Friday, March 30, 2007

Loss and Creativity

Yesterday Mark met me out at Good Harbor Beach and we talked for along while about the things we are working on now. We haven’t seen each other much lately. I’m still in a reclusive mode following the death of my father and Mark has a lot of conflicting stuff going on. His beloved old copper-colored Toyota truck died a sad death. It has been replaced with a brand new silver one and he seems to like it just fine but it is somehow not quite “him” yet.

He also has a bunch of meetings in Hollywood next month with some HBO people as well others to talk about his book. Apparently they think it would make a good mini-series. It’s one of those weird situations where you want to tell everybody and yet know that’s not a good idea because what if nothing happens? All of us have been through that with agents, editors, publishing houses. It’s a tough call. Three times in my life I’ve gotten agents who LOVED my book — loved it, loved it, loved it. Then — nothing. I know how humbling it is to have all your eager and excited friends say “what have you heard about your book?” and to have to say “nothing...” Ouch.

But more than those two, he is sad about the loss of his friend John Symonds, the fisherman whose body was found washed up on the rocks in Smith’s Cove a couple weeks ago. He had been working on his lobster boat, as he always was, on the dock off of the North Shore Arts Association’s parking lot on Pirates Lane. Mark had talked to him the afternoon before. The last thing he said to Mark was,”I sure do like that book you wrote.” Then he walked back down to his boat to keep working. When Mark arrived. When Mark arrived at Pirates Lane the next afternoon the police were standing next to John’s truck while the ambulance guys were retrieving his body from the rocks below. Nobody knows if he had a heart attack or a stroke and fell or if it was just an accident. He was always on that boat — always.

So Mark has done what writers do. He is writing about John. He told me yesterday that his tribute to John is now at over 2500 words and may be twice that before he is done. He isn’t sure yet what he will do with the article when he finishes it but he is working on it everyday.

I was telling him that I have been doing a rewrite of my second novel. It is something I can do and love doing right now when there isn’t a lot I love doing. So both of us are finding release from the loss and the encounter with our own impermanence by writing. That is a good thing.

My friend Clare left for New York this morning. She is another person who dealt with the death of her mother by writing. She wrote a LOT. One of her works, a short play, has been accepted into a short-work theater festival in New York. She left early this morning to take the train to New York where she will meet with the person directing her play. She was so excited. I saw her last night and her red hair seemed to be glowing with excitement. I am very happy for her.

I realized something last night after Clare left. We’re lucky, people like Clare and Mark and I, we have a place to put our frustration and our sadness and our sense of loss. We can use it for something — something that may turn out to be a play in New York or a HBO mini-series or another novel. That is a blessing.

I am thinking hopeful thoughts today for Clare during her meeting with her new director and for Mark with his article about another dead Gloucester Fisherman — and for me too. May our work do us proud.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Babbling Like I Know Something About Sculpture

One of the great things about living in Gloucester is the proximity to the working place of some genuinely great sculptors. For this reason, there is a substantial amount of sculpture here, far more than you would find in most towns of 30,000 people. The most famous locally is Leonard Craske’s Man At The Wheel on Stacy Boulevard followed by Anna Hyatt Huntington’s huge statue of Joan of Arc just down the street from me. It’s pretty difficult for me to leave the house without passing “Joanie on her pony” on my way home. I love it.

Charles Grafly, Richard Reccia, and Paul Manship, famous for his statue of the golden Prometheus in Rockefeller Center all lived and worked here. One of my favorite sculptors is Bela Pratt and, of course, Walker Hancock. I fell in love with Hancock’s Angel, which I’ve written about here before, long before I ever knew about Gloucester. I’ve also had the wonderful gift of being able to stay at Hancock’s studio as a writer’s retreat. Last summer I spent a few days there while I finished the final draft of My Last Romance. And over Christmas and New Years I stayed there working The Old Mermaid’s Tale. So sculpture influences my writing life --- it's about time I write about it.

The reason I am thinking about this embarrassment of riches is because I have started work on the first revision of my second novel, Each Angel Burns which centers around the disappearance of the sculpture of an angel made by 19th century Italian sculptor Giovanni Dupré (1817-1882).

I first discovered Dupré thanks to an article in Sculpture Review Magazine some years back. He was a classical sculptor at a time when European sculptors had succumbed to a type of modernism that I’m still reserving judgement about. But Dupré’s work is exquisite. My favorite of his works is a figure he called Modesty (left) which is part of a funerary monument in the Church of San Lorenzo in Florence. This monument is also features a statue of St. Michael the Archangel which inspired the piece I am working on.

One of the fun things about being a novelist is having the latitude to create an entire world — actually, that’s pretty intoxicating. As you do that you also have the ability to explore things that interest you and to weave them into your story under the assumption that there might be a few other people out there who will find it interesting.

So after I discovered Dupré’s St. Michael my busy little brain went into overdrive and, in my novelist’s arrogance, decided that St. Michael had a companion piece, a statue of St. Gabriel, and that it had somehow arrived in America and then somehow disappeared. Though the statue of St. Gabriel is totally my invention, Dupré did create companion statues such as his Cain and Abel in The Hermitage.

What’s fun about this is that you can spend time studying sculptor and his times and his work and weave that into your story. Discovering Dupré was a great gift for me because he worked at a time that was entirely compatible with the background of my story. I love the sculpture of Bernini but he lived so long ago and became so famous and valuable that I couldn’t have created a plausible story around one of his fictionalized pieces.

So I am learning about Dupré. It’s funny how much reading and research a writer does compared to what actually makes it into the finished piece. It’s the old iceberg analogy. But I am happy to know these things and cherish the thought that maybe somone will read what I write and spend a little time investigating the work of Giovanni Dupré.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Blame It On The NYT Book Review

Normally on the days that I write this blog I do it first thing in the morning before I can get distracted and wind up a million miles away. Which is a good idea because that is what happened this morning. It all started because today is trash pick-up day in Gloucester and I had not put the trash out nor had I purchased trash stickers. So I got up at 7 (blyech) and did those things. Then, since I was outside and it was a nice morning and I had the latest New York Times Book Review at hand, I decided to go get some coffee and go out to Niles Beach and read the Book Review. Thus, I lost a couple of hours.

I love the New York Times Book Review. As should be obvious by now, I am a book/writing junkie and so, well, it's obvious.

So I read the whole thing. I was particularly enthralled by an article called "Touch of Evil" about the new generation of noir detective stories. As an unabashed fan of noir I was very happy to read this and I came home and promptly went to Amazon and that explains where the last hour and a chunk of this month's income went. Having fallen happily under the spell of Arturo Perez-Reverte in the last year, I was hoping I'd find someone to take his place since I only have a couple more of his books to read.

So now I know about Cara Black, an American who writes French thrillers (I ordered one of those to try), and Donna Leon who writes detective stories set in Venice (ditto). I also ordered the first of Jean-Claude Izzo's books in his Marseilles Trilogy and rounded it out with a novel by Lisa Jackson called Shiver about a detective in New Orleans on the trail of a serial killer escaped from a local asylum --- how could I NOT order something that juicy???

So now I have to get back to work to make up for the time and money spent. But I am going to post two more happy finds that some might enjoy because I enjoy them tremendously. As stated often in the past I love Andrei Codrescu and I recently discovered an archive of his NPR commentaries on the internet. So, when I have time while I work I am listening to Poet On Call with Andrei Codrescu.

I've also become a big fan of Google Video and one of my favorite video archive is those of commentaries by MSNBC's outspoken Keith Olbermann. When you get the chance check him out: Keith Olbermann Video Archive. Whatever you do, don't miss his Bush Smackdown and his excellent calling out of Bill O'Reilly.

And, on a lighter note and for pure silliness, try out Jon Bon Jesuit --- five Jesuit priests from Boston College lip-syncing to Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer". It's... well... silly fun.

Okay, you have your homework. That's enough from me for one day!

Thanks for reading.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Loving Oliver Mellors

Last night I watched the first two episodes of a 1992 BBC production of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a book I have read many times and love. It is a book that has just about everything I love in a story — a restless and confused heroine trying to be good but filled with longing; a cranky, annoying antagonist who is obnoxious but not evil; a setting of wild and feral loveliness; and, above all, a deeply flawed but utterly luscious hero. Oliver Mellors may well be my favorite hero in all of literature.

