Thursday, July 31, 2008
I have photos to upload and more stories to tell, but the best thing about this trip so far has been getting to meet the rest of the Debs: Lisa Daily, Jenny Gardiner, and Danielle Younge-Ullman, whose fabulous book Falling Under was just released on Tuesday. (More on that later--a truly, truly excellent novel.)
Overheard at the literacy signing last night: "fun-loving vagina."
Read on one of the first few pages in a free book I received upon registering for the conference: "genital restraint."
You just have to love it.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
Despite the lack of sleep (or maybe because of it), we had a great time with old friends. Young ones, too. The reception was an elegant but low-key affair at The Loring Pasta Bar in Dinkytown Minneapolis. Not only did Bob Dylan sleep here in the sixties, but this restaurant has one of the most amazing bathrooms I've ever seen. It was like walking into a fairy tale--Pan’s Labyrinth meets Alice in Wonderland on a cobblestone street in Merry Olde England. With oversized chrome rain shower heads for faucets! And pipes bent to look like tree branches! And giant plants and curving, old brick walls and firefly lights and mismatched doors! If you are a six year-old with a good imagination, you will probably report back to the table that you saw hobbits peeking around the garbage can and fairies living above the soap dispenser.
Any time you travel, life can feel like a blur, but I did manage to capture the following snippets of amusing dialogue:
At the church service, a three year old watching his mother walk up the main aisle to take communion: “Dad, why are Emily and Mom getting married?”
Also at the church, our pew mates on the large, attractive posters of corn seedlings (meant to convey new life and hope) hung behind the altar: “What, do they worship corn here?”
Relaxing in a hotel room after a night of pizza, wine, and gin and tonics: “I think that the word ’Snatch’ is the Phoenix University of slang terms for female genitalia.” (I'm ashamed to admit that an inordinate amount of time was then spent trying to decide what the Harvard of genital slang would be. But we did decide that the 'P word' was a good, solid state school with a nice football team and marching band.)
The mother of a wide-eyed little girl who insisted on returning to the very awesome fairy tale bathroom, to the bride: “She wanted to come back to see the princess who lives in the bathroom.”
A clerk at a gas station / convenience store, on the phone: “Whatever. At least I’M not the one who f*cked five guys at Rock Fest after drinking a whole bottle of whiskey!”
After the clerk realized that my husband overheard her sassy sentence, she blushed and nearly tore the phone from the wall trying to run away.
I leave for San Francisco on Tuesday, so there will be more updates from the road / stiff necks / sleepless nights / strange bits of dialogue in the days to come.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
“Try it out!” he urged, so I did. I tried it out big time. I spent an afternoon in the backyard with my laptop, connected to the Internet. Oh miracle of miracles! Checking email while baking my way to skin cancer—could there BE anything more delightful?
So things progressed. The new laptop found a home on the kitchen table. J would return from work with a glint in his eye, a spring in his step: “Did you use your new laptop today?!”
And his face would just crumble if I said no. So he helped a friend order the same laptop, simply to experience the thrill of new technology all over again.
One night last week, J was snoring, keeping me wide-awake…I started with the nudges, then moved to soft kicks, and finally graduated to the hard shove, accompanied by an irritated, “Honey. HONEY. You can’t sleep on your back. It makes you snore.”
He frowned in his sleep but said (rather lucidly), “Even with a new laptop?”
Yes, dear. Even the new laptop won’t prevent you from snoring.
Last year, one of my flower beds looked like this:
Look at that sucker this year:
I don't know how that beastly plant in the middle got so out of control. In a week, it'll be covered in pretty yellow flowers. Pretty yellow flowers with teeth and beady, green little eyes.
Finally, thank you to everyone who picked up a copy of Driving Sideways—your willingness to take a chance on this scruffy, unknown author has just sent the book back to press for a third printing! You? Are all awesome.
This Friday I’ll be posting at The Debs and then I'm leaving for a wedding in Minnesota. I’m hoping for some good blog fodder, so wish me luck.
Monday, July 21, 2008
After I reflected that I'm sort of trapped in that weird, gray zone between "Ma'am" and "How old are you? You look way too young to have a book out!", I stopped and turned around to see a hip, young man, maybe around 21, jogging after me. He looked like a younger version of Anthony Kiedis.
"Are you the author who was just in the bookstore? Of course you are, you've got that thing under your arm."
No, he wasn't referring to a growth or a Pig Pen-like cloud of funk; he was actually referring to a sandwich board featuring the cover of Driving Sideways. I was carrying it back to my car.
After I did indicate that I was the author, he asked a few questions about the book and said, "Great. If you wouldn't mind my taking up a few minutes of your time, I just have a few questions for you."
I nodded, suddenly conscious of the fact that my meter had expired ten minutes earlier. Still, he was polite and I was curious, so I replied, "Sure, that's fine."
"Great. I'm writing a screenplay, and it's got four main characters ... " he proceeded to tell me about his story premise, and finished with, "and at the end they all die. What I'm wondering is this: how should I kill them?"
I grinned. I love when people ask me such unexpected questions. "Um, I don't really know much about screenplays, but--"
"Yeah, my friend read it? And she said that if she invested so much time watching four characters, she'd be pissed if they all die at the end."
"Right. Well, what's your goal in writing it?"
"Oh, you mean commercial success or whatever? I'm filming it myself."
Easy, I thought. "Well then, kill them off! Make the movie you want to make, if you're just making it for yourself."
"Oh!" He paused for a minute. "See, but I don't know how to kill them."
I shifted the sandwich board under my arm. It was getting heavy. "When I was younger, my sister and I would play a game when we washed dishes together. We called it, 'What's the worst way to die?' But I haven't thought about what we came up with for a very long time."
His eyes bugged out. In my pastel skirt, with a giant, very feminine book cover tucked beneath my arm, I looked like a schoolmarm on her way to a church bake sale. Not somebody who played gross-out, morbid games like that. Not somebody who liked zombie movies or Halloween or this author. "Wow!"
He thanked me for my time, and when I convinced him that there was indeed enough sick humor in Driving Sideways to make it worth his while, he said, "Well, thanks for listening to me. The least I could do is go back to the store and buy your book!"
Curious Filmmaking Guy? I just remembered one of the best worst ways to die that we came up with: having your skin peeled off and being dragged through a bed of salt.
Now, I hope you like the book!
Friday, July 18, 2008
Cue relieved laughter.
Unfortunately, several audience members told me later they thought I had actually been sentenced to prison due to some unfortunate teacher/student hanky-panky, not EMPLOYED there. Said one, “We were trying to figure out what you’d really done to land in prison. You don’t look very Mary Kay Laturno-ish.”
Note to self—rework opening humor bit.
So no, I haven’t been to prison as an inmate. I HAVE, however, been to prison as an employee. Which brings me to today’s question: If you were sentenced to prison, what would your crime be? (Or, since we can’t always predict these things, what would you WANT it to be?)
PS: I got distracted before I finished this very short blog entry and wandered outside to putter. In that small timeframe, I was stung on the ankle by a wasp. It now feels like a tiny, rabid child has taken a bite out of my Achille’s heel. Lesson for the day? Finish all blog entries. Do not succumb to distraction.
If you’re in Appleton, Wisconsin tomorrow, I’ll be doing a book signing at Conkey's Bookstore at 226 E. College Avenue from 11 am to 1 pm. Stop by and see the wasp wound!
Sunday, July 13, 2008
Aw, God. Just look at that. Right on the outside of the envelope.
The tears started somewhere near my stomach, and worked their way up to my eyes. I wiped them away and reached for my checkbook. “How much will it take?” I choked out, “To love that crooked headed little tiger for the rest of her life?”
A fat, solitary tear plopped onto my check, right next to the memo where I wrote, “Please give her a little extra carcass tonight. From me.”
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
My particular tree ring is quite family-friendly. Roughly 100 trick-or-treaters beg us for candy every Halloween, and whenever I walk Daisy around the block there is a great likelihood that I will either trip on a big wheel or be accosted by at least two small children attempting to weasel the leash right from my hand.
It’s a blended neighborhood with a perfect mix of elderly couples and those fresh from their honeymoons, looking for affordable starter homes. (Which they usually buy when the elderly couples leave for assisted living facilities on the west or north sides of town.) We have everything you look for in a neighborhood: a park with myriad recreational opportunities, easy access to schools and shopping, a corner supper club, a liquor store within convenient walking distance, a used car lot, a place to buy day-old Hostess brand baked goods. It’s a magical place where you are exposed on a daily basis to a cast of delightfully quirky characters. Some go so far as to call these unique people ‘crazy’ or ‘contagious,’ but without access to their medical records, it’s hard to say.
In my neighborhood, the homes cost what some cars in the suburbs cost. Take mine, for example. You could buy a new Honda Accord for what my husband paid for our abode those mumbletysome years ago. Also? One of my neighbors may be a pedophile. He lives with his mother and buys a case of Bud Light from the corner liquor store every day. Another of my neighbors is constantly inviting me to ‘parties’ so they can sell me marital aids or Mary Kay cosmetics, sometimes in the same week. The fire department is at their house wheeling someone out on a gurney every three months.
Other neighbors include several people with developmental disabilities who live in a group home a few blocks over. I’ve had lovely chats with two of them this spring. After asking me if I had a boyfriend and breathlessly hopscotching from topic to topic in the most amazing run-on sentence I’d ever heard, one generously promised to knit me a headband and make my dog a blanket, but I have yet to see either.
What a liar.
Across the street live three elderly women who never open their windows. Despite the fact that my husband places their age at roughly “older than dust,” they still drive a large maroon sedan. You can not see their heads above the dashboard—just a slight glint of sunlight reflecting off their plastic kerchiefs, so it’s a good idea to vacate the sidewalk when you see them leave the house with their giant purses.
Another neighbor, Bea, is similarly ancient and waves only at my dog when she sees us on our daily walks: “Hi Daisy! Hi puppy!” She goes to every open house whenever a home is for sale—last year she dragged me with her to another neighbor’s home when they put it on the market, so she wouldn’t have to walk through alone. Turned out another elderly couple was casing the joint, too. They shared a nearly twenty minute conversation about chicken dinners and parish bingo and “that retarded boy in the wheelchair who always wins, he’s just the cleverest thing.”
Earlier this summer, Bea pulled up in her gray Chevy Caprice while I was outside watering my roses. “Did you plant those?”
“All by yourself?”
“Yep!” I said, proudly.
“Well ain’t you a clever shit!”
Then she shifted gears: “You know, I been in all the houses around here …” She gave my house a considering, somewhat lecherous gaze. “Except yours.”
“Wow, that’s a loud airplane!”
One day, when we finally do move, I hope Bea’s still around so she can come inside during our open house and judge our bathroom fixtures and ultimately decide that sometimes, you’re maybe better off living in a Honda Accord.
Activities! If you're in the Wausau, Wisconsin area this Saturday (July 12), stop by the Barnes and Noble at 3400 Rib Mountain Drive...I'm doing a signing from 11-2, and I'd love to meet you and deface your book with some tasteful graffiti, if you'll let me. If you'll be at a computer this Friday, July 11, visit me at The Debs. I'm blogging about my personal time capsule, which may or may not include leg warmers and a Super Comb.
Monday, July 07, 2008
So I was excited to tell him about my dream the other night, because I felt it might elicit that very response. Normally, I keep my dreams to myself, because they can be tedious and only interesting to me. But these two were doozies: back-to-back comments on my personality, chock-full of bizarre cameo appearances.
Greg Allman was in the first one. In it, he was in love with my best friend, who was merely annoyed by his attention. I, however, was furiously jealous. And I didn’t even like Greg Allman. I was simply irritated that he picked her over me. In fact, I even recall a snippet of something I said to my friend in the dream, after I saw Greg cut some lines of coke on a piano: “Well, this is just great. You don’t even like to binge drink!”
For most of our lives, my best friend and I have had very different taste in men, which worked out quite well when it came to preserving our friendship. So the dream was a little unsettling. But my husband’s reaction was gold: the laugh, followed by, “What are you doing dreaming about a sixty year-old grandpa?”
I wish I knew, darling.
The dream then shifted and I was a contestant on The Bachelor. Again, the object of my desire was truly less than desirable: drunk, extremely sweaty, covered in ketchup and mustard stains. But when it was my turn for a date with him, I hunkered down and made out with him anyway, even though I didn’t like him or his sweaty, mustard-scented face, just so I could win.
The whole thing reeked of every frat party I’d ever attended in college, and I was relieved to wake up.
This next bit isn’t a dream, though it might be for some people. On Friday, J and I attended our community’s annual fourth of July carnival/fireworks/carnie-bonanza. Every ingredient for a good time was present: fried food on sticks, beer in commemorative glasses that changed color depending on the temperature, live music, and more crazy people than you could shake a stick at.
And I was delighted to learn that I was standing not ten feet from one of Oshkosh’s biggest celebrities: a young man who dresses as a leprechaun and wrestles under the name of “Hornswoggle” for the WWE.
