Sunday, June 17, 2012

Moving blog address

From now on, I'm going to combine website & blog.

You can get the latest at



Sunday, August 7, 2011


Estella looks crazy in this photo. She's the one crouching, with her tongue partly out of her mouth. Luna is the one half-standing, lips pursed.

This photo was taken in the Adirondack chair in our front yard. It was taken in the Spring. You can see the bushes blooming popcorn-like blossoms in the background.

At one point this summer, Tallulah (the seven year old) covered this entire chair with words, in chalk. Then she 'painted' chalk covers all over the chair. Then it rained, and all of the lovely pastel colors washed off into the grass. The grass around the base of the chair was sprinkled with fine, multicolored chalk debris.

Just a few days before this photo was taken (by me), the babysitter Rosie had chopped bangs out of the girl's ragged hair. The bangs have just begun to grow out.

We had a long summer. In two days, it's over.

We'll be feeling like that chalk then.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Good and Bad

Walter Mosley wrote in his great, little known book about Writing called This Year You Write Your Novel, that the writer is going to have good and bad days, and that the great writer (like some kind of Iron Man racer) manages to have the guts to get through both. Some days are going to be sublime. Some days are going to be crap. Some days are going to be...middling.

Now, honestly, I loathe these types of books. Really the heart of the matter is that you either have the guts to write a book -- and to learn on the way what it takes or what you don't have to give -- or you simply don't. And maybe you can live with that. Or maybe you feel like you can read a little book which will continue your delusion that you're that mystical personality called "a writer." But i have to say, this book has helped me through the dark hours. This book, with just a few simple lines here and there, has articulated the very essence of the struggle to write; and so I like it. I don't think it's for everyone. But it's good, unpretentious, and clean.

The real key is having the patience, the stamina, the heart to write on those days in which you feel like what you're writing is shit, which it very likely is. The number of "great" days is likely hugely less than the number of "crap" days. The thing you've got to remember is that what you're writing is not supposed to go on the bookshelf, in the printed volume, as soon as it leaves your holy/unholy fingertips. I think about this advice all the time. In fact, I think it's saving my life.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Monday, August 1, 2011

From the Bookshelf: The Last Picture Show, by Larry McMurtry

This is the book cover from my second copy.
One of my favorite books is Horseman, Pass By by Larry McMurtry. The book was later adapted into a film that is nothing like the book - Hud.

The Last Picture Show, which my class and I discussed last week, was also adapted into a film -- an Oscar winning film of the same name, by Peter Bogdanovich. This is one of the few instances in which the film and the book are both extraordinary; and it's one of the few instances in which the plot and characters of the film cling closely to the novel. The film, of course, must move more briskly, but I'm blown away by the film every time I watch it.

And I'm crazy about the book, which I just subjected my class to reading; I think they had mixed reactions. Why read a book about such a desolate place? Why read a book in which there is such sadness and misery? Why read a book about a dying place?

This books was written in the 60's. But there is something prophetic about it. There is a deep, profound commentary here about the changing America of the times, and the changing America to come. The loneliness, the sadness, and the pall of death that hangs over the dead town of Thalia is starting to spread from the abandoned oil towns in the middle of Texas to the rest of America. There is certainly that feeling.

I think the book belongs in the same category as Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg Ohio, a collection of shorts about a symbolic/mythical American town full of perversion, religious confusion, moral contradictions, and loneliness. Both books believe there is something alienating about the American experience, and in turn, the human experience. There's a whole subgenre here that is worth exploring.

Last Picture Show is replete with sex. The young harlot Jacy Farrow -- daughter of the town harlot before her Lois Farrow -- sleeps with no less than five men. She uses sex in a futile attempt to get...what...we're not sure, and she isn't either. A reputation? A new place in society? The thrill? To break the monotony of the dead world that is Thalia? To woe a man into marriage? She's lost, and the men pursuing her are lost, too. And every sexual encounter ends badly. She never feels fulfilled.

This is a still the film with Sonny and Ruth.
Most of the sex, in fact, ends badly, even the novel's big love affair. At the heart of the book is what we'd now impolitely call a "fuck buddy" relationship between Sonny, a young high school graduate, and Ruth, the bored and lonely housewife of the high school football coach, who's vaguely portrayed as a closet homosexual (a fascinating layer to the novel -- one among many layers). Ruth and Sonny meet regularly in Ruth's house, while Coach is at school, and they carry on a blissful series of romps for months on end. She's twice his age, but he doesn't mind. He doesn't admit to loving her, and she never admits to loving him, but that is the nature of love, as McMurtry sees it. When the affair ends because Duane falls for a ruse by Jacy, Ruth spirals into depression, and Sonny feigns indifference. In a line that breaks my hear, Ruth declares, "I'm around the bend now. It's over." As the novel ends, Sonny attempts to make a painful reconnection with her; but everything is lost. The town movie hall is closing, the town pool hall is deserted, and Sonny's best friend, a daft young boy named Billy who loved Thalia will all his heart, has been killed. This is a book about how difficult it is to cope with a wide range of loss. Once it's gone, it's gone.

