KaBooM WritersKaBooM Writers

Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!

Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!


The KaBooM Writers Notebook: Our Blog

Working Water: A collaboration and memoriam

Cover Art by Pam Papka Sexton, 2000

Cover Art by Pam Papka Sexton, 2000

 

At a meeting recently, Gail brought in a copy of the anthology, Working Water, written and published in 2000 by the students in the YMCA Master Poetry Class, taught by James Baker Hall.  Pam Papka Sexton, our dearly missed Kaboom member, created the cover.  I remembered how and when she had made it, and how she and that anthology had led to the final chapter of my novel Ruby River, a chapter I would not have written but for Pam and the phrase, “Working water.”

Now, I often desire solitude as the ideal situation for making art or for writing.  We all dream of the private studio and uninterrupted days as long as the sun’s journey from horizon to horizon that sometimes include the moon’s crossing as well.  The artist in the attic, the recluse in the cabin, the single person, the wealthy person unencumbered by the demands of conversation and appointment.  And yet much good work comes out of group work, when the members intentionally engage in making some thing new.  Collaboration is one form of  group making, but making within the parameter of a group offers a rare sense of support and maybe even revs up the quality of one’s focus and intention.  Sort of like playing on a tennis team where every one has a racket and a desire to win but each member plays, wins or loses, her own match. Kaboom Blog Oct 2014 5

Pam’s cover and my chapter are both stories of artistic collaborations that bore better fruit because of companionship.   First the cover.  Pam, Deborah Reed, an early member of Kaboom, (pictured above) and I met for coffee with a North Carolina artist whose show in Lexington featured images she’d made with a fascinating process that involved a photocopier and nail polish remover.  Pam was intrigued and tried the process herself.  She xeroxed one of her paintings of a wooded landscape.  While the copy’s ink was still wet, she applied nail polish remover which created the foggy clouds of color  When it was dry, she copied that image and that is what you see as the cover of the anthology Sherry Chandler designed.  In this case, one artist shared a process with another.

The chapter came about in a more roundabout way, with more antecedents, some which I will never know of.  Pam, Deborah Reed, Mary Alexander, Betty Gabehart, and I went to Forest Retreat, an old estate in Nicholas County, for a writing weekend.  One of its distinctions is that its family cemetery contains the remains of both a former governor and a Kentucky Derby Winner.  Actually there are several thoroughbred race horses buried in the plot.  We had our photos taken with their memorial stones.

We also visited an emu farm and Blue Licks Battlefield, places which offered inspiration for our afternoon writing practices. We gathered in the sitting room, where Pam led us through an exercise she learned in the Master Poetry Class: as each poet read his or her weekly poem, the students gleaned intriguing words which they used as the basis for new poems.  At Forest Retreat, Pam read a poem she had written using that method.  We repeated the exercise by writing down words we liked.  I wrote “working water” among others.

Kaboom Blog Oct 2014 3 1

From our pile of gift words, we constructed a scene on the page, into which would come, after ten minutes of writing, a character whom the person on our left had created. Since we had been to Blue Licks that morning to the river, I described a sycamore that was “ghostly.”  Mary Alexander (pictured above at the retreat) passed me a character sketch of a young girl wearing a red and black dress.  From those words, I wrote the three page chapter that ends Ruby River:  “He was born with a hole in his heart.  When the wind blew he could feel it gush deep in his chest, a sound like green hush.  If he was working the water on Sunday morning, always a Sunday morning, he heard the wind play as a harp, the ripples on the slow river like the notes in his heart . . . .”

In Memoriam – June 12, 2014

 

Ky Book Fair 2009

 

In memory of Pam Sexton—beloved friend and creative companion, a generous spirit, passionate advocate of education and art, keen observer of nature and humanity. We treasure the memories and beautiful words you leave behind.

 

 

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Finishing

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Finishing

 

The goal and the fruit of a true discipline is completion.  The completion of the work of art.”

