Events, General

A workshop can make all the difference.

My trip to the Southwest lead to SUNDAGGER.NET.
My trip to the Southwest led me to write SUNDAGGER.NET and the prequel, SPIRAL.

Writing workshops have made a difference in my life, sending me on a fascinating journey that allowed me to create my own. I call my workshop “From Heart to Paper” to express the well of deep feeling which writers work from and the fire of creativity which a good workshop kindles.

The first workshop I went to was back in the ’60s when I was a writing fellow at the prestigious Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. You can imagine my glee at being one of only seven writers to live at that iconic artists’ colony all winter.

The P-town workshop had no daily agenda or schedule. We young writers simply wrote away in the luminous snowy landscape of Cape Cod, basking in our singular status. We became more or less friendly, shared our writing as we chose, and met nightly at beer joints to talk, drink, flirt and more. Back then I felt like one of those dreamy, lonely girls with big, haunting eyes in the mass-produced Keane paintings. Oh, how I lusted for the attention of the famous writers who came to the Cape, showing up at parties hosted by local artists. How I envied them their readings, their stacks of autographed books. I desperately wanted to walk in their shoes. Since then, this workshop has haunted me along with the writing world it represented.

Fast forward ten years. I’m married with two children, living in Northern California in a communal house. My housemate and I, loving books and the art of writing, start the Rich & Famous Writers Workshop. Now, decades later, five of us still meet. Why? Because our meetings are full of fascinating literary conversation, inspiring feedback, understanding and encouragement I can trust. It is in this workshop that I salvaged my dreams from Provincetown; here I can perfect the tools to teach my own From Heart to Paper workshops.

A flower is never opened with a hammer.
A flower is never opened with a hammer.

I chose the motto, “A flower is never opened with a hammer” to remind me how important respect, gentleness, patience and the resulting beauty is to fostering creativity. I’m committed to teaching whatever gives writing students space, time, tools and encouragement to focus on their work.

Whether you are a beginning or long-time writer, or reader with a story that haunts you, the From Heart to Paper Writing Workshop is here to support you in writing and completing your work.

From Heart to Paper Workshop Cost, Dates, & Locations

To register for my Elite Writing Workshop, click here.

For more about writers and Provincetown:
Read my blog: Admiration /Envy.
Read my short story: The Poet & the Baby.

Register for a Workshop Now!

Have questions? E-mail [email protected]

Events, General, Readings

If you were at my writing salon . . .

Salon: A gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation.

Awaiting the guests at the Writing Salon
Awaiting the guests at the Writing Salon

I had everything ready, flowers on the table, chairs in place, my Bavarian China tea cups and saucers. The fire was going strong and my German Shepherd, Maisie, was ready to greet the guests. Soon they would arrive!

It was shortly after 7PM when the writers appeared. The living room was soon crowded with nine enthusiastic guests from Pinole, Walnut Creek, El Sobrante, Richmond and Point Richmond, CA. ( One more writer outside didn’t knock on my door alas, thinking he had the wrong time.)

We began with a animated discussion of what a salon is and what it means to read our work aloud (it means everything). I shared a story I read in the biography of Nobel Prize novelist, John Steinbeck. In his early years as a writer, Steinbeck had a habit of greeting his friends by reading his latest writing aloud to them. Courageous!

For an ice breaker, I asked the writers to randomly choose quotes from authors I featured in my From Heart to Paper Writing Workshops. We discussed what the quotes signified to us as writers. It was amazing how whatever quote we chose at random so aptly mirrored our own writing lives.

We started with non-fiction. A writer read a revision of her prose-poem about driving in the rain. I believe we all felt as if we were driving with her, passing the majestic redwoods of California dripping with rain, seeing the manzanitas as ancient native inhabitants, feeling this miracle in nature as we listened to rain on my roof.

