Saturday, April 28, 2007

Judging A Book By Its Cover

What does the image above make you think about? How's it make you feel? Would you buy a book with this image on the cover?

The Merge Press people have asked me to search around on for images I think might be good to incorporate on my novel's cover. This is one of the cool things about working with an indepedent press: they solicit your input.

If you have image ideas that you think might be good, I'd love it if you'd send them my way. For guidance, here's the official lowdown on my novel:

Only hours after 17-year-old Norma Rogers' parents drop her off at the college dorms, Norma finds herself drunk and nearly naked with three strangers. This is the opening to FOR THE MAY QUEEN, an edgy romp of a novel about a young woman’s sexual misadventures her first year away from home in the early 1980’s. The strip poker event is the first of many experiences that prompt Norma to question who she is—and who she wants to be.

Norma's relationships with an array of characters induce her to grapple with society's messages about women, sex, and freedom. These characters include Jack, her aloof on-again, off-again boyfriend; Goat, her antsy dorm neighbor; Liz Chan, a pot-smoking sorority girl; Benny Moss, a nerdy guy who has a thing for Liz; and Paul Fellows, Benny's roommate, whom Norma calls “Chuck” because he reminds her of Charlie Brown. Chuck, a witty aficionado of old films, dubs her “Norma Jean.” Chuck plays a pivotal role in Norma's discoveries about life's possibilities, as does Norma's roommate Stacy—a beautiful, kind, and somewhat mysterious blonde.

Many tumultuous events take Norma (and the reader) through an array of troubles, pleasures, and thrills: from drug use and ominous encounters with strangers, to rowdy parties and road trips. In the midst of these incidents—which are peppered with 1970's and 1980's pop cultural references—Norma reflects on her desire for freedom (sexual and otherwise). Reinforcing these themes are the intermittent appearances of her middle-class parents and her sister, as well as her best friend from high school whose life in a small town—as she prepares for her upcoming wedding—is poles apart from Norma’s. Ultimately Norma comes to see that there are many ways to live and love.

FOR THE MAY QUEEN is a lively look at college sex, the double standards of promiscuity, and the fact that sex and sexuality are always so much more complex than they seem. A smart yet highly readable, madcap yet tender novel, FOR THE MAY QUEEN is packed with surprising plot twists and unforgettable characters.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Low and High Culture (la de dah)

Looks Like Richard Gere's In Trouble ... for THIS.

Not sure why I care. Was just browsing the New York Times and found it interesting that someone could be arrested for a kiss. Major cultural disconnection of some sort, apparently.

When Collin Kelley was visiting, we went to Recycle Books, a wonderfully stinky place crammed with books, cats, and stained carpet. He pulled Tory Dent's HIV, Mon Amour off the shelf and said, "You must read this." I'd always been meaning to read it, ever since I heard a piece on NPR the day she died, so I bought it. I started it last night, and it's incredible. I love her long Whitmanesque lines, and the way she juxtaposes intellectual, almost disciplinarily specialized diction ("artificial extension of the body now commenced, / the transplantation of anatomized topography upon its badly damaged origin") with the perfect pop cultural image ("Loyal visitors arrived at odd hours like Pa gone to town in The Little House on the Prairie, shaking off snow on their coats). So far the book feels chillingly cold and in love with life--a stunning combination.

I'm glad I was able to return to the favor to Collin by introducing him to Marilyn Hacker's Love, Death and the Changing of the Seasons, which he read in its entirety in about 24 hours at our house. It's that kind of book. You can't put it down. It's a sonnet cycle about a relationship, an obsession, and it reads like a juicy, moving novel.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Notes from One Wedding Chickie

Not Annie and Me On Our Wedding Day

My piece about Annie and me getting married in San Francisco was just published here, on a website called The focus of the site is "Advice and Commentary for the Savvy Bride." Very cool that it includes weddings with two brides.

And guess what? I actually got paid for the piece. $150, not shabby. Especially since it was previously published in a small literary journal.
This is all good news on a day when I can use good news. It's only been a little over a month since my father died, and I can feel my skin crawling from residues of stress and grief. I feel like I've been on a speeding train since his death: all the calls and vistors, planning the service, holding the service, mom falls and breaks her arm and moves in with me, seeing her daily reminds me of our big loss, helping her bathe and dress and all that reminds me of everything she's been through, I continue teaching, face a mountain of papers to grade, Virginia Tech happens so here come stressors of even BEING on a campus, we're studying the devastating sitatuion in Iraq in one of my classes, I didn't get a job I applied for, we almost went out on strike, now I'm involved with students in protesting fee hikes ... Seems appropriate that this is one big run-on, with unparallel structure. Grammar be damned when life is like this.

