Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year

This was the year when:

I saw lots of much missed beloved friends
I rediscovered Henry James
I learned how to stand up paddle board
My eldest student went off to college
My second eldest student went off to school on the mainland
My two third eldest students fell wildly in love with reading
I researched Second Book
I started writing Second Book
I took the scary ballet class
I moved to a new part of London
I met my new adorable god son
I re-fell in love with walking through London at night
I made it home for Christmas


Wonderful people offered to help launch Nell into the world on February 1.

Thank you.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Packing--Now Unpacking

In fairness, the bag really does look like it holds more stuff than it actually does.  It is deceptively less roomy than one would imagine.  I live in the tinyest flat imaginable--lovely, homey, cosy, comfy, bright, but tiny--and one would not imagine that there would be so much stuff to pack.  Where does this stuff live when it is not marching into the suitcase?

Everything starts with books.  Christmas present books, reading books (I am reading Forster, Maugham's letters and West--it is like falling into a vat of emotionally charged, sun warmed, beautifully written, early 20th century honey), and research books.

I am a bit like Linus from Peanuts about my research books.  All my best beloved non research books live on the East Coast.  Hawaii is too wet and London is too small and they seem to like the East Coast.  My research books on the other hand are nomadic.  They go to the beach, the movies, the departure lounge, the bus, the ballet studio, the library (where they can commiserate with more well adjusted, grounded, non roving research books), the park, the pub, the subway, the playground and the museums.  They go out for dinner and wish I would use an umbrella.

They meet my friends.  They get scribbled in: "Dentist, 430, Tuesday".  They drive in the Honda.  They get dropped into the sea.  I love that they live big, varied lives.  But they are heavy.  I am only going for a few days.  Do they all need to come?  And then I look at their soft, broken in spines and crumply covers and illegible notes that track my life as I write this second book and I think, yes.  They need to come.

But then we might only be going as far as Heathrow.  My flight was cancelled yesterday and today and there is a good chance that the plane might not take off tomorrow...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Lovely Review from Rick Friedman at Goodreads

"Exit the Actress: A Novel by Priya Parmar is quite simply one of the most original, engaging and well written novels I have come across in many a year. Written through diary entries, Letters, Official Announcements, invitations ect- the reader is immersed into 17th Century London, through the eyes of Nell, a poor "Oyster Girl" who grows up to be a stage star and Mistress of Royalty. That Ms. Parmar can create such a real and human character is nothing short of breathtaking. This book is, without doubt,the first book of a MAJOR new talent in historical fiction."

I just read that review out loud to my mother.  It is the kind of moment you daydream about when you are in the thicket of a book that is not yet a book and you cannot see your way forward or back.  It is the kind of daydream that kickstarts you back into writing when you splutter to a stop.  It is the kind of daydream that you never imagine will happen.  

And then one day, it does.  How magical.

Rick Friedman is a wonderful man who has a wonderful  bookclub.  It is a vast, energetic book club and he leads it with verve, skill and devotion.  He makes it a lovely place to be.  

My publicity team adore Rick.  He and my publicist Jessica are organizing a Goodreads Giveaway.  It takes time, effort, thought and kindness.  I am so very, very lucky.  Thank you, Rick.

Ps: It looks like I am snowed into London for Christmas and not going to the States...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Book Signing

So, are you free on February 8, 2011?  Want to meet me on the corner of 57th St. and Park Avenue at the Borders Books in Manhattan?

It is one of my favourites.  Enormous.  Big armchairs, four floors, great poetry section, yummy hot chocolate, center of town... so you'll come?

I'll carry a copy of Wuthering Heights and a white winter rose so you will know it is me.

My first book signing and of course I am wondering... what do authors wear to their first book signing...

PS: my brother receives this blog by email and just told me the format has changed?  It now looks as though it comes from a random stranger instead of just a normal plum bean email.  Not sure what is happening.  Will investigate...

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mechanic vs Alchemic

I have been thinking about frameworks.  I was talking to a writer friend yesterday about deadlines.  He is a prolific journalist and absolutely, non negotiably, needs the eleventh hour rush of adrenaline to get it done.  His process--what a horridly artsy yet weirdly sausage factoryish sort of word--requires a superimposed structure.  His 1200 word article will happen as soon as it has to happen--has to happen because of an external rather than internal mechanism.

Lots of writers work this way. It takes huge amounts of confidence.  To know that at any point you can flick a switch, turn the cranks and there will be work you are willing to show someone--amazing.

I am not like that.

"I don't need deadlines," I told him, sounding provincial and self contained.

"Sure you do," he said.  "You just get in there first.  A deadline is just a way of making yourself write when worry you can't.  You have that."

And he was right.  I have a strict, self sustaining, near ritualistic process of writing.  I have a mechanical system of getting the words onto the page:

-Turn on the computer before I do anything else.
-Write four pages.
-Stop after four pages.
-Write even if I have nothing to write.
-Take one day off a week.

And creatively, I am equally and bizarrely strict but there is only one rule:

A storytelling bumble bee of random, elusive, hazy, unformed thought will go flying over the even squares of my brain.  Follow it.  Do not worry about the destination, the end of the story, the end of the sentence.  Follow it.  It is going somewhere fun.

My journalist friend was right.

And... terrific news!  Sharon Kay Penman just wrote to me and wants to do an interview before Exit the Actress comes out in February.  I am over the moon!

Saturday, December 11, 2010


Richard Pevear and Larisa Volokhonsky.  Their translations of War and Peace and Anna Karenina are sumptuous, fluid and lyric.  The heavy prose is wrought light and clear and the emotional currents of the language sail under an unfaltering breeze.  Their translations are magnificent.

I bought it.  I have been circling it somewhat wolfishly and today, feeling warm and Christmassy after lunch and a long walk with old friends, I bought it.  You can only read Dr. Zhivago at Christmas.  Not in the sun, nor on a beach, nor on the run, nor with a peach.  It must be cold, dark, wintry and snug.  Yuri and Lara go with gingerbread and woolly socks.

I have read this book at least seven or eight times and I never learn.  I will hope he is telling the truth.  I will hope he finds her.  I will hope she finds him.  I love this story.

Nell news: the second printing numbers are up and the total in print is now above 33,000...

Writing news: closing in on a title...

Saturday, December 4, 2010


May.  Thanks to wonderful Mari (who has the wonderful blog Bookworm with a View),  The Manic Mommies Book Club is going to read Exit the Actress in May.  They are a marvellous reading group.  The conversations with the authors are generous but incisive leaving a wide, clean arena for discussion.  The readers are engaged and vibrant and the other books that have been chosen look fantastic.  Nell and I are delighted and are going ice skating to celebrate...

Monday, November 29, 2010

Good News!

Yipee!  My mom, who is the sweetest, actually cheers, claps her hands together and shouts "yipee!" when something good happens.  It is exactly how you want someone you love to react.  I love that.

The good news is on several fronts!  I do not like 1,2,3 sort of ranking.  It feels like the higher numbers, the 4's and 5's get a bit diminished in the process and so will give everybody letters instead; sort of like sitting down to a round table instead of a rectangle.

