Welcome to my blog Upstate Girl, (a.k.a Follow Your Bliss Part II), I am an independently published author. This blog is all about writing and the stuff that inspires me to write, the joys and obstacles that come along with the writer's life, and my fascination with the psychology of people and what makes them tick...the human condition, as is...and my love for words, playing with them and making sense of them...and I throw in a few photos from my acre of the world just to make things pretty...sometimes there are things I have no words for, only pictures will do.

*Copyright notice* All photos, writing, and artwork are mine (
© Laura J. Wellner), unless otherwise noted, please be a peach, if you'd like to use my work for a project or you just love it and must have it, message me and we'll work out the details...it's simple...JUST ASK, please.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Reading Janet Frame, The Edge of the Alphabet

I’m continuing my journey discovering Janet Frame; The Edge of the Alphabet is yet another magical book of prose, experimental and challenging, a timeless narrative about the beauty and ugliness of the human condition. She plunges right in, starting on the first page:

Man is the only species for whom the disposal of waste is a burden, a task often ill judged, costly, criminal—especially when he learns to include himself, living and dead, in the list of waste products.

The creator of the world did not employ a dustman to collect the peelings of his creation.

Now I, Thora Pattern (who live at the edge of the alphabet where words like plants either grow poisonous tall and hollow about the rusted knives and empty drums of meaning, or, like people exposed to a deathly weather, shed their fleshy confusion and show luminous, knitted with force and permanence), now I walk day and night among the leavings of people, places and moments. Here the dead (my goldsmiths) keep cropping up like daisies with their floral blackmail. It is nearly impossible to bribe them or buy their silence.
Page 3

…and it is non-stop to the last page:

The edge of the alphabet where words crumble and all forms of communication between the living are useless. One day we who live at the edge of the alphabet will find our speech.

Meanwhile our lives are solitary; we are captives of the captive dead. We are like those yellow birds which are kept apart from their kind — you see their cages hanging in windows, in the sun—because otherwise they would never learn the language of their captors.

But like the yellow birds have we not our pleasures? We look long in mirrors. We have tiny ladders to climb up and down, little wheels to set our feet and our heart racing nowhere; toys to play with.

Should we not be happy?
  Page 303

It can leave one breathless...

Janet Frame’s books never cease to fascinate me — I have dog-eared several pages of this one (like others) marking where I want to return someday to explore a word-scape of unique beauty. The entire book is loaded with the most exquisite language — precious, priceless. She created geographical territory in which the borders of social inclusion and exclusion are investigated with an emphasis on language (communication or the lack of communication). The ghosts of the past are haunting, memories of lost relatives or events linger with a zealous desire to be remembered. There are surreal essences of despair, fear, failure — fragile dreams and disquieting realities—the human condition of those existing on the margins, marginalized — to be blunt, reality sucks. Sadly, this is a generous portion of our world’s population — life is not glamor, romance, and drama — to look away and deny it is negligent. Life is gritty with filth — our manmade rubbish, self-made madness, and life-long sickness. Some people are incapable of coping with life — some just do not have the tools to cope as they are flawed by disabilities (Toby’s epilepsy) or disabled by life (Zoe’s ignorance.) They are people easily discarded and ignored — yet Janet Frame writes in a way that makes the ugliness of life beautiful — and in all the trauma, there are comic pleasures that wink with a sweet wit that isn’t frivolous, if anything, the absurdity is very grounding.

A first kiss leading to the private research of identity, which leads to the creation of a sculpture from the silver paper of a cigarette pack, and then a life ended. A novel, The Lost Tribe, left unwritten because the writer is illiterate. Paintings destroyed, talent unrealized by an artist overcome by despair. And a life spent just getting by, going through the motions of life’s expectations to the point of not truly living.

“Just how much blank paper do you need, sir, to match your blank life?” Page 278


“He’s getting above himself, going overseas.”…there is an affliction of dream called ‘overseas’, a suffering of sleep endured by the prophetic, the bored, the retired, and the living who will not admit that it is easier and cheaper to die, die once and forever and travel as dust. But being dust how can you return and have your name in the paper and yourself pointed out in the street as having been “overseas” and your conversation filled with the names of places you have visited, your words received with wonder, as prophecies… How, if you are not Marco Polo or Herodotus? Page 49-50


Shall I write a book? Everybody is going to write a book. Memoirs on writing paper, toilet paper, café wall, pavement, or stone column in a city cemetery where borders of trees provide a trip-wire into silence. Shall I write? Shall I engage in private research of identity? Page 99


And then she laughed out loud to think that she had never known, that she had always believed that people were separate with boundaries and fences and scrolled iron gates, Private Road, Trespassers Will be Prosecuted; that people lived and died in shapes and identities with labels easily recognizable, with names which they clutched, like empty suitcases, on a journey to nowhere. Page 106


The day is patched with long silences between the communication of people, give rise to dread; as if the time itself held a reserve of opinion too terrible to express. In the cracks of the silence the people’s voices grow like bright feverish weeds whose stalks are hollow and whose shallow roots are separated from the earth (or water) with one tug of a hand or breeze; now and again people’s voices disappear in the gaps that open with the continual shock of Time. Page 215


“Did you make it?” he asked Zoe. “How did you think of it?”

Everyone admired the shape once again. Zoe was not used to being the center of attention; not for something she had made—when in her life had she ever made anything? It’s only a bit of paper, she said to herself, but she throbbed with warmth. How strange that it had so affected the others, had evoked in them feelings which they could only consider and explore by sitting there, as all three were doing now, silent, staring at the silver sculpture… How extraordinary, Zoe thought, that such feeling should be roused by seeing a conventional paper shape twisted at random, in idleness, among strangers whom I shall never meet again.
Page 272

Janet Frame writes with this special vision about social identity, a textual borderland — a wonderland — an Is-land — the post-colonial experience, New Zealand and England—being an alien within one’s homeland and within one’s own skin, living in the margins — at the edge of the alphabet…

And sometimes it seemed too much like being excluded from the mystical long-division sum, like being the odd number at the bottom or at the side of the column, the mental afterthought, the carrying number put there for mere convenience and erased when the answer to the sum is worked out. Page 297

Honestly, who hasn’t spent time living on the edge of the alphabet…

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Thoughts on writing...some advice

Me with Dusty Waters at my first book signing, May, 2009
I’ve always wanted to be a writer, since I could scribble, I wanted to write something that mattered—it took a long time to get there, I had a good deal of false starts. It’s been 15 years since I wrote the manuscript Washed Glass and saw it through to the finish. (Oh, I thought I knew what I was doing, but I totally had no idea.) This effort is still unpublished and certainly nowhere near ready to have a cover designed for it. It’s a densely written monster that has everything and the kitchen sink in it, and it’s rife with first-novel-itis, but I know the story is good enough to take the time to make it right—not every first manuscript is good enough. Even tho’ I do cringe a little when I think about going back to it, but now that I know more about what I’m doing, I know what I must do, so I will revisit where I started all those years ago—someday. I will always have a soft spot for it—it was my first, from there, the rest of my work with words followed, and they nod with reverence to what happened before them because without Washed Glass, Dusty Waters and The Fractured Hues of White Light wouldn't have happened. 

My "Girls"

For what it’s worth, here’s my advice for aspiring writers (young and old):

It’s never too late to start. Just do it.

Write. Even if it’s pure nonsense, if it’s there in your head, write it. Unfortunately, we learn from our mistakes, and you’re not going to learn by being afraid of fucking up.

Read—read a lot—especially read outside your comfort zone, if you have resisted reading the classics, read them—experience them and learn from them. Keep your mind wide open to receive knowledge, grow your mind, grow your vocabulary—read the dictionary (you know, one of those old-fashioned cloth bound books illustrated with line art, get one.) Familiarize yourself with the basic rules of grammar and punctuation too. Keep a Thesaurus handy.  Honestly, you’ll need something to do during those dead zones when you’re not staring out the window thinking.

Be humble.
Write and write some more.
No, you’re not crazy, you’re writing a book. Keep writingjust let it flow.
Be brave.

Here are the Don’ts:

Don’t listen to those dissenting voices within you or from the others who are on the outside looking in—for goodness sakes, don’t let anyone tell you “you can’t do that” because it’s hard. Damn right it’s hard and don’t you forget it.

Don’t rely on spell check and grammar check on your computer to catch your errors because words like dairies and diaries are both spelled correctly and if you’re a little bit dyslexic at all it’s easy enough to screw them up. The brain has this amazing self-correction thing it does when you’re too close to your writing and you know what you want to say, so beware when dealing with words, especially when writing tens of thousands of them.

Don’t be a hermit.
Don’t forget to live.
Don’t forget to breathe.

So you finished writing your manuscript—your first book. Do a happy dance, scream, laugh, and cry. Tell all your friends and family—celebrate. It’s a wonderful thing, it’s an accomplishment, and an achievement worthy of a pat on the back.

Don’t be surprised if you feel sad—because you will. You will “miss” being there, being in your head with your characters—it can be a little scary to feel depressed like that, but don’t worry, you’re all right.

Do you think you’re done with it?

"Done" means it has a beginning and an end with a bunch of shit happening in the middle. I know it will be hard to do it, but walk away from it—leave it for months—start something new or just write nonsense. Keep reading more books to pass the time. No matter how tempting it is to fool around with it, leave it alone. Forget it long enough to “forget it” in a sense that will allow you to be objective when you read it again.

It’s nice if you can find a first reader who can honestly tell you what they think of it—it’s nice if the first reader doesn’t sit on it for months and not read it. A book, especially a raw first draft isn’t easy to hand off to someone and expect them to read it—it’s not like showing someone a drawing you made—reading is an investment of time—and first drafts can be SO ROUGH it’s not fun to read them.  When you do go back to it, be honest with yourself—is it how you envisioned it? Aim high, raise the bar for yourself, take pride in your work, OWN IT. Edit the darn thing—make it bleed red ink—be prepared, this process can go on for several drafts. If you can find an editor that you can afford—one you can trust to work within your vision, go for it. But not everyone can afford one, not everyone has access to such creatures, so it’s good for a writer to learn how to self-edit.

I do my own editing partly because I’m a control freak, and partly because I love doing it—I love the whole process of revising and editing. I will read a chapter backwards, sentence by sentence just to take it out of the flow to make sure it’s what I want it to say. Then I will read the chapter forwards again to see if I catch anything wonky. I go through it until I make no more changes. Then I leave it alone to forget it, then read it again. If I make no changes, that’s a good thing. I’ve been known to take the scissors to a chapter that I had thought was perfect two weeks ago and reorganize the paragraphs, tape it back together, make the revision, and then start over reading it in the new configuration. I read it and revise it until I make it right.

Reading hard copy is always a good idea.

It does get better—trust me on this.

Final thoughts:
Keep writing. 
Don’t settle.
Make it right. Make it perfect.
Practice, Patience, Persistence.

(For the record, I won't edit anyone's work, so don't ask...you can't pay me enough to do it.)