Saturday, February 28, 2009


I have way too much to do, novel revisions, script revision, my UCLA writing class, but I have spent all day doing absolutely nothing. On purpose

I told Jeff that I didn't know what to do with myself, not having that panicked oh-my-God-how-will-things-ever-get done, and he sweetly assured me to relax, that it was okay.

So we piled in the car and went to find a jacket for Jeff and Max, which was fun.  Then Jeff and I walked to the green grocer down the block we like and bought lots of expensive food like artichoke lemon pesto to put on crusty bread, then we came home and I napped and read a whole lot of blogs.  

The thing about reading blogs is you get to peek into other peoples' lives, which I love. I read that Crazy Aunt Purl travels a lot alone and is tired of people asking her how she affords it.  I read a lot of knitting blogs with photographs of lots of lovely animals and gorgeous babies in wooly knits.  (I think it is a law if you have a knitting blog, you have those two things.) I always read Cari Luna's blog and sent her some magic and love, and  I read my friend Cindy's Hello Dollface and Conversations with Famous writers (You notice there are no links--this is a non-working day!) then I went on facebook to try to find the people who were mean to me in high school (as well as the ones who weren't) just for the shock of seeing what they are doing NOW.  As I always do, I looked for my first NYC friend who went mad and who was institutionalized and who would not take my calls, because I always hope I will find her and she will be happily married with a baby and a dog and work she loves.  OK, I admit I looked for film producers that I could charm.

But most of all there is something really nice about taking a lazy day, leaving work, playing on the computer instead of obsessively working. Tonight we have having homemade spicy black bean soup, crusty bread and the pesto, and watching a movie with popcorn.  Tomorrow, we are going bowling or to the movies.  Monday is work day, but right now, I am feeling so, so lucky.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Read this book: Sima's Undergarments for Women

Okay everyone, this book, Sima's Undergarments for Women by Ilana Stanger-Ross is irresistible.  I raved about it for my column at Dame Magazine, and I shamelessly begged Ilana for an interview. 

Sima's Undergarments for Women is set in a lingerie shop--one of the most charming and evocative and story-worthy settings in the world.  Where did that idea come from?

My mother gets full credit. We were leaving a shop much like Sima's one day when she said to me, "You know, you should set a story in a shop like that." It's such an intimate environment, and neighborhood stores like Sima's are disappearing all too quickly. I started thinking about it, and had an image of a woman with perfect breasts walking into that store and turning everything on its head. And so it began.

2. I was also fascinated with the Orthodox Jewish community. Is this from research, personal experience or both?

Both. I am not an Orthodox Jew, and so neither is Sima--it wouldn't have felt right for me to write from inside that perspective. But I grew up not far from Boro Park, and my mother grew up in Boro Park, and my father was himself Orthodox (though not Hasidic) until his late 20s, so I was relatively familiar with that community. And then, I did some reading, too.

3. The idea of community figures predominantly in the book--Sima's ache for attachment is palpable. Do you think there is a loss of that community in modern life, and if so, why?

Oh, yes, definitely. So much has been written on this that I am wary to enter into that conversation, but: we're so transient, we work on computers, we shop at massive chains in big-box malls or online. In certain neighborhoods one can still experience that sense of community--the store owner who knows you, who just got in something you're just gonna love--but for so many of us the daily errands are mostly an anonymous experience.

4. You're going to school to be a midwife, which I also find fascinating.  First, I want to know how a writer chooses that profession. Next, I want to know if you are writing about it and how it impacts your work?

Well, you have to make a living somehow. I worked for a number of years in editing and publishing, and ultimately I really felt that I needed my work to have a more direct impact--I wanted to know, at the end of the day, that my work had made a difference. While there's no doubt that we need editors, I guess I wasn't convinced editing needed me. Meanwhile, I'd always been interested in medicine and women's health, and then I moved to Canada and discovered the midwifery model there and thought, hmmm, this is exactly what I want to do. I have done a fair bit of non-fiction writing on birth, but so far no fiction. But it may be time to bridge that gap-- I think there might just be a midwife in my next novel.

