Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Granbury Gambol

A rainy Saturday did not deter my friend, Candice, and me from our trek to Granbury. The historic Gordon home (Tarleton University's Langford Center) hosted a superb photo exhibit by JB and Susan Harlin. This was the perfect jumping off spot for a day of arts, laughs, good food, and window shopping. Fran Leibowitz once said that, "Teaching someone how to be a writer is like teaching someone how to be an adventurer." To some extent, that's true. I'm going to add that to be a writer, you need a sense of adventure - a willingness to explore and also observe a variety of people, things, and locations.
Author Scott Spencer said, "The initial spark that starts a novel can come anywhere, though I don't know when it has ever come when I'm sitting at my desk. Behind the wheel of a car has been a lucky place for me." (WSJ 9/10/10 p. W5)
I will say, Granbury struck me as a lovely setting for a novel or a crime mystery. Small town feel, with plenty of outside traffic flowing through the square, as the imposing clock tower ticks down the hours.

Or the old jail could prompt historical fiction. I bet there were some cattle rustlers and other hustlers corraled in this small stone fortress.

From Steve Hely's fiction, How I Became a Famous Novelist, "Writing a novel - actually picking the words and filling in paragraphs - is a tremendous pain in the ass." (p. 73) His fictional character studies popular books and then bangs out one based on his observed formula. " If you tried to fit in actual emotion, or stuff you cared about, you'd just bog your novel down. Writing was like a magic trick." (p. 70) His system proves successful and the ultimate marketing, too, snowballs into success. But he feels hollow, a charlatan. "To fail to tell a story honestly was sacrilege." (p. 231)

The Granbury trip was refreshing. New perspective on Texas travel, characters, history. A grillworked layer set against a stormy sky.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Road Trip Reverie

Road trip novels can be really good or prove ponderous, however, The English Major is witty insight into a sixty-year old man who's "lost" his wife, his farm, and his purpose. Spurred by a childhood jigsaw puzzle of the United States, Cliff roams the West, rediscovers himself, and reflects on his past loves and life.

To attempt to be a good writer, one must read and I read in all genres and styles. I peruse library shelves and titles catch my eye. I pull the book out, read the blurb, and either keep or reject. Some authors are known and I have faith in their writing based on history. Book reviews are a wealth of opinion and often I'll remember thinking, "That sounded intriguing." The English Major was a found gem.

Jim Harrison's voice is strong and his humor heightens the book's charm. Cliff taught English, and then turned to farming. This foray is interesting as he considers his joys and tries to overcome early to rise habits. On his road trip, he flings puzzle pieces out the window, or buries them symbolically, as he crosses state lines.

Cliff's ties to his son, Robert, in California, and almost ex-wife, Vivian, in Michigan, are intertwined with his current (annoying) accessory, former student Marybelle. Sex, lust, and abandonment are explored. Cliff teeters between alcohol binges and sobering observations through Idaho, Montana, CA, Arizona, and his true love, Michigan.

Here's an example of Harrison's smooth writing on page 189: As an English major I was familiar with the stories of dozens of writers trying to get their work done amid the multifarious diversions of the world and the hurdles of their own vices. A professor had said what saves writers, is that they, like politicians, had the illusion of destiny, which allowed them to overcome obstacles no matter how nominal their work.

Meander with Cliff and enjoy the road (life) trip that is The English Major.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Poems and Finance Do Mix

Matthew Prior specialized in finance journalism, then quit his job to to start a business - poetfolio.com. The idea was to give business news on the internet in blank verse. Unconventional, amusing (to Matt), and all in all, a huge bust. By the time he figured out his mistake, his wife was having spending issues herself, and between the two of them they were digging a financial grave.

The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter appears grim, but actually this book is a hilarious read. It is the story of a man's recognition of his rocky marriage, his attempt to sabotage his wife's affair, his struggle to gain employment (without groveling) - all through a newly found (by accident) marijuana haze, and the possibility of using drug trade to get back on track. (Again, not necessarily the wisest choice).

