Thursday, April 30, 2009

 

Powerful Women: A Reading with Marlon James, Stephanie Keith (and Me)

Tomorrow I'll be reading from my novel, Picking Bones from Ash, with the novelist Marlon James and photographer Stephanie Keith in an event titled "Powerful Women" and organized by Maud Newton.

Housing Works Bookstore Cafe
126 Crosby Street
New York, New York 10012

Exploring unusual manifestations of female power: Novelist Marlon James reads briefly from his acclaimed (and magnificent) novel, The Book of Night Women, alongside fellow writer Marie Mockett (of the excellent forthcoming novel Picking Bones from Ash). Photo-documentarian Stephanie Keith will present a slideshow featuring a Voodoo high priestess she's been following.

We'll have trivia and prizes, and the readings and presentation will get started at 7:30 and finish up by 8:30, if not before. Arrive early if you can. It gets crowded!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

 

In Which I Get to Interview Colson Whithead

My friend Maud asked me if I would like to interview Colson Whitehead for her site in conjunction with the publication of Whitehead's wonderful new book, Sag Harbor. This was a somewhat intimidating idea, but I immediately said "Yes." Please check out the interview here, and do look at the rest of Maud's site if you have some time. It really is the gold standard for literary blogs. And please do buy a copy of Colson's book and enjoy the read. It's the perfect way for you to start your summer.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

 

Alexi Zentner at the Mercantile

My dear friend, Alexi Zentner, will be reading a short story this evening at the Mercantile in conjunction with Slice Magazine. In addition to being a wonderful friend, who has really buoyed me when I've needed it, Alexi is a tremendous writer. His honors include the Pushcart and O'Henry prizes; in 2008 his story "Touch" was a jury favorite. Later this year, one of his stories will appear in the Atlantic Monthly.

 

Find Me at Graywolf

Graywolf has updated their site to include a page for yours truly. You'll see a snapshot of the cover, and a few of the blurbs and a bio. (Thank you, Erin!)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

 

Wagner Fan



Among the things I promised myself I'd do after my father passed away, was to see the entire Ring Cycle at the Met. This is not easy. Tickets sell out to members first, leaving very little for peons like me. My friend Jeffrey, who I consider the consummate New York art-goer, confessed that he too would like to see the Ring and that he never had; he knew no one who really wanted to go. I felt that fate had given me a mission to secure tickets.

It turned out that Stubhub, which began as a ticket resale site for sporting events, had what I was looking for. And, over the course of a couple weeks, we managed to put together a set of tickets for the entire cycle--although, I pointed out to Jeffrey that it is not truly a cycle unless we go and see the entire thing again, which I'd like to do in 2011 when the Met puts on a new production by Robert Lepage.

We are midway through our viewing and have our routine down. I flee at the end of the first act to get into the women's restroom line while Jeffrey, who smuggles in sandwiches, heads for our perch on "the ledge," a balcony overlooking the lower floors of the theater. Actually, we've learned that this corner is where all the illegal eaters eat, furtively chowing through sandwiches and potato salad to fuel up for the next act. (Wagner is long). The second intermission is for champagne and brownie, which we can buy in advance, thus avoiding the line during the second intermission. I smuggle in water which we keep under our seats and only drink when it is dark. Obviously, we bring our own binoculars.

I have also discovered my favorite seats--the front of the balcony. It's high up enough that the sound really soars fuses together. We can also see. I'm trying to get a membership for next year and hoping for these seats so I can get a crack at the new Ring when it begins in 2011.

Wagner fans are fans, which means they have their own passionate discussions and rituals. There was much arguing over how exactly to forge a sword, for example. Jeffrey and I spent a good 15 minutes on the iPhone trying to discern if Wotan and Erda were siblings, or if she predated him (she is the earth mother). And we spotted this woman wearing her helmet. Photography is not permitted in the Met, but the ushers all looked the other way in this case, compared to the previous evening at BAM where I was in trouble for taking a picture of a 90 year old Merce Cunningham on his birthday.

Next week is Das Rheingold (we are going a little bit out of order). Then Gottedamerung on the 9th of May.

Friday, April 17, 2009

 

Marlon James on Writing Love

Remember a few months back when I asked how to go about depicting love? So few books really do it. Fewer still do it well.

Maud interviews Marlon James, whose novel I raved about earlier this year, and with whom I'll be reading in a couple of weeks. Among her questions; how to write love.

There’s a belief that sex is the hardest thing for a literary novelist but I disagree: love is. We’re so scared of descending into mush that I think we end up with a just-as-bad opposite, love stories devoid of any emotional quality. But love can work in so many ways without having to resort to that word. Someone once scared me by saying that love isn’t saying “I love you” but calling to say “did you eat?” (And then proceeded to ask me this for the next 6 months). My point being that, in this novel at least, relationships come not through words, but gestures like the overseer wanting to cuddle. Or rubbing his belly and hollering about her cooking, or teaching her how to dance or ride a horse — things reserved for white women.

