Wednesday, April 29, 2009

my new fan obsession: blazer radio

Here's Travis Outlaw being all pumped up in last night's clincher against Houston.

Great to see, but even better to hear. We're now in month two of our tv ousting, and really, the playoffs were my only regret. Until I started listening to Brian Wheeler and his trademark alliterative tagging of the opposing coach after significant Trailblazer runs. (E.g. After the Blazers 4th Quarter run, Adelman was characterized as "dejected, deflated and devastated!")

Wheeler's commentary is immediate, grabbing and entertaining. He doesn't miss a beat, and he takes in the whole picture, offering realtime tidbits from the bench, the court, the stands and the scoreboard. It sort of comes down to the power of storytelling, I think. The ability of a narrator to pan the landscape and zoom in on nuance and tension, without the aid of visuals. As Lorrie Moore once said in a lecture I attended, "the reason books are more powerful than tv, is that books cannot proceed without you." As a listener, your imagination, experience, emotional state and attention is called upon differently when you have to supply the picture.

The other thing about listening to a sporting event instead of watching one is that the dynamics of a household change. For instance, while we had both upstairs and downstairs radios tuned to 95.5 fm, we were engaged in several other activities. Me: doing dishes and relaxing on the couch; Kirk and Carson: cleaning and organizing his room in anticipation of his big birthday bash coming up this weekend. It was a sort of social multi-tasking, where we converged every so often to comment on Roy's flu symptoms or Scola's foul, or that steal Fernandez made. We all brought more to our interaction this way, each of us interpreting the game with what we were seeing in our respective heads, rather than what may have been on a collective screen.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

good stuff

We interrupt this economic downturn to point out a few exquisite pieces of terrific news:

1. Many of my writing colleagues have just, or are in the midst of, landing terrific book deals
2. My daughter has just been accepted to a master's program she has worked very hard to be in
3. The gallery where I work, after experiencing recent hardship, is facing brighter days
4. So many of my entrepreneurial colleagues and artist friends are venturing forth with exciting work and new business

In short, for folks who continue to work hard and think outside the box, the future is bright.

Monday, April 20, 2009

stepping back from the trees

Last week my very good and smart writer friend Cheryl, offered to examine the first part of my novel. She's seen much of the book in seven page increments (our page limit at workshop is seven, so we can get to everyone), but seeing the novel is a larger chunk gave her a whole other perspective.

We met at a tequila bar during happy hour, and for the next 90 minutes, over margaritas and tortilla chips, Cheryl and I talked about The Secret to Love. It was like meeting your child's teacher for a parent conference, when you know that the teacher loves your child, and that anything other than "Little Johnny is a talented, wonderful angel" was going to be constructive and offered in the spirit of: Now, what can we do to ensure that Little Johnny become president some day?

Seriously, having a trusted, smart colleague pore over your work and then offer a considered critique is far and away the best supplement you can add to your draft. In the case of TSTL, the upshot is, I need to restructure my conceit. When it comes to the "horizontal" of the book, instead of giving equal billing to backstory and ongoing narrative, I need to allow the backstory to inform the emotional drivers of the novel. The reader must become more rooted in Fifi's present world--more compellingly invited to the ongoing party. It all seemed so obvious, after two loaded margaritas!

Back to the drawing board with TSTL. Sort of. The good news is, pretty much everything I've written is keepable, I just need to build slower scenes around it. My opening prologue, a wholesale adjunct, is now a scene with Fifi, her husband and her dog at the Portland airport, as opposed to backstory about characters that are not as crucial to the trajectory of the narrative.

Now, on this sunny Monday morning, I must return to them, my little trio, and gear up the engines for this line of flight.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


A few days into my Twitter experiment, I already want to quit. Or take a re-tweet (get it?). The feeling of being behind if I'm not checking my laptop or phone every five minutes is fracturing.

So I did, actually, take a re-tweet. Kirk and I played hooky yesterday afternoon and cruised up to our favorite off-the-grid destination: Mt. Hood Meadows--our skis in tow. On the way up, we both felt sort of out of our bodies: headachy, stomach-achy, general malaise. With his mother currently weighing 82 pounds--and lingering with this grim diagnosis of debility and decline--and my 71-year-old father and his rapid-fire matrimonial hyjinx, my ex-husband's lack of reliability regarding the fiscal and custodial terms of our divorce, the publishing crisis and my dwindling chances of finding an editor interested in my novels, the impending ax in Kirk's school district promising pink slips to 25% of the teachers come next month, the large-scale economic shadow of doom generally--all of this felt packed into our bodies, tamped down with the weight of another damp, gray day in the Pacific Northwest. So, on this IRS red-letter day, we went skiing.

Despite the parting clouds, the fresh snow and the calm winds, Meadows was a ghost town. A skeleton operation with only a handful of lifts operating. I had new equipment I was testing out for possible purchase, and Kirk had waxed his skis, so we went slow, took the easy runs: up and down, up and down.

By the fourth run, I felt terrific. The aches and pains had dissipated with the clouds, the new skis were amazing. Kirk was having a bit more trouble though. The uneven wax on his old skis were sticking in the slushy snow, and he actually fell a few times--a very rare thing for him.

