Thursday, February 21, 2008

Earth to J

from Jacqueline

Oh, it’s been a fine old week I must say. I finally began my travels on Sunday, jetting off to Houston, where Murder By The Book hosted the first event of my book tour. And what a great evening it was too! Funny thing happened, though, that I have to recount. Following my talk about AN INCOMPLETE REVENGE, the audience lined up to have yours truly sign their books. About half-way through, a very nice lady explained that she had promised her husband she’d come along as he was a big fan of my books, in fact, they were both fans of my books. I said it was a shame he couldn’t come himself, at which point she plonked down an impressive cloth patch with space shuttle embroidered on it. This was not something you bought at the Discovery store. “Well,” she said, “he couldn’t come because he’s landing the space shuttle.” This being Houston, I imagined an Ed Harris at mission control kind of guy in front of a computer screen barking instructions such as, “Clear to land, Atlantis. Welcome Home.” So I thanked her for the lovely patch and looked at it again. Then the light-bulb in my befuddled brain went on.
“So, where is your husband exactly?”
“On the space shuttle.”
“Up there?” (pointing at Murder By The Book’s ceiling)
“And he sent you here to get my book?”
Nods head.

I’m sending the patch to my dad, who loves anything to do with space. Fancy that. A bloke up there (well, down here now) reads my books.

On to Phoenix, where Our Cornelia and I did a mystery duet on Tuesday evening at Poisoned Pen. Barbara Peters was in fine form as she directed questions at us, and of course we had a blast. And it was great seeing fellow mystery writer, Rhys Bowen in the audience. Cornelia had us all riveted with her tales of the real crazy school, and as we retired to sign books, I saw our dear ministering angel with her arm around a young woman who could barely control her tears - another former student of that terrible school had come to listen to Cornelia, and the painful memories had become too much. It broke my heart just to see the poor girl. You’ve done a good thing in writing that book Cornelia, something that goes beyond a contribution to literature.

In any case, here’s a shot of Cornelia and me after the event.

Travel has brought its share of interesting encounters, however, it was something of a lesson to observe and reflect today, as my flight from Phoenix to San Francisco was delayed due to the ever-predictable fog at SFO. I just sat back to read this month’s copy of Outside magazine (it was the special feature on eco-resorts that tempted me) until the flight was called. However the guy next to me was beside himself. Talk about grumble! On and on and on. He stuck his bluetooth thing in his ear (and I’m sorry, those things are just too silly), and made phone call after ‘phone call, complaining to whoever was stuck on the end of the line. This is why one has to be able to slip into Zen mode in airports. Ommmmmmm. Every time I glanced sideways at him, his face had become more florid. That could be me, I thought. That could be me if I let the travel get to me. Angioplasty waiting to happen. Now, something I’ve done, ever since I was a kid, is say out loud the thing I’m thinking in my mind. And I don’t mean sharing one’s beliefs, or something like that. I mean those thoughts that really should be kept to yourself. And no, I don’t do it all the time, just occasionally. So I promise, I really didn’t mean to say, out loud, “Oh, do stop bloody moaning!” Wish I’d’ve said it sooner, because he piped down.

At Changing Hands bookstore in Tempe, I was invited to choose a book after I’d given my talk and signed books. Oh, isn’t it nice when that happens? The bookaholic's equivalent of being  let loose in a candy store. I leaped at the chance to acquire Natalie Goldberg’s new book, “Old Friend From Far Away,” about writing memoir. I think I have learned more about writing by studying memoir and the techniques of first-person writing, than from any other endeavor, save just reading and writing, so I like to dip into the odd memoir-writing book now and again. Here’s what I love about Goldberg’s books – she gives you an assignment, and then says, “Go.” And that sums up a lot of what getting your writing going is all about: Go. In one exercise, she asked the reader, “If you could have only one memory, what would it be?” And I was surprised by what I very quickly noted, as I waited for that ‘plane:

My dad keeps an old plastic ice-cream container on the counter for table scraps and odds and ends of leftover food. He is very careful about what kind of food goes into that container, because he feeds the fox who lives in the wood. In truth, he feeds more than one fox, but it is always the same fox who claims the offering. And he doesn’t leave food every day, because a wild animal shouldn’t be encouraged to depend on man, but leftovers now and then won’t hurt. My dad and this fox have never met, not in the way that friends meet. They acknowledge each other across the no-man’s land of a trail between the edge of the field at the back of the house, and the wood. Dad empties the food close to the trees, and when he has retreated to the field, the fox comes out to see what’s on the menu. One morning last year, while staying with my parents, I went out for a walk just as the mist was rising to meet the day. I walked for a couple of miles, then circled back across the old railway bridge to approach the house through a neighboring farm. I clambered over a fence just in time to see my dad leave the garden by the back gate and begin to walk towards the wood. At the same time, I turned and saw the fox, red with diamond eyes and coal-black nose, slinking across a field on the south side of the wood, towards my father. Neither knew I was there, though the fox stopped for just a second with his nose to the air, as if he knew an interloper was present. The fox went on, into the wood, and I watched him watching my father as he knelt down to empty the scraps. Dad stood up and began to walk back to the house, and the fox approached. Then my father turned around, and their eyes met. Dad smiled, lifted his hand and touched the peak of his cap, as if he were greeting a friend on the street. Then he waved and went on his way, the fox watching his every move.

I think I love that memory, because my dad taught me to respect nature. I will never forget the way he raised his hand and touched his cap, as if recognizing an equal.

So .... if you could have only one memory, what would it be? GO!


