November 20, 2013

Celery Trailer

I had a blast making this book trailer for my last book.  Which slightly distracted me from working on the NEXT book.

October 27, 2013

The Fun of Research

I'm currently working on a second novel.  Once I got past the kind of frightening prospect of starting a new project, I began having fun.  The start of a big project is a little bit daunting, but with the help of research to inspire and ground me, I was able to make the leap from ideas in my head to ideas on paper, to actually typing something that looks like it is turning into a book.

And during this time, I ran across something delightful I wanted to share for anyone who likes American History or the history of exploration and whatnot.

It's the journal of Henry Rowe Schoolcraft who wrote about his explorations of the interiors of Missouri and Arkansas during 1818-1819.  It's a wonderful insight into what it was like to move around the countryside before there were roads and cars and grocery stores.  There are tales of him exploring caves he ran across with little or no equipment and I marveled that he did so without managing to kill or maim himself.  He wrote interesting descriptions of people he met along the way.  Some kindly, some not so kindly like with his disappointment in discovering that the hunters he was staying with did not observe the Sabbath.

"The sabbath is not known by any cessation of the usual avocations of the hunter in this region. To him all days are equally unhallowed, and the first and the last day of the week find him alike sunk in unconcerned sloth, and stupid ignorance. He neither thinks for himself, no reads the thoughts of others, and if he ever acknowledges his dependence upon the Supreme Being, it must be in that silent awe produced by the furious tempest when the earth trembles with concussive thunders, and lightning shatters the oaks around his cottage, that cottage which certainly never echoed the voice of human prayer." 

That's way more eloquent than what most people do now, like on Facebook when they say, "Those people really suck."

So, I'm shooting for the draft to be done by Christmas and the book finished and ready to be published by Spring. Unless I am further distracted by Henry Schoolcraft.

September 4, 2013

Indiegogo: The Lascaux Prize

I hope you will take a minute to look at a project I'm involved in.

For the last couple of years I've been working on a literary journal called The Lascaux Review with my editor-friend and crit partner Stephen Parrish. It's a wonderful place to hang out if you love literature and good writing.

We've run two flash fiction contests and have published some notable names in fiction, nonfiction and poetry.

Now we want to offer a chance to award a larger prize to writers of short fiction and we need help.  So, we're raising funds through Indiegogo and getting the word out to see who can help us meet our goals.  We have some great perks for people who donate. Those who can't donate for even the lowest perk, I hope will at least pass the word on to friends and family who will donate and help spread the word.  Or put a widget on your page.  Every little bit will help us meet our goal.

Check it out and watch the video.  It's informative and fun and you might learn something cool in the three minutes that it plays.  About literature, about the world, about history, about my passion.

Thank you for taking a moment to look!

June 2, 2013

Painted Hands by Jennifer Zobair

The lovely and talented Jennifer Zobair has a debut novel coming out on June 11th!  I was able to get a review copy to read before her release date and enjoyed the time I got to spend with new "friends" Zainab and Amra.

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 From the back cover: 

Muslim bad girl Zainab Mir has just landed a job working for a post-feminist, Republican Senate candidate. Her best friend Amra Abbas is about to make partner at a top Boston law firm. Together they’ve thwarted proposal-slinging aunties, cultural expectations, and the occasional bigot to succeed in their careers. What they didn’t count on? Unlikely men and geopolitical firestorms.

When a handsome childhood friend reappears, Amra makes choices that Zainab considers so 1950s—choices that involve the perfect Banarasi silk dress and a four-bedroom house in the suburbs. After hiding her long work hours during their courtship, Amra struggles to balance her demanding job and her unexpectedly traditional new husband.

Zainab has her own problems. She generates controversy in the Muslim community with a suggestive magazine spread and friendship with a gay reporter. Her rising profile also inflames neocons like Chase Holland, the talk radio host who attacks her religion publicly but privately falls for her hard. When the political fallout from a terrorist attempt jeopardizes Zainab's job and protests surrounding a woman-led Muslim prayer service lead to violence, Amra and Zainab must decide what they’re willing to risk for their principles, their friendship, and love.

Jennifer Zobair's Painted Hands is The Namesake meets Sex and the City, an engaging and provocative debut novel about friendship and the love lives of American Muslim women.

