Tuesday, May 31, 2005

After writing about the lack of embodiment in the new Star Wars movie, it was refreshing to find this editorial in the LA Times: Natural Selection Killed Desdemona: Jealousy, hate, fear -- human biology beats in the heart of good literature by David P. Barash and Nanelle R. Barash, co-authors of "Madame Bovary's Ovaries: A Darwinian Look at Literature." The Barashes posit that biology is very present on the written page.

Human nature pulses inside every writer, and, when artfully communicated, is understood by every reader because it is so deeply shared. It is the breath and beat of living organisms embodied in an organic world of sex, blood, food, fear, anger, love, hopes, trees, animals, air, water, sky, rocks and dirt. Now that biologists have begun clarifying their perspective on what it means to be human, it is time to look for it for ourselves where it has always been — in our greatest, most resonant stories.
We went to see the new Star Wars movie yesterday. I liked what George Lucas did with the Darth Vader/George Bush parallels (you may not admit it Lucas, but it's clear as day), and I liked how the story lines tied together to pave the way for the first Star Wars movie's story to begin. I found myself engaged in moments, especially when Yoda was on screen. But overall, I found the acting quite wooden, the droid/clone voices quite laughable (although nothing was as bad as JarJar Binks, thankfully.) And I realized something--I would never want to live in that galaxy far far away. For several reasons. The endless war is the main one (we're approaching that on our planet, but at least the air isn't always full of battles.) But also, it is such a completey unsensual world. It is a cold world, a world of dark shiny surfaces without warmth or aesthetic pleasure. A world of very little nature. I saw no plant life whatsoever in the cities. The only place with any green was Yoda's home, and even that had a sort of dingy quality to it--the nature was eclipsed by all the battlements. It is a post-nature world, a post-body world, where androids have intelligence but no sensory feeling, where it doesn't really matter if your body is hacked apart and burnt to a crisp, because you can just attach robotic limbs to the stumps, a robotic breathing system to the beleagured lungs, and still try to take over the world. It makes me sad, this denigration and devaluation of the body. Even the love story, the pregnancy and birth in the movie, felt divorced from any real embodied truth. A world I definitely would not want to live within. I am grateful we live in such a sensory-rich world, grateful we live in these fragile, transient bodies that can enjoy our gorgeous planet.

The GCC is back in town! Currently on tour is Shanna Swendson, author of Enchanted, Inc., a magical romp for grownups. I had the chance to ask Shanna a few questions about her process.

> --What inspired this book? What inspires you, in general?

I sometimes feel like this book was divinely inspired because the idea came
to me in a flash that was so strong I had to hold onto something to keep my
balance when it hit me. I knew at that moment that I had something special.
The idea behind the book came to me as wish fulfillment fantasy. I hated my
job, even though I telecommuted and worked from home, and one morning as I
trudged up the stairs to my home office, I caught myself thinking about how
cool it would be to open my e-mail and find a fabulous, magical job offer.
And that was when the burst of inspiration hit me and I realized that would
make a fun story.

I think that same kind of wish fulfillment is what inspires me, in general.
Most of my stories seem to start with, "Wouldn't it be cool if ..." I think
of things I'd like to do or that I'd like to have happen to me.

> --Did you read a lot of magical books as a child? What were your favorites?

I've always been fascinated by tales of the unreal and magical. I learned to
read with the Dr. Seuss books, which may not have had literal magic, but
they were certainly about fantastic places that could have been magical. I
also loved fairy tales. I had all the record albums with the stories and
songs of the Disney fairy tale movies (back in the Dark Ages before
videotape and DVDs allowed you to watch the movies themselves over and over
again). I loved to put on dress-up clothes and pretend to be an enchanted
princess. As I got older, I started reading a lot of fantasy and science
fiction. I was a huge Star Wars fan (which is really a fairy tale in
structure, when you think about it). I loved the Chronicles of Narnia by
C.S. Lewis, and of course The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit by J.R.R
Tolkien. Then there were the Chronicles of Prydain, by Lloyd Alexander. When
I was in high school, I got into adult fantasy books by Katherine Kurtz,
Anne McCaffrey, Stephen R. Donaldson, Terry Brooks and many others.

> --Has anything magical happened to you during the writing or publishing
> process?

I think the whole process has been pretty magical. Writing this book was
such a special experience. I'd never had so much fun working on a book
before. It took me a while from the time I had the original idea before I
actually wrote a word, but along the way pieces of it came to me in bursts
of inspiration. Once I sat down to actually write, the characters came to
life for me in an amazing way, and although the editor who'd asked to see it
based on a conversation I'd had with her about the idea said she was fine
with just the first few chapters, I couldn't stop writing after I mailed
those chapters. I was having too much fun, so I just wrote the whole book
(and good thing, too, because that editor ended up rejecting it, and having
the full manuscript helped in selling it elsewhere). When I got an agent and
she suggested a few revisions, I actually looked forward to doing those
revisions because it was another chance to go back and play in that world.

Then there was all the stuff that went on in the publishing process --
seeing the cover for the first time and realizing what my baby would look
like, getting the reviews and realizing that other people also think my book
is pretty special, and then yesterday, I saw it on the shelf at a bookstore
for the first time. Wow.