A. Booksellers have started sending back their reviews and they are so lovely and generous and kind!

B. My middle school students are all flying through their books and have discovered S.E. Hinton and Judy Blume and have become reading addicts.  I am delighted!

C. My high school student is zipping through Jane Eyre and not only understanding the finely threaded nuances of the text but is enjoying the story.  I couldn't be happier!

D. My college student is tackling Tolstoy and loving every minute of his first semester of college.  He can feel his brain reaching and stretching and I am so very, very proud of him!

E. I have now worked out all the London omnibus routes for 1906-1910 and have moved on to train timetables...

F. Nell got chosen to be part of the Target "Emerging Author's Program".  I am over the moon!

And it has started snowing...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

First (and wonderful second) Review!!!

Nell's first review!  So terrifying but in a good way...  Publishers Weekly  liked her!  I am delighted.  She is delighted.  We are going to go out and eat cake.

More cake!  The lovely Book Quoter from the lovely blog A Thousand Books with Quotes wrote an astonishingly lovely review.  It is so warm hearted and beautifully crafted.  She chose some of my very favorite quotes.  Definitely, more cake.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Children's Books

Sometimes, I can remember the whole book: "In an old house in Paris, all covered with vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines."  Madeline, Miss Clavel, Pepito, the bad hat, Genevieve, the dog, they all ring clear, straight bells.  

Sometimes, I can remember the pictures: the maroony colors of the Hungry Caterpillar or the sketched line drawings of Noisy Nora, the tinyness of Matilda, and puffed cheek cloud of The Runaway Bunny.  

Sometimes, I remember the words: "So, he called his dog Max, and he took some red thread, and he tied a big horn on the top of his head."  Mount Crumpit?  Seuss was a genius.

And sometimes I forget that I ever knew anything about a book, until I see it again.  And then, not only the words, pictures, rhymes, rhythms and stories come back but the sense of soap bubble, giddy, reasonless glee.  Recently, I went with a wonderful friend to a wonderful bookshop called Daunt.  It is  Edwardian and has that lemony paper and wood smell of a long loved bookshop.  Lined in lean oak shelves, it is perfect.  And there, in slim volumed rows, they all were.  

I love how smell and image and sound and rhythm and memory come together with such a clean snapping thump when all at once, a book that made you so happy comes bouncing back.  We giggled and looked and shopped and brought some goodies home for her wonderful children and so it starts all over again...

pages written so far this week: 2

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lunch with St. Exupery.

It is the 11th and I have not written since the 1st.  Terrible.  Book writing and researching have somewhat taken over at the moment.  I spent yesterday in the Transport Museum, looking up early 20th century London omnibus routes.  No, I started looking up bus routes and then wound up falling down the fascinating rabbit hole of WWI propaganda literature.  Terrifying, brutal stuff.  As today is November 11, that seemed to justify the enormous diversion.

Now, I am back to working on my Author Portal.  Yes, the same Author Portal I was meant to have finished a month ago.  It is again the classic pattern of Priya writes and then Priya deletes ad nauseum.  Don't you love that the ancient Romans used the same sort of teenage phrasing as we do?

This week, I also helped my ingenious, dearest, artist friend with her installation on imagination.  It was heaven.  Lunch with a old friend who asks you "If you did love a flower that lived on a star, would it be sweet to look at the sky at night?" is a lucky thing.

Pages written this week: 16

Monday, November 1, 2010

This is Chico--identical, if more socially adjusted twin of my parents' perfect pooch, The Major.  Chico's mom, a dear family friend, just finished reading Exit the Actress!  She, my wonderful friend Tora in Hawaii, my brilliantly supportive brother and my fantastic, soon to be sister in law are the first ones to read it!  The first ones, that is, other than my ever patient, ever helpful, can't write without her, editor mother.

Just had to put this up as between the sweater and the ears and the soulful dachshund eyes--he is adorable...

Friday, October 29, 2010


There is something so complete about hedgehogs.  So stubby and round and right.  I love them.  I am reading a wonderful book, The Elegance of the Hedgehog.  I say 'reading' but I am only on page eleven.  The research for second book has sort of eaten my reading life for breakfast.  It has done it in a terrific, active verb, gracious kind of way but done it quite thoroughly all the same.

I am writing about early 20th c. figures this time round and they are just so recent.  I walk by the places they lived and the same stone on the same doorsteps, some of the same banks and bookshops and restaurants are sitting on the same corners, and the same trees are growing in the same parks--astonishing as WWI, WWII and the 20th c have all brutally happened in between.

All this reality and scenery from these lives makes the researching truly immediate--but it is at the point where it is so immediate that it has moved into my living room and taken up all the space.  And so I am taking action, reclaiming my recreational reading and starting with hedgehogs--French hedgehogs on the Rue de Grenelle at that.  The book already has a charming, drown you in melted butter and crooked streets and warm you into fluffy pastry sort of feeling to it--impressive by page eleven.

On other fronts, I am discovering Goodreads.  It is a slow toe dipping in giant ocean sort of discovering as Goodreads is vast and dedicated.  A lovely man called Rick has set up a thread for Exit the Actress.  It was so sweet of him!  I am consistently astonished by the random, goodwill Nell has found in her adventures in publishing.  It is wonderful.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Exciting News!

Wonderful, wonderful Mari from the thoroughly lovable blog, Bookworm with a View and the brilliant Manic Mommies Book Club  has just emailed to tell me fantastic news!  Exit the Actress was chosen to be on the 2011 reading list for the Manic Mommies Book Club!

They choose twelve books a year--one book to read and discuss every month and it looks like Nell will be the book for May!  I am thrilled!  The Manic Mommies are amazing!  They: have a weekly podcast with 50,000 downloads a week, write for Real, were just ranked the third most influential mother's group by Forbes Magazine and have adorable calendars at Target, Wal Mart and most big bookstores.

Their entire demeanor is generous, forthright, astute and kind.  And, they discuss books I really love.  I just listened to Mari's marvelous interview with Elin Hildebrand who wrote The Island.  I loved it.  I loved the book and I loved the supportive, creative, inquisitive tenor, timbre, tone and pitch of the discussion.  I am so thrilled Nell is going to be part of this...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

History to Story

There comes a point when the bits of research start to hop out of their prescribed, neatly labelled boxes in my head and go visiting.  Time lines start to figure skate into curlicue loops and dates play hopscotch in my brain.  It is a mutiny.  It is anarchy.  It requires a total lock down and reorganization of all notes/outlines/scribbles.  It is also the moment when the dates are changing from history into story and it is fun.  Well, once everyone is re-labelled and reorganized, it is fun. 

It happens to characters too.  They change their hair, their walk, their breakfast, their shoes--history to story.  They are their own people now and they will not be dictated to.  Everyone suddenly has places to go and people to see.  This one is off to an art gallery.  That one wants to buy a hat.  After trying to Frankenstein these historical people into storied life, they suddenly step out of the Mary Poppins chalk drawing and run amok and my job becomes crowd control--very: 'first the hat, then the gallery and then we will all go fly a kite'.  It is an energizing, exciting, terrifying, fun time in the writing process and now that I have been through this once, I realize how valuable it is.  Chaotic and messy--but valuable.

