Friday, April 20, 2012

So... How's the Writing Going?

Well. . . I'm in bed at ten.  I set the alarm for five am.  If I'm lucky, I'll have two hours to myself before Dylan gets up.  I wake up around midnight on my side, my hip in a pool of cold wetness, wondering if I've pissed myself.  My bladder is bursting so it's entirely possible.  But I wasn't drinking (and even at my most drunk I've never pissed the bed, I've just heard that's what happens, and that's the first bleary thought I have, I'm not even drunk), I wasn't dreaming that I couldn't find a toilet (which is what I dream about when I need to get up and pee in the middle of the night), and if I pissed the bed then why would I still be able to get up and pee?  But my bladder is sizable, so maybe I have enough storage capacity to piss the bed and still need to use the toilet.  Maybe this is just a surprise my body has unleashed as I approach forty.  Maybe all forty-year-old men start pissing the bed, but they're ashamed of it so no one talks about it; it's just something you discover alone, in the cold watches of the night.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

You Should Read Carol Anshaw

Reading Carol Anshaw's "Carry the One" made me an instant fan.  Here's why:

Whatever element causes romance to flare was simply not present in the air between them.  This was a huge relief to Alice.  Romance no longer looked like so much fun, more like a repetitive stress injury - beginning with Maude, but now also including all the failed and pathetic attempts to replicate that constellation of emotions with someone else.  She could measure this past effort in all the underwear she had left behind in apartments, all the bottles of pricey wine she had brought to dinner, all the recitations of bad childhoods and adult disappointments she had earnestly listened to.  Sometimes she made lists in her head, little catalogs of experience.  The first list was, of course, all the women she had by now slept with.  Taken individually, they seemed, at their various times, to hold the possibility of lasting love.  As opposed to now, so far down the line, when they could only be looked at in accumulation, as one then another fool's errand.  An offshoot list to this was the figure for how far she had gone for sex.  (Thirteen hours on a flight from Chicago to Tokyo then back to Chicago the next day has held the top spot for quite a while; she might never better this.)  Books she had read to get into somebody or other's bed (The Four-Gated City.  The Fountainhead.  Linda Goodman's Love Signs.  Women Who Run with the Wolves.)  Terrible music she had listened to because it was someone's idea of a mood enhancer.  (Hall & Oates.  Holly Near.  George Winston.  The Carpenters.  Celine Dion.)  Topics in which she had feigned interest during the short term (Juice fasts.  Rugby.  Celtic Dancing.  Bikram Yoga).  The longest list was the kinds of tea she had drunk in moments structured around the pretense that tea drinking was the reason for being in this or that cafe (Pergolesi, Kopi, Cafe Boost.) or kitchen, or side by side on this or that futon or sofa or daybed, sipping.  (Earl Grey.  Lapsang Suchoung.  Gunpowder.  Rooibos.  Sleepytime.  Morning Thunder.  Seren-i-tea.  Every possible pepperment and berry.  Plain Lipton.)  There was a stretch of time when tea became fetishized for her for being so linked with sex and romance, so reliable a harbinger of one or the other.
     She could scare herself with the renewable ingenuousness implied by this catalog.  Still, the alternative - the development of an acidic cynicism - seemed worse.  

Anyone who writes like that, you should read.  Pulling it out of context like this might lessen it's impact, but I hope not.  Anshaw articulates the character's struggle to fight the ennui of beginning another relationship, in such a specific voice, and blends it perfectly into the run of Alice's thoughts before and after this passage.  It's masterful work.  I don't know how someone creates an actual novel without a narrative thread, how an author manages to create plot out of distinct pieces spaced so far apart, but it's something you should experience.

I can't wait to catch up on Anshaw's other books.

Here's more love for her over at The Heat Lightning.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Girl with the Pigeon Tattoo: Meet Cloudette

In case you didn't know, there's something in publishing called a "book trailer."  It's like a movie trailer, except for a book.  Genius, right?  Readers don't need them and booksellers actively hate them.  Still, when moving 5,000 copies constitutes a hit, it never hurts to try to reach outside your core demographic for new readers.

But Hollywood has been making trailers for ninety-nine years; publishing has only made the effort since 2005.  The result is that very, very few trailers make one say, "Wow, I really need to buy that book."  I've enjoyed three book trailers in my life: Carolyn Parkhurst's The Nobodies Album (see the trailer in which authors are funny; now buy the book), Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story (trailer here, rife with cameos; now buy the book), and Kristen Schaal & Rich Blomquist's The Sexy Book of Sexy Sex (trailer with actual comic actors who are also the authors; now buy the book).  Caroyln Parkhurst made me laugh out loud but the book came out two years ago and I haven't read it, Gary Shteyngart amused me but I already owned Super Sad True Love Story before I saw it, and I'll never read The Sexy Book of Sexy Sex - way to go, trailer-makers!

And remember, those links represent the cream of the crop.  If book trailers are movies, you just watched The Godfather, Casablanca, and Citizen Kane.  Except, you know, funny.  Most book trailers look like something your local high school AV club made for their final exam sophomore year.

All that having been said, I love this trailer:

It perfectly captures the mood of Tom Lichtenheld's whimsical, witty Cloudette.

Buy me.  I rock hard.  Well, softly.  I'm a cloud.

My first Lichtenheld experience was Shark vs. Train.  All the the little asides in the Cloudette video ("tee-hee!" "hi!")?  Lichtenheld peppers his illustrations with those.  Half the fun of reading his books is seeing Dylan giggle over those asides - particularly the trash talk in Shark vs. Train.  Finding them, reading them, and getting the joke; it's like watching a pinball machine light up.

Becky met Tom Lichtenheld at his hotel when he came to Miami.  I dropped her off and waited outside in the car so we wouldn't have to pay the $20 parking fee.  Becky emerged about half an hour later.  We're fairly sure the valets thought she was a call girl.  Or a drug dealer.

To capture Cloudette's rough look, Lichtenheld used pencil before tracing over it with Sharpie.

We don't worry about lead poisoning when art is at stake.
Especially cute art.
Somehow, Becky convinced tattoo artist Dicky Magoo to open Tattoos by Lou not only on his day off, but early so she could get back to work.  I don't think Becky has ever heard the word "no."  

Dicky used an extra-fine needle to create the outline and shading.  What looks deceptively simple holds a lot of detail.  Tom Lichtenheld looked very happy with the result.  

For a minute, Becky wanted Cloudette tattooed inside her wrist so she could see it better.  But as we all know, The Very Hungry Caterpillar is the tattoo that started it all.  So imagine them chummily side-by-side on her arm.

Caterpillar fart?

Of course, one could argue that as she lays, Cloudette could be seen as en extra large chuff from Otis that got blown astray.  Nevertheless, we've had fun with Cloudette.  Like the time Dylan decided that Becky and I should have matching tattoos.  He whipped out a pen and went to town on my forearm.

Uncanny, no?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Talking to Your Child About Courage

Man, with a title like that you'd hope I have some answers.  I don't, sorry.

Over at The Heat Lightning, newly-anointed senior editor John Spain and I have been talking about the Boys Scouts of America.  If you don't feel like clicking the link, here's the boiled-down version:

1) As a teen, Spain got a lecture from a scout master for saying goddamn and quit because the other boy scouts were a bunch of pot heads and he felt the scout master's lecture was ill-founded and hypocritical.  On THL, he questions the relevance of an organization with such an outdated moral code.

2) Curtis has a seven-year-old son named Dylan who joined the Cub Scouts this year.  Curtis claims the Boys Scouts are an excuse to start conversations which otherwise barely come up - things like character, loyalty, trustworthiness, etc. - and that the national tenets don't filter down to the local packs.

Over breakfast, we took a shot at Cub Scout Wolf Achievement 12, "Complete the Character Connection for Courage."  Discuss what courage is with your family?  No problem.  Give some examples of when it is hard to do the right thing?  You've got it; and thanks for the examples.   Discuss times it might take courage to be honest and kind?  I think you just re-phrased the last one, but sure.  

Tell about a time in your life when you needed to be brave or courageous to do the right thing.

And here's where I run into the same brick wall I always run into with Dylan; how do you talk to a seven-year-old?  I was a born-again Christian for a couple of years.  A few years after I quit the church, one of my best friends started the born-again thing.  I could've been supportive, as we usually are with our friends, by telling her how happy I was that she'd found something she'd enjoyed, that she was looking for answers, etc.  Or I could do what I did, which was question everything.  I brought up inconsistencies between what they taught and what the bible says.  I told her she'd bring my concerns to her fellow parishioners and her pastor and they would tell her exactly how to feel about it, rather than letting her think for herself.  I planted the seeds which led to her eventually leaving the church.  She's an out, proud lesbian now.  The world won that round; we need more lesbians and less born-agains.  In fact, make that my campaign slogan.

Having that conversation was scary.  My stomach was in my chest most of the time, but I wanted to tell her exactly how I felt. Unfortunately, our relationship was strained after that night.  We remained friends, but were never as close as we'd once been.

Without thinking too hard, I can come up with at least three examples like that from my past.  Sometimes truth kills.  And you can argue that if someone can't take the truth then he / she was never your friend, but bullshit like that doesn't salve the pain of losing a friend, of seeing that guarded look in someone's eye, like you're a haunted house filled with truth ghosts.

I'm weaker than I used to be.  There have been a few times in recent years when I've balked at telling how I really feel, in service of not making waves, or ruining a mood, or hurting feelings.  I've been afraid to risk confrontation so I've kept schtum.  Does this make me a better friend, or worse?

I don't know myself.  And explaining all this to a seven-year-old is impossible.  I love you and I want you to be strong, but sometimes being strong means being lonely. . . I don't want you to encourage hate and prejudice by being silent, but speaking out against it will likely open you up to ridicule. . .

Wait, I've got it.

Dylan, pink is your favorite color.  It shouldn't just be your favorite color at home.  You should have the courage to tell your classmates that pink is your favorite color.  You should never be afraid to be yourself.  You'll feel happier with honesty than trying to make others happy by choosing things you don't really love.  And if someone makes fun of you, then they weren't your friend anyway.

What do you mean bullshit like that doesn't help?