Sunday, July 11, 2010

Taos Day 1: Aromatic Rain, 'White Heat' Writing and the Cultural Value of Poetry

I'm at the Taos Summer Writers' Conference until Saturday. The four-hour drive to Taos not so bad considering the incredible scenery. At one point, I could smell a rainstorm for a mile before drops starting hitting the car.

At the welcome dinner we were seated with the writers who will be in the same workshops for the week. My workshop is advanced short fiction led by Pam Houston, who also ate with us at our table. Nice ice breaker before our class begins tomorrow morning.

The keynote reading was by Cristina Garcia, author of Dreaming in Cuban, The Aguero Sisters, Monkey Hunting and The Lady Matador's Hotel. Such rich, vivid imagery in her complex tales that take place around the world but all have a Cuban thread. I asked what type of research she conducts for books set in other countries like China, Iran and Mexico. I received the most unexpected and intriguing answer: she reads poetry from those countries (from the specific time period) because she says the poets capture the culture and essence of the people so much better than history books.

When someone asked about her process, she said that only a small fraction of the time is the writing the "white heat" periods where the passage writes itself, almost perfect in form. The rest of the time is adding detail and layers; the document alive and changing.

I'm fortunate that I've had those "white heat" periods. Garcia says the trick is capturing the same beauty and perfection of those passages in the rest of the book.

More from Taos tomorrow.

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