Sunday, March 30, 2008

My Town, Monday, Tyree Guyton and the Heidelberg Project

Any discussion of Detroit will eventually lead to a discussion of the Heidelberg Project and Tyree Guyton. For an in depth look at it, simple google his name. For the purposes of My Town Monday, here's a tease. Twenty years ago, Guyton was looking for a way to express both himself and his frustration with the deterioration of his city. Guyton, with little money sought to make a statement about this via his own neighborhood.
He began to paint colorful pictures on the neighboring abandoned house. He began collecting discarded objects and creating fields of vacuum cleaners, car hoods, dolls and shoes --all painted in bright colors. Easy to do in Detroit, where streets had begun to look rural due to demolished or falling-down housing. He nailed objects ro the houses themselves, hung bikes, did whatever he could to transform Heibelberg Street into a living work of art.

Not everyone approved of this. Some of the neighbors thought his work was mocking their poverty. Or that is wasn't art at all. It became controversial, a subject that divided the city. Was it art or an eyesore? The courts entered the debate and although they ruled his work was constitutionally protected as a genuine artistic expression, he City of Detroit in 1998 served Guyton with an order to dismantle the project or they would demolish it. Odd for a city that couldn't demolish the abandoned house he had painted his work on.
In 1999, the City demolished the site.
It's not over yet, however. Parts of it reappear. Guyton's art turns up in museums and private collection. Its still a part of Detroit.
Is it art or an eyesore? Look at the streets around Heidelberg and make your choice.

For more My Town Monday, go visit Travis Erwin at:

Thursday, March 27, 2008

When is it time to give in

and change my protagonist to a nicer person. Problem is-it makes her more generic. But three agents have all found her unlikable so I have to consider changing her before I send it out to anyone else. Why do we want to like our protags? We've been down this route before on this blog but if three agents said the same thing, would you change it?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Burnt Orange Heresy

is about an up and coming art critic who is offered (by a rich patron) the chance to interview a reclusive French artist whose entire work may have perished in a fire. The catch is: he must steal one of the paintings in exchange for the opportunity to interview the artist. The deal is made on a handshake.

Now right here, and I'm only on page 35, I am incredulous that Willeford can make me believe this rising art critic is willing to steal a painting for the sake of an inteview. In many books, I would stop reading right there, thinking the whole concept is bullshit and the writer isn't giving us a realistic character. Who would risk imprisonment for an interview at the start of a promising career. But I am reading on, betting Willeford will pull it off. He'll find a way to make this credible. He's playing with the reader. I think this because I have read four of his books I trust him and his ability by now.

Do you ever put a book down because the concept or setup doesn't seem plausible or do you usually assume the writer will make it work by the end? Do you ever write your way into such a quagmire?

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Nod

Three months ago, we were excited over the Democratic Primary. We said, how could we lose with so many good candidates to choose from.

But something's happened, and now it seems possible that no matter which candidate gets chosen they'll lose because we've let the genie out of the bottle: the genie being that a candidate can perceive their candidacy as more important than seeing the Democrats take the White House.

Voters are doing this too, saying, "I'll vote for McCain rather than Obama or rather than Hillary." Severe animosity has replaced excitement.

An underground campaign, emanating perhaps from Republicans perhaps from other quarters, is tagging Obama as a secret Muslim, someone who would favor African-Americans. I've heard this several times in the last week.

Also attacks coming from both sides are beginning to take their toll on both candidates. The eventual candidate is going to have a very short time to turn this around if this drags on until August. Find a way to end this process by June. Approach each candidate about negative advertising.

We must find away to stop this. Surely anything is better than electing someone who seems the war as a hundred-year deal.

What ideas do you have about saving the White House?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

My Town Monday: Borders Bookstore-the original

My Town Monday

Back in the seventies when we wanted a book in the Detroit area, there were not many good bookstores to choose from. Daltons and Waldenbooks were likely to have best sellers, some classics, and a small selection of other books. There were a few independent stores and although their stock might be more eclectic, it was no more reliable and often the book you wanted had to be ordered. There were some decent used bookstores that were fun and cheap but there was never any guarantee you’d find what you wanted. Locating a book two years old was often a problem: too old for the new stores, not old enough for the used bookstores.

