Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sneak peek...

This is the initial work-up of the cover for my new novel that's coming out this summer.

And here's what it's about:

What happens when a 31-year-old straight woman falls in love with a lesbian?

It's 1993, and Gwen Sullivan is agitated. She's been married and divorced and is now living with her scientist boyfriend who loses himself in dark moods. Her job at a tutoring center and her work on the Bill Clinton-for-President campaign leave her vaguely dissatisfied. She hopes taking a night class in poetry will help. In the class, the allure of two lesbians takes her by surprise. She can't get them out of her mind. This prompts her to question who she is—and who she wants to be.

Soon, Gwen cannot deny her intense attraction to one of the women, Jamie. As Jamie and Gwen become more and more entwined, Gwen must ask herself who she is and what she wants from life. She begins to see gender, sex and sexuality in new ways. As she feels compelled to “confess” her love for Jamie to her friends and family, she is continually surprised by their complex reactions that run the gamut from humorous to hostile. This leads her to make one of the most important decisions of her life.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Love to all on Valentine's Day

On our walk this morning we could see snow on Mt. Hamilton to the east, just a short drive from our house. It's cold here in the valley where a wind blows on us through the mountain.

A big week is ahead of me. I'm giving 3 readings: One at Ravenswood tomorrow, one on campus Wednesday and one Friday at the CATE Conference (an on-stage conversation about the coming-of-age novel with Nick Taylor). At the Wednesday reading at the library on campus, there will be a champagne reception--so if my book can't lure you, maybe free booze can?

My mom asked me to write a blog entry about Alzheimer's, the disease she suffers from. It's percolating and will appear here in the next few weeks. I'll get to see her tomorrow because she's coming with me to my reading. It's always bittersweet to spend time together at a literary event because I got my love for reading and writing from her--and she can no longer do either. Well, for the most part. She's keeping a journal of ongoing, short entries--writing it by hand because typing is too difficult. In her day she published several books and was a big reader. She told me she misses reading. Fortunately she has movies in her life--and a lot of family love.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

News junkie detox, self-assured women and slow blogging

I've been feeling a bit hibernation-al since the election. Political burnout? I don't want to put my head in the sand, but when I listen to the news (mostly NPR), I find my blood pressure rising. Any mention of the words "economy," "stimulus," "partisan bickering" or "Congress" and I feel a need to hug a tree or enter news junkie detox.

Most of my energy these past few weeks has been put into teaching and writing. Lots of preparation for class and grading. Lots of hours working on final revisions of Complementary Colors, my novel that's coming out later this year.

I'm also writing on my new novel--by hand, in wide-ruled notebooks from Target. They don't have to be from Target, but they just happen to be. It makes writing feel as good as it did in middle school when I wrote long notes to friends in such notebooks. There's something that allows me to be more at ease with writing a shitty first draft when it's written in a notebook. It feels like there's more space for my unconscious and associational mind. It's hard to know if the writing's really any good, but I'm trying not to worry about that right now. Instead, I'm just moving along, gathering pages.

The reading at Books Inc. in the Castro with Patricia Harrelson was fun and intimate. (Intimate is code for not very many people in the audience.) It really was fun, though, and afterward the small audience, Patricia and I had a great conversation about being and writing, so to speak. One woman who attended I'd cyber-met on Goodreads. She, Annie and I really connected. How cool, we have a new writerly friend.

My next event is this Sunday, a poetry reading at Ravenswood in Livermore at 2 p.m.

A few new reviews of For the May Queen have been popping up, such as on Joy's Poetry Blog and The Feminist Review. I take a little issue with the notion that by the end of the book Norma has not "ditched her bad habits" nor "transformed into a strong self-assured woman." Sure, it's complicated--but from my view, at least, I see that she is living life more on her own terms.

Am I slow blogging these days? Kinda feels like it. Then again, this comment itself with the link might mean I'm not.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Walking and listening

Tonight is my reading with Patricia Harrelson at Books Inc. in the Castro at 7:30 p.m. Come by if you can!

I finally finished listening to Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. You know it's a good sign when you're in the middle of listening to a book on tape on your ipod and you can't wait to get out for another walk to continue listening. Elizabeth Gilbert's mellifluous, smoky voice was part of my life for weeks, and I'll miss her.

Bottom line, she's a very good writer. I enjoyed her witty insights into life. There were times when I felt she lingered too long on some of her twisting thoughts (especially with some of the god talk ... yes, I know, there is "pray" in the title, should have been a warning)--and that would be when I'd still feel the rhythm and tone of her voice but drift off a bit and focus instead on the trees, the car, my dog on a leash.

