Monday, February 28, 2011

A 1/2 Dozen for Elizabeth Stuckey-French

Today, a 1/2 Dozen
with novelist and short story writer
Elizabeth Stuckey-French

who talks about
Radioactive cocktails,
Criticism and his nasty big brother, Rejection,
War versus Peace (in War and Peace)
and hooha book parties.


I despise the pervasive myth of inspiration – the idea that an entire book can exist simply because of an accumulation of inspired ideas – but I don’t deny that inspiration exists. There are things that have no other explanation. Was there a singular moment of inspiration for this book?

Not a singular moment, but, unlike with other projects I’ve started, I remember stumbling upon the book that started it all--Eileen Welsome’s The Plutonium Files: America’s Secret Medical Experiments in the Cold War (1999). Welsome’s book, which began as a series of articles in the Albuquerque Tribune, exposed the abuses of patients kept secret by government scientists for almost fifty years. Many of these experiments were shocking and hideous, but the one that really got to me was done on low-income pregnant women in Nashville, TN. Their doctors gave them prenatal vitamin drinks that were actually radioactive “cocktails.” Many of these unsuspecting guinea pigs and their children developed health problems, including cancer. As a novelist I kept trying to imagine how these women must’ve felt when, years later in the early 1990s, they learned the truth about the “health drinks” they’d been given. (There was a government hearing on these experiments during the 1990s, but the day the President Clinton came on TV to talk about them was the same day OJ rode around in his Ford Bronco on the interstate with the cops and media following him. Guess which story trumped the other?) I also wondered how the doctors and their staff justified their behavior to themselves. They weren’t all “bad” people. Arrogant and monomaniacal perhaps, but not necessarily evil. Certainly the Cold War offered them rationalizations, but there was more to it than that. I wanted to imagine what might have gone on in their heads, and how they lived with themselves afterwards. This book is my attempt to answer these questions. But my story isn’t bleak. The process of writing The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady taught me that humor, and even love, are possible no matter how dark the situation.

What's your advice to a writer who's looking for a lifelong partner? Any particularly useful traits to suggest in said partner? (Do you want to tell us a brief love story here?)

I can’t imagine being married to someone who doesn’t love to read. (The fact that my first husband never willingly cracked a book could have been a major reason for our subsequent divorce.) I’m now married to a wonderful man who just happens to also be a writer. He writes non-fiction, so we’re not directly competitive, which helps. Neither Ned nor I were writing when we met 25 years ago at a Purdue English Department party, but we started talking about books we loved from the get-go. We got married and stumbled into writing—and kids, and everything else, together. Nowadays, we’re always reading each other’s work and able to talk through our writing dilemmas at any odd time, which is such a treat. Of course, we’re both struggling for time to write, and that could be a drawback in a relationship, but we both understand the necessity of having time to write, which to a non-writer, might seem merely like time to be self-indulgent or a way to avoid chores and annoying people and functions. Not that there’s anything wrong with avoiding those things.

Criticism. It’s part of the territory. How do you handle it? Is this the way you’ve always handled it?

Criticism might be hard to listen to, but you can either try to absorb it, turn it into something helpful, or go off and get yourself another drink. Rejection is Criticism’s nasty big brother. He’ll crash your party and knock you flat. But he’s family, just like Criticism. You can’t get rid of either one of them, and they’ll toughen you up.
People who end up getting published and have a writing “career” are the people who can get back up after being flattened. Period. It’s not that getting knocked down doesn’t hurt, but somehow, someway, you have to find a way to get up. Take to your bed for 24 hours, howling with self-pity, but then get up. Scramble up, lurch up, crawl a while before you get up, but you have to get up and keep at it. I didn’t know I was the sort of person who could do this until the first time I was absolutely crushed by a workshop leader at a summer writing festival at Indiana University--a woman who apparently enjoyed crushing people. I went back to my hotel room and cried for a good long while, then I thought “I’ll show you, bitch,” and bounced out of bed. I went to the closing banquet with red eyes and a fierce attitude. Her comment when she saw me at the banquet was—in a disapproving voice—“You always look so neat and tidy.” This off-the-wall comment helped me to understand that her nastiness came from a deep well of bitterness that had nothing to do with me. Well, it took a few years, but I guess I did show her. Often times, rejection is much more impersonal than this, but it still hurts and I need to regroup, collect myself and move on. I do this, much more often than I’d like, because writing is something I really really care about.

What’s your reading life like? Do you have any current favorites or sleepers that may have flown under our radar?

I read all kinds of stuff, but at the moment I’m reading, very slowly, War and Peace. I belong to a reading group connected with Books on the Nightstand, a fantastic weekly podcast about books and reading. As a group we’re reading War and Peace and supporting each other with a discussion board, pep talks, helpful related info, etc. I was always intimidated by the idea of reading it, but I’m finding the novel fascinating. The Peace part is all parties and social conventions and loveless marriage and politeness and luxurious homes, and the War part is horrid weather, chaos, randomness, maiming and death and nobody ever knows what the hell is going on. So far I like the War part better. And I’ve recently stumbled onto a British writer I’d never heard of before but now love--Jane Gardam. She writes hilariously poignant little masterpieces. I’ve finished God on the Rocks and Old Filth and am fixing to read The Man in the Wooden Hat.

What’s your take on touring?

As a famous writer (Lorrie Moore) once said about her book, “The book is dead, the author is dead, but the book tour goes on and on...” This is how a book tour can feel, even if one is lucky enough, in this day and age, to get any kind of book tour at all. There’s so much anxiety involved in book tours, and putting on the writer persona can be exhausting. I’m an introvert, and I like being at home with my family best of all, but I also adore meeting readers and bookstore people. They are the best kind of people. There are so many horror stories about book touring. One of my favorites is Brett Lott’s account of a reading he was flown to in a private jet after his novel was designated an Oprah book pick, only to find that about the only person who showed up at his reading bought a copy of his book for her dog, who was in her purse. My first book came out in 2000, and upon publication I was whisked off to the Whitney in a limo, with some other authors, for a big hooha book party. Even at the time I thought, I bet this is rather unusual for a first book, and if course I was right. Those days seem to be over. For my new book there weren’t any big New York hoohas, but I’m doing plenty of readings, because I believe that meeting actual people has value. You just never know who you might meet and the ripple effects of such meetings. But now that we have social networking and book blogs galore…do we still need them? Jury’s still out on that.

Writing Tip #17 for Aspiring Writers – or #47 or #2. Your pick.

Tip #17: Don’t compare your publication success to those of other writers. That way lies madness.

Elizabeth Stuckey-French is the author of a novel, Mermaids on the Moon, a collection of short stories, The First Paper Girl in Red Oak, Iowa, and, with Janet Burroway, Writing Fiction: A Guide to the Narrative Craft. Her new novel, The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady, has just been published. Her short stories have appeared in The Normal School, Narrative Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, Gettysburg Review, Southern Review, Five Points, and The O’Henry Prize Stories 2005. She was awarded a James Michener Fellowship and has won grants from the Howard Foundation, the Indiana Arts Foundation, and the Florida Arts Foundation. She teaches fiction writing at Florida State University.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Spring Training -- a taste of THE PRINCE OF FENWAY PARK.

Because THE PRINCE OF FENWAY PARK is now out in paperback, we're offering a little excerpt, below.

