Sunday, November 26, 2006

What are you reading ...

... and what books have you read this year that you'd heartily recommend?

I just finished On Beauty by Zadie Smith, which I Loved. I'm now reading White Teeth, her first book, which I like but don't love. She's a great writer but her first book isn't as compelling to me as her current one.

Any books you read that you wanted to get into, but couldn't?

Monday, November 20, 2006

An exercise

What is your earliest musical memory? Is there a song that stands out from when you were sixteen? Who were you with? What were you doing? What about when you were twenty-one? Thirty-three? Forty-six? What played at your wedding or when your child was born? For fifteen minutes, write down these musical memories.

Experiment. Play different types of music and write. Write to silence as well. How does what you listen to—or not listen to—affect what you write?

Put on music you like, set the timer for fifteen minutes and write whatever comes through. Don’t try to make it into something else. Not yet, anyway. Let the music take you and your writing with it, and see what happens.

Work with similes, too. Set the timer for fifteen minutes and start with what you hear right now. What does what you hear remind you of? What does the rain sound like to you? What do tires moving past your house sound like? the whistle of the teakettle? Pay attention to sounds as you sit and write, as you walk, as you do what you do, and bring those sounds into your writing.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Don't buy new books

This isn't my advice, but AOL's advice, yesterday, on their home page, I'm told. This is such lousy advice. Anyone who doesn't know the publishing biz may not think this is bad advice, may in fact think it good advice. Yet, how could anyone not know that an author makes no money on used books. Buying used books counts in no way toward an author eventually getting royalties.

A couple of weeks ago a friend--bless her heart--told me she found my book online at a great price. I was speechless. She thought I'd be happy and I could see she truly did not know that I'd much rather her paid a little bit more for a new book at that same online store.

So listen....if you want to keep the publishing industry alive, buy new books. Go into bookstores--indies, chains, even online--and buy new books. Only buy used books if the book you want is out of print or way out of your budget. It's sort of like poetry; so many people are budding poets but they never buy poetry books and the poetry market is rolling in the dust.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Stranger than Fiction

Go see this movie if you haven't already. It's wonderful. This is a writer's movie. Great acting, moving, inventive. That's all I'm going to say. No spoilers here. Just go see it so we can talk.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Start with a photograph

It's an exercise I often give to my students, to start with a photo--preferably an old photo--and see what it sparks.

This is an early photograph of my parents. I hadn’t planned on writing the poem below, but this photograph--along with another photo of my mother, years later--inspired me. This is what I wrote:

Fading Pictures

In the photograph, Mom and Dad sit on naugahyde
chairs. Mom wears that wide smile, now mine,
that she hates so much because her gums show. Dad
glimmers like a secret that yearns to be told
and squeezes a cigaret between two erect fingers.
A gold-framed photo of my brother
sits on the table between them.
I have not yet arrived.

They seemed so happy then, before Dad spent
his money on women. Before my brother
grew too old for his dreams. Before I married
beneath an ancient oak tree, sure that I would save
my children from the earth by having none.

Dad is long passed and Mom is far gone. Encased
in her tract home with an upstairs she never
uses. She boils chicken wings for her
Pomeranian that spins as it barks.

In the latest picture of Mom, she sits at her
kitchen table. Clutching a cigarette, she gazes
through the blinds at the barren winter landscape.
Empty chairs surround her table and I have to look
away from this already fading Kodak color.

The sadness in her eyes, the brittleness
of her crooked index finger. I cannot help
but wonder where the woman is who once tempted
any man who came near, who embarrassed
this daughter with her sexiness. Mom’s diamond
pendant, now mine, stuck in her cleavage. Men
just could not look away. With my small chest,
I cannot offer any place in which to wedge
that stone.


I ended up sending this to a local literary contest a bunch of years ago. The poem was a winner and was printed in Poetry Flash, a Bay Area literary journal.