Tuesday Thoughts: Writing (And Not Thinking Much)

Give it up to free stock photography websites.

I don’t have any terribly groundbreaking thoughts for this week. I’ve been writing a lot, which always makes for a rather odd frame of mind, and I’ve spent a lot of time hanging out with writers and their families. I’ve been enjoying the freedom of my borrowed bicycle (a beautiful Trek 750) and the wonderful gaudiness of a hot-pink mani/pedi. I’m finally getting around to watching Series 3 of Sherlock on Netflix.

Last Friday was Independence Day and Chautauquans celebrated by wearing patriotic outfits and lighting flares along the circumference of Chautauqua Lake. The next day, many Chautauquans attended a Brescia performance of Madame Butterfly, which was one of the most scathing commentaries of American imperialism I’ve ever seen. It was an interesting juxtaposition.

But anyway. I’m off to finish the novel chapter I started last year that somehow keeps turning out like a half-baked version of The Island of Doctor Moreau.

See you Friday.


Friday Miscellany: Houseboats and An All-Potato Diet

Word Count: 609 of a new story (!!!) and edits of novel (including the onerous process of importing everything into Scrivener).

Rating: Not great but not heartbreaking, either.

State of the Internet:

Not convinced? Here’s an excerpt from her Wikipedia page:

In 2009, [Grimes] and her then-boyfriend from Tennessee constructed a 20-foot houseboat, named the “Velvet Glove Cast in Iron,” with the intention to sail it down the Mississippi River from Minneapolis to New Orleans. The cargo included chickens, a typewriter, 20 pounds of potatoes and a gifted copy of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Unfortunately for Grimes and her companion, the chickens caught eastern equine encephalitis virus and perished soon into the trip. Boucher and her companion adopted the names “Veruschka” and “Zelda Xox” for the trip. Due to engine trouble and disregard for boating regulations, the journey was cut short and the houseboat and chickens were impounded. Their diet consisted of mainly potatoes.[20][21][22][23]

Enjoy, friends.

Tuesday Thoughts: Margaret Atwood and A New Definition of Speculative Fiction

Margaret Atwood and Roger Rosenblatt

Last Tuesday, I had the pleasure of listening to Margaret Atwood have a conversation with Roger Rosenblatt at Chautauqua Institution. I enjoyed their witty repartee (Rosenblatt: Would you listen to me for a moment? Atwood: Do I have a choice?), as well as Atwood’s style of succinct, humorous storytelling. I also enjoyed Atwood’s reading, which included her singing the Mole Day Song, a hymn honoring mole-kind that she wrote for her novel The Year of the Flood.

At one point in the conversation, Rosenblatt brought up a comment Atwood made previously about speculative fiction. As I figured this would be a hot topic, I took notes during her speech and did my record it verbatim; any errors are, of course, mine.

According to Atwood:

Speculative fiction is an annoying issue, and one I never should have brought up. It’s the difference between Star Wars and Nineteen Eighty-Four. Everything in the Handmaid’s Tale has happened somewhere. Jules Verne was appalled by H.G. Wells because of The Time Machine. Verne said, “He made that up!” Dragons can’t be done, either, because they were definitively done by Ursula Le Guin. She gets the top dragon award. [Crowed cheers] Thank you, dragon fans.

Atwood went on to explain that while she enjoys Star Wars, it isn’t something that could ever happen, so it was pure science fiction, not speculative. Speculative fiction, by Atwood’s definition, is limited to cautionary tales, like near-future dystopias with already-existing sociopolitical aspects. While much of the audience at Chautauqua was not concerned about this classification, I think this is something worthy of debate, especially among people who consider themselves speculative fiction writers.

What do you think? Is Margaret Atwood’s definition of speculative fiction as stories that could possibly happen in the near future better than using speculative fiction as an umbrella term for fantasy, science fiction, slipstream, magical realism, and all the other facets of the non-realistic writing?

Tuesday Thoughts: “Truth Seekers.”

Truth Seekers.

I live in an old building.

The first floor looks much the same as it might have a hundred years ago, with wooden furniture, lace curtains, and newspapers from the 1890s. Most of walls in the outer rooms are decorated with cloth banners of the graduating classes of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle. The banners are a labor of love; most are sewn, some were quilted, a few are embroidered. The 2011 banner has a painting of the Chautauqua clock tower. 1955’s has a message about God opening windows when he closes doors in block lettering and a gold fringe at the bottom. 1941’s is a plain pale blue with gold letters, all cut carefully from felt. The earliest banners, from the early 1880s, have been recreated and the originals retired to climate-controlled storage in the Archives.

The building was renovated a few years ago, and the grand staircase at the back of the building that had fallen into disrepair was replaced with public restrooms, new stairs, and an elevator. The second floor, now home to the Writers’ Center, where I work, is full of classrooms, an office, and a small, secret library and balcony. The third floor, where I live, is closed to the public, and holds dorms and apartments for visiting writers, the building manager, the housekeeper, and the intern (me).

At the foot of the stairs leading up to the third floor, a wooden sign proclaims “Truth Seekers.” Period. A declarative sentence. I like to think that it means the people who stay on the third floor. I like the idea of writers being seekers of truth, even if not the literal. Even (perhaps especially) in speculative fiction, truth still has to be the goal, the driving force of writing– the truth of people, of interactions, of choices to make when the truth is much too difficult to bear. The truth of concealment, of motives, of love and loss. It’s good to remember that even when writing about things strange and different and with a strong dragon presence.

So, I like it. We are truth seekers, and this is our banner.


Well, hello there.

I’ve decided to start blogging. Again.

If you know me at all (which it’s entirely possible that you don’t, and that’s okay), you know that I’ve tried blogging about a dozen times. I waffled with the idea of cultivating an online presence in college. I did the LiveJournal thing in high school. I experimented with various writing blogs, all woefully abandoned over time. At one point, I blogged about living in Malaysia and got a fair number of hits because I linked to a particularly appetizing photograph of bacon. Overall, Present Me is relieved that Past Me has very little writing that can be found on the Internet.

Why start blogging now, and why will it stick?

Three reasons. First, I’m in my second (and final) year of my Master’s program in creative writing, meaning that I’m writing my thesis, which will be a book-length project. I need something to keep me accountable for putting words on the page. I’m a chronic procrastinator, and having a public forum to admit that I binge-watched an entire season of a TV show instead of writing will definitely push me in the right direction. Second, I’ve found the status/liminal state of being a “beginning writer” to be a largely depressing, thankless time, and it would be nice to foster a community. Third, I was once titled the Prince Henry (the Navigator) of the Internet because of the wide array of strange stuff I find on the internet. It is both a gift and a burden.

So really, I figure it’s a win-win for everybody. I entertain you, and you keep me accountable for getting stuff done. And I’ll probably do some “Nicole thinks about things” posts, which may sound intelligent/world-weary, or may just come off as the complaints of someone allergic to tree pollen. And as I am temporarily residing in upstate New York, there are lots of trees. But that’s another story entirely.


Planned Blogging Schedule:

Tuesdays: Thoughts & Musings

Fridays: Word Counts & Fun Things I Found on the Internet. (I’m sure the balance for this will vary over time, depending on how much work I did [or didn’t] get accomplished during the week.)

The Art of Falling?

I can’t help it. Every time I’ve gone to blog, it’s been the title I come back to. Imagine a cloud community where a bearded man in sandals and goggles teaches children how to sky dive. Or a woman hanging onto a holly bush after the world turns upside down. Or a lesson for astronauts on a faraway planet. I’m not picky. Use your imagination.

Who are you, anyway?

My name is Nicole. I’m a grad student and writer. I tweet. I have a professional website, if you’re into that sort of thing. I’m writing a rock opera about Ellie Goulding’s Lights album but her creative team isn’t thrilled. I like birds and old barns. I’ve traveled some and have fun stories about near-death experiences. I’m interested in pop culture but I’m not weird about it. I like to think I’m one of the few people who can write about the bizarre dreams I’ve had without sounding terribly self-indulgent. We should get along fine.

See you Tuesday.