Archive for the ‘Writers’ Category

Dreaming in Russian

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

Never underestimate the power of overcast skies and short days.

It is the day after my swearing in as a City Council member. The sky is low and gray, the day nearly spent. My writing obligations done, I have a couple of unstructured hours to write.

On a sunny day, would I settle for sitting here to dream? Probably not. It’s easy to feel you’ve got to go out and conquer, or at least tackle, something on a sunny day, even if it’s only the dandelions.

And from the land of snow, few daylight hours, cold weather and inverted winter skies that allow no fresh air to circulate, we have some of the greatest literature ever written.

The Russians gave us Brothers Karamazov, Anna Karenina, The Master and Margarita. These are living works, with characters as real as the desk holding me upright. More real — while the desk is vinyl on compressed chips, Anna and Vronsky attend horse races, balls and share afternoon trysts; Karamazov gives us a trial without match; and the Master is a Chagall painting come alive.

During my years in the Czech Republic I saw first hand the benefits of short, gray days. I turned inward, and stayed there. I wrote and wrote. I churned out dreamy pieces with wandering narrators who were lost in their own ephemeral universes.

Seven years ago I started The Curing Season, my novel. It’s always this time of year I pick it back up, laying out all those thousands of words, hundreds of pages, and dozens of characters patiently waiting for me to give them a few more pages of life.

I write and write all December and January, carving out daily events for them, bringing them closer to the big events that drive the novel, just as big events drive the minutia of our days.

Then life charges in and the novel gets pushed aside a few months before I return to it, maybe on a blazing sunny day when I can’t take a breath outside, or maybe on a rainy, swampy afternoon that goes on forever.

Still nothing suits writing like overcast days with only hours only vaguely resembling daylight. For these are Russian days, when like those great writers, we can retreat into the rich tapestry of dreams and wonder.

World AIDS Day 09

Friday, December 4th, 2009

Angels Among Us

On Tuesday, I stepped out after dark to attend the annual candlelight vigil for World AIDS Day. Usually there’s a vigil here in Greenville, and I found one on the ECU campus. It was a small affair, compared to my first World AIDS Day back in 1992.

I was the junior reporter (even at my ripe old age of 31, thanks to my winding career path). So I was given the catch-all assignments. Weekend cops, Elvis postage stamp.

World AIDS Day.

It was freezing and I was running late, and got to the march, where I was met by a joyful, laughing crowd of young men and women. We walked to the Town Common, where we stood around during remarks.

It grew colder every minute and I was trying hard to write, and interview people, and do all the things a hustling reporter should. I was about to crack with the strain of the cold, numb hands, the big crowd, not really knowing what World AIDS Day was or what I would write about it.

A quite attractive young man drew near and allowed me to warm my hands on his candle. He spoke in gentle phrases and seemed to have a glow.

Soon he was walking to the center of the crowd, introducing himself as a person with AIDS. I almost cried at his story. After contracting the disease (which he openly admitted came by not having safe sex), he was spending his final months speaking at schools and to any group that invited him.

This charismatic young man told his story again and again. He was dear and open and nonjudgmental, and I’m sure those young people felt the immediate bond that I did with him. He was inherently likeable.

His name was David Waggoner.

When I found out a couple of years later that he died, I wrote a column about him. His kindness in standing there with a candle while I warmed my hands, his candor about his disease.

Every year on Dec. 1, I remember David, just as I did on Tuesday. If there is an afterlife of some kind, whether in heaven, or through reincarnation, I know David is in a special place of honor. He spoke out about AIDS to rob it of stigma; he gave me a warm human face in place of a fearful acronym.

He no doubt helped hundreds of young people understand that they didn’t need to feel ashamed for anything, for any reason — because we are all the same, human beings, in a big confusing world and we need each other. That it doesn’t matter if we have red or black hair, different skin shades or some kind of disease; and it certainly doesn’t matter who we love.

That was his message to me, and now mine to the world.

A Book, Two Dogs & Thee…

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

In Which the Writer Takes a Vacation

Greetings from the top secret vacation spot of yours truly. I had no idea how great it would be to get away with the dogs … and spend a few days looking out a window at the ocean.

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Yesterday I purchased a fresh new First Edition of Thomas Pynchon’s just-released novel, “Inherent Vice.” What a dreamy read, so far. This reclusive writer knows how to craft a sentence.

