Thursday, April 29, 2010

My Gallery

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Dangerous Book - Episode 39

We set up a drinks table near Billie and Allan’s and put out chairs and sofa pillows.  Even Phoebe and Veronica were invited to join, which they did, from lawn chairs near the stairs. 
When it was all over, Kate and I pieced the evening together  me pretending to her that I do not feel like a total fool just because all my friends had known what I did not and had watched, curious, worried, entertained?

There were about nine or ten of us playing two games at once. Players with primary colors (red, blue, yellow) headed north. Secondary colors (orange, green, black) went south.  Each team took its own turns, meeting in the middle. Once the teams intersected, one could croquet and send the other team’s balls as well as our own.  We could poison players on both teams, as well.  Peter, on the primary team  reached the end pole first and was itching for poison. He had two free shots to reach it.  Jacob  and the rest of us were out to stop him.  When Jacob took turn,  he interrupted Peter’s free shots, which enabled him to croquet Peter before he could move safely away. The mix-up arose, according to Kate, because Peter took so long between his two free shots that Jacob could be forgiven for thinking his own turn had come.  What I saw from my angle, about three feet behind Peter and facing Jacob, was Jacob hurrying to croquet Peter.  But what Kate saw, from a distance than included both men, was Peter stalling and letting Jacob think his turn was up.  One cheats because the other eggs him to do it.  They’d muttered words several times this summer but never came to shouting.  When Peter accused him of cheating, Jacob got right in his face.
“Don’t fuck with me.”  Very dirty Harry.
“Play the ball,” said Peter, shaking his head in disgust.  As if he were the better sport.  “Just play the ball.”
“Don’t fuck with me.”
“Play the ball.”
Back and forth back and forth.  But Jacob, and this may tell us something, played his shot very badly, as he does when he’s being dubious about play and got so mad he threw the mallet towards the verandah where it rolled head over heels --- a pretty sight--- until it hit the steps where Phoebe, Veronica and Lura were sitting in a group. 

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Just finished reading...

Isn't the best thing when you discover a new-to-you writer who has been publishing for years? It means you've three, four, a dozen books to anticipate reading.

I've been reading Laurie King's Mary Russell novels and was all caught up when I discovered her Kate Martinelli series, starting with The Art of Detection or maybe, To Play the Fool. I'm not sure of the order, and it doesn't matter. I like filling in a character's timeline in a random order.

More recently, King's stand-alone suspense novels have found me. Last week, I started Folly and for a day or so was unsure I'd "get into it."  Fortunately, I realized the problem was my own distracted, shallowness of attention.

Folly turns out to be a synchronous gift to of the sub-stories is about a WWI soldier suffering from shell shock. As it happens, an artist book I'm working on contains the ephemera of a young man's disappearance and his stepmother's search for him between 1922 and 1927. King's story has inspired my own appropriation.  Thanks!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Salome Dawn

After a nice couple of rain showers yesterday and some lingering moisture, this morning's dawn didn't so much rise as gather itself from behind many veils, as if waking were a secret.

A cool silky hour with a sun masquerading as moon:

And the Peachtree Plaza annointed by same (and about an hour later.)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Dangerous Book - Episode 38

