Thursday, September 25, 2008

Here It Is--the Perfect Morning

Up at six. Four and a half scoops of coffee, 8 mugs of water. Kids and wife off to school. Coffee takes a dash of milk--two percent--and a saccharine tablet (quarter grain) in the biggest mug not in the dishwasher. Take in a newspaper, the most recent Entertainment Weekly, then, it's settle to the desk.

The desk contains no superfluous paper, no bills, no lists of unfinished business, no real estate files, no unread mail. There are books, research pages, an open journal, pen waiting. There's the computer humming, the chair fitting my back like a cupped palm. The words stir, then stand up, as if charged. They file and fall onto the page. My mind enters that trance state Faulkner talked about, the away place where words pass the blood brain barrier without consideration, where the sentences make magic, and no critic can be heard for miles. This could go for hours. The dog sleeps, the kitten you saved finds euphoria in your power cord, and the coffee machine announces it will no longer heat your second and third cups.

Meanwhile Addison (who once shunned Danny's infatuation) is now finding him necessary, a haven for her insecurities about her father. She's finally doing what you told her, but her mouth is still Ridgeville prison. Such recalcitrant characters.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Mind Dump--Why Write This Stupid Book

Robert H. Jackson's Pulitzer Prize Winning Photograph, 1963.

Thinking this morning about a photo exhibit I saw years ago in Dallas. Pulitzer Prize winning photos, mounted on boards that were easily 30 by 40, hanging from the rafters with paragraphs of explanation and background beside them. Emotions embedded like genetic code in the colors and shapes.

How many needed explanation? The Vietnamese girl running naked down the streets after a napalm attack, the Kent State shootings, the Lee Harvey Oswald shooting, The World Trade Center attacks, the flag raising on Iwo Jima, a soldier's homecoming, the fireman with the child after Oklahoma City, Babe Ruth retiring. Photos since 1942.

The art adorns the 7th floor of the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas, one floor up from where Lee Harvey Oswald shot and killed President Kennedy. Downstairs, enclosed in glass is the "sniper's lair," a view no longer afforded any museum visitor. But there one floor up from history, I slip past the photograph of Ruby shooting Oswald and stand at the 7th floor corner window. Dealey Plaza lays out its white colonnades, its uterine shape, all a dull green on this overcast day.

The X on the street stirs something unnameable (or is it?). It's the place where John Kennedy died, the place where history turned forever. The exhibit, the emotions, the photograph my eye takes now--almost Oswald's view--all of it, life-changing.

That's why this novel is important

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Beating Cancer

I've written about this before, and I'm saying it again (more to myself than anyone). The cure to the snarling critic on your shoulder telling you you're crap is called BIC. Butt. In. Chair.

You write through it. You work through the pain.

In my reminiscing about David Foster Wallace, I came across a Charlie Rose interview with him, Jonathan Franzen, and Mark Leyner (someone calls these wacky post-modernist types "word punks," which I love). Rose was asking them about the influence of the Internet on reading--how prescient this was, being 1996--and Leyner said he didn't really care that there might be a dwindling reading audience. In audacious fashion all three writers claimed that one must write for self first, an audience second. If you read any of these three writers, this point becomes abundantly clear.

Lesson learned (and will be re-learned and re-learned every time the cancer of inactivity and leach of self-esteem infects my mind).

Advice to myself:
Don't write what you think other people (i.e. agents and editors) want to read.

Stop trying to sound like someone else. Be yourself (advice I heard when I was sixteen and trying to get the prom queen to notice me).

Stop writing like you just finished some How-to book on how to be literary.

Lose the snobbish-ness. Write a good story. The rest is silence (Thanks, Hamlet).

Monday, September 15, 2008

David Foster Wallace 1962-2008

Anything I think to say about David Foster Wallace seems trite or somehow undeferential to the talent he possessed as a writer. I cannot think of anyone who has written more precisely, cogently, ironically, humorously, empathetically on the human condition, the zeitgeist of America, or the peerings inside the soul. Inimitable doesn't cut it. Genius perhaps.

It's a bummer day.

For an incredible interview with Charlie Rose several years ago, click here. The ending is a little haunting.

Here is a nice tribute by A.O. Scott of the NY Times.

And one more

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Terminal Cancer of the Writer

Ever have one of those days? You know, a day when every word, every sentence, every paragraph sounds like a juvenile, moronic, wannabe writer wrote it? The scene couldn't have stiffer characters, lamer dialogue, more pedestrian description (baby blue eyes? Seriously?).... You have the motivation, the hunger, the knowledge, yet, with sentence after sentence, a dismal truth blooms in your mind: you really are a charlatan, a dilettante, an incompetent fool.

You are quite certain that if by some chance you could instantaneously pluck the worst writer on the planet from the huddling, scribbling masses that you would be that guy. No photo-finish, no tight race with hanging chads. Yep, far and away the winner, you're the one, THE worst writer alive, blissfully unaware, pounding out your middling prose as if it were the next prize winner.

Okay, you get the point. It's the enemy, the devil of all good prose. The terminal cancer of the writer. So, now, you've diagnosed--perhaps even self-medicated (more whiskey, Mr. Fitzgerald?). What do you do about it?

I'll get back to you....

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

October 16, Charleston Premiere of The Secret Life of Bees. For more information, go to

Great Class

Once a month I have the privilege of co-leading a writing workshop of adults who want to learn about fiction. We write, we think, we talk, we read. It's light-hearted, but full of great questions, higher thought, serious study. Our people are from all walks of life: teachers, technical writers, nurses, construction workers, military folks.

Some want to escape "real life" for a few hours. Others want advice on finding an agent or publisher. Some want to dive into exercises (Write about yourself in the 3rd person...Go!). Overall, though, I think we want the shared inquiry into a difficult craft, the keys to universal human expression, a common experience as artists. It makes me think of 20 people who can't swim jumping into a boat, saying simultaneously, "Let's shove off."

It's scary, but oddly comforting.

Not Finished, Not Even Close

So there are problems, big problems. But then, it could be worse. I could be reading a form letter, unsigned. I could be drowning in the silence of a non-response.

Literary agent says what can simultaneously boost and burst a writer's ego: "You write your ass off, but the story doesn't grab me." "You have amazing chops, but the book doesn't deliver what you promise."

And suddenly, I'm sixteen: "Can't we just be friends?" Yeah, that feeling.

So now, there are options. Rewrite--no promises. Or...shelve it and start next project--no promises. Or...give up and go back to playing Scrabble.

The pity party is over. I'm back to work. There will be blood.