Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Other People's Words

By Cornelia Read

I've kept a quote book since I was about eighteen. My main one has a glossy egg-yolk-yellow cover, with a billiard-felt green rectangle set into its center. The inside has paler green lined pages, and I've been writing down snippets from novels, articles, pamphlets--whatever--for almost thirty years now.

I posted a selection of them in the first year we were doing this blog, and as I'm on deadline until June 12th, I'm firing up a second round for your delectation.

Here goes:

"When I say I'm writing a piece, a piece is a gun."

--Rene Ricard, "Pledge of Allegiance," Art Forum

"I have known what it is to be hungry, but I always went right to a restaurant."

--Ring Lardner

"I remember one time, when his meds were working, joking around with him: 'How come God never tells you to just go shopping? How come it's always "That water is poisoned, there's a chip in your brain, the aliens are coming"?'"
--Alex Berenson, The Faithful Spy

"Always behind you stands waiting something immense and black, something fresh and brilliant, and within one bound you are in it."

--Romola Nijinksy, foreword to
Paul Claudel's Nijinsky

"'Believe me, my dear fellow,' he went on after a pause, 'there'll be none of this damned equality in heaven.'"

--W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor's Edge

"The Master said, 'I have yet to meet the man who is as fond of virtue as he is of beauty in women.'"

--Confucius, IX.18

"If repetition is a virtue, Walt Whitman is a saint."

--Arnold Krupat, during an American literature
seminar at Sarah Lawrence College, November, 1986

"For obviously, under all he says, lie three convictions: that wealth is the greatest good, and the more of it the better (tanta est animi beatitudo), that the good things of life are simply a superfluity of articles of the best quality and the opportunity to enjoy them in the most vulgar manner possible, and that, in this sense, everyone quite naturally acts for his own material advantage."
--Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation
of Reality in Western Literature

"Even as a child, when I lacked for nothing, I wanted to die: I wanted to surrender because I saw no sense in struggling. I felt that nothing would be proved, substantiated, added or subtracted by continuing an existence which I had not asked for. Everyone around me was a failure, or if not a failure, ridiculous. Especially the successful ones. The successful ones bored me to tears."

--Henry Miller, Tropic of Capricorn

"Fortunately, what Sarah Lawrence teaches is a lesson called 'How to be shocked and dismayed but not lie down and die,' and those of you who have learned this lesson will never regret it, because there will be ample time and opportunity to use it."

--Alice Walker, speech given at the 1972
graduation ceremony, Sarah Lawrence College

"The world taught women nothing skillful and then said her work was valueless. It permitted her no opinions and said she did not know how to think. It forbade her to speak in public, and said the sex had no orators. It denied her the schools, and said the sex had no genius. It robbed her of every vestige of responsibility and then called her weak. It taught her that every pleasure must come as a favor from men, and when to gain it she decked herself in paint and fine feathers, as she had been taught to do, it called her vain."

--Carrie Chapman Catt, 1902

"The essential function of art is moral. Not aesthetic, not pastime and recreation. But moral. The essential function of art is moral. But a passionate, implicit morality. One which changes the blood, rather than the mind."

--D.H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature

"I'd had dull stupid jobs but this appeared to be the dullest and most stupid of them all. The idea, I decided, is not to think. But how do you stop thinking? Why was I chosen to polish this rail? Why couldn't I be inside writing editorials about municipal corruption? Well, it could be worse. I could be in China working in a rice paddy."

--Charles Bukowski, Factotum

"There are certain fixed rules that one observes for one's own comfort. For instance, never be flippantly rude to any inoffensive, grey-bearded stranger that you may meet in pine forests or hotel smoking rooms on the Continent. It always turns out to be the King of Sweden."

--Saki, "Reginald at the Theatre"

"Poets like this will exist! When the unending servitude of women is broken, when she lives by and for herself, when man--hitherto abominable--has given her her freedom, she too will be a poet! Woman will discover part of the unknown! Will her world of ideas be different from ours? She will discover things strange and unfathomable, repulsive and delicious. We shall take them unto ourselves, we shall understand them."

