12.28.18

Running Out the Old Year

Posted in Away and On the Road, Running at 11:18 am by Marion

The winter solstice, Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, and other holidays this season give me a chance each year to run long, in the cold. Often those runs take place in other cities.

Last year, I experienced my dream of running through Washington D.C. That morning’s run went way behind my dreams, starting with the night before when a lovely, quiet, soft, snow fell everywhere. I remember looking out of my hotel window and seeing that beautiful fluffiness coming down. I was also especially stoked to have found a park on the street – saving myself about $20 in parking deck fees.

The next morning I woke to amazing clean whiteness everywhere. D.C. is busy during the week, but on holidays and weekends, remarkably quiet.

I took off about 8 a.m. in fresh, unmarred, snow. I ran along the waterfront, across to Virginia and the Pentagon (where an officer stopped me for trying to jump a fence. I know, the Pentagon, what was I thinking).

Back from Virginia, I crossed into Georgetown, through Dupont Circle, across the Mall and along the beautiful public art there, and back to my hotel at the Naval Shipyards.

You can read a bit more about my run at this FB link.

Did I mention, I saw Spoon at the 9:30 club? Yes, and wore my high-heeled leopard-print sandals too. In the snow. It felt like as much of an accomplishment as running 15 miles through DC that morning.

This weekend, I travel to Charlotte for my cousin’s wedding. My plans include a long run through the Queen City. Snow or not, I am looking forward to closing out the year with another long run, in another city.

12.17.18

Holidays Drawing Near

Posted in Animals, Life in general, On writing at 10:59 am by Marion

Winter means quieter days, especially this time of year. It gives us all a chance to reflect, to plan, and to appreciate what we have right now.

This year is different, as I have returned to my novel. It means spending hours a day in that world, disconnected from this one. I have to keep up with regular responsibilities, freelance, bills, banking, returning calls. I also have my critters to take care of.

In the end, I hope I’ll have several hundred pages to share with you.

Guiding me are three principles:
What is the story
Is it important
Can I tell it

I also struggle with my overall approach:
Sweeping, broad, complex (Russian novel)
Succinct, moving, lean (du Maurier)

I tend toward writing like the Russians. The only concern is I may not finish if I cram everything I’d like to in there.

12.14.18

Dog Days … are Every Day

Posted in Animals, Buddhism, Cats, Dogs, Life in general at 6:54 pm by Marion

Tony, a gentle Walker hound at the Pitt County Animal Shelter

Yes I am a writer, but as most of you know I am a fierce animal advocate. I’ve joined as a volunteer shelter dog walker, through an amazing program at ECU (led by Dr. Melanie Sartore-Baldwin). Dr. Baldwin enrolls students in the program to study kinetic movement, and its effect. But the real treat is for the dogs … who get out of their pens about three times a week.

The community can join too. That’s how I participate. Often on Sundays after my long runs, I’ll head to the shelter in my running clothes. It was hot last summer, and today I walked in the chilly rain.

The doggies are not perfect, and indeed, they often have never – EVER – been given human attention. So they simply don’t know what to do. Champ is a big pittie who loves to hump my leg. He just doesn’t know better. He chases cars, too.

I always love to spend time with the hounds. Today, I sat in the pen with Tony and stroked his sweet face. Another hound girl was in quarantine. I’ve named her Sheila.

Animals lack the ability to choose evil. That’s why they are “innocent,” and we are not. We are fallen. We are born into a sinful nature, because we will intentionally choose to harm another being.

That’s why it’s incumbent on us to protect animals, children, the elderly, the poor, and other vulnerable people.

Do you have a nearby shelter? If so, why not go find your new best friend! Or maybe take a few dogs to walk.

12.13.18

When Writing Was Everything

Posted in On writing, Writers at 2:36 pm by Marion

This phrase came from another writer; how I wish I created it. This phrase served as the title of Alfred Kazin’s autobiography (1915-1998), his stories of editing during the times of Ginsberg, Hart Crane, George Orwell, Flannery O’Connor, Hannah Arendt.