I first read Lady Chatterley’s Lover in high school, didn’t every girl? I first fell in love with the woods that was Mellors’ domain. All its hollows and copses and the remains of past follies set my imagination on fire. I love ruins that are in the process of being reclaimed by nature anyway and here was this lonely, wounded man just back from war and returned to a miserable, demanding wife that he can’t bear to live with. So he returns to his job as a game keeper on Sir Clifford’s estate and, as he later tells Connie, is glad to be “done with all that”. Meaning love and sex.

He thinks.

Then along comes Constance Chatterley, the beautiful young wife of the wounded war hero Sir Clifford who is a good enough guy though spoiled, effete, and living in a world that no longer exists. He has lost the use of his legs but, worse than that, he, like many of the post-World War I aristocrats, has lost his position as supreme lord and master. The war has changed everything and, though he still possesses riches, the common folk whose labors supported estates like his, are fed up and sick of their lot in life.

It is not only a book about love and passion but also about class warfare and the denial on the part of the aristocracy that their time is running out. Sir Clifford thinks he can lead his miners back into the mines like he once led his men into battle. His miners thank that’s a pile of crap.

So here is beautiful, sexually deprived Constance, nursing her whiney husband and pretending a life of the mind is enough for them. Her father urges her to “have some fun”, her sister tries to talk her into going off on holidays where they can meet potential lovers. Even Sir Clifford tells her he would understand if she took a lover. But she wants to be good. She wants to be above all that until the fateful day when she comes upon her husband’s gamekeeper washing himself one morning and — ba-BOOM — lust happens.

Well, we all know the rest. Lawrence does a pretty good job considering the times he was writing in. The book is restrained by today’s standards and still managed to get itself banned for a good many years. But it is what Lawrence does with Mellors that I love — Mellors is a man who is wild and feral and earthy and angry, but he is also concerned with the pleasure of the woman he is with. This was something not a lot of books dealt with — some still don’t.

As a girl I loved it when Mellors told Connie, after a particularly tender love scene, that it was particularly good that time because they “came off together”. I wasn’t sure what that meant exactly but it sounded good. In another scene when Connie is weepy and torn between her desire for him and loyalty to her husband they have sex but Mellors says that is wasn’t good that time because “thou weren’t there this time.” That’s another thing — I adored his brogue and the “thous” and the “thys”. Mellors taught Connie about her body — he taught me a thing or two about my own.

So tonight I will watch the final episodes and maybe even get out my copy of the book. Oliver Mellors is the kind of lover you can’t ever give up completely.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Being Mean

I was talking to a friend and fellow writer the other day and, within the the context of whatever we were talking about, he said, “I don’t mind rough talk in books or graphic descriptions but I don’t like just plain meanness.” Wow! I never thought of it in those words but I agree completely.

It was some time back when I first read E. Annie Proulux’s The Shipping News when I encountered one of the nastiest sentences I had ever encountered in a book. I won’t repeat it verbatim but she compare the color of the sky to “day-old” urine. The phrase so revolted me that I put the book down and it took me a long time to go back to it. Maybe there are some readers who thought it was funny but I found it unnecessarily nasty and I wondered why a writer of her gifts found it necessary to write something so vulgar.

This is something I’ve been aware for awhile now in popular fiction. Maybe I am overly sensitive to male writers who describe women’s bodies in microscopic detail but when they do it with a flat out nastiness it turns me off completely. I used to like Robert B. Parker but I stopped reading him after one too many snide descriptions of women who didn’t measure up to his standards of beauty (he, no model of svelte physique himself!)

There is just a lot of gratuitous meanness around these days anyway. I stopped listening to Jay Severin (who has NO room to criticize ANYONE’S looks!) because of his incessant, hateful, mean rants against Hillary Clinton’s appearance. I’m not a fan of Ms. Clinton but her looks have nothing to do with her abilities or lack thereof.

In fact the entire extreme partisan hatefulness that pervades our country now is so saturated with plain old gratuitous meanness that I avoid political discussions with a good many people. If you want to talk issues, fine, but I am not interested in hearing arguments prefaced with nasty, snide comments that have nothing to do with the issues. That kind of meanness is only useful to people who haven’t got much else going for them.