Another writer read from her memoir-in-progress describing a recent birthday. The selection began with her waking up to the bedside digital clock, its red dial ominously ticking, foreshadowing the unforgiving passage of time, perhaps disappointment or resignation. But, surprise! The first-person narrator, having reviewed the past, experiences a rush of gratitude for her own rich life.

The last non-fiction reading  was another surprise: a  proposal  for a digital workshop to create online presentations to woo prospective employers. The writer wanted our feedback and we gave it. So much variety!

After a too-short intermission with animated conversation, wine and sparkling drinks, we turned to fiction: a Y/A novel of WWII Amsterdam about the attempted rescue of a Jewish child;  lovers holding hands in an unnamed landscape of brilliant stars; a family in India struggling to survive in the face of British colonization and lastly, I read an excerpt from Spiral where Willow, an Anasazi mother and her son, Little Hawk, prepare to scale a haunted mountain to find Grandmother.

The fire and the book remain after the salon.
The fire still burns after the salon is over.     Photo by Vivienne Luke

Besides reading aloud, we also shared how and why we wrote what we did, giving each reading a rich context.  I  described the archeological findings and archeoastronomy of Chaco Culture’s monumental Southwest ruins which provide the background for the epic adventure Willow and Little Hawk take in Spiral. Sharing the context makes all the difference!

 Here are some of the heartening email responses from writers who attended the writing salon.

I am inspired by your writing and your innate ability to bring out the very best in everyone who read their excerpt.— Julia A.

“Thanks so much for the sweet and inspiring evening last night. It was a very rich experience with beautiful people. Thank you. Already I am inspired to begin editing my book. — Ellen R.”

Thank you, all you writers out there!
—Margaret

Events, General, Readings

So you’re curious about attending a Writing Salon

Salon: A gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation.

Awaiting the guests at the Writing Salon
Awaiting the guests at the Writing Salon

I had everything ready, flowers on the table, chairs in place, my Bavarian China tea cups and saucers. The fire was going strong and my German Shepherd, Maisie, was ready to greet the guests. Soon they would arrive!

It was shortly after 7PM when the writers appeared. The living room was soon crowded with nine enthusiastic guests from Pinole, Walnut Creek, El Sobrante, Richmond and Point Richmond, CA. ( One more writer outside didn’t knock on my door alas, thinking he had the wrong time.)

We began with a animated discussion of what a salon is and what it means to read our work aloud (it means everything). I shared a story I read in the biography of Nobel Prize novelist, John Steinbeck. In his early years as a writer, Steinbeck had a habit of greeting his friends by reading his latest writing aloud to them. Courageous!

For an ice breaker, I asked the writers to randomly choose quotes from authors I featured in my From Heart to Paper Writing Workshops. We discussed what the quotes signified to us as writers. It was amazing how whatever quote we chose at random so aptly mirrored our own writing lives.

We started with non-fiction. A writer read a revision of her prose-poem about driving in the rain. I believe we all felt as if we were driving with her, passing the majestic redwoods of California dripping with rain, seeing the manzanitas as ancient native inhabitants, feeling this miracle in nature as we listened to rain on my roof.

Another writer read from her memoir-in-progress describing a recent birthday. The selection began with her waking up to the bedside digital clock, its red dial ominously ticking, foreshadowing the unforgiving passage of time, perhaps disappointment or resignation. But, surprise! The first-person narrator, having reviewed the past, experiences a rush of gratitude for her own rich life.

The last non-fiction reading  was another surprise: a  proposal  for a digital workshop to create online presentations to woo prospective employers. The writer wanted our feedback and we gave it. So much variety!

After a too-short intermission with animated conversation, wine and sparkling drinks, we turned to fiction: a Y/A novel of WWII Amsterdam about the attempted rescue of a Jewish child;  lovers holding hands in an unnamed landscape of brilliant stars; a family in India struggling to survive in the face of British colonization and lastly, I read an excerpt from Spiral where Willow, an Anasazi mother and her son, Little Hawk, prepare to scale a haunted mountain to find Grandmother.

