Tuesday, August 30, 2011

the tuesday interview: caroline paul

Caroline Paul is pretty amazing: there's the writing, including her acclaimed books, Fighting Fire and East Wind, Rain; there's the community she's helped build at SF Grotto; the collaboration with partner Wendy MacNaughton; the passion she has for her family, her friends, and for adventure -- and the generosity that she shows all of us, including writers like me.

From Caroline: I’m reprinting my first book, Fighting Fire. I'm doing it through a micropublisher, because I feel that the traditional publishers can't offer me anything that I can't do myself, and they take way too much of the earnings. I'm interested in new ways of publishing, because I think it's the wave of the future, and what better way to do it than with a book that has already been out there, and has found it's audience?

I do still work with traditional publishers though. I am about to shop what we are calling a children's book for adults, illustrated by my partner Wendy MacNaughton, and written by me. It's a light, short memoir, about an incident with our cat, and how it turned our world upside down, and changed our perspective on who our cat really is. It's an animal book, but it's about the delusions of humans.

I go to lots of movies, often alone. I find that storytelling in cinema is a leaned out version of fiction, so you can really see the bones of a narrative. I'm really fascinated by what works in a narrative, so I like to analyze the movie as it's playing. Why am I interested at this moment? Why am I bored to death right now? It's lucky that mind reading hasn't happened yet, because it would be no fun to go to the movies with me.

I'm reading TC Boyle's The Women. He's such a good writer, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that sometimes he's too good a writer. His clever sentences can interfere with the story. That said, I enjoy them. But sometimes I want to tell him to walk out of the room and not look back, his presence is so obvious.

I was a huge reader as a kid. My twin and I used to come home from school, go to our separate rooms, and read for hours. I read the whole Lord of the Rings series when I was nine. We also read a lot of series by English writers, like Enid Blyton. Many of them were too sophisticated for me. I read a long novel about horses in the Australian outback without understanding what the hell they meant when they said "the bush." "The herd galloped along the bush." "The stallion stood in the bush." "The foal got clumsily up on her new legs and surveyed the bush." I imagined this one scraggly little plant in a big field. Why every horse seemed to be near this bush, was beyond me.

Reading a lot as a kid improved my vocabulary a lot. It also taught me to read very, very fast. Unfortunately, it didn't make me a good writer. I really had to struggle. I used to write long convoluted sentences that I hoped came off as beautiful and poetic. I was like one of those women who applies way too much makeup and perfume and thinks that as a result I'm one hot little number. Now I write very short sentences that I hope gets the idea across in a succinct manner. Then I gussy it up a little, once the thought itself is down. Like many new writers I thought a beautiful sentence was paramount. After wrestling with two (published) books and many many unpublished ones, I know that keeping tension throughout a good storyline is more important.

Writers go through different phases: with your first book, you think every sentence is invaluable. You have so much to say. Your second book, you realize that you don't have a lot to say at all, and you struggle with whether you should really waste people's time and say anything. I think the third book balances out. You go back to realizing that you do have something important to say, but it's just not as much as you once thought.

Photo: Future Firefighter from Caroline Paul

Monday, August 29, 2011

one day's work

When I face the desolate impossibility of writing five hundred pages, a sick sense of failure falls on me, and I know I can never do it. Then gradually, I write one page and then another. One day's work is all I can permit myself to contemplate. John Steinbeck

Saturday, August 27, 2011

the transformation may not be purposeful

In George MacDonald's The Princess and Curdie, Curdie is informed that many human beings, by their acts, are slowly turning into beasts; he is given the power to detect the transformation before it is visible, and is assisted by beasts that had been transformed and are working their way back to humanity.

In C. S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia, Eustace Scrubb transforms into a dragon, and the war-monger Rabadash into a donkey. Eustace's transformation is not strictly a punishment - his transformation simply revealing the truth of his human nature. It is reversed after he repents and his moral nature changes. Rabadash is allowed to reverse his transformation, providing he does so in a public place, so that his former followers will know that he had been a donkey. He is warned that, if he ever leaves his capital city again, he will become a donkey permanently, and this prevents him leading further military campaigns.

Also in The Chronicles of Narnia the Dufflepuds are dwarfs who have been transformed into monopods as a punishment. However, it ultimately transpires that they are happier with their new form.