--Rimbaud, in a letter to Paul Demeny

"What matters is talk, family, cheap wine in the open air, the wresting of minimal sweetness out of the long-known bitterness of living."
--Anthony Burgess, "Is America Falling Apart?"

"I'd like to clear up one last thing before I go off and eat an entire banana cream pie by myself: men and women do not get stuck together when they screw. Oh, sure, you can beat her at arm wrestling, throw her across the room, mow her down in the line for Bruce Springsteen tickets, but you're no match for her vagina? Come on.

"If a woman could keep you inside her by clamping her vaginal muscles in an inextricable viselike grip, you'd be there now."

--Sherry Flenniken, National Lampoon

"This was the fatal flaw in Timothy Leary's trip. He crashed around America selling 'consciousness expansion' without ever giving a thought to the grim meat-hook realities that were lying in wait for those who took him too seriously. After West Point and the Priesthood, LSD must have seemed entirely logical to him... but there is not much satisfaction in knowing that he blew it very badly for himself, because he took too many others down with him.

"Not that they didn't deserve it; No doubt they Got What Was Coming To Them. All those pathetically eager acid freaks who thought they could buy Peace and Understanding for three bucks a hit. But this loss and failure is ours, too. What Leary took down with him was the central illusion of a whole lifestyle that he helped to create... a generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers, who never understood the old-mystic fallacy of the Acid Culture: the desperate assumptions that somebody--or at least some force--is tending that light at the end of the tunnel."
--Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

"Don't tell me that making a quiche can be equally fun, and that cheese is no dinner, because even monkeys know this. It's just that when the ball is bouncing, or everyone's leaving to go swimming--in the dark, when you're stunned and splashing in the bracing ink, and you are the ink, and you find yourself going 'oh, my God, oh, my God" like in that Chekov story--you want your kitchen time to be brief."

--Chris Colin, "Ancient Yet Edible," Salon

And now, my nakeds, tell me your favorite quote...

Quick Takes

Scattered thoughts from Paul's brain...


Can we just agree that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright is a weirdo, an egomaniac, and a visitor from a strange planet...and Barack Obama is too nice a guy to tell him to shut the hell up?


In a tax case in which Wesley Snipes and friends were convicted in federal court in Florida...Judge Terrell Hodges sentenced co-defendant Eddie Ray Kahn to ten years. Here's the exchange:

Kahn: "For the record, Your Honor, I don't accept that."

Judge Hodges: "You may not accept it, Mr. Kahn, but you will serve it."


Have you ever broken off a relationship or refused to enter one because the party-of-the-second part wasn't a reader? Or, he/she read what you considered to be crap?

Take a look at Rachel Donadio's New York Times Book review piece, "It's Not You, It's Your Books

Here's the lead:

Some years ago, I was awakened early one morning by a phone call from a friend. She had just broken up with a boyfriend she still loved and was desperate to justify her decision. “Can you believe it!” she shouted into the phone. “He hadn’t even heard of Pushkin!”

When I was single, I dated some women who had trouble reading the menu at Joe's Stone Crab.

What about you? Are you a literary snob? Do you know people who are?

Do writers? Sculptors? Baseball players?

Patrick Goldstein in the Los Angeles Times takes great umbrage at movie stars who appear in crap films. In "How the Mighty Have Fallen: Pacino and De Niro are embarrassing, if enriching, themselves with film choices.".

Goldstein argues that these great actors should reject the big paychecks for lousy movies (Pacino in "88 Minutes," De Nior in (Meet the Fockers") and confine themselves to quality projects.

In an amazingly similar article (media conspiracy!), Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post writes: "My Career Has Fallen But It Can Get Up: If They Make the Right Choices, There's Still Plenty of Time for Older Stars to Shine". She, too slams DeNiro, Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, and throws in Diane Keaton and Cher for good measure. (Don't know about you, but I've been anguished about Cher's career choices lately).

