Category: The Writing Life


The sounds of Antarctica

By Midge Raymond,

Among the most amazing things about Antarctica (and there are so many) are the sounds. You can listen to the sounds of icebergs rubbing together here. It sounds a bit like furniture breaking apart, and then a little like a penguin colony from far away, and finally it becomes something completely otherworldly.

This wonderful article from Huffington Post offers a few sounds as well — including the voices of an Adélie penguin colony and the wind sweeping across the ice — as well as gorgeous photos and a glimpse of what life is like as a researcher on the continent.

These Antarctic sounds are incredible, but perhaps what’s most remarkable about Antarctica is the silence. The sounds of no human presence at all. It’s impossible to capture in a video or audio, but I did try to capture the feeling in My Last Continent:

” … we listen to the whistling of the wind across the ice and the cries of the birds. I savor the utter silence under those sounds; there is nothing else to hear—none of the usual white noise of life on other continents, no human sounds at all… “



Celebrating the “Father of Pinyin”

By Midge Raymond,

I was saddened to read that “the father of Pinyin” died this weekend in Beijing (though he did live to be 111 years old). While until now I never knew very much about the man himself — who daringly criticized the Chinese government, wrote dozens of books, and was exiled during the Cultural Revolution — I was very familiar with (and grateful for) Pinyin when I began learning Chinese.

Pinyin, a romanized version of the Chinese language — which allows non-native speakers a much, much easier way to learn the language — was adopted by China in 1958, replacing the former Wade-Giles system. (Wade-Giles had been conceived by two British diplomats, and its pronunciation guide was very different and far less accurate — for example, the Wade-Giles word for Beijing is the far-less-accurate Peking.) And, as Zhou’s New York Times obituary notes:

Since then, Pinyin (the name can be translated as “spelled sounds”) has vastly increased literacy throughout the country; eased the classroom agonies of foreigners studying Chinese; afforded the blind a way to read the language in Braille; and, in a development Mr. Zhou could scarcely have foreseen, facilitated the rapid entry of Chinese on computer keyboards and cellphones.

I began to learn Chinese in the early 1990s, before moving to Asia to teach English as a second language. I began in the States with an introductory university class in which we were required to memorize characters, which was insanely difficult. In addition to that, our Chinese teacher was Taiwanese, which meant he used traditional characters as opposed to simplified characters (adopted in mainland China to increase literacy). Here is the word for beautiful in simplified Chinese:

美丽

And here is the same word in traditional Chinese:

美麗

Notice how many more strokes are required in the traditional version. Also note: There is no way for a native English speaker to tell, just by looking at either character, how to pronounce the word. This is where Pinyin comes in. If it weren’t for Pinyin — that is, if I’d had to go by Wade-Giles’ pronunciations — no one I spoke with in Taipei would’ve been able to understand a word of what I said (and it was hard enough as it was; Mandarin Chinese also has four tones for every character, and getting those wrong is all too easy for a foreigner).

Once in Taiwan, I realized I had to focus on spoken Mandarin rather than the written language — most important to survival was learning how to talk. I did have to learn a great many traditional characters, however — this was necessary for everything from eating (in places with written menus, though I ate mostly from food carts) to banking (all transactions on ATMs were in Chinese characters) to finding my way around the country (all of the road signs and bus signs were also in traditional characters).

The language was so different that I learned to “forget English,” as my Chinese tutor taught me; the only way I could grasp the language was to approach it not by translating things in my head but by thinking in Chinese. And this was fascinating…the Chinese language is beautiful, complex, and vast, and when you start to think in Chinese, it’s easier to learn the language, as each character is built from a combination of ideas. To use a simple example, here is the simplified character for the word America:

美国

And here is the traditional character:

美國

It is pronounced Mĕi guó, which is translated as “beautiful country” — as you can see, the first part of the character (美, mei) is from the character above, for beauty.

When I returned from Asia after two years, I was so used to thinking in another, very different, language that I found it hard to put English sentences together; I often spoke in simple sentences, as if I were translating my thoughts from Chinese back into English. It took a long time to sound like a normal native English speaker again.

I reflect on all this as my first book, Forgetting English, is released in its third edition. The title story, while fictional, has many moments — including the one with my Chinese tutor — inspired by my time in Asia.

It’s been especially enlightening to reflect on the extraordinary life of Zhou Youguang; as you’ll read in his obituary, he was so much more than the father of Pinyin. Sent to a labor camp during the Cultural Revolution, he remained an open critic of Chinese communism. His many accomplishments include overseeing the translation of the Encyclopedia Britannica into Chinese, and he wrote more than 40 books (some of them banned in China), at least 10 of them published after he turned 100 — truly inspiring.

 



Bookstore Geek: Warwick’s

By Midge Raymond,

Before last summer, it had been years since my last event at Warwick’s, and, as always, it is fabulous to visit this quaint bookstore in the heart of La Jolla…I’ve missed it both as a reader and a writer.

IMG_2277

Warwick’s is the oldest family-owned and -operated store in the country. Above the door is printed: “Independent minds need independent bookstores,” and this store lives by this motto in its diversity of visiting authors as well as its curated selection of books and gifts. We had a fantastic crowd on the balmy summer evening I was there, and I wasn’t able to browse as much as I normally would have, but I noticed that the store has a new look since I last visited, and the layout was very open and welcoming, even with the event set-up.

Version 2

The staff of Warwick’s are friendly and helpful, and I was especially delighted by the gift of signature wine Admiral Byrd and I received.

IMG_2291

We look forward to returning long before the next book!



Bookstore Geek: New International Bookshop in Melbourne

By Midge Raymond,

While wandering around Melbourne’s Carlton neighborhood, we were thrilled to stumble upon The New International Bookshop, which calls itself “Melbourne’s famous radical bookshop.” A cooperative founded in 1994, the bookshop continued the tradition of the communist International Bookshop; learn more about the history here.

new-intl-bookshop

The bookshop, located in the Trades Hall union building, a wonderful selection of progressive books, and even has a section devoted to environmental books, which was wonderful to see. The bookshop carries new and classic left-wing titles on everything from socialism to anarchism to philosophy to feminism.

new-intl

The store also has a great selection of shirts, bumper stickers, and cards.

new-intl2

There is also a large secondhand section in the store which features donated books and a cozy reading spot.

new-intl-3

Don’t miss this treasure next time you’re in Melbourne … it’s well worth a visit!



Cat Editors: Susan DeFreitas and Akira Kittysawa

By Midge Raymond,

Meet author Susan DeFreitas, who writes with her feline muse Akira Kittysawa.

susankira

I’ve had many cat editors over the years, all of whom were kind enough to spare me the worst of their critiques. But perhaps I knew that, in order to get my first novel published, I was going to need a firmer editorial hand.

Enter Akira Kittysawa—a tiny, somewhat shy shelter cat who, within six months of being adopted, had grown into sturdy, assertive alpha feline who, despite having almost no voice, was adept at bending the two humans in the household to her will.

Named after the great movie director Akira Kurosawa, this cat pulled no punches on my novel. Unlike other cat editors, who would meow politely from the floor until invited to weigh in on the manuscript—and would graciously accept being ejected from the process when my editorial instincts ran counter to theirs—Akira (Kira for short) insisted on being intimately involved in the editing process every step of the way.

 

k

Her feedback was integral to turning Hot Season from a collection of linked stories from my grad school days into a full-fledged novel, and her determination to remain firmly seated on my lap—no matter how awkward this made typing—really gave me so much insight into some of my own characters, many of whom are just bound and determined to do some really inadvisable things.

For instance, my character Katie? She’s a freshman in college who wants to be an activist, and she’s decided to blow up the construction equipment of a developer that’s set to destroy a local river.

Her roommate Jenna, in her second semester, is determined to do something just as dumb, though probably less dangerous, in cheating on her long-term boyfriend with the hot new guy at school (though she does have suspicions that this new guy might be an undercover agent).

And their third roommate, Rell, may be older and wiser in many ways, but she just can’t seem to keep from trying to keep these girls from doing these dumb things they want to do—which, you might argue, is pretty dumb in an of itself.

All of these characters aren’t trying to cause conflict—they’re just being who they are. Just like Kira isn’t trying to cause conflict when she gnaws on my computer cord (just like she wasn’t trying to cause conflict when she destroyed the last one). She’s just a person who really needs other people to pay attention to her. (Unless she’s never seen them before; in that case, they are completely and utterly terrifying.)

k2

My cat editor reminds me, at every turn, that people really can’t help being who they are—and the conflicts that result are, ultimately, what drive effective fiction.

She also reminds me that characters don’t really show us who they are until they are completely and utterly exasperated with each other.

Thanks, Kira!

