Friday, August 11, 2017

#FridayReads : Emily, Jenny, Wonder Woman, and Me

I have a confession to make. I have been writing a memoir about the years I lived in Yemen for about three years now. At least, that is what I pretend. In reality, I wrote several chapters in a streak of inspiration, then ran into a wall. In my case, the wall consisted of my uncertainty about writing about the time we spent in a small village that was under siege by rebel forces. Uncertainty is not the right word. Inability is more like it. So, there the manuscript sits. Occasionally I pull it up and start writing, only to quit in frustration after a paragraph or two. I don't know how to convey the reality of that time in a way that will make it understandable to my readers.

Make that "I didn't know how..." because, as often happens, everything aligns to give some clarity just when we need it.

The first star that aligned occurred in a writing group I am in. I was expressing my frustration with myself and my writer's block, and mentioned that all I had been able to write about that time in my life was poetry. At that, Jena, the facilitator, said, "So write that chapter as poetry."

Well. Duh. It had never occurred to me to mix genres. My memoir is pretty straight up prose, yet as a writer I have long played with different forms of writing, including all sorts of types of poetry and prose. Why couldn't I mix them up, not just for this chapter, but maybe even for the entire book?

Number one reason that came to my head? I am so NOT Wonder Woman. Sure, I run a homestead pretty much single handedly. Yes, I teach and support my family. Uh huh- I sew and knit and crochet and make soap and bread and...all that stuff. And, yes, I write. But I doubted very much that I have the talent to write something that defies categorization, crossing cultural and genre boundaries in a single bound.

Oops. Wrong superhero.

Jena's words stayed in my head, and I continued writing poems about that time, that village, and what happened there- but not as a part of my memoir. Then came the second star in the lineup, in the form of a book, The Illustrated Emily Dickinson Nature Sketchbook: A Poetry-Inspired Drawing Journal by Tara Lilly.


This is a book that transcends boundaries. Lilly has chosen poetry from Dickinson that celebrates nature, illustrating each with lovely, whimsical illustrations that bring different aspects of each poem to the forefront. In addition, she has left space for the reader to write, draw, color, paint - whatever she likes, inspired by the poem, Lilly's drawings, or nature itself. Part poetry book, part book of illustrations, and part sketchbook, it sets the imagination on fire on several levels. I am no artist, but I have really enjoyed playing with this book.

Then came the last star needed to push me into action. It was another book, this one by Jenny Lawson, better known, perhaps, as simply The Bloggess. See, that even has superhero undertones!

The book is You Are Here: An Owner's Manual for Dangerous Minds. Lawson is well-known for her insightful, often humorous blog in which she shares not only what is going on in her life, but her struggle with mental illness. This is how I came to know of her. Then one day my twenty year old son showed me some of her drawings that he had found on the internet. And WOW. They ran a gamut from fantastical to haunting to lovely to fun. In short, she is as gifted in her art as she is in her writing ability. In this book she brings both together, but even her writing is unexpected. Instead of lots of text, Lawson chooses to write in short, thoughtful, often inspirational bursts that rarely take up even half a page. Opposite each is a drawing that often has another message snaking through it. The drawings are black and white and invite the reader to pick up a marker or colored pencil and start filling in the lines - or drawing outside of them. Like Lilly's book, Lawson's defies categorization. In addition, it is an example in and of itself of breaking personal boundaries, being bold, and following our inspiration.

So that's it. Jena's simple statement, two books that showed that it really is okay to color outside the lines as a writer, and my natural inclination to slap on my cool bracelets and be Wonder Woman, and the wall is starting to crumble. How it will turn out is anybody's guess, but I will get my story told.

Do you have any example of books that cross genre lines? Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you had to break out of the familiar and step into new territory in order to get your story told? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

About the reviewer:  Khadijah Lacina  lives on a small homestead in rural Missouri with her children, horses, goats, chickens, cats, dogs, and an elusive bobcat. She is passionate about speaking up and working for change, and is writing a book about the ten years she spent in Yemen. She is a writer, teacher, translator, herbalist, and fiber artist.

13 comments :

  1. Sounds wonderful, Khadijah. I've had many moments of reading a book or watching a TV show that fills in a missing segment of an idea for me. It has so often happened just as I'm beginning to feel guilty about "wasting time" - but if I hadn't "wasted" that time I wouldn't have found the perfect solution to a plot point or characterisation issue.

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    1. That's wonderful. I think a lot of it is just being aware and open to everything being a learning experience.

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  2. Since our writers' minds never turn off, the time we spend on other pursuits is never wasted. Well, unless we just do something totally mindless like play endless computer games. LOL But watching films and television, reading, and dabbling in art, all contribute to what we do, even subliminally. And I love the idea of the mix of poetry and prose, and maybe even art in your book, Khadijah. Go for it!

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    1. You're right about our minds never turning off- it can sometimes be a little maddening! Art! I hadn't thought about adding that in. Hmmm...

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  3. a wonderful article. I especially like how in a piece about crossing genres, you combined a personal essay with a review. Very clever and beautifully written.

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    1. Thank you! I thought I was being sneaky!

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  4. Oh Khadijah! This is so lovely and nicely crafted. I'm so excited about your book. No matter the form or forms it will be a humdinger guaranteed.

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    1. Here's hoping. I realized I was trying to write something perfect the first time out, and that THAT is not going to happen. When the not so perfect first draft is out I will be greatly relieved.

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    2. Since it's you telling your experience in your own words and own ways whatever you do is sure to be its most perfect expression. No one but you can tell your story and it's one well worth telling. I for one couldn't be more eager to read it when you're ready.

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  5. Inspiration is often found in the valley of self-doubt.

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  6. You're a wonder woman in my eyes. <3

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  7. Some ideas are just perfect for the moment. Yours sounds wonderful. Having an art background, I considered illustrating a children's book, but that was years ago, before I started writing. Now I don't draw anymore, so the writing and drawing never came into synch. Let the time and your imagination lead you.

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  8. Genres and lines, like boxes, inhibit us. How many great artists dared to step outside traditional styles and create masterpieces never before imagined? And on a more personal note, I refuse to be hindered by preset guidelines, for these don't allow me to tell my stories as my characters dictate them. Perhaps that is why I chose to self publish; traditional publishers would have found me too far afield for their tastes. So mix and match in whatever way your story needs to be told. You may, indeed, create a literary masterpiece.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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