 5. You're living in Canada now, correct? Is it easier to be a writer there?

Well, there are so many variables that go into what makes writing feasible for any one person, but I do think that Canada has traditionally supported its artists much more than the United States. When I lived in Ontario I was able, as an emerging artist, to receive nearly $20,000 in city and provincial grants--in the United States, there were simply no equivalent grants for me to apply for. And then there's the year-long government-paid parental leave --I wrote while home with my daughters. Canadian booksellers and book reviewers also champion Canadian writers, and Canadians tend to read more than their American counterparts. So, while writing is never easy, there are resources for Canadian writers that don't exist south of the border.

 6. What is your writing life like, and what are you working on now?

 I am currently a student midwife in full-time clinical placement with two young daughters, so carving out any writing time is a struggle. But a writer once told me, "Even if you only have 20 minutes, write for 20 minutes."  These days I am stealing time as I can, slowly building a new story in my head.

7. What question didn't I ask that I should have?

How about: when can I visit you on Vancouver Island? Any time, Caroline! We have some amazing independent bookstores in Victoria--come!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

write, rinse, repeat

I have spent the last hour doing a word search of my novel to find words like "blinking," "lump in the throat" and "sweat prickling." Apparently, I have used them each about 4, 000 times

I need to take a walk (she said, blinking, with a lump in her throat.)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The writing life, part 100

I swear, my editor is genius. She is making things more subtle, which makes them more powerful. I am working ten hour days now, and when I am done, I want to go over the whole ms. again to make sure I got everything she asked me to do.  At this point, I would follow her anywhere.  of course, the problem with seeing this novel getting richer and stronger and more alive is my terror that the novel I am working on now is falling apart at the seams, that it is weak and silly and cannot possibly compete with this one (Of course, I still worry about the one I am revising, but less so since it is sold.)  How does any writer have or get confidence?  If you are a writer and have some, will you give some to me?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Writing until your head explodes

I am deep in revisions. I have been working on two other novels while waiting, so it's strange and wonderful to suddenly come back to the characters in Breathe and to begin to ache for them all over again.  I have a new editor and I have to say I am worshipping at her feet.  We've talked about the book before and worked on it together, but these changes are teaching me about the power of being subtle, about how taking out one line can empower an entire page. I'm so jazzed, all I want to do is work, which is a strange, hallucinatory feel. I know this sound stupid, and I commented about this on Facebook, but these days, I am so happy to be a writer. It feels very blessed. Working on finished (nearly finished) pages is so different than working on those thorny opening pages.  The characters are breathing on the page,  I feel them behind me, I want to do right by them.

I would be lying if I didn't say I am keeping my fears at bay, too.  The market is to weird right now.  I hope new novels are not considered a luxury.  I hope I can get radio and TV and bookclubs and print reviews. I hope I can get readings, though I'm not convinced that readings sell books. I fully intend to send my publicist flowers in deep appreciation (I work with publicists all the time because of my book columns, and I revere them) and I'll turn myself inside out trying to drum up support for Breathe.  And I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, but all those reading, I will send you passionate emails begging for your help and support.

But that is still a year off, and in the meantime, I write, I dream, I write some more, I panic, I write, I obsess, I draw tarot cards, I write. I talk to producers (what bliss!  what fun!) and I write, I write, I write.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Read This Book: The Dust of 100 Dogs

I am deep in novel revisions of Breathe and finishing my scripts and generally so overworked my head is about to explode. Writing and working so hard is a little hallucinatory. I don't sleep much these days, and I cannot relax, and I am pretty much tense, nervous and wired.

BUT, I can and do read, and one of the books I absolutely adored was  A. S, King's fantastically good  The Dust of  100 Dogs.

I met Amy via email when we both were nominated for a Best American Voices prize.  I didn't get it, but I am hoping that Amy does--she's THAT good.  We met again at a Bookspace conference and we instantly hit it off. She's smart, funny, warm, and a terrific writer. I'm really thrilled to have her talking here! 

