Tuesday, January 7, 2014


There is something to be said for the swirling Arctic Vortex  --  unendurabe; a cyclonic mass of frigid air covering the continent in thick bricks of ice, impenetrable walls, intricate stalactites.

A New Age that bears no resemblance to mystical incense and tranquilizing tone poems on Pan pipes, Chakras sparkling like the Aurora Borealis, or the gentle aspects of the slightly blemished pear, organically farmed, juicy with pectin and pesticide-free pulp.

But I am not inclined to say or think anything about the more obvious conditions of New Age weather. Rather, I am drawn to images and sound -- or the lack of them.

From my window I see a few humans, their wraps and mufflers masking features, gender almost indistinguishable, soldiering like Emperor Penguins, teeter-tottering on sheets of glass.
Their movements are bizarre, their breath quiet, tentative, wary, like their steps.

In the worst of the cold there is profound silence. An occasional hum of existence punctuated by the crackle of air; vodka hitting ice cubes in a warm Old-Fashioned tumbler.

People don't say much out there. Frozen words, sounds, sighs sit suspended like forgotten laundry on a clothesline, too fragile and brittle to move.

Under and over the skyline comes the wind. Not Sandburg's Fog -- on "little cat feet" --  but a Soviet Bear, heavyset, thunderous in its squat blue-blasting breath, stinging barbs, making cheeks and foreheads run red with Revolution.

In Dallas they whisper, "Hello, Comrade, welcome 2014."

Sunday, January 6, 2013


Today is my last day in "holiday" mode.
I kick off the official return to reality tomorrow with a dental appointment -- a cleaning, which supposedly will kick start all the root canals and other necessities I require for a painless smile made of my sparkly natural teeth.

I woke up this morning feeling more buoyant than I have in months. That's because I gained holiday weight and haven't done my Pilates in two weeks. Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's back to work I go. Experience tells me I'll be feeling better in two days. It's always a challenge to get back in the saddle, but once there, the view is so much nicer.

My writing plans have changed. About two months ago I decided to return to the novel I began years ago -- The Scarf Dance. Laying aside all other projects, my focus returns to the book I always wanted to write and plan to finish.

So, I am officially checking in.

On another note, I have noticed yet again, a shift in the English language, as the dumbing down continues.

Remember when some idiot once said "irregardless" and suddenly the entire world was saying it?

It took years to correct this -- but, by and large, irregardless was beaten back into the dust bin.

Lately, however, language misuse is the order of the day. In recent weeks, I have heard media and lay citizens say the following:

more clear
more plain
more light
more lovely

...well, you get the drift.

I suppose people think greater (more great?) emphasis lies with the adjective, "more."

If you are reading this, please say greater, clearer, plainer, lighter, lovelier. Please?

It's one thing to have a character in a novel or play etc. speak anyway he likes -- quite another for the writer to misuse language.

My mother used to tease me. She'd put a Band-Aid on a scraped knee and ask, "Is this 'more better'?"
It was a giggle moment meant to evoke child-like boo-boos. It certainly wasn't intended for OED consideration.

Friday, January 4, 2013

To Live In Interesting Times

I sat for days drumming my fingernails on my desk, wondering when I would jump back into my blog. The 'when' became fashionably late --  not really what I aspire to be, but there it is.

As to how to re-start this moribund journey, I have to begin on a serious note.

So, I'll address the heading ...interesting times. Chinese curse or no, there is nothing quite as antsy as our world in this current climate. My American cousins seem to be in a state of decline, despair, moral lassitude. Guns and Jesus. Ideology ahead of public service and the common good, total absence of empathy. A shining example of how not to practice a democracy.
It is positively heart-breaking--and nauseating.

There was a time when I might have said it's not everyone's fault. We said it after George W. Bush was jockeyed into the presidency by the Supreme Court. We knew not everyone had voted for the best look-a-like to Alfred E. Neuman on the planet. And people went around wearing T-shirts proclaiming their innocence; they wrung their hands, beat their breasts.
It lasted until the second election, when he handily swept in, and by then one had to say, "you are what you elect, you deserve what you get."
There were and are the "deniers" -- I am not a Republican, I am a Libertarian. Yeah, right. It's still the same 'I got mine, you get yours' mentality. It's still about this fake notion of government of all the people, by all people,  and for all the people means socialism.

You have your NRA morons -- "see, there's good guys and bad guys..." who think they are talking to kids in kindergarten, which is ridiculous, because kids in kindergarten are getting riddled with bullets and are too busy dying to hear those Saturday morning cartoons.

You have people in need of disaster relief who aren't getting it because:

a) they live outside the Bible Belt
b) a Republican governor had the nerve to praise the black Democrat, the president of the country

Through all of this drama and horror, the "supposed" words of Edmund Burke echo quite clearly: "the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

And nothing is exactly what most folks are doing. In fact, today, they praised John Boehner out of one side of their mouths, after decrying his evil (there really is no other word for it) yesterday when he stopped Congress from passing an overdue bill that would have meant restoration to the victims of Hurricane Sandy. Boehner was re-elected as Speaker of the House. It's a game of agendas, politics above the people. It is not the America I was raised on.

The lack of empathy and compassion, the Republican resolute steeliness of allegiance to Grover Norquist's dirty little pledge reminds me of the killer, Adam Lanza. One can easily extrapolate that the injurious people in Congress are as crazy, misguided, willful, single-minded, paranoid, non-empathetic, in need of medication as Lanza. He was, after all, a son of America.
And right now, alas, America is nuts.

...there's yet another story about how teenage boys in Ohio raped a girl, filmed it, bragged, boasted, texted, videotaped etc. and how other kids stood idly by.

People are aghast -- how could this happen? Why do kids stand by and laugh? Why would anyone?

Because our current culture is akin to a hard crust of rot that has affixed itself to our skin, like shingles.

I don't understand why people are surprised. It's quite simple, really. Denial. Lies. Selfishness. Greed. No moral compass. Rush Limbaugh. Ann Coulter. Michele Bachmann, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck. To name but a scant few. They feed into immoral resolve, callous disregard for life and truth.

So...we live in interesting times.

The world and the days in it spin fast and no one can be sure that the sun will rise in the east, or set in the west. Icebergs melt, tornadoes billow, hurricanes blow sooner than later.

Anger lurks where danger treads, and it is hard some days to forget that love and laughter and creativity also exist. But, they do.

Is writing relevant to anything? Are our novels or memoirs or plays worth tackling? Is anyone going to read what we write?

Yes. Always yes. And maybe now more than ever. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012


I had no idea what was going to yank me out of my writing frenzy, my family michegas, and my summer-heated lethargy.

But, Nora, you did it. Dear, beloved Nora...gone so suddenly, gone too soon, gone before I could  begin to contemplate a life without your love, compassion and wit.

You are my Muse, dear lady. You are to me what Julia Child was to Julie Powell. You are my butter. My inner thoughts. My soul. And I don't mind sharing this sentiment with a million other women who think you wrote only for them. That's your gift and wisdom.

There are heaps of commentaries and tributes out there remembering your collective body of work; no need for me to list them here. But, I do find it remarkable that you could move from the gravitas of Silkwood to the wistfulness of You've Got Mail. You tackled every aspect of relationships, and you didn't flinch when describing pain because you wrapped it in humour -- sardonic or deliciously intelligent.

