Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Folding It Up!

After, oh, 27 years, I've finally figured out that organization is a virtue. It only took a couple of degrees, careers in corporate web design and higher education, not to mention a boatload of freelance writing, teaching composition courses, and general scribbling to teach me this valued lesson.

In an effort to streamline my life, I've decided to fold this writing blog into my my more general "reading & life" type blog. Tripping Toward Lucidity: Estella's Revenge was the birthplace of the Estella's Revenge e-zine, and has been a constant in my life for a number of years now, so it's only fair that it remain while this blog will assimilate.

Thanks to those of you who've kept up here despite the minimal posting, and I hope you'll come on over to TTL if you haven't already.


Thursday, November 29, 2007

I'm not dead even though I might wish it so!

So I don't really wish I were dead. I'm not that gloomy. I'm sure you thought I was, though, unless you know of my other super secret blog (with over 60,000 hits). Maybe not such a secret, eh?

I received my reviewer copy of my very first academic publication a few weeks ago. My review of Bill Willingham's Fables series appears in the Fall 2007 issue of MELUS (The Society for the Study of theMulti-Ethnic Literature of the United States). My review focuses on the ways in which the Fables series tackles issues of ethnicity often in an understated, sort of unobtrusive way. But it's definitely all there flittering beneath the fairy tale retelling facade.

The issue (picture forthcoming) is pretty spectacular. The cover was specially designed by Gilbert Hernandez of Love & Rockets fame. The issue features some great essays and reviews of graphic novels, comics series, and some critical works in comics theory.

Another nice surprised arrived in my mailbox recently--the bound version of my Master's thesis, "'More Than Interesting Dead Things': The Reanimation of the Oral Tradition Through Narrative Subversion and Visual Narrative Performance."

How's that for a tongue-twisting title?? In academia you earn extra girth for lengthy, complicated titles with colons in them.

On the fiction front, I got turned down by the Very Swanky Journal to which I submitted my first piece. It's not a big surprise, I just really needed to get over that first rejection. It's nothing to be scared of, just a big fat "NO." So I've submitted another piece to a slightly less swanky journal (still fantabulous, though), and I'm expecting that rejection letter any time now.

I shall try my best to keep you (four readers) updated on more of a regular basis, so I don't have to go through the whole apology spiel and then dump all of my life happenings on you at once.

Be diligent! Be diligent! Write! Write!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Funny Man

For those eight people who aren't familiar (or I might be the last person on earth to read this book), Me Talk Pretty One Day is about Sedaris's childhood in Raleigh, NC (right down the road a piece) and his later years living in France and struggling to learn the language.

Elise has been telling me to read the damn book forever now, and I finally did, and I can only apologize to Elise for taking so long to read the best book ever. Just to illustrate the book's hilarious awesomeness, I took it to class with me one night to read while my students were testing. Now, before you tell me I'm a horrible teacher, I have a tendency to perch on a desk in the back of my class while they're testing--all 7 students, that is--and watch them when I know they can't see me. It gets rather boring, so I will look at a book while I perch and periodically wander. This particular evening, I was reading an essay called "Big Boy." The big boy referred to in the title is a very large turd. One that Sedaris discovers when he goes to the restroom at a party to wash his hands before a meal. Not wanting the other guests, who know he's adjourned to the restroom, to think he left such a gargantuan artifact, he struggles to flush. But it doesn't budge and it doesn't budge. And I won't tell you how this saga plays out, but I assure you it's very funny, and I was biting every last square inch of my tongue to keep from giggling maniacally while my students were testing.

Not all of Me Talk Pretty One Day is so gross and boy-humored. In fact, Sedaris is perhaps the least boy-humored man I've read ever.

Self-deprecating, check!
Thoughtful, check!
Oddball intellectual, check!

Sedaris certainly has a unique take on every facet of everyday life, and he's lived through some pretty grotesque and unusual experience (the hair nest built by an "artist" in "Twelve Moments in the Life of the Artist," comes to mind). Likewise, his family is just as odd and wonderful as he is, and one of my nighttime writing classes enjoyed listening to "Jesus Shaves" as an example of how to foster one's writerly voice.