The Dust of 100 Dogs is a gorgeously complex novel that begins with a famed teenaged pirate who is cursed to living 100 lives as a dog before she returns to a human body--that of a contemporary American teenager. But the book is really about so much more than that--about how to live a life with grace, how to move in and out of the possibilities of other lives and very different times. Metaphysical, smart, thoughtful, and also loads of fun.

You mentioned that you didn't write this book as YA, and that you get fan mail from people who are not young adults.  I read and loved your book, and I don't really see it as YA, either.  Though to be truthful, what really IS YA  I have read so many wonderful books an was surprised to see them marketed as YA, and I have quite a few friends whose novels were marketed that way--even when we all felt the story clearly was not.  Why do you think the publisher thought it was, and do you think that it makes more sense to market the story rather than the genre? 

 I think if the choice was between marketing the story or marketing the genre, I would ask ‘to whom?’ because the answer to most marketing questions is defined by the audience. So I believe marketing D100D in YA and allowing it to cross over is probably a wise decision. Presently, the YA community has some amazing mojo. Though some underlying industry feelings about YA seem to sell it short, I think people are starting to realize YA books can be very serious literature that spans generations of readers. I think my YA books are crossover books, for age fourteen and up, but a lot of my fans are over forty. It’s a tricky mix.

(If you don’t mind a short related tangent… What strikes me as odd is the way some adults seem to think all teen literature is cute pimply stuff—until they discover heavy subject matter, and then react as if this is going to ruin their innocent children (who’ve been watching Law & Order since the were in single digits.) I’m also surprised by parents who think their kids are smarter than age requirements. “Fourteen plus? My kid’s smart, so she can read your book at age nine.” Uh – no. The content in my book is for fourteen and up. It’s not about reading level. It’s about subject matter that’s inappropriate for nine-year-olds. As a parent, I know how hard it is to draw these lines—especially these days. Last month, I turned off the Super Bowl after about fifteen minutes, in order to not subject my six-year-old daughter to the over-sexualized and violent-TV-show commercials. On one hand, we allow prime time content to sink to the level it has, and on the other, we call foul when an author writes tamer content into a book for teenagers. What’s with the double standard? And why, when we know this culture pushes children into adult behavior early, are we still assuming that young adults can only relate to books about other young adults? My favorite books as a teen were Orwell and Philip K Dick. My favorite TV show as a child was M*A*S*H. There wasn’t one child character. There was blood, death, sexual innuendo and jokes I didn’t get. But I saw what good adults looked like, and aimed myself.)                                                                                             

 I loved that you said anything is possible, including reincarnation. Do you also like to stretch the boundaries of what is possible in telling a great story?

 I do. A lot. It’s the fun I have. I live to twist things into shapes that shouldn’t work. I love to try things and toil over them until they say what I want them to say, even though they say something else. I’m fiercely sneaky.

A teenaged female pirate is one  wonderful lead character.  What was your research like? (There are, I know, some great female pirates in history.  One, I believe, was almost hanged before they realized she was pregnant!) How much liberty did you take in your research?  

The pirate history is basic. There were quite a few women pirates at the time, but Emer Morrisey is fictional, as is her journey. But it was possible. There were shipments of women at the time from Paris to Tortuga, Spanish ships did gather in Havana as a last stop on their way to Spain, and Cromwell did savagely conquer Ireland.

The best part of the [Irish] research process for me was how tactile it was. There is something about living inside recorded history—it was fascinating to learn about what happened to and around my [Irish] property during the last 500 years. I also took my first trip to Jamaica during this time. Traveling is my favorite kind of research. I try to use every place I go as a setting in my fiction at some time or another.

4What struck me about the Dog Fact parts of the book was the dignity of the dogs’ voices, the probing intelligence and the respect you gave them. (I loved that the dog said that "Shameless and stupid" really means "free and simple.") Which came first for you, the idea of the dogs or the voice? 

