Wednesday, January 30, 2008

"What's Your "Go To"?

In reading the chapter of Russell Banks' new novel yesterday (thanks to TM for the referral) I noticed the emphasis on weather and setting. I wonder if most writers have a "go to" when beginning a book or story" weather, atmosphere, character description, time period, dialog, a street scene. Many of my stories begin with someone driving in a car. This is sort of odd since I rarely drive. But maybe in my dream life, which is where most of this process comes from, I am quite the driver.
Where do you "go to" to get comfortable in a story? Do you find you begin with similarly-set scenes from project to project?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Will Someone Please Explain This?

One of my favorite writers is Russell Banks. Continental Drift and Affliction both reflect blue-collar male malaise in the late 20th century better than almost any other books I can think of. They are scary, real and sad.
Today his new book The Reserve was reviewed in the New York Times. I am not going to repeat any of the review here. It's possible that this book does not live up to his earlier work. Clearly, Banks is writing about a different sort of person than the blue-collar guys in his earlier work; the book is set in a different stratum of society.
What I want to pursue here is this? Should a reviewer feel he/she owes the public the same sort of critique a newspaper editorialist owes the public when he/she finds out a politician is corrupt. Because I feel this is the sort of review I read today. Should words like cheesy be used? Is this civil language?
How far is going too far for a reviewer?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Patry Francis and The Liar's Diary

I don't know Patry Francis personally. I know her name from "Killer Year," from blog traffic, from her own blog, from favorable mentions of The Liar's Diary.

From the movies and books she lists as favorites on her blog, I know we're a lot alike. We may even be of a similar age, coming to writing later in life--or at least to writing a novel. There's something that catches in your throat when you weigh the chances of getting a first book onto a shelf at this age. But Patry did it.

It's evident from her blog, from her trailer, from all of it, that she throws herself into whatever she chooses to pursue. I hope I meet Patry Francis one day.

As I was thinking about Patry last Friday, I went into a Borders and saw The Liar's Diary on the sale shelf. It was the hardback version, making way for the newly issued paperback today. Not wanting to carry it into the restroom (you know what they do to people who do that) I let it rest on the sales' table. Twenty minutes later, after browsing and such, I came back for it. It was gone. Someone else knew about Patry Francis.

I hope you know about her too. Her book is availabe in paperback this week. Buy it. Don't put it off like I did because she's going to sell a lot of copies. You don't want to be without yours.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Muse

The Muse

True or false: looking back over my creative work, as a writer, painter, musician, actor, I find it hard to distinguish later what pieces came to me in some mystical (muse-like) way from what pieces came to me through repeated, hard work.This is true for me. The exception being that writing that comes like a ghost in the night sometimes has a more dreamlike quality to it--totally fitting but not necessarily better. What about you.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

What Would You Do

Between dinner and seeing Persepolis last night, four of us got into this discussion re: the Heath Ledger death though only as a backdrop. Here's the scenario:

You come into a friend's house. He's lying dead in his bed. It's almost certain, he has died from a drug-related and self-induced incident. Strewn around his bedroom are other illegal drugs, pornographic material, letters from his mistress (his wife lives in his other house), a computer open to his email screen or to a porno cite, a cellphone that probably has calls to a drug dealer, a mistress, etc. on it. Would you tidy things up for him? Would you get rid of some of the damaging objects in his room? Or would you regard it as a possible crime scene and sacrosanct?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

An Invitation

A second invitation to submit a flash fiction piece for our Valentine's Day challenge. Mystery Dawg will post all stories from writers without sites of their own on Powder Burn. Both of us will list links to all the stories. Nice to keep it to around 700 wrds and maybe tie love and crime in a big red bow. We have about ten or so writers, but we want more. Come on. You know you want to. Would it be Valentine's Day without some mayhem.

Reading Sideswipe by Charles Willeford, the third Hoke Moseley. Does anyone have a better voice? Okay, maybe Ken Bruen but not many others. He can make you laugh and cry in the same sentence. Whose voice lights up your nights?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


We all get them--except sometimes we don't. Sometimes we never hear from the editor at all. Sometime we find out we've been rejected when the zine or journal comes out. I much prefer a note or even a sentence telling me this in advance of the zine appearance. Maybe it's hard to say no to writers but it's part of the process--getting rejected and if we can't take it, we shouldn't be in this business.
I can take your rejections. It's the wondering that kills me.
What do you think?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

South Carolina Debate

I wouldn't be seeing so much of these debates if my husband wasn't a presidential scholar and that would be fine with me because I'm starting to get scared. I guess the problem is that the Democratic candidates' positions are too close so that Hillary and Obama are forced to argue about voting records, PACS and Boards they've sat on. But even Obama's nearly unflappable civility it starting to fade with the constant onslaught from Senator Clinton and her spouse. Going into this season, I thought I might support her, but all she's proven to me is she's the toughest candidate. Is that her intent? Is that the most necessary trait in a presidential candidate? Is there such a thing as wanting to win too much--because I think she does and it's making her into something scary. I thought she'd found her voice last week, but apparently it's a voice that changes to suit the night.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Where do you write?

