27 June 2009


I have heroes. They are someone to grow up to be like. Someone who inspires uniqueness. Motivates growth. Presses on my resistance to change. Offers hope in my most private, pre-dawn moments of despair.

In my list, they should probably be separated into categories - fictional and real. The fluctuating distance between dreams and reality.

My fictional heroes are so most likely because of some aspect of their character that I admire, covet or am simply amazed by. And perhaps it is the reality of their character that makes them heroes.

"You know what you get for being a hero? Nothin'. You get shot at. You get a little pat on the back, blah, blah, blah, attaboy. You get divorced. Your wife can't remember your last name. Your kids don't want to talk to you. You get to eat a lot of meals by yourself. Trust me, kid, nobody wants to be that guy."
(John McClane - Live Free or Die Hard)

"Micro changes in air density, my ass."
(Ellen Ripley - Alien)

"He was paraphrasin' Nietsche, ya illiterate midget."
(Logan - Wolverine 35)

They become recognizable out of their creator's ability to carry forward the profound human essence, perhaps of someone nearby or influential: lover, grandfather, next-door neighbor.

"We're alike. I, too, believe that everyone should have a chance at a breathtaking piece of folly once in his life. I was twenty when they said a woman couldn't swim the Channel. You're twelve; you think a horse of yours can win the Grand National. Your dream has come early; but remember, Velvet, it will have to last you all the rest of your life."
(Mrs. Brown - National Velvet)

"Well, you can tell me now. I'm reasonably sober."
(Rick Blaine - Casablanca)

Once in a great while, I find real heroes, those living, breathing humans with heroic accomplishments or some monumental legacy of change or goodness. Or perhaps just people who have done something quite ordinary for whom I hold enduring respect and adoration.

"The thing about rights is that in the end you can't prove what should be considered a right."
(Dr. Paul Farmer)

I heard the Dalai Lama speak in Seattle at the Key Arena last spring. (see my earlier post)

Raymond Carver first inspired me to write at all.

"There isn't enough of anything
as long as we live. But at intervals
a sweetness appears and, given a chance
(Raymond Carver - Ultramarine)

Young Flannery O'Connor age 2 or 3Flannery O'Connor prompted me to write the stories in my head no matter how quirky or bizarre. I discovered a recording of "A Good Man is Hard to Find" and joy welled up in my chest at the sound of her voice. (Listen to it from this playlist)

"My own approach to literary problems is very like the one Dr. Johnson’s blind housekeeper used when she poured tea–she put her finger inside the cup."
(Flannery O'Connor - Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction)

There's a much longer list, and I suppose there's always room for one more.

It's still early.


24 June 2009

i <3 ducks. really.

Definitely that is the saddest duck. Ever.

When I was about 15, I took my little sibs to the zoo at Tautphaus Park in Idaho Falls, Idaho, where we stood on the bridge that spanned the pond and fed the ducks the bread from our sandwiches. It was spring and there were so many fluffy new ducklings.

Until the bread attracted the attention of the giant zoo-fed trout or carp that rose up to the surface and snagged a little duckling by its little duckling foot along with the bread and dragged it to the muddy bottom and ate it. I think that one of my little sisters may still be traumatized by the entire event, thirty years later. (Sorry, Amy)

I wrote a tragic duck story into "Road Dogs" that was published in Etchings Issue 4 - The Art of Conversation (3/08) by Ilura Press. Here's an excerpt:

‘Welcome to my family.’

‘Welcome to life. Your family doesn’t have a corner on dysfunction.’

‘Dysfunction would be a step up for my family. Did I ever tell you about the ducks?’

My mother rescued a batch of baby ducks off of the road by our old house. I was eight. Mama duck had been hit by a car, and a dozen ducklings were milling around on the road next to her body. My mother brought them home in a cardboard box and called Animal Control, who advised her to release them. So she did, into Crystal Creek at the end of our block, where they were promptly sucked into a drainage culvert, disappearing one at a time into the iron grate, aligned and orderly, like mechanical carnival ducks on a string pulling straight through the heart of the current.

