Thursday, September 24, 2009

It's kind of hard sometimes to be writer when you hold down a day job. About three weeks ago my revised query letter drew a request from an agent to see the entire manuscript. This popped into my email in the middle of the morning, just after I got out of a meeting. I kind of sat there, and then I thought, I can't just sit here, and so I got up and walked out to the front of the building and stood in the Vegas sunshine. On the way out, someone asked if I were OK and I said I was fine. I took the long route around and came back to my desk. There are a lot of people I can tell when something like that happens, but for various reasons the people I work with (though perfectly nice) aren't in that category.
I sent the manuscript off and since that day I don't think I've had any peace of mind while checking my email. Today, mid-afternoon, the reply came back. It was very nicely worded but it said they had decided to pass, at this point, on representing How to See the Elephant. I've spent the past two weeks magically steeling myself ("magically" meaning for every time I've imagined a positive response I have to imagine a negative one as well) so I wasn't surprised. In fact, I didn't really mind. I mind being treated as a tiresome wanna-be who should just give up. I don't mind being treated as a genuine writer who perhaps just isn't the right fit for this particular agency. My dealings with this agency were very professional and I don't have the usual hurt feelings I've gotten in the past from being rejected. (Perhaps this is naive -- if so, please don't disillusion me!) I have some other queries out there and will be sending out more next week. So I'm OK. Really, I am. I'm just sitting at work, staring at my desk calendar, listening to my co-worker's radio play "Band on the Run," wondering how I'm going to get through the next two hours. I'm probably not going to get any work done today, or any writing either. But I'm OK. Really, I am. Tomorrow is another day. Tomorrow I'll go back to Tara. Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn. Whatever.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Pahrump, Part II

OK, I should probably apologize to Pahrump. There are hotels there. There is also a community college and a library. And there's a big green man in a Tyrolean hat carrying a sign that says "Valley Homes." And some people protesting the BLM's wild horse management policy. (Why they were aiming these protests at a Quizno's, I can't say.) There aren't a lot of street signs, but I found my way to Bookworm Haven and traded in my paperbacks and spent a hour or so browsing. It's the kind of place where books are shelved very idiosyncratically (i.e. "Movies," meaning books that have been made into popular movies) so half the fun is just looking. I found Black Hearts in Battersea (the sequel to The Wolves of Willoughby Chase) and an old Lois Duncan and a forgotten Rumer Godden and three Ursula K. Leguin reissues. Also The Princess and the Goblin and Jean Dixon's My Life and Prophecies which I bought because I remembered reading it in 1979 when it scared the life out of me. (Now, given that Earth was not hit by a comet in the mid 1980s and that Armageddon did not start in 1999, I can't help but feel sorry for poor old Jeane Dixon. She must have died a disappointed woman.) Altogether it was quite worth the trip and I'll never look at Pahrump the same away again.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Going to Pahrump for literary purposes

A couple of years ago I dreamed I was driving out into the desert to buy books. When I woke up I couldn't imagine where that idea had come from. Although I did happen on some cheap used books in Tonopah last spring, most of the little towns outside Las Vegas are pretty barren of anything you could possibly buy, other than gas. (If you ever want to see a zombie town, drive through Goldfield, NV.) But a month or so ago, when the local newspaper ran an article claiming "the best used bookstore in Nevada isn't in's in Pahrump," I found myself thinking of my dream. Used's only an hour or so, not very far, highway all the way...I have some days off coming up at work... I told my husband what I was thinking. He said simply, "Pahrump? You're crazy."
In order to understand his response, it's best to know that Pahrump, Nevada is truly one of the few towns in the world that people in Las Vegas can look down on for being too sleazy. OK, perhaps that's not a fair statement. Perhaps people in LV are biased because they only go to Pahrump for fireworks and brothels. But disregarding this bias, I can say that my experiences of Pahrump have done nothing to change my mind. If you took the most soulless parts of urban sprawl -- trailers, fly-by-night housing developments, screaming billboards, traffic, strangely configured strip malls -- from every part of America and plunked them down in the middle of nowhere, you'd have Pahrump. Spend ten minutes there and you hate the human race. There are no restaurants in Pahrump other than fast food places, and there are no hotels or motels, though it's only an hour away from Death Valley National Park. The town, as a whole, gives off a strong scent of the abnormal, the unreal and the soulless. I've tried and tried to be objective about Pahrump and I just can't. Nothing could make me go there.
Except used books.
Las Vegas has a couple of good used bookstores and I enjoy them but they are kind of small. People tend to move here from somewhere else and they usually clear out their closets and attics before they move, so I think there just isn't a lot of stock circulating -- not as much as you would get in an older town, anyway. Now, the article on this store in Pahrump described it as a series of trailers and dealing mainly in paperbacks which they gladly trade for. So I'm not expecting to find anything really old or obscure. I don't care. It's going to be an adventure. Next Friday is going to be the first of the Jewish holidays which I get off work and I'm filling up the gas tank and going "over the hump to Pahrump." Wish me luck. I may be the first person to ever descend on Pahrump for literary purposes.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Lyric Game

There’s a song I play a lot by the band the Decemberists. It’s called “July, July!” and my love from it stems from two lines that fall right in the middle of the song:
“And I say your uncle was a crooked French Canadian
And he was gutshot running gin.”
Something about those lines makes me laugh every time I hear them. I like the songs I like for a lot of different reasons – the poppy beginning of “She’s Lost Control,” the bass line of “Superstitious,” Peggy Lee’s smoky voice on “Why Don’t You Do Right?”— but there are some songs I like almost solely for literary reasons – because a line in them just pops out and gives me the pure pleasure of a line of poetry.
Strangely enough there’s often nothing overly poetic about these lines. Rather, I love them because they seem to get something right. Novelists have pages and pages to set up and describe a character, but songwriters have to get the essence in a few lines. With the Decemberists' lines I get the feeling of a story described in minature, or compressed into its essence. I feel the same way about these lines from a Billy Bragg song:
“I know people whose idea of fun
Is throwing stones in the river in the afternoon sun.”
I can see the stones falling in the river and I know exactly the kind of people he is trying to describe. And then there are the lines from “St. Louis Blues:”
’Tweren’t for powder and for store-bought hair
The man I love wouldn’t have gone nowhere.”
I think I would trade Moby-Dick and Huck Finn in their entirety to for that line, especially “store-bought hair.”
With other songs it's more often a feeling of something timeless being expressed in a scant few syllables. In "Old Man River," there's a line:
"I'm tired of living
And I'm scared of dying."
Rivers of ink have been spilled, and yet no one has ever described depression better. And someday, when I learn to embroider, I will stitch on a pillow the line from Hole's "Doll Parts:"
"I want to be the girl with the most cake."
My newest favorite is from Robert Johnson's "Kind-hearted Woman Blues:"
“She’s a kind-hearted woman.
She studies evil all the day.”

I'd love to use this as an intro quote for a novel but I've never written anything yet that fits it. This is a highly personal list but I'd love to hear what lines set your mind going when you hear them.