What I thought:

Jennifer Zobair, in PAINTED HANDS, creates a cast of characters that give a fascinating look at Muslim-American culture. Within her story about navigating love and life while balancing Muslim religious and cultural beliefs with an American way of life, Zobair provides an array of characters covering the spectrum between devout followers of Islam and those who reject the beliefs of family and childhood.

The story follows a group of friends for more than a year as they juggle careers, political differences, the trials and tribulations of love and prejudice. Setting aside for a moment that the characters are Muslim, Zobair easily captures the conflict all women face between the desire to be true to themselves and their own beliefs and the pain we feel when we reject the desires and expectations of family and friends. Layered on top of that is the heavy blanket of cultural responsibility and the judgment of a community that expects you to support its long-standing traditions whether they are good for you or not. Or good for society as a whole.

PAINTED HANDS can be read simply as a story about women facing these issues, or it can be read on a deeper level with an exploration of Muslim-American culture and the politics of being Muslim in America. I enjoyed getting insights into a world I’ve had little exposure to and also think Zobair does a fantastic job of illustrating how, when you strip everything else away, we are all just human beings, the same as each other, trying to find our own happy place in the world.

* * *

Do pick up a copy and support a talented author with her debut.  Christmas is only six months away and it will make a great gift!

Also, check out the book club questions at the author's web site.  They will add a great dimension to your reading and definitely show this is a book worth considering if you're looking for a new book club book!

May 11, 2013

Down River

"Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night."  -- Edna St. Vincent Millay

I grew up near the river where the bamboo was thick like a jungle forest. When the breeze blew it would lift a layer of chilled air off the surface of the jade water and send it wafting up the steep bank, bladed-leaves shuddering in its wake. Living on the river, you can close your eyes and tell the distance between you and the water because you know how it smells, how it feels the closer you get to it.

And in the bamboo you could imagine you were anywhere. And on the banks of the river, you could watch the water flow and wonder where it would end up, who and what it would touch on the way.  Upriver was no real mystery -- it came from the lake above the dam and sometimes that's where you went to swim.  There was no mystery there. In this world all water comes from that source, but the mystique is downriver.  The water runs to the mighty Mississippi where Mark Twain was a steamboat pilot. And from there it roils south to the ocean to become a little piece of the whole wide world, the water that touches every shore of every exotic continent.

When I was twelve I begged my mother to buy me Encyclopedia Brittanicas from a salesman who came to the door.  I knew she didn't want to.  We couldn't afford them, but I could not give up the thought that all that knowledge would walk out my door in the hands of the tired man in his brown suit.

And so, sensing my hunger, and possibly hoping the books would help me make something of myself she signed a contract, paid a downpayment and I was allowed to keep the book he brought as a sample. The rest would arrive by mail.

The following year the Brittanicas gathered dust as I hankered for a boy who made my heart beat in my chest like a caged beast. The blood in my veins tingled in anticipation of seeing him and every sensation was a symptom of a certain and impending death. I'm not sure I ever even spoke to that boy, but to this day I remember his shiny handsomeness, the strong jaw, the broad shoulders. I remember the sharp ache of wanting but not getting.

Then, years later, the river was at my back.  I left it behind to discover what the city had to offer with its lights and fast pace.  The slow beat of natural living was replaced by the white noise of urban life, the hubbub of choosing from a menu of seemingly limitless choices, the excitement of acquisition, experimentation, the challenge of overcoming.  The sinking sensation of failure and loss.

Finally, if I wanted, I had the power to dispell the clutching sense of yearning by getting what I wanted.  I had tools, I had means.  Sometimes I succeeded and sometimes not and that was the year I discovered that the opposite of yearning was sadness or, sometimes, despair.

I remember lying on a couch staring up at the ceiling, tears running, wetting my ears, my neck.  I remember the deep sense of loss and my brain spinning trying to figure out how to fix the brokenness, to rebuild the core that felt crumpled up on the inside.

Eventually I tackled it.  And it was the first of many massive emotional construction jobs -- building, demolishing, rebuilding, remodeling. Each time I left one home in sadness I comforted myself with reminders of the joy I felt when I was there, of the things I learned... a laundry list of life skills and talents developed in tandem with someone who was now leaving, now gone.  Or who I had drawn away from.  Had someone with a magic wand come and offered to take the pain away along with the memory of this past I would have declined. Experience was my Encyclopedia Brittanica.

To this day I still find that better than the oxygen-sucking sensation of yearning.  That bitch cuts like a knife, deep and bloody, and I have never mastered the fix for it.

But I am back by the river, having flowed in a circle like the water does, back again to watch the sun sparkle off green water, my gaze always, always pointed downstream to where the water runs.

April 30, 2013

Reconnecting with Myself

"We need to reconnect with those really primal parts of ourselves… We need to reconnect with who we really are.” – Dan Phillips (Phoenix Commotion) from his TED Talk.

Lately I feel the urge to admit that I'm a weird person disguised as a normal person.

I come from a long line of weird people -- from both sides of my family.  My paternal grandmother wore Hawaiian muu muus and went barefoot in public.  Always.  My maternal grandfather lined his driveway with fake gargoylesque monsters made of twisted stumps and found-objects like bones and rocks.  I grew up thinking this was normal.  Well, in my world it WAS normal.

I recently watched a TED Talk by Dan Phillips who makes houses out of repurposed material, stuff that would normally go in the trash or to the landfill.  The houses are amazing.  Well, amazing if you like things that are out of the ordinary.  While his talk was very focused on worldwide waste, he touched a bit on how we as humans like to fit things into categories, ourselves included.  And it made me think again, more, about how the reality of me is that I'm a weird person who blends in really well with normal people.

For quite some time I thought it served me well. But lately I've been thinking I've done a great job of kidding myself.  Being normal is a habit.  It's not an onerous task -- about the same as getting dressed before leaving the house or using your napkin when you eat instead of wiping your hands on your clothes.  A habit borne of the quest for ease, like the film on a fish that makes it glide easily through the water.

A few years ago I was driving down Main Street of my little town, past a crummy, ramshackle building. The facade had peeled off and all that was left were remnants of the black cement that had held it together since, probably the 40's.  I called the owner of the building and without any formal niceties I launched in.

"Jack. I just drove by your place and had a vision -- you need to mosaic the front of that building.  It would be amazing."

"I need to what?"

"Mosaic the building. You know. Broken tile. In some kind of beautifully aesthetic configuration.  Art!"

"Okay. Yeah. Right."

About a year later, circumstances would arrange themselves such that my mother became owner of the building. She wanted to do something interesting to it.  I did a watercolor sketch of the vision I had that day.  And under a cruel summer sun in over 100 degree weather we worked at it, for weeks, until we got this:

And some details (click to biggify...)

I sit in front of the building sometimes and just look at it. Because it's pretty and I'm proud of it, sure. But these days more because it's a metaphor. It's a glimpse of naked flesh through a door left ajar.  It's the summer day you wore the sleeveless shirt, for once, not caring if your flabby arms were showing.  It's me giving myself permission to not care what people might say because it's the loudest building in town, that it's not orderly.

In fact, I went so far to go on a guerrilla artist mission and paint the neighbor's alley door. Bright, electric blue with a dripping faucet.  (It's the municipal water department. Humor!)  While I was back there a truck passed through the alley, the occupants staring at me as I stood in an artistic fugue covered in blue and white paint. I waved my big paintbrush at them as if it was a thing I did every day and that I had every right to be there instead of possibly violating a small handful of state and local laws.

And it was good.

And then I fell asleep again for a while and went back to being normal.

I admire self-restraint, yet I wonder lately what good it is.  Within the boundaries of the law and the proper function of society, what good is it?  What do we achieve when we hesitate to speak our minds, to laugh out loud in a quiet museum, to apologize for our desires? How much do we miss by not standing in the rain until we are soaked through? Does it matter in the big picture that anyone might see our bra under our wet shirt or that our hair sticks to our face?

I have a day job that requires me to be quite meticulous, confine myself to a lot of legal rules and codes of professionalism.  I have clients whose needs I must meet.  I am basically on call every day, including weekends and nights.  I am a mother, too.  My life is not my own -- not really.  In my office I don't wear my shoes because I don't like to wear shoes.  Sometimes I forget I don't have shoes on and a client or customer will come in and notice and remark on it.  I used to get embarrassed and apologize.

A couple of months ago I stopped apologizing.  Now I say, "I love not wearing shoes."  One part of me chastises the other part of me for being unprofessional.  That girl scolds me and purports that such behavior could be bad for business.

And I feel a little bit bad in case she is right.  But then I think... I'm in my 40's now and this is the only life I get. I'm not going to spend what time I have left apologizing for being authentic.

I hope you don't either.

April 6, 2013

Small Town

"Miss Wendy! Miss Wendy! Miss Wendy!"

Finally, I hear my name sink into me and look up to see who is calling.  Betsy, with her hair chopped off.  I had forgotten that.  She waved, delighted to see me, a grown-up she loves, at her school program.

"I still love your new 'do, Betsy." She has a cousin with cancer.  Now the other half of her hair is on its way to Florida to be made into a wig. It was her idea.

My eyes scan the room. Children everywhere, a happy din, hubbub, excitement.  It's award day.  Everyone is here.

For some reason I think of tiny feet and how I knew a lot of these feet back when they belonged to the babies they used to be.  I live in a small town and this is what we do -- live together, die together. We know each other.

I know the story of Betsy's hair, the hair she had all her life up to this point.  Two rows behind her I know the little boy who is in remission from his brain tumor. The town raised funds, for years, to help support the family through his medical care.  Three seats down I know the little boy whose mother used to do meth but doesn't anymore. She got arrested for shoplifting birthday decorations for her son's party because she couldn't afford them. Now she's going to school full time because her husband has a job that is good enough to support the whole family.

Two days ago I stood on the sidewalk and heard a man yell out the door of his shop at two girls walking down the street. "DOES YER DADDY KNOW YER WEARING THAT?"  The girls with their midriffs showing scurried down the street as if he might chase after them. He huffed at me and said, "I'll bet you Bobby Dean does NOT know." He turned and went back into his store. Probably to call Bobby Dean.

As my mother was called when I was 15 and skipped study hall to walk to the corner store for a roll of SweetTarts.

As I was told when my son went to the store and loaded up on double-shot espresso drinks. "Does your mother know you're buying those," the checkout lady asked.  My son, who already knows how it works in a small town replied, "I'm sure she will pretty soon..."

Twenty minutes.  That's how soon.

I look at the old pictures in my school yearbook.  My fingers pass over the faces of the 70 people I graduated with and I name how they turned out.  Dentist.  Bank teller. Farmer. Insurance Salesman.  Drug Addict.  Housewife. Travel Agent. Store Owner.  Cook.  Politician.

On this day I sit and think of the tiny feet in this room and how they will grow into their future lives and how I will know them and see the string of time from when they were born until they day they get their first job, have their first child, get arrested, win an election, buy a new business, die too young from cancer, grieve when they lose a child.

We will celebrate and grieve with them.   We will champion them and judge them despite the fact that most of us have memorized the first few verses of Matthew chapter 7 that cautions us not to do just that.

We have done this since our town was born and will continue to do so until the population creeps up to a size where we begin to realize we don't know the names of our neighbors or know the people who are written about in the weekly newspaper.

And we will lament what we have lost -- this sense of belonging, for better or for worse. We will cease to be how we are connected (Miz Maisie's youngest girl who has the hair salon) and become our house number or a description of what we are wearing.

We will be one in seven billion people.

March 17, 2013

Spring Back

Spring is nearly here. I remembered today a few of the things I love about spring and it's funny that every year I forget and remember again. It's as if winter numbs my mind and makes me forget what I love about the other seasons so I won't feel the loss or longing.

It works. I love winter despite her bleak days and her sometimes-bitterness.

Tonight the frogs were singing in the fog. I drove slow with the windows down, my lights cutting through the swirl of white across the road.

It reminded me of something two decades dead and gone. It reminded me of a boy I knew, Ben, who made me want to run away and join the carnival with him. To sell everything. To surrender to a nomadic life, to give up everything and be dirty and uncertain while there was time to do that.

