Edward Gorey, “The Unstrung Harp; or, Mr Earbrass Writes a Novel” (1953)

Unlike Mr Earbrass when he finished his first draft of TUH, I didn’t spend the day after just wandering aimlessly through my apartment, although that was tempting.

Usually I give myself a month’s break, but this year is different — I don’t have a raft of students’ papers waiting to be marked, nor end-of-term faculty meetings, nor applicants to interview. (Thank you, retirement!) I have an almost commitment-free December ahead of me. Oh, the possibilities!

Therefore, for the first time ever, I plan to get right back into the MS, possibly as soon as tomorrow.

Let’s see if that actually happens.

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And that wraps up another NaNo

I crossed the finish line at 9:30 am NYC time, and what a wonderful feeling that is. I now have a first draft, and I get to spend the rest of the day feeling like I’ve done something. Here’s Mr. Earbrass’s version of this moment:

Edward Gorey, “The Unstrung Harp; or, Mr Earbrass Writes a Novel” (1953)

My “lower right-hand drawer” is actually a file on my computer, and my feet haven’t fallen asleep, but my calm is as deceptive as Mr Earbrass’s. I’ll need to walk it off. More of a writer’s story (Earbrass version) to come.

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Back on track

Courtesy Transport for London

Good news: My NaNo funk, version 2018, has ended, and I’ve used the last 4 days to push myself past 45K words.

It’s not exactly all downhill from here, but the end is nigh. And by that, I mean the good type of end: the end of this year’s NaNo, the end of this first draft, the end of figuring out where this story is going.

Of course, what comes next is worse, but I’ll save writing about that for a future post.

So, hoist a drink of your choice to all NaNo-ers, around the world. We’re a stubborn crew, devoted to the written word, and to the insanity of reaching that 50K word-count. (FYI, NYC NaNo-ers have written 28.5 million words as of 4 pm today. 45K, or 0.15%, of that total is mine!)

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Who’s big idea was this anyway?

Edward Gorey, “The Unstrung Harp; or, Mr Earbrass Writes a Novel” (1953)

“On November 18th of alternate years Mr Earbrass begins writing ‘his new novel’.”

Did Edward Gorey predict NaNoWriMo? Probably not, but every November I have to reread The Unstrung Harp, to remind myself that every stage of the creative process is well known and documented within this tiny (just 30 pages) book.

I’m now at the stage illustrated above (p. 14). I hate all my characters and would love to put them on a one-way boat to nowhere, and then just curl up with a good book and a box of chocolate. Maybe just one big explosion will take care of them all for me.

But I also know this will pass. Already, my mind is toying with new ways to put my MC into mortal danger before she finally escapes.

Thanks for letting me vent. Happy Thanksgiving to my US readers, and a happy rest of the week to all. Keep reading, keep writing.

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NBN Time

NBN = Nothing But NaNoWriMo, and that’s what I’m doing this month.

Although “nothing” isn’t strictly true. I’m still reading like a fiend, still working crossword puzzles (addiction #2), still getting outside to museums (this week to the Armenian exhibit at the Met). But ALL my writing energy is for my current project, a science fiction novel that’s allowing me to vent my anger at the current world situation.

So, after the exciting frenzy of Witch Week, things will quiet down here for a while. You might get a peep or two from me before December, but nothing lengthy.

Happy fall, everyone.

Posted in Am writing, NaNoWriMo, Science fiction | 4 Comments

WITCH WEEK DAY SEVEN: Ending/Beginning

That wraps up Witch Week 2018, and Chris and Lizzie have so enjoyed hosting this. We couldn’t have done it without the help of everyone who participated:

  • Marlyn, of Stuff ‘n’ Nonsense, for her list of Ten Kick-Ass Heroines
  • Tanya, of Tanya Manning-Yarde, PhD, for her beautiful review of Ursula K Le Guin’s poetry collection, Finding My Elegy
  • Piotr and Ola of Re-enchantment of the World, for their discussion of the women in the Witcher stories by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski
  • Lory, of Emerald City Book Review, who last year retired her Witch Week broom yet found time to review Madeline Miller’s Circe and participate in our discussion of Le Guin’s The Other Wind 
  • people too numerous to mention, who added comments and questions; posted pingbacks, links, and reviews on their own blogs; and Tweeted/Facebooked links to our posts
  • our readers around the world.

For anyone not yet sated, here are the links for the Emerald City Book Review Master Posts from earlier years.

Thanks again to all of you for sharing this event with us, and we hope you’ll join us next year, when our theme will be VILLAINS.

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WITCH WEEK DAY SIX: The Genius of Ursula K Le Guin

Le Guin’s fantasy fans will recognize these few lines from The Creation of Éa, her imagined mythology of Earthsea:

Only in silence the word,
only in dark the light,
only in dying life;
bright the hawk's flight
on the empty sky.

Some of us know that Le Guin wrote poetry before she wrote fiction, but how many of us have read beyond the fragments in her novels? Today, poet and guest blogger Tanya Manning-Yarde tantalizes us with a taste Le Guin’s poetry.

