I was working this strange job in Santa Fe, some amalgam of tutoring and stand-in mothering, with some horseback riding thrown in for good measure. Most afternoons, this looked like sitting at the stables while my thirteen-year-old charge trotted around a ring with her horse teacher until it got dark, and then driving her home. At the start of this arrangement, I found Dubus. And I devoured everything he wrote, there in that strange New Mexican horse barn. 

He provided a particularly dreamy balm of life. I felt soothed and calmed and also charged up, inspired. I wrote more. I took more long baths. I read a lot more. When I wasn’t at work, a.k.a. at the barn, I read in Rose Park, a grassy patch on Galisteo Street in Santa Fe with an old-fashioned vibe—perhaps because of the briar-y perimeter and the ancient firs. I read slumped in the front seat of my car when I was five minutes early to something. I read long into the night, after my then-boyfriend had gone to sleep. 

Perhaps, as with everything else, there are some books with which we fall madly in love at first read, which will remain forever unimpeachable. Perhaps there are others that we enjoy at first blush but will later fall from favor. And there are still others which will never be our style, no matter how much everyone else might love them. (See: I Love Dick.) Though it’s absolutely possible that my current favorites will sour in another decade (see: Kerouac), I am pretty confident that what I love these days I will love in ten years, and what I hate will remain that way. But that’s how it is with taste: Everything I love now seems perennial, but I know that can’t be true. 

Bibi Deitz lives and writes in Brooklyn. Recent work has appeared in Bookforum, The Rumpus, Berfrois and BOMB, and is forthcoming from Marie Claire.