Tuesday, July 29, 2008


An admitted radio addict, I heard recently a discussion of the word elitist. Among other things the discussion revealed that it now costs as much as $400 for a ticket to a Broadway play. Wow! I'll have to cross that off my life-goals list. How have we managed to cut up the arts till only the wealthy can afford to take part? We know that paintings have risen to astronomical highs, and I guess I never questioned that; going to a movie is more expensive but with careful budgeting, we can manage that, or wait for the film to come out on the rental lists. Books, my personal favorite, are pretty readily available at our wonderful libraries, used books stores, thrift stores, and sale tables in the big chains. Thank heavens for that. Buying new hardbacks strains my budget.

What amazes me, though, is the generosity of poets. We long ago gave up on the idea that we would make money on our art. Few poets publish in hardback, none expect the famous advance for a publisher, and the majority give free readings, publish in non-paying venues, share their wares in a variety of ways. I heard amazing poems at a coffee shop on Saturday for the price of a large decaf latte. This doesn't mean that we wouldn't accept payment if offered, but we go on doing art for the sake of connecting with other minds and souls. In a wonderful essay that appeared on the website for This I Believe, George Bowering, Canada's poet laureate, says, "I believe that the human intellect is the closest thing we have to the divine. It is the way we can join one another in spirit." That's exactly what poetry does, lets us join minds. Who could refuse to share such wealth?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Po Biz Cranks Up a Notch

The contract for the poetry book is in hand, the notebook designated for the marketing plan, and one favorite writer has signed on to write a cover blurb. I'm making lists like a madwoman: bookstores, friends, relatives, anyone on either coast and in the middle who can read (and that's pretty much everyone I know) . I'm asking lots of questions and hoping the publisher won't eject me from her email file. But these poems matter, and I want them to go to a very good home. The Great Hunger ms started a year ago, though some of the poems are older than that. Seems I've been aware of food as necessity and metaphor for years. One of the first poems I had accepted by a total stranger is called "The Last Supper." It's a retelling of the story from the point of view of the cook. "And no one said it was the last of anything." 

First readers of the ms have varied in their responses to individual poems, but favorably to the collection as a whole, despite its quirky construction. Unlike many / most slim volumes of poetry, this one has a preface, a Food Time Line, a manifesto and a reading list of influential non-fiction books related to our endangered and wasteful food supply mechanisms in this country. My heroes are Kingsolver and Pollan, among others. The time line idea came from Ed Sanders two-volume history of America, though not nearly so extensive as his.  I am very happy to join the ranks of writers who put their skills in service to the greater good.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Coffee House Effect

I had a busy weekend, but not so busy that I had a real excuse for not working on the novel. A poetry service at the UU Fellowship did take a lot of my time last week, but inside my head that nagging voice would not go away; it said, repeatedly--nagging--that I just hadn't given the book its due attention the past few days. When I get into that awful state where I'd clean out the silverware drawer before I'd sit down to write, well, that calls for a change of venue. I've always known that, but I can talk myself out of the most sensible approaches. Finally, I turned off the Snood game, ignored the TV, grabbed a blank notebook and left the house. The dogs were not happy to see me leave in the late afternoon when we customarily settle in till supper. Tough! They are wonderful dogs, but they're dogs. What do they know about writing novels? Books are mysterious toys that require no chewing or throwing, just staring!

Having seen an ad recently for a new cafe, I took myself to that block--nothing there but a gift shop, a real estate office and a day spa. None of those would do. So I backtracked to a place I had visited before. It's a chain and I prefer an independent, but hey, this was getting serious. Unless of course I want my tombstone to read, "She played Snood." If leaving home and daring the heat of a Colorado summer Sunday were required to grease the wheels of creativity, I'd better follow through. Iced tea in hand, I settled into an easy chair across from a young woman with a cell phone welded to her head. That could have been a distraction except that she spoke Chinese, and since I mostly speak English, it was easy to ignore her conversation. I did what I used to do to my students, kept saying "Just keep the pen moving. You can revise later." In less than two hours and one iced tea, I had a decent bit of work, about 5 1/2 pages, handwritten (my usual approach to a first draft), and I could go home with a clean conscience and a good jumping off place for this morning's work.

