Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Meanwhile, 60-plus miles away in the Pacific 19,000 Gray whales are surging south to Baja to warmer waters to birth their calves. It’s the largest mammal migration in the world, and they travel about 12,000 miles. In my imagination I imagine them passing by, huge bulks with knuckled backs and spouts sometimes visible from the shore, their acrobatics as they breach from time to time, their songs reverberating into the depths. Whales calve only every two to four years and the mystery of whales seems endless.
In yesterday’s New York Times book section there was another exposé about a falsified memoir, Angel at the Fence by Herman Rosenblat. Now this one was supposedly a shocker because the author was a guest on Oprah, and had previously published the story in shorter versions. The book will not be published and the publisher has asked Rosenblat to return his advance. He said, “I wanted to bring happiness to people, to remind them not to hate, but to love and tolerate all people,” he wrote in the statement. “I brought good feelings to a lot of people and I brought hope to many. My motivation was to make good in this world. In my dreams, Roma will always throw me an apple, but I now know it is only a dream.”
It seems fairly simple to me: fiction is a pack of lies—the bigger, the better. Memoir is the truth as best you know it.
I wanted to pass along a press release I received for Oregon writers: Willamette Writers Coast Branch starts the New Year off with a workshop, “Writing Oregon 150 Stories,” led by Matt Love, editor of Citadel of the Spirit: Oregon’s Sesquicentennial Anthology (Nestucca Spit Press, 2009) on Tuesday, January 6, 2009, at Newport Public Library from 7-8:30pm.
Part of the Oregon 150 Celebration is the Oregon Stories Project (www.oregon150.org/oregon-stories) an online site collecting stories of 500 words or less about Oregon. Anyone can submit an essay or oral history as well as an accompanying photo, audio or video.
To encourage local authors to write their own Oregon 150 story, Matt Love will provide examples of current Oregon 150 Stories as well as exercises and prompts to get writers started. All interested people are welcome to attend, listen to stories, tell and write their own, and receive help in shaping them to the 500-word limit. The workshop concludes with directions to submit stories either online or by mail to Oregon Stories Project, Oregon 150, 1211 SW 5th Ave. #L17, Portland, OR 97204.
Matt Love, Director of Writers on the Edge and publisher of Nestucca Spit Press is the author of parts 1 and 2 of the Beaver State Trilogy-Grasping Wastrels vs. Beaches Forever Inc.: Covering the Fights for the Soul of the Oregon Coast; and The Far Out Story of Vortex I.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
First, there is Garrison Keillor’s essay about attending a Spanish-speaking mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Christmas Without Translation.
Then, there is the list of the top ten movies of 2008 by Stephanie Zacharek—Two of my favorites made the list, The Visitor and Happy-Go-Lucky.
I would also recommend the article about the state of the publishing world Read it and Weep: Book Industry in Financial Crisis by Jason Boog. It behooves writers to pay attention to the huge shakeup happening in the publishing world. It also behooves us to write better and make contacts and then write better.
And finally just a tidbit to pass along--the Saddleback Church of which Rick Warren is the pastor has scrubbed from their website their position about not allowing gays to join their church. They’ve also removed information about how humankind once walked the earth with dinosaurs. Perhaps besides Obama, Warren is feeling the pressure.
He recently was interviewed by Sean Hannity, and Sean Hannity asked him, “Should we attack Iran?” And Rick Warren said, “Well, it’s our God-given obligation to take out evildoers.” Doesn’t that have an eerie ring of familiarity?
I don’t need to dream of a white Christmas any more but I do dream of a world where everyone is given dignity and a place at the table.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
A lovely reader of this blog sent me an email decrying my opinion of Rick Warren being chosen by Obama to take part in his swearing-in ceremony and suggesting that I dislike all Christians. Since she doesn’t know anything about my religious or spiritual affiliation I find this accusation puzzling. I have nothing against Christians in general who are in the majority in this country and do countless good works, although there are certain religious organizations that I believe are dangerous. Particularly right wing evangelicals who are constantly inserting themselves into our laws and rights of individuals and who operate with such breath-taking hypocrisy as they espouse pious views about family and the sanctity of life. Now, I know that Rick Warren and his church accomplish lots of good works, but I still don’t trust the post-Falwell face of the evangelical movement and question how the Saddleback Church, which doesn’t allow gays into its congregation, can identify themselves as love-thy-neighbor Christians.
As a writer I recognize that symbolism matters. And the symbolism of Warren at the inauguration ceremony infuriates me. For the record I believe firmly in a separation of Church and State, believe in a benevolent God, a just society, and freedom and equality for all, not just the 80 million evangelicals in this country. And that art matters. But don’t get me started on all I believe…
Like many people in the publishing industry I’ve been complaining about the mega-advances that celebrities receive for their books and so was thrilled to read Timothy Egan's NY Times attack on Joe the Plumber. If you haven’t had a chance to read Egan’s books, you’re missing a great writer.
Also, since books lists are so much fun, here’s Jezebel's list of 75 books that women should read. The article was in response to Esquire's list for menwhich is a response to Esquire’s list for men. I’ve read most of them! Happy holidays to all and stay warm out there.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
I’m getting jazzed about 2009. Since I spent half of 2008 recovering from a car accident because a young woman could not find her cell phone while driving and plowed into me, I’m ready to close the door on this not-so fun year where I spent so much time in bed I’ve memorized the obscure pattern in my bedroom ceiling. I’m not kidding about this. And since I’m still recovering and lately my head has been throbbing constantly, well, it’s best to dream of spring and new things and imagine goodness that must surely follow travail.
So I was thrilled to hear that Elizabeth Alexander will be the inaugural poet when President-elect Barack Obama is sworn in next month. She is the fourth poet to achieve this honor and along with Aretha Franklin and Yo—Yo Ma, I’m sure she’ll rock the place. Violinist Itzhak Perlman, pianist Gabriela Montero and clarinetist Anthony McGill will join Ma for a new work composed by John Williams. I always equate Williams with Steven Spielberg movies, don’t you? And I hear that Nickelodeon is going to cover the inauguration. How fun is that? Everyone is planning for a massive turnout with Rick Warren giving the invocation as the sour note for the day. Would someone explain why it’s necessary to court evangelicals?
But back to Alexander. From her website: “Elizabeth Alexander is a poet, essayist, playwright, and teacher. She is the author of four books of poems, The Venus Hottentot, Body of Life, Antebellum Dream Book, and American Sublime, which was one of three finalists for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize. She is also a scholar of African-American literature and culture and recently published a collection of essays, The Black Interior. She has read her work across the U.S. and in Europe, the Caribbean, and South America, and her poetry, short stories, and critical prose have been published in dozens of periodicals and anthologies. She has received many grants and honors, most recently the Alphonse Fletcher, Sr. Fellowship for work that “contributes to improving race relations in American society and furthers the broad social goals of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954,” and the 2007 Jackson Prize for Poetry, awarded by Poets and Writers. She is a professor at Yale University, and for the academic year 2007-2008 she is a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.”
And speaking of poets, W.S. Merwin was a guest on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross on December 16th and discussed his new volume of poetry, The Shadow of Sirius. If he’s still writing at 81, surely we can all pen a few more lines?
Meanwhile, speaking of out with old and in with the new, I’m trying to ignore the Bush Crime Family’s Farewell/Legacy tour as they try to reshape their oh-so tarnished image. Like they’re going to change our minds that invading and occupying Iraq was a good idea??? And now that Cheney admitted he authorized war crimes, what are we going to do with him? Throw shoes at him? So let’s not schlep down that wincingly obvious pile of horse pucky.
I’m also jazzed that Caroline Kennedy might be joining the Senate because I’ve long admired her and think she’s a terrific writer with a great mind. Other good news: in case you haven’t heard, check out ART BEAT at pbs.org/newshour/art/blog which is covering the national art scene by Jeffrey Brown, Newshour correspondent—I’m looking forward to this coverage. As I’m sure you know, in hard times we need art…and more art….
