12 Winters Blog

Hearst Center reading, and a busy literary October

Posted in October 2011 by Ted Morrissey on October 2, 2011

I’ve just recently returned from Cedar Falls, Iowa, where I had the honor of reading for Final Thursday Press‘s series at the Hearst Center for the Arts. Jim O’Loughlin, the publisher (and editor and just about everything else) of FTP, organized the reading; and I was originally put in contact with Jim via Jeremy Schraffenberger, whom I’ve known for a number of years thanks to our mutual involvement in the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900. The Hearst Center, which is the former home of poet James Hearst, is a wonderful venue, with its art gallery and performance stage, among other features; and there was a sizable and attentive crowd that came out for the reading. I read a slightly edited and pared down version of the fifth chapter of Men of Winter.

Toss in some great conversation along with terrific pizza and Iowa’s own Millstream beer (plus the late-September beauty of northern Iowa foliage), and it was a memorable trip to be sure.

Speaking of Men of Winter, my publisher, Amy Ferrell of Punkin House, has been hard at work for the last several months reorganizing the press and expanding the house’s markets; as a consequence, my novel is available once again via Amazon, with the added bonus of a Kindle version, plus it’s now available through Barnes & Noble, including a Nook version.  Punkin House will be bringing out my novella and story collection Weeping with an Ancient God in 2012.

While I’m on the topic of my writing (fascinating as it is), I’ll mention that I’ve been circulating the manuscript of my novel An Untimely Frost, which I finished over the summer; and I’ve been working in earnest on a conceptual story collection, of which I have two stories out and about, hopefully making friends, and I’ve been writing a third (highly experimental) story. Right now I’m envisioning a collection of thirteen interrelated tales, but obviously we’re still a long way from home.

I stated in the title of this post that it’ll be a busy literary October in Springfield, Illinois, and indeed it will. Here’s a quick overview of a few of the upcoming events:

Monday, October 3: Poet Stephen Frech will be reading at The Pharmacy at 6:30.

Thursday, October 13: Poet Erin Elizabeth Smith will be reading at The Pharmacy at 7:00.

Thursday, October 27: Quiddity lit journal’s Midwestern Gothic Costume Ball, featuring Jodee Stanley, editor of Ninth Letter. Festivities will begin at 7:00 in the historic (and haunted) Brinkerhoff Home on the campus of Benedictine University at Springfield.

Friday, October 28: A horror reading by Meagan Cass, of the University of Illinois at Springfield’s Creative Writing Program, at Andiamo Cafe, 6:00.

October  in general and Halloween in particular have been more or less my favorite time of year for-,well, ever; and this 2011 installment sounds like it’s going to be a hoot. (I’m a big fan of winter, too, but it’s always diminished by Christmas and New Year’s — however, not so the fall.)

Before closing I want to add that I’ve been attending some terrific showings sponsored by Prairie Art Alliance. Check out their events and exhibits page to see what’s on the horizon (that’s a landscape reference … get it?).

One last thing (because apparently people have been concerned): I did, at long last, finish reading War and Peace. I enjoyed the seven months of my reading life that I devoted to the infamous classic, but I must say Tolstoy’s longish treatise on historical theory was not the most emotionally satisfying way to conclude the (roughly) 1,200-page novel — though I understand what Tolstoy was up to, and as an experimentalist myself I appreciate that he was experimenting with genre and form. Some days you get the bear, some days the bear gets you. One of the first things I did after finishing War and Peace: read a wonderful novella by Denis JohnsonTrain Dreams — finished it in only two glorious sittings.

tedmorrissey.com

Pathfinding

Returning to The Tunnel, and the Final Thursday reading

Posted in September 2011 by Ted Morrissey on September 11, 2011

For nearly a year now I’ve been devoting myself to my creative writing, putting my scholarly interests on hold, but I’ll be scratching that itch to some degree by presenting a paper with the PsyArt panel next February at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900. I plan on presenting a paper titled “William H. Gass’s ‘Very Long Winter’: The Cultural Trauma of the Fallout Shelter Frenzy as Expressed in The Tunnel” — which will deal with ideas and images of enclosure in Gass’s award-winning novel, nearly thirty years in the writing. Consequently, this fall I’ll get back to some Gass reading, in addition to research on the fallout shelter phenomenon in the United States, especially in the 1960s, the decade in which Gass began writing The Tunnel, for which he won the American Book Award in 1996.

This paper will be a companion to a paper I presented in 2010 at the University of Louisville’s conference on the Atom Bomb’s influence on Gass’s work, with that paper focusing chiefly on his classic short story “In the Heart of the Heart of the Country.” I thought of submitting this fallout shelter paper for last year’s conference, but I knew I’d be in the throes of writing my novel, An Untimely Frost, and wouldn’t want to derail that line of thought to write the Gass piece. By the way, I was invited to participate in the panel by Andrew Gordon, who’s on the editorial board of PsyArt: An Online Journal for the Psychological Study of the Arts.

