Tuesday, May 30, 2006
Non-fiction books traditionally have been topical — history, politics, world affairs, special interest, finance, and the ubiquitous diet books. People bought novels for story-telling entertainment. But these days there seems to be a prevailing conceit that fiction isn’t “true”, it is something that the author made up, so is therefore less worthy of the reader’s attention. This alone is disturbing since the novel has traditionally been the vehicle of greater truths than can be told in the recounting of most real-life situations. Truth unconstrained by the facts, as I’ve said before.
But these days people want stories but they want to know that the person who wrote the story lived it — even if they made up a good deal of it to make the story more interesting. I’m still puzzling over the logic behind that.
The most celebrated case, of course, is James Frey’s fictionalized memoir A Million Little Pieces. He honestly admits that he wrote it as a novel, couldn’t sell it that way, so re-wrote it as a memoir and people are buying it like crazy even after he admitted he made a lot of it up. Another author who has come under fire is Dave Pelzer, the author of those dreadful “It” Boy books. Now, family members and friends say they don’t recall most of what he claims happened but that seems to be okay with his readers. They can’t get enough of his horrific, if greatly invented, past.
As a novelist and fiction writer I have been thinking about this a lot. One of the things that has always interested me since I began writing is people who read something of mine and then say, “Did this happen to you?” Oh, yeah. I murdered my father, chopped him and used him to make sausage and pie. But please don’t anybody tell him — he’s got enough to deal with these days.
This interest in where a story came from is particularly strong in the area of sex and romance. Most of my stories have a powerful erotic flavor, even if not explicitly expressed. My readers always want to believe that I did all those things with all those men — “you can’t make up emotions this powerful” one reader said. I wonder if I rewrote those stories as memoirs instead of short stories what would happen but, of course, I won’t because a.) wherever the eroticism came from, I am not prepared to claim it as my own and b.) they are largely fiction. Sure I knew people like the people in the stories. I may have lived in or travelled to those places, I may have loved men like that. But taking bits and pieces from here and there and assembling them into a story is what makes creative writing creative.
I’m puzzled by this obsession with “is it true?” Partly, I think it is an outgrowth of the confessional nature of addicted society. We are alienated and addicted, we seek therapists and 12-step groups and we get hooked on telling all — both listening to it and doing it ourselves. Partly I think we crave connection with people we think are real — screwed up and loonie but real. And partly I think it is the loss, in many folks, of the ability to think beyond the immediate. Appreciating good fiction requires the ability to suspend disbelief. We live in very paranoid and fearful times and disbelief has become a national opiate. We crave The Truth.
Except we really don’t want it. We crave the comfort of “story” so the storytellers who can boldly lie and claim their lies or exaggerations as their own have come into fashion. I comfort myself with the thought that most fashions are passing fads. Eventually, I believe we will be able to let go of fictionalized truth and reclaim truthful fiction.
Thanks for reading.
Monday, May 29, 2006
Part of my love for it is just the beauty of the fibers. You can see in the close-up below the jewel like quality of the silk --- a result of all the saris that were shredded to spin the fiber. I re-watched one of my favorite movies, Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding, and during the scene where the women are dancing and painting the bride's hands, I felt like my shawl was a collage of that entire scene. I know I am going to want to try another project in this Himalayan Silk eventually. It is just too beautiful.
Also, the I-cord edging is very nice. It is neat and, now that it is softer, shows off the scalloping created by the Old Shale pattern.
I've gotten fascinated by interesting fibers. Another project I recently completed is the scarf in the photo at left. It is knit of 100% raw silk roving. It is hard to see the pattern which is also Old Shale. Maybe I should hang it in the window to photograph. But the pattern isn't what is interesting, it is the fiber which is lusciously soft and fluid. The scarf is 12'' x 84" and is absolutely elegant. It will look good with a winter jacket or even draped around the shoulders for casual, mild-weather evenings.
I've been scouring eBay and Webs looking for yarns made of fiber that sounds intriguing. I recently purchased a fairly large batch of yarns from eBay and am eagerly awaiting their arrival. Three of the lots are a rayon/silk blend that looks fascinating from the photos. They are described as "Haitian look" --- the colors are soft to medium pastels and are shreds of silk dyed in different colors and then spun together with a solid-color rayon thread. I love working with both silk and rayon so am eager to see these yarns.
The other yarn I bought is a thick-thin rayon yarn in fuschia. I got a very large cone of it for a good price. A couple years ago I bought 2 lots of a wonderful thick-thin rayon --- one in a color that reminds me of baroque pearls, and the other in a wisteria blue. I got a lot of the fiber and have played with bits of it but still haven't settled on a project to really show it off.
My only other works- in-progress right now are the Lady Eleanor Stole which just passed the halfway mark. I'll blog more about that soon. And an evening scarf I am knitting in some of that luscious English cashmere I bought from ColourMart in Shropshire. It is just beautiful yarn. The scarf I am knitting is a long rectangle in the Frost Flowers pattern and is coming along nicely. I have two big cones of this cashmere in a delicious color called "Cupcake" --- a soft, dreamy pink --- that is calling to me, too.
So that's what's on the needles these days. Having the opportunity to play with these lovely fibers is such a treat. It brings out creativity I never knew I had! What more can you ask?
Thanks for reading.
Friday, May 26, 2006
Part of the problem is that the stories are often set in New York and are about the current generation of extremely self-involved, narcissistic and just plain dumb young professionals whom New York writers seem to spend a lot of time around. This story (I won't give the title or the author) was about a young, married couple who were seven months into pregnancy. He was off on a business trip, she was home alone and got so carried away with her vibrator (oh, the visuals!) that she managed to break her water. Of course, because she is a clueless, self-involved New Yorker, she managed to do this without being aware of it. Never having been pregnant I can’t speak to this with any authority but I’m having a hard time imagining that.
