Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The tour in review


This is all I did for two months.


Greetings, netlings! Hope you're enjoying the war on Christmas!

(This morning I told the cranky, list-boggled husband he was a General fighting the War on Christmas. His response: If I was General, this war would've been won by now.)

Anyhoo, long time no blog. I've been in hiding. Nothing like several months of non-stop self-promotion to make a girl crawl back into her cave for awhile. Honestly? It's been wonderful. I'm back at work on the new book, I've written a bunch of ghost stories. Even my writerly meltdowns have had a pleasant sort of self-locating quality to them, like, Ah, yes, this is who I am. (I am a person who will cry to the tune of four thousand It Gets Better videos just to avoid writing.)

This is me talking.
Promoting a book is  . . . well, good holy hell, it's just insane. It's so much fun, and it makes you completely mentally ill. Try talking about yourself non-stop for two months, taking breaks only to switch time zones by plane, train, or automobile, and you've got the idea. It's more overwhelming than I ever would have imagined. After nearly a month on the road, I flew home with about 16 hours to kill before I was scheduled to read at Elliott Bay Book Company. During my time away, I had been on two continents, oscillating between anxiety and exhilaration, enjoying too little sleep and too much of the kind of diet I consume while traveling (whatever protein I can find to avoid passing out; red wine & coffee) and now I arrived at Elliott Bay hoping I would at least remember the name of my own book and my own self, should anyone ask me.

Yellow beverages figured prominently on this book tour.

It's funny; my exhaustion was so complete I actually almost miss it. That floaty, out-of-body feeling, the utter inability to try too hard. Or maybe I just miss the way I slept that night after my reading, grateful, relishing my own sheets and the fact that all future events would be close to Seattle. I spent the next day in my pajamas, reading. Never have I  craved my bed and the absorbing world of books more profoundly.

I'm talking some more!
From roughly mid-July to mid-October, I couldn't write to save my life. I don't know how writers like Joyce Carol Oates and  T.C. Boyle do it. How do they put out a book a year AND go on tour AND, um, put out a book a year?! There's something almost monstrous about that much energy coursing through one human being. My hat is off to you writers. Shoot, my whole outfit is off. I'm in awe.

October clipped along with more events, interviews, and this incessant buzzing in my ear that turned out to be the sound of my own voice. Then, emerging from months held hostage by that dominatrix Yoga Bitch, November was this great gift of time; book promotion had slowed to a nice gentle simmer, and each morning I flew to my desk, overflowing with ideas. I wrote stories, drafted chapters of the new book, cobbled together essays I'll pitch in the new year. Honestly, looking back on the last month, it's a little scary, how productive I was. (Maybe this is how JCO and TCB do it: they become manic at the thought of an empty calendar.) For months, everything I had written was yoga-related, and, now, having permission to write whatever I wanted again (permission from the horrid taskmaster that lives in my brain and keeps telling me I'm not doing enough to keep Yoga Bitch afloat) I went a little nuts.

Aunt Suzanne, still talking.
Now it's December. Never a good writing month, what with the houseguests, the parties, the bonbons and mulled wine to consume. So in lieu of writing, I've done something I've dreamt about doing for years. I've cleaned out every box, every desk drawer, every cubby and trunk in the house. In the hallway beneath the attic hatch are several stacks of files, notebooks, costumes, props, and about three Douglas Firs' worth of paper.

I am purging Yoga Bitch. The play, the memoir, the abandoned novel. The urine sample containers. I'm purging her in the most loving way possible. At first I thought I would shred all the early drafts, the novel, the outlines made in 2004 when I thought I could fit every single thought I had ever had into this one book. But my God, the process contained in those drafts! I learned how to write on the back of this story. I learned how to revise, how to structure, how to cut and cut and cut.

With my brilliant director, Jean-Michele Gregory, after Yoga Bitch opened in London


I've shredded a lot, and recycled a lot, but I'm keeping the drafts and the notebooks, at least for now. They'll move into the attic, and in the new year I'll start filling all the gaps they've left in my house with new work. It's remarkable, really, this chore; relegating to the past something that consumed me for so long has proven to be one of those rare, perfect experiences that is as good in reality as it was in my imagination. It's an unmitigated joy, uncomplicated by regret or nostalgia. The void waits patiently to be filled. It's a pretty great thing, really.





Twenty-five years old, in Bali.















Monday, November 7, 2011

Demons & the Afterlife

Hey! This glorious fall morning I walked down to KIRO radio headquarters, where I was on the Ross & Burbank show, chatting about yoga's demonic underbelly, urine therapy, sexual misconduct, the works. Here's the link. Dave Ross and Luke Burbank are so smart and so funny. And my self-interview is up over at the marvelous literary site The Nervous Breakdown. To up the meta quotient, I thought about interviewing myself about the interview. I wrote up a few questions and everything. But then I canceled on myself.

Writers are SO flaky.

But if you're just dying for more Yoga Bitch coverage, check out my website-- I've updated it with more interviews, reviews, TV spots, etc.

Happy Monday!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

“I think the single most defining characteristic of a writer” – I found myself saying to a friend the other day, when she asked my thoughts on the teaching of writing – “I mean the difference between a writer and someone who ‘wants to be a writer,’ is a high tolerance for uncertainty.”
                                                                         --Sonya Chung

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Twenty-Four Hour Yoga Cure for Trolls | Books for Better Living


Here's a piece I wrote for Books for Better Living, about visiting my old yoga roommate Jessica as I prepared for the launch of Yoga Bitch.

I'll be in Olympia for an event at the Timberland Library this Wednesday night, and Jessica will be there! If you're nearby, come on out to meet her and get your book signed. It's gonna be a fun one. Details on my website.

The Twenty-Four Hour Yoga Cure for Trolls | Books for Better Living

Writing any book is an arduous task, one full of setbacks and anxiety— and those are just the mental and emotional issues! Physically, writing is brutal. It’s manual labor. Your neck juts out as you puzzle through a difficult sentence. Your shoulders fly to your ears. Your back rounds into a human comma. If someone snuck into my room and took a picture of me writing, I’m pretty sure I would look like a pale troll with a bad case of scoliosis. And being a troll is a workout! There have been days when I feel like a triathlete when I get up from my desk. (Not that I actually know what a triathlete feels like; in truth, just the thought of a triathlon makes me need six months of physical therapy and a prescription for Vicodin.)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Flannery O'Connor

Here's a recording of Flannery O'Connor reading A Good Man is Hard to Find. I love hearing this story in her voice. This story never fails to astonish me, no matter how many times I read it.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Horror Stories, Island Stories, and the teachers who gave me everything


I was in Portland this week for my reading at Powell's, the world's most extraordinary bookstore, followed by a dizzying shopping spree in which I purchased enough books to get me through the fall, or at least October. I've been on a ghost story kick lately, so I picked up a hefty load of M.R. James, Sarah Waters, and more. I'm in the mood for haunted houses and wicked children.

Before my visit to Powell's, I stopped by KATU-TV's AM Northwest to talk with Helen Raptis about the path to God, to love, and my book, "Yoga Witch with a B."

Here's the link to that interview.

Now I'm at home, in bed, nursing a wee cold (a month of travel was bound to catch up with me eventually) and prepping for my reading tonight at Island Books.

I grew up on Mercer Island, and have always considered Island Books to be the spiritual center of the island. That lovely little bookstore holds a very special place in my heart. It was my first bookstore. I remember buying picture books there, Little House on the Prairie, Nancy Drew mysteries. All of those young adult novels I devoured, especially the ones that featured sexually-active teenagers. Those were the best. I went through my Anne of Green Gables kick at Island books, and eventually Roger, the owner there, suggested my mother give me Ursula Hegi's collection of linked stories, Floating in My Mother's Palm, which was the first book of short stories I read, and the first time I became aware that certain books are considered literature.

When I started this blog, I wrote about the experience reading Floating in My Mother's Palm here. This time of year, when the bright, sunny days turn grey, always reminds me of that book.

Tonight's reading was featured in the Mercer Island Reporter (lovingly nicknamed the Distorter by Island residents from the time I was little!) You can read that interview right here.

Naturally, returning to the place where I grew up in order to read from my first book has got me revisiting the past. All morning I've been thinking about the teachers who got me here: Frank Perry, my fourth grade writing teacher who singled me out to read in front of the class a story I had written called-- well, "It." I can't recall if I consciously chose to rip Stephen King's title off, or if this was just a coincidence. But I remember relishing the title either way. I also remember Mr. Perry telling me I should keep writing, that I had a knack for it. He told us that the most important thing was to grab the reader with a strong opening sentence. I remember thinking: I can do that, and then writing an opening that went something like The hands tightened around her neck, and Sarah knew she was about to die. (I was very into horror when I was a child. I also wrote a lot of stories about cannibalistic witches.)

Carol Muth, that same year, was my teacher for all other subjects, and she made us kids memorize a poem a week (or was it a month? felt like every week) so that we could internalize the rhythms of good writing. Or maybe it was just so we would learn to love poetry. I don't know. But I can still recite the Jabberwock by heart, and I think of Mrs. Muth every time I read Emily Dickinson. In my mind, Mrs. Muth was Emily Dickinson. I know she was married and had children, but somehow I always think of her with a bun in her hair and a beautiful, tragic love story in her heart.

Then there were the teachers who came along later: Cece Caley, Ruthie Newman, Chip Wall, who introduced me to books and ideas, who challenged me to think for myself. My theater directors, who taught me how to craft a narrative: Peter Donaldson, Sue Clement. And through it all, my piano teacher, Lois Jacobsen, who taught me one of the most important requirements of art-making: discipline. (Not that I was a terrifically disciplined piano student. But when I sit down to improve a story, I know how to work paragraph by paragraph, just as she taught me to perfect a piece measure by measure.)

