Jordan E. Rosenfeld Live and Write Free
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Me, decorating the dead pine 2 years ago
This is, as you can see, a week of miscellany. I don't feel bad about that. My brain has been sieve-like, my energies otherwise engaged. Blogs for many of us are the first thing to go when life gets busy. So don't mind the weeds and the dust if you can.
First of all, as many others have noted, blogger's "beta" mode, which is supposed to be more user friendly is really about as friendly as a starved lion. It never remembers me so I have to sign in anew each time, and that includes when commenting on others' blogs; the "handy" new features are so simple as to be utterly confusing, and I don't really get the relationship between my gmail account and blogger: I think they're just platonic friends, but clearly gmail wants to get into blogger's pants.
This weekend there is a holiday parade and a festival of lights or some such in my town. Another reason to block off the streets, yay! It will be fun. I'm getting into the spirit.
I am a know it all and know it alls like to be asked to provide information. I like to feel useful, but not utilitarian. The difference is that in other retail you are simply the machine that points to the product and takes the cash that allows the transaction to proceed (while cracking gum and rolling eyes). You might as well be a machine.
In books, you are granted knowledge, a brain, an opinion! Customers come seeking the grail that only you can locate ("Yes, we have Hooters: The year in photos."). And it's true that sometimes you can't locate it and they threaten to go find it at some big coporate bookstore --which, I would like to point out, are all staffed by robotic chimpanzees, and where funny gas is pumped into the air to control what you buy--but most of the time customers are grateful and kind and you don't have to lie to them about how they look in those tight jeans or tuck away your knowledge that no amount of vitamin health will reduce the years of heavy smoking they've got under their belt.
The reason that bookstore clerks get such respect, I think, is that people mistake us for librarians. And a really good bookseller will have nearly as much, if not the same, amount of information housed in the gray matter, as a librarian (please, no nasty comments ladies!).
Um...what else? Oh no, that brain I supposely have just went all short circuit on me. Oh I know! I'm happy because my editor at Writer's Digest Books gave me the thumbs up on the 1st half of my book, Make a Scene, due out next year. She was happy with my work and her edits are totally reasonable. I'm happy!
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
All my adult life when I told people I was a writer I learned to come up with cute, self-deprecating little statements about my chosen path such as, "Yeah, I majored in Liberal Studies and Creative Writing...because I want to make a lot of money," or "Yeah, I edit and write journalism for a living because there isn't a novel factory out there I can just step into and get paid to write..."
However, National Novel Writing Month, which I have participated in this month, is the closest thing to a novel-writing factory I can think of. And like all factory work, pretty soon it becomes grueling; it gets you down; you start wishing you could organize a labor union that would bring in massage therapists for your neck and exotic herbs that would give you the power to write for 24 hours straight and would give you a pay hike up from the zip you're making.
I did it--I've already broken 50,000 words and I technically still have two days to go--and I'm glad. I know that what I wrote has the potential to become something more, much the same way that those weird little colored capsules I used to get as a kid, have the potential to become a big foam dinosaur after you soak them in water overnight. But I'm tired. REALLY tired. Because whereas last month I had time in the spaces between, this month I've spent a great deal of that time at one of them there "real" jobs. Now, I like my job at the bookstore a lot. It's fun, I get access to great books, and I get social contact--something I haven't had in nearly 8 months on a regular basis. I also like being able to find out where to buy things, which mechanic to use, etc...
But working is hard. It's tiring, and if it were any other job at all I would be a ranting, miserable bitch.
Actually today I was a bit of a bitch. I drove to an area north of where we live in California's finest suburbs, cut right out of a mold. You know the kind: the beige houses, the streets and shrubbery and homes all looking so similiar, with multiples of the same stores on every corner, that if you blink or rub your eye, you'll be lost. And I was. I had just come from one big shopping mall, a BIG mistake--never should have gone in--where a saleslady treated me so badly, as if I were a small child with a diaper full of shit and egg salad on my face, that I dropped my product as she was berating me for not understanding my question, said "Forget it" and walked away. I never do that. Normally I would at least say something like, "I think I'll keep looking," but she was blatantly hostile and condescending and something inside me just snapped. That was the state I was in as I headed to try to find the Hospital where E. works and wound up in beige hell.
