Category Archives: What is Kate reading?

Find Your Zest, Your Gusto: A Tribute To Ray Bradbury

Zest. Gusto. How rarely one hears those words used. How rarely do we see people living, or for that matter, creating by them. Yet if I were asked to name the most important items in a writer’s make-up, the things that shape his material and rush him along the road to where he wants to go, I could only warn him to look to his zest, see to his gusto.

~ Ray Bradbury (1920 – 2012)

Like many readers and writers of science fiction and fantasy, I reacted to the news of Ray Bradbury’s death on Tuesday by finding his books on my shelves and starting to reread them. But, I did not first turn to Farenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, Dandelion Wine, Something Wicked This Way Comes, or any of his other wonderful stories. No, I went straight to one of my favourite books about the craft of writing: Zen in the Art of Writing.

Zen in the Art of Writing is a collection of essays on writing that Bradbury wrote over a span of decades. The quote about zest and gusto at the top of this post is the opening of the essay entitled “The Joy of Writing.”

I come back to this essay more than any other single piece of writing about writing. It reconnects me with the reasons that I write.

[I]f you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer. It means you are so busy keeping one eye on the commercial market, or one ear peeled for the avant-guard coterie, that you are not being youself. You don’t even know yourself. For the first thing a writer should be is — excited. He should be a thing of fevers and enthusiasms. Without such vigor, he might as well be out picking peaches or digging ditches; God knows it would be better for his health.

~ Ray Bradbury, The Joy of Writing

That paragraph hit me hard when I reread it this week. I have had a hard time getting back to writing my novel since my class had me working feverishly on exploring how to pitch it. I was stuck, but I couldn’t figure out why.

Intellectually, I had a plan. I had generated a timeline and a synopsis of a story worth telling. I had noticed themes of the novel reflecting deep themes in my life. I knew what scenes I had to write to make the piece hang together.

But, my muse was bored. She refused to show up. I think she figured I didn’t need her since I had it all mapped out. She was wrong.

To get out of my rut, I started listening to the materials associated with Holly Lisle’s How To Think Sideways course. One of the things I love about Lisle’s teaching materials is that she demonstrates how she gets her inspirational muse and her craft-based thinking mind to work together on a project.

I found myself leaning on one idea: One of your jobs as a writer is to write bigger than your first impression.

In order to prepare the pitch for my class, I had to pretend the novel was closer to finished than it is. In essence, I pitched something close to my first impression. And, I boiled out some fo the complexity to build the pitch. But it is too early in the process for that. I needed to give myself permission to grow the story beyond the pitch as I prepared it.

By focusing on the scenes that work and being willing to ditch the rest if need be, and by giving myself explicit instruction to think bigger than the pitch I had prepared, I convinced my muse to come back and play.

I am making progress again. With gusto and with zest.

In tribute to Ray Bradbury, I offer these links:

When an artist who has touched you dies, how do you respond?

In his speech to the graduating class at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, Neil Gaiman argued that one should greet life’s trials with one response: make good art. I add now, from Ray Bradbury: with gusto.

So please, find your zest and your gusto and make good art.

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E-Books and the Browsing Problem

I use my Kindle often. I read books using the Kindle app for my iPhone more.

But, I don’t like shopping for books in the digital world.

You see, I am a browser. I always have been.

Not only do I judge a book by its cover, I judge it by the weight of the paper and the tone of the ink and the books that are near it on the shelf.

And that last one is the kicker.

When I go to the bookstore or library looking for a book, I am rarely looking for a specific book. If I want a particular title, I order it from an online seller or place a hold on it at the library from the comfort of my living room.

But, if I have a gut feeling that I want to learn something about a particular subject, I like to wander over to a cluster of bookshelves and browse. I have no easy way to browse digital books and this bugs me.

Are you a browser? If so, how is the move to digital publishing changing your book-finding habits?

