Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Home at last from Bread Loaf. What an extraordinary adventure. I had no idea what to expect, though I'd heard about the Bread Loaf mystique for years, and this naturally made me nervous. But what I experienced was a veritable heaven for writers. I met so many intelligent and talented people; it was also clear from the conference attendees that there is a pretty serious commitment to diversity. Writers gathered together from all over the country and represented every corner of the globe. I was so impressed.
I attended the conference as a Scholar--along with 14 or so other wonderful people. Unfortunately, I have very pictures of my Scholar group, but I assure you we bonded quite tightly and I miss them all. It was hot in Vermont and I am pregnant, and this meant that I was often trying to rest in my room so I had energy to go to readings and lectures.
But I'm pictured here with my workshop group (if I look tired, it's because I was sort of lagging after a week of heat--I had to come home early). To the far right is our workshop leader, Patricia Hampl, who I adore. I wanted to leave Bread Loaf with some understanding of non-fiction: how to think of it, what makes essays work, why people like non-fiction, etc. I had never meant to write any non-fiction, but the response to my essay "Letter from a Japanese Crematorium" was so strong, my agent figured I'd better try to consciously understand what makes the art form work well when it does. Trish was inspired on this subject, and I learned what I needed to know; now it's back to work. Also pictured in this photo, is our workshop "Fellow," Paul Austin, whose first book came out recently. He's the mustached man in the back. Everyone in the group was friendly, open, eager and smart. I was fortunate.
We have very little connectivity on "the mountain," as Bread Loaf is commonly referred to. I had wireless in my room, which meant that on a night when I had a strong signal, I could Skype with my husband. In a way, I didn't really miss the cell phone. It was quiet, and the location so tranquil, it was easy to just immerse myself into this world of thinking and writing. Among the highlights: a Charles Baxter lecture on "Lushness," Lynn Freed on "Writing and Travel," the provocative David Shields who questioned "James Frey and Attribution," and countless of readings. I couldn't go to every single reading: I was too tired. Every time I did go, I was impressed. I now have a stack of books beside my bed, and can't wait to get reading. So much of the writing life is solitary, and I actually like being on my own. But the constant socializing was really wonderful--we could sit and talk about journals we like, experiences with editors and agents, etc--all "writer talk" that would probably bore just about anyone else.
One thing about Bread Loaf: it was around long before MFAs really got going. Here's Robert Frost's cabin--he was an early supporter and participant of Bread Loaf. I spoke to a long time faculty member who told me that this year--my year--was particularly positive. I did notice this. Writers aren't always friendly and aren't always happy to share. But the overwhelming atmosphere at Bread Loaf this year was one of support and positivity, and that's nice. It's also not an accident. The staff goes to great lengths to keep the atmosphere and the people running the whole show positive and constructive.
I suppose that like a lot of other people, I sometimes wonder if what I am doing matters or is remotely important. Does anyone really care about books? But I didn't have to think about this in Vermont, and with my book release nearing, it was so nice to have people around me who understood what an accomplishment it is to have a book at all. I'm grateful for the experience, and you'll be reading more about the people I met on this blog, as their work becomes public. I hope to see some of them again at AWP next year (with a baby in tow).
I can't talk about everyone I met--there are simply too many people I enjoyed. But I do have to single out how fortunate I was that my dear friend Alexi Zentner attended Bread Loaf too--as a prestigious waiter. We met at the Napa Valley Writers Conference, and since then, have discovered that we have some kind of karmic writing bond. He's also a very good friend and when he saw that I was struggling with the heat, sent up plenty of bowls of ice to help me cool down.
The readings from this year are going to be available on iTunes--including the one from yours truly. I'll try to post links once this happens. In the meantime, I am getting used to the real world, still recovering a bit from over-heating and eager to start writing again.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Amanda ReCupido (I adore that name) asked me the Undomestic 10. A little sample below, but do go to her site to see what else I said, and to explore. Her blog is a wonderful place for smart and thoughtful women.
6.) How do media generally portray women? What is a good example of this?
You are probably white. It’s hard for you to be pretty and smart. You are skinny and employ a self-deprecating sense of humor that keeps you from being threatening. Still, no one can get close to you! (The Proposal, Ally McBeal, Gray’s Anatomy). If you are very smart and have a great job, you’ve repressed some elemental part of yourself that requires 1: confronting your mother, 2: giving up your lucrative job, and 3: using lots of money to travel to “simpler” places (the south of France, rural America, the “East”, take your pick) where you will be rejuvenated/fall in love at last (Baby Boom, A Year in Provence, Sweet Home Alabama). Even then, you are probably still white. If you are Black, you are urban and struggling but dignified and can whip out rejoinders that make gay men blush—but you have relationship problems and rarely get the main storyline. If you are Asian, you are quiet but very, very spiritual. Since you are also boring, you will probably die at some point—though gracefully—and everyone will feel bad and will learn an important historical lesson (Luan on The Young and the Restless, Miss Saigon). To counteract this sad stereotype, you are increasingly being given the role that the black girl originally had, except you are allowed to have more sex (Ally McBeal, Grey’s Anatomy). Every now and then, if you are Black, you get to be the spiritual one, but you too must suffer and often die. This is so your character can have “something to do” (Battlestar Galactica, ER). Real life is much more complicated, and fortunately, good novels allow for psychological complexity. Mind you—I don’t think the media does justice to men either.
Monday, August 17, 2009
A positive review from Publisher's Weekly for Picking Bones from Ash.
"In this ambitious debut, the narration alternates between Satomi, a Japanese girl pushed by her mother to make her mark on the world, and Rumi, Satomi's American daughter who grows up in the mid-late 1960s believing her mother is dead. The novel is strongest at the beginning, as Satomi tells of her postwar childhood in a small Japanese village, the only girl without a father and the only girl with a talent: she is going to be a world-famous concert pianist. After her mother remarries, Satomi goes away to music school and, later, to Paris to perfect her craft. In Paris and back in Japan, Satomi falls in with the Western antique dealers who will eventually take her to the United States after her mother dies. The second half switches between the stories of Satomi and Rumi, who develops a skill at “reading” Asian antiques and begins to wonder about her mother when an old friend of her parents re-enters her life. Rumi's quest to unravel her tricky family history is absorbing, and even if it lacks the simple beauty of Satomi's coming-of-age narrative, Mockett succeeds where many others fail: making the reader care. (Oct.)"
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
The Feminist Review gives my novel, Picking Bones from Ash, a gracious read. For this first time novelist, it's so gratifying that a complete stranger has connected with the material so intelligently. Thank you! An excerpt:
Marie Mutsuki Mockett’s debut novel, Picking Bones from Ash, drew me in from the first sentence. Satomi, one of the two main characters of the book, learns from her mother at a young age that in order to be safe in this world, a woman must be talented—not well educated and certainly not beautiful, a woman must be talented. Satomi spends the rest of her life following this example, first as a pianist both in Japan and Europe and then as a successful cartoonist.