Friday, 31 December 2010

A Review of 2010

Ethel Louise Mabry
The end of another year is upon us and I am reminded of my grandmother’s claims that time speeds up as one gets older. As a kid, in Idaho, I was dumbfounded by this idea. Science was never my strongpoint, but I knew, somehow, as the interminable years of my childhood wore on that such a statement must go against some law of physics. ‘Don’t go wishing your life away,’ she’d tell me as I itched to break free of high school classrooms, anxious to join the world outside my small town. Even in grade school, at the age of nine or ten, I kept track of the school days, crossing them off one by one, willing each of them into the past so that I could be released into the freedom of summer. I was in a hurry to be somewhere else, do something new, start living my life. Anxious for time to pass.

Grandma was right, of course. She always was. Time does speed up as a person gets older. It’s a fact. Physics be damned!

And though I always find myself feeling sombre at the crest of a new year, I have no time for regrets (yes! I’m still in a rush): I must get back to my dissertation. In order to assuage my feelings of time wasted and time lost, and to assure myself that I’m moving forward and not back, I’ve compiled a list of the work I’ve done in the past year. I wish it was more.

Progress on Dissertation
· Completed outline of novel
· Written another 30,000 words of first draft of novel
· Completed 10,000 words of critical work

Conferences, Presentations and Events Attended
· Publishing Panel, UoC, 29 April 2010
· Research in Progress Conference, UoC, 15 May 2010
· Anxieties of Identity Conference, University of Portsmouth, 21 May 2010
· Small Wonder Short Story Festival, September 2010

Papers and Presentations
· ‘Voices of the American West: striving for authenticity’, Research in Progress, 15 May 2010
· ‘Indianness and Identity in the Novels and Short Stories of Sherman Alexie’, Anxieties of Identity, 21 May 2010

· ‘Bastard’, in In Our Own Words, MW Enterprises, April 2010
· Review of Freedom and Madman of Freedom Square, London Magazine, April/May 2010
· Review of Sherman Alexie’s Ten Little Indians, The Short Review, November 2009
· Review of Sherman Alexie’s War Dances, Western American Literature, Spring 2010
· Review of Belle Boggs’s Mattaponi Queen, Short Fiction in Theory and Practice, (pending January 2011)
· Review of Linwood Laughy’s Fifth Generation, Western American Literature, (pending Spring 2011)
· ‘Cowboys and Clowns’, Award Winning Tales, BL Coffield ed., (pending Spring 2011)

Shortlists and Awards
· ‘Gathering Fragments of Light’, Honorable Mention in the Carpe Articulum Novella Contest, April 2010

Miscellaneous Other
· worked as Additional Support Tutor at Portsmouth College, Jan – June
· three weeks cycling in France, July
· provided mentoring and student support at University of Portsmouth, Oct – Dec
· ongoing development and administration of the THRESHOLDS short story forum

Friday, 12 November 2010

An exploration into developing a set of marking conventions for creative writing


Almost uniquely amongst academic studies, the Creative Arts are notoriously difficult to assess. Unlike other subjects, they are not about the learning of facts or the expression of theories, and consequently, they cannot be assessed using traditional methods of exams and essays. In Creative Writing modules, work must show an understanding of techniques and an understanding of the effects those techniques have upon the reader. It is a practical skill which can only be assessed by its final product—a piece of written text structured to achieve a desired purpose.

Creative Writing students frequently, and occasionally even tutors, argue that assessment stifles creativity and that writing, as a form of self-expression, should not come under the usual sets of criteria given to other, more prescriptive subjects. Critics of assessment claim that Creative Writing cannot be judged objectively, as assessors will automatically be biased against any work whose style or subject matter they do not personally appreciate.