Every word, every sentence, every paragraph of this novel is covered in Texas dust, and the language itself -- spare and wispy - feels as abandoned and dead as the town and people it describes. The town was once prosperous, an oil boom town. But now it's dead. There's only one pleasurable thing to do in Thalia: play football. The whole town knows what's going on in the local game, and they all offer advice to Sonny and his buddy Duane on how to play. But when you're done with high school, you're done, and Thalia is your grave.

The novel suggests that we have but one glorious time in our lives -- the high school years -- when love is new and hope is strong -- and then it fades, and then it's gone, but still somehow you've got to find a way to live on. (John Mellencamp?) Sonny seems to cling to whatever shred of pleasure in life he can, and his clings to it in Ruth. But in the end, it slips out of his hand, and he's left cowering in Ruth's kitchen under the crushing weight of some immense and almost unbearable truths about American life. It's a feeling not unlike the one Ruth expresses when her crude, conflicted, and massive husband inflicts on her as he crushes her in an act of loveless lovemaking.

This notion of modern American life is haunting.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Outlining (Process House)

I don't always outline my projects. But I did for this latest one. Here's a picture of the fifty part outline I wrote by hand one night. I stayed up late drinking wine and scratching out this vision of the book I'd been vaguely turning left, right, up, down in my mind -- but never really fully forming it.

I worried as I started out on the book that the outline would feel too rigid. That's always been my fear, really. You can imagine and plot out the greatest story; but when you sit down to write that sucker, something may happen that you didn't expect, and the whole damn outline is shot to hell. Then what was the point in writing the outline in the first place? The other issue is that great prose has to be spontaneously created. It has to feel as if it's sprung from some place naturally, organically. You can't plan it, and you can't expect it to appear before you just because you're writing to the outline.

All that said, I went to work the other day and photocopied this document. (Later found out that faculty must now strictly limit their use of the photocopier!) I put one copy on the nightstand. I taped one copy to my office desk. Then I brought home the original, done in pencil, and I keep it by my desk. I have to keep a few inches away from the ledge of the desk; if I don't, the twins are likely to grab it and ravage it, tear it to pieces. And you know, that might not be a bad idea, considering my reservations.

But the good thing about the outline is that it forces me to consider how the story must keep going. The story must keep moving forward at regular intervals. There must be what Janet Burroway said "constant discovery and decision making." Sometimes my work gets bogged down in detail or lingers in scene too long as I grope to figure out what should happen next or what's going in a specific character's mind or heart. But this outline is all founded on the notion of continuing revelation and the central character doing something significant.

All the same, if I'm not open to potential changes or moments in the story, as it naturally arises, that don't jive with the outline, the story's going to have that same dead stagnant feeling that's worried me to no end on other projects.

The other've got to press through. You've got to keep going every day, or you'll lose touch with the story, with the people, with the themes and the whole world you're creating. The outline helps there. I've demanded, of myself, that I get through every numbered section, every day; that keeps the story going forward and it marks progress, about 1500 words a day. After that I'm toast. Also, that takes about ninety minutes, and with all I have to do, that's about the most time I have on my hands, on a daily basis, to write. Yep, it's come down to that.

I've stapled the outline to a few blank sheets of paper. I get ideas about how a certain section should work better after I've written it. But I've got to press on. I've got to shape the whole contraption first, then see if I can tweak the gears or oil the grooves better later on. Pressing on is really a big deal. Get that first draft down; along the way, I'm noticing what could be done better. But I just have this sense that if I go back and try to correct things or reshape things, I'll be writing section one forever. Can't let that happen. This story is potentially the one. Not gonna blow it.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


Here's a recent picture of the twins...

Monday, July 25, 2011

Blogging Again

I'm going to start blogging again. I'm working on a new novel called "The Traveling Executioner's Daughter," and I'm writing a great deal. It feels good just to write, even if it's not solely on the novel.

I folded in elements on the project I've been working on for a while, "The Fifty-Two Week Strip," into parts of this new project. So all is not lost on the so-called "...epic stripper novel" that has haunted me for quite some time.

Friday, August 20, 2010

One year

Put together a video celebrating Luna & Estella's first year...

Thursday, November 5, 2009


November 5. The twins are home! Writing those words -- suddenly -- it's shocking. I feel a kind of buzz come over me. But they're home, truly home, resting right now in a crib, together, in our bedroom.

We had heard that Stella would be coming home last Thursday, October 29. The factors here were simple: can she maintain her own body temperature, can she keep gaining weight, and can she sleep in an open crib, and can she take a bottle for 3 days? She passed the tests, and we were given the call. Come get your child, the NICU nurse said, it's homecoming day.

I had been envisioning this moment for 11 long weeks. I have not missed a day of seeing them, even if only fleetingly at night, after a busy day in the office. Eleven weeks, or 77 days, or 1,848 hours. And now here was my baby girl, Estella Faye, coming home.

I didn't feel like cracking, though, which is what I thought would happen. No I only steeled myself for more, because I knew the story was not done. Luna would stay for another week or two. They had attempted to keep her in the open crib, but her temperature kept falling.