My view is that actors owe me nothing. If I'm going to see a piece of dreck like "Meet the Fockers," shame on me if I don't realize in advance that it's a lowbrow ripoff sequel of a lame movie. And maybe, just maybe, De Niro, Hoffman, and Barbra Streisand did the picture to hang out and have fun.

I don't think artists or athletes owe us anything, other than always trying their best. Yes, I understand how embarrassing it was to watch Willie Mays in his last days with the Mets. He couldn't get around on a fast ball. In center field, the once sublime fielder, stumbled and bumbled. He made us cry. But maybe Willie, who loved the game, still enjoyed playing. His choice, not ours. What do you think?


Another absolutely true letter:

Dear Abby,
My mother is mean and short-tempered. I think she is going through mental pause.

Have a good day and read whatever the hell you want...

Monday, April 28, 2008

If it’s Monday, it must be…

Patty here…

I arrived home this morning at 3:00 a.m., which means I’m midway through my marathon zigzag tour between the left and right coasts of the United States. Romantic Times in Pittsburgh a week ago. Malice Domestic in Washington, D.C. this past weekend. I’ll be home for two days, and then I’m off to New York to present an award at the Edgars in New York, returning in time to attend the Palm Springs Book Fair on Sunday. ( I know, I know. It seemed like a good idea at the time.)

This was only my second Malice. I know more people now, including my new BFFs at The Mystery Chix, including Lois Greiman, Roberta Islieb, CJ Lyons, and Hank Phillippi Ryan who won the Agatha for Best First Mystery. I also met some diehard Naked Authors fans who could recite their favorite posts and a few readers who actually knew who I was. In this business, the best moments are when a fan says, “I LOVE your books. Thank you for writing.” It makes everything seem worth the effort.

In my recent travels, I’ve made some observations:

  • Hotel bars close too early at conventions, leaving me with the impression that the capitalistic spirit is dead in the hotel industry.
  • Authors seem to be giving away a lot more promotional items than ever before.

When my first book came out, I gave away book bags with my book cover on them. My publisher printed bookmarks. At Romantic Times, I gave away little bags of My M&Ms with my book names printed on each one. I thought I was being oh-so clever, but as it turned out, my little gifts seemed underwhelming compared to those of other authors, especially romance writers who make a science out of marketing.

For those of you who have been in this business longer than I, were promotional giveaways always part of the landscape or is this something new? Do giveaways nudge you toward an author you may not have considered before? Just asking.

Happy Monday!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Seeds of Thought ...

from Jacqueline

I come from a long line of gardeners, but I confess, although I love gardening, I think I am the least knowledgeable and proficient. From my grandmother and her postage-stamp gardens in London, to my landscaping brother and the huge estates he has managed, our lot have proven their mettle with anything that grows. And we care very much about how things are grown and the land underneath our feet.

Moving right along – last weekend I was one of four women writers speaking at the Bay Area Bluestocking Festival of Authors in Pleasant Hill, California. I love this sort of event – I always learn something new, or am reminded of something I knew, but hadn’t given sufficient thought to. And if you are wondering about the link between my greenish fingers and writing, stay with me, folks, there is a route through the undergrowth here. One of the authors – who sadly, I was not able to stay to listen to, but had a great conversation with her – was Claire Hope Cummings, a former environmental lawyer turned journalist. Claire has been honored for her coverage of food and farming and herself has farmed in both California and Vietnam. She was a 2001 Food and Society Policy Fellow. She knows her apples and oranges.

Claire’s book, “Uncertain Peril, Genetic Engineering and the Future of Seeds,” caught my interest straightaway. In Britain and the rest of Europe, any foodstuff containing Genetically Modified Food (GMO) has to be labeled, so we know what we’re buying. Some years ago, I heard an expert on GMO (why can I never remember these people’s names?) talking on public radio about GMO, and he likened it to lead in gasoline or nicotine in cigarettes – it’s the next big thing to be really, really worried about. At the time the US was getting bent out of shape because that new labeling law had just been passed in Europe, and if US companies wanted to sell their food in Europe, they had to get with the program. GMO is very, very big American business.