Tanya Manning-Yarde, Ph.D., is a poet and freelance writer from New York City. A graduate of Rutgers University and University at Albany, she recently worked as a copy editor and contributing writer for Bronze Magazine. She blogs at (Instagram @every_watering_word_author) and is a freelance blogger for the annual Montclair Film Festival in Montclair, NJ. Prior to pursuing a career as a writer, she was a high school English/Language Arts teacher, Assistant Professor, Instructional Coach, and an educational consultant. Her poems have been published at Literary Mama, Memoryhouse and Random Sample Review. Her first poetry collection, Every Watering Word, was published in 2017 (Wasteland Press).

Finding my Elegy: New and Selected Poems (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), by Ursula K. Le Guin, is a compelling constellation of poems. Spanning fifty years, this collection chronicles selected early writings to contemporary pieces previously unpublished. Although well known for her science fiction writing, Le Guin was also a prolific poet, demonstrating versatility in verse and dexterity in the topics she pondered. This compilation illustrates Le Guin’s agility; her poetry is unfettered, unobligated, reliant neither on topical boundaries nor compliant with poetic structural apparatuses.

Throughout several of Le Guin’s poems is an attentiveness to contrast in which she details observations of an object, concept or location and compares it to something else. In one poem titled “Writers,” Le Guin makes a stark comparison between visual artists and writers, between the art that is physically and sensorially rendered by sculptors and musicians to the revelatory unfolding that writers make readers do. It is this unfolding by the reader that Le Guin contends is the art of a writer.

Le Guin discusses the creating and delivering of written art as not occurring exclusively in the artist’s hands but as transactional; the unraveling and excavation of meaning occurs between writer and reader (“A writer’s work /is with the insubstantial word /the image that can only find /its being in another’s mind”). Writer and reader are collaborative cartographers.

Le Guin also demonstrates dexterity and alacrity in designing interpretive lenses for readers to use in entering her poems. Several of her pieces situate readers as sociologists accompanying her in examination of how nature and humans live and interact within a shared world. In one such poem, “April in San Jose,” Le Guin employs contrasting images of floral aesthetics and abject humanity, illustrating through contrast the experiential disparity between nature and man. Sensory laden descriptions of natural beauty present the experience of nature as abundant and self-affirming (“sweetness of freesias, garlands, wreaths,” “dark fragrance of eucalyptus,” and “glitter and rustle of inordinate palms”). Alongside such images are ones captured of men in conflict, downtrodden and deflated. In contrast to their thriving, colorful and natural counterparts, these men simply endure their existence (“bark wordless pain like dogs, /roar rage in one dark syllable, /or stand and beat an oak tree with their fists”). It is suggested here that the disparate descriptions are assembled by Le Guin to make the case for the reader that the experience of life itself is not absolute. More to the point, she juxtaposes many aspects of an urban setting to make the case for the reader how dissimilar phenomena can, paradoxically, co-exist and co-mingle (“in the valley of ghosts and orchards”).

Evident in Le Guin’s poems is the depiction of nature in service to a larger conversation. She references natural settings not only for their aesthetics but as markers of a larger transcendental journey, a means to consider Nature and our own existence as multi-faceted and multi-dimensional, as shown in this excerpt from “For Gabriela Mistral”:

If I walk south
with the ocean always on my right
and the mountains on my left,
swimming the mouths of the rivers
the estuaries and the great canal,
if I walk from high tide to low tide
and full moon to new moon, south,
and from equinox to solstice, south,
across the equator in a dream of volcanoes, ...

Le Guin provides a litany of natural locations, distances and natural artifacts to punctuate the lengths the narrator will go for his/her voice to be aligned with an original calling, an ethereal language. These descriptions of natural settings serve as markers along a larger journey, both physical and metaphoric.

Le Guin is astute in writing poetry in service to providing social commentary on phenomena characteristic of the human experience, spanning personal experiences such as parenting to collective experiences such as war. Conflict and war particularly are topics that permeate several of Le Guin’s poems. In “The Curse of the Prophetess,” centered on the conflict in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine, Le Guin creates a litany composed of invocations condemning irreverent behaviors humans show one another, and later, a hope for the restoration of recognition by those involved of one another’s humanity.

In “Soldiers,” she creates a space to illustrate the facets of war and its impact on both soldier and society, contrasting images of fallen soldiers and enthusiastic crowds, patriotic celebration and protests of fatalities, in service to a larger question regarding what is gained and lost in war.

Ursula Le Guin has left a legacy of writing that will require many lifetimes to digest. Dexterous and nimble in free verse and quatrain, agile in use of meter and rhyme, willful in refusing to align with any one form of writing, Le Guin evinces possibilities wildly imagined.

And willfully embraced.

Thank you, Tanya, for this thought-provoking post. Looking for an instant Le Guin poetry fix? A few of her poems have been published online here.

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