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Saturday, September 17, 2016

Listening to the Paint

Every once in awhile, an author should Google herself. I did my routine check last night and was amazed to discover that Prairie Schooner, one of my longtime favorite literary journals, had reprinted one of my poems. "Listening to the Paint" appeared in their 2012 issue, at a time that coincided with the record-breaking sale of an abstract painting. So PS chose to include my poem in their series of reprints.

The poem is about how my father's being a painter influenced me growing up and deciding to become a writer. Click on the link above to read the poem in its entirety, but the heart of it is in these lines:

How many times he loaded the brush,
swiped on those parallel lines. Strokes now fossilized
in the exhibition room’s angled-down lights.
 I have an idea how long that dry rhythm held
because as I waited for my father to speak
I counted the falling dust motes.
The silence art must bear.

This painting is "Joe Funk" and is of a printmaking friend of my father's, a man he shared a studio with in San Pedro, where I grew up. The Exodus Gallery contained the oddest group of people I ever met. You had to climb an exterior ladder to get into the second floor space -- which is probably why the artists could afford to rent it -- and it was a wonderland of strange canvases, tilted pieces of pottery, and best of all an easel with a blank canvas for me to play on. That rich silence of concentration and inspiration floated around the vast space and started me on this journey. 

Thanks to Prairie Schooner and their "Alberta Clipper" series for selecting my poem. Finding it now is like a tap on the shoulder from Dad, who's been gone for seven years. Here's another of his.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Lucky Summer, Happy Author Here

I'm really happy that one of my most recently published poems was "Wings Clipped" and appeared in Issue 4 of a journal called Panoply. Several reasons: 1) I've had a panoply of acceptances this season -- far more than my usual batting average! 2) "Wings Clipped" is the lead poem in my new manuscript, Arabesque (available to an interested publisher) and 3) the poem brings together the two art forms I've devoted myself to: dance and poetry.

The journal One from Jacar Press also published one of my poems -- "Elegance" -- that brought together those two arts. Even though this lovely art form broke my back, I would do it all over again. I suppose that might be a form of courage. And publishing that poem helped me have the courage to focus the opening section of my book around the way these arts and injuries shaped me.

This year I've had 16 poems accepted so far, which is much more than ever in any 9-month period. They're all from this manuscript, which makes me feel it's strong. I campaigned the poems to support publishing the book, but I never expected so much so quickly.

To be part of new literary ventures is also an exciting privilege I've had this season. The new and beautiful Peacock Journal recently published four of mine.

And they did me the kindness of pairing the work with a beautiful image that means a lot to me, as it's involved in my new novel, The Renaissance Club (also available). Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Teresa figures in my story, and when I met this sculpture in Rome, its power is partly why I wanted to write the novel.

 The other new journal I was happy to participate in is Mockingheart Review. They took three of my favorites from Arabesque, including my favorite dream poem, "Giraffes."

Gingerbread House published one of the poems that surprised me the most to write -- a poem about a dead-drunk superhero called "Transparency" -- and they paired it with original art that was just perfect. Thanks to the editors for that pairing! 

I have a poem forthcoming from Prairie Schooner, and I'm waiting to hear on a few more. But all in all, 2016 has been a bonanza for this poet. And in other ways, a most interesting series of literary adventures. Some of which I will have to wait to tell. Thanks for listening to my surprised delight.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Get poetically inspired -- go on a meditation-vacation

A new scientific study came out following people who had recently been on resort vacations and those who were meditators who had been on meditation retreats. The interesting thing is that the beneficial effects on their bodies, though similar, were different. And meditators seemed to have the longest term benefits. Their immune responses and ability to resist stress were stronger for a longer time than those who had simply greatly relaxing vacations.

Here's an article that gives a simple overview of the research -- interestingly enough, in Money Magazine.

So how about Meditation Vacations? Going somewhere where the goal is intensive meditation WHILE in a beautiful resort. It happens. I just went to one, and am hoping that once I get over the jetlag, I'll find my resistance to stress much higher.

But HERE'S THE PART NO RESEARCHER STUDIED: I caught 10 poems in 5 days while on my meditation-vacation-retreat at the South Carolina coastline. My normal pace is maybe five poems in a month. Clearly, the inspiration index was through the roof on a Medtiation Vacation. The Muse was hanging out on those beaches and patios, under the oak trees and at my buffet lunches and dinners. All I had to do, it seemed, was feel a stirring of idea, pick up my phone, and dictate. Of course they're all rough drafts, but THAT MANY POEM DRAFTS in five days is unparalleled in my life.

So roll it all together -- resort vacationing, meditation as a focused slowing down, and writing! I've been on active vacations three times as long in which I didn't get either as relaxed or inspired.



Thursday, August 11, 2016

To obtain a great cover image, try pleading "Poet in Poverty"

It was great fun to correspond with Matisse's great grandson in order to obtain rights to use this image on the cover of my poetry collection Femme au chapeau. Happy to say it will be available as an eBook in September! Pre-order price for you is $2.99, until 9/26/16. You can go here to pre-order: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/657130.

Poet Barbara Crooker did a wonderful review of the book on Smartish Pace, mentioning "exquisite figurative language throughout". She cited my "unusual and surprising subject choices", such as "the differences between men and women, as revealed in their choice of razors and bathroom accessories ("The Difference"), the unattainable/remote mother ("Piano Lessons," "Apple Pie Order," "Laparoscopy," "Beauty by a Sideboard"), the self-explanatory "Ode to My Purse," the olfactory genius of dogs ("Dog Sniffing"), the state fish of Hawai'i ("A Pot of Humuhumunukunukuapua'a"), manual typewriters (the hilarious "Ode to a Smith-Corona" which has to be explained by its equally funny end note)."

Best of all, this quintessential ekphrastic poet -- check out Crooker's books, especially her New and Selected -- said of my poems about paintings: "Dacus embodies the best of ekphrastic work, which doesn't merely describe works of art, but responds to them, allows the paintings to take her someplace else, and brings us along with her."

Monday, August 08, 2016

What If Your Heroes Won't Play Nice?

What if you can't get your two favorite heroes from history to play nice? That's the problem my main character, art historian May Gold has in my WIP novel The Renaissance Club. She has a plan to get her idol, Gianlorenzo Bernini, the rock star artist of the Renaissance, and his chief rival, architect Borromini, to play nice and work together. Trouble is, she has to travel four centuries to bring it about. Time isn't giving her much time, and Borromini is out for blood. Here's an excerpt:


“Hear me out,” May said. “If you ask him for advice, then the project becomes his to share, and that gives him an incentive to defend it. Even against those he has stirred up.”
Bernini wasn’t convinced. She had a bad feeling in her stomach, wondered briefly if it was the sausage from last night, but when he replied, it vanished.
         “Shrewd woman,” he said, smiling now. “You would make a good courtier. But the man truly hates me for taking the job he assumed would be his—Architect of St. Peter’s. I doubt anything can change his hatred.”
         He was wavering, but considering her idea.
         She elaborated on her reasons. “But he loves his reputation. Being your advisor could enhance his standing a lot. Surely he will recognize how a partnership of geniuses will promote you both.”
She had to say so herself: it was a brilliant idea.
“He may be a genius, but he’s also depressive egomaniac.”
His anger for a moment almost seemed to be directed towards her, so she adopted his strategy. She fought his opposition with an audacious turn.
“He is going to be completely taken by surprise at your invitation to collaborate. And if he is a genius architect, he will recognize how valuable it will be to him.”
It was the truth, and Bernini saw it. He broke into a laugh and his face lit up with his most charming smile.
“For you, I will try it! My note to Borromini will be the roses I lay at your feet, for coming here at my request.”
She was delighted. “That’s much better than roses!”
He sent the invitation immediately and Borromini’s reply came within an hour. He would come that afternoon. May was very excited to meet another giant of the Renaissance, the architect whose buildings proudly refused ornamentation because their complex geometries were so beautiful that colors, paintings, and statues would have been a distraction.
Francesco Borromini arrived just after one in the afternoon. He came toward them from the door at the far end of the studio, so she could watch him approach. He was everything she had imagined, with his pale face and Van Dyke beard, good looks sabotaged by his scowl—such a contrast with Bernini’s very public and ready charm. Borromini wore a knee-length dark brown cloak, old-fashioned and dour for the period. Under it he wore black, making him dark from hair to shoes. She could feel the anger simmering under his melancholic greeting.
“Cavaliere," he said, bowing.
Before he lowered his head, she saw the grim expression that revealed the temperament. That depressive, suspicious nature had resulted in Borromini withdrawing from working under Bernini, his young rival, at St. Peter’s. It was a banked fury that scared her and reminded her that Borromini would die by grotesque suicide, on his own sword. She wondered, as Bernini bowed in response, whether this meeting had been a good idea.
“Maestro,” Bernini conceded as Borromini rose unsmiling to stare at him, waiting. Bernini’s bow put a fleeting smile on Borromini’s face.
Despite their evident mutual dislike, May was excited. It would benefit them both if they could work together to rescue the bell tower project. And if that changed history, so much the better for history. She was playing God. She felt almost up to the part.
But Bernini wasn’t playing his part. He was just standing there silently waiting. She prompted him, “You wanted to ask for some advice?”
Borromini turned to her with a disgusted look. “Is this one of your models? Why is she here?”
May was suddenly frightened. She felt the chasm between cultures and centuries and realized she was out of her depth with such male chauvinism that they hadn’t yet even invented a term for it. It simply was the way things were—women were inferior and to be treated as barely existing.
Bernini came to her rescue. “She is not my model. She is my adviser on … matters of politics. I’ll thank you not to insult Signora Bellini.”
He had improvised a distinguished Venetian name for her, thinking quickly to give her social superiority over Borromini from a region wouldn’t be very familiar with.
This was the moment to say something, but she had no idea what. If a curtsey was right, she didn’t know how to execute one. She opted for the nobler slight dip of her head. Borromini, out-maneuvered, dipped his. He hesitated and then executed a lavish bow to her.
May was very glad she had not made the mistake of a bow, as she had in St. Peter’s—a masculine bow, which had made Bernini laugh. She reminded herself to be feminine, but not subservient. Feminine and noble, whatever that was.
“It seems politic for you both to consider working collaboratively on the bell tower design,” she said, hoping that by filling in the blank she would gain the advantage for Bernini.
Borromini turned to him. “So, Cavaliere, is this why have you summoned me?” He made his disdain clear.
“You are to consult with me,” Bernini said in a commanding voice that May didn’t think was going to help. “I acknowledge your engineering proficiency, and I want you to … to …”
He was choking on the word “advise.” He just couldn’t say it.
“You seek his advice, isn’t that right?” she said softly, hoping only Gianlorenzo heard.
Borromini allowed himself a smile. “You seek my expertise about the bell tower project, is that it?”
Bernini seemed unable to utter, “yes,” so he bowed again.
Borromini bowed even lower. Bernini bowed again. There seemed to be a pissing match in progress that May didn’t understand. She guessed that whoever spoke next would be the loser.
“Might you be concerned the towers are too heavy for their bases?” Borromini asked.
Score one for Bernini, who eked out the merest of smiles. “You are correct, sir. I have concerns. I might consider your thoughts on the matter.”
May was thrilled.
Borromini smiled broadly and said, “Because you’re already trying to decrease weight in the South Tower as it is built, I understand your dilemma. You must be aware that your design may prove too heavy for the bases already constructed by our predecessor, Maderno.”
Bernini was the one to scowl now. “That is exactly what the cowardly author of the scandaglio wrote against my plan. I wonder, Maestro, whether or not you are acquainted with the author of that insulting document?”
To May, this was tantamount to an accusation. Borromini seemed to agree. “You think I would write such a public rant? Why would I jeopardize my own reputation with the pope? No, I had planned to wait until your tower is finished and then we will see if it stands. Of course, my estimate about the weight may be entirely incorrect.”
This was to have been the moment when Bernini asked Borromini to help calculate what had to be done, but Borromini had succeeded in getting Bernini to fume. This wasn’t what May had envisioned. How had they managed to collaborate at St. Peter’s? Surely they could find some common ground.
“Stonemasons have been consulted,” Bernini said defensively, “and they assured us that my design for the towers is not too heavy for the bases.”
His haughtiness wasn’t helping. May could see Borromini’s mood had a deeper and darker color than Bernini’s. He could afford to bait Bernini, because the Cavaliere was notoriously emotional. With a lurch of disappointment, May realized that was why Borromini had come. This had been a terrible idea. These two artistic titans were hoping to mortally wound each other. As a result, both would fall.
         “I remember this anonymous critic mentioned that your towers will cost twice as much as Maderno’s original design,” Borromini said. “I suppose you justify that on the basis of the pope and his taste for extravagance. He seems to always prefer the most elaborate design to the most pure one.”
         “You impugn all my designs at one sweep!”
         Bernini’s steam was frothing over. The dour Borromini now shot May a smirking glance. He was going to milk this encounter in the hope of getting Bernini to do something he might regret. She saw now that the greater maneuverer in this meeting was Borromini, though Bernini always had the greater luck. That luck lay at the core of Borromini’s hatred and thus it would never change.
She felt the tightness of her sleeves and bodice, the surreal way her breasts wanted to spill over the top of the dress. She couldn’t catch her breath. She couldn’t imagine surviving the oily poison of this atmosphere between them.
“Cavaliere, you must rise or fall on your own calculations,” Borromini said grandly. “I do not know why you summoned me, if you have no wish to listen. I cannot help you.”
“You always were a stubborn ass!” shouted Bernini.
“And you, Cavaliere, have always been a thief.”
“What do you mean?”
“The devious way you stole my rightful commission for the Four Rivers Fountain. A pickpocket’s ruse robbing a true artist.”
“Rightful commission?” Bernini shouted.
Borromini’s voice rose too, cracking in a higher pitch. “Your esthetic is as common as your heritage.”
“And how would the son of a stonemason appreciate esthetic refinement?” Bernini shouted.
Borromini was already retreating, but at this last insult, he turned. Throwing one side of his cape over his shoulder to reveal his hand on the hilt of his sword, though not drawing it, he answered.
“As easily as the son of a mediocre carver of small statues can understand the complexities of geometry.”
It was amazing that Borromini, renowned for his temper, had managed to bring the poised Bernini to near-hysteria. Her hopes were at an end. She just hoped there wouldn’t be a duel, and she had to remind herself that history had recorded none between them.
               Borromini turned again and with an insulting swagger departed.
               Gianlorenzo turned to her and said, “I don't need him. I don't need any of them. I am going to build taller towers than anyone ever dreamed. My towers will complement Michelangelo’s perfect dome. That is how I will silence my ignorant critics!”
               She said nothing, knowing that Borromini had been right about the engineering. The added height would cause the bell towers to crack. She had done nothing but goad him into daring too much height. The entire basilica, had been built on underground springs that would destabilize the foundations. But those facts would be manipulated, and a pope who was far from Bernini’s champion would tear down Bernini’s towers.
               “Why did you insist that I invite him?” Bernini’s anger was still hot. Now it found its target in her.
               May couldn’t wish Bernini’s passion crushed, but it was going to be. She couldn’t imagine living such a reckless, passionate life as he did—but passion was the essence of his art. She didn’t belong here. Her ideas would create dangers for him and this culture could suffocate her.
               She turned to say she was leaving, but before she could, she was caught by a dazzle of afternoon light that struck the window.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Magical realism - why do we love the magic so much? (+ 3 great books)