Pat Schneider, Writing Alone and with Others

            There are icebergs all over my study — piles of paper that represent the mere tips of manuscripts I have begun but not yet completed.  Most days I sail blithely among the hidden masses, maneuvering as if with sonar to avoid a brush with their frigid bulks.

“Frigid” suits these projects, since they have grown icy and remote-feeling.  Their temperature plunges the longer I refuse to approach them.  There’s the novel looming in a corner, the set of essays peeking from the back of a vertical file, a memoir whose weight disappears into a notebook on a bookcase.

Two or three times a year, I propose a plan of action to reclaim one or all of these bergs and melt it down in order to remember  the taste of its refreshment.  I propose.  But I do not engage with the novel or revive the essay collection.  I continue writing bits and pieces, filing them with others of their kind, not even believing anymore that I will really bring one of these books to reality.  My might-have-been books evaporate, directly from their solid mass into mist.

The heavy cold of these unfinished pieces makes me doubt that I will complete the next big piece of writing I begin.  As I age into what I had thought would be more leisurely years, my life remains full and diverse, busier than ever:  there is a new generation of offspring I have a hand in raising; new opportunities for engagement with other artists and with my community; and teaching remains one of my deep joys.  I am reluctant to give any of it up.

I am even more reluctant, however, to give up on the writing projects I’ve begun— at least until I’m sure that I am not interested in completing them.  (After all, I don’t have to finish anything if I don’t want to.  An important point to remember!)

Last month I picked up Gretchen Rubin’s Happier at Home one day as I browsed the library’s non-fiction tableLate in the book, Rubin notes that we overestimate how much we can get done in a short time (a day or a week), but we also seriously underestimate how much we can get done little by little over an extended period.

I have put this wisdom into action on tasks that I dread (like filling out my income tax worksheet).  I wondered if it might work to help address the ice floes in my study.  My strategy is to choose one neglected project (the novel first) and devote fifteen minutes a day to it.  For the first two weeks I plan to not go one moment past the fifteen minute limit.  Fifteen minutes is manageable, no matter how busy my day is.  One way I can make sure the fifteen minutes happens is to do it first thing in the working day, before I have a chance to think about it too much.  I am finding that not letting myself work past my time limit also creates anticipation about what I might accomplish or discover the next day.

I’ve barely begun this regimen, so I am not sure how it will turn out.  My guess is that I will still need some kind of deadline (self-imposed or imposed by a call for submissions) in order to push through to a new draft of the novel.  For now, I am exploring — getting reacquainted with the book.  Getting inspired fifteen minutes at a time.

I promise to report back here in two months (aha! a self-imposed deadline: I’m putting it on my calendar) with a blog post:  Finishing, Part 2.

 

Seeing and Saying

Fog-lacquered,

varnished in thin

pearl glaze,

 

the high dunes unfold,

a smudged sketch . . .

-Mark Doty, “Fog Suite”

 

Lately I have been considering my work.  What do I most need to be doing?  What are my priorities?  Oh, I do the daily tasks that come with keeping a place pleasant enough to nourish my spirit, interesting enough that I am always provoked to thought, and clean enough that I can be at ease there.  And I have other jobs as well — or possibly they’re roles: mother, sister, grandmother, wife.  Each has its delicious duties; each makes its demands.  But my work shapes my life as much as any of these do.

 

The passionate avocation which I am lucky enough to practice as a vocation  for years that work has been two-fold:  writing and teaching.  Artist’s work, each of them — asking from me flexibility and curiosity, patience and steadiness, imagination and presence.  The medium for my art is words.  My materials?  Ideas, insights, observation, the daily walk, my commute, my “down time” reading, knitting.  Nothing less than everything I have learned or wonder about about.  What I am able to take in, to truly see and ponder and then translate onto the page or into that evening’s class.

My job boils down to seeing and saying.