By the way, thank you to all the wonderful Plum Bean friends who met me over at Goodreads.  It was lovely.  It was like being met off the plane with a pink plumeria lei and a ride from the airport to the beach. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Goodreads and the Other Priya

So, somewhere out there there is an author who must really not like me.

One of the perks of having an unusual name--a name that you have to initially repeat three times and then subtly drop into conversation in order to remind people as you know they cannot remember it--is that you get a gmail account with your name on it. Nope.  Did not happen.

And yet people really close to me, family included, send email to priyaparmar@gmail and this is not me.  Whoever that Priya is, she has received attached documents up to 600 pages (my book included as well as my doctorate), emails about the dentist, the beach, the Honda, the birthday party, the bonfire at the beach, my friend Tora's haircut, the centipede in my brother's room, a broken toe and every other type of email that you really do not want other people to see.  I do not blame my family and friends for doing it as I have done it myself.  The funny thing about email?  You cannot get it back.

There is also an author called Priya Parmar.  She teaches at Brooklyn College and writes books about troubled urban youth.  I have a horrible creeping suspicion that the Priya of the gmail and the Priya of the youth in revolt are the same Priya.  In which case that Priya must really not like me as Goodreads has now conflated our profiles.  I am listed as having written four books--three with ferocious looking teenagers on the covers and one with Nell in a lovely Restoration dress.  I have also been rated with three stars on a book that no one has read yet.

I love Goodreads!  I love the very fact that Goodreads exists let alone the wonderful Seussian book smorgasbord feast that it actually is.  And yet this morning I had to write them a tiny note asking if they could disentangle the dual Priyas.   I felt terrible!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Wonderful People

Some people are just lovely.  The wonderful Book Quoter, who has a brilliant blog, A Thousand Books With Quotes, has highlighted Exit the Actress today.  It was a generous, kind, extraordinary thing to do.  Throughout this process wonderful people have stepped forward to help.  On the Facebook page, forty two people have gone out of their way to be sweet to Nell.

Since I have been back in London, my dear, dear friends have been universally thrilled, exuberant, supportive and encouraging about the book.  Tim, an old family friend here in London, literally whooped in the street and made my day.  In New York, my about to be sister in law (a brilliant writer--check out Kelly Cutrone's book, If You Have to Cry, Go Outside, And Other Things Your Mother Never Told You), just finished reading it and has been unendingly sweet about Nell.  Keep in mind that she read it while working full time as an editor, writing two books and planning a wedding.

Wonderful blog friends show up here and make me so happy by leaving kind, helpful comments.  It has all made this whole journey wonderful.  It makes it communal.  It makes me so happy.  Really, really, thank you.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


It is an awful spidery, webby, Machiavellian word.  It implies grease uncomfortable shoes and sweaty palms and all sorts of other unlovely prospects.  And yet, I am finding I was wrong.  I was just sent the information from Simon and Schuster about social networking media (Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads mostly) and promoting the book (now that it is less than four months away!).  I decidd to tackle Facebook first.  It is the name that threw me.  "Fan" page.  And we are back to feeling of the painful shoes and spider webs.

But I found it was nothing like that.  I dove in and set it up.  Put up a photo of the book and the trailer I love and said nothing about it to anyone.  Twenty eight lovely people came along and pushed a button to say that they liked it.  It was lovely!  It made my day!  So here it is:  Exit the Actress!

Sunday, October 3, 2010


Fantastic research today!  It is amazing, after spending so  long in the 17th century to be writing about the 20th.  It feels a bit disloyal somehow and I miss the lost in the mists of time fogginess about the Restoration.  The First World War is compelling in its own strange, fantastic hat sort of way but I do miss the bizarre health remedies, superstitions and the sheer, raucous libertarianism of the Restoration.  It is funny but the morals of the Restoration were far looser than the Edwardian period.

It is a heavenly treat to wander over to the square where the people I am writing about actually lived.  Same trees are growing in the same square, same glass in the same windows, same numbers on the same doors.  Marvelous.  And the sun nearly came out for a minute today.  My mother asked me if I have direct morning light in the flat and I honestly couldn't answer her.  I miss blue.

I am walking everywhere.  Even in New York I do not walk this much.  I love it.  But then, there is a tube strike on and so everyone is walking.  I am really odd in that I love the pulled togetherness of national inconvenience.  It is like when the bridge closes for rain in Hawaii and you are stuck in Hanalei.   Inconvenient but communal.  I like that.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


Wow, Hawaii to London is a long way.  I love it but I had forgotten exactly how cold, wet and big it is.  The small bright, breezy convenience of Hawaii and the sprawling, beachy cup cake colors of Los Angeles feel far away.  But it is lovely to be back in the country where I lived for so long and to see my dear, dear friends.

Today was the first day that clicked into place.  You know the day where you suddenly collect yourself into one time zone, one city, one life?  Things make sense and you look up and expect to be where you are?  It feels much better.  Now, I can breathe and get started on the mountain of research I have to do for the Second Book.  Yikes...  More tomorrow!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Her Fearful Symmetry

First of all--great title.  I suppose credit must go to Blake but still, great title.  This book was interesting in an utterly atmospheric but oddly plotted sort of way.  You could see events coming down the pike from a long way off.  What fascinated were the images/themes of doubled selves, fractured identity and repeated history.  Every element of this novel was introduced and then revised and reinvented.  That fun house mirror quality, and Niffenegger's matter of fact approach to ghosts is what compelled me rather than the significant plot points of the story.

And then there is the cemetery.  Highgate Cemetery is spooky.  I lasted four minutes before I had to leave, George Eliot or no George Eliot.  It was winter, in my first term at Oxford (a university that has its fair share of spooky), and I was going down to London for the night with a friend.  She kept going, I waited outside the Western Gate.

It isn't cemeteries in general.  I can wander happily in Père Lachaise in Paris.  There is a rightness to Jim Morrison, Collette, Chopin, Edith Piaf, Balzac and Oscar Wilde hanging out together for eternity.  I love that it is customary to kiss Wilde's tomb only when wearing lipstick.  But Highgate Cemetery is different.  The clammy, grey damp and shady green overgrown quality sent me running for the road.  Her Fearful Symmetry captures just this decaying, grey green splendor and then slowly paints each of the characters from this murky palette.  The one character who grows brighter is the one I least expected to bloom.  It was a lovely counterpoint but the feeling of gloomy, ghosty, misty sadness still pervades the story.

A lovely book but never ever before bed.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Real Thing

It arrived!  The book!  The real one!  Touchstone did an early print run to get it out to bookstores and reviewers.  And it is beautiful!  The cover is sumptuous and matte and rich and lovely.  It wraps all the way around in a ruby red curtain sort of way.  It is my favorite red.

Touchstone made the inside so lovely.  The text is so pretty.  Every letter looks like a letter.  The recipes look like recipes.  The snozberries taste like snozberries.  And my tiny photo is on the back.  How bizarre.