Magical Realism Fiction – Why Do We Love the Magic So Much? (Plus Three Great Books)

I just finished Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. Now there’s a mouth-watering title for a devout reader, a magical sounding name like Penumbra and a reference to books. We just know we’re going to have a great escape reading this book. And I did. I could hardly wait until evening, when I could pick up my device and tap the pages forward, learning about a mysterious underground library and how it might relate to Silicon Valley. I was so enthralled I signed up for SF Bay Area author Sloan’s newsletter. The magic in this magical realism novel was one part conspiracy, one part occult, and one part technology. The perfect elixir for me, also a resident of the Bay Area. FIVE STARS!

But what is it that makes us crave magic in our stories? I think the very telling of a tale implies that the listener will be lifted out of ordinary reality. After all, a novel is a device, a machine made of words in order to evoke feelings and realizations. It’s a crafted object. Real life has its magical moments but they’re usually few and far between, and a novel with magic in it lets us binge on that otherworldly feeling.

Another book that made me binge-read was Aimee Bender’s TheParticular Sadness of Lemon Cake. In that lovely, sad, and affirming story, a young girl can taste the feelings of the person who created the food she eats. This makes life very difficult, as most people have a lot of unpleasant feelings, so she starts not wanting to eat. But of course ultimately this draws her to want to create food herself. FIVE STARS ISN’T ENOUGH FOR THIS FABULOUS PIECE OF LITERATURE!

I find magical realism more compelling that straight-up fantasy. It has to do with the fact that real life has its magical dimensions and moments -- moments of inspiration, transporting love, and heightened perception. Magical realism doesn’t put me on another planet the way fantasy does. It keeps me on this one, and despite the chaos and destruction we hear about every day, this form of literature encourages me to believe in those magical dimensions I've experienced as being more important. It urges wonder and allows hope. 

We need wonder and hope right now, more than ever. They’re built into human consciousness, and the headlines, which are the opposite of magical realism, tend to shut them down. So magical realism makes me feel more opened out than reading the news.

Another magical realism book I recently tapped my way quickly through was Sarah Addison Allen’s Garden Spells. I have to give it only FOUR STARS. There was something a little too folky, small-town nostalgia about the writing. There wasn’t quite enough realism for me. I often felt I was reading sketches of characters, rather than characters in their depth and reality. Bad things happened to good people, but I remained unconvinced. Still, the magical trope, the special gifts each of the three sisters had, and the prophesying apple tree (nice evocation of the Garden of Eden), hooked me as magical elements that evoked wonder and belief. And yes, hope.

I’m just starting a new one, hopefully. David Pandolfe's Jump When Ready starts with a narrator in the afterlife, much like Amy Tan’s Saving Fish From Drowning, another good magical realism read. Stay tuned for more micro-reviews of these.


Saturday, July 23, 2016

My Poem "Cone of Silence" at Blue Heron Review

The writing life is a little like surfing: being tumbled under the tide but also catching some wonderful waves. I've just caught one of those good waves! I'm happy to say my poem "Cone of Silence" is up this month at Blue Heron Review.

This online journal has a mission with a tagline from Hafiz: "An awake heart is like a sky that pours light." I'm thrilled to have my work alongside that of many fine poets, and to have this particular poem appear now. It was an experiment, a different process and outcome than I'm used to in writing poetry. Maybe it's more flash fiction than poem, or prose poem, or mini-essay. I threw off the bit and bridle of line breaks and avoided deliberate rhythms. No rhyme appeared as I drafted.

I was trying to write without thinking of form, only of content: recording an internal experience by way of pure imagery. The silence came as an opening and welcoming: of birds, trees, hills, skateboarders, houses -- whatever I passed. I was in an interesting state and later all I wanted to do was note it down for reflection. Later I put in the line breaks, made difference word choices, added assonance, alliteration, and near-rhyme. I attended to latent rhythms, and after doing all that, I went back to the original and made just a few tweaks. Honoring the spirit of silent acceptance.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Poetry & Prose -- the Twins in My Life


If you have an addiction to writing like I do (and a writer by definition is an addict), perhaps like me you can't contain it within just one literary genre. I began with poetry, getting swept up first in the poems of the haiku poets Basho, Buson, and Issa. Issa (Kobayashi Issa 1763-1828, one of the Big Four of Japanese haiku) charmed me with tiny masterpieces that evoked a stunning attention to the natural world, like this one:


How beautiful!
The Milky Way from a hole
In my sliding rice-paper door

Here's a lovely article on Issa

But it was Dylan Thomas' Under Milkwood (beautifully read by Richard Burton in this recording) that put me into orbit -- verse as drama! As enchantment, creating and then playing in a whole world of your imagination. The seaside town of Milkwood that he created reminded me of my childhood San Pedro, port of Los Angeles, with its old world, fishing community.