It will be the fortieth anniversary of the Louisville Conference, and as such there are several special events planned — so it should be even more fun and rewarding to attend than usual. I’ve also submitted a creative piece to the conference, my short story “Crowsong for the Stricken,” but it’ll be awhile before I hear if it’s been accepted.

Speaking of “Crowsong,” I read the story to an enthusiastic (and indulgent) group at Athens (Illinois) Municipal Library August 28. I was there ostensibly to talk about researching and writing Men of Winter, but concluded by reading some new work. I appreciated the fact that a couple of my Quiddity and writing cohorts, Pamm Collebrusco and Meagan Cass, took the trouble to attend the talk and to add their experience and expertise to the conversation. Pamm is an associate editor for Quiddity (and one of the best proofreaders/copy editors I’ve had the privilege of working with), and Meagan has just begun teaching creative writing at the University of Illinois at Springfield (she’s a gifted fiction writer whose work I admire very much).

I’m currently working on a story that is a companion to “Crowsong for the Stricken” (and another recently written story, “Primitive Scent”); I’m thinking more and more that I want to write a collection of these weird stories which are conceptually connected. On the one hand, this current piece is really putting up a fight, but, on the other, I’m experimenting liberally (wildly) with narrative technique … so, anyway, we’ll have to see what comes of it all.

In a couple of weeks I’ll be headed to Cedar Falls, Iowa, to give a reading for the Final Thursday Reading Series, organized by the University of Northern Iowa’s Jim O’Loughlin and Final Thursday Press. The reading will be September 29 at the Hearst Center for the Arts. It begins with an open mic at 7:15; then I’ll do my thing at 8. It should be a good time, and I’m very much looking forward to it.

I don’t have any readings or talks planned for October (currently), but it should be a great month for literature and art here in Springfield, Illinois — I’m trusting those two facts are not related. Poet Stephen Frech will be in town October 3 and give a reading at The Pharmacy at 6:30. Then October 13 poet Erin Elizabeth Smith will also give a reading at The Pharmacy at 7:00. (The Pharmacy, by the way, is a new addition to Springfield — so new I’ve only recently learned of it and have not yet darkened its door with my presence … soon, very soon.) What is more, Quiddity is planning a unique literary event for October 27 — intriguing details to follow.

The Prairie Art Alliance continues to organize a series of terrific events. I attended “Abstractions: A Collection of Member Work” last week; and “Paper Works” is coming up October 7. See their events page for complete details.

I can’t stop writing without plugging one of my favorite local events, less than a week away: the Route 66 Film Festival, September 16-18, featuring 62 films in three days. Download the festival’s program schedule.

That’s about all I have time and patience to talk about for now (anyone reading this is probably feeling the same way), but I’ll be back at it again, I trust, before long.

tedmorrissey.com

Pathfinding

A truly delightful Romeo and Juliet

Posted in July 2011 by Ted Morrissey on July 29, 2011

Second only to Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet is the Shakespeare play I’ve seen staged most — only because the famous love story is staged so frequently — and there’s no question that the production I saw last evening at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival in Bloomington, Illinois, was by the far the most imaginative (while staying true to the text) and most emotionally engaging I’ve experienced. Directed by Doug Finlayson, the Festival production was truly delightful.

As one would expect, the portrayals of the title characters (played by Dylan Paul and Laura Rook) were at the heart (ha) of the production’s success — and I want to speak to these portrayals in some detail in a moment — but Finlayson took a number of creative risks in his treatment of what could be the best-known and most-read of Shakespeare’s plays (I’m basing my statement on the fact that so many high school freshmen read the play), and every roll of the creative dice was a winner. Moreover, judging from audience reactions, I know I’m not alone in labeling the production a triumph.

In the interest of time and reader attention span, I won’t try to speak to every risky choice made in the Festival production, but I do want to underscore a few. One was in the production’s costuming (designed by Linda Pisano). Often directors set Shakespeare plays in more contemporary settings (for example, a couple of years ago I saw another marvelous production of Romeo and Juliet, by the famed Acting Company, situated in 1920s Mississippi), and the costuming of course is instrumental in communicating and selling that setting choice. For the Festival production, however, the costuming was all over the map — with some characters dressing in Renaissance-style wardrobe, others looking more like extras in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and still others appearing as if they’d just come from shooting a Gap commercial, in jeans and trendy jackets … to name just a few apparent influences, and these influences were often mixed together for individual costumes.

I’ve seen some productions of Romeo and Juliet in which the costuming was designed to delineate between the feuding Capulets and Montagues, almost as if they were sports teams wearing home and away colors; but the costuming in the Festival production was no help whatsoever in figuring out family loyalties — especially when the fight choreographer (D. C. Wright) had the combatants moving in intersecting chaotic circles, thus further confusing the audience as to who was opposing who, especially early in the production.

The “confusion” of costumes — mixing and matching across centuries and geographies — and the chaotic fight scenes worked to emphasize the absurdity of the feud in the first place.  That is to say, even a careful perusal yields a sameness about the Capulets and Montagues — any differences which were so profound that they should result in a bloodfeud either never existed or have long since disappeared. This point is emphasized in the play’s final scene, in the Capulet vault, when the Prince asks, “Where be these enemies? Capulet, Montague, / See what a scourge is laid upon your hate …” (5.3.290-91). In other words, here, among these dead, there appear no family distinctions whatsoever.