Art really doesn't pay, but I am rich with the gifts these teachers gave me. They'll all be with me tonight; they always are.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

On the Teevee

I was on King-5's New Day Northwest this morning, talking about the Bitch. Fun!


                                    

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Showoffasana


All you have to do in this pose is tell your friends you've read Ulysses.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Yoga Bitch Giveaways

One of my favorite bloggers, Claire Bidwell Smith, author of the forthcoming book The Rules of Inheritance, is giving away free copies of Yoga Bitch on her blog! Read more about it here.

Yoga Bitch isn’t just a book for yogis; rather it’s a book for seekers, for those of us who know there’s more out there, even if finding it means giving up everything about who you thought you were in order to become who you always wanted to be.

And Yogadork, the end-all be-all of yoga blogs, is also giving away free copies of my book. Here's that contest. You have till Wednesday to enter!

I'm in DC now, headed to New York tomorrow. Yesterday I had my first reading and it was more fun than I ever could have imagined. I'll post pics & details soon.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Water me and I sprout interviews

Interview with the Washington Post Express, here. I was also on KUOW's The Conversation today. Here's a link to that puppy, too.

Day after tomorrow I fly to Washington, DC for the first stop on my book tour, right here.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Kirkus Review Interview, Yoga Dork review & more!

Here's an interview I did with Molly Brown over at Kirkus, a review from Yoga Dork, and an interview with Nancy Alder over at elephant journal. And my piece over at recovering yogi has been reposted to elephant journal here and every time I look at it another thousand people have read it. 4500 so far. The yogis have been coming out for this book! An ongoing twitter discussion of Yoga Bitch has been going on as part of the twitter yoga book club (#YOBC). I'm taking part in the discussion even though I am somewhat clueless about the way twitter works. But I'm trying! Anyway, it's all a great deal of fun.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Seattleite

Seattleite has decided I'm their Dynamic Seattleite of the day. Pretty neat for a gal who goes to work in her pajamas.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Yoga Cynic reviews Yoga Bitch

I like this elephant journal review very much.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that Yoga Bitch remains far too smart a book for either formulaic extreme. while Morrison admits to wanting to write a classic spiritual memoir about finding the God she desperately wants to believe in, she finds she can’t, honestly, and doesn’t. And, while she ends up with a sort of dueling duo of disillusionments—with both the painfully earnest-yet-hypocritical uber-new agey side of yoga culture and the ultra-commercialized even-more-hypocritical big city variety—she’s not willing to throw it all out the window, either (not permanently, at least). Like no other yoga/travel memoir I’ve read, she critically examines the condescension of affluent westerner yogis who can afford to romanticize poverty and think they’re giving dark-skinned third world people a compliment in calling them innocent. To anyone who finds the previous sentence confusing, I couldn’t recommend Yoga Bitch more highly.

Reading Christianity in the Age of Glenn Beck

Latest dispatch from my Huffington Post blog, here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Confessions of a recovering flowtard

Here's a piece I probably had too much fun writing. It's over at Recovering Yogi, a smart, wicked online yoga magazine. UPDATE: This piece has been reposted to elephant journal, right here.

. . . Something interesting has happened since I finished writing Yoga Bitch. I think I may have grown all wise and shit. No, really. I think I’m just a little bit enlightened. Like, I seem to have evolved in my practice so that very little bothers me and I don’t really care if I look terrible in class, or if everybody around me can do crow pose while I lie face-down on my mat, weeping silently. I’m just sort of okay with that, now. It’s like, having written Yoga Bitch, I said what I needed to say and now I can just be a yogi who happens to cry a lot during the more challenging postures.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Yoga Bitch is in Bookstores Today!


In a few hours I am going to walk up the hill to my favorite bookstore on the planet, Elliott Bay Book Company, where I will buy a copy of my book. Not that I need another copy-- I've got colorful little Yoga Bitches tucked into every corner of my house and two giant boxes of books downstairs. But I've been dreaming of seeing a book with my name on it at Elliott Bay Books since I was a sixteen-year-old. So I'm buying one for her.

Friday, August 12, 2011

S.P. Miskowski's horror novel



S.P. Miskowski's excellent horror novel, Knock Knock, is on sale over at Amazon's Kindle store right now. If you are a lover of great writing and creepy tales, fork over the 3.99 today and start reading. It's cheaper than a latte! Scarier, too.

Miskowski is a brilliant writer. I've linked to her stories here before, but this one in particular is a favorite-- and it's actually a story from this book.

The timing couldn't be more perfect for Knock Knock to be unleashed: it is a story for autumn, when the days are getting shorter and drearier. It was made for the season when you stop feeling guilty about staying in bed late on a Sunday morning-- it's raining, so who wants to leave the house? Buy it now, and wait for that first day when you know summer is ending. In Seattle that day is everyday, so we are, in a sense, spoiled. This novel was made for my city.

