Just back from the Fort Worth Bookfest’s Books ‘n Boots Soiree at Lou’s Place on the Texas Wesleyan Universitycampus, where I learned the following:
“They say Fort Worth is where the West begins, but the fact of the matter is that Dallas is where the East just kind of peters out.”
I also got the impression that this is going to be a fun weekend.
Three writers with ties to Texas Wesleyan read from their works. Dr. Jeffrey DeLotto read from his novel A Caddo’s Way; Marjorie Herra Lewis read from her novel When the Men Were Gone; and Michelle Hartman read poems from her Disenchanted and Disgruntled(in which we learn what happened to the “eighth and most annoying dwarf, Gropey.”)
So there are three more titles on my To Be Read list.
Click hereto see authors who will appear at the festival, and the covers of their books. Click through the pictures and you’ll eventually see my head shot and the cover of Murder on Wheels. They’re the same pictures you’ve seen before, and I don’t advocate covering old territory, but it’s a heady experience for me to be included with real writers.
I’m not supposed to engage in such defeatist talk, but after listening to the authors read tonight, I did look around the room and wonder what I’m doing here.
No matter. I’m here.
This is going to be a fantastic book festival.
Citations: Here’s a picture of my notes. I like to get things right, and since I had nothing to write on but a napkin . . .
Lester Hessenpfeffer awakens on a bath rug stuffed into the corner of a gigantic cage and stares into the open eyes of the bull mastiff. The dog wags his tail once, twice, and Lester feels his chest tighten with joy. Just before he fell asleep, he’d been preparing a speech for the dog’s owners about how he’d done his best, how he’d tried everything, but . . . Samson had ingested a few Legos the day before, which the owners’ great-grandchildren had left lying about. One had perforated his intestine. By the time he was brought to Lester’s clinic, the dog was in shock and the prospects for saving him were almost nil. Lester had slept in the cage with him to provide comfort not so much for the dog as to himself. He’d known Samson since he was a puppy, and he was very fond of the owners, an elderly couple who thought Samson hung the moon. They’d wanted to spend the night at the clinic, but after Lester told them he’d be literally right beside the dog, they reluctantly went home. Lester had hoped they’d get some sleep, so that they could more easily bear the news he was pretty certain he’d have to deliver in the morning. This is always the worst part of his job, telling people their pet has died. Sometimes they know it, at least empirically; on more than one occasion someone has brought a dead animal into the office hoping against hope that Lester can revive it. And when he can’t, he must say those awful words: I’m so sorry. He’s noticed a certain posture many people assume on hearing those words. They step back and cross their arms, as though guarding themselves against any more pain, or as though holding on more time the animal they loved as truly as any other family member, if not more. Oftentimes, they nod, too, their heads saying yes to what their hearts cannot accept.
But here Samson is, alive and well enough to give Lester’s face a good washing with a tongue the size of a giant oven mitt. “Hey, pal,” Lester says, “you made it. Let’s have a look at that dressing.” He rises to his knees and very gently turns the dog slightly onto his side. Samson whimpers and holds overly still, the way that dogs often do when they’re frightened. There’s a lot of drainage, but nothing leaking through. He’ll give Stan something for pain and then call Stan and Betty. By the time he’s done talking to them–he can anticipate at least a few of the questions they’ll have–he’ll be able to change the dressing without causing the dog undue distress. He thinks Samson will be able to stand and move about a little this afternoon, and imagines him lifting his leg with great dignity against the portable fireplug his staff uses for cage-bound male dogs (the girls get Astroturf). The portable bathrooms had been Jeanine’s idea; she was always coming up with good ideas. She had the idea for Pet Airways before they came up with Pet Airways, although her suggestion was that owners and pets fly together–cages would be installed next to seats so that an owner could reach down and scratch behind an ear, or speak reassuringly, or offer a snack. This was a much better idea for alleviating the stress caused to animals when they fly, and Lester advised Jeanine to write to Pet Airways suggesting it. She said she’d rather keep the idea for herself, because she wanted to start Dog Airways, as it is her belief that only dogs really care when their owners are gone. She is by her own admission a dog chauvinist, but she’s good to all animals who come to the clinic, even the hamster whose hysterical owner brought her in because she was gobbling up her babies as soon as she gave birth to them.