Another artistic risk in the play is the use of contemporary top-40 music interspersed with more traditional compositions — perhaps most notably Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” when Romeo and Juliet first meet and instantly fall in love at the Capulet masquerade ball. In fact, the Katy Perry song plays for the first time as the teenagers ascend a platform at the front of the stage, creating an almost cinematic (or TV) effect of focusing the audience’s attention on the pair to the exclusion of everything else happening on stage, the way that a framing close-up would work on the screen, silver or plasma.

Let’s talk about the portrayals of the leads for a moment. Both young actors, Dylan Paul and Laura Rook, are quite wonderful as they embrace the youthfulness and immaturity of the title characters. After all, we often forget that Juliet is only thirteen and Romeo not much older, fifteen or sixteen. As such, the famous garden scene is touching and romantic, but also very funny as the characters’ awkwardness is underscored in a way I haven’t seen before — giving a new dimension to a scene that is arguably the most famous in all of literature.

By far, though, the most interesting and complex character in the play is Juliet — and with whom the most risk is taken in the Festival production. She is played as downright childish in the beginning, tomboyishly roughhousing with her little brother and cousins, carrying around a stuffed animal (a lion — symbol of power, especially masculine power, even though it’s the lionesses who hunt and supply food to the pride). When Juliet enters the masquerade ball, her status as thirteen-year-old beams forth thanks to her costume, and the way the actor carries herself of course. Juliet wears a colorful and fun dress  that ends above the knee, along with equally colorful butterfly wings. We at first see her from only the waist up, and when she walks into full view, we see that she has “topped off” her ensemble with pink high-top Chucks — a marvelous touch that takes the audience completely by surprise. She could be any adorable thirteen-year-old going to a junior high Halloween party.

In the famous garden scene, Juliet carries her stuffed lion toy onto the balcony. She is wearing a cloak and hood of pale green. After Romeo, awkwardly, makes his presence known, Juliet ultimately loses the toy and cloak, thus revealing an alluring bare-shouldered nightgown beneath. It seems that in this brief scene Juliet transforms from a toy-carrying tomboy to a sensual young woman. This transformation is also communicated via the butterfly emblem that we associate with Juliet throughout. Besides her butterfly costume, she wears a small butterfly barrette in her hair in several scenes, and there is a large cotton sheet with a picture of a butterfly that serves several purposes: banner, bridal bedsheet, and ultimately funeral shroud. The butterfly is appropriately juvenile (how many teenage girls festoon their lockers, notebooks, bedrooms, and body parts! with butterflies?), but it also represents dramatic transformation in nature, maturing from caterpillar to butterfly, or from girl- to womanhood. It’s also worth noting that Juliet refers to Romeo, in 3.2, as “[s]ole monarch of the universal earth” (94, my emphasis), perhaps stressing, in the context of the Festival production, the kindredness of the newlyweds.

I was especially delighted that the Festival was doing Romeo and Juliet this year because the play is one of several subtexts I tinker with in my recently completed novel, “An Untimely Frost” — the title of which is taken from 4.4 when Capulet says of his daughter (prematurely) that “Death lies on her like an untimely frost” (55). In a later chapter in my novel, the protagonist attends an oddball production of Romeo and Juliet, so I spent several weeks studying the play to write that chapter in particular.

All in all, it was a typically terrific evening at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival (in spite of the heat and humidity), where I enjoyed a production of The Winter’s Tale just last Saturday.

tedmorrissey.com

Men of Winter

Pathfinding

The Winter’s Tale and other literary happenings

Posted in July 2011 by Ted Morrissey on July 24, 2011

I had the pleasure of attending a production of The Winter’s Tale at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival last evening in Bloomington, Illinois. I’ve been attending the Festival for years and am always impressed and pleased with its productions, some of which are risk-taking, like 2008’s Titus Andronicus, which channeled a kind of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome motif while employing a heavy-metal soundtrack (and, for my money, it worked), or last season’s The Tempest, which suggested that the entirety of the play was taking place in some sort of ethereal space and not on solid ground (I liked it) — while other productions are much more conservative in their staging. This Winter’s Tale, directed by Deb Alley, tended toward the conservative.

The most obvious manifestation of this conservatism was the deletion of Time, personified, from the text. Sometimes an actual character, sometimes a chorus, Time opens the fourth act by emphasizing the swift passage of time (in the context of The Winter’s Tale, sixteen years evaporate in an instant) and transitioning into the spring/summer section of the play. The Festival production eliminates this first scene of Act IV altogether, and 4.2’s exchange between Polixenes and Camillo serves as the transitional device. In more traditional readings of the play, time stands still in the nation of Sicilia, where the action opens (and closes), but the sixteen years have progressed in Bohemia, the site of 4.2 through 4.4, and thus the characters have aged. However, with the excision of Time and 4.1 in the Festival production, time’s passage has not been arrested in Sicilia, evidenced by the graying of hair and faltering of vision among the characters when we return to Sicilia for Act V.

The removal of this whimsical element in the play (that is, Time’s appearance and his freezing of time in the winter section of the play) lays the groundwork for a more conservative climax, which virtually eliminates Shakespeare’s ambiguity from the climactic event, and in my mind simplifies and makes less interesting the event. In the beginning of the play, Sicilia’s Queen Hermione is unfairly accused of adultery and is imprisoned by her suddenly insane (with jealousy?) husband, King Leontes; and we are told that because of the ordeal, Hermione perishes. In the final scene, 5.3, after Leontes has been reunited with his daughter Perdita (it’s a long story — go see the play), he is presented with a statue of Hermione — a statue which shortly comes to life. It is unclear in the text of the play if we are witnessing a supernatural event (a la the freezing of time) or if Hermione has merely been in hiding somewhere for sixteen years and is reintroduced as a “statue” for dramatic effect (dramatic within the context of the action of the play).

The Festival’s production definitely privileges the more conservative interpretation; through the actions of the characters, especially Paulina, the alleged maker of the statue, and through the graying of Hermione’s hair, it seems clear that the flesh-and-blood Hermione has only been playing at being a statue. The whimsical, the supernatural has been expunged from the scene, which is an extension of its being expunged from the play as a whole. The conservatism of the Festival’s interpretation shows up in other, more subtle ways. For instance, the contrast between the winter-Sicilia-tragedy half of the play and the summer-Bohemia-comedy half is evident in the costuming (especially the palette’s shift from largely monochromic to widely colorful) and the set (especially the lighting’s shift from blue spectrum to orange spectrum). While costuming and set/lighting do suggest the contrast, one has to look closely to see it. Another conservative choice would be the physical absence of the bear that famously chases Antigonus from the stage in 3.3. According to the Norton Shakespeare’s footnotes, in the Bard’s day an actual bear very well may have been brought onto the stage to “chase” Antigonus, but

[m]odern productions vary significantly in their representation of the bear. Some strive for realism, having a bearskin-clad actor or a mechanical likeness of a bear pass across a darkened stage illuminated only by the occasional lightning bolt. Other productions are more stylized, suggesting a bear by the obvious artifice of a mask or symbol.

The Festival removes a step or two further, and the bear is represented merely by its roaring and the terrorized expression of Antigonus as he runs (unsuccessfully) for his life.

One may argue that by eliminating elements like personified Time and an actor in a bear-suit, the Festival production is being the opposite of conservative — that it’s straying from more traditional, more textbound versions of The Winter’s Tale; and, on the one hand, that’s true, but I guess what I’m suggesting is that the Festival’s interpretation is more conservative (that is, less fanciful) than Shakespeare’s vision of the story. I have some ideas as to why these choices were made, and how they affect our overarching reading of the play — but that sounds like the stuff of an academic paper.

To be clear, I enjoyed the Festival production very much, and I encourage directors to stray from traditional staging choices and to play with the text, even if those choices and those edits seem, to me, less whimsical than what the playwright had in mind in the first place.

Anyway, the Festival is also doing Romeo and Juliet, and I plan to see that within the next week or so.

In June, I happily participated in the Poets & Painters event at the H. D. Smith Gallery in the Hoogland Center for the Arts in Springfield, Illinois. The event was a joint venture between the Prairie Art Alliance and Springfield Poets and Writers (of which I’m a proud member). I was planning on providing a link to the poems and artwork that were presented that evening (including my poem “Anima”), but the page seems to be missing in action at the moment. If it rematerializes, I’ll update this post.

This month I’ve been participating in a poetry workshop organized by Lisa Higgs and Tracy Zeman (a link to Tracy’s poem “Grass for Bone” in Beloit Poetry Journal) at the Vachel Lindsay Home. Unfortunately I had to miss the second of four sessions, but I’ve been enjoying them very much and getting a lot out of them. I’ve mainly been focusing on writing some new short stories and putting the finishing touches on the manuscript of my newest novel, “An Untimely Frost,” but I did write a poem for the workshop; and in general Lisa and Tracy have had me thinking about language in ways I wouldn’t have been if not for the workshop this summer.

The workshop session I missed was time well spent nonetheless as I met with the Friends of Sherman Library book club July 12 to discuss my novel Men of Winter. It was great fun to talk with avid and enthusiastic readers, and they indulged me to read my brand-new short story “Crowsong for the Stricken,” which was also fun (for me at least). In addition to “Crowsong” I’ve also written a story titled “Primitive Scent,” and I’m at work on a third new story. I have in mind the next novel I want to begin writing, but now I’m thinking of postponing that project to write a collection of stories all set in the same weird little Midwestern village, the setting of these three new stories. We’ll see.

