Thursday, August 30, 2007

the graceful plumber

Following Monica's advice, I've crafted up a couple of chapbooks. Two-and-a-half hours at Kinko's trying to format my Microsoft Office Publisher document in such a way as to be able to mass-produce it in booklet form, front-and-back.

Sort of a fun, self-promotional adventure, but for the fact that my 8-yr old was in tow and flinging himself on the ground every five minutes in a cry of abject boredom. It got really fun when he got somewhat tangled in the myriad hose-sized cords webbing printers to power junctions.

Carson has better fine motor skills than his mother, so when it came time to glue the back of page 7 to page 8, I handed him the stick.

Road trip to Sisters tomorrow!

Friday, August 24, 2007

reading in sisters

My friend Monica Drake has invited me to “open” for her when she reads next Friday at Paulina Springs Books in Sisters, Oregon. At Monica’s suggestion, I’m going to put together a little chapbook for distribution at the bookstore. What the hell, right? Shameless self-promotion?

The perfect little arts n crafts project for the last week of summer!

Monday, August 13, 2007


I’m working up a voice for my Watch Hill narrator. Sort of disaffected Fran Lebowitzish with Edie Sedgwick undertones… But with a heart. I hope.

The conceit is that the mansion must be sold. Time ticks by before the chopping block hour, and the narrator, Frances, along with Cousin Caroline, are charged with collecting, distributing and/or throwing out all the contents of the house before it is sold for “pennies on the dollar.”

So the overlay story has a bunch of squabbling, relationships going awry, and secrets revealed, while the backstory describes the sordid lives of the previous generations who inhabited the house. There’s a murder-suicide, myriad affairs, groundbreaking science and lots of booze. O, to live in New England with the filthy rich back in the era!

Off to the Wallowas for a few days, and plan to bring my notebooks!

Thursday, August 09, 2007


I’m tired and satisfied after a week of literary interlude. I’ve been seeking out writers lately. I miss the ol’ shop talk. You know, the pros and cons of first/third POV; alignment with memory in of itself vs the thing remembered. A robust tug-of-war focused on sentimentality in literary fiction (and you thought that was an oxymoron).

Cheryl Strayed came over tonight. She was our “visiting author” at bookgroup. She had all the gals in the palm of her hand just by being genuine, unapologetic and smart in discussing the background and circumstances of her book,Torch .

The book deals with the hardest of subjects, death and grief, and was fueled by Cheryl’s real life sudden loss of her mother at a crucial time in her life.

Torch, despite the somewhat schmaltzy chicklit book cover, is unflinching and sometimes painful to read. The myriad forms grief takes—the way sadness, rage, numbness and dissociative strategies can blossom into implosion—finds purchase as Strayed rolls along the year following her protagonist’s death from cancer.

The heart of the book is that it’s so personal. So particular. There is not one cliché, not one grab-and-go metaphor—but the universal broken heart threads throughout the story. You must read it.

Monday, August 06, 2007

what if...

My latest project is taking shape around a pit of truth. The flesh around it isn't true though. I'm wholesale inventing two characters (at the very least) upon whom plot and arc will hang, so it kinda feels like I'm putting some sort of fertilizer in the mix here. The vivid neon of Miracle Grow in an otherwise organic scaffolding.

Occasionally a situation will occur to me and I'll want to build character to accommodate the scene playing in my head. For instance, last night my 8-yr old (who I hadn't seen in over a week) wanted to play "spa" with me. He got out lotion and a comb and hair spray and wanted to "fix me up." It was one of those situations where you wonder if this will be replayed on a therapist's couch down the road.

After a few minutes of him trying to yank a comb through my rat's nest hair, I suggested he put the beauty products away and go to bed. "But I want to sleep here, with you!" he said.


Soon as he was in bed I thought about how this scene could play out with the not-yet-fleshed-out characters in my work. Suppose the mom really got into her little boy playing with her hair and giving her a facial, etc...? Then let's say the little boy grows up to commit infractions of a boundary-issue nature?

It's back to that old process question one hears from time to time. The difference between fiction and non-fiction? Non-fiction seeks to explore the question: "What about..." whereas fiction meanders into the territory, "What if..."

Friday, August 03, 2007

show me the invoice

The days of August. They are the dog days, are they not? Feet up naps and circuitous strolls through shady parks. Bike rides are a good idea in August. So are matinees and mimosas and myriad delay tactics at work.

Problem is, September is an expensive month. What with back-to-school, soccer equipment and fall maintenance checklists… The disconnect between billable hours and bank deposits is sobering. So, alas, here I am in my faux Aeron chair in between conference calls and data entry, thinking that it sure would be nice to get paid (well) for the sort of writing I most like to do.
Yesterday I read a piece by Steve Almond in the July/August Poets & Writers. (I’m a little behind—you should SEE the towering stack of NewYorkers by my bed). The article (which he probably got $300 or so to write...) is called “Will Write for Free.” Almond laments the lack of pay for creative work, time spent promoting creative work, and the attitude of small press publishers and anthology editors when a writer deigns to broach the subject of fee-for-service.
Almond left journalism to become an “artiste” and pledged to turn his back “on the commercial world.” After writing, publishing and hawking several critically-acclaimed books, the guy is living hand-to-mouth and now has a wife and kid to support.

He wraps the piece by relating some tough-speak he had to employ to get a kill fee from a food glossy when they tanked an article. Evoking the litigious possibilities when you get stiffed, he claims, is sometimes a necessary evil when you’re trying to make your nut with words.

When I finished my MFA program I was all set to do the adjunct crawl. Write, teach, and patch together a literary life. Only problem was, even to get an interview at a community college for a part time slot I needed two years teaching experience, a published book and connections I really didn’t have in place. I began the process of prerequing myself for the crumbs of academe when an opportunity to write for a marketing company bubbled out of the ground.

Through this opportunity, I wrote copy for various financial services companies (think Wall Street…think Hedge Funds…think Bullshit) and made some pretty hefty bank. Talk about selling out. I think it was over the Thanksgiving holiday a few years back when the principal of a Hedge Fund IT company called with a request that I immediately fix a minute glitch on a banner ad for a disaster recovery product that caused me my existential crisis. Not only was I abstracting myself from my family during THE secular fest of the year, I was sweating over the font size of a phrase I’d invented likening a life preserver to ensuring the uninterrupted flow of more money than could choke a major metropolitan sewage system.

Oy fucking vey.

So I declined continued work from said company and similar verticals, and cozied up instead to food companies, yoga studios and other lifestyle businesses that sold actual services and products. My particular pact with Satan was mitigated by contingencies that reduced my culpability as a marketing slut. For instance, I won’t write copy for big, scary corporate banks. Or private financial services smoke-and-mirror organizations . Or individuals who want their web sites to have lots of red and “but wait, there’s more” messaging. But I do have to continue to write marketing copy for a living, and I am putting the kybosh on little journal pieces that pay less than seventy-five cents a word. Time may not be money, but it is time, and I have a Happy Hour to get to…it’s August!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

mt st helens

If summer is the canvas upon which subverted paradigms are splashed, then a trek above the timberline is exactly the medium to do the splashing.

Kirk and I (along with Kirk's fleet-footed son, Brendan) climbed up to the summit of Mt. Saint Helens on Sunday, to see what we could see. The air is pretty damn fresh up there at 8,365 feet, and so is the perspective. So with cleaned out lungs, a cleared up head, and slightly sore calf and quads, I feel ready to tackle the next big thing. (Or continue with the big thing I've already begun...)