The wintry weather is still blustering through our region, and I’m keep listening in to the prognosticators trying to figure out when I can venture forth. Stay warm and keep it lit and power to the people.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
At the store, there were few parking spots and carts available and inside it buzzed and clattered with throngs of shoppers jamming the aisles in search of provisions. For the first time since I’ve lived in Portland, the shelves were being stripped of basics like bread and butter and milk. I was reminded of people stocking up before a hurricane although the parking lot was slick with ice. After returning home with my provisions I walked inside and experienced a dull, empty sensation that can only be called cabin fever as there are predicted more days ahead of storms and ice and cold.
Now, since I grew up in Northern Wisconsin, I know that winter can deal out much harsher blows that our below freezing temperatures and traction-device only driving conditions. Last week I was talking with someone about the coming storm and talking about a winter I spent in Wisconsin on the Lac du Flambeau Indian Reservation when I was in my twenties. My daughter was in first grade and every morning I’d walk her about a half mile to the bus stop through the woods. Most mornings it was about twenty five below and the dawn came in shades of violet painting the horizon and we’d shine a flashlight on the animal prints in fresh snow. As we walked along it was still as if the whole world was holding its breath in the snow-covered forest except for loud cannon blasts emitting as trees cracked in the deep freeze of winter. Somehow, these memories are still some of my best although I can still remember the bone-chilling cold and what it felt like to return to my cabin and the wood stove.
This morning I told myself I was a winter writer, that sun is a distraction. I tell myself that cold weather makes a person feel really alive—and it does, it does. So I’ll concoct a pot of stew and I’ll drink tea by the quart and I’ll watch the snow tumble down, marveling at how the world is transformed under fresh layers of white.
For people living in Washington, Kay Kenyon, of the Write on the River conference held each May in Wenatchee, WA sent me this announcement: Update: Expanded Writers' Competition
Greetings! It's time to give yourself a gift this holiday season, or to spice up your new year with an early resolution. The 2009 (second annual) WOTR Writers' Competition has been expanded with two distinct prose categories, both fiction and nonfiction, and more generous awards.
Some things are the same: maximum word length is still 1000 words, and the entry is $15, or $40 for entry fee and a written critique. Anyone in Washington may enter -- aspiring, pre-published, or published, and you have until February 6, 2009 to mail in your entry. See our website for rules, guidelines and printable form.
You can start the new year right -- just start writing!! (http://www.writeontheriver.org)
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
America has always been a place of opportunity and second chances. Eliot Spitzer, the former governor of New York, is now writing a column for Slate. His first column is titled We need to stop using the bailouts to rebuild gigantic financial institutions. I couldn’t agree more…
I received this notice from amazon.com yesterday that I wanted to pass along:
We invite you to visit the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award website at www.amazon.com/abna where you can read the latest news on this year’s contest. Find out more about bestselling authors Sue Monk Kidd and Sue Grafton who will be leading our expert reviewer panel upcoming contest.
You can also read about some of last year’s finalists who have since received publishing contracts. Plus, don't miss Bill Loehfelm's 2008 winning novel “Fresh Kills,” hailed by the Associated Press as “the finest crime fiction debut since Dennis Lehane burst on the scene,” now available in hardcover from Penguin Group (USA).
The submission period begins on February 2, 2009 and ends on February 8, 2009 or when we receive 10,000 entries, whichever comes first. If you're an author with an unpublished novel, you can sign up for important contest updates and information on how to get your entry prepared for submission. Please note that previously published titles, including self-published titles, are not eligible for entry.
Visit the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award website at www.amazon.com/abna.
Writers ask me often about finding agents or if I can hook them up with agents. Sorry, not in the business of match making, but I suggest that if you’re agent hunting that you read their blogs or at the least the submission guidelines that their agency posts online. Here are two blogs that are worthwhile. The first is from Nathan Bransford who writes:
I'm a literary agent with the San Francisco office of Curtis Brown Ltd., a New York based literary agency that has been representing writers since 1914. I'm particularly interested in literary fiction, mysteries and suspense, historical fiction, narrative nonfiction, business, history, sports, politics, current events, young adult fiction, science fiction and anything else I happen to like! I'm afraid I do not represent poetry or screenplays. If you are interested in submitting a project for representation, please e-mail me a letter describing your project at email@example.com. No attachments, please. If you have a question, please first check the links in "The Essentials" directly below, and especially the FAQs. Thanks for reading this literary agent's blog, and best of luck with your search for representation!
And another blog by Janet Reid Literary Agent . Here is her introduction: I’m a literary agent with FinePrint Literary Management in New York City. I specialize in crime fiction. I’ll be glad to receive a query letter from you; guidelines to help you decide if I’m looking for what you write are below. There are several posts labeled “query pitfalls and “annoy me” that many help you avoid some common mistakes when querying.
Monday, December 01, 2008
So I was thinking about Rosa Parks and her rare act of courage and thinking too about how writing requires courage and belief. What if the book you’re writing or are afraid to write causes a movement, just as Rosa’s refusal exploded the South’s Jim Crow’s laws? Or maybe your book will make a reader look more closely into the past, or understand her sister or father or neighbor better. Or maybe your book will open a groundswell of compassion for all humankind. You never know what a single act of courage or words on the page can unleash.
And news from MediaBistro: Bill Shapiro (editor of Other People's Love Letters) is looking for your literary rejection letters, planning to publish them in a 2010 collection entitled, Other People's Rejection Letters.
If you need more immediate satisfaction (or sympathy) feel free to include your literary rejection in the comments section. Or check out the excellent Literary Rejections on Display blog.
From the press release: "Whether typed form letters or handwritten in a fit of rage, whether sent by text message, email, or scrawled in crayon, any kind of rejection is fair game ... If you have a letter, you can either send it to me or scan it (600 dpi, por favor) and then email it."
For my word list ballyhooed, boondoggle, hornswoggle, crimeny....What words have you added lately?
Thursday, November 27, 2008
the children in my life who always make me laugh and enchant me with their insights and vision.
friends who lead interesting lives, who see things differently than I do, listen to my woes, and laugh at my jokes.
this great country, no matter how battered and off track we veer at times.
a childhood that taught me a love of books, laughter, and nature.
writers and artists everywhere for enlarging the human story.
librarians and booksellers everywhere for keeping the flame lit.
Barak Obama for his big brain, real family values, and running a smart campaign. And, of course, winning. Ditto for Joe Biden.
Sarah Palin for running for an office that she nothing about and for misjudging the American peoples’ intelligence.
that we can soon bid farewell to George W. and Cheney.
Russ Feingold, Ron Wyden, Bernie Sanders, and other smart and caring folks in our Congress.
the doctors who are helping me recover from my accident.
Tarcher for buying my latest book and to my great editor Gaby for her insights and support.
my students and clients who teach me so much about writing and storytelling.
everyone who reads my books and supports my work.
the beauty of the Oregon coastline with its sweeping beaches, ever-changing skies, and endless swath of blue ocean and sunsets that practically break your heart they’re so magical.
My pile of notebooks I’ve kept over the years filled with ideas, phrases, poems, short stories and jottings
A good writing session
Walking at dusk
The Columbia River Gorge
All the shades of green
sandcastles--they always inspire whimsy.
tea, especially Earl Grey—and whoever started dumping leaves into boiling water.
ditto for soup—it’s my staple these days and has there ever been a meal so warming and satisfying?
that I can work in my pajamas or bathrobe.
that gas prices are coming down.
that I don’t work on Wall Street.
And let’s not forget:
My computer which has become an extension of my brain.
Moisturizer. (I’m serious)
The sound of the ocean
Reading in bed
That I Joe Six Pack is not my man
Thai and Vietnamese restaurants.
Learning something new.
Dreams, even when I cannot decipher their meaning
J.I. Rodale’s The Synonym Finder (this should be further up the list)
The lonely sound of a fog horn, especially when heard in dense, horror-movie type fog.
Walking in brisk weather.
The far-off sound of a train whistle
Little boys in bow ties
Bulbs emerging in the spring
The smells of Thanksgiving dinner roasting in the oven.
Suitcases with wheels.
Strings of lights.
Small children who wear glasses
Jeans that fit just right.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
As you might have guessed I own a bookcase crammed with books about writing. Well, actually dweeb that I am, I have two, although one contains a lot of anthologies. A few years ago when my copy of Between the Lines came in the mail hot off the presses from my publisher, Writer’s Digest , I had an epiphany. For years I’d been a member of the Writers Digest Book Club, and for years I had considered other writers the experts, while I was, well, if not a hack, maybe a runner-up or perpetual bridesmaid. But when I held that book I realized that all along I’d wanted my book in that catalogue and I’d had a vision for years of creating a book about writing….I hadn’t imagined that I’d write five or six, but that’s another story. But I still read what other writers say about craft and the diligence it takes to crank out words. One book I own that you might want to peek into is written by thriller writer, David Morrell (alas, no relation). The lecture was called, Why Do You Want To Be a Writer?
From The Successful Novelist, A Lifetime of Lessons About Writing & Publishing LESSON ONE: WHY DO YOU WANT TO BE A WRITER? "When I teach at writers’ conferences, I always begin by asking my students, “Why on earth would you want to be writers?” They chuckle, assuming that I’ve made a joke. But my question is deadly sober. Writing is so difficult, requiring such discipline, that I’m amazed when someone wants to give it a try. If a student is serious about it, if that person intends to make a living at it, the commitment of time and energy is considerable. It’s one of the most solitary professions. It’s one of the few in which you can work on something for a year (a novel, say), with no certainty that your efforts will be accepted or that you’ll get paid. On every page, confidence fights with self-doubt.
Every sentence is an act of faith. Why would anybody want to do it?
The usual answer I get is, “For the satisfaction of being creative.” The students nod, relieved that this troubling line of thought is over. But in fact, the subject has barely been started. I rephrase my question, making it less threatening. “Why do you want to be writers?” This time, I tell my students I don’t want to hear about the joy of creativity. Squirms. Glances toward the ceiling. Toward the floor. Someone is honest enough to say, “I’d like to earn the kind of money Stephen King does.” Someone else chuckles. “Who wouldn’t?” We’re on our way."
While you’re at the Backspace website, you might want to check out the 23 articles written by literary agents—such as Ethan Ellensburg’s article on targeting agents.
As you know every year People magazine has it’s sexiest man alive issue and this year they chosen Aussie Hugh Jackman. I would recommend that you jog over to salon. com for “Our third annual alternative to People magazine's Bible of Sexy -- with its pretty pinups and bland predictability -- has become a tradition here at Salon. In our third year, we've curated a list of 17 men for whom 2008 was a winning season. (For the first time, we also opened up the awards to the Open Salon community, selecting our two favorite picks from their suggestions and adding them to our list.) These are smart men, men of brains and brawn, art and athleticism. And they're not bad looking, either.” I won’t give away the winners, but agree with all of them (there’s even a novelist in the mix) and also think the writing in this article is clever and fun and smart.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
According to The Writer’s Almanac “It was a foggy, cold morning on this day in 1863. Lincoln arrived at the new national cemetery in Gettysburg at about 10 a.m. Around noon, the sun broke out as the crowds gathered on a hill overlooking the battlefield. A military band played, a local preacher offered a long prayer, and the headlining orator, Edward Everett, spoke for more than two hours. When Everett was finished, Lincoln got up and pulled his speech from his coat pocket. It consisted of 10 sentences, a total of 272 words. The audience was distracted by a photographer setting up his camera, and by the time Lincoln had finished his speech and sat down the audience didn't even realize he had spoken.”
Thank God eloquence is now back in fashion in our political leaders. But then there are rumors that Sarah Palin has a $7 million deal publishing deal to write her memoirs. If you’re offended by this number, join the club. I’m hoping the rumor is wrong—but then I keep hoping that she’ll disappear from the national stage and stay home in Wasilla with her mouth shut and her reputation, such as it is, permanently tattered, tarnished and ruined (couldn’t think of a third word that begins with t) . But no such luck…
What is comforting that book deals are still being made. Every day in my email box I receive notices about newspaper journalists being axed by the thousands, magazines being shuttered or having their staffs slashed, and now publishing houses laying off their employees. No matter how you add it up, there are a lot of writers out of work these days. But books are being bought and read and savored and are still our companions. Barak Obama is reading books about FDR, The Defining Moment: F D R's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope by Jonathan Alter and F D R by Jean Edward Smith and according to industry experts, those books are flying off the book shelves and many are going into additional printings. Then of course Doris Kearns Goodman’s book, Team of Rivals, The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln is also selling like crazy.
And here’s a new take on the industry or perhaps a sign of the times. A group of women authors that include Ursula LeGuin have banded together to form Book View Café. They describe the site this way: “Book View Cafe is a new approach to publishing made possible by the Internet. While most of the fiction on the site is free, authors will also be offering expanded work, additional content, print versions, or subscriptions for a fee. Our authors are all professionals with publishing credits in the print world. The Internet is giving us an opportunity to make their out-of-print, experimental, or otherwise unavailable work to you. We love feedback on how we are doing.
Every day, new content available nowhere else will be served up on Book View Cafe: short stories, flash fiction, poetry, episodes of serialized novels, and maybe even a podcast now and then. The content will be archived and available after the posting date by visiting the author's bookshelf.”
Meanwhile, I’m planning on supporting the publishing industry by buying books as Christmas gifts. Now, I always buy books as Christmas books and gift cards to books stores as gifts, but this year I’m doubling my efforts. If we all buy at least one extra book for a Christmas gift maybe it will help keep the book stores and publishing houses alive.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
And speaking of editing. Awhile ago I was having dinner and listening to live music with friends at a local blues club/restaurant. That night there was one bartender working the entire room and waitressing/busing the tables, although there are usually two women working on a Saturday night. She was a maestro of efficiency—whisking around the room like a ballet dancer, but she forgot my friend’s order for crab cakes. When she returned with the order and her apology she mentioned that the previous night she’d had a waitressing nightmare where the orders were piled up and people were yelling “Miss!” and grabbing at her as she struggled to keep up with a huge crowd of hungry people. Which led us into a funny conversation about our stress/worry dreams. I used to be caterer and would dream that hundreds of people were showing up at the door for the event and I hadn’t yet begun to cook their food. Or sometimes these days, I need to speak before a large crowd or teach and I dream that the event is starting and I haven’t prepared my talk.
So this morning I woke up from a dream in which I was teaching or leading a writer’s critique group. There was an older writer in the class and her manuscript wasn’t coming together. In the dream I was struggling to explain to her how she might improve her plotting techniques and I suggested that she start working on complicated jigsaw puzzles, to try and slip into a more creative problem-solving mindset. Then I suggested that she copy my habit of using a notebook when she reads and make notes on metaphors and similes because her language was flat. In the dream I’m sort of stumped as to how to help her, but I don’t want her to give up….I want her to make a big leap in her writing…..
In case you haven’t heard about it, the good folks at the University of Oxford have assembled a list of the ten most annoying and overused buzzwords and phrases. The list appears in a new book, Damp Squid: The English Language Laid Bare, by Jeremy Butterfield. Butterfield said: "We grow tired of anything that is repeated too often – an anecdote, a joke, a mannerism – and the same seems to happen with some language." (Drum roll please)
1. At the end of the day
2 - Fairly unique
3 - I personally
4 - At this moment in time
5 - With all due respect
6 - Absolutely
7 - It's a nightmare
8 - Shouldn't of
9 - 24/7
10 - It's not rocket science
Bless their hearts, although they left out my top irritations: very, synergy, strategy, utilize, think outside the box, needless to say, paradigm shift, quite literally, long story short, agree to disagree, hands-on, the bottom line, tongue in cheek, totally, absolutely, really, so called, sea change, wake-up call, no brainer, not an option, my friends and maverick (don’t get me started) Irregardless of whether you agree with them, it’s plain as day that compiling this list wasn’t rocket science. Happy writing and deleting those clichés.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Well I’m still basking in my post-election bliss. Here’s how columnist Frank Rich in his op ed describes how Karl Rove’s wedge politics aren’t working any more and we Americans can no longer be ruled by fearmongers: “Our nation was still in the same ditch it had been the day before, but the atmosphere was giddy. We felt good not only because we had breached a racial barrier as old as the Republic. Dawn also brought the realization that we were at last emerging from an abusive relationship with our country’s 21st-century leaders. The festive scenes of liberation that Dick Cheney had once imagined for Iraq were finally taking place — in cities all over America.”
And I am sending a big shoutout and thanks to Howard Dean who has announced that he won’t continue as head of the DNC. Remember how so many, especially Rush Limbaugh and Karl Rove, laughed when he declared the 50 state strategy? They ain’t laughing now….
And didn’t I tell you that Sarah Palin is the gift that keeps on giving? You might want to check out her Fox interview where she complains about her handlers and the people that are outing her for not knowing that Africa is a continent or the countries in North America. Meanwhile, she’s saying that she hopes that God will “show her the door” of the White House. Over my dead body but she is not going quietly.
From the Fox interview with Greta Van Susteran: “I'm like, OK, God, if there is an open door for me somewhere, this is what I always pray, I'm like, don't let me miss the open door. Show me where the open door is.
"Even if it's cracked up a little bit, maybe I'll plough right on through that and maybe prematurely plough through it, but don't let me miss an open door."
Also, she claims her fall from grace is all the media’s fault, especially "those bloggers in their parents' basement just talkin' garbage". Tee hee. Just for the record, I blog from my second floor office and my parents live far away.
Of course, a lot of politicos are claiming that Mitt Romney is behind these Palin smears because he’s trying to take down Palin now since he wants to run in 2012. And have you heard how much money the Mormon’s spent on California’s Proposition 8? Keep an eye on the election results in Alaska—something fishy is going on up there and I’m not talking about the salmon industry. Votes are disappearing, Harry Reed doesn’t want to seat convicted felon Ted Stevens (imagine that!) and Sarah will have a big say in their Senate seat.
The New York Times has an interesting article online, For South, a Waning Hold on National Politics which talks about how the South is no longer a solid voting block and thus Nixon’s famous Southern Strategy is dead. The article is at www.nytimes.com/2008/.11/11/us/politics/11south.html
Call me an elitist, because brains are in fashion again, but I’ve never been happier about our political landscape. Or, as columnist Michael Kristof wrote: “Barack Obama’s election is a milestone in more than his pigmentation. The second most remarkable thing about his election is that American voters have just picked a president who is an open, out-of-the-closet, practicing intellectual.” The times they are a-changing. Happy writing to all.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
We the people have spoken. This victory is George W. Bush’s impeachment, an end of an era, and a resounding repudiation of the criminal, right-wing faction that has wreaked so much damage on the country. I need to echo Gerald Ford after he took office after Nixon left the presidency in disgrace when he announced to the country, “Our national nightmare is over.”
No more apathy in the American electorate. No more being ruled by fear. No more of our personal liberties being violated. No more elections stolen. No more voter suppression. No more being reviled by the rest of the world. No more ignoring the reality of global warming. No more unbridled executive power. No more signing statements. No more torture. No more no-bid contracts. No more Abu Ghraib. No more ignoring the Geneva Convention and illegally and indefinitely holding prisoners at Guantanamo. No more warrantless surveillance of American citizens. No more borrowing billions to keep this limping economy afloat. No more deregulation of the banking industry. No more watching Bush and Cheney’s incredibly self-satisfied, smug, smirky expressions, no more enduring their obvious disdain for anyone who is not a billionaire Republican. No more empowering the evangelical wing of the Republican Party and allowing them to set the agenda for our national policies. No more Sarah Palin in our face every day, although I predict a huge book deal or talk show. And the list goes on…..
And three of the main reasons I’m so happy about last night’s victory: Justice John Paul Stevens is 88; Ruth Bader Ginsberg is 75; David Souter is 68; and all are expected to leave the Court within the next four years. With many cases likely to be decided by the Supreme Court in the next several years that linger from the years of Bush lawlessness and radicalism, this is one of the most important long-term effects of this historic election. As Obama said last night in Chicago, “It's been a long time coming, but change has come to America." Let’s bring back the Constitution keep hoping and keep the faith.
Monday, November 03, 2008
Last week I thought a lot about the passing of Studs Terkel who died at 96. A great story teller with a keen sense of history, he wanted to live long enough to see Obama elected. He left behind a pile of published works and amazing interviews from his radio shows. He most often talked with and about the common person, as in his book Working, but was not common. He was the essence of Chicago, he was erudite and compassionate, and what I love about Midwesterners—brash, bold, plain spoken, and funny.
He didn’t set out to be writer because he first went to law school, and was a writer through the WPA writer’s program in the 1930s. He was an actor, but then he became a columnist, and had his own television show until he was caught in the crosshairs of Senator Joseph McCartney’s House Un-American Activities Committee and was blacklisted. After the Red Scare abated he landed a daily radio show on Chicago’s WFMT which was when he learned the power of oral history. In his last years he kept on cranking out books, held onto his love of life. I loved listening to him chat with Garrison Keillor on Prairie Home Companion who also wears red socks, the Studs trademark. I’m going to miss his wit and curiosity and his voice like gravel over whiskey.
He said, “I want people to talk to one another no matter what their difference of opinion might be.” And, “I hope for peace and sanity—it’s the same thing.”
Now go out and vote.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
For those of you living in Oregon or southern Washington Paper Fort provides news and updates about Oregon's literary community, including application and deadline information about the Oregon Book Awards and Oregon Literary Fellowships.
And I know that I’m one cold-hearted dame, but if you’re interested http:www.alternet.org/electi is featuring an article, The 11 Dumbest Things Sarah Palin has Said. It includes her assertion that Obama is “palling around with terrorists.” I’d laugh if it didn’t make me feel like crying. And as Palin’s favorability numbers are dropping like a rock, apparently all is not lovey-dovey on the Straight Talk Express. Lately she’s been described by McCain staffers as a diva and whack job. What, she’s not happy with the stylist who is charged $11,000 a week to keep her looking hot? No mooseburgers available on the road? And I wonder what they’re calling the First Dude?
New words for the word list: prudent, man child, slog, rousing, grandstanding, plummeting, lurch, caprice, cred, jabbering, snippy, vacuity, musty sashay, ricochet, pummel, feckless, crutching (verb), guttering, endgame, sylvan, eggheady, baleful, hoopla, fancy-schmancy, jounce, vitriol, unflappability, kafuffle, hoopla.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
This attention to detail will not only enrich your story, it will insure that each of your characters have their own individual voice.” Visit Mindy at her website: www.MindyNeff.com
Halloween is less than a week ago, so to celebrate this yearly spookfest, I want to direct you to Dr. James Hynes at the Cultwriter Institute for the Doomed, Damned and Deceased. He’s compiled a list of ten tales of horror to help you slip into a graveyard mood necessary for these autumn days.
New words added to my word list: feckless, crutching (verb), endgame, sylvan, erudite, hyperreal, baleful, eggheady, gizmo, guttering
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Today Stephen King's God trip is posted “On the 30th anniversary of "The Stand," the novelist confesses what haunts him about religion and today's politics.” It’s written by John Marks, a former 60 Minutes producer who is the author of Purple State of Mind and Reasons to Believe. He interviews King asking fascinating questions about our current political climate and religious beliefs.
Here’s how the article opens: In 1927, a little-known writer of horror stories named H.P. Lovecraft tried to put into words the secret of his diabolical craft. "The one test of the really weird is simply this," Lovecraft wrote in the introduction to "Supernatural Horror in Literature," "whether or not there be excited in the reader a profound sense of dread and of contact with unknown spheres and powers; a subtle attitude of awed listening, as if for the beating of black wings or the scratching of outside shapes or entities on the known universe's utmost rim."
Aren’t Lovecraft’s words gorgeous? And the article is terrific,mostly an interview with Stephen King pondering America’s fetish for apocalyptic worries and matters of faith.
And folks, just a reminder about keeping a word list. This means you’re culling, scavenging, plumbing the world for language that will fit your many uses and moods. My word list is a simple alphabetized Word document that I print out from time to time. The latest additions are (some cribbed from the King article): Soothsaying, blithely, hubris, trope, tomblike, ass sweat, squib, prescient, drubbed, suckled, dichotomy, kryptonite, juju, mingle, guttering, unbelief, cross-pollenization, demonize, bunkered, steeped
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Well, to be accurate the whole family was being outfitted including the First Dude. Now don’t you recall that the fiscally conservative Republicans criticized John Edward for his $400 haircut, Al Gore for changing his wardrobe colors, and Hillary and Bill for their expensive ‘dos? Apparently some of Palin’s expenses included hair and make up costs….I’ve been wondering about that hairpiece she wears ever since she appeared on the national scene. Apparently maverick rhymes with Saks Fifth Avenue ….But let’s look on the bright side: if she’s sent packing back to Wasilla (alias Methville) she’ll have the classiest wardrobe in the state. I predict she’ll run again for national office.
But back to the gift that keeps on giving. It appears that after Palin was drafted by McCain she changed the records of recent expenditures back in Alaska. It appears that she took her children on a number of excursions and designated their roles as “official” functions so thus their air flights, hotel rooms, and travel expenses were paid for by the taxpayers of Alaska. One trip included a 4-day trip with her daughter to New York where they spent more than $700 a night on hotel rooms.
Expect to hear about Jeremiah Wright in these closing days of the election along with more comments about how Obama and so many progressives are “anti-American” and socialists. Meanwhile, I wonder who is dressing Joe the Plumber these days?
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
But the Powell interview was simply inspiring. He was making all the points that my friends and I have been talking about for the past months and his analysis was so cogent, eloquent, and plain that there was little room to refute his logic. I especially like how he demanded to know why being a Muslim is now a terrible slur in this country which was founded on religious tolerance. Now, Powell hasn’t been on my hit parade since he appeared before the United Nations and added his stamp of approval to our invasion of Iraq. But he answered that allegation in the interview and after the show with reporters, and I find it especially interesting that he’s one of the few Republican leaders in the country who is still respected. And I find it especially telling that we needed a Republican and man of conscience to stand up to repudiate the blatant bigotry towards Muslims.
Powell said: “I'm also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say, and it is permitted to be said. Such things as 'Well you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.' Well the correct answer is 'He is not a Muslim, he's a Christian, he's always been a Christian.' But the really right answer is 'What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?' The answer is 'No. That's not America.' Is there something wrong with some 7-year old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she can be president? Yet I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion he's a Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists. This is not the way we should be doing it in America.
"I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo-essay about troops who were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in you can see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards, Purple Heart, Bronze Star, showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross, it didn't have a Star of David. It had a crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Karim Rashad Sultan Khan. And he was an American, he was born in New Jersey, he was 14 at the time of 9/11 and he waited until he can go serve his counrty and he gave his life."
I believe this show would have made Tim Russert proud.
Of course that gasbag Rush Limbaugh is ranting on the air waves about how Powell’s endorsement was made because Obama is black. Let’s not forget that Limbaugh lost his sports announcer gig on ESPN when he made disparaging remarks about black quarterbacks and Donovan McNabb. Ugh.
October 20 was the poet Robert Pinsky’s birthday. He once said, "The longer I live, the more I see there's something about reciting rhythmical words aloud — it's almost biological — that comforts and enlivens human beings."
Monday, October 20, 2008
This year's National Book Award finalists were announced last week and the ceremony will take place on November 19. Writer and actor Eric Bogosian will host this year's National Book Award Ceremony and Dinner. Among the fiction nominees are Peter Matthiessen, Rachel Kushner, and Marilynne Robinson. The Foundation to honor Maxine Hong Kingston with the 2008 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters and Barney Rosset the 2008 Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the Literary Community.
Matthiessen, who has been nominated four times for the award (winning in 1978 for The Snow Leopard), is nominated this year for Shadow Country, a new novel which consolidates his trilogy about legendary Everglades sugar planter and notorious outlaw E. J. Watson. Robinson is nominated for Home, the successor and sequel to her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Gilead. Kushner receives the nomination for her debut novel, Telex From Cuba, a portrait of the American colonies in pre-Revolutionary Cuba and their collapse in the face of revolutionary change.
Friday, October 17, 2008
And since the economy and the election have many of us feeling tense, check out Bookninja (http://wwwbookninja.com) for a contest of book cover designs that mostly spoof the contents of the story within. The Road cover is a particular play on images that are pretty much opposite of the story told……
Thursday, October 16, 2008
When I’m feeling worried about the international economy faltering or about how shenanigans might occur during the upcoming election I turn to other writers for solace. Garrison Keillor is one of my favorite people, although we’ve never met. The only time I was in the audience of his Prairie Home Companion show I was amazed that his monologues about Lake Woebegone are delivered without notes. He also wears red socks and the man I was dating at the time fell asleep during the show, another indicator of how mismatched we were. I love Keillor’s dry wit and sense of absurdity and basic decency. His weekly column in salon.com this week, Let the Leader Lead, begins with his musing about a sermon he heard this past week, talks about people he knows facing huge challenges and concludes with thoughts on the upcoming election. He writes, “Onward, America. We've all seen plenty of the worst -- the sly cruelty, the arrogant ignorance, the fascination with trivia, the cheats, the weaselish and piggish and the buzzardly -- but we can rise above it if we will only recognize a leader when one comes along and have the sense to let him lead.”
And speaking of salon.com, Anne Lamott’s contributions there have been infrequent in recent years, but lately she’s been writing about how we must keep the faith during these nerve-wracking, pre-election times. In her September 16th column where she compared Sarah Palin to a Southpark character and she suggested that people visit the Sarah Palin Baby Name Generator as a cheerer upper. Since the Palins named their poor kids Track, Trig, Bristol, Willow, and Piper it answers the question of what your name would be if the Palins were your parents. My name, by the way would be Sport Grunt Palin.
On October 13 Lamott’s piece No time to cry wolf rain begins with “My pastor once said that you can trap bees on the bottom of a jar without a lid because they won’t look up. They walk around frantically bumping into glass while, one presumes, muttering.
I’ve been feeling like that lately, in these last weeks before the election. I feel trapped on the bottom of the TV jar, frantic, buzzing, bummed. It was largely due to having to see and hear Sarah Palin every time I turned on the TV or radio. Has there ever been, at least in the last 10 years, a more thoroughly repellent American?”
The essay goes on to describe a recent run-in with a wolf and (yes, I said wolf) and her essay concludes: “So what did I learn that day? I learned that fear is appropriate these days, much of the time. Don't let people tell you that you can't have faith and fear, as if you have to choose. The old saying goes, Faith is fear that has said its prayers. This is the best possible time in the history of the republic both to stay extremely afraid and also to keep the faith: If you feel too much of one, look around deep inside for the other. When you are really lost, take the next action that feels most right, and insight will follow. Justified fear is how we are going to win this election, and our faith in goodness, truth and the Constitution is why we must.
And, it almost goes without saying, wolves really don't belong in public parks, any more than they would in the office of the vice president of this nation.”
Meanwhile, happy writing to everyone and a special shout-out to Joe the Plumber. Sorry I cannot visit the blogosphere more often but my recovery from my car accident is taking me longer than anticipated and I’m only allowed to write and read 4 hours a day in 20-minute spurts. And remember that if you’re worrying about the world crumbling around you focus on what you can do today to feel safe and then make things a bit better for people around you. When my mood is especially low I say something nice to a stranger everywhere I go—it works like a charm.
Friday, October 10, 2008
A few things I wanted to mention: There is an interview about me now posted at www.coolstuffrwriters.com.
Second, one of my favorite books was Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping.(The film version with Christine Lahti was also terrific.) Anyway, in case you haven’t heard she has a new book out. The WSJ talks with Marilynne Robinson about her new novel Home and how it is not quite a sequel, yet manages to weave her searing insights about humanity into the story.
Third, apparently Donna Tartt has a new novel coming out with Little Brown. Trouble is, it won’t appear until 2012. Is it just me, or isn’t it a bit, uhm, premature to announce it now?
All around us the system is collapsing, GM stock has plummeted to under $5 a share. As our economy collapses my mind drifts back to the politics that brought this about. These days once again GOP operatives are trying to suppress the vote in battleground states. Everyone needs to check their voter registration. Yesterday the Alaska Supreme Court refused to halt Sarah Palin’s ethics probe at the request of Alaska Republicans. It turns out that the First Dude was involved for years in trying to get his brother-in-law fired as meanwhile Sarah refuses to answer a subpoena. Is it just me, but before this administration did anyone refuse a subpoena summons?
And this is hardly news but the hate speech, lies and slander that are now part of the daily gatherings of the McCain-Palin campaign whipping up their supporters to shout “kill him” and “terrorist” at their rallies really needs to be stopped. (Reminds me a bit of Reagan’s campaign—lest you forget how incredibly racist it was check out some of his early Southern campaign stops) But the point is, it appears that Palin is trying to incite violence. Is this what our political system has degenerated into? This also reminds me of the terrible events of 1968. That crazy old coot the cowardly McCain had a chance to confront Obama during their so-called debates. As I recall he couldn’t even look at Obama he was so incensed that a young upstart was smarter and more capable than him. As someone who has researched the habits of alpha males, this isn’t exactly on par with their behavior, even when they are perpetually pissed off. Speak the truth people, speak the truth. Before it’s too late.
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
Green began the talk by telling a story from his boyhood. When he and his brother were together in the back seat and started acting up his father would recite poetry to quiet them. This led to a lifetime interest in story poems and poetry of all types which broadened into trying his hand at writing them. When he fell in love at age 10 he wrote a poem to impress the girl of his dreams. He read that poem to the audience and when he finished, sitting near the front of the theater, I started clapping. To which he replied, “Where were you forty years ago?”
Throughout his talk he wove in the poems of his friends and favorites, ee cummings, Robert Service, Marilyn Hacker, Jane Kenyon, John O’Leary, and Hayden Carruth who died about a week ago. In Carruth’s New York Times obituary it was written: “He had a greater variety of poems than almost anybody,” said the poet Galway Kinnell, a longtime friend. “He was interested — superinterested — in everything and he could write about anything.” You can find poems by Carruth and other poets at www.poemhunter.com.
But mostly Green starting talking about how he turned to language to figure out his struggles, to allow the heart to speak. To quell the terror of not being able to connect. And as he talked, I remembered listening to NPR in the days following the 9/11 attacks. They ran a show that featured a number of poets reading their favorite poems, offering solace. I recalled how the voice of W.S. Merwin came over the airwaves from France and as I listened to him read, as Green said, I was willing to come out differently on the other side of the poem. And did. And for the first time since those terrible events I felt like we were all going to be able to go on.
After Green’s talk, drunk on poetry, I slipped into a Thai restaurant and ordered tea and a bowl of Tom Kha soup. Maybe it was the poetry, or the autumn afternoon, looking at the brooding sky, trees shivering in the autumn wind, and people bustling past bent against the wind, but it was probably the best bowl of soup I’ve ever eaten. The soup was creamy from coconut milk and had been simmered with complex flavors of lime, chili, and lemongrass.
Later I walked up to the Edmonds library and settled into a chair with a book of poems by W.S. Merwin and another by Ted Kooser, Winter Morning Walks. They were written as postcards to his friend Jim Harrison. In Kooser’s book he wrote poems, mostly haikus, about his walks as he was recovering from cancer and his poems are filled with acute awareness of his surroundings and all seem touched with the fragility of the human body. In the preface to his book, Kooser wrote: “In the autumn of 1998, during my recovery from surgery and radiation for cancer, I began taking a two-mile walk each morning. I’d been told by my radiation oncologist to stay out of the sun for a year because of skin sensitivity, so I exercised before dawn, hiking the isolated country roads near where I live, sometimes with my wife but most often alone.”
Each poem begins with a brief comment on the weather and conditions. If you’ve never read Kooser’s work, you’re missing his painter’s eye and deft hand with metaphor. The library is perched on a hill far above the harbor and was lined in windows. Between reading poems I watched the ever-changing sky as clouds in shades of funereal gray and cigarette smoke and fresh bruises scuttled northward as if heading beyond Canada.
Now that I’m home, I’m going to make my own version of Tom Kha and watch the autumn sky from here, and read more poetry. I’m going to be traveling down to Newport, Oregon to teach a class on Story People on October 25. For more information write me or check out the description at Craig’s List. Happy writing to all.
Monday, September 29, 2008
I was home after yet another doctor’s appointment and running errands, and feeling awe that the dwindling days of September felt so much like July. A few times in the past few days of summer-like heat I was forced to check on my flower beds, and sure enough, there is that sort of creepy, mold-looking stuff overtaking some varieties, the roses are tired, the ferns not exactly sprightly. Summer is over, the evidence is everywhere despite our record high temperatures.
As the sky was turning to true dusk, I stepped out for a walk. I still was running conversations in my head as I walked along. I was wearing a sleeveless shirt and I was imagining a conversation with one of my doctors (perhaps doc number 3 or 4) because I was worried about what another doctor (perhaps number 5) had told me during our 3-hour appointment a few days ago. As they say, I was still ‘processing’ this appointment and his recommendations for medications and proclamations about the possible state of my head/brain health.
And to add to my personal drama, the previous evening I had driven to attend my book club meeting when my memory shorted out and I could not remember a major cross street although I had taught at a building located on this street for three years, following this same route, week after week, hundreds of times. By the time I reached the house where we were meeting I was rattled, and then proceeded to forget the names of every member of the cast in the book we’d read. (In my favor, I remembered what I liked and disliked about the book). So today I had a memory failure hangover because when both your long and short-term memory disappear in short order you don’t know if you should laugh or cry.
So I’m sauntering along tonight amid air so soft and so like Key West or Santa Barbara without the smell of ocean, and I cannot help myself, I start looking into windows. One of the reasons that this is my favorite time of year is because the farmer’s markets are like culinary jewelry stores and I get to look into my neighbor’s window at dusk as I stroll past. And the first window I peered into (from the sidewalk—I must explain because I fear my reputation is at stake) featured a mother walking her infant tucked to her chest, head lowered. She walked with the ancient cadence of condolence, patting him with that timeless gesture of comfort. And somewhere inside something started to shift and I counseled myself to stop talking to my doctors who weren’t around about my worries that I couldn’t do anything about in the moment and instead told myself ‘hush’. I repeated ‘hush’ as I stepped off the curb and then ahead of me in the gathering gloom a young couple turned the corner and preceded me. She was carrying a tote from L.L. Bean (I recognized the model) and an infant who looked like a newborn was strapped to the man’s chest. They murmured a bit and when they stepped into their yard, he paused and tucked her ahead of him in a gesture of such chivalry and tenderness that my heart almost broke.
I was walking faster by now, but I was slowing down inside my head. Next I passed a house that was dark except for a Tiffany-like lamp in the front window, bejeweled in deep greens and orange and leaf patterns. Next to the lamp was perched a Siamese who was peering out as if its owners would surely appear at any moment. And so the walk went—with one tableau after another until I arrived home unwound and softened and full of the small moments of domesticity and normalcy.
The sky is falling on Wall Street. Congress is afraid and the American people are pissed off. The world might change as we know it because China doesn’t want to keep loaning us a $billion a day to keep this country afloat. People are finally waking up to the scandalous and corrupt ways in which our economy has been managed. It just might be time for a sea change although my money is on the lobbyists who surely are putting in long hours these shaky days.
As for me, I’m grateful to be able to sit at my computer for awhile. On Saturday I was sitting in my living room and all of a sudden I felt a pop in my right ear and I couldn’t hear for a few minutes. Then my hearing loss faded and later I discovered that the vertigo that made me feel like a Saturday night drunk most of the time had eased some for a few days. If you’ve never had vertigo and you don’t drink, I don’t quite know how to explain it. Because you need to drink a LOT of alcohol until the room starts spinning to know what it feels like. I was trying to remember the last time I had the spins, and then to my embarrassment, realized it was only two years ago.
It happened after I hosted an end-of the summer party. My flowers were still blooming, the back yard was lovely, and I felt celebratory. So I rounded up about a dozen friends and I went out and bought a bunch of lobsters to boil. I picked dahlias and simmered a lovely basil-infused butter for dipping the lobster parts. Now, I had never cooked a lobster in my life before and somehow believed it was time I did. I had seen some photogenic lobster bake party in a Martha-Stewart like magazine and the recipes and lovely colors and beachy ease of it all appealed to me. Trouble is, when you buy a giant (as in fill up the trunk of your car) box of lobsters, it’s like you’re carting home your own personal zoo of mini-dinosaurs. They are frighteningly alive and prehistoric looking. I was freaked. Luckily, I talked one of my dear friends into boiling the beastly things for me while I attended to my various salads, bread, corn on the cob, deserts and keeping the champagne flowing and generally hiding out from killing our main course.
It was the sort of party where the sunset goes on for a long time and a lot of wine/champagne is ingested. At one point in the party I ventured out to stop the heated political discussion in which the only Republican and Viet Nam War vet in attendance was told to f—himself. At least one guest was staggering even after all my food and another guest supposed that perhaps Hitler wasn’t evil after all. A series of dramas were breaking out all over and I developed a tic in my right eye. (come to think of it, it has returned in the past few days) When finally everyone had gone home and I was singing along to my CD player and cleaning up a surprising mess, I consoled myself by finishing off the dregs of several bottles of wine. Which was when vertigo set in and I toddled off to bed.
Previous to that had been after a prolonged a Tilt-o-Whirl ride at the Clark County fair in about 1996 but that’s a long story and the ride operator was a flirt and sadist. Just trust me when I tell you that you don’t want to experience vertigo when you’re trying to buy lettuce or a pair of shoes or walk across a parking lot. I wish everyone sturdy steps or an otherwise firm ballast as you write and go about your days. I hope your pension and 401Ks are safe. Now, as for your dreams, I’m not sure firmness can be wished for, but happy writing anyway.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
I spent most of the day in bed yesterday resting and then went to two parties after cutting large bouquets of multi-hued dahlias. The first was my neighbors who were celebrating an anniversary and have turned their yard nestled under two giant firs into a fairyland of ponds and cozy seating areas, archways, paths twisting throughout made from pottery mosaics, and lanterns twinkling. Another guest told a story about how she met the hostess years ago, then lost track of her. Then she started dreaming about her night after night and resumed their friendship. We talked about how dreams are threaded from the past and the present meeting, how fun it is to try and dissect their origins and meaning.
The second was a 60th birthday party and people dressed in 60s garb and many had come to celebrate long and hard. The hostess had added lava lamps, strings of beads and Janis Joplin posters for ambiance and there were so many people and movement, that I needed to step outdoors several times to rest my brain from all the stimulation. And sometimes when people were talking to me it felt like a movie scene where the camera makes everything look close up and distorted. My head is a band of pain this morning, but then I remember a particularly silly costume from the night before and it’s worth it.
I’ve been thinking a lot about memory lately because mine has been affected by my car accident. My short and long-term memory are still shockingly unreliable and I’m in a new county here. In this country, I’m not a complete stranger, since my memory has been far from perfect in recent years, but at times if feels like I’ve stepped into a particularly psychedelic Bergman movie with a constantly shifting landscape. These days I need to make lists about everything, I need to google names and words that were once easily recalled, most projects I undertake take me twice or three times as long as they once did, and I need to rest my injured brain a lot. I don’t shop much because the bright lights and movement in stores is sending me into bouts of vertigo so dizzying that my legs become unreliable putty beneath me. So life feels like an acid-laced carnival ride at times and if you notice that I’m not in the blogosphere much these days it’s because I’m lying in the dark blocking out stimulation. And thinking that a brain injury is fascinating, but not to experience firsthand.
Since I don’t have a stock portfolio, from a distance I’ve been watching the stock market tank, the plans for a trillion-dollar bailout for financial institutions that haven’t been regulated in decades taking shape, and our country’s economy pretty much going down the tubes. It’s clear we’re in a huge recession and an economic meltdown. Can we weather this storm and who will pay the price for all this greed and madness? You might want to revisit the insanity of Reaganomics and the 1999 vote in the Senate about deregulation. Of course there’s lot of blame to go around. Freddy, Fanny, AIG, Bear Sterns all gone or on life support. Who, what is next? We’ve lost 600,000 jobs this year in the U.S. And then the residents of Texas who are still suffering from the ravages of Ike need ice and electricity and FEMA still isn’t working. Meanwhile, rescuers are pulling bodies from the charred ruins of the bombsite in Pakistan and suicides are up among our troops. My mind is spinning, but wait, I have vertigo so that’s not an apt metaphor.
Enough. Here is a tip on writing: You Can’t Write about People You don’t Know When you write fiction you create your major players by making choices about their physical appearance, flaws, quirks, habits, back story, outlook on life, values, emotional needs, as well as their friends or supportive cast members and enemies. With your major characters you’ll want to know what pushes their buttons, how they act when intoxicated, how far they’ll go to get what they want, and what passions, desires, and emotional needs drive them.
Now, not everything you know about your main characters will end up in the pages of your manuscript. You’ll always know more about your characters than you can use. You create complex characters and then make choices about which aspects of them should be exposed. You also hold back at times, realizing that readers can fill in the blanks with their imagination. Some things about your character you’ll state explicitly, some you’ll hint at, some will lie in the subtext of conversations and other parts of the story.
To get started in shaping main characters here are questions that you’ll want to answer:
What was the character’s home life like in childhood?
Was he shaped by any traumatic events or losses?
What is his or her chief flaw? Can it be showcased in the story? Transformed?
What does he do on his day off—hang out at comic book stores, wax his sport car, or sleep till noon?
What does his home or apartment reveal about him? Consider here his collections, furnishings, books and music. What do his housekeeping habits reveal?
How would his best friend describe him?
How would his mother describe him?
What does his style of dress reveal?
Does he take care of himself as in exercising, taking vitamins, eating well?
What is his emotional range—how does he act when angry, sad, euphoric?
How far will he go to get what he wants?
What is in the refrigerator, kitchen junk drawer and car’s glove compartment?
How does your character react under pressure, especially physical danger?
Think about it—you know what’s in your mother’s refrigerator (or at least have a rough sense of her food preferences, condiments, and the like) just as you’re familiar with your best friend’s car and your brother’s temper when opposed. We have intimate knowledge of some people in our lives and this knowledge is used as context in all our dealings with them. Likewise, in fiction, readers need intimate knowledge of the main players and use this knowledge as context as the story unfolds.
I wish every writer out there fine writing and rainbows of inspiration and that you keep laughing at yourself. I’ve found that even a brain injury is funny. Keep writing, keep dreaming and happy autumn to all. Guest bloggers will win a place in paradise.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Overcast sky this morning. I tried earlier to post a blog but keep getting an html error message. So because I cannot figure it out, I wanted to post this interesting quote from Seven Days: A Diary by David Grossman published in the October issue of The Sun. Grossman lives in a suburb of Jerusalem and wrote his diary in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. (By the way, you might want to check out this issue of The Sun, because it has one of the most beautiful cover photograph of all time.)
He writes: “Several months have gone by since I finished my last book, and I felt that not writing was having a bad effect on me. When I’m not writing, I have a feeling that I don’t really understand anything; that everything that happens to me, all events and statements and encounters, exist only side by side, without any real contact between them. But the minute I begin writing a new story, everything suddenly becomes intertwined into a single cord: every event feeds into and imbues all other events with life. Every sight I see, every person I meet is a clue that’s been sent to me, waiting for me to decipher.”
Monday, September 15, 2008
Meanwhile, we lost a great writer when David Foster Wallace hanged himself on September 12. He was 46 and a great voice was silenced. I’ve never read his fiction, although Infinite Jest has long been on my radar screen, but at more than 1,000 pages I haven’t dug into to it yet. But his nonfiction was darkly witty, innovative, accurate, and deep. You might want to read his essay McCain's Promise that was recently republished. I’m so sorry for his wife, family, friends, and students.
Yesterday afternoon I returned from a trip to Central Oregon, weaving through mountains and canyons and sage and past pastures of grazing horses and cattle. I stayed in a small town oozing with charm and decided I’d move to a small town in a heartbeat if there was a way to make a living and there were enough progressives around. However, I returned home with too many symptoms and problems from my travels. So because of my continued saga of body and brain injuries, and on the advice of one of my doctors, I’ve canceled my gigs for the next two weekends. My apologies to anyone planning on attending—the spirit is willing, the flesh is falling apart. Enough about my dilapidated self (remember: don’t answer your cell phone when you’re driving, you never know who you might crash into). Also, I’m still looking for guest bloggers.
Here’s a tip on writing: Effective fiction is nuanced and layered. It also, in a sense, haunts the reader with its subtle refrains like a powerful melody. So how is this accomplished without creating a muddled mess or a story as naked as a newborn hatchling?Let’s focus on details, the mainstay of fiction that resonates. Details stir a reader’s senses and haunt with their clarity. Yet details should never be catalogued or listed. Instead, they need to appear natural, enhancing the story in some way. If the details aren’t adding to the story, then leave them out.
Remember, too, that description is static, another reason to insert it sparingly. If you constantly stop your story to describe sunsets, seashores, interiors, hairstyles, and heartbeats, your story will likely lose its momentum. Readers are interested in the forward motion of the story and their eyes veer to dialogue and other places where action and movement is on the page.
A solution is to put description in motion or slip it in through a character’s viewpoint. Thus, insert details via a character’s thoughts, amid action scenes, in the middle of dialogue, while characters are moving.
Old School, a novel by Tobias Wolff, is told with a kind of aching subtlety. Dialogue is spare, descriptions pared down to essentials, but still the story manages to soar, to offer moments when the reader pauses and lingers over words and scenes because they contain so much yet seem to be written with so little. It is a story of a boy who is an outsider, attending a small New England prep school on a scholarship in the early 1960s. In a school filled with “book drunk boys,” there are a number of contests and honors centered on writing and literature. These prizes bring out the best and worst in the boys and eventually result in disgrace for the narrator.
Here is a brief passage right before his downfall, the story’s major reversal:
I was glad for the day of grace I’d been given. After my last class that afternoon I went AWOL across the river and mucked through freshly ploughed fields to the tallest of the neighboring hills, Mount Winston as we called it. …
I paced the hilltop, exhausted but too nervous to sit. In my classes the blood-roar in my head had rendered me nearly deaf. Most of this was explosive relief and exhilaration, yet with a thumping underpulse of dread. It was one thing to confide your hidden life to a piece of paper in an empty room, quite another to have it broadcast.
A warm wind blew across the hilltop, and with it the faint cries of boys chasing balls. The school lawns and fields were a rich, unreal green against the muddy brown expanse of surrounding farmland. Between the wooded banks of the river two shells raced upstream, oars flashing. The chapel with its tall crenellated bell tower and streaming pennant looked like an engraving in a child’s book. From this height it was possible to see into the dream that produced the school, not mere English-envy but the yearning for a chivalric world apart from the din of scandal and cheap dispute, the hustles and schemes of modernity itself. As I recognized this dream I also sensed its futility, but so what? I loved my school no less for begging gallantly unequal to our appetites—more, if anything. With still a month to graduation I was already damp with nostalgia.
I stretched out on a slab of rock. The sun in my face and radiant warmth on my back lulled me to sleep. Then the wind cooled and I woke with a wolfish hunger and started back.
This passage, a transition leading to the action that follows, creates a moment of significance because it reveals his love for the school; it shows us the school from a fresh perspective, a hillside; it reveals the stakes involved; it foreshadows what is to come; and yet lulls the reader with its pastoral mood so that the events that follow are more disturbing. And while it is a fairly long descriptive passage, it is not an inert blob. One technique that keeps this passage from being static is the active verbs scattered throughout: mucked, paced, blew, chasing, raced, flashing, yearning, sensed, loved, begging, stretched, lulled, cooled, and started.
Wolf’s example is a good reminder to add life to descriptions by writing in the active voice whenever possible. For example, here is the passive version: There were hundreds of spectators on the lawn. The active voice can be written: Hundreds of spectators dotted the lawn. An easy tip is to avoid using There is, There was, There are, or It was to begin your sentences because this construction guarantees these sentences will be passive.
Friday, September 12, 2008
always articulate, provocative, and witty. And yikes, what a vocabulary! Her latest column on 9/10/08 is called Fresh Blood for the Vampire and warns progressives not to sound shrill or hyperbolic in their denouncements of Sarah Palin. Good advice since I’m feeling pretty darn shrill these days……
In the same issue Cintra Wilson has written Pissed About Palin and (McCain’s running mate is a Christian Stepford wife in a sexy librarian costume. Women, it’s time to get furious.) She writes: “She is dangerous. She is not just pro-life, she's anti-life. She is the suppression of human feeling and instinct. She is a slave to the compromises dictated by her own desire for power and control. Sarah Palin is untethered from her own needs and those of her family, which is in crisis, with a pregnant daughter, a son on the way to Iraq and a special-needs infant.
She should, however, be a galvanizing point for women everywhere. Not to support her candidacy but to rebel against the Republican Party and take back the respect and equality so hard-earned by the women's liberation movement in the 1970s.” And the debate continues.
Also, this was emailed to me so I wanted to pass it along for people in the Northwest: Just a reminder, Dan Poynter, who is widely known as the guru of Independent Publishing, is coming to Portland hosted by NW Association of Book Publishers and National Speakers Association - Oregon.
I've seen him before and he is really down to earth about the publishing business -- the next step for authors, of course, whether by traditional publishing or the increasingly popular independent publishing.
Here are the bare essentials:
Sponsored by Northwest Assn. of Book Publishers and the Oregon Chapter of
National Speaker's Association.
October 1, 6-9 PM
Ambridge Event Center
300 NE Multnomah (near the Lloyd Center) Portland
$35 per person includes Dan, appetizers and no-host bar
To reserve: http://www.nsaoregon.net/calendar.html - scroll down to the
event - space is limited
For more information: http://nwabp.org/pages/poynter.html