Friday, March 29, 2013

Birth of a Book

     Years ago when I lived in Washington, D.C., I took a class offered by the Smithsonian Associates Program on how to make a book. It covered everything involved in the traditional process of book making: folding the paper that would become the book pages, using an awl to pierce five holes in the center of the paper before stitching the pages together, preparing the cardboard for the cover, gluing decorative paper to that cardboard, attaching the cover to the end pages of the prepared book, and applying the spine material that would cover to the whole of it.
     What an experience! It intensified my appreciation of books, and all the possibilities of old and new bookmaking. I still have the book I made years ago. It measures 12"w x 9"h, is filled with fifteen acid-free pages, and is hardbound in hues of paisley blue. I use it for an early collection of wine labels annotated with marginalia about when and where and with whom I sipped those heavenly nectars. I'll always have this book––as a keepsake and reminder of that wonderful experience when I made my first and only book.

     What I did in my creation is different from what you'll see in the short video attached to this Post. Take a few minutes to watch it (allowing time for it to buffer (load up) before you begin to play it). My appreciation for the library of books that reside in my home was renewed and fortified.

(Source: bibliofila)

Have you ever made a book by hand? Do you remember it? Do you still have it? Did it lend to your appreciation of all books?

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Opening Line

             Sentence One:  In the beginning...
"Call me Ishmael." ––Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

"Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins." ––  Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

Those lines are used up. Taken. No writer will ever again begin a book with these words.

Sol Stein, renowned editor, author, and instructor, explains in Stein on Writing: "Today, first sentences. . . are increasingly important for arousing the restless reader." He adds that "arousal is an author's stimulus for the reader. Without early arousal, the reader does not yet trust that he will enjoy the experience that the writer has prepared." Later, he writes, ". . . the unusual is a factor in arousing the reader's interest."

     "What should be in an opening line?" asks Les Edgerton in Hooked. He answers his own question with: "Anything that  provokes the reader into reading the second one. And the third, and the fourth––you get the picture."

     Sometimes it's the tone of the opening sentence, or its attitude, or an incongruent word, or the fact that the writer has put the reader smack dab in the middle of trouble. Wouldn't you want to read further?

     Other first lines by famous writers:
  •      "Mother died today." ––Albert Camus, The Stranger
  •      "I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills." ––Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa
  •      "He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-   four days now without taking a fish." ––Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea
  •      "What made me take this trip to Africa? ––Saul Bellow, Henderson the Rain King    
      "Those are prize-winning writers who wrote with past standards," you say. "What about today's writers who have to write for shorter attention spans?" you ask. Fair enough. I've a few samples, and hope you agree not much has changed with a writer's need to hook a reader.
  •      "It was Edwin who wanted to build a new house." ––Nancy Horan, Loving Frank
  •      "I'm ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the other." ––Sara Gruen, Water for Elephants
  •      "I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster." ––Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle
  •      "When the lights went off the accompanist kissed her." ––Ann Patchett, Bel Canto
  •     "Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last. ––Sena Jeter Naslund, Ahab's Wife
        I end this Post with questions that Stein asks:
"There are questions you can ask yourself about your own first sentence:  Does it convey an interesting personality or an action that we want to know more about? Can you make your first sentence more intriguing by introducing something unusual, something shocking perhaps, or something that will surprise the reader?" 
     Let me know if this has been useful. For more detailed information, check out the two recommended books listed here.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Creativity Multiplied

     More than once I have observed that the work and process I invest into writing is no different than the investment I make in the study of classical piano. Both require mind and body to work together as partners. Both require discipline and dedication to increase skill and confidence. Both require principles of relaxation, visualization, and concentration. To enhance the flow of words to paper and the flow of notes to keys, requires my inner muse to stay by my side.
     Equally interesting is the time needed for incubating, distancing, illuminating, and verifying. For instance, the writing process:
  • the mulling around or incubating of a character or tone. The subconscious simmers with possibilities if I leave it alone, and I'm rewarded with insights and solutions when I return.
  • distancing and illuminating work hand-in-hand. When I put mental distance between myself and the project by taking a small break to let it incubate––I return refreshed because I've been, in a way, "working" while cooking, gardening, or driving. It's a paradox, I admit.

  • Donna's desk with the tools
    for practice, writing, and study.
  • verifying is testing what I've done in the other two processes.  Only then is the project ready for rewriting, for smoothing out the wrinkles, for polishing and perfecting until I'm satisfied with the final version.
  • acquiring the language of writing, whether fiction or poetry.
Here are my writing tools:
  • a writing surface (desk)
  • pen, pencil, and paper 
  • journal-type books
  • reference books
  • computer, a mechanical instrument made up of keys
  • item for inspiration (a snake skin in a plastic baggy)

   The process for piano study is quite similar:    
  • incubating, the mulling around, of time and key signatures, to think and feel musically. The subconscious simmers if I leave it alone. I'm rewarded with insights and solutions when I return.
  • distancing and illuminating work hand-in-hand. When I put mental distance between myself and a piece by taking a small break, or practicing scales, or some other piano activity, I allow the music to incubate for just the right time––I come back to it refreshed. Even if I return a day later, I'll have resolved playing/fingering/notation issues because I've been, in a way, "working" while cooking, gardening, or driving. Again, it's a paradox, but one that works

    Donna's Baldwin with the tools
    for practice, writing and study.
  • verifying or recognizing patterns is similar to what I've done in the other two processes. I concentrate, in practice and study, on melody, rhythmical harmony, and finger patterns. It makes for better sight reading and improves memorization and interpretation. Only then am I ready for polishing and perfecting the details.
  • acquiring the language of music for the piano.
    Here are my piano tools:
      • a piano, a mechanical instrument made up of keys
      • #2 pencils (no pens allowed)
      • metronome
      • lesson books
      • sheet music
      • book of blank music sheets 
      • items for inspiration (angel quartet with string instruments)

           Relating these similarities, reinforces for me, that writing and piano study complement each other. My piano is my computer, and the tools vary only by what the discipline requires.

           Writers are artists, and art takes many forms. If another art form is in your life, have you been able to identify with the similar traits?