Jenny & I met the NICU nurse about three in the afternoon. The nurse on duty has been through alot with us -- she'd been the primary nurse. Jenny embraced her, and nearly broke into tears. I couldn't watch. I filled out paper work. I got the car seat ready. I pulled Tallulah's art work off the white boards. Over the course of weeks, Tallulah had put together about a dozen drawings, in various shades of crayon, of us, of the twins, of her, of the NICU, etc.

We left after about an hour, with Estella in her car seat. I carried her. The car seat felt light and vulnerable. I peeked down at her every few strides, nestled in blankets. Only her little scrunched face appeared. I didn't feel great. I felt nervous. I thought a great deal about how much longer we would have, about how many more nights I'd be coming to see Luna.

But it wouldn't be that long. Not at all. It would only be a few days. To our shock, the NICU nurses and docs began testing Luna again, in the open crib, and for this round, she passed. Only two days after Estella was discharged, we got the phone call from the nurse -- it was for Luna to come home as well.

The same routine -- Jenny & I are arriving around 3pm, filling out paperwork, tearing down artwork. I was surprised only to see Luna in her new crib -- if you could call it a crib. They had turned over the large crib to another kid, and Luna was now resting, swathed in blankets, in what was essentially a giant stainless steel pan. So this is where her journey would end then -- from the dozens of wires inside of a incubator, to a cold steel tray, and a waiting car.

This departure from the hospital rocked me more than Estella's. This was it. We would not be coming back. Our time at NICU would be over. We walked slowly out of the pods, and Jenny said good-bye to a few nurses. The primary nurse carried Luna now, and I think it was a moment of pride for her, to see these two girls she'd cared for weeks on end finally end their journey.

I had washed my hands with the blood red soap one last time. I had squirted my hands with the alcohol sanitizer one last time. I'd sat in the green pleather rocker and held Luna one last time while Jenny signed off on some forms. I took a last look around the "pod," where the walls were now occuped with new isolettes, with new kids.

A woman immediately to our left was having pictures of her baby made. She'd been with us since the arrival of the twins. Her boy would be going home the next day, although with an oxygen monitor. She is much younger than us, and I've never seen the father, although he has come in daily. She wears tight jeans and hoop earrings and talks on the cell phone. Her boy is huge, over six pounds. We say our good-byes.

Walking out of the NICU with Jenny and the nurse carrying Luna was a deeply moving experience. But I didn't want to fall apart. I had set a goal of this moment, and now it had come, and I savored it. I don't ever want to go back to that place. I don't ever want to have to go through the agony again. We walked slowly through the lobby, past the sinks. I asked the secretary to buzz the door, and the door opened, and out we walked, for the last time. A few moments later, I'd pulled the car out of the parking deck and idled it in front of the hospital.

It was a Sunday afternoon. We were by ourselves in the driveway. The nurse and Jenny came out and I opened up the back of the car. It was quiet, desolate, and overcast. I clipped the car seat into place. I gave the nurse a hug. Jenny passed along her business card and then gave the nurse a gift, a set of necklaces that she had made -- a moon, and a star, for our kids.

This nurse has been taking care of premature babies for over twenty years. She took the present quietly, and embraced Jenny and told us to call her if we needed anything. Then the double doors of the hospital closed behind her. She moved quickly back into the hospitals, to the elevators I'd been riding for weeks, back to the NICU, back to work.

Then we were on our own. Estella, 5 pounds. Luna, 4 pounds. Ready for living.


I had thought very little about what life would be like for us, Tallulah and the twins when we brought them home. I remember mentioning to Jenny that the things most folks complained about when having babies -- the sleepless nights, the dirty diapers, the incessant crying -- all of that seemed like it would be a wonderful experience for us, nothing to complain about at all. Just get the girls home.

I wish I'd thought about it more. Getting the kids home was a revelation. This was going to be serious, twenty-four hour work. The past two weeks have been overwhelming, frightening, and profound. We've endured some frightening choking incidents, several doctor visits, and some long, long nights of wailing and gargling.

A few days ago, we had to take both girls in to a scheduled appointment with a pediatric surgeon.

Luna has a hernia, which she has had for some time. The hernia is actually one of her ovaries, which has popped through the folds of her lower abdomen. Estella is still living (thriving) with a cyst in one of the lobes of her lungs. This will likely require some surgery.

Jenny & I sat together in the small, dank doctor's office with the twins in car seats on the floor before us. We talked, we waited. Every now and then, Luna or Estella would squawk or sigh. They were nestled under blankets, under the hoods of the car seats, only their small pink faces visible. These are our kids. These are survivors, endurance champions. Jenny & I fell quiet, looking down, finally, in a way, willing to believe that we would get through this, and that more, more than we dared to dream was about to happen to us, and happen for a long, long time. It seemed to get very, very quiet in that room just then, and very still, and I thought that so much of what had happened to us was beautiful, lovely luck, and it was all only the start, only the smallest of pivots against the greater, huge wedge of the living to come. I waited. I tensed. I smiled at Jenny. She smiled back at me. We looked at our twins, and just then, there was that knock at the door. And so it begins.