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A slap upside the head from a favorite author

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Upcoming HoCoPoLitSo Events

  • Wilde Readings - Featured Abdul Ali and Ned Tillman and Open Mic November 12, 2019 at 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm Columbia Art Center, 6100 Foreland Garth, Columbia, MD 21045, USA Join our featured authors, Abdul Ali and Ned Tillman, for an evening of wonderful poetry and stories. We will also have an open mic and refreshments, and we welcome all new voices.
  • HoCoPoLitSo Staff Meeting December 6, 2019 at 11:00 am – 12:00 pm Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Pkwy, Columbia, MD 21044, USA
  • Wilde Readings - Jona Colson and Danuta E. Kosk-Kosicka and Open Mic December 10, 2019 at 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm Columbia Art Center, 6100 Foreland Garth, Columbia, MD 21045, USA Monthly reading series typically on second Tuesdays from September through June each year. Format is two featured readers and open mic sessions. ---------- Join us for our 4th annual holiday reading with poets Jona Colson and Danuta E. Kosk-Kosicka. Hosted by Laura Shovan. Jona Colson’s first poetry collection, Said Through Glass, won the Jean Feldman…

Upcoming Regional Literary Events

  • Red Emma's - Innosanto Nagara presents "M is for Movement" November 12, 2019 at 6:00 pm – 7:00 pm Red Emma's Bookstore Coffeehouse, 1225 Cathedral St, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA N.B. This event will start early at 6PM to better accommodate kids and parents!Innosanto Nagara, the author and illustrator behind A is For Activist, is coming to Red Emma's to present his latest project, M is For Movement, a middle grade (8-12) book about how social transformation from below happens, told through the eyes of…
  • HoCo Library - Writing Workshop with Zack Smedley November 12, 2019 at 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm Howard County Library System - Savage Branch, 9525 Durness Ln, Laurel, MD 20723, USA Writing Workshop with Zack SmedleyDate: Tuesday, November 05, 2019Time: 6:30 PM - 7:30 PMBranch: SavageDescription:Ages 14 & up. Just in time for National Novel Writing Month, author Zack Smedley talks about the writing process for his breakthrough young adult novel Deposing Nathan. A member of the LGBT community, Smedley gives a voice to marginalized young…
  • Writers and Words - featuring Jessica Gregg, Rajani Gudlavalleti, Deleicea Greene, & Vonetta Young November 12, 2019 at 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm Charmington's, 2601 N Howard St, Baltimore, MD 21218, USA Writers and Words is a Baltimore reading series. Four writers are featured each month, one in fiction, non-fiction, poetry and the genre-defying “wild card” category which in the past has included a playwright, a scientist, and a children’s book author (and everything in between). Readings are on the second Tuesday of each month, at 7pm…

Susan Hobby’s guest post for HoCoPoLitSo’s What Are You Reading series


Margaret Atwood was hitting me over the head.

Well, not really hitting, like in her cameo in “The Handmaid’s Tale” television series, in which she smacks Elizabeth Moss in the head.

No, the subject of Margaret Atwood – not the actual Margaret Atwood — has been clubbing me for the last seven months. Here’s why:

  • In January, the sign from the Women’s March: “Make Margaret Atwood Fiction Again.”
  • The profile in The New Yorker, describing Atwood as a “buoyant doomsayer,” recounting her penchant for reading palms, and explaining how, since she doesn’t drive, she often drags a cart loaded with used books through Toronto to donate to the library.
  • The aforementioned, terrifying television series based on The Handmaid’s Tale.
  • The copy of her Booker Prize-winning novel, The Blind Assassin, which was balanced on top of the growing pile on my nightstand, then cascaded onto the mound under my bed. I heard the Canadian novelist calling me through the mattress.

Margaret Atwood and Elizabeth Moss in The Handmaid’s Tale – Photo by George Kraychyk/Hulu

So when I went on vacation this summer, I took Atwood with me.

I started reading The Blind Assassin on my last day in Colorado, and it delayed our hike a bit because I had to finish a chapter. The story starts with the suicide of the protagonist’s sister, who drives off a bridge without slowing down, her white-gloved hands gripping the steering wheel. What would be a climax for any other writer is just the beginning for Atwood.

Since I’m trying to write fiction, after years of telling the truth as a journalist, I’m having to make stuff up. It’s hard going – I can turn a phrase and describe a scene, but plot? It proves elusive. Atwood is teaching me to read like a writer, and, I hope, write like a reader. Her plots – the hateful girls and their tormented protagonist in The Cat’s Eye, the dystopian, reproductively challenged theocracy in The Handmaid’s Tale, the nineteenth-century murder tale in Alias Grace – are masterful.

The Blind Assassin sounds complicated, but in Atwood’s deft hands, the reader spins along quickly in the book, flashing back and forth in time, into and out of the world of the science fiction novel within a novel. Iris, whose sister, husband and daughter all die untimely deaths, tells the story from her silver years, writing herself back in time to her privileged childhood and her young marriage to her father’s competitor to save the family fortune. But interspersed in Iris’s tale is her sister’s novel, about an illicit affair in which the man, to entertain the woman in bed with him, tells a story about a blind assassin and his lover, on a faraway, violence-torn planet.

About halfway through, this reader thought she had it figured out. Then, by two-thirds through, I had it figured out a different way. By the end, though, Margaret had blindsided me again, her plotting twists and turns slapping me around like I was the punk in the fight.

I marvel at her imagination, her structuring, the control that Ms. Atwood had over me. The Blind Assassin’s protagonist and narrator – writing her own story – explains:

The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.

Impossible of course.

I pay out my line, I pay out my line, this black thread I’m spinning across the page.

All the while the protagonist is teasing us, telling us half-truths and outright lies mixed in with reality. The voice, the plot, the book, they hit you like a ton of bricks.Thanks for schooling me, Professor Atwood. This writer – slightly more black and blue – will get back to work now.

 


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