And thank goddess for humor. Laughing reminds me to breathe. (My dad used to say, "You can either laugh or cry. I 'd rather laugh.")

And biggest of all thank goddess for Annie. Marrying her was the best decision of my life.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

An Event for the Ages

Yesterday I was part of a amazing event--a celebration of 150 years of poetry at San Jose State University. It was a reading put on by the Poets and Writers Coalition featuring more than twenty SJSU faculty and alumni, including Lorna Dee Cervantes, Nils Peterson, Kathleen Lynch, Sandra McPherson, Robert Hass (by video), and Ishamel Reed (by video). Also, Gloria Collins read a poem by the late Virginia de Araujo, an amazing poet and SJSU teacher in whose class Annie and I met in 1993. In addition, work by former visiting professors Ursula K. Le Guin and William Stafford was read. An event for the ages.

I especially enjoyed hearing Kathleen Lynch read "How to Build an Owl," a poem I have always loved. Afterward, as Kathleen and I were talking, I learned that we both studied poetry with Dennis Schmitz at CSU Sacramento--her in the 1970's, me in the 1980's. For years I've tried to contact the now-retired Schmitz to let him know what a big impact he made on me. He once said to me, speaking for the whole class after a discussion of one of my poems: "We admire you." He was the first one to introduce me to public poetry readings. He has virtually no presence on the internet, so he's been difficult to contact.

Kathleen told me he's a Luddite who uses plastic bags attached with rubber bands rather than buying real waders for fishing! Amazingly, she has his address and will email it to me. I can't wait to write him a letter and send him my book, Like All We Love.

It was also a thrill to hear Lorna Dee Cervantes, whom I heard read about 10 years ago in Pat Nichols' Muliticultural Literature course. I remember being in awe of this woman speak with so much passion about poetry and social activism.

I also, as always, loved hearing Mark Heinlein do his thing. He's a rare combination of fantastic poet and remarkable reader of it. Kind of performance like, while not being a typical "performance poet." Mark saved my ass last week when Ellen Bass had to cancel a visit to my students due to illness. With less than 24 hours notice, Mark agreed to fill in. He blew the students away, reading not only his own work but that of Burt Meyers, a poet I'm glad I now know.

Final note: My mom came to the event. It was moving for me to look out in the audience and see her there, watching me read. I'm grateful for the grace emerging from difficult times.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Best

I was out doing errands today and just couldn't listen any longer to the depressing news...abortion rights undermined, war, guns run amok...

I changed the channel, and suddenly the great Freddie Mercury's gorgeous voice flooded my car, singing one of my all-time favorite songs.

I cranked it.

Belted out the song with him.

My heart soared.

Thank you, Freddie.

Humanitarianism, Anyone?

Wounded Iraqi Boy (From here)

I've been moved reading about the lives all of all those killed at Virginia Tech. What devastation for their families and friends--and for us all, to be witnesses to such random, senseless cruetly.

Can you imagine if every day in a mainstream paper there were posted the photos and personal stories of every Iraqi (approximately 100 a day) and soldier killed in Iraq?

Why does our society refuse to see the devastating human catastrophe that is war?

I think part of the problem is patriotism. We need to celebrate humanitarianism, not random divisions that make one person an "American" and another an "Iraqi", that create an "us" and a "them."

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Be Peace

Yesterday as the nation was becoming aware of the horrorifying massacre at Virginia Tech, I was teaching one of my classes at San Jose State. We were talking about Baghdad Burning, a book and blog by a young Iraqi woman who goes by the name Riverbend.

My hope is that those who feel deep in their bones, their souls, the horror of the killings at Viriginia Tech will also feel empathy for those embroiled in the daily horrors of war around the world. Consider what Riverbend says here:

A day in the life of the average Iraqi has been reduced to identifying corpses, avoiding car bombs and attempting to keep track of which family members have been detained, which ones have been exiled and which ones have been abducted.

After I taught, my mom and I took a walk to the Rosicrucian Museum and sat in their Peace Garden. A plaque as you enter reads this:

* * *

Contribution to Peace

I contribute to Peace when I strive to express the best of myself in my contacts with others.

I contribute to Peace when I use my intelligence and my abilities to serve the Good.

I contribute to Peace when I feel compassion toward all those who suffer.

I contribute to Peace when I look upon all men and women as my brothers and sisters, regardless of race, culture, or religion.

I contribute to Peace when I rejoice over the happiness of others and pray for their well-being.

I contribute to Peace when I listen with tolerance to opinions that differ from mine or even oppose them.

I contribute to Peace when I resort to dialogue rather than to force to settle any conflict.

I contribute to Peace when I respect Nature and preserve it for generations to come.