But despite that, and the skull-pounding drilling outside my window, and how terribly I've slept the last couple nights, and PMS and a headache...I'm in a strangely good mood. I think it's because I've got the day off. Technically, that is.
Monday, November 27, 2006
Thanksgiving always seems to be the tipping point for winter to me. Even though the solstice isn't until December, after the turkey carcass is laid bare each year, it feels colder and darker and usually begins to rain.
Meanwhile, I'm just too exhausted from National Novel Writing Month, freelance writing and my new part-time job at the bookstore to really blog.
My sister heading up the cooking operation
The Happy Eaters
Despite How It Looks, This Dessert Was a Hit
My Beloved, Digging In While Opa Looks on, Perplexed
Monday, November 20, 2006
See that white stuff on top of my old car and on that little swatch of suburban lawn in the photo below? This is not an image of the early spring thaw in Missouri. Nor is it New England in winter or even Oregon for that matter. This is a photo taken in January, 2002 in northern California. The only day of my entire life that I woke up in my own home in the Golden State to snow. An actual snow day. I drove the back roads to my then job hawking vitamins in Novato and they were stunningly snow-blanketed and blinding. It was the coolest thing ever.
Weather is cool and strange and scary--as those 110 degree days this summer proved. Next week, a Q & A interview of mine runs in the Pacific Sun with Dietrich Stroeh, a water man you might say, whose experiences are the subject of a book called "The Man Who Made it Rain," about the 2 year drought in Marin county (and much of California) in 76-77, and about the effects of global warming, or as we should all start thinking about it: "global shift toward the planet getting rid of humans."
Anyway, happy holiday and all that.
Friday, November 17, 2006
I went to the dentist on Monday, yet my face feels swollen today. Coincidence? Um, yeah, duh! It's the hard partying I did last night with college kids. Nah. It just means I'm getting old. Now don't go telling me what a baby I still am here in my thirties. I've been an old woman for a long time and it has nothing to do with my actual age. My friend L. and I went and heard Neil Gaiman read last night at San Jose State University amidst a sea of students. It was fabulous, but I was tired and the seats hurt and this be-vested kid who smelled like bologna was taking up my personal space. Unlike my friend Robin, I did not have any hilarious interactions with him or even snap anything other than a blurry photo from afar because I get claustrophobic at signing events and the room smelled like B.O. and I was so tired my eyelids were drooping.
In other news. My friend Ms. Lori passionately exorcises her rage about OJ Simpson's new media ploy that suggests he really is an insane murderer.
Meg Fowler is just plain funny and I like reading her blog. Try it on.
Sue Henderson of Lit Park tackles the complex issue of whether or not writer's mothers support their writing (or even know about it). Her own story might just bring a little ole tear to your eye.
I now return to the grueling slave-race known as National Novel Writing Month.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Stop Needling Me
"Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense."
Friday, November 10, 2006
Everything that Rises...
I confess, I don't think I'll ever get over the fun of hearing myself on the radio. I like to know that strangers who are driving home from work heard my words. Yes, my ego is alive and kicking.
But just for checks and balances, I've got a brand new job where I'm back to beginner's mind, which counters any unnecessary ego-puffing. Not knowing, for me, equals shame (sound familiar, Steph?)and I just have to get past that. I feel, though, that I've earned a little karma here. I have always been kind and patient with new employees at places I regularly frequent. It is hard to be new and there is nothing guaranteed to freak out a new person more than pressuring them with your impatience (hint,hint, as the holidays hurtle toward us like rabbits in heat). Customers often just want their purchases, and fast, and I don't know about you, but until something is ingrained and rote in me, I can't multi-task, and my focus zooms down to the size of a pinhead. But on only my second day of training I noticed that certain tasks already came easier, like working the computerized cash register, and being able to both answer the phone and nod as if I know something to incoming customers. So I know it's only a matter of time before I'm up to speed. Of course, everything is going to change come Monday because the store is finally moving into the front side of the new building, so it will be like a new workplace. There will be many more things for me not to know and to get wrong and to feel uncertain about.
