Tues. July 16, 2019: SAY UNCLE by Kay Ryan — #ReaderExpansionChallenge

 

Say Uncle. Kay Ryan. NY:Grove Press. 1991.

This month’s challenge was for poetry. I can’t write poetry worth a damn, but I love reading it.

Early in the month, I was blown away by Patty Seyburn’s THRESHOLD DELIVERY. However, I was paid to read it for a review site, so I couldn’t talk about it here. But seriously, it’s a brilliant book, go read it.

I thought about re-reading Sharon Olds or Jackie Kay. I’ve found all their work transformational. But part of the point of this month’s challenge was to read work by someone new-to-me.

I found Kay Ryan’s SAY UNCLE in the library. Ms. Ryan was a Library of Congress Poet Laureate.

I’m so glad I picked it up. The poems are energetic and delightful and funny and painful and powerful, all at once.

“The Museum of False Starts” could represent any creative project. “Crash” has so many things going on at so many levels in a short poem that it needs to be re-read multiple times, each one revealing another layer. “Say Uncle” is funny in a ha-ha-ow! kind of way.

Every poem has something dynamic and delightful about it.

I may have found it at the library, but I’m ordering my own copy to re-read often. And I’m searching for her other work now, too.

What did you read this month, and what was your response? Post in the comments, and we can share what we read.

Next month’s challenge is to re-read a favorite childhood book from your current perspective. We will reconvene here to discuss them on August 20th.

Lists, Logs, and First Books of the Year

Lists and Logs:
I decided to keep a reading notebook for 2018. Handwritten, of course, and then share bits and pieces here and on Ink in My Coffee.

Not because I want to boast. But I want to see what I choose to read, whether for pleasure or because I’m paid to read it, or for research for a project. I also want to see how certain books lead to other books.

Some of these books will lead to a new, upcoming feature called “Conversations with a Book.” Sometimes, when I read a book, I feel as though I’m having a conversation with the book or its author. I plan to share some of these with you this year.

I couldn’t wait to start the book journal until January 1.

From December 22 to 31, I read 26 books. Doesn’t sound possible, does it, and I’m not boasting. I read a lot. I was hungry for words. I felt creatively tired, and knew that I’m on a brutal deadline schedule this year. I wanted to use other people’s words as fuel.

Three of them I am still reading — not yet finished. So I guess the actual total of completed reads is 23, not 26.

16 were non-fiction. That included two cookbooks (yes, I read cookbooks like most people read novels) and one biography that’s background for one of my novels.

One of the non-fiction books will result in a “Conversation with a Book” piece. I took extensive notes as I read.

8 were fiction. Of the fiction, 7 of the 8 were mysteries (the only non-mystery I read was re-reading A CHRISTMAS CAROL, which I do every Christmas Eve).

1 was digital, fiction, recommended by a friend. The rest were print books.

Four of the mysteries were a huge disappointment. In fact, one enraged me so much I don’t want to read anything else by that author, and I certainly won’t buy it. One of the others I liked a lot, one I thought was a lot of fun, and two I liked and respected, although I found them very sad.

11 were books I own; 5 of which were re-reads, 2 of which I bought because I wanted to, and 4 which were holiday gifts.

15 were library books.

What does that all mean?

I have absolutely no idea.

But several books led me to order other books, and we’ll see where that winds up.

First Book of the Year
For some reason, the first book of the year is important to me. I’m not sure when that started or why.

We usually give and receive books for Christmas and start reading them on Christmas Eve (we’re Icelandic that way). But the first book choice of the new year started mattering to me.

I remember living in Seattle in the mid-1980s and making a big deal of the choice. My first purchase and read that year was Gail Fairfield’s CHOICE CENTERED TAROT, which is still a favorite.

This year, in keeping with my resolution to read more poetry, my first read, shortly after midnight was LOCKSLEY HALL AND OTHER POEMS by Alfred Lord Tennyson. It’s a small, old volume that was a gift from a friend earlier this year.

I’d read Tennyson before, but this time the rose-colored glasses were off. I was surprised by my negative reaction. He’s supposed to be romantic, isn’t he? To me, the poems felt like the male narrator blamed the women in the poems for the narrator’s own weaknesses, while pretending to wrap it up in adoration for her. I want to do some more research — I think I may have another “Conversation with A Book” piece come out of it.

The book includes:
Locksley Hall
The May Queen
The Lady of Shalott (which, interestingly enough, was referenced in one of the mystery novels I read in the past few days)
The Lord of Burleigh
Lady Clara Vere de Vere

I plan to re-read them, several times, slowly, in the coming weeks, and research the questions that I came up with in response to the reading. I’ll let you know if I find any answers!