For me the phrase captures my years in Prague, Czech Republic, when writing was everything. I woke up to write before teaching English at 8 a.m.; wrote all day many Saturday and Sundays; and spent holidays writing.

I would sit and dream for hours, writing those stories, about the people whose lives took place in this disconnected time.

To continue yesterday’s post, this dreaming place explains why fiction writing is not for the weak; it requires hours spent dangling in a non-world, capturing unreal, shimmering people, places, and actions that exist in this demi-world between our tangible present, and the unconscious night world.

I left that world behind when my husband and I divorced, mostly for the practical reason that I had to earn double my previous income to keep my house, support my animals, and do the repairs, buy the groceries, and pay race entry fees for marathons twice a year.

So I largely left behind my dream world. I earned a Master of Public Administration, and embraced my love of politics.

Today that’s the work I do … but I am also returning to the novel, The Curing Season, to see if I have enough dream time available in a day to pick it back up.

12.12.18

More on Writing

Posted in Life in general, On writing at 4:05 pm by Marion

Writers share many traits but if I had to guess … I would say losing track of time is high on their list of commonalities.

How do writers lose time, and why? It’s nearly an occupational hazard for writers. That’s because writing – especially a novel – requires us to sit down and genuinely work at disconnecting from the world around us. Indeed, it’s necessary if we are to write.

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve worked on my novel. That’s because to start means to lose about four hours. Yes, to review my notes, read what I’ve written so far, review my plot outlines, characters, and motivations … well that’s a couple of hours. Then to have their next actions come to me, along with the weather that day, other people and their actions, dialogue, and feelings, clothing, colors, landscapes … that’s several more hours.

And like all other writers, we labor under the need to publish. That’s for the basic reason that we need income, but most of all, we like finishing a beautiful project.

So for me, it’s been better and more accessible to wrap up an analysis, presentation, or freelance project, rather than pick up my novel.

It’s coming though. I’ll take those four hours to get back in the bath. Then I’ll race against time and my own impatient nature to get a few chapters written.

Thanks for tuning into Fiction Daily.

08.14.18

Where the ‘Road’ Began

Posted in Buddhism, Kerouac, On writing, Writers at 9:02 am by Marion


Photo courtesy of Google

On Monday I spent several hours researching the places Jack Kerouac visited in Rocky Mount. I am not the first to do this work: John Dorfner of Raleigh, N.C., has done the heavy lifting. My goal is to assemble facets of Kerouac in new ways, while adding new information.

If you’ve read On the Road, you know the episode about halfway through where the heart of the novel really begins: “One day when all our Southern relatives were sitting around the parlor in Testament, gaunt men and women with the old Southern soil in their eyes …. a mud-spattered ’49 Hudson drew up in front of the house on the dirt road. … A weary young fellow, muscular and ragged in a T-shirt, unshaven, red-eyed, came to the porch and rang the bell. I opened the door and suddenly realized it was Dean. He had come all the way from San Francisco to my brother Rocco’s door in Virginia, and in an amazingly short time.”

Testament being Rocky Mount, the house is on Tarboro Street. That’s the neighborhood where so many of my friends lived, when I grew up in Edgecombe County. It was 1328 Tarboro Street, just across from the little store where Dad and I used to watch Matchbox car races, about a half mile from Eastern Elementary School, where I attended third and fourth grade. Sycamore Street, Eastern Avenue, and I went to junior high school at Edwards, on Marigold Street.

Changes after desegregation meant that many people left these beautiful neighborhoods – and Edgecombe County became somehow less desirable, in what is called “white flight” – two decades later I returned to my own elementary school to teach French. I loved the children, although the demographics were against them. Their families had few resources; often when I visited their homes I saw roaches, horror movies on play, even in one home a pile of dirt. Parents who drank; and crack that invaded our cities in those days.

