I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.
On the first of each month,
a guest writer
how he or she spends the day.
December 1, 2016: Myfanwy Collins
In 2006 Myfanwy Collins took a class from Dorothy Allison at the Tin House Summer Writers Workshop. The story she workshopped, which Dorothy suggested she turn into a novel, in fact became her first novel, Echolocation, published in 2012 by the wonderful Engine Books.
In just seven paragraphs, Myfanwy draws us into this novel. Watch.
Here’s the first paragraph:
When the slip of saw through trunk was buttery, liquid, and verging on gentle, Geneva was moved to tears. Her body felt as though it were cutting through the tree: the rings, the history of droughts and hailstorms, the sap that could have been her own blood, dripping, weeping at her feet. It felt like a betrayal, this taking of saw to tree. But Clint was out of work again. They needed money.
The second paragraph, just six sentences, grounds us in place at the same time that it gives us some colorful backstory and keeps us in the present by telling us that Geneva will sell the firewood at a roadside stand. Then, in the third paragraph, Myfanwy moves from birdsong to warning.
The tinny song of the wood thrush carried above other birds’ calls. Eerie and mechanical, it was her favorite birdsong. As if her fractured heart called out into the world… Was it warning her?
In the fourth paragraph, look how Myfanwy adds to the tension and slips in exposition.
But she felt off that morning, a blue shakiness she couldn’t otherwise explain. It didn’t have anything to do with the fact that Clint hadn’t come home the night before or that their electric bill was overdue… When she looked back on this day later all she would think was, “I should have known.”
In the fifth paragraph, a detail of that morning adds to the tension supplied by the commentary.
She left her dog… Another mistake, she would later realize.
In the sixth paragraph, one more detail about that day paired with commentary.
[S]he had enough gas to drive to the trees and back. This was her biggest mistake.
And in the seventh paragraph, we learn what happened:
It was adrenaline that saved Geneva…
Myfanwy’s second book, I Am Holding Your Hand, was published in 2013 by [Pank] Books. The three flash fiction pieces that open this collection will keep you reading until you get to “What He Told Me,” and then you’re in. In the first section of this six-sectioned story, Paula tells the story of when she and her grandfather were coming down a mountain and she mistook a bear for a dog.
[B]ut I never forgot what Poppy told me: Take your time. Observe. Once you’ve figured out what you’re dealing with, you’re safe to move on down the path.
Paula grows up and has a best friend, who has a father. Don’t miss this elegant story about life and how the smallest things can save us.
Myfanwy’s most recent book, The Book of Laney, was published in 2015 by Lacewing Books, the young adult imprint of Engine Books. It’s all about teenagers, violence, and survival (Roxane Gay). But don’t let the young adult part keep you away. You will love Laney. (“I’m Laney Kates and I’m a girl.”) From Chapter One,
Winter came on quick. The tree frogs quit singing me to sleep early in October. By November there was snow. From December on, I felt ice in everything I did, moving across my words as I spoke them, covering over my breath.
Myfanwy sends her stories and novels out into the world, and how lucky we are that they echo back to us.
Come back on DECEMBER 1st to read how MYFANWY COLLINS spends her days.
I enjoyed your analysis of the writing as much as the writing, nicely done!
Thank you, Sarah–it’s great to hear from you from all the way in JAPAN! I am so behind in my blog visits, but I love getting glimpses of your travels on FB.