It seems to me that in all arts no matter what their medium — words, paint, lines in pencil or ink, photographs, symphonies, choral music, rap, stone, wood, metal — artists create in order to convey something they have observed.  A photographer takes in her surroundings, alert for shape and light and shadow.  Having seen something she wants to capture and share, she takes aim and uses her tools (not only the camera but everything she has learned about photography) and makes a piece of art.

 

The art I admire and try to emulate observes something closely and renders it vividly.  Ordinary things like the fog along a coast in Mark Doty’s poem.  He likens the fog to “damp scarves/(unhemmed, like petals/of a white peony)” and I know I have seen that very aspect of fog and failed to notice it or to find the words that would (like Doty’s) make it unmistakable.

 

Doty’s poem is partly about this “seeing and saying” I’ve been pondering lately:

 

What I’m trying to do

is fix this impossible

shift and flux, and say

 

how this fog-fired

green’s intensified

by sunlight filtered

 

through the atmosphere’s

wet linens–

 

He says what I have felt on mornings in eastern Kentucky when the fog both veiled and sharpened the colors on the hills.  And he goes on with lines that I have written toward (and never quite reached):

 

Do we love more

what we can’t say?

 

As if what we wanted

were to be brought

that much closer

 

to words’ failure

where desire begins?

 

That edge where my desire to express what I have seen meets my words’ failure draws me on.  It is my work — noticing, trying to say what I have seen.  My work as a teacher.  My work as a writer.

 

“Fog Suite,” by Mark Doty, from Sweet Machine (1998), collected in Fire to Fire, New and Selected Poems (Harper Perennial, 2009)

 

NaNoWriMo or NaNoReMo?



With National Novel Writing Month 2013 approaching in three weeks, you may be debating whether or not to participate.

A year ago I faced that same decision. I had a finished novel out for consideration and no new project underway. No enticing characters haunting my subconscious; no nascent story squirming under my skin, no pile of post-its recording quirky details; no overheard conversations lingering like earworms.

So I signed up for NaNoWriMo.

On November 29, 2012, I crossed the 54,000-word mark as I penned the last scene of my new novel. I had to crown myself a winner because there was no way for the folks at NaNoWriMo to track my efforts: a novel handwritten in a series of writer’s notebooks. Strangely, that official recognition meant little to me. After all, I had a writing group, a family, and an exasperated husband, all urging me to finish what I’d started.

Now it’s time to decide again. What’s the best way for me to spend my writing time? Should I sign up for NaNoWriMo and get a new project underway? Or should I return to my 2012 novel and devote the month to serious and disciplined revision? In other words, should November 2013 be National Novel Writing Month? Or National Novel Revising Month?

Here’s a synopsis of my ongoing conversation with self:

Reasons to spend the month revising:

• You’ll lose the soul of your 2012 novel if you abandon it now to start something new. All those threads swimming in your head, waiting to be tied—what of those?

•  You know how to create a revision protocol. You know what to do next. You need a timeline, a scene list, a verb list, and a couple of mentor texts that you study for clues.

•  You’ll be starting the month with SOMETHING rather than NOTHING. Move that second novel along! Finish it and see what you’ve learned! Discipline that mess!

Reasons to spend the month writing:

• You’ll share in the cosmic energy generated by tens of thousands of other working novelists.

• You can take advantage of the fact that Thanksgiving comes late this year. You could pass 50,000 words before it’s time to peel potatoes.

• You’ll make something new, bring an as-yet-to-be created story into being. Get out the glitter glue! Let that mess flourish! As Grant Faulkner said last November in a NaNoWriMo pep talk, “We set the audacious goal of writing a novel, not scrubbing surfaces clean.”

What do you think? How will you spend the month of November?

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The Heebie Jeebies

My three quilts framed and hanging in the hospital hallway.

The following is an email conversation that I had in January with my friends from KaBoom. I was working on three quilts to be hung in a new hospital and about halfway through the project, I was plagued by a severe case of self doubt. The responses I received from Normandi Ellis, Susan Brown, Leatha Kendrick, and Jan Isenhour were thoughtful, encouraging, and warm and allowed me to relax and successfully complete my work.

