Back in the Day

“Back in the day” is a phrase that came into broad usage suddenly and spread quickly maybe a decade ago. I remember hearing a character on Entourage (HBO) use it and thinking that it was already on the brink of becoming a cliché.  Which is too bad, because I like it. 

It’s a human thing to attach emotion to particular words and phrases. We hate some words and others evoke nostalgia. There are words that work for me like chalk squeaking on a blackboard (for example: blog, which is why I use weblog).  Others I adore. In grade school Spanish class I fell in love with the word pupitre.  It still makes me smile.

Lately I seem to be awash in nostalgia more generally. I’m hoping it will subside sooner rather than later, but for the moment, here’s my question. According to the statistics quite a lot of people read this weblog. If you’re reading it and you were once a student of mine, I’m wondering if you’d be so kind as to send me an email and re-introduce yourself.  I taught many hundreds of people over fourteen years — first at Princeton, when I was a graduate student, then at the University of Michigan, then at WWU, but currently I’m in touch with only five or so of them.  I also student taught and then taught fourth grade in Austria. 

Call it idle curiosity or nostalgia or whatever. I’d like to hear from you.  To make it easier: email me.  Or comment here. Whatever works.


Illustration by Elvira Wolven Krieger @DeviantArt

Editorial Me

So after futzing around with this for years, I’m officially launching myself as a consultant. Primarily for those who write fiction, but not exclusively.   You can get the skinny on the sub-sub-webpage (click on the header below). 

This is a practical (and necessary) move. You may have read here or elsewhere that over a five year period, incomes for full time writers dropped about 28 percent.  As the cost of living has not dropped 28 percent, the difference has to be made up somewhere. This is something I have done, and can do, and I take great satisfaction in helping storytellers get started. So it’s a practical, necessary and logical move. 

If you know of anyone who might be interested in working with me, please point them in the direction of WRITE

Chunka Hunka Burning Love: Chicago

I was looking for an older document and came across a novel I’ve been working on for oh, twenty years or so. Some day I may finish it. But this bit caught my eye, because I’ve been very homesick for Chicago lately.  I actually remember writing this, because I still now get an echo of the raw feelings it evoked in me. 

From Saving Eliza. All Rights Reserved.

It is rush hour when Kate crosses the Indiana border into Illinois. The traffic is fierce, cars and trucks charging over the Sky Bridge like a pack of dogs jockeying for position, nosing each other from lane to lane. All the way up Stony Island houses crouch together like lepers, shedding shingles, asphalt siding peeling in long blackened strips. The heat shimmers above the parking lot of an abandoned grocery store, weeds growing up through cracks in the pavement; in the window of Larry’s Chicken Shack a hand-lettered sign announces that the air conditioning is in working order.

The heat has driven people out onto the street in search of a breeze. They move along in jittery waves, children and men bare-chested, younger women in shorts or bathing suits, their grandmothers in caftans that billow around them like  sails dappled in jewel colors:  emerald, sapphire, ruby, citrine, amethyst. 

Cornell Drive swings around the Museum of Science and Industry and the traffic surges onto Lake Shore Drive, pulling Kate along. It is always at this point that she feels the thrill of coming home, her first view of the lake, slate blue under gathering clouds. A thunderstorm coming; she can taste it in the air already, bright and crackling on her tongue. When she turns on the radio again the voices that fill the car are pure Chicago: vowels shifted backward, consonants soft around the edges, as familiar as the outline of the Loop in front of her.

The traffic canters past Grant Park and Navy Pier. On the Oak Street beach somebody is flying a kite on the wings of the fledgling storm, a sulphur colored smudge against a charcoal sky. Kate rolls up the window at the first lashings of rain, and heads for home.

 

I’ve got a (novel) fantasy

After years and years of mulling over something I lived through in my twenties, yesterday in the shower, a plot came to me. It was so clear and well formed that it’s quite obvious my subconscious has been working on it behind the scenes since about 1985.

Have I ever mentioned that I love revenge plots?  This has to do with the fact that I have always  taken a peripheral position in just about everything; I’m never with the majority. If I try to be with the majority just for the sake of fitting in, I get heartburn. I am contrary by nature, and yes, I realize this is no big surprise to anybody who knows me or reads my work.  When I get fed up with watching the good guys lose or losing myself, a revenge fantasy is a balm. So for example: imagine a  stage with television cameras focused on two chairs. Dick Cheney is strapped to one of them, hooked up to a (fictional) truth drug, and I’m in the other much more comfortable chair, asking the questions that he must answer truthfully. 

But the revenge fantasy that came to me in the shower is about something in my own life, something personal. It’s so good that the very idea gives me gooseflesh. After all these years I could address something that struck me as unfair and unkind, and make it all come out differently. Not in a happily-ever-after way; I don’t think that would be possible. But there would be significant satisfaction in it, even so.

Basically this would be a novel about the person I might have been, if I had allowed my darker side to rule. But oh, it would be fun to write.

Does that sound like something you’d read, or something you’d run away from? Consider novels like The Count of Monte Cristo, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (the third book in the Girl with a Dragon Tattoo series),  Different Class (Joanne Harris), or one of my favorite Stephen King short stories,  “Dolan’s Cadillac” — the audio recording is fantastic, if you have a chance to listen to  it.  And great revenge movies: too many to name.

There are, of course, darker revenge fantasies. Glenn Close, the Fatal Attraction bunny boiler, was seeking revenge and (I would argue) not unreasonably. She just went a little overboard.  

I don’t intend to go that far. Really. Or at least that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Thoughts?