Our literary landscape is littered with the remains of writers whose careers as reporters, memoirists and even novelists have proven to be fabricated. Is it ever okay for a writer to tell a lie? We look into the question here.
Our literary landscape is littered with the remains of writers whose careers as reporters, memoirists and even novelists have proven to be fabricated. Is it ever okay for a writer to tell a lie? We look into the question here.
About a decade after a woman gives birth to a girl, she begins to know exponentially and unequivocally less about fashion than her daughter. I’m not talking about (what are for me) the classics; I’ve got a DVF wrap dress, a half-dozen Betsey Johnsons, and at 30 paces can peg the best polyester hostess gown in Goodwill. I mean what’s going on now: When did acid-washed jeans become “sand-blasted,” and what’s up with all the denim, anyway? Is Lenny Kravitz to blame for oversize accessories? Are we on the 67th or 76th resurrection of the peasant blouse? How would I know? Like realizing I haven’t read the last Amis book when the next is being reviewed, at a certain point I simply stopped trying to keep apace. I chalk up my befuddlement, and my 12-year-old daughter’s concurrent awareness, to some shark-like sartorial survival gene that needs to keep moving if it’s to stay alive. While Tafv likes wearing my Emilio Pucci nightgowns (which I inherited from my mother), she’ll also shoot me looks of abject terror when I try on old outfits I think still work.
“No, Mama, you can’t!” she’ll shriek, tossing the blouse with the ruched sleeves back in the closet.
“But I wore that when I was pregnant with you . . .”
Embarrassment factor for Tafv if I wear the blouse: 704. Luckily, I still understand humiliation. And so, while it may be true that I was stranded in the fashion undertow two years ago, I also unwittingly did something brilliant...
Read the rest on Medium.com
I was on eBay yesterday looking to buy, for an upcoming trip to Maui, a Lilly Pulitzer dress. I love her work and have been wearing it since I was a teenager and found a pretty little halter dress at a junky thrift shop in Vineyard Haven. It was the perfect summer dress, made of t-shirt cotton, no zipper, you just tied it at the neck and you were done, you didn't even need a bra because the way the seams were sewn took care of that. This was of course no accident. I wore the dress every summer for twenty years, until it disappeared, and now have just one Lilly piece, an A-line skirt with a sea turtle print, also perfect, also immensely flattering, which all her vintage pieces are. She understood: you want to get dressed, you want to look pretty (and be able to run in your clothes of you want to), and think about it no more. RIP, Lilly Pulitzer, and thank you.
My review, from the Sunday Oregonian. A clip:
Let us talk about deeply imagined fiction, Mary Gaitskill's "Veronica" and the stories of Paul Bowles and now Peter Rock's "The Shelter Cycle," books that follow no familiar path; which have their own logic and music and jags that can leave the reader feeling strapped to the back of a toboggan, on a journey to who knows where, watch that turn! Feeling just on the edge of trusting the author is going to get us out alive, get this story birthed, maybe in the middle of a forest in the snow, a metaphor and actual location for the book in question.
My mother called in January and said, "I think I have a way to get you to come home." The way was to be her +1 at the NY Review of Books 50th Anniversary event at The Town Hall. I went, I wrote, the piece runs today in the Sunday Oregonian. A clip:
In we go; up we go, to the front row balcony. There are chandeliers overhead, velvet curtains drape the proscenium. The scene, I think, is as glamorous as the literary world gets, an idea buttressed as Steadicam operators cruise the aisles. (Martin Scorsese, I read the next day in The New York Times, is making a film about the Review.) I cruise, too, watching people in their 20s to 80s shed fur hats and greatcoats, and experience the frisson of knowing many are writers, perhaps exceptional and famous writers, yet here anonymous, knowing them as we do only by their work, rarely their faces.
Silvers takes the stage and explains how the Review was born. There was a newspaper strike in New York in 1963, and Silvers, then at Harper's magazine, felt he and others could put together a good book review to fill the gap. Using as its light Elizabeth Hardwick's essay, "The Decline of Book Reviewing" (in which she cites the "unaccountable sluggishness" of Times' reviews), they worked through the night in the empty Harper's offices.