I could rant and rave and praise and gush on and on and on about this book, but, instead, I'll just give you a sample to end this sorta review.

As a rule, I'm not great fan of eating out in New York restaurants. It's hard to love a place that's outlawed smoking but finds it perfectly acceptable to serve raw fish in a bath of chocolate. There are no normal restaurants left, at least in our neighborhood. The diners have all been taken over by precious little bistros boasting a menu of indigenous American cuisine. They call these meals "traditional," yet they're rarely the American dishes I remember. The patty melt has been pushed aside in favor of the herb-encrusted medallions of baby artichoke hearts, which never leave me thinking, Oh, right, those! I wonder if they're as good as the ones my mom used to make.

Part of the problem is that we live in the wrong part of town. SoHo is not a macaroni salad kind of place. This is where the world's brightest young talents come to braise carmelized racks of corn-fed songbirds or offer up their famous knuckle of flash-seared crappie served with a collar of chided ginger and cornered by a tribe of kiln-roasted Chilean toadstools, teased with a warm spray of clarified musk oil. Even when they promise something simple, they've got to tart it up--the meatloaf has been poached in seawater, or there are figs in the tuna salad. If cooking is an art, I think we're in our Dada phase.
If you haven't heard Sedaris read, click HERE and watch a video from one of his Letterman appearances.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Five Strengths Meme

Sojourness tagged me for this meme. I have to name five of my strengths as a writer/artist. I'm horrible. Absolutely detestably vile at picking out the GOOD things about my writing. I'm a cynic of the highest order. But, it makes me try hard!

I have a good ear. I can generally tell if something "sounds right." This has served me very well in my academic writing to date, and I hope it carries over into my fiction.

I'm a great notetaker. That is to say, I don't lose a lot of ideas because I'm always prepared to catch them before they flitter away. And I'm getting MUCH better at actually writing and fleshing out the ideas. It's taken me 26 years, but at least I'm on the up and up.

I write in a spare prose style. I've always admired those who could write something affecting and thoughtful in few words or without overly ornate stylings. Apparently it's rubbed off because that's how my writing keeps coming out.

I like to play with form. This is probably a byproduct of my literary studies. I totally love Modernism and Postmodernism, and those sensibilities have rubbed off in the way that I play with narrative form and look for innovative ways to structure a story.

I'm versatile. I like to think that while a spare prose style comes easily, I can shift to something more "ornate" if it suits the story I'm telling. I'm working on a collection of short stories right now, and I hope that they are all distinctive when I'm finished.

I tag: whoever wants to play!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Holy crap.

Well, I just did it. I submitted a piece of my fiction for consideration in a Very. Respectable. Journal (no, it's not The New Yorker or anything, just a quarterly lit journal). Now it's time for the heart attack. This particular story has been written and stewing for several *years* now, so I figured it was probably time to shit or get off the pot, as it were. I gave it a once over several weeks ago, and I gave it another once over tonight, and now it's on its merry way, via the glorious Internet to a Very. Swanky. Editor. So, we'll see. I do have every expectation of being mercilessly shot down, but I figure if I'm ever to succeed I've gotta start stacking up the bodies rejection letters in hopes of getting an acceptance letter.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Peeking in windows to see what I see...

So maybe not peeking in windows in the literal sense, but I am recently and quite disgustingly taken with podcasts. As a result, I've become quite disturbingly preoccupied with Garrison Keillor's The Writer's Almanac radio bits. Really, though, what's not to love? I think I might even have an old-man crush on Garrison Keillor. The buttery voice makes me tingle a little. Not to mention the fact that he brings me daily, juicy niblets on some of my favorite writers.

For instance, in today's Writer's Almanac, I learned more about Sherwood Anderson, author of Winesburg, Ohio. I freely admit to you that I'm copying and pasting this next bit explicitly without the permission of Garrison Keillor (rawwr!) or The Writer's Almanac, but I'm hoping they'll take pity on my poor, country bumpkin soul since I'm giving them credit and simultaneously lusting after Garrison Keillor (play the flattery card!). And, technically, I probably could've found this information elsewhere on the web. Like, from those plagiarist ingrates over at Wikipedia.