 

MA: Help! I’ve got a bad case of the heebie jeebies. That’s what I call the feeling that comes when I’m halfway through a project and suddenly paralysis sets in. I’ve been trying to work all week and it’s not going well. Self-doubt is plaguing me and interfering with my sleep. I’m beginning to wonder if I will be able to complete this quilting project by the deadline. Have I bitten off more than I can chew? Or am I setting myself up to fail with this extreme anxiety?

I’m panicked that I won’t have enough material of the right colors to give cohesion to the project. I’ve spent hours at quilt shops and on line looking at material and yet everything I’ve bought has turned out to be wrong somehow. I’ve put on pieces (I work on a design wall first before sewing pieces together)only to take them down. I put up another color only to take that down too. I had hoped to work out most of my problems with fabric choice on this first quilt and that the other two will be faster. My goal was to finish this first one by the end of December and yet here it hangs, about half done.

Today is my daughter’s birthday and I don’t think my labor to bring her into life was as painful as the process I’m going through now. At least during that labor, I knew that it was going to end one way or another before the day was through. I had wonderful nurses, an adequate doctor, and a terrified husband to deal with, but I knew that at the end of it all, I wouldn’t be pregnant anymore. What can I say, I was only 19! Not being pregnant seemed the height of desirability. Looking back, I can see that giving birth was the beginning of a long journey that is not ended yet.

Maybe if I can tell myself that creating these works of art is only a beginning then it won’t seem so terrifying. This is not a live or die situation. Yes, there is the possibility of failure, but it’s only one possibility of several. Maybe the hospital people will love the quilts. Maybe the company that commissioned them will commission others. Maybe they won’t be in love with my work, but will deem it acceptable and still hang them. Maybe they’ll hate them, but I have a contract and it doesn’t say anything about whether or not they LIKE the work. 🙂 And I’ve already deposited my check for half the commission!

Thank you dear friends for your patience with my whining. I find, as always, that writing down my deepest fears takes some of the bite out of them. I can only hope that the heebie jeebies will come to an end and my time will be more productive. I will try to be grateful for this opportunity and not paralyzed by it.

NE: All is well and you will get through the other side. The hardest part is the doubt, but as you say, you just have to keep going. I think some of the best things I ever did in terms of stories or books were those that I was ready to ditch at one point because they just weren’t want I thought they were supposed to be. You know, of course, that the art itself will teach you what it needs and wants. I have seen you work and I have every confidence that you are listening closely to it! In fact, I can even see you bent over the work with your ear to the fabric practically. We’re all there with you, cheering you on. It’ll be wonderful when it’s finished, and you will have learned something of your own process through it.

SCB: Oh, Mary. Normandi is right, of course. This work will teach you what it needs and what it will take to finish it, and you have all the skills and intuition you need to see it through. You’ve done so much beautiful work, and you’re up to finishing this project.

Maybe you could set aside thoughts of the audience and the people who will see it for a while, and just be with the quilt. Eventually the audience will have a role, but they don’t belong in your studio with you while you’re doing your work. Too many crowds, too much noise. You’re the one who knows what needs to be done, and what your audience needs is for you to do what only you can do.

Interesting question, whether the Magi had their doubts about that journey. They probably did– how could you not? But they had enough faith to keep going. And your friends who know you and know your work have enough faith for you, even if your own has its moments of wavering.

All will be well.

LK: Mary, I am so glad that you wrote out your doubts and allowed us to hear them. Doubt and fear have paralyzed me and continue to — especially lately — but I have not thought to reach out. What I know is that these emotions (as Susan wisely points out) have to do with letting others’ judgment hover over the work itself. When I simply am with the work, it takes the lead — the problem here for you is the deadline also hovering. And your self-imposed schedule. Let go of what you thought would happen and be with what is unfolding. Trust that once the first quilt falls into place, the others will come more quickly. Most deadlines are more flexible than we imagine — even our own.