On the reading front, I continue to make my way through War and Peace (on page about 840 out of 1,200), and also Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain (for my nightstand read) — but I did take a few days away from Tolstoy to read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novella Memories of My Melancholy Whores (translated by Edith Grossman), and liked it very much: funny, haunting, touching — all the things one would expect from a Nobel Laureate.

tedmorrissey.com

Some readings and other literary happenings

Posted in May 2011 by Ted Morrissey on May 29, 2011

The last few weeks have been very busy, both academically and literarily. Besides the always hectic conclusion of the academic year, several creative-writing-related things have been afoot as well. As such, I’ll only devote a few lines to each.

This past week, for example, readings for Men of Winter resumed with a very nice affair at Benedictine University at Springfield, in historic (and haunted) Brinkerhoff Home. A few folks who were counting on coming to the reading had to send last-minute regrets, but otherwise it was well attended as such things go, especially when scheduled after the regular school year has ended. The fine folks of Quiddity planned the reading, and I must say no one does a reading in finer fashion than Joanna Beth Tweedy and the Q staff. Unfortunately Joanna Beth had to be out of town, but associate editor Amy Sayre-Roberts stepped up to host the event, which I very much appreciated.

Then yesterday poet Lisa Higgs and I read at Jane Addams Book Shop in downtown Champaign, Illinois. Lisa read from her chapbook of sonnets, Lodestar, plus some really interesting new work. We were in the shop’s third-floor “Mystery Room,” reading while a noisy thunderstorm moved through the area — a thunderclap or two were serendipitously timed for dramatic effect. On the downside, the weather probably discouraged attendance somewhat, but we had a quaint and appreciative group. Lisa and I don’t have any other dual readings on our calendar at the moment, but we’ll both be participating in Chatham Public Library’s Local Authors Panel June 11, from 1 to 3 p.m. However, we may try to schedule another reading or two before summer’s end.

Speaking of authorial events, I’ve also signed up to be part of Authors Row in Peoria Heights, Illinois, June 25 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., sponsored by I Know You Like A Book bookstore. The event is part of Duryea Days.

On June 30, from 6 to 9 p.m., I’ll be participating in Poets and Painters in the H. D. Smith Gallery at Hoogland Center for the Arts in Springfield, Illinois. This is a very cool event in which local writers compose original poems based on works of art by local artists they’ve selected. (This event especially deserves more “ink” so I’ll be sure to blog about it further beforehand.)

Recently I also had the honor of showing around town and introducing writer Meagan Cass, who will be teaching creative writing at University of Illinois at Springfield starting this fall. With local commencements and so forth underway, it was an especially busy time, and unfortunately a lot of folks’ calendars were overflowing, but we did have a chance to have dinner with Anita Stienstra, president of Springfield Poets and Writers; and we stopped by the campus of Benedictine University for a nice chat with David Logan, prose editor of Quiddity (among many other duties); we also met with Ethan Lewis, our UIS English Department colleague, at Barnes & Noble for a cup of coffee and a delightful conversation. To say that the local creative community is excited about the energy and expertise that Meagan will be adding is a gross understatement. Read her terrific story “Girlhunt, Spring 1999,” recently published in Devil’s Lake, to get a sense of why we’re so looking forward to her arrival.

In terms of my own creative writing, I’ve completed a draft of my new novel, tentatively titled An Untimely Frost, and have started revising and editing the manuscript, which runs just over 400 pages. I hope to be completed with the revision process by July 1 or so. For my main read, I’ve been enjoying Tolstoy’s War and Peace (after this morning’s reading, I’m on about page 470, out of 1200 or so). My bedstand read, though, has been Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain, which I’ve also been enjoying very much. Years ago I skimmed through the novel as I didn’t have time to read it carefully, but now I’m soaking in every word at a decidedly leisurely pace. And I’m always absorbing a few lines now and again out of the Good Book, by which of course I mean Conversations with William H. Gass — America’s greatest living writer.

tedmorrissey.com

Bradbury’s theory and more readings in the works

Posted in April 2011 by Ted Morrissey on April 3, 2011

When people have asked me what my dissertation is about, I’ve managed to boil the 240 pages or so of pretty dense academic text to something like, It’s about the psychic origins of creativity. Recently I was perusing Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451: The Authorized Adaptation by Tim Hamilton, a graphic novel, and Bradbury’s introduction really spoke to me as it aligns with my own ideas of creativity, especially literary creativity. Bradbury, who was one of the authors whose work turned me into a voracious reader as a teenager, begins by discussing some early incidents, stories, and ideas for stories; then writes, “All of these stories were forgotten when I first wrote Fahrenheit 451. But they were still there, somewhere, percolating in my subconscious” (vii). He goes on, “What you have before you now is a further rejuvenation of a book that was once a short novel that was once a short story that was once a walk around the block, a rising up in a graveyard, and a final fall of the House of Usher.”

Speaking specifically about his creative composition process, Bradbury writes,

My subconscious is more complicated than I ever imagined. I’ve learned over the years to let it run rampant and offer me its ideas as they come, giving them no preference and no special treatment. When the time is right, somehow they coalesce and erupt from my subconscious and spill onto the page.

Though phrased differently, Bradbury’s description is very similar to my own notions about how a work of fiction, especially, is birthed by its author (or at least by authors like me). There is no finite way to write fiction, and some authors, I know, plan their narratives like blueprints for a building and follow their outlines with an architect’s eye for exactness. Others, like me, approach the process more organically. My own sense is that my subconscious (a term that suggests a layering a consciousness that folks in psychology and various neurosciences are finding inaccurate and unhelpful, but we’ll go with it for now) is working ahead of me (of my conscious mind), laying the groundwork for the narrative and ushering it toward conflicts and resolutions that only it comprehends. My job as writer, then, is to trust its path and pick up the pieces of its trail that it leaves for me according to its own imagistic sensibilities. So rather than resist its beckoning when it may seem illogical to my conscious thought, I must trust my subconscious’s ability to keep to a worthwhile (let’s even use the word “meaningful”) narrative path.

Allow me to quote the master further:

Each character in Fahrenheit 451 has his or her moment of truth; I stayed quietly in the background and let them declaim and never interrupted…. I say all this to inform any teachers or students reading this book that what I did was name a metaphor and let myself run free, allowing my subconscious to surface with all kinds of wild ideas. (viii)

Bradbury’s sage advice to student writers:

[I]f some teacher suggests to his or her students that they conceive metaphors and write essays or stories about them, the young writers should take care not to intellectualize or be self-conscious or overanalyze their metaphors; they should let the metaphors race as fast and furious and freely as possible so that what is stirred up are all the hidden truths at the bottom of the writer’s mind.

All the hidden truths at the bottom of the mind: Amen.

Some odds and ends …

I’ve added another for-sure reading for Men of Winter, this one at Stone Alley Books & Collectibles in Galesburg, Illinois (Carl Sandburg’s and my hometown). It will be Saturday, April 30, from 1 to 3 p.m. Stone Alley is a very cool little shop featuring used and rare books, in addition to comic books and coffee — a terrific place to while away a couple of hours. I have several other readings in the works, but no other newly added locked-in dates at present. My University of Illinois, Springfield colleague Lisa Higgs and I are working on some dual readings, in addition to our April 20 reading at Sherman (Illinois) Public Library. Lisa will be reading from Lodestar, her collection of sonnets recently released by Finishing Line Press.

I continue to work and make progress on the Authoress, the novel I’m currently writing. My main book I’m reading right now is Tolstoy’s War and Peace. It took about 120 pages for me to get into it, but now, on about page 220, I’m really enjoying it. For one thing, I think it took awhile for me to synthesize all the different characters and their situations; once my old brain managed that, reading the narrative became much more pleasurable. I also read Andrew Ervin’s beautifully written novella 14 Bagatelles, part of his novella collection Extraordinary Renditions, from Coffee House Press.

Other notable titles I’ve enjoyed of late include Hint Fiction, edited by Robert Swartwood and published by Norton. By definition, hint fiction is “a story of 25 words or fewer that suggests a larger, more complex story.” This anthology is the repository of many, many intriguing little gems. Another is Terrance Hayes’s Lighthead, winner of the 2010 National Book Award in poetry and published by Penguin.

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Pathfinding: a blog devoted to helping new writers find outlets for their work

Readings for Men of Winter scheduled, and some new titles

Posted in March 2011 by Ted Morrissey on March 13, 2011

I’ve been actively trying to schedule some readings for Men of Winter, and I have two local dates set: One will be Wednesday, April 20, at Sherman Public Library, my “home away from home.” I’ll be reading along with my University of Illinois at Springfield colleague Lisa Higgs, whose collection of sonnets, Lodestar, has recently been released by Finishing Line Press. Lisa and I are working on setting up additional dual dates, but my other scheduled reading will be solo at Benedictine University at Springfield Thursday, May 26. The dates are listed on my Readings page at tedmorrissey.com. I read the first chapter of Men of Winter in Louisville last month, at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900; and I plan to read the first chapter at Sherman Public Library. However, I’ll do a different selection at BUS in May.

Not to dissuade any readers from coming to the Sherman Library event, but there is a video available of my reading chapter 1 at both Vimeo and YouTube (a slightly abridged version).

On the writing front, I was interviewed by The Fourth River, which (if I understand correctly) will run online this summer some time. The interviewer, Beth Gilstrap, talked with me about both Men of Winter and Weeping with an Ancient God, my novella that is slated for publication, along with a collection of short stories, next spring by Punkin House. Beth was a capable interviewer, asking intelligent and interesting questions (I only hope I responded in kind).

Meanwhile, I continue to work on the Authoress, the project name for my novel in progress. I’ve really been enjoying the writing process. I recently reached a climactic section that I’ve been working toward for 200 pages or thereabouts, and as such I’ve started getting up earlier just to leave myself a little extra time in the morning to write; if I get up at about 5:15, I can carve out 40 to 45 minutes to write, Monday through Friday. Generally, then, three or four evenings a week I can type up my handwritten pages produced in the mornings. It’s hardly a lightning-fast process, but with about two years’ work on the manuscript, I’m at the 375-page mark.