Returning to My Literary Roots, Part II

Shakespeare was my first literary love.

I was 8 when my grandmother and I read Macbeth aloud together, sitting at the dining-room table of the house that holds my most vivid childhood memories, bright sunlight streaming through the window as I encountered that grim but glorious material for the first time.

This is the very book from which we read, my grandmother and I, this book bedecked with working designs, such as this image, drawn by Michael Ayrton and John Minton, from which a costume would be fashioned that Lady MacDuff might clothed be.

I was hooked.

After that, I sought out the Bard at every opportunity. By high school, I had absorbed Shakespeare’s sentence structure deeply; I was more comfortable with a sentence containing four or five clauses than my teachers.

As I proceeded through my academic career and especially during my time as a lawyer, my writing changed. I retreated from my literary use of language. By the time I left legal practice, I had developed a dry and unambiguous style, a style that was working against me as I struggled to write a fantastical novel.

This fall, I started working through a dvd-based course entitled Building Great Sentences. The instructor loves and encourages long, cumulative sentences. As I started working with the materials, it was as if a flood gate had been opened. Complex, flowing sentences of greater than average length started appearing throughout my work. The early influence of Shakespeare and my grandmother had been sleeping, but no longer.

Several of Shakespeare's plays in the Folio Society edition from the 1950s. There were several complete collections of Shakespeare's plays and poetry in my parent's house, but this edition was my favourite because of the heavy paper, elegant type, and evocative production design drawings.

Returning to My Literary Roots, Part I

I’m at my parents’ house for a few days. The books of my childhood surround me. Browsing the shelves, deciding which books to bring to my children’s attention, I am deep in my own literary memories.

Yesterday, I found this book.


I don’t remember anything about the story, but I remember a creative project inspired by it, or at least by the cover. I had forgotten this book was the inspiration until I saw it again. But, the project itself is one of those half-finished projects from my past that still haunts me.

For class (fourth grade, Mrs. Voake, one of my most inspirational teachers), I made a map of an island country, Gingericana, where every geographic feature was named after a spice. In my imagination, stories about the peoples of this land were writing themselves, but I never made time to get them down on paper. Over the past few years, I have considered revisiting this world to write stories for my children.

I don’t know if I will.

In the meantime, however, I plan to reread the book. I am curious to see whether I recognize the story within the cover.

I interrupt this blog to…

Bionicle in the Bathtub. Luckily, he wasn't there until after the purchase offer had been made and accepted.

Two short announcements this week.

1) The reason for this is that we sold our house this week and the final stages of that process have thrown everything out of whack. This is a good chaos, but chaos nonetheless.

2) I have joined a team of writers who will be blogging about all things gifted from various perspectives. Christine Fonseca, author of Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students and 101 Success Secrets for Gifted Kids, has put together a great group of writers, including Jen Merrill from Laughing at Chaos, whom I mentioned recently. My first post will be up next week. In the meantime, head on over to An Intense Life to see what is going on. There is also news on the site about Christine’s gothic YA novella Dies Irae that has just been released. I am in the middle of it and am enjoying it tremendously.

Out of the bathtub, ready for action.

Imagining Sisyphus Happy

But what is happiness except the simple harmony between a man and the life he leads?
Albert Camus

This morning, washing dishes, I spied a black squirrel creeping along a fence outside my kitchen window carrying a huge bread roll in its mouth, its light brown burden, almost as big as itself, extending sideways like a tightrope walker’s balancing bar.

The squirrel inched its way across the fences surrounding my backyard before jumping into a neighbor’s tree. Scrambling into the tree, it lost the roll. After a brief pause, looking down at the fallen roll, the squirrel scampered down, recovered the roll, and climbed back up the tree.

Back Up The Tree with Treasure

Observing this, I thought of Sisyphus. In the Greek myth, the Gods punish Sisyphus for his crime, the specifics of which are debated and rarely mentioned, by forcing him to push a boulder up a hill. The task is arduous and takes all day. As soon as he reaches the top, the boulder rolls back down the mountain and he must descend and repeat the task the following day.