 I think I wanted to create a sort of life training guide from the dog’s point of view. That line you quoted about “shameless and stupid” really meaning “free and simple” sums it up for me. I like the natural truth of things. As long as it’s genuine, I’m comfortable. Dogs are genuine, so it made sense to use them as a vehicle for talking truth. (Because humans lie a lot and complicate and judge everything.)

Of course, the Dog Facts are as much about human training as they are about dog training. From where I stand, I am seeing a decline in discipline in both areas. I feel that as a culture, many of us have lost sight of how to make confident, self-sufficient humans, and are mollycoddling in order to not hurt any child’s feelings, or leave any child behind. Personally, I fail to see how dumbing down education and allowing unruly children to rule households and schools is beneficial to society—or to themselves.

I think what I want to know is why did you choose dogs to be her curse--especially in the light of the voice being so intelligent--the dog fact chapters are so full of grace considering that she is under a curse.  

But isn’t that what happens when cursed? One grows grace and patience in order to endure it, yes? (Along with a smashing sense of humor.) In this case, the curse is part metaphor, because every one of us is cursed in some way, depending on how we look at it, right? Back to the dogs—I don’t think I chose the dogs for any particular symbolic purpose. I think they inspired the idea, and so they were part of the book from day one.

What is your working day like? And can you talk about what you are working on now? 

My work time is interesting these days. I have very young kids so my husband and I juggle them, this career, a small business and life. I usually write in chunks of time. A month here, a month there. In between, I take care of promotion and the business stuff, and I write short fiction. I just finished another crossover/YA novel, Ignore Vera Dietz, and am presently working on a book I hope to have drafted by summer. I can’t tell you what it’s about, though, because I’m not really sure yet.

I loved it that Emer transformed/reincarnated into the teenager Saffron, but it feels to me that this book is asking very deep questions about how we perceive our realities and get our knowledge about the right way to live. Her knowledge as a dog informs her as a human being, and her knowledge as the pirate informs the teenager. I felt that reincarnation was a metaphor for being able to move out of our own tended lives into the lives of others. Was this your intent or am I making this up? 

 This is one of many themes woven into the core of this book. It’s probably woven into the core of most of my books. I think the ability to consider others is a super power in these days of me-me-me thinking.

The beauty of this book is how you move in and out of genres.  At times it is a yearning love story, then it becomes a historical book about Emer's becoming a pirate, and then it becomes a very contemporary drama filled with teenaged-wasteland type angst--yet all three threads are tightly held together because it really is the same person. Was there ever a moment when you worried you might not be able to pull this wildly original premise off? 

I’m sure there were days I felt I couldn’t pull it off, especially considering how long it took me to get it right. But by the time I got to writing The Dust of 100 Dogs, which was my sixth novel, I had stopped caring about ever getting published, so more than anything, while writing it, I had a lot of fun.

What question didn't I ask that I should have asked you?

I’m trading in this answer for my tangent in #1 because I don’t want to go too long & you asked fabulous questions!

Thanks for having me Caroline!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Read this book: Precious

Full disclosure.  I blurbed  Precious, falling in love at page one. About a disappearance (how could I not be captivated? one of my favorite themes) and the ripple effect it has on a family, the novels is just gorgeously written.  Novack is truly breathtakingly brilliant.  I cannot wait to read whatever she does next--and she also happens to be this summer sparkler of a person, as well. I asked Sandra if she would let me ask her a million questions and she very graciously obliged, even as she was at the AWP conference.  So thank you, a million times, Sandy!

 Can you tell us how Precious came about? Did it begin with an image, a line, an incident? There were several things that inspired the book.  I began very early on with two images—that of Vicki Anderson riding off on her bike, and that of Sissy atop the lip of the above-ground pool, daring herself to do a pirouette.  Both led to image patterns that were central to the plot and theme: that of disappearances on various levels, and that of water, related to remembered love.  When I wrote the scene where Sissy is on the pool lip, I knew that I had personally committed to the book and to the story itself, that the story would be a sustainable world for me, as I wrote it.  That was a neat moment, too, where not only the characters commit, but also the writer does as well. But, first and foremost, Precious is inspired by an incident from my own life, one that I then greatly fictionalized:  When I was quite young, only seven (for years I thought five), my sister ran away from home. I wrote the book to remember someone I loved very deeply as a child, to also remember someone I never got a chance to know, too, if that makes sense…to reclaim the idea of a sister. 

