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Neile Graham
18 November 2012 @ 07:15 pm
A month ago I wrote myself this email, but I thought I'd copy it here to remind myself (and get it out of my inbox). Note that I rarely remember my dreams.

Last night I dreamt of the most beautiful islands. They were enchanted.
The colours of the landscape were so beautiful they were almost surreal.

I was on a ferry headed toward them, then I got separated from the people
I was with and had to run around looking for them and it became a more
normal dream. But those islands!
Neile Graham
Hey, all--

It's over. So soon. I'm missing this year's students, and having trouble adjusting to the fact that the 100%-writing-enabling time of my year is already done. It feels like we just started. There are still a few things to wrap up, including a sorority house's worth of pillows piled up on my bed so I can be sure they're totally dry before I pack them up, but that's all.

I managed just the bare minimum seven hours unplugged working on the novel this week. The main excuse for not managing more time was (as I mentioned in last week's report) that I spent a few days days fighting off a bad cold--the first time in the twelve years I've been working with the workshop that I got sick. It meant that I missed a day in the workshop and worst of all, I missed Chuck Palahnuik's reading, which I heard was wonderful and included flying tigers. Flying tigers! Damn.

I am pleased with the novel progress I made--it's moving along rather than trudging right now, which feels good. I'm just at the cusp of one of the big, fun plot events, so it's good to know where I'm going. All the weirdnesses of my protagonist's experience thus far are coming to a head.

This week's poem is a glosa, which is a poem where you take four lines from another poet's work, and build your own poem around them, using each of the four lines for the last of a ten-line stanza. There are also end rhymes on the 6th, 9th, and 10th lines. I've had these four lines from Orkney poet George Mackay Brown in a file for a couple of years, waiting for the right moment to strike me, and when I opened file on Wednesday, this poem spilled right in. I hope you enjoy it.

Thank you all again so much for your support of me and of Clarion West!




The Lark, The Peat, The Star, and Our Time

And a lark flashed a needle across the west
And we spread a thousand peats
Between one summer star
And the black chaos of fire at the earth's centre.
—George Mackay Brown

It was the year when there was no summer,
when it hid under banks of rain, ducked
behind fog, dashing across the street
in front of us, rolling under a car and out
the other side, its face flashing in a side mirror,
flirting for our notice, as though it were a test
of our worthiness. We weren't. Worthy that is.



[The full text of the poem is available to anyone who sponsors me in the Clarion West Write-a-thon or who cheers me on.]
Neile Graham
Hey, all--

Thank you again for supporting both me and Clarion West.

This was a wonderful, totally packed week. We had the incredible Kelly Link and Gavin Grant team teaching as writers/editors, and they brought along their lovely daughter, Ursula, and Kelly's delightful mother, Annie. It was great, but oh so busy.

So busy that for the first time ever, and most inconveniently, I have gotten sick during the workshop. Just a bad cold with a slight fever, but today I missed class and will likely be missing tonight's reading because I don't want to subject people to my charming sound effects when they're trying to listen to Chuck Palahniuk.

This means I will miss not only Chuck's reading (boo!), but the public announcement about next year's line-up. Sigh.

Because of all the busy, once again I barely managed to complete my seven hours offline. I made some progress, and the beginning of the novel is starting to feel solid. Better yet, I'm beginning to feel my way into forthcoming events, so the shadow of the novel-to-come is taking shape. Yay!

However, the poem I was working on for this week stalled out entirely. It sat there sullenly with five not-very-exciting lines until I gave up on it for now.

At the last minute I asked Jim for a number between 1 and 20. He said 14. So I went to my Child's Ballads, opened up #14, and took every 14th word from all the variant versions printed there. I stirred those words with a big stick and this is what I came up with...first draft, remember? Maybe the first word of the title is a clue to the poem, though it's the title of the ballad the words come from.

Babylon; Or, The Bonnie Banks of Fordie

fair Marjorie was an outlyer and went by the knife
but John the ploughman He taen her for life
there from his house she took her stand
"will ye rather me stand by Whan


[The full text of the poem is available to anyone who sponsors me in the Clarion West Write-a-thon or who cheers me on.]
Neile Graham
Hey, all--

Thank you again for supporting my writing and Clarion West.

This was a great week. Connie Willis is such a wonderful presence at the workshop: a lovely person and full of both nuts-and-bolts and inspiration. The class seems to be tired (what a surprise) but otherwise holding up well. I suppose I am the same.

Again I barely managed to complete my seven hours offline. There was just so much to do, but I'm glad I managed it. The new novel now feels that it has a solid foundation. It's not coming as quickly as I might hope (so much for my wish to have a complete first draft before returning to my UW job in September) but I'm pleased with what I have, and especially am having fun working with my smart-mouth protagonist.

This week's poem was a bit of a struggle, too. It arose from reading up on Scottish alchemists, and I'm not certain why I started doing that. They don't have anything to do with the novel that I know of, nor particularly for the poems I want to work on, except the Scottish part, and the magical thinking part, maybe. One article I came across included a 17th-century English translation of a 16th-century poem written in Latin by Scottish alchemist, George Buchanan, which basically is a refutation of Copernicus, arguing how the earth really is the center of creation.

I found these sections scattered through the poem and my own words started to build themselves around them. It felt random but also obsessive. This is very much a first draft, but here it is. It's about writing and reading messages, and lighting a spark where there is none.

I hope you find it interesting, and thank you again for supporting my writing.




The Alchemy

-- Georgij Bucanani de Sphaera. Lib. i. in English verse translated by I. C.--

_The tymes of light & shade, Turnes heat to Colde,
And sunne & moone with darkenes doth enfolde,_

spark a match to the wick. Light the dark.
This is the small apocalypse we live
each day, our cells dying as we build
ourselves anew. Open the book. Inside it:



[The full text of the poem is available to anyone who sponsors me in the Clarion West Write-a-thon or who cheers me on.]
Neile Graham
Hey, all--

Thank you again for supporting me--Clarion West appreciates it and I especially do.

This was a hectic week, and I learned what it means to be a rock star. Intellectually, I knew, but really it wasn't until I spent time this week with George R. R. Martin that I got to see what it was like in action.

It was strange. In the classroom and around the workshop mostly it was normal, but all around it there were a lot of people wanting bits of George's time. Emailing. Phoning. Emailing and phoning. When I drove him to his reading we went past the front doors and he said "I hope they don't see me" and I realized that yes, some of that crowd would be perfectly capable of thrusting something through the car window for him to sign. So I blocked him from view. The reading was an Event. He is a master of the Event. I'm wondering if I should auction off the seat of my car he sat in...I bet someone would want to turn it into a throne of swords.

Anyway, that was interesting. I don't know how he stays so sane (and he does--he's very matter of fact). In class his critiques were tough but good, and I think the students learned a lot from him. He has a lot of knowledge to share.

As for my own work, this week I just barely scraped by with my seven hours offline. It seemed whenever I sat down to write there was someone who needed something or a ride somewhere or just some organizing, or...anyway, I squeaked through. I have finally stopped tinkering with the old novel and the new novel is slowly gathering words and momentum.

Good thing I started my poem early, because it was a birthday present for Jim, whose birthday was Friday and I knew I wouldn't be able to be around much Friday so I wanted to give him something special. I gave it to him Thursday night as it turned midnight, since technically it was 6th. This one started because I've been haunted by a dream I had a while back where a stream filled with migrating salmon ran under our kitchen floor. And I guess on his birthday (since he *hates* birthdays and I wasn't going to be around much) I wanted to talk to him about the richness of our life together.

I hope you enjoy the poem, and thank you again for supporting my writing.




With Bats in our Belfry, Dear, Earth Water and Sky

Our kitchen proved a considerable obstacle to the spawning salmon.
Back and forth at its doorway they bobbed
nosing the threshold.

The sparrows slipped in through the vents roosting high
with an eye to the cats. The cats certainly
had an eye for them.