> --What are you working on now?

I'm mostly working on promoting Enchanted, Inc., but when I have a moment to write, I'm working on a young adult fantasy story. I'm also brainstorming book three in the series that starts with Enchanted, Inc., in case it does well enough that Ballantine is willing to buy a third book.

> --Because this is a Fruitful interview, what do you consider to be the most
> magical fruit and why?

Strawberries! They're sweet and juicy, and you can do so much with them.
Plus, the really good ones that aren't imported or grown in hothouses are
only available a short time during the year, which makes them even more
special. When I was a kid, strawberries were a rare treat that we carefully
rationed to make sure everyone in the family got their fair share. I think
the moment I felt I was truly an adult was when I realized that I could buy
strawberries whenever I wanted and eat as many as I wanted, and nobody could do anything about it.

>Thanks so much, Shanna! May your book (and strawberries!) bring more and more magic your way...

Monday, May 30, 2005

I am always excited to see new and creative ways in which people are working to nurture peace and social justice, so I was very inspired to hear of Donna Druchunas' new site, Knitting for Change. Donna was feeling helpless after the 2004 elections, until she lit upon the idea of creating an online knitting circle dedicated to, in her words, "building community, fostering discussion, and promoting peace." Here, she describes her inspiration for the circle:

The more I thought about the events of the past four years, the more desperate I became to find something positive that I could do.

Surprisingly, it was an article in the Fall 2004 issue of Vogue Knitting that renewed my energy and gave me an idea. The article described knitters making peace-sign arm bands to wear at rallies, members of Codepink knitting a giant banner to display on International Women’s Day, and a woman in New York City knitting red worms to promote composting. This is something I could relate to, because I have been knitting since I was a child.
Each month, she plans to post an essay, a knitting lesson, a pattern, and a link to organizations accepting donations of hand-knit items.

This month's lessons are wonderfully basic. I have been wanting to learn to knit, and this is the perfect opportunity. My daughter actually just bought a learn-to-knit kit not too long ago, too. I know Donna's example will inspire us both.

She writes:

I hope this site will be visited by knitters of many different backgrounds and viewpoints so we can have an open and honest dialog. As knitters, we have a unique opportunity to join together in our communities to make small changes that can have large repercussions in our nation and beyond our borders. One stitch at a time, we can build bridges that bind us together instead of allowing our differences to tear us apart.

A few days after the election, I told a friend, “I am frustrated that ‘what little I can do’ won't make any difference.” She replied, “I also get frustrated, but I think that grains of sand ultimately make mountains (under a bit of heat and pressure). I can be a grain of sand. I can maybe be a few grains of sand.” Please pick up your knitting needles and join me in being a grain of sand!
I'm all for that!

Think of ways in which you can use your own passions can help make a difference in the world--writing for change, dancing for change, eating for change...The possibilities are endless!

Sunday, May 29, 2005

There are two articles in the LA Times today that look at writing in terms of wordiness and word economy--Les Perelman's editorial, New SAT: Write Long, Badly, and Prosper explores how wordiness, even bloviation, is rewarded in the new essay portion of the SAT, and an article in the Business Section, Search-Related Ads Rely on Poetry of Words, Numbers, explores how "Maximizers" at Google have to write three line, 95 word, ads for their clients. Their mission, writes Chris Gaither, "is worthy of a haiku writer."

I've been thinking a lot about how to find the right balance between wordiness and word paucity in the new novel I'm working on. The catalog I picked up at Copper Canyon Press last week has a quote from Strunk and White on the cover: "Omit needless words." I think this is so important, especially in poetry. And, as a poet first and foremost, I find that I gravitate toward an economy of language in my prose. My sentences and paragraphs tend to be fairly short.

I worry, though, that in my desire for pared down language, I sometimes don't spend as much time with a character, with an image, with a story line, as I should. In one of the reviews of The Book of Dead Birds, the reviewer said it felt as if I had written the book with a mandate to use as few words as possible. I kind of like this--I like boiling down work to its essence, without a lot of padding--but I also wonder if I am denying myself and my stories a more abundant and exuberant use of language.

Early in my online novel writing class, I ask students to look at the opening sentences from five random novels on their shelves. It is interesting to see how much longer the sentences are in older novels--they are unhurried, leisurely. Most modern novels have much shorter, choppier, sentences. I guess it's a reflection of the times. Things move faster; our attention spans are shorter. And long sentences do tend to distract me; I often wonder why they aren't broken down into smaller units. But I want to give myself the option of being a little more verbose and expansive than I usually allow myself to be. Not SAT-essay verbose, not Strunk and White-defying verbose. Just more open, more generous, more patient, with language.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Both of my husband Matt's bands, Old Brown Shoe (2/3 of which are in this picture) and Bucksworth (Matt's picture isn't up on their website yet--stay tuned!) are going to be playing at The Press in Claremont this Saturday, May 28th, at 9:30pm. Check them out, if you're nearby. You can get more details, and info about future shows, over at Mojam. Both bands, in my opinion, will knock your socks off (and yes, I'm biased, but they are undeniably fabulous.)
A recent issue of US News and World Report featured a little sidebar about new flavors of ice cream coming out this summer. LaLoo's Goat Milk Ice Cream has flavors like chevre chiffon, molasses tipsycake, and black mission fig (which sounds incredible), all made from goat's milk. Ecreamery can make you a customized flavor; ones the magazine staff sampled included peach green tea (mmm), cucumber dill weed (which they said would be good with Indian food), yam/avocado (which they loved), and corn with nuts (which sounds vaguely scatological to me). I would love to try some of these, but they cost $80 a gallon!!! Cold Stone Creamery, which is much more accessible (both price and location wise--they're all over the place around here), is featuring some interesting flavors in July, including oatmeal cookie batter, wasabi ginger, and black licorice.

