Archive for November, 2012


Holiday Hangover

on November 25, 2012 in Misc 16 Comments »

I now give thanks that the Thanksgiving “holiday” is over.

Some holiday. Okay, so I got to sleep in four days in a row.  I got some writing done.  You know what I did most of the other time?  I freaking *##$!@+| cleaned my home!

Who knew it was so dirty?

The thing is, I’m a fairly neat person.  Except for too many stacks of paper and books and magazines lying around, my place is kinda orderly and clean.

But when I’m having friends over for a belated (it was this weekend, not Thursday) Thanksgiving dinner, not only do I spend hours grocery shopping and cooking, I feel the bizarre, uncharacteristic need to SCRUB and VACUUM everything and CLEAN OUT CLOSETS (Why? My friends are not going to peek into them) and get rid of some CRAP that has accumulated over the past year.

You know what the problem is with having too much stuff?  Taking care of stuff takes time.  My precious time that could be spent on far more meaningful pursuits.  Maybe that’s why getting rid of stuff always feels so liberating.  Like I can travel through life more lightly now.  It reminds me of the penniless Buddhist monks I saw in Thailand and Cambodia.  They seemed so serene, so content, even when they had no stuff.

Bet it’s safe to say they never slept outside a Wal-Mart (OMG!) or Best Buy before Black Friday so that they could get a great deal on new stuff.  Weren’t the news reports on those shoppers obscene?

I mean, I am no non-materialistic saint.  I can be as avaricious as the next American (hence all my stuff).  But when I saw the hordes of frenzied shoppers trampling over each other and fighting to get their hands on boxes of stuff and yelling and screaming and hooting in triumph when they got their new stuff…  It really, thoroughly disgusted me.  I mean, these weren’t exactly poor folk struggling to get bread to feed their young ‘uns.  They were all just rampaging rapacious mob-minded jerks.

In my next life, I think I wanna be a Buddhist monk.  Or a supermodel who gives all her stuff to charity.

Anyway, I should probably now confess to having my own rather materialistic fantasies, and one of them is this:  When I finally become a famous wealthy author, I am so going to hire a housekeeper.

Wouldn’t that be wonderful?  To have enough money to pay someone to come once a week or just a couple times a month, and do all the cleaning and shopping and organizing while I spend my time writing and doing only what I want to do.  And what I want to do does not include housework.

That’s my fantasy.  Got any of your own?

Literary Mistress

on November 19, 2012 in Misc 10 Comments »

“When you take calls from women for the Chairman of the Board, make sure you never, ever confuse his mistress with his wife.”

Sounds like a line from a novel, doesn’t it? One of those trashy, dirty tomes we don’t like to admit we read.  But nope, I received this warning years ago on my first day of a temp job in the executive department of an oil company.

I never did meet that Chairman since he only flew in to Colorado from New York a couple times a year.  But the company still maintained a swank office for him, and in it was a framed photo of his mistress.  She was dark haired, pretty, and looked to be in her thirties.  He was around sixty.

Some time later I had another temp job at a bigger oil company, again working with the top execs.  I figured out pretty quickly that the CEO had either a mistress or the occasional, expensive call girl.  Why? Among the many reasons, he was barely on speaking terms with his wife.  One day she called me and asked to speak with her husband.  I told her he was in Canada and would be there for a week.  These two people lived in the same house.

Anyway, the reason I’m talking about mistresses isn’t just because the news outlets have gone gaga over the General Petraeus scandal, although I do appreciate the irony of his biography’s title, “All In” – written by his mistress.

No, the fact is, I’m just happy about how this latest sex-and-power scandal reassures me that I got a similar situation right in my novel, Charity MacCay and the Almighty Dollar (that’s the manuscript I told you I’m editing).  It’s set in New York in 1867-1868, and Charity has dust-ups with several real-life people, including the notorious mistress of the robber baron Jim Fisk.  Fisk was married and lived in New York while his wife happily resided with a female companion in Boston.  Historians assume the wife and companion were lesbian lovers.

So much for the idea that people lived prim and proper lives back in the old days.

Now personally, I love how as a writer I sometimes don’t have to invent anything in order to tell a whopping story.

But on the downside, there are always the sad cases of people like Mrs. Petraeus, a woman who as a military wife moved the family 24 times in about as many years.  Who works like hell.  Who is no longer a hot, sexy young thing that can go on five-mile runs with her husband – the way his mistress can.  I wonder if Mrs P is ever tempted these days to shoot Mr. P?

That’s what happened to Fisk, in a roundabout way.  His mistress cheated on him with a more handsome, dashing man who in a jealous rage shot and killed Fisk.

How about you – is there anything in the news that you can put in a novel?  Funny how even science fiction or paranormal stories sometimes seem to predict a news story or scandal that’s just around the corner.