As I was without my camera, I'll just have to leave you with a link to the video, which I hope elicits in you too a shocked, barking laugh followed by, "WHAT?!?!"*
*Every time I embedded the actual video in this post, I lost my comments in Explorer. I tried. Really, I did. If you know how to fix this, you are my new hero.
Friday, July 04, 2008
I also had fried pork rinds, fried okra, sweet tea, and boiled peanuts for the first time that summer. But the moon pies? My favorite. So I was tickled by the title of fellow GCC-er Amy Wallen's debut novel, Moon Pies and Movie Stars. About the book:
Ruby Kincaid has her hands full these days. In addition to running the bowling alley after the death of her husband, Rascal, she has the daunting task of caring for her two boisterous grandchildren, since her daughter Violet disappeared without a trace four years earlier. It’s 1976 and Ruby and her nearest and dearest in Devine, Texas are watching their favorite soap opera at the bowling alley when they see Violet in a Buttermaid commercial. Expecting it will only take a little motherly guilt to rein in her wayward daughter, Ruby loads up the Winnebago and heads for Hollywood to try and bring Violet back to the Lone Star State.
Along for the ride are Imogene, Violet’s over-bearing and pretentious mother-in-law (who’s ready to assume the title of “celebrity-in-law”), and Loralva, Ruby’s wild sister who is itching to visit Tinsel Town because it’s where all the game shows are taped – and nothing’s going to stop her from making it to her favorite, The Price Is Right. Rounding out the group are Ruby’s grandchildren Bunny and Bubbie who are confused, sad, and excited at the prospect of finding their mother. They give Ruby the courage she needs to track Violet down and try to make things right.
While MOONPIES AND MOVIE STARS is great fun and a lot of laughs, it is also a poignant story of dreaming big, finding home, and coming to terms with family.
Praise for the book is impressive:
“With a pitch perfect ear for comic dialogue and fine sense of the absurd, Amy Wallen writes herself a place on the porch swing of great Southern writing, as she follows the misadventures of three determined Texas ladies sworn to find a runaway daughter...”
–Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander
“[S]pirited and honest… Wallen capably illustrates that it is not only possible but also compelling to be funny, captivating, and compassionate, all in the same book.”
-Los Angeles Times
“A delightful and exhilarating journey, kind of like being on a tour bus
guided by Eudora Welty on speed.” –Mary Gordon, author of Pearl
Eudora Welty on speed! I love that. To prepare for her tour stop with us, I subjected Amy to a brief interrogation:
1) Now that you are published, what (if anything) have you changed about your writing routine?
Now that I’m published I still can’t afford to be a full-time writer, but I feel much freer to not only write in the allotted few hours I give myself in the morning, but I find any excuse to write now. It used to be more of a hobby where I would write when I found the time, now I am often late to other appts because I’m trying to finish up an idea or scene for the next book I’m working on.
2) Do you listen to music while you write?
Usually not. One of my cats likes to sit on my feet and sleep while I write, and he smacks his lips and snores—those are the sounds I like to hear. If my boyfriend is home, music is usually on, but I can tune it out and I usually like it, but never think of turning it on when I’m alone.
3) Have you found that as you've developed your writing and story telling skills, you watch movies or read books 'differently?'
Most definitely. As a writing teacher I tell my beginning students that once they’ve taken a writing class and learn all the parts of the craft, that they’ll never read the same again, and I believe that’s true. But I think I get more out of reading than I used to because of that. It’s not just entertainment any more, but a really great book will teach me something too.
4) What vacation would be most inspiring to you as a writer?
A solitary beach hut with a plug for my laptop. Waves lapping must remind me of my cat’s lips smacking and I get lulled into a great writing zone.
5) What is one of your strangest / most quirky author experiences?
The Pulpwood Queen Book Club. When my hardcover came out I was invited to participate in their big once a year extravaganza for all the chapters across the country. I’ve never seen so much leopard skin clothing, rhinestones, and diamond tiaras. Those women really know and love their books though!
More on the author: Amy has studied with a number of acclaimed writers, including Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander. She has taken those talents cultivated in the workshops of these great writers and brought them to her own creative writing classes at UC San Diego Extension. Amy also hosts an open mic night in San Diego, Los Angeles and New York called Dime Stories Live, in collaboration with the national public radio show airing this summer. Visit her website at: www.amywallen.com
Thanks Amy! Have a great fourth of July weekend, everyone.
Thursday, July 03, 2008
Last night, for example, I met with the Apple Blossom book club. I got there early, just as a group of young girls were wrapping up their Nancy Drew mystery club meeting. They saw me and started grinning and giggling and whispering. At first I thought I had toilet paper stuck to my shoe. Then I overheard one say to another: "It's HER!"
I actually looked over my shoulder to see who they were talking about, and then I realized it was ... me. And they weren't talking about me because I raise Monarch caterpillars during the summer months. (Well, maybe they were. It is a fairly strange hobby.)
Yesterday, my neighbor's adorable daughter (I believe she's in third or fourth grade), rode her bike down the street to shout at me, "Hi Jessie! I'm going to start writing a book tomorrow!" And then she pedaled furiously back to her house and ran inside. To start writing, presumably.
My first reaction was to be incredibly touched--what sweethearts, all of them!! My second reaction was, "Oh God, I hope they don't read my book!" Because really, it's not for kids. Really.
("Mommy, what's a Rip VanGina?")
But to be that young, innocent, and unjaded again! Last night, one of the women in the book club asked if I've always wanted to be a writer. My answer? Absolutely. As my Dad likes to say, I wrote before I could read, sneaking into his office to scribble in his journals. Being allowed to use his electric typewriter was the best treat--better than mom actually giving in to my whining and buying Frankenberry cereal, better than being allowed to stay up late to watch The Creature from the Black Lagoon in 3-D, better than my friend Dolly telling me that while some ladies' boobs pointed in different directions, I'd probably have nothing to worry about when I grew up.
To me, being granted one hour with that typewriter was the pinnacle of rewards. A near-holy experience: the delicious, toxic scent of the correction fluid, the speedy clackety-clack of the keys (to get that professional 'fast-typey' noise, I would just type gobbledygook: as;ldfkjasda ajkf;odaljksdf), the crispy onion skin paper, the unobtrusive beep when I strayed too far into the right margin ... I loved it all.
Oh goodness, look at me, I'm leaking nostalgia all over your screen! Sorry about that. (Sidenote: as I write this, my dog Daisy is playing tag with one piece of kibble she placed on the living room floor: play-bowing at it, nudging it and running away, barking at it, wagging her tail at it, and finally, eating it.)
I have no idea where I was going with all of this, but every once in awhile, I just need to leak on the page a little. (Or screen, for that matter.) Thanks for indulging me. Now I'm off to find a rag and mop this mess up...
In other news, we have winners for the book pimping contest! Tia and TX Poppet, plucked at random...thanks to everyone who helped spread the word about Driving Sideways. You are lovely and generous, and I would like to invite you all to a party I am throwing as soon as I move out of the hovel.
Tomorrow, I'll be chatting about Amy Wallen's new book, plus more books I've read, am reading, will be reading. (I fully expect one or both of my eyes to break in some fashion by Labor Day.)
Tuesday, July 01, 2008
I had my first real signing this past Saturday, at Strawberry Fest in Cedarburg. Here I am, in my sunscreen-less glory. Things went well! I met many lovely people, and we sold out of every copy of Driving Sideways that Creekside Books had in stock. However, I had stiff competition from the book propped to my right: do you see what it is? Here, let me zoom in for you:
I was very nearly upstaged by Walter the Farting Dog. If I kept a running tally of the number of people who stopped to giggle at this, I would have sprained my wrist. At one point I actually said to a couple, "Hey, my book has fart jokes in it, too!" Thankfully, they laughed. And then they kept walking. Later, I would discover more books on the history of the fart propped to my right. And earlier in the week, there was this with my friend L, during some drop-in signings at Milwaukee area bookstores:
I may as well embrace the fart. Because clearly, there is no escape.
I must soon leave this air-conditioned, Internet-connected Building of the Future for my sweaty, disconnected hovel, but before I do, some commentary on things I'm digging or not digging:
Funny Games, starring Naomi Watts. Not so much with the digging. I'd say it was violent and pointless, but that's the whole point.
Girls in Trucks by Katie Crouch. Digging so much I want to mainline it. In fact, I want to cut this post short so I can go home and binge on it some more.
Diary of the Dead. Meh. I love zombie flicks, in general (strange, isn't it? I wonder why that is...), but this is only for Die Hard Romero fans.
I haven't been watching much TV, but I do have a nagging feeling that new seasons for Flight of the Conchords and Mad Men are both about to begin. These shows? I dig them. Immensely.I haven't been listening to much new music either, but I am going to see Trampled by Turtles live this Thursday. I don't so much dig them as want to marry them all. (J, you won't mind, will you?)