The fire and the book remain after the salon.
The fire still burns after the salon is over.     Photo by Vivienne Luke

Besides reading aloud, we also shared how and why we wrote what we did, giving each reading a rich context.  I  described the archeological findings and archeoastronomy of Chaco Culture’s monumental Southwest ruins which provide the background for the epic adventure Willow and Little Hawk take in Spiral. Sharing the context makes all the difference!

 Here are some of the heartening email responses from writers who attended the writing salon.

I am inspired by your writing and your innate ability to bring out the very best in everyone who read their excerpt.— Julia A.

“Thanks so much for the sweet and inspiring evening last night. It was a very rich experience with beautiful people. Thank you. Already I am inspired to begin editing my book. — Ellen R.”

Thank you, all you writers out there!
—Margaret

 

Events, General, Press Release

Teaming up with my son: Books & Music Bundle

Chris and I at the Authors' Booth, CA State Fair
Chris and I at the Authors’ Booth, CA State Fair

Recently my eldest son and music artist Chris Goslow and I talked about putting together a special gift bundle that is truly “all in the family.” We decided to offer a book/album package at a big savings. For a limited time,  you can purchase and enjoy my books, Sundagger.net and Dreamers, along with Chris’ albums, Waterfall and I Love You .

Click HERE to see more about the mother & son bundle.

In the short interview below, you can see how Chris and I share much in common creatively and are able to work well together.

1. What does this mother-son bundle mean to you?

Sundagger.net, One Family, Two Worlds, Many Lifetimes

Margaret: From as far back as I can remember, I have been writing away at my novels and my son has been playing music. The idea of presenting my fiction and my son’s music together in a fun way is just delightful, even magical.

Chris: Personally, it’s very satisfying for me to support my mom’s creative accomplishments while sharing my own.

Margaret: Three years ago Chris and I offered a Holiday Mother-Son Bundle for the first time, and I loved that experience. I was living up North in Sonoma County and would take the inscribed book and CD packages to a rural post office in Graton, CA driving along beside the apple orchards and vineyards in the green, winter mist. It was so fulfilling to me; I felt one with nature, the season, and my writing life. Back then we each had only one product, but now we both are offering two artistic works–four altogether.  That’s a real achievement!

2. Talk about your working relationship with each other.  Do you often help each other when it comes to creative projects, and if so, how?

Chris: I remember being in grade school and hearing my mom talk about wanting to publish her books. I also had my own creative dreams, so for both reasons it was an especially important issue to me.  Our creative paths have had a lot of parallels, even though obviously I have been focused on music, and she has been focused on writing.  Then again, I also am a writer, and she loves music.  In fact, the main character in Dreamers is also a musician.

Margaret: Yes, I made Annie in Dreamers the violinist I wished I was when I was taking violin in grade school! As for how Chris and I work together,  this year we started having a Monday work meeting via Skype. As usual with most of our collaborations, Chris came up with the idea. The original objective was to discuss our two different teaching careers since we are also both teachers, but we ended up talking about all the parts of our writing and music lives. For example, I’m typing my answers to this interview Q&A today during our Monday Morning Skype Meeting while at the same time talking and seeing Chris on my computer screen! Isn’t that magical!

Dreamers, A Coming of Age Love Story of the '60s

3. Do you find it surprising that you are both artists?  And did you always know you could work together this well?

Chris: It’s not surprising.  It’s just part of my life, always has been.  I always felt an affinity with my mom and a closeness with her as well as a desire to help her be happy.  So the seeds of our working together go back a long way.

Margaret: No, it’s not surprising to me that Chris and I are both artists. The surprising part–the amazing part– is how necessary, how life-changing Chris is to my writing life, and how much a difference he makes. Sharing my writing life with him a practice I don’t want to ever stop. Honestly, it’s astonishing to experience how all my children work together with me and each other.  Chris’ brother, Jonas, is a performing artist too as well as a consummate web designer. Jonas designed this website as well as my Sundagger.net website.  Their older sister is a singer and teacher; Annemarie, with her eagle reader’s eye, was my first copy editor.