"We had three weeks and no money to show what a book review might be," says Silvers, "we" being Review co-founders Jason and Barbara Epstein, and a dream team of writers, Gore Vidal and Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag and Adrienne Rich, Norman Mailer and William Styron and two dozen others contributing pieces and reviewing the season's books, "Naked Lunch" and "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," "The Fire Next Time" and "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters" and "Seymour -- An Introduction," which reviewer Steven Marcus suggested might better be called, "Seymour -- A Disaster."
The whole piece is here. You cannot see online the splendid caricature of Joan Didion by David Levine, my late stepfather, a copy of which sits on my desk, and so I reproduce it below. Thanks mom xx
I found the book Crossing: A journal of survival and resistance in World War II among my mother's books, when I was about age seventeen. I see, now, that it is inscribed to her ("Kathy... to continue the dialogue. Affectionately - Jan Yoors, July 1971"). At the time, the book meant a great deal to me, both because of the work itself and for personal reasons.
Yoors, born in Belguim in 1922, was the son of artists. At age 12, he left home, with his parents' consent, to live and travel with a band of Romany, or gypsies. (More about this I would learn when I read Yoors' 1967 book, The Gypsies.) Crossing dealt chiefly with his and his tribe's surviving Nazi-occupied Europe; how they were hunted down by the Gestapo; how Yoors persuaded many in the tribe to join the resistance, and how -- and this I will never forget -- the Romany would sometimes sneak into concentration camps in order to sabotage from within. To say the story was gripping is very much an understatement.
There were other reasons, however, that I was so taken with Yoors and the gypsies. I had recently left one life I had been leading, and was trying to be reabsorbed into the life I had originally left. It wasn't working. I felt the perenial outsider, comfortable no place. I wanted very much no home to go to, I stayed outside all the time, walking, wandering. I wanted to be a gypsy, probably not an unusual fantasy for a teenager. I thought, however, I had some claim: I learned, from Yoors's books, that the gypsies adopted certain surnames, Cooper and Smith (which makes sense for traveling people, to work on metal pots and with horses), Evans, Luda or Louda... my great-grandmother's last name was Luda, sometimes spelled Louda. She'd come from Bohemia. There was also the root of my own last name. Let me tell you, these were enough for me.
I wanted to be brave, as brave as Yoors had described himself and his tribe being. I wanted to need nobody. I spent a few months trying to learn Romany, and have just now found tucked into the pages of Crossing notes that I wrote, translated phrases useful (Zhan le Devlasa tai sastismasa - "Go with God and in good health") and less useful (Te avel angla I Mule - "In honor of the ancestral spirit, the Mule."). I held on to the idea that I was part gypsy for the better part of a decade. If there is any truth to it, it is lost to time.
That said, the photo below is of a gypsy girl, and I must say, I think our faces near identical.
How and why I picked up Wanderer, Sterling Hayden's 1976 memoir of defying Hollywood and the courts and setting sail for the South Seas with his four children, is lost to time. I can tell you, it was more than 10 years ago. That it may have been prompted by my going weak in the knees watching Hayden in The Asphalt Jungle, in The Killing, that I find him extraordinarily sexy and persuasive even while being shot by Al Pacino in The Godfather. That I once gave a copy to writer William Langewiesche, and that the actor Jim Beaver and I became friends, if virtually, after he saw on Goodreads that Wanderer is one of my favorite books and wondered what the hell kind of gal would think so. Maybe one who has three clipper ships tattoed on her arm, who has told everyone who loves her and might be around when she dies to please dump her body in the ocean, just dump it, that she might not even mind drowning if it means that's where she ends up.
My review of the story collection, We Live in Water, by Jess Walter, which runs tomorrow in the Sunday Oregonian. A clip:
In 1993, Robert Altman released the dramatic comedy "Short Cuts." Based on the stories of Raymond Carver, the film resituated the action from the Pacific Northwest to Los Angeles. With the exception of the quality of light, the location change did not matter, longing and loss pretty much playing out in the mountains as they do in the valley.
Twenty years later, Jess Walter brings love and death back to the Northwest with the story collection "We Live in Water." New century, new troubles: If Carver's characters were made to deal with medflies and drive-by shootings, Walter's must navigate meth and a beached economy and the occasional zombie barista. If that last has you thinking you are in for some laughs, you are, though often the kind where you go "ow ow ow" instead of "ha ha ha."
What does not change are the ways people pretend the scratching at the door is not the destinies of their own making. Walter's lead characters, men all, seem particularly lashed to the wheel of misfortune, as though fate is saying, "OK, bub, here's how it's going to be: you're going to tank." And the men, waking from a year, a lifetime, of bad decisions, scan the horizon for a way out as their figurative boots fill with water.
