Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Today's Wednedsday Essay comes with a contest challenge, from Anne Mini, the author of the soon-to-be-published memoir, "Is That You, Pumpkin? Love, Loss and the Final Passions of Phillip K. Dick" (Carrol & Graf).

Greetings, Jordan’s readers!

I am the resident blogger for the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association and Jordan has very kindly allowed me to pass along word about a contest we’re holding up north. All fabulous writers are invited to participate – and, unlike so many writing contests, which discriminate against novelists, we are as open to you submitting pithy scenes as short stories.

I have just given my loyal blog readers a little writing assignment – and a challenge. I threw in a holiday goodie to inspire good writers: the winner of this little contest will not only have his or her writing posted on the PNWA blog, for all to read, but also on a respected literary fiction website.

(And for those of you who are unsure: yes, Virginia, being posted on a third-party website DOES count as publication, technically. You may legitimately use it as a bullet point on your writing resume -- if you are not already making it a practice to maintain a detailed writing resume and adding to it at least once or twice per year, please see my blogs of September 7 and 28; in the long run, it will make your life much easier -- and boast about it in your query letters. Heck, I’ll even write a stellar blurb about the winner, suitable for hitting up my agent now – and an admiring world later, when I am better known -- with “Anne Mini says I write like an angel.” )

As I write this, the turkey is in the oven, the cranberry jelly steeped with cinnamon and cloves is made, and there are apparently sports on television. As we writers know, stolen time sandwiched between obligations is golden writing time, so if you don’t mind my jumping up occasionally to baste, now is the time to write. And today, I am going to ask all of you out there to write about the holiday table, American style.

Before your start groaning at the triteness of the assignment, let me share a tender tale of holiday festivity at Harvard. I remember this particular Thanksgiving distinctly, as it was the year that I unwisely agreed to share the festivity with my roommate’s family. Roomie’s father was a chemistry professor, and he decided that this was the year to determine experimentally just how little heat a turkey could be subjected to and still be served. In my opinion, a microwave oven was not the proper instrument to utilize for this experiment, but who was I to question the march of progress? (The following year, the professor actually won a Nobel Prize, so he must have had good ideas occasionally, but trust me, this was not one of them.) When it came my turn to tell the assembled family what I was grateful for, holding hands around the holiday table, I couldn’t help glancing down at the bloody mess on my plate and blurting: “I’m grateful that I grew up in a family of excellent cooks.”

That year, I was taking an introductory Italian class, taught by a fiery European immigrant who dressed every day in fine black leather suits, claimed to be sleeping with several rather prominent 70-year-old economists then engaged in advising the current president, and moved like a panther in heat. She gave us Italian soft porn comic books to improve our vocabularies – which it certainly did! – and regularly bought out all of a particular shade of red hair dye stocked in Cambridge drug stores, so no one else would have precisely her wild shade. She liked to be noticed.

The class adored her.

Our midterm was set on the last day of class before Thanksgiving break, and for the essay section of the test, we were assigned to write a short piece on our family’s usual celebration. On the first day back from break, our teacher came flying into the room, late as usual. She crushed me to her monumental bosom, redolent of expensive leather, a trifle too much Chanel no. 19, and what I could only assume was the lingering affection of a major economist. With a resounding smack upon my startled head, she announced that I had won a bet for her with the other Italian teaching fellows.

In all of the Italian 101 sections combined, there were perhaps a hundred students, all of whom had been given the same midterm essay assignment. Out of those hundred, I had been the only one who had written a short story. Everyone else had written the Italian equivalent of:

“On Thanksgiving, our family eats turkey. My mother cooks it for a long time. I like gravy on my potatoes. At the end of the meal, we eat pie made from pumpkin, a kind of squash.”

Based upon past experience, my teacher had known that I was constitutionally incapable of writing an essay that straightforward. What won her a bottle of Veuve Cliquot was my little story about how my parents tended to invite every non-citizen they knew to our Thanksgiving repast, so my brother and I would end up vainly trying to explain the more nonsensical traditions to guests totally bewildered by them, much to my parents’ amusement. Then, when everyone was good and perplexed, my father would stand ceremoniously, holding the carving knife and fork aloft – and with a single swift stroke, slice the turkey clean through from top to bottom. Gasps galore. My mother, tireless in pursuit of that one awesome moment when a perfectly-stuffed slice of turkey fell onto the plate, as cohesive as though the whole thing were a ham, would spend hours on end boning the bird. One year, a guest fainted, and had to be revived with a rather potent Napa Valley Chardonnay. The following year, my parents made a suckling pig instead, so large that I was convinced for hours that they had cooked our Labrador retriever and hung a garland of cranberries around its neck.

Why is it that, in writing about the festivals of our lives, we so seldom dwell upon the DISSIMILARITIES between our widely disparate families’ holiday dinner tables? I think even the most creative among us have been cowed into the pretense that we are all the same by those countless scenes in movies that deal with the Thanksgiving meal: always an intact family, with parents permanently married, always the same beautifully-lit pink and beige foods heaped on the table, and almost always in a multi-story A-frame house, located somewhere in New England where the first light snow of winter wafts gently to the ground. There may be drama going on in the other rooms of the house, but in the dining room (there is always a dining room, even when the family depicted is very poor; at worst, there is the world’s largest kitchen equipped with a dining nook that would easily seat 8 adults comfortably), all is harmony and stuffing.

If I knew Thanksgiving only from movies and TV, I would think that every American was struggling to forge an adult relationship with her adorably graying upper middle class WASP parents (he, square-jawed, clean-shaven, and incapable of showing emotion to his nearest and dearest; she, stuck in some sort of arid 1950s oven cleaner ad where everything in the house remains perpetually clean with no effort) and ne’er-do-well brother/slutty sister/frigid sister played by Julianne Moore in an atmosphere of TREMENDOUS FAMILY SECRETS that everyone has known perfectly well for the last decade or two. And yet Mom (unaided, or perhaps with assistance from the non-slutty sister, in the event that such is available; extra points if she is played by Hope Davis and is an asexual corporate lawyer), bless her, always manages to get that perfect meal on the table. No one ever chokes on an underdone drumstick, and spices, beyond nutmeg and perhaps a bit of sage, are utterly unknown.

But for the vast majority of Americans, that is not the way this family festival plays out, is it? For starters, New England, as fond as the Puritans may have been of it, is a rather small part of the country, geographically speaking, and almost none of us are actually descended from the first colonists. Westerners born and bred almost never see a white Thanksgiving (I am quite sure that when we ate suckling pig in California, I was in short sleeves), and Pacific Northwesterners generally go to Grandmother’s house over flat highways marked with grayish drizzle, rather than over the river and through the woods. Unless, of course, it is a period of especially heavy rainfall, in which case we drive our SUVs through flooded streets. Most of our trees are evergreens, so they do not change color at all, and in earthquake country, you don’t see a whole lot of multistory single-family houses, as we don’t like our kith and kin being squashed by falling rubble when the floor starts to shake unmercifully.