 

An author, editor, and educator, Susan DeFreitas’s creative work has appeared in The Utne Reader, Story Magazine, Southwestern American Literature, and Weber—The Contemporary West, along with more than twenty other journals and anthologies. She is the author of the novel Hot Season (Harvard Square Editions, 2016) and a contributor at Litreactor.com. She holds an MFA from Pacific University and lives in Portland, Oregon, where she serves as a collaborative editor with Indigo Editing & Publications.

 



See you at Wordstock in Portland!

By Midge Raymond,

I’m so looking forward to this Saturday’s festivities at the Wordstock festival in Portland.

screen-shot-2016-11-03-at-9-10-56-am

You can see the incredible lineup of authors and presenters here — and in addition to panels, workshops, and readings, there will be so many fun events, like Friday night’s LitCrawl and pop-up readings at the Portland Art Museum.

I’ll be on the panel The World Changed: Disasters Natural and Man-made, with Sunil Yapa and Alexis Smith, moderated by Zach Dundas, at 10 a.m. at The Old Church, and I can’t wait to chat about these amazing authors about their books.

ucc_the-world-changed-disasters-natural-and-man-made

I’m also looking forward to my pop-up reading at the museum at 12:30…and to catching so many of the other events of the weekend. Check out the full Wordstock schedule here, and I look forward to seeing you there!



Bookstore Geek: Sunriver Books & Music

By Midge Raymond,

When I was fortunate enough to be invited to Sunriver Books & Music for a My Last Continent reading, I discovered an absolute gem. This was my first visit to Sunriver, Oregon, and I couldn’t have had a better introduction to this lovely community.

sunriver-ab

This gorgeous bookstore is located in the charming Sunriver Village, a collection of shops, cafes, and restaurants, and the bookstore is clearly a beloved part of the Sunriver community. The reading included wine, snacks, and a raffle — and owner Deon Stonehouse greeted most of her customers by name when they arrived.

sunriver-snacks

Before the event, the staff was busy with a steady stream of customers, and as I browsed around, I noticed that most of the titles at Sunriver Books are shelved cover out, which makes browsing not only easier but makes great books far more discoverable. And it’s clear that, listening to Deon engage with customers, she’s read everything on the shelves and is able to help customers find exactly what they want, as well as recommend what they might enjoy.

img_5553

There is a sweet and accessible children’s section …

img_5548

…and cozy little nooks for browsing and reading …

img_5549

…and an airy loft upstairs has the store’s collection of travel books and local author titles.

img_5554

Sunriver Books also has a variety of literary items, from luxury pens to note cards, but most of all it’s a book lover’s paradise. Deon, co-owner Rich Stonehouse, and the rest of the staff have a great love for books and are passionate about putting the books they love into the hands of their customers. Next time you find yourself in the middle part of Oregon, do not miss this fabulous bookstore — in fact, it’s well worth a trip from wherever in Oregon you may be.



Post-reading cocktails with Admiral Byrd, part 2

By Midge Raymond,

Though the book tour began in June, Admiral Byrd and I are still busy with events (and post-event festivities). We had an especially fun book-launch party in Ashland…

Ab-Ashland

…at the lovely Liquid Assets Wine Bar.

AB-Ashland2

Then it was on to Southern California for a few more weeks of events…

AB-Escondido

..all over San Diego County.

img_2009

And then, onward to the Bay Area…

img_5411

…where post-Litquake festivities included mimosas and green tea.

img_5422

I’m looking forward to a few more events — including a reading at Sunriver Books & Music on October 22, Portland’s Wordstock literary festival, and Friday Words & Wine in Ashland. Click here for details!

 



Post-reading cocktails with Admiral Byrd, part 1

By Midge Raymond,

One of the best parts of this summer’s My Last Continent book tour was catching up with friends along the way. Admiral Byrd, of course, made an appearance at every event…and at every post-event cocktail gathering as well. Here we are in Boston…

AB-Boston

and in New York…

AB-NYC

and Portland, Oregon…

AB-Portland

and in Seattle.

AB-Seattle

I’m fortunate to have such good friends in so many fun cities…great thanks to all for their hospitality and for making the book tour so festive!

 



Bookstore Geek: Shakespeare & Co.

By Midge Raymond,

It has been a long time since I’ve been in New York, and I loved making the new discovery of Shakespeare & Co. on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

IMG_1702

I had a reading and signing for My Last Continent here, with a little time to browse the store before the event. There is a lovely cafe in the front, leading the way to the books, and Françoise Brodsky, my lovely host and the bookstore’s director of community, introduced me to the store’s Espresso Book Machine, which is used to print out mainstream backlist titles, print-on-demand books from small presses, and also self-published books. Learn more here.

IMG_1706

Downstairs is a large, inviting room for events, where Admiral Byrd posed with copies of the novel.

IMG_1710

Located on Lexington between 68th and 69th, this is a wonderful bookstore for with all you need: food, caffeine, books, and even books on demand. I look forward to returning and hope it’s not decades before I’m back in New York again!



Cat Editors: J. Bowers and Bama & Roland

By Midge Raymond,

Author J. Bowers, whose story “Shooting a Mule” appears in the new Among Animals anthology from Ashland Creek Press, writes with two cat editors.

bama

The first is “my” cat, Bama, a gregarious half-Siamese who was named by my husband after a character in Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, though people who don’t know me well often assume that I must have some secret, inexplicable love for college football. Bama’s editing style is very paws-off. He’ll go under the desk and lace around my legs making this breathy purr, like a creepy phone caller. Really, he’s only after my swivel chair. It’s his favorite napping spot, and the office is off-limits to cats except when someone’s in here, so it’s a rare treat for him to spend some time “writing.”

roland

Bama’s mackerel tabby brother, Roland (also named for a Dark Tower character), is helplessly devoted to my husband. But since I tend to write while he’s at work, Ro settles for hanging out with me. I write with a pillow in my lap to cushion my wrists, but he thinks it’s for cushioning him. He will yell at me until I let him jump up, then swat my hands if he thinks I’m doing too much typing and not enough scritching.

JBowers_cats

J. Bowers‘s fiction has appeared in The Indiana Review, StoryQuarterly, Redivider, The Portland Review, and other journals, and she is a contributor to Among Animals 2: The Lives of Animals and Humans in Contemporary Short Fiction. She is an assistant professor of English at Maryville University in St. Louis, MO. Visit her online at www.jbowers.org.



Cat Editors: Anne Elliott and Angus, Ava & Antonio

By Midge Raymond,

Author Anne Elliott, whose story “Strays” appears in the new Among Animals anthology from Ashland Creek Press, writes with three cats — six if you include the inspiration she has received from ferals in a colony in her Brooklyn neighborhood.

Angus is perhaps her best known cat; he has appeared on icanhas.cheezburger.com and has published a blog post. Of his editorial skills, Anne says:

Angus is the most senior of the three and wears many hats. He came from the rough streets of Brooklyn, where he was the feral cat that got picked on.  We discovered he liked laps very much, not to mention dogs, other cats, strangers, yarn — there is just about nothing this cat does not like. He had a crushed pelvis when we brought him in, which we did not figure out for at least a year, he was so good at hiding this old injury. But now he is healed, and his self-appointed job is to heal others and keep them company.  As for my writing, his job is keeping the other pets from bothering me by bothering them.  He is more of an editor-in-chief, managing office politics and getting involved where needed.

AE Angus

Ava is the middle one and also came from our backyard feral colony. She was a pregnant kitten when we brought her in.  Now she acts as a consultant in my writing program, helping by offering me yoga instruction. I don’t always keep up with her fitness program, but I do find that a little physical exertion helps me to keep my writing flowing.

AE Ava

Antonio is a real hands-on junior editor. It’s hard not to get distracted by his blue eyes and constant drooling when he sits on my lap to provide live critique while I compose. Once he settles down and stops chasing the cursor, work gets done. On the plus side, his comments are always supportive.  Occasionally he turns on the computer in my absence and types in edits on his own. He also acts as a teddy bear/dream consultant when I take a nap break.

AE Antonio

I would be remiss not to include some of my favorite outdoor cats, part of our Brooklyn colony, and all bear the ear-tip mark. As editors, they remind me to be grateful and to let my mind run wild.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Anne Elliott is the author of The Beginning of the End of the Beginning, released by Ploughshares Solos in 2014. Her stories have also appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Witness, Hobart, Bellevue Literary Review, Fugue, r.kv.r.y, and others. Her story “Strays” appears in Among Animals 2: The Lives of Animals and Humans in Contemporary Short Fiction.



Book tour Australia

By Midge Raymond,

I was absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to go to Australia to promote My Last Continent … it was a whirlwind trip of work and play, with plenty of both. (And with Admiral Byrd along, I’m thinking he needs his own credit card to earn some airline miles.)