‘My mother actually saved the last one. We took it home and named it Soup. In the night, Soup committed suicide. Body-slammed against the bars of the cage. Peter and I renamed him Compost.’

‘Nice,’ Vincent says.

‘The neighbour asks about the birdcage on the porch. I tell him, “We found these ducks.” And my Mom says, “No we didn’t.” Cuts me off. Like it never happened. Wouldn’t even acknowledge it. Ever.’

Vincent’s eyes narrow and he nods his head. ‘PTDD,’ he says. ‘Post Traumatic Duck Disorder.’

‘Psychosis. All-American family dysfunction’

‘My mom shot my dad with his own service revolver. You don’t hear me crying dysfunction.’

I roll my eyes. ‘I met your parents,’ I say. ‘They live in Tucson.’

Vincent and Lena are two of my very favorite characters, so I was thrilled to have their story put into print. (And I do love the Australian formatting by Ilura Press.)

And I do love ducks.


21 June 2009

chasing the eagle

A bald eagle flew right over my car the other day while I was waiting at the light by my house. Chased by a crow. At least it appeared to be chased.

The eagle was flying at a pretty good clip, but at the same time, it didn't appear distressed at all. Could it simply have been going from A to B, and some over-amped crow had to throw in its final "and stay out" after the larger raptor's retreat? Exerting some birdie-machismo? Or perhaps pushed to go above and beyond to protect a nest, a territory, a mate?

The eagle could have definitely kicked some crow tail-feathers - it looked to be about three times the size of the smaller bird, equipped with talons and that great, hooked beak. The crow did not leave off its raucous pursuit even as far as I could see, and the car behind me honked, light turned green with me still sitting motionless in the lane.

I've been toe-to-toe with the bigger-badder before, scared spitless, knowing I was going to take an ass whupping. The adrenaline burst that kicks you in the stomach activates all kinds of reckless responses. It has to go somewhere, no matter how bad the odds.

But that's when it gets interesting - in that moment of unbalance.

It's Hannibal defeating the Romans. The Scottish rebels winning the Battle of Bannockburn. Joe Namath beating the 1969 Baltimore Colts in Superbowl III. Every Rocky movie. Han Solo and Chewbacca rushing the Imperial soldiers on the Death Star. We make our underdogs heroes and mythical legends. Chasing the eagle.

Not that it doesn't sometimes end badly. For every victory story, there's a defeat on the other side. But for today, I wonder how it worked out for that brave and/or reckless crow.


16 June 2009


syn·op·sis (sĭ-nŏp'sĭs)
n. pl. syn·op·ses (-sēz)
A brief outline or general view, as of a subject or written work; an abstract or a summary.

condensation, epitome, abstract, abridgment, précis. See summary.

In what became an arduous process, the pieces were dumped out like so many collected marbles from a bag and sorted, examined, as it were, and assigned value and priority.

The plot was held up against Stevan's quintessential challenge: but what's the story about?

The characters floundered around in confusion, fell through some plot holes, threw inconsistencies back and forth between themselves in a quick game of Hot Box. And when it got too dark to see the ball, they went inside and sat around the table, drank Ovaltine or whiskey or Ovaltine with whiskey, and traded big fish stories. One of them knitted an afghan out of alpaca yarn.

The chapters were reordered. Renamed. Revised.

The title was removed. Or not.

First draft complete.

Round Two begins at the bell.

I love the writing life.

09 June 2009

chapter ones

Writing has been focused on the first chapter most recently. And although I would love to report that it is going "smashingly," it has been a decidedly un-graceful process. Chapters 2-5 evolved the storyline so that the first chapter no longer included any of the right markers—the Wildish boys lived on the east side of Bellevue, then the west, then Factoria area; a pregnancy was in, out, then in; Pops was drunk, then...nope, still drunk. Not to mention the original premise of the boys' complicated genealogy.

Solution: return to the muse, sans super-massive black hole.

Chapter Ones.