I was very surprised to see the black licorice. When I was a kid, an ice cream maker in Chicago (I forget which one) was holding a contest to create a new flavor. The ice cream I dreamed up was The John Hancock, and it was going to be black licorice ice cream, with pieces of black licorice inside, like the black metal bracing on the building. I loved the John Hancock Building, and I thought this ice cream would capture the dark gleam of it. Every time I mentioned the flavor to people, they would cringe and say "No one would eat that!" Needless to say, I didn't win the contest. But now Coldstone has come up with black licorice ice cream, and I can't wait to try it (although I wish they would rename it the Hancock!) When my sister and I were little, we thought hot dogs sliced into vanilla ice cream would be delicious, but I doubt Coldstone is going to offer that flavor any time soon. Maybe we could ask Ecreamery to whip up a batch.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Hey, thanks to Kevin Smokler for mentioning me in his article about blogs over at MJ Rose's blog, Buzz, Balls and Hype I can't wait to read Kevin's book, Bookmark Now, which, according to the publisher, is

An anthology of original essays from our most intriguing young writers; Bookmark Now boldly addresses the significance of the production of literature in the twenty-first century. Or, simply, How do we talk about writing and reading in an age where they both seem almost quaint? The book features authors in their twenties and thirties--those raised when TV, video games, and then the Internet supplanted books as dominant cultural mediums--and their intent is to examine; (1) how this generation came to writing as a calling, (2) what they see as literature's relevance when media consumption and competition have reached unprecedented levels, and (3) how writing and reading fit in with the rest of our rapid, multitasking world. The result will offer a voyeuristic peek into the private, creative lives of today's writers and shed light on what their work means at a time when the book business is changing, yet--almost paradoxically--a time when storytelling as a means of both self-realization and community building (be it via e-mail, weblogs, or This American Life) seems more relevant than ever before.
I've been having lots of discussions lately about the relevance of literature today, so I am very excited to read these authors' thoughts on the matter.

Speaking of literature, I wish I had known about the Writing for Peace forum at the The Second Seoul International Forum for Literature. Not that I could have gone. I am grateful such forums exist (plus it would be amazing to travel to Korea some day.) At the wedding, the groom's mother showed me a sweet little key chain she picked up on Cheju Island, where my character Helen grew up. It was made of fake volcanic rock. I touched it and felt as if I was indirectly touching my character's world--both Helen and the key chain are replicas, replicants, representations of real life in Korea!

Wow--what a week in Washington (and what a lame use of alliteration!) It was an amazing trip--emotional, intense, exhausting, heart filling. We spent 40 hours on the train, seated behind a guy with Tourette's (who would suddenly yell "Hello!" and "Jesus Christ!" and "Where am I?" at consistent, but always-surprising, intervals) and near a man with sleep apnea who choked and moaned twice a minute for most of the night. The emergency brakes had to be pulled because a car had flipped over on the tracks (amazingly, no one was hurt) and the train had to be inspected for a couple of hours afterwards. Writing this, it sounds like a pretty torturous experience, but it was fairly glorious. Especially the scenery. We fell asleep to Central CA farmland and woke up to foresty mountains and waterfalls. We saw dolphins and llamas and bald eagles and some impressive grafitti through the windows. We sang with strangers. We ate a lot of bad food. I even got some writing done.

Spending time with my family in Port Townsend was so beautiful. My cousins had rented out a bunch of former officer's quarters at Fort Worden (which has since become a state park and conference/arts center), so it was like living in a charming neighborhood full of relatives--we filled up a whole row of Victorian duplexes. My sister named it Branskyville (Bransky is our family name; my father changed his last name to Brandeis during the McCarthy era.) We walked through the old mossy battlements (which were full of spooky tunnels and dark staircases) and breathed in the clean cold air of the forest and saw more bald eagles and marvelled at how nature had overtaken the military zone. Then we stumbled upon Copper Canyon Press, one of my very favorite poetry presses. I had no idea that it was located at Fort Worden, so this was a fabulous surprise. Poets Against the War started there (which I think gives it even more poetic justice, growing as it did from a former army base!)

Mimi's memorial and the wedding were each utterly beautiful and magical in their own ways. The weather cooperated, giving us rainbows and miraculous moments of sun when we thought we'd be mired in storm. And an eagle soared across the wedding site right after the sun broke through the clouds.