Jess Walter has written a timely book with an ear for snappy dialogue, clever inner dialogue, and bad verse that's funny good. I snickered to myself at Matt's encounters with Richard, his terrible financial planner, and with Skeet and Dave, the drug dealer connections. Mr. Walter shows how bad decisions can lead to even worse decisions by folks who never thought they'd be in a mess. Matt and Lisa had plotted a regular middle class life course, but they got waylaid. Again, while the book presents serious issues, it is a well-paced humorous down-to-earth, trudging to 7-11 to get milk at midnight read. (And yes, trouble does happen after midnight).

Page 290 Matt's summarizing a bit and it's so true: But it's not easy, realizing how we fucked it all up. And that turns out to be the hardest thing to live with, not the regret or the fear, but the realization that the edge is so close to where we live.

I recommend The Financial Lives of the Poets for the writing, the humor, and, sure, I have to admire the thrown in poetry and occasional haiku. Poems, Finance, and a well drawn character do mix.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Go to Town

The Town is a gritty tale of bank robbers in the poor section of Boston called Charlestown. It's where friends don't rat out friends, where you pay off the local florist who coordinates gigs, and where there's not much hope of NOT going to prison someday. Ben Affleck stars in and directs the movie with aplomb. The characters, dialogue, and action are down and dirty and real. Huge thumbs up to a great movie for the fall season. Oscar buzz begins.

Ben plays Doug, a two bit criminal looking to get out. But jobs keep coming and he's the leader. His partner, Jim (played by a twitchy Jeremy Renner) is a time bomb himself, ready to scrap or pull a gun anytime. The crew have the timing down, masks, inside knowledge, and multiple staged getaway cars for bank robberies. But one goes wrong and the gang end up taking Clare, the bank manager (Rebecca Hall), hostage. She does get released, but she's the one connection that could blow the cover. So, Doug's in charge of checking on her, seeing if she remembers anything, and of course, he falls for her. She's smart, educated, from the right side of the tracks, and her innocence is refreshing. He's captivated, smitten, and he can see a hopeful future, possibly with her in it.

Meanwhile, the FBI, lead by Jon Hamm (perfect casting - strong, good looking, and righteous) is closing in on these punks. It's exciting to watch the group dare the FBI to nab them. Superb small character scenes, thrilling car chases, scary gun battles, and the underlying tone of family/friends/loyalty all creates a smart film. Ben Affleck directed Gone, Baby, Gone - an excellent first film. The Town, his sophomore effort, raises the bar.

September entertainment - you can't watch football all the time. Get out of the house and go see The Town.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A New Word for Tableau

Despite our continued hot humid temperatures, I'm determined to welcome fall into my home. With that in mind, Linda T. and I attended a Pottery Barn one hour decorating class. Pottery Barn's goal was to sell product (they succeeded), and our goal was to gather new ideas. The sales/decorator woman introduced me to a new word: TABLESCAPE. I checked Webster's and it's not there, but tablescape is an appropriate PB All-American term for arranging your crap in an eye-pleasing manner. In ancient times, the fancier French term tableau would suffice. (It's in the dictionary). So, I worked out color, texture, and staggered my decorative gems. I do lack proportion, but I don't buy really tall things due to lack of storage space.
Fun with language indeed. There is a reason why my runner is on a slant. Turns out my tablescape covers a table scrape. Pottery Barn did not include that issue in this class, but perhaps they will in the future: Flair for Flaws.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Writer's Revenge

30Rock is truly a location - Rockefeller Plaza, where broadcasting decisions are made daily. The fall television season is gearing up and I'm sure I'll log plenty of time in front of the tube. However, I'm pickier about shows and I notice writer credits. Writers have immense power, and fortunately actors recognize this fact and tend to thank writers when they win awards. Writers have the power to kill.

(WSJ - 8/30/10 p. W1) featured an article about death in prime time. Writers possess a little talked about power: the written word as a way to settle scores, keep high maintenance actors in line, and poke fun at anyone who gave them a hard time in junior high. How true. I've dug deep and used an old nemesis as fodder for a murder in a short story. Or I can make myself the heroine who arrives at Grand Central Station (see above pic) and is discovered as she alights from the train.
Actor Ed O'Neill (Modern Family) said, "Crossing a TV writer is suicide. I've heard many stories of someone getting brutally murdered on a show because they insisted on a bigger trailer." Or writer Steven Bochco said actors have complained that they would never say something. His response is, "Maybe you wouldn't say it, but your character will. He's my character and he's saying it right here." Mr. Bochco points to the script.
I didn't know that I possessed so much power at my fingertips. But as I type this, I realize I can indeed cause enemies to die, cause fiscal harm to old bosses, and resolve unrequited love. All it takes is imagination, and an underlying backbone of repressed stories.