Sunday,  May 30  - hot
This morning I helped Veronica hang curtains.  She’d bought a set of lined cotton panels (beige and Wedgwood blue) from Prof. S. and was trying to hang them in the living room where they worked well enough with her brown braided rug but fought against the rest of her color scheme, if scheme was what it was. She owns a Crayola green couch, which she’d spiffed up with cherry red and lemon pillows; behind it hangs a Grandma Moses print. A maple wood side chair under a reading lamp would have held its own but was hampered by maroon plush seat and back. Its arms were wide enough to hold the generations of water circles and cigarette burns that marked it as someone else’s cast-off. Veronica, I suspect, is a dumpster diver.
            “Well,” I said, “They’re lovely curtains.”
            “Uh huh.”
She was determined to hang them in the living room no matter what the effect.  At first I thought I’d been invited up to convince her they would look good, but of course they wouldn’t and no amount of discussion would make them. Yet, she craved discussion.
            And that was it, of course. I was going to be here indefinitely, dancing with her through a faux discussion of where to hang these stupid drapes.  
             Finally, she called a friend and told her to come over; she needed a third opinion. Then she produced a cup of lukewarm instant coffee and a burnt muffin from a Christmas tin suggesting we settle in to read the paper until Betty arrived.  Half a long hour later Betty Sheffield appeared holding a shopping bag and they embraced. 
            According to Betty and Veronica, they haven’t seen each other in four years, ever since Betty moved from Monnish Court.  It took Betty slightly less than thirty seconds to agree on the bedroom for the beige curtains and even less to dissuade V. from trying to hang them right now.  V. murmured something about Noah Williams across the hall.
            “I always think jobs involving hammers are for men,” said Betty.
            So all three of us moved to the green couch where they talked about men and I drank more lukewarm coffee. I would have left, but Betty gave me the eye, so I stayed. And stayed.            
            Betty has just ended a relationship and feels ambivalent. “Too many sleepless nights,” she said.  “He was aging me.” 
             “Too much sex?” I wondered.
            “He was a boozer! I was tired of worrying about him.”
              “Well, you can’t miss that,” said Veronica, but Betty sighed and smiled.
             “He made me laugh,” she said. “He was funny.”
And then I knew this was the thing that kept her up at nights, for to be kept laughing by a man, even one who drinks too much, is not something relinquished easily. 
            Veronica shared a story about a man named Martin Frobisher she dumped last year.  He gave her a lot of presents she still has, pointing vaguely around the room.
            “But they were so practical,” she said, slapping her bare knees.  And oh, how he had nursed her when she had the diarrhea.  But in the end he just wouldn’t leave her alone. 
            “I like my own space,” she said.
              Finally, she introduced him to a widow friend and they’ve been married four months.  I liked this part.  It’s clever, yet smacks of good intentions and economy.
             “Yes,” she said.  But why, she wanted to know, did she follow it up with a two-week depression.
            “Maybe because he shouldn’t have been so easy to unload,” I suggested.
We warmed the couch for another half-hour.  Pleasant enough but still confusing.  Veronica clearly wanted some attention from the girls.  Wanted to sit between us on the couch and giggle.  Wanted her mind made up for her, to share in her re-nesting. But why invite me?  I’ve snubbed her regularly for six months.  And Betty, who hasn’t been here in four years, yet evidently dropped her Sunday morning ritual to help her.   
            Before we escaped, Veronica asked if she wanted a linen jacket.  Betty works part-time in a boutique and had, also at Veronica’s request, brought one over.
            She strutted across the living room in a violent pink, which suited her, thrusting her hands in the jacket’s deep pockets, removing a white bandana handkerchief from one.
            “That’s from me,” said Betty. “I don’t think a girl can have too many bandanas.” Agreeing, Veronica walked the handkerchief into the dining room where she left it on the table there. Turning back, she stood with her legs stick straight and looked so much as she must have fifty years earlier, eager and open, that we both smiled.
            “You haven’t aged a minute,” said Betty with real fondness in her voice.
            “Linen wrinkles just looking at it, I said, suggesting raw silk. Veronica, disappointed, finally handed the jacket back to Betty.
            “I’ve got something for you, too,” she said and handed me an old cookbook published by the Tuscaloosa Junior League in 1959. “You can use my recipes if you like. And Elizabeth and Phoebe have several in there as well.”
            The cookbook was well worn and liberally stained. Other recipes, cut from newspapers and magazines threatened to spill out. I took it in both hands. I love old books and diaries. Who knows what I’d find inside?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Georgia Writers Association workshop with Jeff Stepakoff

Before the crust settles on my notes, I wanted to blog on a workshop I took last weekend up at Kennesaw State. The Georgia Writer's Association holds its monthly meetings and workshops in the student center there. I'd come across the group while stumbling back to an old favorite association (Sisters in Crime) a few months back, intended to attend their February meeting with Philip DePoy talking about mystery writing but like everyone else was deterred by the weather. (It snowed.)

So, because the meeting's title "Publishing your first novel" had me at "your," I was expecting the Cinderella story we all hope for: passive writer's anonymous fan forwards her work to immediately interested New Yorker editor, publication and movie deal to follow. The literature lottery win we all secretly believe will be ours. 

Not the case here. For starters, Jeff Stepakoff, whose first novel  Fireworks Over Taccoa is just out and garnering quite a lot of buzz, is no beginning writer. First does not mean amateur. He's a veteran screen and television writer and so understands how to write a story. Emphasis on story.

Throughout Jeff's talk, during which he dropped screenwriter catchphrases like "process for development" "raising the stakes," "story design" "blocking," "the cute-meet scene" and "platform," I had the feeling that these were the things he really wanted to tell us. (This was confirmed when one of his students rose and called out "If you write a good outline, you'll write a good story.")

So, yes, Jeff interviewed New York agents, who were no doubt more interested in talking to someone with a 10-year+ resume as a writer, and chose one who was happy to work with him. As he pointed out, however, agents are looking for good writers just as avidly as good writers are looking for them.
When asked how he found his agent, his answer was an unequivocal variation on "do your homework."
Read the trade pubs, look at the deals. Go to the agent your favorite writers use. That's as good a way to zero in on a prospect as any I know. I don't speak as a published author but as a job searcher, apartment hunter and erstwhile SW seeks SM. Go where you want to be.

My takeaway by far was this: The story is more important than the writing. As an erstwhile literary mag editor, I KNOW this is true. As a struggling literary writer wishing for a plot line of my own, I'm afraid it's true.  In fact, the book I serialized here began with a good outline. It's really a relief to plot your book (your life?) with an outline.  

My other takeaway, and Jeff was very open about this, is how much marketing an author has to do on his own. If you click on his website, you'll see events, bookclubs, life history, etc. All devoted to this one little book that, frankly, is just a nice romance, written, he admits, because that's what women like to read. (Yet another takeaway: Find out what they want and how they want it, and give it to them just that way.)

So now I want to enroll in Jeff's classes. Maybe. He's recommended Story, which I've linked here and listed on my Amazon Associates favorites list (maybe that's how I'll pay the mortgage.) 

Monday, April 12, 2010

Dangerous Book - Episode 37

Monday, May 24

But Professor S. did not want to play with us. Instead, he skirted our party, entered his apartment and shut the blinds. Nice try, Billie.

            Late this morning I strolled into Betty’s office for the recipes she’s collected so far and found her in a glow of self-importance. Something was up. Fortunately, she’s not one to keep a juicy bit of gossip to her self. Generous woman.  It seems that Dr. Ruppel had moved the artifacts to his office for the interview with the Tuscaloosa Times, but, Betty whispered, one eye on his partly closed door, when he’d arrived to work this morning, intending to return all the pieces to their display cabinets in Smith Hall, the doll’s leg was gone. 
            “Who?” I mouthed.
Betty smiled and offered me a folder marked “recipes”.
            “Nobody knows,” she said innocently but nodding her head in the direction of the student workroom.
            “One of the students?” I asked.
            She leaned toward me, flipped open the folder and pointed to the top recipe, Alpha Gams: Chicken in Bourbon Sauce.
            “Eleanor?” I knew that Eleanor, the girl who had been working with Kate when the leg was found, was a member of Alpha Gamma.
            “No, Cecile.” Cecile Bruner, another work-study student, had been sleeping in on the fateful day and was, according to Betty, pea green with envy and regret. Apparently, she’d been sleeping with Cecile’s boyfriend.
            “Now, that’s what I call gossip,” I said, my voice rising uncontrollably with excitement. “You think she’ll give it up?”
            “We don’t know that she’s got it,” said Betty, closing the folder and handing it to me. “I’ll talk to you later,” she promised.
            As I walked back to my own department, I wondered about the theft. If I had the leg I would use it as an amulet or talisman.  It is always good, in the sense of having a kind of magical power, to own a secret.  Owning a secret is as dangerous as owning another’s  heart, or a child, possibly even property, I don’t know.  It is both valuable and vulnerable and passes those qualities onto the holder.  I suppose it’s magical because, unlike a child or a heart (or wealth), the value is invisible, imperceptible, yet strong.  Why else do people covet and steal objects and knowledge?  I knew a woman in Atlanta who just loved collecting information on other people.  She didn’t use it, she just liked having it.  