My first choice of novel was something that was given to me over a year ago, and I hadn’t had the chance to read it. I liked the title, and I was looking forward to it. Sadly, when I picked it up, I discovered it was written in the present tense. I loathe novels written in the present tense. To me, it’s the author standing there, screaming in my face, “Look at ME! I’m a such a great stylist!” instead of getting out of the way and letting me experience the book.

So I put the book down. I will give it to someone who can enjoy it. No, I’m not posting the title and author — I don’t believe in author bashing.

I picked up another novel I’d been given several years ago and not had the chance to read, LUNCH WITH ELIZABETH DAVID by Roger Williams, and I’m enjoying it.

Is your choice of first book of the year important to you? Why or why not? Have you read Tennyson? What are your impressions?

Do you keep track of what you read? What tools do you use? How do you find it helpful?

I’m asking because I’m genuinely curious!

Interview with Ute Carbone!

A Biblio Paradise is launching a new season, and my fellow Champagne author Ute Carbone is our first guest! Please give her a warm welcome, along with her book, A BLUEBERRY TRUTH.

Annabel Aidan: What triggered the move from poetry to novels? Do you still write poetry? Poetry requires such spare and specific language. Was opening out into prose a challenge?

Ute Carbone: The switch was something that just kind of happened. I had been writing poems for a while and I got to a plateau. I wanted to deepen my poetry and make it work better, but I couldn’t find the way to do it. I had talked to my good friend and fellow poet Lana Ayers and she suggested we take a workshop with another area poet, Kate Gleason. Kate is a terrific poet and a great teacher. Her workshop “writing from the inner voice” is based on workshops created in Amherst, Mass. by Pat Schneider. They’re all about writing from what’s inside of you, opening the faucets wide in the first draft. We would write using paper and pen and then read what we’d written, looking for the “good stuff,” the gems that come out in first writing. The method did help my poetry, but an interesting thing happened. I started writing stories. I began with flash fiction. Over time, the stories got longer and longer until, one day, I found myself writing a novel. I loved the method so much that I started a similar workshop with Lana!

I do occasionally still wax poetic. It’s a different kind of writing though, and most of my energy goes towards prose these days. I love creating worlds and telling stories. In a work in progress that I’m now polishing, the main character is a singer-songwriter. I wrote a couple of her songs. It was kind of fun, getting back into it.

You’re right about poetry being spare and specific. Blueberry Truth is around 60,000 words, P-town runs about 70,000. In novel-writing terms, those are relatively short books. Lots of novelists will write somewhere around 150.000 words in an early draft and then pare the story down to 100,000 or so. I find I often do the opposite, I’ll have to add things on rewrite because the prose is a bit spare.

But poetry has also been a great training ground for prose. Poets pay a lot of attention to voice, to how words ‘sound together’ on the page. I try to use that in my prose. And the language of poetry, because it is spare, needs to be precise. Every word counts. I try to carry that specificity into my prose. Geranium, for example, paints a more precise picture than flower.

AA: I love the title of your upcoming book from Champagne, THE P-TOWN QUEEN. Is it set in Provincetown? As someone who recently moved to Cape Cod, and spent many a summer in P-town in the late 1960s, the title alone captures my attention for the book.

UC: Thanks! P-town is a romantic comedy and kind of a romp. It was a lot of fun to write. And it is set in Provincetown. The Cape is one of my favorite places. I imagine it’s a wonderful place to live and a terrific place to write. I live about three hours away in Southern New Hampshire and my husband and I visit as often as we can manage. We usually go to the outer cape and have spent lots of time in Provincetown.

Provincetown is a great mix. There is a vibrant arts community, an open and equally vibrant gay community, lots of tourists, and a fishing community that tends to be traditional in its values and very proud of its Portuguese heritage. All on a tiny fist of land surrounded on three sides by water.

AA: BLUEBERRY TRUTH is set in Albany, NY. What about Albany, specifically, made it the perfect setting for the book?

UC: Hmm, good question. The short answer is that I lived and worked in the Albany area when I was in my twenties. I was a teacher and the school at which the main character, Beanie, teaches is loosely based on the place where I used to teach. So, Albany seemed like a natural.

I’ve read some of your blogs on the importance of setting and like you, I like having a place where I’m comfortable with the geography. Places have a kind of ‘feel’ to them that I think you have to experience firsthand. For this reason, all my books tend to be set in the northeast. It’s where I live and where I’m ‘comfortable’. That said, I have an idea for a book that would be set, at least for a part of it, in Afghanistan. I’ve been reluctant to follow that idea because I’ve never been there, but maybe it would be a challenge worth taking…

AA: Beanie’s playlist (on your book’s Facebook page) is fascinating –Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Dave Matthews. Do you usually use music when you write? Do the music choices evolve out of the writing process? Do you create a playlist before you write, and, if so, how do you choose what goes on it?

UC: I’m glad you asked about the playlist! Music and writing have always been connected for me. My love of poetry grew out of song. I spent my teens listening to songwriters like Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell.

