March 31st, 2013body
Spring is happening in a big way here in Seattle: Oregon grape is blooming everywhere, flower beds are showing their perennial colors, and the deciduous trees are waking up. I spent the winter working hard on my current writing project, a memoir I’m calling Starvation Mode, while working on odds and ends related to my forthcoming memoir, My Body Is a Book of Rules.
During winter quarter, I audited a class through the Department of American Indian Studies at the University of Washington, the department for which I’m an adviser and part-time lecturer. The class, “Northwest Native Peoples and the Flora of the Pacific Northwest,” was incredible in igniting my research. Here is the full description for this dynamic course, taught by Cynthia Updegrave:Using lectures, case studies,and field trips, the course focuses on native plants, and their ethnobotanical uses, in the context of developing familiarity with the ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest, Winter is traditionally the time for being in the longhouse,story, and the making and repair of important items in this region. In addition, the course will investigate how Native People have managed ecosystems for plant resources, and the profound disruption in indigenous management regimes post-settlement, including the health implications of the loss of indigenous food resources and the resulting loss of biodiversity for ecosystems. We will connect our learning to wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ, (Intellectual House) on campus, the region’s annual Tribal Canoe Journeys, and a canoe carving project to explore the many ways cultural renewal is contributing to well-being.
We did all that and much more. I now have a very solid base for further research into the indigenous food system of my Columbia River Indian ancestors. Much of my focus recently has been on research into the ethnobotanical, medical, and historical literature, but I have also been writing. On February 15, I read the prologue of Starvation Mode at the Made at Hugo House midyear reading. Watch if you want to hear me talk about my love-hate relationship with pierogies, show my limited understanding of epigenetics, nitpick at Michael Pollan, and sing the first verse of “In Heaven There Is No Beer.”
(I give a preamble; the reading begins at 2:35.)
Check out the Richard Hugo House YouTube channel for more videos from the Made at Hugo reading.Tags: beer, Native foods, Seattle, Starvation Mode, traditional foods, writing
January 27th, 2013body
I was tagged by Peter Mountford, author of A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism and the forthcoming The Dismal Science, to respond to ten questions about what I’m working on. Peter is a Richard Hugo House writer-in-residence and teacher, and my writing has benefited tremendously from his excellent advice and instruction over the past few years. Below, I’ve tagged two other writers to answer the call and describe their projects.
What is your working title of your book (or story)?
I’m working on two big things right now. For the past few months, I have been working on the research for a memoir I’m calling Starvation Mode, and I’m also wrapping up my first book, a memoir called My Body Is a Book of Rules.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
I began working on pieces of My Body Is a Book of Rulesin late 2007, when I started the MFA program at the University of Washington and was taking a nonfiction class with David Shields. I hadn’t really written nonfiction before and considered myself a short story writer. The next quarter, I enrolled in David’s book-writing class without knowing what kind of book I wanted to write. On the first day, while listening to my classmates describe their projects, my own suddenly became clear: I wanted to write a book about the intersection of my body and brain and pop culture using formally playful chapters. I had been trying to use fiction to write about anything other than myself, because I thought (at age twenty-three) my life couldn’t possibly be interesting enough to write about. I decided to challenge that notion and use everything in my arsenal to make the material compelling, because I knew I had something I needed to say.
What genre does your book fall under?
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
When I was in high school, everyone said I looked like Rachael Leigh Cook, because I was pretty much the dorky “before” version of her character in the 1999 film She’s All That (see left for a still from the film). Rachael Leigh Cook is now too old to play the college-aged Elissa, and I can’t think of any actresses under the age of thirty. I would like to have Jason Schwartzman play a love interest, not because he’s age-appropriate or similar in appearance to anyone in the book. I just like the way he looks.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
This ferociously honest and inventive memoir about a young bipolar woman deftly interweaves pop culture with neurobiology and memories of trauma.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I am so happy to say that my book will be among those published by Red Hen Press in 2014. I am self-represented.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
It’s hard to say when I had a solid first draft. I started with an MFA thesis that took a little under two years to write, and then took some more time to add chapters. I began submitting to agents a year after finishing the MFA program. I have been working on this book since autumn 2007, so it’s been a five-year project.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir by Lauren Slater feels closest to what I was working toward, in that it is about illness, brain, and body, and is concerned with both the story and the architecture of it. Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn and The Two Kinds of Decay by Sarah Manguso have some of the fragmentation that I also share.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
When I entered graduate school, I was trying to write stories about any experience but mine. But I realized that my experience with the horror of bipolar disorder, the never-ending whack-a-mole game of trying to conquer psych med side effects, personal violation, and Indian identity questions was both unique and universal; I had stories others could relate to and a particular language that could make the trauma felt deeply. I was interested in the idea of playing with form and pulling in pop culture to make old subjects new.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
You’ll find such gems as: advice from the pages of Cosmopolitan; “Top 10 reasons to date a fencer!”; drug prescribing information sheets as I would write them; analysis of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit; ample evidence of my obsession with Britney Spears.
Thank you for reading. Next up:
Paullette Gaudet is a writer and licensed barber. She received a 2011 GAP Award to aid in the completion of her debut novel, Biloxi Suite Trapeze, a sweet, thrilling, and sexy manuscript I’ve been lucky enough to take a look at. Paullette was one of my MFA-mates at the University of Washington (class of 2009), and she has remained one of my dearest writing buddies.
Isla McKetta is a novelist, book reviewer, and blogger. She received her MFA from Goddard College and serves on the board of Richard Hugo House. We became acquainted through Artist Trust’s EDGE program. Isla’s book reviews are fantastic, and her love of reading is infectious. Every time I talk to her, I get really excited about books.Tags: My Body Is a Book of Rules, writing
February 16th, 2012body
In 2007, I entered the University of Washington’s MFA program in creative writing as a fiction writer. I had written a personal essay in college, and, knowing about the success of books like Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Prozac Nation, I knew that I had a story to tell. But I had spent the past several years learning about plot, voice, person, dialogue, psychic distance, and all the other stuff that goes into making good fiction. I didn’t know anything about how to write good nonfiction, and I didn’t know how to start over. Entering grad school at age twenty-two, I stood back and examined my life, and it was a life, with a brain and heart that rattled like a broken garbage disposal, but it didn’t look like a work of literature.
During my first quarter at UW, I took a nonfiction class with David Shields and five other first-year writers. I worked on a personal essay. I learned to “bring the pain,” as we all began to say after watching Chris Rock’s 1996 HBO special together in order to examine its structure. By the second quarter, I realized I was working on a memoir, and I realized I was bringing the pain to the page so hard because I was drawing it right out of my gut. The process of writing about painful truths and memories, even though they were recent memories, was brutal.
I felt that because there were so many books out there like Wurtzel’s Prozac Nation, Alice Sebold’s Lucky, William Styron’s Darkness Visible, and other works of memoir that tackle roughly the same issues that I wanted to address, my strange brain had to work its magic on my own matter and present it in the newest and most interesting way possible. I wrote a chapter in the form of a match.com profile, a chapter that exploded and reassembled a letter from my psychiatrist, and one that did the same with a senior linguistics paper about the language undergrads use when discussing “hooking up.” In another chapter, I discuss my enrollment in the Cowlitz Tribe and my issues connected to Indian identity, but I refuse to allow the memoir to become limited to that single topic, despite my Indian identity’s prominent role in my everyday life. One chapter is a mashup of lines from Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and personal commentary. Another, published in 2011 in Filter Literary Journal with the title “Preliminary Bibliography,” takes the form of an annotated bibliography, my life’s reading list.
I’ve been working and reworking the memoir since 2007, and earlier this week, I accepted an offer of publication from Red Hen Press. My Body Is a Book of Rules will be published in September 2014. This is so awesome. I’m excited to be published by the same press as, among other excellent writers, Native poet Orlando White—his book was one that I had recently gone through the process of purchasing, reading, and discussing with others. When I thought back to ordering his book for my university department, receiving it, and reading it, I realized that my book was going to be a real thing, too, a thing I could share with other people.
I’m lucky enough to be very involved in the process of preparing and promoting my book, so I’ll be writing a lot more about that process here.
People sometimes ask me, “Aren’t you a little young to be writing a memoir?” I am not. Nobody is too young to tell a good story. At age twenty-two, when I began writing it, I had a lot to say, and it took me five years to tell it right. Once I did, I had a good thing, and that good thing came from a good process. I wouldn’t recommend that everyone write books about painful things, because writing properly about pain draws a little blood, but now that I’ve examined my hurt, I’ve neutralized it. Now, the writing is done, and I’m ready to move.Tags: My Body Is a Book of Rules, writing