We segregate ourselves based on money, skin color, fame. We classify ourselves as “better than,” even when we don’t intend to.

Kerouac knew that. Indeed, On the Road contains the narrative of a man whose first language was French, who never felt he belonged to this or that group; a man who by traveling was able to connect with all people, all places.

The Buddha taught that all life is change. A river is never the same from moment to moment – and yet, it is always the river. On the road, everything always changes, and yet it is always the road.

08.08.18

My World and Jack’s

Posted in Kerouac, Life in general, On writing, Writers at 10:06 am by Marion

This morning opened with a 6.2-mile run, begun before sunrise and ending just as the day warmed. My friend remarked the moon’s cusp was so bright, the dark half also shone. I get a sense of the physical sphere up there, the Moon as object, when the Dark Side is illuminated. Looking up at the Moon I feel my own life more concretely.

After many years focusing on research, data, and analysis – and really forcing all my right-brain creativity into a narrow left-brain chute – I have emerged on the other side. I opened up the novel files to see if I still cared. Imagine my astonishment: Not only do I still care, but I have so much narrative stored inside that took shape over the last eight years.

Yes, opening those files and reading that opening, I felt my own breath, my own life, return. I am different now than when I started the novel in 2002. Among many other life changes, I am now eight years divorced – as compared with two years’ married. 16 years is a long time, and yet for the life of the novel, what matters is not the years, but my own understanding. And for that, I am grateful. My artistic vision now is more polished. Thanks to many years as a data gal, I am also more focused and disciplined. My thoughts still unmoored in many ways, and yet they are no longer so fragmented and unconnected. I see the thread of narrative now. I respect the tedium of explanation, although it’s still not a strong point.

Back to Kerouac. I revisited his home with a friend in June. I am revisiting that time in his life, roughly 1952-1957, or the years prior to On the Road’s publication.

I’d like to explore those years more, define them. I’m not sure that’s been done. No, I’m not Ann Charters (the amazing Kerouac scholar). But I feel affinity with Kerouac for any number of reasons.

His first language was French, my second, nearly native, is also French. I think, feel, express myself, and experience the world differently in French. I believe he did, as well.

We also share a Christian mysticism, along with curiosity about, and dedication to, Buddhist principles.

Last, there is the mystery of nature which Kerouac embraced. Indeed, it may be at the heart of his travels. His road stories focus on the surroundings, the freedom of space and setting. His stories about Big Sur, his letters about writing often focus on the woods. There’s usually a trail nearby, especially in works outside of On the Road.

I’ll post chapters as I complete them, unedited as they are. “The secret of writing is the rhythm of urgency,” Kerouac said. With this window in my life, there is urgency.

06.16.18

Visiting Kerouac 3.0

Posted in Life in general at 8:48 am by Marion

Kerouac in Rocky Mount, Eight Years Later

It’s been almost a decade since I contributed to this blog. That happened for a number of reasons, primarily my divorce and the precarious situation I found myself in, at times, taking care of myself, my house, 6 to 8 animals at the time, and running marathons. I can’t say I’ve perfectly found my footing, but without question my life has exploded in all the best ways. I completed an advanced policy degree, the Master of Public Administration at East Carolina University; I have work that I love; and a home full of animals who give my life structure and fill it with joy.

But that’s not what this post is about. This post is about heading to Rocky Mount on a familiar pilgrimage to the house where Jack Kerouac lived and wrote during the years 1955-56. He finished On the Road in 1951, but it wasn’t published until 1957. He did most of his living and writing in those in-between years.

05.11.10

‘The Curing Season’ – excerpt

Posted in Novel excerpts at 1:46 pm by Marion

I began work on this novel in 2002. I was often coming up with short stories then, and wrote this sentence thinking it would be one. Yet once I looked at it, I realized that sentence held a novel. I became bound to uncovering all the sentence held. You may also download a pdf here.