 Pr  Precious swirls around the vanishing of a little girl, but it really is about one family, and how they are each leaving one another in one way or another—and stories rush in to fill the void. II found this incredibly haunting. What role do you think stories play in our lives today—and why do you think of the new media (blogs, videos, text novels) in terms of stories that can save us?  Well, the latter is an interesting question given the recent article by Lev Grossman on “Books Gone Wild: The Digital Age Reshapes Literature.”  In a way, this great “new media” affirms that everyone can be storytellers—so there’s a great democratization in the process, less gatekeepers to hinder the way.  That said, I do worry about a total lack of gatekeepers, how it will affect a market already inundated with work. And by that, I mean work set to basic standards.   But, I also say, what gets noticed gets noticed.  It’s hard, in this day and age, to argue otherwise.

And, given that I’m a person of place and small towns, I worry about always being “plugged in,” and what that does to the imagination, not for myself so much as the generation of, say, my nieces and nephews.  Sometimes I just want to tell them to unplug, to get outside more, to create worlds there, in the actual world.  But I also know I’m being silly. They have stories, too, stories that aren’t like mine and don’t need to be.  The stories will always be there so long as we’re people and not machines.  At least I hope that. 

I think all our personal stories save us, in a way.  When I was writing Precious, my husband’s ninety-some-year-old grandfather died.  As soon as the news was delivered (for us over the phone), my husband naturally told a story about his granddad, something he remembered from when he was a child.  The telling was not only a way to cope with loss, but it was also a way to make sense and shape life and history, one that is communal as well as individual.  No one exists in isolation, as Martin Buber once said.  Fictional stories are similar if not in factual truth, then in emotional truth.  They are the most fundamental declarations of our collective humanity.  To my mind, a good story always gives us a way to remember what’s important, those truths and lessons we cannot let go of, or afford to forget.  If we forget those truths, those people, those places and events that have shaped us, we not only deny something in ourselves, I think, but we also allow those voices of the past to disappear and be forgotten.   But those voices are always trying to speak to us.

 I a   I’m obsessed with process and how other writers work, so can you tell us something about your writing day? Also, what was it like writing Precious? I screw around a lot!  I’m always up by 7:00 and have a routine I go through where I have coffee with my husband and then we walk the dog and tend to the cats.  I get in and usually check e-mail, Facebook (I am Facebook addicted!), and then I start writing eventually.  If I can get in a few good hours, say from 9-1 or 10-2, I feel pretty happy, and that includes drafting total rubbish, too.  I do try and write every day, and I’m a stickler for routine. 

 I don’t compose in a linear way, writing one line after the next, but generally compose by juxtaposing elements and lines that interest me, without worrying about placement.  So on any given day I might have three things on a page that I know will go in three different chapters. Eventually I start to see patterns in that chaos.  I write like that until I think enough of the ideas are assembled for just one chapter, and then I break out the highlighter to find those “chunks” that belong together, assemble them in their own file, and write long-hand on legal pad to organize the thing.  There are several drafts like this, continual shaping.  It’s fairly tedious and entirely messy and illogical. Writing Precious added some extra constraints to this, since the book was contracted on a partial and I had nine months to complete it.  I didn’t always have the luxury of stopping when I felt tired for the day, so I devised strategies for getting a second wind: extra coffee, extra walks, whatever worked.  Walked around mumbling to myself a lot, too, which is fairly normal for me, anyway.

