Friday, August 28, 2015

Five Years Later

Yesterday was the five year mark. Fifth cancer free check up. You never know if it's all going to hold, although you hope it will. It's the lesson I find filtering into so many of my characters: once you know for sure that bad stuff can happen randomly and can happen to you, it changes you. But it's also that knowledge you have to compartmentalize and shove down deep where you don't think about it every day. You can know it, but you can't controlled by it except to say that as Jenna does in The A Word, "So eat the damn birthday cake." (actually I'm not sure if this is an exact quote and I don't have a copy of the book near by, but if not exact, the quote is close.) Eat the cake. Do the things that scare you. Put yourself out there because tomorrow things could change.

So there it is. Five years ago, brilliant docs got rid of my thyroid cancer. (In case your only experience with this is through FIOS and John Green, let me say that there are many varieties and many outcomes and often they are actually really good ones for which I am very grateful) They cut stuff out and made me briefly radioactive and my metabolism wandered around and then it was over and I had a rakish scar that was so brilliantly done that if you didn't know me then, you probably have no idea. (You have a youthful neck, I remember the surgeon saying. I'm going to give you a little wrinkle. If you keep the scar out of the sun, it will look great. He was right.)

 Five years forward and here I am. I have lived my life and written more books and hung out with the people I love (and sometimes the people I don't) and good things have happened and some bad ones and the world has kept spinning in the also good and bad way it does. But yesterday, I went to make sure because that's what I will do every year for the foreseeable future.  They took a bunch of blood and scanned a bunch of things and I walked around with my temporary hospital wristband and ate mediocre but healthy avocado roll in the cafeteria in between appointments and chatted writing for a few minutes with my lovely friend Jenny Moss, a brilliant author and who happens to work in this same hospital. Even typing this I always worry that tomorrow it will be different. But in a few days that will fade to the background as these things do.

Today though, I'm happy to write a chapter in the book I'm working on and go look at new bathtubs and light fixtures and think about the brilliant and gorgeous cover for next year's IT WASN'T ALWAYS LIKE THIS that the lovely folks at Soho Press just showed me. It's almost September. Fall is coming. (well, such as it does here in Houston.) It's Friday.

Five years later.

Friday, August 21, 2015

The End of the Tour

First let me confess: I have not read An Infinite Jest. I know of David Foster Wallace only through articles and reviews.  A gap in my reading, yes. Just so you know.

I have not even watched any live interview clips, so actor Jason Segal's portrayal in The End of the Tour, which I saw yesterday, is the first 'real life' experience I've had with Wallace. But there I was in the almost empty theater yesterday because I had promised myself a break once I finally finished and turned in a revised synopsis to my agent. (Yes, my afternoon work break consisted of going to a 2 PM matinee about an author who was brilliant, famous and ultimately took his own life.)

Since then, I've done a bit of internet reading, but I would hardly call it immersion and I'm still digesting and pondering, and this man's life is now swirling around with the other mammoth novel I'm in the middle of which is A Little Life, which also touches on the nature of art and life and fame (both desired and achieved) and suffering, among other things.

The back and forth between Jesse Eisenberg's David Lipsky, a Rolling Stone writer (and sometimes novelist) who's come along for the last leg of Wallace's book tour and David Wallace, who seems to both embrace and eschew his enormous fame, is what makes the film tick. That and Joan Cusak as the  Midwest media escort, a role she absolutely nailed and which alone makes the film worth seeing.

If you want a fuller review, try this one from the New York Times, which is as good a place to start as any:

Or a review that talks about how the film nails the both important and sometimes icky life of a reporter:

The questions the film raises are the ones I'm struggling with right now and so I have made them today's Friday Five:

  • What does it mean to be an author in our culture, so fame-crazed as it is? If you've made it to the top, if you're John Green on press junkets, you have to maintain that somehow and it is a thing beyond the work. If you're in murky middle and such things as media escorts or even regular mileage reimbursements are generally still pie in the sky, you can fantasize -- as David Lipsky does in the film-- about the wondrous thing of being so top tier that you have an expense account and people fawning over you and at least a momentary sense that you are smarter than the pack. The question of how long this remains a desirable thing, is another story entirely.
  • No matter who you are, or where your career is, at the end of the day it's still you and the blank screen, creating something out of nothing and hoping it says what you want and that it also says what others want to read, possibly hones into the current zeitgeist in some magical way that makes your career take off or maintain. (Unless you're James Patterson and you have a team of eager writers. That's its own thing, you know?) How do you keep sitting down and doing the work no matter what?
  • In the film, David Foster Wallace and David Lipsky both agree that a benefit of writerly fame is the easier possibility of getting laid. So of course I wonder. Is that what Wallace actually thought? How would that conversation have gone and been perceived if Wallace was a woman and had expressed this to Lipsky? Or if Lipsky was a woman? Does, say, Hanya Yanagihara, author of A Little Life, mentioned above, hope for the same fame benefit? And if she does, and she says this in interviews, how is it perceived? Do women artists in general have a different set of goals for fame? Hmm… I say. Hmmm….
  • How do we handle the inevitable envy that comes with colleagues and friends getting what we're still striving to achieve? As the film opens, Lipsky is reading a gushing review of Infinite Jest which states that it will definitely win every major literary award and he says, "It's as though Paul Bunyan joined the NFL, orWittgenstein had on Jeopardy!"
  • How do we as writers/artists balance the ego needed to write with the ability to still live our life and not let the work consume us or, as was sadly the case with Wallace, who eventually and tragically took his own life, destroy us?
Have you seen The End of The Tour?
What do you think?

Friday, August 14, 2015

Five for Friday

Five things I'm passionate about today:

Drinking Sazerac cocktails. Because there's rye whiskey and bitters and some form of absinthe (although not the kind that rots your brain) and it's really pretty:

  • Eating in-season fruit: cherries and plums and grapes and nectarines. Just not watermelon. Unless someone has filled the melon with booze.
  • Going to baseball games. I grew up a few blocks from Wrigley Field in Chicago so I guess baseball is in my blood. The Astros have been doing well this year, although Minute Maid (which originally was called Enron until the Enron scandal) is not Wrigley, but it's an acceptable substitute and it has air conditioning which here in Houston is quite helpful.
  • Grilling. Okay, here in Houston we grill pretty much year round. Burgers. Steaks. More burgers. The occasional piece of fish. And beer. (to drink not grill) Plus it means the husband is cooking which I know is this totally sexist thing, all 'man/fire' but I am okay with it, you know?
  • Getting excited when the stores start stocking school supplies. I don't have a kid in school anymore, but there's just something about all that stuff that sets my heart aflutter. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Wednesday Things

Somewhere back in elementary school, a teacher informed us that you spell Wednesday WED-NES-DAY and I swear that it what goes through my head every time I type it or write it.

In the middle of so much stuff on this middle day of the week. And so in no particular order:

1. It was 106 degrees here in Houston yesterday. Today it will only reach 99 and we're all thinking, "ooh… it's cooling down." All in the perspective, folks.

2. Have not yet seen the IT WASN'T ALWAYS LIKE THIS cover, but my Soho Press editor told me the name of the cover artist and I think maybe I fainted with joy. (when your name is Joy, I guess that's like fainting with yourself?) Anyway! He has done covers for so many of my favorite books. Memorable, awesome, stick in your brain covers!! So I can hardly wait. More soon, I hope.

3. Speaking of IWALT,  it is done like dinner and moving on from copy edits to typesetting and galleys and then people will start reading advanced copies and I am so excited and proud of this book. A girl. A boy. In love and stuck at seventeen, until they lose each other in a terrible tragedy and the 100 year adventure that follows to foil the bad guys and find each other. Plus a bunch of other stuff.

4. Last night was the season finale of RHONY.  Enough of you, Ramona. Enough.

5. In my British and Aussie TV phase, I've discovered The Bletchley Circle. A group of British women who were code breakers during WWII, ten years later, with messy lives, who end up regrouped to solved crimes. It's delightful.

6. That new book I've mentioned, well, it has evaded me for awhile but which I think I may finally have figured out.

7. Did you know there is such a thing as Writer Police Academy?? Like this long weekend where you briefly learn the ropes so you can write about it? Yup. There is such a thing!

More soon. Especially about the end of summer and also about the dog, who today had to be coaxed off the driveway to go for a walk. Her basset hound nose sometimes does her in and she has to be nudged back into big girl bravery.

Monday, July 27, 2015

I Once Ate Lunch with Edward Albee and other Monday Confessions

Why am I writing some random confessions? I'm not sure except that I hit a stopping point on the WIP but I didn't want to stop writing and my brain is floundering about as it does on a Monday when once again I'm on a mostly self-imposed deadline (okay, my agent has some control over it, too) and so--some things about me that I am sure most of you don't know.

1. Once, I ate lunch with playwright Edward Albee. Yes, THAT Edward Albee, author of Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolff and Zoo Story and A Delicate Balance and a bunch of other amazing plays. He used to teach playwriting at University of Houston one semester a year or so, and he was buds with the late, great, theater professor Sidney Berger. And my friend Wanda and I were teaching high school English and Edward Albee was also directing one of his plays at the Alley Theater. And the Alley Theater often has a program for teachers combined with a Saturday matinee. And so… we went.