I think, as a writer, the important thing was to layer the relationship with complexity and contradiction. There were situations where I could have left certain storylines one-dimensional and gotten away with it. I think the relationship is gripping not because they love each other, or think they do (or not) but because even with such a horribly skewed dynamic, hearts do what they want. And people don’t always fit in the roles that have been assigned to them. But of course the relationship is doomed; any slavery love writes its end in its very beginning.



Risk sentimentality indeed. I'm tired of cynicism. It's easy. It's cliche. It's often unhelpful and far from creative.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

 

Spring



I made the mistake of going to Prospect Park to meet a friend on a day when the park was closed. The cherry map reports that many of the early blooming trees are in their peak right now, and I had wanted to try to see them. I'll have to go soon to see the weeping cherry trees, though the rain today has probably dispensed of a number of blossoms.



I did, however, have a nice lunch and a nice walk . . . and I saw this robin building a nest. I worried a little bit that he would mind my intrusion. But he's an urban bird, and therefore probably even tougher than I am.

Monday, April 13, 2009

 

Maud and Narrative

Please head over to Narrative Magazine to read the story of the week: "When the Flock Changed." It's written by Maud Newton, and is the first chapter of her novel (the rest of which I can't wait to read). It's an excellent piece of writing, and I'm looking forward to hearing her read this coming Wednesday at Housing Works, along with Kate Christensen and Lizzie Skurnick.

The story at Narrative--like the reading--is free. Sometimes New York really is just too much of a good thing.

Friday, April 10, 2009

 

I'm on Amazon

For my friends and family: I confess to looking at Amazon today and, well, there I am along with a book description. (There is an eCampus.com listing. I am already available at a discount. What am I saying? I'm probably discounted at Amazon too.)

As someone has pointed out to me, Amazon also lists my name with a bunch of Kaplan books. All I have to say about that is that if I hadn't worked at Kaplan, I would not have met Gordon, and that would be sad.

Edited to add: Stephen Chaundy reports that the book is also available on Amazon in the UK. No cover art yet, but we'll hope for that soon.

Monday, April 06, 2009

 

Painted Butterfly Migration




Last week, when I drove home from the Monterey airport with my mother, we saw a strangely beautiful sight. Thousands of butterflies poured through the air in what I can only describe as a flood. Fortunately for the butterflies, they remained well above the cars, and so did not die on my windshield. The torrent continued all day, and into the next. I was so dumbfounded, I forgot to take a picture, and just stood on the patio watching these orange wings hurtling overhead. The picture above was swiped from this site, but it gives you a sense of what the air looked like (these are also the wrong kind butterflies).



At first I thought we were witnessing the Monarch butterfly migration; Pacific Grove, which is near Carmel, is one of the few places where Monarchs sensibly go for winter at the end of their migration. My mother thought we were looking at an outbreak of oak moths. I twittered something about how I felt I was watching a scene from a Garcia Marquez meets Stephen King novel.

Today I learned that we actually witnessed the "Painted Lady" butterfly migration. This blog tracks different readers' sightings; you can also see a 2005 migration map to get a sense of how much territory the Painted Lady covers.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

 

Lisa and Truman Come to Visit

Over the weekend, my dear friend Lisa and her son Truman came to visit me in California. Lisa is a talented poet whose work I've long loved; her first book comes out this fall at the same time that mine does. I'm also incredibly fond of Truman who, given is parents, his naturally bright, loving and energetic. I've been a fan of Truman ever since I met him--I think he was something like 6 months old. He's a precocious youngster, who uses words like "set up" and at age 2 showed concern for others by warning my bridesmaids to stay away from the heater because it was "too hot" when we went to visit him in his home last year.



Truman was fascinated by our lemon tree, which was full of fruit. He learned quickly to identify which lemons were ripe and which were still too green, and did a fine job of harvesting, employing a chair to reach the higher fruit. I've forgotten what it is to be very short.



When Gordon called via Skype from Scotland, Truman hopped onto my lap to show off a lemon he had picked. We explained to Truman that the sun was still shining in California, but that it was dark in the UK. He seemed to understand this because when he went to bed that night, he said: "Now the sun is coming up where Gordon is." I doubt I understood abstract things like the rotation of the sun when I was three.



The weather was so beautiful, so we went off to Nepenthe to see some whales, and enjoy a cup of coffee. Once there, I'm afraid that coffee turned into wine, a cheese platter and bruschetta. Also, there were no whales, but the view was marvelous.



Truman had a conference call with his father on my iPhone. Remembering the Skype conversation, Truman attempted to show off a packet of crayons; we had to explain that the iPhone allowed the phone to speak outloud, but that there was no video. But it was fascinating to see how quickly children adapt to and understand technology.



Our visit also included a trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is a wonderful place to visit for people of all ages. This is sadly not the best picture, but you do get a sense of just how intrigued with Truman this penguin was.



I admire the way that the Aquarium in Monterey tries to find ways to entertain and teach children about the ocean. This video game was designed to teach kids how to tidepool correctly.



Here's a closeup of the screen; the footprints show where on the rocks the player is standing. Failure involves stepping on kelp, animals, or falling into the water. The kids ate it up. I did wonder about what it means that we live so much in a virtual world. Then again, I am also a person who is happy to think of most things as a game--a sense of play about life can be wonderful.



We ate sushi for dinner at one of my all time favorite restaurants, Akaoni, which means "red devil." I like Japanese devils. They are scary, but also very funny, which we tried to explain to Truman. "See the masks on the wall?" I said. "They are kind of funny and scary." He gave this a great deal of thought.



I once asked the sushi chef (in Japanese) why he had named his restaurant "red devil" in the first place. The sushi chef is a character--a complex and conflicted perfectionist, ie the sort of person I like. He told me that he wanted to name his restaurant something that would be sure to offend the Americans (even after, mind you, he came to America to make some money and to circumvent the archaic and Byzantine system a sushi chef would need to go through in Japan). I had to bite my tongue to keep from telling him that if he had really wanted to offend, he ought to have named his restaurant "white devil." But I understand the need to engage in small acts of rebellion, so I stayed silent.

That evening, I saw a guy come in with a bald head, some kind of ultra-man leather zip-up suit, and a multitude of piercings and tattoos. Something about his eyes and smile when he turned his head reminded me of a childhood friend who I hadn't seen in over twenty years. At last I got up the nerve to ask if he was my old friend JJ, and he was.

He remembered me. He'd been to Japan, and even spoke a little bit of Japanese and announced to his friends at the table that I'd taught him his first Japanese word--mushi--which he still remembered. I was moved. Both of us in various ways had had our difficulty with our K-8 schooling. We naturally had difficulties with authority, and our intelligence was routinely questioned by TPTB, though I think he was underestimated even more than I was. I still recall the teacher who told me I'd never learn the English language due to my mixed background; JJ was incorrectly and horribly accused of being "retarded." Adults can be so awful. In my case, my parents refused to accept the judgment imposed on me, and my father to the end of his life smirked when he recalled how I'd been given a verbal test in 2nd grade that had me score off the charts.

JJ remembered that I stuck by him; I remember him as always sticking by me. It was wonderful to reconnect.

Truman, wise child and reader of people's true character, was as unfazed by JJ's appearance as he was by the masks of red devil's on the walls of the restaurant. The two had a grand time as JJ explained the various accouterments on his outfit. One day I expect Truman to race around on JJ's motorcycle.



On my way home yesterday, I was startled when United gave me a complimentary upgrade to Business Class. I sat next to an insolvency attorney and a very annoying CEO who offered me $500 to change seats with him. "I'll give you the money," he said. "No you won't," I said. "Yes I will." "This must be the flight to New York," I sighed. At this point, the CEO began the "Guess-what-this-girl-does-for-a-living" game. And, yes, I admit to some small pleasure at being able to tell him.

"Wait. You don't write for some hate journal or eco activist thing do you?" He asked. "Or a gossip column?"

"No," I said. "I am that most useless of individuals. A novelist. However, my job means that I am always observing and taking notes about people."

"It's true," said the insolvency attorney. "Look at her. She's taking it all in. I can feel it."

I left them to their talk of taxes and $850/hour attorney's fees and companies they hoped to turn around and went to sleep. But not before taking this picture. Seriously. a part of my heart is always stuck in San Francisco.

Friday, April 03, 2009

 

Wildflower Watching



You are perhaps by now tired of reading about my unspecified battles with lawyers and other adults and the paperwork I've been dealing with ever since my father passed away. I'm tired of it too. Needless to say, I've been back in California for yet another round with my frenemy: the estate.

Still, I managed to take some time to go out into the hills to look at wildflowers, which are now coloring the hillsides.



I love these shooting stars, so named because of their shape.



Driving up through Carmel Valley, there is exactly one spot where the Western Bluebird likes to hang out. I swiped this photo from a government site on birds, but it shows you what we saw.



Orange stains on the hillsides come from California poppies.



As a kid, I liked to think of lupine as the sister flower to the California poppy. It isn't, but my mind still works that way.



After making it through the valley, we cut back through the Salinas valley, which still grows a considerable amount of produce. However, it also has at least one cactus fruit orchard.



Many of the old spinach farms seem to be gone, making way for more and more vineyards. Seems like a matter of time before Steinbeck country becomes Sideways country.

 

Your Crisis Cafe


Here is mine. My husband tells me not to eat here when he feels I'm being overly sensitive (which is often, these days). At least I know where my crisis cafe actually is. Do you know the location of yours?

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