There was a fascinating piece in the NYT yesterday about the success of romantic novels written by Japanese women on their cellphones, some while on their way to work on the subways. Many of these novels go on to regular publication and of last year's ten best-selling novels, five were originally cellphone novels. This led to a discussion in our household on where people wrote. Thomas Wolfe on his refrigerator, Hemingway at the cafes, etc. Neither my husband or I can write by hand any longer. We are limited to computer access, but I can carry my flash drive around from computer to computer and not mind. He prefers his own at home.
What about you? Anyone still using yellow pads? Must you write in one place? Do you write better in Starbucks than at home alone? Can you only write in the A.M.? In the P.M.?
Is anyone here writing on their cellphone?

***Even stranger is that this method of writing (on cellphones) is changing the way books read there. They are growing closer to comics and manga in their extreme terseness. Wonder if that will come are way.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Importance of Proofreading"

Pretty damned funny. Hat tip to Dorene. (Wish I could figure out how to directly download it.)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The hottest love has the coldest end

I am sick, sick, sick of revisions. I now have two versions of the same novel that differ substantially. One's a lot more literary than the other. What to do? What to do? Write something else while I think.

Will you write along with me? Could we have a Valentine's Day round robin. No one has done this for a year or so. I think it's too much to ask for love stories from you guys, but how about love/crime flash fiction stories. Under 750 words. Is anyone interested? I'd guess we'd need at least 8 or more for it to seem like anything other than a lame-brained scheme. If eight or more people send me a story or tell me they will send one by February 12th, we can do it on the 14th. Link them up and celebrate the day as only we can. What do you think?

P.S. If anyone (and this means you Bryon Q.)has a love story without any crime in it, that's good too. Come on. I bet you all have one or two on your hard drive. That night you poured your heart out. The night you forgot to knock someone off. The night you just didn't have it in you.

This is a one-time thing because I don't know how to make a site. Let me know.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


I've started my class in criminalistics. In the coming weeks I will learn about evidence documentation; shoeprint/tireprint impression evidence; firearms and tool mark examination; questioned document examination, fingerprints and personal identification, serology, DNA, bloodstain pattern interpretation, drugs of evidence, trace evidence, arson and explosives, courtroom testimony. Will this help me as a writer? I hope so.
One thing that doesn't help me is that everyone around me at the back of the class (where I used to sit when I was a real student), spends their time text messaging and checking their voicemail. The class is spending the semester on the Jeffrey MacDonald case (Fatal Vision). I was the only student in a class of 50 that had heard of the case. I'm not even sure they knew who Charles Manson was? And these are the future Detroit Police.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Michigan Primary

I live in a state (Michigan) where you can only vote for Hillary Clinton or undecided if you're a Democrat tomorrow. If you're a Republican you get the whole roster of horrible choices. Is this fair? Should the Democratic Party be able to decide that a primary in Michigan is invalid because we jumped the queue? Should the Democratic Party in Michigan sue the National Party for disenfranchising it? They've even taken hotel rooms away from eventual delegates to the national convention. When are we going to draft a sensible system for choosing Presidential candidates and what should that be? I vote for regional primaries that alternate every four years. What do you think?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

TV Characters

Re: my post yesterday, Gerald has kindly pointed out that Tony Shaloub has perhaps pushed his characterization of Monk beyond the initial concept of the writers, making him more memorable than any individual plotline would suggest. He also pointed out that Jim Garner did this with Rockford, Tom Selleck with Magnum and so on. Now if the writing is superior the actor probably doesn't have to work as hard. Or in some cases, individual efforts don't shine as brightly (take The Wire, which is all about writing). Or maybe also due to a very large cast allowing little airtime for any one character.
What individual efforts made more of a movie or TV show than the writing allowed for. What did you watch strictly for an individual performance?
Julia Louis Dreyfus has done this with her two followups to Seinfeld. Christine is especially tepid save for her performance (IMHO). Tony Randall and Jack Klugman did this with The Odd Couple, which ran out of steam after its many incarnations. Michael J. Fox carried Family Ties on his back for years. What else?

Saturday, January 12, 2008


I am always surprised at how often this television show is willing to turn to pathos rather than crime-solving or humor. Is this lazy writing or do they define this basically as a show about mental illness? I don't watch it that often but it almost always seem to center around the loss of his wife, which is tragic but many years in the past. Dwelling on it so often seems a bit like the easy way out.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Should I Throw in Flying Saucers, a Vampire, a recipe or a sixth century Chinese girl

I signed up for Publishers Marketplace or whatever it is where you get notice of the deals made on books everyday. Someone said it was a good idea to understand the marketplace if you were trying to sell a book.
But no kidding, it just scares me. Every book has some supernatural element. Or is set in a remote place. Or features recipes. Or afghan patterns. Or dogs that are afghans. and solve crimes Or creatures from other worlds that fly and fight. Doesn't anyone write about regular folks? Do you ever consider adding such an element just to make it sell?

