Sunday, August 30, 2009

New Review for Women Up On Blocks

Can be read here at an interesting new blog devoted exclusively to book reviews.

Here's an excerpt:

"WOMEN UP ON BLOCKS--The title itself conjures a powerful image. Set aside the immediate mental flash of stirrups and invasive annual examination. Look at the cover art (good shoes) because in this case you can judge a book yada yada yada. Like meandering by the tv in lingerie during playoffs, red shoes and good legs propped along a dirty bumper ought to get you noticed."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Our new cover!

Our lovely new cover (and new title) for the NF book's US release has now been agreed upon! And you can even pre-order it at Amazon.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Bread Loaf Day #3

Saturday, August 15, 2009

I barely made it to breakfast. While the waiters were lifting up the hot trays of eggs I was grabbing frantically for a hard-boiled egg and some plain oatmeal before they whisked everything away. On the plus side, when I went to wolf down my food, I ended up sitting right across from Julie Barer, agent extraordinaire, and we had a lovely chat. She did a great job of selling my friend Ru’s gorgeous debut novel A Disobedient Girl. And no, I didn’t do anything to pitch my work. We’ve met before at Bread Loaf and spoken about my work. She’s seen my first collection (the now-published one) and passed on it a few years ago, subsequent queries have not interested her, so no need to push that on our quick social interaction. I think agents must get terribly tired of always being pitched. She would have asked if she were interested--this is Bread Loaf, after all, and she is here as a scout.

Rushed to the 9AM lecture then, and I’m glad I did. It was Patricia Hampl’s “You’re History or How to Get the Me out of Memoir.” It was an excellent lecture/reading and she’s quite funny and charming. We’ve been having moth troubles for speakers at the podium this year and she kept battling with a particularly pesky one, at one point saying, “I. Want. You. To. Die,” through gritted teeth. Then she cheerfully looked out at the audience and said, “When you go to a Catholic retreat, they give you bug repellent. A Zen retreat, no repellent. That’s why I’m Catholic.” The audience laughed. As the bugging continued, a woman from the audience came up and put a paper towel (or something) on Patricia’s shoulder and said, “It will keep the bugs away.” Patricia then looked out at the audience sort of helplessly and said in a small voice, “I don’t want it,” as she dragged it off her shoulder. “I’ve got a look I’m going for here…” she added. It was a funny moment, and not at the expense of the woman who had put that dingy paper towel on her shoulder. The whole reading gave you a real sense of her as a likable, generous person.

At 2:30, I attended Frances de Pontes Peebles’s craft workshop on The Benefits of Telling. It was a good class, with a nice, easy atmosphere of sharing information. I like seeing how different people teach.

The Fellow readers were Vicki Forman (NF), Leslie Harrison (Poetry) and Skip Horack (Fiction). I enjoyed them all.

Dinner was served outdoors, picnic-style, to give the waiters a little break in the action. The food was really good. Focaccia, some wonderful potato salad, pasta salad, fantastic barbecued pork (my one meat indulgence for the time of my visit), watermelon, and some really yummy chocolate chip cookies. I sat on the ground with two friends and had an amazing discussion on lots of different topics, mostly related to publishing, agents, book ideas, future goals, and more. They helped generate some great ideas for me with my next project. I love collaborating at the idea stage. I hated for it to end, but the bugs started biting and the next reading was coming up.

Lauren Groff (Fiction), Jennifer Grotz (Poetry), and Tom Sleigh (Poetry) all gave wonderful readings. Lauren read from her new collection Delicate, Edible Birds, Jennifer read some kick-ass poems, and Tom Sleigh is just generally clever and funny and great to listen to. But, I did note one thing about me as a listener...I love hearing poets read their work, but I wish I could read it at the same time, or maybe hear each poem read twice...or something. I feel like I miss a lot. And readings in general get a little overwhelming when you go to every single one. I don't know how Michael Collier does it.

Immediately after that reading, came the first of the Staff readings, and we heard from Nina McConigley (Fiction), Ted Thompson (Fiction), Avery Slater (Poetry), Greg Wrenn (Poetry), Zachary Watterson (Fiction), Gerald Maa (Poetry), Christian Anton Gerard (Poetry), and Ru Freeman (Fiction). I so enjoyed this reading, for the content, but also for the nostalgia of it. These are people who started out as terrified waiters (most of them) and have grown so amazingly. I had a real Bread Loaf moment, thinking of how proud I was of them, and how far we’ve all come…also remembering my own first time reading in the Little Theater and how absolutely breathtakingly terrified I was. “And now look at us” was sort of the sentiment I was feeling. Also immense gratitude for the opportunity. Such a place. I had tears in my eyes when I went up to hug the readers.

After the reading, we gathered for drinks and I had a few more lovely conversations that I can’t now quite recall, but whose warm glow lingers even without the details. :)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bread Loaf, day 2 (for me)

Friday, August 14, 2009

The morning lecture was with Thomas Mallon, titled, “Epistler in Chief: Six Presidents in Their Letters.” He is such an engaging speaker, charming and funny and composed. I always love hearing him speak. And his topic was fascinating—presidential letters and diaries. Something that we (sadly) won’t have anymore because the concerns of subpoena and litigation are so real these days that presidents don't dare keep diaries or write personal letters.

Mallon started the lecture with a funny anecdote about revisions. Said he had already revised his title (to five presidents—to fit the time constraints) and cited a Mel Brooks gag where Moses arrives with a stack of three stone tablets and says, “The Fifteen Commandments!”—then shuffles his grip causing one tablet to fall to the ground and shatter—so he calls out, “The Ten Commandments!”

I loved the intimate glimpse into the lives of these great men from history. Oh, and the one thing that really stuck with me was when Mallon spoke about telegrams and their forced pithiness and quick delivery as being very much like the emails or even text messages of today. We tend to think that we’re the only generation to have this method of “instant delivery” and of “terse messages” meant to convey as much as possible in as few words as possible. That really woke me up in an “of course!” sort of way that will be useful when writing my historical novel.

Later, I attended a panel on publishing prose with Miriam Altschuler and Julie Barer (both agents), Fiona McCrae (Graywolf) and Judy Clain (Little Brown), both editors. It was interesting and enlightening, although also confirmed a lot of what I feel I already know about the publishing and agenting process. Much was said about how important a good agent is for an author both in terms of career and sales.

There were three Fellow readings in the afternoon. The readings were enjoyable, and also instructive—especially in terms of things I want to remember to do when I read (be personable, make eye contact, thank the host).

For dinner I had the veggie option: grilled veggies in a curried coconut milk sauce over basmati rice. A little spicy, but just the right amount, followed by a yummy dessert (squares of cake that had been cut into triangles, and half iced with chocolate, half with a caramel icing and then and reassembled into a square for a sort of yin-yang effect) and coffee. The waiters gave great service—really knew what they were doing and didn’t look nervous. Perhaps this means more aspiring writers these days are having to wait tables and so are experienced. Although, damn, I hate to even say “aspiring.” A bunch of the waiters this year have agents, and forthcoming books, and all sorts of awards under their belts. Holy cow the competition for those spots must be fierce. Really glad I got in under the wire. :)

The evening reading was Maud Casey and Ted Conover. Maud read from her new novel, an historical one, based on a real psychiatric patient from 1886—a man who walks and walks and walks and has various other problems, but mostly he just can’t stop walking. It sounds like a very interesting and entertaining book. And Ted Conover read non-fiction from his new book about Roads. That man is fearless in pursuit of material! I bought his book New Jack from the bookstore earlier in the day (a book that explores the prison system from the inside—he became a guard at Sing Sing to do research). I can’t wait to read it.

The second scholar reading was amazing. Wonderful stuff. From there, I went to the waiter party in the male waiters' quarters below the Barn (the Garage Mahal). Honestly, after a long day, I was done with NOISE and having to strain my voice to talk and my ears to hear, so I stayed for maybe ten minutes then left at midnight and walked back to my dark dorm, wiped off an Adirondack chair and sat in the dark, staring up at the amazing quantity of stars that one can see so far away from any city lights, and caught three or four meteors zipping across the sky (it’s the time of year that the Perseid meteors enter the atmosphere and burn up, sometimes as often as one every three minutes). Last night most of them were right over the handle of the big dipper, which itself seemed huge, immense, and close enough to touch.

