>(Authors’) Dutch Lunch in Nashville

>I made a round trip from Memphis to Nashville to eat lunch at The Tin Angel yesterday. And it wasn’t because of the restaurant’s wonderful architecture, atmosphere, and “soul food,” although those were a nice part of the day. It was because of the other “soul food” the two-hour lunch offered. (Wish I had gotten the waitress to take a group photo, but here’s a photo of the private room we enjoyed, from the restaurant’s web site.)The last Dutch Lunch I attended was the Social Media Jam back in January.

My friend, author, speaker and radio show host, River Jordan, organizes these author “Dutch Lunches” in Nashville, and this was my second time to participate. (River is the one I went on the crazy road trip to Jefferson Texas with this past January.) It’s always a different group of writers (and sometimes agents and publicists—all folks involved in the writing business) and the eight of us around the table yesterday definitely enjoyed the food on our plates and two hours of conversation and fellowship.

Does it surprise you that I use the word “fellowship”? I was thinking about it as I drove home yesterday. About how “fellowship” is usually about church gatherings, or getting together with like-minded folks. Well, that’s exactly what Dutch Lunch was about. Writing is a solitary life. It gets lonely. And often friends and family don’t “get” what you’re about. They think it’s just a hobby and often don’t understand that it’s your work, sometimes your life. The folks around the table at The Tin Angel get that. And it was a mixed bag:

Kip Gayden is a judge and author of “Miscarriage of Justice,” a historical novel “ripped from the headlines of the March 16, 1913, Tennesseean.

Mary Buckner is founder and senior writer/editor at TurnStyle Writers. (She works with my friend, Kathy Rhodes, who is a co-organizer with me and Neil White for the 2010 Creative Nonfiction Conference in Oxford this November.) Mary had some good tips to share with me about how to proceed with my novel-in-progress. Treasures.

Diana McQuady is a published author who works at Vanderbilt University, but has been co-chair of the Kentucky Writers Conference for several years. She’s also been a writer-in-residence for Western Kentucky University Libraries. She’s currently re-writing a novel, and also had some good wisdom for me when I asked a question about how to proceed when you’re not sure how the book is going to end!

Tomi Wiley
is President of the Tennessee Writers Alliance and editor of “The Chronicle” of Mt. Juliet, in Wilson County, Tennessee. She is also editor of a new anthology, “Milk and Ink,” works by writing mothers. Tomi’s creative energy is contagious, and I’m so glad to have become friends with her.

Tom Robinson brought something different to the table—his expertise as a publicist. One of his clients is Tasha Alexander, whom I met in Fairhope, Alabama, a couple of years ago at “Southern Writers Reading.” Tom is also an author, so he understands both side of the writing and publishing/marketing business. And as much as most writers—who are artists—don’t want to admit it, writing is also a business. I thoroughly enjoyed Tom’s contribution yesterday.

And finally, it was a joy to meet Tamara Altenberger, a children’s author who isn’t published yet, but loves to write. Tamara is involved with the Women’s National Book Association and I’m sure we’ll hear more from her works-in-progress in the future.

After two hours of such rich food (literally and literarily) I had to spend a couple of hours shopping along 21st Avenue at some of my favorite haunts, like Pangea and A Thousand Smiling Faces. Driving home to Memphis, watching the late afternoon mango sun hide behind the darkening clouds, I kept the radio off and enjoyed the music of the spheres—heavenly and earthly—as I circled the conversations we had shared at a very special Dutch Lunch. Thanks, River.

P. S. I just had to add this photo of another “Author’s Lunch”… in 1951 at the Tandy Writers Colony. One woman and 7 men. We had 6 women and 2 men at our lunch in Nashville. The food doesn’t look so great, but the dress code and outdoor venue looks nice!

>Shadow Books: The River of Shared Life

>Hey, everyone… please join me over at “A Good Blog is Hard to Find” for my post, “Shadow Books: The River of Shared Life.”

This is the site where about 40 Southern authors post about writing, so you might want to bookmark it for regular reading.

I’ll be back in a few days….

