Tuesday, April 21, 2009

New Bookclub.

The new bookclub met for the first time last week. What a lovely diverse group. We even have a token male, : ) but he was out of town so did a conference call on one lady's blackberry. The book under discussion was The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, by David Wroblewski.

The majority of participants found the story slow. It was a long book, topping out at 566 pages. When I pointed out the differences in literary vs. commercial fiction they were interested and opened themselves up to embrace a different type of read. Going into a literary work I know what to expect. Beautiful prose (an element of music beneath the words, space to explore deeper philosophies, time to enter into a richer more magical world, a willingness to allow the author to warm up his engines. Commercial fiction on the other hand, (at least for me) is where the expectation is one of immediate action. There's no time to waste. Don't stop to smell the roses. Get the first clues out, present a dead body, have the protagonist in the midst of a dilemma, introduce the hunky hero right up front so we know what we're dealing with. And the list goes on.

I read and enjoy both style of book, but my reading enjoyment varies. Like my choice in ice cream. I have my favorite but sometimes I want vanilla, othertimes chocolate, and in a plain cone. Hey, sometimes I'll even get daring and go for pistachio, or get out a bowl add some chocolate fudge and make a sundae. ;)

Back to Edgar.
I found the book initially appealing. Although I don't normally like prologues I do think this one was necessary, and it stayed with me throughout the entire story. About a third of the way in I grew tired of the description of landscape etc., because it was already set in my mind. I knew where we were although I've never visited Wisconsin. There were a few too many sunbeams on bales of straw for me. I lusted after some action.

That said, the characters were well drawn, the dogs wonderful, and the prose kept me going. I knew I wouldn't not finish the story, although it did take me two weeks where I'd normally read four commercial novels in that time period. Then things heated up a bit by mid-book. I'd read Mark Doty's comment on this perhaps being a modern day Hamlet. Then I started thinking about Shakespeare's works and realized it incorporated many other themes as well. I visited the author's website and found someone else had commented in the same vein. My interest was sparked.

Don't want to give away any spoilers here but if you start this book, stick with it. At the end I was angry because of the ending, but the story wouldn't go away and continued to simmer and stew in my thoughts. About a week later I decided it was indeed the best ending for this story. I was finally satisfied and deeply in awe of the author. He pulled off something very difficult. He left the reader without a happily ever after, a ton of questions that demanded answers, and for me, a desire to read the whole damn thing all over again.

Saturday, April 04, 2009


There have been some storms in the past weeks that have upset my treat of reading several literary agents blogs before beginning my daily writing. A treat that would normally stimulate my brain and get my fingers tapping on those letter keys. But these verbal storms--I'm not talking freaks of nature here, hmmm? well, maybe I am--they threw me into a dark place like an impending snowstorm.

Why is this happening? Why are people throwing rotten tomatoes at each other? Frustration with life in general, the publishing industry itself, broken dreams, I'm not sure. But name calling, that's toxic behavior, come on, we're supposed to be adults. Professional adults.

Yesterday, I'd arranged to meet a writer friend for lunch at our usual halfway point, me driving an hour from the desert, she driving the same distance from her home in L.A. We'd had a huge wind storm the night before and the noise had provided little sleep. I awoke groggy and much later than usual, so rushed around and did errands, walked the dog, showered and put on "real" clothes, dashed to the office and glanced at the phone and email to make sure my friend hadn't had a last minute emergency, and then took off for the freeway a CD blasting out C&W.

Five miles up the road the ambient temperature gauge in my car kept dropping. It went quickly from seventy degrees to sixty and was still falling as I noticed an increasing sandstorm up ahead. How was I to know there were sixty-five mile per hour winds today? I hadn't listened to the news or checked online news. Sigh.

I don't have a blue-tooth or any other device to use a cell while driving, so couldn't call my friend and say I was returning home, and to get off the freeway in that part of the desert would have meant driving into the eye of the sandstorm. I switched on my headlights, lowered my speed, gripped the steering wheel with both hands and placed my concentration on staying alert to what other cars were doing. By the time I was navigating the pass we were in a whiteout, visibility was poor and light weight cars were being buffeted sideways. I took an inside lane and travelled alongside a huge truck using it as a buffer against the wind. Sand blew across the freeway, often times small pebbles would ping the car but I chose not to fret about paint damage and concentrated on getting to my appointment in one piece.

At my destination, a huge black cloud had replaced the sand storm and I opened the car door, which was almost ripped out of my hands, my hair blew straight up off my face, I hunkered down wrapped my arms around the bodice of my thin cotton shirt and ran inside to the warmth of the restaurant. My friend said her car had registered fifty degrees as she'd driven into the parking lot. And here we were, both dressed for a nice spring day of eighty or so degrees, usual at this time of the year in the California desert.

On the way home, the winds had died down and the temperature elevated to within normal range. I thought about the storm. And the storm in my writing world. I'd taken care not to get caught up in the emotional aspects, ignored the negative, the what ifs and possibilities, kept my eyes on the road ahead and successfully navigated to safety. I had chosen not to comment, not because I didn't have opinions but because I didn't want to be dragged into the middle of the mess. Those outbursts or little storms are not healthy, they don't make you feel better for having cursed and hurled insults, or spoken positively and been accused of being a suck-up, there is no win in these situations. Even if comments are left anonymously, they leave questions. Who wrote it? Why? You end up feeling as tainted as the crazy ass person who left the comment.

Last night I went to a friend's blog, www.bobmayer.org. He has a new book coming out in June, Who Dares Wins. It's based on the programs of the Green Berets and how to be the best you can be while facing down difficult situations. His most recent blog was about the differences in social and market norms. You should read it, and put his book on your must order or pre-order list. His comments touched on, I think, the reasons behind the difficulties agents and writers have in understanding each other. One works to create and from an emotional or social stance, the other is excited by the aspect of selling, and works from a marketing aspect. We're talking chalk and cheese here, folks. Once each side understands and can respect the differences in the other's worldview, we might have a better working environment.

Oh, stop it, put those tomatoes down.