Three girls grapple their way to womanhood in a Pacific Northwest town haunted by its own sins. They make one terrible mistake that sets the story in motion. Once that mistake has been made, you will not be able to put the book down. Cancel your evening plans. Cancel your eating plans, too; you won't be able to walk down the stairs to the kitchen without turning on all the lights. Or running. Or both. I recommend reading this book in bed with a pot of coffee or tea nearby. Keep the shades up so you can watch the sky darkening. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Me & My Monkey Mind

An article I wrote is up on elephant journal, right here. Narcissism meets a bout of altruism for a surprising discovery on the mat!

I once had a yoga teacher in New York tell me and the rest of her class that we had a little watcher inside our minds, witnessing our every thought. Like a little stalker. We were listening to the Police as she spoke, and she ended her sermon by saying, “Your witness is always there, always somewhere nearby. So that every move you make, every breath you take, you’ll be watching you.”

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Behold, a new website is born.

My new website is up! You can read the first chapter of my book (my heart stopped beating for a second there, imagining actual humans reading my book), you can watch the trailers, you can even buy the book! It's like, a real website.

Yoga Bitch will be in bookstores in less than three weeks now. Gulp. This shit just got real.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Professionalcrastinator

Professionalcrastinator: when you're so good at procrastinating, you should charge for it.


Look at this neat drawing I found today!

Last Monday was my first day back at the desk. And yes, I was at my desk all day. I even came close to opening the document I intended to work in. And then I decided to check out photographs from Tiffany's wedding in Rome. Tootle around Facebook for a few minutes. Watch a video of a cat barking approximately twelve times. (The first two hits were just for me; the subsequent ten viewings were to watch my cat's reaction and then laugh and then hit play again.)

Monday was the throat-clearing day. The running start that ended just at the lip of the cliff from which I meant to leap. A few years ago, days like that made me nearly suicidal with self-loathing. The walls of my house are pocked with scars from those days. Slammed doors, temper tantrums. God forbid someone should call me during one of those fits; that would be enough to convince me that I had to move away to the country, or better yet, leave the country entirely, go someplace where there will be no distractions at all.

These days I find this period disagreeable but necessary; the wasted day typically ends with me writing miserably in my journal and making vows to do better tomorrow. And more often than not, I manage to fulfill that promise within a day or two. On Tuesday I sat down with that worm in my stomach, the worm that turns at the sight of the blank page or my hands at the keyboard. I sat and stared. I didn't know what to do. I knew that the story was now in Europe, and that I wanted to say something about how I arrived in Dublin to find I wasn't as brave as I had hoped I would be. I was actually terrified; nineteen, away from home for the first time, with no real plans other than to not leave Europe for many months. But I didn't know how to frame it. Actually, I didn't really know how to write at all anymore. All that Italian food made me soft and stupid and all I wanted to do was go loll around in a park somewhere and drink prosecco until my every ambition had drained away.

But then I had a thought: what if I just write the shittiest thing I've ever written in my life? I mean, at this point I'm basically writing in order to find out what the story is, so why not start terribly and see if it leads somewhere interesting? So I wrote a sentence that sucked. And then another one. And it was sort of fun, just writing shitty sentences. Freeing. And then I wrote this sentence: The Irish wouldn’t stop touching me.

That one sucked less. It kind of made me laugh a little. So I built on it, and just like that, I was back at work. 

Priscilla Long wrote a wonderful book on writing called The Writer's Portable Mentor, which I have found enormously useful in the often-harrowing process of writing my second book. One of the best pieces of advice she offers is to write for fifteen minutes every day, no matter what. I didn't manage that during my European vacation, but when I'm home I use that rule to make sure that a day doesn't go by without my rubbing at least a few words together. This keeps the urge alive, that little spark that wants fuel. 

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were all great good writing days. Today, however? Today I am such a magnificent procrastinator I am thinking about opening up a consulting business for writers who are too disciplined. I will teach them how to google funny cat videos and clips of girls crying while saying funny things about cats. I will insist that they interrupt their writing sessions to email dear friends about wall sconces and a wonderful new face serum. They will tweet and 'like' many things on Facebook. They will learn of Peter Falk's death and google every obituary out there and then make a list of favorite Columbo episodes to send to their friend Kate but then get distracted halfway through by an overwhelming urge to declare on Facebook that today is Hangover or Food Poisoning day, because I got one of those last night for sure.

Ahem.

So, in short: today I have written for fifteen minutes. I have written this blog post for fifteen minutes, maybe even more minutes than fifteen. And tomorrow, I will be back on the book.

Oh, but what I really wanted to say was this: my goal of finishing the first draft of the book by the time Yoga Bitch hits bookstores August 16th? Ah ha. Hahaha. Ahahahahahahahahahahaha. 

Revised goal: Um, I will, uh.

FOOD POISONING OR HANGOVER DAY COMMENCES HERE. ALL WORK MUST HALT AT ONCE AND ALL ASSES MUST FIND THEIR WAY TO COUCHES. THANK YOU FOR YOUR ATTENTION TO THIS MESSAGE. FAILURE TO COMPLY WILL RESULT IN A STARING CONTEST WITH MICHELLE BACHMANN. 
Ciao, netlings!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

How Yoga Bitch became Yoga Bitch

Here's a piece on the Awl about how Yoga Bitch got its name. Matthew Gallaway's Publishing School is a great column about the ins and outs of book publishing; I wish it had been around when I was first getting started. Here, he asked me and three other writers about the process of naming-- and possibly renaming-- our books.