But I digress...

It's the birthday of Sherwood Anderson, born in Camden, Ohio (1876). He was a manager at a mail-order paint company in Elyria, Ohio. But one day, out of the blue, he stood up from his desk and walked out of the office, ignoring everyone who asked where he was going. He was missing for several days, during which his wife received a bizarre letter from him that said, "There is a bridge over a river with cross-ties before it. When I come to that I'll be all right. I'll write all day in the sun and the wind will blow through my hair."

He was found four days later, wandering around in nearby Cleveland. He was diagnosed as having had a nervous breakdown, but he later claimed that he'd only pretended to be crazy so that the paint company wouldn't take him back. And he never did go back. He left his job and he and his wife moved to Chicago to join what became known as the Chicago Renaissance.

Anderson began writing every day, and one rainy night he got out of bed without any clothes on and began to write, as if in a trance, what became the first story for his collection Winesburg, Ohio (1919). He never wrote another book as successful as Winesburg, Ohio, but his simple prose style had a great influence on other writers, including Ernest Hemingway. In fact, a few years after Winesburg, Ohio came out, Anderson met the young Hemingway and wrote him letters of introduction so that he could go to Paris and meet writers like Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound. He also encouraged the young William Faulkner, whom he met in New Orleans. He inspired Faulkner to write his first novel and helped him get published.

Sherwood Anderson said, "I go about looking at horses and cattle. They eat grass, make love, work when they have to, bear their young. I am sick with envy of them."

Incidentally, when I listened to the radio version of this piece today, they left out that last part about cows making love. I suppose ye olde souls in public radio thought that was a little too steamy. I know I'm getting worked up.

The point is, I love reading about how inventive or innovative or just plain cracked some of my favorite authors were. In the case of Sherwood Anderson, I can't claim he's a favorite since I skipped reading Winesburg, Ohio in graduate school because I was at a conference that week. But, the real wonder of this Writer's Almanac thing is that I'm much more likely to actually pick the book up and read it this time because I know a nugget of unforgettable dirt on Sherwood Anderson.

Thank you, Writer's Almanac, and my beloved Gary Keillor (sometimes I just call him "Gare") for the enlightenment, the laughs, and on those hormonal days...the tears.


This is so true!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

A cheap Nick Hornby rip-off!

This weekend I attended a writer's group meeting in Wilmington. This particular group meeting was held at one of my very favoritest independent bookstores, Pomegranate Books. While I was there, even though I've taken a vow to not buy books, I couldn't help myself. You see, I'm always eager to support a good cause by buying books, and I consider Pomegranate--an independent, progressive, community-oriented shop--a very good investment.

With this vigor to help the community in mind, I indulged a new obsession. The Essay (preferably of the personal variety). Elise has been a huge fan of the essay for years, even did her thesis on New Media and the essay, and it appears she's finally rubbed off on me in a big way. And, truthfully, I often wonder if I'd be better cut out to write essays, sundry columns and social critique than fiction. I have a big mouth, a sharp tongue (and fingers?), and I'm pretty snarky when caught in the right mood, so why not? Anyway, I indulged my new addiction with two purchases:

-The Polysyllabic Spree, by Nick Hornby, a collection of 14 installments of his column from The Believer magazine.

-Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories, by Chuck Palahniuk. For those of you who aren't familiar, he wrote Fight Club, and all of his fiction that I've read is equally, if not more, twisted than that. I can only venture a guess at how crazy his essays will be. In truth, I read through the first one, "Testy Festy," a short chronicle of his experience at a Montana testicle festival, that made me sort of want to die. But I'll press on.

The entire point of this post, is my admiration for Hornby's book. His column is a monthly chronicle of the books he's brought into his home and those that he actually reads. To any tried and true bibliophile the amassing of books is a sacred ritual. I, my self, only me, own approximately 400 unread books. I think. I haven't counted in a while and I shudder to think.

In the spirit of Hornby's monthly ritual, I'm going to do something similar here. Not only will you get a taste of my precious book hoarding, you'll also get a monthly recap of the books I've ingested. I have a shameful tendency to forget to review the books I read (even though I add them to the sidebar), so these will be bite-sized reviews for you to take and do with what you will. And, as we're seeing another perfectly good month to an end, what better time to start?

Andi's August Reads (2007, just in case you'd forgotten)

The Dying Animal, by Philip Roth - 8.5/10 - A fantastic, if
sometimes frustrating, book about a professor/intellectual celebrity
and his dalliances. However, as he ages, he finds that he begins to
fall for one woman in a way he hadn't been able to before. All is
not pleasant as he finds himself in the midst of an obsession. More
than anything, The Dying Animal is about aging, the death of
sexuality, and the death of vigor.

Unmasqued, by Colette Gale - 7/10 - An erotic (not to be confused
with romantic) retelling of The Phantom of the Opera. Gale takes lots
of new directions with the story, but this was a decadent good time.
Look for a review in this month's Estella's Revenge.

Eclipse, by Stephenie Meyer - 9.5 of 10 - Pure enjoyment! I love
this series, and I got my hands on this book as quickly as I could.
I was not disappointed, as so many were, because I saw this story's
twist coming from a mile away! (I won't say more than that to avoid
spoiling.) While I do have issues with facets of Meyer's writing, I
just can't resist the characters.

Norwegian Wood, by Haruki Murakami - 10 of 10 - This one will likely
be one of my top 10 of the year. Murakami's story of a Japanese
college student coming of age is often compared to the penultimate
coming of age novel, The Catcher in the Rye. However, that
comparison is pretty vague because the books are dramatically
different. Toru, Norwegian Wood's protagonist, is almost like a
blank slate compared to his friends and acquaintances. Instead of
judging those around him as so many written teens and young adults
do, Toru absorbs the life and habits of those around him, holding
the story together with his endearing honesty and openness. I also
understand that this is one of Murakami's most "normal" novels. I'm
really excited to read others and see what he has up his sleeve.

So, yes, four books read in August. While it's sad in comparison to the nine or so books I knocked off in July, I've had to work. I've gotta make a livin', people!

The sadder state of affairs is the sheer number of books that have wormed their way into the house this month (and I'm sure B. would throw up in his mouth a little if he read this). While, admittedly, it's not as bad as last month, they're still stacking up at an alarming rate:

-Reading Comics and What They Mean, by Douglas Wolk (review book)
-Hauntings and Other Tales of Danger, Love, and Sometimes Loss, by Betsy Hearne (review book)
-Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause (BookMooch)
-Norwegian Wood, by Haruki Murakami (from a Shelfari recommendation)
-Freaks: Alive on the Inside, by Annette Curtis Klause (Carl V.'s enabling and BookMooch)
-O Pioneers!, by Willa Cather (gift card!)
-Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne (gift card!)
-A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson (a gift, thanks, Les!)
-Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, by Gabrielle Zevin (a gift, thanks, Heather F.!)
...and the two books of essays I mentioned before, of course.

Now, the up side to all of this is that I spent very little money. I'm tickled to have publishers that want to send me stuff for Estella's Revenge and really good friends who throw books at me. Not to mention BookMooch, which I affectionately call "the crack house."

In other (abbreviated) news, school is going fine. Week two is drawing to a close and I'm still standing. Except that I'm lying in the floor typing this. But that's neither here nor there. Work life is good, home life is good, creative life is good. I really can't complain.

With that, I'm off to teach a night class. Behave!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Move over Hugh Laurie, there's a literary crush in town!

No spoilers! I wouldn't do that to you!

That's right, folks, one of the most delightful things has happened. Stephenie Meyer's new young adult novel, Eclipse, arrived on my doorstep (quite literally) from Amazon last week. I spent a few days finishing a review book for Estella's Revenge, and finally cracked the spine (figuratively) on Eclipse Friday afternoon. As of last night around 6:00 pm Eastern time, I turned the last page in tears and sighed a sigh of the truly satisfied and slightly heartbroken.

What's all the fuss about? A new literary crush, of course!

As you might have imagined, I've had something of a literary girl-crush on Estella of Great Expectations for a number of years now. I'll give you a minute to absorb the shock. I know, I know, you wouldn't have guessed if I hadn't told you.