So, here’s the thing, one interesting point in Claire’s book, that I knew and had forgotten, and that – years after the start of the war in Iraq – is giving food for thought: If you didn’t already know this, in terms of agriculture, Iraq was like California and the Bread Basket states rolled into one, bearing fruit in the “Fertile Crescent” of Middle Eastern legend. The Garden of Eden is thought to have been located in southern Iraq.

Given this bounty, Iraq had a priceless seed heritage, with all manner or cereals, vegetables, herbs, fruits and medicinal plants grown on its land, and keeping the integrity of the seeds were the farmers, who harvested their own seeds or bought seeds from other farmers in the many markets of Iraq. To further protect the environment, in the 1970’s the Ministry of Agriculture gathered seeds from all over the country and established a seed bank (1400 varieties), a plant-breeding institute and botanical garden in a suburb of a town called Abu Ghraib. In March 2003 that seed bank was destroyed in the invasion of Baghdad.

In her book, Claire describes the way in which Paul Bremner (remember him? The guy who was given the job of restoring Iraq’s infrastructure?) and Donald Rumsfeld spent $12 billion ($9 billion of which was never accounted for) and issued over one hundred orders to create a market economy tailored to American interests – agriculture being a major interest. The ability of the farmers to provide for themselves was all but destroyed, leaving the path clear for the Monsanto-type companies to move in with their GMO products. As Claire states in the book, “What is clear is that the United States intends to use the occupation as an opportunity to remold Iraqi agriculture to fit American agribusiness interests.” And we know what those interests have done for American farming don’t we?

I could go on, make my comments (I know, as usual) about the various interests behind the march to war, but I’ll leave that to you. In the wake of the usual beat-your-head-against-the-wall fury that comes with each new revelation about the power of big-business and the connection to war, lies a deep sadness. There is something achingly tragic about the thought of seeds so genetically modified that the plants they produce are effectively barren, unable to reseed in the way Mother Earth intended.

When I was a child, my parents grew all our vegetables. OK, so we had the occasional can of peas – ironically, my brother and I really looked forward to eating anything that came in a can! I remember my dad drying seeds in the greenhouse and keeping them for the following year, and the flavor of those vegetables. There was a wonder there, for a child, watching as he emptied the dried pods, then began planting seeds that would soon bear a small shoot that would grow and grow, then be planted in the garden ... and the cycle would begin again.

“History celebrates the battle-fields whereon we meet our death, but scorns to speak of the ploughed fields whereby we thrive; it knows the names of the king’s bastards, but cannot tell the origin of wheat. That is the way of human folly.” (J.H. Fabre from The Wonders of Instinct. Quoted from Uncertain Peril, by Claire Hope Cummings).

See you at the farmer’s market!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Good Books by Good People

James O. Born

I have a few friends with books coming out or just released that I’d like to mention on the blog today.

Julia Spencer-Fleming’s I Shall Not Want is due out June 10th from St. Martins. I like Julia’s unusual protagonist, Episcopal Priest Clare Fergusson and the setting, Millers Kill, New York. This novel concerns the migrant community where Claire is involved.

I like Julia and her books. This is one to look forward to.

Another friend who happens to be published by St Martins is Jim Sheehan, whose Law of Second Chances is a great legal thriller with a number of other elements. I love the death row races but this one has a style all it’s own. I liked it a lot.

I attended his book signing at Murder on the Beach in Delray Beach last week and found his talk interesting, intelligent and compelling. A lot like his book.

He’ll be visiting California this weekend. On Sunday he’ll be on a panel at 1:00Pm with John Lescroat and Catherine Coulter. Is she related to Ann? Drop by and see him if you get the chance.

Our own Patricia Smiley’s Cool Cache is due June 8th. This time out Tucker Sinclair gets involved in murder at a chocolate shop. Patty never disappoints and as always she gets great covers.

Also in June, my friends W.E.B. Griffin and Bill Butterworth IV add another book in the great Honor Bound series. Death and Honor continues the story of the OSS in World War II. Argentina, Nazis, spies and family issues, what else do you want in a book?

