Archive for June, 2012

I have been on a long weekend jaunt to Indiana, where we celebrated my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.  

There are a lot of thoughts and ideas percolating, and a better writer would have written them all down by now.  Instead I’ve been pondering these things in my heart and working through what I should say.   

Whenever I’m around people for an extended amount of time I feel drained, like I’ve poured all of the essence of who I am into being with those other people–oil for an empathy engine.  Now I can hardly write two words,  let alone 500 or 1000.  

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One of the benefits of avoiding televised “news” programming is that I am no longer aware of every move that famous people make. Of course I’d argue that such stories aren’t actually “news”, but that’s another can of worms. Apparently one of those big news stories of the last few months was a roiling feud between Joe Eszterhas and Mel Gibson.

Image courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter

Stupid Mel. Feud all you want with singers and cops and housekeepers. Never feud with a writer; a handsome man’s recourse is to smile and glow invitingly but a writer’s first instinct is to tell a story. Eszterhas is a master storyteller and what else was he going to do but put all of this in a book?

Specifically, it’s now a Kindle Short–one of those beasts that’s shorter than an actual book but longer than an intense magazine article. It opens with a long section about Joe Eszterhas’ testimony about his conversion to born-again (his term) Catholicism. That ended up being my favourite part of the story; from there in veered into the same old Celebferatu story line familiar to anyone who’s read Mommy Dearest, My Mother’s Keeper or any of the other books cut from that same mold. One minute you’re enjoying a sunny holiday, the next minute there’s a psychotic meltdown and you’re hiding from the wire hangers or the flying cold meats or–in this case–a crashing totem pole over by the pool table.

We all know that these famous people who grow rich off their narcissism can be cuckoo-bananas. That’s not so newsy. What grabbed me about this particular telling of the tale was how much a part of it is played by both men’s devout Catholicism. More than half a dozen priests enter and exit the story, one of whom blesses Eszterhas’ holy medal and another of whom has a reported banter with Gibson about the woman they’d both like to unlawfully carnally know.

Jesus wept.

Several times during the reading I found myself saying prayers for both author and movie star. Gibson believes he’s being tormented by Satan; I’ve believed that he would be from the minute I heard about him making The Passion of the Christ. I believe Satan is real because I’ve seen the evidence. (It’s all over those news programs I now avoid…) I believe Satan torments followers of Christ because I’ve felt the evidence. According to Eszterhas Gibson routinely prays the prayer of exorcism for himself as part of his daily meditation. The saddest part of the story I read last night was that Gibson is clearly struggling between temptation and torment. Either way, he is living with Satan as his constant companion. Satan hates it when Jesus is glorified, so of course he’s going to go after someone who so publicly glorified Jesus. It must be nice for the lightbearer that Mel Gibson is such easy pickings. Nicer still that by target Jews Gibson has squared off against God directly.

I’m not so worried about Christ or Christianity. Both have had to suffer far worse fates than two egotistical Hollywood men feuding over scripts and screeds. But I do worry about those two men who are my brethren in faith. I worry that in this world where Satan doesn’t get enough credit they’re both sitting in the crosshairs.

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I admit to having a few impossible-to-shake notions about this or that. Much of my adult life has been about questioning my preconceived notions and testing them against new information.

As a reader who also writes, though, I have one hard and fast prejudice that I cannot shake.

Writers and authors who are not well-read really bother me. There’s naturally going to be a fuzzy line on where “well-read” actually is. One person’s “well-read” is another person’s “nuh-unh!!!”

Over the years I’ve softened on this a bit, but I think I’m here at 42 and establishing my Imaginot Line on the topic that grants latitude as far as scope and taste.

1. Have a familiarity with the foundational works in your genre.

This is the biggest one, and the one that I will not let go. In fact, I decided to come out on this post early this morning when reading a new-to-me blog by a romance author who spoke of “reading outside her comfort zone.” She talked about her goals for this summer. Those goals included reading Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. That author claims she’ll get to them as soon as she finishes writing her current romance novel. Really.

Here’s the thing. You do NOT have to like foundational books. I’m not crazy about Wuthering Heights and the whole world knows I hate Anna Karenina (Sorry, nm). But if you claim to want to make your living from crafting books you darn well ought to know what is considered classic and why. Not doing so is sort of like a beautician thinking she can be a plastic surgeon because she really knows a lot about makeup. You don’t have to mimic the stories. But knowing what is out there as well as what is considered a job well done is crucial to any craft.

2. Read as part of your daily habit

Marathoners do not wake up one Saturday morning in April and decide they’ll run all 26 miles of the Music City Marathon that very day without having run a single step in the last three months. They train, and as part of their training they do stretches and cool downs. Reading and writing are different in many ways, but reading is the stretch and the cool down for a writer–if that writer wants to make it through the race. I’ve read several (more than 15, fewer than 100) author and writer blogs in the last six months where they openly admit to “not having read a book in the last six months” because he or she is “so busy with my WIP I just don’t have the time.”

Bull. I understand not reading a day here and there. That’s normal. But if you expect to put out words worthy of other people’s time and attention, you owe it to those readers as well as yourself to stay tuned into the reading experience. Nobody likes the guy at the party who talks all the time and never lets anyone else get a word in edgewise. And if you’re a writer who doesn’t read regularly you are that guy.

3. Be very very very careful with declarative statements about books you have not read or finished reading.

This came up again last night, as another writer went into great detail about how s/he doesn’t like the Game Of Thrones series of novels. Not liking them is one thing–I know many people who don’t. Making detailed analyses of character and theme without having finishing the work is another. You can presume to know where a story is headed; you can loathe the style and structure. You cannot fully discuss the themes, character arcs and author skill without having read the entire work. You just can’t. Go ahead. Tell me how delicious that ten-course meal was when you only made it through the first three courses. You have no menu. You don’t know what the meat dish was or how it was prepared. You can say “I tried his soup and his salad and neither of them wowed me so I didn’t want to take the time to eat the rest of the meal.” That’s fine. But to say “this chef can’t cook a proper standing rib roast and his dessert is too sweet” is just…weird. There’s no other word for it.

When you lay claim to being an author you make presumptions upon people’s time and about people’s interests. To not do the same for other writers is the worst kind of narcissism in craftsmanship.

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Yesterday we went to Sir Pizza, and while I swallowed the last bite of my Royal Feast, John Cougar Mellencamp (that was his name once…) came on the speaker, singing about Jack and Diane. Given the fact that this week is presumed to end with a trip to my home town of Fort Wayne, Indiana for my parents’ 50th anniversary party, I’m pretty nostalgic for all things Indiana. Earnestness and cornfields and wide sky, here I come.

We were talking about the song later, my husband and I, because we are at the age where people do that. And in talking about that iconic a capella (except I think there are drums…aren’t there?) section at the end we seized on that one thought and what it means:

Gonna Let It Rock
Let It Roll
Let the Bible Belt come and save my soul
Hold On to 16 as long as you can
Changes come round real soon make us women and men

Neither of us were sixteen. Not even when we were sixteen. We both realised early on that life was made of work. I babysat, telemarketed and scooped ice cream from the time I was twelve. He worked in dishrooms from the time he was eleven. We were the kids who were too naive to know where the other kids were getting the booze we found out later they had been drinking all along. We weren’t sixteen when we were sixteen.

Even now, pretty well cemented in to our forties, with a diabetic old dog and a mortgage, we both heartily agree that we are happy right now living in right now and that things are altogether quite good. We have one another, and going through life with your best friend is a rare privilege not many people are accorded. So why would we want to hold on to 16? To that time when life was more about shouldn’t and can’t and not yet?

But I’ve always loved that song and shouted that line and it does mean something to me.

Now that I think about it I think that it means that part of you that many people are when they are sixteen–that part they misplace. Holding on to 16 to me means believing that the good stuff isn’t over. That there are still reasons to drive with the windows down and blast “Bat Out Of Hell”, that being excited about the love in your life.

I guess if you start out being totally carefree it might be possible to drop those feelings out of shock when Grownup hits you square between the eyes. But I really think if you are certain type of person who is a measured carefree you can carry it through the rough times. You can hold on to it. In a minute I’m going to limp over to the basement door and get my dog to come in for his morning insulin shot. Then I’m going to dig around for my migraine medicine, hoping I don’t drop it. But you know, here I live with the trees I planted and the self I’ve watered with books and music and the people and creatures I love. I wouldn’t trade this life for any other, not even my own from 25 years ago.

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After a considerable delay I’m getting around to watching the rest of my TiVo stock of Girls episodes. Hannah now works in an office with some Hispanic women and the inexplicably British girl is a nanny and meets other nannies in the park. One of them is black. So the race thing is solved. If by “solved” you mean “cool! They are meeting non-whites when they deign to play at wage slavery.”


The real problem with the show is a common problem I see a lot of writers fall prey to. And I can pretty much tell a writer’s age when I see how they deal with this one thing.


In “Girls” every character–nannies, boyfriends, secretaries, five-year olds–sounds like Leah Dunham. It’s as if I’m watching a show full of her imaginary friends, and it comes directly from the twin limitations of her age and life experience.

She’s an innately clever person and she has developed a good sense for the certain hipster rhythms of talk. The problem is that she’s so steeped in her own rhythms and point of view she hasn’t learned to listen to anybody else.

The show’s. Title is missing an apostrophe, because it really is just one Girl’s shadow play of her own headspace.

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