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.