Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added)
is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers.
--John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Friday, November 21, 2014

More thoughts on the LeGuin NBA Speech, etc.

"Here, every story, in its own way
and from its own universe, told in its
own mode, explains that there is no
better spirit in all of American letters
than that of Ursula LeGuin." -Slate
ON THE LEGUIN NBA SPEECH
Especially for Midori Snyder Crankypants!

* CAPITALISM
It tends to be hard to accept people condemning capitalism roundly when capitalism has been so very good to them personally. There's a having-your-cool-cake-and-liberally-eating-it-too vibe that is difficult to ignore. How, exactly, do we critique capitalism without throwing the essential baby out with the dirty bathwater? Perhaps the speech will lead to a more particular examination of the state of publishing. Who are these people who treat books like soap? Are there houses that publish only crappy books? Are there no alternatives? Is every list with a Grover the Farting Kangaroo or Inside Celebrity X inhabited only by such books? What's the state of things at individual houses? What's the proportion of dross to gold? Is it really so much worse than in the past? I don't know, but I remember a course in which I read nineteenth-century bestsellers as I great eye-opener. I like Ursula LeGuin and respect her body of work, but that's still a stumbling block. We're writers; we should be able to do a better job of excising the gangrened flesh and leaving the body to survive.

* THE REALISTS
It's always worth saying that the only genre that matters is the one called good books. LeGuin stands up against the domination of "the Realists" in prizes and publications. It's a fine thing to remind us that what is important is not genre but making a strong work out of words, and though I tend not to set one group against another (and not to divide by genre), it's certainly true that what we call irrealism has been the stepchild in tatters to its so-called literary sibling, geared in prize bling. Although it is certainly true that the sf/f/h world has its own clubbiness and prizes...

* POWERS AND FREEDOM
The great powers of modern civilization--the power of the media, the power of big corporations, and so on--are always going to tilt in directions that distress us for the simple fact that they are the powers. Make it, "The Powers." They will always have to suffer correction. Always. This doesn't mean that we must entirely eradicate them. Yes, the big New York publishers have been purchased (almost all of them) and are now part of conglomerates. They suffer greater pressure to produce a larger profit margin, when really about a 3% margin is good for publishing. Yes, we live with that. But we have choices. With New York, we choose to have a certain kind of reach in terms of marketing. Of course, often that reach is not exerted on behalf of a book, so it's a bit of a crap shoot... but the publisher has name recognition and relationships with stores and libraries. We also have the choice (which some of us have taken) of moving from the Big 5 (formerly Big 6) to alternatives of some sort--I love the freedom I have had with Phoenicia (Montreal), Stanza (UK), and Mercer (US) to help make decisions and collaborate with an artist. (My problem is, of course, how to have the same sort of marketing a big house like Farrar, Straus can and sometimes does offer. I haven't worked the kinks out there. I'm still trying things.... The other thing I miss about FSG is Elaine Chubb, the world's most persnickety copy editor. But she retired. No one can replace her.) Others make other choices and go with micro-presses or self-publishing. All of that is, indeed, freedom. Like most freedoms, it comes at a price.

Small Beer Press
* WHAT GOLDEN AGE?
Yes, there's a mort of things worthy of criticism in the world of publishing. In Shakespeare's time, there were other problems with publishing (or with the schemes of sticky-fingered printers, as it was then.) Writers complained then, now, and every time in between. The arts are always in trouble, and great artists often go unrecognized while lesser lights are worshipped and rewarded. None of that is new. For the most part, we can only do what our times let us do, whether we live centuries ago in courtly circles and circulate work privately or later on reside precariously on Grub Street or write today on a computer and submit our work in a mere instant. But it's strange to think that our era is unusually bad overall because our era offers writers more options than ever. Whether we like them all is another thing, and certainly there's huge controversy over self-publishing, the proliferation of online 'zines and MFA programs, and much more. But there's life in ferment, and ferment is certainly what we have.

* THE END OF THINGS
In every century, there have been times when world's end seemed near. LeGuin looks at the future through a dystopian lens: "Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies..." Oh, I'm as quick as anyone to let my imagination show me what shadows loom over us and have complete sympathy with such a remark. Solar flares! People on the other side of the world who want to chop off all of our heads! Putin with no shirt on horseback, aiming to be a centaur! Teens who can't put away their dratted iPhones! But these voices of people who "see alternatives" are already with us. We may choose to ignore them. Most of us may never be given a chance to read them. But there are plenty of voices that speak with truth and joy, that hold up what's lasting and see technology only as a useful tool. They are with us. Find them. I love Jeff Sypeck's suggestion in the comments (prior post)about what the powerful, lauded, rewarded Ursula LeGuin could do to help books:
She's right that "we need writers who know the difference between the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art." Such people and publishers exist, but you know who's uniquely suited to make them known to the world? Ursula Le Guin! One word from her in the press could sell 20,000 copies of Thaliad. She could start a Facebook page and devote it to nothing but endorsing, and encouraging discussion of, books from smaller presses, or linking to eloquent blogs, or maybe even putting in a good word for the cream of the self-published crop. She could even put conditions on interviewers: Sure, I'll answer a bunch of predictable, fawning questions from the Salon books editor, but only if we can talk about this great little novel I discovered, because not nearly enough people are reading it...
Sienna Latham, New Zealand grad student and Southwesterner
studying alchemy in early modern England and founder
of Hindsight, with cat and Glimmerglass.
What would the American scene look like if all famous-in-our-time writers took their power seriously and used it to support and reveal good but relatively invisible writers? Lovely little bubble of a dream, Jeff!

p. s. Ursula LeGuin is my mother's age--my mother the former librarian, the weaver, the gardener, the volunteer. I love seeing active older women who have something to say  and do. What a great example for those of us coming along in their wake...

SARATOGA

I had a jolly time at Northshire Bookstore in Saratoga yesterday evening and managed to thread the labyrinth of little snowy roads home by midnight. Thanks to the lovely people who turned out despite the cold, and who had wonderful questions... And thanks to Rachel Person, who organizes events for Northshire. I first met her at the NBA Awards when her husband, Steve Sheinkin, was on the finalist slate for the YPL (what a fun judging time I had that year--such a great panel of people who were thoughtful and of a similar cast of mind.)

NEXT UP

I'll be signing Glimmerglass at the Fenimore Art Museum on the 28th, along with 11 other writers. 11:00-2:00 p.m. I think they'll have some of my other in-print books, including Thaliad and A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage. More on that one later...

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Updatery and good words

Updatery

In a few hours, I'll be off to Saratoga, New York, where I'll read from Glimmerglass tonight at the Northshire Bookstore on Broadway. I've never read there before, and it's a weeknight, so I'm crossing fingers and toes in hopes of seeing a reasonable number of human beings in chairs at 7:00 p.m.

My Tuesday event at the Delhi Women's Club went off wonderfully--I loved talking to a big group of women! I ought to do groups of that sort more often. They're lively and smart, and a lot of them are readers.

LeGuin on words and freedom

Back from a Saratoga reading and after a good night's sleep, I  have some more settled thoughts here.

Here's a quote from Ursula LeGuin's speech at the National Book Awards. You can read the whole thing here

I agree with her about much, though I think these problems are not new, and that we have some of the writers she calls for--they are simply less visible than they might have been in a different age. And some of her points are the reason that we should not simply accept a publisher's koolaid that tells us which books are the best books...

Plenty of books remain relatively invisible, never nominated for the major awards (that costs a small publisher a good bit of money), never pushed as lead book by a publisher, seldom read, staying alive by word of mouth. Yet we have small presses and new alternatives, and that's good. In fact, a lot is good.

Please leave your thoughts, as I am dithering mightily on what I think about what she has to say! She does divorce freedom from capitalism, and that's a very big deal.
I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality.

Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not quite the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship.

Yet I see sales departments given control over editorial; I see my own publishers in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries for an ebook six or seven times more than they charge customers. We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience and writers threatened by corporate fatwa, and I see a lot of us, the producers who write the books, and make the books, accepting this. Letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant, and tell us what to publish and what to write.

Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

late-November events, upstate New York

The butter cream book.
Cake for a double launch reading
with Luisa Igloria in Norfolk, Virginia.
September 2014, Café Stella
Reading in Delhi
Chat, dinner, talk/reading... 
Tuesday, 5:30 p.m.
November 18
Delhi Women's Club
Delhi, New York

Gossip is that there are 42 reservations so far--should be fun!

Reading in Saratoga 
Thursday, 7 p.m.
November 20
Northshire Bookstore
424 Broadway
Saratoga Springs, New York

Book Signing Event With Twelve Regional Authors at The Fenimore Art Museum 
On Friday, November 28

COOPERSTOWN, NY (11/13/2014) —The Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown offers holiday shoppers an opportunity to acquire signed editions of many of the area's most popular books by twelve regional authors. The event will take place on Friday, November 28 from 11:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. and feature genres such as historical fiction, childrens books, heirloom cookbooks, memoirs, locally inspired fiction, and more. Authors include The Beekman Boys (11:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. only), Paul Kuhn (a.k.a. Saint Nicholas), Marly Youmans, Cindy Falk, Richard Duncan, Bob and Trish Kane, Calvin Boal, Chuck D'Imperio, Jim Atwell, and Anna Membrino. The Fenimore Art Museum Shop will also have pre-signed books by other authors on-hand (see website for complete list). There is no charge for entry into the book signing event.The day will also feature character tours of the current Fenimore exhibition Dorothea Lange's America, led by Dorothea Lange herself - actually one of the museum's talented and entertaining Templeton Players. Tours will take place on Friday and Saturday at 11:00 am and 1:00 pm with a cost of $2.00 plus regular museum admission.For more information, visit FenimoreArtMuseum.org.

###

For more information or images, please contact:
Todd Kenyon, Public Relations
New York State Historical Association
Fenimore Art Museum/The Farmers’ Museum
Phone: (607) 547­1472 / E­mail: pr@nysha.org

About Fenimore Art Museum
The Fenimore Art Museum, located on the shores of Otsego Lake ­­ James Fenimore Cooper’s “Glimmerglass Lake” ­­ in historic Cooperstown, New York, features a wide­-ranging collection ofAmerican art including: folk art; important American 18th­ and 19th­century landscape, genre, and portrait paintings; an extensive collection of domestic artifacts; more than 125,000 historical photographs representing the technical developments made in photography and providing extensive visual documentation of the region’s unique history; and the renowned Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection of American Indian Art comprising more than 800 art objects representative of a broad geographic range of North American Indian cultures, from the Northwest Coast, Eastern Woodlands, Plains, Southwest, Great Lakes, and Prairie regions. Founded in 1945, the Fenimore Art Museum is NYSHA’s showcase museum.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Caleb Seeling reviews Glimmerglass

from Notes from the Publishing Underground
(November 12, Conundrum Press newsletter.)
"In 2011, Conundrum press was acquired by Samizdat Group, LLC, owned by Caleb Seeling... Conundrum Press is a stand-alone, traditional model literary press. Future plans include a Rocky Mountain Poetry Series, the details of which are forthcoming, and a philanthropic plan to support literary endeavors from sales of our books."


Fiction Review by Caleb J Seeling


Glimmerglass: A Novel
By Marly Youmans
 

Marly Youmans is one of those rare literary figures who excels at both poetry and prose, each informing the other. Her latest novel, Glimmerglass, is a beautiful and skillfully told modern-day fairy tale. Cynthia Sorrel is a failed artist trying to rediscover herself and her place in the world, and we are drawn with her into the scenic, slightly mysterious New England hamlet of Cooper Patent. The residents of Cooper Patent seem as serene and peaceful as the lake, Glimmerglass, beside which the village is nestled. There are of course secrets and jealousies lurking just below the surface, but Youmans lulls the reader into a dreamlike state until, as in all good fairy tales, she sinks the reader into the dark waters where reality is blurred and bent like a half-submerged stick. It is here that the reader begins to feel more than know the meaning of what happens to Cynthia. A gorgeous book that is quick to read and meaty enough to digest slowly, Glimmerglass is a wonderful novel with which to curl up next to a fire and spend chilly nights.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Review plus post, the Star (NC)

Art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins for Glimmerglass.
A novel turn, rich and strange 


Review, Ben Steelman, StarNews 
(Wilmington, North Carolina) 
9 November 2014
   
3-page review begins here

Clip: "Fantasy and myth mix with classic whodunit in “Glimmerglass,” the latest novel from poet and South Carolina native Marly Youmans. This is only detective fiction, though, in the sense that “Hamlet” is a play about a kid who can't get along with his stepfather. Youmans takes a couple of overworked genres and makes them undergo a sea change into something rich and strange."

Photo by Paul Digby, July 2014
This one was taken in Ohio right after I taught
at the Antioch Writing Workshops.
The lady behind "Glimmerglass" 


Background post
by Ben Steelman, 
Bookmarks blog
at StarNews Online 
9 November 2014.
Read it here.

Favorite clips:

...Youmans writes one of the best writers's blogs in the ether...

Youmans’ poetry collections include “Thaliad,” “The Throne of Psyche” and “Claire.” I have been meaning to write for years about “The Foliate Head,” her 2012 poem cycle about the Green Man, published in Britain by Stanza Press, which must rank as one of the most beautiful books of the 21st century. Notable are the illustrations and illuminations by the Welsh artist Clive Hicks Jenkins. Jenkins also did the artwork for “Glimmerglass.” *

*Glimmerglass, Thaliad, and The Foliate Head all contain exterior and extensive interior artwork by Clive, and his art is also on the cover of The Throne of Psyche and Val/Orson. The design work on The Foliate Head is by Andrew Wakelin, wonderful UK designer.

Thank you, Mr. Steelman!

* * *

crew list here
There's a typo in the blog post that I find amusing. My father was a sharecropper's kid and teenage tail gunner on the WWII Incendiary Blonde who, thanks to the G. I. bill, later became a professor of analytical chemistry. (His teen train escapades, his farm home, and his father's love for one of his mixed race brothers influenced the creation of Pip in A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage.) As a professor, he couldn't help butting heads with administrators and often said, "The lightweights float right to the top." And so I found it comical that he appears as a college president rather than professor... He also liked to quote Lewis Carroll's "I'm mad. You're mad. We're all mad." That one is a little more generous, as it puts us all in the same zany boat!

If you click on the picture, you'll see my handsome young father standing at far right. Hubert Lafay Youmans of Lexsy, Georgia... Hu. His hand looks a little odd--swollen from a fistfight in town the night before.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Questions from a young artist and writer (answers from a young crone!)

Chapter header vignette
by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
for my new novel, Glimmerglass
I always imagine that if one person asks questions, there are others who would like to find out more. Here are questions I received today, followed by glances at possible answers... I claim no more than "possible answers" because I am just one small person on the face of the planet, and every artist would have a different set of answers.

How often do you feel inspired to work? How do you feel different when you’re writing than when you’re doing other things that need to be done in life? And I guess how do you get yourself into that place when you’re not there already.


*
If you sit around waiting for inspiration, you’ll stay a dabbler and never get to where you want to go. Search through the simple pleasures of drawing or inking or painting or writing, even if you have no idea where you are going. Move your hand--the mind may well follow. Inspiration might come from doodling and playing and jotting down notes. Inspiration might come from collecting your materials and then waiting in quiet.

Oh, it doesn’t matter “how often” you feel inspired. It's not ever about numbers. It just matters that you try to do your work—that’s the path toward the inspiration.

*

You're young. It's good to have humility before the great masters of the past. It's fine to look at work by your peers. But it's also good to have self-forgetfulness when making art, and that includes a kind of forgetfulness of all you admire--all that makes you feel small and that you cannot "get yourself into that place" and begin.
*

“It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.” I don’t recall that line from Van Gogh's letters, but I bumped into it on the web (so it may be truly his, or not) and think that’s a pretty good assessment of how to make art or any other thing in this life.