[The full text of the poem is available to anyone who sponsors me in the Clarion West Write-a-thon or who cheers me on.]
Neile Graham
This was an energetic, upbeat, and hard-working week for the Clarion West students as they submitted their first real stories (rather than exercise stories) and had them critiqued by the class and by the quite wonderful Stephen Graham Jones. He is an impressive teacher and a lot of fun, as well. His style was a great match for Clarion West, and also followed marvelous first-week instructor Mary Rosenblum well. He was very different from her, but in a complementary rather than contradictory way. I love watching how the progression of instructors each shapes the class and its culture.

This was a somewhat quieter week for me, so I exceeded my write-a-thon time commitment by several hours (I stopped keeping track at the end). The Freedom software, which cuts me off from the internet but not from our internal network, works beautifully for me, and is a much better solution than actually unplugging the modem. Also, for the first time ever I'm not using Word to write in. I'm using Scrivener. I've owned it for a long time but never gave it a proper try-out and I'm liking it a lot so far. It helps track things I formerly used extra Word files, paper notes, post-it notes, and the Mac Stickies (basically electronic stickies) for.

I think I finally finished tinkering on the first novel this week. I worked on it, the week's poem, and the new novel in turns. I made certain that I added a little to the new novel each day--maybe I should mention its title, since I think this is one that will stick, The Silver Bones--because I hope to build up momentum.

This week's poem is a little more whimsical than last. I made the mistake of showing it to Jim early, and he suggested (wait! I didn't ask for suggestions!) that it needed cutting, so what you have here is a second rather than first draft. And yes, Jim, I think it's better for the cutting and reshaping. He also assures me that it wasn't too cutesy. I hope you agree.

One of the Clarion West students is a medieval scholar and says she can translate my title into Latin for me. I'm going to wait to ask her until after the workshop, though.

I hope you enjoy this and thank you again for supporting my writing.




Cats Aren't From Around Here. Really.

The cats are studying me
like I might be the solution to a problem
and I don't mean the one about
tin openers. The iridescence of their eyes
means they've been cat-stepping

faster than light across universes
tinkering with cosmic mechanics.


[The full text of the poem is available to anyone who sponsors me in the Clarion West Write-a-thon or who cheers me on.]
Neile Graham
Hey, all--

Thank you so much for your support of me, and of Clarion West. I am somewhat embarrassed that the Write-a-thon is the only thing that keeps me making time to concentrate on my own work while the workshop is running, but knowing you are out there and a report is due keeps me making that writing time.

Recently I've been struggling with a new novel--one that was originally a short story--and I've been frustrated over and over at trying to crack the story open to let out the novel that's in it.

I was wrestling with it this week, and had a sudden revelation about--this is a "duh" moment--dramatizing a portion that I had been having my main character narrate. Then I fell into a rabbit hole.

I've never been quite happy with the first chapter of my first novel, the one I finished revising (or thought I had) last year. Even since I'd done a drastic cut, I'd thought it started too quickly, and I realized I needed to start the novel just an hour earlier and dramatize the the preliminary action before the first scene. That led to some other tinkering and I knew I needed to work on the end just a *bit* more.

I wound up spending much of the week on it, but I'm very happy with the work I did. Even after I realized I'd committed to seven hours offline a week rather than five (the number that was in my poor memory), and had to work from 11:00 to 1:00 last night to complete my commitment, I was happy.

The Clarion West students had a great week and it was terrific watching Mary Rosenblum work with them. Exciting, even. This is a really promising group and they're a lot of fun. I feel honoured to be helping them have this wonderful workshop experience. I love watching them get to know each other and start writing and critiquing each others' work.

Oh, and this week's poem draft. Hmm. 2012 has been a brutal year in many ways, and the echoes go deep. Not that there haven't been wonderful things, too, because there certain have been, but I've been a little haunted, and this poem reflects that.

Thank you again for supporting my writing.




Clear-Cut Spirit Song

--for Devin--

What remains? Waste all around me
and I still stand. What am I spared for?