>Backseat Drivers: A Pen & Palette Book Review of Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson

>I love to drive. And be in control (or have the illusion that I’m in control.) Everyone who’s been on a road trip with me knows this, and fortunately, my husband, daughter, and best friends don’t prefer to drive, so that works. But sometimes—like when I go out for the evening with my husband—I have the opportunity to view the road from a different vantage point. And it’s hard not to be a backseat driver!

The same is true when I read a new book. I’ve participated in enough manuscript critique workshops to have my mind crammed with “dos” and “don’ts” and rules of writing—some offered by faculty at workshops, but most offered by other emerging writers who, like me, don’t have a book published yet. Don’t get me wrong—they often give great advice—but sometimes the feedback feels a little too legalistic. For example:

The whole “show, don’t tell” rule makes me weary. And finally, in a recent workshop, a faculty member blew it away with good points about how it’s the way you “tell” that’s the important thing. Great narrative can carry the reader as well as page-turning scenes. But yes, it does have to be great.

And then there’s this one that I get a lot: “Quit explaining.” I usually get this criticism when I’m pausing the action in my story with a bit of narrative about issues—like sexual abuse, depression, etc. “You don’t need to explain about this if you show us in the plot of the story,” they say. Sigh. So I head back to my manuscript and try to flesh out more scenes (which often does help) but too many of those rabbit-trails can also distract from the main plot. So I end u,p frustrated, and often put those “explanations” right back into the manuscript where I feel they belong.

So, when I was finishing up best-selling novelist, Joshilyn Jackson’s fourth novel, “Backseat Saints,” this weekend, I was thrilled to see her pause the action to “explain” some things to her readers from time to time. Did it make me want more scenes? Not at all. In fact, I think extra scenes could have been confusing. Three-fourths of the way through the book she has Rose Mae’s mother tell her about several of her clients’ “issues”—like cutting and over-eating and bulimia—without using scenes to explore these issues. Scenes weren’t called for at that point, but a little explanation helped, in my opinion.

Jackson’s latest novel is every bit as colorful and gritty as her previous three (“gods in Alabama,” “Between, Georgia,” and “The Girl Who Stopped Swimming”) and the language continues to sing. One thing I love about her writing is the way she uses imagination to bring the human element to her stories. Cadillacs turned on their noses in the desert with graffiti on them. A gypsy who reads cards and helps abused women escape their husbands through an “underground railroad” called the Saint Cecilias. A homeless man who calls everyone he passes a “bull daggahhh.” And a three-legged dog (I won’t tell you why—you’ll have to read the book!) named Fat Gretel.

It’s always apparent that Jackson does her homework before she starts spinning one of her exceptional yarns. I remember when she wrote in her blog last year about going to a shooting range to learn to shoot a gun, which helped her write believable scenes involving a gun in this book. (I’m wondering if she also visited a fortune-teller!) It’s also apparent that she cares deeply about issues that so many women face today, like domestic violence, sexual abuse, and eating disorders. But she doesn’t preach. She gets up above all that stuff and tells a terrific story every time.

I also love the way she weaves the mystical into her stories—in this case a touch of Catholic mysticism and a little history of a few lesser known saints. Again, she gives us the information we need without boring us or preaching to us. Her narrative keeps moving the story forward. Since I’m infusing my own WIP (work in progress) with bits of mysticism (Orthodox, rather than Catholic) and most of my writing circles around issues like abuse, addiction, etc., I’m taking notes from the masters, and Jackson is one of them.

If there’s anything about the book that didn’t blow me away, I’d have to say it was the ending. I’m struggling with the ending to my own novel, so I know this is a difficult but crucial aspect of any story. And I’ve been told that I have a tendency to want to tie everything up too neatly, which often isn’t what happens in real life. So maybe the “messy” way the book ended is good. It definitely leaves something to the reader’s imagination… it leaves us wanting more. Like maybe a fifth novel, Joshilyn? I’m in.

[Joshilyn encouraged me to start this blog, three years ago next month, when I met her at the first ever Mississippi Writers’ Guild Conference.]

>2010 Creative Writing Blog Award

>So, it’s Friday afternoon and I’m just returning home from a massage, feeling like warm spaghetti swimming in butter, and I click on my email to find a lovely surprise:

Pen and Palette has been voted one of 50 best creative writing blogs for 2010!