The Curing Season
Novel excerpt

August came as usual that year, but the tobacco trucks — with their tall mounds of honey-brown sheaves, the lingering sweet fragrant trails and the bumpity sound of rickety old wheels going to the warehouses — did not.

I had been away for some time and despite regular visits, until that spring, had sloughed off the gray, silty dirt that once held me. My sister, Nina, had stayed at Winterhaven and became its caretaker, the job I was supposed to have, but when Mother died I left for boarding school, college and then my work abroad, and as I would say with some pride but also sadness to my friends at the Universite where I taught, I had at last escaped those backward eastern North Carolina fields and woods and would never again see a tractor in spring, nor feel the dripping sweat of an August afternoon around my neck. So my life, while solitary, was busy and I enjoyed my English students and the research I’d started years earlier.

Nina called just before Christmas and left a message with the English Department. Since I didn’t have a telephone, by the time I finally got word it was too close to the holidays to book a flight. Her sentences, short and ghost-like, told me a curtain was drawing closed and I’d better get home soon before whole chapters of my life ended there. Likewise, that meant the curtains were closing here and I would never wander through the streets of this city again the same way. I gave notice to the dean, finished what I could of the academic year and packed my belongings into cardboard boxes for shipment to Winterhaven. I flew home on New Year’s Day.

When the plane set down in Raleigh, even that renovated airport had a worn-down feeling, and before I got out of Wake County, I was met by the familiar tired fields and tumble-down barns to my left and right. Driving along the familiar highway, the only one connecting east and west, I fell through the circles of distance and time. A few counties beyond, the fields, trailers, exhausted sheds and broken fences consumed the landscape and I knew I was getting close to home.

Soon I existed the highway in my rented car and drove along N.C. 33, where I took the curves without thinking, the same curves I drove so many times with Mother and Grandmother and Nina, the curves that separated and defined my world, slowing at the Battles’s pasture for the sharp turn, then pausing at the Mosley house, where Ann and Cecil raised their boys, and coming to a full stop for the sign, the only one for miles, I took the last stretch not seeing another car, just the large open fields and rows of faun-colored crops.

At last I saw Winterhaven. From far off, the second story appeared as I rounded a high place in the road, then I pieced together the driveway and the porch. The gate posts grayed with lichen nevertheless stood firm; the trees along the driveway were black and barren this time of year, their spidery arms grasping at each other above me. It must have rained, because there wasn’t any dust, but the crunch of the sandy dirt road beneath was familiar, like the hug of a relative you see differently with age.

I parked in the horseshoe driveway before the front porch, left my bags and walked up the large stone steps.

c 2010 by Marion Blackburn

01.21.10

Heroic Women

Posted in Computers & Technology, On writing, Writers at 8:58 am by Marion

Or, A strong fictional woman is hard to find

Tech Thursday

An interesting query this morning that comes via a Facebook friend. We’re charged with finding a photo of a fictional character we believe best represents our character. Naturally, she had already my choice, which was Scarlett O’Hara.

images

I racked my brain, then, thinking of fictional characters that I identified with. Jane Eyre? Yes, a strong woman but … waiting for Mr. Right. The second Mrs. de Winter in Rebecca? Yes, but … mousy and without self-direction.

I scraped my mind and came up with the narrator of Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, and thought, That’s just way too obscure for a superficial Facebook gesture.

Anna Karenina, suicide. Madame Bovary, suicide. Lara in Dr. Zhivago, a woman defined by Yuri Zhivago.

I thought about using Dr. Zhivago himself, since that’s the fictional character I most identify with, but refused to subvert the need for it to at least be female!

So I’m left with the Lady of the Lake … just mysterious enough to be fun, and significant enough in her own right. A giver of power.

In the end, the fictional character I most associate with is the one in my mind: Delia LaGrace, the narrator of the novel I’m working on.

Now that would be an obscure reference.

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