Visiting Matt's family on Whidbey Island was fabulous, too. What a gorgeous part of the world (we saw even more bald eagles!) My son came down with a fever of 104 on Monday, so our last few days there were fairly low key, but that was okay--just being together was wonderful. Arin's fever has gone down, but he's still wiped out. All of us are wiped out. Today has been a catch-up-on-work-and-sleep kind of day.

It was hard to come back to heat and smog--my lungs are already rebelling; they miss that delicious air--but it feels good to be home.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

We're off to the Olympic Peninsula! I'll see you here after the 25th (unless I have a chance to check in amidst the wedding and other family togetherness.) Have a wonderful week!

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Yay! The article about Artichoke is in The New York Times today! Click on "Enlarge this image" to see the full band (including my sister-in-law Sharon on accordion, looking gorgeous!)

And as I was poking around the NYT website, I bumped into my friend Greg Walloch in an article about an hysterical-sounding reading series called Lit Lite.

You never know who you'll find at the Gray Lady! I'm thrilled that these wonderful people are getting so much exposure.

After my real life weekend GCC convo, it's time for another virtual GCC visit. Today, our guest is Marianne Mancusi, author of A Connecticut Fashionista in King Arthur's Court. Here is a synopsis:

Once upon a time there lived an outspoken fashion editor named Kat, who certainly was not your typical damsel in distress. But when a gypsy curse sent her back in time to the days of King Arthur, she found she'd need every ounce of her 21st century wits (and pop culture references) to navigate the legend. After all, surviving a magical plot, an evil prince, and a case of mistaken identity--all without changing history or scuffing your Manolos--takes some doing!

Luckily, she's got her very own knight in shining armor, Lancelot du Lac, on her side. The honorable-to-a-fault and devastatingly handsome champion insists on helping her out, even though she's not quite sure she wants him to. After all, shouldn't he be off romancing Queen Guenevere or something? Will Kat manage to stay out of trouble long enough to get back to her beloved café lattes, cosmopolitans and cashmere? And what will Lancelot's forbidden love mean for the kingdom of Camelot?
Marianne is a multiple Emmy Award winning television news producer for WHDH-TV in Boston, Massachusetts. She has worked for news stations in Orlando and San Diego. A Massachusetts native, she currently lives in Massachusetts with her British husband Aaron and their dog Molly. She has six other adult and teen novels under contract with Dorchester and Berkley.

I had the chance to ask Marianne a few questions...

--What was the initial seed of inspiration for this novel? What inspires you in general?

I knew I loved the Chick Lit style of writing, yet I noticed the market was becoming saturated with books about single girls, living in NYC with the bad bosses, bad boyfriends, and really good shoes. Not that there’s anything wrong with these books, mind you. I’m a big fan of traditional chick lit. But I knew if I wanted to stand out from the crowd and get noticed by a publisher, I had to do something different. And since I’m such a fan of Arthurian legend and fantasy books in general, the combination seemed a good fit and something I would enjoy writing.

--Could you describe your writing process? What are you working on now?

Since I have a full time job, I wake up early and write every morning before work. It takes some discipline when that alarm clock goes off, but it's worth it.

I just finished a Young Adult vampire comedy for Berkley called "Boys that Bite" about a 16 year old girl who gets accidentally turned into a vampire (through a case of mistaken identity) one week before prom. Now she has seven days to stop the transformation before turning into a creature of the night forever. Boys that Bite will be out in April of 2006.

--Since this is a Fruitful interview--what is your favorite fruit and why?

Hmm... I'd have to say strawberries. They taste delicious, go well with ice cream (important!)and remind me that summer is on its way. :-)

--Strawberries--yes! Thanks so much for stopping by, Marianne!

Monday, May 16, 2005

Since I was in woe-is-me mode earlier today (sorry about that--it doesn't happen too often), I forgot to mention that yesterday, I had the chance to see Martha O'Connor read from her novel, The Bitch Posse, which I blogged about not too long ago. She was fantastic (and has a very inspiring publishing story to tell. She didn't let rejection get her down--she used it to knock down all her writerly inhibitions and tell the story she really wanted and needed to write. Something I need to heed right now!) Two other writers from the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit were there, too, which was very cool--Ann Marie Michaels and Megan Crane. It was wonderful to meet them!

Martha's friend Jodi took a few pictures at Martha's reading. Here's Martha and me...

And here's Martha, me, Ann Marie, and Megan.
Last night, a friend reminded me of the wonders of Cesar Vallejo's poetry. I have been paging through his Complete Posthumous Poetry since then, and happened upon this poem, "Intensity and Height". It pretty much captures my writing life lately.

I want to write, but out comes foam,
I want to say so much and I freeze;
there is no spoken cipher which is not a sum,
there is no written pyramid, without a core.

I want to write, but I feel like a puma;
I want to laurel myself, but I stew in onions.
There is no spoken cough, which doesn't end in mist,
there is no god nor son of god, without unfolding.

Let's go, then, through this, and eat grass,
the flesh of sobbing, the fruit of groaning,
our melancholy soul preserved in jam.

Let's go! Let's go! I'm wounded;
let's go drink that already drunk,
let's go, raven, and fecundate your rook.

My writing has felt like foam, lately--insubstantial, inconsequential. I think I'm a bit gun shy right now. I remember when I sold my first book, I thought "Okay, I'm in." I didn't expect to become rich or famous, but I figured once I had a book out, it would be easy to sell my future books. This hasn't proven to be the case. I have had a couple of unsettling rejections lately, ones that make me question my own worth and future as a writer (even though I know they shouldn't), and it makes it hard for me to fully enter that wonderful juicy creative flow. I know I'll get back there, but right now, I feel somewhat dry.

We're taking a train up to Seattle on Wednesday, and I am hoping to get some good writing done on the 33 hour ride (although I'm looking forward to looking out the window and reading and playing Scrabble with the family and checking out the dining car, too). Maybe a sense of geographical spaciousness will inspire more creative spaciousness. I hope so. I'm ready for it. I'm ready to fecundate my rook.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

I have been meaning to write about the Flux Factory "Novel" installation, but I haven't quite been able to sort out my feelings about it. Here is the jist of the project:

At 9pm on May 7th, 2005, three novelists will be enclosed within three individual habitats designed and constructed by three teams of architect/artists. For thirty days, this will be their reality. Nightly, they will dine together (courtesy of a revolving cast of chefs). Public readings of the novels-in-progress will be held every Saturday evening, with viewing hours throughout the week. In June, each writer will emerge from his or her habitat having completed a novel.
I imagine being inside this habitat for a month, and feel both claustrophobic and exposed at the thought of it. It seems like a writerly zoo, like being in a cage, on display. A writer monkey. At the same time, part of me feels a bit jealous of these writers--one month with nothing to do but write.

I have participated in National Novel Writing Month twice. I was able to--barely--cross the 50,000 word finish line both times within those 30 days, and these were Novembers full of distraction (including Thanksgiving!) If I didn't have to take kids to school, karate, etc., imagine how much writing could get done! Plus, I think I'm feeling nostalgic for the time when all I did was write. I am doing a lot of teaching now, and I absolutely love it--it is more gratifying than I can express; I love my students; I love helping people find their voices, hone their craft, push their creative envelopes; I am learning so much in the process, myself--but I am finding it harder to find time for my work. To be isolated for a month could be very fruitful. But I would miss my family terribly. And then there is that issue of being on display, which I think could be very inhibiting to the creative process (unless you are someone like Laurie Stone, who I've taken a seminar with, and who freely admits to being a bit of an exhibitionist. I am glad she's one of the three novelists in the project--she's the perfect candidate for it.)

My friend (and former student), Alexander Sellers, an amazing writer, shared his experience of being on writerly display at a recent festival in BC. It was only for a couple of hours, but it sounds like it felt like an entire month...

In a 48 hour period, 24 of us in the "Vicious Circle" (the Whistler Writing Group) participated in this "Experimental Novel" with each writer climbing into an old 1970's style steel 4-person gondola that'sbetter suited for two people, the gondola being about a third the size of a Smart Car. And it's the "International Snowboard Festival" week in town to cap off the season. So the gondola's placed in the middle of the village and each writer works like a goldfish in its bowl with tourists - drunkards- locals whoever looking into the gondola as you work. That's bad to be sure. But when I wrote, it was HELL!! Less than fifteen feet from the gondola, they set up a half-pipe and had a Skateboard competition/exhibition with all the loud - LOUD - Loud - LOUD Hipster-Gangster Rap BOOM - BOOM you could Imagine Blaring!!!!! Holy Shit what a Nightmare!!! Kids beating on the gondola, gawkers of every sort.... The point was to take up where the person who went before you left off, and you could bring in notes or story and copy off if you wanted [which is what I did] but the intent was to be spontaneous. But I couldn't. I put on Headphones playing Beethoven's 9th as followed that with Mozart's unfinished "Requiem" but that didn't drown out the incessant pulse of the BOOM-BOOM like they'd set the gondola over the beating heart of Mother Earth. I couldn't think, and so could only copy my first draft notes and pray for the two hours to end. Might I suggest you never make yourself a goldfish in a bowl for writing publicity... It's Hell!! But I'll always remember it with a smile on my face, though I'll never do it again!)
I think a writers' retreat/colony, like MacDowell or Hedgebrook, would be the perfect compromise--dedicated time to write, without the sense of being in a goldfish bowl. One of these days, I may have to apply...

Friday, May 13, 2005

I've posted a short essay about a life-changing reading experience over in the Comments section at The LitBlog Co-Op (you'll have to scroll down a bit to find it. You can post your own memorable reading experiences, as well.)

The Dead and the Living still blows me away--I practically know the book by heart...

single body alone in the universe
against its own best time.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

A fun Fruitflesh sighting--my friend Tana was visiting Seabreeze Organic Farm in San Diego, documenting it for her Small Farms project, and she spied a copy of Fruitflesh at the home of the proprietress, Stephenie. She and the farm both sound fabulous:

We stopped in front of a long row of lettuces that were glistening with health. Stephenie said, "With the threats to our national food security, who on earth can you trust more than a farmer?" These are exactly my sentiments: having grown up with a grandfather who embodied the word "integrity" as few I've ever known, I know the farmers possess it in abundance. She said, "I don't follow the rules of some government agency. I have more integrity than any of them: I have to answer to myself."
I hope I'll get a chance to visit someday!

