Sunday, November 13, 2011

In Memoriam Dr. Donald Busarow

Today I had the great honor of sharing some words at the memorial service for a beloved mentor, teacher, friend, and musician, Dr. Busarow of Wittenberg University--or, as we knew him, Dr. B.  I have already received requests for a copy of my talk, so in the interest of sharing it with those of you who were a part of these choir experiences--and, of just as much importance, with those who weren't--I am posting here to my blog.  

First, though, I would like to thank Pastor Rachel Tune, Bob White, and the Busarow family for giving me the opportunity to participate in this way.  And I would also like to take a moment to thank Dr. B, who even in death is providing me a sense of guidance.  During the memorial service, I was struck with the impression that, in his life, Dr. B did what he was made to do.  He didn't shy from the task of passing his light on to others, but did it with dedication and energy for years and years.  This past Tuesday, I received word from my agent of two  more publishing houses that had rejected my first novel manuscript.  That same day, my phone rang, and it was Pastor Rachel asking me to prepare something for the memorial because, in her words, I am a writer.  What a great and timely reminder that when you feel you have something to offer--in my case, my writing--you must pursue it, no matter how difficult and demanding the journey might be.

So without further ado, I hope you will click on "Read More" to see my thoughts about the Wittenberg Choir experience under Dr. B as I lived it from 2002 to 2006.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Domestic Novel? Reflections on Arlington Park

This past week, I read Arlington Park, a novel by Rachel Cusk.  Cusk is obviously a talented writer, and her resume shows it: a Whitbread award and a shortlisting for Whitbread, the shortlist for the Orange Prize, and a citation from Granta as one of Britain's 20 best young writers.  While blurbs on book covers rarely reflect what's on the pages therein, in Arlington Park's case, the promised "incisive" quality that book reviewers heralded turned out to be true.  Unfortunately, despite all this, I just couldn't agree with the ends to which Cusk put her talent.

Arlington Park follows six women trapped in privileged suburban life.  The question of how to find fulfillment in suburban life crops up frequently in fiction, not the least in my own first novel.  But the difference between the perspectives of Cusk's women and of women in, say, Allegra Goodman's Kaaterskill Falls, is vast.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

And We're Back!

Well, that was certainly a longer hiatus than I anticipated, but while this blog was languishing, yours truly was relocating from Fairfax, Virginia, back to my native Ohio.  Husband Nat and I found a charming apartment in an old house, and we are at last happily settled in.  Or I should say, settled in enough that I can resume my daily habits of reading and writing.

But not all that space from July to now was void of literary pleasures.  In September, I had the great privilege of escorting Allegra Goodman around Fairfax.  Not only did she give a wonderful reading with Alan Cheuse, but she also proved to be as generous and kind in person as you might deduce from her books.  In preparation for her visit, I read Kaaterskill Falls, a finalist for the 1998 National Book Award, and found that I appreciated it more than her recent Cookbook Collector.  She read, however, from The Cookbook Collector, and the passage she delivered made me think again about the good amount of wit and observation behind that book.  (For more of my thoughts on Cookbook Collector and Goodman’s fiction, see my post of  April 5.)

Another highlight for me was reading Alan Bennett’s novella The Uncommon Reader in the midst of my moving mayhem, a perfect break from boxes and bubble wrap.  Talk about witty: the premise is that the queen of England discovers a love of reading, and Bennett doesn’t miss an opportunity to satirize society’s attitude towards books, nor to reveal the transformative power of reading.  Never have I seen the reasons for reading so clearly and so un-sentimentally presented.  The novella itself is just the right length: it tells its story economically, uncluttered by side characters or subplots—in short, it is a true novella, well-executed and deliciously fun to read for those who love to read anyway.  It’s a little like the recent movie Midnight in Paris in that catching allusions and references is more than half the fun of the book.  But for those who don’t love to read (how mysterious you wound up at my blog!), this novella is imperative—it just might inspire you to visit a local library.

Finally, I have been at work on drafting my second novel, albeit with interruptions.  Since I’ve been writing this one by hand (a topic for another post—stay tuned!), I decided my first real day of writing here in my new place—yesterday—should be a survey of what I have so far.  I typed up the pages I hadn’t yet typed and found to my happy surprise that I have 77 pages.  True, they’re not all brilliant; true, writing is ultimately about quality, not quantity; but my approach to writing is to first cough up the stone and worry about sculpting it later.  Yesterday was a blue-eyed, sun-kissed day, so I took my little manuscript to Schiller Park, and there, in the presence of the great German poet himself (okay, okay, just his statue), I read it.  The verdict?  Hey, it’s a first draft.