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Two hundred words

This morning's writing session has resulted in two hundred new words on a picture book biography. That number is both true and false.

True: The manuscript is now almost exactly two hundred words longer than it was when I began my work this morning.

False: I edited out some of the words that were already in place - probably twenty or so - and I have written and re-written and inserted/deleted/inserted quite a number of others to get to where I am now.

And where I am now is in need of stopping. I need to be able to come back to what I've added today to see if it is doing what I want, going where I want, and so forth. Because going too far off the rails here, with too much unnecessary information, or skipping something that should be included, is a certain way to frustration.

I am quietly celebrating the growth of this manuscript, which is between 1/3 and 1/2 of the story, partly because it's the first time in a couple of weeks that I've made serious writing progress, and partly because I really love this project and want to see it completed and ready for beta readers.



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LITTLE ROBOT by Ben Hatke

Today's review is a bit overdue - I read this book as soon as I got it, which was in advance of its release date - then put it aside. Glad I found it and read it again, so I could post about it!

This wonderful graphic novel is about an enterprising little girl who knows her way around. What I mean about that is not just that she knows the landscape (though she does), but also that she knows how to use tools. And seriously, knowing how to use tools properly is an important skill for all girls. I know I have benefited from it greatly over the years, from knowing the proper way to use a hammer, screwdriver, and wrench to knowing how to use a power sander, power drill, and power saw. But I digress . . . a little.

In this graphic novel, a small robot falls off the back of a truck, and is discovered and repaired by our enterprising main character, who wants the Little Robot to be her friend and show it the things she likes in the world.



Little Robot doesn't mind being her friend, but it also wants to find more robots to be friends with. All this while a giant robot retriever is stomping about trying to retrieve/capture Little Robot and take it back to the factory.

An absorbing, engaging story about childhood friendships, imagination, and ingenuity. With a robot dance party, no less.

For a review of a graphic novel best suited for teens, check out my post from Tuesday at Guys Lit Wire, about Exquisite Corpse by Pénélope Bagieu.


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. . . oft gang agley." Or so said Robert Burns, and I find him to be correct.

It occurred to me at bedtime last night that it was already several days into June, and I was supposed to be doing Brush Up Your Shakespeare posts, because I'd said so.

Only my health had other thoughts. I've been tapering off of prednisone, which on the one hand is a very good thing because of future health detriments, and on the other means my energy plummeted like whoa. And I am also about to switch medications for treating my RA, since the one I'm on hasn't completely contained things (meaning I have some swollen/warm joints along with aches & pains).

All of which is to say that I am sorry not to be doing daily Shakespeare posts so far, and may try to get some up as I'm able, but they may not be daily. As the old Yiddish proverb goes, "We plan, God laughs." (It means life doesn't work that way, of course, and not that God is especially cynical or in a hurry to thwart people's plans.)

In other news, I'm sitting down with myself and a cup of tea to have a planning session. Yes, I know what I just said, but I need a blueprint. And, apparently, to really write stuff down so I can stay on track (with myself).



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This month's project for my poetry sisters and I involved another ekphrastic poem, this time based on an extremely fierce sculpture by Mary Pownall (later Bromet), a British sculptor who was extremely well-known in the early 1900s and now doesn't even merit her own Wikipedia page.

We were provided with several photographs taken by Tanita Davis when she was in Scotland at the Kelvingrove Museum. Here's one of the images she shared with us of "The Harpy Celaeno":


Copyright 2016 Tanita S. Davis

And here is the poem I wrote:

The Harpy Celaeno
by Kelly Ramsdell Fineman

Winged monster,
eyes fixed in . . .
something—anger?
repulsion?

Darkest of harpies,
known to steal food,
drive men
to madness.

This female monster,
seen as a threat
with shrieks,
sharp talons.

This gripping sculpture,
bare-breasted, fierce,
herself her
own model.

First exhibited
the year she married:
Fair warning? or
last hurrah?

You can find the other poems based on this sculpture at the blogs of my lovely poetry friends:

Laura Purdie Salas
Sara Lewis Holmes
Tanita Davis
Tricia Stohr-Hunt
Liz Garton Scanlon

And for more Poetry Friday posts, click below to get to Jone's roundup:





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One of those days

It is one of those days when I keep opening documents to work on them, and I spend lots of time noodling around and trying (and failing) to make progress. Perhaps I am alone in this sort of activity, though I rather think not. It seems that the more one is convinced that something is singular, the less it's true, even if it manifests in different ways for people.

I suspect that today's lethargy is the result of a busy weekend, though my sweetheart did the lion's share of the work (he's a Leo, so "the lion's share" is doubly apt). He took down the popcorn ceiling in our bedroom - the last one remaining in the house - and we painted the ceiling (which needed two coats) and put the first coat of paint on the walls. It will need a second coat, despite being the sort of paint that is allegedly guaranteed to cover in one. Only this particularly shade of pale pink doesn't work that way.

Of course it doesn't.

Since Thursday, I've been tapering off prednisone. I haven't slept well, probably as a result. My energy levels are wobbly, at best, and today, I find I'm wrung out. Worse than that, I have that sort of feeling that I'm a pretender because I can't focus. A writer writes. An artist does art. I'm doing neither thing (or at least, I'm not getting anything accomplished when I try.) I must be a has-been. Worse than that, a never-was.

Again, I suspect I'm not the only person who has days like this. Although I do find myself wondering why it is that my nasty inner critic seems energized when the rest of me is so . . . not that.

All of which is to say that for those of you who have these days, please know you're not alone. And if you have had these sorts of days, I hope you'll drop a note, so I'll know that I'm not alone, either.


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I've been researching and writing, revising and writing, starting over again, etcetera this week. And it seems that perhaps I have finally started a draft of the picture book biography I'm working on that is doing what I would like it to do. Part of it is, of course, that I continue to seek after the "properly scholarly attitude."

Here's a rather light and humorous poem from Adelaide Crapsey about just that, which reminds me a bit of W.S. Gilbert (of Gilbert & Sullivan fame).

The Properly Scholarly Attitude
by Adelaide Crapsey

The poet pursues his beautiful theme;
The preacher his golden beatitude;
And I run after a vanishing dream—
The glittering, will-o’-the-wispish gleam
Of the properly scholarly attitude—
The highly desirable, the very advisable,
The hardly acquirable, properly scholarly attitude.

I envy the savage without any clothes,
Who lives in a tropical latitude;
It’s little of general culture he knows.
But then he escapes the worrisome woes
Of the properly scholarly attitude—
The unceasingly sighed over, wept over, cried over,
The futilely died over, properly scholarly attitude.

I work and I work till I nearly am dead,
And could say what the watchman said—that I could!
But still, with a sigh and a shake of the head,
“You don’t understand,” it is ruthlessly said,
“The properly scholarly attitude—
The aye to be sought for, wrought for and fought for,
The ne’er to be caught for, properly scholarly attitude—”

I really am sometimes tempted to say
That it’s merely a glittering platitude;
That people have just fallen into the way,
When lacking a subject, to tell of the sway
Of the properly scholarly attitude—
The easily preachable, spread-eagle speechable,
In practice unreachable, properly scholarly attitude.

Happy Poetry Friday, all. You can reach Julie Larios's roundup of today's Poetry Friday posts by clicking the box below.





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What's with brains, anyhow?

In particular, what's with my brain?

Last night, as I was snuggled up with my sweetheart and drifting off to sleep, I found the perfect line for inclusion in the biography I'm writing. Seriously, it was just exactly right.

I didn't get up and write it down, because of the comfortable snuggling position.

You can probably guess the next part.

Of course you can.

Woke up this morning and I know what the concept behind the quote was, but the perfect wording has completely disappeared. Everything I try to write on the subject goes CLUNK instead of WHIR.

The little man in the upstairs filing room (which is how I think of my brain, often - he scoots around on his office chair to pull things out of the file cabinets) seems to have misplaced that particular scrap of paper.

Perhaps it is time to take a walk, in hopes of rediscovering the line.



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Things I'm learning about my subject

She reviewed the work of other writers for the publications of her boarding school and college, often choosing the work of women who might otherwise be overlooked by the patriarchy. Or, as her biographer indicates, "she championed the women writers who were considered minor by the literary and academic establishment because their readers had been educated in a society which trained them to trivialize the very values these women writers espoused and exemplified." (Karen Alkalay-Gut, Alone in the Dawn, 78.)

      And reading that, I realize that I am doing just that same thing with this project.
      Gosh, I hope I succeed in finding a home for this manuscript and in helping to
      garner her the attention she so richly deserves.

She praised the poems of Martha Gilbert Dickinson (Emily's niece) for their "epigrammatic brevity, with a subtlety and suggestiveness astonishing in the narrow limits she allow[ed] herself."

      And reading that, I realize those are words that could apply to herself and
      her own poetry as well, though her poems were mostly written years later.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.



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So much of writing is rewriting.

Or unwriting. Or, as my autocorrect would have it, unwitting.

I have been working on a picture book biography of late, and I am really in love with my subject and quite happy to work on it for hours at a time. Which is a good thing, as there is a great deal of research to be done, as well as figuring out which facts to include, and which to leave out.

I have a full four drafts on my computer - basically versions of the first full draft, each one too stiff and adult and boring to be allowed to stand. Plus I have two additional drafts: one is essentially a reworking of that/those first draft(s); the other is a new draft from scratch, which is starting to go the direction I'd like it to.

Still, I continue to research and look for the small details that will make my subject come alive for contemporary readers. And maybe for something like a common thread through her lifetime to create something like a theme, besides "here's a life". I so admire what Amy Novesky managed to do in Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois, which relies on an extended spider metaphor, but alas, there is so far no such thing in this woman's life.

And I am thinking today, too, of Lin-Manuel Miranda's remarks in his commencement speech at Penn.

The simple truth is this: Every story you choose to tell, by necessity, omits others from the larger narrative. One could write five totally different musicals from Hamilton’s eventful, singular American life, without ever overlapping incidents. For every detail I chose to dramatize, there are ten I left out. I include King George at the expense of Ben Franklin. I dramatize Angelica Schuyler’s intelligence and heart at the expense of Benedict Arnold’s betrayal. James Madison and Hamilton were friends and political allies, but their personal and political fallout occurs right on our act break, during intermission. My goal is to give you as much as an evening as musical entertainment can provide, and have you on your way at home slightly before Les Mis lets out next door.

This act of choosing—the stories we tell versus the stories we leave out—will reverberate across the rest of your life. Don’t believe me? Think about how you celebrated this senior week, and contrast that with the version you shared with the parents and grandparents sitting behind you.

That is the trick, is it not? As Bob Seger put it, "what to leave in, what to leave out."



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Sonnet 96 by William Shakespeare

Last week, I posted Sonnet 95 ("How sweet and lovely dost thou make the shame"), which I analyzed as being a rather long dick joke. Today comes the companion poem, Sonnet 96 ("Some say thy fault is youth, some wantonness"), which enlarges on the misbehaviors of the Fair Youth in the previous poem, and carries an actual word of warning, despite being wrapped in flattery and a bit of jest. First the poem, then the discussion.

Sonnet 96
by William Shakespeare

Some say thy fault is youth, some wantonness;
Some say thy grace is youth and gentle sport.
Both grace and faults are loved of more and less:
Thou mak'st faults graces that to thee resort.
As on the finger of a thronèd queen
The basest jewel will be well esteemed,
So are those errors that in thee are seen
To truths translated, and for true things deemed.
How many lambs might the stern wolf betray,
If like a lamb he could his looks translate!
How many gazers mightst thou lead away,
If thou wouldst use the strength of all thy state!
    But do not so; I love thee in such sort
    As, thou being mine, mine is thy good report.

Form: A Shakespearean sonnet, meaning that it's written in iambic pentameter (5 iambs per line, taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM), with the following rhyme scheme: ABABCDCDEFEFGG.

Discussion:

In the first quatrain
(four lines - rhymed ABAB), Shakespeare recounts some more of what people are saying about the Fair Youth - blurring the line between vice and virtue. The worst thing laid at the Fair Youth's feet is "wantonness", decidedly meaning that he sleeps around too much, which appears to be readily excused due to his youth (which is hardly a vice, though it's listed as both a fault and a "grace"). Some are willing to say that the Fair Youth is not a complete sleaze-bag, but is naturally engaging in "gentle sport" (again, of a sexual nature, but more out of youthful inquiry than unprincipled roguery). In either case, everybody loves him ("are loved of more and less" means "are loved by everybody - the high and low members of society", as it turns out). So nobody is really upset with the Fair Youth for this behavior (or they don't count it as a serious knock on his character). Notches in bedposts were an accomplishment for guys even then, am I right?

Second quatrain: Here, Shakespeare lays the flattery on pretty thick. This would have been written during the time of Queen Elizabeth, and she is referenced a bit here: any jewel (a two-syllable word for Shakespeare, note) she wears is deemed valuable because of her rank and status, even if the stone itself isn't worth much. Just so, says the Bard, do people bend over backwards to convert the Fair Youth's flaws into virtues, or to credit him with better motives than just getting his rocks off.

Third quatrain: In which the poem starts to turn. Just think, says Shakespeare, how many MORE people you could seduce (and he means it literally) if you really turned on the charm?

Final couplet: Interestingly, it's a direct quote of the closing couplet of Sonnet 36. Maybe it's what Shakespeare wrote/intended, and it's a call-back, or maybe it was a printer's error. In any case, it means, roughly, "because we are lovers, we are one unit, so if you get a bad reputation, it reflects badly on me."

The takeaway: Basically, it's "sure, you can get away with your current indiscretions, but please watch it so that you don't get an actual bad reputation, which would also negatively impact me." Which makes one wonder exactly how public Shakespeare's love affair with the Fair Youth was. Then again, many people believe that the Fair Youth was Shakespeare's patron, Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, which helps make sense of their reputations being entwined, even if the extent of their love for one another was not publicly known.



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