Here’s an example

Doc took the freeway out. The eastbound lanes teemed with VW buses in jittering paisleys, primer-coated street hemis, woodies of authentic Dearborn pine, TV-star-piloted Porches, Cadillacs carrying dentists to extramarital trysts, windowless vans with lurid teen dramas in progress inside, pickups with mattresses full of country cousins from the San Joaquin, all wheeling along together down into these great horizonless fields of housing, under the power transmission lines, everybody’s radios lasing on the same couple of AM stations, under a sky like watered milk, and the whilte bombardment of a sun smogged into only a smear of probability, out in whose light you began to wonder if anything you’d call psychedelic could ever happen, or if — bummer! — all this time it had really been going on up north.

He sparingly drops in those sentences — perfectly wrapped creations — so they stand out in eye-popping wonder. Other, shorter, sentences ring sonorous with far more melody than they hold in meaning or plot.

Will keep you posted in Fiction Dailyland … and wishing all a Happy Labor Day.

PS
… My step dad, Sim Wilde, retired academic dean, essayist and fiction writer, has begun a blog. You can check it out here. Expect his personal flavor of salt-of-the-earth stories, poems and reflections.

News Flash: Kerouac Estate Ruling

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

JACK KEROUAC’S WILL RULED A FORGERY

It’s been quite some time since I posted, but I wanted to share this news with Fiction Dailyland:


Fla. judge rules will on Kerouac’s estate is fake

by the Associated Press

13 mins ago

CLEARWATER, Fla. – A lengthy dispute over the estate of Beat Generation writer Jack Kerouac has ended with a Florida judge ruling that his mother’s will was fraudulent.

Gabrielle Kerouac left all of her son’s assets to his third wife, Stella Sampas Kerouac, when she died in 1973. Ever since, the Sampas family has had control of Jack Kerouac’s manuscripts, letters and personal belongings.

But Jack Kerouac’s daughter and nephew believed the will was fake. They filed a lawsuit that has dragged on in Pinellas County for the last 15 years. On Friday, a judge finally ruled that the will was a forgery.

Bill Wagner, an attorney for Kerouac’s nephew, says its unclear what action his client will take next.

Previous reports have placed the estate’s value at $20 million.

I always suspected something was fishy about the way his estate seemed to be settled so strangely, since he was at odds with his third wife during most of their tragic marriage.

I’ll keep you posted.

Attic Days

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

The landscape of the home

Greetings from Fiction Dailyland, and my apologies for not posting yesterday. A peaceful Memorial Day brought a lot of focus and concentration … due not in a little way to the great clearing out of the past two weeks.

Yes, the roulette wheel spun and it came up ATTIC. So for that past two weekends I have gone through everything in the attic, from one end to the next, every box, every book, Christmas decoration, old cookie sheet and file.

To begin, I dragged out box after box and starting to pull everything out of them. It’s remarkable how, with time, I am better able to see what has meaning, for me, today. I tend to hold on to things because I want to remember times of my life, people and ideas I’ve read.

Yet years pass, and I no longer need to remember those times — either they are solidly a part of me, or I no longer care to cling to them, for whatever reason.

As I pulled items, papers and books out of those boxes, it became easier and easier to let go. Oddly enough, I felt my values and character emerge with each decision … I let go of all those old magazines I once held on to, worried that I’d not have enough strong clips of my work; I let go all those books I hoped to read one day (I’ll surely find them again if they are still worth reading) (though I did hold on to War and Peace) (some day!)

I decided that if a book was going to be worth reading, I needed to get it out of the attic. Because many times, I’ll store a book away, only to rediscover it, later. Such is the case with the book I can’t put down these days: Seven novels by Erle Stanley Gardner, creator of Perry Mason. His narrative is lock-tight. This book I’ve held on to for years and years, and once considered getting rid of it.

So how to make these decisions?

In one case, I saved a receipt for a power cord bought in Prague — but got rid of the cord itself.

I have limited days left, and want to read the best writing in the time that’s left. Pulitzer Prize winners in general get a reprieve, while lesser books — especially the experimental fiction I once loved to dip my toes in — is out.

Award certificates (OK, not many of them) were removed from their frames and will be kept with my papers. Bye-bye clunky frames.

Two boxes of MS drafts … gone. I once thought someone might care about my short-story drafts, but I’ll be happy if anyone cares about the stories themselves one day!!

As I sorted and let go, I felt inner peace. All those created items are returning to the world, to others, or to dust. As they do, I am freed.

As the Buddha said before his transfiguration, “Every created thing will pass, even the Buddha.”

After emptying the boxes, I recombined what remained of the books, my Grandmother’s china, my French materials and teaching papers, in an orderly way into plastic bins from Kmart. (Plastic, yuck, but sometimes it is useful.)

As I look over that marvelously neat and airy attic now, I realize that until I know who I am, I can’t decide what to save and what to keep. At 48 years old, I’m finally getting that figured out.

BLUEBIRD UPDATE: I hear the bluebird fledglings and parents from time to time in the yard as they call to each other. I’ve seen Mrs. Blue feeding two juveniles, but so far, have only seen the pair. Greg assures me that the other three are not lost, and that they must have already learned how to take care of themselves.

DUCK UPDATE: My neighbor’s female ducks have nested in our yard, where they are sitting on eggs. Not sure if they will hatch, but they sure enjoy chasing the dogs.

With Love, Sherlock Holmes

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

FIGURATIVELY SPEAKING, MY DEAR WATSON

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Today marks a big celebration in Fiction Dailyland: It is the 150th birthday of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), creator of that marvelous character for all times, Sherlock Holmes.

Nothing compares to Conan Doyle’s writing for clarity, subtle humor and mystery. It’s interesting to note that prior to Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles, never had there been a true detective character in a novel. We indeed had the masterful Edgar Allan Poe’s detective C. August Dupin, in “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” a short story. (He also appeared in “The Mystery of Marie Roget” and “The Purloined Letter,” one of my personal favorite short stories.)

We also had an early prototype of a detective story penned by Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone. I can’t remember at all how that one turned out, but I certainly enjoyed reading it. That novel centers on a missing, exotic, gem and the family who possessed it. There were strange bands of touring gypsies, magicians and Indians; ladies with honor; families with class and wealth. (They just don’t write them like that anymore.)

In 1892 appeared The Hound of the Baskervilles. Sir Doyle also gave us these stories: “A Study in Scarlet,” “The Sign of Four” and “The Red-Headed League.”

On today’s “Forgotten English” calendar (by Jeffrey Kacirk), a fascinating story with which we writers can find considerable affinity. Trained as an eye doctor, he took an office at 2 Devonshire Place, and

… Every morning I walked from the lodgings at Montague Place, reached my consulting room at ten, and sat there until three or four with never a ring to disturb my serenity. Could better conditions for reflection be found? It was ideal, and so long as I was thoroughly unsuccessful in my professional venture, there was every chance of improvement in my literary prospects.

Imagine if he had instead collapsed with self-pity and done nothing all day; instead, this stellar “failure” gave us one of mankind’s most delightful writers.

HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY FROM FICTION DAILY

Kieslowski Week: Red

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

KRZYSZTOF KIESLOWSKI WEEK ON FICTION DAILY

The last of Colors Trilogy, Red, gives us an almost unbearable look at human fragility. It explores the lonely life of an older man, who we learn was once a judge … along with the life of a beautiful young woman.

Of course, the color red gives everything a heightened emotional complexity, and brings a sense of anticipation that is absence in, say, blue, which is more about the inner life, and white more about the outer life.

Red brings them both together, in some ways, the inner and outer life. Yet in the end, the private life determines our outer life, in so many ways. (Red takes as a starting point the French “fraternite,” fraternity or brotherhood, presented by that color in the French flag.)

Valentine is played by Irene Jakob, who also starred in The Double Life of Veronique, an earlier Kieslowski film. It also features writing by Krzysztof Piesiewicz and music by Zbigniew Preisner, his long-time collaborators.

It’s interesting to not that Mr. Piesiewicz is a lawyer. White features a very likable lawyer named Mikolej, and of course this film presents us a judge.

To avoid giving away the plot elements, which are sparse, I’ll say little else about it.

Red (Rouge, Czerwony) was the last theatrical release by Kieslowski. He died in 1996.

Yet I was just in time: Red was my introduction to Kieslowski when, in 1994, I drove myself to Raleigh to see it. (Back in my single-girl days I would often go to Raleigh to see films).

I’ll never forget the experience of seeing the large red scarf blowing in the storm, or the overall power of Kieslowski’s images.

Within 18 months, I was living in another Slavic country in Prague. I attended the Karlovy Vary film festival that summer (1996) where I was among a tiny audience that screened a documentary on Kieslowski. It was in Polish without subtitles!! Who cared. I loved the man. A great artistic romance was born within me.

It’s been 5 years since I’ve seen a movie in a theater, and I will probably never again see a movie on the big screen. It’s partially because of too many bad experiences — focus wrong, gum on screens, talking people.

I just can’t bear those places. Can’t bear the mentality that cheapens the film experience. Can’t bear the feeling that I’ve been abducted by a malevolent force that wants to overwhelm my senses, and deaden my emotional response.

So when I write about Kieslowski, I’m also mourning a bit the innocence he represents for me and for us all. There was a real childlike quality to his filmmaking, tied not a little to the Communist regime’s control.

These days, I watch on my computer, at home, with the dogs and cats. It’s a much saner world here.

At the same time, I wonder what films Mr. Kieslowski would be making if he were with us?

FICTION DAILY RETURNS NEXT WEEK!

Kieslowski Week: White

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

KIESLOWSKI WEEK: WHITE-BLANC-BILY

Today we arrive at the central piece of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Colors” Trilogy, and my favorite of the three.

White. (French, Blanc and Polish, Bily).

As “Blue” featured the serene Juliette Binoche, “White” features an exceptional Julie Delpy.

Ms. Delpy is also know for her “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset” with Ethan Hawke, as well as “2 Days in Paris” with Adam Goldberg. She is a firebrand, but beautiful, and her own inner engine is critical to the extraordinary and unrelenting emotional tension of the film.

White also brings together a pair of Polish actors who starred in the final Dekalog, X: Zbigniew Zamachowski and Jerzy Stuhr.

Where to start with “White.” This is a film that shows us the innocence and imperfection of Kieslowski’s inner creative life, as a metaphor for the human condition. White represents the color blanc of the French flag, and represents the concept egalite, or equality. It is only a loose springboard, however, for a larger exploration of justice.

We meet Karol Karol (Zamachowski), whose beautiful French wife (Delpy) no longer desires him. Karol Karol is such a pathetic man, he can’t even speak for himself when she testifies against him at their divorce hearing.

What happens next just sends him further down: he is smuggled back to Poland in a suitcase, which is stolen, and he is beaten and left in the middle of a Polish industrial wasteland.

Here is where the movie begins its magic. Karol has a plan. We see this man build himself from the inside out, and it is marvelous.

That’s merely plot, however. And with Kieslowski, plot is a small part of the emotional life of a film. With “White,” we have images that erupt, like suns exploding into white heat. Julie Delpy’s porcelain skin and blond hair, and Zamachowski’s own Slavic pallor are both white (blanc), as are the snows of his homeland.

Indeed, throughout the Three Colors, each shade appears throughout the film, shading it with the hue’s mood and emotion.

Scenes of their wedding will take your breath away — the sunlight, white columns and doves flying away are transcendent.

This short post does little justice to this film, but then again, what can words add to such a masterwork.

TOMORROW: Three Colors: Red

Kieslowski Week: Blue

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

KIESLOWSKI WEEK RESUMES

Last week I took a look at the Dekalog, the series of one-hour programs created for Polish TV by the gifted director Krzysztof Kieslowski (27 June 1941 – 13 March 1996).

He’s probably best known, however, for his Three Colors Trilogy. Two are primarily in French, one in Polish. They are noted this way in those languages:

Trois couleurs: Bleu (1993)
Trzy kolory: Biały (1994)
Trois couleurs: Rouge (1994)

The films also intended to evoke the three principles of French independence as represented by the flag: blue is liberty; white is equality; red is fraternity.

Blue

The film stars Juliette Binoche as a woman who loses her husband suddenly in a car accident, and has to discover what has meaning once he’s gone.

He was a music composer, and she finds his scores and we realize she played a larger role in his creative life than she was credited for.

But Blue is not driven by plot. Rather, it is a thoughtful study of a woman’s inner emotional life.

This rich, complex inner life is where Kieslowski shines. He manages, with images, colors and music, to construct a mood, a feeling, that he carries throughout the film. Yet it’s not manipulated, or perfect, a la Hollywood. Rather it is organic, imperfect, and human.

Because in the end, for Kieslowski, emotions are larger than life.

BLUE. Krzysztof Kieslowski, director
screenplay by Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz
Music by Zbigniew Preisner

Miramax.

Pulitzers

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

KIESLOWSKI WEEK RESUMES NEXT TUESDAY

We here at Fiction Daily apologize for iterrupting Kieslowski week. In recognition of the new Pulitzer Prizes, we feel it’s only fitting to spend a few words in honor of W.S. Merwin, who yesterday received his SECOND one.

I admit I am unfamiliar with his works. But as a rule, whenever a writer has a Pulitzer, he or she becomes a no-questions-asked selection. That was how I found “The Good Earth” by Pearl Buck.

It’s worth having a look at the entire list of winners this year. It’s notable that many of them are related to uncovering abuses perpetuated under the Bush administration.(We can hope for more light and corrections in years to come.)

Modern Library also has a valuable list of its 100 Best Novels. “Under the Volcano,” by Malcolm Lowry is number 11, and that’s how I found this quirky, but deeply rewarding novel. Hang with it for as many pages as you can stand … worth the ride, but difficult.

But back to the poet Merwin. If you haven’t read his works, you can probably bank on an outstanding reading experience. Dip your toes in online here … but be sure to visit your local independent book seller and buy copies for yourself.