The Monthly

What Was on My . . .

July Red

Agenda: A week in New York City. A week in Vermont, first in Montpelier for an alumni retreat at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and then at Shelburne Farms for an intensive writing weekend. If that wasn’t enough, 48 hours after I arrived home, my family and I sprinted through France for 6 days, stopping in Burgundy, Auvergne, Dordogne, Paris, and Picardy.

Desk: My middle-grade novel, waiting for critiques to come in—and for me to stop travelling and sit down and revise.

Nightstand: Stacks and stacks of books, among them: The Whole Stupid Way We Are by N. Griffin, Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple, Pie by Sarah Weeks, and Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma.

To-Do List that Never Got Done: A poetry challenge given to me by a friend: Write a poem using only the left-hand-side of the keyboard. Invented language encouraged.

Mind: David Almond. I went on a David Almond kick, where I read one interview after another. Four, five . . . and then I ended up at an exchange between Rowena House and Almond, where he talks about the limitations on his creativity and imagination. I stopped here. Because I realized that I had been chasing an idea he’d been alluding to. Here, he talked about it in depth. Something opposite to what we hear so often. You know, the Quotes to Live By. Imagination is free. Imagination has no boundaries. Almond said the ‘paradoxical thing’ is that the imagination is NOT free.

Yes, yes, I know about Rousseau and all that. But Almond’s context was personal to me. He spoke about growing up in the North East of England and as a Catholic. And how he had tried to distance himself from it, but it all eventually came out in Skellig. Well, I grew up in Kansas and as a Mennonite. And I have tried to distance myself from all of that. Almond made me wonder what sort of limitations I have placed on my own imagination—what from my own upbringing might eventually inspire my writing.

Well . . . both novels I have written have ghosts and things happening that a purely rational person would never think could happen. Like Almond, I was raised quite religiously. Sundays and Wednesdays I was told stories with fresh, clear water being transformed into wine and a wife being turned into salt by a glance from her husband. Miraculous, out of the ordinary stories. So, I suppose, it’s not really that much of a surprise that as a writer, I am fascinated by the mystery and possibility of what can be. Endlessly fascinated by it.

As for what else might be waiting to surface from my upbringing, I’m still watching and waiting.

Sandra Nickel sandra nickel sandra nickel sandra nickel sandra nickel sandra nickel sandra nickel

5 thoughts on “What Was on My . . .

  1. Lovely, Sandra. Creativity is difficult and hurts sometimes, doesn’t it? Not just the mining of our memories, but the actual act itself. There’s joy, rapturous and soaring, and there’s scary, dark emptiness. Off to read Almond’s words of wisdom. Great blog!

  2. Welcome to blogging! Your site is beautiful, and I love the roundup of your month. I just finished The Whole Stupid Way We Are, and it was a well-timed read. She does a lovely job with a theme I’m exploring in my current middle-grade WIP.

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