At first I’m skeptical, thinking it might be spam, but I follow the link to the list of blogs and I’ve actually heard of several of them, and I spend a little time enjoying a blog-crawl and wow, I’m honored to be in such good company!

And have a great weekend!

>Tag Fever

>Inspiration for writing—and other arts—often comes from the arts themselves, in addition to real life. I’m having a blast doing research for my novel-in-progress, especially learning about graffiti. In the case of my main character, “Mare,” who is emerging as a much more multi-dimensional persona than I had first envisioned, inspiration has come to me over the past few weeks in expected and unexpected places.

First, the expected: the internet is full to overflowing with great sources on the history of urban painting, and I’ve loved learning about Lee Quinones, Banksy, Kami and others. It’s also been fun to learn how to make your own graffiti ink and fill old aerosol cans to use for your masterpieces. Since I’m setting part of the book in the early 80s, I loved discovering the part that urban painting played in favorite old MTV videos, like the one of Blondie singing “Rapture” with Fab 5 Freddy, while Lee Quinones and Jean-Michael Basquiat make cameo appearances, throwing up graffiti on the walls behind Debbie Harry, who is dancing along the street, passing by Uncle Sam, a Native American, and a goat. Great stuff.

Last week while I was visiting the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas, I found a DVD in the gift shop—the Arthouse Film, “Next,” a primer on urban painting by Pablo Aravena. I’ve been watching it on my computer, pausing it to chase various names and events through cyberspace for more information from time to time. I’m fascinated by the culture that birthed this art back in the 70s and 80s, and also by its resurgence now.

And then there’s the unexpected: I’m reading Joshilyn Jackson’s latest novel, Backseat Saints, (watch for a review in the future!) and was surprised to learn that Rose Mae—her main character—discovers some important secrets in “code” hidden in graffiti that’s been thrown up on ten old Cadillacs, half-buried in a wheat field outside Amarillo, Texas! I love Joshilyn’s blog, “Faster than Kudzu”. When she was doing research for “Backseat Saints,” she did a post once about going to a shooting range to learn to shoot a gun, because her lead character was going to be familiar with guns. So, I’m trying to learn a bit about doing graffiti.

First I went to some online sites that show you how to make bubble letters, for tags. I’m working on creating one for Mare, whose graf name is going to be “Cherry Bomb,” kind of a double-meaning name, since graf art thrown up on walls is sometimes called a bomb. This is a very early attempt—I’ve got lots to learn.

Which brings me out of cyber-space and back into the real world, where I’m getting a strong urge to go out and throw up a tag with a can of spray paint. But since I’m not part of the urban painters culture, I’ve got to figure out where I can do this without getting arrested. Sure, the risk is part of the thrill, but I think I’ll leave the thrill to Mare and find me a safe little wall where no one will care….

>Lit: Accommodating Joy

Not sure what I was expecting when I drove down to Oxford, Mississippi, to meet my favorite memoirist, Mary Karr, at Off Square Books Tuesday night. I think I had imagined she would be ten feet tall with a mystical glow around her head. Maybe even with wings that blind you with their light the way Earl’s do on “Saving Grace.” What I found was something just as amazing, but a bit more grounded. Mary Karr is the real deal.

I already knew she was the real deal, back when I first read “The Liar’s Club” and “Cherry.” And then I read her book of spiritual poetry, “Sinners Welcome,” and that explained a lot. Poets are the spiritual center of humanity, in many ways.

But last night Karr was reading from her latest memoir, “Lit.” I did a review of it a while back, which you can read here.

First of all, what a joy it was to travel with my Goddaughter, Katherine Thames, who is also a big fan of Mary Karr. And we were able to meet her as she arrived, just before the crowds gathered around her. A local Catholic priest walked in the door about the same time and joined us for a photo op… thanks to Square Books owner, Richard Howorth, for taking the photograph. Sorry I didn’t get the priest’s name, but I loved that he showed up to support Karr.

We chatted briefly, and then followed her to the table up front, where she signed our books and chatted a bit more. She’s one of those people (like barkeeps and hairdressers) who make you feel so comfortable you just want to talk to her. It’s not just her approachable personality (no snob, this gal) but also because of the intimacy of her writing. She is quoted saying as much in an article at KansasCity.com:

“Because so many people know so much about what happened in my life, they sometimes feel comfortable telling me things they wouldn’t tell most people,” Karr says.