I'm sure you've heard this many times, but I have to tell you again -- whenever I am feeling down about life or work, I pop one of your films into the DVD, sink into it, and lose myself.
In fact, here's a snip from my WIP; I wrote it months ago:

           "On the way home she stopped at the corner market and bought smoky pancetta, porcini mushrooms, fettuccine, and a pint of cream, indulging her urge to cook con gusto, unimpeded by the reproving stares of Jeffrey’s wilted organic carrots and Good Day Colon Cleanse, both of which she’d tossed into the trash.
          She was going to eat, drink and be merry, and enjoy the movie, ‘Julie and Julia,’ which dripped the virtues of gastronomy and butter. Butter! On her way to the cash, she grabbed a stick of demi-salt and a crusty Italian baguette, still warm in its paper sleeve."

See? Proof positive of your tremendous influence on the world.

Frankly, I don't know what I'm going to do without you but I mustn't be greedy. What you left behind is way more than caviar garnish. Honey, you gave me a huge tin of Ossetra -- (I like it more than Beluga.)

So, thank you, dear Nora. Thank you for seeing into my life, counting my heart beats. Thank you for making me laugh and cry at the same time. Thank you for knowing what needed to be said. Thank you for encouraging me to continue.

Nora, "you are a lone reed, standing tall, waving boldly in the corrupt sands of commerce." 
You, dear Nora,  are my I Ching. God Bless.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Titanic -- As If It Were Yesterday

As I write this, it's 2:54 am EST, April 13th.

I have been thinking a lot about the story of the Titanic and reading up on new information as the 100th anniversary of its sinking approaches. In fact, since it set sail on the 10th from Southampton, I have been wondering what its various passengers were doing, what they were anticipating, thinking about, what they were eating, and how much fun they were having.
Right now, unbeknownst to all, they will be hitting the iceberg in about 22 hours' time, and 1500 of them will be going down with the ship about two hours after that.

The fascination with this story is huge -- an event with all the earmarks of a brilliant tale of triumph, failure, dashed hopes, cowardice, classism, grievous loss -- the kind of grand scale situation that other stories like Katherine Anne Porter's Ship of Fools and Vicki Baum's Grand Hotel touched on.
Titanic, alas, was real, and the wealthy, famous and ordinary alike were individuals with unique futures ahead of them.

I shiver when I contemplate the disaster; in hindsight one always shivers with crawling gooseflesh over catastrophes like this. To know what they couldn't, to wish one could turn back the clock and save them...if only!

One new tiny fact I picked up this week was the ship had a cat named Jenny, and Jenny had a new litter. Jenny and her brood died, too.

I've seen all of the Titanic movies -- A Night To Remember is playing on TCM this week, and most experts say this film rings truest to the way it was. It's a very well done film, worth watching if you haven't ever seen it.

Why is it that some events -- even closer in time to present day -- don't resonate, don't feel so familiar? Perhaps we have spent so much of our lives studying the RMS Titanic; perhaps it's the universality of the events that make us forget how long ago the ship sank.

I dunno. What I do think, however, is that I would have liked to time travel to the Edwardian Period for a little while. There is some quality about this rather ephemeral window -- slightly Victorian, slightly modern, and very short-lived that speaks to me, altho' I can't quite say why.

100 years ago a ship, the largest ever built, set sail for New York and very nearly got there. Now it lies on the floor of the North Atlantic and all eyes are on it.

Oceanographers and marine specialists say the skeletal remains of the Titanic are fast disintegrating. Too amazing and dreadful to contemplate.

When I wonder if the story of the Titanic will fade from history, I come to the conclusion that it will not. There is too much of a romantic fascination shrouding it. Perhaps that's as it should be.

Monday, April 2, 2012

REVIEW : THE CORRECTIONS -- Jonathan Franzen

I just finished The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen in order to put my money where my mouth was because I was recently defending what some feel are his elitist, misguided, snobby, dismissive views of readership and technology.
I did not know if I'd like his material at all.

Having now finished the book -- already dwarfed by his more recent Freedom, I am left breathless. Dizzy. Awestruck. Sickened. Weak in the knees. Torn apart. Forever changed as a writer. It was like taking a cure at a mineral springs with noxious, invigorating odours. I'll revisit, yes, but not soon.
Before I attempt any description or explanation, I've selected a few diverse reviews of the work:

"When critics refer to 'The Great American novel' this is it, people." -- Oprah Winfrey

"All who care about the direction of this world must read this book, so monumental, melancholy and precise." The National Post

"A genuine masterpiece, the first great American novel of the twenty-first century...A wisecracking, eloquent, heartbreaking beauty." Elle

"If some authors are masters of suspense, others post-modern verbal acrobats, and still others complex-characater pointillists, few excel in all three arenas. In his long-awaited third novel, Franzen does...This is, simply, a masterpiece." Publishers Weekly

"Books like this are what civilization is for." Slate

From the opening lines you know you are about to be swept into a vortex of reality immersed in hallucination and nightmares, sardonic wit, searing imagery that never misses a beat, never stumbles, not even once, and never resorts to any comparisons or similes or analogies that have been employed before...and you know that you will be chained to a roller coaster ride of deadly, palpable hysteria, verbal howls, in much the same way one is trapped into looking at a train wreck, at the various scalding debris, smelling substances one hates to associate together in the same visceral frame, the soldering, sulfurous, acrid burn of flesh and rubber and steel -- and yet, one cannot, simply cannot escape, or turn away.

Franzen tells a story about a husband and wife in late middle age who are coming apart, whose children never really melded into whole beings, whose simmering hate, resentments, confusion, precipitate outcomes that are both terrifying, quasi-predictable, and yet, completely surprising.
Deftly, Franzen lays out a single frame -- mother, Enid, wants her family around her in St. Jude (in the Midwest) one last time for Christmas, before Dad gets even more decrepit, demented, and before the house is sold.

From this deceptive thin spool, we learn about each of the three children, one at a time, and move adroitly in concentric circles through past to present and back again, inching with dizzying tension toward a conclusion whose cataclysmic event remains as unsteady and tenuous as father Alfred, as unfulfilled and resentful as mother, Enid, and as confused, proud, stubborn as the children.

All are graced with touches of humanity; all are shameful, ashamed, angry, bewildered, resentful, humbled by events that poke and prod and stab at their consciences, their crumbling values, their misguided senses of self and self-righteousness.

The family's secrets, dizzying dynamics are laid against a backdrop of American culture today. Franzen recalls another America, when the railway was king as much as Bethlehem steel, when workers owed employers eternal loyalty and were then consumed by them, when the Joneses never had funny last names, and everyone kept up with everyone else in the hunt for the American dream.

Franzen indicts this dream. It's is a failed experiment, predicated ever more on the 24-hour whizz of white noise consumerism, lack of soulful touchstones and sordid new age values that preclude humanity for humanity's sake. Perhaps, en masse, humanity never really existed in the way Americans supposed it would -- perhaps, it is family, itself, that must find a way to forgive, accept, and rejoice in the simple graceful acts of love and acceptance.

The agony with which Franzen displays the innermost humanity in all of us is perhaps what sears us with the sense of having journeyed reluctantly (because of the anticipated pain) into what we sensed was unspeakable and hoped to avoid -- that presumably ugly-because-it's-too-close-for-comfort-all-unknowable honesty of self -- only to realize we have safely emerged at the other end of the voyage, scathed, bruised, bloodied -- but determined to make peace with personal failings, find hope and redemption in the things and people we once so easily rejected.

The art of language, the use of extraordinarily simple, stunning imagery mark Franzen's style. He reminded me what great literature is all about. It is a lost art whose mysteries are worth taking up once again -- for me, as a reader and a writer.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Killing Me Softly

I spent the weekend crying. All because of Phantom of the Opera -- Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom. On PBS. The 25th anniversary production at London's Royal Albert Hall.