I try to read in every area, it just happens that many of my friends are crime writers. I could tell you about the alternative history I just read. 1901 by Robert Conroy was a lot of fun about a German invasion of New York in 1901. I love that kind of stuff. Harry Turtledove is the king of this genre.

What about you guys? Any books coming out that interest you?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Me and My Little Brain

By Cornelia Read

I have a condition I like to think of as "sticky brain." I never know where my car keys are, unless they are physically attached to me, but I remember small bits of trivia I read eons ago.

I was reminded of this in the Dallas Fort Worth airport this past Friday, when I bought a copy of Vanity Fair (as The New Yorker is apparently banned throughout DFW) with which to pass the time on my way back to San Francisco following the extra-fabulous Texas Library Association Conference.

There was a profile of Doris Day in my magazine, which was pretty much the only thing I wanted to read since it was The "Green" Issue, and who really gives a crap what Madonna thinks about global warming?

Here is something I already knew about Doris Day: once a week, she slathers herself from head to toe in Vaseline and then puts on footie pajamas and sleeps in it. I think I read that in the National Enquirer when I was about twelve.

The Vanity Fair article said (paraphrasing here, as I left the magazine on the plane), "once a week, Doris Day rubs herself down with Vaseline before she goes to sleep.

This makes her maid unhappy as she also sleeps with several dogs in the bed, and it's a big hairy mess in the morning."

And I thought to myself, "oh great, now I'm going to have that image stuck in my head for the rest of my life."

Here's another thing I remember from eons ago--a beauty tip from Brooke Shields, who claimed that after she brushed her teeth, she went on to brush her lips, to make them soft. That one was probably from Seventeen, back in the day. Oddly enough, it's a factoid I've found about 80% of women in my age cohort also remember.

I remember odd little lines and giblets from books I've read, too--for some reason especially well from those old Scholastic paperbacks they used to stock my elementary-school shelves with.

Here's one that always comes to mind whenever I'm faced with riding in a crowded car: an explanation given about how many people fit into a certain wagon when the crowd wants to ride into town together, from a book about an East Coast girl who spends her summer on an old West fort: "Six if you're particular, but eight if you're sociable."

This is why I love my friend Ariel: I told her about that phrase one day, and said, "I don't remember the name of the book, but it had a yellow cover with a really ugly Fifties illustration."

And Ariel looked at me and replied, "Blue Ribbons for Meg."

So at least I have the comfort of knowing I am not the only person in the world to suffer from the Scholastic variant of Sticky Brain.

But I don't just remember thing's I've read, I remember things OTHER people have read. Like the paragraph about how Shackleton's crew spent so much time playing cards in their tents in the Antarctic after the Endurance was trapped in the ice that they couldn't read the faces, anymore, and were finally forced to clean them off with blubber so they could continue their games.

I heard a boyfriend of my mother's read that bit out loud from a book one evening in Aspen, in 1972. I didn't remember it was Shackleton, I only remembered the cards and the blubber, until I randomly read the same book myself about five years ago.

It was during that Aspen trip that I also heard the guy read a paragraph from a novel in which some dude was racing across the snowy outback of Russia in a sleigh, but the wolves were gaining on him so he threw his chick-of-the-moment over the side. To my astonishment, I ran across that exact passage about twenty years later in a Flashman novel.

The strangest occurence of this was the morning I first took the SATs, when I realized the passage we'd been set for the reading comprehension portion of the test was a page a stepfather of mine (mentioned a couple of weeks ago in my vaccine post) had read aloud at the breakfast table about five years earlier from a book about the health benefits of wheat bran.

It was about Victorian-era British orphans who were healthier than their wealthier parented counterparts because they weren't fed white bread, which was more expensive than the whole-wheat version at the time.

My Aunt Julie once asked me, "Cornelia, how do you remember all this shit?" and I told her I figured the part of my brain that was supposed to be devoted to remembering where my car keys are had instead been programmed as an extra trivia receptacle.