These days, I’m a huge Petty and Springsteen fan! My iPod is one of my prize possessions. I listen while driving and while walking and while doing chores. I don’t usually listen while writing, because I can get too caught up in the music and so it becomes a distraction rather than an asset .

Like most writers, I spend a lot of time “noodling,“ that is thinking about the next scene- what my characters are likely to do, what will happen, how things will be resolved, etc. I find that music helps to me to find my way into the tone and feeling of the book.

I have a playlist for nearly all my books, though I haven’t ever started with songs. I usually get a ways into a project before I start thinking about a list. The choices are very intuitive, they just ‘feel’ like they belong to the book. Often, the lyrics will in some way match the thoughts and feelings of the main characters. I will sometimes add or subtract songs as the characters undergo changes.

I read on Twitter where someone was creating stories based on what was playing on their iPod. That sounds fascinating to me, maybe I’ll try that at some point.

AA: What drives you to keep writing?

UC: I love words, I love the sound of them, the way they fall together on the page.

I was a head-in-the-clouds kind of kid so dreaming up worlds and characters suits me well. Creating characters is a kind of magic. After a while, they take on a life of their own. It’s like hanging out with a whole bunch of imaginary friends. And really, how many adults get to have imaginary friends? ☺

Excerpt:
I shouldn’t have slept on the floor. I’ve got a perfectly good bed to sleep
in after all. But I couldn’t stay there. Not alone. Not after the fight I had
with Mac. It’s not as though we haven’t fought before. You don’t go
through a bunch of years dating and eight years of marriage without a few
skirmishes. But he’s never walked out before. He’s never opted to sleep on
the couch before.

He’s wrong about Blue. She needs a place to stay. I’ve promised to keep
her safe. She’s had enough of broken promises. I don’t plan on breaking
this one. I have to get Mac to change his mind. He’s not some cold-hearted
beast who won’t see the rightness of this. When I go down to find him, he’s
gone.

Blue wanders into the kitchen while I’m making coffee.

“Hey sleepyhead, what kind of cereal do you like?”

She doesn’t answer me right away. The wariness that had disappeared
yesterday is back and creates a wall between us.

“We not going to Florida?”

I set a bowl of cereal in front of her. “No, Blue. We’re not going to
Florida.”

“You say you help me out. You lie.”

“Florida’s a big place, Blue. I told you that. We can’t just go to Florida.”

“We can’t. We can’t. We can’t.”

I pour milk into the cereal. She stares at it for a minute, then walks
away. I walk after her to find her sitting desolate on the piano stool.
“Right now, we need to get to school.” I sound more like her teacher
than someone who might care for her.

“No. I’m going to find my ma. If you don’t help, I go by my own self.”
She crosses her arms and turns her back to me.

“It’s not that easy.” I’m ready to detail how impossible, to say we may
never find her.

Blue reaches into her pocket and pulls out a battered postcard. It has
been torn and taped back together. The ends are dog-eared from the
pocket. On it is a picture of a cheap-looking motel made of pink cinder
blocks. The sign in front of the motel says Flamingo Motor Lodge. On the
back, girlish handwriting tells Blue to be a good girl. The “o’s” in “love”
and “Mom” are big and heart shaped. The postmark is February
something, Dunedin, Florida. “That where Ma is.”

I hand the card back to her. She folds it into her pocket with the care
you’d give something breakable.

“We can’t go down there. The card came months ago. It’s a motel.
People don’t stay in motels for long.”

“You ain’t going to help. You lie. You fucking lie all the time.” She gets
up and knocks the piano bench over.The top flies open and sheet music is
spewed onto the floor. “Fuck you.”

I gather her up, hurt back and all, and hold her close.

“Fuck you.” She sobs into my robe. We sit on the floor, rocking and
rocking.

Bio:
Ute began her writing life as a poet and has had a number of poems published in small press magazines and anthologies. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in such publications as Comstock Review, Hawaii Pacific Review, and
Bellowing Ark. She taught first-draft writing workshops for about twelve years and keeps a fan page based on the workshops at:
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Wildwords/191658074009. She has a short story due out in the “Words on Fire Anthology” by Nemesis Publishing, later this year. Blueberry Truth is her first novel. A second book, a romantic comedy called The P-town Queen, will be released by Champagne Press next June.
Ute was born in Germany and grew up in upstate New York. She and her husband now reside in Nashua, NH. They have two grown sons. Ute enjoys hiking, skiing, and generally anything that involves being outside. She loves the theatre and attends as regularly as time and money will allow. She’s a bibliophile who will read just about anything, though she loves novels best.

You can contact Ute at her website: http://UteCarbone.com

Guest Colin Galbraith: Half Way to A Winner — How I Kept the Same Book Selling

Today’s guest is Colin Galbraith, who tells us how FRINGE FANTASTIC came about and how, years later, it still not only sells, but positively affects his writing career. Thanks, Colin!