A dam burst open and I was powerless, like Christine, to stop it. The Music of the Night tore me apart.

Much later, after I had blubbered and sobbed my way through umpteen boxes of Kleenex, I began to consider how monster stories were all the rage in the 19th century. Monsters who penetrated our souls with their eternal damnation and agony. Monsters, who, through no design of their own, became heroic even as they were reviled. We pitied them even when they killed. We will always identify with them because we know what it is to be monstrous.

I made a quick list of monsters:

Quasimodo, the ugly Hunchback of Notre Dame
The Phantom of the Opera whose mother caged him at birth
The nameless freak created by Dr. Frankenstein
I never read the original Nosferatu legend, really, so I don't know the exact story. But, yes, his longing for a lost love is pitiable.

Moving toward modern times, I thought about King Kong.

These so-called beasts loved beauty, needed love, needed something and someone to humanize them. Tragically, "twas beauty killed the beast(s)" in one way or another.

How utterly divine they were and how heartbreaking in their purest form.

Interestingly, the original fairytale, Beauty and the Beast, comes to us from the 18th century. And in that story, like the Frog Prince, true love must, as in days of chivalry, conquer all, including evil spells cast on handsome princes by evil, jealous harpies. Beasts are saved by a kiss or a tear.

So, the progression seems to be that as society moved forward toward the Industrial Age, we became more dehumanized, our stories grew bleaker, and no redemption was at hand. It was, as they say, " a dark and stormy night."

We nursed a fascination for the grotesque. Poor Joseph Merrick, the real Elephant Man. He was brutalized by society, and society women were sexually aroused even as they were repulsed. Like the royal court of the Romanovs. Women wanted the smelly rutting hypnotic Rasputin.

Kind of disgusting. The capture and parade of grotesques and side-show performers was the Victorian rage. Freaks are an interesting subject examined by director Tod Browning in a 1932 movie, which was at one time banned.

But freaks were what made Barnum and Bailey successful. Everyone wanted to see freak shows. I guess the freak as a metaphor for the rising interest in eugenics and the ultra nationalism quietly spawning in Germany, was what transfixed Gunter Grasse in The Tin Drum.

Beasts and freaks make us feel superior externally, but remind us internally that everyone is exactly the same. We don't like that, so we throw stones, hurl rotten eggs; defile, scorn and ridicule that which disturbs our misguided sense of balance.

Officially, we stopped going to freak shows, outlawed freak shows, and bear baiting and cock fights. Officially.

But, we still need to kill freaks, round up the villagers and hunt down the Red Bogeymen, the monsters. The Jim Crow laws in the US are supposedly dead.
But, racial profiling isn't. Ethnic wars, us versus them is alive and well. Faggots are freaks, women are monsters.

But, I digress.

I miss the old monster stories -- the ones that were so naive in their clear-eyed view of right and wrong. I miss the purity of love in "All I Ask of You."

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Winter and The Oscars

Montreal has been lucky this winter - again. Very little snow, and very mild temperatures, relatively speaking. Wilderton Willie, who is the Canadian groundhog counterpart to the US' Punxsutawney Phil, said we'd all have an early spring. (Phil pooh-poohed the idea.) And, so, many Montrealers put their boots away, and began to dream about sipping Starbucks on a terrasse with plenty of UV protection.

Mother Nature had other ideas. As I write this, we are in the midst of a major snow storm, expecting well over a foot of the fluffy stuff and some gusty winds just to kick things up a notch. And when this little show of bravura is done, and we're still shovelling out, another storm looms on the Wednesday and Thursday horizon.

People, thus far, aren't complaining.

As for me, I turn into my mother at times like this. I go into bunker mode, lay in enough supplies for a nuclear winter, and plan to cozy up around the fireplace. You'd think I live in a remote part of town, but I'm downtown, steps away from whatever I need. Heh. What's bred in the bone, right?

So, this weekend is looking very good. Lots of warmth, plenty of good comfort food -- beef stew and dumplings, and, if my craving continues, a warm batch of chocolate chip cookies. All homemade, of course.

And what could be better than writing for a few hours in this quiet world? Nothing.

Except the Oscars on Sunday. 

I watched my very first Oscars the year Elizabeth Taylor won for Butterfield 8. Her tracheotomy scar was evident that night; she was breathless in her thank you, fragile looking, stunning, and still very much Mrs. Eddie Fisher, who escorted her to the stage. Shirley MacLaine, who lost, and who really should have won for her role as Fran Kubelik in The Apartment, went on to scoff decades later that she lost it to that damn tracheotomy. Which is probably true -- if you've ever seen Butterfield 8, you'd know that.
(See, Liz was very, very ill in London, with acute pneumonia, and doctors had to perform emergency surgery and cut into her windpipe to help her breathe. Liz was always battling one respiratory illness after another.)

I fell in love with the Oscars and never missed a show from that year on. Only once did I have to skip -- I was working the late shift at a television station in Toronto. It was a Monday night. The Oscars were always on Monday night, and in late March, early April. I can't tell you how upset missing the show made me feel. It was not right, not right at all.

Bob Hope was the emcee I grew up with, and then, Johnny Carson. In those days, when the studio system was still in place, stars really were stars with the kind of mystique they don't have today. One rarely saw them outside the movies; one had to buy movie magazines and read Hedda Hopper or Sheila Graham's newspaper columns, or Dorothy Kilgallen's.

I remember how serious they all were, way before streakers and hippies and politics invaded the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion.

I remember how dashing Yul Brynner looked wearing tails. And, I remember an incident with Tony Curtis and his then-wife, Janet Leigh. She came out with an upswept hairdo that decided at the crucial moment it didn't want to behave. A few locks fell forward over her eyes, and her degree of mortification was matched only by the degree of perfection she thought she had to present in addition to saying, "And the winner is..."
Yes, at one time, before political correctness bit Oscar's backside, people said "and the winner is..." and now they have to say, and the "Oscar goes to..." or words to that effect. See...you can win an Oscar, but no one can say you've won the Oscar while you're winning it. Jack Nicholson just might punch you out. If he isn't too high. Double heh.

This year, I am not particularly overwhelmed. I think The Artist is going to win for Best Picture. I still haven't seen it, but can't wait. It looks Oscar worthy.
So, I'll be enjoying the show if only to see Colin Firth again. And Billy Crystal.
I really hope Billy has a great time. 

It's glitz and glam night. It's all good.

A few years ago my niece went to the Oscars and then on to Spago's for the Governor's Ball hosted by Wolfgang Puck. By now, those edible, gold-dusted mini chocolate statuettes are world famous. Lovely niece that I have, she brought me back my very own. No, I didn't save it. I ate it.

End of story -- enjoy your Oscar weekend, rain, snow, sleet, hail, or sunny day!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Writing the Super Mario Way

Imagine a flat landscape of dull words -- words you wrote, words you hate, words that won't go away. You despise them. But, you need the message they convey so you don't delete them, you simply move on. Maybe the next batch will be better. You tell yourself you'll fix things... later, during edits....

I can't do that. 

I figure if I leave flat landscapes they'll eventually spread like dull beige paint covering the world, blotting it out, Sherwin-Williams style. I'll drown in dull. I'll panic at the sheer volume of flatness and stick a knitting needle through my eye. No, I can't leave 'em and move on.
Or, to quote Jack Nicholson, I'll despair: "what if this is as good as it gets?"
Forget one needle -- make it two, and I'll go whole hog right into an Oedipal bloodbath. People will find me and my gouged eyes on the floor, a perfect stand-in, or lie-in, for Suzanne Pleshette's pecked-to-death body draped on her front porch in the movie The Birds. What to do, what to do....