So poetry and prose intermingled in my developing love of language and literature, and I've had trouble ever since keeping them apart. Memoir, fiction, drama, and verse all call to me at different moments, and I never have less than two projects in different genres going at a time. I want my prose to be poetic and my poetry to be narrative. I love descriptions of landscape in memoirs and fiction.

Dewfall, starfall, the sleep of birds in Milkwood. Listen! It is night in the chilled, squat chapel ...

I knew by age twelve that I wanted to create my own Oz, Milkwood, Our Town, windy Japanese hut, and many other places evoked by poets and writers. I'm still working at it, the Italy in my mind being the latest of my locations.

Here's a wonderful video of Robert Hass on Issa and haiku. Enjoy his interview and reading! These seventeen-syllable, three-line poems are minuscule dramas in verse. Just what I continue to reach for in my work -- that surprise and dramatic reach.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

As Yearning Is Red - Visions with Waterbirds

This weekend we drove to Sebastopol, over the top of the San Francisco Bay, through marshlands filled with waterbirds.

I'm lucky to live near a creek where egrets hunt and nest. I take walks alongside this miniature waterway and appreciating the ducks keep an eye out for that white, upright stillness near the shore, often half hidden by tall dry grasses. When I come upon a lesser or greater egret, I stop at the pure white form the way you'd stop if you suddenly came across a living saint in prayer. They have a quality of prayer as they fish.

Once, when I was heading down toward the creek, I came eye level with one in flight. And this poem came in a rush of wings.

As Yearning Is Red - A Poetry Storehouse Reading

This lovely version is read by Marie Craven, who honors my poem and the egret with a lovely, soft voice beautifully precise and accented in a way that endows it with the hush and formal awe I was feeling. The poem is from my newest book Gods of Water and Air, available on Amazon.


Platform, platform -- I thought those shoes went out in the 80s

Author platform: what is it, do I need it for fiction, and other brain-freezing topics. There's so much written about this ugly word (I keep thinking of those awful shoes you can literally fall off and break your ankle), that my research has frozen my mind on the topic.

So here's my hopefully refreshing take on Platform for Novelists. You don't need one. No, you just need to be your most authentic writer-self, and in public, without asking people to do things for you. No sales pitching, no bragging (or only subtle and elegant bragging), and stuff to offer to help and amuse your fellow writers and readers. Assume you have readers and you're all sitting around in one of those gatherings that used to be for workshopping, and how has become the circle of your favorite people to hang with and discuss life and books. Those people are your (platform) audience.

See? It's not hard at all. It's pleasant. It does have to be done regularly, but it can take any form that satisfies you and amuses you. I like coming up with pithy poetic fragments and coupling them with nice photos I've taken, usually of plants and landscapes and yes, my adorable dog. Of course, I refuse to aggressively hawk my books (except once in awhile to offer discounts but mostly through email), but I do like to talk about my three books and my WIP, a novel involving time travel and the great Italian Renaissance/Baroque sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini.

And I also like finding and sharing writing resources for my hard-working writer colleagues. That's why you can go to http://racheldacus.net and find under Resources a long listing of literary journals and presses that accept submissions without charging contest fees.

You can scroll down here at Rocket Kids and find links to all sorts of my favorite literary and publishing resources. And here's the soothing picture:




Thursday, July 07, 2016

Publishing a Novel -- Not Quite Torture, but Bearing Some Resemblance

Is she in ecstasy or torture?

 Does she look like she's in ecstasy or torture? She must be a writer of fiction conteomplating current avenues of publication because where there was once a clear path to authorship, fame, and fortune, now ... 100 articles on how to publish OR see a fabulous, must-own publishing guide by The Book Doctors and Jane Friedman's advice on publishing.

So you studied all that, and now you're ready to query, submit, do the waiting, make the changes, query, resubmit, keep an open mind without losing your vision, and ... WOW! You got a nibble, an offer, or even YES! a contract.

It's time to break out the champagne, do the Fred Astaire ceiling dance, throw a party, think up your next creative project, and in general be a happy writer for all of a week. 
Then comes the acceptance

And then reality sets in.

This is not the end of the publishing adventure. Not by a long shot. There's the marketing, the supporting a new book, figuring out the whole social media thing, how to get the word out to your friends and theirs. It's all so confusing, so daunting, and so ... MUCH.

But there are guides to help you along to building audience. Here are some resources for all of that: Book Marketing 101 and Social Media Marketing for Indie Authors. 

And remember, we're in this together. We're writers and readers, and we can do this.

If all that is making your eyes cross and your brain hurt, just stare at this image for 20 seconds, close your eyes, and mediate on #booklaunch #success and remember your writing will find readers. Believe!