So anyway for the next couple of days she walks around in terrific pain but manages to work a full schedule, walk a mile and a half to her gym, work out for an hour, etc. until the pain gets so bad that she drives herself to the hospital and finds out she is in labor. Meantime, our hero, has arrived back in New York from his trip and, unhappy about the way his wife smells (like baking custard) during pregnancy, he ignores the frequent calls from the hospital on his cell phone, and decides to try his luck with a business acquaintance whose description sounds like Olive Oyl in a miniskirt.
Well, the upshot of the whole thing, he finally makes it to the hospital in time to see his wife rent asunder and hold her hand through the premature birth of their daughter. We are left with Daddy at the hospital staring at his brand new, purple premmie daughter whose limbs remind him of worms. End of story.
I don’t get it. I guess I read it because I was tired and also out of a sort of bizarre horror similar to what people feel watching a house burn down or a cow being devoured by wolves. I remember some years back when Tama Janowitz’s Slaves of New York came out. I read it in the same stunned fascination and thought “is everyone in New York a hopeless nitwit?” I never encountered such a collection of morons.
So, okay. Janowitz and the author of that short story got published and got lots of money for it. Some things will puzzle me to the grave. I have written before about the current crop of sad, depressing books with no redeeming value — like the “It” boy books. But these are even more puzzling. At least with the depressing books one might experience a sort of emotional catharsis (especially if you don’t have much going on emotionally in your own life) but what is the point of these stupid-people books? A sense of superiority for at least not being THAT dumb? Weird humor? The revenge of aging publishers on writers who are dopey but still young? I don’t know.
I’ve only ever spent a day or two at a time in New York so I’m going to have to do some serious inventing when I write my book, Dopes of New York. But I think I can do it. It’s going to take work to imagine having friends that ridiculous but, if it will get in The New Yorker, I’ll give it a shot. Feel free to ignore it when it is finally published. I hope they have more great cartoons in that issue.
Thanks for reading.
Thursday, May 25, 2006
The leaves were sparse at first but then, during our recent monsoon, they just grew and grew and grew. Yesterday I walked over and stood under the tree shooting up into it. You can see in the photos how the branches wrap around and around themselves. If you stand at the center of the tree and look straight up it is rather like standing at the base of the circular staircase in a lighthouse and looking up. The branches seem to wrap round and round and up and up forever.
Right now there is an abundance of peculiar, lemon-yellow “ruffles” growing in great clumps between the darker, denser leaves. I thought at first that these were baby leaves but if you look at the long shot of the tree you can see that they are bleached white when the sun hits them and then gradually turn brown. I’ll have to keep an eye on them this year to see what they are up to.
But it is a magnificent tree — even if no one knows what it is. While I was standing in Sandy’s yard taking pictures a woman passed by on the street and said, “Isn’t that a great tree?” I agreed with her. In a way, it warms my heart to know how many people pay attention to that tree and remark on its beauty.
I’ve had a lot of great trees in my life. When I was very little we lived in my Grandmother Valentine’s house on Chestnut Street. There was a crabapple tree in the side lawn which I loved — mostly because it bloomed the most wonderful shade of bright pink in the spring. Some of the earliest photos I have of myself are taken of me up in that tree. My Gram Werner had a lot of wonderful trees in her yard. There was a pear tree that produced the most delicious, large juicy pears every year. There was also a huge, very tall pine tree. It was the sort that had branches starting several feet up on the tree but that drooped down to the ground, forming a tent that my brother and I could crawl under to read comic books on hot days.
Both of my grandmothers had great yards for kids with gardens and fruit trees and brambles made of berry bushes and roses. Things like that are good for kids. I spent many hours under the grape arbor in my grandmother’s yard reading and snitching Concord grapes — still about my favorite treat. I loved to pop them in my mouth, roll them around, bite them so the inside squished out and trickled down my throat and then play with the skin with my tongue. Who ever thought a grape could be so entertaining but when you are eight everything is amazing, I guess.
One of the things I love most about this time of year is that the early morning sun fills the little back room here where I write and work. It is filtered through the trees that line the cemetery out back and on days like this, when the breezes are hearty, there is the constant play of light on the walls as the leaves dance in the breeze. When I lived in Houston, there was a pool in the courtyard of my apartment and light reflecting off the water danced on my ceiling all day. Such simple things — light and water and trees and grapes can change the your mood and make a day more interesting.
So the tree next door is busy soaking up sunlight and I have work to do.
Thanks for reading.
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Later I found my copy of her book The Lives of the Muses, which I had read some years back and loved. It is an ingenious book in that she chose to write about the women who inspired artists, musicians, writers throughout time. Each chapter is delicious - I loved the chapters on Elizabeth Siddel and Lee Miller - and I was doubly thrilled by her inclusion of Yoko Ono as her final muse.
As I was thinking about her I remembered having read a book of hers back in the Seventies that I carried around for months, re-reading passages but I had to go to Amazon to find the name. It was Marie Laveau, Prose’s weighty fictionalized version of the life of New Orleans’ famous voodoo queen. The book, I discovered, is out of print now and hard to find but I was able to locate a copy through the inter-library loan service and I picked it up on Saturday. It is even better than I remembered it — always a wonderful discovery.
Marie Laveau is one of those semi-mythic characters like Merlin who may or may not have existed but should have. In New Orleans her grave is still the site of pilgrimages bringing flowers and candles beseeching her spirit for love charms and healing spells. Shops in the French Quarter carry mysterious little Marie Laveau voodoo dolls and candles. Taking her on as a subject was quite a task for Prose but she did a splendid job. Whether the real Marie Laveau is anything like the character in prose’s book no one can say but it doesn’t matter. Prose’s recreation of early nineteenth century New Orleans, it’s society antics and aura of mysticism is delicious.