A couple of weeks ago, I tried something new and discovered the Super Mario method of writing. This method goes farther than simply toying with dull words and changing them. Or re-arranging them.
The Super Mario method requires quite a bit of strenuous exercise. The reward, however, could mean the difference between acceptance and rejection, fair writing and excellence. A better story arc, plot, characterization. Super Mario means if you throw caution to the wind, you'll discover gold coins. They're there, but you have to know how to find them, because they're hidden, just like in the old classic Nintendo game.

How to Play Super Mario Writing

1) First, you have to determine if your writing is actually flat and dull, or if it's just you having a bad hair day. You have to decide if the writing is bad, or if your inner critic is being overly harsh.

To determine this, you need to apply the Samuel Goldwyn principle. Goldwyn, one of Hollywood's most beloved moguls, is credited with saying (first) that he could judge a film's worth in the preview screening by the behaviour of his ass. If he never heard boo from his ass, if he sat mesmerized throughout the film, he knew, all taste aside, that he had a winner on his hands. But, if he found himself squirming in his seat, he knew at once that there was a problem with the film, and audiences wouldn't sit still -- literally --  for any of it, no matter the content's inherent worth.

So, read your work out loud. Read your work from the point of view of a total stranger, and see how squirmy, or bored you are. If you find yourself face down on your keyboard, you'll know the landscape is flat.

2) Now, push away all the work before and after this stretch of dull landscape so that all you see is white space on your screen and the errant writing.
Take each sentence, one by one and examine the creative spark in the verbs, the structure, the punctuation, the vocabulary. Now string the sentences back together and see how the meter is way off, or non-existent. Finally, ask yourself why you need these facts, this paragraph.
Now, ask yourself where the better stuff is hiding and start pounding -- seriously-- pounding on the words. Pound, pound, pound, pound!!!!!

As in:
Flounce, flounce, flounce...should it be bounce? Should it be trounce? Trounce is stupid. Should it be flirty, should it be dirty, should it be there at all? Why flounce, why is Molly wearing a flouncing skirt? Why is she wearing any skirt at all? Who made her decide to wear that skirt? Oh...she has a sister? Who knew? So, just who is this sister? Mabel? Well, hell's bells, Mabel is a person in this paragraph? Why Mabel? A sister named Mabel? How about a sister named Betty Grable? Hmm. Maybe, Mabel wishes she looked like Betty Grable, and so she keeps foisting flouncy skirts on Molly because Molly is really a whole lot more attractive than Mabel. Ahh...something new going on here. So, Molly is wearing a skirt with flounces because her sister Mabel, who's dead now (I can't actually use Mabel in my story...or should I...??) is still influencing her. Hmm, is this what I needed to know about why this landscape is so dull? Molly has to choose what to wear to an important cocktail party; it really matters. Now, instead of having her decide on the red dress with the flounces, I can enrich her actions, deepen her motivation and her characterization by way of mentioning Mabel.  Oh, the possibilities here are really endless, and interesting. Maybe I should play with this some more....

A new world opens up in the dull writing. Suddenly, it's raining gold coins. That's because you took the time and trouble to jump, jump, jump, up to the clouds above, and just like Mario, your head bumped a hidden spot and gold coins rained down, and heightened your accumulated points. Yay.

You may have stumbled on a new character, a new name, a novel way for your existing main character to think of herself -- endless nuggets, endless inspiration, and all because you didn't just punch up a passive construction to an active one, dust your mind off and congratulate yourself on the "quick fix," you literally pounded on the flat work and forced new realms to open up for you.

I have always enjoyed playing Super Mario. But never more than right now.
Give it a try.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine Martyr

When you left, showers arrived in a hot mist
Which bound my grief in threads of silk.
The wind buffeted me, I was too dizzy to stand.
My cocoon, sticky and new, clung blindly to a branch
Until a harsher rain washed me clean away.

All that remains are my shoes running after you.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Roach Art - Take Two

 I realized that after agonizing about my novel's roach art and how to present it properly, I never came back here to post the first draft result.

So, here it is. (And before I forget...my friend, Jack, sent me someone's blog or web page that contains a photo or two of beetle "art" -- someone in Europe, I think, attempted a small dress-up party for beetles. I liked the imaginative thinking; however, the end result, artistically speaking, was more "done on a whim" than the kind of polished art my fictional character, Graham, produces.)

Pebblestone's Dilemma
           Isobel smiled to herself, slipped into her office and shut the door. It was a large white square room with two windows facing an alley, jam-packed with open boxes on shelves and radiator covers containing items to be repaired, appraised or tagged. Rare costume jewelry with real coral and ivory mingled freely with estate pieces; a broken Pre-Columbian figure crouched on a tray, his arm in a Ziploc bag at his feet.
          Lydia thought the place resembled a black-market warehouse rife with serious loot, a World War II army PX loaded with Hershey bars and nylon stockings.
          Isobel saw it differently. It was a depot of dream remnants, romantic and sad;  a repository of fleeting time capsules, lost fortunes, or found treasures needing love and attention, like London’s Paddington Station, temporary home to a small brown bear from “darkest Peru,” who had a note pinned to the wooden toggle on his coat: ‘Please look after this bear. Thank you.’
          In short, Isobel, who spent hours reviewing her acquisitions, regarded this enclave as a museum quality lost-and-found department, and she believed, as her mother had, that objects, like people, needed homes, love, and an appreciation of their history. They represented the continuity of civilization, glorious or ignominious as the case might be.

          But this high-minded flight of fancy sailed right through the wrought-iron bars on the windows when the box of roach art caught her attention.
          Anxiety flickered. Just how well did she know Graham? What if this box was like the gory one in the movie Se7en? Or, what if it contained a thousand mammoth roaches, stinking to high heaven, broken and squashed from excessive banging by FedEx…? Oh, for Pete’s sake!
          She reached for an X-acto knife and neatly broke the seal. Her fingers scrabbled through Styrofoam peanuts and hit thick layers of bubble wrap protecting what looked like mahogany display cases which were about sixteen inches wide with brass-hinged glass tops. Odd, but there was one sealed bell jar, as well. She worried the cases might prove to be more valuable than their contents.
          Carefully, she removed them one by one and placed them on the floor. Then she sat down, braced herself,  and tore away the wrappings.
          “Good God!” was all she managed to get out before laughter erupted.
          Graham was brilliant.
          He had constructed dioramas to showcase his various scenes using the giant Australian burrowing roach – macropanesthia rhinoceros – as the torso for each of his well-known characters. The roaches stood three inches high, wingless, smoothly lacquered and striped thinly in gold so that they resembled tigers eye cabochons or humbug candies. Using an infinite variety of materials in tiny flecks and bits of string, paper, wool and other fabrics, he had painstakingly fashioned each mounted head and costume detail right down to the trademark red lacquered heels of the Christian Louboutin shoes on Bernadette Peters’ feet in a scene called “Roach Clips.”
          Peters was seated on a bench in Central Park alongside fight promoter Don King, Andy Warhol, singer Tiny Tim, and Donald Trump. A blue troll doll sat on a nearby path. Everyone’s hair streamed on an angle, caught in an imaginary wind.
          So much to absorb and admire, she took her time.