Finally, I forced myself to go up to my room, opened and read the first few pages of Josh Weil’s first novella (from his book The New Valley) and then unable to keep my eyes open (no offense, Josh), turned out the light (it was very, very late), and slept.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

In An Uncharted Country

My good friend Cliff Garstang's debut short story collection is now available for pre-order at Press 53 It's a wonderful book set in the fictional town of Rugglesville, VA and I highly recommend it!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Bread Loaf!

Bread Loaf, August 13, 2009

Should I make a disclaimer here? That I adore Bread Loaf and maybe I’m not the most unbiased reporter of happenings from the Mountain? Nah. If you didn't know that about me already, you’ll figure it out soon enough. :)

This is my first time returning to Bread Loaf in three years and I’m honored to be back, and thrilled (if a little nervous) to be teaching a craft class during my visit. But I have to say, the first moment I topped the long hill of Rt 125 and spied those goldenrod colored houses, well, I got a little verklempt.

Then I stopped in at the office said hello to the very fine Noreen Cargill and her lovely back-office staffers Eva, Michelle, and Laura (van den Berg) and major hugs were in order. I was barely in time to catch the end of Lorri Moore’s reading (what I heard was excellent) and then all of C. K. Williams. I wasn’t familiar with his poetry, but I thought he gave a great reading and I’m going to look for his book in the bookstore. It was cool when he said he had been here when he was in his twenties, met Robert Frost, and was honored to be reading in the Little Theater.

After that was the welcome reception, with cocktails on Treman Lawn, where I couldn’t stop finding excellent friends to hug: Ru Freeman, Paul Austin, Sasha West, James Hall, Kirsten Menger-Anderson, Jim Ruland, Heidi Durrow, and more. It was amazing to be back in one of my very favorite places, seeing friends that I hadn’t seen for years. Ahhh, the community of writers, my tribe.

From there, we went to dinner (I had the grilled salmon with a yummy cilantro and tomatillo salsa on top. I could hardly remember to eat, though, so enamored I was to be meeting new friends (Mecca!) and virtual friends (Dolan!) and former fellow-staffers (Nina!) and generally catching up with all the others I haven’t seen nearly enough of over the years. It was like a grand family reunion.

After dinner, there was a kick-ass reading by Lynn Freed (no surprise) and Alan Shapiro (also no surprise). Lynn’s story (can’t remember the title of it or if she even told us the title) was one she said she wrote especially for an anthology. Of course she read impeccably in her lilting and lovely South African tinged voice. The story rocked my world and I’m still thinking about it. It was about a young girl found wild in the bush, possibly raised by baboons and how she is “tamed” for sinister purposes. I was hooked from the start, then repelled to find out her fate, and just at the point of I-can’t-take-it-any-more, she flipped our expectations and brought the story around to a shocking and satisfying conclusion. Masterful.

Alan Shapiro gave a great reading. His first set of poems were autobiographical, set in the mid-to-late sixties, an then he read a couple about his brother and sister both dying from brain cancer within a few years of one another. Then he finished with some of his trademark funny poems. He’s a great reader.

After that, I sat in on the History of Bread Loaf lecture given by David Bain. His talk included lots of old black-and-white photos (Truman Capote, Eudora Welty, Carson McCullers, Robert Frost, etc), and I had one of those walking-in-the-footsteps-of-greatness moments where I was thinking about all the talent that has passed through this place and how blessed and honored I feel to be part of the new history of Bread Loaf. Amazing.

The Scholar readings came after that, and can I just say that my friend Jim Ruland rocked the house? He was so composed at the microphone, told a perfect anecdote before reading, made the audience laugh and thereby primed them to listen even more intently. He came across as personable, poised, and articulate. What more could we wish for as authors? It was great to be in the audience cheering him on.

I was pretty thoroughly hosed after the long drive and thrill of being on the mountain, so I walked through the absolute dense darkness to my dorm, which is off of the main campus, and slept soundly.

(More on day 2 soon)