I’ve always had an affection for the tall glass-enclosed candles that one finds in voodoo shops in New Orleans or Mexican marketplaces. I love their names — Come-Back-To-Me, Banishment, Heal-Me or, my favorite, Law-Stay-Away — as well as candles to saints both familiar and unknown. Mary Magdalene is a favorite. So is St. John the Baptiste, two of my favorite saints.
I have a healthy respect for voodoo. It’s not that I believe in it but I believe that those who do believe in it, do so whole-heartedly and with alarming intensity. I have a little experience with that. Years ago I worked at a psychiatric hospital in the adolescent ward. One of our patients was a stunningly beautiful young black woman — tall and slender with a mass of thick black hair and a sweet nature. She was only 16 then and had come here with her family from the Cape Verde Islands. Her English was minimal. If you met her you could not have imagined what she could turn into. The “episodes”, as we called them, came suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere. Her eyes would grow huge and red and wild and she would begin shrieking, snarling, clawing at unseen assailants. Screaming like I had never heard anyone scream. No one could explain it. Her doctors tried every sedative they knew (this was over 20 years ago before the current crop of pharmaceuticals). The diagnoses varied — psychosis, schizophrenia, forms of epilepsy. But in private discussions in the staff room the word “voodoo” was sometimes whispered. The story, as much as we could piece together from her terrified family and the girl was that she had been “fixed” by a voodoo man who desired her and was angry because her family took her away to America. I don’t know if that was true and I don’t know what happened to her. She was eventually moved to another facility and I moved on in my life.
But as I am re-reading Prose’s gorgeous book about Marie Laveau, I began thinking about that girl. And wondering. There are genuine mysteries in this world. I’m glad we have brave writers like Francine Prose who can write about them so well.
Thanks for reading.
Monday, May 22, 2006
I drove down Broadway, as I always did, past the Bishop’s Palace and all the little streets lined with pin oaks and palm trees. I loved the little side streets in Galveston where the cottages were shuttered against the night and the palmetto branches clicked and clattered in the morning breezes.
The Hotel Galvez was open and serving breakfast on the veranda. At that time the veranda of the Hotel Galvez was my favorite place in t world. On afternoons when my friends and I would be returning from the beach, we would gather there, sunburnt and salty, and drink sangria in the breezes blowing up from the Gulf.
So on that morning I went to the Galvez. There were very few people there and I sat alone at a table overlooking the water. I don’t remember what I ordered. Coffee, probably, and one of those rolls they served that were sticky and cinnamony but not too sweet. And fruit. They always had platters of fruit. I remember that I sat there for a very long time, not writing, not talking, just sipping coffee and watching the waves roll in. It was an extraordinary experience because it was such a quiet one.
There’s no real purpose to this story except to say that it was a defining moment in my life. I was only 30 then but thought at the time that I was very mature and thoroughly grown. But something happened to me on that morning. I had left my family and friends 1500 miles behind in Pennsylvania and moved to Houston where I had a couple casual acquaintances but that was all. I was completely alone and I had risen early and driven to Galveston to sit on the veranda of the Galvez and drink coffee and watch the sun rise over the Gulf of Mexico. I remember how that felt but it is a feeling I have never been able to capture and describe. I have tried.
Today is a day like that — brilliant sunshine, curtains billowing in the breeze — albeit a breeze a good 30 degrees cooler than the one in Galveston. I can smell that delicious, salty, oceanic fragrance blowing up from the harbor and, so far, the day has been quiet. My coffee is ready. There is a thing that happens inside of me on mornings like this that so far I have never been able to capture in words. It is a delicious, subtle, mysterious sense of possibility mingled with an ancient yearning, the roots of which I cannot place.
I have shared mornings like this with lovers and with friends and that is wonderful, too. But experiencing them alone is sublime. I wish I had a better ability to explain that. All I can say is that whenever this happens. When I wake up aware of the sunlight and the sea breezes and the scent of the ocean, I remember that once I was a girl who traveled across half a continent alone. That once I let myself rise early and drive to a place I love and just be there in complete stillness and complete joy and begin the day.
I keep waiting for an understanding of what that feeling is and, in 25 years, words have always failed me. But the memory has stayed sweet.
Thanks for reading.
Friday, May 19, 2006
My relational identity has changed a lot over the years with changing jobs and changing boyfriends and moving to other parts of the country. That’s fine with me. I never liked getting overly comfortable in any situation anyhow. I’ve always felt that too much comfort could breed stagnation. But my personal identity fluctuates from time to time and that always catches me by surprise.
One of the things that has gotten me thinking about this is the coming of summer and the demands of socialization. Just this past week I was supposed to attend four different gatherings — the season opening reception for the North Shore Arts Association, SeARTS Annual Meeting, and two private affairs. I missed all of them. Partly because of the horrid weather, partly because of scheduling conflicts. But I realized after missing them that I didn’t miss them. I didn’t attend and I didn’t feel bad that I didn’t attend.
I was thinking about this because there was a time when I used to be present at every opening, every reception, every gathering. These days I tend to avoid them and I wonder what has changed in me. What part of me no longer is drawn to such events. I still enjoy being with friends, going out to dinner, getting together to cook and talk. I love our knitting group and the writer’s group but I realize I have finally gotten to that place in life where I consider my time precious and I’ve never been good at chit-chat anyway. I think this is good.
We are social beings but sometimes in all the hub-bub of socialization we lose our singular identities. I’m a person who has to think about things during conversations. I need the freedom to pause and consider what has been said before giving an answer. It’s hard to do that in a roaming, wandering group situation. The last few times I attended big receptions I found myself sneaking off to the bathroom or out to the porch just to clear my head of all the input and spend a few precious moments trying to organize my thoughts. I’ve finally accepted the fact that I’m no longer a party animal.