          Later, Lydia knocked. “Izz?”
          “Don’t bug me, I’m in roach heaven.”
          “Arr-arr-arr. I brought lunch. Sandwiches. May I come in?”
          “At your own risk.”
          “Well, what are you looking at?”
          “ Right now? ‘Hal Roach Presents Our Gang.’ ”
          “This I gotta see.”
          Lydia entered gingerly, stepped over the wrappings scattered willy-nilly, and came to squat next to a few of the cases. She was tall and skinny, and her legs folded like a grasshopper’s into sharp right angles. “Oh-my-god!” She chirped. “Sooo cute! Did you see Porky’s hat, and the striped sweater on – is it Farina?—Holy crap, the roaches are big. Ha! He really nailed Alfalfa – your friend is amazing…what’s in the bell jar?”
          “A three dimensional view of ‘The Roachy Stones.’ He also sent ‘The Bug Sleep’ with Buggy and Bugall, and ‘Dracula starring Bella Bugosi’ –I’m putting that one in the permanent exhibit. If these do well, there’s a lot more to order, and they’re originals which is really cool.”
          Lydia was studying the purple moirĂ© brushwork of the Dracula backdrop. “You know, this guy is one seriously weird, super-talented dude. Tell him I’m in love and want to have his zombie child.”
          “You tell him. Graham Gould – it’s in the Rolodex. Call him in a few hours and let him know everything arrived safe and sound. Tell him I’ll be in touch over the weekend.”

Copyright 2012 Carol Krenz All rights reserved

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Failure To Succeed Leads To Success

Lately, I've noticed a lot of blogs and media web sites examining writers and their paths to success or failure.
In the past few weeks I've read musings from Anne Lamott (whose Bird By Bird has to be one of the best books about writing I've ever read), Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, and Jennifer Egan, a Pulitzer-prize winner who discusses the success of failure on CNN's website.

Stockett talks about how she wouldn't take "no" for an answer and admits that her chronic inflammatory re-writing assumed a personhood of its own. Consumed by her stubborn nature and obsessive drive, she kept scribbling notes, even as she was being wheeled into the OR to deliver a child. She lied to friends and family about her refusal to abandon her book -- absolutely nobody wanted to publish it -- and hid her revising and editing from her husband. Bottom line: the book was finally published, garnered less-than-stellar reviews, but grew into a major success when the book went to the screen, which, of course, led to more book sales etc. and made her publisher very happy, I'm sure.

Now, Egan, talks about how she sold a brilliant story to the New Yorker when she was fairly young and raw, and how, after that success, she felt her best work was behind her, and that she could never, ever hope to attain the same level of excellence again. The article is a fascinating read, offering many useful observations about the psyche's torment in writing novels and short stories. Egan finally did get over herself, and enjoys her work now, even if that entails as many -- if not more than-- fifty rewrites.

The obvious assumptions about creativity spring to mind. You read about these writers, you wonder -- for the zillionth time --  how much of what we do is fueled by compulsion, insanity, severe egotism and insecurity.

Sometimes, I feel freed; saved by writers who expose themselves, who offer a sick reassuring kinship that prompts me to forgive my own writing sins, my fears. I draw encouragement; I learn to view what I do -- and how I do it  -- in a different light. All roads, no matter how weird and wired, eventually lead somewhere. The other human beast springs to mind. In reading about the compulsion and neuroses of others, I take comfort in knowing that compared to them, I'm almost healthy.

And, then, ha-ha...does this mean I need to get a whole lot sicker in order to write better?

I think we are living in a world of lauded excess. We're too busy, too fat, too stressed, too perfect, too self-absorbed, too, too, too!!
I remember a famous quote attributed to Gore Vidal. Roughly paraphrasing, he said something like, "I revise my work five times, which proves I have very little to say, but a great deal to add.”
People used to think five revisions was a heck of a lot for someone so accomplished. I have to agree.
Put another way, the emphasis seems to be on the overly obsessed, as if you only get to be successful if you need medication.

That may be so for many writers, but isn’t it also worth considering that Stephen King, arguably the most “successful” writer of his time, does not go psycho over every single book. He follows a regime, he writes, he writes some more. He gives his beta readers the work, and does some revision – not years’ worth.

True, King is no Orson Welles. But, there is a method to his madness. As is true of Monet, the Impressionist painter who lived longest within his circle, and who was the most prolific and financially successful. He painted with a passion, but he also followed a method of work habits that did not allow for more excesses than he could tolerate.
Maybe that’s what interests me. Maybe you don’t have to be wacko obsessive and insane to succeed.
Maybe all you need is a healthy dose of it.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Everything I know I learned from the Movies

Writing is a tough, challenging job, that's for sure. And one of the many instructive resources I still use is a good screenplay, or more precisely, a good movie. I can't tell you how much I've learned from great directors, like Vincente Minnelli, and the ineffable, unparallelled Billy Wilder whose acerbic, incisive wit sends chills up my spine. I think Wilder spoke greater truths than almost anyone I have ever read.

As for Minnelli, I can't get enough of his set decorations, his impeccable knowledge of whatever time period he works in. He has no equal.

Plays, books and films form a handy compendium -- you want good pacing, watch the work of great directors like Wilder, Hitchcock, Wyler, Paddy Cheyefsky, Mike Nichols.
You want great dialogue, go for Wilder, Woody Allen, Ernst Lubitsch, Nora Ephron.
Epics that daunt you, haunt you -- David Lean, for one.

And then there's the subject of identification. I can watch cold films and talk about them objectively like pictures in a gallery of post modern art; I can also talk about movies that grabbed me and never let me go. There are different kinds of "grabbers."  The violent ones (pick your fave), the inventive ones (like The Hudsucker Proxy), the indelible horrors -- for me, Rosemary's Baby is supremely well done; and then there are those films that cut the heart, sear themselves into your being for eternity.
Doctor Zhivago is one such film. So are Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather Parts One and Two -- but quiet films also achieve the same effect.
Brilliant in writing, brilliant in every way is Brief Encounter. It's about the things said, and those unspoken -- the kind of miraculous blend of heart and soul every writer aspires to.

Anyhow, because I love films, I try to see good ones, try to check out the zeitgeist that is our current culture.

Since 9/11, films have become very dark. Good films are solemn. George Clooney makes them even more so. Films have been very depressing, people floundering, the world teetering on a nervous breakdown. The comedies have either simplistic, ridiculous nothingness to them, or cynical edges and gross points of view. You have to keep digging and rooting like a pig sniffing truffles to find the gems.

I just saw Contagion and I didn't like it at all, even though it was well reviewed.

It was totally bloodless, literally. There was no one you could really hook into for long, nothing that brought you into the reality of a pandemic. It was so cut and dried, so utterly devoid of sentiment, so very faithful to scientific possibility.

In the end, I thought "big deal" and deliberately touched my face with one zillion deadly microbes. Anything -- even SARS at that point --  would have provided comic relief.

And so, another reinforcing lesson about writing. If you don't make your characters real, if you alienate your audience with what you think is artful understatement when really it's just dull, robotic and painfully underwhelming...you'll fail miserably.

Oh--and if you are looking for a good movie that deals with possible pandemics and conspiracies, try Outbreak, starring Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, Kevin Spacey and Cuba Gooding Jr. They make you care--and worry.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Endings lead to Beginnings

I thought I'd get a wee jump on the New Year by wishing one and all a very Happy and Prosperous 2012.                                                                

I noticed this morning that Samoa has decided to become the first country to welcome in 2012, instead of the last -- a pre-historic construct that was set in accord with the US well over a hundred years ago. On first reading, I fancied a slew of islanders literally lifting up the island and moving it westward in order to cross the International Dateline etc. My math is weak, and my assumptions about changing cartography and longitude and latitude and time zones is wobbly. Most I can manage is springing forward and falling back one hour -- but whole days?? For a moment, I thought time travel had become a reality.

