Monday, July 2, 2012

Elsa Watson

From 1996 to 1998, Elsa Watson served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guinea-Bissau, West Africa, where she began writing novels, all in longhand. She now lives on an island in Washington State with her husband, cat, and two dogs. Her short work has appeared in the Writers Journal, Snowy Egret, and Renaissance Magazine. Her new novel is Dog Days.

Last month I asked Watson what she was reading.  Her reply:
At the moment, I have a couple of books going. We have an eight-month old at home, so my reading time is pretty limited—I squeeze it in whenever I can, depending on the baby’s schedule.

When I sit down to feed him, I can usually get in a few pages of The Iowa Baseball Confederacy by W.P. Kinsella. Kinsella is a Canadian author who also wrote Shoeless Joe (which became the movie Field of Dreams.) Honestly, this is a book I never would have picked up on my own because I don’t follow baseball at all, but my mom gave it to me and I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Like Shoeless Joe, the story is very mystical. It’s about a man who has a magical, almost prophetic memory of a 40-day baseball game that happened generations earlier in his little Iowa town. The only hitch is that no one else remembers this game. In fact, the whole town thinks he’s crazy. Kinsella is clearly one of those authors who has images and metaphors just spilling out of him. It’s a delight to read just for the clinic he’s giving in simile writing.

At baby bedtime, I’ve been reading Richard Scarry’s Best Mother Goose Ever, a book I remember fondly from my childhood. Here’s my current favorite:

Blow winds blow, and go mill go
That the miller may grind his corn.
That the baker may take it, and into bread make it
And bring us a load in the morn.

I find myself reciting that all the time—when I’m doing the laundry or packing up my laptop. There’s something very soothing about it.

We’ve also been reading Robert Louis Stevenson’s poems for children. One of them, "My Bed is a Boat," has the most gorgeous first stanza—I just have to share:

My bed is like a little boat;
Nurse helps me in when I embark;
She girds me in my sailor's coat
And starts me in the dark.

Last but not least, I’m reading Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! I go back to Save the Cat! any time I’m plotting a story or working on a new idea. His advice for structuring a story—and avoiding pitfalls—is absolutely fabulous. I also love his tips for creating a logline, the one-sentence summary of a story. I’m terrible about planning stories. Left on my own, I’d just start writing and let the story wander me off into the dusty weeds. I have to make myself follow Blake’s lessons, but I’m always, always glad when I do.
Visit Elsa Watson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue