Skip to main content

What I'm Reading Right Now: Jim Shepard

I both love and hate Jim Shepard.  Love, because his stories are so ridiculously good.  Hate, because his stories are so ridiculously good.  Sometimes I wish I could program my brain to work like his just for one day.  I'm currently devouring his 2011 collection of short stories you think that's bad (he didn't capitalize it, so neither will I).  It's so much fun to read.  Every single story is transportive and I was trying to put my finger on all the reasons why that is the case.  The most obvious reason is the setting.  Each story is carefully placed in a land unfamiliar to me: the Netherlands in the near future, New Guinea, the Alps.  Each setting is vivid with weather and language and a sense of cultural flavor.  But I realized this morning that he actually accomplishes the whole setting thing through the use of the character's job.  What the character does for a living, whether it is climate control, military, or avalanche research, it's the specificities of the type of employment that create a transportive story.  For one thing, the characters all have jobs that are wildly different from anything I've ever done, and often have ones I really prefer to never have (avalanche researcher?  I don't even like to put my head under water).  But each character seems so perfectly wedded to their job in a way real people are, viewing the world in a distinct way based on how you put in your forty-plus hours a week.  It's transportive because I get to step into their shoes and because Shepard is so dang good at rendering something so fully and so authentically, I am immersed in their daily, hourly concerns.


I too often constrain myself to giving my characters types of employment that are familiar to me (all those poor souls I've made suffer in office settings).  It takes boldness and research and sitting with the details long enough to understand how they would impact the character to make the leap into rendering such unfamiliar vocations.  Perhaps in my year of joblessness/writing, that's exactly the kind of challenge I should be trying.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

My Litquake 2012 Report

I've been avoiding putting this together, because a part of me really doesn't want this year's Litquake festival to be over already.  The other part of me is still cranky-tired, wandering around trying to get to all those projects I said I'd get to after Litquake, and feeling post-Christmas like. In short, this year's Litquake was AMAZING.  Every year has been awesome, but this one was particularly special for me because I got to actually help plan the awesome.  As a volunteer during the festival for the past several years, I definitely felt like I contributed to making each event I helped at awesome, but this year, being on the committee,* I got to witness the tremendous build up to the festival that happens the whole year prior.  The amount of love, sweat and time that goes into it is incredible, and I'm not sure I've ever been part of something so cool.  Which is not to say I'm not still cranky-tired and looking forward to feeling fully recovered.

What To Expect When You Are Expecting A Pandemic

“When I think about all that has to transpire to get from pregnancy to the birth, I am overwhelmed by time and the unknown. It’s not useful to contemplate. There is only today, and it is good.” I documented my move from ambivalence about parenting, to IVF, to motherhood, as well as all of Year One. I did it longhand because that’s what I did back then. So now, finally, I’m typing all those pages up, in part because of the great What If that living amid a pandemic creates. And I came across this yesterday and it is so true for the current moment, for this, the fifth week of Sheltering in Place. Ways this time is like pregnancy: It can make you fat. It will definitely make you crave near-constant meals and snacks. You will swing from feeling good to anxiety-laden, angry, irritable and back again several times a day. You will want to know how this will all unfold, how hard it will get, exactly how you and your life will be changed. You can’t know any of that. Ther

New writing desk!

I promise to talk about less domestic things at some point, but I'm still in that critical nesting-the-place-up mode.  And I just bought a desk!  Now, I did have a writing desk in my old place.  It was also my breakfast nook, dining room table and chopping block.  It served its purposes well.  It had been in my family's home as a kitchen work surface, then I adopted it when I lived in Chico (way back in '96-'99) and used it as a dining room table.  Then it lived in my kind, former roommate's family's barn for a few years while I was away at Seminary, and she kindly gifted it back, complete with little mouse teeth nibble marks when I moved into San Francisco.  That table and I had history.  I wrote a memoir of all the homes I'd lived in on it, all of my MFA papers were written there, and the novel that I finished earlier this year was entirely drafted and re-crafted there.  And given my proclivity to inanimate object loyalty (see The Blue Armchair ), I felt b