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Lessons in Writing and Publishing

First quarter 2010. I've joined two associations for/of writers: Freelance Forum, a live group that meets once a month at the Portfolio Center. We meet 'n mingle 'n munch for an hour or so and then settle in for a listen to that night's speaker. Recently, we had a LinkedIn expert take us through the basics of networking via that site. FF has a group site on LinkedIn where meeting news and other discussions are carried on throughout the month. In fact, one discussion, on using Wordpress as a website, has led to an off-calendar event at Ignition Alley, a tutorial led by the LinkedIn expert (Carol Shepherd). I'm looking forward to this as I'd like to turn my currently incubated Wordpress site (Sending Pages) into a space for completed creative projects and teaching blogs. Haven't earned back any of my investment (a modest $85/year) yet, but feel it's been worth the price in actual human contact. If I could focus on freelancing and business writing, I'd likely get some work through these good folks...but that's a big if.

I also joined an online freelance association, and it's been great in providing market openings, marketing advice, query samples, etc. Again, this quarter, for me, has been given over to maintaining the online teaching gig (time management), working on up-coming art show at the APA (May 2-27 at downtown library, more info to come), job search (because I'd just be safer) and overall anxiety. Oh, yes and the retail gig, personal relationships, etc.
I am enrolled in an online query writing class but have blown the opportunity sky high. This must have been an impulse buy. People have five minutes unaccounted for and sign up (and pay for) a class, manage the first two meetings and then disappear. I could never understand this. Until this year.  While it's important to invest in one's career and job search, it's critical to understand one's ability and the extra psychic weight involved in any one of life's crises: unemployment, divorce, breakups, death. Well, I'm saving the notes and handouts for a better time.

I've also joined and spent a good bit of February able to participate on the online discussion boards. The novel I posted here, "I Want to Live Here" is being posted now (in revision) to  But March took all my attention for its own uses and both memberships (and projects) have languished.

So, yesterday I spent two hours with the Georgia Writers Association at their monthly meeting in Kennesaw. A great group with an interesting speaker, Jeff Stepakoff. I'll devote a separate blog to that event and to his message: story is more important than writing, at another time.

And then there's the Atlanta Printmakers Studio, where I spent a delicious week working, hands on, on two pieces for the upcoming library show. This group is also beautifully organized, reasonably priced and generous with opportunities for shows, print exchanges and other ways to show work.

I realize, as I list these various groups, both real and virtual, that I'm filling in for no greater purpose than to make real what I say I want to do. And what I do. But it's too much.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Finding a new poem on Facebook

I keep hearing people dismiss Facebook as boring and full of the sorts of yawning remarks we make to each other while scratching. "I don't want to hear you just fed the cat."  The people I'm connected with may sometimes reveal their dinner plans or refer to an evening out I don't care about, but like all other elevator remarks, I just don't listen to them.
Today, an old friend from Tuscaloosa days shared a link to Poetry Daily and, in particular, a lovely poem by Andrew Hudgins called "The Hereafter."  Clicking over, I read with growing delight this simple, direct and detailed piece of loveliness. You read too.
  "The Hereafter" on Poetry Daily. ( (and if the link doesn't work, please let me know.)

The Hereafter

Some people as they die grow fierce, afraid.
They see a bright light, offer frantic prayers,
and try to climb them, like Jacob's ladder, up
to heaven. Others, never wavering,
inhabit heaven years before they die,
so certain of their grace they can describe,
down to the gingerbread around the eaves,
the cottage God has saved for them. For hours
they'll talk of how the willow will not weep,
the flowering Judas not betray. They'll talk
of how they'll finally learn to play the flute
and speak good French.
                                    Still others know they'll rot
and their flesh turn to earth, which will become
live oaks, spreading their leaves in August light.
The green cathedral glow that shines through them
will light grandchildren playing hide-and-seek
inside the grove. My next-door neighbor says
he's glad the buzzards will at last give wings
to those of us who've envied swifts as they
swoop, twist, and race through tight mosquito runs.
And some—my brother's one—anticipate
the grave as if it were a chair pulled up
before a fire on winter nights. His ghost,
he thinks, will slouch into the velvet cushion,
a bourbon and branch water in its hand.
I've even met a man who says the soul
will come back in another skin—the way
a renter moves from house to house. Myself,
I'd like to come back as my father's hound.
Or something fast: a deer, a rust-red fox.
For so long I have thought of us as nails
God drives into the oak floor of this world,
it's hard to comprehend the hammer turned
to claw me out. I'm joking, mostly. I love
the possibilities—not one or two
but all of them. So if I had to choose,
pick only one and let the others go,
my death would be less strange, less rich, less like
a dizzying swig of fine rotgut. I roll
the busthead, slow, across my tongue and taste
the copper coils, the mockingbird that died
from fumes and plunged, wings spread, into the mash.
And underneath it all, just barely there,
I find the scorched-nut hint of corn that grew
in fields I walked, flourished beneath a sun
that warmed my skin, swaying in a changing wind
that tousled, stung, caressed, and toppled me.