This is of course nonsense. Creative Writing can and should be assessed against a set of criteria based partly on learning outcomes and partly on guidelines used to judge writing in different contexts. While it is true that aspects of Creative Writing remain somewhat subjective, just as with any other form of art, it is also true that many of the individual elements, particularly technical elements, are of a more black and white nature, i.e. there is/are: good descriptions and poor descriptions; successful structure and unsuccessful structure; consistent narratives and inconsistent narratives; correct punctuation and incorrect punctuation.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Rambles and Writing

Between the end of May and the start of October, I had the dubious luxury of unemployment - not official unemployment which requires one to be seeking paid work, but the off-the-books kind of unemployment which doesn't show on government statistics and makes no demands apart from economic miserliness. Having spent the past few terms teaching, in one capacity or another, I greeted the summer as an opportunity to concentrate on my novel. Ahead of me stretched three, maybe even four student-less months, during which I could, if I remained focussed, bang out the rest of my first draft in a mere 625 words a day. I had counted them, the words, one by one, then grouped them into doable, bit-sized chunks. I had a plan and it sounded so easy.

The first few weeks of my unemployment went blissfully well as I knuckled down to my new routine. Being a natural early riser, I relished my quiet mornings at the keyboard, a jug of thick Arabica at my elbow and a full day of uninterrupted writing ahead of me. I was in a privileged and sacred space: if anyone asked, I could call myself a writer.

I made a number of surprising discoveries in those early weeks as the plot slowly knitted itself together: Bob Dylan made a guest appearance, as did the spirits of the 34 Chinese prospectors who were murdered at Deep Creek cove in Hells Canyon in 1887. And Halahtookit, the man who was the inspiration for the story from the very beginning and who I regarded as a central character, quietly slunk away. He is not gone entirely, mind, but remains aloof, his voice barely audible. From the corners of the page, I see him watching me now, assessing my worthiness to tell his story. I learned a lot during those weeks about what my novel would and would not become.

And then my husband took his annual summer holiday. In previous years, his employers - perhaps fearing he might leave - have allowed him to take his full entitlement in a single six-week block, on occasion going so far as to add a few weeks of unpaid leave. During these extended summer holidays, we have travelled abroad with our bikes, adding another country or three in our ongoing, but segmented, round the world cycle ride. This year, however, conscious of the new financial climate, and with a new manager on board, his company were slightly less accommodating. His six weeks of holiday were narrowly chopped in two, with a slice of work, two weeks thick bisecting our travel plans.

With my budding novel calling to me, I was secretly glad that our summer travels were curtailed, and during the month of June I sent my husband to explore the margins of the south coast on solo cycling daytrips as I remained at home, my writing routine intact. Then, in July, we had our three weeks in France, cycling from Cherbourg to Bordeaux to see the Tour de France flash past.

The month of August came and went without a sideways glance at my novel. I had a book of short stories to read, and a review deadline to meet. Then it was the short story website at the university, the design and construction of which I had become entangled with, that demanded my attention. Finally, September, and I returned to the keyboard with relief. For three precious weeks, the writing flowed.

And then the telephone rang.

Back to the world of paid employment, now, and my writing routine is in shatters. There is a trade off between time and money, money and time, and no easy reconciliation in sight. Anxiety levels remain high as the first anniversary of my PhD studies comes and goes, and I number the words that are as yet unwritten. I feel them slipping from me, splitting up, dividing, scattered across the hollow prairies of the pages…

Monday, 20 September 2010

Thresholds: home to the international short story forum

I am pleased to annouce that Thresholds is now up and running. Please register here and have a look around the site.

Thresholds is the only online forum dedicated to the writing, criticism and study of the Short Story. Undergraduate students are welcome to join the forum as Associate Members, with access to our extensive resource lists, articles, interviews and our student-led blog. Postgraduate students are invited to join our team of bloggers and contribute to a wide variety of discussions about academic life, their own research and writing projects, and literary news.

We will also run student-led writing workshops, and provide opportunities for peer review. Our inaugural edition contains an exclusive interview with the internationally acclaimed writer Hanif Kureishi who discusses his recently published Collected Stories. In October, we will host our first live Question & Answer session with Adam Marek, author of the weirdly wonderful collection Instruction Manual for Swallowing.

Contributions are welcome for the following departments: Featured Profiles, Recommended Reading, and Exercises.

Register now and make your voice heard!

Saturday, 28 August 2010

The College and University Scramble for PhD Funding

On Tuesday, this week, I went to a seminar in London about locating funding possibilities for Creative Writing PhDs.  What I learned was not good.  At least not for me.  The already slim opportunities that exist for Arts and Humanities research are now anorexic, and I emerged from the session kicking myself for having wasted £30 on the train fare simply to confirm what I already suspected: it's very unlikely I will receive funding because - like most postgrad Creative Writing students - I have not followed the traditional (i.e. preferred) academic route.  To be honest, rather than traipsing all the way to London for this news, it would have been less expensive and more convenient if I had just gone to Online PhD or one of the other online sites offering information and advice to postgraduate students.  