Do check it out - I liked the book a lot. It's on sale at Powell's, where Walter reads March 3.
For the Facebook crew xx
With no job and no connections, I head to LA, where my brother Chris has moved the year before. He says he has a room for me. He’ll take care of everything.
He’s not home when I pull into his driveway just before midnight. I’ve been driving for five days and the warm air feels good to stretch in.
It’s Ron, Chris’s friend coming out of the house. I ask if I can leave my car where it is. He looks at what I’m parked beside, a VW Rabbit with no driver’s side door and a four-by-eight piece of Plywood painted like a box of Wheaties, and gives me a look that says, what do you think?
I’ve known Ron since we were kids; know he moved to Los Angeles to be an actor, and as he carries my bag inside, through a living room that smells like stale beer and bong water, I ask how it’s going.
“Okay,” he says. He isn’t getting much acting work, but he’s going on auditions.
“It’s cool,” he says. He has a job as a production assistant on The Cosby Show, and he likes it, and he’s making dough.
I look around the house. It’s small, with cracks in the stucco walls. The appliances in the kitchen are from the 1940s. There’s a refrigerator whose freezer has become a block of ice, and an enameled stove topped by a Deco clock. The counters are made of tile the color of Easter eggs, beautiful glazed tiles. I imagine they have been scrubbed over the years by a dozen different women, young women who looked out the kitchen window and wondered if they’d made the right decisions. The only modern thing is a water-cooler of the kind you find in an office. Ron says this is because you can’t drink the tap water in Los Angeles; no one does; that they have water delivered. On the counter are four months of unpaid water bills.
I ask Ron if Chris will be home soon, and he says, probably not, but that he knows where I might find him. He takes me back out to the dirt yard, where the air is sweet with something I don’t recognize. It smells… white, and is so heavy I feel narcotized.
“Orange blossoms,” Ron tells me, and then, how to get downtown.
I find my way to the Park Plaza Hotel, a Deco skyscraper across from a park. There are sword-carrying angels on its flanks, and carved into its face, in their own little porticos, effigies of soldiers and nurses in WWI uniform. It looks like a building that should hold evening galas, men in black tie and women trailing fur-trimmed cape. As I approach the hotel’s double-tall brass doors, I know they’ll be locked. Why wouldn’t they be? The whole street is deserted, the park is deserted; the nearby store closed for the night. Odd, to be in the middle of a city and have everything closed. Strange, too, is how dead the sidewalk feels under my feet. I am thinking how bizarre and also how lovely it is to have this whole building to myself when a motorcycle passes, doubles back, and parks next to me. The driver takes off his helmet.
“Hey, sis,” says Chris. I haven’t seen him in a year. His black curls are mashed to his head. He has a tan. He looks like a Greek statue. I register the tableau of my brother and me standing in the street, in the light of a streetlamp, before a magnificent building, and I think, everything in LA will be this dramatic and new.
Chris tells me to follow him. I keep his Triumph in sight as we pass blocks of neon signage in Korean, and residential streets canopied with trees, and finally up an avenue called La Brea. There’s a line of people at Club Lunch, but the guy at the door sees Chris and waves us in.
We head down a narrow stairway, a tunnel of music that lets out in an octagonal room painted a nauseating magenta. There are mirrored doors out of which club-kids come and go, and at our feet, sprawled across the bottom step, a lanky kid with black lipstick smeared across the bottom of his face. Another boy, his auburn hair pulled into stiff little tufts, whispers to Chris while repeatedly whipping a hot pink feather boa in the eyes of passersby. My brother does not introduce me to these boys. The one with the lipstick appears to be falling asleep. The one with the boa is sneering at no one in particular, though does make a point of looking everywhere but at a young man in the crowd waving and shouting his name. Getting no eye contact, eventually the young man looks down and walks away.
“Bitch,” says boa boy, in falsetto, seemingly to the air, maybe to me. I can’t tell. I later ask my brother about these boys. He says one was in a film he’d just seen, about a teenager who murders his girlfriend and shows off her body to his friends, who don’t feel one way or the other about it.