And that’s just how different the West Coast experience is on the OUTSIDE.

So here is your challenge, should you care to accept it: write a scene that shows what the holiday table is like in your neck of the woods, and post it via the COMMENTS function at (that’s what the copy-and-paste function is for, my friends) before December 15. Use any format you like – a scene, a short story, a semi-epic poem, it’s up to you. Make us laugh, make us cry, but please, don’t make it sound like a TV movie.

Standard format, please (if you don’t know what that is, your submissions to agents and editors are probably being rejected on structural grounds alone: do yourself a favor, and read my blog posting of August 31), and nothing longer than 10 double-spaced pages. Winners will receive undying glory, an actual readership amongst your peers, and posting on a literary fiction website. Just a little resume candy to stuff your holiday stocking.

Ho, ho, ho. Keep up the good work.

Anne Mini

Monday, November 28, 2005

I'm re-reading John Fowles' The Magus some 9 or 10 years later, hoping that with some wisdom and life experience in me since the last time I read it, it will make sense to me. I picked it up with the intention to re-read it, coincidentally, the day before Fowles died. (The character Conchis in the book would make meaning out of that). I'm a little bit more than halfway through it and in many ways it does make more sense to me now, though what's so brilliant about the book is that it keeps the reader as befuddled and uncertain as the character Nicholas; you are never quite sure if you should believe anything in a literal way.

The content of the book crept into my dreams and really into my sleep itself, for every time I woke up last night, and I woke up more than three times, I found myself asking a question about the book's meaning. "Is it about how we want to know God? We want God to be the perfect host, providing us with mystery, love, sex and beauty, but as soon as we want to understand WHY God is creating this, the spell is broken?" Then later, "It's about how Nicholas--who is any young, unrealized man, really--wants to believe in the illusion, the fantasy more than he wants reality, because reality is so terribly mundane, but it's also the only place he'll find salvation from himself." (This one I relate to, I have to admit). Then again later, "The book is just a metaphor on life--we think we know why we're here and what our purpose is, but then we just as easily slip into despair that there is no meaning, and no purpose."

It was a very metaphysical night.

Then I've been having these bizarre dreams. About being held captive because a store clerk thought I'd stolen a package of tic-tacs. About rifling through strange photos of a person I know very little who then wanted to get to know me better...just some weird stuff. I think it's all Magus-inspired.

Plus, I really want to see the apparently horrible 1968 movie version of The Magus, which Fowles himself wrote the screenplay for, but I can't seem to find it on DVD. It's a shame too, because it's got Michael Caine, Candace Bergen and Anthony Quinn in it. I read on a Fowles website that someone suggested a remake starring Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley and Charlize Theron. I'd see it.

Anyway... if you have thoughts on The Magus, please share them here.


Sunday, November 27, 2005

At long last,the Word by Word archives are updated. Care to hear interviews with: TC Boyle, Aimee Bender, Melissa Bank, Louise Erdrich, Laila Lalami, Noria Jablonski, Marsha Mehran and Mark Helprin? Visit the on-demand archive page.

It's difficult to work on Sunday. I've got an article due tomorrow that I need to put some more work into, but my whole being is railing aginst the idea that it is the day of rest, by jove. No matter that I've rested since Wednesday, my cells are in revolt. We do many things on Sundays, they are saying, from cooking to walks, but work? Never!

It's a lovely gray-blue day. I remember that the days after Thanksgiving always bring that wintry scape if it hasn't previously arrived (considering it was 80 degrees just a week or so ago, you can imagine). Suddenly the trees seem more bare, the sky less blue, the air definitely chillier.

(Photo by Tom Jackson)


I've thought a lot about gratitude since before the Thanksgiving holiday, for months actually, but the holiday itself does provoke thinking about it in a vastly different way--partly because you've got to feel grateful despite the commercial wheels churning and the pressure to be with family and all the drama that tends to create. I've thought about the fact that gratitude is a very elusive idea in this culture. It's easy to be grateful for the fun, happy, nice things that come to us. Harder to be grateful for the whole thing, all the trappings, the life in full. And I by no means like to suggest that people should adopt gratitude for things they truly aren't, nor do I think that by pretending to feel grateful for "all" you will really evoke the powerful energy of it. However, I've been pleasantly surprised by what happens when I do feel that fuzzy surge of thanks for what I have/am/feel/see/do. A strange little streak of goodness follows. The energy of gratitude is much more powerful than we realize. But it has to be genuine. And when you go looking for ways to be grateful, it's surprisingly easy to generate.

On the topic of gratitude, and then some, about ten years ago I got heavily into the whole energy anatomy tape series by now quite famous Caroline Myss--who is like the Judge Judy of the new-age movement, a tough cookie with a sharp midwestern accent. It was as if the information had just been waiting for me to arrive. The idea that our energetic investments have a physical result, that how we "plug in" our energy by way of thoughts and feelings yields the consequences of our lives made perfect sense (and now I see it's the same idea as the Law of Attraction, only she was talking about it in relationship to our physical bodies). She too discussed gratitude, that the trick was to have it when everything was upside down in your life and messy, not when everything was going as you wanted it. I've always remembered that, though not always practiced it. But somehow it seems so important now and I am determined never to forget it again.

She also said one other thing that has stuck with me, and which I still to this day say to myself when choosing between options. "Take the unknown path." Only by venturing into that which we don't know and can't predict and haven't shaped expectations about, do we grow.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Check out my review of Dan Olivas' story collection Devil Talk on The California Report, produced by NPR-affiliate KQED radio. This may be the first and last time I get to wear the title "book critic."

The review airs today on the radio dial at 4:30, 6:30 and 11 p.m. If you follow the link for the show above, you'll see a button marked "audio archive." That will give you a list of all the radio stations in the state that air the CA Report.

It should be archived shortly thereafter.

Hope your holiday was sane, nourishing and relaxed. Though I doubt it.


Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Welcome to your Wednesday morning essay from a fantastic writer, Maryanne Stahl.

This essay was originally published in Critique Magazine

"Live all you can; it’s a mistake not to."
—Henry James, The Ambassadors

One summer, I tripped and fell in the yard, and my cry summoned my then husband from our house. I lay flat on my back, looking up at him and the sky, simultaneously laughing and crying. "I just thought of the first line for my next chapter," I told him. "Anna was accident prone."

He helped me up. Then he smiled and said, "I pity you poor writers. What you go through for one good sentence."

This was a joke between us.

"You have to be crazy to do it," he added.

He knew I wouldn’t argue. There is no good reason to be a writer—or an artist of any kind—unless one is compelled to be. But neither is there a much more rewarding enterprise. Furthermore, though all the divine inspiration in the world won’t forestall the inevitable sweat labor of the work of making art, artistic opportunity often knocks into one while one is crossing the yard.

What is the nature of the creative impulse? Is it bio-chemical? A kind of neurosis? Can it be learned? Can it be crushed?

The artist perceives—and at some future point transcribes her perception—in a particular and individual way, a way that resonates beyond the personal experience to illuminate a human truth. Is the creative impulse born of a way of seeing the world, a heightened awareness? Joan Didion wrote that the writer is afflicted presumably since birth with "a presentiment of loss", engendering the need to capture what is transient. Does the writer hold a mirror to her awareness of being in order to prove she exists? Or is the writer’s desire to play God, to observe with an eye toward bestowing order—pattern and form—upon chaos?

What inspires, anyway? One might say everything, but that is as good as saying nothing. And indeed, we are none of us continuously inspired. So how is inspiration, that headiest of states, achieved? Must we wait for the muse to strike or can we go in search of her?

Clearly, sometimes, she strikes unbidden. I am not a strict enough Freudian to suppose I deliberately tripped myself in order to come up with an opening line to my chapter. However, I was quick to seize the experience, to "use" it, as writers say. And that I think is what mostly happens. Something trips us up, literally or otherwise, and an electrical, Frankenstein-connection in the mind is made. The light bulb goes off. We say yes, I see, this reveals something.

Can we go in search of the muse? Not really, though we try. Michael Chabon says writers will entangle themselves into dramatic situations in order to write about them. And we are well versed in the traditions of muse-searching by way of the bottle or the opium pipe or the passionate embrace. It’s certain, as well, that as long as the sun blazes and the ocean roars and the moon rises in the sky, writers will be moved to write of them. And still, when it happens, when we see the newly-imaginable take shape before our mind’s eye, we are filled with excitement and gratitude, as for a gift—or a miracle.

Now I am stopped at a light on the way to fetch my son from school. In the left lane in front of me, a woman driving a white Jeep flips her hair with her hand. That gesture, the easy grace of it, the sleek fall hair against cheek, reminds me of a friend from thirty years ago. That gesture releases a flood in me. I know if I were to meet that woman in the white Jeep I would react to her largely out of my associations with J__. I am back in the communal house we shared with a half dozen others. I’m in her room, we’re smoking cigarettes, she’s telling me about using a speculum to view her cervix.

I take notes, scribbling as the light changes. Will these words become part of a story, a poem, a character in a novel? I don’t know. Will I forget I wrote this and come across it some months, perhaps years in the future? Very possibly. Or I might continue to play with the image and the memory, their dynamics perhaps informing a dream. If I write tomorrow morning, I may envision a scene in which two good friends who are in competition reveal their boundaries and the covert rules of their engagement.

That’s how it works for me. In painting and photography as well. I tend to go back and forth from verbal to non-verbal modes of expressing, that is to say, from writing phases to painting/photography phases. I used to worry when immersed in one modality that I had lost the ability to perform the other. But I’ve learned my own cycles. I approach them openly now, curious what will come, secure that it too shall pass.

In fact, that’s my basic approach to life, especially in these times. There’s only one way to nourish the creative impulse, wherever it derives: Live all you can!

MARYANNE STAHL has published two novels, Forgive the Moon and The Opposite Shore. She is currently at work on her third novel set in Thunderbolt, Georgia, where she lives. Visit her website

Read This Poem of Hers

P.S. I'm not the "J" she refers to.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

I should have thought more carefully about this whole blog enterprise so that I could have an anonymous blog where I could post all of my most wretched, foul thoughts about things. Or at the very least swear in a most unbefitting way for a lady. I was reading one of my favorite blogs of a friend's today, and was quite pleased to put the image of her delicate face with big blue eyes and blonde hair together with the vivid description of a sexual act she heard in a story requring something to be strapped on and inserted where the sun don't shine. I like juxtaposition (and no, I'm not referring to aforementioned act), and when someone looks sweet on the outside, it's always fun when they swear. I have been accused of shocking people in the past, when I was cuter I guess, for swearing or saying foul things. Now apparently I must look the type because nobody bats an eye.

But it's too late for an anonymous blog now, and I was never the kind of person who could juggle two of anything very well, so I can't start now, because somehow I'd give myself away, or else I'd just go mad trying to be polite on one blog, and true on the other. So you must make do with this vanilla version of me.

And while we're being vanilla, I should just come out and confess that I saw the latest Harry Potter movie TWICE in the theaters since it opened. Yep. Twice. And to be honest, if some friend who hasn't seen it yet wanted to go again, I could totally be up for that. I'm exploring what it is about this series that has captivated me to the level of obsession. Clearly some part of me does not want to live in my normal reality, and prefers Harry's. Clearly this means I have some unresolved mental stuff and need help.

Until that day, anyone wanna go again?

Meanwhile, stay tuned for an essay from Maryanne Stahl tomorrow. You won't be sorry.


Monday, November 21, 2005

I really do write for a living, and proof is below, but first, let me tell you about another writing friend:

Buy the current issue of the gorgeous magazine Orion and read my dear friend Rebecca Lawton's essay "The Company of Rocks," in the Coda column at back of the magazine.

Back to me:
Buy the December issue of Marin Extraordinary Living and read my article on the industrious Marin Open Space District (this will be archived online in the not too distant future).

Also, check out the December 7th issue of The North Bay Bohemian for an article on alternatives to the high cost of buying a home in Sonoma County.

And, the December Issue of Common Ground Magazine for my article on Paul Palmer, Zero Waste activist.

And I'll be posting details on a book review I'm working on for The California Report, a feature on NPR-affiliate station KQED soon. It might air this week, it might air next week.

Coming Soon: "Transforming Fact into Fiction," February issue of The Writer Magazine.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Today I murdered, but nobody died.

Today I gagged people, but they were free to speak.

Today I rearranged the landscape, the houses and the furniture, but nobody would know the difference.

Today I put people in their place, and they were better for it.

Today I brutally carved away identities, destoryed meaning and upended situations, and yet it was as if I never touched a thing.

How? why?

I am revising my novel.

And I tell you people, now that I'm past the pride, the fear, the anxiety, I am having a great time.

Revising, after all, is the real writing.

But oh what it takes to get here!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Like is Drawn to Like

It's time to talk Law of Attraction with you again. I know, I know, you're really not sure what I mean by that, and you're a little suspicious of anything that sounds remotely new-age, or maybe you just rebel against anything that has the word "Law" in it. But I want you to hear me out. It really is for your good. For all our good.

You may know that my fellow writing partner Rebecca Lawton and I have co-written a book called Creating Space: The Law of Attraction for Writers and Other Inspired Souls. Publication is pending, but I can't say much about that, just yet. If you didn't know that, now you do!

Here's the thing. There are a lot of physical laws we take for granted because scientists have done the legwork and told us they're true. Gravity for instance. We can't see it, and though we can feel it, sort of, it seems to be different under different circumstances. But we like the idea that whatever is responsible for creation gave us this handy little force that keeps us secured to our planet(which we rather like despite our constant abuse of it). At the very least, we seem to be quite fond of the feeling of having our feet adhere to the surfaces we walk upon. And tell me, have you ever personally seen an electron? No, but when you plug in your hair-drier, it does indeed rely upon their presence, right? And that's very useful, isn't it? I mean, where would we be without our invisible friends the electrons?

Imagine (and then go ahead and investigate it for yourself ) another Law that is no more bizarre or unseen than any you've come to accept thus far. It's known as the Law of Attraction, and it works on the principle that everything, from your body to that funky little electron, to your thoughts and feelings are actually made of the same stuff, vibrating at different frequencies. We can call that stuff "energy" for lack of a better concept, and we can admire its many forms by simply looking around a room. Hey, thank you energy for becoming this fabulous book that I'm reading! And energy, could you have produced a cuter cat than my very own Figaro? And while I'm on a roll of gratitude, energy, thanks for allowing me the opportunity of awareness, this cool brain and its odd ability to produce thought, hope, imagine, dream and way more.

Okay. You sense a lesson coming, don't you? Well, it's not really a lesson. I don't want to preach to you or suggest in any way that you should believe a word I say. Just go with what rings true. Think of a time when you wanted something VERY much. A promotion, a child, a relationship, a car, anything. All that matters is that you wanted it so badly you could barely think of anything else. Your heart ached a little, you were preoccupied often thinking about this want. What were the results of your wanting? Be honest. When you were in that deep, state of wanting, did you get what you wanted? I'll wager that you did not. Why? Because you're a terrible person? No. Because God is wrathful and was holding you responsible for actions done in the sixth grade? No. Because, according to the Law of Attraction, which states that like is drawn to like (like energy), you were focused on the lack of having. You noticed the big gaping car/relationship/child-shaped hole in your life. You focused on your fear of not having the new promotion. You felt more keenly than ever that without said desire, you would have negative consequences. And so you did.

It's very hard to believe that our lives are not the result of being good or bad people. If that was the case, corruption wouldn't exist, murder and torture and war couldn't exist. The universe doesn't judge, it only offers an exact likeness to that which you put out in thought and feeling--those little energy makers. I know that some of you will experience a tingle (or even a surge) of concern, an urge to protest: "I didn't give myself asthma/scoliosis/bad social skills/a shitty childhood or make my ex-boyfriend abuse me!" On the one hand it's true, you didn't. On the other hand, if you look at our bodies/lives as cumulations of lots and lots of energies over a lifetime, it's possible to suggest that you did at least have a hand in these things. The Law of Attraction forces us to stop being victims of anything.

Whatever you focus on, good or bad, joyous or punitive, you will attract. You are attracting it right now. I don't need you to believe. I wrote this mostly to remind myself.


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Welcome to your Wednesday Morning Essay!

Today we bring you Sheila Kohler author of six books including Cracks and Crossways (see bottom for full bio). Don't be fooled by the third person. This is an essay, a powerful one by a powerful writer.

by Sheila Kohler
This essay originally appeared in New Letters Vol 71. No. 2

Every day the sisters cross the Tiber to read Dante. Every afternoon they take two buses from their apartment in the elegant Parioli district to reach the teacher’s home in the dark, ancient streets of the Trastevere. The teacher’s building is hard to find in the narrow winding streets, and the first few times, they become confused and lose their way, while men whistle, jeer, and jostle them. The teacher has been recommended by the school where they studied Italian in the spring but which is now closed, a school also called Dante Alighieri.

They are in Rome to learn Italian and to see the Olympic Games, which are held here this year. It is 1960. Perhaps, too, their mother is not loathe to leave South Africa for a spell after the Sharpeville massacre. She has several South African visitors whom the sisters are expected to entertain, visitors who have come for the games, mostly dull, heavy set men who sit around their living room, drinking Scotch and smoking cigarettes. The older sister who has a driver’s licence and now knows the way, is asked to drive the visitors around the city in her mother’s small white Lancia with the red leather seats. Sometimes, the mother makes the older sister drive them as far as Florence or Sienna, which she does for the her mother in the heat
without complaint.

They are also here to be close to Enrico, the Roman, who is in love with the younger sister and has persuaded their mother to stay on in Rome and rent a furnished apartment with the small garden and hire a half-mad maid who, like the mother, cannot cook. Otherwise they might be in Germany, where their father’s family came from, reading Goethe, or in France, reading Flaubert. Their mother is a widow of independent means and can go anywhere she wishes, and she wishes her daughters to learn foreign languages, as she speaks none herself.

They leave their ground-floor apartment in the early afternoon, right after luncheon. It is July. They set off in the heat of the day, leaving their mother to rest on her bed in a light gown with the shutters drawn on the small, sweet-smelling garden, where the big magnolia tree blooms. They have to walk to the bus stop and wait. Not many buses pass at this time of day, and those that do are often crowded. The sisters hang onto the straps, swaying back and forth, in their pale summer dresses, hemmed in by Roman men who seem for the most part to be the ones out and about at this hour. They have little compunction about taking advantage of the situation.

It is the older sister who, at nineteen, is particularly plagued by these men. Though the younger sister is sometimes accosted in the street if she is on her own, if her sister is with her, the men on the bus don’t give her a second glance. The younger sister, at seventeen, is not as plump or as fair-skinned or as blond and blue-eyed as the older one, who possesses the type of Nordic beauty that appeals irresistibly to the Romans. Or is it this that attracts them to her? What is it about the older sister that makes the men choose her, and only her? The younger sister wonders why her older sister attracts men in this indiscriminate way, as though she gives off an
alluring scent that trails behind her like a train. She cannot take a step in the street without someone calling out or whistling or even trying to touch her as she goes past, as though they need to feel her to make sure she is real. They think she is English or German or perhaps Dutch but above all different, foreign, free, loose, infinitely desirable.