In short, this is what I learned: funding bodies such as the Arts and Humanities Research Council like to play safe and are rightly cautious when it comes to allocating money. When deciding what students to fund, they favour those with academic track records that can be held up for scrutiny by academics in other fields.  The merit and abilities of Creative Writing postgrads, therefore, are measured with the same yardstick as research students involved in the sciences.  And a 'mature student' returning to university to do a Biochemistry PhD, after twenty years in a variety of odd jobs, is not going get funding, either. Regardless of how brilliant s/he may be.

For anyone with vague hopes of being funded to do a PhD in Creative Writing in the UK, here is the route you need to take: A and A* grades in the A-Levels needed to get you onto an English Literature/Creative Writing programme at a pre-1992 university; a 1st in that degree; and an MA with Distinction in Creative Writing at an equally well-regarded institution immediately (or very soon) after completing the BA. It is essential that you remain focussed on your goal at all times and never allow yourself to become distracted by things such as marriage, kids, and the need to pay bills.  Whatever you do, do not get sidetracked by LIFE.  Having a life outside of academia will not help you in any way whatsoever. Neither will having a list of publication credits.  Or, apparently, that MA with Distinction if you don't already have a BA with top marks.  In short, it all goes straight back to those A-Level grades.  Any variation in this route towards the PhD provides funding bodies with a reason to weed-out your application.  Be warned.

It is also important, when considering a university for PhD studies, that a student should not automatically go back to the university where they received their MA - regardless of how much they like their supervisors, or the praise they received.  When the AHRC marks a candidate's application, they also evaluate the suitability of the institution the student is with to determine if that institution has the specific resources the student's research requires.  And by resources, they are not referring to the highly-esteemed writers who make up the supervisory staff overseeing the student's research.  In other words, if your project involves research into the literature and history of the American West, as mine does, the university needs to have suitable resources (a specialist library, a programme in American Studies, a museum of barbed wire, etc) with the materials you are likely to draw upon.  The fact that you've already spent hundreds of pounds on Amazon, building up your own specialist library doesn't count for a hill of beans.

Lastly, those applying for funding need to demonstrate the 'impact' their research will have, i.e. how it will benefit the academic world (or even better, how it will benefit SOCIETY) and to show that it will lead to more than the publication of a book. Here's a hint for anyone filling out applications: tell them you'll be presenting papers at specific, high-profile conferences; reading at specific, high-profile literary events; and publishing papers in specific, high-profile, ACADEMIC journals. If you mention that your novel will win the Booker Prize and lead to world peace as well, it can't hurt.

If I had known these things when I started, I might have done things differently...In fact, I might not have gone down this road at all.  So perhaps it's a good thing I didn't know.  I am, despite the bile rising up in my throat, happy to be shuffling along this dusty path, and I'm happy with the university I chose.  I just wish I weren't so desperately poor at this time in my life...

For those of you who are plotting your route to a PhD, here are some links to sources of funding which may prove fruitful:

Arts and Humanities Research Council
Economic and Social Research Council
National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts
The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation
National Endowment for the Arts

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Where's the Summer Gone?

It’s been a very short, very intense summer here in Portsmouth (not to mention, a very damp and grey one) and though I feel I’ve made good progress on a number of projects, I have sorely neglected my blogging responsibilities, here.

Summer, for me, began when my temporary teaching post at Portsmouth College came to an end in late May and I was finally able to get down to some serious writing. For six solid weeks, I faithfully kept my commitment to work on the novel from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., five days a week. That period of frenetic activity came to an end after the first week of July when I went on a three-week bike ride in France. My big plans for continuing to work on the novel, in the tent each evening, came to naught. All I really wanted to do at the end of a long day’s ride was to eat and crawl into my sleeping bag.