It did not occur to me that somehow Wanda and I would end up eating lasagna and garlic bread on paper plates at a table for four which consisted of Edward Albee, Sidney Berger, Wanda and me. And yet, we did. I think Wanda told them about North Carolina, where she is from. Possibly I said the lasagna is yummy. I mean really, what does one say in these moments? Albee drank a Diet Coke. (These are the kinds of details I remember.) Had I already been published, I might have had something else to say, but probably not because that's how lame I am.

Once in a while when life gets dull, I remind Wanda that once we ate lasagna with EDWARD ALBEE. On paper plates. With Diet Coke.

2. I shook hands once with the late actor Jimmy Stewart. (He was alive at the time.) He was very kind and very tall and very tan.

3. The main thing I remember about meeting former President Jimmy Carter and wife Rosalynn was that they were both very petite. (at least at the time)

4. I also once met actor Cary Grant. (He was also alive at the time) He was also very tall and very kind and very tanned.

Happy Monday.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Green River Soda and Other Friday Stuff

Back at the blog after a bit of a break to finish the final draft of next year's IT WASN'T ALWAYS LIKE THIS. Something about that last push with a book when I'm struggling to get all the words right that just makes me feel like the only other things I have to say are "Hey! Did you know I'm still revising this book? Yes. You heard that right! Still. Been writing the thing for like a year now, on and off. I think it's done. Maybe. I hope."

But here I am and in time for a quick five things.

1. Absolutely in love with Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries. It's an Aussie show and it's been on PBS but I've discovered it on Netflix, thanks to the rec of my favorite pop culture know it all, the very talented Jennifer Mathieu. 1920s. Woman private eye named Phryne Fisher. Melbourne, Australia. And oh, inspector Jack Robinson. Plus outfits that make me want to scour every vintage store in the world. Plus Dot and Hugh Collins and Mr. Butler the Butler and a bunch of murders cleverly solved. Plus airplanes and fast gorgeous cars and a bunch of other stuff.

2. It has finally stopped raining here in Houston. So now it's 97 every day. But I am finally using that pool pass.

3. The tomatoes spit out 6 last ripe ones before the plant gave up. Too much rain washing all the nutrients out of the soil, I think. But seriously, what do I know? Going to build a garden box next and some time next month I shall plant stuff for the fall and we shall see if I am a #patiofarmer after all.

4. Working on a new book now. All I'll say for now.

5. Had a grand quick trip to Chicago and a lovely event at Book Stall with Ted Goeglein and if you are reading this and you came and helped fill the room, thank you! Book Stall is a wonderful indie in the Northshore suburb of Winnetka and if you are in Chicago, you must go buy a book there. Stopped on the way at a small indie grocery to buy some Lifesavers because CANDY, and saw a display of my favorite childhood soda pop, which is for some reason never sold anywhere but the Midwest. It's called Green River. And it is VERY GREEN. It looks like this:

Happy Friday, y'all!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Thursday Stuff

Stuff I'm passionate about today:

  • Reading Katie Cotugno's blog. The girl can write. Her random observations about…everything make me want to fan girl her like crazy.
  • Speaking of which, she's doing a series on fangirl-ing and so I do have to say that I adore deep fandom. My last truly intense fandom was for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and after that, all things Joss Whedon. As in I knew the titles of every BTVS ep. I recorded years of them meticulously on VHS tapes (yes, this was the late 90s and I don't know if DVRing even existed or we were just too broke to have it, but I had VHS tapes by God!), labeling the titles and the dates. I bought the novelizations. I chatted with like-minded fans on line. I memorized favorite passages of dialogue. I wrote a bit of fan fic.  I collected various swag. Okay a lot of it, most of which I still have. And mostly, I learned to tell stories and from that came my own first novel DREAMING ANASTASIA. I've been a fan of other shows since then, but nothing has come close to the Buffy years, to the sheer crazy joy I felt about new eps, particularly in the first 3 seasons.
  • My tomatoes are still growing! 9 more that may even reach tomato adulthood!
  • Vodka and pineapple juice. 
  • Miss Fisher's Mysteries, which we began last night to fill the gap until season 4 of Call the Midwife gets itself to Netflix. Roaring 20s. Amazing clothes. Australia. Murders. Cocaine. Sexy stuff.
  • My new sandals from Lucky. Fake python, I tell you. Screams summer.
  • Avocado toast!! Smear a little green stuff on toast. Sprinkle with sea salt. Heaven!