Sunday, November 21, 2021

Author Post: "My Obsession with Language" Elizabeth Kirschner

Elizabeth Kirschner is the author of Because the Sky is a Thousand Soft Hurts, a “blend of poetry, prose, memoir, and master storytelling.” This is her debut collection of short stories. Elizabeth shares with us below her obsession with language.

"My obsession with language came over me, almost like a demonic possession. I was only nineteen when I first took a Poetry Writing Workshop. I assumed poems were written by dead people for other dead people. I was that astoundingly ignorant, that blessedly naive. Within three weeks, I decided I would become a poet. I was utterly stricken by the power of language, its sheer audacity and nearly unmentionable ability to express what hitherto was inexpressible. Windows opened in the cave of my brain. My mentor was Southern. The way she said words like “chinaberry” or foxglove” lent them a physicality I didn’t know language could embody. Words became mouthy for me, something to tongue, loll around.

 Poetry is a language-driven construct. It demands an almost unbearably close examination of each and every word, which is akin to a hair dragged across the eye. Painful, even excruciating. The language in any given poem must be visceral, forcefully urgent, it must bear its own weight. At best, every word will work double or triple time, that is, take on nuance, substance, meaning via such devices as metaphor and simile. I loved this. The way a pairing of words, the just-so-ness of them, could transport them into another, more singular meaning, or apprehension. The poem does its work by apprehension, that is, as readers we apprehend meaning, the hint and scent of it, the taste even by what the words are working exceptionally hard to intuit, express.

My formal education was in the writing of poetry. Which meant I was inordinately in love with the language. I still am, as it is any writer’s essential instrument. When it comes to writing short stories, I’m not sure whether my obsession with language is a curse, or my most powerful device. I do know that constructing any given sentence can be crippling. If the first sentence isn’t load bearing, if doesn’t provide a scaffolding or stepping-stone into the next one, I revise. The sentence is structural. It must be tensile, strong, flexible. It must also have a voice.

The stuff with which we write is a construct of language, first and foremost. Characters cannot speak unless the writer puts words in their mouths. Nor can characters exist without a physical landscape, a physical description. Here’s an example from one of my stories, JONES BEACH. 

“It should not follow but it does; my brother is here; in the brief strenuousness, in a house like a cowl on the head. Rain falls, is a wall of birds, which wall off the bird heavy sky while the season stretches out of shape.

“Well?” I ask, my voice, a song with hinges. In the darkest sweater I own Im cold.

Spoons,he replies. The dead bark once. We take one anothers hands, lift spoons over the gas flame on the stove, the blue of it, noble.”

Note what the language does here. It reveals that a brother and sister are in a house that feels “like a cowl on the head.” Rain is not only falling, but is “a wall of birds,” which is, of course, a metaphor, one that gives the rain more weight, even a musicality. Each character is given one word each. The speaker’s voice is akin to a song, the brother’s nearly barks. It’s not much, but it’s a beginning. Everything and anything that transpires in a story cannot be brought to bear without language. For some writers, language is utilitarian, almost flat, like cardboard. It’s merely a tool, but for me, language has a kind of supremacy. I cannot, nor do I wish to, eradicate my poetic training. I think my exacting attitude toward language slows me down, but this is what I want it to do.

Isn’t this the work of literature intended to slow us down, make us take heed, take note, to help us examine each minute and nuanced particle of existence? Isn’t this the scathing beauty of it? I need the work to help me do this. To slow me down, until I get down on my hands and knees in order to examine each gritty and awful detail, which in itself is a cosmos. The sequence and ordering of each exquisite, or piercing, or horrifying detail is how a composition is made. This is what I’ve given my life over to. This slow, painstaking work. There’s nothing noble in it. But it’s what I do.

Language is how I journey into any piece of work. As I go deeper into the writing of stories, the more I want other aspects to surface and accrue power, namely, the narrative drive, which is akin to verbs. Narrative comprises its musculature. It’s what drives the story forward and around and back out again. I can’t say I do any of this well, but I can say that, at least for this writer, the attempt, even when it fails, and mostly, is does fail, is glorious. It’s the experience of what happens on the page that I crave. And language remains my vehicle of transport. The way it parallels life is, I think, magnificent, even when my stories convey the bleakest of realties, the journey is entirely worth it."

Elizabeth’s book is available on Amazon and you can learn more about the author on her website.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Book Review: The Bronze Scroll


A New-Age Journey of Discovery: For their first novel in the Knights of the Lost Temple series, co-authors Paul and Alia chose the so-called Copper Scroll (which is actually made of bronze) as a central element in the characters’ story. One of the Dead Sea Scrolls found in a desert cave in the 1950s, this artifact is a treasure map listing tons of gold and silver hidden at vaguely described locations that scholars had given up on deciphering. As a supposedly “unsolvable” mystery, the Copper Scroll would serve a symbol of the discontents of modern life, in which the great, achievable dreams seem to have already been accomplished. There was just one problem. The Copper Scroll wasn’t unsolvable after all. As Sam and his friends work to decipher this ancient treasure map, its mysteries unravel one by one.

The authors of this new adventure-romance series invite you to join them on this voyage. Currently working on the second book in the series, the authors believe that the world’s diverse spiritual traditions hold answers for our troubled times. Paul, who identifies as “spiritual but not religious,” and Alia, a “new-age Muslim” from an Afghan American family (writing under her pen name), believe that greater understanding among the world’s different faiths and beliefs is essential to solving the world’s current problems. Recognizing that even the smallest miracles—like an ancient treasure map found in a desert cave—can make a big difference, the authors welcome you to share this journey together.

My review: This is a slow-burn adventure which unfolds gradually, given the massive back history of the ancient world and the scroll itself. The authors mix history (biblical and ancient), geography, travel, suspense, villainy, and thrills to engage the reader with Sam and his quest. If you’re looking for the rollercoaster non-stop action and pace of Indiana Jones or Dan Brown, you will not find it here. There are many links and threads from the past that must be woven carefully into the present day to give meaning to the quest.

Sam is a thoughtful and spiritual protagonist who doesn’t actually understand his dreams and visions, especially those of people from the past who offer him advice and valuable pointers in his quest. The reader gets to know Sam, his dreams, and his desires intimately and thus has a deeper understanding of who he is and what the future has in store for him. There are many surprises waiting around the corner, it seems, as he learns more about his family and their history too.

If I have any criticism, it is that the factual information is really dense and could be spread out for an easier reading flow. In addition, while many historical details are very necessary for the plot to make sense, the extra details on just about every site of interest or antiquity were unnecessary and slowed the pace down. Facts not germane to the plot could be put in a glossary at the end for the interested reader to learn more. That said, the action really picks up in the last part of the story where there are big reveals, big betrayals, and lots of thrills in a life-and-death race against time. The end is astonishing as well and segues nicely into the next leg of Sam’s adventure while still wrapping up this mystery quite neatly. The book is well written and well edited. History buffs and fans of archaeological mysteries will appreciate the depth of the research and enjoy this book. 4/5

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