 I I  I know you also have a short story collection coming out.  How does writing short stories differ for you than writing a novel (and can you talk a bit about what the collection is about?) Are you working on another novel and do you find that it is harder or easier now that you have Precious under your belt? You know for years I resisted writing a novel because I considered myself a short story writer at heart.  I published, but I had a bugger of a time pitching the completed collection, which is about everything from mentally ill brothers who kidnap dogs and steal leaf blowers, to old men who get their houses toilet-papered, to mahogany legs showing up in the mail as a gift from a dead relative.  But people kept telling me I needed to write a novel.  I don’t know why it should have surprised me, but I found that the novel afforded me enough expansion to really juggle a lot of elements and juxtapose things, which is my natural inclination.  So the form suited me.  I also wasn’t used to living with characters for so long, either, but found that a wonderful experience, like I had friends to talk to each day, ones who happened to live in my head.  It made me a little crazy—isn’t that schizophrenia, technically?—but it was a happy crazy.  Like the world made sense (finally!).

 Now that I’m looking on the contracted collection, I feel as though it’s old work and needs to be better.  So I plan on writing some new stories for it.  But I was so bummed after leaving one novel world that I was already dreaming up a new one to sustain me.  I did a lot of drafting during the summer and am now into the fourth chapter of Resurrection Fern, a new novel.  It’s set in the rural south and is about an old man who has died three times and come back to life, a boy who sustains him in his loneliness and who might have the ability to discern truths and heal, and a man who comes back to town with a secret, a crime he committed thirty years before.  The boy gets tangled up in all that.  And the book has ghosts and taxidermy, which seems odd and is odd, but in hopefully good ways. 

 I don’t know if it gets easier.  Each novel has its own set of problems, and challenges. In one way, I feel freer and more playful, but in another, I worry more that my new novel will be ‘good enough.’  There is always a push to get better, always expectations from both others and even more so myself.

 I read on your blog, that you are living, unhappily, in the South. How does that inform your writing, do you think? (I ask because I wrote my first novel in Pittsburgh, where I was miserable every nanosecond.)  I am fairly isolated here, some of it a self-imposed exile.  The town I currently live in has a population of only a few hundred, and when you enter it, you might question whether it’s 2009 or 1899.  That interests me, though, these places that seem to exist as they always have, without much change.  It’s a place that so values its past and the people who have always been here, family after family.  Even though that means I don’t feel I belong here, that idea of family and belonging is a really beautiful thing.  Living here made me, for the first time in my life, really miss my family, my “tribe.”  I have this profound happiness when I’m home in PA and am flicked the bird on the turnpike.  And the potholes on PA22.  I miss those roads.

 Which leads me to say everyone’s idea and knowledge of place is different, and finding the right place usually only means finally finding what makes the most sense to you, as a person.  My sense is always someone else’s nonsense, and vice versa.  But I couldn’t write about GA now, in a new book, if I didn’t spend some time figuring out what I’ve loved about it, too.  I hope I’m rendering this place affectionately in the new book, because I feel affectionate toward it these days.  Of course did I also mention I am moving to Chicago?  Was it Twain who said, “Distance lends enchantment?”


5.    What question didn’t I ask you that I should have?I can’t think of any, other than the one I always ask myself on a day writing isn’t going well:  What would I be if not a writer?  My answers are usually circus performer, baker, ghost detective, or cat trainer.  I keep them around as my back up plans.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Freelancers unite!

I've only had two 9 to 5 jobs in my entire life.  The first was for public TV station WQED in dreadful Pittsburgh, which was a stew of cronyism, and I was unceremoniously fired, and the next was my stint at Columbia House Video where I was hauled into my boss's office and told not to tell anyone I was a novelist because then they would know I was thinking about my novel rather than about selling videos, which meant if there were any errors, I would be responsible.  I was also told not to mention my review that week in the NYT (AS IF I WOULD NOT.....) After I had Max, I was home on disability with a horrific illness for about 8 months. When the big cheese called to ask if I was able to come back yet, I happily said, "I'm physically able, but not spiritually able." I left and never looked back.

The freelance life has its own perils--but the pleasures outweigh them.  I'm never bored.  I get to write for a living, and if not on my novel or scripts all the time, at least the other writing work I do is lots of fun.  And I get to do it in blue jeans with Jeff across the hall in waving distance. 