The year sped by for me. When you are rapidly aging, it does this. And when major world events seemingly flow one into another, you don't notice time, you only notice the heartbreak, devastation and exasperation that most of these events engender.

The writing year has been peppered with more and more discussion  about electronic publishing. I see its future role, I see the many benefits, but I still look at it as the last resort, not the first, for gifted writers. Yes, I am a snob. I don't pretend to hide the reality that in our current cultural dross, dumb and dumber rules. I think Margaret Atwood means well when she says the internet is wonderful in that it basically forces people to be literate. I don't quite agree. The semi-literates outnumber the literates. And they want cheap, accessible books that are badly written, thin in language arts, bereft of depth and characters, top heavy in plot. Thing is, they don't notice -- or care -- that they are reading a lot of junk. Electronic readers are the big thing. Anyone at Amazon can be read. Some great books, yes, but also, thousands and thousands of bad ones.

So...will legitimate tree-killing publishers prevail in the coming years? I'm counting on it. I'm praying for it. If I had a magnificent pocket watch and a striped vest and fob, I'd wear 'em with pride! Real books with book smells, real books with paper and glue and bindings and face plates and heft -- those are the stuff of my dreams.

Some naysayers this past year have complained that new writers won't get the breaks they deserve because of bonafide publishing woes -- and the mid-list may dry up altogether.
And yet, The New York Times' list of "notable" books for 2011 included five or six first-time authors in their list of about 45 books. That's more than last year's crop. Hope springs eternal.

Are enough people reading important books? Seems to me that books and essays and "deep thoughts" are the last refuge intelligent people have -- 
And is writing itself the last refuge for the curious mind wishing to create new worlds, searing characters that leap off the page into the collective consciousness? Are serious writers becoming hermits, dumping the media wasteland into the trash? Maybe it's a good idea. Maybe it's time to stop obsessing about social media and web presence until it's actually time to consider it.
Maybe it's time to stop putting the cart before the horse. Maybe it's time to sit down and roll up the sleeves, and stare at a blank screen and then...write.
And keep on writing until a goal is met.

Maybe that's all that really matters. Everything else is probably an excuse to avoid the inevitable. A writer writes.

I plan to. I hope you (writers out there) will, too.

Do you have any goals to share? I'd love to hear them!
Happy Writing!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

My Eyes (Still ) Adore You

A number of months ago I had a birthday -- not one of those major milestone birthdays, no, a rather quiet birthday, the kind that can either be greeted with muted enthusiasm, or as the dreaded ticking of Father Time's clock. The water torture of remembrance, a drip-drip-drip on the wrinkled forehead.

As luck would have it, I was spending the morning with my sister in my apartment. We were on the floor, side by side, doing Pilates.
That we were together at all, let alone doing Pilates, was a small wonder in itself. Normally, we see each other infrequently....and certainly not in the supine position.

After she left, I remembered that it was exactly 50 years earlier that she had treated me to a birthday movie, Fanny, starring Leslie Caron, Horst Bucholz, Maurice Chevalier and Charles Boyer. One of those terribly romantic tales of young love, illicit sex and its aftermath. 

When the movie ended, and after we wiped away girlish tears, we strolled in the warm autumn sunshine and marvelled at the trees ablaze in gold. I thought we would then go home, join the rest of the family for a simple meal, and a lovely chocolate birthday cake with candles and presents.

I was in for a surprise, because when I walked through the front door, my classmates jumped out of closets and thrilled me with the whole concept of secret planning, and successful surprise parties. This was to be my first -- and last -- such affair, but it was memorable. Thinking back on it, still damp in my tights and top, and sipping milk, I remembered that someone gave me my very first 45 -- The Four Seasons' hit song, Sherry. I was well familiar with it, although Frankie Valli's name did not trip off my tongue quite then. It was only a matter of months before he loomed larger than the group.

So, there I was, teetering on the precipice, one year away from official "teenage" status, and in possession of Sherry. I played it endlessly and to my mother's chagrin, I sang along with the falsetto voice.

Flash forward again to me, my tights, my now-empty skim milk glass, and I was gobsmacked. If I was blankety-blank years old now, just how old was Frankie? I googled him, I Wiki'd him, and almost passed out -- 77 years of age!!!

Gawd almighty. Gawd, gawd, gawd. But, he looks pretty hot and cool for a septuagenarian. Still an Italian hottie, I'm sure, and also, he really is quite a bit older than I. (Whew).

I felt very lucky. That my sister and I spent that time together, fifty years later, in relatively good health, that we giggled and enjoyed ourselves. That I was able to recall a much earlier happy memory with her in a movie theatre -- I really did and do count my blessings.

The cherry on the cake, is having Sherry still in my life, as well.
In fact, as peer group members drop like flies around me, it is especially comforting to know Frankie is still out there.

Dear Frankie, my eyes adore you!


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Spare Parts and Puzzles

I'm bogged down and I hate the feeling.
I've been working on the same stretch of the literary highway for days and days and days and still, those orange cones won't go away.
I suspect it's because I've boxed myself into a corner and refuse to accept it.

I know more than one person who approaches huge 1001-piece puzzles -- the ones that are all white...the ones with those infernal autumn landscapes... with fearless, positively immoral, disregard for fair play. They go along and spend hours sorting and fitting the right bits into the right places until they have completed a huge swath of the picture. BUT--when the going really gets rough and they're stumped, they have no compunction about forcing the wrong piece into the wrong slot.

And then there's the stereotypical male who decides to assemble something for the home, sans instructions. (Sometimes I think this is perhaps why all the bridges in Montreal are falling down, but, I digress.) Anyhow, this mythic creature of the male gender, happily or unhappily, fritters away a Sunday afternoon, trying to re-create the thingum, or the whats-its from Ikea with a zillion rubber washers and wing nuts and a badly finished mini tool that came with the product.

Of course, in the end, he ends up with a two-ton refrigerator which hums suspiciously, and a handful of mysterious parts which he is unable to install. So, he simply flings them away, fills out the proof of purchase for his guarantee, mails it, and Bob's your uncle. He tells you those parts were simply "extras."

I wish, I wish, I wish, I could be like that. But, no matter how hard I force a square peg into a round hole, I end up with lousy work and it doesn't ring true.

Thank God, this is only about a few paragraphs. Thank God for computers and not typewriters. I hate to think just how many sheets of paper I'd have gone through by now. On the other hand, it would probably feel really good to ball up a wad of crap and hurl it into the void. Oh, well, them's the breaks, as they say...and speaking of brakes (good segue, huh?), it's back to that highway I go.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Toothsome Prospects?

Oh, dear. I think I am writing what I know. Or, worse, writing what I want the reader to know. About me.

Since February, I have been consumed with dentists and dental appointments, trying to fix a slew of problems that are so expensive, I've been avoiding them as much as possible.
But, when push eventually shoves you, it becomes a matter of painful necessity.

And so, I've been a dutiful patient, trying my best to open wide and let the various experts fiddle, inject, drill, x-ray, chide, cluck, threaten root canals, suggest implants (oh,sure...anyone have about five thousand dollars per tooth handy? -- my email is listed), and generally fix my teeth -- again. Soon, my mouth will contain more crowns than a box of checkers. I only hope they won't be black or red. But, whatever shade, you can't bleach crowns. Once they're done, they're done.

I guess I've always been fascinated by teeth. I know I've read much about them -- evil and chipped, pearly and porn-ish in all manner of books throughout my life, as far back as Little Red Riding Hood. Thinking I might unearth a few gems to apply here, I conducted a light search -- emphasis on light -- and came up with next to nothing. Mostly, quotes about taking bites out of life, sinking teeth into bottom lines, bites in the ass -- not even an al dente description in the bunch.

I was rewarded with the following, however:

My fictitious characters will take the bit between their teeth and gallop off and do something that I hadn't counted on. However, I always insist on dragging them back to the straight and narrow.
Colleen McCullough

My mouth is full of decayed teeth and my soul of decayed ambitions.
James Joyce

Writers, like teeth, are divided into incisors and grinders.
Walter Bagehot

Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay.
Flannery O'Connor 

Well, it's something. Writers do talk teeth.

As to my initial lament, I've paid lot of attention to the humble tooth in my novel. Inadvertently? Absolutely. The recognition penny only dropped yesterday.

He never knew this because his was a walk-on part in her play; it was, however, a pivotal role that set off an unexpected chain of events the way a spoon of Breakstone’s cottage cheese sent her running for root canal. Her endodontist  said that a hair-line fracture could live undetected above or below the gum line for years until one day –  when you least expected it – bam.

And here:
She flashed a smile and peeled off her gloves. Her teeth were large and even – except for a pointy cuspid on the lower jaw which was crooked and crowding its neighbour. Lydia called it ‘The Ripper’ –  the infamous devourer of Porterhouse steaks, feared by herds of Black Angus the world over, and wanted in all five boroughs, especially Brooklyn, at Peter Luger’s Steakhouse.

I am fine with this, I think. I do wonder if I'd have written the same things without those dental visits. Probably. I always enjoy looking at Melanie Mayron's grin. She played Melissa Steadman in 'Thirtysomething' - all teeth (crooked and otherwise) and heart. I even remember her as Sandy in 'Rhoda'.

Maybe it's Melanie I'm channeling. I hope so. I have an appointment with a gynecologist coming up soon....

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Agent, Agent, Who's Got an Agent!?

Lately, I've been noticing the lemming-like rush on the part of new writers to land an agent. The problem is, they haven't finished their books, yet, and furthermore, they seem to think that if ten or twelve agents turn them down flat, then it's time to approach other agents, as many as 100. And when I say, haven't finished their books, yet, I mean, they haven't really done excellent rewrites, found excellent beta readers, gone back to the drawing board, and dug so deep that they hit pay dirt. Some secretly believe it's "good enough" to send out.

I have a problem with that. In fact, I think this is misguided, wishful thinking. But to each his or her own; after all, who am I to judge? Frankly, there are some bad books out there, which is another cause for dismay, and belongs to another blog post.

That being said, as far as I'm concerned, it is a wise writer who carefully researches a prospective agent, and having selected a few choice potential matches, approaches that handful, sits back and waits. Maybe no one will bite, maybe one or two might want to see entire manuscripts, but ultimately take a pass in a form rejection letter.
Isn't it quite obvious, if after six agents do this, there just might be something not quite right with the work and not the agent?

A very wise writer friend told me she sat down and composed her "dream" list of agents, numbering around a dozen or so, and sent off her queries to half of them, just to test the waters. She figured that if she got no bites at all, she'd revisit her book, and examine the structure for cracks, re-finesse the paint, mow the front lawn once more, before approaching the next handful. Why? Because she didn't want to send out anything less than perfect to the next group. She didn't want to burn all her bridges.

As it turned out, she needn't have worried because she found an agent -- a great guy -- on her first round of submissions.

I've worked with two agents on various projects in non-fiction and the children's market, but I haven't looked for an agent for adult fiction because I am not ready yet. When I am, I just know I'll never find 100 agents whom I'd feel would be right for me, because I honestly think that's a myth. Mind you, I am not writing in a particular specialty field, although even if I were, I'd still be skeptical about loads of agent possibilities. Loads? Really?

I still believe the best advice out there is the advice that reminds the hungry-to-be-published-via-real-publishers: Write the very best book you can. And
for obvious reasons, this is the advice most ignored. In a psychological way, it's a real downer. Some writers don't have sufficient skills to climb to the next rung. They don't want to admit this. They don't want to know they still have a lot more to learn, that they may never learn.

Then again, persistence does pay off. So, perhaps it would be better to focus on writing, writing, reading, reading, and not so much on agent blogs, gossipy, snippy diva-pods, and the latest news about Kindles versus real books in bookstores.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Roach by Any Other Name Would Just Be Wrong

The Things a Girl has to Do!

I am not into bugs. I shun Reptile Houses at Zoos. I only nod politely to very small spiders, and I will not live in a roach-infested dwelling.

But this little guy is no ordinary roach. In fact, he's a Macropanesthia Rhinoceros, and he lives under the ground much of the time in Australia.
He would never dream of entering a kitchen, and he has no odour -- in fact, he's very un-roach-like. This beastie is known as a Giant Burrowing roach, and he's a huge guy.
Maybe three inches long, no wings, just an insect (not a bug) who shares his love for mulberry trees with the koala bear.

As cute or as ugly as this fellow is -- with his "scoop" for burrowing -- he has ended up in the first chapter of my book.

This was not my decision. This is what happens when you allow your imagination to run wild, which mine obviously has, and as a result, he has created a teeny role for himself as an emcee, if you like. The very idea that roach art would appeal to my main character, Isobel, who collects oddities amongst other things for her rare emporium on Third Avenue in Manhattan, serves as a further entrée (no pun intended) into her character. She, too, is imaginative and completely offbeat.

And so, for a few key sentences, Mr. Rhino Roach moves front and centre as the star in an artist's collection of 'roach art.'

In order to do this roach art justice -- I have been forced to attack with a humorous bend and it's a tricky business.
I don't want to merely describe the artwork -- flat, telling etc. Even if the artwork itself is hilarious.
I need to show it, and I need to not be showy in showing it.

Subtle will do the trick, I think. You see, the roach art is presented like individual paintings, like Peeps dioramas. 

I have been playing with this for quite some time, and can't let it go until I hit the right tone.

Comedy is hard work.

And then there is pacing. Even if I had a hundred dancing rhino roaches getting down with Jennifer Lopez, I'd be off the mark. Good writing has to move along briskly, even when it quiets down. Melodic-like. Because, otherwise, the reader says, 'well, this is all very well and good, but, isn't it a tad self-indulgent?" 

I'm not a big fan of self-indulgent writers. I pop right out of their stories.

I think I shall ponder this tomorrow at the dentist's office, and then ready my wits for a long, rainy holiday weekend.

Bela Lugosi - Count Dracula
In the meantime, Isobel is considering which of the many roach dioramas she wants to house in her permanent exhibit. She has decided to keep -- "Bela Bugosi." Now he's a much scarier character than a rhino roach. Heh.

Monday, June 6, 2011


Funny how writerly things evolve -- sometimes they're subtle and sometimes it's a new smack-dab fact of life, but all of a sudden, you look around and your focus is different. Oftentimes, you don't know why, or maybe you do, but so what?

I changed mine in February. After ten years of working on and off on The Scarf Dance, my 19th century novel fraught with Sturm und Drang, I decided I needed to let some light in. I wanted to allow myself contemporary free-flow, unbounded by mannerly constraints. And, so, without warning, I began a fresh adventure, an urban fantasy --  if that's what the genre is -- I don't really know. I'll worry about what kind of animal I'm feeding once it's cut all its teeth.