In the novel I, Coriander by Sally Gardner, Prince Tycho is transformed into a fox after refusing to marry Undwin, Queen Rosmore's daughter.

Some giants abducted humans to reduce them to slavery. In the famous Irish legend of Prince Diarmuid, the giant of the forest of Black Beech was holding captive three women. For a given to maintain its appearance, but the other two, turned for fun in a dog and a horse.

In The Marmot Queen by Italo Calvino, a Spanish queen is turned into a rodent by the Morgan le Fay.

In a Turin Italian tale by Guido Cozzano: The Mare of the Necromancer, the Princess of Corelandia was turned into a horse by the baron necromancer for refusing to marry him. Only love and intelligence of a nice guy named Candido save the princess from the spell.

The Neapolitan tale written by Giambattista Basile: The Deer in The Wood describes the transformation of Princess Desiderata into a doe. Envy and jealousy of a fairy who saw his unrequited love, because of the beauty of the noble lady, she decided to take revenge on changing it into a deer. Here, too, will always be the prince to save his beloved princess from the evil spell.

Friday, August 19, 2011


Headed to Big Sur and packing: The Boys of my Youth, Jo Ann Beard; Fighting Fire, Caroline Paul; The Kid Table, Andrea Seigel; What it Is, Lynda Barry; Imagining Adoption, Essays on Literature and Culture, ed. Marianne Novy; The Night Sky, Ann Lauterbach; and Just in Case, Meg Rosoff.

And what's next for the The Tuesday Interview? Caroline Paul.
Photo: Blondie in a Texas Tuxedo in honor of me and the UE

give me all the parts of love

If I am honest I will admit that I have always wanted to avoid love. Yes, give me romance, give me sex, give me the fights, give me all the parts of love but not the simple single word which is so complex and demands the best of me this hour this minute this forever. Jeannette Winterson, The World and Other Places via welcome back, oldtimer

Photo: Elliott Erwitt, Valencia, Spain, 1952 via even*cleveland

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

the tuesday interview: naomi williams

My friend Naomi Williams writes stories that you can get lost in. Stories about men and women on the edge of continents. On the edge of storms. She writes the kind of stories that you look up and realize that it's grown dark outside and you've forgotten to feed the dog and in a certain way you've forgotten the 21st century.

RQD: What are you working on? What's interesting to you about these characters?
NW: For several years now I've been working on a collection of linked short stories about an 18th-century voyage of exploration. The expedition was supposed to circumnavigate the world and discover all kinds of wonderful things for France, but ended up shipwrecked in the Solomon Islands & never came home. I love disaster stories.

The story I'm working on right now is set in Monterey, California, where these explorers stopped for 10 days in 1786. One character is the wife of the then-governor of California. The year before she met the Frenchmen, she'd created a huge stir by suing her husband for divorce and publicly accusing him of infidelity with an Indian girl who worked in their home. Sound familiar? This is part of what I love about this project: the constant reminder that plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

RQD: What other artwork or artists influence you?
NW: Does cartography count as a visual art? This project was inspired by an old map that my husband gave me years ago. I love the way map-making tries to make sense of the world by inscribing it on paper, but of course there's no "true" map of anything -- it's an act of interpretation, just like writing historical fiction. Or fiction of any kind. Or any writing at all.

RQD: What book or story or poem do you return to over and over?
NW: As for a piece of writing I return to, I'm going to be terribly unoriginal and disappointing and admit that the authors whose work I've reread the most are Jane Austen and Tolkien. I don't know that either has directly influenced my writing, but when I just need a fix of wonderful, that's where I go.

RQD: What are you reading now?
NW: I've been reading through Shakespeare's sonnets, two every night, like aspirin, before I go to bed. Then in the morning I always read some contemporary poetry over my first cup of tea; right now it's Terrance Hayes' Lighthead. I'm also working my way through Sarah Bakewell's wonderful How to Live, or a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer. As for fiction, I managed to score an advance copy of Sabina Murray's Tales of the New World, a collection of short stories that are just up my alley: it's all historical stuff about intrepid explorers and the like. Lots of fun.