Half Way To A Winner
How I Kept The Same Book Selling

by Colin Galbraith

I first came to live in Edinburgh way back in the misty and long forgotten year of 1998. It was a long but memorable year: Bill Clinton was impeached, the Good Friday Agreement was signed, Dana International became the first transsexual to win the Eurovision Song Contest, Google was officially formed, France won the World Cup, Germany won the most Gold medals at the Winter Olympics, Armageddon was the highest grossing movie, Frank Sinatra died and little known Scottish writer, Colin Galbraith, had an idea for a book of poetry.

The idea was a basic one but it was one that would end up having repercussions from the day it came to be published in December 2005, through the course of the following five years. The fact it all happened quite by accident is neither here nor there, but how it happened and what transpired as a result, is something that can be repeated over and over given the right set of circumstances. Let me explain.

Here’s the original premise for Fringe Fantastic: a collection of poetry that encapsulates the spirit and magic of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It was as simple as that, and as the new boy in town with a bursting enthusiasm to write a book of poetry with a strong theme, it was the perfect choice to be my first chapbook.

Thoroughly inspired by a creative writing course and a couple of short story publications, I finally got to work in the summer of 2005. Much of the research involved getting out and about, which during Festival time in Edinburgh makes for a unique and often thrilling experience. The city becomes a massive cauldron of the odd, the funny, the artistic and the colourful. How then, could a poet possibly fail?

The writing of Fringe Fantastic also led to a few nights out and subsequent visits to several pubs around town. Who said writing was a solitary profession? I kept writing and within three weeks had more poems about the Fringe than I knew what to do with.

Over the next three months the book was assembled; poems selected, photographs inserted, layout decided, and a photographer picked to take the shots for the front and back covers. The book was produced and released to the world on 2nd December, 2005. Voila! I prepared to be bowled over by a mad rush of Scottish poetry readers eager to buy the book.

Except they never came and there was no selling spree. It was then I realised that mere press releases to online venues wouldn’t reach my target readership, and that getting attention in the local Press was harder than I ever imagined. There was only one thing for it: I had to get out onto the streets and sell the book myself.

Over the course of the following year I laid out more leaflets, fliers and posters around Edinburgh, Glasgow, Paisley and any other town or city I happened to be passing through, than trees were being grown in the surrounding fields of East Lothian. But other than sales to friends and family, the book just wasn’t taking off the way I’d hoped.

It wasn’t until the Fringe Festival came around again in 2006 did I realise the mistake I’d made: I didn’t actually know what my target readership was. I took to the streets again, handing out fliers whilst clutching a bag of books and selling them to anyone that showed any interest. The book started to sell. I began working the queues for Fringe shows to promote and sell the book, the queue for the Royal Military Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle in particular, I found to be particularly responsive.

I quickly realised that tourists formed the main readership of Fringe Fantastic. In Scotland, interest was hard to generate—I was just another wannabe poet with some self-published books to sell—but to the tourist I was offering something unique, something special and different that they could take back home when they left (signed, of course) to remember their holiday by.

Tourists come to Edinburgh every year and in August the population of the city doubles. In book terms this can be seen as half a million new potential readers of Fringe Fantastic every year arriving on my door step. Bingo!

As sales started to increase another strange thing happened. Suddenly I had credibility; suddenly I was a bit of a story. The Guardian and Sunday Herald newspapers both picked me up, as did The Leither and Scotland magazines. A circular effect on promotion had unwittingly been established; sales meant free advertising, which in turn meant more sales. Add a couple of follow-up chapbooks into the equation and all of a sudden I was a book seller.

Five years on and Fringe Fantastic still follows the same regular pattern of sales. Between September and June sales are slow, then in July and August when the tourists hit town, sales rocket. In 2010 I sold almost all of my books online, which I can only attribute to that circular effect of promotion, but the other side effect I’ve seen has been on my other books that have started to trend in line with Fringe Fantastic‘s ups and downs; all beneficiaries of the link between the worldwide phenomena that is the Edinburgh Festival and literature.

I never knew it at the time but it was a great marketing strategy. I’d stumbled into it but the secret is clear to me now: write a book you can connect to an event or place with which you are closely connected, and you are half way to a winner. Sell the book no matter what you have to do—embarrass yourself, don’t be afraid—because with sales comes credibility and with credibility comes attention.

Bio:
Colin Galbraith is the author of several works of fiction and collections of poetry. Based in Edinburgh, he is a lover of the alternative side of Scottish life, rabbits, cheese and quaffing. Galbraith is an accomplished fake faller. Read more about him here: www.colingalbraith.co.uk

Personal signed copies of Fringe Fantastic can be ordered here.

Fringe Fantastic can be purchased direct from the publisher here.