But it's better than getting too comfortable in my gilded castle on high :)
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Oh dear me, the only good thing about Ed Bradley's death is that (I hope) he died with the good news of the Democratic sweep. Other than that thought, I'm devastated. Ed and Morley are the only journalists left at 60 Minutes that I really like. They're old guard. Damn, it sucks. And Mike Wallace--the Mike-inator, man, at 84 or something he outlived Ed by almost two decades. It just isn't fair.
Tomorrow, my book review of Janet Fitch's new novel Paint it Black will air on NPR-Affiliate KQED Radio's The California Report. Tune in either by your old-fashioned radio dial (88.5 FM for Bay Area residents--or check out the radio tune-in guide for other parts of the state) or the audio archive. It looks like my reviews might start coming monthly, which is exciting!
Will you Debut?
Are you a debut author, or do you know one? I'm now in charge of a column at Writer's Digest Magazine called "First Impressions" in which we feature 4 debut authors each issue--by debut we mean it is your first book EVER published. No self-published authors, I'm afraid. I am looking for content for issues April and beyond. The book must be published within 2 months (on either side) of the publication date. Please feel free to email me at: jordansmuse(at)gmail(dot)com.
What's More American than Buying Stuff?
Over the next month or so I will be posting good gift ideas when I run across them. If I had it my way, everyone on my list would receive a book for Christmas--both due to the bookstore employee discount I will be receiving and the fact that everyone should read more. So on that note, here are books I want to recommend by people I actually know!
The first idea is not only great for anyone, but especially for teachers. Check out the details of the teacher gift special for Ellen Meister's novel, The Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA.
Pre-oreder The Liar's Diary, by Patry Francis (the only reason I gave you an amazon link here is so you can also download her short story at the site).
Nothing in this World, by Roy Kesey.
Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, by Laila Lalami
Reading Water, by Rebecca Lawton
Forgive the Moon, by Maryanne Stahl
Three Days in New York, by Robin Slick
Things Kept, Things Left Behind by Jim Tomlinson.
Lost Girls and Love Hotels by Catherine Hanrahan.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
I have done something unexpected, something I didn't plan to do ever again. I have taken a job. Now, please don't misinterpret me. I work very hard as a self-employed person and make a decent living as a freelance writer/editor. I love my freedom and my schedule. However, here in my new town I am a little too cut off from other people and the best way to make new friends is not to hide in your house. I would not have gotten a job for any other reason than for the sheer social content. The pay and the easy access to books is just gravy.
The bookstore in town happens to be an independent one, my favorite kind, and a small business run by two hardworking people. Since August before they made a move to a new location I've been talking to them, and here, as the holidays head toward us like a line of hefty children running for the cookie jar, they finally came-a-callin'.
Many of the things that I did not plan on doing came to me after I'd decided I did not want to do them. That's how I began doing reviews for the California Report. I was sure that I was simply too "unknown" and so when they emailed me with interest the first time, I didn't believe they meant it until they called up with a deadline and a word count.
While I'm grateful to have the job, there is nothing more humbling to a big know-it-all like me than taking a job in retail again. I've gotten comfy knowing how to do what I do without anyone looking over my shoulder. I haven't had to please the public in a long time. Today I had to do all of that. My boss is a kind and patient woman, however. And fortunately bookstores are different than other forms of retail--people come to you seeking knowledge and you trade in ideas and stories more than "merchandise." I love being around books, being on the cutting edge of what's being published, and of course the employee discount. But I love bookstores most because they are a great way to get to know your community. In the 3.5 hours I spent training today I learned some personal details of one customer's clearly vitrolic divorce; about the schoolteacher who was bitten by a mountain lion in the 1900s and died of rabies; about some politicking in a local city office that is getting heated.
It was work and it takes awhile to acclimate to standing on my feet, but overall I felt productive and I got human contact, which I desperately need. All in all I think it will be good for me, but it's definitely a shock to the system after nearly two years of working in the comfortable privacy of my home.
A House Analogy
The best way I can describe how I feel about the election results today is through an analogy.
So here it is:
If my house burned down, destroying the things I held dear, my treasured memories and favorite clothes and things that were both practical and indulgent, I would feel pretty darn crappy.