RQD: What were you reading as a kid?
NW: I had a very odd, anachronistic, and contradictory childhood. I was raised on the King James Bible and Pilgrim's Progress, but my parents' house was filled with old books of all sorts, and there was no censorship of what I read. So while I read "proper" books like the Narnia Chronicles and Little Women, I also had access to Stendhal's The Red and the Black, which I first read when I was 12, and the complete short stories of Guy de Maupassant. Quite an education available on those bookshelves. (Of course the Bible itself had more graphic sex and violence than anything I could find in the family library.) The steeping in old classics certainly affected my writing (and probably explains everything I've said above): I'm a 21st-century writer who's more comfortable writing -- and reading -- about the distant past.

Monday, August 15, 2011

intuition's links

...perhaps just a desire to experience things as an endless set of beginnings, with the implied promise and permission; a sequence of dawns, of first kisses, a constellation without the picture-making lines drawn. From The Night Sky by Ann Lauterbach

Sunday, August 14, 2011

a novel may begin

A novel may begin in your mind as an evocative image, a bit of conversation, a piece of music, an incident you’ve read about in someone’s life, a presiding anger, but in any case as something that proposes a meaningful world. And so the act of writing is in the nature of an exploration. You write to find out what you’re writing. And as you work, the sentences become generative, the book foretold in that image, that fragment of conversation, begins to emerge and itself participates in its composition, telling you what it is and how it must be realized. E.L. Doctorow via BIG OTHER

Friday, August 12, 2011

they get scared of losing

“When adults say, “Teenagers think they are invincible” with that sly, stupid smile on their faces, they don’t know how right they are. We need never be hopeless, because we can never be irreparably broken. We think that we are invincible because we are. We cannot be born, and we cannot die. Like all energy, we can only change shapes and sizes and manifestations. They forget that when they get old. They get scared of losing and failing. But that part of us greater than the sum of our parts cannot begin and cannot end, and so it cannot fail.” John Green, Looking for Alaska via Flux

Monday, August 8, 2011

the tuesday interview: christine schutt

Thanks to Lucy Corin, a bunch of us had a chance to hear Christine Schutt read at UC Davis. Her stories, her paragraphs, start with a kind of lurching action, everything embedded in the language, and when I listen to her talk about writing, I think she must write them like we read them. In dense little chunks.

She graciously answered my questions from the Sewanee Writers' Conference where's she's been teaching for the past two weeks.

From Christine Schutt: I am working on a short story that is presently entitled, "Pure Hollywood," a story inspired by a remark I overheard this past spring from a screenwriting friend of my son's. He said, "Don't fly in the face of the hand that feeds you." Out of this has come a brother, named Stetson, after the hat, and his sister, Mimi, both older children of a very rich and successful father-actor, Jim Deminthe. What interested me was exploring their relationship to each other, their (many-times married) father, and Mimi's failed relationship to a Bob Wienstein (sp?) kind of figure. I was also interested in writing about random violence and murder. In truth, I have no idea beyond these particulars as to where it is I am going: every morning I stare dumbly at the screen. The quotation that put the story in motion and was in the story's first paragraph is no longer there.

A third novel, recently turned in and called PROSPEROUS FRIENDS, was inspired by Fairfield Porter's paintings and his biography, especially the time he spent on Spruce Island in Maine. Other Maine artists, David Dewey and Jeffrey Becton (a photographer), were on my mind when I decided to write this novel that had as its working title HOUSES WITH NAMES. All three of the artists mentioned above have moving paintings (in Becton's case, photographs) of houses.

Every summer I read Robert Lowell's last book of poems, DAY BY DAY, and Louise Gluck's AVERNO. The Lowell adoration is over forty years old and the summer ritual of reading DAY BY DAY is almost as old. Every summer I also listen to his last reading given at the 92nd St. Y and recorded in January of 1977.

At the moment, I am teaching at the Sewanee Writers' Conference and reading student manuscripts, but I am reading B.H. Fairchild's work, a poet I have yet to meet but who is teaching here as well. The poem of his I have carried with me from home is "Rave On." Kevin Wilson, who is also here at Sewanee, has a novel about to be released, THE FAMILY FANG (I think that's the title) and it's my next intended read. By the way, Lucy Corin and I met here in 2006; we taught with Barry Hannah (a god in my book and hers).

I recently wrote on a Donald Hall poetry anthology for The Literate, an on-line publication, edited by Dawn Raffel and sponsored by The Center for Fiction in New York City. This anthology of poems was one of the first and most influential books I encountered at the age of 14; otherwise, I was mad for Charles Dickens then, especially HARD TIMES. Many of the poems in the Hall anthology--poems by James Dickey, James Wright, Robert Creeley, Adrienne Rich--are as essential to me today as they were when first I encountered them. Only last night was I talking with Wyatt Prunty, a very fine poet who runs the Sewanee Conference, about James Dickey. We were in agreement on the greatness of some of his earlier poems. "The Sheep-Child," for instance, which is in this same anthology.
Painting: Farmhouse, Great Spruce Head Island, 1954, Fairfield Porter

who told me i was too sensitive

For a period of 5 years between 1978 to 1982 photography was a way to prove to myself that I was still alive. Unable to make sense of the “real world” and “real people” who told me that I was too sensitive, too quiet, too thoughtful, too strange, I found that my world changed when I picked up the camera. Through the viewfinder a new and better world opened up and, best of all, it acted as a shield. I did not have to get too close when I held the camera. In 1979-82 I used to visit the Clockhouse Community Centre in Woolwich Dockyard, London SE18 and these are a few of the sights I saw. George Plemper via Miss Moss

Monday, August 1, 2011

the tuesday interview: meg rosoff

Just ask me who my favorite writers are and I'll tell you that I can't get enough of Meg Rosoff. Then I'll take you to my bookshelf and depending who you are, I'll pull out a copy of What I Was or How I Live Now and give it to you. The next day a weird anxiety will overtake me and I'll have to run to the bookstore and buy another copy, because I want her books around in case I want to reread them.

PLUS: there's a new one, There is No Dog, that should be available any day now.

Royal Quiet Deluxe: What are you working on?

Meg Rosoff: My newest book, There Is No Dog is published in about 2 weeks [excerpt], and I've just finished a sketchy first draft of my next book, which doesn't have much of a name yet. It's temporarily called See You Soon and, not wanting any genres to gather moss, I've switched to a detective story this time. Only of course it's not a detective story, but my usual psychologically investigative story of adolescence. In this case it's an 11 year old girl and her father who go off to search for her uncle, who has disappeared. For reasons the author wasn't clear about until she got to the end! I like a good surprise.....

RQD: What other artists are you thinking about in relation to your writing?

MR: I've been thinking about Edward Albee's The Goat quite a lot recently because the production with Jonathan Pryce that I saw about six years ago blew me away and has been lurking around in my head quite a lot. It's all about the wrong sort of love, which is, of course, the interesting sort..... I've also been thinking about a wonderful play called Future Me by Stephen Brown, also about the wrong sort of love (paedophilia). So I guess a theme is kind of emerging here. One I might have started with How I Live Now (cousins).

RQD: What book or story or poem do you return to over and over?

MR: That might have to be Yeats or Dylan Thomas....my favourite might be Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas (Time held me green and dying/Though I sang in my chains like the sea.)

or Sailing to Byzantium, Yeats.

(Once out of nature I shall never take

My bodily form from any natural thing,

But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make

Of hammered gold and gold enamelling

To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;

Or set upon a golden bough to sing

To lords and ladies of Byzantium

Of what is past, or passing, or to come.)

What are you reading now?

MR: I've just finished an absolutely wonderful book sent to me by a blogger/writer friend in LA called In Zanesville by Jo Ann Beard. I don't think it's been published in the UK yet but I thought it was the best thing I've read in ages -- and the perfect example of a book about adolescence that isn't a book for kids.

RQD: What were you reading as a kid?

MR: I read everything I could get my hands on as a kid. I loved the classics like The Secret Garden and The LIttle Princess, but I mixed them up with Madeleine L'Engle's wonderful A Wrinkle in Time, anything by Ian Fleming, Thor Heyerdahl's fantastic Kon Tiki which I read hundreds of times, over and over, and of course any horse book I could get my hands on. I used to haunt the local library, waiting for the new books to come in. I loved being the first person to take out a book.

Photo by Geraint Lewis from The Goat, or Who is Sylvia by Edward Albee

with Jonathan Pryce and Eddie Redmayne