Read more here.

So what did I tell her? I said that she was one of my favorite authors, and that another author, Cassandra King, had helped me begin to find myself with her novel, “The Sunday Wife,” and now she (Karr) was helping me find God in the midst of a huge spiritual struggle. She gave me a hug and a look passed between us as I reluctantly walked away, allowing her to visit with others.

Like my friend, Neil White, another terrific memoirist, who was there to meet and greet Karr, along with Oxford’s poet-in-residence (my words) Beth Ann Fennelly. (That’s Beth Ann talking with Mary. I call this picture “2 Poets”)

Karr read a section from “Lit,” and then spent some time on Q&A.

I had been especially intrigued by two passages in Lit where she talks about the difference in pleasure and joy (I think I cited these in my book review in January, too.):

When her son, Dev, was born: “Never have I felt such blazing focus for another living creature. I can’t stop looking at him. Joy, it is, which I’ve never known before, only pleasure or excitement. Joy is a different thing, because its focus exists outside the self—delight in something external, not satisfaction of some inner craving.”

And when Warren and Dev visit her in the “mental Marriott”: “In my life, I sometimes knew pleasure or excitement but rarely joy. Now a wide sky-span of quiet holds us. My head’s actually gone quiet. Some sluggishness is sloughed off. I am upright all of a sudden, inside a self I find quasi-acceptable, even as I’m incarcerated. Maybe this giant time-out has given me rest I sorely needed. Basically, some fist pounding on the center of my chest has unclasped itself. I’ve let go.”

It’s Karr’s honesty that I hold onto, as well as the beauty of her words. In the Afterword to her book, Sinners Welcome, “Facing Altars: Poetry and Prayer,” she says: “Maybe saints turn to God to exalt him, from innate righteousness. The rest of us tend to show up holding out a tin cup.”

That’s me. And maybe that’s enough, for now. But I’m going to try to touch the hem of Karr’s garments and hook a ride on her faith for a while. As she continues (in “Facing Altars”):

“My new ascetic struggle is to accommodate joy as part of my literary enterprise, but I still tend to be a gloomy and serotonin-challenged bitch.”

This much I can do today: I can say thank you to God for Mary Karr, for her books, and for the blessing of meeting her. I think I’m going to go out and buy a tin cup and put it by my bed to remind myself to pray, even if I can only manage the words, “Help me, God,” in the morning, and “Thank you, God,” at night.

>Touching His Garment: Saint Veronica

>Yesterday at St. John Orthodox Church, I watched as my fellow parishioners touched the garments of the priests and deacons as they processed through the nave, holding the elements—the bread and wine—which would be offered back to God on the altar a few minutes later. (The photo at left is not at St. John, but it shows this practice.) And then, during the epiclesis, the priest invoked God the Father to send down the Holy Spirit in order to, according to the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, “…make this bread the precious Body of thy Christ… And that which is in this cup the precious Blood of thy Christ… Changing them by thy Holy Spirit.” This is the most solemn point of the anaphora, as it is from that point on the bread and wine are considered to be the literal body and blood of Christ.

And so, it’s interesting to me that we touch the garments of the clergy when they are carrying the elements during this procession through the nave. They aren’t really carrying the body and blood of Christ at this point, and yet this pious tradition exists. Many parents teach their children to kneel as the procession comes by their pew, and to reach out and touch the garments as they are kneeling. Maybe it’s reminding us that we are participating in this Eucharistic sacrifice, as we offer ourselves back to God through our participation in the liturgy, which is “the work of the people.”

A long introduction to my point today. This morning, I read the information for today’s date in the Orthodox “Daily Lives, Miracles and Wisdom of the Saints” calendar, and noticed that we are commemorating Saint Veronica today. She was the woman with the issue of blood who touched Jesus’ garment and was healed (Mark 5:25-34). Another tradition says that Veronica is also the woman who wiped the sweat from Jesus’ face as he carried His Cross to Calvary, and that the image of His face was left on the cloth, which she carried with her on missionary trips. In France, Emperor Tiberius was healed of a terminal illness when he looked at it.