  1. What a lovely post, Jackie. I won't take up the space here that this entire memory would require, but suffice to say that it's the same special moment of awareness about my father as a man.

    This "special memory" suggestion is such a good idea that I'm going to sit and write it today.Just the inspiration I needed on a week when writing has not gone well.

  2. Our J, that was so much fun with you at Poisoned Pen!

    The former student's aunt will be coming to my signing in San Diego tomorrow afternoon, and I'm looking forward to meeting her as well.

    How lovely about your father and the fox--I can't think of a memory that crystallizes things that clearly. Probably the first time they let me hold Grace and Lila in my arms, in the hospital. So tiny, with fuzzy little pink-and-blue striped caps on their heads, eyes screwed shut.

  3. Love the astronaut story, J.

    I can't top it. Closest I can come is a woman in Orlando who said her husband wanted a copy of "Flesh & Bones."

    "Why didn't he come tonight?" I ask.

    "Because he's doing eight years in Raiford."


  4. Such a lovely post....

    There was a particular day in Paris a few years ago: the details aren't significant, but it was a perfect day in my favorite place.

    It's the one memory I'd want to keep.

  5. I can barely remember yesterday, but here goes. In junior high school my dad marched into the principal's office to defend my creativity when the witchy gym teacher threw me out of class for wearing mismatched socks.

  6. Louise, thank you - and I'm glad you're inspired to write about your memory. We all have bad weeks, days, months with our writing, but show me a job where everything always goes well, and I'll show you someone who isn't being given the opportunity to learn - and we all need to keep learning, we who are writers.

    And Miss C, what a lovely memory - I can see it in my mind's eye.

    Paul - that's a good one. I think that takes the prize for best reason for a no-show!

    I have memories of Paris, too, Rae - I think I might write about it today.

    And Patty - you recount that story and wonder why your second knitted sock doesn't turn out just like your first sock? Clearly you are just oozing creativity and the notion of symmetry is not something that resonates with you! Bless your Dad - what a great memory.

  7. love the fox and the dad story, jackie.
    the memory i shall always cherish is when we brought our baby home from hospital and her 13 months older sister saw "her baby", pranced round her, hugged her, kissed her, and wouldn't let go of her. and i swear to this day that corinne smiled at her big sister and knew she was safe....and 23years on, sonia still calls her "my baby".
    oh and jackie, i'm reading pardonable lies in english and german at the same time and find that it lags your wonderful and colourful wordings. just one example "a bell rang in the office, activated by a caller at the front door below" simply translates into "die türglocke ertönt" which just means, the doorbell rang. but it's still a good read all the same.

  8. Good post.

    Lately, Shuttle excursions have inspired a few of us. In my case, I couldn’t resist Florence, murder and passionate love to go with it.

  9. Loved the fox story. Thanks for sharing.

    Here's one of my special memories. I am a special education teacher of students who have a mild mental disabiltiy. I teach grades K-3, so I am the one who gets to teach them how to read. This happened earlier in my career as now I have a vast collection of trade books that the stdents can read with a very limited vocabulary. I was working with one student who could read, but was reading words and sentences that I had written out for him. I was finally able give him a book that he could read. He read it, and with a big smile on his face, hugged the book to his chest and said, "I love my book."

    This kind of memory can warms a teacher's heart for years.

  10. One special memory? An alternative universe one popped into my mind reading your Shuttle reader encounter...
    Shuttle astronaut desparate to read Maise's latest downloads to an personal Kindle electronic book reader a digital version, or even better, the audio version to an IPod. I saw CDs of your latest book last night for sale at your San Mateo reading. If the astronaut purchases the latter ... your voice could be floating up there in orbit!
    And then... that makes me think of your Priscilla character commenting on the clothes of the astronauts in orbit...and the interior decoration/clutter there...

  11. Oh, what lovely memories you all have - I loved your baby story,Sybille, and the story of the boy with a book he could read, Gayle.

    And thank you, Jack for reminding us that Florence can easily go toe-to-toe with Paris, but Alice, the thought of my voice in space -- oh no, no, no. Tiles would be flying off all over the place

  12. Brilliant, Our J! You uncovered a heretofore undetected sock pathology. Good thing I'm in yarn therapy. Today I made a heel. YAY!!!!

  13. Our J: wonderful post, as usual.

    Don't you just love those moments when your writing/creativity starts to take on a life of its own? And this is something truly defining when a person flies a vision into space, only to take your words and your vision with him. Goosebump moment. :-D

    If I'd known your dad was a space fan, I'd have sent you along some swag from the space centre and a couple of Bob's space prints. :-D We have connections!

    Stunningly beautiful story about your dad and the fox. Definitely something that Frankie Dobbs would do before he got Jook. :-D I get the feeling that there's a lot of your dad in Frankie, and that characater is written with a lot of love and depth. :-D

    BTW: Brava!! Bravissima! I just finished reading "An Incomplete Revenge". I have yet to put my meanderings on file, but will do so accordingly. I've been writing book pitches in the meantime: fun, though they are, it can be time consuming. :-D

    Beautiful memory? I have a couple that stand out, but would take too long to write, and perhaps I'm not ready to share yet. However, I'm mildly intuitive, and have had occasion to help the odd friend out. Even if it's only helping them make a self-realization on their own. The transformation that comes over their faces in that exact second is beyond words. It's as if they've discovered the light of truth inside themselves, and it just shines out. I'm not religious by any way, shape or form - but I do believe in the inner light in all of us. :-D


  14. Lovely to hear from you, Marianne - and I do love your comment about the "inner light" in everyone. So very true.