What I am certain of is the setting, the characters and their fascinating story and what stumps me is that I cannot recall how I arrived at it. Usually, I can tell you exactly when a story idea came to me, even where I was or what I was eating. But, in this case, I am drawing a blank. All I know is that something propelled me to read about Egyptian cat mummies and from there, a labyrinth of plot and people and my favourite city, New York, got all mixed together like a sidewalk sale or swap meet under navy awnings. The contents of the assorted tables seem to have no relation one to the other, but, en masse they comprise a perfect tableau, a harmonious swath of pointillism. And each tiny dot is connected to the others.

I find the blank in my memory both alarming and amazing. I am not going to argue with it. So maybe I don't know how or why the story arrived, but it's here now, and it's calling my name. That is all that matters.

The opening.

Pebblestone’s Dilemma
Carol Krenz 2011

Chapter One

    When Zeno Cavallos agreed to paint Isobel Mansfield’s library at 34 Gramercy Park East, he changed her life forever.
    He never knew this because his was a walk-on part in her play; it was, however, a pivotal role that set off an unexpected chain of events the way a spoon of Breakstone’s cottage cheese sent her running for root canal. Her endodontist  said that a hair-line fracture could live undetected above or below the gum line for years until one day –  when you least expected it – bam.
    Isobel understood that Cavallos’ deed was purely unintended, like Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicking over the lantern in her barn that started the fire that burned down Old Chicago. (Of course, she knew the cow story wasn’t true but everyone believed it.)
    And so a question lingered in her mind about Cavallos  – was what he did fated to happen like her root canal? Or, was it really a random cow accident of the universe? Either way, she could not have anticipated it.
    What would she have noticed, anyhow? A paunchy tradesman in white overalls and mustache, looking fastidiously like Super Mario, who was inspecting the apartment with professional admiration, eyeing the ceilings and crown moldings as if they were the Sistine Chapel.
    “Beautiful,” he said, stopping at each fireplace to trace the veins in the marble. He praised the wide-plank oak flooring. “This place is all original isn’t it?”
    “Yes. My family moved in when it was built. 1893, I think.”
    They finished their tour and settled in the library.
    Cavallos asked, “So, what’s it going to be? We do the whole room?”
    “No, just three walls.” She handed him paint chips. “I like the Pale Iris. And, I think the wainscoting would look wonderful if you could make it the same sandy colour as the wallpaper.”
    “You serious? You will save that wallpaper?”
    “Yes. My great-great-grandfather put it there. It’s old, but I love it.”
    “Ah, family. I understand. You like to feel close. What’s that pattern? Egypt?”
    “Yes…hieroglyphs.” She stroked the paper. “Please, promise you’ll be careful?”
    He straightened up, eyes narrowing – he couldn’t have been more than five-foot-three – and suddenly the room filled with the towering presence of his wounded pride – a puffed up fire-breathing dragon with leathery wings and phosphorescent scales. “I always take care. I always do an excellent job--”
    She shrank from him. “Oh--I’m sure you do. I didn’t mean--”
    A final blast through the nostrils and the beast retreated. Cavallos’ smile returned and he moved on as though nothing had happened. Isobel marveled at the volatile temperament of artists. She wondered if there was a Mrs. Cavallos at home in a sackcloth and ashes who faithfully trimmed the dragon’s nails and polished its wings with leather balm.
    “What about the ceiling?” he asked.
    “Do you think it needs it?”
    “No, it doesn’t, but it will look dirty surrounded by new paint. Put your Pale Iris there, and do the moldings white. I will make you beautiful work.”
    “Terrific. How soon can you start?”
    Jeffrey was due home in three days. Jeffrey, not five-foot-three, but six-foot-four, incredibly handsome, neurotic, and a social phobe which was funny considering his business was the lecture circuit. He’d object to this invasion of privacy. He was obsessive and paranoid about his possessions and kept them under wraps.
    Cavallos said, “I can start now, if you help me move stuff. If it’s a rush job, I get Nino, my partner.”
    Were there any people left in New York who didn’t think everything was a rush job?
    Together they pulled furniture into the centre. She removed the Handel lamp to the dining area. Once Cavallos had submerged the bookshelves and the Charles de Gaulle desk under a waterfall of sheeting, he left to buy the paint. Farrow & Ball. Old-world  limewash, elegant and light absorbing. As restful as a tomb.
    In Cavallos’ wake, a vibration filled the air – like the whirr of a million humming birds – which entered her ears and washed over the back of her neck. She was attuned to these sensations to greater and lesser intensities. This one felt exciting. Good vibes. A good day.
    She brewed an espresso, lit a Moods Filter cigarillo, and called Lydia to say she was going to stay home.
    Lydia balked. “Izz, you’re heavily insured. They’re bonded and management approved. Why stay?”
    “I dunno…I suppose you’re right…”
    “Of course I’m right. Lock up your cashmeres, throw the silver into a large bag of kitty litter--”
    “I don’t have a cat--”
    “Who cares? You should always have kitty litter around. And, don’t forget to stick all the remotes in the washing machine.”
    “Gawd, Lydia. Where do you get all this stuff? Who’s gonna steal remotes?”
    “Not steal them. Use them to watch porn on the cable channels.”
    “I’m staying home.”
    “Don’t be silly. I’m only half joking. Besides, guess what just came in? Your rhino roaches. I draw the line at roaches, Izz. You unpack ‘em, not me.”
    “Did you see them? Are they all right?”
    “I told you, I won’t even touch the box. And it’s a big box.”
    “They’re dead, Lydia, they’re dead.”
    “They better be. I see you have Bloomberg’s number on your speed dial…”
    “Lydia, Bloomberg isn’t interested in dead roaches. He’s too busy chasing bedbugs.”
    “Just get in here, okay? You, me, the roaches, we’ll have a regular picnic.”
    “All right. About an hour, then. I still have to get dressed.”

    When she finished her coffee, she strolled the hallway to the living room, making note of the paintings. It was foolish to feel nervous – Cavallos was recommended. Nevertheless, there was one thing she would not risk damaging or losing – Mr. Ruggles, who was perched under treated glass on his marble pedestal. His round head faced the windows overlooking the park.
    “C’mon, my sweet baby,” she said, cautiously lifting the glass. His lattice-work linen wrappings were exquisite, his crooked nose wide and long. When she stroked it she sensed velvety fur and a Burmese face underneath. She carried him gingerly to her bedroom and placed him in the recesses of a closet. His vacant eyes regarded her with perpetual curiosity. “See ya, Ruggles,” she whispered and shut the door.
     Forty minutes later she was dressed like Beau Brummell – Tuesdays were Beau Brummell day. Cavallos and his partner, Nino, returned to find her in riding boots, black skinny pants, white-collared shirt with a blue silk cravat, a vest, and a black cutaway jacket.
    She stopped to finger-comb her long bangs in the foyer, saluted the men, and left.

    Outside on the curb, narrow trees, most of them Aspens, tossed their heads back and forth in a steady breeze, their buds ripening quickly in the sunshine. Two dusty gardeners inside the park were sweeping away lingering traces of winter. She watched through the wrought-iron railings as they cleared the path leading to the statue of Edwin Booth and was tempted to stay and root for the squirrels who were trailing the sandy debris, treasure hunting.
    Instead, she ducked over to the Starbucks on 23rd.
    Since their phone conversation, Isobel envisioned Lydia plastered against a wall, her auburn corkscrew pigtails quivering, her freckled face locked in a scream, as a herd of rhino roaches broke free from their box, hissing, clacking and scuttling their way toward her ankles and her ineluctable demise.
    Lydia was going to need fortification. Isobel ordered a grande triple shot cappuccino.

-end snip-