In a completely different vein, I've heard that Fruitflesh is indeed in the stacks on Pamela Anderson's show, Stacked.

Fruitflesh is making the rounds, both organic and artificial!

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

I was hoping to be able to offer a link to an article about Artichoke, my sister in law Sharon's kick ass band, in the New York Times yesterday, but, alas, the article didn't appear. Maybe it will next Tuesday. Science Section Tuesday. Not too many rock bands can be written up in the Science Section of the New York Times, but, then again, Artichoke is not just any band. Their current cd is 26 Scientists Volume One, Anning-Malthus. They ultimately will have a scientist song for every letter of the alphabet.

The A-M songs are so much fun (and impossible to get out of your head--I've been singing Gallileo for weeks.) The picture here, filched from the Artichoke website, was taken at their LA Farmer's Market gig this past Saturday--Sharon is on accordion; her boyfriend Steve, an honest to goodness rocket scientist at JPL, is the one making "radium" during a song about Marie Curie. A few of the band members are out of the range of this picture, including the brainchild of Artichoke, the brilliant Timothy Sellers. They put on an amazing show. Matt and the kids and I were just off to the right of the stage, right next to Steve, munching on bibimbap (and having our food "read" by Steve's geiger counter later in the same song). Artichoke is so great. Now when you read about them in the New York Times, you'll be able to say you heard about them here first!

The LA Farmer's Market is so great, too. Both of Matt's bands will be playing there this summer. I'll post details as the dates draw nearer...

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

I was so moved by this article at the New York Times today: The Poetic Hearts of Mayan Women Writ Large. Ambar Past--a wonderful name, yes?!--a Mexican poet born in America, has been soaking in the poetry of Mayan women in Chiapas for the last 30 years.

Ms. Past, 55, came to Chiapas in 1973 as a self-described hippie and renegade housewife, escaping an unhappy marriage. She stayed with some Mayan women and taught herself Tzotzil, one of the local Mayan languages.

As she listened to the women, Ms. Past said she realized that they sometimes spoke in poetry, in couplets and in gleaming metaphors.

"I was so deeply moved hearing in these mud huts these breathtakingly beautiful verses, sometimes echoing verses and phrases spoken or written 500 years ago," she said. Some words resembled ones in the Popol Vuh, the Mayan creation story.

"They live with no comfort," Ms. Past said during a visit to New York in April. "Yet poetry is an essential part of their daily life."
Past and a collective of Mayan women have crafted a limited edition book titled "Incantations"--the first collection of Mayan women's poetry. It is transcribed from hundreds of hours of tape recordings, translated into English and Spanish, and printed and handbound on handmade and recycled paper, scattered with silkscreened illustrations. The Times calls the books "weirdly beautiful." The first numbered 200 copies will sell for $200; the rest of the print run will cost $100. I may have to start saving for a copy--they sound amazing.

Past first became aware of the women's poetry when she was at a funeral for a child.

The mother offered her dead child a last sip of Coca-Cola and uttered a prayer, which Ms. Past still remembers:

Take this sweet dew from the earth,
Take this honey.
It will help you on your way.
It will give you strength on your path.
Reading this reminds me of the power of poetry. Sometimes in our deepest grief, poetry is the only thing we can turn to. The Mayan women's poems are full of grief and anger. Joy, too. I am grateful to Ambar Past for collecting these voices and sharing them with the world.
My essay Beach House Bingo, about my wacky experience with a fraudulent essay contest, just went live at CaliforniaAuthors.com. I'll try to get updates about the legal issues soon--I'm very curious to see how it will all unfold...

Monday, May 09, 2005

Last summer, I had the chance to read a remarkable novel while it was still in manuscript form. The Bitch Posse by Martha O'Connor rocked my world—it was one of the most disturbing and exhilarating novels I had read in a long, long time. I have been telling everyone I know about the book, and am so excited that it is finally out in the world and people can get their hands on it.

Here is the dustjacket summary:

These are the confessions of The Bitch Posse. Cherry, Rennie, and Amy were outcasts, rebels, and dreamers. And their friendship was so all-encompassing that some would call it dangerous. This is the story of three women-as seniors in high school and as women in their mid-thirties-who formed a bond in order to survive the pitfalls and perils of their lives. In the present day, one of them is a wife and mother-to-be, trying to live a "normal" life. One of them is a writer who engages in a number of self-destructive relationships. And one of them is in a mental hospital-and has been ever since that one fateful night fifteen years ago, when a heart-wrenching betrayal and the unraveling of relationships led them to a point of no return, where their actions triggered unimaginable consequences. These secrets have torn them apart, while inextricably binding them to one another. What happened to them? And can they survive their shared history, even today? The Bitch Posse is an anthem for friendships that defy society's approval or disapproval. It's a novel of secrets, courage, sacrifice,and hope against the odds. It is both a journey back to being a girl on the verge of adulthood, and a journey forward, showing how the events of our past can unearth the best in us today. Dare to jump in.