“It’s only because you are a foreigner,” Enrico tells her. “They don’t mean any harm,” he explains. “It is only meant as a compliment. The Romans may be vulgar, but they love women, all women.” He tells the sisters laughingly that the ancient Latin initials they see on all the walls
and in the pavements, SPQR, actually stand for Sono Porci Questi Romani, they are pigs, these Romans, but they are not dangerous. She would do better to ignore them or better still, just to laugh at them, but this sister is not able to laugh.

“How do they know I am foreigner? There are plenty of Italian girls with blond curls and blue eyes, and they don’t call out to them or pinch their bums,” she replies with exasperation. It is true, the Italian men seem drawn particularly to her well-sculpted posterior.

“It’s from the shoes,”Enrico says with his gaze on the ground.

“But my shoes are Italian!” she exclaims.

The older sister does not like this attention. She does not like it at all. It makes her extremely uncomfortable. It is a sort of torment for her. She stiffens, turns puce, flies into a rage, or hurls insults. She says it makes her feel as though the men think she is vulgar, whorish, stained in some awful way. She says she feels as though she’s wearing a scarlet letter on her chest. She hates it when they leer and whistle at her and call out “O, che bella straniera!” or worse, “Che bella bambina!” which makes her sound like a child. When they go even further and shout out, “Che bella bambola!” giving the sensuous word a particularly vulgar Roman roll, she is incensed.

The trouble is, the younger sister thinks, her sister does look somewhat like a doll. Her large, deep-blue eyes have a doll-like, surprised expression, as though she were seeing everything for the first time. Her long, thick, dark lashes, which she often fingers, look fake. Her porcelain skin is impossibly smooth and never suffers from spots, as her own still does. Her high color looks as if it were painted on her cheeks. Even her arms and hands look smooth, waxen, doll-like.

Indeed, the younger sister remembers how they used to play a game as children, hidden at the bottom of the garden in the high bamboo, called “Doll.” One of them would pretend to be a doll and have to do exactly what the other one ordered her to do. Surely the Roman men cannot know this?

The older sister walks with her gaze cast down like a nun. She stalks along stiffly, angrily, through the streets, clutching her thick tome of Dante’s Divina Commedia to her breasts as if he, and only he, could protect her. She wears an old, ugly straw hat, the brim pulled down on either side to cover her soft blond curls, long-sleeved shirts under her sleeveless summer dresses, long skirts, and heavy, closed shoes in the heat. She asks the pharmacist to give her something to make her skin paler.

“You want to take the roses from your cheeks!” the pharmacist exclaims, appalled. He leans across the counter and glances at her curves and says,“What on earth would you want to do that for?” She has her reasons. She wears powder, no lipstick. But none of it makes any difference. It is as if the men still smell her foreignness, her femininity, her indiscriminate desire. Yet the older sister maintains she hates men, Italian men especially, except for Dante.

The younger sister, too, at seventeen, is not sure what she thinks of men. She has never been in love with one. She wonders if she will ever be in love the way Dante was with Beatrice, who sends Virgil to rescue him in the underworld. The closest she has ever come to feeling something of this sort was in boarding school in the dark of the dormitory, lying in the arms of a girl. She has let several boys kiss her and press their heated bodies against hers, in the hot dark up the back of koppies, and she has been filled with vague and feverish longings. But for what, exactly? Does she
really want a man to penetrate her in what her mother calls her most private part, her heart of hearts? What would happen if she were to allow someone to violate her in that way?

She is not in love with Enrico, though she consents to go out with him. She allows him to dance with her at his friends’ villas. She lets him lead her out into the cypress-scented gardens of Roman villas and kiss her, his slim body trembling against hers in the shadows of the thin trees. His mouth is fresh, and his lips taste sweet.

Enrico is not vulgar. He does not whistle at girls. He is a Roman aristocrat, though a poor one. He spends his Sundays walking through the Vatican in a dark suit to keep an eye on things, an honour reserved for Roman aristocrats, he tells the sisters. Together the younger sister and Enrico walk for hours through the streets of Rome, gazing at the lovely Temple of the Vestal Virgins, putting their hands into the Bocca della Verita, strolling around the Forum or visiting Enrico’s Roman friends in the Roman countryside, who are richer than he is and have villas with vineyards surrounding them. Rome and the Romans are all Enrico has to offer her.

Her mother would like her to marry Enrico, in part because he runs errands for her. He has dark, slightly protuberant eyes, a fine straight nose, almost pencil-thin at the tip, and thick sensuous lips. He is a polite and cultured young man from an ancient family. He has already read Dante, Tasso, Leopardi, and even D’Annunzio, though he is not much older than the younger sister. He is also kind and, young as he is, has natural tact.

It is Enrico who accompanies their mother when even her elder daughter refuses, too embarrassed to perform this service, when the mother has to visit the doctor for a mid-life complaint. The sisters remain at home and imagine the scene and giggle: Enrico waving his fine hands and translating for their mother, telling the doctor in his elegant Italian and with many circumlocutions about her menopausal itch in an unmentionable place. The mother says Enrico would make a good husband, as he is such a devoted son.

At twilight, in the small garden that Enrico waters every evening for their mother, the younger daughter turns to him. She watches him watering the rhododendron bushes carefully for her mother and is on the point of saying she loves him. But she knows it is not the truth. The truth is important to her. It is more important to her to find the truth than a man. She reads Dante to find out the truth about life and death and love. Every afternoon, she braves the Roman men and takes the two crowded buses in the heat of the day to reach the Trastevere to read Dante.

When the sisters finally arrive at their destination, red in the face and sweating from the climb up the four flights of stairs, the teacher greets them warmly. She is a dark-haired woman with dark eyes, which look small behind thick glasses. She has a little moustache on her upper lip. She always wears black, though it is not clear if this indicates mourning. Does she have someone to mourn: a husband, a lover, a father?

She always looks surprised by their appearance on her doorstep, as though she cannot quite believe they will continue to come, day after day, bearing the envelope with the money their mother has given them to pay for the lesson. Clearly, she is delighted but a little puzzled by these two South African girls, who come every afternoon through the summer months, when everyone else is at the beach, carrying cool cash to pay her to lead them through the dark thicket of Dante’s words and to shine light on them. She is their Virgil. She would understand if they were trying to pass an exam or qualify for some higher course of study, but they have no such intention.

