Tonight’s Reading Plan: Lawrence and Lebowski

I’m reading Lawrence, Hemingway and Anderson.

Tonight, I will read a few chapters in the Sun Also Rises and perhaps a little more of St. Mawr. 

I’m also reading The Most Excellent Comedie and Tragical Romance of Two Gentlemen of Lebowski.

You’re going to want to check that out.  Full disclosure:  I get a small percentage if you buy it through the link. 

I hadn’t heard of this work by Adam Bertocci until my wife bought me a copy as a surprise earlier this week.  The opening scene alone is worth the cover price.

100 Words at a Time

I have always loved to write.  I first started writing creatively as an adult sometime during Divinity School, in my early 20s.  I wrote stories and poems in high school of course, but most of what I wrote in college was more academic. 

Between finishing my Master of Divinity and starting my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, I wrote many small pieces of fiction and prose poems.  I grew fond of writing things that were exactly 100 words.  It was a good practice in rhythm, word choice, and brevity.

This piece, which I rewrote yesterday from an older draft that didn’t go where I had hoped, is 98 words:

There’s nothing to say now to Eugene Victor Debs or William Jennings Bryan.  No spring under iron wheels and no thaw in the concrete borders of compassion.  No dispersing from the lock-step forms of ill-formed fear, fear of self, of other, fear of washing rain, revealing living oneness, fear of drowning in it.  There’s no green in our window-boxes, no stray cats in alleys and nothing left to feed them. Only fat birds always eating and the statues of our past, the ideal likeness of forgotten shapes and forms, fat birds always eating, bleaching white our skin-toned stories.

I have also found that I inevitably tend to write paragraphs of about 100 words in my fiction, especially why I’m attempting a birds-eye view seeking to balance external and internal settings, or when I’m doing an extremely close third-person read. 

After quite of bit of struggle with one story yesterday, I read and took a break.  Later, I revised the poem above.  Then I went about the other things I had to do. Later still, I wrote a post about DH Lawrence, Sherwood Anderson (both very good at the external/internal balance and the shift from mundane to sublime) and Ernest Hemingway (ever a muse for brevity).  Then I returned to another story, one I had been avoiding for personal reasons, and wrote this, which is, not surprisingly, about a hundred words:

On his ten-speed, the new present from his father, Riley arced and waved, his course unfettered and unhinged, free from the attraction of large bodies, the fundamental laws of physics. The nurses crossed the Fairgrounds. Birds roosted in the trees. The Sisters of St. Catherine were called to daily office, everywhere the brides of Christ were moving to the music of the set-in-motion world. In the Market lot, where the families sold their wares, where the men had trained to serve in war, where the Milltown Fair lit August sky with fireworks and neon, on that swath of pavement bordered by the hospital and graveyard, a boy, still small, still boyish, rode his brand-new bike.

I’m sure I’ll revise and refine that, but for now I rather like it.  In the context of the story, it’s a sort of capstone.

For whatever reason, I tend to write more or less 100 words at a time.  There are days when these bursts add up, 1000 or 2000 words.  There are days like yesterday, where I revised 98 and wrote 120 more.

Dialogue is like the 12-point Courier New of daily word goals.  Even in the piece I struggled with yesterday, I managed 300 words of decent dialogue in service of the story. 

Some days net a ton of words you cut down later.  Some days net a ton of words you keep.  Some days are more about the planting, some days about the harvest.

If you’re writing and/or reading today (and I hope you are), happy sewing, watering, reaping.

Horses In Midstream: DH Lawrence, Ernest Hemingway, and Sherwood Anderson

I’m reading a three-story collection of DH Lawrence that anthologizes “The Woman Who Rode Away,” St. Mawr (really a novella), and “The Princess.”

I’ve finished “The Woman Who Rode Away” and am a third through St. Mawr.  All three tales involve horses.  The first and last are about women who leave their normal lives on horseback, and St. Mawr is, himself, a horse.

Given where I am in the collection, this is something of a review in midstream.

“The Woman Who Rode Away” has many admirable qualities.  James Lasdun, who wrote the collection’s introduction, does a very good job discussing them. He also notes Lawrence’s interest in pulp fiction, and for me, that’s what the narrative arc finally becomes, with all of that genre’s attendant problems of sexism, racism, colonialism. There is more to like about much of the writing than about the balance of the story. 

St. Mawr is likewise full of brilliant moments, but so far seems to drag on.  How many times must Lawrence tell us about the other planes of existence the horse seems to occupy?  How many times must he tell us about the darkness in the stallion’s eyes, and in that darkness, fire?  How many times must he remind us of Phoenix’s high cheek-bones and other “Indian” features?  How long must poor Rico suffer?  I am midstream in this story, but feel like changing horses. 