Friday, June 17, 2011

V.S. Naipaul can kiss my ladyknickers.

I'm a bit late to this party, but I finally read this piece in Salon about V.S. Naipaul's opinion that women writers stink. That Jane Austen was no match for him. That women are capable of nothing but "feminine tosh." His analysis of Austen reminds me of the way I used to think about Austen before I had actually read Austen. When all I knew of her were her movies and the girls in sweater sets who always claimed her as their favorite author.

In an interview with the Royal Geographic Society on Tuesday Naipaul replied, "I don't think so" when asked if he considered any woman writer his literary match. He further said, of Jane Austen, that he "couldn't possibly share her sentimental ambitions, her sentimental sense of the world," elaborating that women writers are "quite different … I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me." 

You know, this deserves no response. It deserves to be ignored as the ramblings of one more cranky old dude showing the world that he's on his way out. He has outlived his usefulness. But, but! I must respond through the words of the magnificent Fran Lebowitz, who speaks so eloquently about Jane Austen.  She's exquisitely smart on Austen here, though, as a side note, I particularly love her analysis of the philistine tendency to make every book a "learning opportunity" or a "lesson." I hate the idea of reading for self-improvement. As if one should ever learn lessons from artists! (See above lesson from Mr. Naipaul if you think authors should be teaching us lessons.) Yet too often I read reviews or hear people speak of the books they read as if the entire project were designed to make us feel better about ourselves. As if Dostoyevsky wrote just to warn us not to gamble or live in dark basements. Tolstoy merely wanted us to think twice before looking outside the bonds of marriage for happiness. As if Edith Wharton's House of Mirth were merely a PSA about the perils of laudanum for the impecunious social climber. Fran Lebowitz delivers a killing blow to this idea, and it is most welcome. 

Enjoy.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Publishers Weekly calls Yoga Bitch "thoughtful, honest, and hilarious."

Here's an early review from Publishers Weekly that made me very happy on my last night in Rome. I had just returned to the apartment we rented in Trastevere, full of many courses of caprese, pasta all'amatriciana, and veal, when I saw the email from my agent with this review and a smattering of exclamation points.

Let me tell you: it had already been a great day. Any day in which I eat not one, but two orders of chocolate gelato ranks highly in my personal book of days. But this sweet review was a pretty nice capper.

Things are getting exciting now that we're a little over two months away from Yoga Bitch hitting bookstores. There's been so much excitement my publisher is actually moving my on-sale date up a week, to August 16th. I had great meetings in Europe-- met the wonderful Kruger team in Germany, and my German, though incredibly rusty, (it's been fourteen years since I was speaking German regularly) miraculously held up. Then I met my editor and publicist from Kosmos in Amsterdam and we plotted a publicity trip to Amsterdam in September over some delicious Indonesian food. I have to say, I really love publishing people. It's kind of a dream come true to have meetings with people who read books for a living. There's nothing better than working with the best kind of people, and in my view, people who always have a book on their person are the very best kind of people.

Now I'm home, the sun is out, and we have new trim on the windows in our bedroom that needs painting. I'm working on flap copy for the Bitch, and thinking about getting back to work on the new book. I only have a couple of months before Yoga Bitch launches, and I have set for myself an impossible goal: to have the second half of the new book drafted by then. Two months. I might have to revise that deadline as it approaches, but for now, I've got my work cut out for me. Starting tomorrow.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Los Angeles Times Recommends Yoga Bitch!

Greetings from Rome, netlings! I'm extremely busy digesting about eight hundred pounds of pizza and pasta, veal scallopine and parmigiana reggiano, but I wanted to check in to post this exciting development: The LA Times has named my little Bitch in their recommended summer reading list! I'm pretty excited. If I weren't lying down, moaning in pain from eating enough to feed a Roman army, I would do a little happy dance. Instead, I'm going to do a little happy moan.

And then, gelato!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Magic

Good golly, I believe in miracles. Despite being tubercular of lung and syphilitic of mind, I have finished the first half of my new book just in time to hop on a plane and fly to Europe, where I will attend my dear friend Tiffany's wedding in Rome and visit publishers in Germany and the Netherlands to discuss the launch of Yoga Bitch in both countries. 

It is truly a miracle. Of course, I might return from Europe and find that my coming-of-age story took a sharp left turn during my illness, transfiguring itself into a glorious epic in which faeries and warlocks fight an evil elvin doctor over a few precious dewdroppers of magical magical codeine. But for now, it seems to be the story I set out to tell.

At present, my new book is structured in two halves, and I seem to have fought my way through the fog in my brain to actually finish the first half yesterday. I'm a big believer in deadlines, however arbitrary they might be, and so I told myself I would finish the first half of the book before I leave. My story is about to move to Europe for Part 2, and I liked the idea that I would go to Europe just as the story did.