Now, let's say that as I stood outside looking at the wreckage of my house, someone came along--a kind stranger and gave me a tent. They even helped put it up for me to sit in (did I forget to mention that it began to rain after my house burned down?) and brought me a snack and patted my shoulder and said, "Well, look at it this way, statistically you probably won't ever have another house burn down." And I would feel a little better, comforted, looked after, even hopeful that somehow things would all work out thanks to this small show of kindness.
But I would still wish my house had never burned down in the first place.
I am grateful, for the sweep forward, but I can't look back over 6 years of and feel much but grief.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Some Things Should Not be Touched
Today for the first time I voted on a touchable computer screen. It was, in a word, scary. I could not help but hear the cries of "voter fraud" rebound through my tiny skull as I stood there. Here are all the things that trouble me:
1. Due to the cost and size of the voter machines, there are fewer of them than stations for the old fashioned paper ballots, thus far fewer voters can vote at any given time and thus there are serious access problems.
2. Touch screens are, well, touchy. You can easily touch the wrong thing or go past what you intended. They are not intuitive, there is a glare, the screen hurts your eyes and if you are over 60, or just not familiar with computer screens, you could very easily be confused--also adding to the voter access problem mentioned in 1.
3. The "paper" ballot that it prints for a supposed "paper trail" is not one you get to take home in your hot little hand (yeah, I spent a good five minutes looking for mine before I read the sign that said I would not get to take it home). In fact, you can't even touch it. It's behind glass like some kind of museum curio. Therefore, how do I know that said paper trail isn't quickly and easily shredded after the machines are closed down? I don't.
4. Anyone who owns a computer knows that from time to time they foul up for no good reason. They freeze, lose information, die and other charming behaviors. And this is when just 1 person is using them. These machines are required to work all day long, 13 hours, and not have any problems? (During Mercury in Retrograde, no less!). I think not.
5.Whether I am paranoid and it was just chance, or there is a rhyme to this, 9 out of 10 Republican candidates were listed at the top of each page, with Democrats at bottom.
* As an aside, I found it interesting that they did not check my license against my ballot. I brought in the booklet mailed to me and that was all they required. I could have taken that from my neighbor!
** ALSO, The people signing me in were hopelessly slow and not helpful. I didn't know where to stand or whom to talk to and there were three people behind the desk but only 1 of them could help the line of voters waiting to vote. Revisit access problem in #1 and 2.
In summary, I'm sorry but I don't trust the new process. It feels good to vote, but I can only hope that it really did count. As for the sticker they gave me to wear: "I voted on a touchable screen"...well I think that's a mark of shame, not something to be proud of.
Tomorrow better bring SOME good news!
Just a quick note before I dash into my Nano novel.
Recently I've been reading over my old stories and novels, penned before I went to get one of those infamous MFA degrees (mine was at Bennington College). I have to say that there is some pretty wild, wonderful stuff in my old work. Now don't get me wrong--I'm not getting a big ego here, very few of these pieces are publishable, and it all is written in my vastly different voices of the years and piecemeal and theme heavy, etc. BUT there is a tremendous amount of spontaneity and trust and a definite sense of order and structure making itself known in the old work too. In other words, before I learned about craft, I already had some wriggling, infant version of it gleaned just from reading. Some of what came through before professors and workshops shamed it out of me was pure, like wild honeycomb--all shot through with dead bees and cloudy and unprocessed, but delicious too.
And this is why I recommend that anyone who writes from some inner compass, from having taken in books and spit out words themselves, should trust that process for a very long time, maybe always. And if you should go to school, or read books on writing, you should know that all these "shoulds" and "how-tos" are time-tested guidelines, but not the gospel. There might just be a few exceptions, things that no teacher can pin down about your unique print.
You should trust your own creative impulses.
Friday, November 03, 2006
Despite that I've been physically a tad under the weather and slightly cranky with certain family issues and have a little too much on my plate, I'm feeling inordinatly happy and grateful for my life. We've been in our new town just about 7 months and today, despite returning from the hometown of my heart, I really feel happy here. The hills are lovely and it feels open and so much less developed here. You can see a lot of sky and land. The rain has just ended and the sun is shedding this lemony light on the tree outside my window and it's gorgeous. I just did a few yoga stretches and was amazed to remember how much it helps the chronic pains in my neck from typing.