So yes, I write works of fiction. Any character living or dead is a creation. Any resemblance to reality is mere coincidence. Or as Mike Barker (co-creater of American Dad) says, " We're all writers. If we weren't cowards, we'd be actors." (WSJ p.W2)

Friday, September 10, 2010

9/11: Remembrance & Resolve

9/11 - Don't even have to write the year. But think of children born after 2001,babies and school kids blithely going about their days, innocent and without hatred. A blank slate. Kids who shrug and ask, "What's the big deal?" Guess that's the key for writers of history and I think the key words are remember and peace. We need to remember, but we also need to promote peace.
Trinity Church in the shadow of the World Trade Center buildings proved to be a center for respite, recovery, prayer, healing, meals, and calm strength. The displays of letters written by children and folks from all over the world, teddy bears, fire/police/rescue insignias from every state, and poignant pictures give one pause.

Now, New York City has been and is in recovery and rebuild mode. There's a lot going on at the WTC site.

The hum of American engineering and resolve is evident, as is the hush at times as people peer and ponder. They point, remember, and contemplate September 11, 2001.

John Lennon's words and vision still apply. Imagine all the people, living life in peace.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Throw Away the Schedule

We sat eating pizza on this corner. Cutesy bistro seating and plenty of horns blaring. I loved this sign for the sheer orneriness of NYC drivers. So, Labor Day Weekend - I spent it in Texas accomplishing some errands, enjoying movies, lazing on the patio, and floating in the pool. I also reflected more on my time in New York - hence these photos as backdrop to some quotes from Annie Dillard's The Writing Life. (page 32)"How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives."
"What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim."

"A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order - willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living."

"It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time."

"There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by." p. 33 Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading - that is a good life."
I have to say, I stood outside Harper Collins, and restrained myself from running into their lobby and begging to see an agent or editor. I didn't force my way in with bagels or donuts. I didn't drop off a box filled with manuscripts. Sigh. I behaved, took a picture, and resumed my day's schedule of strolling, dining, and humming show tunes.
It's a good life.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Post-It Communication

Are you sick of NY pics yet? Well, tough. I'm going to use them as backdrop since I had such a good time and I took a lot of great angles. Here's the NY Stock Exchange down in Wall Street. Ray and I were there in August 2001. No big deal. Tons of hustle and bustle, cars, buses, traffic, people,etc. Now it's a bit of a fortress for good reason. Strictly pedestrian traffic and a bit of a holy hush. This flag is monstrous and truly memorable. America = money & power. Wall Street is the epicenter.
Our Staten Island Ferry trip was a bit hazy and overcast. Nonetheless, the great lady loomed large and people from all over the world paid her proper homage. I'm surprised we didn't capsize. I swear everyone was on the side of the ferry to view the Statue of Liberty. Truly - she gives me chills every time. I've visited Ellis Island and when you think of the immigrant history - it does give one pause. That's America!

St. Patrick's Cathedral. I'd turn Catholic if this was my church every week. Holy cow! It's gorgeous, ridiculous, and overwhelming. The amount of money spent on this place would feed, clothe, and care for multitudes. Nonetheless, the sheer facade brings in more and more and more, so who am I to question religion? It makes no sense, but I for one walk in the door and pay homage to stained glass windows, statues, and the sense of the Holy. It's a sight to behold.

Cool decoration outside Radio City Music Hall. I've seen shows in here and I've seen the Rockettes. Amazing facility and worth a tour.

Grand Central Station - absolutely a fabulous place to experience. Trains from everywhere. New York timing on a dime. Folks arriving with dreams, and people leaving crushed and beaten. You see everything and everybody. The restoration is gorgeous. So, post-it communication. I love writing post-it notes. I love the little yellow pads. I put a note in my husband's lunch every day. I leave notes on folders at work. Ray rolls his eyes sometimes, as do my guys at work. I throw in humor or commentary.
Either way, I'm amused. Sometimes (sadly) that's my writing for the day. Pithy, earnest, and worthy of a chuckle.