Monday, February 28, 2011

Bird House, indeed.

My post from the Liars Club Blog is below. Check out the Liars Club for steady stream of info on writing and the writing life.

My husband and I moved into the house intending to share the tiny, dark den off the living room. It seemed reasonable enough: couldn’t anyone who managed to share a bed and a bathroom share an office?

I would use it during the day, to write, and he would use it late in the evenings, to pay bills and catch up on emails.

The problems began immediately: I wanted to paint it a pale color; he loved the dark green. “It’s the color of money,” he smiled, and I frowned. I’m a writer, I responded, what does that have to do with money? Turns out the color was the least of my decorating worries. Every night I left him alone in the office, unpacking, puttering, and every morning I would wake up to some strange thing hanging on the wall or sitting on the bookshelf.

Paintings of ducks flying across a meadow. A carving of a pheasant he did in seventh grade. Pictures of his friends from high school. Watercolors of golf courses. A trophy he won in a sledding competition. Then, a freaking television appeared.

He was turning my office into a man cave!

I confronted him. “I can’t work in there,” I said. “It’s dark and filled with golf balls and f’ing birds!” He pouted. There was no space for his stuff, he said. He needed a place for his stuff. I struggled to understand what he was talking about – in my view our whole house was already overflowing with crap. I’d grown up in a modern, ‘60s style Brady Bunch house where there weren’t even magazines on the coffee table. I wanted less; he wanted more.

When I thought more carefully, I saw his point: he was living with four women, after all. (Even the dogs were girls.) He’d probably reached his limit of pink and lavender. And everything I liked was pale: white, beige, pale blue or green. He wanted his darkness, and there was only one room available.

So now I have no office. No desk. No tether. I move from room to room, depending on the light or the level of noise. When I’m on a diet, I stay as far away from my own kitchen as possible. When there are workmen on my street, I retreat to the local library or a coffeehouse sometimes, just to break things up. When I have to go to New York or DC on business, I write on the train, which is one of my favorite places. I make “writing dates” occasionally with other writers and go to their houses.

A lot of beginning writers seem to think they can’t get started unless they have their own office. People attach something holy to the altar of the desk. I know better. Writing isn’t done at a desk, or in a room. It’s done in your head. And sometimes that means you’re writing on a walk, or in your car, or in the shower.

You don’t need a desk. It could be argued that all you need is paper and pen. And what you don’t need is a room full of flying ducks.

Note: Kelly Simmons' new novel, The Bird House, has nothing to do with her husband's duck prints.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Reviews and giveaways on some great blogs!

A great review of The Bird House -- and a giveaway for readers!! on Lori's Reading Corner, a terrific book blog.

UPDATE: Here's an interview with me and another giveaway opp, on Lisa Dale's great blog.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Valentine to my Grandmother. No links. No pitch.

A friend of mine called The Bird House a "valentine to grandmothers." Here is my actual valentine to my grandmother, from LitFest magazine.

If you asked somebody else’s grandmother to bring something to a Midwestern mid-summer picnic, she would probably make potato salad. Or tuck wildflowers into a Mason jar. But my maternal grandmother always smuggled in something less predictable. Like the time she walked straight up to the picnic table and laid down fireworks. Not firecrackers, mind you, but big fat illegal fireworks. Blow a kids finger to bits fireworks. Darkly dangerous, in stark contrast to the brightly set Fiesta ware-clad table. It’s not a picnic until there’s fireworks, folks! It’s not a party until somebody loses a limb!

My grandmother grew up on a farm, one of six children. But it’s easier to picture her as a young girl not on a farm but in a city, as a flapper, at a speakeasy, rolling cigarettes as easily as she rolled down her stockings. She was petite, slim, stylish and loved to smoke and drink. She was outgoing, funny, flirtatious and often tipsy. She was everything my mother was not.

I think one of the greatest gifts a grandparent can give a grandchild is not being like their parents. Who needs duplicates? One person to say “brush your teeth and do your homework” is truly enough. But maybe I feel that way because my mother was especially neurotic and overprotective: she forbade us to chew gum, and my grandmother stuffed my pockets with it. She didn’t let us light matches, and our grandmother let us light firecrackers. She wouldn’t allow me to roller skate, and my grandmother bought me a skateboard to keep at her house. As a mother myself, this idea is beyond horrifying. But as a child, having a grandparent like this was as magical as having a fairy godmother. We did not bake cookies together. We did not learn needlepoint. We stayed up till midnight playing poker with her friends, dancing in our nightgowns to her Roger Miller and Tijuana Brass records. And when I couldn’t sleep, she did not give me warm milk. She gave me two inches of beer in a Flintstones jelly glass and told me not to tell my mother.

This propensity for secrets between grandmother and granddaughter led me to wonder, much later, what secrets my own grandmother held. It was only after her death that I realized she’d probably been an alcoholic, like my grandfather, and like one of her brothers. And that she’d married two men and possibly never really loved either of them. And that from what I knew of her first abusive marriage, and hard working life, that she’d never really parented my mother, an only child, in any maternal sense, leaving her largely to her own devices, feeling lonely and unsafe her entire life. My grandmother’s thrilling, nervy, alcohol-fueled sense of adventure had left my mother fear-filled, and agoraphobic for much of her life. They were opposites not by destiny perhaps, but by necessity.

One of the last parties I remember at my grandmother’s townhouse, where she’d downsized after retirement, was a large potluck with dozens of family members, a casual affair really, but my mother, always a stickler for details, made me change my clothes twice because she thought I wasn’t appropriately attired. When we finally arrived, ironed and color-coordinated, we were late and everyone was politely sitting on the patio nibbling cheese.

“Kelly,” my grandmother whispered in her smoky voice, “this party is a real snooze. I think you and I need to liven things up.” I smiled at the mischief in her voice as she pressed five dollars into my hand, told me to run down to the store and buy a bunch of balloons. I did as she requested, thinking we were going to blow them up for decorations. No. She told me to fill them with ice cold water, tie them up and hurl them at the guests from behind the stone wall. “And honey,” she said conspiratorially, “make sure you hit your mother’s linen shorts first.”

I laughed and told her I’d try. But even as my bright jiggling missiles sailed over the wall, I hoped they landed on the kids. Or the pavement. Or the macramé basket of crackers. And not on my mother, who would have no logical or emotional choice but to blame the assassin, and not the arms dealer.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

I'm not sure but --

I think this review from the NY Journal is better written than my book!
Appreciate the praise though. People seem to relate to The Bird House deeply.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A lovely write up

on The Bird House, on NY Times Bestseller Chevy Stevens' blog.
(And if you haven't read her book, Still Missing, don't, uh, miss it!)