American Rendering: New and Selected Poems
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Before the Sky Grows Ordinary

Awake at 5 am dutifully chastising myself for the misspent life, the poor choices, the addiction to self-delusion, by 6:30 I've done enough "morning pages" to feel some compassion for my walking companion. What is it like for her to walk every morning next to this quivering ectoplasm of regret? She is always so cheerful. She has led a well-intentioned life of steady work (don't disabuse me) and is rewarded now with freedom, a pension and really good health coverage. She's a good example. I am a horrible warning.
Together, at dawn, we face the same sky and receive the same gift.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Early morning walks

My neighbor and I take an hour's walk most mornings. This month, I've been bringing along my camera.
Maybe it was the hour and the sun's direction, but I don't think I've ever seen baby pine cones in just this early stage of growth. They glowed like stars and seemed so alien we had to stop and deliberate about they were. Of course, the parent tree told us but it took a second to realize what we were looking at.

Is this Spring really as spectacular as we think or, like food tasting best when you're hungry, is it an illusion based on how long and cold this Winter was?

Gotta love this little patch of jasmine. It's so fragrant. There's plenty more growing along the Highland-Baker Connector.

And it wouldn't be Spring without the dogwood, now would it?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Dangerous Book - Episode 36

Sunday night May 23
“Here’s to Kate and her fifteen minutes of fame!” Peter raised his gin and tonic and bowed. We were celebrating the almost instant success of Kate’s archaeological find and subsequent fame in this morning’s Tuscaloosa Times.

            “Longer than that,” snapped Jacob, waving the newspaper where a full page spread had been dedicated to the Gorgas Library archeological dig and, in particular, Kate’s curious discovery. “Once she writes this up, her career is made.”
            “It’ll be made when I publish,” Kate laughed. “If I publish. It’s not that big a deal.”
            “Will you have to share with Eleanor?” I asked.
            “Oh yeah, she was right there with me.”
            The dig is Dr. Ruppel’s baby, funded through the department and the museum.  Students worked three hours a day (8-11) and submitted a journal for their grade.  What the dig revealed was the site of a dormitory used for cadets during the war and burned down by Union troops in 1865.  A cornerstone that has remained visible ever since is the focal point for the site. Two weeks into the dig, Kate, and an undergrad named Eleanor Moser, uncovered the doll’s leg, which ultimately became the prize find (and the only one discovered by a student.) 
            The archaelogy department displayed the leg in a glass case in Smith Hall along with a glass doorknob, three bone buttons and the inevitable bit of unidentifiable pottery. The Tuscaloosa News ran a story and picture.  The class ended last Friday, but the site would remain as is through Homecoming.

             “Makes you wonder why we’re here, doesn’t it?” I said, drifting toward the croquet mallets.  I selected green.
            “No! It lets us know why we’re here,” she said, taking the blue mallet and ball. “We’re here to find each other. And know each other. That’s how we’ll know ourselves.”
            “That’s all? That’s all we’re supposed to do?” She made life seem to simple.
            “Know and love. And love, anyway. Hey! Here’s Professor Sargeant. Do you think he’d like to play?”

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter Happy Spring Happy Claritin

The joys of sleeping with windows wide open (air chilled as champagne, the warm and cool crumple of fresh sheets) are countered by the sinus-heavy awakening.

I used the above photo as my Easter card this year primarily because I love the little action between me and my Irish twin. There's another photo, now lost, that shows the seconds immediately before this one. I wonder what we were squabbling over? Surely, at 4 and 3, we were too young for the name calling that was to come?  This is also one of the few photos where my poor sister, burdened with orders to keep peace, is smiling...and even here she looks leery. Like it won't last. It won't my dear, it won't.

Here is the alternate, taken years later when we'd formed our alliances against the shrill and anxious wave that was the Knuckle.