Before I delve into the details of my obsession, let's talk a bit about the literary crush in general. For most of the bookish women I know, the most prevalent crush is on Mr. Darcy of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice fame. For there's something so perfectly, distractingly, fascinatingly wonderful about Mr. Darcy that the bookworm girls of the world have a hard time leaving him to his respective pages. For he is a man so wonderfully written that he jumps right off the page and into our collective hearts and panties. He's suave, he's smart, he's just a bit of a jackass, and he loves Lizzie. Awww. It makes us swoon. Swoon I tell you.

And my new literary crush, while certainly not a classic, is good enough for me. He is one of Stephenie Meyer's characters from her Twilight series, and he's played the biggest role thus far in Eclipse. His name, Jacob Black, his ancestry, werewolf.

As he's described in the book, Jacob is a member of the Quileute tribe--6'7" tall with russett skin and shaggy black hair. That's one tall drink of water, kids. And beyond the yummy physical description, we get the angst. As a Quileute and a werewolf, he's forever the mortal enemy of any vampire, even the (relatively) innocent Cullen family. Which means he's the sworn enemy of Edward Cullen, Bella Swann's, our protagonist's, true lurv.

Twisted? Oh yes. High school? Yep.

Does it matter? Hell no!

There's something so wonderfully tragic and sweet about Jacob that I just can't help but want to manhandle hug him. He's the best underdog (pardon the pun) that I've read in a very long time, and I can't help but wish he'd jump off the page and play space heater for me on a cold cold night.

Did I just type that out loud?

Anyway, if you've had any inclination to read Meyer's Twilight series, get your butt off the couch and run down to the nearest bookstore (or Wal-Mart) to pick it up. While Meyer's writing leaves a little something to be desired at times (some overused expressions, etc.) it doesn't matter. The story is involving and wonderful and if you're a hopeless romantic like myself, you will totally dig it. You'll be giggling like a 16-year-old girl before it's all said and done. Even you guy readers. Don't be scared. Embrace it.

Monday, August 6, 2007

The Question of Planning

I wrote a novel when I was fourteen years old. If you really want to call it that. I was recovering from a childhood full of paranormal thrillers and romances by the likes of Christopher Pike, R.L. Stine and L.J. Smith. While I refuse, at the ripe ole age of 26, to look back on those authors with any ill will or embarrassment (I still re-read the L.J. Smith titles occasionally), I was definitely familiar with and fond--at the time--of formulaic plots. As a result, I got the itch to write a novel. It was a thrilling, if somewhat poorly executed, paranormal/Christian thriller type mess.

I remember sitting down at a very old word processor (not a wordprocessing program, kids, a word processor with a screen *thisbig*). I toiled away for several months sitting in front of my teeny-tiny monitor cranking out pages of single-spaced text about the heroine, Tori, and her boyfriend who looked oddly like a character from a Saturday morning teen comedy. Think Saved by the Bell, but worse. Finally, at the end of the four-month endeavor I had 86 pages of that single-spaced novel and a heart full of hope that one day, ONE DAY I might be as good as L.J. Smith.

Now, admittedly, my perspective has changed a bit. While I still enjoy the occasional fluffy romance, I'm much more interested in "literary" fiction, whatever that is by the likes of Philip Roth, Ali Smith, Siri Hustvedt and Paul Auster. I read with a feeling of wonder at how exactly they grab me by the nosehairs and keep me rapt.

Now, as I sit down to write my novel, I do so with a sense of fear that I didn't feel as a teen. I wrote that first novel with a sense of wild abandon, of committing myself to the page wholeheartedly. I didn't think too much about plot, I just let it unfold as it would. I cried when I read the emotionally heavy passages. I did all those things, as a teen, that I think I'm supposed to do now. That "real" authors say that they do.

Now I find myself planning. Planning planning planning. Scribbling, thinking, pondering, connecting the dots in my head. I can't help but wonder if I should stop thinking so much and just write.

Somehow I think that maybe I'm missing the mark on both counts; that there's some fine line between completely unprepared writing and overly planned writing.

If I find the line, you all will be the first to know...