Category Archives: Writing Life

That’s Me In The Corner

That’s me in the spotlight small print.
I’ll be reading.
If you’re in the neighborhood, please come by to hold my hand listen. I’ll appreciate it. And I hear there will be wine. Lots of wine.

Peninsula Literary Series Presents
A Reading

Friday, January 27, 2012 — 7:00 p.m.
At Gallery House, 320 South California Avenue, Palo Alto
@ Birch Street, through Printer’s Inc. Cafe

Featuring: Brittany Perham, Casey FitzSimons,
and guest artist Wendy Fitzgerald

And presenting guest readers:
Teri Carter, Virginia Bellis, Jessica Hahn, and Richard Lawson

Authors will have books for sale at the reading. Donations of $5-10 gratefully accepted.

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About Featured Authors Casey FitzSimons and Brittany Perham 

Casey FitzSimons’ poetry appears in print and online in The Newport Review, Hobo Camp Review, EarthSpeak, The Prose-Poem Project, flashquake, Leveler, and others. She has been a finalist in the River Styx and Writecorner Press poetry competitions. She has collected her works annually in chapbooks, most recently No Longer Any Need (2011) and Altering the Lay of Land (2010). Casey taught art in San Francisco for many years, publishing her studio drawing book, Serious Drawing, with Prentice Hall, and reviewing many exhibitions for Artweek. She has a master’s degree in Fine Arts from San Jose State University.

Brittany Perham is the author of “The Curiosities” (Parlor Press 2012). Her recent work may be found in Southern Poetry Review, TriQuarterly, Lo-Ball, Linebreak, and elsewhere. She is a Jones Lecturer in poetry at Stanford University, where she was a Wallace Stegner Fellow from 2009-2011. She is a founding member of the word/music project Nonstop Beautiful Ladies and she lives in San Francisco.

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If It’s Good Enough For George

In the February issue of Vanity Fair, my pal George gives his answers to the famous Proust Questionnaire.  Would you be surprised to learn his most treasured possession is a pen and a piece of paper?  That his hero of fiction is Atticus Finch?  That the thing he’d most like to change about himself would be to read more books?

Not a snarky answer in the bunch.  My George is all grown up.  And I admit he got me in the gut with his answer to “what would you change about your family?” when he said:  I’d make them young again.

He also surprised me.  His favorite writers are Mark Twain (I’d never have guess that one) and Paddy Chayefsky (who I had to Google).  Turns out Paddy is a playwright, screenwriter, and novelist; and the only person to have earned 3 solo Academy Awards for Best Screenplay.  Paddy is a much respected and renowned American dramatist.

Paddy Chayefsky.  I love making these kinds of discoveries.

Now, of course, I can’t resist asking you a few questions.  Who knows what I might learn.  And I’ll play if you will.

_________

Favorite Writers and why (I’m limiting myself to 4, because you know this list could be looooooong):

William Styron — what style, not a wasted word in the place, with long flowing complex sentences I could read over and over again.

Joan Didion — particularly for her nonfiction, a structural genius who writes what she wants and doesn’t worry about what she’s not supposed to do.

Mary Karr — raw poetry in prose, most recognizable nonfiction voice in town.

Larry McMurtry — brilliant epic storyteller, creator of unusual and conflicted characters who drive seamless plots.

__________

Best last paragraph of a book:

Jane Smiley’s A THOUSAND ACRES
“And when I remember that world, I remember my dead young self, who left me something, too, which is her canning jar of poisoned sausage and the ability it confers, of remembering what you can’t imagine.  I can’t say that I forgive my father, but now I can imagine what he chose never to remember — the goad of an unthinkable urge, pricking him, pressing him, wrapping him in an impenetrable fog of self that must have seemed, when he wandered around the house at night after working and drinking, like the very darkness.  This is the gleaming obsidian shard I safeguard above all the others.”

___________

Favorite Writer You’ve Seen Speak in Person:  

Dorothy Allison.  Couldn’t take my eyes off of her.  She read a little, but spent most of her time on stage just talking like a real person, seemingly off-the-cuff, not a note in sight, about her writing and reading life.  Her remarks were like listening to a great poet put their everyday life into a regular conversation.  About a year later, I saw her perform her famous (which I didn’t know at the time) monologue, Frog Fucking, at AWP in front of hundreds of people.  It was shocking and hilarious and devastating, and the bravest thing I’ve ever seen.

___________

Your turn ….

The Quiet

I’ve gone quiet.

