Sunday, June 23, 2013

1/2 Dozen with Anne Leigh Parrish

I don't think anyone in these Q and As has ever said so succinctly that writing is a psychologically healthy place for writers to be as Anne Leigh Parrish does here. I've talked about it a good bit, especially with a few friends who seem to do best while engaged in the novel -- the extended imagining that spans long stretches of time. I'm a writer whose mind seems to like to control a controllable world -- the real world doesn't comply. I also love her take on the omniscient point of view. I've never heard someone speak of it that way before -- and I'm currently writing something that veers omniscient, something I've always feared.

And so now Anne Leigh Parrish -- 6 questions, 6 answers.

Current obsessions -- literary or otherwise.  
I seem to be obsessed with narrative voice – the omniscient point-of-view, to be specific.  I'm tired of what I call "the cult of the individual," where a story follows the inner life of just one person.  Nor am I thrilled with the first-person voice, it's just too self-centered.  In an omniscient point-of-view, everyone has a seat at the table, as it were.

What’s your advice to someone who’s fallen in love with a writer? 
To be patient with the long, disappointing stretches when she's not placing her work and she's beginning to wonder why no one wants to publish her.  Patience is also required when inspiration fails.  A writer who's not writing is a fearsome thing!

Writing Tip #17 for Aspiring Writers – or #47 or #2. Your pick.  
That's easy – never give up.  Just keep writing.  And learning from the writers you admire.  Also to be ruthless, which means being willing to tear what you've written apart, right down to the bone, and put it back together again in a better, more beautiful way.

Pep talk (or bootie-kicking) for the downhearted writer. Let fly.  
Oh, this is right up my alley!  Write because you know, you KNOW, that you're crazier when you're not writing than when you are.  Write because it gives you joy, not because you want to be loved (although you obviously do).  Understand that whatever you write will be more important to you than it ever will be to anyone else, and that this truth makes whatever you write yours and yours alone.  As writers, we lend our work to our readers, but we never really give it away.

Criticism. It’s part of the territory. How do you handle it? Is this the way you’ve always handled it?  
I used to be terribly sensitive, and that sensitivity was no doubt born of fear that I was, in truth, a talentless hack who was kidding herself about her gifts as a writer.  Now I look at a review as information gathering.  I'm curious about how someone else responds to my work.  And I think I can tell when a reader isn't particularly astute or discerning, and misses some subtle point.  That said, I can still get cranky if someone's praise isn't instant and overwhelming!

This is a vast question. Interpret it at will. What’s the future of publishing?  
It's all going digital, for one thing, and it will be more and more driven by the author.  With the huge number of authors now self-publishing, traditional publishers aren't the gatekeepers they once were.  Readers need new places to find out what worth readying and what isn't.  I see a boon to reviewers in this, also contest and awards – anything that validates a few out of the sea of the many.  Another boon, if you will, will be for free-lance editors, graphic designers, anyone who's involved in the business of producing a book.

Anne Leigh Parrish’s new story collection, Our Love Could Light The World, (She Writes Press, 2013) was declared a Finalist in the 2013 International Book Awards.  Her first story collection, All The Roads That Lead From Home, earned a silver medal from in the 2012 Independent Publishers Book Awards.  She has new work forthcoming this summer in Nomos Review, Crab Orchard Review, and Whiskey Paper. You can buy her new book by clicking here.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

What I loved about Gandolfini was, in part, a sign of what killed him.

There is no other actor who made me think about the importance of breathing -- as an actual tool for the actor -- more than James Gandolfini. I loved that the directors who worked with him let him breathe -- sometimes with great labor from his ribs as he worked a scene with urgency and physicality. They didn't clean it all up in post. They let him breathe.

It was the realism of his breathing -- the air trying to move through the arrangement of his nose, possibly the rearrangement having taken a knock or two --that made him undeniably his character. In the quieter scenes -- and in the Sopranos, the violent scenes could be so incredibly quiet -- it was his breathing through a line, a held breath, a sigh that set him apart for me.

He had, of course, a powerfully expressive face. I once heard Ben Kingsley define the greatest currency of an actor -- silence and stillness. For Gandolfini, I would add breathing, breath moving through his body. When on screen, I never felt I was simply watching a face -- I was watching an entire human being, a whole person. 

Of course, he was a big man. His breathing was labored. He wasn't as healthy as he could have been. But still he knew how to use all of this in his work. He brought his entire self to bear.

I used to say, "I'd pay just to listen to him breathe on screen." I meant that he was just that good. To those who knew him well and loved him, I send my deepest respects. He will be missed.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Belated Father's Day: Three Bill Baggott Stories on Faith, God, and Luck

My father, Bill Baggott, is a young man -- maybe 18 or 20. He takes a girl on a date. They drive out to some water where there are gambling boats -- slots and stuff. He has almost no money. He tells the girl that he doesn't gamble. "It's not fair," he says.
"Not fair?" the girl asks.
"I'm lucky. I always win. It's not fair to use my gift like that. It's too easy."
She believes him kind of but keeps goading. "Let me see," she says.
He continues  to tell her that he's a good guy. He has rules about this kind of thing. It's just not fair.
Finally, the girl says she doesn't believe him. "You're lying."
Feeling really pushed, he says, "Okay, okay. I'll show you but I'm only going to do it once. That's it. You can't ask me again."
She agrees.
He walks up to a nickle slot machine, puts his nickel in, and pulls the lever.
And he wins. "See?" he says with a sad sigh. "I told you."
It's a blessing, a curse.
I think there's something elemental about my Dad in this story. If you believe you're lucky, you are -- even if you know you can probably only pull it off once.
He's a trickster, sure, and a storyteller, creative, and funny.
But the flip of this story is the one of him holding my oldest sister for the first time -- a tiny newborn with a shock of dark hair. He thought to himself -- at 24 -- after growing up with very little money, getting scholarships and government money for college and law school, "I've gotten the chance to hold this baby. It's more than I deserve and if this is all I ever accomplish, the only thing I'm ever given, I'll have lived a great life."
THAT is a great way to live. We're lucky. From one certain moment on, it's all more than we deserve. It's a gift, this life. Turns out, he had more to give and receive. He's 77.

My father wakes up from a dream in the middle of the night. God has spoken to him directly. My father is a believer but in a hard-to-pin down way. Episcopalian, he signed off to raise us Catholic, went to church each Sunday, but didn't go up for communion. My mother handled issues of religion really. That was her area.
So he's surprised to hear from God, but the message was clear: Everyone you meet - every single person -- has as many hopes and fears and dreams as you do. Everyone is as human as you.
My father lives this. He treats people with wonder and respect. It's simple. It's very hard. It's seeing humanity.

And just in case you thought he was too much a thinker. Here's one more.
My father's in a crowded city in Europe. He's out walking alone. Likely my mother is back in the hotel room, resting. It's a beautiful city and for no real reason, he asks God to send him a sign. He looks up and sees a feather floating down on a draft.
He's kind of stunned. This isn't the kind of God he really believes in, but he's off through the crowd following the feather. He dodges this way and that, wondering what God's going to tell him with this feather.
He follows the feather until eventually it lands.
He expects to look up and see a church or a religious symbol or something.
But that's it.
The feather just lands there in no really symbolic place.
My father shrugs and walks off.