But if we had a little time on our hands, we could drive to Ann Arbor, an hour away, and visit Borders, named for the family who operated it, an exceptional bookstore that even carried university press books for my husband. It was like a trip to heaven for the Abbott family, a whole day affair, something truly special. And for 20 years, it was a single store that was packed night and day with University of Michigan students and professors, townspeople and visitors like us. Often you waited in line twenty minutes or more to buy your books---and it was just books then: No coffee mugs, no music, no toys or games. Borders was known for requiring their clerks to pass a stiff test and treating their employees well. They weren't as cultish as the staff at Trader Joes' but close.

And then came the nineties and a buyout from Kmart, stock options and eventually there were 1100 Borders competing with even more Barnes and Nobles bookstores and Amazon and Powell online and a public that didn’t read very much. And those online stores sold used books at a quarter of the price.

I was skeptical that the public who read books really needed a megabookstore within five miles of their home. Donuts, yes, Coffee, yes, drugstores yes. But books? Right from the start, they looked too empty to sustain their size and inventory. But I crossed my fingers.

Now it appears Borders days are numbered. The store on our corner is likely to close because there is a Barnes & Noble within three miles. I am sad about this. Maybe a new independent bookstore will eventually open in Ann Arbor. Oh, yes it’s already there and called Shaman Drumm. Maybe we’ll drive there again to get our books. But probably we’ll order them online. You can’t go home again and with the price of gas…

For more posts about My Town Monday acorss the globe, see the blog of creator, Travis Erwin

Friday, March 21, 2008

The TBR Pile

How do you decide what to read next? What comes into consideration? Having just finished Christine Falls, a book I liked as a novel but not as much as a crime novel, I don't want to pitch headlong into something too similar. Having just finished The Wire, I don't want to read something about urban decay.
These are the top three books on my TBR pile. Well, Lush Life wasn't up there but it's a library book and I only have two weeks to read it. I've started the Chabon book three times and something puts me off each time--even though I liked The Wonder Boys and The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. The Willeford book has extremely small print which can also put me off. But I love his books and would probably force my eyes through it.
Maybe I'll just read blogs. Oh, yeah, that's one reason why people aren't reading books anymore so I'd better make a choice.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Yesterday's Lessons

Yesterday two African-American men brought me to tears and strangely enough their messages had a common theme--something I'd never considered before.

The first man, of course, was Barack Obama, who made one of the most lucid, carefully considered, meaningful speeches on race I've ever heard.

The second man, was a character on IN TREATMENT, the bereaved father of a suicide victim. In thirty minutes, the actor Glen Turman brought this
man and his issues, grievances, and sadness to life.

This is where there narratives converged. Both the fictional character and the very real Obama made it clear that the generation of black men who grew up in the forties and fifties were very different from the generation that followed. These men had almost no hope that avenues for success would ever open to them. This hopelessness made them harder and more bitter than those who would follow, and rightly so. Thus ministers from that generation might read America differently than some of their parishioners.

Their sons--in the sixties and seventies had some reason to hope for more-as Obama pointed out, he's the prime example of it--a candidate for President. Racism is still a huge problem but we recognize its existence now and can work to change it.

You can find Obama's speech on MSNBC if you missed it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


I've been wanting to set a story in an indoor pool for a long time. To me, indoor pools are very sinisters places. They look strange: the wavering water casts shadows on the tiled walls. They smell strange: all that chlorine can't escape like it does outside. They feel strange: slimey and rough at the same time. They sound strange: sounds seems to bounce off every surface. They taste strange: the chemicals and humidity choke me.

But maybe indoors pools wouldn't freak you out in a story at all. Maybe you grew up on them and it's fruit cellars or animals dressed like humans that scares you.
What motiff or setting do you want to use because it's scary or sinister to you?

Monday, March 17, 2008

My Town Monday-Part Deux

Okay, here's a better Monday story.
A.J's Cafe in Ferndale, Michigan is attempting to set a record by singing "Danny Boy" for fifty straight hours. Hundreds of people have signed on for this task, backed up by instruments as varied as kazoons, guitars and organs.
This song has special meaning to A.J. O'Neill (on the left) who last sang it as his father's funeral. The fifty hours will finish today at five.
One elderly woman, on hearing it sung for several hours and perhaps a bit tipsy, asked. "Does nobody here know 'When Irish Eyes are Smiling?"