I double dare you! I am proud to say that I had the chance to write a blurb for the back of the book. Here it is: "This is a novel that gets under the skin, a novel that cuts deep.Martha O'Connor has crafted a trio of unforgettable characters, young women so heart-wrenchingly alive, they burst from the page. The Bitch Posse has all the makings of a modern-day classic; it left me shaken, moved, and deeply grateful for the journey."

The novel has been racking up all sorts of fabulous endorsements and reviews. British bookseller Mark Farley calls it "Stuck up middle finger punk fiction", which I think is right on (an interesting note—in the UK and Australia, the novel is known as The Bitch Goddess Notebook). The novel is also up for the Henry Miller Award for best literary sex scene at Nerve.com this month--vote early and vote often! I'm so happy Martha was able to join us for an interview as part of her GCC tour. Here is our conversation:

--What was the initial seed of inspiration for The Bitch Posse?

This story had to have been inside me a long time, because when I sat down to write it, it just flowed out of me. There was no writer's block or anything like that at all. So it's not like I sat down and planned it. The three girls simply snuck up behind me, knocked me to the ground and wouldn't let me up until I had told their story. That has never happened to me with a book before.

--You write about living in a woman's body in such an honest way; your bookhas a fabulous, authentic physicality to it. Could you share your thoughts about writing from/about the body?

Writing about the body requires absolute honesty. You have to turn off all the censors. All of them. If you're going to write about sex in an authentic way, you have to look closely at each piece of the sexual experience. Then you go, oh hey. That's tremendously interesting! I don't mean titillating. I mean INTERESTING. Some of those moments show heartbreaking vulnerability. Some are laugh out loud funny. And some are hideous in a really visceral way! The whole "fade the sex scene to black" attitude isn't really for me. There are a lot of fascinating moments relating to sex that if you stop to study them, are incredibly revealing of the human condition. And to write about sex I think you have to accept and acknowledge your own body, and put yourself in your character's body, and feel and experience each of those moments with the character. Smash the censors, turn on all of your five senses and just be there.

--You have 8 year old twins; how do you balance writing and motherhood?

I write when the twins are in school and after they've gone to bed. Because both aspects of my life are so demanding, I try to keep them really separate. Usually I'm successful but sometimes my brain has been known to drift off, at the park or whatever... into my work. And sometimes I have trouble concentrating on my writing as a call comes from school with a high or low blood sugar (my son has Type 1 Diabetes) and I have to disengage and go into Mom Mode.

--I know you have some early novels tucked away (as do I.) Do you think you'll ever return to them and try to get them out into the world, or do you plan to just keep moving forward from here? What are you working on now?

Nope. I learned from them and I'm done with them. Right now I'm working on a new novel, but I'm superstitious about talking about unfinished projects!

--Any words of advice for aspiring writers?

Sit your butt in the chair and do it. Most people who say they want to write a novel, never do. So if you write one, you're ahead of 90% of the competition. The second thing would be don't be afraid of rejection. Every writer I know has a roomful of rejection notices. Know when it's time to move on to a new project. Grow from every project. Turn off the censors and write your heart out. And, check all agents and publishers with the Preditors and Editors website to verify whether they are legitimate.

--Since this is a Fruitful interview...What, in your opinion, is thebitchiest (or the bitchin'-est) fruit, and why?

Blueberries are the bitchin'est fruit because they are nature's #1 most concentrated source of antioxidants. They also improve your memory. They are tiny globes of greatness that empower you to kick any ass that needs kicking. I'm eating some right now, so watch out world!

Woo hoo! Thanks so much, Martha! I hope our paths will cross again soon.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Happy Mother's Day, everyone (since those of you who are not mothers came from mothers!) If you think Mother's Day is an artifical, Hallmark-created holiday, take a look at Julia Ward Howe's original Mother's Day Proclamation from 1870:

Arise then...women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
"We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

From the voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe our dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace...
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God -
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.
May we honor the original intent of Mother's Day by working to nurture peace. Arise, indeed!

Friday, May 06, 2005

It's always a treat to stumble upon fruit fiction (via The Fairy Tale Review, via a link from Maud). Here, for your reading pleasure, is Appleless, by Aimee Bender. The opening bite:

I once knew a girl who wouldn't eat apples. She wove her walking around groves and orchards. She didn't even like to look at them. They're all mealy, she said. Or else too cheeky, too bloomed. No, she stated again, in case we had not heard her, our laps brimming with Granny Smiths and Red Deliciouses. With Galas and Spartans and yellow Golden Globes. But we had heard her, from the very first; we just couldn't help offering again. Please, we pleaded, eat. Cracking our bites loudly, exposing the dripping wet white inside.

It's unsettling to meet people who don't eat apples.

Martha O'Connor has a great post about food today, too (and she mentions yours truly!) Get ready for a visit from Martha next week (and get ready to have your socks knocked off by her incredible novel, The Bitch Posse!)