Here's the thing: it's an unholy mess of a first draft. I shudder to think of anyone reading it before I have the chance to make it work. But buried in the swamp is a footpath that's finally becoming clear. (And it leads straight to that magical elixir! My precious. My precious sweet syrup!)

Ahem. But no, just the act of pressing forward with the story brought so many connections to light. Until I found the ending yesterday-- an ending I didn't anticipate, but recognized when it arrived-- I had been toying with the notion of fixing up Part 1 before moving on to Part 2. I was feeling sort of grossed-out by the uneven writing and hiccupy structure in that first section, and thought it might help the writing to come if I spruced it up a bit first.

But then I found that surprising ending, only by moving forward. It pulled together, quite on its own, the opening chapter of the book, several themes that had been shouting at me through the din, and the heart of the story-- a heart I lose track of sometimes in this first draft. And I think it did all that without looking like a stupid cutesy dumbass bow, too. I think. I hope. But the point is, that ending seemed to be a promise: keep moving forward, and you'll find your way. So I think that's what I'm gonna do. I'm going to Europe, and so is my story.

And there . . . we will get the good drugs. The faerie princess will find the magical ogre who holds the key to the liquor cabinet, and he will get her that dew-and-codeine on the rocks! It will be magical, nay Magickal! Wondrous and magickal!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Inbreeding, Plagues, and Glorious Messes of All Kinds

Here' s a bit of Morrison family humor: My parents are traveling around the UK and Europe and have made a detour in order to pay their respects at the grave of their common ancestor in Dorset. It seems I am the twisted progeny of an incestuous marriage. Sure, my parents' mutual relative died in the sixteenth century, but still. Inbreeding. Incest. My parents have gone all Angels & Insects on us.

Meanwhile, at home in Seattle, a plague has befallen us: the husband has the bubonic and I am flirting with it but keeping it at bay with loads of zinc and good theater: I always believe in doing more when I'm getting sick-- I have this theory that nothing beats a cold like the will to live. And what reasons for living have I enjoyed this week! Mike Daisey's The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs at Seattle Rep, and last night Elizabeth Kenny's Sick at New City Theater. It's also Solo Performance Festival time at Theatre Off-Jackson, and I'm planning to catch Troy Mink and Matt Smith, two of the finest jewels in Seattle's crown, in the coming week. Plague, be gone! I will make offerings to the god of inbred children, that he may forgive me the sins of my forefathers!

I'm miraculously nearing the halfway point in the new book. It's a huge mess, of course (and I vowed that I would stop referring to it as such, but honestly, there's just no other way to describe it) but, BUT! this glorious mess is getting me somewhere, namely a finished draft that I can start to really work with. I am the sort of person who has to discover the same truths over and over again, and so even though I've had this epiphany about twelve million times now, it bears repeating: this first draft is the discovery draft. I'm just digging around in my head to see what's there. The story is revealing itself to me like a trip wire in the sand. And while this flawed metaphor of the trip wire might end with something exploding in my face, well, that's just the nature of this writing business.

***

Hello again.

So, I started writing the above well over a week ago, before the plague that felled my strong husband did a number on me. Since then, I've been in bed, coughing blood into handkerchiefs (not really, I just like the idea), and wondering when to call my cousin, a priest, for last rites (also not really, but isn't it a thrillingly tragic thought?). Tonight I'm supposed to be hosting a story slam called DIRTY LITTLE STORIES at the closing night party of the Solo Performance Festival, but instead I will be home, talking smutty to the codeine bottle in my barely-there Kathleen Turner voice. Es super sexy.

This past week has been dreadfully dull, all Mucinex and Nyquil and bad TV. But I've had two bright surprises. This, the very first review of Yoga Bitch, up on Kirkus Reviews. (Quoth Kirkus: "Brings the higher path down to earth with refreshing honesty.") And then today, the marvelous Lia Aprile of Shantitown posted this little bit of loveliness about yours truly, complete with a blurb about how she hasn't read my book but she knows it's gonna be good! I love this woman!

I was feeling a bit low-- I've never canceled a show in my life, not even when I was performing Yoga Bitch in London and had a stomach flu so fierce I couldn't keep food down for three days. I still got onstage. But without a voice? No dice. Luckily Keira McDonald will be there to step in for me, but I've still been feeling wretched with guilt. So when Lia sent me her post this afternoon, it put a stopper in my bottle of sucktasticness and made me feel a bit less plagued.

I've been reading Lia's blog for years, now, and I think it's one of the finest yoga blogs out there. Wise, funny, and most affectingly, honest. Lia doesn't shy away from exploring the underbelly of the yogic path or the glorious mess of trying to live a spiritual life; she puts it all out there, ego, self-indulgence, fear, ambition, laziness. And let me tell you something: I am far more familiar with those five limbs of the human experience than I may ever be with Yoga's eight. So when Lia gets to talking about transcendence and transformation, I pay attention, because I know where she's coming from. So this is my thank-you blurb to the lovely Lia Aprile. Really, check out her blog. Here's a wonderful piece she wrote for Elephant Journal, How to Tell if You're a Yoga A-Hole.

I'm on too much codeine right now to wrap this up tidily, so I'll just say this: even if my parents brought a plague upon the house of Morrison, even if I've failed in my duty to the SPF closing night party and left an audience in the dark, clamoring for the dirty filthy stories I will not be able to provide them, even if I'm a bit of an inbred mess, today was still an okay day. Because of compliments. Because I really love compliments.

With that, I die.
(Or nap.)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Agony . . . and the agony: A meditation on Blurbs.

You know what's hard? Asking famous and semi-famous writers to stop whatever they're doing in order to read your book and say something nice about it. This is essentially what one must do in the battle for blurbs-- an aspect of writing and publishing a book I never considered until very recently. Blurbing. Asking people for compliments. Asking busy, talented, important people to compliment your unknown, cuss-filled, flawed little creation even though they've never met you and probably have dozens of people they have met asking them for the exact same favor. Oh, and they've also got their own careers and stuff keeping them busy. Their own books and blurbs to worry about.

I gotta say, it's mortifying. And harrowing. I woke up at four-thirty this morning squriming with self-loathing. I imagined every single person on my blurb list looking at the title of my book and thinking, Yoga Bitch? That doesn't sound like Good Literature. To the recycling bin-- or, no! Don't recycle it! We don't want a title like that coming around again. Burn it! Burn it! Aiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!


I even imagined one or two of them meeting some other writers for drinks after receiving my book, just so they could commiserate about it. Those other writers? Tolstoy. Marquez. Isherwood. All of them having a good laugh about the little girl from Seattle with the idea that she's a writer. Lifting their glasses to toast the great hilarious truth:  Everyone, but everyone, thinks they can write a book.

And then I did this meditation where I imagined myself pointing my index and middle fingers just beneath my chin, like a gun, and making a sound like the gun was going off. And I started to feel a little better.

I got out of bed and got online. Which was dumb. I brought Colette's Collected Claudine with me, which would have made me feel better if I'd bothered to crack its spine. But instead I hunted around online for other young writers, to see what kind of blurbs they got. And then I lamented not having pursued an MFA. At least then you have professors you can guilt into blurbing you, right? I took one creative writing class in college, from David Shields, author of many books including the kickass Reality Hunger, but he's kind of post-narrative, and I'm pretty much narrative-narrative. Like, narrative is my religion. I only believe in narrative. And the prefix post- gives me the sweats; makes me think of death.

Anyway, I don't think he'd even remember me. The guy who wrote the hilarious and charming stories about men working in a mannequin factory? Memorable. My story about a woman whose elderly husband dresses up like Raggedy Ann and marches along the beach playing an invisible piccolo? Um, forget I mentioned it, please. I'm still trying to.

Anyway, everything was just awful, my prospects, my past. And then I remembered I had saved an article another writer had posted on Facebook earlier that day. An article from the Awl about the importance of blurbs and cover art.  Bennett Madison says this:

A lot of times I think blurbs are just for the writer's ego, 'cause like, you get to ask people you admire to blurb your stuff and then if they do it you can feel all pleased with yourself, which is nice when it happens.

And yeah, that's pretty much it. This process is ego-crushing. Excruciating. But it comes with the potential for a major ego trip, should you get the good blurbs. I am totally available for that kind of ego trip, yoga practice aside. I would love to go to yoga in order to become detached from some good blurbs.

And I love Matthew Gallaway for this, which has pretty much made me decide to read his book:

Try saying “blurb” a few times without feeling humiliated and embarrassed: there, you see what I mean? Unfortunately, I think blurbs are important, less from a consumer-perspective than in terms of building “buzz” within a publisher, specifically helping to get the marketing and sales “on board.” That said, getting the blurbs almost gave me a nervous breakdown, because I didn’t know any “real writers.”

I did what Gallaway suggested at five this morning. Just lay there saying "Blurblurblurblurblurblurb" until the word became such a burbling absurdity that it meant nothing. My chest felt a bit less constricted, I stopped the shotgun-to-chin meditation. And I just loved these six writers for doing what good writers do. I felt less alone in my weird world. Still crazy, sure, forever crazy. But in good company.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Jeanette Winterson

God, what a beautiful essay Jeanette Winterson has written here.

Art is a different value system. Like God, it fails us continually. Like God, we have legitimate doubts about its existence but, like God, art leaves us with footprints of beauty. We sense there is more to life than the material world can provide, and art is a clue, an intimation, at its best, a transformation. We don't need to believe in it, but we can experience it. The experience suggests that the monolith of corporate culture is only a partial reality. This is important information, and art provides it.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Eduardo Galeano

Marcela was visiting the snowy North. One night in Oslo, she met a woman who sang and told stories. Between songs, she would spin yarns, glancing at slips of paper like someone telling fortunes from crib notes.