Rhythm and Rhyme

on November 12, 2012 in Misc 12 Comments »

I got sidetracked this evening.  I was planning to write for y’all an Ode to 007 in honor of Skyfall’s release and the 50th anniversary of James Bond movies.  But I wasn’t sure about the rhyme scheme.  Should it be in limericks? Or like the Dr. Seuss-style poem I wrote here?  How about patterning it after a Beatle’s song that was playing in my head?

For an idea I pulled out an old anthology of poems that I hadn’t looked at in ages.  That’s when my concentration did a 180 and before you could stop me I was moving back and forth through the pages and reading lines I used to know by heart, and wistfully wishing I could put words down on paper with such power and force and raw beauty.

I don’t know about you, but when I was in high school and college I assumed that, besides writing novels, I would of course also write poetry.  Not flowery, sentimental crapola, but some good work with words that might outlast me.  That never happened, and no surprise.  If you don’t have the inborn talent for poetry, forgetaboutit.

The closest I got to this ambition is when I made my character Quentin in The Compass Master an elderly retired professor of English and Irish poetry.  He’s the one who quotes T.S. Eliot and W.B. Yeats and Theodore Roethke.  And Layla also quotes Yeats at one point:

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?

I’ve heard those lines quoted in many a dark movie or TV show.  The rest of the poem, “The Second Coming,” is equally grim, and boy, does it stick with you.

BTW, the opening line of Yeat’s “Sailing to Byzantium” gave Cormac McCarthy the title for his book which was in turn made into movie, “That is no country for old men.”  And Clint Eastwood reads Yeats to a paralyzed Hillary Swank in Million Dollar Baby.

You want haunting words about the destruction of war? I’ve always loved this stanza from Thomas Merton’s “The Bombarded City”:

And there no life is possible
Because a weeping childvoice, thin
Unbodied as the sky,
Rings like an echo in the empty window:
And thence its sound
Flies out to feel, with fingers sharp as scalpels,
The little bones inside the politician’s ear.

In great poems, the words are set down with a rhythm that’s so right their very movement captures your emotions.  One non-fiction writer who has that talent is Jon Krakauer (Into Thin Air, Into the Wild).  I noticed the strong rhythm of his writing way back when, and just recently I came across an interview with him in which he talks about how he really works on the rhythm of his sentences.  It shows.

Tonight I also rediscovered the poem I read at my father’s burial service, Stephen Spender’s “I Think Continually of Those.”  It brought tears to my eyes.

But I should end this too-long post with something lighter.  Here’s an Ogden Nash ditty.

There’s something about a martini
A tingle remarkably pleasant
A yellow, a mellow martini
I wish that I had one at present.

There is something about a martini
Ere the dining and dancing begin
And to tell you the truth
It’s not the vermouth
I think that perhaps it’s the gin.

Has any poet or poem ever really moved you as a writer?  Inspired you?  Given you ideas for stories?

Mood Swings

on November 4, 2012 in Misc 14 Comments »

Sometimes it’s a little scary for me when my moods go up and down.

Does that ever happen to you? I mean, we’re not talking bipolar here.  There’s no wild manic vs. depressive crazy-as-a-bat-in-my-belfry moods.  It’s just that anymore it seems I have positive, optimistic times when I feel excited about life, then half a day later my writing seems hopeless and things aren’t so good and life is just one big… I dunno… a big fart?

This weekend, at least, was pretty good.  While I didn’t get out and do fun Layla stuff, I did put in a good chunk of time on my Charity MacCay manuscript.  In theory I should just be editing it, but in reality, you know how it goes – there was a whole half chapter that I realized needs serious re-writing.  Then I saw a documentary on the History Channel that gave me a couple factoids I should add to my story.  And the fat Pulitzer Prize-winning bio of Cornelius Vanderbilt (he plays a role in my novel) is still sitting in my living room with my bookmark less than a third of the way through.

Anyway the point is, even though I have more writing work to do than I anticipated, I’m happy when I’m writing.  And this evening I felt a brief surge of joy.  Like maybe things will really work out.  People will read and love Charity.  My savings won’t all disappear into my teeth and my car.

All fine and dandy. But lurking in the back of my mind is the fear that some time in this coming week something will set me off, my optimism will go to hell in a handbasket, and I’ve got to park my butt down and meditate myself back to some semblance of serenity.

I mean, I’ve heard of writers having serious mood swings, but this is really getting tiresome.  And worrisome.  And bothersome.

So do any of you guys have up and down times too?  Days when you think of tossing out everything you’ve ever written and swearing off writing?  Are they followed by dreams of winning literary prizes and seeing your name at the top of the New York Times bestseller lists?

Okay, so that sounds like my own personal and favorite delusion.  Got any literary grand schemes too?