Monday, October 24, 2011

Just a Story. No Links. No Sell-i-ness.

Order In The House.

When I was eight, I wanted to be a librarian when I grew up.I thought this would be the best job in the world, because it involved two of my favorite things: Books, and orderliness.

Now, maybe it wasn’t natural for a child to hang her Barbie clothes by color, or line up her days-of-the-week panties in her top drawer in descending order, from Monday to Sunday. In the years since, I have let down my standards quite a bit: My spice rack is not alphabetized. My driveway is covered with leaves. But at eight, order still ruled.

Which was why every book I owned was listed in a card catalog by subject, author, and title. And if someone wanted to borrow it, I filled out a little slip with a due date and paper-clipped it to the inside flap. And if my friends dared to return these books a day late?. . . I fined them a quarter. I know: what a little bi--h, right?

Luckily, I married a man who appreciates order almost as much as I do. And who would never leave a wet towel on the floor * Shudder *

Last year, after painting our living room, I decided to re-shelve some books by color. The result, after a few hours’ work, was beautiful: the yellow spines gave way to cream gave way to white: green to turquoise to blue. When I wrote each morning, I could look up at those books and take in the beautiful rainbow.

About a month ago, I came home from the grocery store and noticed, with horror, that the books had been rearranged by height, from shortest to tallest. The rainbow was dead!

You guessed it: The hubby did it. And oh, how I wanted to fine his a—.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Tilda Swinton kinda lives in The Bird House. Whoa.

My passion for US Weekly piqued anew with Tilda Swinton's revelation in this article about her brother.

Since this is something dealt with in The Bird House, with ambiguity, and, I hope, with grace -- and rarely spoken of, way more fascinating and perhaps more common than incest, who knows? I honestly did not know what to think, but I was stunned. Stunned that she confessed, without irony.

My Most Fun Guest Post Ever!

Ashley at Basically Books has a reading blog that features a reading memory each Monday.
Memory Monday. Some of you who have met me at book clubs might remember me telling you that in my childhood I always read, shall we say, above my grade level. As in, wildly inappropriately.(And my dolls were usually naked and headless.) I was a weird child. My Guest Post, entitled: This is So Not Little House On The Prairie,is, with big thanks to Ashley, right heah. Go visit Ashley and give her some love!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Just A Plain Old Writing Story. No Links. No Pitch. No Motives.

I apologize for the ridiculous photo in what will be, a hope, a non-ridiculous post. It's there to make a point: That this is how I think I look. That this is how I see myself. Laughing, with my glasses on. (See, when your glasses are on you can see how freaking funny the world is.)

Anyway, all of us have an idea of what our essential selves are like. But as writers, it's critical to also have an understanding of what our essential voice is like. Every agent and publisher tosses that word around liberally. A great voice is like porn: they know it when they see it. Yet it's the thing hardest to learn or to teach.

So how do you develop it? The best writing advice I've received over the years came not from writing teachers, but yoga and dance teachers. "Find your pose, not mine, not your neighbor's," she whispered as we flowed, flexed, strained. "Move like yourself."

Isn't that the best advice? To move like yourself? To be inspired by others, but to find your version of movement?

A few years later, in a jazz dance class, my teacher stopped me mid-leap. (Okay, it was more of a leap-ette.) "Kelly," he said, "use all your height, your length. When you are making a gesture, make it all the way down to your fingertips. Finish it!" (Thank you Bruno Tognoli!)

That's what I think when I read a manuscript or book that's all plot, all motion. Why didn't the writer finish it, follow the line all the way? (Actually, what I think is: Would it have killed you to take a few more weeks and write some sentences in here that I might enjoy?)

And last week, in a challenging yoga pose that required both balance and flexibility, when I thought I couldn't go on one second longer, the teacher said: "Can you slither in a little deeper?"

When I find myself skating the surface of a character, not allowing him the full range of emotion and heart, I have to remind myself to just slither in under his skin. Go a little deeper. Finish the gesture. Move like yourself.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A new book to fall in love with

Beth Kephart, who I first ran into at BEA-- and who spoke so eloquently at The Book Blogger's Convention in New York -- has a new book debuting, YOU ARE MY ONLY. She's a National Book Award Finalist and her young adult fiction is so beautifully written your teenager's verbal SAT score may kick up a few notches -- but she'll be so entranced you won't notice. This is the first time a professor from Penn has answered my five questions. Beth, you are a credit to the Ivy League. More about her fabulosity right here.

1.What kinds of things are on your desk or near your work space to inspire you?

Honest answer? (No, Beth, lie to my readers.) It’s a glass-topped desk. I’m most inspired when it’s so spanking sparkling clean that it holds the reflection of the trees beyond my window. Upside down trees. Upside down birds. Crazy mixed-up storm.I like that best.

2.Describe the last page/chapter you wrote.

There has been a violent accident. My protagonist witnesses the aftermath from a window above.

3. Who is your favorite fictional character from any book you’ve ever written--or read?

I am very in love with Death, the narrator of The Book Thief. I am very in love with Michael Ondaatje, who is right there, so whisper close, behind every character he writes.

4.What is the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you at a book club or bookstore?

Funny? Do funny things happen to me? Do I go to book stores? Have I been invited to book clubs? Oh. Yes. I just reminded myself. The members of a book club came in from a certain west-coast city and asked that I give them a tour of Chanticleer gardens, where some of my stories take place. They arrived, in force. I gave them what I think was a damned fine tour. Introduced them to gardeners and to garden things. Told them history of both the political and particular sort. Soon the book club members were all giving me their cameras, and I was standing in the hot sun (this was July, Philadelphia), taking their portraits. Standing on the hill, taking their portraits. Squatting on the grass, taking their portraits. Several hours into the event, damp as a newborn and heat overcome, I said to myself, Beth, my dear. You are what fools are made of. (See, everything is a damn novel, people! This is a novel!)

5. Name a word you’d like to put into one of your upcoming books.

I just asked my husband, an artist who has never written a book and believes (we just counted) that he has read no more than 20 of the things in his adult life, this question. He said “wan.”

I asked myself. I said “stinker.”

Not sure if I have ever used either of those words in a manuscript. One is Victorian and the other is just old school. I have used: "Rats!" which is awfully close to stinker. Beth's YOU ARE MY ONLY has other beautiful words in it, and is a great choice for a book club. Just don't ask for the garden tour.