Break the Skin, Watershed, and The Least You Need to Know
I’m very excited to launch my new web site and this blog to accompany it as we start counting the months until the June 14 publication of my new novel, Break the Skin. Galleys should be available soon, probably sometime this week, and foreign rights have already been sold to an Italian publisher. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for more good news about the book to come.
The title of the book comes from a song by a group called Watershed. One of its members, Joe Oestreich was a student in our MFA Program at Ohio State University (or The Ohio State University, if you feel like using the official name of the school, and, yes, we often make fun of that pompous sounding article that leads it off), and he was kind enough to allow me to use the following lyrics from “Black Concert T-Shirt” as an epigraph:
My steel toes start kickin’
My new tattoo just ain’t stickin’
You gotta break the skin
Take the needle just stick it in
If you’re interested in the band, please check them out at www.watershedcentral.com
If you’d like to hear “Black Concert T-Shirt,” please go to http://www.myspace.com/watershedcentral
The title of my blog, “The Least You Need to Know,” comes from the title of my first book, a collection of short stories which won the first Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction and was published by Sarabande Books in 1996. That book was essentially my Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Nebraska—Lincoln, and I take no small degree of pleasure in knowing I earned a Ph.D. with a dissertation called “The Least You Need to Know.” On this blog, I’ll be talking about writing, publishing, teaching, and other stuff. If you’re interested, I hope you’ll come along for the ride. Right now, I have to go teach my seminar in the forms of creative nonfiction. I’ll leave you with a quote I’m going to pass on to my students today, this from Dani Shapiro’s excellent book, Devotion: “It wasn’t so much that I was in search of answers. In fact, I was wary of the whole idea of answers. I wanted to climb all the way inside the questions and see what was there.” Good luck with your own questioning. I’ll be back soon with some more of my own.
The Dani Shapiro quote personifies precisely what it is that I love and admire about good art, whether it be found on a page, a canvas, or a screen. Great art is not about answers; it is about offering enough information that the pertinent questions may be posited. It is what I have always believed, and I admit to an uncanny sense of deja vu when I read Shapiro’s quote.
It’s also one of the reasons I so enjoy — and hold such a high degree of reverence for — Lee Martin’s work. In the landscapes he creates, the answers are never as enlivening as the questions offered. Primarily through his characters, Lee offers we who read his work a reflection of ourselves. We (the readers) grapple with the conflicts that plague his characters, who are themselves never less than three-dimensional, soul-stirred, flesh-and-bone representations of what we glimpse each morning in the mirror whilst we are — either fuzzy-headed with sleep or enervated by the satisfaction of a good rest — performing our morning ablutions and planning our day.
It is a damned good quote because it is a damned true quote. After all, how many of us know exactly why we behave the way we do, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 12 months a year? Great art gives us a chance to slow down, to weigh, to marry our own personal experiences with those of the characters about whom we are reading. And, most important of all, such an exercise offers us the opportunity to remember — and cherish — one of the best qualities we possess as a species: the ability to feel empathy.
John, I really like that Dani Shapiro quote, too. It speaks to how good writing is what I like to call vertical writing–writing, that is, that probes and burrows down into its subject matter. I tell my students all the time that sometimes it’s the deepening of a question that’s more important and more accurate than trying to come to an answer. Thanks for all your thoughtful words.
LOVE the website, Lee. LOVE the photo! And can’t wait to read your blog.
Thanks very much, Dawn!
I wish you and your book every success!
Thanks so much, Theresa!