I meet more young men who seem to go out of their way to feel neither one way nor the other. I meet them through my brother and his best friend Nick, a strawberry-blonde kid we grew up with. Nick is a junior at UCLA, and many of his friends still live with their parents, parents who are either very tolerant or out of town a lot, as nearly every night there are parties in their homes, homes on narrow climbing roads with Spanish names that sound identical and which loop into each other until you are impossibly lost but somehow always find the party or at least a party.
One is in a big white house behind mechanized gates nearly as tall as the palm trees rustling behind them. I stand there and think, this is the Los Angeles you see in the movies. The house itself is over-chilled, and the party thus far consists of the host, sitting alone in a glass-walled room overlooking an ice-blue swimming pool. Chris and Nick instantly scale the wall and disappear. I smile at the host, a thin boy in a ludicrously clean tennis shirt, and try to make conversation. This yields one- and two-word answers before it seems to take too much out of him.
I look toward the pool. It’s a hot night. Maybe we should swim?
“You can,” he says. But he didn’t sound like I can. He sounds like he is going to cry. We sat in silence as he glares at an ugly abstract painting suspended above an immaculate white fireplace.
“Maybe we should just drink this,” he says, reaching for the crystal decanter on the coffee table. He smirks as he pours, as though we are doing something naughty. I drink it. It’s Passover wine, sweet as raisins. I tell him I don’t want it, and he falls back against the couch, his face a rictus of misery, as though he might at any moment wail, “Oh, what is the point of going on!”
I have no idea how to act around young men who court weakness. What makes them this way? What do they expect to gain? Soon, I will recognize this particular stripe of Southern California disaffection when I read Nick’s copy of Less Than Zero. A little later, I will learn some of it is the heroin.
But I don’t know these things yet. Nor that the sidewalk feels so dead because there is no subway running underneath it, or that the sun is never going to stop shining. That by noon every day you are going to feel as though your skin is being ironed and will continue to be for another nine hours. That if you mention a little rain would be nice, just to wash out the smog and have a day to hole up with a book and also, for variety, the listener will give you an incredulous, even concerned smile that implies you are joking, dialogues that go like this:
Me: “Does it ever fucking rain here?”
Them: “That’s the single greatest thing about LA! The weather is always the same, it’s always sunny, that’s why everyone in the whole world wants to live here, it’s paradise, and I am never, ever going to leave!”
I want to leave. I don’t like LA and I don’t understand it and as far as I can tell, no one finds me instantly interesting. I tell my brother, I’m going back to New York.
“Is that why you came? So you could leave?” he asks.
Chris does not want to leave. He wants to be a stuntman, which everyone who’s ever met him knows is the right thing, the kid is graced with thrilling reflexes, gets thirty feet of air off a ski jump, scales the Brooklyn Bridge barehanded and once jumped over a DeLorean just because he could. He is taking a weekly class with an old–time stuntman, a class in which he rolls down the dunes of Malibu. To make money, he works the door at a Saturday-night-only club called Power Tools, held at the Park Plaza Hotel.
“Get there at midnight,” he tells me
I am there at eleven. Chris is on a dais in front of the hotel, above a crowd whistling and hooting for his attention, and if he sees any of it, and I know he does, his face does not betray it.
I watch the crowd. I cannot tell what the history is, where the center is. The fashions seem cherry picked, prom punk and catsuits and Madonna wannabes and boys and girls in thrift store housedresses, and boys and girls with DAs, and a posse of beefy bearded dudes in ten-gallon hats, laughing.
I am being pressed against someone in an admiral’s blue blazer, slightly older than me, with the suave/swish looks of the singer George Michael.
“Hi,” I say, since we were both just standing there, eddying along with the crowd. George makes courteous conversation, but I can see him sizing me up: will I be useful toward getting him in? What are my assets? I start to size myself up: I am not famous, or gorgeous, or at twenty-five, very young. I have not, as have many of the girls, made myself lustrous or provocative. I have on a red gypsy skirt and a peasant blouse that slips off one shoulder, an outfit I’ve always felt sexy in but which was starting to feel like the lead cape they give you at the dentist. I am gaining weight by the second, and from the look on George’s face, have become a liability. When I hear myself say I’ve just come from New York, George gives me a patronizing smile and lets the crowd swim between us. A moment later I hear clopping. There is a white horse being led through the crowd, and on top, riding sidesaddle, is a girl of about sixteen, wearing a diaphanous gown the color of starlight. Was this for a movie? Were they filming now? The girl looks slightly dazed, or perhaps just as captivated by the moment as we who are staring at her, she is a shockingly pretty sight that has the regrettable effect of making my lead cape heavier, and I shrink as best I can into the still-locked brass doors of the Park Plaza.