In school, this condition (the car-keys part) extended to pens and binder paper and textbooks, in that I never remembered where they were, either. Like I had some sort of negative electrical charge which made essential academic supplies jump away from my body at random intervals, a dozen or so times an hour.

After everyone I knew got sick of lending me pencils and paper and what-have-you in class, I fell back on a tried-and-true method of studying: just remember what the teacher said, because I was never, ever going to have the implements necessary for writing it down, and besides which I'd then lose the piece of paper.

It actually worked okay, though Judith Goldiner once got really pissed at me in chemistry class when everyone else was getting their binders out, and I just sat there, which prompted her to say "yeah, you and your photogenic memory."

Q. What did the signers of the Declaration
of Independence all have in common?
A. They remembered to bring pens.

Apparently, several years after I'd moved on to college, there was another girl in Mrs. Laupheimer's AP American history class one day who had forgotten her pen and paper.

Mrs. Laupheimer looked at her, it was later reported to me, and said, "There was only one kid who could do that, and her name is Nicky Read, and she's already graduated. Borrow something."

And I have another weird thing that happens in my head--well, okay, several, but let's just say this one is the second-most striking weird thing to me.

It happens when my "front" brain is engaged in some mundane task--say, driving a route I'm familiar with. I get these weird chunks of language that just emerge from the fog. Verbal images, lines of dialogue, little jokes, &c.

I remember one, specifically, that I ended up using in A Field of Darkness... I was driving back home from dropping my daughter off at school and was just passing the Claremont Hotel on the border of Oakland and Berkeley, in my husband's old Benz wagon with the broken radio.

I'd been thinking vaguely about heredity and weirdness amongst my ancestral strain, and suddenly got this word-image plopped into my head from God knows where, which summed up the practice of moneyed WASPs inter-breeding with Eurotrash in the Hamptons as being likely to produce "Dobermans with the Hapsburg lip."

Which is exactly the sort of darkly twisted semantical fillip that most appeals to me.

What's started happening lately, however, is that I get entire paragraphs, usually things that are the start of a short story. The strangest thing about this is that I'm not trying to work on any short stories, I'm trying to work on a novel. But these whole little worlds appear in my head in one stroke--with voice and place and premise locked into them--like involuntarily tuning into some crazy radio show in my head.

They just start to spin out and add to themselves, and I do my best to remember a key phrase so that I can write down the bones of them later.

Here is one from Saturday, which emerged as I was waiting for the light to change under the elevated BART rails down on MLK, on my way to Rae's house:

We killed Santa on the nineteenth day.

Trust me, you would’ve done the same. I mean, you’ve got eight reindeer and five elves and one morbidly obese self-important prick of a management type stranded on a desert fucking island two hundred miles off Tierra del Fuego… which one would YOU take out?

If nothing else, we figured we’d get more meals out of his ass than ours. God knows it hadn’t actually fit down a chimney since 1952. Elves haul your crap down the damn things, and elves haul your cookies and milk back up them, too. You’d think he’d give us a taste.

And don’t give me any shit about how reindeer don’t eat meat. Like you’d know. How the hell do you think our guys fly? They’re carnivorous, that’s how they goddamn fly. With a double row of pointy-ass teeth to use for ripping flesh. No meat, no altitude.

Santa’d run us and the boys into the ground that Christmas, literally. Doubling back twice to the Cote D’Ivoire, because he screwed up the list? We barely made landfall that last time over the Atlantic.

You should’ve heard him screaming when we jumped him: “
Off Dancer! Off Prancer! Jesus H. CHRIST, that’s my bad leg…”

Yeah, that *was* your bad leg…

Fat fuck had it coming.

Okay now, seriously, how weird is THAT?

I mean, I kind of like it, as short story openings go, but it's still seriously freaky to have some psycho elf dictating the Piers-Paul-Read-Alive mashup with The Night Before Christmas to you as you're driving, you know?

I'm hoping this is just an advanced case of Writerly Neurochemistry, not some brain tumor possessed by the shade of Roald Dahl.

Anybody else get this kind of unprompted brainwave weirdness? If so, please share...

p.s. This week's Snack o' Thought: