Friday, November 28, 2014

Poem for the Weekend: Heather McHugh


The book in which I found Heather McHugh's poem states that she "believes, almost desperately, in language." As do I. McHugh was born in San Diego to Canadian parents, was educated at Harvard, and owes a bit to Emily Dickinson. Read her biography here.

The Typewriter’s the Kind

by Heather McHugh

The typewriter’s the kind
of heavy gray that’s rare these days
and good for leaning on. I sit
in front of it, with holes

torn in my meanings, or a heart
so full of complication I can’t even
start to start. And on
the radio the cello’s

unaccompanied, and on the hour
the news is entendu. I lay my arms
upon the typewriter, my head
upon my arms, and breathe and
breathe and breathe, and there

is all the cool
immutability a fevered
human needs, its current humming constant like

the speed of light or fact
of water (there is death
on earth this moment, there

is death on earth this moment … Always is already). Then
I can get up, and go about
my work, which is to love to see

the endless world’s unsavability.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Poem for the Weekend: William Carlos Williams

Of all the poems in the world, this is the one I think about most often. In a few spare stanzas, everything. If you'd like, read about William Carlos Williams here.

The Red Wheelbarrow

by William Carlos Williams (1883 - 1963)

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Places You'll Go

The daughter and I are headed to Albuquerque tomorrow for a Mom-n-me trip. I’m excited because neither of us has been there, and because we’ll get to spend the kind of uninterrupted time that seldom occurs in the rush of our regular lives. Jason and I take one trip per year with one child, alternating kids, usually to a spot they’ve chosen. Geneva didn’t have any ideas this year, other than to revisit New York City, which she loves. But the main rule of the trips is that you choose someplace new. I also wanted us girls to do something a bit different from our normal interests—shopping, seeing shows, dining out, etc. (We’re both city girls.) I suggested Santa Fe, which I have visited briefly. We thought about a train ride through the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina but seemed to have missed the best month (October) for weather and foliage. In a roundabout way, we came to Albuquerque. It has a zoo and aquarium, although the daughter says she may not want to go to those. It has an aerial tram at the east end of the city and is bordered on the west by the Rio Grande. You can see inactive volcanoes and Native American pueblos, take a ghost tour in the rustic Old Town, indulge with Southwestern fare. So.
If I’m honest, I have another reason to look forward to the trip. I’m percolating a new novel, which I believe will be set in the American Southwest. Where exactly, I’m not sure. But I’m definitely looking to soak up the scenery while I’m there, to immerse myself, to mine for sensory details. It seems that many things I write begin with the setting although it isn’t always a place I’ve actually visited. I know writers who enjoy the research phase of writing, often because it involves trips to the places they’ll be writing about. I know of books set in a certain city or country where the author has never set foot. Which is more valid? Does it matter? Some of the characters in my last finished project live in Bellflower, California. I knew nothing about the place, although I could imagine the flavor of it. Bellflower is a city at the southern end of Los Angeles County, one place name in a patchwork of similar cities. I could imagine the older, ranch-style homes of the neighborhood I wrote about, the mature trees and wide streets. I could see the strip malls and fenced-in elementary schools, the brick churches and shiny supermarkets. Maybe I had never been to Bellflower, but I’d been to many places I thought were similar. The final scene took place in a cemetery, and one Saturday when my son had a soccer game nearby, it seemed like kismet. I decided to take a look at the place I had mapped online. But when I drove towards the address of the cemetery, I found it was nestled in a neighborhood that was more modern than I’d pictured, and the burial place itself was smaller and less evocative than it had loomed in my mind’s eye. So I drove by and didn’t go in. The actual visit to Bellflower had only been distracting.

If characters are fictional and the story an author creates is a fiction, can the setting be something between truth and creation, between impressions and imagination? I think so. I suppose any place exists in a place between the tangible and our memories and impressions anyway. No matter where you go, you'll be there, the viewer, the interpreter, the lens.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Poem for the Weekend: Louis MacNeice


In honor of this week of space exploration, I give you Louis MacNeice's poem, Star-Gazer. MacNeice was Irish, a contemporary of Auden, and broodingly handsome, which you can see here. And of course, you can read about his life and work there too.

by Louis MacNeice (1907 - 1963)

Forty-two years ago (to me if to no one else
The number is of some interest) it was a brilliant starry night
And the westward train was empty and had no corridors
So darting from side to side I could catch the unwonted sight
Of those almost intolerably bright
Holes, punched in the sky, which excited me partly because
Of their Latin names and partly because I had read in the textbooks
How very far off they were, it seemed their light
Had left them (some at least) long years before I was.

And this remembering now I mark that what
Light was leaving some of them at least then,
Forty-two years ago, will never arrive
In time for me to catch it, which light when
It does get here may find that there is not
Anyone left alive
To run from side to side in a late night train
Admiring it and adding noughts in vain.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Poem for the Weekend: Charles Simic


I've been reading about the second World War this week, which is probably why this poem struck me. It is most certainly influenced by Charles Simic's childhood in war-torn Yugoslavia; his family emigrated to America when he was sixteen. He was the U.S. Poet Laureate from 2007-2008. Here is a short piece about him, which I like because it includes some of his advice on writing poetry.

Empire of Dreams

by Charles Simic

On the first page of my dreambook
It’s always evening
In an occupied country.   
Hour before the curfew.   
A small provincial city.   
The houses all dark.
The storefronts gutted.

I am on a street corner   
Where I shouldn’t be.   
Alone and coatless
I have gone out to look
For a black dog who answers to my whistle.   
I have a kind of Halloween mask
Which I am afraid to put on.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

All Things Bouchercon


Next week, the massive production that is Bouchercon will be in Long Beach, near my neck of the woods. I'm thrilled to be part of the programming this year. It'll be my first time in attendance at this mystery convention, and I wrote a little something for the Bouchercon blog about how and why this is happening. You can read it here: The Wide World of Mystery.

If you'll be there next week, please consider stopping by to see me! Here's where I'll be:

Thursday, November 13, 6:30 p.m.

Murder at The Beach "Hollywood Premiere" Opening Ceremonies Hosted by HarperCollins
Pacific Ballroom at the Arena  
Follow the red carpet and lights to the Opening Ceremonies of Bouchercon 2014 Murder at the Beach. Introduction of honored guests, Anthony Award nominees and other key people. Mystery awards will be given from other prestigious organizations. No-host Bar. Light refreshments. This should be a fun event, with signed books and opportunities to meet lots of HarperCollins authors!

Sunday, November 16, 10:00-11:00 a.m.

Panel--Mind Games: Psychological Thrill Rides
Regency BC

This promises to be a great discussion about psychological thrillers and mystery through characterization. Other participating authors include Patricia Gussin, Andrew Kaufman, Wendy Webb and Dennis Palumbo. Moderated by Ali Karim.

Author Signing 11:00-11:30 a.m.
Regency EF

And here are the panels I'm hoping to attend. When I started marking up my schedule this morning, I realize I've probably overshot, but there's just way too much of interest! I'll list the panels with minimal information; the complete Bouchercon schedule can be accessed here.


2:30-3:30 The Past Meets the Present: Past Events Yield Today's Mysteries
4-5 Short But Mighty: The Power and Freedom of the Short Story


10-11 A Place By Any Other Name: The Story Wouldn't Be the Same in a Different Setting
11:30-12:30 Living Vicariously: Experiencing Thrills and Chills Through the Character
1:30-2:30 Long and Short of It: Writing Short Stories and Full-Length Novels
3-4 The Mean Streets of Los Angeles: LA Crime Through the Ages


3-4 To Thrill or Not to Thrill: Writing Different Kinds of Crime Novels
4:30-5:30 Historical Sleuthing: Historical People Sleuthing versus Fictionalized People

These are the panels that have caught my eye but all is, of course, subject to last-minute change and whim. I haven't even included the speakers, interviews, and other types of events that I've highlighted on my preliminary schedule. Looks like I'll be kept fairly busy--hope to see you there!
"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka