Saturday, October 31, 2009

 

Graywolf 35th Anniversary Reading: NYC



Somehow in the excitement of the evening, we managed not to take any other photos of Graywolf's 35th Anniversary Reading. But here in this picture, from left to right: Jeffrey Yang, whose wonderful first book of poems, Aquarium, won the PEN/Osterweil Award for Poetry: an increasingly pregnant and rotund yours truly who really should not be photographed at an angle (thanks Gordon): Jeffrey Renard Allen, who wrote the very sharp "Holding Pattern": Tiphanie Yanique, whose short story collection How to Escape from a Leper Colony is due out this spring: and the very gifted and unusual J. Robert Lennon, whose most recent book is the very eerie Castle.

Not pictured, is Robert Boswell, who read from his much admired collection of short stories, The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards. Not pictured also are the many lovely guests and readers I met--it's fun to meet people who have actually read your book!

At any rate, it was a lovely evening--all the writers have such unusual and strong voices, it made for a great deal of fun to hear us all reading one after another. I'll be traveling up to Boston next, for another Graywolf party, and look forward to meeting more authors and poets.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

 

The L Magazine Interview

The L Magazine says that I "will have none of your teachable moments." Well, you know, I suppose I'm sort of stubborn.


What would you characterize as an ideal interaction with a reader?

The ideal interaction is between the reader and the book—and does not involve the writer. It worries me that books are becoming calling cards for the writer as celebrity. If celebrity as an end is so important, then why should any of us bother writing books at all? It takes a long time to write a thoughtful novel—a lot of solitary, inward thinking time. This has nothing to do with the artist up on a stage at a later date "standing for something," and using his work or life as a "teachable life moment." We are too hungry for gurus.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

 

Congratulations to Salvatore!

Dear friend, fellow writer, Bread Loafer and Graywolf author Salvatore Scibona has just been awarded a 2009 Whiting Award! I'm so, so, so thrilled for him.

And if you have not already, please do pick up and read his book, The End, which was nominated for a National Book Award, and also given the prestigious Young Lion's Award.

And, I suppose this is a good time for me to be self-absorbed and to point out that Salvatore and I will be reading together in Boston and also at River Run Books in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

 

Vermin on the Mount: Los Angeles Reading




In preparation for the LA reading at Vermin on the Mount, Jim Ruland posted my answer to the following question:

"What's the most unusual experience you've ever had at a reading?"

An excerpt:

"I think the Elliot Bay bookstore in Seattle, Washington, is located nearby a homeless shelter. Or at least, homeless men and women like to come to readings there. A few weeks ago, while sharing a section of Picking Bones from Ash out loud, I noticed a man with long silver hair and a very fat and tattered backpack in the audience seated next to a rocking woman with a cup of coffee in her hand. You do not see many homeless people like this in New York; the East Coast homeless are a different breed. But the rocking woman and the backpack man I recognized. One of my summer jobs as a teenager was on Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey, California, where a substantial population of Viet Nam veterans lived peacefully just under the wharf. Most were men, but there was the occasional woman. The glamorous Sicilian proprietor of the delicatessen where I worked had a nice arrangement with them; she received their mail, cashed their checks and gave them coffee. They made sure we never had any problems."


Hop over to VOTM to read the rest.

Monday, October 26, 2009

 

Picking Bones from Ash: Lincoln Center Barnes and Noble Window



I'm thinking: "AS Byatt. Lorrie Moore. Margaret Atwood. Anita Shreve. James Ellroy. Dave Eggars. Gunther Grass . . . One of these things is not like the other . . ."

 

Japanese Fairy Tales: Powerful, Unattainable Women and Mischievous Spirits



Some time last year, my friend Allison and I discovered that we had a mutual love of fairy tales. I suspect that a lot of readers and writers are like this; our earliest encounters with reading, after all, have to do with fairy tales. And, as others have noted, fairy tales imprint themselves on us, informing us of what we expect to happen in a story. We expect evil to be vanquished, and for lovers to unite.

Japanese fairy tales, however, are a little bit different. Stories don't unfold the way that you might expect. Lovers are rarely united. And women in particular seem to escape from men, leaving them baffled and saddened.

When Allison asked me to come to her class at Adelphi University to talk about my book, I proposed another idea. What if, I said, I taught a little lecture on the difference between Japanese and western fairy tales? I'd read a bit about the subject, and had formed my own ideas. From a fiction writing perspective, Japanese fairy tales are wonderful because they can open up a writer to new narrative possibilities--the kind of unusual story-telling one already sees in the fiction of Haruki Murakami or the films of Miyazaki. Plus, I figured college kids would dig this. Some of them have no doubt played video games or read manga and know all about how paintings come to life, demons can pop out of earthquakes, and evil witches turn out just to be grandmothers.



I gave the lecture today to a wonderfully attentive class made up of horror film students, ESL kids, fairy tale students, video gamers, teachers and, of course, immigrants. I talked about the 8 million gods and demons of Shinto, Japan's original religion and how they are all overseen by the sun goddess, Amaterasu. I talked about how interesting it is that girls have so much power in Japanese fairy tales--even though today we still assume that Japanese women are subservient. I showed slides of "animated poop" and "Hello Kitty dressed as the sacred deer of Nara." (These things are all related! I promise!) I also threw in some Jungian psychology. It was so much fun.



And, in case you don't believe me, here is a video clip of animated poop. This is what happens in a culture when anything and everything has the possibility of being alive . . .

I take the show on the road next to Centenary College, in New Jersey, and later to the Hillside Club in Berkley, California. You can check my events page for details. And who knows? The show might continue on the road for a little while longer.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

 

Harrison Library, Flower Arrangements, Picking Bones from Ash

I put up a few photos of my reading to benefit the Harrison Memorial Library, but didn't have access to these pictures of the lovely flower arrangements which my friend, Kazuko Kurasaki, put together for me. As you can see, she used not only bamboo, but gorgeous Autumn themed flowers, to put readers in the mood for the story.



My friend Kurt read my novel in part because he wanted to find out what kinds of flowers and colors would complement the book; here is a lovely maple and a lily.



I absolutely loved this vase. It is made from bamboo, and in the opening chapter of the novel, Satomi, the heroine, makes reference to how the thickest bamboo can be used as a vase. Then there is the story of the bamboo princess, born inside a stalk of bamboo--when bamboo is this thick, such a thing seems more possible!



Yours truly, sitting behind another beautiful arrangement.



Peter Mollman, the president of the Harrison Memorial Library foundation, introduces me, while my slide show waits in the background, ready to go into action. The audience that night was kind enough to look at some pictures that make up the background to the novel; it was fun to take them to Japan with me.



Here are the folks from River House Books, who graciously sold copies of my novel.



And once again, here I am, reading.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

 

Minneapolis Star Tribune Likes Picking Bones from Ash

An extremely thoughtful and positive review for Picking Bones from Ash from the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The print review runs on Sunday, but you can read the article now.

Mockett combines the best elements of a mystery story, ghost story, magical realism and the complex difficulties in deciding what is "best" for our elders and offspring.


Thank you!

Friday, October 23, 2009

 

Love at First Sight



(Note: Home from the middle of my book tour . . . I attended the opera, and wrote up this small report).

When I learned that Renee Fleming and Susan Graham would be singing in Der Rosenkavalier this season at the Met, I rushed to get tickets to not just one, but two performances. Sadly, one of those dates is just before I'm due, and I doubt I'll go. But I did manage to make the show last night, which has justly lauded by critics. The singing and music were superb and I was delighted to revisit an old friend.

I saw this opera probably fifteen years ago--perhaps even with the cast you see here. I remember calling my father afterward in a daze--I was still in college. I think I even did standing room for the entire 5 hours. "What did you think?" he asked. "That second act . . . " "The pinnacle of opera. The height of 20th century music," he affirmed.

Here it is--in all its sublime glory. Here's the moment where Octavian and Sophie meet and fall in love, setting in motion a number of events that will of course impact everyone else in the story. I'd forgotten how much of Act III devolves into farce, so strong was the impression of Act II on my memory. I've wondered before how writers can convincingly write love; I think perhaps that music accomplishes some things better than words.

As an added bonus, my friend Jeffrey and I had a special pass to the "Belmont Room," which I am currently describing as the Red Carpet Club of the Metropolitan Opera House. It was fun to eat our biscotti among so many sequined women striding up and down the room. Ah, access.

(The singers here are not the two I saw, but Barbara Bonney and Anne Sophie Von Otter. I can't find my particular cast.)

 

Elliot Bay, Take Two

I wrote earlier about my Elliot Bay napkin, which still sits inside the copy of Picking Bones from Ash that I use for readings. I loved my visit to this venerable store--and was distressed, along with everyone else, to read that it might be moving. I remember when Coliseum Books in New York City--a comfort for me for a great many years, from college to my grueling days working in corporate America--left its midtown location. Things were never quite the same.



My journey to Elliot Bay started in Portland. Fueled in part by some romantic ideas, my mother and I decided to take the train from Portland to Seattle. I'm glad the old station still stands.

And I loved the detail of the interior of the station--here's the ceiling.



Unfortunately, our train also ended up leaving three and a half hours late. I have friends who travel "the road" to make a living--musicians. I wrote to one of them that I supposed this kind of travel snafu happens all the time. "All the time," he confirmed. And for a while, I wondered if I would even make it to Elliot Bay Book Co on time.

Once the train came, we were all relieved. And I was fascinated by just how much nicer this Amtrak interior was than anything you ever see on the East Coast.



Fortunately, the scenery more than made up for the delay, and I was reminded of the many times now that I have traveled by train in Japan and Europe.



Here I am, on the phone, calculating that if the train really does arrive according to its new and delayed schedule, I will have exactly 20 minutes to "glamorize." I decided that this would in fact be enough time to take my exhausted, sleep deprived (due to the fire alarm of the previous evening) self and get ready for the reading.



And somehow I did manage a moderate transformation.

I loved reading here. I loved the room, the people and the questions I received.



In this photo, an Elliot Bay staff person is explaining to me the treasure of the "author autograph book." Here, writers sign their names, and leave a note for the book store. There are so many treasures inside, and it felt special to pen a little note of thanks.



Thursday, October 22, 2009

 

Powells, Portland and Wordstock Continued

More on the trip to Portland, Powells and Wordstock.



Writers attending the festival got to stay at the absolutely beautiful Benson hotel, located in downtown Portland. The history is fascinating; the construction of the hotel goes hand in hand with Portland's development as a logging boomtown. Here I am in front of the ornate fireplace, made from very rare wood, whose name I can't remember now (it was on the information sheet, which I have misplaced, and does not seem to be on the internet).



There's a bar too, and a piano and in the evening, we heard live music.



Throughout town, Portland has these lovely drinking fountains, built by Mr. Benson who wanted workers to have a free way to get water. IE, he did think they should have to go to the bar--Mr. Benson himself was a nondrinker.



Our first night in Portland, we were invited to a writers only party at the advertising firm Wieden and Kennedy. Having watched a great deal of Mad Men lately, I wondered if modern advertising is anything like it was in the past. Certainly the interior of the office space was imaginative and inspiring. And then there was the wonderful view from the balcony.



I was happy to meet a number of writers, including Victor Lodato, whose photo I never managed to take. And here I am with Joyce Maynard, whose memoir I read and enjoyed and writer Rosanne Parry.



We ran into Joyce a lot during the few days we were in Portland, and I greatly enjoyed her company. She's inspiring too--a real writer for a long time, supporting her family and running her career as she wants to.



My reading was one of the first on Saturday morning. I had fun reading a longer bit than I did at Bread Loaf.


Among the people to attend the reading and signing: my cousin Paul, his wife Barbara and young Mark. On Sunday, I taught a class on publishing (from no publications at all, to short stories to a novel). Class was very nearly full, and I really had a good time speaking directly to aspiring writers. I will teach the same class later this year at CLMP's annual conference. The writers were particularly fascinated to see my different rejection letters, how the letters changed over time, and how I had to respond to them as a writer. Hopefully, they all have a bit more insight into the process now, and can attack their careers with renewed vigor. Certainly, it would have helped me to have had the information I gave them.

 

More Publishing Party Photos

A couple more party photos to add to the previous post.



Here I am again with my mother.



And here with Ellis Avery, who wrote "The Teahouse Fire," which I loved.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

 

Mixed Chicks Chat!

I was incredibly flattered to be asked to participate in a Mixed Chicks chat, a weekly program dedicated to the mixed experience. One of the show's cofounders--and fellow Bread Loafer and upcoming debut novelist (The Girl Who Fell from the Sky)--is Heidi Durrow. The Mixed Chicks also run a yearly Mixed Roots Film and Literary Festival, in which I hope to participate next year.

Give a listen if you like
. I also got to meet Fanshen Cox. I'll also put up the iTunes link once I find it. I had a great time--and it's fun to talk to people who are already mixed about the mixed experience and how in many ways I wrote this book for people like me. The questions were smart, the conversation lively, and I had a wonderful time. You'll also hear me read a snippet of my novel. Enjoy.

Edited to add: A special note to the mixies out there. I didn't get a chance to say this, but here's what I believe.

Any time people have the chance to see a different point of view--to cross boundaries--this is a special kind of power. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. You aren't strange; you have a gift. It's always a gift when you can see the relationship between two things that might be hard for other people to see.

 

Additional Reading Dates

More reading and presentation dates on the coasts:

November 8th, I'll be in Los Angeles for the Vermin on the Mount Reading Series. I'm really looking forward to this--I hadn't expected to get to LA, and I'm so glad that I will particularly after the nice LA Times review.

November 11th, I'll be at Centenary College in New Jersey, giving a lecture on Japanese fairy tales, and then reading from Picking Bones from Ash.

November 30th--I'm really excited about this--I'll be at the Hillside Club in Berkeley, delivering another lecture on Japanese fairy tales--and the creative possibilities this kind of storytelling opens up for writers. I'll also give a brief reading.

I'll be adding these dates and more, as they become available, to the Picking Bones from Ash website in the near future.

 

Jack Kerouac RIP or My Visit to Bay Area Bookstores



Jack Kerouac died forty years ago today. On Saturday, I was in San Francisco, at City Lights Bookstore, and snapped this photo just outside, where a bilingual plaque marks his contribution to letters and to the culture of San Francisco.



When I lived in San Francisco, I used to go to its bookstores seeking inspiration, comfort, old friends, etc. I've collected lots of treasures from City Lights over the years--some Nietzsche, hard to find Poe, and Levi Strauss. I imagine there are readers all over the world who do the same thing. I didn't really dare imagine that my book would ever be on the shelves here.



I love the fact that the store preserves an area dedicated specifically to the Beats. So many wonderful independent bookstores are closing; I hope City Lights is able to stay open for a long, long time.



And, well, you can imagine how shocked and thrilled I was to see my book sitting up on shelf, facing out to the public, in between John Wray (who is a wonderful writer, and who wouldn't remember me, but who I met this spring) and Luis Urrea (who I met at Bread Loaf this summer, and who is also a fantastic writer). There's a Ferlinghetti sign hanging in the background. I signed my books and was even allowed to use the special employees only toilet. I also picked up a City Lights onesie--in black!



Later, I went to the Green Apple Bookstore in the Richmond District of San Francisco. When I moved to SF, years ago, I specifically chose an apartment near Clement Street because it was within walking distance of the Green Apple. My love of the Green Apple has been documented elsewhere; like City Lights, I think of the Green Apple as a friend and as a place that kept me going when I was lonely or discouraged, which writers often are.



I also visited a new shop that I absolutely loved--Bookshop West Portal. It is a friendly place, with a wonderful selection of new and old books, lovingly arranged and displayed. Back in New York, I told my husband all about West Portal--we talk from time to time to permanently relocating to San Francisco. And I think this bookstore, and the neighboring cafes and the movie theater across the street that presents Met opera simulcasts--would be reason enough for me to live here.



And, again, what a lovely surprise to find my book staring at me on the shelf. The gracious staff let me sign my copies, and we all had a nice visit. It was tempting to browse--and my mother did pick up a new book to read--but in the end, our visit was all too short.

There were other visits that day--Keplers, Book Inc, Bookshop Santa Cruz. And while I have enjoyed my readings, I have to say that in some ways, I liked visiting the bookstores even more. For one thing, they really are my friends; most of the shops have been nourishing to me in one way or the other over the years. But I also just like book people. I'm a book person. I'm a reader, and so are book people, and it is fun to share the miracle that is a book with people who care and understand this kind of accomplishment.

Friday, October 16, 2009

 

Sunset Center and the Harrison Memorial Library in Carmel



As a child, I religiously visited the Harrison Memorial Library, Carmel's own public library. My dad would drop me off with 15 cents, and I would invade the stacks, carefully looking for new books to read. The librarians knew what I was before I did: a reader. They knew I had a tendency to be serious, and generally left me alone to browse unless I had a question or wanted a recommendation.

I'd check out the maximum number of books, then carry the stack out to the pay phone, where I would use the 15 cents to call my father and he would come and pick me up. I'd sit outside on the stone wall waiting, the pile of books tucked under my chin, hating the fact that the tourists who walked by would stop and gawk. Even then, I took scrutiny far too seriously.

Over the years, I found new parts of the library. I went through a phase of checking out anything I could find on Nureyev and Fonteyn. I read poetry. I read history. And then I went off to college.



But I was so happy to be able to come home last night; I'd been invited to read some of my novel to an audience to help raise money for the library. How exciting to speak with board members who had read and enjoyed the book. And I was doubly happy to learn that Carmel's new independent bookstore, River House Books, was going to supply copies for sale. It's been a while since Carmel has had its very own bookstore.



I had decided I wanted to do a little bit more than to just read and answer questions. I thought it might be nice for the audience to see a little bit of what went into the writing of Picking Bones from Ash. So I spent a good part of the last two weeks putting together a little presentation with photos of places that I have been in Japan. I included some history and some culture--a packed little lesson plan that seemed to entertain everyone. For those who had finished the book, I think it was fun to see the actual places described. And for those who were just starting, it was fun to see what adventure lay in store.

To give ambience to the room where I read, my dear friends the Kurasakis used their considerable ikebana skill to arrange flowers and bamboo.




So there I was, reading about Satomi's adventures in the bamboo forest, surrounded by vegetation she might well have seen on her own. It made for dramatic reading!



It was quite a successful night--we sold a record number of books and I saw many people from my childhood and adolescence. My high school English teacher--the one who first told me to try to submit something for publication--was there, as was my beloved third grade teacher, and violin teacher. The evening was a blur, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself and was so happy to be able to share this accomplishment with so many people who helped me reach the place where I am now.

 

The Illusion That is Ebay

I've written about my mixed feelings where used books are concerned--particularly for a debut novelist like me. But something popped up today that amused me in a perverse way. Here is a description of my novel, for sale now on Ebay.

Marie Mutsuki Mockett's first novel is a multi-generational saga which maps the intricate interactions between nature and nurture in a Japanese family. The center of the mother-daughter-granddaughter trio is Satomi, born in a remote Japanese village to a mother who runs a saloon for postwar American G.I.'s, any one of whom could be Satomi's father. This shameful lifestyle ostracizes the pair from the rest of the villagers, but Satomi's gift for playing the piano earns them a temporary reprieve. Eventually, Satomi must leave her mother to the hostilities of the village as she follows her talent out into the wider world. Meanwhile, the split narrative reveals the life of Satomi's own daughter, Rumi, who has a supernatural ability to authenticate antiques. Rumi believes her mother to be dead, but an encounter with a presence from her family's past directs her to investigate her history and determine the origin of her independent spirit and her eerie sensibilities.


The bolding is mine. I'll get back to that.

Once upon a time, I used to prepare kids to take the SAT test, which included teaching them reading comprehension tips. In other words, I taught them to understand what they were reading. As in, if they didn't accurately comprehend the words on the page, then they would not be able to answer the questions correctly and then would not score so well on the test.

