Jane Eaton Hamilton

"At the bottom of the box is hope." – Ellis Avery.

Tag: writing

How do you say goodbye?

Toni Morrison towered over literature. Though older than me by a generation, her early novels became my lodestones, magnets pointing me toward a new kind of literature. Her writing cracked open a world I hadn’t read on the page before, a vibrant world where Black women were accorded center stage, absent “the white gaze.” I knew how corrosive the white gaze could be from going to school in the Bahamas, and how complete, complex and nuanced were the worlds beyond its acid brow.

“Beloved” eventually became my most cherished title.

I started writing in about 1985 as an out lesbian, using mostly male protagonists. I snuck one story with lesbians into my first collection, a story about two women and their adopted autistic child. My second story collection had lots of queer protagonists, and my second poetry collection was all queer. By the time I wrote those books, I was done pretending just to get published. I understood that I’d been pandering (to use Claire Vaye Watkins’ word), though all the while I had been reaching for something else, the bravery to make up tales my way, from a queer gaze, a non-binary gaze, a disabled gaze, and to insist that mainstream Canada hear me. I honed my skills so that they would have to listen. When they wouldn’t, I submitted to literary awards, and I won contests.

That never translated, for me, into publishing contracts, and so, broken-hearted, I distanced myself. I’m sorry to have to say that we have a long way to go in Canada before parity for queers is reached.

I loved Toni Morrison, and I loved her writing, and the lessons of her writing resound with me even today. I’m grateful her literature is available to us all, and particularly grateful it and she stood as beacon and exemplar for generations of Black womxn. I’m going to be doing what many people around the world are doing now, reading her novels again, reading The Bluest Eye, Jazz, Song of Soloman, letting her literature soak back into me with all its strength and wisdom.

A white person, even one marginalized, cannot begin to understand the meaning of Toni Morrison to Black womxn. Here is a link to a touching and important eulogy by Dr Roxane Gay, NY Times. The Legacy of Toni Morrison.

At Medium, the Zora team has re-printed Toni Morrison: In Her Own Words; Cinderella’s Stepsisters, her commencement address to the Barnard graduating class of ’79.

 

How to Grieve For Your Friend and Mentor, by Amy Jo Burns

image from LitHub

Have you loved and lost a mentor? This is a hollow spot, and we need to write through it. As this terrible year ends, I read this essay by Amy Jo Burns on Alexander Chee, Sigrid Nunez, and Writing After Death. You might like to, too.

How to Grieve For Your Friend and Mentor

Writing Through Disability; Sonya Huber at LitHub

Writing With and Through Pain

by Sonya Huber

“The Key is to Not Panic in the Face of this Void”

The talented, skilled and disabled Sonya Huber, author of the stunning “Pain Woman Takes Your Keys,” writes about how pain affects her literary process.

Sonya Huber is the author of five books, including the essay collection Pain Woman Takes Your Keys, and Other Essays from a Nervous System. Her other books include Opa Nobody, Cover Me: A Health Insurance Memoir, The Evolution of Hillary Rodham Clinton and a textbook, The Backwards Research Guide for Writers. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, and other outlets. She teaches at Fairfield University and directs Fairfield’s Low-Residency MFA Program.

“Every Time We Put Pen to Paper, It is an Act of Protest:” a Michele Filgate roundtable on silence

“Red Ink is a quarterly series curated and hosted by Michele Filgate, hosted at powerHouse Arena. This dynamic series focuses on women writers, past and present. The name Red Ink brings to mind vitality, blood, correcting history, and making a mark on the world.

The following is an edited transcript from November’s panel, “Silence,” which featured Rene Denfeld, Alisson Wood, T Kira Madden, Gayle Brandeis, and Alexis Okeowo.”

I always admire the speakers at the Red Ink panels, which are generally excerpted for LitHub. This one is particular good. Since I write mostly about the aftermath of trauma, and am writing about it currently in a novel where a character (like one of Rene’s!) has selective mutism, I was particularly riveted. So might you be.

Every Time We Put Pen to Paper, It is an Act of Protest

 

CBC Guide to Writing Contests for Canadians (some international)

We’re lucky when we get a more or less up-to-date list of what’s happening on the contest scene. Here we are for fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry:

CBC Guide to Writing Contests

The Cocktail Party

 

An ER physician said to me, “What do you do?”

“I’m an author.”

He turned white as a blanched almond. “Did you just say you’re a nothing?”

I hooted. “I guess I might as well have.”

#whydowedothis

Finish your goddamned book

Yonder at Terrible Minds, here’s the not-so-terrible truth about finishing your novel, by Chuck Wendig.

Here’s How To Finish That Fucking Book, You Monster

Lidia Yuknavitch’s Survival Guide for Writers

A while back, the electrifying Lidia Yuknavitch talked to Anna March at Bustle. Two more recent of her books (The Small Backs of Children, The Book of Joan) weren’t published when this interview took place, but the article remains a wonderful piece to guide the working writer back to sanity, and I recommend it.

Bustle

“Matthew Klam’s New Book Is Only 17 Years Overdue” and other tales of failure

 

the new book

Over at Vulture, Taffy Brodesser-Akner has a terrific feature about Matthew Klam’s career and his new book. Every writer should read this. We all deal with self doubt and castigation, I think. The article is a really a good look at Klam’s early fortune; about how just as he was deciding he’d quit writing, he got a yes from Dan Menaker, editor at the New Yorker, for one of his stories. (My stories got lots of comments from Menaker in my time, and once we even moved into editorial, but I never quite got the yes. The story that came closest was published in the Alaska Review.)

The world opened for Matthew Klam, and his list of early awards and honours was daunting. He had it all except for a second book. As the years passed, he still didn’t have a second book. He wrote continually, he tossed continually, he taught instead for its anonymity.

For me, the world never opened, and my talent, which was substantial but wanting, withered from lack of support. I didn’t have an MFA program to weed out weaknesses. I learned slowly. Sometimes folks went mad for one story or essay, but when they wanted more, the more was always so different they didn’t like it. This is a problem with range and writing across genres (and letting my heart have its way).

I needed an imprimatur I didn’t have. A Menaker imprimatur, maybe. Once Ellen Seligman at M+S spent six months telling me yes, telling me no, telling me I don’t know, I go one way, I flop the other way, and I wonder what would have happened if she had said yes eventually, whether that profound novel about child rape in the world of wild mustangs I was then working on would have come to fruition. All these years later, I’m still curious about what would have broken out of me if by chance I had just been valued and nurtured, and really had to work to an editor’s expectations. I would have risen, I know, because I am like that, but in what way, to what end?

What literature did I not produce because I:

a) wasn’t quite good enough?

b) wasn’t repetitive enough?

c) there was discrimination (even inborne and unacknowledged) against certain categories of writers (disabled/queer/feminist)?

d)  wasn’t from the US?

What would those stories and books have been?

I was low-income and a sole-support parent a lot of those years. And of course I asked the same questions Matthew Klam asked himself: What does this matter? Who needs another story? Another novel? To what purpose? To win a prize and still be unable to pay the bills? I certainly never cared about a postmortem reputation–that and $5 I’d get a plastic glass of latte at Starbucks to set on my gravestone.

I won the CBC contest a couple times. I published in the NY Times, the Sun and other strong periodicals (back then and again this year). But no successes ever built, no one ever tucked me under her mentor wing. I still write in my self-propelled bubble without much response. I certainly write now without any hopes at all for the marketplace–really, only to please myself.

I had my perfect form and lost it. I quit writing stories and nobody noticed. I quit writing stories and only a friable piece of my heart noticed. I struggle to write novels, but I am no novelist. I am no novelist.

Maybe Matthew Klam is. I look forward to reading Who Is Rich?

The Vulture

 

 

Skinning the Rabbit, The Sun Magazine

I got home from a trip, picked up my mail and found my contributor copies of the July 2017 issue of The Sun Magazine (along with the welcome cheque). A couple of weeks ago, I went to add The Sun to my list of places I’ve published, and it was already there. I was puzzled; I didn’t remember having already added it. But then I explored a little further, realized I’d published there a long time ago, and sought out the issue, the cover of which is above. I was bemused to find that the subject matter was quite similar to the recent essay since I haven’t written about my childhood in ages.

Here’s that original and second-person story, which was still on my desktop: Hearts

My piece this time around is called Skinning the Rabbit. I explored my relationship with my father through our collision about animal welfare, and through the bullying I experienced when I got alopecia totalis at six. I hope you like it. Tell me if you do, k? It’s not online, but you can find The Sun almost anywhere that carries literate magazines, even in Canada.

I am proud to have had essays in the NY Times and The Sun this year.

The Sun November 1993

 

 

 

 

Floundering

photo: Jane Eaton Hamilton 2017

Floundering

A friend and I spend the warm, sunny day on Crescent Beach. I once housesat a block from the beach so I could do a concentrated writing stint—a retreat for one. For months, shine or rain, every wintry morning I circled the town, trodding past tossing ocean headed for the mud flats with my binoculars, DSLR camera and my ubiquitous umbrella. Work was not going well. This riparian area beside the Nicomeki River, Mud Bay on Blackie Spit, was balm. Known for birdwatching because it’s on a migratory path called the Pacific Flyway, it’s also the only place nearby where Purple Martins nest. The swallows looped above while I strolled through demarcated paths beside the eelgrass, able to pull from my photography belt lenses of different focal lengths. I discovered seed pod decay was as beautiful through a macro as a blooming flower. I took photo after photo of rotting pylons, cormorants drying their wings atop. Later, when I became an art student at Emily Carr, I made a painting of one of the bleached white morning pylons. One day I walked late, and rounded the corner to town just as the sky lit up pure radiant orange from top to bottom, north to south; I shot the silhouettes of people as they stood watching. The photos were gaudy, like seventies’ paintings.

Today, I’m older, and for the same stroll I’ve brought a walker. I sit on our blanket, pulling my gear out to photograph great blue herons—I don’t count; are there ten? Fifteen?—fishing along the low tide banks, but I understand it would be chancy for me to hoist this heavy, long-lensed equipment while standing up. We eat our overheated picnic lunch while I feed a crow egg salad from my hand, hoping some nestlings will be the healthier for it. Kayakers paddle past. Behind us, a woman reads in a purple outdoor inflatable. We turn up our pants’ legs and make our way down to the water while mud oozes through our toes. The water pulls the sand from under our feet. It’s hard going indeed for my arthritic body, rife with pain the way uneven surfaces always are, but I love it—my body’s screams of objection at least have the courtesy of silence. A bay has formed a sand shoal and in the intermediate strip of water, as I slosh through it, I notice a creature leaping and flailing. I head for it, but I am slower than everyone, so have lagged behind when a father picks up a flounder to show his kids. I see the milky under-body, which looks like sole in the frying pan. I don’t know my flounders, but I enjoy pointing and saying, “Look there. A flounder is floundering.” It may be a gulf, summer, southern or winter flounder. It may be a sole or (just for the halibut), a halibut. It thrashes. It has two eyes on the top side of its body, jumbled close, which I later learn are ordinarily placed at birth then metamorphose to the top of the fish’s flat head. The child carries it across the spit to the deeper ocean on the other side, but it just lies there looking quite dead, exhausted from its ordeal, far too visible. It’s heron bait, if you ask me.

It’s low tide in my love life too. Epitonium sawinae seashells, dead mollusks picked over by crows, crusty seaweed. Brackish water, poor circulation. The water makes alligator patterns on the surface. My feet keep sinking. My hips keep hurting. My feet are in agony.