On my return, at the beginning of August, my attention turned, not back to my own novel, but to a collection of short stories by the American writer, Belle Boggs. Earlier in the summer, I had agreed to review the book, Mattaponi Queen, for the new journal, Short Fiction in Theory and Practice. I’ve written a number of reviews, in the past few months, and each time I do I realise what a good discipline it is for developing my own writing. The 3000-word review finished and submitted, I then focussed on Thresholds, the new short story website which I’m involved in developing at the University of Chichester. I’ve been working pretty much non-stop for the past two weeks, tweaking the design, uploading content and making contact with university Literature and Creative Writing departments throughout the English-speaking world in preparation for the launch at the end of September. This is an exciting project which aims to build a community of postgraduate students involved in the study and writing of short stories. All worthy stuff, but nothing to do with my own research project…

Now, however, I’ve cleared the decks, transcribed the notes I made while cycling, and am ready to knuckle down to my own research and novelling activities, once more. Oh yes – and the blog. I will resume my sporadic blog posts, as well.

Friday, 25 June 2010

A Discussion of Sherman Alexie's novel, Indian Killer

          A year after the acclaimed Reservation Blues, Sherman Alexie’s second novel, Indian Killer received reticent praise when it was published in 1996. It is a book which he, himself, seems both drawn to and repelled by. In a 2002 interview with Duncan Campbell, Alexie states ‘It’s the only one [of my books] I re-read. I think a book that disturbs me that much is the one I probably care the most about’1. He has expressed dissatisfaction with it, artistically, describing it as a failed mystery novel and ‘pretentious’ for its literary ambitions2. Maya Jaggi writes that he has now distanced himself from the novel and feels ‘overwhelming disgust’ [Alexie’s words] towards the violence portrayed3. Apparent in Reservation Blues, his previous collection of short stories The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, and his poetry, Alexie’s own rage rises to its peak in this novel, with an outpouring of fictional vengeance for historical crimes.  

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Congratulations to Barbara Kingsolver

Congratulations to Barbara Kingsolver for winning the 2010 Orange Prize for Fiction for her novel The Lacuna.  Despite the guff from Sherman Alexie, I've ordered myself a copy.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

New FaceBook forum for Short Story writers

I am involved in setting up a new online forum for Postgraduate Creative Writing students working with the Short Story form. The forum is based at the University of Chichester, in West Sussex, but welcomes research students from around the world.  The forum, itself, won't go live until September, but the FaceBook group is gathering momentum and we now have students from across the UK and the United States.  Once it is up and running, the forum will provide a space for MA and PhD students to come together and share their experiences as writers and academics, test ideas, give and receive feedback on work in progress, and exchange advice and information. The site will include a blog, student-led discussion threads, links to online resources, workshops, and live question and answer sessions with professionals in the writing and publishing community. We are equally interested in engaging in discussions of a critical nature, looking at contemporary literary and cultural theory in relation to the Short Story.  Please click on the title link above, or below, and have a look at what we're doing and what we have planned.

FaceBook Rough Draft Forum.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

‘Indianness’ and Identity in the Novels and Short Stories of Sherman Alexie

This essay was presented at the 'Framing the Self: Anxieties of Identity in Literature' conference, sponsored by the Centre of Studies in Literature at the University of Portsmouth, 21st May.  Some of the material included has been adapted from earlier postings.

The Quest for Identity
The quest for identity is the overriding theme in the work of almost all Native writers. Four centuries of colonisation, during which children, mixed and full-blood, were taken from their homes and ‘civilised’ have scoured away nearly all remnants of traditional Indian identity. Sent to boarding schools such as that in Carlisle, Pennsylvania whose motto was ‘Kill the Indian, Save the man’, these children were no longer permitted to speak their own languages, wear their own clothes, or pray to their own gods. Imperfectly assimilated, they lost their voices and their histories, and found themselves balanced between two opposing worlds: the old world where they no longer fully belonged, and the new world in which they would be no more than immigrants, always foreign, always trying to fit in.