4. It’s clear that family is important to both of you.   How does family influence your creativity? For example, do you write about your family, are any of your stories (or songs) based family experiences?

Waterfall, Original Piano Music by Chris Goslow

Chris: Family influences a lot of my art over the last few years.  In fact, my entire I Love You album came about from songs I wrote for my wife, Charr Crail, or about our relationship.  Even my first album Waterfall included mostly piano pieces I originally wrote the first year I met my wife, specifically after she asked me for music that she could use with photography slideshows she was making. So in a sense, both albums are an outgrowth of our relationship.

Margaret: Pretty much all my life I thought I would never write about my family because they were just too ordinary! Maybe that’s why I was so attracted to the ancient Anasazi of the Southwest, the characters in the “old world story” of Sundagger.net. But still I definitely drew from my own experience, using my own family as building blocks. And clearly, Dreamers is laid out against the backdrop of my life growing up in Pittsburgh, PA during the upheaval of the Civil Rights era. I stood on all the street corners the main characters, Thomas and Annie, did. Each contains a description, a voice, or an attitude of my own memories of my family, friends and lovers. Even the dog, Lucky, is based on my sister’s dog!  All the music mentioned in Dreamers are pieces I played or loved myself.

I LOVE YOU by Chris Goslow
I LOVE YOU by Chris Goslow

Buy Our Bundle!

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Diary, General, Journal

Dear Diary #5—Dying for Approval

Dear Diary,

The Scull of Persistence by Charr Crail
The Scull of Persistence by Charr Crail

 

It’s beyond imagining. You would never believe it. I just received an email from my favorite high school teacher praising my novel, Dreamers.

Sister Mary ___ (Alas, she hasn’t yet given me permission to use her actual name) is a nun in the Sisters of Charity religious order. She was only twenty five or so when she became my English teacher. She was funny, smart, and even prettier than the character Amy Adams played in that telling movie, Doubt.

Sister Mary loved literature like I did.  Once I found her after school sitting at her desk next to the window looking out on Sacred Heart Church. She was reading Shakespeare’s MacBeth, in another world, transfixed. I hated to interrupt her but of course I did. I remember she used to pound the floor with her little black shoe as she recited the poetry of Langston Hughes. Yes, Sr. Mary was both wonderful and frightening.

Her email of a week ago flows over me like honey. How thankful am I that she has had the persistence to stay in touch. What a different young woman I would have become back in 1962 if I had carried Sr. Mary’s words in my pocket. At seventeen I would have done anything for her approval. That small Irish-faced nun with twinkly eyes framed by her black Sisters of Charity bonnet held the keys to my fragile self-worth.

Writer with closed mouth
Stitched Mouth by Charr Crail

No, you won’t find anything about Sr. Mary in this diary. By the time I left high school, I had relegated her to the dustbin with all my other memories like old dolls turned ragged, ignored. I desperately wanted to leave everything connected with childhood behind.

Entering college, I put on a dark mask of disillusioned doom, the pose I thought I needed to become a serious author. I spent entire days attending classes without saying a word,  my mouth stitched tight with fear and resistance.  I remember the sensation of walking from class to the streetcar stop on a cold November day and not being able to breathe. By my sophomore year, I was literally dying for approval.

But things change. In my junior year, I signed up for Creative Writing, Playwriting, Poetry, English History and China & the Far East, classes that I found I loved.  Even better, I started to write. A September 1964 entry describes my first attempt at writing a novel.

“The excitement of writing is nerveless; my words are suspended. I have never felt so peace-like. Everything is warm and deeply comfortable to me.”

