Posted in art, listening

Telling your story through music

Music is important in most people’s lives, and so references to music can be an important part of telling a story.

Rick Moody describes this excellently in his essay “The End.” He remembers when, at age eight, he learned that his parents would divorce:

“My feeling was that there was nothing I could do about it. My feeling was that I was about to be an item on an itemized list of marital property. My brother wept.

Here’s what I have often found in my moments of keenest disconsolation: that music has an unexpected power to console and to transmute what is most grievous. The layers of imperviousness that smother a song when you listen to it a lot, these layers are sundered away, and music is apparent in its most elemental guise, full of mystery and passion and awe. Things that you haven’t heard in a fresh way in a thousand listens are suddenly bright and new, when you really need them most.”

This can happen even when the music is “adjacent” to the action and not playing as a simultaneous soundtrack.

“It’s not that Abbey Road was playing that night. It’s that through some metonymic action, in which a work of art becomes a symbol of all that is adjacent, Abbey Road, with its bright, glorious production, its elegant string arrangements, its strange and elevated moments, its harpsichord and Moog synthesizer, has become the sound, for me, of my parents separating.”

“The End.” Rick Moody, Brown Alumni Magazine, September/October 2017.

I’ve written a fictional story built around a pop song.

If you’ve written something—fiction, nonfiction, poetry—involving a significant experience with music, or if you’ve made visual art about music, tell me about it in the comments!

Posted in art, listening, poetry

Virtual Poetry Readings, March 2020

Participate as a reader, or listen in!

March 20 – 5:30 PM EST – Online Literary Happy Hour hosted by Matt Bell. Interactive Zoom is already at capacity; watch YouTube livestream.

March 23 – 8 PM EST – Costura Creative Living Room Reading Series – Donation-based “tickets” through EventBrite
March 23 – 8:30 PM EST – Boston’s Poet Laureate Porsha Olayiwola hosts a poetry reading with Crystal Valentine. “The Remedy” on Instagram Live.

March 27 – April 11 – The Stay-At-Home! festival, “a free and completely online literature festival designed to shine some light, joy, and connectivity.”

March 28 – 6 PM-midnight EST – #TweetSpeakLive (you must sign up in advance to read)

Wednesdays noon EST during April (National Poetry Month) – Simon & Schuster on Instagram – April 1, William Evans gives writing tips

Performance Anxiety – a monthly reading series, organized through Twitter, archived on YouTube

Poets in Pajamas – a bi-monthly reading series, Sundays 7 PM ET

Poetry Circle – an ongoing tweet-thread of poetry videos, started by Tara Skurtu

Distāntia Remote Reading Series – Seeking video submissions by poets. All videos are captioned.

Poets of the Pandemic – Videos are being planned. Captions anticipated. Likely prerecorded.

Shelter in Place (Maris Kreizman, with Lit Hub) – Discussions with authors about new releases

Train/Car Reading – Instagram-based, videos archived online

Vintage Victorian style quill pen engraving. Original from the British Library. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel. Wikimedia Commons.
Posted in listening

‘The Bride Minaret’: Poems by Heather Derr-Smith

The Bride Minaret by Heather Derr-Smith

Heather Derr-Smith’s poetry collection The Bride Minaret (Akron Series in Poetry, 2008) is an intricate, heavy narrative, focusing in large part on the poet’s relation to her son and the specificity of places she’s visited or lived in.

Within this beautiful arrangement, three poems especially caught my attention.

‘Star Chamber’

In the book’s first section, “Portents,” I noticed the poem “Star Chamber.” Farm machinery would be strange to me, and this poem gives me such a clear image of what it might be like to encounter it.

“There are farm machines that look like spacecraft with spotlights
And drown out the stars above. You know what they are called,
The machines with names like pets and attachments.”

‘The Girl Named Tents, Tanf Refugee Camp’

In the book’s second section, “Prophecies,” the long poem “The Girl Named Tents, Tanf Refugee Camp” reads like a biography and a prayer. “She was supposed to be a boy, as all girls are”—thus begins her journey.

“She is nine years old and beginning to know.
But dreams continue to cudgel her, bit by bit, stone by stone,
Knocking her off balance.
The wind writes its calligraphy in invisible ink.”

This same form of silent messaging makes itself known to all the girl’s people:

Alif by alif,
Every bone in the camp is bound together like the stitching on a codex.”

‘The Pelican’

In the book’s third section, “Histories,” the poem “The Pelican” tells a wildlife rescue story. The bird’s mouth-pouch was hooked on a fishing line, “an episiotomy / That birthed only fear.” The poet’s father had a sewing kit — “He was prepared for anything but fatherhood” — and he “crept low to the ground in a gesture of humility the bird recognized,” enabling him to save the bird, according to the story she was told.

What the world communicates to us

In these lines I’ve selected, the common theme seems to be how some information is conveyed not through language but through embodiment: that of objects, people, and animals.

Posted in art, avoidance, fiction, listening, nonfiction

Unnamed feelings

For writers and artists, feelings play a big role in what motivates us to create, and they are also important for the characters we create. Many feelings are hard to spot and to name. Exploring them can yield rewards.

“Odd Emotions,” an article by Rebecca Webber (Psychology Today, Jan/Feb 2016), discusses the treasure trove of unnamed feelings. As the article explains, simply being aware of feelings gives us more insight into our perpetually changing inner lives, and naming them can help us feel that we are participating in a shared human experience and can empower us to respond appropriately.

One language or culture may have a name for a feeling that another language or culture does not. Feelings may be nameable in principle and, if they don’t have names, it may simply be that no one has named them yet or that the name is not yet widely known or translated. Webber gives the example of the Norwegian word vardogr that refers to “a premonitory sound or sight of a person before he or she arrives.” Finnish also has such a word, “but not English.”

Webber quotes Lisa Feldman Barrett, the author of How Emotions Are Made, as sharing her position that emotions are caused by the brain “categorizing sensations, making them meaningful so you know what they are and what you should do about them.” But emotions are not neatly divided even into primary types. From a brain science perspective, emotions are complex and overlapping.

 

How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain

 

Webber also refers to the work of writer and artist John Koenig whose long-term project The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows is a portfolio of his invented names for feelings. It is a Tumblr blog, a YouTube, and a forthcoming book from Simon & Schuster. One person, reflecting on a work situation, remembered that “her stress was infinitesimally small in the context of all the time that had passed before she was born, and all that would go on long after her death.” For this feeling, Koenig coined the term “moriturism,” based on the Latin term memento mori (“remember to die”). Koenig has also come up with the name “exulansis” to describe “a sense of frustration when you realize that you are trying to talk about an important experience, but other people are unable to understand or relate to it, so you give up.”

Another woman quoted by Webber mentioned “a ‘deflated’ variation of schadenfreude, which she describes as when someone ‘finally comes around to your point of view or is served a very cold helping of karma, but sadly, you’ve matured past the point of really caring anymore.'”

Two women in white dresses with black sleeves are holding hands. The text of
Part of the original photo by Guzman, as laid out in the article “Odd Emotions” for Psychology Today.

Take a look at the article “Odd Emotions” and see what resonates with you. Is there a word for the special feeling of that resonation? What does it mean for your writing and art?

Posted in fiction, listening

A talk with Skye Yvonne, author of ‘Astraethea’

laila_winters

Today I talk with Skye Yvonne, author of the YA novel Astraethea, the first book in a planned series. She’s also known online as Laila Winters. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Amazon, and her website. – Tucker Lieberman

T.L.: You provide a lot of sensory detail about this world. It seems like a place that the reader could step into. Do you ever feel yourself immersed in this imaginary place?

S.Y.: Astraethea is a world I see so clearly in my own mind that it’s hard not to become immersed in it. I think for any author, it’s almost impossible to not lose themselves in the worlds that they create—that’s the fun part about creating them. If we can’t dive into our own worlds and immerse ourselves in what we’ve built, then we can’t expect our readers to, either.

T.L.: What’s the significance—for us, as readers interpreting the story—of fighting people from Earth? How did you decide to take that perspective?

S.Y.: I love this question because in the very first draft of Astraethea, there was no conflict between the Astraetheans and the Earthlings. The humans truly did come to Astraethea seeking refuge, and Selene initially granted it to them. During revisions, though, I felt that Astraethea was lacking any true conflict beyond unrest and dissent between Selene’s councilors.

I scrapped the entire first draft of the book, and the second, and started fresh on the third. As far as the humans are concerned and conflict aside, Valor and Zaegan became the reason for their significance. They represent different sides of humanity: Valor the best, and Zaegan the worst.

Val ultimately causes the most turmoil at the very end of the book, but he doesn’t come out of it unscathed. His struggles and redemption in book two are important, both symbolically and for his character arc.

That, and if humans ever discovered extraterrestrial life, I’d imagine we’d be brazen enough to go storming in and disrupt whatever peace they might have.

T.L.: I noticed themes of loyalty and persistence. Is there a virtue that feels especially important to you in this story?

S.Y.: Given the betrayal on the very last page of the book, loyalty is especially important throughout the story. The characters are all deeply loyal to one another; Caly is so willing to rush into battle alongside her brother just to have his back that she nearly gets herself killed. Valor goes against his own morals and does the one thing he swore he’d never do just to protect the only friend he has. Loyalty is a core part of who they all are, except for Zaegan who’s loyal to no one but himself.

T.L.: Did you read any stories with LGBT characters when you were a teenager?

S.Y.: Unfortunately, no. Not only were stories featuring LGBT characters relatively unheard of when I was a kid, but I was also very, very deep in the closet. I did read a lot of LGBT fanfiction in secret, though, and writing an LGBT fic was how I first started experimenting with the idea that maybe I truly was in some self-imposed closet.

T.L.: Within the story, you don’t use the word “lesbian” to describe the relationship between the Queen and the Warrior. Is there a reason for that?

S.Y.: There was no reason, no. In their world, society views love and sexuality in a very different way. The prejudices and homophobia that people have here on Earth don’t exist on Astraethea; it’s not taboo or even unheard of for people of the same sex (or of any combination of gender, including our favorite non-binary Kodoreans) to love one another. Because it’s so widely accepted, I doubt there’s even a word in the Astraethean language that describes it or that can be used to self-identify one’s sexuality.

If Caly and Selene were to come to Earth and discover that there were people who disapproved of their relationship simply because they’re both female, I think they would be very, very confused. And Caly might stab them.

Spoiler: there’s a scene in book two where Valor refers to Caly as a lesbian (because for readers who enjoyed book one, who’s not waiting for this confrontation?), and she asks him what ‘lesbian’ even means.

AstraetheaT.L.: Did your story eventually take any turns you didn’t expect when you first started out?

S.Y.: I’m just the author—my characters do what they want, and I simply write it down. Astraethea took so many unexpected turns that it nearly gave me whiplash. The biggest turn, I think, is that in the first two drafts of the Astraethea, Valor’s character didn’t exist. He was always the one who pulled that trigger in the end, but I decided to add his POV throughout the book during one of my final revisions. Val ended up becoming one of my favorite characters, and I hope that by giving him a name, my readers enjoyed him and his story just as much as I did.

T.L.: What other space travel or fantasy stories do you enjoy?

S.Y.: I actually don’t read a lot of sci-fi, and Astraethea likely suffered a bit because of that. YA fantasy is more up my alley; give me magic and fairies and mythical creatures and I am one happy girl.

T.L.: What is most satisfying to you about the Astraethea saga?

S.Y.: Perhaps it makes me a bit vain, but I’m pretty satisfied that Astraethea has been well-received amongst my readers. I self-published the book after 40 rejections (though I received a revise & resubmit offer last month), and I was so afraid that the book was going to fail because I didn’t have the money or resources that are ultimately needed to make a self-published novel successful. And by no means is Astraethea “successful,” but it’s done better than I ever anticipated. It warms my heart knowing that people enjoy what I refer to as my “space gays.”

On a less arrogant note, I’m pretty satisfied with where the series is headed! I’m focusing on the R&R right now in hopes that the agent might pick it up, but I’m excited to start working on the second book. There’s a storm brewing in the human camp, Caly, in a downwards spiral, is far more reckless than usual, and Selene’s character will be a bit different going forward. I’ll also be introducing some new characters and I’m excited for readers to meet them.

T.L.: Who do you want your story to reach? What do you hope they’ll take away?

S.Y.: The only thing I’ve ever wanted is for people to read my books and know that they’re not alone; that it’s okay if you’re a lesbian, bisexual, gay, pan, poly, trans, non-binary, etc. LGBT representation in literature is something I wish I’d been exposed to as a teenager, and because I didn’t have it, I want to give it. Until I started seeing LGBT characters portrayed both in lit and in the media, I wasn’t comfortable coming out. If my writing can help just one person, in any way, I’ve personally succeed as an author.

T.L.: What lessons have your characters taught you?

S.Y.: My initial reaction to this question was, “Don’t take a sword into a gun fight.” But despite a few setbacks, Caly and Atreo are pretty lethal with their swords and so this might not be a good takeaway.

Every character has taught me something different. Caly taught me perseverance and unwavering loyalty. Atreo taught me to think and act rationally in tough situations. As she often leans on Eleon, Selene has taught me that it’s okay to lean on friends and family for support. On the flip side, Valor has helped teach me that family doesn’t always mean blood; it’s the family that you make for yourself that matters most. Andromeda taught me that I really wish I had a prehensile tail that I could use to knock sense into whoever annoys me.