When I was little, I’d plant myself in a spare bedroom, the barn, the porch, the horse pasture, the library, or even underneath (yes, underneath) the living room coffee table and go quiet.

The best thing about setting foot on my mother’s farm was the nonexistence of noise.  Any noise.  Especially this time of year without the combines or crickets or howling coyotes, without the constant creak of the porch swing.  Even Buddy, her beagle mutt, holed up under the porch.

These holidays have been quiet.  And lovely.  Even with the Christmas crazies, my kids coming and going (which I loved!), even with Nat King Cole, Sinatra and Brenda Lee on the constant radio, even with a crazy puppy romping around the house, finding her big-girl-voice, it’s been damn (good) quiet here.

I’ve been keeping my mouth shut, reading and listening.

In THE HUNGER GAMES series, I discovered a story I would never have read, a story I can’t stop reading.  My 17 yr old niece called me a year ago and said, “Aunt Teri, you’ve got to read this book!!!”  And I said yep, sure, ho hum.  But now.  But now I’m almost finished with the 2nd book in this series, and had to run out like a crazed, obsessed nutcracker and buy the 3rd.  In hardback, full retail.  I couldn’t wait for Amazon.com delivery, that’s what fun these books are.  The great escape.  Team Peeta!

A friend sent me Ann Patchett’s THE GETAWAY CAR, a short e-book about the writing life, which I read in about a day.  Patchett’s memoir led me to her friend Elizabeth McCracken’s AN EXACT REPLICA OF A FIGMENT OF MY IMAGINATION.  I listened to it on audio, to McCracken reading her memoir, and it broke my heart and revived it, all at once.  I sat in my car, in the parking lot of Barnes & Noble, listening to the birth scene.  Tried to not-listen to it.  In the holiday rush of some jerk-off wanting my parking space (honk honk honk honk “Come On Lady!”) I crumbled under the pivotal scene.  That book led me to re-read (or rather, listen on audio to) Patchett’s memoir, TRUTH AND BEAUTY, which I read years ago when it first came out.  And then I found all of these articles about how pissed off everybody was about this book and, suddenly, I was pissed off.  At ALL of them.  If you’ve ever had a friend that consumed you, if you’ve ever sacrificed your peace and quiet for someone else’s hell, read (or listen to) this book.  And then google “Ann Patchett Lucy Grealy” and go read the bullshit that came after.  I’m in your corner, Ann Patchett.

We went to see a great movie this week:  THE DESCENDANTS.  A quiet little story where nobody is who you think they are, a story I wish I could write.  I ran back to the store and bought the paperback, retail $13 flippin’ 50, by Kaui Hart Hemmings.  What a discovery, this writer I’ve never heard of.  Can’t wait to read her book, her book with the story I’ve already seen.  There’s an interview section in the back:  “In a way, I’m writing all day,” she says.  “Reading other people’s novels is my work.”  Reading is a great thing, “because in a way you’re engaging in this strange, silent, conversation.”

On Audible.com. I found an old (really old) recording of Mary Karr’s THE LIAR’S CLUB.  It’s abridged, and the sound quality is awful, but who cares.  It’s spectacular, in the way that only the Texas of Mary Karr is spectacular.

I’m feeling quiet in this new year.  Like I want nothing more than to hole up in my dining room (aka my office) and shut it all the hell out.

_________

Sit and quiet yourself. Luxuriate in a certain memory and the details will come. Let the images flow. You’ll be amazed at what will come out on paper. I’m still learning what it is about the past that I want to write. I don’t worry about it. It will emerge. It will insist on being told.     —Frank McCourt

Don't let this quietly sleeping, long-legged angel fool you. She dreaming up her next adventure.


Bandit

It’s the end of the year and time for lists.  Toss out the last 12 months, turn yourself over on your deaf ear, and make room for new nonsense intentions.  You know … all that.

But before I get on with the new year, I figured I could use a reality check.  Back in September, I made a list of things I wanted to start doing.  Here’s how that went:

________

1. Work on some part of my manuscript everyday.  Well shit.  I’m already off the rails at number one.  The good news is my butt is glued to the chair 3 or 4 afternoons a week, no weekends.  I’m making progress, and I like how it’s going (love it, in fact), but I still need to work more.  Period.

2. Jog.  I did very little with this until Halloween, when I committed to run in the Thanksgiving Day 10K with my friend Julee.  Julee hadn’t been jogging much either, but she’s 7 years younger than me and works out with a fitness trainer.  Thanks to her, the competitive wench in me kicked in and I got on with it.  Now if I could just stop eating like a stoned teenager ….