Sad, I think of that flounder all evening. I think how it needed a world, a circumstance, it was helpless to create. In the survival of the fittest game, it lost. It’s a bird eat fish world out there.

I am not strong, either, after multitudes of surgeries. I think of sanctuary, where to find it, what it means to the various creatures of the world. I’m lucky that for me, sometimes, sanctuary is as simple as the arms of a beloved wrapped tightly around me, the simplest of homes.

 

 

Mud Bay, Crescent Beach, Jane Eaton Hamilton, acrylic on loose canvas 2013

“Never Call Yourself a Writer, and Other Rules for Writing”

 

Really, this is all you need to know to get started and keep going, by Shawna Kenney, from Brevity:

Never Call Yourself a Writer

 

 

What Being an Editor Taught Anna Pitoniak About Writing

Anna Pitoniak on the Inside Tricks of the Trade

writing-3

“I’m an editor at Random House, but for the last several years I’ve been writing around the edges of my day job: mornings, nights, weekends, wherever I can grab the free time. I began my first novel (which is publishing today) while I was working as an editor, and I credit my job with giving me the courage, and the tools, to tackle writing a book. The truth is that spending one’s life reading good writing—not just reading it, but thinking about what makes it so good—is the best way to teach one’s self how to do it. For some people, this might mean enrolling in an MFA program. For me, I was lucky enough to learn by observing the other editors around me, and working on manuscripts as they went from rough drafts to finished books. It was the best writing education I could have received.”

LitHub

Writing the body body body

nude2_oct_2016

sketch: Jane Eaton Hamilton 2016

Michele Filgate talks to Anna March, Ruth Ozeki, Eileen Myles, Porochista Khakpour, and Alexandra Kleeman about writing the body. I so wanted to attend this panel, so I’m glad to be able to read it and share it now. Writing the body fantastic, folks. From LitHub.

Writing the Body: Trauma, Illness, Sexuality, and Beyond

Benedict Cumberbatch reads letter, Sol LeWitt to Eva Hesse

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Eva Hesse

Gish Jen said we must watch and heed. As I listened to the first part, I wondered if ever I’d had such a loss of control, if I’d ever made art, whether written or visual, with the untormented mind.

If you are a creative person, please listen. You won’t regret the time.

Benedict Cumberbatch

 

Junot Díaz in conversation

I urge you to read this conversation VOX has with Junot Díaz:

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“We’re in a period of rabid privatization, and a period where it seems that people believe all specific and social functions, and all specific and social spaces and institutes, should be run like corporations, and that there are no such things as common goods; everything is a site of profit extraction. Given that context, for me, that’s where we’ve got to begin these questions: by sketching out the forces — political, economic, and social — which are distorting our ability to have a reasonable conversation.

“In a universe where everything is governed by the logic of market, that’s not a conversation about the importance of the humanities. It’s already so prejudiced that you can’t even have a fair hearing. That’s primarily what’s happening when we attempt to think in a future-looking way about the humanities, is that the idiom of the culture is so prejudiced against life-specific values, like social and common good. And without those, the appeal that we make about the humanities — it’s not that they don’t even land; there’s no space, in a society that’s entirely market-driven, to have a reasonable creative discussion about where the humanities are.”

VOX

The Sex and Death Anthology

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The Sex and Death Anthology

Contrast. Give it to your characters

IMG_3489

sketch: Jane Eaton Hamilton unknown date

We all know many writers who are also visual artists.

Yonder at Ploughshares, Annie Weatherwax confirms that many of the tools in their belts are the same no matter which art they are practicing.

I found myself wishing this article was much longer, and I hope Annie Weatherwax wishes so too and writes more about this.

Ursula K Le Guin

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“Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin, THE LATHE OF HEAVEN

Give Us Science!

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Why Fiction Need More Women Scientists. Ellen Pollack over at LitHub talks about how science enhances fiction.

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