My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire by Michelle Goodman is exactly what any writer needs in this economy. Goodman is hilariously funny as she riffs on everything from "empty niche syndrome" (you want to find your specialty) to giving your clients their very own happy ending. But better than that the book is packed with lots of tips and hints about negotiating rates, dealing with your accountant, and even how to handle the client who makes you feel as though your head is about to explode. "Frugal" is indeed a synonym for freelancing, but the other rewards make you feel damn wealthy.  

I love this book--and I really and truly love working and writing at home.

Time to revise!

I just heard from my extraordinary editor at Algonquin and we are about to start revising my novel.  I cannot tell you how excited I am--she's so smart and so intuitive, and I have this feeling that I am going to learn so much and become a better writer.  Of course, I am also riddled with anxiety (What if I can't do this?  What if I cant make the changes? What if my changes are terrible?) which leads to: What if she doesn't want my next book? What if no one wants my next book?  What if I have to be a cashier again, and the last time I did that, a customer got so annoyed, he reached over and counted out his own damn change?

Ah fear. The writer's lot in life, isn't it? We are an insecure and dreamy bunch.

(But I really am so excited!)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Nea is in!!! (and hopefully not possessed)

I have never done such a difficult and traumatic application.  This has taken me four days, fourteen phone calls (I kept track), ten emails, and endless angst, but I finally submitted to NEA for a creative writing grant. 

All afternoon, I tried again to reset my damn password on four different computers, and finally called my friend, the writer Rochelle Shapiro, and asked if she could do it on her computer.  Bless her!  She opened it up and got me a new password and I promptly, for some reason, got seven Do Not Reply messages in my email, each with a different new password.  I picked up the latest one and tried it on my Mac.  Nope.  Error messages galore.  I then tried it on the PC and to my absolute astonishment IT WENT THROUGH.

I realize this is ridiculous.  I realize my chances of getting an NEA are slim to none, but I also realized something about myself that I sort of like, at least when it comes to this: I never give up. I find a way. I pray to the universe. I go get help.  I try to stay hopeful.

I made it happen. Now onto worrying about how to apply for a Guggenheim!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

NEA is possessed

Why do they make the NEA application so difficult? 

 It's all electronic, which should be easy, right? But every time I tried to do it, I kept getting bounced off.  I was on the phone with them all day Thursday and Friday, trying to figure out why my log-in wouldn't work (someone there tried it and it worked fine for THEM), why the application wouldn't go through on my Mac, Jeff's Mac or my PC, and why it kept blinking funny.  They had a cute button that checked for errors and it kept telling me there were now, UNTIL I found I had forgotten to put the extra four digits on the zip code!  That was what was holding it up!  But no, that got me to step five, but not step six, which is when the damn thing finally goes through.

Friday at Six, the person I spoke to told me they were having tremendous problems and would be down all weekend most likely, and to please try again on Monday.  So, I heard from a writer friend that they were back up, and tried (All I want to do is get this application off my desktop!) and got a message that said "You have used up two of your incorrect log-ins." A warning!  

I feel like crying hysterically. All I want to do is apply. (I'm entering part of Breathe,  my novel that is going to be published by Algonquin. Forgive me, I am so happy and amazed with my editor and publisher that I need to see that phrase in print, as if that makes it real.) 

Besides the NEA, I want to apply for a Guggenheim, and then there is the MidAtlantic Arts Foundation, which I actually judged one year (and never won! ) And the Isherwood. And Scriptolooza, and Fade In, and the WGA Fade in/Writers Net.

Please.  Grant me a grant.

Life is so hard for writers now that they really should make this easier for all of us, shouldn't they?

Warning! Zombies ahead! Run!

That above title was on a flashing highway sign, courtesy of a hacker.  Research shows that when economic times are really tough, zombies come back in vogue. I'm a huge zombie fan (I loved the book, The Serpent and the Rainbow, about the Harvard anthropologist who ventured into Haiti to investigate--also made into a dreadful film.)  And of course, I was a zombie for my son's school's Halloween party and succeeded in unintentionally scaring a few kids.