Another holy tradition tells the story of King Avgarus of Osroene, who had leprosy, and heard of Jesus’s miracles and His power helping numerous people. He sent an artist from his court to invite Christ to come to his kingdom. The artist was also asked to bring back a portrait of Christ, because the king felt that if he could only see the image of Christ, it would heal him. The artist tried many times to capture Christ’s face but was unsuccessful at accomplishing this task. So, Christ took a cloth and brought it to His Face, and a true likeness was impressed on the cloth. This cloth was brought to King Avgarus and it healed him. This first icon given to us was called “Not Made By Hands”. Sometimes it is called “The Holy Napkin.”

There are some lovely icons of the Holy Napkin here.

I wrote an icon of Christ, the Holy Napkin, a few years ago, which is here (at right). I wrote it for someone who was in need of healing—emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically—and during the writing of it, I felt healed of some of my own struggles at the time.

Which brings me (finally) to the main point of this blog post today: I am struggling to know God’s love. I am having a bit of a spiritual crisis. As an Orthodox Christian, I have learned that when this happens, you just pray. Whether or not you have faith, you just pray. The Scriptures talk about needing a mustard seed’s worth of faith. Maybe I have that. I’m trying to pray the prayer of the father whose son had a demon that caused him to fall down and foam at the mouth: “I believe, help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24) But I’m wondering if God even requires this—the mustard seed, the “I believe.” What about during times when even this seems like more than we can summons? At these times, would touching His garment help?

I didn’t touch the priest or deacon’s garments during the procession at St. John yesterday. I’m not sure why, but today I wish I had touched them. I think I didn’t want to just “go through the motions” when I wasn’t sure if I believed that touching the garments could help me. And in some way I felt I would dirty them up with my unbelief. I guess we dirty up the physician’s instruments when we go to get healed, physically. And how much are we required to “believe” that the physician can heal us when we go to him with our illnesses? I guess we need enough faith to get in the car and drive to the appointment. I had that much faith yesterday, when I drove to St. John and went to the Divine Liturgy. I sang some of the songs and prayed some of the prayers with my fellow parishioners. I asked God to show me His love. And I looked at the icons on the walls and ceiling and tried to pray.

We are all wounded. I know this. But something in me feels so broken that I’m not sure I’m capable of receiving—or giving—love the way a less broken person might be able to. I was at a party Saturday night and the plastic cup I was drinking from had a crack in it. So when I poured some wine into the cup, it began leaking onto the floor. I immediately poured the remaining wine into a new cup, threw away the old cup, and cleaned up the floor. I looked at the small amount of wine that survived the break, and I wondered if that’s what happens when God pours his love into me. I wonder if a lot of it spills out and I’m not able to drink it, and so I remain thirsty.

I think I’ll touch the priest’s garment next Sunday.

>2010 Creative Nonfiction Conference: November 12-14 in Oxford, Mississippi

>As I mentioned back in December, we’re going to “Bring Lee Back to the South.” But not how you think. We’re bringing Lee Gutkind, “the Godfather of creative nonfiction,” back to Oxford, Mississippi, for the 2010 Creative Nonfiction Conference.

Let me say up front that THE DATES HAVE CHANGED since that initial announcement. Correct dates are November 12-14, 2010. Early bird registration discounts are good until August 1, so sign up soon to save $75.00 off the full conference fee!

You can download a registration form here.

We’ve got a great line-up of writers, editors, agents, and publishers at this event, some serving on panels, some giving keynote addresses, and some leading one-day workshops on Thursday, the day before the “official” opening of the conference. If you’re interested in learning to write essays, memoir, or any type of creative writing, this is a great place to learn!

To read posts about my experiences at Creative Nonfiction Workshops and Conferences, click on these titles:

“Martinis, Meatloaf, Mashed Potatoes and, well, me….”

“Turning Experiences Into Words.”

I’m having a blast helping plan the conference with co-organizers, Neil White and Kathy Rhodes. We got together back in April in Taylor, Mississippi, just south of Oxford, for a meeting at Neil’s office.

Afterwards Kathy and I enjoyed shopping at the antique store downstairs… especially this giant porch swing!

