Saturday, May 24, 2008

Happy Birthday, Michael Chabon

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. I took a trip to Waco for a women's tea (will post pics and stories later), celebrated my birthday, and am deep into rewrites for my WIP. I'm rejuvenated by the process and the hours are flying...so much so that I've neglected the blogosphere.

This came in my inbox today, from The Writer's Almanac. I'm on a subscription where they send a poem and essays about famous authors, usually aligned with their birthdays. Today's the birthday of one of my favorite writers, Michael Chabon. This tells a bit about him, and the inspiration behind the novel Wonder Boys.

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It's the birthday of the novelist Michael Chabon, (books by this author) born in Washington, D.C. (1963). He was just 23 when he wrote his first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. He turned it in as his master's thesis in a creative writing program. He turned it in on a Friday. On Monday he heard that his professor had sent it to an agent. The book was published the following year, in 1988. It was a big success. He was compared to Fitzgerald and John Cheever. He was asked to model clothing for The Gap. People magazine wanted to include him in its list of "50 Most Beautiful People." He turned down both offers.

He started working on his second novel. He had seen a picture of the original plans for the city of Washington, D.C., and he got an idea for a novel about an architect. Chabon later said, "It was a novel about utopian dreamers, ecological activists, an Israeli spy, a gargantuan Florida real estate deal, the education of an architect, the perfect baseball park, Paris, French cooking, and the crazy and ongoing dream of rebuilding the Great Temple in Jerusalem. It was about loss: lost paradises, lost cities, the loss of the Temple, the loss of a brother to AIDS, and the concomitant dream of Restoration or Rebuilding."

He called the novel Fountain City. He spent five years working on it and wrote 1,500 pages of manuscript. He felt he just couldn't put the pieces together and then one night got an idea for a whole different story and decided to follow it. He wrote 15 pages in four hours. He kept working on it in secret for the next few weeks. He didn't tell anybody. He said, "I didn't stop to think about what I was doing or what the critics would think of it and, sweetest of all, I didn't give a single thought to what I was trying to say. I just wrote."

He finished the book in seven months. The novel was Wonder Boys. It came out in 1995, about a creative writing professor named Grady Tripp who can't seem to finish his latest novel. It was made into a movie five years later.

After Wonder Boys, Chabon stumbled on a box of comic books he'd kept since childhood. He hadn't looked at them in 15 years. He said, "When I opened it up and that smell came pouring out, that old paper smell, I was struck by a rush of memories, a sense of my childhood self that seemed to be contained in there." It gave him the idea to write a novel about the golden days of the comic book trade called The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. It came out in 2000, and won a Pulitzer Prize. It was the story of a Jewish kid who flees the Nazis just before World War II — has to leave his family behind and come to America. Along with his cousin, he creates a comic book super hero called "The Escapist."

Michael Chabon said, "Literature, like magic, has always been about the handling of secrets, about the pain, the destruction, and the marvelous liberation that can result when they are revealed. If a writer doesn't give away secrets, his own or those of the people he loves, if he doesn't court disapproval, reproach and general wrath, whether of friends, family or party apparatchiks ... the result is pallid, inanimate, a lump of earth."

--Katrina Cicala

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So happy birthday, Michael. May you continue give away secrets, court disapporval, and avoid inanimate earth.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Grits, Sunsets & My Town Monday (sort of, and on Tuesday)

Happy belated Mother's Day! I had a lovely day with church and three generations of family all gathered in my home. Ham, pesto pasta salad (thanks Katie!), and cheese grits. Because it's hard to have a celebration without a grit or two.

I had every intention of joining my friend Travis for a special My Town Monday to review a book from my area. With recent travels to the NETWO conference, the end of school, and preparing for Mother's Daypalooza, I whiffed on the commitment. I will say that I've started a book from my area, a true story called Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore. It's about a wealthy white art dealer and a homeless black man and the woman who brought them together in an unlikely friendship. They've toured in the area, but I haven't had a chance to see them live. Friends (hello Alyssa!) keep telling me to read it, and I really will. I promise. If anyone else has read this, feel free to comment and tell me what you think.

On the NETWO front, I had a great time meeting writers from Eest Texas and talking about breaking through writers block. Which must have worked, because since I've been home I've been crazybusy with the WIP. Today I cut out 22 pages. A painful edit, but totally necessary. I've been stuck for a while because I felt the story had gotten derailed and the decision to lose those scenes (carefully tucked away in another file, of course) has freed me up to push forward. Wahoo!

I do want to say thanks to the kind hosts of NETWO, and say hello to Ben Rehder, a fellow Texas author who kept us laughing all weekend. Kern swears by his Bone Dry series, and I swear by Kern, so there's a second Texas book recommendation for you. (See, Travis, I'm really trying.)

Here are some pics from the weekend:

Britta and author Ben Rehder. (He's the one who isn't split in half.)


The cutie patootie cabin by Lake Bob Ray Sandlin.


The sunset view from our balcony.


Thanks again, NETWO, for an inspiring weekend. When we left on Sunday morning, we stopped in this diner in Mt. Vernon.



Where I ate a breakfast that looked like this:



Please note the grits. Upper right side. Yum.

Question: Have you ever...
a) cut large portions of your manuscript in progress?
b) gotten stuck on a fuzzy plot point and stalled on rewrites?
c) encountered a cheese grit?

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

End of Semester & Out of Gas

Literally.

True story: yesterday was my last working day of the semester (thus the recent lack of posting), and I needed to make the 30-mile trip to campus to drop off portfolios. Here's how it goes down. I wait on the kids (4:00) and have to make it to the English office before it closes at 5:00. Pick up the kids, drop off a due-today permission form, on the road with at 4:15. It's a 35-minute trip, all highway. The problem? That little light that says the car's low on gas and no time to fill up. The gauge shows I can go 50 miles. 50 minus 30 equals 20. Easy peasy. I'll simply fill up for the return trip.

So, we toddle off, listening to tunes, and make it to campus with ten minutes to spare. Drop off the portfolios, chat with Derek in the office (he knows everything), and head back to the car all before 5:00. Gas gauge says 19 miles before we go kaput. Make it to the station, pull in and look for my debit card. Except, um, no wallet. NO WALLET.

I've got the purse, so it should follow that the wallet's included, right? Not so, gentle readers, as I've left it on the dining table in another purse. (All this for strategic accessorizing.) No wallet! As in, no cash, no credit, no nothing. And I'm stuck thirty minutes from home with two kids and a useless, albeit adorable, purse. We start scrounging, and between the quarters I'd brought to feed the parking meter and my son's leftover lunch money we have a grand total of $5.30. Has anyone checked recently how much gas you can buy for five bucks? Exactly.

Shamefaced, I step into the Quick Deli Gas Station with my little pile of change, feeling like a sixteen-year old. Although, back when you could actually drive for a week on pocket change. Here's the magical thing, and why I love people:

Britta: "I feel like an idiot, but I forgot my wallet. If I have my husband call with a credit card, can I buy gas that way?"

Guy Behind the Counter, who has seen plenty of people without wallets and phony credit card call-ins: "No."

Britta: "Okay. I understand. This'll be fine. Here, I've got..." (change rattling) "five dollars and thirty cents."

GBTC, looking suspicious: "Where are you going?"

Britta, with forced bravery: "Fort Worth. I'm fine. I get good gas mileage."

GBTC, considering the little pile of lint-covered money on his immaculate counter: "I don't think so. Is not enough. Are you with the university? I will give you extra dollars, you can pay me back next time you come."

Britta, feeling ridiculous but secretly pleased he observes her scholarly qualities: "No, really. I couldn't. It's my last day of the semester and it could be fall before..."

GBTC, taking charge of the situation, sweeps the money into his register and wipes his hands on a nearby cloth: "It is okay. I will give you extra dollars."

Britta, dumbfounded (which isn't unusual): "Really? Wow, that's so nice. Thank you." Runs out before he changes his mind. Pauses at the door. "What's your name?"

GBTC, who clearly wants the crazy lady to leave his store: "Enosh."

Britta: "Thanks, Enosh."

Enosh nods, hopes she will really leave this time, and turns to his next customer.

I pumped the gas (nervous I'd go over the limit and abuse his generosity) and hopped inside the car. Gas gauge: 70 miles to go, baby!

Enosh, you are a hero. You not only made my day, but you taught my kids something about the kindness of strangers. Which is a much better lesson than my mother is a dingbat who ran out of gas and forgot her wallet in another city.

We made it home safe and sound, and I plan on sending Enosh a little thank you in the mail, with some extra dollars to pass on to the next embarrassed person with a pocket full of change.

So that's my story. After papers and portfolios and that last trip to UNT, I'm wrapped up for the semester. WOOHOO! Look for a new My Town Monday post next week where I'll recap my visit with the Northeast Texas Writers, and an all-new Two by Two post on Thursday. Don't forget, it's not too late to enter my contest to win a box of signed books by Texas authors. See the On Generosity post for details.

As for me, I'm going to revel in having nothing due except my own creative writing, which after all the other work, is something of a pleasure.