Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Cat's Eye

I just finished my first Margaret Atwood book. I know, years after I should have.

From Random House:
Considered to be her most autobiographical work, Cat's Eye, Margaret Atwood's critically acclaimed seventh novel, is the story of Elaine Risley, the daughter of a forest entomologist and controversial artist in her fifties who returns to Toronto for a retrospective of her work. In her moment of professional glory, she becomes consumed by vivid images of her past, especially those of Cordelia, her best friend and emotional counterpart who waged lavish cruelties on her as a girl. Atwood employs her wry humor, rich irony, and keen eye for detail in a brilliant exploration of the treacherous terrain of girlhood and the historical geography of Toronto from the 1940s to the 1980s.

"An eye for an eye only leads to more blindness." The novel is filled with gems like this, strong themes and imagery. It's a novel about the past, about time and space, about the evil and sly behavior of young girls. The child's perception of life is altered and spun as she grows to adulthood. I'm still deciphering the nuances, flipping back through the book for other insightful passages. Wow.

Which Atwood novel should I tackle next?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Book Heaven

I'd like to go to Hay-on-Wye like Oxford's Stuck in a Book. Wouldn't you?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I'm writing about cemeteries again. Which means one thing to those who know me: I'm spending way too much time on my favorite diversion,

Both my solo WIPs feature cemeteries, one is set near Highgate Cemetery in London, and the other along Route 40 from Arizona to South Carolina. Highgate's characters are set, and I've done most of my research. But my other WIP, currently titled "Greer," was formulated during NaNo and is truly a work in process. The plot is developing as Aunt Greer and her niece drive across the country and run into oddball characters as they go. Some of the cemeteries I've invented, but I'd like to include some actual gravesites of historical figures.

The problem with research is that when you find one interesting fact, you find ten others that draw you to places both exciting and time consuming. Did you know that D.H. Lawrence was buried at Koiwa Ranch in Taos, New Mexico? His body was cremated and his ashes were mixed in cement and used in construction of his memorial altar. As of yet, I don't see how this nugget would fit into Greer's story, but you never know. He died before Aunt Greer was born, but his wife Frieda, also buried in New Mexico, died in 1956.

When I wrote THE CEMETERY GARDEN, I got sidetracked many times locating the burial sites of Jewish mobsters. I even wrote a short story about Grandpa Izzie visiting the graves of New York. It never won any of the contests I entered, but it's a fun bit of nostalgia.

Enough sidetracking for one day, I'm off to write. What's your favorite research diversion?

Saturday, December 5, 2009


For our What Women Write retreat, Pamela gave all of us personalized charm-bookmarks she’d devoted precious time to making. From mine dangles a pretty marbled stone, a silver and black heart, a Hope charm, and a 2009 marker, a little indication that this was the first of many retreats.

It got me thinking about bookmarks and the little things that, for me, make reading a book more special.

I’ve picked up bookmarks from libraries, conferences, bookstores, even from colleges my son hopes to attend. I’ve received bookmarks for gifts, whether alone or nestled inside one of my soon to be favorites. The ones I like best are from unique places or remind me of good friends.

I’ve got several from Politics and Prose, the Washington, D.C. bookstore one of my sisters frequents. I've collected treasures from other independents as well, such as the fantabulous Powell’s in Portland, where my husband had to drag me away from eight floors of books. From both the Poisoned Pen and Pages in Scottsdale, recent excursions with my cousin Gail. From Four Seasons Books in Shepherdstown, WV, where my friend Devon and I met to browse and reminisce about our time at Oxford. Some remind me that getting published is for real people too, like the publicity bookmarks I’ve accumulated over the years from writers I know, such as my friend and mentor Sophia Nash, award-winning author of seven historical novels; my critique partner Bill Lee, author of The Boys in Blue White Dress and who was recently featured in the Dallas Morning News; fellow board member Rachel DeFriez, author of The Rath Haven Chronicles; and writing acquaintances Candace Havens and Rosemary Clement Moore.

Truthfully, any slip of paper will do and often has. I’ve used an airline boarding pass, a grocery receipt, the empty lines on the bottom of a to-do list. Anything to avoid dog-earing pages, which for me is truly taboo for any true writer or reader.

How about you? What are your favorite and most memorable bookmarks?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Last week my husband, son and I set out in a loaded-up car for Scottsdale. We’re no amateurs when it comes to long driving trips, having successfully maneuvered roundtrip tours such as Maryland to Texas, Maryland to Toronto--circling back via Missouri, and Baltimore to northwest Massachusetts. We each have a different perspective on what makes a driving trip successful—photo ops (husband), paper and pen (me), and iTunes (son).

Originally we had planned on taking the fastest route, but as the trip got closer, it seemed a shame to miss out on the more scenic, albeit longer, drive. On the way there, we took the northern route up through Oklahoma City and across Route 40 (Historic Route 66). Several pit stops had us lunching in a real Texas landmark, The Big Texan steakhouse, and hiking (yes, me!) through the Badlands of the Petrified Forest.

It just so happens that my current WIP follows Aunt Greer, a vivacious has-been actress on the run from the law, and her recently widowed niece, also named Greer, on a cross-country cemetery trek along Route 40 as well. Pamela recently blogged about the importance of setting. Before I’d seen Route 40, I had only Google Maps to lead the way. Young Greer was getting bored with the view and asked her aunt to detour through Colorado. I’d seen the Garden of the Gods, a stunning backdrop for any novel. But now that I’ve seen the far-from-boring cakey mesas and painted deserts of New Mexico and Arizona, I have fuel to write the scenes in the Greer ladies’ driving trip.

As we left Scottsdale at 5 a.m. and traveled south on Route 10, a glorious view appeared over the Mexican border. Craggy mountains under a rose and turquoise swirl of sky had me trying to write the scene in my head. I was driving, so I couldn’t reach for paper and pen, but I was doing my best to remember it. (I haven’t done it justice.) The photographer in my husband reached for his camera (not perfect, but hey, we were in a moving car) and that’s when it hit me: we’re just artists trying to capture the world in our own way.

So it is with characters. Aunt Greer the actress drags her niece to theaters she’d performed in, while young Greer, grieving mother, is focused on the ages of the cemetery inhabitants. Not only do we need to capture the setting, but we need to show it from the character's perspective.

Side note: Sarah Laurence combines two talents, writer and photographer. You should check out her work.

What's your perspective?