Don’t get me wrong. Lawrence was supremely gifted.  I should say that I’m concurrently reading Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, published two years after these Lawrence stories were written.  Though the two writers shared many things in common (Hemingway does go on about the streets and restaurants of Paris,  both men name-check the Rotonde, both deal in their ways with the aftermath of World War I), their styles are like the glyphs of different planets.  Reading them together helps modern readers, almost a century on, understand why The Sun Also Rises was considered such a departure and, for that reason, such a landmark. 

That’s not to diminish Lawrence, nor to compare this collection (not a masterpiece) to Hemingway’s best-known and most critically acclaimed work.  But since I happen to be reading these pieces in tandem, I can’t help seeing them in light of each other, to an extent.

Lawrence’s prose is rich and layered and often very beautiful.  He was, as Lasdun points out, a master at transmuting setting into psychological revelation.  All of that is here.  Hemingway can seem too stark by comparison.  Sherwood Anderson, who Hemingway parodied in The Torrents of Spring (also published in 1926) is stylistically somewhere in between.  Winesburg, Ohio is a current happy place of mine.

Last Night’s Reading, Yesterday’s Writing

Last night, I read:

“The Woman Who Rode Away” by DH Lawrence

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, Chapters 1 – 3.

If anyone would like to talk about either of those selections, please do comment below. 

Yesterday, I revised (tried to re-see) a poem I’ve been working on and got to what I think is a good place with it.  The middle section still needs attention, but I did what I could with the energy I had.  

It was one of those days where I knew in my head (I don’t mean my mind…I mean I had one of those headaches where you just feel tired all day) I wasn’t going to get much new writing done, but I’m happy with what I was able to do in revision.  That’s not to say that revision isn’t new writing, but it’s not from scratch or the ether or wherever else these things in their mirror images form before you make them stick.

If you’re writing today, good writing!

Fiction Responding to Fiction: D.H. Lawrence and Raymond Carver (and James Lasdun)

Among the 14 pounds of books I got from Powell’s this week are three or four pounds of DH Lawrence. I also bought the 2014 O. Henry Prize collection and a new copy of James Lasdun’s It’s Beginning to Hurt.  I studied with James in 2011 at The New School.  I did not know that James was a jurist for the 2014 O. Henry Prize, nor did I know that he wrote the introduction to one of the Lawrence collections among the three or four of my new 14 pounds.

James is a great writer and a great teacher.  It was a pleasure to find more of his work than I knew was coming.

The link below is to a piece on the similarities between Raymond Carver’s “Cathedrals” and Lawrence’s “The Blind Man” at Ploughshares. I share it here because one of the things that has encouraged me over the years is some insight James gave me on a story I’d written for his seminar.  We’d discussed the Cathedrals/Blind Man connections in class, and James asked us each to write a story in some way inspired by something we’d read and studied in class.  I went back to “The Blind Man,” among other things.

Speaking of Carver:  I think most writers are looking for a less-ambitious Gordon Lish.

From Ploughshares:

“The Fiction Responding to Fiction series considers the influence that a short story has on another writer; previous entries can be found here. Raymond Carver insisted that his iconic masterpiece….”

Source: Fiction Responding to Fiction: D.H. Lawrence and Raymond Carver

Fourteen Pounds of Books and Gift Receipts

A few weeks ago, I order ordered books from Powell’s. 

When the box arrived on Monday, it weighed 14 pounds.

Saul Bellow, D.H. Lawrence, and Joseph Conrad top the list.  Some things I’ve read before but had not previously owned, and other things that will be new to me.

Reading as a writer, that is, reading to uncover craft, is a much more pleasurable thing to me than what we sometimes mean when we self-consciously say we’re reading for pleasure.

A side note: My used copy of Sons and Lovers has a gift receipt from a Barnes & Noble in Costa Mesa, California from December 19, 2004 inside the cover and a remnant bit of Christmas paper still Scotch-taped to the back.  It was processed into the Powell’s system last January.  Where else has it been?  How did the receipt and the wrapping paper stay connected to this edition for 14 years?  Did someone unwrap it, like it, keep it, and then get rid of it last year?  Or has it been in circulation longer?  The mind already reels, and we haven’t even made it to the Table of Contents or the Timeline of the World of D.H. Lawrence.

I don’t know if that’s of any help to you this Black Friday, but I do recommend buying books.