Category: fiction

Kent Haruf, a Benediction

Readers lost a great novelist, and Great Plains and Western writers like myself lost a mentor, on Sunday.

Colorado should be proud of, and surely grieves for, Kent Haruf, a resident of Salida, Colorado, who wrote about a fictional Colorado Eastern plains community in Plain Song, Eventide and Benediction. Just prior to his death, he finished the copy edits for his upcoming novel, scheduled for release next year.

His fiction resounds with thoughtful observations of ordinary people, the bonds and limitations of community life and a special appreciation for the sugar beet farming country of eastern Colorado. His characters run from infants to the aged, from unwed mothers to bachelor farmers. In portraying all, he shows the grace of compassion and an exquisite mercy. His language is simple and strong.

After first reading his novels this year, I’d hoped someday to meet this national treasure and warm human being. An acquaintance from the Women Writing the West Conference, Susan Tweit, wrote an engaging post about her relationship with Haruf, her neighbor. Her words make me even more sorry I’ll never have the chance to know him, but his work inspires me to write clear, heartfelt stories about the Great Plains and West, focusing as he did on broken, yet redeemable, hearts and relationships.

I encourage you to feed your hearts and minds on Kent Haruf’s fiction. You may soon share my gratitude that his words live on. May he rest in the peace he shared in writing with all of us.

Water, Anywhere But Here

Water, Anywhere jpgMy new short story, “Water, Anywhere But Here,” appears in the July/August edition of a very “green,” pdf-only literary journal, The Broadkill Review. This tale is set in New Mexico, one of my favorite places in the world. If you’re in the mood for great poetry and an intriguing interview with author and poet Marge Piercy, you’ll enjoy this issue.

I’ve been following this journal for a while, and I appreciate what the editor, Jamie Brown, assembles for our literary pleasure. I also appreciate that he published my story! This link will take you to a page with subscription information, if you’re in the mood to add another journal to your reading list…this one won’t even add to your straining bookshelf, and will go with you wherever your pdfs can travel; computer, smartphone, tablet…you get the drift.

Hilary Mantel, on Historical Novels

mantel

hilary mantel photo from www.hilary-mantel.com

Hilary Mantel, author of historical novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, among many others, has this to say to NPR about writing historical fiction:

“I make up as little as possible. I spend a great deal of time on research, on finding all the available accounts of a scene or incident, finding out all the background details and the biographies of the people involved there, and I try to run up all the accounts side by side to see where the contradictions are, and to look where things have gone missing. And it’s really in the gaps, the erasures, that I think the novelist can best go to work, because inevitably in history, in any period, we know a lot about what happened, but we may be far hazier on why it happened. And there’s always the question: Why did it happen the way it did? Where was the turning point? Every scene I go into, I’m looking for these contradictions, antagonisms, turning points, and I’m trying to find out the dramatic structure of history, if you like.”

Read more about her, including her sense of reverence for the past and the prestige of beheadings in Thomas Cromwell’s Tudor England, in NPR‘s Arts & Life interview from June 14, 2013.

 

Imagining All Summer in a Day

rainy day by jenny rolo

rainy day by jenny rollo

“‘Ready?’
‘Ready.’
‘Now?’
‘Soon.’
‘Do the scientists really know? Will it happen today, will it?’
‘Look, look; see for yourself!’
The children pressed to each other like so many roses, so many weeds, intermixed, peering out for a look at the hidden sun.”

— Ray Bradbury, “All Summer in a Day”

After last year’s threatened drought, it’s rained heavily this spring, seemingly everywhere in the U.S. Thunderstorms, floods and tornadoes rattle, wash and shatter us with their scope and power. Weather changes can be dramatic and deadly. Sometimes they bring on physiological reactions to humidity, temperature atmospheric pressure changes. More rain? Drip. Ouch. Sigh. Bleh.

Seeing our potential ten-day forecast for another eight days of consecutive rain, I almost let my head thump down on my keyboard in despair. I caught myself in time, though. It sure would be nice to look forward to more than two days in a row with sunshine…I was going to whine and complain, when I remembered something better. Better than whining and complaining, you ask? Why, yes.

A story.

1975 ray bradbury photo by alan light

1975 ray bradbury photo by alan light

Decades ago, I first read Ray Bradbury’s short story, “All Summer in a Day.” What I could remember of it haunted me, so I reread it today, to find it even better than I’d remembered. Bradbury tells of a human-inhabited, colorless, perpetually stormy and jungle-like Venus, where sunlight breaks through to warm children’s skin for only two hours, every seven years…that is, if human frailty doesn’t corrupt even that irreplaceable pleasure. Can you imagine experiencing all summer in a day?

Rereading “All Summer in a Day” made me think about childhood and weather, how rare and lovely and terrible they can be, sometimes all in one classroom or one moment. I’ve written and read many short stories since I first read this one. Few have made such an impression or felt so pure, complete, balanced and starkly perfect in their storytelling. I aspire to write this well.

venus in transit, june 5, 2012, nasa photo

venus in transit, june 5, 2012 by nasa

From Ray Bradbury’s online biography, here’s what he had to say on his 80th birthday: “The great fun in my life has been getting up every morning and rushing to the typewriter because some new idea has hit me.” Something tells me this is a man who found heat and light, words and meaning in almost any sort of weather.

On June 5, 2012, just a little over a year ago, Ray Bradbury died during the Transit of Venus. During that event, from our limited, but well-lit vantage point in space, cold Venus appears to cross the flaring, disc-like surface of our sun. Nice ending, sir, to a well-told life. Thanks, too, for the story. I’ll ponder it and it will warm me during the next several hours, days, or years, of rain.