Sunday, March 16, 2008

My Town Monday

And yes, I know it's Sunday but Mondays are a bad day for me to spend time on my blog. There's that thing called work I go to sometimes.
As often as I find frustration with being in Detroit, I also find areas where I am lucky to live where I do. For instance, we have four venues for independent and art house movies within forty minutes from us. It's a rare film we don't have a chance to see and I know that's not true for everyone out there.
Most of the audience at these art houses are over fifty--well, really over sixty so the future of these films in Detroit concerns me but for the moment, I am very satisfied. When we arrived here in the seventies, it was considerably harder to find these films except at the Detroit Film Theater, part of the Detroit Institute of Arts.
We see at least one movie a week at a theater. Seeing them at home on DVD is far less satisfying to us. I need the smell of popcorn and sticky floors to be transported. I could do without the people talking behind us but...
How does your town measure up for foreign and independent movies?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Home Again, Jiggedy Jig

Being in a place like this, makes returning to

a place like this awfully hard.
Not that I'm not grateful for the brief respite.

More later, but you Florida people are pretty darned lucky.
Being in a place like this: Makes returning to this hard.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

My Town Monday

It isn't my town but I can pretend it is for a bit.
The fifty degree improvement in temps is pretty enticing. Stay well.

Friday, March 07, 2008


I know saying one more good thing about this show is like dropping a pebble in the ocean, but I think it's one of the best shows ever done for television. I just learned a third season is going to be financed by NBC and Direct TV.
If you haven't given it a try, do. It's not just about football or even mostly about football. It's about life in a small Texas town, good and bad parenting, the stigma of being poor or black, paraplegic culture, what it's like to be a teenager, what it's like to be a friend. The production values are superior, the acting sublime, the writing superlative. And if you haven't given it a good try, please do. You're truly missing something.

Thursday, March 06, 2008


And if anyone knows of any fabulous restaurants or sites in the Keys or Miami, let me know. And it better be spring in Michigan by the time we return.
(Hey, we're gonna meet Vicki Hendricks. My husband's REALLY looking forward to that.)
Have a great week.

Artwork by Pat Dosine.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Margaret Selzer et al

I'm trying to come to an understanding of why writers like Margaret Seltzer, James Frey and the rest of the growing number attempt to dupe the reading public. Do market demands value a memo over a novel to this degree? Or is there a pathology at work with these writers? Is it just more fun to become the character in your work? Is the game afoot from the beginning or at some point, do they begin to see either a monetary,a personal or psychological advantage in turning a novel into a memoir?

Clearly Ms. Seltzer went to a lot of trouble, coming up with collateral witnesses to boost her deception. Yet wouldn't any sane person realize that such claims were just too far from the truth not to be invalidated. And by a sister who didn't want the family name besmirched. Did she want to be caught? What do you think?

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


Is it always clear to you what POV to use in a story? I usually use the third person limited POV. I like the slightly more distant and atmospheric setting you can create with this approach.
First person is good for getting inside someone'e head but you're limited, I think, in describing anything more than what the "I" can see in front of him. It requires a very dynamic "I" like Ken Bruen's creation of Jack Taylor to pull it off.
And the third-person omniscient POV is just too remote for me. Those long shots can be fuzzy.
Much like in film I like the middle-range shots.
But every once in a while, I'll find a story isn't working from my preferred vantage, shift to first person and suddenly things fall into place. What about you? What do you like to read/write?

Sunday, March 02, 2008

My Town Monday

Detroit's Eastern Market

The Eastern Market is one of the few places in the racially divided city of Detroit where people come together on a weekly basis.

Every city of any size has one: Reading Terminal in Philly, the Farmer’s Market in LA , the Union Square Market in Manhattan. In Detroit, it’s called the Eastern Market and it’s a permanent group of retail and wholesale structures with the outdoor component offered on Saturdays. This is our version.

Detroit's Eastern Market (1891) is the largest historic public market district in the United States. Every Saturday, Michigan's market attracts more than 100 farmers and vendors from Michigan, Ohio, and Canada selling fruits, vegetables, breads, baked goods, jellies, jams, honey, apple cider, cheeses, spices, herbs, plants and flowers. Flower days in mid May are incredible with acres of flowers to choose from. At Christmas, Michigan’s many tree farms sell their wares.

More than 26,000 Detroiters, suburbanites and tourists shop here most weeks during the spring, summer and fall. The prices are outstanding as is the selection. But the experience is even more exhilarating.

Right now the Eastern Market District has made plans to revitalize itself. The district would like to be more than a once a week destination for veggies shoppers. To see the plans, go to

Do you have a market like this in your town?