I've done three days of national novel writing month and I'm loving the fun of writing new stuff. I've been reading, working on my many work projects and I feel satisfied creatively in both right and left halves of my brain. Today I don't care at all about whether I ever publish a novel so long as I get to keep writing them. Today I am grateful for small things. My funny, loud, fat cat; the enchiladas I got downtown; finishing the puzzle this weekend with my beloved E. and playing battleship; having just enough--not so much as to feel like a gross consumer, but not so little as to feel deprived.
I'm happy. I'm lucky.
Welcome to my first post as part of the Third Day Book Club in the blogosphere. This month's book is: Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie.
You know that feeling you have when you see someone in a situation that you consider to be "terrible" or "unfortunate?" Whether that is someone with a physical disability, someone living in a war-stricken nation, someone who has been neglected, injured, terrorized, raped, has survived horror or excessive pain, disease or abject loneliness—anyone that has experienced something you perceive you would not ever want to. I have heard so many strong, capable, amazingly tough people say of these situations, "I don’t know how he/she/the citizens of that country do it. I don’t think I could."
There’s always a chance that they are right, that any one of them would break under extreme stress to the body or spirit, but I believe that most of us are far more capable than we imagine. The point is, unless you are the one facing the tragedy, you cannot know.
But you can read books that give you a glimmer of insight into what it might be like. Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie did that for me in her novel Half of a Yellow Sun, which captures the three year war over a territory of Nigeria from 1967-1970 that tried to secede and set up its own nation, calling itself Biafra. She shows us this time through the eyes of three main characters. Ugwu, a bush-born teenager who comes to serve in the household of his "Master" Odenigbo—a ‘revolutionary’ professor who hosts social debates on politics and art in his home; Olanna—Odenigbo’s high-born mistress-turned-wife, who loves him with a passion that is blinding and nearly costs her the love of her twin sister Kainene; and Richard, the white British lover of Kainene who starts out merely fascinated by Igbo culture and in the end comes to feel he belongs to it.
I don’t want this post to be just a cold analysis of a piece of great literature—which this book really is. I want to talk about this book in terms of how it made me feel, and what tangents it brought me to as I read.
The first most apt quote from the book that summarizes what I felt it was about is from Olanna’s point of view, when the war is revving up to its worst and they have fled their home to a safer town,
"She looked at [Odenigbo’s] bare, hairy chest and his new beard and his torn slippers, and suddenly his mortality—their mortality—struck her with a clutch at her throat, a squeeze of alarm."
The moment Olanna becomes aware of their mortality is in some ways the most painful moment of all. For even though she lived an easy, some might say cushy life before the fighting broke out, she is inherently a good person and Adichie draws her characters so well that you can feel the pain of the loss of that protective membrane that allows a person to believe, "That won’t ever happen to me."
One of the things I loved about the book is that Adichie does not draw the customary parallel that "having" equals "evil." Some people have it better than others for sure (this is in great part a portrait of the middle class). Ugwu is a servant, after all, in his Master’s house—but he is loved and treated well and in return he loves them. When he is feared dead, they are as devastated as if he were family. Just because they have ‘enough’ does not, however, mean they are bad people—a point I think Adichie drove home exquisitely well. There is a way to have enough and still be pure of intention.
This is a book in which the worst can and does happen to people who seem as though they might crumble under the stress of war, but don’t, not in the expected ways. Their comforts may have insulated them and they do perhaps suffer the harder for it when all is taken from them and their lives are truly at stake. But it is also a book about fighting for the right to be who you are, as a person, as a nation, as an ethnicity. Biafra formed and existed at all because enough people were tired of conforming to a way of life, because they wanted to have more control over their lives and their government. It’s a theme we see repeated in history all the time.
And you can’t read this book and not feel your periscope widening out to include more of the world. While Biafrans was fighting and starving, American sons were still coming home in body bags from Vietnam. That’s where our focus was. But what else was happening in the world? At any given time in the world people are being suppressed and murdered (Darfur) and rising up against said suppression (Iraq).
