Saturday, October 29, 2016

Girl Protagonists in Books -- a Literary Trend or Something Bigger?

I spent my morning reading and replying on the Women’s Fiction Writers Association website to a discussion about defining women’s fiction. One of the topics was trends in Women's Fiction, and in that thread the topic of “girl” and “wife” books came up. Bestseller titles tell you much about the trend: Gone Girl, Girl on a Train, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Time Traveller’s Wife, The Kitchen God’s Wife. Girls who are women trying to save themselves, as one commenter on the thread so aptly put it.

Of course, the “girls” are really women. I think it's fiction about women we’re talking about as a “trend.” Women as protagonists in non-romance fiction is becoming a big thing. Goodreads’ Listopia has a list of 749 books with “Girl” in the title! This trend doesn't show any more signs of stopping than books with “Vampire” in the title. 

So what is it about literary trends? They say you shouldn’t write to them because by the time you finish your book, the trend will be dead. They’re actually speaking of agents’ and editors’ ideas about trends, not actual trends in real life or even among readers. I think trends ARE something you should write to, if you feel them and care about them. It’s something you can do beyond voting. It’s a way of speaking up that matters. 

I think the "girl" "wife" trend reflects a big shift underway in our culture -- a mega-trend, if you will, and one I think those of us who want to should chase. It's a re-visioning of what it means to be a woman, and WF is a fantastic medium for exploring these cultural shifts, especially as they pertain to being a young woman in a rapidly changing culture speeded up by technology.

I'm not a young woman, but I like writing about them. I like exploring the way women find themselves, and create or recreate their lives. I'm a rocket scientist's daughter, so I'm fascinated by the impact of technology on cultural shifts and the way women are perceived in the world. These two trends power my fiction and my poetry. I guess growing up in the 60s, when women's roles shifted dramatically, especially in the workplace, has given me a lifelong interest in trends. So I write to the mega-trends and could care less about literary ones.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Notating Nature's Delicate Song

The evanescence in British artist Andy Goldworthy's work is what first caught hold of me. (Click the link for Artsy's wonderful Goldsworthy pages.) He works with nature to make sculptures of the moment, or perhaps the hour, using all natural elements. Ice, water, leaves, twigs, wind, rain are the easel, palette, paints, and media he sculpts with. It's as if he's having a conversation with nature and time, an intense wrestling almost. His work seems to say beauty is all around us but constantly changing, impossible to capture for long. It's as if he's trying to notate Nature's delicate and constant singing.

Rivers and Tides, the splendid documentary on Goldsworthy and his work, actually is part of his work by letting us watch him work with fast disappearing natural elements. He describes his work as capturing something "intangible. It is here and then gone." And Goldsworthy shows how quickly that intangible Something, a spirit of beauty in nature, arrives and departs. It's a metaphor for life, of course. It's about time and the sacredness of being alive.

Watching that documentary moved me to a tribute poem. I often like to write poems about pieces of art, but I think this is my only poem about an artist other than my father. This sonnet originally appeared in Image: Art, Faith, Mystery.

Self-Portrait by Andy Goldsworthy
One must have a mind of winter to regard the frost and the boughs
of the pine-trees crusted with snow – Wallace Stevens

He doesn't appear to have a mind of winter,
this man handling shards of ice between
shaking gloves, tacking hewed splinters
together by flashlight. He has a keen
grasp of water's arctic state. His stone
of a mind feels the light’s first crack
and dazzle through his muscle and bone.
He stakes his art on a pre-dawn slack
tide, hurrying an art’s punctilious making
for a sculpture sun’s full glory
will soon undo. But the camera, quaking,
again freezes art's old story.
He rises satisfied with the dazzling rime.
A mind not of winter, but of time.