Having finished and truly enjoyed Anna Karenina, I dove right into War and Peace a couple of weeks ago. It’s taken me a little longer to develop an affinity for the text than it did for Anna Karenina, which happened from the first page, but I’m about 130 pages into War and Peace and am beginning to feel connected to the characters and the storyline. I think two features delayed my emotional attachment to the novel: one, Tolstoy introduces a plethora of characters in the opening chapters, and it was difficult for me to keep them all straight; also, he uses a lot of French in these same chapters, which is footnoted, but I found it cumbersome to keep glancing down to the bottom of the page, then back to my place in the text — as often Tolstoy has his characters speaking French, but the exposition between bits of dialogue is of course in English (Russian), or the characters shift back and forth between French and English/Russian, sometimes within the same sentence; so one must keeping jumping back and forth between the text of the novel and the translators’ footnotes. There is some French in Anna Karenina, of course, but it’s not so extensive, and not ladled on so thickly in the opening pages when one is trying to get one’s bearings. The French has slowed to a trickle in the last few chapters I’ve read of War and Peace, and that has helped me to embrace the novel more … affectionately.

I’ve decided that one of the things I should do with this blog is highlight some recent works of fiction and poetry that are available. One of my favorite pastimes when on campus at UIS is to go to Brookens Library and browse through the newly arrived books, many from small-press and university publishers. One book of poetry that I’ve found very engaging is Seven Poets, Four Days, One Book, which is the product of a group experiment in poetic composition. Another notable title is Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing: Stories, by Lydia Peelle. I’d also like to recommend two books from Coffee House Press: Extraordinary Renditions, a collection of three novellas, by Andrew Ervin; and Horse, Flower, Bird, an odd but engaging collection of very brief, fairy-tale-esque stories, by Kate Bernheimer (art byRikki Ducornet).

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Men of Winter

Pathfinding: a blog devoted to helping new writers find outlets for their work

Notes on the Louisville Conference 2011, and visiting poets

Posted in February 2011 by Ted Morrissey on February 27, 2011

For a while I wasn’t posting much to this blog because frankly, in the depth of winter, there wasn’t much happening of note in terms of my reading and writing life — but the last few weeks have been so busy that I haven’t had time to keep up with documenting them. I will try to catch but will no doubt be giving people and things shorter shrift than they deserve.

I have just returned from the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900, held annually at the University of Louisville, and I want to report on some of the people I met and presentations I attended. First, however, in the interest of chronology I’m going to write about a trio of poets who, individually, visited Springfield over a two-week period. This no doubt is where the short shrifting will commence.

The first was Carrie Oeding, a writing fellow at the University of Houston. I was among a group who dined with her at Augie’s Front Burner in downtown Springfield. I enjoyed her discussing some of her writing and teaching techniques, and also the new sequence of poems she’s just beginning to work on. Carrie’s first book of poems, Our List of Solutions, is forthcoming from 42 Miles Press, a new addition to Indiana University Press. The publication is the result of her winning the 2010 Lester M. Wolfson Poetry Award. Some of her work appears in The Poetry Center of Chicago’s Book 15, available as a free download from Plastique.

Another poet visitor to our fair city was Jayson Iwen of Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio. In addition to the dinner scene (at Lake Pointe Grill), I was able to attend Jayson’s presentation on cross-genre writing, which was especially interesting in that I consider myself something of a cross-genre writer. I enjoyed his easy-going, yet knowledgeable, manner. Among his published works is Six Trips in Two Directions, a poetry collection from Emergency Press. A brief excerpt from Six Trips can be read on the Woodland Pattern Book Center’s site. Another, longer, excerpt is available from webdelsol.com.

Last but far from least, I was able to attend a reading by Emma Bartholomew at historic Brinkerhoff Home on the campus of Benedictine University at Springfield, as part of the Quiddity visiting writers and artists series. Emma’s reading was delightful as she focused in particular on her interest in cartography and the poems that her interest has inspired. Some of the London-born poet’s work is available from 3:AM Magazine. Emma’s reading at Seersucker Live is also availabe on YouTube. It is very similar to her reading at Benedictine, which is fortunate because it was quite wonderful.

 

Continuing my short shrifting, I have just returned from the three-day Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900. I attended and/or chaired several fascinating panels on a variety of topics, including experimental poetry, contemporary narrative theory, and trauma theory (which is one of my chief scholarly interests — it appears to be gaining momentum as there were several trauma-theory-related presentations). I also was able to hear some terrific prose and poetry readings, including Mike Barrett’s highly experimental — and imaginative! — work from his collection “Recto Verso”; Brent Jason Royster’s prose — and perfectly square, geometrically — poetry from his manuscript “A Rock and Two Boxes”; Mario Chard’s poems in progress from his “Caballero” series (at the risk of being redundant, quite wonderful); and Victoria Brockmeier’s readings from her manuscript “Magpie” (definitely risking redundancy, also quite wonderful). Just to say a touch more: Mario’s work focuses on immigrant experiences in the United States; and Victoria’s poetry is inspired in large part by classical mythology.