In the first part, "Italy," I noticed that as she talked about her depression she said she tried "everything" to get out of it before succumbing to drug therapy: meditation, hanging around positive people, exercise, prayer ... but I noticed her list was lacking one thing my mother always told me lifted depression: helping other people. When I was a teenager slouching around the house, bemoaning one thing or another, Mom would say, "Go volunteer somewhere, help some people, get outside of your pitiful self."

Or something like that.

That's what I wanted to say to Liz at times as she spoke into my ears. But listening to a book on tape is not a dialogue. Later, though, when she was in Bali in the last part of the book, it seems that is one thing she did learn. Of course nothing is as simple as it sounds, and I enjoyed the surprises in that section as she tried to navigate the cultural and personality differences between herself and the woman she was attempting to assist.

I loved the end of the book, the last image, the last line. It made me smile in a weepy little way as I walked down the sidewalk toward home.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Fabulous Barbara Crooker

For a while I wrote a blog feature called "Poetry Monday," which I loved in theory because I got to write about and spread around wonderful poetry ... but in practice, it made my blog a job. An unpaid job. I don't need another unpaid job in my life.

That said, now and again, at random times, I will share with you some poetry by poets I think are fabulous. Today I share with you Barbara Crooker. These poems come from Radiance .

In Barbara's words, both poems are:

"ekphrastic* in nature. Also both are based on gardens, both my own, and ones that I've visited, and travelling in France. It seems that writing poetry is the only way that an English major/Art History minor, enthusiastic but amateur gardener, and would-be world traveller can come together!

*(poetry that has a conversation with art)

IRIS, 1889
Vincent Van Gogh

Out of the stony ground of his tortured life, these iris

rise, writhe, charmed like snakes by the song of the sun.

The wild blue heart of longing moves up, up,

from papery rhizomes, common dirt. Out of nothing,

armfuls of sky. They burn, flames in a hearth, as they dance

above the pale green swords of their leaves. It's all

or nothing, this loud shout, this wild abundance, a few short

weeks in May. On the canvas, they sing forever. The suffering

world recedes in the background. They lean to the left, pushed

by the wind, but not one stalk is bent or broken. Oh, the fierce

burning joys of this life; all the things of the world, about to vanish.



The Buddha says, "Breathing in, I know I am here in my body.

Breathing out, I smile to my body," and here I am, mid-span,

a full-figured woman who could have posed for Renoir.

When I die, I want you to plant peonies for me, so each May,

my body will resurrect itself in these opulent blooms, one of les Baigneuses,

sunlight stippling their luminous breasts, rosy nipples, full bellies,

an amplitude of flesh, luxe, calme et volupté. And so are these flowers,

an exuberance of cream, pink, raspberry, not a shrinking violet among them.

They splurge, they don't hold back, they spend it all.

At the end, confined to a wheelchair, paintbrushes strapped to his arthritic hands,

Renoir said, "the limpidity of the flesh, one wants to caress it.

"Even after the petals have fallen, the lawn is full of snow,

the last act in Swan Lake where the corps de ballet, in their feathered tutus,

kneel and kiss the ground, cover it in light.


Barbara Crooker’s work has appeared in magazines such as Yankee, The Christian Science Monitor, Highlights for Children, and The Journal of American Medicine (JAMA). She is the recipient of the 2006 Ekphrastic Poetry Award from Rosebud, the 2004 WB Yeats Society of New York Award, the 2003 Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award, three Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships, and has been a twenty-four time nominee for the Pushcart Prize. Radiance, her first full-length book, won the 2005 Word Press First Book competition, and was a finalist for the 2006 Paterson Poetry Prize. Line Dance was published by Word Press in 2008. Recently, Garrison Keillor read eleven of her poems on The Writer's Almanac, National Public Radio.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Football non grata

This Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Patricia Harrelson, author of Between Two Women, and I are doing a reading at Books Inc. in the Castro. If you're in the Bay Area, come by if you can!

Here's an interview I did with Patricia about her book, writing, life . . .

I've been noticing that reviews of my novel, For the May Queen, have gone viral on Goodreads and are multiplying on Amazon, for which I'm grateful. Well, I'm grateful for the good ones. And the bad ones? Some people just have no taste.

I'm in the process of writing another novel, and my new characters are front and center in my creative attention. They feel like people I'm living with--new roommates. We're negotiating our living space and our daily rhythms. The characters in For the May Queen, on the other hand, feel like old friends.

I heard a rumor that the Superbowl is today.