But unlike vampires, zombies don't seem to have a lot going for them other than a scare factor.  Vampires are sexy, just like werewolves, but zombies need a good genetic mutation to get them into a good Romeo and Juliet story, which I am toying with, for a lark, for a script.  NOT my usual thing to write about. (Of course, there is also the deliriously haunting I Walked With A Zombie, a Val Lewton film.  Lewton also did the sublime The Cat People.)  He was given all these ridiculously silly horror movie titles and told to go off and make films, which he did, and almost none of them had anything to really do with the title, but were instead, psychologically astute and beautifully made.  

On another note, I have been struggling with backstory issues.  I had crammed so much into my first two chapters that I showed it to another writer and she said the same thing--get it out.  So after much fretting, I think I will give it its own chapter, and put it in the present.  You want to see your characters in motion--which means I need to get in motion and rewrite.

Sigh and alas.  The life of a writer.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Grants Angst

Just so you know, applying for an NEA is really nightmarish. (I've won different grants before, and judged some, too, but not the NEA, and it doesn't make it any less angst-ridden.) First, you have to do it all on line, and after fighting with the application, I realized I had to download another form of Adobe Acrobat.  Okay, fine.  Then I filled it out and tried to send it, and it wouldn't work.  Called NEA who said they were having problems.  Good news for me because I forgot to attach five pieces of information they needed!

Then I had a crisis of confidence, should I send in creative nonfiction or fiction? And WHICH fiction? The novel I just sold? The new novel? Should I send in an essay, but then that means I would have to do a book of creative nonfiction if I won and I don't really want to do that.  This, of course, made a trail right into angst about whether or not I should apply for a Guggenheim. (I think I will!  Why not! Of course this means approaching writers and asking for recommendations and hoping this request will not be met with a clearing of the throat and a polite step backwards.  How much rejection can a girl take? Well, when it's me, A LOT is the answer.)

Of course, I still cannot get into the site, and NEA tells me they are very, very slow. All I have to do is make a final decision on which fiction to send and hope it works. 

Sigh, isn't there a patron out there who will just front me the money so I can write my novel for a year and do nothing else? Come on, I'll even sing for you!  I'll write you in as a character name! I'll dedicate the book to you! I'll cook pasta and broccoli!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Jessica Keener Wins a Prize

My friend Jessica Keener just won the Wilderness House Literary Review Chekhov Prize for
fiction for her story, Solo! ( from her novel, Night Swim-see a few blog posts below).  What is most remarkable is that she didn't enter anything. The editor picked her story as "arguably the best piece of short fiction published in Volume 3."

FANTASTIC!! CONGRATULATIONS (and I can attest from reading the novel, that the story deserves this prize and more.)

Read This Book!

Full disclosure, Beth Bauman is one of my favorite friends on the planet. Smart, funny, and supportive, she is also a truly superb writer. (Beautiful Girls, a collection of wonderful, literary stories, was her first book.)  

Now, she's coming out with a YA,  Rosie Skate and I love the cover so much, I keep staring at it.  The colors are perfect--as anyone who has been to a beach town knows. I cannot wait to read it, and I think everyone should order a copy at their favorite indie store or on line.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Got the movie business blues

Sigh, I am so perplexed hearing that Hollywood isn't making films with strong female leads because no one goes to them. How an this be true?  All the smart people I know would prefer to see a film with a strong female lead that was intelligent rather than rush off to see The Bride Wars or Batman 900: This time he Means Business. Of course, this is always the sort of thing they say until a film with a strong female lead wins awards and an audience. 

I am also tired of hearing that Hollywood only wants happy stories and to tuck those dark tales away.  Um...The Wrestler, anyone?  Isn't art about discovering the casualties of living?

Of course, to feel better, consider William Golding's great book about movie making (No one knows anything is the mantra), and John Irving also has a fabulous book about the process. John Truby has told me more than a few times how wrong many of the things said about movies are. A writer friend has a dark and brilliant novel optioned that is headed for the screen, and I can always count on Jeff Lyons to roll his eyes and tell me to think indie.