Monday, June 27, 2011

What the day brings

If someone had told me yesterday I was going to row a boat out of a harbor to pick up a stranded sailor, I would have said “Yeah, I’m also going to harvest the liver of a dead horse to draw out the poison in the wound of a Union soldier.”

My ancestors were desert folk. We seldom did boats. I have never willingly boarded a boat. By six p.m. I had shopped for dinner and even cooked dinner and guess what? No boating. No rowing. At six thirty I went to pick up my eldest at Northwest Harbor where he had successfully sailed the refurbished Suzie Q from the marina to its home mooring. He shouted out: “Could you row the dinghy out?” I looked around to see who else was on the shore. He said, “Just slip the rope up and turn it over.”

After several attempts the rope finally cleared the tie-up pole. “Turn it over and drag it to the water. It’s easier to drag it.” I turned it over and dragged it to the water “Get the oars.” I saw that the oars had little pins and saw that they fit into holes on the side of the boat. I fit them in and felt cautious. Not optimistic. Just cautious. I pushed the boat into the water just enough so that it floated but I could still get in without upsetting everything. I got in and began to row or what I thought was rowing. I was sure I was moving ahead but after a few minutes my boy said: “You are still on shore.” “I haven’t moved?” “No.”

I got out and pushed the boat more into the water and tried to propel it forward. It kept turning around and going back to shore. You know how religious people say that God is everywhere if you only look? Well, this man appeared out of nowhere (God in disguise) and told me I had to “push the water ahead of me, not push it back.” He gave me a giant shove that sent me halfway out to my destination.
I struggled for another few minutes but eventually arrived to the waiting hands of the sailor. When the dinghy was safely tied to the Suzie Q, I said: “Birth order really matters.”

Sunday, June 26, 2011

#SampleSunday: "Three wooden spoons, an egg slicer, four mismatched chairs."

(set-up: This excerpt is from a “personal memoir” titled The Year of Throwing Away)

Who would have thought that throwing away things would bring me the change I was looking for. Who would have thought that giving away some mismatched chairs and an Oskar chopping appliance and throwing away three rusty graters and only keeping one shiny one and three wooden spoons and an egg slicer that was off center and three of the four can openers and four clear glass vases would take away some of the blindness in a sudden and decisive way and show me the lynchpin of my emotional personality and help me put certain traits away forever.

There was a jar of lavender oil that went in the heap and The Welder’s Bible that begins “put on a good pair of goggles,” the Letters of Virginia Woolf (what a strange group those Bloomsbury people). I had to toss in Suzanne Sommers. Altogether four Hefty bags filled with stuff from the closet under the eaves: new crepe-soled shoes, denim shirts, wire hangers. Notebooks with notes on self-improvement. I knew all the ideas by heart. I knew that thoughts are things and whatever you think of most often is what you will manifest. I knew everything backward and forward. EMDR notes from the therapy that includes rapid eye movement. I knew how it worked. I knew what to do.

I kept some small ringed books with grocery lists and notes on childrearing that I had written as a brand new mother. If your child says “mama,” show delight. My grocery lists were banal: lettuce, meat, bread, onions. I kept that history. Finally, I lit a candle in the closet under the eave. It was a candle one of my children had given me to quell the musty odor after too much rain. It was a pleasant scent with no sweetness in it. I sat in the crawl space and lounged against a stack of chenille bedspreads. I put my hands on the manuscripts of books I had published and some glory reviews. I basked in the comfort of knowing there was nothing in there that I had not illuminated.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

#SampleSunday: "One day, this hunk – his IQ would have had to go in parentheses – says to me, ‘Our script needs a rewrite.’"

Set-up: April is a grossly overweight copywriter for a large department store. In this scene she has gone to the window display manager, Don, to get copy for the March windows featuring Jason Salowitz’s budget spring suits. (Excerpt from my novel Nothing To Lose $0.99)

Don worked silently, pinning suits on two mannequins. How well his clothes fit. How tastefully he dressed. This morning, he had on a putty shirt with matching pants in cotton hopsack, slightly gathered in front, European style. His tie was lemon yellow organdy lined with silk. She looked down at her own drawstring pants of heavy cotton. They gathered between her legs, making the inner seam shorter than the outer ones. She had on her black, low-heeled shoes that needed re-heeling.
He watched her looking at herself. “This little number comes in size 20 if you change your mind.” He held up the pink and chartreuse suit.
“What are we playing? Get the writer?”
He folded his arms across his chest. “Is there any way of bringing up your weight so it doesn’t make you angry?”
“So we can’t ever talk about it?”
“What is there to talk about?”
“What is there to talk about?” He walked around in a circle, a deer stunned by automobile lights. “To begin with, there are fifty or sixty pounds to talk about. Each one weighs as much as” – he picked up a mannequin’s foot – “this. Feel it. Sixty of those all over your body. Think of what that’s doing to your liver and your pancreas.”
She knew he knew absolutely nothing about her liver or her pancreas. He was trying to scare her. Well, she could scare him by pointing out what drugs did to his system, not to mention his brain. “Then, of course,” he continued, there’s your l-i-f-e. Are you satisfied to live out your days without s-e-x-u-a-l attention?” She flinched but said nothing. “Thirdly, there is the waaaste of it.” He wrenched three syllables out of the word waste. “The waste of your face.”
“Such a pretty face,” she mimicked.
“Joke about it if you want to, but it isn’t funny. There’s nothing that’s harder to come by than beauty. There was a survey and they found out that beautiful people were considered more honest, more reliable, more intelligent, than the ugly ones. It was in The New York Times. The Science Section. It said beautiful people were hired faster, married younger, made more money at their jobs and were treated better by salespeople and waiters.”
“That’s awful.”
“Unless you’re the pretty one, which you are.” He rubbed her cheek. “Gorgeous skin.”
“You just like it because it’s white.” It gave her a little fearful thrill to joke about his being black.
“Hmmm. You think? Your skin is not found every day of the week.” She was amazed how this pleased her. She wanted him to do ten minutes on her skin.
“Yeah?” She looked at herself in a nearby mirror. “You really think so?” Then, seeing she was playing right into his hands, she took up her pencil. “Did the article say beautiful people also got their hearts broken?”
“Huh? You think you have the franchise on heartbreak?” He said it in a way that invited questions. “You’re not the first or the last to have someone walk right over your body.”
“Yes, of course, me. There’ll never be anything like that again. Well…I’m too old now anyway. Those things only count when you don’t have line one, or sag one. You know what I mean?”
“No. You look perfect to me.”
He arched an eyebrow. “Perfect? No. Far from it. Well-groomed? Yes. Exercised? Yes. But perfect? No. Things happen to the old bod.” He was silent a moment. “He, on the other hand, was perfection. The first time I saw him my heart skipped a beat. Literally. I was having an irregular heartbeat. I thought I was going to die right there. It was awful. I told him everything. I said, ‘I can’t walk out of here and out of your life. I’m wildly interested in you’ – that was putting it mildly. ‘Do whatever you want because I’m not leaving your side.’ You know what he said to me? You want to know what Lucrezia Borgia said to me?”
“He said, and I quote: ‘Aw, shaddup,’ with this bored wave of the hand. He sounded like a young Bette Davis. ‘Aw shaddup’”
“And then what happened?”
“I stayed, of course. All he had was a face but that was enough. One look and you gave him anything he wanted. His face was his brain.”
“And you loved him?”
“Loved him?” He looked at her as if she were stupid. “He was my life. I would have breathed for him if he’d asked. Let me tell you, he wasn’t beyond it. I fed him. I, who had never lifted a spatula in my life, learned to use a whisk to beat the eggs for his omelets and a mallet to tenderize his veal. And this vicious little chopper in a jar to mince the parsley that decorated his plate. Many nights, he would look at me over a candlelight dinner and whisper: ‘Whaddja put in this stuff anyway…I can’t tell whad I’m eating.’
“One day, this hunk – his IQ would have had to go in parentheses – says to me, ‘Our script needs a rewrite,’ Our script? I said. What script? ‘Our script. You know, it’s a metaphor for our life. Our relationship.’ I played for time. Something was fishy. Someone had put all these new words in his mouth. Someone from California. It sounded definitely like West Coast crapola.
“You think our relationship needs a rewrite? ‘That’s right.’ He was tugging at his Eisenhower jacket and buffing his nails on his pants. In what way? ‘Oh, in every way. I want to go to California.’ I was just getting started in the fashion business. I couldn’t just pick up and go. He said, ‘It’s either your career or me.’ I thought he was joking so I said, If that’s the way you want it, ta,ta.”
“What happened?”
“He left.” Don’s eyes got wider in his face. He looked miserable. “The next day, he packed his clothes and left.”
“My god, just like that?”
“No. He left me with a five hundred dollar phone bill and intestinal parasites.”
“My god, how?”
“Don’t ask. It’s too gruesome. It’s my own fault. Instead of going to a gay doctor who would have seen immediately what was what, I went to a jerk who treated me with enemas. Enemas. That only gave the darlings an elevator ride home.”
“I can’t take this,” said April, shaking her head. “I just…it’s too much.”
“You said it,” said Don. “It’s too fucking much.”
“You have Pierre.”
“True. But I’m very mean to Pierre. The only time I’m really nice to Pierre and stop hassling him is when I’m on hash. Then I’d be nice to my dead dog.”
“Are you on hash a lot?”
“Don’t ask.”
“But you do love Pierre?”
“Don’t ask.”
She turned all this information over in her mind. Not that she could do anything about any of it. “Do you think I could change? Do you think I could be normal again…I mean lose the weight and everything?” She hadn’t known she was going to say that.
He looked surprised and his face took on a childlike excitement. “Jesus, I think so. Why not? Imagine a thin, little thing stepping out of you. Oh, I can’t stand it. Be still, my heart. You’d be gorgeous.” He said it again as if the idea was blazing in his mind. “You know…you’d be gorgeous.”