First, what some other people have to say about the book:

"Richly imagined ... young sports fans will revel in Baggott's underworld ... especially young residents of Red Sox Nation, [who] will dig their cleats in for a thoroughly involving tale."
--Kirkus Reviews

"... brilliant premise ... Both whimsical and provocative, this story will engage readers who like clever tales, and also those who enjoy chewing over controversial themes."
-- School Library Journal (John Peters, New York Public Library)

"If you have a young reader ... [The Prince of Fenway Park] should score a home run.... a wild adventure..." -- Cape Cod Times

"...a delicious little fairy tale about the National Pastime... Baggott's knocked another one out of the park."
-- Star News

The year it came out THE PRINCE OF FENWAY PARK was on Scholastic's Top 5 List of Best Baseball Reads.

In 2004, there WAS a curse on the Boston Red Sox (an 86-year-old curse).
It WAS reversed.
And THIS is the boy who did it --
Oscar Loss, a biracial 12-year-old die-hard Red Sox fan, living in Hingham.
When the book opens, he has no idea that he's the boy who'll break the curse.

This is the moment when Oscar goes into the past to meet ... Babe Ruth.


He squatted down to the cabinet door near the floor, and unlocked the door. It was cold in there. Oscar could feel a draft. His puffy yellow vest was slung over the back of one of the kitchen chairs, and since he didn’t know where he’d end up tonight – on the back of the Pooka or worse – he put it on. He got down on his knees and looked through the door to a small passageway, unlit, earthen. He crawled in, and shut the door behind him, but then it was too dark. Scared, he turned back and left the door open a crack, just enough to let some of the light from the kitchen slip in.

;font-family:";" >He crawled quickly. The dirt was a little moist. He could feel the wetness seep through the knees of his pants. This tunnel had as many twists as the passageways of nettles and barbed ivy. He was trying to think of the perfect rhyme to describe whatever was beneath home plate and something about midnight. He thought and thought, but his mind always wandered at the power he had. He could say anything about any time and place. Where did he really want to go? What did he really want to see? The past would always be in the past. He could always catch up with the Pooka, couldn’t he?

He slowed down. What would it hurt if he went to just one place first. Just one. This was such a huge gift. Finally he blurted the one thing that was on his mind. “To tell the truth, I want to meet Babe Ruth.”

And it rhymed. He hadn’t said it very loudly. In fact, his voice sounded small and weak in the tight tunnel, muffled by the earth all around him

There was no grand transformation. Nothing. Maybe this was just another passageway. Maybe this didn’t lead anywhere. Or not for him. Maybe it only worked for those with fairy blood. He thought about turning around. He’d probably get in trouble, big trouble, for sneaking out like this. He already felt horrible about it. And he was going to turn back, he was just about to, when he saw a distant long, rectangular window of light. Oscar crawled to it. On either side were hung up jerseys. Red Sox jerseys – old-fashioned ones. He lifted his hand and touched them. They were coarse. He pulled one, stretching the back of it wide. It was a broad jersey – no name, no number. The front was button-down with RED SOX stitched on it.

There was a space to climb down, and Oscar did, into a narrow closet. No, Oscar corrected himself, a locker. It was wooden and door-less. He recognized the fungal stink.

He stepped out of it into a large room. It was dark.

But then ceiling lights flipped on overhead, and a voice said, “Hey kid, what are you doing in here?”

The man was tall and broad and ruddy. He was wearing a suit and a long coat and a hat with a black band. He was holding a cigar, but it wasn’t lit. His face was wide, his nose too. He had black shiny eyes. He was, of course, Babe Ruth, but so much bigger than Oscar had ever imagined. He said, “You one of Bossy’s kids?”


“You lost?”

Oscar looked around the locker room – the wooden benches, the old overhead lights, the player’s lockers with wool uniforms on hangers, the pot-bellied stove in the middle of the room. “No,” he said. “I’m not lost.”

“What you got on there? A life jacket?”

Oscar looked down at his puffy yellow vest. He wasn’t sure what to say. “It’s a costume.”

“Close enough to Halloween, I guess.”

“What year is it?”

“What year, kid? Don’t you know? You bang your head or something?” Ruth had a big wide smile

“I’d just like you to tell me. That’s all.”

“C’mon, kid. It’s 1919.”

“And you’re still here with the Red Sox?”

“Where else would I be?”

“Nowhere,” Oscar said. “It’s just...”

“Just what?”


“You don’t know what year it is and you want to talk management all the sudden?”

Oscar could hear voices off in the distance. He didn’t have much time. “Frazee might say some mean things about you one day, but you’ll go down in history as the best of the best. No one will ever forgive him for the bad things he’s going to do and say to you.”

“You think he’s a bad guy, huh?”

“I do.”

Ruth stared at Oscar then, taking a step forward, tilting his head. “Do you know something about bad guys? Bullies and stuff like that?”

Oscar nodded.

“You know, when I was little, I lived in a place called St. Mary’s – it was a school for wayward boys, no-goods, like me. And you know what the kids called me at that place?”

Oscar shook his head.

“They called me Nigger Lips.”

Oscar didn’t move. He just looked at Ruth, and it seemed like Ruth knew what it was to be Oscar in a way that no other adult had ever seemed to.

“You think people still call me things like that?” Ruth asked.

“No,” Oscar said. “You’re famous.”

“You’re wrong. They still do. The difference is that when I was a kid, like you, I thought it was because there was something wrong with me. But now I know it’s that something is wrong with them.”

Oscar nodded.

“No matter what Frazee says I’ll keep on swinging with everything I’ve got. I’ll sometimes hit them big and I’ll sometimes miss them big. But I’ll always be living as big as I possibly can. You can’t beat the person who never gives up.”

“I won’t give up then,” Oscar said.

Someone down the hall shouted for Ruth. “I gotta go,” he said. “You sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah, I’m just waiting for my dad. He’ll be here soon.”

“You look kinda familiar. We met before, you and me?”

Oscar shook his head.

Babe walked over then and held up a piece of hard yellow candy wrapped in plastic. “Here,” he said. “A little early for Halloween, but I like your costume. You’re a survivor, right? Of a shipwreck? Like the Titanic?”

Oscar nodded and took the candy. “Um, and one more thing,” Oscar said.

“What is it?”

“You were talking about swinging big and hitting big. I know you’re a pitcher now, mostly, but maybe …” He suddenly felt flustered. This was Babe Ruth. His cheeks felt flushed.

“Go on,” Ruth said. “Go on, kid.”

“Um, well, maybe you should hit more. I mean, pitchers only get up to bat once every five or so games, but hitters can get up to bat five times in one game.”

Babe looked at him seriously then smiled. “I’ll keep that in mind, kid,” he said, then he looked at his vest one more time. “A survivor. I like it.” And he walked to the door of the locker room, tipped his hat, then he was gone.


Saturday, February 26, 2011

4 Moments (and one near brawl about Billy Ocean)

Moment 1.

In the kitchen:

My sweet-tough 16-year-old daughter says -- with wry irony, "I would have trouble being friends with me. We both have very strong personalities. We'd fight a lot and it would probably end badly."

I get this. I can't tell you how much I get this.

Moment 2.

In the car:

Dave and I are alone. It's early morning. I'm not a morning person. Dave wakes up whistling; it's hideous.

I say, "That's a painted-on outfit," pointing out a woman wearing something that really pulls it all in.

He says, "Painted-on?"

"It's not like you to miss a Lionel Richie reference. 'She walked by me in painted-on jeans, meaning tight.'" I'm kind of proud of myself because I'm bad at pop culture references in general, and music in particular.

"Ah, that would be Billy Ocean and the exact line is, 'She brushed by me in painted-on jeans."

I turn morning-hour hostile. "Ever the intellectual! Really LORDING it over me, aren't you?"

Dave starts whistling Billy Ocean.

Moment 3.

In the playroom:

My three year old asks, "Did you play Dress-Up Olivia on the computer when you were little?"

"There was no such thing as computers when I was little."

This baffles him -- and then terror settles in.

And then I realize how elderly this makes me seem -- like from an epoch that's referred to by using the term epoch -- and then the terror settles in.

We stare at each other, bug-eyed.

Moment 4.

Late at night:

In a moment of sweetness, I say to Dave, "You're my Starsky."

He looks at me, startled. "Really? I've always seen myself as a David Sole type."

He must now soul search. (How awkward is that pic of Starsky and Hutch, huh?)

Friday, February 25, 2011

I Will Not Be Bullied by a Dining Room

A couple weeks ago, I mouthed off on Facebook that I would put my furniture wherever I damn well pleased. I would not be bullied by a dining room declaring itself to be a dining room. I don't have to be dictated to by some architect circa 1950 and his vision of domesticity. I can declare a room anything I want to declare it. I'm a grown up. It's my house.

And so now -- FOR THE FIRST TIME -- I unveil my newly invented rooms! The Nameless Room, the Kitch-living room, and the Dine-Living room.

So first, I said, "No the dining room is no longer a dining room." I took out the dining room table. I set that room free. It doesn't know what it is. Hence the nameless room. Voila:

Emboldened, I put a love seat
in the kitchen -- making it a Kitch-Living room.

And then I put the dining-room table from our old house in the middle of the living room, inventing the Dine-Living-Room, which, evidently, is also someplace short people can ride trikes.

I put the dining room table that was originally in the dining room and put it in the playroom, which is too disastrously messy for public consumption. It might be called a Dine-Den.

And now I'm perfectly comfortable charging all of you with the freedom to do a house mash up. Once you start, you can't stop.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Faux Swirlies? Blind Driving? What kind of a sitter ARE you, Joanna Quraishi?

[WARNING: You are about to hear from our previous sitter, Joanna Quraishi. You will read the phrase, "One day, as I was dangling Theo over the toilet..." and other insane stuff. Do not -- I repeat -- do NOT try this stuff at home.]

I was outed several weeks ago – on a blog post here -- as having once upon a time rolled the Baggott-Scott children around in a suitcase for sport (one at a time -- not all at once; that’s just plain irresponsible) during my era as babysitter in the Baggott-Scott household. It happened. It’s fair game. (Let me ask you this, parents of children – would you rather your sitter invent a whimsical Houdini-esque game where your children are encouraged to zip themselves inside a suitcase and roll one another around the house, or would you rather your sitter plop them down in front of a television for a Hannah Montana marathon to pass the long days of summer? Yeah, that’s what I thought.)

My memory of which babysitting hijinks Dave and JBag (in my day, we used letters for the nickname sparingly – there was no accompanying ‘s’ – but I do admire and approve of The G’s addition) were privy to is hazy at best. I do know for a fact that they knew about the faux swirlies I gave the kids. I’d hoist them up by their ankles and hold them upside down inches above the toilet water (mostly Theo, because at 4, he was the smallest and easiest to dangle without any real threat of accidentally dipping him in). They’d squeal with delight (again, mostly Theo) and ask for another, or half-assedly threaten some sort of “misbehavior” to require another “punishment” by swirlie.

One day, as I was dangling Theo over the toilet, mid-faux swirlie, Dave walked out of his office and saw all of this. I froze, imagining what it must look like to see your babysitter dangling your youngest child over a toilet by their ankles, and offered, “I’m preparing them for middle school.”

Dave paused, said, “Carry on,” and continued down the hall.

Another fun game we’d play was called “Blind driver.” You might be able to intuit from the name of the game what it entails. Anytime I drove the kids home from soccer practice, as we came down the big hill toward the house, I’d pretend to be blind, take my hands off the wheel, wave them wildly in the air and tell the kids I couldn’t stop the car. (Any babysitters reading this, please feel free to borrow any of these. You’re welcome.)

I don’t believe I ever volunteered information about The Blind Driver game to Jbag and Dave, but once when Phoebe’s piano teacher was over, Phoebe looked right at me, smiled, and said, “Did you know that sometimes our babysitter pretends to be blind when she’s driving us?”

The piano teacher, an older woman, was moderately horrified.

Am I proud of any of this? Am I feeling good about the fact that I once rolled children around in suitcases, either before or after nearly dipping their heads in a toilet bowl?

Why, yes. Yes, I am.

One of the best compliments I’ve ever received was from Theo (5 years old at the time), upon my return from studying abroad in Italy for two months. We were baking cookies together, and he’d recommended taking them out, but I’d insisted another two minutes would do the trick. He’s telling me how they realized while I was gone that “other kids’ babysittuhs don’t wead to them, or play games with them, and we’ah weally lucky to have you.”

I take the cookies out of the oven, and they’re burned. To a crisp.

I’ve never seen sadder eyes in my life. “You know what, Joanna?” Theo says. “You’ah weally awesome at kids, but you kind of stink at cooking.”

Joanna Quraishi graduated from Florida State University in 2007 where she studied Creative Writing and received the Mart P. and Louis Hill Award. She currently lives in Los Angeles and has worked for JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE and most recently as a writers' assistant on The ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW for several seasons.

She has, since leaving the Baggott-Scott clan, become a slightly better cook.

Click here to watch the pilot she co-wrote:

And here's the link to her blog which she says she treats
like a bastard child that she hides in a cupboard
under the stairs.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A 1/2 Dozen for Steve Kistulentz

A 1/2 Dozen with poet

Steve Kistulentz
whose first collection of poems
The Luckless Age
has just debuted.

talks pop culture, a John Hughes
youth, obsessions,
and jagged edges.

Here goes:

I despise the pervasive myth of inspiration – the idea that an entire book can exist simply because of an accumulation of inspired ideas – but I don’t deny that inspiration exists. There are things that have no other explanation. Was there a singular moment of inspiration for this book?

I'm never aware of inspiration, at least not until it becomes apparent in retrospect. At the moment of work I am only aware of a need to get something written down. When I'm done with something, I can usually find its antecedents in what I was reading, what films I'd watched, what sort of cultural content I felt like responding to. But in my experience, the people who most often talk about inspiration are the people who are looking for the easier, softer way around doing the hard work. They are the same people who ask you questions about process. They idealize those bolt-from-the-blue moments and repeat them until they are part of the collective mythology of writing. I'm thinking of the creation tale that surrounds Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery"; she allegedly wrote the story in one evening after dinner, then re-typed it and sent it out the next day; while that may be true, what people early in their apprenticeship never realize is that everything you've ever done is preparation for that moment when "inspiration" strikes. The typing might have taken an evening, but the inspiration was the life's work that preceded it. I'm much more interested in writing that is the sustained exploration of larger trends. I read a huge amount of cultural criticism and generally my most frequent inspiration begins as a response to something else, typically one that's engendered when I feel that a writer or a critic has gotten something almost entirely wrong.

What’s your advice to someone who’s fallen in love with a writer?

Find your own obsessions. The writers I know who have successful long-term partnerships all fall into a category where each partner has their own hard-won identity. I don't often steal from myself in my writing, but I did lift one cautionary tale. I published a story called "The World Treasury of Love Stories" a few years back in the Mississippi Review; in it, a female character who wants desperately to be anything other than the therapist she is tells a story about the love of her life. They wanted to be artisans together, have their own pottery studio, and that dream lasted right up until the day that she caught her partner on his way to the post office to mail out applications for medical school. In the story, he tells her, "You can always be a surgeon who dabbles in pottery, but it can't be the other way around." My advice is this: everyone needs to get their hands dirty, throw a few pots.

Another person who creates--no matter what they create--probably will have a greater tolerance for the writer's desire to get out of bed at odd hours to write something down. And if there is some part of that experience that can be shared, a mutual effort, there's something tremendously attractive about that. I'm in love with the Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon kind of love story. Their entire life was saturated in writing. They had breakfast, then went to opposite ends of their farmhouse to write poems, then came back together for lunch and to share what they'd written. They spent the afternoons reading and walking the dogs. I'm in love with that kind of story the way people fall in love with old movies.

What kind of child were you, inside of what kind of childhood, and how did it shape you as a writer?

I often joke to my students that my high school life was like a John Hughes movie; my school had 3,000 students and was 98% white, 98% upper middle class. Every weekend, someone's parents were in the islands somewhere and there was a party with a keg of beer in the kitchen sink or the garage. I learned very early in that scene that it was more fun to be the person circling around the drama rather than the person involved in it. And I guess that's kind of the classic writer's position--the discrete observer like Nick Carraway in Gatsby.

My childhood often feels like it belonged to someone else. My mother likes to say that one day I simply announced to her that I didn't need her help to read anymore, and that I took The Three Little Pigs out of her hands and read to her. I was three. My first bedroom had a nook next to the closet where I could climb and sit and read, but I was just as likely to be found outside making mud dams at the curb after a thunderstorm. Every summer we went to the beach for a week, or on a car trip somewhere, complete with a AAA TripTik map and stops at Stuckey's for coffee for mom and dad. I saw most of the Eastern seaboard from the back seat of an Oldsmobile Delta 88. So if my adolescence was John Hughes, my early childhood was much more Wonder Years. But the theme is that I spent a lot of time learning to watch, learning to observe.

What’s your reading life like? Do you have any current favorites or sleepers that may have flown under our radar?

The bedside table is saturated with books that I am in the middle of; I'm one of those people that reads 6 or 7 books at a time when I am reading for pleasure. Right now I'm writing some essays on aesthetics and contemporary art that are a direct response to Air Guitar and The Invisible Dragon by Dave Hickey. As part of that project, I went out and dug up all sorts of collaborative books--typically books where poets write poems inspired by visual artists, or where artists create images in response to poems.

I'm really interested too in this idea that there are cultural mavens, people who connect us to ideas of taste and who, by their tacit acceptance of a trend, become advocates for it. Said another way, we all have that annoying friend who is always pressing a CD into our hands at parties, or taking out his iPod to show you a playlist. I'm almost certainly that person when it comes to books that have great ambition. It stuns me that Albert Goldbarth hasn't won wider recognition (though I suspect that is likely a response to his interest in spirituality). But each book is wildly ambitious and attempts greater feats. Frank Bidart's earlier work, particularly the stuff that is informed by his dissection of California, still thrills me and I press that on everyone at any chance I get. The novels of Richard Powers are as diverse a body of work as anyone has produced outside of Stephen King, and they come from a tremendous intellectual curiosity. Aleksandar Hemon and Joshua Ferris write fiction with tremendous ambitions. As a poet, I'm jealous of so many other poets, all of whom are currently in residence on that bedside table: Matthew Zapruder, Erika Meitner, Zach Savich, Joshua Harmon, David Dodd Lee, Mary Ruefle. The fact that I get to call some of those people friends means I'm probably biased, but those works stun me.

People always talk about the writers they aspired to emulate. I’d love to know the writers you most hated as you were coming up and how those tastes shaped you.

I have an extremely contentious relationship with writers who return to the same themes again and again. I'm much more interested in the range of Cheever's stories than I am in either of the Wapshot books. I've learned to accept the project that is/was language poetry, but I remain resistant to poems that can best be described as a world tour of a private logic that only exists between the poet and his or her coterie of like-thinking friends. In my experience, a lot of very obtuse poets use a sort of realpolitik to defend work that is, at its core, unreadable and devoid of emotion. To paraphrase Barthes, if one "destroys the functional aspect of language," I don't consider what's left over as poetry; it exists as something beneath language itself. More colloquially, I feel the limits of language every day when I go to write; when I go to read, I want to be thrilled by its possibilities, by its universal nature.

Probably the one writer I identified as a chief antagonist in my early years was John Updike. There was a period late in Updike's career when every third issue of the New Yorker seemed to have a new story of his, and they all had the same basic plot: a married man goes somewhere on business and has or almost has have an affair, and those stories all bored me to tears. And then one day I was writing out some notes for an essay and I was just sort of riffing on this idea that I have that the best Western writers do not reflect culture or report on it, but rather they anticipate it. I was thinking of a book like Don DeLillo's MAO II, which essentially anticipates the nation-states of the world having this antagonistic symbiosis with terror organizations; it's a hugely of-the-moment book now and it's twenty years old. And for some reason, that way of thinking forced me to return to Updike's stories. The first one I went back to was A&P, and it's filled with a foresight that is just remarkable. It anticipates nearly every one of the big tectonic shifts of the sixties in this tiny little diorama of a story. I'm still not wrong about those later stories, which are truly awful, but I have as my penance re-read in the last few years every writer I've ever claimed to hate.

Have you learned to strike a balance between your writing life and the other aspects of your life?

My writing life is essentially all I am. If I am interested in something, I want to devour it. It becomes an all-consuming thing. If I read one book that I like, I read everything that I can find by that author, not just the books but the speeches, documentaries, journal articles, news coverage, reviews. My house is filled with outsider art because fifteen years ago, I read some books about Dubuffet's view of art brut, and one about the Gugging Institute, where mental patients use art as a therapeutic outlet; it's absolutely pure because they create without regard to marketplace or audience, so the work tends to reflect their own particular idiomatic way of obsessing.

I have other more transient obsessions. They last a year or two or so, and then I move on to the next one. I have quotes from other writers all over my office at home and one from Harry Crews speaks to this better than I ever could. Harry wrote, "I never wanted to be well-rounded, and I do not admire well-rounded people nor their work. So far as I can see, nothing good in the world has ever been done by well-rounded people. The good work is done by people with jagged, broken edges, because those edges cut things and leave an imprint, a design."

Steve Kistulentz’s first book of poems THE LUCKLESS AGE was selected by Nick Flynn as the winner of the 2010 Benjamin Saltman Award and was published by Red Hen Press this February. His poetry has appeared in numerous literary magazines, including The Antioch Review, Barn Owl Review, Black Warrior Review, Caesura, New England Review, New Letters, Quarterly West and many others. Individual poems have also won recognition from such noted poets as former Poet Laureate of the United States Mark Strand, who selected “The David Lee Roth Fuck Poem…” for the 2008 edition of the Best New Poets anthology, and by Mark Doty, who included the John Mackay Shaw award-winning poem “Bargain” in the ninth volume of its Helen Burns Anthology: New Voices from the Academy of American Poets. He currently is an assistant professor of English at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, where he teaches courses in creative writing, literature, and popular culture.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Wisonsin, we're with you and watching.

If you want to support the teachers of Wisconsin fighting such a hard fight right now, you can send emails -- right away -- to these Republican Senators:,,,,,
Dear Senators of Wisconsin,

I remember teacher strikes when I was growing up -- those families on my street who suffered for a basic raise. They stuck together. They went without pay. They fell behind financially. They dug into their savings -- if they had any to dig into. Things were lean, but they stuck it out. They fought and won; and they didn't get rich. They went back to their classrooms and worked hard and still struggled to make ends meet. Educators who'd dedicated their time and energy to learning, they struggled to send their own children to college.

Don't strip the middle class of teachers' hard-earned basic rights to negotiate, to speak up for themselves. Don't let them down. Don't let the students down. Let's build a better education system -- together.

All my best,

Julianna Baggott

Here are a few facts brought to you a friend of mine, Robin Goodman.

Fact #1. Walker claims WI faces $137 million deficit. The truth is Wisconsin would actually have a budget surplus for 2009-2011 except for the fact that in his first month in office Walker pushed through $140 million in new spending and tax cuts. Now he demands public employees pay for HIS GIVEAWAY TO SPECIAL INTERESTS. Find the facts at The Cap Times editorial"Walker gins up 'crisis' to reward cronies."

Fact #2. The bill is the nuclear option used to bust unions and pad thepockets of wealthy special interests. For over 20 years the average annual American wage has been stuck at $33,000 while the top 1% have increased their average income by 33% to more than $500,000. Why the 33% gap? Largely because of union busting. Find the facts at "How the Middle Classbecame the Underclass," by Annalyn Censky, a staff reporter for CNN.comhttp://

Fact #3. Walker claims public employees are "haves" while private employees are "have nots." The truth is when you compare Wisconsin public workers toprivate sector employees who do similar work, public workers are actually UNDERCOMPENSATED on average by over 8%. Find the facts at Jeffrey Keefe,"Are Wisconsin Employees Over-compensated?" Economic Policy Institute,

Fact #4. In a letter to Sen. Harsdorf and Rep. Murtha, Chancellor Sorenson explained the devastating effects this bill will have on UW-Stout staff, instructors and students. Truth is, in my [colleauge's] 20 years at Stout state funding has dropped from about 60% of our operating costs to under 20%. Yet they still dictate everything we can and cannot do. Now with this bill, whatwill the state's contribution be? 15%? 10%? Wisconsin has become a leader in the RACE TO THE BOTTOM.

IN CONCLUSION, this bill is being rammed through at light speed. The most important piece of labor legislation in 50 years and its sponsors allowed only 1 day of public testimony.

The Assistant (the G.) Weighs in on Getting played (hard) by a three-year-old, a commentary by The G

[Brief note from J-Bags who's not completely comfortable with the nickname J-Bags: The following is a Comment from The G. our assistant and Otis's sitter. Before you read, let me note that Barb, who cleans for us, is awesome -- as is The G. We hired Barb when we first moved here because she was much less expensive than marriage counseling and the only thing Dave and I really fight about is house cleaning. I don't believe in it -- willfully like those who can stare at fossils and not believe in evolution -- and he does. As you read this post , you might think that we ask Barb to scrub our car with packing tissues. This is false. The Volvo is a second-hand wagon with a third back seat drilled into it. Okay. I'll shut up now.]

Oh J-Bags. The latest post made me giggle because it's all too familiar for me.

Otis suggests “I want to play Barb.” Now, it's important to know that Barb is the Scaggott-Bott's cleaning lady, and playing “Barb” has, in the past, consisted of scrubbing down the car with water and packing tissue. Mysteriously, it was never clean enough for Otis. The kid has the eyes of a hawk for dirt. He's like Mr. Clean, except far less brawny, and in neon-pink tights. He catches me gingerly dabbing a headlight in a lackluster fashion. “You need to kwean over heeewre!” He's pointing to the caked on dirt underneath the the plastic thing above the rear wheel (I'm no mechanic, and don't know the proper terminology for such things). My eyes widen and my stomach drops, he giggles because he knows I'll do it. It took fifteen minutes and the rest of the packing tissue.

Vacuuming as Barb is the worst. I'll explain why: It used to involve me, with Otis on my hip, sweating profusely as I pushed around a rather heavy yellow vacuum. “Get dewre” he'd point, and I'd scoff.

“You missed over dewre, Dill.” Then we started using a purple Playskool vacuum that didn't suck up anything, it would just wiggle it's eyes at us, I felt mocked. All the labor of cleaning and all we get is wiggly eyes?

It got to the point where I'd have nightmares about the curly-headed-tater-tot—popping out at me and uttering the dreaded phrase “I want to play BARB” in a comically slow way, and I'd scream and be buried in dirt-covered packing tissue and get chased around by purple wiggly-eyed vacuums.

I'm happy to announce that we don't play Barb anymore, and I'm sleeping more soundly.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Getting played (hard) by a three-year-old.

"Can we organize the house?" the three year old asks.

"What do you mean?" I say, as if I don't know.

"Like c-lean it?"

"Go to town! Have at it! You can do it yourself."

"I want you to help me," he says.

"I can't right now. I have a bellyache." This isn't a complete lie. (This vaguely reminds me of a conversation with my mother.)

"You're mean."

"That's not nice."

"I'm never gonna be your snuggle bear again! Not ever ever again!"

"Yes you will."

"No I won't."

About a half hour passes. He comes back. "How do you spell 'I don't like you'?"

"I d o n t l i k e y o u. Are you writing this in a letter to give to me?"


"I won't be a party to this!" I say.

"I'm going to mail it to somebody else."


Time passes...

He gets in my lap, hugs me, and says, "I love you."

"I love you too."

"How do you spell bad words?"

Sunday, February 20, 2011

After a Red-Eye Gone Horribly Wrong, Home Sweet (Weird) Home.

After a red-eye from LA gone horribly wrong, after a shout goes up in airport security and then a bunch of shouts and then orders "not to move!" shouted at all of stripping down for detection, just a test; after diddling on the runway that means at take-off I know I've missed my connection; after trying to get overhead saying, "Okay, someone with a lovely lime green purse, would you like to put it under the seat in front of you instead of up here? Anyone? Lime green? Oh, you all are gems," and shove my suitcase in hopefully crushing important stuff in Miss Lime-Green I couldn't possible put my pocketbook on the FLOOR..."; after the PA announcement on the airplane "if anyone on board is a doctor, nurse or paramedic would you please..."; after the person in need of medical attention holds on; after NOT sleeping; after two hostile seatmates ("but what should I do for leg space if you're sitting next to me?" from the short guy... ) after the flight attendant tells me I can make my connection; after I sprint -- it's now 3am PST -- and it's long gone; after trying to switch flights again to get me closer to home; after not sleeping on two more flights; after flying over my town three times without ever landing in it ...

My dad picks me up at the Panama City airport, two hours away. I fall asleep in the back seat, just like old times ...

I finally get home to my family. For your visual pleasure, here we are as THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS -- please not Stiller's fro (the sweatsuit is red), Paltrow's eyeliner, Luke Wilson's sweatband, Owen Wilson's cowboy hat, and the best Huston and Hackman action we can muster. Do we have more weird, embarrassing family photos like this? We do. Of course we do.

So I'm home. This is what it's like:

The three-year-old has a purple mark on his forehead. From what, you ask?

The G. explains that it involves, "A suction-cup dart, some spit, and a ten-year-old brother." She's quick to add, "I wasn't here! Not on my watch!"

"But the nicks from scratching his cheeks accidentally in his sleep have almost gone away ... now this?" It's like raising Edward Scissorhands.

The ten-year-old also has a lighter suction-cup mark on his forehead. Although Otis swears it was all his idea, the ten-year-old looks awfully suspicious now.

Dave and the ten year old come home sweaty from soccer.

My daughter is watching 16 Candles, appropriately, as she just had her 16th birthday (Click here for the post: 16 Years Ago Today, I Gave Birth to a Bad Ass.) and it's on one of the high-numbered channels, lightly censored for TV.

My 14 year old is wiping silver spray paint on a steampunk gun so that it looks old. He's also walking around in spikes, carrying a bat. I don't know why.

My 10 year old is mad at the 14 year old for spray-painting HIS gun with HIS sock.

Otis and Dave show me all the changes. While I was out for a week, Dave got a lamp for the living room because, well, it was weird how when the G.'s mom came over and I wanted to show her the new set up (the liv-diningroom), I had to use a flashlight. It's a good lamp.

(The room is decorated with streamers from the sweet 16 fest.)

Dave got new light fixtures in the bathroom to replace the rusty one, in the hall (there'd just been a bare bulb for years), upstairs, which I try never to venture up into ... kid territory -- as scary as the bottom depths of my pocketbook. It all looks great.

Otis shows me his books from Bingo Book Night. He shows me his bird book. He shows me the little dollies the neighbor gave him. He shows me how he's learned to wear his leggings with puff-balls with his new boots. There's a note on the fridge in the G.'s handwriting: Otis wants pink boots for his birthday.

I take off my own boots and hand them to my 16 year old daughter. I wore them this week -- two sizes too big -- for my meetings with the promise of giving them to her when done. A deal's a deal. She's happy with these boots, which are much like the boots I wore at 19-21, also two sizes too big because they were a hand-me-down from a best friend.

My parents come for dinner; my dad's made the sauce. I debrief a little -- some tales. But I can't even scratch the surface of my week and neither can they. It's been a full sprint.

Did they throw out the sofa in the back yard sitting under the eaves -- the one the collie ate and Phoebe and I stripped down to springs? The one Phoebe planned to chain to the ceiling and outfit with wings? My mother and Dave had been conspiring to haul it to the street when I was out of town.

But they didn't!

It's still there!

And I say, "One day I'm going to reupholster it myself! I know exactly what I want to do with it." And I tap my head like people do when they tell me they've got a great novel -- tap tap tap -- all up here in their heads.

The children start brawling loudly -- musically, really, if you listen just the right way ...

And this is home. It's sweet. And weird. But mostly sweet.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Follow-Up to "On Friday, My Son will be America"

The Model UN Debriefing.

My son says, "We worked on socio-economic post-emergency outcomes."

"That sounds really smart."

"I know. I can say it really fast too: socioeconomicpostemergencyoutcomes. We accidentally passed something because only Japan knew what 'by acclamation" meant."


"I know."

"How about the ladies? Anybody, you know, catch your eye ..."

"The ladies who are interested in Model UN? I don't understand the question."


He says, "I was the only person who could pronounce Namibia. Well, me and Namibia. He could pronounce himself."

"Did you win?"

"You don't win! No one wins! You pass resolutions. We passed two of three. And the arts school went rogue and wanted to pass resolutions that had nothing to do with socioeconomicpostemergencyoutcomes."

"Who do the arts think they are?"

"I think they think they're Morocco. Or Cote d'Ivoire. I can't remember."

"I really thought you could win -- 1st, 2nd, 3rd."

"I really think that point is that no one wins."

"Except a better tomorrow."

"And I got to say Hi, I'm America, all day long."

"And if there's an emergency?"

"i'm your post-outcomes guy. And I've read all the Zombie survivial guides. Basically, we've got all bases covered."

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sixteen Years Ago Today, I Gave Birth to a Bad Ass.

And on this day in history sixteen years ago -- after a few days of labor -- I gave birth to a bad ass.

In other words, it's my oldest child's 16th birthday.

Now, keep in mind, that Dave is the third of four kids and I'm the baby of four. Neither of us are oldests. We know how to be bossed, but not how to boss. My daughter was born and she just kind of took over and we were relieved because, frankly, we had no idea what we were doing.

My daughter is intimidating. As a little kid, she'd goad me into causing a scene. "Are you going to take that back? Take it back. Demand a refund. Go on. Do it." She was captain of her all-boys soccer team a couple of years ago. She invented the expression, "If you do that again, I'll slap you inside your face." I still don't know what it means and don't want to.

At seven, I had her doing the trim work when painting a room.

At eight, she was putting on her shoes and I said, "Where you going?"

She said, "I'm going to ask our neighbor Alicia if I can borrow her blow torch."

Two winters ago, over break, she did learn how to weld and make iron sculptures with molds, doing iron pours ...

At ten, she designed and made her own clothes.

She can already work on art 9-5 and does so most of the summer, throwing pots.

When working with fondant, she created cakes and I created blue turds.

At the hippy school she went to in Delaware where she learned to knit (if not to read), she knit beautiful cool stuff and I knit a small circle.

When the dog ate the sofa, and I wanted to redo it and I said, "Think wildly. What would you do?"

Her first question was, "Can we hang it from the ceiling with chains and suspend wings to either end?"

My character Charlotte in The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted sits down in Notre Dame, looks up at the light coming in through the stained glass, bouncing around the high ceilings, and says something about how it's like swimming because we're underwater and all of that air and light is above us. That was my daughter's reaction.

When Otis was born, she was thirteen. I remember in those blurry days with a newborn, I would wake up to my daughter's face. She was heading off to school, but she wanted to tell me that she'd changed him, dressed him in a cute outfit, and laid a second outfit out on his changing table for me in case that one was barfed upon.

Before I left on this trip, we were talking, and I told her that she should live her life surrounding herself with people who say, "Do that thing you do with your brilliant mind. It's not about breadth. It's about depth. Go deep."

The truth is that having this child, my daughter, in my life has mined my soul. She's made me go deep -- so deep sometimes I feel like I'm swimming in a cathedral of her making, a cathedral of light, and I hold my breath because I love her so much I've forgotten how to breathe.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Word on the Assistant.

Our assistant helps with Otis and with all things assistant-esque here at the Baggott-Scott household.

One past sitter-assistant taught the kids how to zip themselves in suitcases and roll each other around the house, wildly. She now writes comedy in LA. (Quraishi, will you ever live this down?)

And when I go to LA, I rely on Darby -- who makes it possible for me to navigate the innards of massive buildings and takes notes so I know what the hell was said. She is deeply patient. Deeply.

This assistant -- the G., as we call her -- is interesting. A. Her mother is British and so Otis sometimes insists that the G. talk to him in that voice all the time. Otis spends much of his time when the G. isn't here, pretending to be the G., and therefore I have to be the G's mother. If I don't do the accent, points off.

Here's a typical moment for the G.. My oldest gets a glittery birthday card in the mail. We're anti-glitter here -- we once had to move out of a house because every crack in the hard-woods was filled with stubborn glitter. The G. sees the glitter, knows Otis' love of glitter, and immediately suggests (in typical logic for the G.) that he rub it on his head. He does. This is why he loves the G..

This and she'll play Pursebella with him and watch Katie Perry videos. He tells stories in the style of the G. -- about someone peeing their pants while an aged cat in a cat cage goes sliding around and the car lands in a ditch. The G.'s stories are always good. She invented Barbie hot tub on the kitchen table, sudsy water in a bowl and -- like everyone else in the family -- got fake dog poo in a very nice little box as a holiday giftie.

The G. is the best G. in the world. And I think I'm going to have to start dedicating a few posts to her greatness. Or maybe she'll tell her own tales ... In any case, more to come!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Dave On Adderall

[Warning: Not Pretty]

The day starts out well. He ticks a ton of shit off his list. He chokes down lunch. He talks very quickly to our assistant who now does a great impersonation of Dave on Aderall.

By midday, he looks a little pale. "My stream," he says, "I'm not peeing like a man." He downward spirals with fears about his manhood, in general. His manhood, turns out, is fine, but still, no one needs that kind of fear. He once bailed on a triathlon in the middle of the bike portion because he'd gone numb and refused to get back on the bike.

By evening, he says, "I'm going to throw up." He's pale, having had the most productive day of his life. He goes to sleep. He wakes up an hour later, buzzing with energy.

He calls his doctor the next day. "What the hell happened?"

By mid-day, he pees right, and then out of sheer joy, he falls asleep.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

My Valentine -- I'll Be Dirt Poor with you Anytime.

Dave proposed to me after we'd been dating about a month. I was 22. He was 26. It was a sweet and shabby proposal in a Red Roof Inn off of I-95.

He said, "I need to spill my guts."

I said, "Shoot."

"I like you."

I'd kind of figured he'd liked me. We'd just been to his family reunion -- Shrivers living on a shetland pony farm in a very Grey Gardens kind of mansion. It was gothic and really personal and revealing. We swung by my parents' house in Delaware. It was all very sudden meet-the-parents seriousness.

I said, "That doesn't constitute spilling your guts."

He said, "Okay then. I love you and I want to spend the rest of my life with you."

I said, "Okay."

And that was that. We were married in less than a year. In retrospect, it was very 1956.

Five years later, I was six months pregnant with our second kid and we were already living below the poverty level when Dave quit his job. It was the best decision we ever made.

Let me back up. His first real job out of grad school was as editor of the local weekly at $17,000 per year. It sounds like shit money now, and it was then too. We rented out two spare bedrooms in our three bedroom condo. A boarding house. I served fishsticks, telling foreigners it was "quintessential American cuisine." Not an outright lie.

But then Dave got promoted to the nearby daily.His boss is a man Dave wonders if he'd take a swing at if he ever saw him again. (Dave's not the type to take swings at people.) There was an error in the paper -- in an obit. The boss called him in, power-tripping, and said, "I could fire you for this, but I know you have a kid on the way and need the insurance."

Dave was pissed. He showed up back at home in the middle of the afternoon. "I want to quit, but I know he's right."

I looked up the cost to keep our insurance going. "Are you willing to wait tables?"

"Of course."

He went back and quit.

The boss had made me a burden, roped around Dave's neck, dragging him under. We cut the rope. It felt essential.

Dave was working on some freelance by this point already. So we went all freelance. I had the baby in January and he covered stories, wrote 'em up, went back out to cover another one while I polished -- a toddler at my feet and a newborn, wrapped in my bathrobe. That February he wrote 41 stories in 28 days for the bigger local daily -- plus a piece for Baltimore Magazine and alumni mags. We made it work. We didn't know much, but we knew how to work together. We could hustle.

Eventually he got a real job, a cushy one, and I went back to writing fiction and, for the first time, some poems -- with a toddler at my feet and a newborn wrapped in my bathrobe. Eventually I'd make enough money writing novels for him to come home altogether and for us to work side by side, all the time.

And now that's how it is. We share an office. I bat my ideas his way and he bats them back. We talk at each other and over each other, and make each other laugh really hard. At the end of every day, he goes to bed with the youngest, early. I stay up late. I wake him up when I get into bed and we talk about the day as if we hadn't spent all of it together. Then he falls back asleep. In the morning he lets me sleep, not sure when I dozed off. And the day starts over again.

Today, we're actually across the country from each other. I'm writing this from a hotel in LA with a view of the hills. He's at home, managing our loud house.

I told him it's Valentine's Day tomorrow.

He said, "I know. People keep asking me what I'm getting you. Shove some chocolate in your mouth, okay?"

I said, "You shove some chocolate in your mouth."

Here's wishing all of you some chocolate shoved in your mouths. Happy Valentine's Day.

Three-Year-Old Suspect

Dave says, "Who keeps going through my desk drawer, uncapping all of my Chapsticks, twisting them all the way up and leaving them like that?"

My response: "I believe that would be the same person who rubbed that gritty toothpaste into my new necklace, which I didn't realize until I sniffed the gritty pasty stuff on my chest in a restaurant and found it to be very minty-scented."

"He's developing a real M.O.."

"It's not good."

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Martin Amis is Kind of an Ass -- in this case, a snobby, boring one...

Here's what's got people all fired up -- the link to the Huffington Post's report on Martin Amis' comment:

"If I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children's book, but otherwise the idea of being conscious of who you're directing the story to is anathema to me, because, in my view, fiction is freedom and any restraints on that are intolerable ... I would never write about someone that forced me to write at a lower register than what I can write."

I can't help but laugh. It strikes me as funny. And I love that he said this aloud -- it's something so many writers believe (including an earlier version of myself). And, too, the irony. Doesn't Amis have some kind of serious brain issue that makes him say things like this aloud? (Check out the link on Huff Po of other Amis-isms.)

The world building of my kid books versus the suburban dissolution of my adult books? Which one requires a higher register? Neither. They require different registers. That's all.

And ... all writers are conscious of audience on some level, aren't we? Here, Amis and I can disagree. My own writing goes best when I feel I'm whispering a story urgently into the reader's ear. Just one reader. One person. That's when I feel the most freedom, actually.

Amis' audience may well be a grown-up Amis -- which, if so, may be why he isn't aware of audience; he plays both parts so expertly he doesn't even know he's doing it -- but he knows who he is, one would assume.

I kind of like this image of Amis as the center of his own writing world.

Amis whispers.

Amis listens.

I wish I knew his work well enough to enjoy this image with real juice. I don't.

The bottom line is that writing for adults is a constraint. One that I sometimes grow weary of. I also get weary of writing for children. Constructing worlds entails (high-register) heavy lifting. And, too, there are things I want to say to adults. Things that look rather pale and small and petty when compared to world building.

I tell kids not to read my adult novels -- not because of some of the sexy material (I don't mention that because it would only incite) -- but because it would bore them to tears. Talk about a lower register for kid readers -- my adult characters fix up houses in Provence, talk on deck chairs late at night, spend time describing their food and wine ... plus sex and death.

But let's say that you don't imagine anyone will ever read what you're writing -- and further that you're not writing in first person (if so, your character is usually imagining some kind of listener so even if you, as author, aren't; your narrator, as character, is. Lolita ...) -- the demands for adult versus kid audiences are different, but neither is less brutal.

Writing for kids requires (for me, at least) an untethering of the brain, allowing for wildness. In both genres, there exist some true works of art.

Anyway, I'm glad Amis said what so often goes unsaid. Honestly, I don't really care about the argument -- as a reader or a writer. It bores me ...

because of the image I'm left with this morning ... a serious brain injury ... sometimes reading great writers feels like you're glimpsing perhaps an injured or simply a very different kind of brain, the synapses firing madly in their own particularly twisted ways of seeing, creating, translating our human experience. And when that happens, I don't care who their intended audience is, I want to read it.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Fave Recent Spam Winner of the Fave Recent Spam Awards

[It begins spammishly enough.] My Dear Friend,

My name is jennifer moorey, who is diagnosed with oesophageal cancer.
[Digging the weird I'm first person. No, I'm third vibe.]
To cut the long story short
[which is ALMOST an American saying],
I have few hours left to live
[THIS is a new one -- she's not an Algerian prince,
which is strange -- but she has a few hours left to live
and she's, well,
writing me, her dear friend, instead of ... ],
depending on my surgery which
will take place soon
[instead of writing her doctor to ask
when he's going to kill her in surgery

because, presumably, the surgery is to kill her, right?
She is sure she will die.]
Although I am rich, but it doesn’t matter anymore.
[That's not really a clear sentence structure
on my
dear friend's part,
but should I nitpick when she's, you know,
on her death bed? Rude.]

I want God to be merciful to me
and accept my soul
and so with that reason
decided to give what I have to charity and I never had children.
[You'd think that I, her dear
would know she didn't have children.
It's kind of an after-thought here,
, really, didn't we have drinks
about her decision not to have kids with Larry
who was an alcoholic and kind of not legally separated
from his second wife? Didn't I not send her

children birthday presents? I think I did not.]
I want this to
be one of the last good deed on earth.
[DeedS, deedS!]

I now give you the authority to dispatch
my last funds to any charity of your choice.
[That's really nice. I'll give it to Grammar Awareness.]
I have Six million dollars in a financial institution.
[Dear friend, holy crap! How did THAT not
come up
while you were drinking all those tequila shots
while discussing NOT having kids

and sticking me with the tab?]
I want you to keep fifty
percent of this amount for yourself and time,
while you keep the other fifty
percent to any charity of your choice.
[That kind of makes me an ass, really. 50%?
I mean, really, 15%
seems more, well, classy.
I did hold your hair while you threw up tequila shots
so you know I've got a soul.]

May God be with you as you carry out this task.
[Who else?]
I believe with this,

I can now be free to depart peacefully.
[Should I let Larry know?]
You can then contact my lawyer who will

assist you in getting the funds to you when I pass.
He would give you more
His name is Richard Wetton,
and his email address ...
He would guide you through receiving the funds.

[Good old Richard Wetton! That HOOT! What a sweetie.]
Lot of Love
[LotS, lotS! Damn it. Has the disease affected
your ability to type S's?]

jennifer moorey
[Oh, how you will be missed.]

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

On Friday, My Son will be America.

A few days ago, my husband tells me that he got mismatched pants and a suit jacket for my son's Model UN presentation.

"Does it scream My Dad is the primary caregiver?"

"He looks solid."

Last night I come home and my son is still up. He reaches out to shake my hand. "America," he says, "nice to meet you."

Last year he was France. He decided to do no research, but just stare at all the other countries with contempt. I don't think he scored well. But this year, I believe he's thinking he doesn't have to do much research because he is an American after all. He doesn't even have to pretend to hold other people in contempt. It's all good.

I tell him he looks great.

He says, "Yeah, well, I have to keep the jacket buttoned because the pants are too tight and so I have to leave them unbuttoned, but no one will know because I'm a businessman sitting at a table. I don't even need to wear pants at all."

I say, "You're not a businessman. You're America."

He reaches out to shake my hand again. "America," he says, "nice to meet you." Then he shows me his tie, which is too long in the back, but they can fix that. And he shows me that he only has one of his Dad's belts, which is too loose and doesn't hide the unbuttoned pants, but they're going to get one.

"You look good," I say.

He whispers, "I know."

"But I think you do need pants, businessman or America, either way."

"Pants," he says. "Check."

And that, for today at least, is my contribution to the nation's political and possibly economic future.

And you know what? I'm probably wrong. By the time, my son grows up to be either a businessman or America or a professional holding-people-in-contempt-er or professional French impostor -- whatever he so chooses to be -- pants may no longer be necessary.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Justin Bieber, Talk to Me.

I wake up one morning and some kid's got Bieber-mania on TV and has (rightfully) wandered away. (Bieber seems sweet. But, what?)

The people in the audience are pretty much all female. Some are Bieber's age or younger. But some are my age, and when asked to put their hands up in that heart-shape thingy, there's one Dad who's taking it way too seriously.

The women -- even the ones in their 20s, 30s, and 40s -- know when to scream and for how long and at what pitch. They're fans -- and I don't think they're just fans of Bieber. They're fan personalities. This has to come from some kind of genetic predisposition toward fan-ishness. I'm guessing that, if you walked into their homes, you'd see small signs of one small cult-like obsession after another -- Simpsons, Ferbies, and a very particular kind of dog that has a wide fan-base -- the chihuahua? They're wearing jeggings.

Now it might sound like I'm anti-fan. I'm not. I think uber-smart people who have fan-genetics have a super-power element to their intellect -- because they lock onto a subject and go deep.

I'm a terrible fan. I can't keep my bands straight -- even those I love. There's something about seeing a movie (even on I love) a second time that makes me want to crawl out of my skin. (There are few exceptions to this. Weirdly, one of them seems to be 'Coal Miner's Daughter,' a movie I wouldn't even recommend to others.) I couldn't muster anything for Sean Cassidy or those 90210 guys or their sideburns ... I've never screamed because I've seen someone who's a stranger to me, personally. (I'm not a big screamer, in general.) I think this actually works against me.

As a kid, my sister worked in NY as an actress/director/producer. I shook hands with Al Pacino. John Heard and Margot Kidder (Lois Lane) showed up in our kitchen. No big reaction. I only got extremely nervous once when meeting someone famous. Oddly enough, it was Wendy Wasserstein -- who gets nervous about meeting a playwright? She was a god in my house growing up.

I don't like terrible fans. They read a book by an author, dig it, and don't read more books by that author.

This fan-ishness seems to link up -- again with some kind of genetic disposition? -- to certain kinds of books. Kid books build fans. Are kids better fans in general? It could be a strong phase of normal development. It would make sense that as a kid you'd be programmed to want to go deep in one area -- to create some sense of self and the world by reading books by someone disentangling things in your brain until the books' bindings come unglued. It could be that people who harness this fan-ish disposition and work in a field that allows going deep to be a strength, not a distraction, then it could be hugely helpful or if it is your field that constitutes your obsession. (Theo Epstein.)

Now, readers of contemporary adult fiction are they author-oriented, fan-ish? My guess is that aside from a few exceptions, they seem to be more title focused. They read what's being read. For example, an Oprah book club selection sells that author's book madly, but hasn't necessarily built a huge fan base for that author's subsequent books. I say "hasn't necessarily" because there are exceptions and because this is only something I read and not something I've tracked myself. The fans in the ranks of those readers might be Oprah fans but that doesn't necessarily translate to being a lifelong fan of the author.

Sometimes literary novel fans, the deep readers, stick with an author until they turn on them -- like music fans who discover a band early and then dismiss them once everyone else loves them. "I was into them when they were a garage band, but now ..."

Could fan-ish behavior be linked to addictive behavior? Isn't it a kind of addiction? We've all heard the phrase "an addictively good read".

Once upon a time, I wanted to be a sociologist/psychologist so that I could research things like this. But instead I'm a writer who makes stuff up. I write a lot. I write, some might say, addictively. It's not that I'm a fan of self. I get bored of myself which is why I write about other people's lives.

For me writing is about exhaling. Being a fan is about inhaling. Some writers need to inhale a lot to feel the need to exhale. Other writers need to inhale a little of the world around them then feel overwhelmed and must process it, exhale.

Maybe fans do the same -- they inhale to buoy and sustain themselves during the slow exhale of their lives.

I just can't breathe Bieber.