Chris, however, sees me, and signals I need to push through the crowd. He pulls me onto the dais. Here, I can see a thousand people, in the street and spilling into McArthur Park. They wave and shout and call Chris’s name. A girl positions herself at his feet, tugging down her blouse so he can see all of her breasts. I laugh. Chris gives me a wink and hands me down to a security guard.
“She,” he tells the guard, “always gets in free.”
I am let inside the Park Plaza, the door locked behind me. The lobby is empty. The ceilings are fifty feet high and hung with impressive chandeliers. A staircase runs the length of the lobby and leads to a ballroom, empty, too, save for three girls sitting on milk-crates, sharing food from a take-out container.
“Hi,” one says, waving a French fry at me.
There are marble hallways and inlaid ceilings and a long bar like the one in The Shining. There are also pocks in the granite walls and cigarettes crushed in the carpet. Why, I wonder, has this place been allowed to decay? Sitting on the stairs, waiting for the doors to open, I think the building is like Sunset Boulevard’s Norma Desmond, defiant in her decrepitude because she is sure, if she hangs on long enough, the world will come to its senses and worship her for the star that she is.
The doors open at midnight. People pop in, two at a time, two thousand of them. No one stays long in the lobby, they go where the beer is, where the bands play, where the French fry girls have changed into bikinis and dance in cages suspended from the ceiling. Though Chris tells me Power Tools has a theme each week, integration does not seem the point. It is about access to chaos for five hours every Saturday, into which you can launch yourself, or try to. And I want to, but I don’t know how, and end the evening as I started, the only person on the steps, watching a boy with a limeade fizz of hair glide back and forth across the empty lobby, the wheels of his skateboard going chaka chaka chaka.
The house in Hollywood, on Curson Avenue, is a refraction of this scene. Parliament Funkadeklic or Bowie on the stereo, the TV in the living room playing The Cotton Club in a perpetual loop. There is a dentist’s chair on the front porch and someone’s Pontiac Catalina in the yard, and next to that, one of Tony Alva’s skate ramps, an artifact that has a group of preteen Lebanese boys pressing their noses through the chain-link fence, pleading, “Mister, hey mister! Can we try it?” To which my brother invariably says, no.
Because Chris works at night and has never met an object he does not deem suitable for home use, I wake many mornings to find someone’s castoff couch/scuba gear/saxophone/set of friends in the living room. As Chris can ride anything with wheels, staged around the house are motorcycles (five), bicycles (innumerable), roller-skates, skateboards, and unicycles (regular and hi-boy). As he does not understand the concept of blank wall space, there is none. There isn’t floor space, either, what with two dogs, two kittens, two rabbits, three snakes, a tarantula that lives by the telephone, and in a tall glass vase on the bar, a black widow with a red hourglass on her abdomen, which one day disgorges a gray paper egg out of which verily float several hundred babies, each no bigger than this ´.
“You want to do something about those?” I ask Chris, who shoves the whole thing in his messenger bag and drives it to Griffith Park, where he sets the spiders free.
Soon after I move in, Chris has me help him haul most of the objects inside the house, outside. This, in order to pose for a photo he wants to use as a Christmas card. About nine thousand of the assembled items are his, two are mine, and amidst them and below the Wheaties sign, now hung over the front door, we pose. Our friend Doug snaps shots before deciding the siblings Rommelmann are being outshone. And so, in the second version of the shot, Chris and I are naked, he holding a set of drumsticks, if not strategically, I with a six-foot boa constrictor looped around my neck and coiled in my lap.
DH, who played drums with the Dead Kennedys and his spooky/nice buddy Mark, who owns the school bus they’ve driven down from San Francisco and parked in the empty lot next to our house. Though DH and Mark sleep in the bus, they come inside to shower and eat and smoke pot, as do the 468 other guys in and out of the house every day. I don’t smoke pot, but I don’t have a job yet, either, so find my métier feeding everyone.
One afternoon, Mark says he really appreciates all the meals I’ve fixed, and wants to cook everyone his mother’s famous fish stew. This takes six hours, by which time everyone has gone off clubbing; I am the only other person in the house when Mark lifts the lid off the cast iron pot, bathing his face in cod-scented steam. We sit across from each other at the kitchen banquette, a burning candle stuck in a Chianti bottle between us.