Hobbyhorse was the title of my first “book”, a florid stream-of-consciousness describing the up and downs of two young lovers told from alternating points of view, a style I just realize I duplicated in Dreamers. In Hobbyhorse, each chapter seesawed back and forth, the characters sifted like fool’s gold from the sluice box of my first experience falling in love.

Suddenly I felt joyful, happy to be alive. My diary for November 12, 1963 reads,  “I don’t even try to deaden my joy. It is slow-moving, calm.

The writer in me
Pondering by Charr Crail

And then another miracle! I found a teacher willing and eager to read my work. Dr. John Hart, English professor from Yale, was a small, thin man with a pronounced limp. Walking across the Tech campus, I’d stop to greet him, He’d be dragging his leg, his jacket blowing in the wind. He had a pale Irish face with a big squashy red nose. A few strands of light hair fell across his brow as he answered my questions in a quiet dreamy way. Each week I’d give him my chapters, typed double-spaced and folded lengthwise. He’d put them in his coat pocket. Oh! how eagerly I pondered his response.

__________________

Excerpt from Sr. Mary’s email:

Congratulations on your beautiful novel, Dreamers!  I love it!  You’ve caught so well the mood of the Sixties—the glories as well as the mistakes, the feelings, the actions, the many causes, and, yes, the dreams.  Your work is excellent, as you must know from the many descriptions on the book cover.  I especially like that by Vicki Weiland.  Your writing is indeed “taut, nuanced, sophisticated, and multi-layered.”  I’m sending your novel to my oldest niece, a psychologist who will understand well the beauty and the anguish of the sixties. I’ll let you know how she reacts.  Meanwhile, I just want you to know how proud I am of you and your work.  You’re in my prayers, now and always.  God bless you—and all those dear to you.

Artwork by Charr Crail
www.charrcrail.com

General, Journal

Admiration/Envy

Provincetown on the tip of Cape Cod
Provincetown on the tip of Cape Cod

Feeling both envy and admiration, I picked up the novel, The Maytrees, by Annie Dillard.

Annie Dillard and I have some things in common. Both she and I grew up in Pittsburgh on the East Side. As a teenager, I tutored a 7th grader in the exclusive girls’ school she attended several blocks away from mine. I probably passed her in the halls on my way to the library. I never knew about her until I read her memoir, American Childhood, A Writing Life, twenty years later. Needless to say I was subsumed with envy at her publishing success. I also admired her insights about being a writer-girl in Pittsburgh during the ’50s. There’s at least one more connection we have. The main character in my second novel, Dreamers, A Love Story of the ’60s, is called Annie too.

A story of marriage on Cape Cod after WWII, The Maytrees is also a diorama of Provincetown, Massachusetts, the iconic artist’s colony where Lou and Toby Maytree’s marriage takes place and where the land itself splashes over the pages like surf crashing on the shores of Race Point.

Marriage is not exactly in one’s mind when thinking of Provincetown, the ultimate Rave party of artist colonies by the sea. I came to P-town on the Greyhound Bus at nineteen, my first summer away from Pittsburgh, and got a job as a waitress at Howard Johnson’s. The second time I came was five years later when I became a writing fellow in the acclaimed Fine Arts Work Center.  There were seven of us in 1969, two women and five men, the most famous of who won a Pulitzer Prize and became US Poet Laureate. It was in P-town that I began writing the novel that turn out to be Dreamers.

Pilgrims  Monument in the center of Provincetown
Pilgrims Monument in the center of Provincetown

Sunrise over the ice blue ocean, snow covering the dunes, the curled hooked spit of Cape Cod; it’s all there in The Maytrees. The writing itself is luminous. Dillard’s style simple, yet exotic, as befits a naturalist. Each sentence seems unique and cultured, pristine and studied. The lack of quotation marks, just dashes instead, a convention popular abroad, adds to the foreign flavor.