Billy Bathgate (E.L. Doctorow)

He had to have planned it because when we drove on the dock the boat was there and the engine was running and you could see the water churning up phosphorescence in the river, which was the only light there was because there was no moon, nor electric light either in the shack where the dockmaster should have been sitting, nor on the boat itself, and certainly not from the car, yet everyone knew where everything was, and when the big Packard came down the ramp Mickey the driver braked it so that the wheels hardly rattled the boards, and when he pulled up alongside the gangway the doors were already open and they hustled Bo and the girl upside before they even made a shadow in all that darkness. And there was no resistance, I saw a movement of black bulk, that was all, and all I heard was maybe the sound someone makes who is frightened and has a hand not his own over his mouth, the doors slammed and the car was humming and gone and the boat was already opening up water between itself and the slip before a thin minute had passed. Nobody said not to so I jumped aboard and stood at the rail, frightened as you might expect, but a capable boy, he had said that himself, a a capable boy capable of learning, and I see now capable of adoring worshiping that rudeness of power of which he was a greater student than anybody, oh and that menace of him where it might all be over for anyone in his sight from one instant to the next, that was what it all turned on, it was why I was there, it was why I was thrilled to be judged so by him as a capable boy, the danger he was really a maniac.

Keys of the Kingdom (A.J. Cronin)

Late one afternoon in September 1938 old Father Francis Chisholm limped up the steep path from the church of St. Columba to his house upon the hill. He preferred this way, despite his infirmities, to the less arduous ascent of Mercat Wynd; and, having reached the narrow door of his walled-in-garden, he paused with a kind of naive triumph—recovering his breath, contemplating the view he had always loved.

Behold the Many (Louise Ann Yamanaka)

The valley is a woman lying on her back, legs spread wide, her geography wet by a constant rain. Waterfalls wash the days and nights of winter storms into the river that empties into the froth of the sea.

Another Roadside Attraction (Tom Robbins)

The magician's underwear has just been found in a cardboard suitcase floating in a stagnant pond on the outskirts of Miami. However significant that discovery may been—and there is the possibility that it could alter the destiny of each and every one of us—it is not the incident with which to begin this report.

The Wapshot Chronicle (John Cheever)

St. Botolphs was an old place, an old river town. It had been an inland port in the great days of the Massachusetts sailing fleets and now it was left with a factory that manufactured table silver and a few other small industries. The natives did not consider that it had diminished much in size or importance, but the long roster of the Civil War dead, bolted to the cannon on the green, was a reminder of how populous the village had been in the 1860s. St. Botolphs would never muster as many soldiers again. The green was shaded by a few great elms and loosely enclosed by a square of store fronts. The Cartwright Block, which made the western wall of the square, had along the front of its second story of row of lancet windows, as delicate and reproachful as the windows of a church. Behind these windows were the offices of the Eastern Star, Dr. Bulstrode the dentist, the telephone company and the insurance agent. The smells of these office—the smell of dental preparations, floor oil, spittoons and coal gas—mingled in the downstairs hallway like an aroma of the past. In a drilling autumn rain, in a world of much change, the green at St. Botolphs conveyed an impression of unusual permanence. On Independence Day in the morning, when the parade had begun to form, the place looked prosperous and festive.

You Can't Go Home Again (Thomas Wolfe)

It was an hour of twilight on a soft spring day toward the end of April in the year of Our Lord 1929, and George Webber leaned his elbows on the sill of his back window and looked out at what he could see of New York. His eye took in the towering mass of the new hospital at the end of the block, its upper floors set back in terraces, the soaring walls salmon colored in the evening light. This side of the hospital, and directly opposite, was the lower structure of the annex, where the nurses and the waitresses lived. In the rest of the block half a dozen old brick houses, squeezed together in a solid row, leaned wearily against each other and showed their backsides to him.

It's like returning to safe harbors. My heroes always restore my faith in the process.

The Wildish Boys (working title)

Church was not over, and we were walking home early. Ma had herded all of us boys out before Father Andrew began Confiteor after Sawyer called Lenny "stupid as Esau." Lenny said at least he had a birthright, and Sawyer punched him in the eye. Right there in the third row of pews.

"Onward," says every rejection letter I've ever received from Howard Junker, editor of Zyzzyva.