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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

New Years!

As I pack I tell myself, “At home I may pull on the same soggy jeans week after month, and shlump around in my ratty sneaks, but the woman I will be on vacation probably wears outfits and srappy sandals. This floral smock lurking  in the depths of my closet will be perfect!”
Actually, I‘ve slipped this particular dress into many backpacks and suitcases over the millennium, so why are the tags still on it?

That's because ever since some ancient shopping bout of delusion, it has been lying in state awaiting either my radical personality change, or its own Resurrection to the thrift store. Well traveled, never worn. 
Why? Because when ever I get where I’m going, I invariably find my lazy, comfort loving, ratty sneaks wearing self there waiting for me. 
And yet, there's something so sweet about the packing self. The self awash with unrealistic fantasies, flush with faith in the possibility of change, willing to suspend disbelief and imagine myself as someone who holds her stomach in.
The same part of my mind that allows me to re-pack that silly dress, allows me to make New Years Resolutions, although I know I’ll unpack them next December with the tags intact.  
As a fiction writer I certainly believe we are all entitled to the full range of human emotion and delusion. So -- Come the New Year I will write EVERY DAY! Fingers on the keys, mind on the plot, eyes on the screen. Perhaps cutting off one finger or toe any day I don't write -- allowing me 20 (very bloody) days off.

I will also diet and exercise like a woman who believes she is mortal -- or die trying.

And I'll either wear that damn dress -- or fly it as a symbol of fashion liberation.
And here’s The Who performing I WON’T GET FOOLED AGAIN!
Happy New Year!

Friday, December 16, 2011


I am here to report that this is a big country and not all lives are identical!  This I know to be true having recently had three (3) illuminating Out-Of-House-Adventures! 
The 1st was a school visit to a tiny town in southern Illinois which, recently went from being a poor mining town to being an even poorer ex-mining town. 
The shuttered coal mine.
I visited their cemetery and ate at 3 of their (I think) three restaurants. One being Dairy Queen. 
Most of the town consisted of small homes, grassy fields, major woodsy parts with spectacular fall colors, foolishly fearless deer, horses, cows, and a sprawling K-8 school of enthusiastic, mostly blond, white kids whose principal looked like Southern Barbie.
When the school first called to arrange my visit and ask about ordering my books, I suggested they contact their local independent bookstore. HA! HA! HA! Now I know that the closest "bookstore" was the Walmart a few towns over. 
There seemed to be more corner bars then there were corners. 
It must be fun to be a kid there though, tearing around on bikes, tipping cows, racing the train to the unfenced crossing, cooking meth or whatever. 
But what do the grown-ups do? 
My Los Angeles-ness practically broke out in boils. It made me wonder how my books read to kids whose surroundings and experiences are so different from those of my characters. Unlike the kids in my books, when these kids skip school they don't take the subway to China Town for din-sum, or sneak into office buildings and ride elevators to the fifty-eighth floors just to make their ears pop. That would be hard to do in a town with exactly zero (0) buildings over three stories high. 
I'd puzzled over this sort of thing before when my books were translated for sale to kids in foreign lands, but I'd never considered how exotic they could seem in my very own language and country. 
Stop #2 was a red brick Catholic middle school for at risk girls in urban St. Louis, Missouri. There I addressed the entire student body (72 mostly African American, uniformed, excessively polite but involved and curious girls) in one smallish room. 
These girls get to school early and stay until 6:00PM year round. They even have class one Saturday a month, unlike the girls in some of my books who are nannied about from piano to dance lessons, to pool parties at each other's houses, and spend a lot of time lolling around bored. 
I was asked (by a plain-clothes-nun, which I think is sneaky right there) why I choose to use foul language in some of my books. 
My auto-reply to this question (and you are free to use it if you are potty-mouthed) is not, “Who gives a shit?" But the smarmier: “As a writer, I love ALL words, just like I love all the characters in my books, including the mean nasty ones.” 
The 3rd phase of the Amy-Out-Of-House-athon was spent wandering a mostly deserted suburban mall with (according to their website) 215 stores & 45 restaurants. I don't know if that includes the kiosks. 
There I discovered a preponderance of sparkly things for sale, not just for little girls, but for grown woman as well. And not elegant, 1930s evening ware from the black & white movies type glitter, but hysterically screaming, super flashy, giddy, giggly, clothes, shiny bags, belts, hats, wallets, sequined hair sparklies, twinkly make-up, girly outfits for phones and steering wheels, and pink feathered princess stilettos like those once offered exclusively at Fredrick’s of Hollywood. 
What a blinding species we became while I wasn’t looking!
It occurs to me now that the greatest fun would be to mix it all up and as my pal KT says, "Blow the stink off!" 
  • Take some of those Dairy Queen country kids I met in Illinois and plunk them down in the massive food court of the Tapanga Canyon Mall. 
  • Put those St. Louis city girls on horseback and let them race through the unfenced small town cemetery. 
  • Scoop up the sparkly crap from the mall and heave it into the sea. No wait, that would hurt the fishies. Send it to outer space? No, we’ve hurled enough trash at the stars.  Ah Ha! I just so happen to know of a town with an unused coal mine!!!! 
P.S. Apropos of nothing, here's a picture of Wally Dog.  

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Writer's Block

There's never a Q&A where someone doesn't ask where the author gets her ideas. Most of us have some semi-snotty, semi-true pat reply like, The idea store up on Sunset, the newspaper, my dreams, whatever...
Or we answer the question with a question: How does anyone get any idea? How do you get the idea to walk across the room? Have some pie? Beat the kids? -- You just think of it. 
I used to say my books initially came like any other ideas, but those that evolved into words on a page were the ones that stuck around, buzzing relentlessly -- like mosquitoes in the night. 

Truth is, I found it a puzzling question. 
What did the asker mean? Isn’t it the nature of the brain to have ideas? Was it possible not to? What about when the askers vacuum the rugs or are forced to endure banquets or jail time or religious ceremonies? Don’t they get the What Ifs? Such as, What if that droning officious twit burst into flames? 
Perhaps the askers just didn't understand the jump between having fantasies and being driven to nail those fantasies (bam! bam! bam!) to the page in an obsessive frenzy?  
BUT (and now we’re spiraling closer to the point of today's blog) what about when those ideas which the author has been taking as her due, suddenly... stop?
Many non-afflicted writers will tell you there’s no such thing as Writer's Block
  • There is fallow time when one might need to refill the blah, blah blah... 
  • There's the reactive flinch caused by encroaching reality and the numbing touch of the outside world; Discouraging words from agents, editors, reviewers, book buyers, an ungrateful public or the bank that holds the mortgage. 
  • There is cowardice.
  • And there is laziness. 
But Writer's Block (according to those who have never felt its sting) isn't like a cramping intestinal blockage threatening peritonitis, nor a road block in Rwanda manned by jumpy, trigger-fingered teenage rebels armed to the teeth. It is simply the self-doubt any grown up feels when attempting anything new, mixed with an indulgent dose of woe-is-me.
“If I were a miner,” the pre-Writer's Blocked author might say, “would I need inspiration to go daily into the mine?” (smirk) “And does the checker at Ralph's get to tell his boss he doesn't feel the bagging today?" (derisive snort) "Or that his sweeping-up muse had forsaken him? Can a teacher shun the classroom to sulk and wallow in self pity when she doesn’t hear the call to teaching?”
Writing is work. A grown up goes to work. That is all.
Nonetheless roughly nine-zillion books have been written on overcoming this non-existent malady. Written I suspect, by people attempting to explain the unexplainable and make a couple of bucks killing time till their own blockage clears.  (see bloggers)
Their advice reels from forcing yourself to sit down and stare at the screen, to writing gibberish, to whistling past the computer as if you haven’t a care in the world, to changing your diet, schedule and surroundings, to adding vitamin supplements sold here at special discount for YOU!  
... Follow these six, nine, sixteen simple steps! Eat all you want without gaining weight! Bring the pa-zazzle back into the bedroom! Stop acid-reflux, acne, incontinence and hair-loss once and for all! And write the award winning, best seller, blockbuster you know you have inside you! Or your money back!
While in the grip of WB, ideas still waft but they don't resonate or persist or buzz. There is no chemistry, no lust, no urge to obsess. They are merely passing thoughts. Which is to say once we become Writer's Block sufferers, we gain an intimate understanding of the once baffling  question, Where do you get your ideas?
In fact -- we have no clue where they come from. None. 
Suddenly, the askers are not an alien life form devoid of imagination. They are us. A less smug us. Us minus that unknowable thing that makes writers write.