One of the things I love about this time in my life is that my concerns these days are more about focus and refining than about acquiring new experiences and ideas. I have LOTS of experience and ideas. Now I need time to consider them and refine them and find the best use for them. One of the things I have found running my own business these past couple years is that the primary skill most people need to work on, if they want to be successful in what they are doing, is focus. I see it all the time in clients who come to me with wonderful ideas for businesses that they are passionate about. They really have exciting possibilities — but they need to focus. They need to study their ideas and focus on what is the best way to make them a reality. I consider this to be part of my job — to help them focus. And it has made me realize that, in helping them to focus, I’ve changed the focus of my own reality.
My life is a work in progress. Most of us could say that. And that is a good thing. But we need periodic respites from the world to take time to figure out where we have just been and where we are now going — who we are now. We need time to get to know the most interesting person in out lives — ourselves.
Thanks for reading.
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
A couple of years ago I created a shawl out of Knit Picks Suri Dream that I called the Mermaid Shawl. I posted pictures of it on my blog and I have been inundated with requests for the pattern ever since. I tried having a KAL and it went fairly well --- several people completed the shawl and sent photos but there were a few kinks I had to work out of the pattern and it has been on my To-Do list forever. Well, I'm finally doing it.
Yesterday my good friend Jane offered to act as model so I could take some pictures for a knitting book I am working on. I'm calling it The Mermaid Shawl & other Beauties: Shawls, Cocoons and Wraps. At present I have the Mermaid Shawl and two variations on it, two cocoons, and four shawls/scarves all of them featuring lacy stitch work and all of them easily adaptable by size. It is my intention to have the book ready by the first of the year.
Here are three of the designs that will be featured. Below is the original Mermaid Shawl in Suri Dream. I also have a variation called the Gypsy Shawl made from recycled sari silk.
This one is a striped, open-work rectangle made with Knit Picks Shimmer, an alpaca and silk blend. It works up fast and gets it's soft color changes by knitting with two strands held together in alternating changes. (That's my car in the background.)
And this is a rather fanciful wrap made of recycled raw silk from a thrift store sweater that I unraveled. I realize people will not be able to find a similar sweater but it is a good example of how you can turn odd finds into treasures.
In addition to the patterns I want to write about how I adapt patterns and designs to accommodate available stash, how to transform a problem piece into something entirely new, and other random things I have discovered in my 40+ years of knitting. I'm even including a short story that tells a fictional account of the origin of the Mermaid Shawl. As promised, those who have written to tell me they purchased and read The Old Mermaid's Tale, will get a free copy of the book as soon as it is available. I'm going to post more designs later this week.
I want to thank Jane for being such a lovely model. I also want to thank Tom Ellis for conveniently positioning the Thomas E. Lannon Schooner off Ten Pound Island while we were shooting. He didn't know about it but I thank him anyway. This is the proposed cover. What do you think? Would you buy this book?
Thanks for reading.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Amy St. Laurent, by all accounts, was a lovely 25 year old woman who led a responsible life, was greatly loved by those who knew her — kind, generous, and sweet. On October 20, 2001 she took a friend to the Old Port section of Portland, Maine to have fun dancing, having a few drinks, playing pool. Sometime that night she disappeared. Her beaten body was found some months later buried in the woods. She had been shot in the head. This book, heart-breaking as it is, tells the story of the investigation into her disappearance, murder and the subsequent trial.
The narrative alternates between the notations made by Captain Joseph K. Loughlin of the Portland police, who headed the investigation, and the clear, unblinking prose narrative of Kate Flora, a distinguished writer of mystery novels and former assistant attorney general for the state of Maine. I first became aware of the book when Kate contacted me about doing a web site for the book which was then about to be released. The website is at www.FindingAmy.com. As I worked on the web site I became increasingly eager to read the book.
I’m not a television watcher so I don’t have a lot of preconceived notions about criminal investigation. One of the points Loughlin makes over and over in the book is that real life just ain’t CSI. But the story of Amy is all the more fascinating for it. This is how investigations really go, these are the road blocks and the limitations, these are the frustrations and through it all is the sharp awareness that this is a thing that really happened. It’s not a novel, it’s not fiction. These are real people who lead real lives and, with the exception of Amy herself, are still dealing with all this horror.
First of all I have to say that I was completely drawn in by Loughlin’s narrative — the personal log he kept throughout the narrative in which he details his admiration for Amy’s mother, his disgust for the suspect who eventually was convicted as Amy’s killer, and his admiration for the men and women he worked with throughout the investigation. From his pictures on the web site, Loughlin is a handsome, very appealing and attractive man. Through his words he becomes the very exact person you would want on your side if you were ever thrust into such a horrible circumstance. It’s hard not to fall a little in love with him.
Secondly, the portrait of the killer that emerges through interviews with acquaintances and family members is genuinely chilling. This man is a classic predator whose stated goal is to have sex with as many women as possible. He has no regard for women other than as sources of sexual gratification. He is violent and cold and 21 years old. He can turn on the charm and turn violent with equal ease. This is a person any of us could know. This is not a person you would want to know. Even at the trial he leers at and taunts the family, openly eying Amy’s younger sister and presenting an attitude of bored contempt for the police.
This isn’t the sort of book I would pick up in the library or at a bookstore but I’m very glad I read it. There are predators among us. Beware. And there are wise, committed legal professionals who have a hell of a job to do. And there are superior writers like Kate Flora to tell the story. Read it.
Thanks for reading.
Monday, May 15, 2006
And I have no real room to complain either. My basement has not flooded, my roof is not leaking. I drove through some standing water yesterday and it got into my car. I bailed as much as I could and tried to soak up the rest with towels but, until the rain stops, there is not much I can do. My car tends to leak a bit anyway — nothing major — a common problem with older convertibles. I can’t locate the source of the leak but I stuffed plastic bags into every nook and cranny I could find and am keeping my fingers crossed today. I hate this.
Then I remind myself that there are people sleeping in the high school because they had to evacuate their homes. There are businesses along Poplar Street, including a car repair garage that have several feet of water in them, schools are closed today because of flooding and people have to commute through virtual canals to get to work and I tell myself to just shut up and be grateful.
The governor has declared a state of emergency here and I am worrying about wet carpet in my car. What a baby! Remember New Orleans.
Weather! Mark Twain once said that everybody talks about the weather but no one does anything about it. That comment always makes me smile. Sometimes I think we need these big “weather events”, as the weather folks call them, just to remind us that we are not in charge. No matter what we think.
I’ve started thinking about this a lot in the last couple years when our world has seen a lot of huge weather events — tsunamis, hurricanes — one after another after another, earthquakes and blizzards. There was a time when people were constantly aware of the natural world and its power over us but these days we seem to have forgotten a lot of that. We think with our affluence and our big machines, we are superior to the weather and I sometimes think the weather is intensifying to put us in our place.
Yesterday I had to run a quick errand and was stunned at the number of cars — mostly SUVs out flying around sending huge waves of water into people’s lawns as they went flying past on whatever important mission they were on. It always makes me think of an accident I witnessed a few years back. I was driving through a particularly mountainous section of Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania. Traffic was creeping along because there was ice on the road. Suddenly an SUV driven by a young woman came flying down the emergency lane. I don’t know what her emergency was but it wasn’t worth the means she took because she lost control on the ice, went flying through a guard rail and down an embankment out of site. I have thought of her often wondering if she survived and what in the world ever caused her to be so reckless.
There are times when we need to stay put. Emergencies do arise but taking chances just for the excitement of it scares me. I guess I did that when I was younger but these days I’m more careful. If the governor says to stay home, I try to stay home.
In his book, Mark has a rather blistering condemnation of thrill-seeking pleasure boaters who go off into hurricanes for excitement, get into trouble and then necessitate the poor, over-worked Coast Guard guys to go out after them. That’s what I think about now — taking dumb chances that wind up endangering others. So it is raining and I am staying home working — I’ll check on my car when the rain dies down and be ready to bail.
Thanks for reading.
Friday, May 12, 2006
Last night the Gloucester Lyceum presented “Sell That Story”, two of the publishers and two of the authors from Windchill: Crime Stories by New England Writers, in a panel discussion on writing and getting published today. We had a very good audience — especially considering our competition! Last night was the Empty Bowl benefit at the Elks which always attracts hundreds of people. In Rockport the Sandy Bay Historical Society presented a program on the Folly Cove Designers, and, the Sox were playing the Yankees — an event that made one of the members on our panel, Mark Williams, very restless.
But it was all good. In the first place let me say that I am always pleased and proud to be included in any program with Susan Oleksiw and Kate Flora. Both of them are such distinguished writers, with such an impressive body of work that even saying that I know either of them makes me happy.
Susan Oleksiw is the author of the Mellingham Mystery Series featuring Detective Joe Silva. Her recently published book, A Murderous Innocence, is the fifth in that series. In addition, Susan is a distinguished scholar of Sanskrit and her Anita Rey short stories, set in India, are usually my favorites in the Level Best Books anthologies. She was the founder of Larcom Review, a literary magazine that enjoyed high acclaim while it was publishing.
Kate Flora is one of those people who awe me. She just completed an MFA in Writing, is an attorney and a former attorney general for the state of Maine. She is a past international president of Sisters in Crime, has written seven mystery novels in the Thea Kozak series. She is also beautiful, intelligent and very nice. Her latest book, Finding Amy, which she co-wrote with Portland, Maine Deputy Chief Joseph K. Loughlin, about the disappearance and murder of Amy St. Laurent. I bought a copy of her book last night and am looking forward to reading it.
The rest of the panel was Mark and me — both a little stunned to even be there.
Susan moderated the discussion and we began talking about how we came to write the stories that we did. Since I never intended to write crime fiction, I’m always a little baffled by how I wound up doing it. But I shared my story. Mark, who was making his first public appearance as a published writer, talked effortlessly about how he began writing and how he wrote his story. Despite his natural reticence to call attention to himself, you put him in front of a group of people and he turns on the charm and I can never quite believe it is the same guy I see on a day to day basis. It was a good night.
There were a number of aspiring writers in the audience and they asked the most questions. Always the focus is the same, “How do I find an agent, an editor and/or a publisher?” If it is true that everyone has a book in them, and I believe it is, these days more of them are eager to get it out in the world. The answer is always the same — you work and work and work and don’t give up.
So it was a great evening and, also, as always, I am drained today. But it is dark and raining and I have designs to work on and Mark’s book to finalize and send off to press. Things are good.
Thanks for reading.
Thursday, May 11, 2006
When I read about The DaVinci Code I thought it sounded like a lot of other books I’d read — Michael Baigent’s Holy Blood, Holy Grail, and Margaret Starbird’s The Woman With the Alabaster Jar among them. I tried to read The DaVinci Code a couple of times but the writing was so lame in my opinion that I couldn’t get into it. It is NOT literary fiction by any means. Finally, I came across the illustrated version and read that. It was much more interesting because I finally caught the unique flavor of the book despite Brown’s abysmal dialog-writing skills. I subsequently read Angels and Demons and Digital Fortress, earlier works by Brown that were pretty interesting. Maybe, because I had no knowledge of his subject matter, I could overlook the writing style for the story.
Digital Fortress, about international level code-breakers working for the N.S.A. (No Such Agency), is enjoyable if only because the look inside that very mysterious world of people who think in patterns and probabilities intrigues. Angels and Demons, set in the Vatican like DaVinci Code, is about a rebel revival sect of the ancient Illuminati.
Now the movie of The DaVinci Code is coming out and I am dumbfounded by all the hysteria around it. Church groups are advertising special “education” programs to prepare good Christians for what they will see if they attend the movie. Some countries have banned it. Lots of church groups are condemning it. The Vatican itself has pretty much ignored it but plenty of speculation about that is going around, too. With each new bit of craziness, more books fly off the shelves — 45 MILLION to date!
There are a couple of things about this I find interesting. For one thing, there is not a single idea presented in The DaVinci Code that is particularly original. Brown just took a lot of theories that have been floating around for centuries and spun them, very cleverly, into a thriller. Books like Michael Baigent’s, Elaine Pagel’s The Gnostic Gospels, countless books on the Templars and Mary Magdalene have been around for years. But, as we know, movies are always more “dangerous” than books because a lot more people go to movies than actually read.
The Catholic Church and the Vatican have become popular villains in fiction. It is actually a tough world for writers in the villain department — it used to be that communists were the designated villains. Then drug lords. These days pedophiles are high on the list of villainy and, because of the pedophilia scandal connected with the Church, the Church has been drawn into that.
Also, the Vatican is fascinating to many — myself included. Though it is a sovereign nation, the smallest in the world, it is shrouded in centuries of mystique. Power, art, mysticism, opulence, and more power always capture the imagination. I am in the middle of Daniel Silva’s The Confessor, a beautifully written thriller about a secret Vatican cabal that keeps secret the Vatican’s alleged collaboration with the Nazis. It’s a good read.
So, is Tom Hanks, complete with bad haircut, in The DaVinci Code a genuine threat to the Church and Christianity in general? Here’s what all the hysterics seem to have forgotten — Faith is a gift. If you are a person of Faith it doesn’t matter if Jesus was married or not. Personally, I always sort of hoped he was — his life was awfully short and awfully bleak otherwise. Faith is — well, faith. We believe because we have been given this gift of assurance that there is something beyond our minuscule selves worth trusting in. The details don’t matter. A badly written novel or a movie, however popular, won’t change the beliefs of a person of faith.
I’ll wait for the DVD. In the meantime, there are a lot of well-written novels to read.
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Luckily, my siblings have been very productive though and I’m lucky to have seventeen nieces and nephews and five “greats”. I love them all but have to admit there are ones that manage to work their way into your heart on a special level. The Bretz Boys, Cal and Patrick, are my sister Lisa’s sons and they sure can make me smile. I have been thinking a lot about them because they are coming to visit in a few weeks and I am very much looking forward to it.
Cal, who is now 12, was a precocious child. He could read like an adult before he even started school and was wildly popular among his classmates for his ability to read stories to them. He is a good boy with a sweet disposition and a very mature personality. We don’t see each other often (they live in Pennsylvania) but when we talk on the phone, he is always full of information. I feel like I am talking to another adult. He has an adult charm that I find delightful. I can always tell when he is in the middle of a movie or a book when I call and he answers the phone because he’ll say, “Well, I know you want to talk to my Mom, so I won’t keep you.” Translation: I’m busy — here’s Mom.
Cal was five when Lisa and Doug had their second child. Lisa didn’t want to find out the sex of the child but was convinced it was a girl throughout her pregnancy. Five year old Cal, however, insisted it was a new baby brother. One day, as the anticipated birth neared, Lisa said to Cal, “You know, it might be a baby girl — we have to take whatever God gives us.” Cal thought for a moment and then said, “I know, but I talked to God and He said He’s all out of girls.” Apparently this was true.
Convinced she was carrying a girl, Lisa hadn’t thought of a boy name but Cal took care of that, too. When Doug brought him to the hospital to see his new brother, Cal ran down the hall yelling, “Where’s Patrick? Where’s my little brother Patrick?” So, Patrick got his name.
Lisa said if God told Cal he was getting a brother, God must have said what his name was, too.
So, Patrick entered the world. From the very beginning he was, and is, a character. I have sometimes thought that while Cal’s personality and emotions all seem to range in the middle, Patrick’s exist on the far extremes. No one can be more sweet, cuddly, loving and adorable — and no one can be more cranky, contentious, and hard to get along with. Where Cal loved books and reading, Patrick loves doing stuff. On one of my visits to them, he became fascinated with my knitting. Every time I pulled out my needles, I had this cute little blonde elf perched beside me. When I discovered an elaborate art set in his closet - full of pastels, colored pencils, watercolors, and brushes - I showed him how to use them and Patrick spent literally hours entirely focused on making art. Lisa said he recently told her that when he grew up he wanted to be an artist “just like Aunt Kathleen, cause she’s a real artist.”
We tease Lisa that, in Patrick, she has recreated my Dad. He has Dad’s charm and stubbornness and also his quick wit. When Lisa told him on Saturday that it wouldn’t hurt him to eat a bite of his salad, he retorted, “It hurts me just to think about it.” He’s eight.
So in four weeks they will be here. Mark has a cottage at the edge of Good Harbor Beach that they can stay in and, I am certain those dunes and the beach will be well explored while they are here. I can’t wait.
Thanks for reading.
Monday, May 08, 2006
We live in an era when self-interest has gotten a bad rap and, in a lot of ways, for good reason. An excess of self interest has created a lot of social and environmental problems. Those whose self-interest is such that they cannot tolerate the opinions, needs, or rights of others have become a blight on society. Lack of concern for those beyond the self has created a culture of alienation and a me-first mindset that breeds intolerance and outright rudeness. But there is a difference between that brand of self-interest and what Henri is talking about. In fact, they may be polar opposites.
To take an interest in the self, in what the self is capable of and what the cultivation of the self has to offer. The interest may be focused inward but the results usually flow well beyond the self. If you grew up Catholic (or in any traditional religion, I would bet) you learned that putting the needs and desires of others ahead of your own was virtuous. But this has lead to people, and I think particularly women, who know so little about their own selves that they lived lives of self-neglect. When this mindset collided with the post-feminist, New Age movement, a lot of people trying to get to know themselves and “take care of” themselves wound up getting their heads wedged in a very uncomfortable place. The results have been disastrous.
Socrates said, “Know thyself” and that is the sort of interest in self that Henri advocates. Know who you are and take an interest in the workings of your mind, your capacity for learning, and your capacity for creativity. Henri points out over and over in his book that the artist, the person who has chosen to take an interest in himself as a human being, needs to spend a lot of time alone and cultivate an intimacy with the workings of his own mind and his own heart. Few have the capacity to do that. When we try to make that inward journey — well, there be dragons. But if we can get to know those dragons and take an interest in our dragons, we can find ways of transforming them. As Rilke said, “Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princess waiting to be seen.” And when we transform our own dragons into princesses we can offer that transformation to those around us.
That is the thing about giving, the thing they never taught us in school or church or wherever — we can’t give what we don’t have. We can’t give money to others if we don’t have it for ourselves and the same thing holds true for the quality of our attention. If we are not interested in ourselves, it is hard to take a genuine interest in others. If we don’t have respect and appreciation for ourselves, it is hard to offer respect and appreciation to others.
Henri says that what makes an artist is that “he simply finds the gain in the work itself and not outside it.” I think that is true of all aspects of our lives. If we are more interested in results than in the means by which we obtain them we create societies of alienation, self-centeredness, destructive, selfish institutions and corporations with no conscience. So far we’ve been real good at that. It’s time for all of us to cultivate our inner artist — stop the noise and the running around and the lust to acquire and get to know what it is we’ve really been longing for all along.
Thanks for reading.
Friday, May 05, 2006
Over the years I have talked with Daniel from time to time when we were at art association openings or in restaurants. He is a quiet, charming, soft-spoken man. I had the opportunity to design a brochure of his work for State of the Art Gallery a few years back and was dazzled by the beautiful pieces he had created. His sculpture is classical in the finest tradition of his friend and mentor, Walker Hancock, but has his own sleek, lyrical interpretation. His statue of Chief Massasoit was exhibited at the National Sculpture Society. (His beautiful Mermaid Fountain is shown below.)
Over the years Daniel has garnered many honors but the most recent came when he attended the unveiling of the two portrait busts he created of former President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter at the Carter Center in Atlanta. Daniel received the commission a year earlier and had never met the President but worked from photographs and DVDs. He met President Carter for the first time at the unveiling. How exciting!
I guess there is just no way to adequately express the happiness you feel when someone you know and like is honored in such a way. It helps, when the person is someone as kind and gentle and pleasant as Daniel is. I do not know him well but, as with my friend Betty Lou, I feel privileged just to say I know him. You can’t help but feel elated when someone so nice receives such an honor.
Like most artists, Daniel has gone through tough times. He has devoted himself to his art even when barely able to support himself so it is thrilling to see his work recognized. Currently his work is on exhibit at the Crane Gallery in Manchester-by-the-Sea. He is also working on a project in his home town of Concord, a bas-relief to replicate their Melvin Memorial created by Daniel Chester French, the sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Walker Hancock knew French, who died in 1931. So for Daniel this is an added pleasure.
So I wanted to write this blog today to honor Daniel for what he has accomplished. He is a genuine representation of what can happen to someone with talent who devotes himself whole-heartedly to his art. I wish him nothing but wonderful things from now on.
It said in the newspaper article about him that he intends to resume doing sculpture demonstrations. I hope he does, that would be lovely to attend. However, I have a very special memory of a learning carving from Daniel. Something I will cherish forever. A few Christmases ago Daniel and I were each invited to Christmas dinner at Betty Lou’s house. When it came time to carve the turkey I was inexpertly hacking away at it when Daniel said, “Here, let me do that.” He proceeded to show me how to properly sharpen a carving knife and properly carve a turkey.
Thank you, Daniel. I’ll never carve another turkey without thinking of you. May your star continue to climb and shimmer and to shine your very special and unique light upon the world.
Thanks for reading.
Thursday, May 04, 2006
First of all I want to say what an absolute thrill it was for me to go to their sites, click on the link and see a shawl that I designed knit by someone else. And they did such beautiful work. MMario did his on size 10.5 needles in an acrylic worsted in shades of green and designed his own edging.
Needles54 knit her version in Debbie Bliss Merino DK and she also improvised her own edging. It looks to me like she did a knitted on lace edge which is very beautiful.
What I love the most is that both of these knitters did it “their way” — adjusting the sizes and the rows of lace work to make it the size and shape that they want. I hope others will send pictures when they have them.
One of the things I dearly love about my fellow knitters is that they are such warm, positive and supportive people. In a world that is too often filled with negativity, it just warms my heart to go to a forum such as Knitters Review and see all the positive, encouraging and supportive posts. Both MMario and Needles54 received many, many messages of support and encouragement from their fellow knitters when they posted their beautiful shawl photos. It made me feel good just to read them.
Mine is almost ready for the final edging. I have a few more of the little “tails” to go and then I want to do a finish in crochet adding little picots to the end of each tail. However after seeing MMario’s and Needles’s finishes I have to say they are certainly attractive alternatives.
The real beauty of the Mermaid Shawl for me is the shape which is a variation of the Garter and Lace Shawl shown in Knitter’s Magazine Scarves and Shawls book. That shape just snuggles around you and is so pleasant to wear. In fact I am doing another variation on it in the Himalayan Recycled Silk I talked about a couple days ago. I started it the same way that I did the Mermaid Shawl and worked 20 inches in stockinette stitch (I love the added warmth that gives - I tend to run on the cold side) and then I have begun a completely different and really pretty lace pattern. I needed something bold that could stand up to the wild, colorful, bulky quality of the silk and I think I’ve found it. I have used 600 yards of the silk so far and had to order a bit more to finish it. So when it was done I’ll post the pictures. The good thing is, if you did the Mermaid Shawl, doing this one will be a breeze because the first 20 inches are the same. I think I am going to call it Flamenco Dancer because the rich colors, heavy drape and “swirly” finish reminds me of the skirts of Flamenco dancers.