But it bothers me more in novels than anywhere else. Art, as I understand it and in the words of John Gardner, is meant to elevate, not to debase. I think it is entirely possible to tell the truth of a situation in all its ugliness and reprehensibleness without resorting to gratuitous meanness — if anything the meanness detracts from the overall quality of the work. I have started Orhan Pamuk’s Snow about a poet and journalist who travels to an impoverished village in Turkey where a group of teenage girls have begun committing suicide. I am dazzled by his ability to describe the poverty the people of Kars live in and the sadness of the lives of the young women who are taking their own lives without resorting to vulgarity. I wonder how many American writers working today could do that.

What is it in these writers that makes them need to be mean? When Spencer, the heroic Boston detective that everybody has loved for years, describes the wrinkles and loose flesh of an incidental character who just happens to be a woman of a certain age I wonder why Parker wrote that. Yes, I know that writers write the truth of characters and situation ut it is not the existence of such features but rather the snideness of their description that revolts me. Is it as simple as a subconscious contempt for women who are no longer lust objects? I wonder.

I am going to try to monitor meanness in my own life and try to start a movement toward that end. It serves no purpose. It is time to let it go.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Perilous Living

Every time they do a study on high-risk jobs commercial fishing seems to win. Around here this winter that has been more than passingly obvious. There was an article in the paper yesterday that the wreckage of the Lady Luck was found 50 miles out of Portland Harbor under 500 feet of water. No trace of the two young fishermen aboard was found. Sad, sad, sad.

Mark told me today about another loss. A fisherman named John Symonds who moored his lobster boat off of Pirates Lane near where Mark moored the Black Sheep is dead. When John wasn’t out fishing he was always working on that boat. Just last Sunday Mark and I were out there talking and the whole time John was busy on his boat. Last night Mark pulled into the parking lot and there was an ambulance loading John’s body. Something happened apparently and he wound up in the water. Being in the water of Gloucester Harbor on a March afternoon is not a good idea. (Photo of John's boat at left by Dun Fudgin who photographed Mark's boat for the cover of his book.)

Mark said he had talked to John yesterday afternoon. They were talking about Mark’s book which John is mentioned in. Mark said the last thing John said to him was, “Boy, I liked that book. You sure did a good job.” Mark is very sad.

Risking your life on a daily basis just to earn a living is incomprehensible to me but a lot of people do it. I have taken some risks in my life — most of them dumb — and the results have been a mixed bag of great experiences and ridiculous losses. But losing your life... that’s hard to imagine.

The other night at dinner the “chicks” and I were talking about things we have done in our lives. One member of our group wrote a book about sex workers and did some fascinating research that involved going to some dangerous-seeming bars and meetings with shady characters. Another lived for several years in the brush in Botswana doing research and managed to get herself kicked out of South Africa. Her passport is still stamped “persona non grata” in that country. Twice in my life I sold all my possessions, loaded my car, and drove cross-country to towns where I knew virtually no one and started a new life. I was much braver then.

Of course those things are probably somewhat safer than braving the Gulf of Maine in the cold of winter but, nonetheless, we get credit for doing something a lot of people wouldn’t have dared. The thing that I know about that is that, when you are doing it, you don’t think about the danger. You think about the adventure and that is what most commercial fishermen do — they think about making a living in a way that works for them.

In his book, Mark has two stories about “going into the water”. Once in February when his boat was sinking. The Coast Guard found him and pulled him out — his boat was lost. The second time was a lot more terrifying but, since it is the last chapter of his book, I won’t ruin the story.

So today there is one less fisherman in this city of dwindling fishermen anyway. It is sad. I didn’t know John but I saw him often puttering aboard his boat — he always seemed happy and content doing that. I’m guessing he would call it fair that his last moments were spent aboard his boat.

Pirates Lane won’t be the same without him.

Thanks for reading
.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Happy Vernal Equinox

Technically the vernal equinox was yesterday which makes this the first full day of Spring. There is a lot of snow out there but that is alright, we haven’t had that much snow this winter so it is fine and will be gone by the weekend.

Of course as much as the scientists would like to have you believe that the vernal equinox marks the beginning of spring it doesn’t really. Maybe we all have our own standards for it — for me it is that first time you hear the peepers in the swamp. That happy little chirping song means “all is not lost, spring will be here soon”. And then there is that day when you look up at the bare branches swaying against the blue sky and realize they are tinged with a bright, glowing green. Ah, Spring!

Spring always inspires me to start making plans for summer and the usual resolve that goes with that — get to the beach more, spend more time sitting outside with a good book, plan some day trips. But the last few years my day trips have been to the back shore and that’s about it. Who wants to go anywhere when you live in a place that people from all over the country long to come to for just one week each year?

I have a lot of plans for this summer most of which involve selling books. Gloucester Writes is going to try to have tables for local authors to sell books at a number of arts festivals this summer and that is something I look forward to. I am pushing to get The Old Mermaid’s Tale to press before summer arrives and have gone back to work on Each Angel Burns.

Yesterday I received two separate emails from writer friends who have books being published by big publishing houses but who are discouraged because their editors are asking them how they would like to see their books marketed. The sub-text to that is “how do YOU plan to market your book?” I don’t know what is going on in publishing today — or with readers for that matter. I see people all the time carrying around books but I wonder what the latest statistics are on who reads what. Do people read? I am someone who reads an average of a book a week but I wonder how many people do that.

All of that got me thinking about summer reading lists when I was a kid. Each year we got a list of books that would make good summer reading according to our schools and grade levels. They were accompanied by an order form where you could get the books at a discount rate. Of course back then a paperback novel cost 75 cents. I remember my mother giving me $5.00 to spend on my summer reading list and me trying to go through the list and calculate how many books I could get with that and which were the best choices.

When the books arrived it was always a great day. They came in a paper wrapper and I would take them to the front porch, curl up in the swing and go through them one by one plotting my plan of attack. I remember the summer I read To Kill A Mockingbird — I walked into doors and parking meters because I couldn’t put the book down. And I remember the summer I discovered Of Mice and Men and there was that line in it about the boss’s son who kept his hand in a glove, covered with vaseline because his wife had very soft skin. That baffled me for weeks and I still remember it after all these years.

So it is spring and, as usual, I have a stack of books waiting for me. I am no longer as easily baffled as I was when I read Of Mice and Men but, who knows, each new season brings new mysteries if we are pay attention.

Thanks for reading
.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Onward, onward, onward...

There are few things that can make a person more utterly and completely humble than trying to run a business or two which requires you to use computers and cyber-technology on a daily basis. You can pretty much count on regular reminders that you don’t know much.

Recently I started getting notices that the bandwidth on the server I write this blog on was reaching its limit. I have had this happen before toward the end of the month so I never worried about it because the month would end before the bandwidth got exceeded and the count would begin anew. However, this was different. It was only the middle of the month and there was so much traffic on this blog and the smaller sites I host here that I was running out of bandwidth. On Saturday I logged on and the whole thing was shut down. What to do? What to do?

I contacted my host service and we added another Gig of bandwidth and the problem is temporarily solved. Actually, I can keep that extra gig for a modest fee but I have another server that is much larger than this one and the logical thing to do is to transfer this blog over to that server. Except — well, that’s where the humility thing comes in. I spent the whole day Sunday wrestling with it and, after several hours of total frustration, I gave up. I don’t know what I did — I guess this blog has become so big and so complex that I can no longer remember how I set it up.

Which brings me to the second part. I want to set up another blog and I’m going to do it on the other server to see if that works. Maybe I’ll learn something that will make moving this blog possible. The new blog will be mostly about recipes. Since my novel The Old Mermaid’s Tale is getting closer and closer to production I have been trying to think of ways to promote it — a sad necessity for authors these days — and one of the things that was suggested was a blog that would feature the recipes for the food mentioned in the book. Even if it doesn’t promote the book, it sounds like fun.

Years ago I wrote a family cookbook that became quite popular. I’ll blog more about that at another time, but it was that cookbook that served as the source for the food mentioned in The Old Mermaid’s Tale. Since the bulk of the action in that story takes place either in a diner or in a tavern, food plays an interesting role. It is a sensually rich book anyway and taste and smell is a big part of that. So a blog of recipes from the Old Mermaid Inn seems like a good idea.

Along with that I am on my annual mission to update my web site. Once a year I go through the projects of the past year and decide which ones need to be shown on my site — I started that last night. It is gratifying because it helps me to realize that I do actually accomplish a few things within a year’s time and am not completely useless.

So last night I started with the web sites I’ve designed, redesigned or improved upon and I was amazed. I stopped at 25 — that’s more than enough. Next I have to add the print work — brochures, covers etc. and then I can move on to books. All of this is kind of exciting and I’m learning stuff as I go. Learning stuff is always good.

So the moral of the tale is just keep putting one foot in front of the other. I have a friend who says he feels like he is an ox, constantly plodding forward, dragging the rest of his life along with him. I know the feeling — onward, onward, onward. Onward is good — humbling but good.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Life, Death, Pain, Lighthouses

It is now a month since my father died. It has been a strange time — some days I am fine, others I am not. Once again I have learned which friends are there to support and check in on me and which are suddenly “too busy”. That came as a shock when my brother died. This time, well, sadly, it is the same ones. That’s hard to accept.

Then last week I managed to hurt my right hand. It is a combination of arthritis and tendinitis that I have been through before. So, I take a lot of ibuprofen and try to spare myself as much activity as I can but that sure gets boring in a hurry. There is so much you can’t do when your right hand isn’t working. Knitting is definitely out — brushing my hair is out! Getting dressed is a challenge. Forget making the bed and cooking. It’s quite an adventure.

But, of course, there is always reading and I have done a ton of that in the last couple weeks. Oddly, the last two books I read were about murder and lighthouses — I don’t know how that happened.

Like many people I love lighthouses. I am fortunate that I live in a place where there are six of them within a couple miles. I rarely go a day without seeing the two Thacher Island lighthouses and Eastern Point Light. They always charm me. I wonder what it is — that silent presence of guardianship? That sense that they are there alone and lighted to guide folks home.

I bough P.D. James’ The Lighthouse because I love P.D. James and the fact that she wrote a book about a murder in a lighthouse delighted me. It is one of her Inspector Dalgliesh mysteries and a very good one. There is an island off the Cornish coast with a mansion, a lighthouse, and a collection of cottages where the wealthy go to be alone and do whatever rich people do when they are alone. Well, in this book one of them, a novelist, winds up hanging from the railing of the lighthouse. It is P.D. James at her finest — at the age of 84, no less.

I also read Howard Norman’s The Bird Artist about a young artist in “Witless Bay” Newfoundland who murders the local lighthouse keeper. This was my first experience in reading Norman and he is a writer of great skill. I loved this book. It is clean and spare with an economy of language that draws you in and paints lean, yet vibrant, pictures of that world. Time well spent.

I also read Norman’s The Haunting of L. which is nicely written but without the clear, vivid compelling intensity of The Bird Artist. I liked it but didn’t love it.

My father was a great reader. When we were kids he would ask us to bring him books whenever we went to the library. We’d try to find the weirdest things we could find yet he always read everything we brought him. He loved westerns — they were his favorites. When I discovered Ron Hansen, one of my very favorite writers, I gave my father his Desperados and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Dad loved them.

So, the days go by. Each day my heart is a little less fragile and my hand a little more flexible. And Spring is coming. And I have a stack of unread books.

And all will be well.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Each Angel Burns

One of the good things about going through a down-time in your life is that can often be the impetus to do something different. The last several weeks since my father died have been strange for me. Nothing in my day-to-day life has changed at all but emotionally I’m just not fully engaged. I work as much as I have to but otherwise — well, I’ve read a lot of books.

I also got out the manuscript of a novel I wrote the first draft of in 2004 and then put away. That seems to be my pattern with writing. I write something and then I need to almost forget about it before I can go back and re-read and decide if I want to keep working on it.

Right now My Last Romance and other passions is out and has been selling modestly which is what I expected. The Old Mermaid’s Tale, which I had intended to have available on Valentine’s Day, is still with a carefully selected group of readers who are giving it a finally, careful read before I send it off to press. So it is time to move on and I did that by unearthing novel #2.

The working title of the book was Triad but I am changing that. In fact it will be called Each Angel Burns which is a line from Ranier Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies:

Who, if I cried, would hear me, of the angelic
orders? or even supposing that one should suddenly
carry me to his heart - I should perish under the pressure
of his stronger nature. For beauty is only a step
removed from a burning terror we barely sustain,
and we worship it for the graceful sublimity
with which it disdains to consume us. Each angel burns.

I think it is an appropriate title particularly concerning the subject matter which is complex — I need to develop and “elevator speech” for my books. The story is contemporary about three people, now in their fifties, with long histories together, who are all facing huge life changes. Peter is a Jesuit priest and professor of Classical Languages at a Catholic college who has, after many, many years, re-encountered the only woman he ever loved. Gabe is Pete’s best friend from boyhood, a married father of three daughters who has been unhappy in his marriage for years and now discovers that his wife is cheating on him. Maggie, a sculptor who has purchased an old abandoned convent which she intends to convert into studios, is the woman Pete once loved who is now separated from her rich but abusive husband. The whole story centers around the long and mysterious history of the convent, St. Gabriel’s (Gabe’s mother once dreamed of being a nun there and named him for it) where a magnificent statue of the Angel Gabriel that once guarded the entrance has been stolen and cannot be traced.

There are also a lot of wonderful secondary characters. Gabe’s crabby old father Mick and his aging hippy brother and sister-in-law Mike and Daisy; Pete and Gabe’s high school football team buddies, Charlie, Vinnie, Whitey and Bull (who is an unrepentant philanderer); Josef Stoltzfus, Gabe’s Amish neighbor who loves stopping to have a beer with the guys; and, best of all, Gabe’s wonderful, wise, and entirely unfaithful hound dog, Zeke.

So these are good people to be with me in this strange time in my life. They know what it is like to be in your fifties and wondering how the hell did I get this old and still be so confused. Each of my angels burns.... and writing is good.

Thanks for reading
.

Monday, March 05, 2007

A Slight Chance of Snow

That’s what my Weatherbug said when I booted up this morning. It is March 5th and there is a slight chance of snow. This has been an inordinately mild winter anyway and, once March comes, I never mind snow predictions because, well, it is nearly Spring.

Where I grew up in Pennsylvania we had winters to be reckoned with. It would start snowing at Thanksgiving and not stop until Easter. I have all the tales-of-great-snowfalls that all people over fifty have. “The snow was so high we had to get up half an hour before we went to bed to shovel every morning.” That stuff. Actually, I never shoveled a lot — I had brothers who got stuck with that.

And I have good snow memories — the fathers on our street blocking it off with sawhorses so we could sled. All the neighbors turning on their outdoor spotlights and a ka-zillion kids bundled up so thickly we could scarcely move piling onto sleds. Piling three and four high on a sled that zoomed to the bottom of the hill right into a snowbank and having to pull kids out by their boots. When I was in college at Penn State Main Campus there were some genuinely scary drives back on Sunday afternoons. I’ll always remember a Sunday thick with snow when cars were bumper to bumper on I-80 and everyone had their radios on listening to the Steelers play the Raiders. That was the Sunday that Franco Harris, my former classmate at PSU, made the play that came to be known as the Immaculate Reception when he miraculously leaped into the air and caught Terry Bradshaw’s wild toss. Everyone on I-80 started honking their horns, screaming out of their windows, flashing their lights. It was one of those magical moments of the bonding of strangers.

Later, when I lived in Texas I saw snow a total of three times in how many years. Once it was enough to actually cover the ground. Yowza. And they’d let us go home from work when the first flake fell! It was amazing. I remember walking into the courtyard of my apartment complex around noon on a day with flurries in the air. My two downstairs neighbors, Bill and Smitty from the U.P. in Michigan were wearing parkas, shorts and galoshes sitting in lawnchairs by the pool with a case of beer waiting for the snow. When you’re from the U.P. it takes a considerable amount of snow to get your interest.

When I moved back East and to New England I was really looking forward to seeing snow again. I moved to Salem in September and on Veteran’s Day I got my wish — snow like I hadn’t seen since I was a kid in Pennsylvania! It snowed and snowed and snowed. Work was cancelled, school was closed, everyone stayed home. Around two I bundled up and trudged to the diner down the street. There were a couple of old-time New Englanders sitting over coffee at one of the tables laughing at the drivers slipping and sliding around in the snowy street. “Imagine that!” one old codger drawled, “it’s snowing in New England. Who’d ever (evah) think it would snow in New England.” That scene made it into my second novel.

But then the snow stopped and it didn’t drop a flake again that winter. I moved to Marblehead on the following Valentine’s Day and it was as mild as a Spring Day.

The most memorable of snowfalls since I lived in New England was the April Fool’s Day snow a few years back. In the course of a few hours it dropped over 20 inches on Gloucester. It was one of those light fluffy snows that drifts and blows at random. I could hardly get from my car to the front door through all the snow and shoveling was a waste of time because it just all slid back. And the next day it went up to 50.