That winter I spent in P-town I might have met Dillard’s characters, the reclusive sometime artist, Lou, and Toby Maytree, poet and house mover. Many couples befriended me and the other young artists. Eccentric, alluring, stylish, cultured writers and painters with their boyfriends, girlfriends, wives and husbands greeted me at those parties they held, full of drugs and alcohol, patched with celebrities. I attended many on those sea-blown nights. How I envied those couples arm in arm and yearned to get close to them. I envied the literary celebrities too. If Annie Dillard had been there, she and I could have been friends.

For sure I met Deary, Lou’s best friend in The Maytrees, who slept among the beach peas and had a degree from MIT. Deary who makes random pronouncements like, “Every place you injure on your body grows more alive,” which Lou takes seriously.

Then there’s the marriage itself, pure and simple like the acclaimed white dunes around P-town, like those welcoming couples inviting me into their well-lit, warm, houses so close to the beach.

What Toby loves most about Lou is her laugh (as she rarely talked or shared her thoughts). What Lou loved were Toby’s hands, his simple directness and their sex together–Lou describes herself as “shipwrecked on the sheets”. Much to envy and admire in that!

But then, seemingly out of nowhere, catastrophe happens–the usual adultery, abandonment, and betrayal, with no going back. The wild, blue blood, gregarious Deary goes off with Toby, breaking up the marriage. But there’s no fighting or discussion, no tears or rancor. Just plain old numbing pain for Lou and benign dismay for Toby.

Avoiding the comfortable, the Wi-Fi tech-driven twenty-first century life, the fabled bars of Provincetown and old friends is what Lou aspires to after the marriage dissolves. As for Toby and Deary, they’re driven to build a successful home contracting business in Maine. But it’s not over, not yet.

Provincetown beach with birds
Provincetown beach with birds

If marriage is the message for the couple, it’s rolled up in a bottle you have to search for.

All in all Annie Dillard, a naturalist as well as writer, has spawned a rare, gentle deviant to the marriage of two minds, embracing an often hidden truth that any good marriage ends in old age and death. I admire her for that and for telling the story in such a rare way.

I left Provincetown the end of that winter back in 1970, though I was invited to return to the Fine Arts Work Center for a second year. Now I can see how good that might have been for me and my writing life. But then I was running too fast, frightened of being exposed as unfit to be a writer, and trembling for success in spite of it. In Annie Dillard’s The Maytrees, I get to go back again and enjoy it all.

Dear Diary, General, Journal

Dear Diary #3—Once Upon a Time

Dear Diary,

mm looking forward & back

Remember those words “Once upon a time”?

Remember the comforting lulling adult voice reading, leading you into the magical world of beasts, princesses, orphans, witches, godmothers, beanstalks, dwarves, pumpkins, mice and giants?

As I read my dairy of fifty years ago, I’m imagining a fairytale that begins the same way.

“Once upon a time there was a girl who wanted to be a great writer and to do this she knew she had to go to the Underground. Nobody told her how. Nobody wanted to talk about becoming a great writer so she figured it was a secret and she had to find the keys to Queendom of Writerly Greatness for herself. Arming herself with a bunch of famous books, she set out right after high school when she thought she had grown up.

It proved easy for her to get Underground. The authors in the books she had read left clues. She had her diary to write in. She didn’t even have to leave home. It wasn’t hard to find the keys.  She took one key from her father who read Shakespeare each night in his pajamas, the second from her high school boyfriend who abandoned her with no explanation, the third from the girlfriend who shared her dreams of literary greatness while betraying her, and the last from her college English teacher who critiqued her first novel without reading it.

But once Underground, she didn’t know where to go or how to achieve her dream. Though the keys opened the door, she found no use for them thereafter. Carrying them weighed heavy on her. They dragged her down as she crossed the murky, foul-smelling wasteland of the underworld,  the heavy metal keys clanking, mocking her  feelings of shock, fear, disappointment and loss. There had to be something else she thought. So she threw the keys away. Now all she had were those old books and her diary. She was simply and utterly  lost.”