3. Stop and stare.  I get a big fat F.  Why am I always in such a hurry?

4. Do the things on my To Do list.  At this moment, I do not have a To Do List.

5. Curse less.  Yeah, well, fuck that.  Especially if I keep watching college and professional sports: the corruption, the money, the steroids, the cheating, the abuse!  I can turn out a hell of a fucking rant just by reading the sports page.  Not to mention what might happen once the 2012 presidential election kicks into full gear.

6. Watch less TV.  I can’t really give myself credit for this one since there’s never anything on TV worth watching.  So while the TV is often on, I’m usually doing something else, like reading the sports page or chasing my puppy around the kitchen, playing hide-and-seek.

7. Clean it out.  After 6 years, I finally cleaned out the garage and can park my car in there.  This was such a relief.  On the flip side, it’s almost January and summer clothes remain in my closet, so I’m not completely cured.

8. Read while sitting up.  I’m doing most of my reading on the couch and very little when I go to bed.  In the past couple of weeks, I’ve polished off four books and am powering through a fifth.  (more about this next week)

9. Cook fewer dinners.  I’m cooking less, but eating more.  Hmmmmmm….

10. Turn off the computer by 7 p.m.  HA!  This has actually gotten worse.  I’m checking e-mail, reading the blogs, and playing Words With Friends on my iPad until the minute I go to bed.   The actual minute.  This makes me ridiculous, and as that movie producer in THE GODFATHER says, I will not be made to look ridiculous!  

Bandit

11. Look forward to the holidays. For the first time in a few years, we put up the tree.  We used ALL of my decorations.  I went to Target and bought a few lights to string on the front stoop, which I plan to keep lit up through January.  Both of my kids were here!!  I made my grandmother’s Chicken and Dumplings, played Christmas music in the house, ate an entire box of Libb’s chocolate turtles, and didn’t bake a single cookie.  In honor of my mother, I donated my Christmas money to support this little guy at Animal Friends Rescue Project, the shelter where we adopted Lucy 3 years ago.  This morning, I see he’s already been adopted.

Happy New Year, Bandit.

Until You Crash, What Have You Done

2011 was the year of the crash.  My crash.  With my manuscript.

And here’s the kicker:  It’s taken me a full 12 months to the day to realize this crash was assuredly, if painfully, needed.  I hit a necessary obstacle.  Do not pass go, do not collect $200.  The book that existed this time last year is not the book I intended to write.  It was the starting line.  It needed work.  And not just the work of sitting my ass in this chair and writing for the sake of filling up the pages, but the kind of introspection and attention where every section, every paragraph and sentence, needed to be fleshed out and filled back in; the kind where my best ideas came when I was not actually in this chair, but somewhere else.

Sometimes the big crash comes to make you stop, to snap your brain, to force you to put down your pen with it’s bleeding blue ink and give the thing a chance to breathe.

I’m breathing better, too.  I’ve been back to jogging for 7 weeks now.  Today was the first time I chucked the jog and ran sprints.  Today was the first time I ran the entire way with my eyes trained forward, on the distance, instead of with my head ducked down, wary of the rocks and obstacles that might trip me up.  Today I came home with two sentences I didn’t even know I was looking for.

In a 1965 interview, William Styron said, I’ve always thought that time was a challenge.  I have a feeling the good writer will set up obstacles for himself.  He will try to make his story as difficult to write as possible, to see if he can leap over these obstacles with grace.  I’ve always felt I had to do this with everything I’ve written to give the work a sort of tension.  If I’d ever written anything in a simple and straightforward way, it would have lacked that tension.  The use of time is often the most convenient way to set up these obstacles.

Hey Bill, I was born in 1965.  Last night, 12 months to the day, I heard this song and felt something shake loose.  I was listening to it this morning, running, when I found those two missing sentences.  What are the chances?

The Mill River Recluse

This weekend I’m reading Darcie Chan’s THE MILL RIVER RECLUSE.

On my iPad.

And you know I don’t like reading on my iPad.

But I came across this article about Ms. Chan and her book and I was hooked.  After years of trying, unsuccessfully, to get her first novel into the mainstream world of publishing, she’s now sold 400,000 self-published copies.  In today’s New York Times Book Review, THE MILL RIVER RECLUSE is #23 on their e-book best sellers list.

iPad reading or not, I’m enjoying this story a great deal.  Click on the book’s cover above to get your copy.  I promise it will be worth every penny of your 99 cents, and then some.

Click here for Darcie Chan’s website.  You can find her RedRoom interview here.