Friday, June 29, 2007

My friend Cindy posted the sweetest picture for me--Marilyn Monroe holding a photo of Abraham Lincoln! Cindy knows all about my Abe obsession. Right now I am wearing an Abe-kido t-shirt from McSweeney's. I would link directly to a picture of the shirt, but it's not listed anymore--needless to say, it's Abe doing martial arts (Akido, to be precise). I bought it for a couple of reasons--I had seen it at the store at 826 Valencia and had been tempted, but for some reason never got around to buying it. I decided to order it to mark finishing a draft of my new Lincoln-themed novel, and also to help McSweeney's out during a time when its distributor filed for bankruptcy and the press lost $130,000 in revenue. The McSweeney's folks are doing incredible, important work--please send some business their way if you can. The marvelous Soft Skull is hurting too--please help keep them alive (I personally plan to order Jamestown and The Amputee's Guide to Sex. Everything is 40% off through today...)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

I first met Rachel Kann at Ladyfest Los Angeles in 2002. Somehow shy me (and I was still *really* struggling with shyness then) was tapped to emcee the Spoken Word stage. I read the intros for amazing writers like Terry Wolverton and Francesca Lia Block and tried to look up from the paper at the audience every once in a while. Rachel Kann was the last performer of the day. I stepped off the stage, awkward, and she stepped on it and was so at home, so magnetic, so Alive, it knocked my socks off. Her voice is raspy and deep and honest--pure, unadulterated Rachel. I have been a great fan ever since, and was so delighted to hear that she had ventured into fiction. Her first fiction collection, 10 for everything, was just released by Sybaritic Press. You can order it through her MySpace page, linked above (you can also hear some of her poems there.) In case you can't read my blurb on the back cover (isn't her author photo the greatest ever?!) it says:
Anyone lucky enough to hear Rachel Kann perform knows that this woman has a Voice. A voice full of power, raw and gorgeous and alive. What a thrill to see this voice translated into fiction, into a wide range of other voices, voices that burn right through the page with their yearning for, and fear of, connection. Rachel Kann has crafted stories that are fresh and surprising, with a true human heartbeat.
I asked Rachel a few questions about her work:

--How did you get started as a poet? A performance poet?

as high school riff raff, i had no interest in poetry or spoken word, but i loved me some hip hop. i saw no connection whatsoever. i also hated all poetry and shakespeare i was force fed by the SLOUSD.

luckily, i attended a good college with the best shakespeare teacher ever, gale fury-childs. i now loved shakespeare AND hip hop. i still had next to no interest in poetry. i remember liking a randall jarell poem or two. freaking out for savage/love by sam shepard. it still didn't occur to me that that was POETRY. duh.

then i moved to nyc. finished college. still no interest.

i attended a j.c superstar audition, met amy steinberg. we became instant soul sisters. she nagged me for one year to "try poetry," saying i had the weirdest way with words ever. i shrugged it off. after one year of nagging, i randomly and inexplicably busted out my first poem ever. i read it to amy who, of course, gave me total support for my endeavor. i wrote some more.

i decided i needed to find out if i sucked or not from someone who did not love me unconditionally. i talked to tureka turk, who i waitressed with at C3 on washington square park. i knew she was down with spoken word and stuff. i asked her where i should go read if i really wanted my ass handed to me on a platter if i sucked. i wanted no ass kissing. i wanted to be booed if i sucked. (don't ask me, i am a masochist. i didn't want to waste my time if i sucked. i needed outside perspective, for whatever reason, at that point.) she advised me without a moment's hesitation to go do the open slam at nuyorican on wednesdays, if brazen feedback was what i sought.

the first poetry reading i ever attend,
and the first slam i ever attended,
and the first poetry reading i ever read at,
and the first slam i ever slammed in,
...all happened on the exact same night, at the exact same moment, at the nuyorican poets' cafe. luckily, i did well. shutup shelly, who was hosting at the time, called me the next day and encouraged me to continue to slam and come to events and get going. she booked me for the next invitational slam. this is all extra funny if you know me. i would never advise someone to use a slam audience's response as a marker of their worth as an artist! never ever ever. slam if you like, but don't do it for approval. i am glad it worked out well for me, but it was possibly dumb luck.

i think this is why i have never struggled with feeling derivative or finding my "authentic voice" or being unique or truthful or whatever. i started in a COMPLETE and total vaccuum, completely ignorant of modern poetry and spoken word, and then threw myself in the shrk infested water, headlong. luckily, it worked. thank god.

i would not necessarily suggest that path to anyone.
but it was my path.
it was awesome.

