I just discovered a website called MSweeney's
. It's about writing. I'll paste in two excerpts I read there that are very powerful.
A N E W E X C E R P T F R O M M c S W E E N E Y 'S 2 9
The convicts came from the ocean. They were orphaned when their ship, the Amaziah, broke apart on the rocky Western Cliffs. It took them forty days to reach Peterson. They stood outside the city walls as Peterson looked down on them from the parapets. Sunburned and battered, in threadbare jumpsuits, they pleaded from the gates. "We're hungry," they called. "Look at us. Look at us! We have eaten our stores and our dead. We don't know how to survive out here. We need food."
"Who speaks for you?" Peterson said. "Which one of you leads the others?"
They shuffled their bare feet and shot glances around the group. Some of them mumbled a name or two but not one man spoke up or stepped forward.
"Who among you can use a hammer and saw?"
One man stepped forward. "I can, sir."
Peterson opened the gate and let the man in. His name was Minsky, and his head was bald and he had a friendly grin and hands the size of his face. Peterson shut the gate behind him, shook the man's hand, led him to the commissary, and provided a meal of stale cornbread and protein-rich maggots pulled from the gangrenous leg of a capybara and sautéed with garlic and monkey butter. Minsky thought about each bite. He ate slow. When he was finished, he pushed his bowl to the side and looked at Peterson.
"I am grateful to you, sir," he said. "There are people in this world without a drop of genuine charity in their souls. I'm from California," he winked, "so I know what I'm talking about. I used to be one of them, in fact. I killed my whole family with a golf club and did other things too but here we are in the middle of hell and you just fed me the best meal I've had in months so the way I see things I owe you."
"This is a kindness," Peterson said. "You owe me nothing."
"That's where you're dead wrong according to me, Minsky, because I owe you one meal's worth of carpentry. What do you need built?"
"I need a keep."
"What's a keep?"
"The final refuge of civilization."
"So you're one of those who believe in Jesus?" Minsky asked.
"Yeah," Minsky said. "Me too. That's good. So you'll keep feeding me?"
"Quid pro quo?"
"Just kindness," Peterson told him, and he rendered chunks of animal fat over a small fire, mixed in the watery ash he had strained through a bandanna in a one-to-two ratio, and set the container aside to cool. He boiled pots of water and added them to the rainwater in the concave basin of a bisected fuel tank. He set a simple shirt and woolen pants by the tub, carved soap from the bucket, handed Minsky a towel, and turned his back while the man bathed.
Minsky looked around at Peterson's muddy camp, the rusting plane, the outhouse, the creaking table, the walls he'd built, and he said, "It's good here, isn't it?"
"I'm just getting started," Peterson said. "I'm going to build a real church."
The convicts sang in the evenings because God is a mighty fortress amid the flood of mortal ills. Peterson brought them Bibles and in the days that followed they cheered every inch that Minsky's keep emerged above the walls, believing that their songs were somehow sinking into the earth and rising up within the city as a tower of devotion.
Among them Peterson found a thieving blacksmith who had branded himself for his own sins, and he brought him through the gates. The man built a forge and hammered out strong iron bars to reinforce the new walls intended to encircle the residential area of the city. A tax-evading mason trained three men to press and dry the river clay and when they brought a hundred thousand bricks to him Peterson let them in and they laid firm road between the buildings. In the evening they built houses to the sounds of old-time religion swaying through the trees.
The conical nose of the plane was hung in the hinge of a lewis, with a carved anteater skull for a clapper, and Peterson rang that bell as the last convict crossed the city threshold to witness the final nail driven into The Keep and Minsky's smiling mug as he descended by block and tackle to the city streets. The last convict lit the streetlights and Peterson declared it a holiday and the vintners brought flagons of wine and the bakers brought cakes of raisins and there was much jubilation for each and all from the lonely counterfeiter to the disgruntled clerk.
Such great strides they had made in so short a time! How eloquently they had prevailed upon nature! How safe they felt inside their shuttered walls and battened minds!
—from Nathaniel Minton's "The Land of our Enemies."
Read more here.
A T E A S E R F R O M T H E B E L I E V E R
It took me almost another decade after graduate school to figure out what writing really is, or at least what it could be for me; and what prompted this second lesson in language was my discovery of certain remaindered books—mostly of fiction, most notably by Barry Hannah, and all of them, I later learned, edited by Gordon Lish—in which virtually every sentence had the force and feel of a climax, in which almost every sentence was a vivid extremity of language, an abruption, a definitive inquietude. These were books written by writers who recognized the sentence as the one true theater- of endeavor, as the place where writing comes to a point and attains its ultimacy. As a reader, I finally knew what I wanted to read, and as someone now yearning to become a writer, I knew exactly what I wanted to try to write: narratives of steep verbal topography, narratives in which the sentence is a complete, portable solitude, a minute immediacy of consummated language—the sort of sentence that, even when liberated from its receiving context, impresses itself upon the eye and the ear as a totality, an omnitude, unto itself. I once later tried to define this kind of sentence as "an outcry combining the acoustical elegance of the aphorism with the force and utility of the load-bearing, tractional sentence of more or less conventional narrative." The writers of such sentences became the writers I read and reread. I favored books that you could open to any page and find in every paragraph sentences that had been worked and reworked until their forms and contours and their organizations of sound had about them an air of having been fore-ordained—as if this combination of words could not be improved upon and had finished readying itself for infinity.
And as I encountered any such sentence, the question I would ask myself in marvelment was: how did this thing come to be what it now is? This was when I started gazing into sentence after sentence and began to discover that there was nothing arbitrary or unwitting or fluky about the shape any sentence had taken and the sound it was releasing into the world.
—from Gary Lutz's January Issue essay, "The Sentence Is a Lonely Place"
Inspiring! What do you think? Have any sites you particularly like for inspiration and coaching?