Of course, we are all talking to ourselves, you know. And you have given us a chance to remind ourselves of what matters — which is the process, as frustrating and terrifying as it is sometimes.

JI: It sounds as if each of us sees herself in the situation you describe, Mary. I had always thought of myself as being a procrastinator–and then of course someone pointed out to me that procrastination is classic behavior for a perfectionist, who allows so many things to interfere with the work she wants to accomplish. A useful piece of advice for me was Anne Lamott’s exhortation to work “bird by bird”: forgetting about the finished, beautiful, and well-received end product and instead making my slow way through tiny steps that lead eventually to the end, allowing myself to feel graced by surprises along the way rather than threatened. Good advice. Wish I could learn to accept it more often.

MA: Thank you all for your wonderful encouragement! I’ve read your responses over and over and feel myself taking heart already. Each of you had a fresh take on my problem and each new view has helped me look at my work in a new light. I will keep plugging along and hope that I will have a better report when we meet again. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I am once again reminded of how important you all are to me.

 

I did finish the quilts in time, but I know that the words from my friends played a key role. How many times do we sabotage our own efforts with doubt and negativity? By acknowledging my difficulties and reaching out to my committed group of like minded artists, I brought the heebie jeebies out of the dark and in the light of clear thinking, I vanquished them and completed my project. The words, “All will be well!” became my slogan and self fulfilling prophecy.

Do you have people in your life as an artist that you can reach for when the heebie jeebies attack?

Writing With Others

 

I’ve had two fairly recent experiences of trying to write with others. The first one involved a good friend who was between jobs. I had finished a draft of a novel and so felt that her idea to co-write a screenplay had appeal. Over time we had talked about different ideas for a screenplay.  Based on these sessions, I had dutifully gone home and written out several plots but when I showed her the plots, she gave them a blank stare. That should have tipped me off.

But here we were a year or so later with some time to collaborate. We downloaded a screenwriting program and its tutorials. I read Syd Fields’ book and shared it with her. I broke down the screenplay of CRASH into scenes and recorded information on color-coded index cards. We thought to use CRASH as a model because it involved a larger than normal cast of characters and that matched my friend’s original idea of telling a neighborhood story. But as we began to talk, it became clear that she and I were on very different pages.

She had much professional experience in letter and grant-writing but wanted to branch off into something creative. I have decades of writing and teaching fiction so I soon recognized a phenomena common to many people who start to write in middle age. Most of these brave souls have authority in many areas of life and they carry that authority into this new enterprise. That authority is not transferable. Yet the new writer cannot recognize that every new idea they have is not a good idea. And arguing for it on “creative” grounds is a common defense.

Eventually our meetings devolved into sessions where she typed with joy and I was supposed to applaud but not offer any commentary, as it became her screenplay. At that point, I withdrew and suggested she take a class in screenwriting. She completed the screenplay through the class. She invited me to workshop the night it was discussed and, not surprisingly, its many weaknesses were pointed out: there were basic formal issues that relate to competence in craft. These were things I knew and had pointed out but were things that she could not hear from me.

I’d like to share one of the best pieces of advice I’ve come across for beginning writers. Jane Smiley wrote an essay for a wonderful out-of-print anthology called Creating Fiction, edited by Julie Checkoway. Smiley’s essay is titled, “What Stories Teach Their Writers.” The first nugget is “Your first duty, if you want to become a writer, is to become teachable.”

I want to become teachable as a collaborator.  How does one collaborate successfully?   Should both writers be at the same level of experience?  Clearly I failed the first time out.

Now I’m in the midst of a second writing collaboration, this one for a grant in a field that I am less familiar with than my collaborator is. However, as the more experienced writer, I am again embroiled in this thorny issue.  I believe I am simply going to conclude that I don’t write well with others.

Maybe you can share some good advice about how to make a collaborative writing project succeed. Anyone?

Still sneaking up on the muse ….

"sneaking suspicion" -- cat at the wall

(Photo from: http://bit.ly/CatSq1)

This Monday morning when the muse again felt so many miles away all my inspiration might as well have taken off to Mars, I finally quit banging my head and — miracle — mercy dropped in.   An entire stream of thought, from nowhere I could have seen coming.

Well.

On reflection, this development shouldn’t be surprising.  Yet an old truth, newly rediscovered, certainly feels like revelation.  Writers have long known that the muse, like happiness, tends to flee direct pursuit.  There is a part of my conscious brain that knows this.  And yet.  And yet…still and again, I need to discover this truth anew.

As I read in a post by Misty Massey years ago, the best course of action is to remember that the best bait for inspiration is to “… lure it out into the open by pretending you don’t care. Before you know it, it’s curling up at your feet.”

At one level that doesn’t make much sense, does it?  Pretending you don’t care about your creative product can feel dangerous.  And sometimes, you may be so emotionally invested in the work that you cannot see anything but frustration at what you perceive as failures.

Every now and again, though, I can get just exhausted enough to learn something new—by finally letting go of the struggle.

(Photo from: http://bit.ly/Senv6b)

 

Turns out, all ll I needed this morning was to tell myself I had no time for the project that’s recently been frustrating me,  to sort of turn my back on it, and—sneaky, padded cat feet— it crept up behind me, purring to make its presence known, in a way I’d have killed for days ago.  Between its teeth was a tasty morsel; oh, sure, stolen from something else.  But I’ve got no scruples when it comes to such treasures.  I’ll take them however they arrive.   I simply need to remember that the arrival is more likely to happen when I can turn my back on my anxious, demanding mind and instead settle quietly,  entering a gentle waiting-that-is-not-quite-doing-nothing; entering an expectant interlude, a sympathetic distraction.

It was Kafka who famously said: “You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet” (from his translated Reflections on sin, pain, hope and the true way).

Here’s to finding ways, always, to welcome the world,  and then, to finding it rolling in ecstasy at our feet.

Kindle as Revision Tool

I wasn’t sure I could learn to like a Kindle, much less love one. Sure, after a week or two, I was ready to acknowledge its well-advertised charms: the ability to load a shelf’s worth of choices onto a device that fits neatly in my purse; the capacity to share purchases with my husband’s iPad; the option of virtual ownership when one of my book groups selects a title I don’t want to make physical space for on my overcrowded shelves.

I also voiced criticisms I’d heard before: the reading experience isn’t the same. I miss not being able to flip through a book. Like many booklovers, I have a spatial recall that startles even me, although I know I’m not the only reader who experiences it. When I want to double-check a characterization or a plot point, I’ll think to myself, “I saw that mentioned on the lower left side about fifteen pages back.”

Clicking through a Kindle book, which negates the left/right spatial orientation, is nothing like this, nor is using the keyword search feature, which with its laborious button-pushing seems as antiquated as a card catalog compared to the computer-like quickness of my brain. Reading a book on Kindle is not a recursive experience; I’m not manipulating a three-dimensional text, not constantly flipping pages through space to recheck the epigraph and/or the dedication, to consult the index, or to linger over accompanying photos. I won’t even bring up Kindle’s way of charting your progress through a book. The percentage tally makes me feel as if I’m participating in an opinion poll. The location number method makes me feel as if I’m having an extraterrestrial experience.

However a recent discovery may redeem the Kindle. I’ll share it with you under the assumption that if I took six months to find it, you are also clueless (plus I tested the discovery on ten Kindle-using friends and none of them knew about this feature).

While searching for something else on the “Settings” screen, I noticed an email address I’d never seen before: myname@kindle.com. I read the paragraph that included this never-before-seen address and discovered that I could send documents to my Kindle in a variety of forms, including .doc or .docx. I pasted a chapter of my novel, which I’m revising, into an email and sent it to myself. Quick as a flash, I received a reply. No dice. Your email doesn’t have a document attached. This response included lots of other useful information, as well as a link to a Help screen. I tried again, this time attaching the chapter. In less than five minutes, the document showed up on my Kindle.