This woman from Oslo had an enormous dress dotted all over with pockets. She would pull slips of paper out of her pockets one by one, each with its story to tell, stories tried and true of people who wished to come back to life through witchcraft. And so she raised the dead and the forgotten, and from the depths of her dress sprang the odysseys and loves of the human animal who goes on living, who goes on speaking.


From The Book of Embraces (Translated by Cedric Belfrage)

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Second Book, First draft: Banish the Editor

Here's the latest dispatch from my Huffington Post blog.














This new story is a big one, about love and betrayal, sex and identity. When I fantasized about writing this book, I imagined it bursting from my fingers like sorcery. I forgot how treacherous a first draft can be; how words elude me, how my voice betrays me, bopping about from hysterical to ironic to desperately sincere. Only six months ago I was working on a final draft. That stage in the writing couldn't be more different. Six months ago I felt as confident as a calligrapher. Now I'm a four year old holding a jumbo crayon. 

My editor self squirms at the work ahead of her.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Mary Karr

It's Mary Karr day on Facebook. My friend, the exquisite writer Tina Rowley, has been reading Mary Karr's third memoir, Lit, and it has prompted a number of us to post our favorite Karr interviews on her FB page. Thought I'd collect a couple of them here.

Here's one from the Huffington Post:

I always say to my students, you don't want to reiterate something about anyone's character--if you do it right, you only need to show that aspect of a person's character one time. That's what bad memoirs are like, you know: I got hit over the head with a brick every day of my life, sophomore year it sucked, junior year it sucked, senior year it sucked, and then I moved out. They reiterate the same stuff over and over as opposed to a character advancing and deepening. 

And then this, from the Paris Review, which I devoured when it came out. Here, the interviewer is asking about The Liars' Club, which was first written as a novel. Having written Yoga Bitch as a novel before scrapping it and letting it be a memoir, I felt such recognition reading Karr's response:

. . . the novel is a much more complicated art form structurally. Memoir is episodic—a looser construct than a bona fide novel. You start with an interesting voice; the rest follows. For a real novelist, the fiction provides a mask that permits honesty. For me, a novel became an excuse to make myself look better—my stand-in did volunteer work at the nursing home and knew differential calculus in the sixth grade. And my mother wasn’t my sloppy, turpentine- and vodka-redolent mother, but the complete opposite—a ballerina, very prim.

Lit is a pretty magnificent achievement, and my favorite of her three memoirs so far. Her poetry is also wonderful. I discovered her poetry collections shortly after moving home from New York six years ago, and for at least a year, one or another of them was always in my bag. I was twenty-eight and in the midst of a self-inflicted devastation, having left a home and a beloved man behind in New York, trying--and often failing-- to feel like myself in Seattle again. It seemed astonishing at the time that anything could make me feel less lonely in the midst of so much change and loss. Grief can be so isolating, but her books were a balm. During those difficult years books, which are always essential to my life, became as necessary as food and water. Moreso, even-- I don't eat when I'm sad.

Makes me think of something wonderful David Foster Wallace once said about writing. Let me see if I can find it . . .

Okay, here it is. I wish I could tell you where this interview is from, but I honestly have no idea. David Foster Wallace plays a role in Lit, so all the more appropriate to quote him here.



MS: I'm speaking to David Foster Wallace, the author of Infinite Jest. This may be hard to do, but can you find a way of saying what the difference is between that kind of involution and the complexities of this novel?

DFW: [Whispers]: Boy. [Pause, whispers]: Boy. [Speaks] I probably can't do it and sound very smart or coherent, but I know that -- I guess I, when I was in my twenties, like deep down underneath all the bullshit what I really believed was that the point of fiction was to show that the writer was really smart. And that sounds terrible to say, but I think, looking back, that's what was going on. And I don't think I really understood what loneliness was when I was a young man. And now I've got a much less clear idea of what the point of art is, but I think it's got something to do with loneliness and something to do with setting up a conversation between human beings. And I know that when I started this book I wanted-- I had very vague and not very ambitious...ambitions, and one was I wanted to do something really sad. I'd done comedy before, I wanted to do just something really sad and I wanted to do something about what was sad about America. And there's a fair amount of weird and hard technical stuff going on in this book, but, I mean one reason why I'm willing to go around and talk to people about it, and that I'm sort of proud of it in a way that I haven't been about earlier stuff is that I feel like whatever's hard in the book is in service of something that at least for me is good and important. And it's embarrassing to talk about because I think it sounds kind of cheesy. I sort of think, like all the way down kind of to my butthole, I was a different person coming up with this book than I was about my earlier stuff. And I'm not saying my earlier stuff was all crap, you know, but it's just it seems like I think when you're very young and until you've sort of [clears throat] faced various darknesses, it's very difficult to understand how precious and rare the sort of thing that art can do is.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Paul Auster

"I certainly don't walk into my room and sit down at my desk feeling like a boxer ready to go ten rounds with Joe Louis. I tiptoe in. I procrastinate. I delay. I come in sideways, kind of sliding through the door. I don't burst into the saloon with my six-shooter ready. If I did, I'd probably shoot myself in the foot."