In other news, I have moved from the low country of South Carolina to the grey damp of Highgate Cemetery.  I put down Pat Conroy for a minute (as I want to save the next one for the plane) and picked up Her Fearful Symmetry.  It is a book that must be read in full sunlight and never before going to bed.  It is that spooky.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Blog Birthday

I totally zipped passed it and forgot!  I started the Plum Bean on August 11, 2009.  Happy Extremely Belated Birthday!

I began writing having no idea how to write a blog.  How personal?  How truthful?  How much do I say about the book?  About my agent?  About my publisher?  About my life?  It was a gently roaming watermark.  And then, how to find other bloggers?  Do I just pop in and introduce myself with a comment? Is that presumptuous?  Do I leave a comment with no introduction?  Is that rude?  Do I invite them back to the Plum Bean for coffee and sandwiches?  No idea.  So, I lurked.  And lurked.

And then I gave up.  I stopped writing for weeks at a time.  I couldn't see the point.  It felt like marching outside and hurling random information at an uninterested night sky.  And so I decided to give it two more weeks and then call it quits.  And something happened.  That waiting finish line left me feeling like I could just pop by other blogs and say hello.  What did it matter if I got it wrong, as I had decided to leave the party anyway.

And I made a huge discovery: The natives were friendly!  The bloggers were sweet and welcoming and helpful and truthful and encouraging and fun and I was so very very happy to find them.  The watermark bloomed into a circle.  A sense of community grew.  

I want to say thank you: To the bloggers who are truly involved in my book and do stay for coffee and sandwiches--I hope they they know exactly who they are--and the more explosive sprite variety, the one stop shop sort of bloggers who pop in, charm, chat, and then go on their way.  Both are tremendously valued.  You have made this so much fun.  Thank you.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Outsiders

So, my wonderful eleven year old student is reading S.E. Hinton's, The Outsiders.  This is my second recent go round with this novel as one of my wonderful students last year also read it.  Ponyboy Curtis.  What a name.  Brother of Sodapop Curtis.  The three brothers are orphaned when novel opens but these names tell us so much about the kind of parents they had.  It is a genius stroke of doing so much with so little.

I remember reading it the first time as a seventh grader and totally revising the list of names I wanted to name my future pets and children.  You know how we keep those lists of names we like?  For me it has expanded to pets, children and characters.  I read The Outsiders and wanted wonderfully quirky names on the list.  I am not sure that sense ever left me as I still have truly quirky names on the list.  

Rereading it, it is a far more spare book than I remember from middle school.  The language is just enough and the balance never tips.  The reader wants to know these people.  The story is utterly compelling but secondary to these brilliant characters.  It is a deceptively difficult way to write.  To conjure complicated, likable people out of empty air using very few words is a tricky business.  And she was sixteen when she wrote it!  Wonderful.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Catalogue and South of Broad

At first I resented South of Broad for not being Beach Music.  I missed the town, the time, and the characters in all their peculiar, finely drawn specifics.  But then I surrendered.  I find I have to do that when I really fall for an author and want to read everything he or she has written.  I have to let go of one storied trajectory and put my faith in another.

Sometimes it does not work and the magic of one book is too binding to allow transgression into another written in a near but not congruent voice.  Sometimes the reader/author love affair requires a long break so that the soft focus process of erosion can set in.  In this case it was a leap from lily pad to lily pad and the resentment was fierce.  But then I tasted South of Broad's own brand of homemade magic elixir.  It is majestic: marvelous and whole and consuming.  It asks question of friendship and how your history is held in public trust by those who were there and who love you.  It explores the completeness of lots thrown in together when you are very young.

In other news: bang, it arrived on my doorstep.  Touchstone (now just Touchstone with a lovely new angel winged, reaching firefly sort of insignia and no longer Touchstone Fireside) Spring 2011 Catalogue.  I opened the first page first page is for the Black Eyed Peas singer.  The one with the name I can never remember.  The second page is for Exit the Actress.  Nell landed up on page two!  I am thrilled.  It is getting realer and realer.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Bumble Bees

I have fallen madly for Pat Conroy.  I just re read Beach Music in all its variant lushness and am now plowing through South of Broad.  His writing is huge.

When I teach writing, I tell my students to follow that bumble of unrestrained thought that zips across your mind before your big booted, finicky inner editor goes out bumble bee squishing.  Everyone has a bumble bee of random, irrepressible, engaged thought that goes flying around your mental sky before common sense, that killer of flying things, kicks in.

Conroy has a fleet of bumble bees.  He writes in a voice rich in bold, specific, observant precision.  His writing is apologetically random and loosely strung.  His characters are exact, human and deeply quirked.  He draws in particulars.  Fearlessly declaiming the large pink elephant in the corner, Conroy writes the thing we all think or have thought but he does not choose a garden variety thing.  He goes for broke and looks for the thing that lives on a level so subtle that articulation does not know its address.

He loves ordinary verbs mismatched with extraordinary nouns.  He will pair 'ride' with 'bloodstream' and suddenly a white blood cell is piloting a small Cessna through the vascular system.  He anthropomorphises the inanimate and endows all he touches with a juicy beating heart.  This writer loves the sea, courage, the salt, friendship, turtles, frailty and the low country of South Carolina.    This writer lives out on a limb.  It does not always work, but when it does, it is glorious.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Hop Hop Fridays

9:13 on a Friday and I go to add my link on lovely Jennifer's wonderful site.  262.  By 9:13 in the morning?  Holy hoppers that is a lot of people spending a lot of time thinking about books.  I love that.  All of the publishing websites (the ones I am eternally grateful to for helping me to get my agent and book deal) are often less than hopeful about the future of the written word.  

Not that people will stop writing but that publishing as we know it will loose its shape and become a sort of cyber silly putty version of itself.  Distressing.  I love books.  I love trees too which presents a quandary.  I love the heft of a book and the weight of a book and the soft shushing of pages turning.  I like the sheer inconvenience of a book.  The way it takes up all the room in your bag and makes you get rid of the extra pot of moisturizer that has four dribblets left.

I like to write in books in my own indecipherable scribble.  I like it when my book gets that utterly bedraggles, rained on, sandy, broken in look.  Can that happen with a cyber book?  With 262 hoppers at 9:13 in the morning I am fizzing with hope for books.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

What is it all About?

I had a wonderful mentoring poetry professor in college who would recite oceans of staggering rhythm and rhyme and then sit back and ask "What is it all about?"  Same cadence.  Same inflection.  Same meter.  Same question.  Every time.

That question has lodged itself in my brain and pops up in just that rolling Russian accent each time I encounter new writing.  And each time I re encounter known writing.  And now when I first meet my own writing.  It is funny.  One would think the theme would present itself and the structure would be built to support it.  It doesn't happen that way for me.

The reveal is slow.  Many times I begin a sentence having no idea where it is headed.  The theme of that sentence will not necessarily introduce itself to me before it gets behind the wheel of the words and takes off.  It is only after I have chased through stoplights and over hill and under dale that it will tell me what it is all about.  It is an unusual progression.

I have just met the central theme of my second book.  Oddly enough it is a blood relation of the theme of my first book.  This thematic family must fascinate me.  I was at the coffee shop the other day when the lovely girl behind the counter happened to ask "What is it all about?"  Out it flew.  Whole, concise, surprising.  Lovely to meet you.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


I have been reading historical fiction since my dear friend and now brilliant historical thriller novelist, Leslie (known as 'The Bun' in my family) gave me Sharon Kay Penman's wonderful novel of Richard III, The Sunne in Splendour in high school.  It was huge, sweeping, thrilling, precise, dramatic, poetic, and addictive.  Richard III ceased to be a grumpy, hunchbacked caricature king who murdered his nephews and then lost his crown on a thorn bush.  Instead he morphed into a flawed, logical, understandable human being.  I was hooked.

I am an omnivorous fiction eater.  I love stories across genre and gender.  But when I decided to write, I knew it would be historical fiction.  Never ever did I think the author that started it off would read and like my novel but she did!  Sharon Kay Penman mentions Exit the Actress in her most recent marvelous blog and has written a wonderful blurb for the back of the book.  Her research is meticulously extraordinary and her gift for storytelling knocks me over.  I love her books.  I am thrilled.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


So, I haven't written in a bit.  It was part dislocation, part disorganization and part sheepishness.  I still haven't left.  It is terrible.  I am two oceans and a continent away from where I need to be.  My family has a penchant for changing tickets, but even by their standards this is impressive.  I am working on it.

It has been a strange fly went by few weeks.  At the eleventh hour, I got sick, couldn't get onto the plane, moved out of my house because it was rented to vacationers because I was supposed to get on the plane, moved to my bedroom in my hanai family's house (in Hawaii you have your blood family and the the concentric circles of hanai family that are like real family--aunties, uncles, nieces, nephews--I love it), moved one too many boxes and got sicker, missed the next flight, and am now working on getting another one.  Disaster.

Everything is being thrown for a hula loop.  The very sweet, super lovely estate agent Alex in London, who I speak to regularly at three am because of the time difference, called my house, spoke to the renters at three am, worried where I was and why I had not gotten on the plane and sent me a concerned email.  My angelic friend Adriana had her birthday in London and I missed it and my friend Sadie repeatedly called my UK mobile thinking I was in London and then worried that I might be ignoring her--disaster.

On the upside I am staying in my bedroom at a lovely house called Summerbreak, it has been a gorgeous string of hot, blue breeze days and I am still reading Pat Conroy.  Not all bad...

Monday, August 9, 2010

Last Day

Admittedly this is my second last day in the past few weeks.  My family are big fans of moving tickets.  United Airlines hates me.  Still, it has come round again and I do not like it.  The lastiness of it.  Last swim here.  Last muffin there.  Last sunset, palm tree, shell, beach walk and rain drop.  Although I am headed to a place that is very keen on raindrops.  But fresh, warm Hawaiian rain smells lushly of palm trees and plumeria and seawater.

Today will be a day of hugs, kisses, goodbyes and forgetting stuff.  Last year I left the mainland shoes that I meant to pack last, sitting on my front porch.  They sat there for a month before the UPS man found the front door open and popped them inside--I love Hawaii.  The year before that it was my favorite bikini, my sunglasses and my book--all left on top of the car in the garage.

I hate when I forget my my book.  I feel like Linus does about his blanket about my book when I travel.  I usually choose a beloved book that I have already read to take with me on the plane.  One that is softened by reading in the rain and stuffed with phone numbers and movie ticket stubs.  In the context of airports and baggage claims and Cinnabon, I want to read a familiar landscape.  It the life that proves continuous as I zip over the oceans.

 My book does not care that I have crossed seventeen time zones and cannot see straight.  It marches along its prescribed trajectory in a wonderfully predictable old friend telling a story you have heard a million times before but love anyway kind of way.  This time it is Pat Conroy's Beach Music.  It is a vast, teeming giant of a book.  It speaks enormously of home and love and friendship and selves loved, lost and found again only filed under another name.  It is woven on a huge, finely wrought loom.  It will be a lovely place to live on my last day.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Hopping Fridays

I have not hopped in ages.  It isn't that I forgot about it, but I sort of misplaced, mistimed it in the last few months.  I think it migrated and got more Thursday eveningish instead of Friday morningish and then I came  back to Hawaii and everyone else's Thursday evening became my Thursday mid-afternoon.  Mid afternoon usually found me taking a cat nap at the beach to get over my jet lag.  Tricky.

But now I have rediscovered the delightful, busy, populated roller derby hop!  It is like that feeling of finding a dress that I love in the back of my closet behind the winter coat that makes me look like a sausage.  I love that feeling!

Thursday, August 5, 2010


Right now one of my students is reading Middlemarch.  He is wrestling with Dorothea's fierce opinionated independence set against the gloriously layered strata of the seething, gossipy town.  The blurbs on the back are from Henry James and Virginia Woolf.  Another student is reading The Red Tent.  This and the Caged Bird are the required reading for her new school.  Not such easy subjects for the first week.  In at the deep end--diving only.  All these books promise big themes, sweeping scope, epic drama.  A list actors would take the leading roles.

I just finished The Castaways by Elin Hildebrand... not quite the same sphere of seriousness.  Up and coming actors would take these small jewel box parts and re define their range.  I like it when you read exactly the book you wanted.  I was lured in by the beachy, summery, East Coast island cover and the shipwrecked title.  It is a small story of loss and redemption in a fragmented un-whole, whole way.  I like the smallness, the preciseness.  I like the Nantucket-ness and the sand dunes and the grey shingled summer houses.  I like the way the author circumscribes her story.  It is clearly defined.  It is about this.  I like the strength of her choice.

Eight friends.  Four couples.  One couple dies.  The other three shift and reshape.  Simple, truthful.  Bare, raw but unexpectedly hitting the mark dead center.  I like when a book does exactly what is sets out to do.  There are a series of promises from author to publisher to reader.  The cover.  The blurbs.  The back cover copy.  I like when a book meets these obligations.  It makes me like a book that I already like, even more.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Things I Will Miss...

I just washed my hair outside under a full moon in a warm shower by a stone wall.  Can you tell my ten year old student and I have been studying prepositions?  Prepositions and Julie of the Wolves--I love Julie of the Wolves. 

I am about to leave.  Conversations begin with "Have you got a ticket?" and I am eating more pineapple.  There are things I will miss about Hawaii.  Funny how things become instantly more valuable when they are about to disappear.  The way I usually fall madly in love with a book as soon as I leave it on a plane.  It is not that I did not appreciate outdoor showers and pikake and big bright full moons in deep black skies before.  I did.  But as I start to leave these things become numbered, last, few, and important.  The ocean always looks bluest at that particular, last bend in the road when you are driving to the airport.

I have always loved it here.  I have loved the unbroken family thread leading back to my childhood that is part of my every day in this place.  My brother flying off a rope swing into the Kalihiwai River, doing math in the sand with my dad at Pine Trees at sunset, my sister jumping off a cliff on a dare, riding bikes at night and looking for wood for a bonfire on the beach.  These things are current here.  People remember them.  All the ladies at Foodland ask when is my mother coming back and why aren't I buying more vegetables?

