I'm asked fairly often whether I know this writer or that one. Do we meet together and discuss literature, and is there a quiet dark corner in a downtown bookstore where a ritual of absinthe mingles with old cigars, and the ghost of Hemingway appears now and then to gentle our hearts with his honest laughter?
Can I wish it were true and at the same time deny that I would take part? I miss meeting with other writers, talking books, ranting about small royalties and the paucity of true Literature in America where talent is lost in favor of thinly contrived novels crafted as a medium for gratuitous sexual scenes and social agendas.
If only I could again sit with the authors of the personally autographed books on my shelf of special collections. Shall I drop names? Shall I tell you of the time I had dinner with Clive Custler, and shared unbound manuscripts with Tony Hillerman? I've known Alice Hoffman, Lisa See, Kathleen Kent, Mary Sharratt and Michael Blake. I have spent delightful hours with Ofelia Zepeda, Jennifer Niven, Peggy Godfrey, Robert Morgan. Susan Cummings Miller and Marguerite Noble. Sandra Dallas. Luis Alberto Urrea, Ron Querry, and Sherri Szemon, Mary Doria Russell. Masha Hamilton, Jewell Parker Rhodes, Lillian Cantor and Sharon Kay Penman. David McCullough. Bonnie Marson. C. J. Box. Anne Hillerman. Jennifer Lee Carroll. Rebecca Eaton. H. W. Brands.
The chances of them remembering me are, to put it kindly, slim, but I remember them all. I remember Ofelia's story of the tortillas her mother made in the hot summer, melting over a flaming comal, and saying, the smart kids knew to leave Mama alone until she rested. Clive Custler was in the middle of raising a Civil War ship from the bottom of the ocean, surely enough material for another novel. Mary Doria Russell can tell medical tales of dying by consumption and every moment of the life of Doc Holliday. Every time I sit to ponder another story, I call them all to me and offer a sip of their favorite, whether it's herbal tea or "papa's" whiskey. I also invite C.S. Lewis, Stephen King, Truman Capote, Anna Quindlen and Anne Taylor, Bernard Cornwell and Nathaniel Philbrick, Stephen Ambrose, Samuel Clemens, and Jane Austen, Jack London and Leo Tolstoy. Every First People's storyteller, every Norseman or Highlander who knelt by a crag to spin a yarn of heroes and war, every West Indian grandmother lulling her children's children to sleep.
We need each other, we crafters of tale. To separate is to toss a coal away from the fire where it cannot feed off the flame. Surrounded with books, my writing nook quivers with sylphic spirits of those past, and memories of those still here. Come and share my writing space. There is a chair. I've made cake. Chocolate this time, although it fell a bit in the center, but the crumb is good and moist and the white vanilla frosting has a touch of almond flavor as well. Before you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, think of the authors before you and all the thousands of stories left untold. . . waiting for you.
Thursday, February 13, 2020
Setting the Scene: Arizona in the Early 20th Century
Wednesday, February 5, 2020
Writing tips for today. It is so hard to trust an editor, even one you're paying.
This is a photo of a raging forest fire taken from my yard. We were building our house, getting ready to finish framing when a huge fire broke out fifteen miles away; the wind was coming toward us. We had planned to cover the house with stained cedar planks shaped like half logs, to give the classic log cabin look. They were already ordered. But fire knows no pride, and insurance companies will not cover a house under construction unless you are a licensed contractor. DIYers get no leeway. Everything we owned and every cent we had accumulated in 46 years was standing tinder in the path of the fire. We cancelled the cedar and ordered fireproof concrete clapboards. Okay looking, but not a log cabin. Before it reached us, the fire was squelched by rain and a change in wind direction. Nothing was lost except some sleep. Wait. Four years later, it was indeed the right choice.
When you write your epistle to the universe, I mean when you really put aside the author inside you, the ego, and write hard enough to weep, hard enough to hurt, when you tap into your own soul and lay it upon a page for others to see, you risk everything. No insurance. No backup. Trusting only your inner voice, you press forward and keep on, with winds of doubt circling and the smoke of sure failure swirling toward your very heart. Then, an editor - either one you've hired or one at the publishing company - tells you if you'd just change x to a y, or add abc, it will stand. And you are crushed. You WANT it the way you planned it. But you, dear writer, are amidst the forest, and standing in the trees admiring the plot, you may not have an inkling something is really not going to hold up. Save the original, but make the changes. Build it with fireproof instead of glamour. Trust the advice, and then wait. Put it aside. Wait a couple of months, then read the new version. Read the original. You'll know.