--What inspired your shift into fiction?

i was very blessed to receive a community access scholarship from PEN West to attend 3 classes at UCLA Extension Writers' Program, just about a year and a half ago.

it was quite an indulgent luxury for me. naturally, i took a poetry class first. i had never taken one in my life! i enjoyed it very much, it was taught by suzanne lummis, and i am so glad i had that experience.

after that class ended, and it was time to sign up for class number 2, i looked at the glorious opportunity before me to try something totally new...something that scared the crap out of me. my new year's resolution was to follow my fear...if something scared me, i resolved to do said thing, as long as there was no actual danger involved. so running out in front of moving vehicles was out of the question, but studying fiction...that was a great idea.

i have always been a huge lover of fiction. all things being equal, i am more likely to dive into a book of fiction than poetry, i always have been. short stories always appealed to me. i remember devouring ray bradbury when i was very young. and when aimee bender's "the girl in the flammable skirt" came out, it totally blew my mind.

i was blessed to end up in tod goldberg's class (amazing) and then took rob roberge's class (also amazing) immediately following.

and that's how it started.

--How does writing fiction differ from writing poetry for you, process wise?

i am still very much in the honeymoon phase with fiction, because its still so very new for me. i think its interesting that i went from a completely untamed wildly impulsive place in poetry (at least where i began from,) to starting out in fiction in a classroom setting. so i was lucky to have the structure of having assignments. that really worked for me, because fiction, even short stories, seemed so huge and overwhelming.

all that being said though...for me, poetry is to fiction as ballet is to modern dance, in a way. coming to fiction as a person who obsesses over every word choice, for example, (what shade of blue was the sky exactly??) helps my craft, i think. it makes me careful. i am in love with language.

its nice to have more room for a sense of humor, too. and curse words. fiction affords me those luxuries.

--Where do these stories come from?

they're mostly the arguments between the voices in my head. i like to delude myself into thinking the stories are completely divorced from my reality.

i always thought that poetry had to be the most therapeutic form of writing. its got nothing on fiction on that count! i love writing in the voice of men, stuff like that.

--What is your favorite part about being a writer? A performer? What
is the scariest part of all of it?

my favorite part is that i know how extraordinarily lucky i am. i am very blessed. anytime people listen to you, or take time to consider what you have to say, on paper or performed, that is a rare and sacred gift you have to be grateful for.

i am also very glad to do it when young women and girls and hell, females of any age, tell me that they are inspired to write something. that's always good.

really though...i am a needy needy attention whore. when people clap for me i feel like i have a right to live.

the scariest part is the financial instability.

--What are your wildest dreams for your work?

my wildest dreams are to be financially stable.

--Any words of advice for aspiring writers/poets/performers?

please, i am begging you, read. read. read.

--Amen to that. Thanks so much, Rachel. I can't wait to see (and hear) what you'll come up with next!
I had a lot of fun writing this week's CODEPINK alert: Tell Cheney: SHAME ON YOU!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Here's the first glimpse of the Self Storage paperback cover (it's still early, so things may change a bit before the pb comes out in February). I really like the warmth of it. I'd love to hear your thoughts...

Friday, June 22, 2007

It's been exactly a year since I stepped on stage as Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun, a completely unexpected, life changing adventure--one I never in a million years could have anticipated. This post on feels like a good way to mark the occasion--Kristin Hersch, formerly of the band Throwing Muses, talks about how the late Betty Hutton, who played Annie Oakley in the film version of the musical, was her best friend in college (another thing I never could have anticipated, given their multiple-decade age difference!)
"Why do we entertain?" [Betty] would ask — and then answer herself — "to make people happy!" She said this all the time. I didn't think I made anyone very happy by playing and I told her that. "Well, you do scream a great deal don't you? Which isn't very nice. But that's the style these days. And they jump around when you play. I think that means they're happy. So you gotta show them that you love them back. You gotta earn their love."

I couldn't tell her that I wasn't trying to earn love, that I was trying to own violence. I couldn't tell her this because it would have sounded as pretentious then as it does now. So I said, "I play to make the math work".

"Oh! Like tap dancing!" Betty was so beautiful.
Being in Annie Get Your Gun helped me own so many parts of myself (including the violent part, since I had to wield rifles and push people around. I finally have a dvd of the show; if I can find a way to do so, I'll post a little snippet of it.)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

I was tickled to read this piece on Salon about Manhattan Mini Storage, which has been posting such billboards as "Your Closet's So Narrow It Makes Dick Cheney Look Liberal" and "Your Closet's Scarier Than Bush's Agenda." I'm going to have to send them a copy of Self Storage for sure!

Monday, June 18, 2007

I sent my new novel to my wonderful editor today. I'm not sure if I want to dance or throw up! The novel is not polished yet, not by any stretch of the imagination; it's at the stage, though, where I know I could fiddle and fiddle with it indefinitely but it would be more fruitful to fiddle with it with her. We have until October to get it into shape; I have no idea how much work lies in front of me (probably a lot!) but I'm very eager--and a bit scared--to get her notes.

Oh, and I have a new title: Immensity. What do you think? My previous working title was My Life with the Lincolns, but that didn't fit as much once I shifted the narrative into third person and brought in another voice. I pulled the word Immensity from a quote from Mary Lincoln--she was relieved when her son's ghost sat on the foot of her bed because she had been worried about him being out "in immensity" all alone. I suppose the title could change again, but for now I really like this one.

Turning this manuscript in feels immense to me indeed. I wasn't sure I'd ever finish the beast, or give it a heartbeat. Hopefully it has enough life to sustain it now.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

My AAA membership lapsed, but rather than renew it, I just signed up for Better World Club, which is like a green AAA. They offer pretty much the same benefits as AAA (roadside and travel assistance, etc.) plus they donate a portion of their revenue to environmental clean-up and advocacy, and even offer opportunities for activism through their policy campaigns. Pretty cool, huh?! I'm glad we can vote with our dollars through companies like this.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Friday, June 08, 2007

I was deeply saddened this week to learn that Julie Seiler, who had the studio next to mine at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, died of breast cancer in December, just two months after our time together. Julie was going through treatment at the time, and always wore a hat or scarf over her bald head, but I didn't realize she was so gravely ill. She was a sweetheart, so passionate about writing and nature and life. I'm so glad I had a chance to meet her and am grateful to learn more about her in this beautiful online tribute.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

An interesting article on the history of the novel, and the essay-writing-novelist (especially the political essay-writing novelist.) There's even a shout out to Whitman:
Jm Coetzee approaches politics with a similar combination of irony, seriousness and principled reticence. His political attitudes may be connected with the difficulties of being a liberal white South African, but they have their intellectual origins in his prodigious work as a novelist. His latest collection of essays, Inner Workings (Harvill Secker), keeps returning to the question of "the novel form," and how Cervantes created it in order to demonstrate the power of the imagination. One of the great virtues of the novel, according to Coetzee, is to teach us that there is no perfect way of carving up the world or recounting its stories. This is a lesson that bears on politics as well, counting against any political aspiration that arises from nationality, identity or tribal loyalty.

But Coetzee does not confine his attention to novelists, and an outstanding essay on Walt Whitman allows him to explore a conception of democracy that he himself would evidently endorse: democratic politics, he suggests, is "not one of the superficial inventions of human reason but an aspect of the ever-developing human spirit, rooted in eros."
I love thinking of democracy rooted in eros. It makes sense--true democracy does stem from a passionate belief in equality, and in the voice of the people.

The writing I do for CODEPINK is very different from my personal writing--it is not about expressing myself as an individual; it is about expressing the passionate desires of a group for peace. This writing reaches so many more people than my fiction ever will--the alerts are sent out to 200,000 people a week. I love knowing that those words are spurring people to action, getting them to call their congressional reps or sign a petition to protect Iraqi women or stand out on the corner to protest war. I've been meaning to post links to the alerts each week for those of you who don't subscribe (it's easy to subscribe--just go to and click on Get Action Alerts.) Here is last week's alert, addressing Cindy Sheehan's resignation from the peace movement.

Update: Here is this week's alert, which includes a link to a petition to protest the stoning of Du'a Khalil Aswad, a 17 year old girl in Iraq, whose only crime was to fall in love with someone outside her sect.

Monday, June 04, 2007

I tend to be a swoony reader. I often finish reading a novel, hold it to my chest, and think that it was the best book I've ever read--forgetting that it's soon to be replaced by another "best" book. I just read Ian McEwan's Atonement, though, and know this is no schoolgirl crush. This is truly one of the finest novels I've read.

McEwan writes with such sensitivity and patience, such exquisite detail--he captures the nuances of emotion, of place, of character, of thought so beautifully. What really knocked me out about this novel, though, was that it was ultimately a meditation about writing--about how joyful and dangerous and healing and misleading writing can be. What a pleasure to follow the unfolding of a writer from the time she is 13, to see how truth and lies and intention and regret form both her life and her work.

Here's a little taste:
She had dreams in which she ran like this, then tilted forward, spread her arms, and, yielding to faith--the only difficult part, but easy enough in sleep--left the ground by simply stepping off it, and swooped low over hedges and gates and roofs, then hurtled upward and hovered exultantly below the cloud base, above the fields, before diving down again. She sensed now how this might be achieved, though desire alone; the world she ran through loved her and would give her what she wanted and would let it happen. And then, when it did, she would describe it. Wasn't writing a kind of soaring, an achievable form of flight, of fancy, of the imagination?

Friday, June 01, 2007

I have some events on the horizon. Come say hello if you can!

Thursday, June 7, 11am
Oceanside Museum of Art Book Club
704 Pier View Way
Oceanside, CA 92054

Sunday, June 10, 11:55am
San Diego Reads
Hillcrest Book and Literacy Fair
Fifth and Robinson
(Washington Mutual parking lot)

Wednesday, June 20, 7pm (NOTE: this is Wednesday, not Thursday, as I had originally posted)
3615 Riverside Plaza
Riverside, CA

Saturday, June 23, 3pm
429 S. Associated Rd.
Brea, CA

Sunday, June 24, 2pm
Claremont Library
208 N. Harvard Ave.
Claremont, CA 91711-4758
(this will be a poetry reading)

Wednesday, June 27, 7pm
3833 Grand Ave
Chino, CA