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

What This Writer Does While Waiting

Waiting. Publishing your writing is so full of waiting to hear from an agent or editor that medieval torture begins to seem like a diversion to inflict on yourself while enduring the greater agony. I'm at another waiting stage with my novel-in-progress, The Renaissance Club. I've been working on this for so long that I can't look at it right now without guidance. I need an agent or editor to hold my hand and tell me what I'm reading. I'm waiting to hear from an agent, and the longer I work on this, the slower time seems to go. It's going slower than for this 19th century girl with her print book in hand.

One of the things I'm doing while waiting to hear from the agent is blog. Here, for example, is my Baroque rockstar bad boy hero, Bernini, in his self-portrait. I'd also add an image of Rome as I remember it on my first day when, like May, I couldn't wait to get out into one of the most incredible cities I've ever seen. And here are my first two paragraphs:
 
If she could ask the great Renaissance sculptor Bernini one thing it would be, “If I were a piece of stone, how would you chisel me free?”

But May was a realist. Instead of fantasizing one more time about the subject of her master’s thesis, the way she did in her tiny office at the college, she stuffed a lipstick, blush, and water bottle into her backpack. She twisted the image of Bernini into a mental topknot and scrambled to get out of the hotel room into Rome before Darren emerged from the bathroom.

The other thing I've done while waiting is to plan a new novel (that's a no-brainer -- if you're hooked on writing fiction) and to research publishing and its future. Trying to peer into the crystal ball is something it seems few in the industry really want to do. It's very scary because this is an industry on the brink of The Unknown. A thing far scarier than anything in a Stephen King novel.
If you're curious, here are two great publishing-futurist gurus who are lively, intelligent, and crazily informed:

The Creative Penn - by Joanna Penn
Thad McIlroy's very geeky (and therefor fascinating) The Future of Publishing.

WARNING! If you are device-averse and print-dependent, do NOT peruse these. They will make you uts. But I'm the daughter of a rocket engineer and I do love my technology, so I find this endlessly fascinating.

Stay tuned for the future of The Renaissance Club. What will happen when May stops being a realist and encounters her adored genius?



Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Strong Female Characters and America's First Woman Nominated for President

It's official. History made. Glass ceiling -- well, not if shattered, a network of cracks so numerous and widespread you know whose head is going through it soon. America may well have -- at last -- our first female president. So how has literature responded to the new world that presidential campaigns seem to indicate is approaching, a world of equality for women?

Last year, complex and unlikeable but interesting female characters led the NYT bestsellers list, that's how. And you see it everywhere, even in the world of romance novels. Complicated women are interesting. People want to read about them. Some of us want to write about them. Check out this Atlantic article about 2015's leading, complicated literary ladies. The sentence I like best is this:

"Perhaps most refreshingly, these novels aren’t so much heralding a new age of female-centric literature as they’re building on a much older English-language tradition of works about complex women." It made me remember how much I love Austen's heroines, and the reasons I do like them, despite the sappy-happy endings. I recalled how enthralled I was with Middlemarch, arguably the best novel in English, at least so acclaimed during the 20th century.

And now we'll get to watch a complicated, imperfect, strong, intelligent woman lead the headlines for months and months. It will be interesting reading.

By the way, The Renaissance Club, my work-in-progress, features a young woman art historian learning to be one of these strong characters who leads, not follows, in her life. Stay tuned for news about the book.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

First drafts - just get the words out

I post this advice from author Neil Gaiman with some trepidation, having just spent a solid twelve months fixing words that were relatively easy to draft. But it's true, if you let your inner critic sit in your lap while you type, you're going to get your hands and words bitten all over until there are almost no words left and no hands willing to make them appear.

So in the words of Anne Lamott, "Shitty first drafts". Just write them. Apologize to yourself over a glass of wine. And then write more. And later, much later, when the keyboard is a distant memory and your words read like someone else's shitty first draft, fix them up pretty and apply all sorts of costuming and lighting effects, hang the stage with nice heavy velvet curtains and gold braid, and bring in every theatrical trick you have. Just don't start with the stage machinery. Start with first pristine words and later clean off their faces and begin the hard work. Here's some encouragement:

20-essential-tips-on-rewriting-your-story-until-it-shines
Jane Friedman on how revising rewards mistakes

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Writing It Short, Fat, and Lean

"Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short." – Henry David Thoreau.

When I #amwriting either prose or poetry, I first write long and thin. By that I mean a lot of words to say not as much as I will wind up with, compressed. Having just finished what I hope is the final revision of a 400-page novel, I know the meaning of short and long, thin and fat. I started with what I've come to view as a 300-page outline of my novel. Twelve months later, working with an amazing set of editors, I've fleshed out the action and compressed the verbage until at 416 pages, I have more scenes, less dialogue, more description, less flounder, and much deeper characters.

It's amazing what taking out leaves room to put in. If you're writing an #novel or a #shortstory, try drafting longer and longer and then get out the shears and the dictionary of muscular verbs. (I just made that up, but wouldn't it be nice to have one?)

If you're writing #poetry, take out the connective tissue until you reach "terse" and then begin adding adverbs and adjectives. That's right, I'm recommending to add modifiers. They're a bridge. You're going to cut them, but for now see them and consider if you've picked the right verb. Verbs are everything. Nouns are a little something. All other parts of speech incline away from making an impact, so are best used sparingly.

Anyway, that's my #recipeforwriting.

What's with all the #hashtags? I'm learning. Shortly after I publish this post, I will remove 50% of them.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Publishing a Memoir -- Strategies & Tricks of Memory

They're like fallen leaves, memories. They arrange themselves in nature's beautiful random order beyond our ability to perceive, like weather, like a life until you're looking back on it and suddenly see an organizational purpose. And are amazed into writing about it.

The thing is, who else wants to see it? Why is that mysterious, suddenly perceived arrangement important to anyone but you? That's the question a memoir essay or book must answer. Answering it doesn't guarantee publishability, but it does put you in the running.

So I wrote a memoir book: Rocket Lessons. So I got an agent who sent it around to all the big NY publishers. So it didn't get picked up. So she said, "Put it in the trunk and make it your second book." So I wrote another book -- not a memoir, this time fiction, though it's arguable that any memoir is  fiction -- and it found an agent. Rinse, hopefully not repeat.

Thing is, I don't want to make my memoir my second book after all. I don't want to revisit it because -- drumroll for things I should have known before I started writing a book -- publishing a memoir is incredibly hard. Enter self-publishing and/or small press publishing. Which is almost the same thing, only with someone else's name on the cover page as a kind of bonafide.

Publishing a memoir is hard, but all the big publishers have had a hit-out-of-the-park with one. The Angela's Ashes, Glass Castle kind of hit. Will your memoir be "outta here!" famous? Without any idea of how such phenomena occur, I do know that you can build an author platform for your memoir by publishing excerpted essays and blogging, publishing related pieces of fiction and poetry, and by getting yourself interviewed on topics related to your memoir and life experience contained in it. Those all help persuade an agent and publisher to go with your arrangement of the fallen leaves, that there's something universal enough in it -- as in some way every story is a story we all can relate to -- enough to publish.

Some useful links about publishing memoirs:
Jane Friedman on truth in memoirs
What do top agents want in a memoir?



Saturday, May 21, 2016

A new sculpture by Baroque genius Bernini

It's almost like time travel exists! As it does in my new WIP, THE RENAISSANCE CLUB. We now have a new masterpiece by the inventor of the Baroque, seventeenth century artist Gianlorenzo Bernini (and one of my novel's main characters).

According to the New York Times' article, the Getty Museum just came upon one of the rarest of finds, a new work by Bernini, one that was thought long ago lost.

The minute you look at it, it's clear it's an authentic Bernini. And the provenance makes that positive. What I love is that it's an early Bernini, the beginning of his ground breaking work in portraiture. This avenue of his sculpting, marble portrait busts and the way he made them seem to live and breathe, figures as part of the plot of my yet-to-be published novel The Renaissance Club that has Bernini as a main character.

I just hope the Getty keeps digging. Who knows what is down there, in that bottomless basement of art they must have, given their incredible amount of funding. Bernini lives! And apparently, is still working, folding time to suit himself, so he can surprise us with new work.

UPDATE: THE RENAISSANCE CLUB, a magic realism novel of love, art, creativity, and time, is moving toward making an appearance and being available to you. Email me at rachel@dacushome.com and I'll put you on the update list.



Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Write another novel? At your peril

Clearly writing this novel, THE RENAISSANCE CLUB, has wiped the floor with me. I haven't worked on my new poetry manuscript, thoughtfully blogged, wittily tweeted, or amusingly updated in ... let's just say furlongs of seasons. I'm trying to pick myself up off the floor of a rigid and focused writing routine that produced a 416-page, carefully revised manuscript over a period of years. I'm trying to remember the carefree writer who could take a whole morning to envisage the newest incarnation of a poem or muse on growing up seaside in southern California -- a blog just for the fun of it.

Instead, I have become this driven person chained to a book. Don't get me wrong, I love my book and miss working on it, as I now have turned it over to A Higher Power (by that I mean the publishing professionals). I find everything in my writing trunk half-done, partly forgotten, a bedraggled muse adjusting her crown of brambles and berries and wildflowers as she climbs out of the box glaring at me.

But I did review a book -- stay tuned for a link when it goes live -- and I've read a few. You could say I'm resting in the steam and settle after the train has arrived at a station. Glad to still have my fingers on a keyboard, making some kind of word music. And to have written this today.

Don't you feel like writers should get an all-expenses-paid summer by the sea, every summer? Yeah. This sea. Mediterranean. Portovenere, where I might partially set my next story.


Saturday, April 30, 2016

Superheroes and Imaginary Giraffes

Starting off with two of my recent fantasy/fairytale/science-fiction poems, I'm starting what will be a  great summer run of poem publications. Gingerbread House has just published my poem "Transparency" about a superhero dead-drunk on dilithium crystals and impossible to manage. Sharad Haksar's “Superhero,” that accompanies the poem, is fantastic!

Mockingheart Review, a new publication under the direction of Clare L. Martin, began the sequence with publishing my poems "Giraffes" about a mythical herd that inhabits my livingroom, along with "Pure" and "The Gods Among Us," also mystical/mythically inclined. Thanks to Clare for selecting these poems. They're among my newest poems and currently most favorite -- as the newest always are, often pointing the way to a new direction in writing, which I hope these will for me.

I have more work forthcoming in three more journals over the summer, and one more in the fall. I've been a lucky poet! Because as we poets and writers know, it's 99% luck, but you can't get a seat at the table if you don't first play the game of hard work and insane persistence.

Happy summer writing! 


Friday, April 08, 2016

Novels take an awful lot of time to write

Long absence from blogging because ... a novel, a play, many grant proposals, a poetry manuscript, and I have words coming out of my ears, dangling over my head as I sleep, raining into my bedroom, puffing out of my puppy's nostrils. (Can you see that one? I do!)

Really, novels take too much time to write. I love reading them and writing them. I hope I've learned enough to write faster the next time. I've learned way more than I ever wanted to about story arcs and story structure, including such things as plot points, pinch points, story goals, stakes, consequences, foreshadowing -- and I had little idea when I waded into the book that there was such a science developed around this art form.

Now when I read or watch TV and movies I'm analyzing how they're handling story and character and backstory and setting. It's good to know the rules to break. I so look forward to getting back into poetry, where the rules are more familiar and breakable. I can hear them cracking along the lines where the chips appeared and then the pieces falling on the floor and breaking into smaller pieces. Those rules I know and love. These new ones, I'm tapping with tiny hammers to find the breaking seams.

Recent novels that interested me: Erica Bauermeister's The School of Essential Ingredients, Karen Essex's Leonardo's Swans, Elizabeth Kostova's The Swan Thieves, Christine Potter's Time Runs Away With Her.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Rain Dancing!

RAIN! In honor of El Nino's "moisture plume" that's predicted to sweep into droughty California this weekend and next week, I'm posting a couple of rain dance poems. One was based on an authentic rain dance I was taught in Hawai'i. We hired this teacher and he came with his drum to work work the four of us who were sharing a house on Kaua'i. He played and we danced on the lanai, summoning the gods of rain, and then it rained for three days straight! On and off, though, so our vacation wasn't spoiled. I have ever since been impressed by the idea of rain dancing. Thanks to the editors of Stirring magazine, where "Rain Hula" originally appeared:

Rain Hula at Anini Beach

He arrived on our moldy lanai,
swept-up hair bedecked with a hibiscus.
An indeterminate pronoun
in an orange sarong, he kissed
us damply on both cheeks,
in air, a double cross. Introduced himself
as Pa’ula without looking us in the eyes.
He demonstrated the kahiko, a history in dance
of Hanalei Bay’s fifteen kinds of rain.

Pa’ula’s large, wide feet stamped
down the spade-digging torrents of aka-ula,
and his fingers petal-whisked hanini showers.
Undulant brown biceps rippled up a sea spout
and a chant rose from his proud throat,
a belly-anchored cry to clouds.
But the eyes mourned as he broke
down each leaf-soft move
for our architect and teacher fingers.
He laid mourning words at our white feet
as they tangled on themselves and sweat sprayed.
On the beach, palm fronds thrilled
to his drum, but we woke
only the neighbors with our stamping. 

This one is from my most recent book, Gods of Water and Air (available in ebook or print on Amazon):

Drained

1.
A contrapuntal drumming on skylight and roof,
andante, vivace, allegro ---
a run of notes up and up, rain’s
finger exercises. Mesmeric hour, then bullet-hail.
A thousand knocks on the door. Hello, hello?
He knows I’m trying to get out, but pretends
no one’s home. I’m inside the instrument, hammered
between vibrating strings. All night the poles shift, mayhem gusts.
After that, between us only hard rain for days,
When I roll over to touch, he rolls away. Lightning’s
swift split. Shivering for hours.

2.
Trees bend sideways in the blast, seaweed in currents.
The redwood snipped off by a bolt. The dog under the bed.
The storm door is open, but it’s not the Doors of Paradise,
filigreed with figurines like the doors of the Baptistry in Florence
that day we browsed, careless of our savings. Today we’re baptized
by a deluge, out of cash and luck, and despite umbrellas and cloaks.
We endure cold-lipped neck kisses of rain dripping down our backs
as we trudge to chilly coffeehouses. With Old Testament winds,
January sculpts. When the chisel slips, a car is crushed by a tree.
A house falls into the ocean. A car hydroplanes off a freeway,
Like its occupant, I lie undiscovered for days.

3.
Three weeks of storms, a wet juggernaut from the northwest
met by slushy southerlies. Soil sludge, but gardeners
with jet-packs still blow around the ruins of hedges, mad
as the gods who hurl monsoon rains. Even computers
and weathermen can’t get it right: Thou shalt or shalt not?
I have been undone by the yammering, and lay my neck
on this altar. I ready myself to join the sky,
symphonically rushing down the drains.

4.
Frankenstorm was what they called a computer model
of a hurricane stalled in the middle of the Golden State.
Weeks of wet, many feet of rain, new rivers and lakes
where had been towns, a flood subsiding into giant puddles.
They needed to decide about disaster drills, but canceled the meeting
because of rain. We were haunted by the crackling air
and the sky, like us, refused to relent.