Friday, July 18, 2008

If Wishes Were Porches

Beggars could drive. Since moving to Colorado over a year ago, I have silently and verbally bemoaned the lack of poets to hang around with, talk shop, etc. Hooray for MeetUp! Having tried here in my hometown, unsuccessfully, to create such a poetry group, I had about given up on the idea. Well, the Denver Poetry Group is alive and well. We met at one of my favorite cafes last evening and had a great time. Four of the six of us brought and read work and got feedback. The variety was good, the feedback was good, but best was finding others who speak my mother tongue--poetry, right down to the effect of an n-dash in place of an m-dash. (I swear it was the computer's fault!) We laughed and drank--coffee or wine or what looked like Guinness--and compared venues for readings. There are plenty, now that I've had someone point me in the right direction. About 2am I was planning what I'd take to read first. It's going to be a busy time in po biz after all.

And--drum roll--the publisher I mentioned a few blogs back is interested in the ms! I haven't seen the contract yet, but will soon. This is a cooperative press, which means that I will share the cost of production, different from self-publishing and vanity in that there is a screening/editorial process at work here, and poets I know and trust are publishing with them. Once things firm up, I'll be giving this press a boost here. Knowing how long it takes to produce a book, even a poetry volume, I'll have to be patient, but I'm sure it will be worth it. Meanwhile, I keep whittling away at the novel, a little scared of it at times, but creeping up on it, believing that taking it in small bites works better than running away from it. I miss my colleagues from Boot Camp. If any of you are listening, get back to me and let me know how the writing goes.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Carson McCullers at Last

Probably many of us have a list of books we always meant to read, books with huge reputations, maybe books in the honorable canon of American literature. Such a book is The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. Wandering through my favorite thrift shop I found a copy and tossed it into the cart with the sleeveless tops and my one-millionth purse. Between checkout and home I lost the new sterling silver earrings (a fact that I still cannot believe, since I had carefully tucked them into a zippered compartment of my current purse!) but I got the book home safely, and over the weekend I read it. McCullers was in her very early twenties when she wrote this novel, but her age cannot be held against her. The characters range from Mick, a precocious pre-teen who comes of age over the course of the book, to Benjamin Cady, a doctor in his final years. In between we meet Singer (ironic name), who is deaf and mute, Biff, who owns the local diner which serves as a hub for the locals, and Jake, a wanderer, drinker, and ineffective labor organizer. The rich stew of characters impresses me, as does the shabby, small-town setting, complex but lucid, and totally believable.

McCullers was born in Georgia in 1917, so she belongs in that wonderful batch of Southern writers I barely knew existed until I lived in the South. I remember feeling angry that no one in New England or California had introduced me to Flannery O'Connor, and now I wonder why, in attending a Southern graduate program in English lit, I was never ordered to read McCullers--likely an oversight created by the limits of time and the competition from O'Connor, Faulkner, et al. Then again, my cock-eyed optimism excuses this failure: I was meant to read this novel now, when I read like a writer as well as a devoted and hungry reader of fiction. I can hardly wait to go back to the used book shelves and see what other treats await me.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Great Read

Some books deserve to be spread around. I plucked this one off the new-books shelf at my library (Mamie Doud Eisenhower Library, a great place) and haven't stopped thinking and talking about it since I opened the cover. Robert Kaplow wrote Who's Killing America's Great Writers? Think Sue Grafton, Danielle Steel, Stephen King, and Tom Clancy. Add one lesser known, possibly fictive novelist, and a Steve Martin look-alike, a witty Anne Bancroft, and lots of knowledge about the book world, the structure of a mystery, and the individual styles and themes of these mega-million-seller authors.

The concept is unique, rich, absolutely wonderful. And the writing is excellent to the point of Wow! Kaplow taps the style of each major writer as the point of view shifts to his or her focus. I confess to not having read Steel, but I imagine that Kaplow has, and he nails her lush, sexy style. He knows a great deal about King's home and the coast of Maine where I used to live and can verify the authenticity of the setting. I don't want to spoil this great, funny satire for you, but let me just tell you that King gets to play the hero. And the villain gets it in the end. Find this book and read it.

For those of you addicted to Stephanie Plum, I just discovered that number Fourteen is on the shelf. I can't wait.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Shell over Shell

Robert Kaplow has written a very funny book, Who's Killing the Great Writers of America. Sue Grafton, Stephen King, Tom Clancy, and Danielle Steel, so far, are the targets. A character looking and acting like Steve Martin keeps showing up and may be "a person of interest." Remarkably, as the POV changes, so does the style, to reflect the writer in focus at the moment. Of course, it's hyped satire, and in that hyperbole lies a nugget of wisdom that makes the book a model of psychology as well as of style. Each of these mega-selling writers appears as an ego that has thickened to encase the human individual completely. Every action is calculated to boost the image. King's fearful stories fit him like a suit, as does Clancy's military, action-packed persona, Steel's ultra-sexy themes, etc. Never do we pierce this armor.