Their mother has never encouraged them to continue with their studies. She expects they will get married and have children, as she has done. When the younger sister brought her report cards home from boarding school, where she excelled at English, history, and Latin, her mother would shake her head warningly and say, “You don’t want to be too clever for your own good, you know. Too much cleverness might be dangerous.” Her mother seems to feel that clever people are either mad or in danger of becoming so, that clever people do not advance in life. She tells the girls about their father, a successful timber merchant who would never hire anyone he thought too
clever. “He always engaged the moderately intelligent ones,” she says and nods her head sagely in agreement with her dead husband. When the younger sister suggests that she might like to have a profession--become a writer or an actress, perhaps, her mother says, “What would you ever want to work for, dear?”

The teacher, who has worked all her life and now, even in her retirement, is obliged to continue to give lessons to supplement her income, receives foreign girls in her small, ugly apartment, crowded with heavy, dark furniture with claws for feet. Her ancient mother, also clad in black, totters in with the tea tray. She offers the girls tea with lemon and pastries dusted with icing sugar and coos at them. They are hungry and thirsty from their long voyage across the city and from all the unwanted and embarrassing attention they have received, and though they know the teacher is poor, they drink thirstily and eat several pastries, wiping the sugar from their lips.

While they eat, the teacher questions them about their homeland, the animals, the heat. She seems to think they live in a dangerous, wild place, inhabited by fierce animals like the one where Dante found himself at the start of his voyage. So they tell her what she wants to hear about their trips to the game reserves, about the lions and the spotted leopards with what Dante calls their “gay skin.”

Then they begin to read the text.They can already recite long passages by heart, and they have begun to speak archaic Italian, using the vocabulary from the thirteenth century rather than the twentieth, which makes Enrico laugh. They intone rapidly, running the words together, “Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita, mi ritrovai per una selva oscura, che la diritta via era smarrita,” believing, of course, that it is their mother and probably their teacher who are in the middle of their lives and in a
fearsome place, where the true road is lost, and not they or certainly not
Enrico. They believe many roads and infinite possibilities lie open to them.

Years later, the younger sister, who will be the only one left alive, will realize that they were wrong. Their mother would outlive both her elder daughter and her younger daughter’s suitor, who were both, indeed, in the middle of their lives. The younger sister would never marry Enrico, dying as he did of a rapid cancer that ripped through his fine frame in a couple of months.

The older sister never reached forty. Her body was smashed up, broken into pieces, as she had feared it might be, by a man. She was shattered like a discarded doll, her fine wrists and ankles snapped on a deserted road in the dark. She was murdered by her jealous husband, a South African surgeon, who drove her into a telephone pole.

All her life, the younger sister continues to see her sister, sitting upright beside her at the dining room table in the Trastevere, blinking her bewildered eyes and fingering her dark, thick lashes and reciting Dante with her small, waxy hand on her heart.

Sheila Kohler is the author of six novels: “The Perfect Place,”(Knopf,1989)“The House on R Street,” (Knopf, 1994) and “Cracks” (Zoland,1999) “Children of Pithiviers,” (Zoland, June, 2001) and “Crossways”( Ontario Review, 2004) and “The Invention of Happiness” (in press) three collections of short stories: “Miracles in America,” (Knopf, 1990) and “One Girl” (Helicon Nine, 1999) “Stories from another World”(Ontario Review, fall, 2003) Kohler has been awarded the O.Henry, (1988) the Open Voice(1991), and the Smart Family Foundation prize(October, 2000) and The Willa Cather Prize judged by William Gass for “One Girl,” and the Antioch Review prize
(2004)“Cracks” has been optioned by Killer Films and Working Title 2 three times. Her story “Africans” was recorded and read at Symphony Space and translated into Japanese.

Kohler’s work has been translated and published widely abroad by Gallimard, France; Klett-Cotta, Germany; Shinchosa, Japan; Distribuidora Rekord, Brazil; Querido, Holland; Jonathan Cape and Bloomsbury in England and Penguin India. It will appear in Hebrew.

Her short fiction has appeared in:The Antioch Review, The American Voice, The Best American Short Stories ,1999 , The Bellevue Literary Review, Bomb, The Columbia Magazine; DoubleTake, Fiction, Five Points, The KGB Reader, The Massachusetts Review, New Letters, The Ontario Review, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, The Quarterly, Redbook, Story and The Yale Review. and will appear in Ecotone; Boulevard and The Mississipi Review Her non-fiction has appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, The Boston Globe, Bomb magazine, The New Leader, on Amazon. com. in O magazine, Salmagundi and in New Letters.

Sheila Kohler has taught creative writing at Bennington College, City College, The Chenango Valley Conference at Colgate, Sarah Lawrence, The New School, Suny Purchase, the West side YMCA, and in Montolieu She was a fellow at the New York Public Library Center for Scholars and Writers, 2003-4.

Monday, November 14, 2005

I am beginning to think that the most useful book for writers might not be anything on craft or literary signifance, but one whose title might read: "Your Ego and You--How Not to Take it Too Seriously."

I don't know about other writers, but my ego around my writing is like a very shoddily put together raft made of reeds. When on the calm seas of praise or no feedback, the little raft keeps me aloft just fine and sometimes even seems downright sturdy. When under the storm of criticism or disappointment, however, it barely stays together and I'm choking up proverbial gulps of sea water. And this can change not only from day to day, but from hour to hour depending upon the circumstances.

It's not a healthy way to be. But then, show me a healthy writer, and I'll show you a very good faker.

These are the days when I think, oh God, why didn't you make me an accountant or a zoo-keeper? Why couldn't my passionate creativity be acted out in graphs and on calculators, or with large mammals rather than words?

Because if an elephant misbehaves, you're not as inclined to want to die for how bad a zoo-keeper you are (though I suppose your risk of death does actually go up). And with numbers you can always re-calculate. Besides, numbers ARE. They came with the big bang and are at the root of all existence (for those of us who don't believe in creationism). You can't make a number out of your own imagination precisely.

Oh but writing. Writing. What a strange and silly thing to do. What a wonderful and perfect thing to do.

Writing creates neuroses. Insecurity. Weak egos.

I need to hole up in a monastery, I think.


Friday, November 11, 2005

I'm fascinated by the firsts of things. Or maybe I should say the origins. Like the first person ever to have come up with the idea of a novel, and then sat down and wrote it, and succeeded at that. There probably wasn't one first, but many simultaneously, but still, the one who became known for it (you can see my history of literature is limited), how'd HE get the idea?(sorry, but I'm just guessing it was a man)? I mean, some days when I'm struggling with a short story or something (which is most of the time), and I read one done by a master, like Joyce or Conrad or Calvino, I think "Who was teaching them??" Where'd they GET it? Divine Gift? Master teacher? Guru? Booze-Muse?

I guess it doesn't matter. I was just thinking about it. About how at various times in a civilization there are protocols and methods and accepted standards for things that must be learned. Any time I teach a class or write an article on craft at the back of my mind I'm always thinking, "says who?" I mean, sure, says E.M. Forster, The Chicago Manual of Style, and the masses who turn out when a particular formula is reached, but's weird. It's a big feedback loop isn't it? A product/idea/set of standards is put forth, and the people, we feed back what works for us, and then we say, "give us more of that!" At least in America, where everything is driven by the dollar, then the consumer machine spins its gears and gives those sparkling masses what they are asking for. Do they know why they ask for what they ask for?

There's a science at work here, right. What is this, the study of knowledge itself. Is that epistemology? Crap. I really wish I had been born a little smarter.


Thursday, November 10, 2005

Fraud on the Beat

Good Morrow.

So last night I doffed my reporter’s hat (my husband has threatened for a long time to make me a hat that bears a placard in its brim reading, “Scoop”) and headed to an event that I am writing about for a local publication. It was a youth court, a diversion program for kids who have been convicted of a first or second offense misdemeanor. In lieu of having a nasty juvenile record and about twenty minutes of police time, they get a six month program in which they run these courts and act as attorneys, bailiffs, and jury, sentencing their peers.

It turns out that another reporter was there from a paper that competes with the publication I am writing for (I’m freelance, mind you). I have never been somewhere where I was one of a cache of reporters vying for said scoop. Somehow she and I even got seated next to one another during the proceeding, which I didn’t want. And of course, I instantly felt like a fraud. She was the real reporter with the staff photographer in tow, the lovely cream-colored cable-knit sweater, and appropriate uniform reporter-sized notebook. She needed only write short bites of information while I, holding a fairly large purple notebook, dressed in my salmon-colored bargain sweater and pants, broke a sweat trying to get as much info down as possible. And of course, she was there, which means if my memory’s filter, or my ability to read my own notes is incorrect, she can gloat later that she did the better job.

But I have something on her. I have no boss. I can work in my jammies. (For that matter, I could work in nothing, or in a plastic bag, or in a gorilla suit wearing a tiara). My commute is less than a minute, doesn’t waste gas and comes with the best coffee I can buy. I don’t have to do anything anyone tells me to do, or sit trying to drown out the noise of a loud newsroom, or for that matter rare is the day that I have to churn out copy in an hour’s time. I don’t have to worry about some jerk stinking up the bathroom, or eating the rest of my lunch, or forgetting to replace the jug on the water cooler, or losing my favorite parking space, or getting sick of the limited places to have my hurried lunch.
So there. Now I feel better.


I ask you, whatcha gotta do to get yourself a Wikipedia entry? Probably not use derivatives of proper English like “whatcha” and “gotta.” Probably upset, horrify, or blaspheme against the masses, or else get famous for something bizarre. I might, for instance, decide to be the first woman to live on the roof of a house in the Bay Area as a form of protest against the high cost of homes. That would be someone else’s house, mind you. Or maybe I could photo-shop myself into existing shots of Jennifer Aniston and release them to some tabloids as proof that Jen-An is in fact NOT dating Vince Vaughn, but rather giving him some ear on how to be less of a slovenly disgrace, because she is in fact dating me. Or perhaps I could write some crazy manifesto on how to ingest one’s own urine in order to cure all ills (oh wait—that THAThas already been done). Or perhaps I could camp outside the home of one of Wikipedia’s staff members with a pitchfork and some glow-in-the-dark paint and make scary faces in the window.

I guess I’ll have to wait and hope I publish a proper book like other people.


Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Today marks the first day of bringing to you significant essays and other writings of writers I respect.

Explosions and Recapitulations
By Sheila Bender

Finishing any writing project is exhilarating but only for a short while, it seems. The itch to start something new is always back again soon. As much as I want to sit down and write, however, I suffer from feeling depleted and from not wanting to go back to being a beginner after the success of being a completer. That makes me grumble at the world and then I don't have any of
the magical connection to it that writing requires. So, I like to take a lesson from the poet Charles Baudelaire in his prose poem, "At One O'clock in the Morning," which you can read HERE

In the poem, the speaker exclaims, "Alone at last!" and then takes a moment to relish the double locking of his door, shutting out the necessity to be as gracious as he has had to be all day. He recounts events ("let us recapitulate the day") that have transpired to make him feel the "tyranny of the human face." In his comings and goings that day, an acquaintance had ignorantly asked if there were a land route from France to Russia, an editor dissatisfied with the speaker's work had claimed his publication represented the "cause of decent people", as if others were "edited by scoundrels." There was someone the speaker felt did not deserve the letter of
recommendation he had to write for him. "Horrible life! Horrible town!" the speaker exclaims.

Unloading as he does leads him by his poem's end to pray for strength to be better than those whom he despites, to request that poetry and those he admires redeem him by adding to his consciousness and raising him above the pressures of constant requests and rejections:

Discontented with everyone and discontented with myself, I would gladly redeem myself and elate myself a little in the silence and solitude of night. Souls of those I have loved, souls of those I have sung, strengthen me, support me, rid me of lies and the corrupting vapours of the world; and you, O Lord God, grant me the grace to produce a few good verses, which shall prove to myself that I am not the lowest of men, that I am not inferior to those whom I despise.

It seems to me that Baudelaire hit upon a successful strategy--heartfelt complaining that leads to introspection, possibly redemption.

So, I imagine myself arriving home to an empty house or office and using the privacy to lock the door and let loose with my complaints or to be honest about what I am feeling. I begin writing with a sentence that ends with "at last." "In love again at last!" or "Done with love at last!" "Away from the screams and sobbing at last!" Whatever is bottled up inside of me that I can
imagine escaping from by shutting the door will work to launch this piece of writing, as long as I then continue speaking freely about it.

Alternatively, I might think about achieving something that others might not think of as an achievement, something I'd be better off enjoying behind closed doors: "Drunk at last!" "Safe with stolen goods in my pocket!" "Fingers in the fudge sauce at last!"

I don't hold back with what I write next but, like Baudelaire, recapitulate my day from the point of view I have announced in that first line and go on and on and on, unabashedly until I have exhausted my complaints. Then, like Baudelaire, I shift to speaking to a you, whether it is a supreme being, spirit, particular person or my own best self.

After driving the complaints out as full throttle as possible, I don't usually have trouble formulating a request that could help me rise above the situation I described or find a way toward what I most want. And then I am writing fresh and am unabashedly reconnected to my writing self.

Using the "at last" line for a title and acknowledging Charles Baudelaire's model, I feel even more like I've started again and uncorked that flood of feeling and thought that leads to my writing. I might polish what I have written for publishing or put it in the mouth of a character, despite the dated language of the opening, or just leave it and go on writing something else now that I feel fired up. Here's an example:

Tantruming at Last!
(With thanks to Charles Baudelaire)

No sound but my own voice and pent up tears, all energy in my face and lungs. I will not throw dishes or books, break computer screens or tear the curtains down. Only my rage of words, calving glaciers, boulders down a mountain gaining speed, house thrown off its stone foundation, an elephant when feeding time is overdue, the sound of nuclear fusing. I have said yes
and yes and yes and yes and cannot stand myself and cannot sleep. I take one to the park to play and one to the library for a lecture and one to the doctor and the first for a meal and the second to a meeting and the other to a friend's for tea. I arrange another's doctor's appointments, financial assistance, and driving needs. I have said yes and yes and yes and envy who says no; this jealousy leaves welts along my tongue; my words projectile as pus pushed from subcutaneous sores.

You, the one I love outside my door! Don't go away. Stand in the swollen surf, the riptides you think will sink you. Pretend frequencies are higher than you can sense and come to hug me as if you couldn't hear my roaring. Hug me, hug me, hug me; I'm small and waiting and need a gentle wind to bring soft soil that will protect me.


Bio: Sheila Bender is a poet, essayist, book author and master teacher. After years of writing forWriters Digest Books and Magazine and publishing her poetry in North American literary journals, she is publishing her instructional articles for those who write from personal experience at Writing it Real. She has just released a writer's edition of version of LifeJournal from Chronicles Software at Her latest book is Writing and Publishing Personal Essaysfrom Silver Cat in San Diego.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Is it the season that is causing an onset of sudden desires I don't usually have? I used to want--invitations to interesting parties, good news on short story submissions, to buy something shiny and new. Now I have had flashes of desire for: a dog, a baby, to make pots and pots of hearty soups, comfortable slippers, a fireplace, a rural setting.

I have always thought dogs are too much trouble and work. You might as well have a kid, I figured. They, too, will keep you up at night, cost you much money in doctor's bills and food and shelter. A kid will whine and nag you and even be happy to see you, but at least a kid eventually becomes verbal and can employ logic and understanding and goes off into the world unto themselves. But for no clear reason a dog suddenly sounds companionable. Someone who is always happy to be your live-in pal, who lives for your love. A warm body, a bodyguard.

A baby, well, nobody really just wants a baby in and of itself. Perhaps it is more a craving toward parenthood, part biological impulse, part curiosity at the experience I've put off into my thirties.

Cooking is only something I've begun in the last year since I began working for myself. There is something about making a soup that satisfies some part of my writer's brain. You add ingredients, you simmer them, you hope they turn into something enjoyable. Much like writing a book.

Comfy slippers and a fireplace. Well, this needs no explanation.

A rural setting? Call it romantic fascination. Call it introversion. Whatever, I have always, since I was a child, been attracted to quiet, natural settings. I seek the quiescent, perhaps because, as a writer, I'm just self-absorbed enough to think that what happens in my inner life is exciting enough.

If you come to Write Livelihood for sex, drugs and debauched brushes with fame, you will have to look hard for it, and even then you will only find it in the contents of my writing (and not the essays :) ). This life is calm, measured, happy. It's a good balance.


Sunday, November 06, 2005

Growing Up!

Chez Write Livelihood, I generally meander through the interior world of the writing life. I do not have neat little sub-heads and categories as some of the more well-known blogerati do. A visit here is very much like taking a tour of the inside of my brain or heart as it pertains to writing, and occasionlly, other facets of my life that slip in.

But this will change in one tiny way. Wednesdays you can expect a post of some sort of intrepid knowledge, insight, wisdom and support from a real grown-up writer!

This coming Wednesday, November 9th: Sheila Bender

Sheila Bender is a poet, essayist, book author and master teacher. After years of writing for Writers Digest Books and Magazine and publishing her poetry in North American literary journals, she is publishing her instructional articles for those who write from personal experience at Writing it Real .

Should you happen to be a real writer who would care to share information with Write Livelihood readers, please contact me:

Write on!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Theories abound, but responses are mixed over whether or not agents do the Google dance to investigate the websites/blogs of potential clients whose queries interest them. So as I sit here on my high gilded horse trying to decide if I will expose myself in a grimy light by blogging about being back in the agent search game again or not, I pause to laugh at myself. Who do I think I am? As if they're going to bother to stop by here! And what exactly will they find if they do? That I swear like a sailor, that I whine a lot, that I like to post photos of strange houses. That I'm a deeply tender soul.

Problem is, when I sought an agent two and a half years ago, I got replies to my queries often within hours, and occasionally MOMENTS. Seriously. I got a ton of requests for partials, a few requests for full manuscripts and I had me an agent in a month's time. The book represented (don't worry you prospective agents, I'm not shopping that one anymore, my material is virgin, I promise) got some great rejections from publishers and an "almost" from Harper Collins that I really try not to lose sleep over. Albeit, it only went out to eight publishers but I deferred to my agent's belief that my second book had bigger commercial power. No books published later and one agent behind me, here I am again. Not so lucky this time. I haven't received so much as an "I haven't fallen in love with your work," thus far.

I know the routine. I write a kick-ass professional query letter. I follow all the rules. I research the agents I submit to, but I knows what I hears--Fiction is a hard sell. So either I start writing up that proposal for my hippie childhood, or I finish this other novel I'm working on that feels to me to have a surefire commercial hook.

(thing is...i really like this book and its characters. i think it should be read by you.)

But I'm a writer, which means I can't be bothered to do anything unless I've got a carrot dangling ahead of me. You want to pay me an advance to completely alter the storyline? I will most certainly think about it.

Hi ho silver.


Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Yes, I'm avoiding your phone calls, and those one-line email responses? I could write more, but I don't have the energy. Letters?'ll be lucky to get a Christmas Card.

Oh...but it's not personal. Really. I just don't feel much like talking or chatting or kvetching or catching up.

I know, you might be a little worried about me. Wondering if I should be taking some medication, or if perhaps you need to knock on my door every few weeks to be sure I'm alive. I don't. I am. But I've got my defense for this withdrawn state I'm in. I'm a writer, people. When you aren't hearing from me, I'm either writing or moping about writing. Dwelling on writing, worrying about it, or re-organizing my office so that I can clear out clutter to do more writing .

Oh wait, did I say writing? No, no, I meant waiting. I'm busy waiting, so please, if you don't hear from me, don't feel bad. I know how you feel.