According to Albert Camus, Sisyphus is representative of the human condition, endlessly toiling at repetitive tasks without hope of success. From Camus’ perspective, the torture of being conscious of the futility of the task is nullified by accepting it and continuing, by being stronger than his task, by scorning that it is punishment. At the end of The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus exhorts, “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

Life is full of tasks that are never-ending, futile to believe will ever be completed, but necessary: washing dishes, doing laundry, emptying the in-box, paying bills. Perhaps not as physically exhausting as rolling a boulder up a hill, but potentially torturous nonetheless. If we resist doing the tasks, they become impediments, obstacles, irritants. But, if we accept them fully and do them willingly, they lose their power to torment us.

Watching the squirrel struggle with the bread, I smiled at the absurdity of it, and at the persistence of the squirrel. The lack of doubt, the perseverance, the acceptance of the situation. And somehow, connecting the squirrel and Sisyphus, I found myself deeply accepting the household tasks that waited for me, even enjoying them.

And in that state, I could imagine Sisyphus happy.

An Every Day Reader on FridayReads

Every week on Friday, I sent at least one tweet with the #fridayreads hashtag. Why do I do this? To celebrate reading.

What is FridayReads?

On Fridays, people share what they are reading. And reading is broadly defined: a book, a blog, a map, a cereal box.

FridayReads is the brainchild of Bethanne Patrick. In the fall of 2009, she started asking her followers what they were reading every Friday and including the hashtag #fridayreads with the request.

FridayReads has grown. 5 people are now involved in managing a blog, counting participants, compiling lists of the most read books, and giving free books to randomly selected participants. It is now possible to participate on Twitter or Facebook. In the past few weeks, the number of weekly participants has grown to over 5,000. And, the sharing of book titles and conversation about books has spilled over to other days of the week.

What is FridayReads to me?

Simply put, FridayReads is an excuse to connect with other readers.

I enjoy reading what other people are reading. I am curious to see the most read lists compiled every week. I am fascinated looking back at my #fridayreads tweets to remind myself of what I have read.

FridayReads is a way to publicly proclaim my reading in the company of other readers without having to spend much time on it. I get to be part of a reading club without having to read anything that somebody else has chosen.

FridayReads Celebrates All Reading

I am an obssessive reader. I always have been. I resist taking time to record or discuss the books I have read. There are far too many books still waiting to be read. And, I am always reading many things.

Today, for example, I am in the middle of the following books:

  • Drood by Dan Simmons
  • Dance – The Sacred Art: The Joy of Movement as a Spiritual Practice by Cynthia Winton-Henry
  • The Magician′s Book by Laura Miller
  • Writing Life edited by Constance Rooke
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  • Danse Macabre by Stephen King
  • Lost at School by Dr. Ross Green

The first is my bedtime fiction reading. The second is relevant to the website I am building about play. The next four are about books and the craft of writing; I am working through them slowly as I need inspiration or challenge in my writing. And the last supports my parenting. This is a typical state of affairs for me. I sometimes have graphic novels, plays, or poetry on the list, and I usually have fewer books on writing in process. But, I never read just one book at a time.

My husband reads one book at a time.

FridayReads celebrates us both.

I like that.

Any reading counts. My eldest son jumps between classic literature, novels featuring crass humour and ridiculous aliens, and graphic novels. They all count.

The blogs I read, the books on my Kindle, the instruction manual for a new piece of technology, even the audiobooks my kids listen to at bedtime.  They all count.

I love the inclusivity.

FridayReads is a no-pressure celebration of one of my favourite pastimes. I don′t have to leave my house or interrupt my work. I just type a title, an author, and #fridayreads and send a tweet.

On Friday, why don′t you join me on Twitter or Facebook and share what you are reading.

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