Yes, those are my feet! We’re in Costa Rica on a sweet little vacation. To the right of me, just out of the frame is the Nosara Biological Reserve…howler monkeys, birds, bats, anteaters, fire ants, termites, and crocodiles in abundance.
We took a walk with a naturalist, Santos, and learned a ton. For one thing, did you know that once crocodiles lay their eggs, the gender is decided by the weather! The hot eggs will hatch into males. Cooler eggs will hatch into females. You know where this is going, right? Global warming is causing an abundance of males and since male crocs are territorial, this is causing an abundance of trouble. There simply isn’t enough territory for all these males. Santos told us that for the first time in his lifetime male crocs are eating one another. Add to this problem fewer females and, well you can connect the dots. Yes, this is terrible news. Though I’m happy to tell you that the monkeys are thriving.
One of my children’s favorite books was LYLE, LYLE, CROCODILE by Bernard Waber. Lyle, a mute and charming crocodile lived in brownstone on East 88th in New York City and had amazing adventures. There’s a sweet little animated film you can watch here preferably with a child beside you, if you have no child in your home, perhaps you can borrow one! Also, who knew… but Uncle Google tells me there will be a new Lyle film coming out in November with Javier Bardem.
Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers who leave books behind in the Airbnb. I ran out of books on this trip and was lucky to find THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES 2020, ed. CURTIS SITTENFELD stashed away in a cupboard. I’d forgotten the pleasures reading stories from writers I love and also being introduced to new voices, all in one volume. A bonus of course is the essay in the front of the collection by the editor. In her essay, Sittenfeld says, “What makes a short story succeed? Whatever the writer can get away with.” She also says:
These stories are…windows into emotions I have and haven’t had, into other settings and circumstances and observations and relationships.
And she is right, these stories are invitations to new worlds, in the same way travel invites us to see things through fresh eyes. So far, they’re terrific and a window into the last batch of stories that came before the pandemic. I can’t help but wonder what the zeitgeist will be for the 2021 edition.
To prepare for a class I’m teaching in May I spent an afternoon on the beach reading, THE ART OF TIME IN FICTION, by Joan Silber. It’s wonderful to be engaged with the mind of a smart writer/teacher. Silber breaks up time into categories for the book:
- Classic Time: a season or a year
- Long Time: decades, or a life, or multi-generational
- Switchback Time: the narrative moves around between then, now, farther back, and future
- Slowed Time: the focus comes down to a small event w/large impact for the character
- Fabulous Time: time is magical, fluid, cyclical
As a writer and reader, I am most interested in switchback time. It’s the way I tell stories to friends, interrupting myself to add a detail from the past which enhances the present. As a writer it enables me to see the story from a less limited point-of-view, complicating and deepening my stories in a way that mimics the way I think, associatively. As a reader I love to learn what characters can’t let go of from the past and how it colors their present.
The book, like all the books in The Art of… series from Greywolf Press that I’ve read thus far, is helpful, with solid samples and clear descriptions.
Just a quick reminder, I’ve created a read.write.eat. Bookshop Store, where you can find many of the books I’ve recommend in the newsletter.
I’ve got some short classes coming up! I’d love to meet you (over zoom).
LEAPING FORWARD, SLOWING DOWN: TIME IN PROSE, on May 6, 10:30 – 1:30 EST.
Time can be a challenging aspect to master when writing in any genre. When should we slow down and dwell in a scene? When should we summarize and move rapidly through weeks, years, or decades? When should we go back in time to reveal and understand a character’s motivation? How does the experience of time differ in a short story vs. a novel, or in memoir?
This workshop will explore how writers bend time to create different narrative effects. We will read work by Tessa Hadley, Alice Munro, Toni Morrison, John Cheever and others, as well as look at examples from TV shows and films such as Ted Lasso, and The Lost Daughter. After the discussion, we’ll work together with some prompts, expanding and contracting time to see how we can effectively utilize it when telling our own stories.
CONVERSATIONS WITH THE WORK: READING AS A WRITER, on May 28, 10:30 – 1:30 EST.
Many writers come to writing from a love of reading—the pleasure of being pulled out of the real world and plunged into the world of a story—only to discover how difficult it is to replicate that magic feeling. In this workshop, we’ll explore the tricks our favorite writers employ to create immersive fiction and nonfiction, and how we can borrow from them to enhance our own work.
We will close-read excerpts from authors like Michelle Zauner, Saaed Jones, Deborah Levy, Louise Erdrich, and Samantha Hunt to study their use of movement, scene, and summary, dialogue, conflict, imagery, and character revelations. We’ll then launch into a few prompts and share what we come up with. Students will come away from the seminar with a new set of tools to read with an eye for craft, and encouragement to mark up the margins of their favorite books as they converse with the work inside.
In my last newsletter I mentioned my upcoming retreat.write.energize on the Oregon coast. Well, details are falling into place and I want to keep you up to speed. We will gather at the Sylvia Beach Hotel from October 9 – 15 for a week of workshops, time to write, community, inspiration and the solace of the coast. All you have to do is arrive, ready to write, ready to make writer friends IRL, and share your beautiful work. I don’t know about you, but I’m so delighted to shake off my covid cobwebs and be in community. If sharing your work with smart, engaged writers, learning, improving, and focusing is just what you’ve been craving… Drop me a note so I can get your name on the list! For this inaugural gathering we will be a small group.
SAVE THE DATE! October 9-15, 2022,
and do direct message me shoot me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org to get your name on the list. Our group will be very intimate and supportive. Cannot wait to share this beautiful gathering!
The food has been delicious and fresh everywhere we go in Costa Rica. The fruit, out of this world! But I want to tell you about the regional dish, Casado which is easy to make and satisfying. Consisting of rice, black beans, and a protein such as chicken, beef, tofu, or fish, and a salad or coleslaw. Sides may include avocado slices, tortillas, or fried plantains. The name casado translates to married, and everything on the plate goes perfectly together.
I’ve looked around on the internet and can’t really find a recipe worth sharing, and the thing is, you don’t need one. Just make up a pot of black beans, perhaps flavor them with red bell peppers and onions, some garlic and cilantro. Cook some brown rice. Make a coleslaw or a salad of your liking with a simple vinaigrette. Here’s a great one from the NYTs (pay wall). Grill a piece of fresh fish and season with salt and pepper, a bit of oregano and lots of citrus, lemon or lime. If you have them, some fried plantains would be a great addition. Arrange all the ingredients on your plate and garnish with avocado slices, perhaps some pico de gallo, and pass the hot sauce.
I also plan on making this delicious thing when I get home!
I hope you are all enjoying little glimpses of spring wherever you happen to be. It’s simply amazing here in Costa Rica. Meanwhile, Stanley’s been with his best friend Milo back in Portland. He was having a fine time and then it snowed (in April!?!).
Since then he’s been calling us to come get him!