I also attended a reading by poet Rae Armantrout, winner of the 2010 Pulitizer Prize in poetry for her collection Versed (Wesleyan, 2009). She was relaxed and funny, making for a nice rapport with her audience. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend their readings due to scheduling conflicts, but I was happy to see my friend Jeremy (J. D.) Schraffenberger, poet and assistant poetry editor of North American Review; and also to meet poet Ewa Chrusciel, whose collection Strata will be out in just a few weeks from Emergency Press.

I read  the first chapter of Men of Winter at the conference. Some readings/book signings for the novel seem to be taking shape, but I’ll wait until I have some firm dates before discussing them here. Meanwhile, there appears to be some interest in my novella and story collection Weeping with an Ancient God, which Punkin House plans to bring out in spring 2012.

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Men of Winter (purchase at Punkin Books or Amazon)

Pathfinding (my Punkin House author’s blog)

Looking back, and a bit of True Grit

Posted in December 2010 by Ted Morrissey on December 31, 2010

On the one hand, I claim not to put a lot of stock in the significance of certain dates for their own sake, but the last day of the calendar year seems to encourage reflection. From a writing standpoint in particular, it’s definitely been a good one. I placed the odd and off-color story “Unnatural Deeds” with Leaf Garden, issue #8. Frankly, it took several months to find a publisher for that one, but I’m proud of it in the sense, especially, that the story is a testament to honesty — life as it really is, and not a sanitized version of it. It raised a few eyebrows, that I know of. I also placed the story “Walkin’ the Dog” in the debut issue of Spilling Ink Review. In that story I’d experimented with narrative that rests more heavily than usual (for me) on repetition of specific images, especially the color orange. It hasn’t come out yet, but Pisgah Review took my story “The Composure of Death”; it should be out this winter or spring. I realize now all three stories have in common that I borrowed their titles from other literary sources: Macbeth (5.1), “Unnatural deeds do breed unnatural troubles”; the title of Walter Mosley’s conceptual novel Walkin’ the Dog; and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil,” “[T]he corpse had slightly shuddered, rustling the shroud and muslin cap, though the countenance retained the composure of death.”

The biggest stroke of luck of course was finding a publisher, finally, for my novel Men of Winter, which the new small press Punkin House picked up in the spring and released at the end of November. Thus 2011 will be in large part about promoting the novel. I also hope to release Weeping with an Ancient God, a novella and story collection, tentatively taken by Punkin House. The first chapter of Weeping, titled “Melvill in the Marquesas,” was published in September in The Final Draft. (I meant to provide a link to the story, which was published online, but the link has become inactive again — a bit disconcerting, as I’ve been hoping it would be floating around in the ether promoting in its way the coming novella release.) I thought I would have difficulty placing the novella excerpt — it is a bit unusual, in essence a fictionalized biography of Herman Melville’s experience among cannibals in 1842, during the whaling adventure that led to his eventually writing Moby Dick — but The Final Draft picked it up pretty quickly, and even though I withdrew it promptly from other journals’ consideration, I received three other offers of publication, and two rejections with long notes of praise (highly unusual, from my experience). So maybe the novella itself will generate some reading interest.

I was also invited to contribute to Glimmer Train Press’ Writers Ask series, a well-respected how-to publication, and thus my piece “Researching the Rhythms of Voice” will appear this winter or spring. I wrote about the process I’ve gone through to write my current project, whose working title is the Authoress, as its first-person protagonist is modeled after the nineteenth-century American writer Washington Irving. In particular I’ve been reading an obscure collection of Irving’s letters in order to get the feel of his more informal prose style. I’ve written about 340 manuscript pages of the Authoress, and hope to finish within a year or so. One other writing development was my establishing a new blog via my publisher, Punkin House. I decided what the world may need is a blog devoted to helping new(er) writers find outlets for their work, thus Pathfinding.

The Authoress has taken up all my writing energy, so I haven’t written any shorter pieces, nor any scholarly papers — both of which I miss, but it’s important to devote the necessary time and mental processing to the new novel. I’m not short on ideas: I have several writing projects, both small and large, creative and scholarly, in mind.

Finally, I don’t normally write about cinema, especially contemporary American cinema, but the other day I saw the Coen Brothers’ newest offering, True Grit, and I found it quite mesmerizing and wonderful. The acting is superb (and why wouldn’t it be, given the cast?), but beyond that the cinematic style is quite engaging, epic and even biblical in its scope. I know there have been some naysayers who don’t like the idea of remaking the 1969 John Wayne classic, directed by Henry Hathaway — and I love that True Grit, too — but the Coen Brothers have remained truer, apparently, to Charles Portis’s 1968 novel, and have given us a film that is darker and, well, grittier, than the original film, great as it is.

On the reading front, I continue to make my way through Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and am enjoying it very much. Winter break is nearly over, and it will be back to the three-job grind, but I’ve managed to make a lot of progress on the Authoress.

tedmorrissey.com

Men of Winter