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

"The evening progressed from phase to phase..."

I went to a party recently that I enjoyed so much it made me re-think everything I ever thought about parties.
I have never been fond of parties. One of my favorite quotes in literature from The Great Gatsby describes a big dinner party: “The evening progressed from phase to phase with the sheer nervous dread of the moment itself.” You got that right.

Parties are a huge leap of faith that you belong to the right social group and have learned the rules. Generosity is at the core of any successful party. You can’t run out of booze or food unless it’s the wedding feast at Cana and you have Jesus as a guest. Ideally, a good party should include several guests who are more accomplished and wealthier than you and will make your regular guests feel it was worth getting a sitter. Another nice ingredient is that the party be gay and carefree (sometimes achieved with Cole Porter songs like “You’re the Top.” Who is so beleaguered by life that they won’t smile when they hear these lyrics:
You're the top!
You're Mahatma Gandhi.
You're the top!
You're Napoleon Brandy.
You're the purple light
Of a summer night in Spain,
You're the National Gallery
You're Garbo's salary,
You're cellophane.

There are scary aspects to parties:
1. you won’t know anyone.
2. no one will initiate a conversation with you.
3. when you infiltrate a conversational huddle, the people will stop talking and rush to get a drink.

Suppose the worst scenario takes place and you are literally alone in the center of the room visible from every corner for all the other guests to look at and ridicule. This is the time to apply the “so what?” cure. So what? What is going to happen? Your limbs won’t begin to fall off as if you were a leper at Kalaupapa. Eventually everyone will go to the next phase and the evening will progress as per Mr. Fitzgerald's forecast.

Getting back to the wonderful party that I attended recently, I have to report on the ingredient that took it out of the realm of good evening with friends and acquaintances and catapulted it into the realm of temporary amnesia gleefulness. WE PLAYED CHARADES. When you play charades with a group of smart, accomplished people who are either younger and cooler than you or same age but super smart, you become as alert as an astronaut at lift off. You forget who you are, where you live, your debts, your weight, your plumbing problems, your chronic ill functioning sinuses. You become hyper focused on solving the clues. You scream out possible answers and jump up like a lunatic. If by some miracle you guess the charade, your pituitary gland shoots something, maybe growth hormone, into your system like a fire hydrant in the ghetto. We had teams and my team won two of the three rounds. It was a great party.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

#8 in Books > Teens > Literature & Fiction > Love & Romance

In May I sold 2301 e-books combining the U.S. and the U.K. I am wide-eyed and astonished at this number especially since my books fall into genres that are tepid at best. The really hot genres that tax the servers at Amazon are paranormal romances and the high priestess of these books is a young woman named Amanda Hocking. Amanda self-published a paranormal series with the name “My Blood Approves” (see current ranking above) that made her a million dollars and ultimately brought her to the attention of the big publishing houses and a movie contract.

“My Blood Approves” are words that pop into my mind at odd times and wiggle around until I pay attention. It's not easy to write a book that sells a zillion copies and yes, I wish I had the kind of imagination that resides in Ms. Hocking. The title is both provocative (where are we going with this?) and homely (the old meaning of homely). Using the deductive approach it would mean my blood is happy to be slurped. The dialogue would go like this. A vampire is coming tonight and he will sink his fangs into your neck and siphon off some of your blood. And the response is” “Okay, bring him on. I checked and my blood approves.”

It could mean “blood” in the sense of ancestry, bloodline, etc. My entire bloodline approves of my fetish. Grammy and Poppy and Uncle Ned like the way I turned out and when I tell them that my teenage boyfriend comes into my bedroom at night and attacks me like a Cheetah or some apex predator at the top of the food-chain tucking into a fresh kill,” they say, “Darling girl, we approve.”

I’m not making fun of it. No one achieves that kind of success without a lot of hard work and a million dollars is nothing to laugh at. This is the story a lot of readers want on their Kindle. Irony and turn of phrase aren’t cutting it on the e-book bestseller lists.

I should get on my knees and thank somebody that while all this paranormal excitement is going on in e-books, 2301 readers bought my old fashioned books where regular people lose jobs, lose weight, find love, find themselves, kiss the regular way and experience the normal excitement of solving some of life’s problems. Thank you to all.