Jeanine also had the idea that Lester should attend his high school reunion. When the invitation had come to the clinic, Jeanine had opened it, and then immediately begun a campaign to get her boss to go. Lester knew what she had in mind–she wanted him to find a woman. . . .
“As onetime classmates meet up over the course of a weekend for their fortieth high school reunion, they discover things that will irrevocably affect the rest of their lives. For newly divorced Dorothy, the reunion brings with it the possibility of finally attracting the attention of the class heartthrob. For the ever self-reliant, ever left out Mary Alice, it’s a chance to reexamine a painful past. For Lester, a veterinarian and widower, it is the hope of talking shop with a fellow vet–or at least that’s what he tells himself. For Candy, the class beauty, it’s the hope of finding friendship before it’s too late. As these and other classmates converge for the reunion dinner, four decades melt away; desires and personalities from their youth reemerge, and new discoveries are made. For so much has happened to them all. And so much can still happen.”
“For the delightful hours it takes to read this novel, it seems that the characters jumped off the page and joined the crowd for a casual family supper.” — Chicago Tribune
“Marvelous . . . plenty of pathos and can’t-stop-laughing moments . . . readers will care about every character. — The Oklahoman
“Book groups are clamoring for upbeat yet significant works that are entertaining as well as enlightening; Berg’s latest novel satisfies and succeeds on both counts.” — Booklist
So you start writing your post about the incomparable Josephine Tey’s mystery novels two weeks before it’s due but don’t finish, and then you forget, and a colleague reminds you, but the piece refuses to come together, and the day it’s due it’s still an embarrassment, and the next day it’s not much better, and you decide, Oh heck, at this point what’s one more day? and you go to bed,
and in the middle of the night you wake to find twenty pounds of cat using you as a mattress, and you know you might as well surrender, because getting him off is like moving Jello with your bare hands,
I am grateful. For my husband, my family, parents who gave me a good start and kept on giving, my home, teachers, education, friends, time to use as I wish, the rights guaranteed to me by the Constitution, the freedom to pursue happiness, good health, and a host of other blessings.
But when I write about blessings, the resulting essay is maudlin, insipid, schmaltzy, and trite.*I just can’t do sincere.*******
So this post is about things not usually seen on Grateful-For lists.To wit:
Coffee shops with enough electrical outlets, appropriately placed, to serve nearly all the people who want to plug in. (There’s no way they could serve all of them.) And that say your car will be towed if it’s parked in their lot for more than three hours but don’t really mean it. (BookPeople. They probably do mean it, but I’ve never been towed. I think it depends on how full the parking lot is.)
Everywhere that provides free Wi-Fi.
Coffee shops that allow a critique group to sit around a table and discuss manuscripts, and moan about how hard writing is, and what their kids and their cats are up to, and what their dysfunctional families are up to, and that don’t mind when one member reads aloud a scene involving torture and murder** because both staff and other customers are entranced, listening and wondering whether they’re hearing part of a memoir. And that don’t tow their cars.*****
Blogs. Mine allows me to write to write to an audience, real or imagined. I need that audience. So do most other writers, including students of all ages.
Books. I like them. I like to read them. I like to buy them. Unfortunately, I like buying more than reading, which is why I have so much to-be-read nonfiction on my bookshelves and elsewhere.***
Bookstore going-out-of business sales. Closing a bookstore is a terrible thing, but if they’re going to close anyway, I don’t mind helping reduce inventory. That’s how I acquired most of that unread nonfiction.
Printers that work.****** Most of them work now, but years ago most didn’t. That’s why my students at the university turned in so many papers with text starting at the middle of the page and running diagonally to the bottom right corner. I told them they really couldn’t do that, and that they needed to do the work earlier and start printing days rather than minutes before leaving for class. But I knew if I used a printer, my papers would look like theirs. I was still using a typewriter. When I put the paper in straight, my pages looked okay.
Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, William Dean Howells, Henry James, Edith Wharton, Clyde Edgerton, Kathie Pelletier, T. R. Pearson, Olive Ann Burns, Fannie Flagg, Elizabeth Berg, Josephine Tey, Ruth Rendell, P. D. James, and the list runs on. If there are any questions about why I’m grateful, pick up some of their books. For Elizabeth Berg, begin with Durable Goods (her first novel, and yes, I despise her). For Clyde Edgerton get Raney, Walking Across Egypt, Killer Diller (WAE’s sequel), or Lunch at the Picadilly; the man is a genius. For Olive Ann Burns, read Cold Sassy Tree, her first and only complete novel; I feel about her like I feel about Elizabeth Berg, see above. I’d like to feel that way about Clyde Edgerton, but I can’t, because I want to be Clyde Edgerton.
Karleen Koen,**** writer and instructor, who said, “I can’t teach you to write, but I can teach you to play.” And she can. And she did. And I had the time of my life writing and writing and writing. Anyone who wants to write and has the opportunity to take one of her classes should sign up asap. See her blog, Karleen Koen – Writing Life, and her webpage, Karleen Koen. Find information about the courses she teaches at Karleen Koen – Courses. Karleen has published four impeccably researched historical novels, set in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; the latest, Before Versailles, takes place in the court of Louis XIV, in the early years of his reign.
Dictionary.com and Thesaurus.com,which I keep running in the background when I work. Dictionary.com gives me exact definitions of words. Thesaurus.com answers the question, What’s that word that means something like XXXXXXXXXX but not exactly, and it’s standing at the beginning of my hypoglossal nerve but refuses to sprint on down to my tongue, and I cannot finish this sentence without it? These sites are a godsend for people who hyperventilate at the thought of leaving a blank space and moving on.
Bookworm.Yes, that one. The vile, disgusting, devilish online game that is a thousand times worse than solitaire, because if the Bookworm player is good enough, the game never ends. The player can sit mindlessly clicking on letters to make words, and if the letters he clicks don’t make a word, he just tries again, and he can play while he’s watching-listening to television, or petting the cat, or carrying on a conversation, or trying to think what his Main Character should do next because he’s painted her into a corner . . . Obviously, I know whereof I write.
I’m grateful for Bookworm, however, because sometimes I need the comfort of a mindless, repetitive task. Playing Bookworm can be a method of avoidance, but it can also be a way of putting the mind on autopilot, giving it the freedom to figure out how to get the Main Character out of the corner she’s stuck in.
Caveat: Playing Bookworm for too long at one sitting, day after day, month after month, can result in repetitive stress injuries. For example, the mouse hand and all that’s attached to it, right on up to the shoulder, can be rendered painful and practically useless until the light dawns and the victim realizes why she can’t raise her right arm.
Readers. I’m grateful for everyone who reads my posts, especially the posts that are two or three times as long as blog posts should be. This one is four times as long. Contrary to my expectations, everything on the list relates to writing. I had intended to include Relaxed Fit Slacks and The Demise of the Girdle. But tomorrow is another day.
(The Demise of the Girdle. Wouldn’t that make a marvelous title for a novel? Should it be mystery, romance, or science fiction?)
* See Thesaurus.com. That’s where I found all these synonyms for bathetic.
*** Don’t ask where elsewhere is. It’s not relevant.
**** This is not an advertisement, paid or otherwise. Karleen is an excellent teacher–few instructors can keep twenty tired adults happy for a whole week by assigning more homework. (See Morning Pages)
***** See Coffee Shops, above.
****** And printers that don’t drink ink.
******* Last summer, when I wept bitter tears because I couldn’t write what I was trying to write (not my usual practice, but I was having a bad summer), Karleen told me what to do instead, and before anyone says Hahahahahah, I’ll add she was quite nice about it, and said I should aspire to write like David Sedaris. Have you ever known of David Sedaris to do sincere?