The characters in this novel are people who also might have said, "Oh I couldn’t handle it if X happened," and then they do, in fact, handle it. The more reduced they are, the more they become aware of their humanity. Oh not at first. Ugwu, who is a gentle, kind, thoughtful boy, eventually gets conscripted by the military against his will and does things he will repent for the rest of his life. Betrayed by her lover, Olanna commits an act of betrayal that is even greater and nearly costs her the one person she loves most. Unsure of Kainene’s love, Richard jeopardizes their life together. Some days they are livid with fury, choked with grief and injustice, but most days they put their priorities in place: food, shelter, family.
The urge to survive is bigger than us. On the heels of having just written about suicide, I know that some people make the choice to end it soon, but I think the vast majority of us would do what the characters in this novel do: bind together, love a little more in the present, accept each new layer of tragedy, poverty and loss because it’s still life, and there seems to be no greater directive in any species than that of staying alive.
December 3rd: Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Okay, Maybe I am LOST
In fiction writing there's this term called "back-story" which most of you know refers to the history of a character's life, motivations, the stuff that happens before the good, juicy inciting incident, in other words, everything that explains a narrative's reason for being. The thing about back-story is that if you were just to offer it up to the reader all at once, a) you'd bore them and b) you'd have no reason to write those cool scenes in which the present time events unfold. BUT, a good narrative will drop just enough of it in that the reader gets a taste and doesn't feel totally clueless.
So I'm a bit perplexed about my new TV addiction, LOST. In trying to understand its baffling storyline, I've started to go online and look up theories, etc. It turns out that the producers have created one hell of a back-story for this show, a back-mythology in fact, that actually explains quite a lot. It explains far more than the show does, and in fact, upon learning much of it, I'm almost overly-satisfied.
I like the idea of a morphogenetic field on the island that can reprogram human behavior. I like the idea of the Venzetti Equation (those infernal numbers) that supposedly predicts the end date of humanity. I like that these Others might just be renegades who stayed behind when the first experiment failed to try again. It does make sense out of a lot.
But I confess I think the producers have put the right information in the wrong place--on the internet for geeks and nerds to dig up, rather than in the actual show, where it would keep viewers hooked and wanting more.
Look for yourself. It's almost absurd how much work has been put into this whole idea.
Hello First, You're Lookin' Good!
I think October is my favorite of the fall/winter months because it's still warm, the trees are not yet bare and it isn't raining (usually). It's a cozy month that offers solace and invites you to cook hearty soups and wear fluffy sweaters.
November isn't bad either but it bears the possibility of rain, and the inevitable Thanksgiving family drama, I mean dinner.
This November 1st is looking pretty good, however from where I sit this morning.
First, I am foolishly going ahead with NanoWrimo because I need the endorphin rush of writing something new after my summer of publishing discouragement. With a daily word count goal of 1667 words, I'm proud to say I pushed myself to 2197 words this morning--because the more you get done in the beginning, the more you can slack off later.
I fully intend to write a draft of something that I can later do something with but I'm just having fun and letting go and not worrying about how it all looks now. Of course in this time I am also supposed to be revising The Night Oracle, and I am--I swear. I actually got the entire new structure in place after much chopping and re-arranging and printed it out, with little notes in the chapters that will have to be written anew. I cut three characters and more than 100 pages. That revision shouldn't take me more than a two months to finish, so when November is through with me, I can get back to that and have it, hopefully, to my agent by early in the new year.
Second, today I turned in the first half of my book Make A Scene, to be published (if all goes as planned) about 1 year from now by Writer's Digest Books. I am sure there will be copious edits, but I do feel good about it, I admit. It's gratifying to get to exorcise my inner know-it-all for a purpose.
Third, my book with Rebecca Lawton, formerly known as Creating Space: The Law of Attraction for Writers & Other Artistic Souls has been changed and is moving ahead into the design phase. The new title is: Write Free! Attracting the Creative Life. Our Logo design is coming along beautifully, and our book cover is gorgeous and it's starting to feel like a an actual book that people might even read!
I'm feeling strangely optimistic on many levels--my career, my home-life--despite that there are some family matters bogging me down.
Not only that, but my horoscope was damn good :)
So, that's my November 1st. What's up with yours?