I contribute to Peace when I do not seek to impose my conception of God upon others.

I contribute to Peace when I make Peace the foundation of my ideals and philosophy.
* * *

No matter your politics, PEACE is the way. At the heart of most ancient teachings and religions is the wisdom and compassion of peace.

Also, consider supporting Peace Action.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Giving Mom a Bath

As I helped her ease down to the stool in the shower, gingerly careful of her broken shoulder, and lathered her hair with minty shampoo and ran a soapy washcloth across her back...

I thought about all the times she bathed me. She'd sit on the toilet lid as I splashed around with with my washcloth and yellow squeaky duckie.

I thought about how when I was growing up she wrote out a dinner menu and stuck it with a magnet to the side of the fridge. Monday, Meatloaf, string beans, ice cream. Tuesday, Baked Chicken, potatoes and salad, cookies. There were always vegetables and dessert. She shopped every Sunday to buy all the ingredients needed for the week because in addition to raising three kids and a husband (!) she worked as a school nurse.

I thought about how she used to hang all the clothes that needed ironing in a closet and then once a week fold out the ironing board, heat up the iron, and make all our clothes presentable.

I thought about how she volunteered as a nurse at a camp summer after summer so my sister and I could attend a ritzy camp for free. For her, it was a summer of dispensing medications and tending to kids with stomach aches. For us, it was a summer of horseback riding, waterskiing, hiking, archery, and campfires.

I thought about how she used to sit on my bed when I was cozy in my pajamas. She'd be holding a cellophane-covered book we'd gotten from our weekly visit to the library. I'd read one page and she'd read the next, and she'd let me turn the pages.

I thought about how she once told me, "Don't ever worry about my feelings or what I think when you're writing. Write whatever you want." She was telling me to feel free to be myself as a writer and a person.

I thought about how, after 48 years of marriage, she lost her husband--my father--last month. And then a week later she fell and broke her shoulder. And I thought about how no matter what I do now to help her make it through, I will never be able to repay her.

Maybe Dad's Finding Ways to Say Hi?

Example #1: The Phone Rings
The day after my father died, my mom and I were sorting out some things in the kitchen, and I came across a piece of paper written by my father's hand. It said "Bob Newman"--a name unfamiliar to me--and a phone number. I held it up and was just about to ask my mom if this was something to keep, when the phone rang, interrupting me.

I picked it up. The person on the other end said, "Hi, is Bob Newman there?"

I looked down at the piece of paper in my hand, eyeing my father's familiar scrawl. "Bob Newman" it said in Dad's loopy blue ink. And now someone on the other end of the phone was asking for that very name, at the very moment I was about to ask my mom who Bob Newman was.

"You're not going to believe this," I said, "but I'm holding a piece of paper in my hand with the name Bob Newman on it. Who is this?"

"This is Jim," said the male voice. "I'm in Bob's poker group."

"My dad, Don Evans, was in a poker group."

"Yes, that's the same group," he said.

"You called his home."

"Don Evans? Your father? Oh, I'm so sorry. I just heard he passed away."

I asked him what number he was calling. He said the number. It turns out that my father's number was accidentally listed as Bob Newman's on the Poker Group phone sheet. I just can't get over the fact that at the very instant I was holding a piece of paper with Bob Newman's phone number written in my father's handwriting that the phone would ring, with someone asking for Bob Newman.

Example #2: Goulash
After the funeral, when Annie and I were back home, our friends Lisa and Marissa asked if they could come by and bring us dinner. A very sweet, compassionate gesture given all we'd been going through. Besides, we love to hang out with them and talk about life. They came through the door carrying a wonderful-smelling pot of something and bags of other items.

"Wow, smells great!" I said. "What's for dinner?"

"Hungarian goulash," Lisa said.

"Did you know my dad was Hungarian?"

Lisa and Marissa looked at me. "We had no idea."

And so...
...there you go. Hi Dad. I miss you.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Post-Father Life

I'm starting a new blog in the midst of total life change. I'm now in my post-father life. My father died on St. Patrick's Day. I was with him and my mom when he died at his home, in his bed, in the middle of the night. I suppose I have a kind of post-traumatic stress or shock right now. It's hard to focus, to think, to be in my skin.

My father was quite ill for a long time. But he was so obstinately in love with being alive that I never thought he'd really let go. Up until his last day he was living big.

I miss him like you wouldn't believe.

Or maybe you would.

I know most people have gone through deep loss.

Welcome to age 44, I hear the universe saying to me.

Here's a piece I wrote about my dad, with some pictures:

May Sarton once said she never truly felt free until her parents died. I feel free in the way an unanchored boat or a helium balloon let go feels free: wavering, lost, floating with no direction, no path.