Spared. Which means alone, doesn't it?
Which means sole survivor. But I'm not.



[The full text of the poem is available to anyone who sponsors me in the Clarion West Write-a-thon or will serve as a cheerleader.]
Neile Graham
09 June 2012 @ 01:08 pm
1. Go to page 77 (or 7th) of your current ms
2. Go to line 7
3. Copy down the next 7 lines – sentences or paragraphs – and post them as they’re written. No cheating.

Since the current project doesn't yet have 77 pages, I went to the 7th line of page 7, which was the start of a paragraph. Seven sentences brought me this:

I might be excited, too, if she hadn't already shown me lots of bits of stone and bone and shell that could have been anything and looked more like nothing--still, it's a chance to get back under shelter without her scoring any points. So I lift the crackling tarp and duck under the metal frame that holds it above the precious dirt.

"What?" I keep my voice flat, so she can't feel like she really has my attention--which is a waste of time because she doesn't notice. She's frantically sweeping the dirt away with a paintbrush, an artist caught up in a moment of frenetic inspiration, her nose inches from the handle's end.

"Shit!" she says. "It really is something!..."
Neile Graham
31 December 2011 @ 04:57 pm
I apologize for being so silent. 2011 was such a quiet year that I have little to say, and honestly I haven't written here because I felt there was not much that needed saying since the Clarion West Workshop and Write-a-thon this summer.

Right now 2012 feels remarkably hopeful to me, and I'm optimistic about things, both personal and professional. I hope all of you feel the same way, and that our optimism proves to be warranted. A healthy, productive, prosperous, fun, and adventurous year full of love, friends, and dreams come true to you.

Happy New Year!

For the year's report of my listening, reading, and writing lives, see Les Semaines.
Neile Graham
18 November 2011 @ 02:01 pm
I don't do NaNoWriMo, but I did test Written? Kitten! because who does not want a kitten as a reward for writing?

This is my true account of what happened as I wrote.

I just want a kitten! Bring me a kitten! Kitten kitten kitten. I could
paste in some written words here, but that would be cheating. However,
this way the typos are a huge hazard. I wonder what my kitten will look
like? It had better be cute. I would like one like my real kittens. That
would be funny. I like coincidences like that. However, I have only ever
seen one picture like one of my kittens. I have unique-looking kittens.
Sort of. As unique as kittens get, I guess. Okay, 91 words. I'm starting
the countdown. Almost Kitten Time!

Oh, they gave me a Himalayan, I think. Or maybe it's Siamese. The colour
is odd so it's hard to tell. It has blue eyes and a pink collar, at least.
That's clear. My previous writing sample already had too many howevers.
Meanwhile, I'm carrying on with silly words in order to earn another
kitten. This probably isn't good. I should have let it go at one kitten,
but always, always, two kittens are better than one. I hope I don't get
interrupted in my drive for kittens, like by maybe some work I have to do.
That would bad.

Oh, a tuxedo kitten hiding its face with a rejected stamp on it. Written
Kitten, this cannot be good. Just two hundred words and already rejected.
The shame of it all! I shall have to hide my own face. I type words and
get a rejected cat. This is very sad, and a sad commentary about my
writing. I'm slowing down as I type this, worrying that I won't get a
third kitten, or I will get another piece of bad news like kitten number
two. Rejection is everywhere when you're a writer! This is proof! Who knew
that Written ...

Shit! Now I get a fluffy gray tabby that may be in water with evil yellow
shining from his eyes and it looks like it might bite or commit some other
evil. Written Kitten you are not as advertised. Written Kitten you said
"cute". Rejection isn't cute, and this snarly cat is NOT CUTE. I feel
daunted, I have to say but I'm over the halfway point to another kitten
and this is the kitten of truth, this is the final kitten and damn it, it
had better be cute I'm telling you. Give me my cute kitten. Now!

Oh, definitely cute. Himalayan again. Very cute. What a relief. Now I
stop. 413 words.