Time to do that before my back ached or before I had children. Before I understood my own mortality. Before there were mortgages and deadlines and expectations that, when not met at 40, fall like giant redwoods in a forest instead of like dogwood petals on a breeze when you're 20.

Ben said that sometimes he had to sleep with his head on the bathroom sink if nobody would let him sleep in their trailer. And I imagined myself in the fairgrounds bathroom in a town whose name I had forgotten because it followed a string of a dozen towns before it. I imagined how it would be to sleep with my face pressed to the cold enamel of a sink and that was enough for me to smile with only half-regret and touch his hand gently as I said goodbye.

And in the summer was a different boy and a jeep with the top down and Phil Collins blaring out of the speakers and stolen moments of passion by the edge of a quiet lake. And eventually a spot in the bed that I didn't sell for Ben. And times where I would apologize for the passion I felt for this new boy, for the urge I had to devour him whole because wasn't it unseemly for a girl to act that way?

Spring is oblivious to her own wonder.

March 15, 2013

Flash Fiction Contest

I'm in the midst of a flash fiction contest! If you like reading tiny bite-sized pieces of fiction, go check out Lascaux Flash.

Or if you like writing tiny pieces of fiction, go enter!  There is a $250 prize for a mere 250 words!

February 12, 2013

Boycott Valentine's Day

I found myself standing in front of a bunch of Valentine's Day crap.  Pissed.  And the only reason I was there was because I have kids who have parties -- it's certainly not because I like Valentine's Day.  In fact, quite the opposite.

Every year my ritual is to rant about Valentine's Day during the week of Valentine's Day. And friends who have known me for many years scatter like feral cats when they see me coming.

And I suppose it's ridiculous, because as holidays go it's rather innocuous.  Who wouldn't like a holiday that promotes love?

Except, the thing is, it doesn't really promote love.  Rather, it oppresses men and throws women into another arena where they compare themselves to each other to confirm how "worthy" they are in the eyes of those around them.

It's no secret that men say women are "complicated" or "tricky."  I've heard being in a relationship with a woman compared to walking through a room that is rigged with flashbangs -- you never know when you'll set one off accidentally, unwittingly. As a woman, I personally don't feel I'm terribly complicated but it's also hard to argue with the deer in the headlights look a man gets when you ask him if your ass looks big in the dress you're wearing.

And so comes Valentine's Day.  And on that day the man must go forth and procure for his lover some red or pink article that expresses just the right amount of love and creativity.  Too much and you overshot your mark (does that send a message?), too little and you're a cheap, uninspired bastard who doesn't appreciate your girl.  I don't envy a guy on Valentine's Day.

And for women -- imagine sitting in an office and all around you in their little cubes women are getting flowers delivered, or candy or tiny inappropriate teddies that they'll hate  And you're not.  Because maybe you're single. Or maybe your husband forgot it was Valentine's Day and is out in a leaky fishing boat with a 6-pack.  Or what if the girl next to you has two dozen roses and you have a little $3 box of off-brand chocolate from the dollar store that is half oxidized because it was actually left over from last year?

In my opinion, the whole day is trouble waiting to happen.

"But, Wendy," you protest. "Isn't the day really about the sentiment? It's the thought that counts."

I don't know... does an obligatory holiday that forces someone to buy me a present really quantify someone's love for me?  Are you buying it for me because you love me or because Hallmark says you should?  And, you are a kind person who doesn't want me to feel ridiculous when all my girlfriends get stuff and I don't.  Thank you for being kind, but maybe instead do something authentic for me like leave a funny note in the pocket of my jeans.  Or bring a 2pm snack by the office and say, "Hey, just wanted you to have this treat." Do it on a day nobody tells you to do it.

And let's do it for each other -- not just our lovers.  Let's do it every week for teachers or doctors or the lady who grooms our dogs or for the garbage man -- especially the garbage man, because his job really sucks.  Open your heart to anyone and everyone who ever made your life better.

I started to ask you to consider boycotting Valentine's Day, but maybe instead what I really want is for you to celebrate Valentine's Day every day of the year.

January 2, 2013

January Featured Author

I'm starting off the new year with something fun! Over at Drey's Library I am the January featured author and today she posted an interview and a giveaway.  So if you want a chance to win a book and either some yarn or soap, go check it out!