Monday, January 07, 2008

Was Hillary's Crying for Real?

I can't figure out how to upload video (I am so computer illiterate!) but you've all seen this. Was it for real? It's an ongoing disagreement in our house. I believe no woman would take a chance on crying publicly as a stunt because it brings all the stereotypes to mind for potential voters. Can a woman who cries because she's losing in a primary be taken seriously as Commander in Chief.

I think Hillary cried out of tiredness and frustration.

My husband thinks it was a strategy to humanize her since this is one of the biggest knocks against her--that she is inhuman.

What do you think? Did it make you more or less sympathetic to her candidacy?

Keep this in mind. When Hillary cried, nobody died. Okay, bad joke.

Sunday, January 06, 2008


This is more than an ode to Savages, which except for the penultimate and final scenes was one of the best movies of the year. It is an ode to Philip Seymour Hoffman, who in the last month or two has given three riveting performances, playing three completely different characters.
He has moved into a class by himself. and is so good that he throws lesser performances off--as he did in Charlie Wilson's War. I can't think of any actor so able to inhabit a part. And frankly, he cannot count on a pretty face to help him. Maybe that's the point, too. I would like to see him receive both the best and best supporting Oscars this year. Also wonderful was Laura Linney and Philip Bosco. What a terrific movie. A- and only because of the tacked on upbeat ending. P.S. Thanks to the ten people who offered me aid on the query letter. You rock!

My Top Movies of 2008

President-Elect Obama reading.

In no particular order.

1. In Bruges
2. The Bank Job
3. Transsiberian
4. Frozen River
5. Rachel Getting Married
6. Tell No One
7. I've Loved You So Long
8. Edge of Heaven
9. Frost/Nixon
10. Reprise
11. Beauty in Trouble
12. Slumdog Millionaire

Saturday, January 05, 2008

MTM-Hilberry Theater

The Hilberry Theatre is unique - an open stage performance center for the nation’s first and only graduate repertory company - presenting seven plays in rotating repertory from October to mid-May. It is part of Wayne State University, where I work, and students come from across the country to earn an MFA degree in some aspect of theater.

Created in 1963, with the belief that repertory theatre is the best possible training ground for careers in the theatre, the Hilberry was the brainchild of Leonard Leone, now Director Emeritus. Clarence B. Hilberry, then president of Wayne State University, personally took the responsibility of raising the funds to convert the First Church of Christ Scientist in Detroit into an open-stage theatre, which now stands as a memorial to his leadership.

Following the theatre’s opening, he invited a group of community leaders to form a women’s committee to ensure the continuity of the growing company. “The Understudies,” as the group became known, for over 40 years has solicited funds, primarily from individual donors, to provide essential support for the artists of the Hilberry company.The company is composed of 45-50 actors, costume, lighting and scenic designer-technicians, stage managers and theatre managers, who work under the direction of a professional staff.

The members of the company, chosen in nationwide auditions and interviews, receive training leading to advanced degrees in acting, directing, design, or management.The heart of the program is a rotating repertory of outstanding classic and modern plays. Widely known for the high quality of its productions, the Hilberry has received numerous honors. It has been selected to perform at Ford’s Theatre and The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and in the Far East for the USO. Over the years, the Hilberry has been honored with awards by the Detroit Newspapers, including “Best Director” and “Best Play” for 2003-2004 season’s The Kentucky Cycle Parts I and II co-directed by Patricia Ansuini and Lavinia Hart as well as “Best Season” (Oakland Press), “Favorite Local Professional Productions - Drama” for Glengarry Glen Ross and “Favorite Local Professional Production - Comedy” for Lovers and Executioners (Between the Lines), and many individual awards for members of the company.
This season, playing in rotating repertory, are: Eurydice , by Sarah Ruhl, Oct. 3 - Dec. 13 Hamlet , by William Shakespeare, Oct. 24 - Jan. 24 Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead , by Tom Stoppard, Nov 14 - Mar. 14 Born Yesterday , by Garson Kanin, Jan. 9 - Apr. 11 All My Sons , by Arthur Miller, Feb. 20 - May 16 On Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest , by Dale Wasserman, Apr. 3 - May 8.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Do You Dread Coming Home or is it Me?

Everyone at the terminal looks depressed. We are all going back to a city where the sky is gray, the weather cold, the economy down the drain. No one is reading more than the newspaper in a crowd of 100. Ipods, sure. Vacant stares, galore, Cell phones, you bet. The only happy travelers are the ones where Detroit is an interim stop. The ones moving on to sunny climes.
Do you dread going home? Is where you're going home to always a lesser place than where you've been? Does it seem like you're living in the least interesting place on the globe?
Sorry. My birthday has really bummed me out. Who wants to be 60? Only the ones out there who are 70.