We began in Adelaide, where I did an interview with Cath Kenneally of Arts Breakfast on Radio Adelaide the morning after arriving in the country. You can listen to the interview here (I was a teeny bit jet-lagged; it took me a couple of seconds to realize we were on the air…).

radio-adelaide

Post-interview was a great day for wandering around town. Adelaide is a beautiful city, a university town with two gorgeous museums near the University of Adelaide. We saw this bust of Antarctica explorer Sir Douglas Mawson, as well as an exhibit about his adventures in the South Australian Museum.

mawson

The next day, John and I taught a marketing workshop at the SA Writers Centre, an all-day affair with writers from myriad genres. Adelaide has a great many pubs and restaurants, so that was a perfect way to end the day.

sa-writers

Onward to Melbourne, where John, Admiral Byrd, and I spent several days enjoying the city, signing books, and meeting fabulous people, including my wonderful publishing team at Text Publishing and the lovely and talented writers Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist.

text

Graeme’s new novel, The Best of Adam Sharp, has just launched in Australia, and Anne’s second psychological thriller, Dangerous to Know, was released earlier this year. Anne and Graeme are currently writing a novel together: Left Right, a romantic comedy set on the Camino de Santiago, is forthcoming from Text Publishing in 2017.

midgegraeme

While in Melbourne, I visited many fabulous bookstores (there will be many Bookstore Geek posts forthcoming!) and especially enjoyed seeing the majestic State Library of Victoria.

state-lib-victoria

Then it was onward to Brisbane for the Brisbane Writers Festival, where I had the chance to chat with Lionel Shriver at the opening reception just before she launched us into the festival with a presentation that turned out to be the talk of not only the festival but the literary world. (You can read Shriver’s full speech here. She also wrote an op-ed for the New York Times.)

bris-lit-fest

The festival was nonstop busy for most of us writers, but it was wonderful to get to meet and talk with so many at various events, as well as in the green room, which featured a fabulous spread of books. (My luggage was significantly heavier on the way home.)

grn-rm

grn-rm-2

After three events onsite at the magnificent State Library of Queensland, my last event in Brisbane was BWF in the ‘Burbs, a conversation about My Last Continent at the Garden City Library about twenty minutes outside the city.

bwf-burbs

Finally, it was onward to Sydney, where John, Sascha Morrell, and I presented a seminar on Writing About Animals at the University of Sydney.

u-of-s

It was the perfect place to soft-launch Among Animals 2, and best of all we got to meet Sascha, AA2 contributor and university professor, who read from her haunting story “Roo,” which appears in the anthology. Learn more about Among Animals 2 here at Ashland Creek Press.

midgesascha

And of course, the trip wasn’t all work … John and I got a chance to explore a bit of all four cities and loved them all, for their wildlife, botanical gardens, museums, and incredible beauty. We also ate twice our weight in delicious vegan food (not to mention Australian wines and beer). I’m already looking forward our return …

opera-house

manly

bks

 



On naming animals

By Midge Raymond,

I’m delighted to have a short essay appearing in the brand-new issue of Zoomorphic, a beautiful online magazine dedicated to writing that deepens our connection with wildlife and the more-than-human world. A brief preview: the story involves penguins.

zoomorphic-midge-raymond

Check out the new issue here, and you can also explore previous issues for more essays, poetry, and art about the animals we share our planet with.

 



Join me in Australia!

By Midge Raymond,

I’m delighted to be heading to Australia this week, where I’ll be doing a series of events around the country.

On September 4 in Adelaide, I’ll be teaching a workshop with John Yunker on book marketing. The workshop includes a copy of Everyday Book Marketing, and all participants will leave the workshop with a customized marketing plan, as well as with ideas for creative book promotions, from book trailers to special events, and for affordable and effective promotional items.

From September 7 to 11, I’ll be joining other artists at the wonderful Brisbane Writers Festival, where I’ll be doing several events, including a master class and a conversation with Joy Lawn about My Last Continent. Learn more here.

brisbanewritersfestival.

 

Finally, join me, John Yunker, and Sascha Morrell on September 13 at the University of Sydney for Writing About Animals, a seminar that examines the role literature and language plays in reimagining our relationship with animals. Combined with readings, this seminar will offer insights into the ways in which twenty-first century animal literature can enlighten as well as entertain.

Click here for more info. Admiral Byrd will, of course, be joining me for all events.

IMG_1591