So good. I’ll be able to send my novel to readers. They won’t need to spend ink and paper printing it out or sit for hours reading on computer screens. And in fact, friends with agents confirm that their agents are using e-readers for exactly this purpose.

However, the real advantage to me, the writer, lies in Kindle’s usefulness as a revision tool. I read my sample chapter on Kindle—a chapter I’ve examined several times during the revision process. In one quick read, I saw six infelicities: two consecutive sentences ending on the flat note of the same prepositional phrase; several unneeded adverbs, a comma splitting a compound predicate; a monster paragraph that straddled two screens; an inconsistency in the spelling of a character’s name; the pronoun “her” repeated ten times on one page. In several cases I noticed that paragraphs had lost their indentations, making the text blobs frequent and daunting. So much for impressing a prospective agent.

How was it possible that I had missed these items? What made them apparent when I read my manuscript on Kindle?

I concluded that space between lines, or leading, matters. When the sentences containing the prepositional phrases were no longer double spaced, they drew together on the page, and I spotted them. The monster paragraph also became apparent with book-style leading. I missed the relief of a paragraph indent when I looked at the screen.

The proportion of the page also matters. The Kindle page looks like a page from a book. Its proportions, its ratio of text to margin, mimic a physical book. As I read, I noticed words differently.

I ran into a couple of problems sending a file to my Kindle, problems that were solved by asking Google. Not every paragraph was indented for example. I learned that it’s best to delete tabs and to use the paragraph indent feature (under format/paragraph or on the ruler bar at the top of the window). The same website recommends saving the document with an .html extension rather than .doc or .docx. I followed both suggestions and the resulting document showed up on Kindle formatted as I wished.

Maybe, just maybe, reading on Kindle provides more of an actual book-reading experience than I realized. When I read my manuscript on Kindle, it was formatted like a book. I noticed all the features that called attention to themselves as they slouched across the screen, reminding me that I don’t yet have a book, but a manuscript undergoing revision. Kindle’s real value may be as a revision tool that helps me see my work again.

“I’m Writing a Book”

I had the same experience twice this week. I’m chatting with a friend or an acquaintance at a social gathering, community event, or business function when the person leans close, assumes a sheepish grin, and in a voice pitched too low for anyone else to hear, confesses, “I’m writing a book.”

Such confessions make my heart sing. Don’t whisper, I think. Give yourself a pat on the back. Treat yourself to champagne. I wish you every success. And don’t give up.

Lately, with the future of “book” (as we understand the word) in question, the attempt to write one strikes me as heroic. Will the very concept of “book” become outmoded?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word “book” comes from the Proto-Germanic bokiz or “beech,” a reference either to the beechwood tablets on which runes were inscribed or to the tree itself. As the publishing industry pushes us toward the virtual, will the roots of the word in the physical world seem inappropriate? Does an e-version deserve to carry a name based on the organic materials from which a book is made?

The picture that accompanies this post features a shelf in my home library. It just happens to be the shelf where my own as yet unpublished book will live (in alphabetical order by author’s last name, should it be destined to take print form), living out eternity somewhere between the books of John Irving and Kazuo Ishiguro. Given the current state of publishing, I sometimes despair of ever seeing my book assume this place.

So to all of you closet writers out there, keep telling me your secret whenever you can.  And keep writing your books.

And let’s agree that when we envision “book,” we’ll see our words pressed into paper that has tint and heft. We’ll imagine our pages as leaves that ruffle in a breeze. When we say the word “book,” we’ll think about where it will sit on a shelf or how it will rest on a table.

We’ll remember that “book” refers to something three-dimensional. In that form, books occupy physical space and cannot fail to demand our attention.

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