And that shell effect makes me stop reading long enough to wonder how many of us are caught up in being A Writer, rather than in being a human being who writes. I think there's a distinction. A Writer is a public figure, obeying the rules of the market and media. He/she responds to the demands of tending the outer shell that has become the controlling image by which the world at large knows him/her. This may, I suspect, lead such A Writer to create only in his own image. I hope I'd beware of the pressure and prefer to be me, writing. I think I want to write because it satisfies me. Not to say I don't want readers, because I certainly do. But I don't want to grow that carapace that will prevent me from writing out of my humanity. Vigilance!

Monday, July 7, 2008


I am waiting, not patiently, for a call back from the vet. I have a sick cat and I feel like my whole day is on hold. Granted, I did my morning pages and I finished some correspondence, and here I am blogging away when I would like to be slogging away at my creative work. I do not work well anywhere but home, so sitting in someone else's house, (I am house sitting and usually go to my own place to work.) waiting, makes me restless and frustrated. I hear about writers who travel to write in exotic or secluded retreats, but that does not work for me. I want my desk, my own computer, my notebooks close at hand. Maybe I need to do more of what Natalie Goldberg suggests in Writing Down the Bones and work in coffee shops, or in the park. I've tried that, but I get distracted watching people, wondering what's going on at home, day dreaming, anything but productive work. 

Well, the vet still has not called and it's almost time for lunch. The cat's holding up fairly well, but I know this will be another lost day. I made myself take yesterday off and I pretty much hated it, kept thinking, ah, tomorrow I can write. And now look at this, no work, not a line worth keeping. I'll try to be more flexible, but I doubt it will work. After all, with the morning pages I've dumped all the dross and now I'm ready for something really good to pop up. I feel like Eeyore, oh, my, nothing works today. 

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Small World

Hooray for a classic Fourth! Grilled food, fresh fruit shortcake, good company, and spectacular fireworks. From our seats in a huge green field we saw distant displays from as many as four other locations, before and during our own city-sponsored extravaganza. One of the other guests in this company turned out to be a writer also. We compared notes and talked shop. She explained her day job in which she mid-wifes books into life, and her work as a regular columnist for a Colorado paper. Well, turns out it's the same paper for which a good friend of mine writes. Then we did what writers do these days, exchanged blog links. So, Marla, if you're there, good morning. Even though it's Saturday, I'm at the desk, with much to do. The apartment is quiet except for the birds in the front yard and a distant lawn mower. The neighborhood has gone away for the weekend.

The world is small, as evidenced by the theory of six degrees of separation, a theory on trial at Face Book. So far, 4 million people have linked themselves electronically. I'm not sure this supports the original theory as I understand it, that if we think hard, we can draw a pretty short line through people we know directly to the person we want to meet. For instance, if I wanted to meet the Dalai Lama, I bet I could connect through friends/aquaintances at the Shambala Center where I used to attend meditation classes. I respect HHH the DL, but have no real reason to meet him. To do so might be presumptuous. Meeting someone at a party, however, who knows someone you know, but whom the hostess does not know strikes me as more synchronous. A long time ago, a nurse/officer in the AF warned her new recruits to behave because the AF was a small world and shenanigans would come back to haunt the miscreant. Just so, the writing world is small. Isn't that a kick?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Upside, Downside

You cheer when a publisher says she likes the work; you put your head in your hands when she says she needs another thirty pages. No unadulterated good here. But I'm about to root around in my notebook and journals, see what I've missed, and talk to a photographer friend about rounding out the manuscript with pictures, a suggestion from said publisher. All this comes as I face a very full plate: house sitting, helping coordinate a poetry service for my fellowship, a lead on a part-time dream job, a 9-week writing program to facilitate in the fall, three weeks of pre-paid vacation that I really cannot forgo, an editing project for The Cafe Review, coordinating a poetry reading for our public auditorium, and, oh, yeah, working on that novel I just started. Who said there's no work for writers? There's no pay for writers, but plenty of work. If I seem a little distant for the next few weeks, you'll understand.