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.


Faulkner, pajamas, progress

I’m reading at Village Books here in Bellingham tomorrow night. Last week I sent out my usual email to friends asking them to try to stop by, and announcing my intention to wear pajamas to the reading. Thus far I have got promises from seven other people who will be showing up in jammies. So if you’re within striking distance, come on down. Treats for all those brave enough to dress up. Or, actually, down.

Yesterday our neighbor Bob (of X-Files fame) called me to read me an excerpt from an interview with William Faulkner. It’s the famous 1956 interview Faulkner did for the Paris Review. ((You can see the full archive listing on the Paris Review website, here but there’s only an excerpt from Faulkner’s.))

This was the bit that made Bob call me:

Q: Is there any possible formula to follow in order to be a good novelist?
Faulkner: Ninety-nine percent talent … Ninety-nine percent discipline … Ninety-nine percent work ….

And then this really made him laugh:

Q: Do you mean the writer should be completely ruthless?
Faulkner: …If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the “ode on a Grecian Urn” is worth any number of old ladies.”

[asa left]0312361750[/asa] They are publishing all the Paris Review author interviews, which are interesting reading. With a proviso: remember that these are critically successful writers, but each one of them struggled his or her way through every sentence ever put down. They had an approach that worked for them, and that’s all they can share. Though it may sound as if you’re being told how it must be done, please remember: there is no such thing. No absolutes, no secrets, no magic formulas. And probably not a good idea to rob your mother, either.

And all of this reminds me that I put in a revolving quote box in the far right hand column. I’ll be adding the 99% one of Faulkner’s to it asap.

I’m writing pretty well, and now I’ll go back to that.

PS don’t forget to vote in the caption-me poll!

Kate Reading reading ITW

orange boxesKate is the lovely voice and strong narrative presence between the unabridged audio releases of the WIlderness novels. There are many different ways to get ahold of the books on audio, everything from instant download (Audible.com) to cd and cassette.

BooksonTape produced the audio versions, and now they’ve got a new feature on their website. I’m going to test it here. You should be able to click on this button and hear an excerpt of Kate reading Into the Wilderness. Edited to add in the other four novels, as this seems to work quite well.

Let me know what you think, please.

Into the Wilderness:

Dawn on a Distant Shore:

Lake in the Clouds:

Fire Along the Sky:

Queen of Swords:

Pajama Jones, odd coincidences, Grey's

About a year ago I wrote a scene for Pajama Jones I want to talk about. Here’s the scene (I’m dropping you into the middle of it; he’s Dodge, she’s Julia).

“You’re good at reading people.”

A smile hovered at the corner of his mouth and then was gone. His face was dark with beard stubble but his eyes were clear and his gaze alert. He studied her for a moment as if her life story were written on her forehead.

“All I know about you is what other people have told me,” he said. “And what I’ve seen with my own eyes. I discount about eighty percent of the first, and thirty percent of the second.”

Julia wished now that she had sent him on his way. She said, “Let me guess, you heard the mercy killing story.”

He didn’t look surprised or embarrassed or even particularly interested. Any of those things would have been irritating, but this lack of reaction was oddly off putting in its own way.

“People like a tragedy,” Dodge said. “And they like you. If so many people who think so much of you are worried about you, maybe there’s a reason.”

Goose flesh rose on Julia’s nape and arms and with that a feeling of acute disorientation and embarrassment, as if she had caught sight of someone spying on her through the bathroom window. That this image was off and inadequate only added to her discomfort. She swallowed hard until she was sure of her voice and then she said. “Look, I know they mean well. But that particular story is just plain fantasy.” she stopped to gather her thoughts. “Tell me, do strangers always open up to you?”

“It’s been known to happen,” said Dodge. “Listen, I’ll tell you something about me, and maybe you’ll feel easier.” He stuck out his hand and Julia took it automatically, a big hand, calloused for reasons she couldn’t imagine.

“Hi, my name is Dodge, and I’m a claustrophobic.”

Julia put her free hand to her mouth and hiccuped a laugh. “I’m sorry, it’s not funny, but–“

“Sure it’s funny,” Dodge said. “When I got to the point I could laugh about it, I knew I was really getting better. Sometime I’ll run through my stock of claustrophobia jokes.”

“But you had to get out of your apartment–“

“I’m a recovering claustrophobic,” he said. “I had a relapse.”

Julia said, “You could let go of my hand now.”

“Oh. Sure.”

To fill the odd silence Julia asked a question she would not have allowed herself even a half hour ago. “Does the claustrophobia have anything to do with –” she paused.

“My nomadic ways? Sure. Of course if you had asked me that a few years ago, I would have denied it.”

There were questions she might have asked, but discomfort won out over curiosity. And Gloria, big dopey dog that she was, somehow sensed that Julia needed a distraction and came over to drop a stick on the ground in front of them, her whole hind section wagging hopefully. Dodge threw it and Gloria disappeared into the shadows.

Dodge said, “So how did your husband die?”

His tone calm and matter of fact. Julia took stock, and found that she could answer.

“We thought he had the flu. Fever, aches, tired all the time, but he just kept popping aspirin and refused to go to the doctor. Then he collapsed on the street outside his office. By the time I got to the hospital he was already out of emergency and in cardiac intensive care. Bacterial endocarditis was the diagnosis, and then heart failure. He died waiting for a heart transplant.”

By coincidence, Grey’s Anatomy has had a somewhat similar storyline going. Now, I really like Grey’s Anatomy particularly because the writers are so committed to complex characters. People who make mistakes. Sometimes they revel in their mistakes and push on to greater acts of self destruction; sometimes they get a little wiser. They deal with the stuff that comes their way, or they run from it.

Any good story — in a book or on a screen — will provide this kind of complex characterization. I put my characters through hoops to see how they’ll react. That’s the way it works.

Now, Grey’s Anatomy’s second season ended yesterday, and in that ending was a resolution to this particular storyline. A very well done resolution, but now I wish I hadn’t seen it. Because I’ve been trying to write a flashback resolution scene for Julia, and I thought I had it pretty much blocked out, but all I can think about is how they did it on Grey’s. Let me assure you: nothing at all like Julia’s experience. So why does it keep following me around?

Oh yeah. Good storytelling.