*

There’s a scene in one of my books that people have pointed to and asked about many times. A young girl is peeling an orange, a thing she has never done before, and the passage looks at an orange, the fragile veins around the segments and the inner lining with pith and the pebbled exterior and the seeds that seem to float inside the flesh. In terms of the writing, it’s all about seeing like a child. But that passage came about because it was the middle of the night, and I was trying to get work done but felt exhausted and blank—I wanted to get more done because my children were all blessedly asleep, but I would have to be up with them by 7:00 a.m. At that hour--at any hour--they would want a mother, not a writer. So I didn’t wish to waste an hour that I could use to either sleep or write. I went downstairs to the kitchen and fetched an orange and began to peel it slowly in front of my computer. I stared at that orange until it became magical, mysterious, seeded and alive with secrets. I then put the spirit of that orange in the hand of the young girl who had never seen an orange before.

That was how I started that night, by staring and seeing and forcing myself to move forward. Because I was a woman with three small children who had no time to waste on being inspired beforehand. The staring inspired me. The playing with words inspired me. The sitting down in the chair with intention to write inspired me. Inspiration is like a fountain—it will rise and flower into drops and flung water if you give it a chance. But to do so, you need to hush, look, and dream.

*

A feeling of richness and rightness often takes over when I’m writing. If it’s a poem, I might be surfing on Disch’s “lyric gush.” If it’s the first draft of a piece of fiction, I might be dipping and flying, following the thread of story. Then I’m a zany flying fish, skimming and swimming and reveling in the sea of words. So you’re right in saying that making art is just not the same as daily life.

At the very best, it’s being open to the Muse, the pouring life of the world, the Holy Spirit, the water from the fount at the end of the universe… (Mind you, golden moments sometimes come in ordinary life, and if you wish to do so and are quick, you may seize and make something of them.) As you go on and grow in your chosen pursuits, you will more and more be prepared and readied to catch the Muse, snare life, embrace the Spirit, or dip a pail from the fount. But the mere hunt for these precious, frolicsome things will lead you into the lands where inspiration trickles and streams.

And as a human being, you are made to find joy and truth and wonder and a thousand other contrary and tumultuous elements in creation. It’s that simple. Some find a creative satisfaction in teaching, some in reading, some in needle and thread, some in the unfolding mysteries of science, some in sacrifice for others. But we human beings are all meant to participate in some aspect of the ongoing creation that is our universe—the universe that is perhaps just one of many universes. So sit down in the chair and move the pen or move the brush: begin.

Home


Home after many weeks and a final Glimmerglass reading-and-signing event at The Doylestown Bookshop, plus a romp through Henry Chapman Mercer's Fonthill castle! Thanks to my generous Doylestown hosts, David and Karin Svahn. Here's a snip from the somnium or dream-vision passage in the book:
In a sunbeam, the angel's tree glittered, bare and silver. Going to it, she found glistening leaves stuck to the surface of Glimmerglass and pods that stood erect on the branches like golden torches. On peering into the ice, she made out a snake knotted around the bole and a ball of fur snuggled below. She sank through, drawing herself onto the other side of the lake by a tangle of silver roots. Far off, she glimpsed a skater in a black cloak, bowed against the wind as he pulled a child's heavily loaded sleigh.

As she walked in the labyrinth by the lake, a needle slipped from her gown, making an infinitesimally small ping! as the eye widened to let her in. She glimpsed a path of splinters and droplets of water before threading the eye of the needle and sliding head first into the plush midnight fabric of sleep.
Jacket and title page art above by Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Design by Mary-Frances Glover Burt for Mercer.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Next up: NC / PA readings

Glimmerglass readings

*
3:00 p.m. Saturday, November 1st
City Lights Bookstore
Sylva, North Carolina

*
6:30 p.m. Tuesday, November 4th
The Doylestown Bookshop
Doylestown, Pennsylvania

*
Special thanks to Chris Wilcox and the City Lights staff, Krisy Paredes and The Doylestown Bookshop staff, Mary Bullington, and David and Karin Svahn.

*
And another thanks

 Thank you to Micah Mattix for picking "A Child in the Likeness  of God" as featured poem for his daily Prufrock News. (Want to sign up?  Go here.) See prior post for more on that poem.