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

Nutty Week

I have had a plum beanless week!  I did not mean not to write but the days just tumbled over and over into themselves and now it is Thursday.  I have missed everybody!

So.  News:

Wonderfully sweet Melissa from My Reading Table gave me this fantastic award.  If you have not yet visited her wonderful blog, hop on you bloggy bike and pedal away pronto.

How lovely to wake up on a dewy Saturday and find a fresh cut, green grass scented award waiting for me at the plum bean.  And yet is Thursday... I am so disorganized.  Unexpected kindness is often the nicest variety, don't you think?  It is that swooping butterfly feeling of arriving home on your birthday to a long white box of buttered sunshine yellow roses.

Here's how this award works:
  1. Thank and link back to the person who gave you this award.
  2. Share 7 things about yourself.
  3. Pass the award along to 15 bloggers who you have recently discovered and who you think are fantastic for whatever reason! (In no particular order...)
  4. Contact the bloggers you've picked and let them know about the award.
Seven things?

1. I am seriously superstitious: No new clothes on Tuesdays (that is a family one), no hats on the bed, no washing my hair on Thursday... it goes on.  I really believe in luck.  The outfit I wore to defend my Phd was entirely made up of 'lucky' clothes that had brought good things in the past.  I also drank lucky hot chocolate and ate lucky nachos.
2. I can't sing--at all. Ever.  My friends and family would prefer that I not try.
3. I love French bulldogs.  I stalk them on the street.
4. I am always in the midst of memorizing a poem.  It is a practice, a hobby, a belief.  Right now I am working on 'The God Abandons Anthony' by Constantine Cavafy.  It is a poem based on the moment in Shakespeare's Anthony and Cleopatra when Anthony hears the soldiers going over to Octavian.  Cavafy could do so much with so little.
5. When I am in a city, I walk hugely long distances.  I love it.  I walk and memorize poetry at the same time.
6. I have never ever worn make up.  It scares me.
7. I love lollipops.

I made the decision when I was writing that list to just go with whatever was true and once I began a thought, to follow it through.  The result is that I came off sounding like a superstitious, poetry spouting,  lollipop sucking, make up-less, walking nightmare.  Nothing to be done about it.

Fifteen people?  Is it alright if I pass it on to five and save the rest?  I can stash them in my rainy day awards cupboard.  

Stella at Ex Libris because her writing is translucently lovely.
Doctordi because her wonderful personality shines through her honest, beautifully wrought prose.
Grad at The Curious Reader because she is willing to drive through the dark of night to retrieve a book she loves.
Kals at At Pemberly because she revels in luscious words.
Whitney at She is too Fond of Books because her writing pulls us into her reading in such a lovely way.

Here is Cavafy's stunning poem.  He intentionally chooses poor epithets.  He leaves it for the reader to make up the space between.  "this kind of a city"--genius.

When suddenly, at midnight, you hear
an invisible procession going by
with exquisite music, voices,
don’t mourn your luck that’s failing now,
work gone wrong, your plans
all proving deceptive—don’t mourn them uselessly.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
say goodbye to her, the Alexandria that is leaving.
Above all, don’t fool yourself, don’t say
it was a dream, your ears deceived you:
don’t degrade yourself with empty hopes like these.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
as is right for you who were given this kind of city,
go firmly to the window
and listen with deep emotion, but not
with the whining, the pleas of a coward;
listen—your final delectation—to the voices,
to the exquisite music of that strange procession,
and say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing.

- Constantine P. Cavafy (1911)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


I have been thinking about them.  They are tricky little beasties.  There are so many people to thank.  So many people who helped.  There are the people who helped with facts and story and research and history and crunchy little plot problems and people who helped me live the life I had to live while I wrote.  And they are numerous and invaluable.

And then there are the people (sometimes the same people) who helped me get there.  They believed and knew and loved and wished and wanted and spoke.  They made the road from idea to words to story to print to agent to publisher a bounded shape.  Without them I would have been roaming around in a shapeless dark.  I can never thank them enough.  They have a stake in this book.  It belongs to them too.  Without that gravity of love and trust I could never have ridden my wordy little bicycle to the end of that road.  Thank you.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Monday Papers

Sorry I have not been writing but it has been a nutty weekend.  I finished the '2nd pass for print pages'--is that what they are called?  The publishing jargon can get a bit disconnected and unfamiliar when I write it down.  The same thing happens if I repeat the word "fork" to many times.  This was the last opportunity I will have to adjust any small words, spacing or punctuation.  Stressful.  Not so much with the sleeping this weekend.  But 582 pages later--I am done!

There were lines I clean forgot.  Those moments are so interesting as I actually do not know what the next line will be.  It is like discovering fantastic old jeans in your closet.  By next February, when the book comes out, I hope to forget much more and find ball gowns in my closet.  Hey look,  it can happen to the words "ball gown" too.  Now it sounds like a frilly dress strapped to a tennis ball.

And then there were the acknowledgements.  These and the dedication are simultaneously the two chunks of text that I worry over the most.  I tinker and switch and cross out and rewrite and erase--tricky as I have a terrible eraser, so mostly I smear--and generally pick at it.  There is a point of critical mass where you do more damage than good.  I think I passed that point about six months ago.

But now it is done.  Mary, at the post office, who knows me and my gigantic stack of pages bound for Avenue of the Americas in New York was patient and helpful as always.  She reads bits while I write out the address.  And now I am going swimming...

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Awards and Belly Dancing

The wonderful, wonderful Missy B at Missy's Book Nook passed along her Sunshine Award to me today. How sunny and summery and lemonade sweet. If you have not yet visited Missy B hop on your bloggy bicycle and hurry away today!

I love that idea of readers riding beachy, wide handled sherbet colored bicycles with woven baskets and bells zipping along the long brick, tulip treed paths of the bloggysphere.

The lovely thing about awards?  That they come with many spoons to share.  I am allowed to pass this on to up to twelve bloggers but if it is alright I will do five today and save the rest for a rainy day?  Is that alright?  Hmm, no idea.

So five blogs that make me happy?

Kathy at The Literary Amnesiac: Her reviews are incisive and thoughtful and her blog is a wonderful mix of understanding her reading experience and her response.

Beth at Maybe Tomorrow?: Her writing sparkles with humor and heart.

Leanna at Daisy Chain Book Reviews: The faded, peachy rose art deco heading would be enough but her writing is gracious and elegant to match.

Carin at Caroline Bookbinder: She explained huge aspects the publishing world to me and has been endlessly lovely and helpful.  Her blog is a marvelous world of dry humor and huge scope.

Lisa at Bibliophiliac: Keats's letters, A Prayer for Owen Meany, graduating seniors?  She reads it, absorbs it and shares it in such a profound way.

So there are my lovely five.  Take a bow.

In other news:

I took a belly dancing with a woman named Kelly Belly and I learned how to link.  It is already a very good day.

Monday, June 7, 2010


I am in the throws, the midst, the swim, the tumble, the turmoil, the grip, the gripe, the grim, grinching clutches of the Reading Group Guide Questions. They are proving a timorous beastie and I am trying to wrestle them to the ground. It is not a lack of answers that is tripping me up but the reverse. An answer arrives, unpacks and then gets shown the door. There are muddy footprints in the hall.

It is an odd feeling of formal presentation. Readers meet Author. Author meet Readers. Shall we waltz?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Hop Hop Fridays

Fridays are for blog hopping, hosted by the wonderful Jennifer at Crazy-for-Books. We take to the blogosphere on literary bicycles, tricycles, pogo sticks, june buggies, broomsticks, match cars, coaches, and pumpkins.

It summons the romantic Victorian notion of "calling" complete with silver trays, small, crested cards, and large black front doors. You ring the bell and the door swings open. You are shown through to the library. Your host will be with you in a moment if you would care to wait. Books to the ceiling. You get a sense of what your host reads, thinks, likes. You take in the family portraits, the smell of meringues baking in the kitchen, the fox hound lying on the rug, the sound of children running in the garden.

But you are in a hurry and cannot wait and so leave a brief note. You write a message flavored with all that you know of your generous host. A finger print. A wave. Goodbye I must be going, I have so many calls to make today...

Thursday, June 3, 2010

It is Getting Real

It is. It really is. Today my wonderful editor sent me the Reading Group Guide for EXIT THE ACTRESS. First the Discussion Questions. It was strange and surreal to see the book broken down into discussion topics. To see it quoted and questioned and unthreaded theme by theme? It was marvelous.

Then came the Book Club Activities. Suggestions for recipes and ways to make the two dimensional reading experience a three dimensional practical experience. I actually tried to make several of the recipes--they are all real Restoration era recipes--but they turned out terribly--flat macaroons and fizzy eggs. That is most likely due to my appalling lack of culinary sense rather than a historical hiccup.

And lastly came the Author Questions. I have to send them back next week. I am trying to think of what I would want to know from an author but my mind seems to have gone curiously blank this side of the curtain. How did I choose my heroine, my story, my style? Why, when how, who? It is difficult to convey just how unexpected it all was. The format, the subject, the period. Each element of the story just presented itself as fait accompli without bothering to ask for my input. Like guests who show up at the door with bag and baggage and move right in.

These elements were wonderfully determined. If I tried to throw one out at dinner it would show up at the breakfast table the next day and slurp its tea loudly to show it was not scared. If I tried to invite my one of own friends over to join the plot the elements would put her bags politely on the doorstep and call her a cab. This book wanted what it wanted and ran me over if I got in the way. I really liked that about it.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Long Lost Award

I found an award! The lovely Book Quoter gave me The Prêmio Dardos award a few weeks ago and in all the chaos of coming home I managed to lose it. I just rediscovered it. Sometimes when I can't think what to write I go prowling through old posts, reading comments, hunting for a spark, a thread, a pebble, a path, a cottage in the glen. But today, poof: an award. It was like finding a curly beribboned, polka dot wrapped present on my doorstep this morning. How very lovely.

So (I copied this from the Book Quoter's wonderful blog which you must go and visit immediately if you have never been),

"The Prêmio Dardos is a way to acknowledge the importance of bloggers committed with spreading cultural, ethical, literary and personal values, showing their thoughts are alive through their letters and words."

Not sure I deserve it straight after I write a post about my nasty eavesdropping habit but nevermind, on we go. Thank you lovely Book Quoter for thinking of me.

The Book Quoter passed the award on to fifteen blogs and so I shall follow in happy suit. If it is alright I will divide the spoils into thirds and only pass it on to five today--is that allowed? No idea.

So, the First Third:

doctordi at http://doctordi.wordpress.com/. Her wonderful writing is saucy and true and full of fun. Be careful, her writing is addicting!

Mari at http://www.bookwormwithaview.com/. She is amazingly a writing, reviewing, reading, marathoning mom with an exceptionally lovely narrative voice. Anyone who can run that much, read that much and write that well will quickly get my attention.

Mademoiselle Poirot at http://mademoiselle-poirot.blogspot.com/. A daily must for me. Her sumptuous blend of Paris and London style and gorgeous photos are a wrapped in toile, lit by sunlight, perfumed with honeysuckle and macaroons moment for me.

Kathy at http://kathylovestoread.blogspot.com/. She collects new words and enjoys books in a down to the bone, draw out every drop sort of way. I love that.

Kals at http://atpemberley.blogspot.com/. I know I have mentioned this before but a weekly dose of Tagore? Genius. Plus a beautiful, sensitive way of moving through books and bring readers along for the ride. Can't beat that.

Thank you again to the lovely, generous, present bearing, Book Quoter.

Bits and Pieces

I tend to eavesdrop. Awful, I know. It gets worse. I have been known to scoot my chair closer and take notes. The best places are shops, coffee shops and auto repair places. I listen to people on the phone, people in conversation, people on loudspeakers, people at the grocery store. It is a terrible habit and as I often do it when I am not wearing my glasses and cannot really see, I am sure I get caught out regularly and just do not realize it.

Trouble is that it is seriously helpful stuff. It makes writing dialogue, characters, shoes, bicycles, pets, names, hats, and hobbies easier and more grounded, more real and more fun. Often the things I hear are far better than anything I could make up...

Yesterday at the drugstore:

Six foot woman in line: "I look like a gecko when I wear v necks."
Her five foot eight husband: "Yes, but I like geckos."

Umm, genius?

At the bookstore:

A tourist lady in electric pink Aloha shirt: "Poofball is getting even poofier."
Her friend in matching electric pink Aloha shirt: "At least she is not as big as Sludge."

Poofball and Sludge? Amazing.

At a concert last night:

Thirty-something year old mom: "He is cute, but just in the way King Kong is cute."