Mark, who is usually silent, tells me he is a metal smith; that he loves making knives and older forms of weaponry, such as the mace. Which, he informs me, as I take a sip of the creamy potage, could take off my head with one blow.
We are here in balmy Miami, drinking the best coffee in Florida roasted and purveyed by our friends Joel and Leticia Pollock of Panther Coffee. The beautiful Leticia--with an assist from John Hood and seemingly every other cool fast person in Miami--is throwing a book party tomorrow evening. I'll read from Transportation, we will drink some coffee and Cava, and talk books and whatever else you like on Panther's smashing new outdoor plaza.
In the meantime, I am imaging all the ways I can tell the guys who run Beached Miami how smashing their coverage of the event is, primo primo el supremo. Check it. Thanks guys, and the rest of you, see you tomorrow.
The Sunday Oregonian, Janaury 20, 2013
by Anne Saker
Confession here: I am an utter wimp where the macabre is concerned. But the haunting weirdness of Nancy Rommelmann's new collection of stories, "Transportation," still lives with me.
Rommelmann, a well-known Portland voice whose keen-edged writing appears in local publications, including The Oregonian, is just plain daring and courageous in this volume. She dives into some strange pockets of the human soul and swims a line right on the blackest edge of fear, desire and despair. She whips out a dazzling array of techniques and wields them masterfully.
I nearly stopped reading "Transportation" after finishing the first story, "The White Coyote," not because it's bad but because it just freaked me out. The eponymous creature was injected at birth with human DNA, and in its youth appears an interesting freak, something brought to the local elementary school for the kids to gape at.
But time is no friend to this animal. In its dotage, the white coyote looks an awful lot like an old human man, but acts like a beast, flaunting its sexual threat and then carrying it out in a way that left me completely creeped out.
Then I crashed head-on into "X-Girl," about a woman who sexually taunts a man she knows, a butcher by trade. He sends her a blunt warning of how he will punish her teasing. When she ignores the warning, he carries out his promise in a fashion appropriate to his profession. Rommelmann is so good that I got to the end thinking, "I guess I see now how something like that might happen."
"Transportation" doesn't let up. A particularly cunning effort is "Balzek," about an artist who is determined to eat his own body for his next exhibition. "Save Yourself" is a life-after-death fantasy. Then Rommelmann throws in a beautifully cut coming-of-age story, "Tom Moore," that is moody and gray until the last sentence, when the sun bursts through.
It's exciting to see writers like Rommelmann working on the short story because of the discipline the form commands. Digressions are death, and focus must burn on its aim. Brevity commanded Rommelman to carve away the extraneous, and what is left is shocking and amazing. The words she did not write are the most powerful of all.
-- Anne Saker is a former staff writer at The Oregonian
I was contacted by a producer for KOIN, who heard about my on-going work looking into Amanda's life, the circumstances leading up to her dropping her children from the Sellwood Bridge in May 2009 (lead up as in, decades), how the community responded well and badly, who wants to keep things hidden and why. This will not all be revealed, I am sure, in a two-minute clip, but Amy Frazier, the interviewer, is a super-pro and I am in her good hands. The piece will be part of the 11pm newscast tonight, January 10, KOIN-TV Portland, Channel 6.
Some of you have read the essays I posted in 2009-2011 about Amanda. Those are currently offline as the book, "To the Bridge," is written. We had interesting, sometimes heated conversations on this blog, and I invite you as always to be in contact with me.
I have been reading Terrence Holt's story collection, In the Valley of the Kings. I bought the book after learning that Holt is Junot Diaz's favorite author ("There is no one in the wide sea of English who writes like him [as far as I know]; no one who is so profound and mysterious, so searingly human and so implacably apocalyptic..."). The stories grabbed me very quickly, and I mean this literally; I felt variously as though the air was being pressed out of me, and that I was being cast to the void. Holt wrote and taught writing before enrolling in medical school; he is currently a practicing physician. But to state that last seems redundant: Holt in both his guises is telling us what is going on here and in "realms outside the scope of ordinary existence." It is overly self-laudatory but I will write it anyway: I keep seeing similarities to what informs Holt's stories and some in Transportation, particularly the title story.
