Sunday, February 28, 2010

Going Away Shoes

"I think that I'm writing about people in transition . . . (and) regret and longing are automatically a part of it. The whole process of transition is about both accepting a kind of truce and, by way of that acceptance, being able to let go. What a lot of my characters have in common is that they are trying their best to reach this threshold of change, and some of them I take over the doorway and some are left with it barely in view. But they're all having to cast off a lot of these heavy regrets, angers or frustrations. I'm asking myself as a writer what made this person so timid or so angry."    Jill McCorkle as quoted in Indyweek

What is it like to a walk a mile in the shoes of someone else?  That is the question that author Jill McCorkle explores through writing each of the eleven stories found in her latest collection of shorts.  Going Away Shoes offers a catalog of women in the throes of real life dramas.  Each character is faced with problems, disappointments, and regrets and each expresses the depth of her feelings with a true grit that is refreshingly honest, evocative and extremely entertaining.  

The headline story, "Going Away Shoes," is a Cinderella-like tale about a dutiful daughter who spends her days taking care of an ailing mother (and watching soap operas and longing for the life she could've had) while her shallow sisters let her bear the brunt of the responsibility. 

In "Surrender," the untimely death of a son leaves his mother with a great disconnect from his child, a five year-old little girl who is acting out over the loss with a foul mouth and a very cruel lack of manners toward her grandmother. 

A divorcee and single mom in "Midnight Clear" tries to do right by her two young sons by inviting her ex and his new flame over for drinks one Christmas Eve, only to have the septic system suddenly back up. 

In "Happy Accidents," a lonely school nurse tries to recreate a more appealing picture of her life with the calm, gentle support of PBS art teacher, Bob Ross, via his TV show, The Joy of Painting.

These are just some of the stories in this wonderful collection.  And while I enjoyed them all, three stories in particular lingered in my mind a little longer than the rest. 

"Intervention" appears to be a story about getting help for an addiction, but on a deeper level it evolves into so much more - a story about love and commitment and how forgiveness and the ability to overlook things play such a vital role in the longevity of a marriage.  The writing and structure of this piece is near-perfect, and the short and revealing climactic scene that McCorkle delivers at the end is startlingly brief but deeply resonate.  A truly amazing story!
I laughed out-loud while reading "PS," where a woman writes a Dear John letter to her family therapist.  Hilarious!

In "Me and Big Foot," a lonely, single woman wakes to find an unfamilar pickup truck parked outside her house and suddenly, her version of the ideal man takes up residence. 

If you don't already know the work of Jill McCorkle, you'll be in for a real treat with Going Away Shoes.  McCorkle is as clever as clever can be.  In reading her novels and stories for twenty years, I so admire how she is able to strike a balance between action and description. She is truly a master at pairing pain and pathos with good humor. 

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Writers and Their Notebooks

I'm pleased to announce that my essay "Clearing the Decks" is included in the anthology, Writers and Their Notebooks (University of South Carolina Press), which has now been officially released.

To compile the book, editor Diana M. Raab solicited essays from writers who keep--and rely on--a journal.  Contributors include Sue Grafton, Kim Stafford, Dorianne Laux, John DuFresne, James Brown and Michael Steinberg, to name a few. The foreword is written by the world-renowned personal essayist, Phillip Lopate.

Diana recently featured more about the book on her blog and has reprinted an excerpt from the introduction.  LINK HERE to read the intro...and be sure to link to Diana's website to learn more about her prize-winning writing and the workshops she teaches on memoir writing, journaling and poetry at UCLA and across the country.

Monday, February 1, 2010

"Wonderful Journey"

Okay, it's official. We're one month into the new year . . . 32 days in.  Where are you in fulfilling the goals you've set for the next twelve months?  Are you on track?

If you're Danielle Villano, a student of creative writing (and an avid photographer) at the State University of New York (SUNY Purchase), you've continued on a path of discipline already started in 2009.  Danielle has made a personal commitment to document her first year of life as a college freshman. Her mission, her challenge--each day for more than 138 days, so far--has been to publish one photograph and write a short accompanying description about something in her daily life - whether unique or mundane.  She posts these entries to "My Wonderful Journey," her own personal photo-journal on Blipfoto - a very modern way of keeping a journal in the multi-faceted media age. Danielle finds it is the perfect place to preserve a slice of her own personal history and share it with family and friends, while sharpening the talents she has for both writing and photography - two creative disciplines that can serve as inspiration for each other.

So whatever goals you've set, keep at it. Don't give up. Thirty-two days of the new year might be gone, but there are still another 333 to go!

Photo "Day 84 - Blue" by Danielle Villano (used with permission)