Saturday, January 30, 2010

My poem "War News" featured

I was happy that The Pedestal magazine is featuring poems from its archives on its Facebook page and selected my poem, "War News" from Issue 20. It's now up for the week at:

The Pedestal - my poem on Facebook

I hate to think how many years ago it was written, and we're still in Iraq -- though we have the hope of our troops being withdrawn by August. A hope.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Back in orbit - 2

God help me, I'm being drawn back into my memoir of growing up with the bipolar rocket scientist. Prose, prose, prose is calling me. On top of trying to finish a novel I started five years ago.

The thing that often gets me through the hard slogging is Anne Lamott's wise and funny Bird by Bird.

I found another humor piece on writing that cheered me along my prosey way: Lizzie Stark's blog on Fringe about the things slush pile readers dread finding. I'm sure I, too, have committed all these literary gaffes, except the one about having a musician as a character. Hmm, must consider that one. The contrarian in me likes it. No, wait! I have a minor character in my Italy novel who is a folk guitarist sitting outside the main church in Assisi selling lavender sachets and strumming his motley way through an easy life. Yes, I have committed that literary cliché too. All is well.

It is fun to look back on the heady days of the space race and Red Scare, the missile men and their (then) astonishing feats of putting things (and even monkeys) in orbit around our planet. And doing it all with slide rules!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Revision - "re-seeing" a poem

Thanks to Julie Ewald's blog, I found a great article on revising a poem:  Sonya Feher's list of five strategies to take your writing from draft to poem. Revising is probably the most important factor in writing of any kind. I write for a living -- grant proposals, mailings, brochures, and other things to raise funds and awareness -- and write in my spare time too. I'm constantly up against my own word-blindness. It's natural to love your own work, especially just after it's flowed out into existence in words. What seems unnatural is to undo or redo the thing you loved into being. But it's what separates the good work from the amateur.

Another trick I find useful is to read a good poem that has some relationship to the one I'm working on. If I am working on a humorous poem, reading Elizabeth Bishop's "Filling Station" might help me revise mine. Or reading any good poetry and noticing what makes it good.

Unfortunately, you can't revise your way into greatness, but you can first-draft your way out of it, I do believe. Letting a poem remain in raw state is one of my cardinal sins. Revise, revise, and revise again! My editor, Bryan Roth, suggests giving a poem at least a year before even thinking it might be finished. He has a good saying to paste onto your computer: "Impatience is the enemy of good writing."

Monday, January 25, 2010

Back in orbit

Perhaps because I am finishing a novel I started five years ago, I found myself jumping back into the opening chapters of a memoir I finished just before starting the novel. The memoir is the reason I started this blog, on the advice of my agent, who thought a blog would be a great platform for building an audience for Rocket Lessons, the story of growing up with the bipolar rocket scientist.

After my father's death a few months ago, I found myself back in orbit around those days in the 1950s, when the rocket cowboys were blowing up missiles on test stands almost as fast as they could light cigarettes, in an effort to catch up with the Russians after the launch of Sputnik. My dad blew up quite a few rockets, and even managed to hit Cuba with one stage of a missile's miscalculated trajectory, nearly igniting a war until the State Department did a lot of fast explaining. It's a testament to the desperation of America to beat the Reds into outer space and nuclear superiority that he didn't lose his job over that one.

Being a rocket kid -- my name really is on a piece of space junk still floating up there -- conferred a special feeling of being in the avante garde and a love for technology I'll never lose. We got all this cool stuff like computers, the Internet, iPods, Facebook, as the fallout from the space program (pun intended). Without the space program, we wouldn't have developed any of it, and wouldn't remain the leader in technological innovation.

I'm thinking that after having revised Rocket Lessons at least fifteen times, nearly sold it to several big New York publishers, then stashed it in the trunk to be my "second book," it's time to get back into orbit with memories of the early space era and growing up on the beaches of southern California. The world has changed, publishing has changed, and five or six years in space time is a lifetime. Who knows what might be possible now?

What's in your trunk? What do you have that's never been quite finished (or sold) to your satisfaction?