Tonight I read Barry Lopez's "Silver of Sky," which appears as memoir in the January issue of Harper's. It's behind a pay-wall but go ahead and subscribe, it's $16.95. What Lopez has written had to be written and must be read. It's about the sexual abuse he experienced as a child; what does and does not happen when you do and do not expose the savagery. You will, I am sure, want, as did I, to grab Harry Shier by the throat, to shame him deeply, yes for what he did, and also for the compounding he was willing to do. And for what others, due to their own fears and rationalizations (cue Penn State anthem) are not willing to do. Lopez, a National Book Award winner and a friend, has thought long about this and writes the following:
A more obvious question I asked myself as I grew older was: How could my mother not have known? Perhaps she did, although she died, a few years after she was told, unwilling to discuss her feelings about what had gone on in California. I’ve made some measure of peace with her stance. When certain individuals feel severely threatened — emotionally, financially, physically — the lights on the horizon they use to orient themselves in the world might easily wink out. Life can then become a series of fear-driven decisions and compulsive acts of self-protection. People start to separate what is deeply troubling in their lives from what they see as good. To use the usual metaphor, they isolate the events from one another by storing them in different rooms in a large hotel. While these rooms share a corridor, they do not communicate directly with one another.
I’m not able, today, to put the image I have of my mother as her children’s attentive guardian together with the idea of her as an innocent, a person blinded by the blandishments of a persistent pedophile. But for whatever reason, she was not able, back then, to consider what might be happening in the hours after she saw Shier drive away, her son’s head, from her point of view on the porch, not quite clearing the sill of the car window as the two of them departed.
Reading one of these works in a week would be enough to knock one silent for a while. Reading both, today, made me need to tell you.
The Next Big Thing is a series winding its way through the blogosphere. I was tagged by the magnificent writer Natalie Serber, author of SHOUT HER LOVELY NAME. You can find out more about Natalie and her work here.What is your working title of your book (or story)?
TRANSPORTATION: STORIES. There are eight, including the title story.Where did the idea come from for the book?
The first one I wrote after being struck by an image, of a knife plunged into a hot pink satin dress – a dress I owned at the time, from a store in Los Angeles called X-Girl. I just had to figure out who was wearing the dress was and why this was happening to her. This is often the case when I work: I see something in my mind and have to figure out how to get there. Hence, maybe: Transportation.What genre does your book fall under?
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
It’s tempting to pick actors I find vivid and compelling –
Marion Cotillard for the woman in “Transportation,” Gerard Depardieu for the artist
in “Balzec.” But the situations the characters find or put themselves in make
them want to be the opposite of vivid; they want to recede, sometimes to the
point of disappearance, at least from the room as we know it. So I would pick
people who are marginally blander – maybe Rachel Weisz for Transportation;
Danny Huston for Balzec – and still I would tamp them down, dress them all in
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Bend the view a little, and these stories are happening here.Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I work with Dymaxicon, a small publishing company started by the
writer and editor Hillary Louise Johnson—who also happens to be my
sister-in-law. It’s a very nimble operation. I decided to put out Transportation in May and we were ready
to roll in December—and no arguing about the cover image! In fact, Hillary so
liked the photos taken for the cover, she decided to publish the series as a
stand-alone catalog, Transported. The
photographer is Tafv Sampson, my 23-year-old daughter. Dymaxicon sounds like a family
operation, but it really isn’t. It publishes across a variety of
genres—technical books, crime fiction, graphic novels. I’m lucky to have gotten
in on the ground floor.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Total writing time is probably two months of solid work days. It’s just that the days happened over 12 years.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I am reading Terrence Holt’s In the Valley of the Kings and keep being struck at the similarities of that which informs the stories; it’s eerie and wonderful actually, to keep recognizing this. A friend compared the work to that of Scott Bradfield, and my editor at the Oregonian sees comparison with the fabulous fiction writer Dana Spiotta, who kindly gave me a blurb for this book.Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The stories sort of knock on the door. You are free not to answer, or to answer and abort. Sometimes you bring them to be. With the exception of “My Daughter’s Head,” in which I do envision my daughter and her father, the stories are not based on real people or events. Well, the lead character in “X-Girl” is named Nancy. You may draw your own inferences.What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
Many of the stories appear to be happening on a slightly other-worldly plane, familiar but unfamiliar. I think it might be bracing for the reader to accept what’s going on with scenery, so to speak, that’s the same but utterly changed, or is it?
'Transportation' review: On the black edge of fear, desire and despair (The Sunday Oregonian)