It was fun.  We moved in family packs.  Brothers, sisters, cousins, friends, we roamed from beach to house to beach to house in a sprawling, hungry, muddy, salty gang.   Smaller siblings got to ride on the handlebars.  It took eight friends to teach me to drive.  There is a rainbow on my license.  "Just us" meant my brother and sister and I.  "Everybody" meant twenty kids.  We spoke in plurals.  Parents were Aunties and Uncles.  Now we are Aunties and Uncles.  I love it.

I love the quiet, soft air, the night blooming jasmine and the heavy, warm rain.  I love taking my shoes off automatically before entering a house.  I love sunbaked sand under brown feet.  I love lizards on the ceiling, peacocks at the beach and chickens in the parking lot.  I love worrying that a coconut will fall on the car.  I love that a flower behind the left ear means that you are taken and behind the right means that you are not.  It is the left because that is the side of the heart.

It will all be here for me when I get back.  I will fall in love with wherever I go.  I will love red buses and bookstores and hot chocolate and woolly mittens.  But for right now, I will miss it here.    

Sunday, July 25, 2010


I do not know why I was so surprised.  I have encountered nothing but kindness and support all along this nutty, twisty, yellow bricked writing road.  But this past week has been different.  This week has been yellow roses in a wicker basket, sunshine week.  The book trailer, so generously created with such care and love by such an extraordinary friend, made the release sooner, realer, bigger, shinier, and funner, as my sister used to say.

Now it involves everyone.  I love that.  My dear friend Adriana pre ordered five copies for her book club--even though her wedding is three weeks away and she has so many zillions of things to think about.  Amber (her wedding is 108 days away) pre ordered some for her husband to be and family.  My mom pre ordered six and then pressed the 'I want to read it on Kindle button" eleven times.  Everyone I bump into in Hanalei has looked up the book on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  A boy I had a crush on when I was fourteen shrieked "Great cover!" from across the road at the beach today.  I had no idea he knew I was writing a book and I haven't seen him since I got my braces off.  And lovely, lovely, steadfast friends from the Plum Bean pre ordered and pressed the button and looked up the book and want to set up blog tour interviews--amazing.

It has been one of those really special weeks of everyone checking in.  Wonderful friends who forgive me for falling off the planet wrote to electronically bounce up and down with glee.  My sweet friend Gersande from high school, who I have not seen in nearly twenty years (more Priya moving to distant lands and falling off the planet) wrote to all her friends announcing the book.  My beloved, angelic friend Jack and his wonderful, wonderful wife Jess had a baby boy this week and he still checked in to bounce up and down.  It has been an extraordinary, brown shoulder, blue water, white wave, yellow sun, buoyant, floaty, fizzy, happy week.  And I have been so moved.  Thank you.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Book Trailer!!!!!!!

Second version of book trailer.  No idea how to erase first version so here are both.  I love the cello...


So it is down to the wire.  Emails end in 'ASAP' and there is discussion of being in the 'chrome' phase.  I think this is when the cover and back cover are set and cannot be undone?  A last minute wonderful quote from Sharon Kay Penman arrived and my editor 'yanked' the book off the press to include it.

So far this has been a magical process for me.  Magical in that is is surreal, happy and seemingly turning the impossible into the possible.  I feel like my book has gone like a handkerchief into a top hat and is returning to me a fluffy white rabbit.  Also magical in that I have no idea how it works.  I have a sense of an enormous hive of talented, experienced people working at a ferocious pace.  This book is being released on February 1, 2011 and there is so much work involved between then and now that everyone is racing--today--on a Wednesday in July.

It is strange that words I wrote utterly alone at a white desk covered in birthday cards, photos, books, postcards and my Nell portrait, are going out to meet this enormous fray.  Definitely magic.  It is also strange that there is a stop date.  There is a point when tinkering must stop, hats are chosen, words are fixed, and chapters have chosen their dresses for the ball.  The subtly shifting elements are no longer mine to move around, recast and repaint.  A scarlet slipper shunted beneath a gilt chair is just going to have to stay there.  It will never grow up to be a grey laced boot left out in a garden.

Somehow I never saw that day coming.  But that day seems to be today.  The book is really truly done.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


It arrived.  No.  They arrived.  Six galleys in my living room.  Wow, that suddenly sounded very Pirandello-esque six books come looking for the author.  They arrived just as I was running out the door to go down to Hanalei to meet a friend.  I grabbed one and ran out the door.

In Hanalei I met up with my friend David.  David has just finished writing his book and starting the dreaded agent search.  We sat in the last of the evening sun and then wandered over to Java Kai where we bumped into two other friends sitting at a table on the veranda.  One of them, Cris, is an established author and the other, Mark, a musician and rapacious reader.  Both were super helpful when I was writing Exit the Actress.  I took Nell out of my bag and she went out for her first walk in the wide world.  They were delighted.  They were thrilled.  Suddenly it had all happened.  Exit the Actress was no longer in the remote 'what if' of someday but it was that day, a Friday afternoon in Hanalei.  

Tina, another friend, is a voracious reader and owns Java Kai.  Recognizing immediately what was going on, she came over and joined us.  Then we were five: three writers and two readers.  Just then I heard my name called and my wonderful, recently graduated, about to go off to college student Wyatt and his wonderful, already in college, brother Max appeared on the veranda.  It was one of those Sesame Street summer evenings where everyone stops by Gordon and Susan's porch.  Now we were readers and writers and students.  The conversation flowed around words expressed on a page.  Unusual on such a small, remote island.  The how of it, the surprise of it, the trickiness of it, the rhythm of it, the home of it, the who of it.

Group endeavor.  It is so much more rewarding than solo endeavor.  Sounds like the name of a space shuttle.  This blog, where you have all been so supportive and kind, the world I where I studied and researched where everyone encouraged me to risk it and write, the happy communicative world where I concentrated and wrote: I have been so lucky to keep bumping into this conversation that flows around words.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Lovely People

Exit the Actress: A Novel

Here is the cover!  It is ready for pre-order on, and!  When it says that 'someone who bought this book also bought', Philippa Gregory's The White Queen (such a marvellous book) and Barbara Kingsolver's The Lacuna--that 'someone' would be my mom.  She had a pre-ordering fiesta yesterday.  

I have beet dragging my little brown feetsies today as I did not want to write a new post.  I want to keep up yesterday's post for yesterday's comments.  I loved what everyone wrote yesterday.  No, loved is the right word but the wrong word.  I was astounded.  The encouragement, affection, sincerity, support and generosity of spirit knocked me over.  
I have never written anything that sailed under my own colors.  I have always edited or assisted or co-written or ghost written.  I have been half-lit, half-shadowed, tucked away, out of sight--safe.  It is a wooden raft, open sea, sharky sort of scary to do this.  It is my name on the book--twice.  Yikes.  Yesterday made me feel like I had thirty people on the wooden raft with me.  It felt like the 'When You're a Jet' song from West Side Story.  We are setting sail together.  It feels so much better.  

Monday, July 12, 2010


Exit the Actress: A Novel [Paperback]

Priya Parmar (Author)

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Editorial Reviews


A real triumph….A vivid imagining of the restoration London of Charles II with Nell Gwynn as a powerful and engaging heroine set in the busy world of the theater. This debut novel captures the glamorous world of the amoral court and the struggle of the city. Priya Parmar is a writer to watch.”—Philippa Gregory
Author of The Other Boleyn Girl

“Nell is irrepressible, spunky, delightful: who wouldn’t fall in love with her? Her story unfolds through diary entries, letters, news announcements, recipes. It¹s a tasty and often amusing confection, sure to please. I absolutely adored it.”
—Sandra Gulland, author of the Josephine B. Trilogy and Mistress of the Sun

Product Description

"A triumph" says Philippa Gregory, of this debut novel about the life of the legendary 17th century actress and mistress of Charles II, Nell Gwyn.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone; Original edition (February 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439171173

I just found this! You can pre-order Nell!  Exit the Actress will be released on February 1, 2011!  You can ask to read it on a Kindle.  You can put it in a cart.  You can buy it for a mouse.  You can put it in a house.  Nell loves to eat green eggs and ham.     

I love that they included the wonderful, warm generous quotes.  I love that it will be out before my birthday.  I love that my mom just ordered two copies.  
Now it is getting real...

Wuthering Heights -

I love Wuthering Heights.  It is a controversial love as many people get fed up with Cathy's insanity and Heathcliff's surliness and their general inability to get it together until one of them is a window tapping wraith.  These characters do not behave well.  Their moral compass is absent rather than merely askew and they treat neither each other nor anyone else with particular kindness.  But they are inevitable and absolute if not functional.  It is just that extreme, awkwardly angled quality that appeals to me.  Tepid Victorian tea time love with its fire-seething, passionate underbelly is wonderful but Wuthering Heights goes for broke right on the surface.

Bronte is a good reminder to consider ignoring all verboten writing cliches.  She shows you that if you can really pull it off, with buckle and swash and verve and sass--do it.  Emily Bronte does not adhere to the 'show don't tell' sacred precept of writing.  She tells it all.  "...he is more myself than I am.  Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same." Cathy does not shy away from the grand proclamation.  She does not hedge round it, evoking desperate love through half suggested thought and the implications of a small scale action.  She dives in and swims across the sea.  Their devotion is messy, incongruent, fragmented, difficult and ultimately doomed.  Her commitment lives in her words and not her actions--another broken writing principle.  Characters are usually deciphered through action but again, Bronte shows us her passion driven hand through words.  But what fantastic words.

Heathcliff, although he does a great deal of mumbling, grouching, stomping and rushing out of doors to go running through the rain on the Serengeti plain, finally makes his great statement of undiluted passion.  And it is so worth it when he does:  "You say I killed you--haunt me then!  They say the murdered do haunt their murderers.... Be with me always--take any form--drive me mad!  Only don't leave me alone in this abyss where I cannot find you!"  I suppose shouting this at her dead body is showing as well as telling so Heathcliff does a bit of both.  It is interesting that we most enjoy when the goldenest golden writing rules get snapped straight through.  Bronte even uses exclamation points--a cardinal no no.  But it works.  I do not think you can invite someone to drive you mad without an exclamation point.  

To try and capture the enormous raw emotion in the flattened real estate of the Roman alphabet is a dicey business.  You have to be able to do it well--really well.  You have to startle and illuminate, pull the reader absolutely into the gushing heart of the character and then show us something new.  Anything less and you are done for.  But what a thing if you can do it.   

Friday, July 9, 2010

Sandy Feet, Left Turns and Cherries on Top

How delicious.  The wonderful Kate from Kate's Library gave me this perfectly pink, frosted cup cakey, perfect for a Friday award.  People are lovely aren't they?  Every so often that thought strikes me.

Yesterday I had to make a left turn.  I dislike left turns and will go long distances to avoid them.  They give me the same feeling I had in fourth grade when I had to stand up and recite a poem in French--everyone watching, sure I will get it wrong, yuck.  But yesterday, as I waited in the middle of the intersection, starting to panic,  a very nice old man in an enormous monster, fire breathing red, behemoth truck, staved off the oncoming hoards and cleared a place for me to go.  

It is Hawaiian custom to wave to anyone on the road who has helped you: people waiting at the other side of a one lane bridge, people who let you in, and people who help you turn left.  Actually you also wave to people you know, people you might know, people who drive the same car as people you know, grandmothers of people you know, and anyone who waves at you.  You end up waving a lot.   This man blew me a kiss and shouted, "Ya, you go get em".  He shouted in pigeon, the local dialect, and it sounded like a cheerleading cheer.  People are lovely.

So the Cherry on Top Award Rules:

I must:

1. Thank the person who gave it to me.

2. List three things I love about myself.

3. Post a photo that I love.

I already left her a note but just in case: Thank you Kate!

Three things:
1. I can swim underwater a long, long way.
2. I can jump off a cliff.
3. I can listen tot he same song eleven times in a row.

I have a friend who says, "Ah but can you do this?" and twirls around.  I can't do that.

So?  Five Blogs?  Can I do three and save two?  One rainy day there will be a saved award fiesta at the plum bean.


Doctordi: for fearless honesty.

Whitney at She is to Fond of Books: for delightful insights.

Lindy Lou Mac at Lindy Lou Mac's Book Reviews for her wonderful reviews in wonderful lands.

A photo that I love?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Art and Life

It is a strange and symbiotic relationship.  My life seeps into my writing--shaping characters, reactions, figures of speech, mannerisms, footwear.  It is not a conscious fusion.  I write what I know but I mix it with the multiple layers and nuances of research, of history, of interpretation.  Whether things are tumbling and tumulting in my life or whether familiar, long faded chickens are coming home to roost, it shows up in my writing.  A scene that would have turned right follows my footprint and turns left.

I am not sure that I mind it.  It rings true and is enough dissolved and diluted that it does not cause any uncomfortable recognition in others.  Only someone who knows me really well would be able to spot the collisions and connections.  It is not an exact translation but more a messy game of post office.  Events get reshaped and trimmed and tinted until they are something new.  But the bones of the real still hold the frame underneath.

It is not only large scale installation change but small detailed finish carpentry change as well.  I saw a rainbow while driving my sister to the airport the other day.  That elusive moment of pale striped sky stayed with me.  Without rain there are no rainbows.  It rained in my writing yesterday.

Friday, July 2, 2010


So, I went down to Hanalei, the small town near my house, to teach one of my students.  He is on summer break and teaching schedules get a bit erratic.  We went to Java Kai and worked to the smell of kona coffee and whipped cream.

Fun.  Spelling--"pulchritude"--wow, good word.  He got it.  He is going into sixth grade.  Word games, noisy pop quizzes (he gets to give me one and then I get to give him one--only fair--he won).  Adverbs--less fun, and reading comprehension.  It was rambunctious, summery and whole.  It is amazing to watch a sixth grader throw himself into English class on a sunny Friday in summer.