I challenge anyone out there to show me where in my novel it is written that Satomi's mother:

1. Runs a saloon
2. Runs the saloon for GIs
3. Comes anywhere near any GIs
4. Had sex with an American GI
5. Could have produced a child with an American GI
6. Is abandoned by her daughter to the townspeople

The fascinating thing is that the pages about Satomi's mother and her childhood are all at the beginning of the book--like pages 1 to 5. One wouldn't have to read too far to be able to figure out that there is no saloon, and no American GI anywhere in the book (intentionally I might add). Part of the point of the novel, as others have noted, is that the women aren't victims. Though I can understand that someone reading might see what they want to, based on other books about Asia or tragic musicals starring sadly devoted Vietnamese girls. This cannot be helped. Part of the message of Picking Bones from Ash was that it's always a challenge to pick out what is real from what is an illusion.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

 

The Los Angeles Times Likes "Picking Bones from Ash"

The print edition of this review will run on Sunday, but thanks to the power of the internet, you can take a look at what the LA Times has to say right now!

"Some fiction makes the world a little smaller; illuminates the dark corners, puts the taste of, say, breakfast in a small mountain village of Japan in the mouth of the reader (rice balls, in a ryokan, made by your mother the night before). . . The ghosts of her ancestors appear at night -- mysterious women in red and silver kimonos; many-armed deities. The novel, so firmly anchored in a sensuous reality, veers into a dream world. A reader has the sense that even the author was driven by her most powerful character: the original mother, raising her daughter alone, shunned by villagers, forced to make decisions that haunt her descendants."


And the author has the sense that the reviewer was fully immersed in the world of the novel, and this is quite gratifying and exciting. Thank you.

 

The Elliot Bay Napkin

I loved reading at Elliot Bay Books in Seattle--more photos as I get them off the camera. It's a legendary bookstore for good reason--the selection is carefully culled and the staff takes great pains to read and recommend particularly meaningful books. This made me happy. I like it when books are so appreciated. And I loved meeting the staff. There is a notebook which all authors who have read at the bookstore sign--I flipped through, looking for people I knew, and was delighted to see co-Graywolf author (my labelmate!) Salvatore Scibona.



People also had questions. One question was more like a free association kind of thing about Van Gogh and the search for truth and Japan--all subjects which do in fact bear a relationship to each other, for those of us who are fond of leaping from idea to idea and looking for connections. "I'm asking for a lot," said the man to me. I could feel it. It reminded me of the time I was wearing a brightly colored 80s sweater, and working as a bank teller, and a man came up to me to cash a check and repeatedly told me, "Those are the colors of Van Gogh's inspiration."

Anyway, about the free-association question man--I tried to give a like-minded answer. And then, after the reading was over, the man with the free-association question gave me this napkin. It is a response to my reading and presentation. I am saving the napkin in my book and will ponder it for a time.

Feel free to share your thoughts. I am, in general, an open-minded person. If you click on the photo, it should blow up, making it easier for you to read the little notes.

 

A Visit to All Saint's Day School



I'm finally in Carmel after an epic trip from Seattle (more on that later), which involved a canceled flight and a drive through a torrential rainstorm that pretty much halted all air traffic between San Francisco and Monterey. This morning, I woke up to quiet-the rain had passed, though our garden is littered with twigs and leaves. Many of our neighbors have lost power, and PG&E (Pacific Gas and Electric) has been laboring to get the county powered up again. Our beloved sushi restaurant has lost its fish; libraries have closed due to a lack of power.

Storm be damned-I wanted to make sure I got to the Peninsula on time, because I'd been invited by Becky Rheim to visit All Saint's Day School, which I attended. Becky and I were classmates, and she now teaches Language Arts to 7th and 8th graders.

I struggled in school--with shyness mostly--but realize now just how much I gained from my early education. We were all taught to appreciate language, and how to take notes and write papers. The early training stuck, and I was able to go to college and really learn and think--my study skills had been embedded early. I was and am grateful for this. So it was fun to go back to school and to see how it has and has not changed.



The day began with chapel, and a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance (which I still remember) and the Lord's Prayer (which I also still remember). The triptych for the chapel altar was painted while I was a student there; our class banner hangs from the ceiling. I was incredibly moved when the chaplain read a "prayer for writers." I had no idea that such a thing existed, and it made me happy to know that someone had taken the time to think about our contribution, our challenges and our struggles. I was tremendously grateful for this gesture. There are times when all writers wonder if what they do matters-the prayer was a nice reinforcement.





The kids were all so smart and alert. They came prepared with questions, and I tried to answer them as best I could. One question was tricky--someone wanted to know the meaning of the title of the book. I didn't think it was really appropriate to discuss cremation in front of a group of children, so I tried to talk about campfires, or beach fires, and how, after all the wood, the paper plates, the trash and junk have burned away, you can find what is most important left behind in the coals. And then I said something about how finding what is most important in life is always critical, if difficult--understanding who is a true friend, or how, in an afternoon of distraction, homework must take priority. All of this is true, and they seemed to understand and that made me happy.



After chapel, I visited two classes and talked a little bit about the art work on my book and how that related to Kaguyahime, the fairy tale about the Moon Princess. And then I read a version of the story out loud, and we discussed it together. That was fun. It did all make me think that teachers really do have the very best job.

So, a big thank you to everyone at All Saints, and especially Becky, for making my morning so rich and fun and fulfilling. It is nice to be home.

(And for those of you keeping track--yes I do look increasingly pregnant. On the other hand, this is what is supposed to happen).

Sunday, October 11, 2009

 

Wordstock, Portland, Powells



It's awfully nice to start a book tour with an unexpected upgrade into the First Class cabin. There was a funny moment when my mother and I were crossing the little red boarding carpet for First Class passengers: "That's just for First Class!" barked the ticket taking woman.

"Is this okay?" My mother whipped out her ticket.

I guess we don't look like we are accustomed to red carpets.



I am a window seat junkie, and was thrilled to see the mountains from the plane as we approached Portland-Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens and Mr. Rainier. The landscape is for me at once familiar--this is the west--and yet slightly different. Oregon isn't California.




I have yet to have a definitive explanation for the low growing scarlet vegetation in between the trees, but it was beautiful; fall is on its way here in the Pacific Northwest.



I have a number of photos to post from my experience--these are just a few from my iPhone, which are easy to download. I'll post more later as I have the time to get pictures off of the camera. In the meantime, I apologize for the scatter-shot presentation of my time here in Portland.

But I was here in Portland for the Wordstock Festival, an annual gathering of writers and booksellers, crowned by the king of independent bookstores, Powells. I still remember my first visit to Powells when I was a teenager. I think I nearly drooled over a signed first edition of East of Eden which I was too stupid not to buy (not that I could have afforded it). But I did manage to go home with some hard-to-find paperbacks by the wonderful writer Theodore Sturgeon, whose work I was pretty excited about at age 15.

On my first day here, before the festival was really underway, I met up with an old high school friend, whose picture I somehow never managed to take. We had brunch, and trekked out to Powells, which was proudly demonstrating its support for Wordstock.



It made us all very happy to find my book sitting there, on the shelf, in the debut authors section.

Portland is so very beautiful and well kept. And environmentally conscious. I forgot to take a picture of a trash can marked "landfill"--which makes it quite clear where your non-recyclable trash is going. But I did have the presence of mind to snap a picture of this sign, which you can find in a number of toilets. It shows quite simply that when you urinate, you should push the handle up, as this will use less water than if you push the handle down (which you will want to do when you do something other than urinate). This struck me as very sensible.



We stayed in the lovely and historic Benson hotel--more photos at a later date. There's a wonderful history to this place, and to the story of Mr. Benson.

One night, we awoke to the sound of a fire alarm, and quickly evacuated the building in the middle of the night. I don't think I've been woken up by a fire alarm like this since I was in college, and my feet automatically took me down the stairs and outside. I have to say, I was impressed by how quickly the fire department responded, and by just how nice and cooperative everyone was. Portland is a friendly city.






As an author participating in Wordstock, I was allowed access to the Green Room which had an oxygen bar.

I never did try the bar myself, but my mother gave it a try. She is sampling something here called "Serenity."



On Sunday afternoon, I participated in a panel with the writers Naseem Rakha, and Patrick DeWitt. We had a wonderful conversation about our novels--our first--and how we had come to see our work in print. Both are generous and thoughtful writers--the very kind of people you want to have on a panel when discussing books. But it's important to point out that part of the reason why the conversation went so well was because our discussion was moderated by Emily Harris, of Oregon Public Radio, who went out of her way to read our books and familiarize herself with our stories. I was impressed. The audience was smart and attentive and asked good questions and so for me, the conference really ended on a high note.


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