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

This morning, Matt and I went to our favorite breakfast spot, the Flabob Airport Cafe. I love the place for so many reasons--its funky, lost in time, vibe, the great vegetable omelets and O'Brien potatoes, the old school clientele, the servers who call me "babe"--but one of its most wonderful features is the "library". People leave their old books on the mantel of the old stone fireplace just inside the front door. There's a sign that says you can return the books when you're done reading them, or you can keep them. Usually there are a lot of yellowed mass market romances and mysteries, but often there are surprising gems. Today, I picked up How To Write a Business Letter by Homer Cox; it was originally published in 1959, and revised in 1966. My edition came out in 1971. It has a great vintage cover, yellow and gray.

The book is very dated--it assumes the reader is a businessman, who has a "Girl Friday"("The language of secretaries is not always perfect..." writes Cox. "Sometimes secretaries are sensitive about this shortcoming." Cox does, however, state that "The modern secretary is well informed" and suggests "You can appeal to the urge that sends her out on her lunch hour to buy something new--perhaps a hat." I think "The Language of Secretaries" would be a good title for a poem or story, don't you? And the Girl Friday in the story would have to kick some serious butt.)

There is some interesting writing advice throughout the book. Here are a few tidbits:

"A man who has been using gloom words for years may not know the effect they have been creating on his reader."

"Sentences are shrinking. In this they are like distances. When Jules Verne wrote about going around the world in 80 days, sentences of 80 words were common. Today the globe can be circled in less than a week."

"Like narcotics, long sentences are valuable when used for medicinal purposes."

"What will you have? Tender pink ham on rye? Succulent roast beef on a bun? Crispy toasted cheese? Whatever your preference in sandwiches, you want that tasty filling served between layers of bread of equally fine quality. The meat of a business message should also be sandwiched between a good beginning and a good ending. Fresh homemade bread adds flavor to any sentence. Original beginnings and endings that express your individuality make good business letters outstanding." (The sandwich metaphor goes on for an entire chapter!)

"Remember that your readers would rather find the better than the bitter in your letters."

I wonder if someone will find a copy of Fruitflesh in an airport cafe in three decades and will laugh and laugh over its datedness and extended food metaphors...

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

I was at a bookstore recently and came across Canceled Flight: 101 Tried and True Piegon Killin' Methods. I have such mixed feelings about this book. Part of me thinks it's horrible; I actually love pigeons (especially their iridescent throats). When I was in high school, the village of Winnetka went on a pigeon killing spree, and I had to step over dozens and dozens of dead pigeons as I walked under a certain viaduct on my way to school; I wrote letters to the editor and the local government to blast the practice, and worked myself into a genuine tizzy. So seeing this book brings all of that back. At the same time, I think the book is hysterical and brilliant--it's obviously tongue in cheek, and is full of groovy art and ridiculous killin' suggestions. I guess as author of a novel called The Book of Dead Birds (a title that I'm afraid has scared many readers away), I have to appreciate the absurdity of all of it. I certainly killed off a lot of fictional birds (if not pigeons) on my own pages.

Birds may be responsible for some strange killin' of their own. I've been following the surreal exploding toad story (over 1000 toads have swelled up and exploded in a pond in Germany in recent days). Now people are thinking that liver-pecking crows may be responsible. Maybe the crows should write a book called Canceled Ribbit.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Well, the wedding was gorgeous. Beautiful setting. Love everywhere. Some drama, to keep things interesting. Plus amazing food (especially the salad--strawberries and dried figs and candied pecans on a bed of dark peppery greens. Mmmm!) I hope C & R are having a glorious honeymoon in Paris (and I hope C is finding some good vegan delicacies--it's hard to imagine Paris without cheese! )

There is another wedding of the century happening soon in my world. My spectacular cousin Sahra is getting married to her boyfriend Mark in a couple of weeks. We are taking the train up to Washington; the tracks hug the West coast, so the views should be incredible. Check out the Mark and Sahra website--they've included tribute to my aunt Mimi (Marion; Sahra's grandmother), who died in March. Seeing her young self on the screen made my heart do a little hiccup. We were supposed to celebrate her 90th birthday the day before the wedding; instead, we'll celebate her life. It will be so good to be surrounded by family. I can't wait.

I had a very cool experience yesterday, too--I was invited to attend the awards banquet of the Angeles Chapter Sierra Club. What lovely and dedicated people. I sat at the Endangered Species Task Force table, which was decorated with tons of stuffed and plastic animals; a lion and a gorilla stared at me as I ate. I've been on a bit of a banquet circuit, lately--not a bad circuit to be on, I must say (one day, I feel I should do a run down of vegetarian plates at banquets--they run the gamut from luscious wild mushroom ravioli to a few dry potato wedges swimming in what appears to be chicken gravy). I still feel so inspired by all that the Sierra Club is doing to protect our environment. And I met the man who, with the encouragement of his coin-collecting wife, designed the California State Quarter. They are a very fun couple; it was cool to hear about their journey (over 8,000 people submitted designs to the public contest.) I'll have to admit, I voted for another design when the finalists were posted, but after hearing his story, I'm glad his tribute to John Muir won.