When we left Java Kai to go and find his mom who is a close friend of mine, we bumped into two of my other students--sisters aged ten and sixteen.  All three are friends.  It was wonderful to see them all together.  Like chattering, chirping, chickens.  I went upstairs, sat in the sun and spoke to both moms.  Eventually another student arrived--the older brother of the recently graduated student.  He is watching the sixth grader this summer and had come to take him to the beach.  While I was talking to him, the ten year old put her hand in mine, pulled me down to her level and whispered in my ear, "I finished my homework already."  Huge smile on her face.  She kept hold of my hand and tried on my ring.

I watched them all.  The ten year old is reading Mandy.  The sixteen year old starts Wuthering Heights tomorrow.  The sixth grader is reading The Mysterious Benedict Society.  They are just discovering it.  The pull of a book.  The intense relationship between reader and story.  It was wonderful to sit in the sun with them.  

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Brightly Blue

So I am reading the House at Riverton.  Beautiful, gripping, atmospheric stuff.  I feel a bit bad as I assigned my student Middlemarch.  As he will learn from Middlemarch: such is the way of things.  I did give him Brideshead Revisited (I sent him on a bit of a Catholic author, Graham Greene/Evelyn Waugh adventure) before I sent him spiraling into the 19th century.  And I will shore him up with Hemingway once he is done.

My other student is about to enter the violent stormy heart of Wuthering Heights as an antidote to her summer reading of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings--a gorgeous, raw nerve, screeching tire sort of story.  Only Emily Bronte will be able to move her out of the desperate South.

I, meanwhile am wandering through the early 20th century countryside with Kate Morton.  It is strangely at odds with the bright blue water and pale yellow beach.  But perfect too.  When I look up from the misted walkways and the rustle of silk, I am here.  The sunny blue water is extra splashy, extra bright, the sand is extra sandy, the salt is extra tart and the great, green turtles are extra turtley in comparison.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Nell Gwyn

I have a beautiful genuine etching of Nell Gwyn on my desk.  She arrived on my thirtieth birthday and has kept me company throughout the writing process.  It is the Valentine Green etching of the Peter Lely portrait and she is lovely.  A small smile flirts across her mouth and her eyes are direct and truthful.  She thrums with authenticity.  She is the woman I wrote.  I wonder how much that image influenced the writing?  Bunches and bunches I'd say.

I recently spoke to the person who gave me this portrait.  He has been rooting and cheering for me all the way through.  I thanked him for his help.  When he insisted that he did not do anything I told he was wrong.  Beyond the immeasurable gift of belief and encouragement, he gave me my Nell.  I wrote the woman in that portrait.  Without realizing it until today.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Busy Books

It is a strange thing when books take up seventy percent of your suitcase.  My books seem to need more room than most.  They spread out, get comfortable and expand once they are in situ.  Stacked on the night table they look bendy, harmless and even friendly.  Even waiting in their uneven, colorful stack, they are non aggressive and accommodating.  Once in my trusty black, beribboned suitcase?  They are ferocious.  I do not know what they do in there.  It is a case of Manifest Destiny.  They get very pushy and ruthlessly edge out dresses and face cream.

And so the negotiations begin.  That dress or that book--the book seems to get two votes to my poor blue dress's one.  Only shoes and coats have enough authority to override books--sundresses just have no gravitas.  Unfortunately, as I have been in the tropics for ages I am short on shoes and coats.  My sister who is visiting, walks in and watches me talk to my belongings and then just walks out.  She has seen this process before.

I am starting to get ready for my trip back to London.  Starting and am already daunted.  But it is unequivocal--I have to go.  A very dear friend is getting married and if I have to spend a few months researching Next Book--so at least three months in London and then most of next spring in London-- when I will hopefully have a working draft of Next Book--yikes.  It is not only the library research (which will be prodigious), but it is the small details, the number of windows on a particular house, the color of the wood on the floor boards, the lilac branches in the square--things I need to get right.  Luckily there are wonderful blue plaques marking the houses I need to visit.  Good for me as my eyesight is terrible and I am likely to count up the windows on the wrong house.

It will be lovely when I get there.  I will see my friends, go to my dance classes, take notes, notes, and more notes for Next Book--but I am so unprepared.  I have been a bit of an island savage for a while (with brief adventures on the mainland thrown in).  I have just realized that I have forty seven puffed up research books that must come with me.  Perhaps they would do better in a red suitcase?  I can see that there will be much talking to my stuff before this is over.

My friend Michelle has just walked in and taken offense to my island savagery reference.  She is now threatening to take me into the jungle for perspective.  Oh dear--this summer is going to stranger and stranger.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


I believe that it impossible to write without reading.  It would be a static, stale, placid thing.  I am an obsessive reader, but on rainy days and quiet days and greyer days and loosely knit days of shallow water, I love poetry.  The economy.  The heft.  The precision.  The balance.  The song.  

Honor to those who in the life they lead
define and guard a Thermopylae.
Never betraying what is right,
consistent and just in all they do
but showing pity also, and compassion;
generous when they're rich, and when they're poor,
still generous in small ways,
still helping as much as they can;
always speaking the truth,
yet without hating those who lie.
And even more honor is due to them
when they foresee (as many do foresee)
that Ephialtis will turn up in the end,
that the Medes will break through after all.

I am on a bit of a Cavafy kick at the moment.  "a" Thermopylae?  How wonderful to find such an unsuspected metaphor.  The single thing that you will defend with everything.  To not define it in universal strokes.  To understand that its boundaries shift slightly from life to life.  How extraordinary.

There are days that are just ripe for Cavafy.

Also for Zbignew Herbert.  He wrote this raw and luminous poem for Czeslaw Milosz and Milosz translated it.  "Fallen nests"?  What an incandescent usage.

Elegy of Fortinbras

for C.M.
Now that we’re alone we can talk prince man to man
though you lie on the stairs and see no more than a dead ant
nothing but black sun with broken rays
I could never think of your hands without smiling
and now that they lie on the stone like fallen nests
they are as defenceless as before The end is exactly this
The hands lie apart The sword lies apart The head apart
and the knight’s feet in soft slippers

You will have a soldier’s funeral without having been a soldier
the only ritual I am acquainted with a little
There will be no candles no singing only cannon-fuses and bursts
crepe dragged on the pavement helmets boots artillery horses drums drums I know nothing exquisite
those will be my manoeuvers before I start to rule
one has to take the city by the neck and shake it a bit

Anyhow you had to perish Hamlet you were not for life
you believed in crystal notions not in human clay
always twitching as if asleep you hunted chimeras
wolfishly you crunched the air only to vomit
you knew no human thing you did not know even how to breathe

Now you have peace Hamlet you accomplished what you had to
and you have peace The rest is not silence but belongs to me
you chose the easier part of an elegant thrust
but what is heroic death compared with eternal watching
with a cold apple in one’s hand on a narrow chair
with a view of the ant-hill and the clock’s dial

Adieu prince I have tasks a sewer project
and a decree on prostitutes and beggars
I must also elaborate a better system of prisons
since as you justly said Denmark is a prison
I go to my affairs This night is born
a star named Hamlet We shall never meet
what I shall leave will not be worth a tragedy

It is not for us to greet each other or bid farewell we live on archipelagos
and that water these words what can they do what can they do prince