We took a break, went to the lodge, and I ordered something with vodka--something I never do. I'm a sober skier--way too uptight to risk altered reflexes, but yesterday, all of the sudden, I felt in need of a stiff drink. Yes, in need of. (Cue the warning bells.)

So back up the mountain we went. And down. And up. And down. Kirk had a better experience, and my thimble full of vodka had absolutely no effect at all. Until we finished, and were heading back down to the valley, and the impending catch-up with work and Tweets and conference calls and absorbing news, and following up with stuff slammed into me and sent me scrambling for Excedrin.

But, I said I'd give it a month, and that's what I'm doing. Back to the fray. Follow me.

Monday, April 13, 2009

What song is running through your head right now?

All morning Steely Dan's "Kid Charlemagne" has been running through my head! What about you? (Answer is comment below)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

twitter, tweater, twiddle, twerp

Okay, I've decided to completely embrace, figure out, dive in and otherwise become obsessed with all manner of online social media. For a month. I'm giving it a month. The back of my head and my neck already aches, and, hey, what about that Internet Sabbath I pledged. A month.

Here's why.

I write for a living. It isn't a hobby, it's not what I do on my time off, it's what I do. Period.

My concerns, projections, trepidations and misgivings are thus:
  1. I'm contributing to the trend towards limited attention and shallow engagement
  2. I'll have to give something else up, and I'm not sure what that will be
  3. I worry that my tendency to feel like everything is only half done and that there's something I've forgotten will increase
  4. I worry about being sucked into the land of endless trivia

My hopes, goals and optimisms are:
  1. I'll get to know more cool people
  2. I'll get to know about more cool things
  3. I'll waste less time and improve my powers of concision
  4. I'll be able to get more clients, and help more clients
  5. I'll deliver my creative messages to more people
  6. I'll be able to boil down my messages to their most salient points
  7. I'll find more audience

Let the craziness begin!

Friday, April 10, 2009

unpacking Christmas

I find that Christmas works itself into my stories a lot. It's sort of like when I used to go house shopping and envision the placement of a Christmas tree before contemplating things like the price of the house, for instance. Does that make me sentimental, I asked myself the other day?

Why is the chronicling of ritual--the anticipation of gatherings--so important to me? In STL I've spent about 100 pages on various Christmas-time scenes with my little family, Messmeir. It's the distillation of family, I suppose, that I'm after with all this yuletide reportage. The pure drops of love, dysfunction, hierarchy, personality--all things that inform character development.

I read some "Christmas morning" pages at workshop last night. Three characters plus a dog assembled around the fake Costco tree, trying to create new ritual after the death of one of the character's mothers. Because this novel includes current day phenomena, I had Annika with her laptop, trying to evoke her missing father via Skype. A far cry from a traditional Christmas scene, and the culmination of the scenes before, where all ritual had been broken down due to various chaotic fiascoes.

I have to add another layer to the scene; tie it more tightly to the chapters that proceed it. The good news is, that I seem to have accomplished my main objective with this scene--to plant the seeds for a new alliance between Fifi and Annika--the first positive connection between two characters in my book.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

scribbling witness

The last few days, giddy with sunshine, I've been steeped in collecting ephemera for use in my work. Eavesdrops, descriptions, scenarios, utterances.

Typically, when I'm gathering like this, I jot things down on scraps of paper: gasoline receipts, deposit slips, napkins. I reached for one of these today, wanting to record a potential exchange between Annika and Frances, a bit of b-and-f that had played out in my head, and, lo and behold, there was a note already scribbled upon the only square inch of blank paper in my purse. It was something my son had mused about months ago when we pulled out of the gas station, after the attendant had issued a receipt.

The note, in scratchy, cryptic handwriting had claimed that my son asked what would happen if I wanted to return the gas (in his world, that's the only reason you have a receipt--in order get your money back). "Would they suck the gas out of your car with a different kind of pump?"

I'm sure I'll use that someday, somewhere...

Sunday, April 05, 2009

good news gone south

The other day I accidentally unearthed a file folder full of correspondence. Much of it, rejection letters. The notes in this folder were largely anachronistic. Most publishers, presses and agents say "no" via email these days, thus disallowing the fantasy of papering a bathroom with rejections on letterhead after landing the "bit fat deal."

Once I found this file, paged through it, and dumped it into the rolling recycle bin in my driveway, I realized that somewhere else in the deep, dark recesses of my bungalow, dwells a file with the tabbed notation: Good News. Frantically, I went in search of it, only to get sand-trapped in old manuscripts, tax files and mortgage records of houses I no longer own. Alas, my "Good News" file seems to have vanished. Which really sucks, because in it are some fabulous letters, including the one from C. Michael Curtis telling me I was a prizewinner in the Atlantic Monthly Student Writing Competition, and an agent green-lighting my story collection, with a list of places she planned to send , and a few literary presses responding favorably to my quest for publication, and a couple of REALLY AWESOME letters of recommendation.

After wasting several hours on my hunt, though, I was resigned face the sad truth that Good News is gone. Just like my custom-made watermelon tourmaline earring and my spare set of car keys.

Often, I have this St. Anthony type thing I do when I can't find something. I give the missing thing over to the invisible elves. Usually my missing item only shows up when I'm actively hunting for something else, though, and perhaps this will be the case with Good News.