Questions of ‘Indianness’ dominate Alexie’s stories, and race is a concern shared by nearly all of his characters. In the early books, in particular, the reader is never allowed to ignore the issue of race nor to identify with his characters simply as people. When I first came to Alexie’s books, I found references to race and ethnicity to be so frequent that I carried out a brief survey, a practice I have continued. Selecting forty pages at random, I count all direct references, including tribal affiliation, blood quantum, and slang. Using this method, I found an average of 2.2 direct references to race per page in The Lone Ranger Fistfight in Heaven (1993), 3.5 in Reservation Blues (1995), 4.3 in The Toughest Indian in the World (2001), 3.9 in Ten Little Indians (2004), 2.6 in Flight (2007), and 1.6 in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (2007). Over the course of his career, Alexie’s representation of Indian identity has changed dramatically, moving from the fervent and angry tribalism of his reservation stories, to a sense of otherness in an urban environment, and on to a more pan-Indian and polycultural stance1. This paper will explore the trajectory of racial identity in Alexie’s work and show how his early focus on ethnicity has given way to more universal themes since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Review of Sherman Alexie's War Dances

My review of War Dances, Sherman Alexie's latest collection of poetry and short stories, has just been published in Western American Literature, Vol 45, No 1, Spring 2010.  The article is available on Project Muse.

Voices of the American West: Striving for Authenticity


As part of my research project, I am writing a novel set in the American West, with historical and contemporary narratives. From the outset, I have had two major concerns: how to access an accurate and authentic historical voice; and how to represent a Native American character in a culturally authentic manner. This paper will provide a context for those questions and look at the ways in which I have addressed them in my research.

The Importance of Authenticity in Western American Literature

No other region-based literature, and certainly no other genre is as concerned with the issue of authenticity as is literature of the American West. Even historical fiction, the form most closely associated with representations of actual people and factual events is at ease with supposition and probability. Western fiction, however, is often seen to regard its subject as if it were a holy relic, to be revered and scrutinized, but not to be tampered with in any way. Since Owen Wister published The Virginian, considered to be the first Western novel, in 1902, writers of the American West have been at pains to adhere to the known facts, reluctant to fabricate or experiment with alternative histories. Authenticity, not creativity, is viewed as the primary criteria for evaluating this literature. And so we must ask ourselves, what does it mean to be ‘authentic’?

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Two Publications in One Week

Many thanks this week to Steve O'Brien, editor of London Magazine, for publishing my reviews of Amnesty International's short story anthology Freedom, and Hassan Blasim's collection The Madman of Freedom Square.  Thanks also to Marlow Peerse Weaver for publishing my story Bastard in volume 8 of the series In Our Own Words: A Generation Defining Itself

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Personal Identity and the Formation of a Concept of Self

One of the things that I’m exploring, in both my novel and in my thesis, is the idea of identity: what it is; how it is developed; and how it changes throughout a person’s life. This search for self-discovery is a common theme in fiction, particularly so where issues of race are involved. Sherman Alexie, for instance, has built his whole career on writing about characters who are caught between two cultures, trying to find out who they are, who they ally themselves with, and where they fit into the world they inhabit.

Sociologists tell us that identity can be described in a number of ways, including as an external perception of the individual by those around him, as a contrast to an Other, and as the individual’s own perception of self. Though these definitions are interconnected, for the purposes of this discussion I will primarily focus on the last.

There are many factors which contribute to our perception of self, including nationality, race, gender, social class, occupation, family position, personality traits, age, religion, and political allegiance. Each of these factors will have a greater or lesser degree of importance to each individual, playing a greater or lesser role in the way in which the individual sees himself.

Some of these factors, such as ethnicity and gender, are genetically imposed upon us at birth, and only through extreme measures like gender reassignment, can they be altered. Some, such as age, occupation, education, and family position change naturally over the course of a lifetime. Many others, including nationality and political allegiance, are subject to voluntary change. On a physical level, one can choose, or at least affect the appearance of, hair and skin color, and the shape of one’s body. In addition, there are factors which may come and go during our lives, such as involvement with social groups and activities. Sometimes these involvements are short-lived or ephemeral, particularly when they are inspired by celebrity or fashion. Often, however, when these involvements become true passions, they become as much a part of who we are as those factors we inherit, possibly more so because we have chosen them and desire to be seen as belonging to a group of like-minded adherents.

In the modern world, one can choose to align oneself with any number of options, developing and reinventing identities at different points in life. One can choose to be a member of the Women’s Institute, a Goth, a Christian, a supporter of Manchester United, a writer, a cyclist, a care giver, a rugby player, a Conservative, or indeed any combination of an almost unlimited number of possible identities. In his essay, ‘Popular culture and construction of postmodern identities’, Douglas Kellner writes that identity has become complicated by an ever-increasing number of options. The expanded possibilities with which people, today, are faced can lead to anxiety ‘[f]or one is never certain that one has made the right choice, that one has chosen one’s “true” identity’ (p142).

Saturday, 13 March 2010

My Two Magna Cartas

Two years ago I wrote my first novel in thirty painful days, following Chris Baty's NaNoWriMo model. It was a dystopian story about a world in which a seemingly benign state deftly removes those of its citizens which it deems to be the unproductive – the disabled, the ill, and the elderly. It has all been done before, of course, but I like to think that my story added something new to the genre, a contemporary comment about ruling a society through fear and the way in which religion can be used to either keep people in check or stir them into action. I like to think that there is a germ of something really quite good hiding within that 50,000 words, and one day I'll go back and salvage what I can and build it into something great.

Baty's book, No Plot? No Problem: A Low-stress, High-velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days, chivvies participants along with a combination of good-natured pep talks of the you-can-do-it variety and stern advice on overcoming 'writer's block' through the discipline of daily writing. One of the exercises I found most insightful was an examination of the books I like to read and those I am apt to dismiss.

In a chapter entitled 'The Two Magna Cartas', the reader/writer is encouraged to make a list of the qualities he enjoys in a novel. Baty calls this list the Magna Carta, and suggests that the qualities one appreciates as a reader will be the qualities one excels at, as a writer.

As a way of reminding myself where my priorities should be as I struggle with my second attempt at novel writing, here is my Magna Carta I.

These are the things I enjoy in novels:
  • Third-person, present tense narration;
  • Unreliable first-person narrators;
  • A distinct narrative voice;
  • Multiple viewpoints;
  • Non-linear plots;
  • Short chapters;
  • Playing with language;
  • Beautifully constructed sentences;
  • Psychological conflict;
  • A search for identity;
  • A big, unseen enemy;
  • Landscape;
  • Landscapes that mirror emotional conflicts;
  • Rural settings;
  • Character-driven stories;
  • Puzzles;
  • Protagonists who are on the outside;
  • Protagonists seeking forgiveness;
  • Characters on the edge of madness;
  • Characters struggling with religious/moral issues;
  • Protagonists racked with guilt;
  • Flawed characters;
  • Punchy dialogue;
  • Dream-like narratives;
  • Implausible events made real;
  • Finely crafted imagery;
  • Ambiguous endings;
  • Positive, life-affirming messages.
Baty describes Magna Carta II as the ‘Evil Twin’ – a list of all those things which I, as a reader, find unappealing in a novel. Here’s my list:
  • Protagonists I don’t connect with or don’t care about;
  • Nasty characters without redeemable qualities;
  • Two-dimensional characters who serve only one purpose in a story;
  • Gratuitous anything;
  • The writer’s pomposity showing through in the narration;
  • Preaching – messages which are too obvious or overworked;
  • Teenaged angst;
  • Middle-aged angst;
  • Endless descriptions that don’t serve a purpose within the plot;
  • Mute characters in particular, and lack of dialogue in general;
  • Anything with ninjas;
  • Simplistic plots of good vs evil;
  • Interesting strands of plot which are not fully explored or are simply dropped midway.

Monday, 8 March 2010

A Chapter by Chapter synopsis of Linwood Laughy's novel, The Fifth Generation: A Nez Perce Tale

During the late 18th century, according to tribal oral history, Nez Perce spiritual leaders predicted that a major change was coming to their culture. This change would come from the east, the tewats said, and the Nez Perce people would have difficult times for five generations.
~ Epilogue to The Fifth Generation: A Nez Perce Tale
Linwood Laughy’s first novel, The Fifth Generation: A Nez Perce Tale is set in the area around Kamiah, Idaho. The protagonist, Isaac Moses, is a 32-year-old Nez Perce man, living alone in his family home. Over the course of a year, Isaac’s life changes as he stops the destructive drinking which has marred his life, and seeks to reclaim his heritage. This is a story of self-discovery and hope for the future. My review of this novel has just been accepted for publication by the Western American Literature journal at Utah State University and I will post a link to it, via Project Muse, when it is printed later this year.  

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Gathering historical research on William Clark's Nez Perce son

During the past year, I have been attempting to gather all available information about William Clark’s supposed Nez Perce son, variously known as Tzi-Kal-Tza, Halahtookit, Al-pa-to-kate, Daytime Smoke(r), and Son of Daytime Smoker. The name I find the most poignant, however, the name that links into my research on personal identity, is the one he is said to have called himself – Clark (Moulton, vol 7, p 241).
The idea for my project started to emerge about ten years ago, when I visited the Nez Perce Historical Museum in my hometown of Lewiston, Idaho. Among the exhibits were collections of artifacts from early white settlers, the Nez Perce tribe, and the Lewis and Clark expedition which passed through the region twice: in September 1805, on their way to the west coast; and in May 1806, on their return journey to St. Louis. As I grew up in Lewiston, I thought I knew the history of the area fairly well, but tucked into a display of beaded gauntlets and stone tools was a piece of information I hadn’t come across before.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Rules For Writing

I've just read this article on the Guardian's website with advice for writers of creative fiction, and I'm pleased to see that much of it echos what I've been telling my own students.  I'm posting a link here as much for my own future benefit than anything else. 

I particularly like: 
  • Carrot and stick – have protagonists pursued (by an obsession or a villain) and pursuing (idea, object, person, mystery).   ~ Michael Moorcock
  • Rewrite and edit until you achieve the most felicitous phrase/sentence/paragraph/page/story/chapter.   ~ Annie Proulx
  • Do not place a photograph of your ­favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide. ~ Roddy Doyle
For the full article, click here: Rules For Writing

Friday, 5 February 2010

The past is never dead. It's not even the past.

- William Faulkner, Requiem For a Nun
from an epigraph to The Fifth Generation: A Nez Perce Tale by Linwood Laughy

Thursday, 4 February 2010

A Detailed Synopsis of James Welch’s Fools Crow

Published in 1986, James Welch’s historical novel, Fools Crow, is considered to be a modern classic within the Native American literary canon. Set in the late 1860s, the novel depicts pivotal events in the history of the Blackfoot Indians, and focuses on the young protagonist, White Man’s Dog (later renamed Fools Crow), as he journeys from adolescence into manhood. The story climaxes with a retelling of the 1870 raid on a Piegan village which became known as the Marias Massacre.

Below is a synopsis of the main events depicted in the novel.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Cultural Appropriation and the Writer's Responsibility

One of the issues I’ve been grappling with since I began my research about a year ago is my concern (some might say my obsession) with cultural sensitivities. When she was at college in the 1960s, my mother, a blue-eyed blonde of Anglo/Celtic descent, was elected as the first historian of the newly-formed ‘Indian Club’. I grew up with many Nez Perce friends, and we attended the occasional powwow at the Nez Perce reservation at Lapwai. My mother was involved with civil rights politics, and with her, I waved my little fist at marches and rallies and demonstrations – on the rare occasion when these were held in north Idaho. In this ‘lefty’ household, cultural sensitivity was paramount, and my mother’s concerns about both centuries-old injustices and those of the present day became my own.

At some point, however, our thoughts on the matter diverged. While I learned to carry a sense of inherited responsibility (inherited guilt?) for the poverty and social ills afflicting many Native Americans today, I did not succumb to the New Age predilection for burning braids of sweetgrass or participating in ‘ceremonial’ sweats. I believe, whole-heartedly, that this adopting of cultural practices is meant to show reverence and respect for the culture from which they are taken, and that the vast majority of those who do so, do so with good intentions. But I also believe, whole-heartedly, that adopting the spiritual and cultural traditions of a group of people distinct from one’s own, is seldom more than mimicry.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Still a Bridesmaid...

Had news this week that my novella, Gathering Fragments of Light, received an Honorable Mention in Carpe Articulum's novella competition.  Yet another near miss... 

Friday, 8 January 2010

Review of Sherman Alexie's Ten Little Indians

My review of Sherman Alexie's short story collection Ten Little Indians has just been published by the online journal, The Short Review.  Read more here.

Many thanks to editor, Tania Hershman.