So today we have a slight chance of snow and I have work to do. And it is almost Spring.

Thanks for reading
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Friday, March 02, 2007

Naughty, Naughty

My friend Karen had a bright idea. She designed a line of t-shirts with clever definitions on them. I have been working with her for the last year to design her web site at www.definitiontees.com.

When she decided to make the transition from just straight definitions to definitions with illustrations she had quite a challenge coming up with artwork that was both clever and original but I think she has done a terrific job. I tried to help out by doing some illustrations but have never mastered the art of t-shirt art. It is a skill unto itself. However one of my illustrations has made it onto one of her tees. Doesn’t it just stand to reason that it is for “naughty”? Uh-huh. That’s my style.

Her t-shirts are becoming increasingly popular in shops and at expos and now she hopes people will check out her online store and buy them that way too. Personally, I love them. I gave Sox-fanatic, Sparkle, and Daddy’s Little Girl to my brother Matt’s kids and got an Alpha Male for Mark. Bet you $20 he’s never worn it.

But I’m really happy to have my art on her Naughty t-shirt. Karen has shirts for men, women, and kids and has recently added a full line of clever tees for sports and dance. I don’t know how she thinks these up. She told me that her boyfriend, Donny, actually started it. He would often sign notes to her with little drawings and one of them, of a tiny body-builder, was so clever that she drew it on a tee shirt that she then wore to the gym. Everyone wanted one and her business was born. I think that is a great story.

I’m always amazed and delighted by people who decide to start a secondary business and pour their hearts into it. This is something I know a little bit about since Parlez-Moi Press is the love child of my passion for books and Valentine Design. Everything Valentine Design makes, Parlez-Moi Press spends but, well, that’s what love children do.


So if you are looking for a unique and clever treat for someone you love, check out DefinitionTees.com — they are adorable, clever and the shirts are so soft and yummy. I especially recommend the Naughty shirts. They’re just so — naughty!


Thanks for reading.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Where Do Stories Come From

I was informed on Sunday that my short story “Killing Julie Morris”, which was recently published in Level Best Books’ annual crime anthology, Seasmoke: Crime Stories by New England Writers, has been nominated for a Derringer Award by the Short Mystery Writers Association. This is exciting, of course, but, having been nominated last year for “Home-made Pie and Sausage” and not getting the award I am a little less expectant.

Several people who have read “Killing Julie Morris” have asked where I got the idea for it and, I have to be honest, it was just a case of my imagination running amok - as usual. I was driving down Rogers Street one day behind a Cape Pond Ice truck and I started thinking about how cold it would be in the back of one of those trucks and then, naturally, my thoughts turned to murder — wouldn’t anyone’s?

I never set out to be a crime writer. I like to read certain crime novels — particularly James Lee Burke, Val McDermid, and Ann Rule. But there is something really fun about writing crime. You get to think about things you normally would never let enter your mind. Like how to kill somebody who irritates the living daylights out of you. It is actually a good thing to have a few nemeses in your life to spark such thoughts. Right now my life is quiet and serene and I am having a hard time coming up with a plot for next years’ anthology.

I’ve always felt that stories exist, pretty much intact, out there in the cosmos and all you have to do to get one is just hold still and not try to micro-manage it. People who claim to have psychic powers tell you the same thing — just open your mind and let whatever is out there in. I believe in the psychic, I just think it’s a bad idea to let it play too large a role in your life. I believe in uncanny instincts and messages from the other side but I think they are extraordinary things — like stories — and, while it is interesting when it happens, don’t quit your day job, if you know what I mean.

Now, see, there’s an interesting thought. There’s this psychic and once upon a time she was instrumental in solving a local murder. It was a big deal and the media went wild over it. She was interviewed by every newspaper, magazine and television station in the state and she got so much business. For a year or so it was very exciting — there was even talk of a book deal and a Movie of the Week. But then another murder happened and, well, her psychic receptors were so clogged by fame and fortune that nothing worked right. It was pretty humiliating and ... well...

So now a few years have gone by and she’s having a rough time. Business is bad and she’s had to take a job that is pretty crappy. She longs for another murder to solve so she can, once again, relive all that excitement. So, so, so... maybe she helps the process along a little....

Hmmmmmm......

Think I’ll wrap this up and do some writing today. The Force is with me.

Thanks for reading.

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