So congratulations to MMario and Needles54. I just love what you did. You really made my day.
Thanks for reading — and knitting.
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
Now up to this point the story isn’t particularly remarkable. It has been told many times before. In fact, if you change the gender of the orphan, it sounds a lot like Jane Eyre. I expect there are plenty of stories that follow this model from Dickens to the contemporary fad for books about abused and neglected children. The story is pretty much available to anyone to write about
However, in my story I think I’ll call my kid Barry — Barry Tinker. And the school he is going to is a school for magicians because Barry’s parents were really magicians also and were murdered in a war between white magic and black magic.
Maybe I’m getting into dicey territory here.
What got me thinking about this is all the press about 19 year old Kaavya Viswanathan's $500,000 book deal from Little Brown and the subsequent lawsuit because of the many similarities between her book, which came out in March, and books by Megan McCafferty. Everyone knows there is no such thing as an original idea in art. But there is fair use and then there is plagiarism. McCafferty’s publishers have documented more than 40 instances of direct rip-offs from her books in Viswanathan’s book. It would be a stretch to call that accidental.
I actually hadn’t been following the story until Mark started talking about it. He reads three or four newspapers every day and knows the programming schedule for Book TV by heart. Ever since we began working on F/V Black Sheep he has been moderately obsessed about being copied or by having someone accuse him of copying. It’s a valid concern. In these excessively litigious times, when lawyers scan newspapers for stories they might be able to build a case around and then contact potential “victims”, publishing is a rough game. Publishing has always been a highly litigious business anyway and these days it is brutal.
So what happened with Kaavya Viswanathan? She’s young and very intelligent according to reports. She’s also pampered. Her father paid $10,000 to an admissions service to get her into Harvard after she was initially rejected. Later, she had the services of a professional book packaging marketer (don’t know who footed that bill) to get her novel shaped up so she could land that $500,000 deal from Little Brown. This is not a girl who has been taught to do things on her own. What’s a little plagiarism when you’ve already hired someone to get you into college and get your book before a publisher?
But more importantly, what the hell was Little Brown thinking? Half a million dollars to a seventeen year old who’d never published? Are they nuts? Unfortunately, I think I know what they were thinking — they were hoping to ride the Zadie Smith wave. This is in no way a condemnation of Zadie Smith. I’ve tried reading her books, I can’t get interested but she writes beautifully. She is also young, very beautiful, intelligent, ethnic and highly marketable. Little Brown took one look at Kaavya Viswanathan and thought they had found their Zadie Smith. Serves them right to get hit with a lawsuit. When are publishers going to go back to publishing books because they are good books, not because they have been packaged by some slick service and written by someone who will look good on the cover of People?
In the meantime, I’ll go back to my story. Maybe I’ll give Barry two magician friends, Don and Germionie. This sounds like it has potential.
Thanks for reading.
Monday, May 01, 2006
Recently I picked up a bag of recycled Himalayan silk yarn. I had seen the yarn advertised in Patternworks catalog for $16 a skein which is a bit more than I can afford but I got a good deal on the stuff I bought. I knew a little about this yarn and I love the story that goes with it.
In the Himalayas, particularly in Tibet and Nepal, there are factories where silk saris are made. Women are employed in these factories — many of them poor and refugees. At the end of the work day, when the beautiful silk saris were packed up to be shipped to India and Pakistan, the women would gather up the scraps of brightly colored silk on the floor, carry it home, and spin it into colorful, rugged yarn that they used to knit warm hats and jackets. At some point some clever person noticed these beautiful things and thought that knitters worldwide would appreciate this stuff. They began marketing it to America and knitters loved it. The yarn became so popular that the concept of spinning silk scraps grew into recycling old saris by cleaning them, shredding them and then spinning the shredded fabric.
Silk is a wonderful fiber. I use it a lot and never regret the extra money involved in buying it. Not just because it is beautiful but it is durable, comfortable, washes beautifully if you prepare it right in the first place, and it lasts. It is a joy to work with.
When my bag of recycled silk yarn came I was a little intimidated by it. Everything I read said it is a challenge in the beginning and this is true. It comes in skeins and winding it into balls seemed the first challenge because the fibers tangle and stick together and it took me a while to become convinced that pulling the strands apart would not ruin the yarn. It is also thick and thin with occasional clumps of fiber or fabric forming brilliant, jewel-like little knobs. Some of the thin spots are little more than a few threads but, try as I might to break them, I couldn’t.
As I was winding the balls I became fascinated by the colors. The overall impression of the skeins are of a deep, predominantly red, heathery fiber. However, as you wind you see the way the thin, scraps of fabric are each a unique and brilliant color all their own. I am particularly partial to the brilliant, saffron-gold silk — a color I always associate with India. There is also bright, candy pink and shimmering emerald green, and brilliant blue. As I was winding it made me think of Mira Nair’s delicious movie Monsoon Wedding, one of my very favorite films.
I started several projects and ripped them out until I finally settled on a shawl (naturally). It is growing steadily and I just love it. As I sit and work on it I dream of places I have never been — Tibet, Nepal, India. Places I know only through my appreciation for their art. And I think of the women of those countries sitting on the floors of their little houses amid heaps of shredded silk saris, spinning them into yarn. Sometimes I find bits of straw or twigs. Even an occasional feather. I pluck them out and put them in a dish. Tiny little gifts from the Himalayas.
And, as the silk moves through my hands and wraps around the needles it grows soft and pliable. I love this shawl and am in no hurry to finish it. This is truly an instance of the process being completely pleasurable. When my shawl is finished I’ll post pictures but for now I am happy to just be sitting with it savoring the jeweled colors and dreaming of snow-capped mountains.
Thanks for reading.