Book Review: Matt Bell’s “Refuse to Be Done”

The word that comes to mind when reading Matt Bell’s Refuse to Be Done is “Rigorous.” His book goes into great detail about taking a novel through the drafting process — specifically three drafts. There are strategies and tips through each draft stage, and Bell does a great job of providing insights into how to take a rather large body of work, and all the complexities of story/theme/plot/character/descriptions/style/tense therein, and use revision and rewriting to get the novel completed in its finest form. What I enjoyed and respected most was that the tenor of the book wasn’t — see how easy all this is, now that I’ve revealed my techniques, but rather — prepare to work hard and be diligent, and just when you think you are done, nope, get back in there and revise and rework some more. Yes, anyone can write a novel. And sure, that means anyone can write a good or even great novel — IF they put the hard work in. This book makes that case very well, and is packed with excellent concepts, strategies and very specific pointers on how to bring that kind of rigorousness to the process of writing and revising a novel. I appreciated the thoroughness and the writer’s writer insights, and most of all, the reality check on how challenging — and rewarding — it is to take the novel writing process to true completion.

Jeffrey Yamaguchi

This review is also posted at Goodreads.

Yone Noguchi’s “Japanese Hokkus”

Haiku is a form of poetry I return to again and again. Deceptively simple to write, I enjoy the challenge. I’ve written hundreds — maybe thousands. Most are… just okay, if not downright terrible. Some are, well, not bad, but not really hitting the mark. A rare few, if I dare say so myself, are meaningful and resonant. Haiku need to deliver a startling image and an emotional wallop in just a few beats. I’m not a stickler for the 5/7/5 syllable form, but do consider it a helpful and challenging framework to work within.

I swing into the habit of writing haiku as part of my routine — it helps me get started not just with putting something down on paper, but taking an emotional concept or image and describing it with words. The brevity of this particular poetic form helps me distill what I am trying to convey through story, whether that be a chapter in a novel or a longer form poem.

The above images are from Yone Noguchi’s Japanese Hokkus, published in 1920. Noguchi was the first Japanese-born writer to publish poetry in English, and is credited with introducing haiku to America, influencing the Imagist poets of the early 20th century. Here’s a great essay on Noguchi posted at the The Huntington library’s website: “Yone Noguchi and Haiku in the United States.”

Reading Noguchi’s “hokkus” and writing this short entry has inspired me to get back into haiku, as part of a daily creative ritual. Stay tuned!

Jeffrey Yamaguchi | @hiddenexhibit

“The Mystic Blue” by D.H. Lawrence

Fascinated by the way the last line, and only the last line, of the last poem (The Mystic Blue) is changed in the London and New York editions of Amores by D.H. Lawrence. Amores was published in 1916.

London Edition: “Of midnight and shake it to fire, till the flame of the shadow we see.”

New York Edition: “Of midnight shake it to fire, so the secret of death we see.”

Aaron Caycedo-Kimura’s “Common Grace” Poetry Collection

Common Grace is a wonderful poetry collection by Aaron Caycedo-Kimura from Beacon Press. My favorite poems: Burial, marking territory, Nest, and If this were the day. The collection, which showcases a wide range of forms — from prose poems to one-liner haiku — is infused with memory, family history, anguish, connection, and the astonishments of everyday life. Highly recommended, most definitely worth seeking out and adding to your stack of poetry books.

Kevin Sampsell’s New Collage Book “I Made an Accident”

Got my copy of Kevin Sampsell’s beautiful collage book — I Made an Accident (published by Clash Books). What an inspiring and electric collection! And I loved the intro — about obstacles, discovery, creativity, breakthroughs, inspiration, learning, community, and perhaps most of all, fun. Highly recommend this book from a true force in indie publishing (and now collage), published by an indie publisher. Now go get your copy at an indie bookseller. (I got mine via Powells Books).

Book Review: Whimsy

Whimsy by Shannon McLeod is a wonderful novella, an emotional story about a young woman who is dealing with scars both internal and external. A tragedy has happened in the past, a traumatic experience that haunts her — but the dramatics of that event and the immediate aftermath are in the distance. What this story explores is the quiet echoes and jagged ripples of guilt that continue to impact how she experiences and perceives where she’s at right now — the usual goings on in life — work, dating, family. I was impressed with this exploration — so thoughtful and raw and nuanced. Most definitely worth a read.

My review on Goodreads.

Book Review: Station Eleven

Station Eleven is an ambitious and fantastic novel. Ever since I read Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars — one of my favorite books — I am always on the hunt for an interesting literary take on a post-apocalyptic landscape. Definitely glad it lead me to read Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven — was very much drawn into the world and the characters, and especially loved how the arts/theater is such an important part of the story — the plot, yes, but also the way it weaves together such a surprising through line on the befores and afters of the characters. Very much worth a read. If you’ve read and loved Heller’s The Dog Stars, this book meets that high bar. If you have never read The Dog Stars, then definitely add both of these excellent post-apocalyptic literary books to your to-read list.

My review on Goodreads.