Watch for our Facebook Page and RSVP there if you’re coming to the Conference, and also check for updates there.

November may seem like a long way off, but it’s only 4 months away, so PLAN NOW… make your reservation at The Inn at Ole Miss (newly renovated alumni house–it’s gorgeous) before the block of rooms run out. Be sure and tell them you are with the CNF Conference. (There are other places to stay in Oxford, but this would put you in the center of the conference activities.) Feel free to email me if you have any questions, or send me a message on Facebook. And now, back to writing!

>Building a Book: A Pen & Palette review of T. C. Boyle’s novel, “The Women.”

>I’m a slow reader. It took me a month to finish my first “beach read” this summer, and I really didn’t read much of it while I was at the beach—either in May or June. But this morning I finished one of the most enjoyable novels I’ve read in a while—T. C. Boyle’s New York Times Bestseller, “The Women.”

I think two things drew me to the book: (1) my daughter, Beth, just got her masters in architecture in May (the book is about Frank Lloyd Wright) and (2) it’s a novel based on real people, but not really “historic fiction.” I’m fascinated by Boyle’s mix of fact and fiction, down to the use of footnotes—in a novel—which struck me as odd, but I really enjoyed them. As I continue work on my own novel, Boyle’s book helped me immensely. The way he brought out the complexity of human feelings and relationships while weaving a saga with gorgeous prose left me breathless at times.

A little background: Wright had three wives and one mistress, in this order: (1) Catherine “Kitty” Tobin, (2) Maude Miriam Noel, (3) Olgivanna Lazovich Milanoff and his mistress, (4) Mamah Borthwick Cheney. The man—husband, lover, artist, and narcissist—is revealed through the women who loved him. But the narrator for the story is actually Tadashi Sato, a fictional Japanese architect who served as an apprentice for several years under Wright. This seemed a brilliant choice, and Sato’s voice remained constant throughout, even as each section added a second narrator of sorts, in the voice of a different woman.

Since so many excellent reviews have been written, I won’t do a typical book review here. I love what Joanna Scott said in her New York Times review of February 1, 2009:

With his rollicking short fiction and with novels that include “The Road to Wellville,” “The Inner Circle,” and “Drop City,” Boyle has been writing his own fascinating unpredictable, alternately hilarious and terrifying fictional history of utopian longing in America. The Women adds a powerful new chapter to this continuing narrative, and it is Boyle at his best.

[“The Road to Wellville,” was a fiction novel about Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, and “The Inner Circle,” took a similar approach to the life of sexologist Alfred Kinsey. I love Scott’s description of these works as a “fictional history of utopian longing in America.”]

Another NYT reviewer, Michiko Kakutani, (January 27, 2009) penned a negative review, saying that Boyle’s “reality-based plots inhibit the author’s exuberant storytelling gifts, tethering his imagination to facts and figures instead of letting it run gloriously free as it does in his best fiction, and they also tend to blunt his sharp-edged satire and flatten out his tactile, super-caffeinated prose.”

That’s exactly what I want to avoid in my effort at “reality-based” fiction. I felt that “tethering” of my imagination when I was writing memoir, but I hope to let any storytelling gifts I might have (meager compared with Boyle’s!) “run gloriously free” with “Cherry Bomb.” I’m definitely paying attention and taking notes as I read the works of the masters, and I do consider Boyle a master. (And I disagree with Kakutani’s review, which ends with calling Boyle’s book “a small, cheesy, paint-by-numbers soap opera….”

As a writer reading to learn more about the craft, I was stunned by Boyle’s vocabulary. I made a list of words I had either never heard or didn’t know the definition of and decided to wait and look them all up when I was finished reading the book. I consider myself to have a fairly broad vocabulary (although I can’t usually finish the crossword puzzles after about Wednesday each week) so I was surprised to see these words that were so alien to me: (I offer a dozen of them here, in context. I’ll leave it to your curiosity to look up the ones you don’t know. And if you know them all, please don’t leave a comment telling me how ignorant I am:-)

“I was willing to work all day and lucubrate till dawn to get it….”
“… my inamorata having left me for a Caucasian who played trombone….”
“…it was raining, gray pluvial streaks painting the intermediate distance like a pointillist canvas….”
“She closed her eyes for the public kiss, the stamp and seal and imprimature of her new master….”
“He seemed to wince at the sobriquet—Daddy Frank, Daddy….”
“…he realized she’d drifted off, her breathing hash and catarrhal, a single globe of moisture caught like a jewel in her right nostril.”
“He was vituperative. Mean. Petty.”
“A framed oil painting—a bucolic lucrastine scene in atrocious taste….”
“… like a seal slipping into an incarnadine sea….”
“… in the cool pellucid sculptor’s light of the high mountains.”
“… in America we honor the old for the passage of their years and the diachronic luxury of their thoughts.”
“… the house was a testament to his parvenu yearnings….”

If I have a negative criticism of the book at all, it might be the way Boyle seemed to change his focus in the final three chapters. I was caught in the web of so many romances up until the arrival of “the help”—Julian and Gertrude Carleton—the Barbadian couple Wright hired to replace the servants who had quit. Not to spoil the ending for those who haven’t read the book, Boyle’s treatment of this dramatic episode in the life of Wright read more like journalistic reporting than the delightful fiction I had been enjoying in the previous 400 pages. Suddenly I lost the train of “the women” and was caught up in these two new characters, only to see them painted through the eyes of Wright’s mistress, Mamah. And then, in the final three pages of the book, we are transported to Paris in order to see these final events through Wright’s third wife, Miriam, who reads about them in a newspaper over breakfast at a Parisian café. It wasn’t my favorite ending, but it’s still an excellent read. [The New York Times called it “mesmerizing,” and The Wall Street Journal said it was “riveting.”]

Most of you are probably tired of reading this by now, but if you’re still interested, here’s an interesting article about Boyle’s house—which happens to be the first Wright-designed house built in California!

These final four photos are of Boyle and his family in the George C. Stewart House.

It’s interesting how he lived in the house for sixteen years (and renovated it) before writing the novel—letting the person of Frank Lloyd Wright speak to him through its walls before putting pen to paper. He did extensive amounts of research during those years (and wrote and published 12 other books in the interim!) and when he was finally ready to write it, he said, of the process, “building a book is like building a house.” Having built a house back in 1993-1995, and now making my fourth effort at writing a book, I can definitely see the parallel. Both projects are definitely labors of love!

>More Excuses

>Here I am with more excuses about why I haven’t posted here this week…. but my 20-year-old cat, Oreo, died Tuesday night, and I’ve been so sad and don’t know what I’d write about it. We got Oreo when our kids were about 7, 8 and 11 years old, so she’s really been part of our family. I was at the beach with a friend when she died, which was also hard for me, but I’m glad my daughter was home and could hold her just before she died. I miss you, Oreo! (And I was blown away by the 50+ comments from friends offering sympathy on Facebook after I posted about her death. Wow.)

And…I’ve been out of town all week… visiting my Goddaughter, Katherine, and two of her children, Simon and Mary, in Gulfport, Mississippi… and then the four of us have been enjoying a few days on the beach at Gulf Shores.

I’ve thought about writing a heady post about the oil spill, but honestly I don’t know what to say. I feel that we (human beings) have definitely got to learn how to live sensibly on this earth. I’m a top offender when it comes to wasting resources, so I’m not pointing any fingers. Today I walked along the ocean, looking at the oil and tar, feeding a bird with a broken leg (and tar on his other leg) and said, “I’m sorry, ocean. Please forgive me, beach and animals.” That’s all I knew to say.

Yesterday I met a woman, Simone Lipscomb, who’s doing a documentary on the oil spill (that’s her in the picture) so if you want to check out her web site or see her documentaries on You Tube, they really tell the story. She was shooting near our condo, where I also photographed some of the birds who had lost legs. So sad.

And for my readers who are writers, I’ll get back to “writing about writing” next week. For now, I will AGAIN point you to A Good Blog, this time to River Jordan’s post, “Struggles Along the Writer’s Path.”

I’ll be driving Katherine and her kids back to Gulfport tomorrow morning, then returning to Memphis tomorrow night, so it’ll be “road trip” day for me, followed by a busy weekend, so I probably won’t post again until Monday or Tuesday. Have a safe and happy Fourth of July weekend, everyone!

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