This is all the further I’ve been able to get, Dear Diary. Maybe you hold the rest of the story, maybe not. It’s just that it’s the beginning of May and I’ve been distracted by springtime here in the Bay Area. All the roses in my front yard are blooming. Plus I just bought a second-hand stove after being without one since Christmas. Then there’s my dog who always wants to take a walk. There’s more reasons. I like to talk to the moon and stars at night.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

I’ve been reading some good books though. One I recommend is The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, an author who pulls you into a fairytale like no other. The story takes place on the barren lonely, raw and austere wilds of Alaska where Mabel’s just come with her husband Jack.They want to leave their old lives in Pennsylvania behind and start over, have a new life. But Mabel is haunted by the cries of the stillborn child she and Jack had lost many years before.

During the first snowfall, in a rare spirit of playfulness, Mabel suggests they make a snow child, a girl. She’s remembering a fairy tale in a book her father read to her as a child, a fairytale that haunted her.And so the story unfolds.

Little Daughter of the Snow by Arthur Ransome, Shena Guild and Tom Bower
Little Daughter of the Snow by Arthur Ransome, Shena Guild and Tom Bower

I had to stop reading The Snow Child for awhile.  I think it was the thin red fox “with narrow golden eyes like a cat” on the book’s cover, a fox who is the snow girl’s familiar, her spirit animal. I felt like the fox sometimes. And sometimes I felt like the snow child. Of the two, it was the fox I couldn’t bear to see in so much danger.

I couldn’t take up the novel again until I was ready to face losing the fox. But, as with any  good fairytale, I had to find out the ending. I did finish the book. You can find my review on Goodreads.

I learned that the author Eowyn Ivey, a young woman from Alaska, modeled her story after an old Russian fairytale she found in the bookstore where she works. Could I conjure up a haunting fairytale from my old diary the way Ivey did with that children’s book?

Dear Diary, you are my familiar, my fox. It doesn’t matter to me if I finish this fairytale or not. I swear I’m ready to face you. Just let you go. Read to the end.

 

 

The Snow Child by Freya Littledale and Barbara Lavallee
The Snow Child by Freya Littledale and Barbara Lavallee

View all my reviews

Events, General, Journal

Dreamers is gone….to the Printer

Dreamers, a novelI did it. I finally sent my novel, Dreamers, to the printer.

Today, Tuesday, April 5th, 2011, at 12:44 PM. ( I couldn’t help looking at the time, embed it in my memory.) I felt like crying then and do now as I write this. Why?  I’m happy, that’s why. It’s such a big deal.

Okay, it’s not the final-final, just the preview advance copy, and I’m printing only a few books to send to book reviewers to ask,  to respectfully request, their endorsements to add to the final.  “Advance Copy–Not for Sale” it reads on the back cover.

When I say I sent, I really mean “uploaded”; here in the electronic stratosphere of Northern California, I can send my brilliant blue cover file and my 374 page text file electronically to Kentucky where the printer does her magic. The printer’s a huge corporation, not a “she”, but hey, the Supreme Court ruled last year by  5-4 (Citizens United v. FEC ) that corporations are people with feelings and rights, so I think of my printer as a “she”.

So I sent my book to Kentucky with a click of my keyboard. But this techno-miracle is nothing to the miracle of Dreamers itself. I don’t want to talk  too much about this as I’ll lose it here tonight, and have to stop writing here at the computer. Like with the cryingg – Look at that, I just misspelled a word. So what, you say? Spelling matters in the book world. It’s like dropping off a high wire if you’re a squirrel. It’s like this feat of Dreamers at the printer.

You see, Dreamers is a novel that took too long to write.

Yeah, that’s right. I started it in 1969 in New York where I was teaching 6th grade at a private school in the East Village. One weekend or another, I wrote a few pages in my studio walkup on West 96th Street. It wasn’t called Dreamers then. I don’t think it had a name but it had a trolley  (remember trolleys?) that crashed into a brand new Impala during a snowstorm in Pittsburgh, PA the town where I was born. And that’s still the way the story begins, more or less.

I was twenty-four and dreaming of becoming a great female writer, a combination of Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner, or maybe James Joyce and Tolstoy depending on who I was reading at the time. I have to add “female” because it didn’t escape me then or now that all my writing heroes were men.

This would be my second novel. My first, “Hobbyhorse”,  was written in college, and I had 5 copies typed out on onionskin, one I had left on a toilet in an art gallery on Waikiki Beach.

A little later, I was reading the New York Sunday Times book reviews when I saw a small boxed notice of a winter Writer’s Workshop at the Provincetown Fine Arts Center on the tip of Cape Cod. Norman Mailer was one of the participant mentors. Reading that, I applied, sending in my few beginning pages in right away. Norman Mailer was shocking, prolific, a rebel, and a successful literary bad boy. I wanted to be part of whatever he was doing.

It’s still 1969. Come the 3rd of August and I’m in San Francisco now, having migrated out of New York on a romantic whim, when I get a telegram saying I’ve been accepted at the Provincetown Fine Arts Writing Workshop and what’s more, have been offered a full scholarship from the American Federation of the Arts to go there.

What a miracle! It’s out of this magic that Dreamers was seeded. I had an Alice-in-Wonderland kind of experience that winter in Provincetown and left the following spring with a seedling, half of a first draft. “Momma’s Old Clothes” was the title, after the dirty laundry that fell out of the Impala when the trolley crashed into it.

But oh, how long it took for that seed to bear fruit. I’m too exhausted to think about it. I need a rest after conjuring up these old stories. You can imagine how much more there is to tell.  It’s too much for one night–how long it’s been, 42 years from then till now. I’ll write about it some another time. Tonight I’m going to watch an old movie and forget about it. But tomorrow I’ll be checking my email to see if the printer got the files and if they’re alright–as in, all right. Oh my god. What if it all disappeared? Oh, sure I have backups. That’s not what I meant. You get it, don’t you? Disappeared, as in dreams that are lost forever.

General

“Keep writing. Stay healthy.” —Tony Hillerman

The famed mystery writer of the Southwest wrote that advice to me the last year before his death at 83 in 2008. In a note to him, I  had been complaining, whining really, about my writing life. “Keep writing, stay heathy,” he wrote back. This is my mantra when I feel confused, at loose ends, or discouraged with my work.

I wonder if renown writer J. D. Salinger had taken this advice, he would have experienced life differently. When he died at 91 in 2010, Salinger was possibly the world’s most renown and most successful literary recluse. “Hermit Crab,” Time magazine dubbed him. Here was somebody who was up there with the Grammy winners in star power and prestige, yet seemed cursed with the dismal personality of old Scrooge.

Back in the ’60s when I read Catcher in the Rye, my teenage heart beat along with Holden Caulfield’s. I was the catcher, those sheep; I was the rye too. J.D. Salinger was my writing hero along with Dylan Thomas, Oscar Wilde and Dostoevsky (No females in that short list, alas, but that is another story.)

Unlike Tony Hillerman who wrote 29 mysteries set in Navajo country, Salinger wrote one novel, a phenomenal success that he disdained, and three small volumes of short stories–then nothing else for 45 years.

By all accounts, J.D. Salinger was a phenomenal writer who refused his success. Was he was sick with self-loathing of his own genius, his own work? He must have felt he had no choice. He must have done his best from inside the worm of his illness.

But he did take one piece of Tony Hillerman’s advice. His wives and daughters say he wrote all that time. What did he leave us? I am dying to read it. Maybe that’s all he wanted–fans dying to read him. Maybe that’s why he shunned his fame and adulation. To keep us hungry.

Life is strange, wouldn’t you agree? Keep writing, stay healthy.
Thank you, Tony Hillerman.