Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Michael Byers

It might take a little searching to find Michael Byers's first book "Coast of Good Intentions" a collection of short stories, but it is well worth it.  He writes with that quiet authority that holds us in the palm of his hand, guiding us to the end.  Charles Baxter said his stories are "wise, beautiful and necessary, " and I couldn't agree more.  "Long for this World, "a novel, is on my stack and I can't wait for his newest work, "Percival's Planet," due out August 3rd, 2010. Just after the Napa Writers Conference! Arghsnarfle!

Check out his site for more info, reviews, and yes! bonus chapters from the new book Especially check out the Essays and Stories tab. A super piece on revising, Faking Shapely Fiction, particularly pertinent for those lucky folks in his workshop at Napa. I have a feeling his lecture is going to be a must-go. And IF we're lucky, maybe he'll have some pre-release copies of "Percival's Planet." Just hoping.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Unbuilt Projects now being built! *

Fabulous news from the Lisicky front: his book, "Unbuilt Projects" will be published Fall 2012 by Fourway Books.  Here is a link to his blog- post running a video of him reading some pieces from the it. Congrats, Paul!

* sorry, couldn't resist.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Bad Day for Daphnia

They arrived sloshing around in four tightly-sealed jars tucked into corn-oil based pellets in a brown rush-shipment box. A quarter of them had croaked and were encapsulated in a thin moldy shroud, drifting in the dubious-looking water. The rest of the water fleas, after surviving this long, dark journey would soon be plucked from jar with an expertly wielded pipette, plonked onto glass slides and squished under the clamps of a microscope. Oh, the indignity of it all.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Reading a new brain book,"Rewire Your Brain," by John B. Arden, Ph.D. (Maybe when I'm done with the book I'll be able to refrain from pronouncing that as Phud. With apologies to all my Phuddy Phriends).


In the book is this paragraph (pg 3,4), which I found compelling enough to read out loud to my sister:
"The corpus callosum of a woman is denser than that of a man. This means that the two hemispheres of a woman's brain work more evenly together. The female brain is more symmetrical. The male brain has an asymmetrical torque, which mean that the right frontal lobe is larger than the left frontal lobe, and the left occipital (back of head) lobe is larger than the right occipital lobe."

To which my sister remarked: "So ....we can legitimately say that they are warped, right?"

"Or that they are legitimately warped," I replied.

Take your pick. In reality, I suspect that this arrangement has its advantages, for both genders.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

WIR: Wellspring, Part 4: Random Notes

Random Notes from the last few days.

The more birds I learn to identify, the more birds I see, both individuals and new species. It's sort of spooky. Now that birds are not just blue/somewhat blue, mostly brown, all black, raucus or quiet but rather Steller's jays, scrub jays, western bluebirds, white-capped sparrows, ravens, woodpeckers, chickadees, I've come to notice all the other birds that before escaped my notice: northern flickers, phoebees, juncos, yellow-capped sparrows, acorn and downy woodpeckers. Because they were all there. Without the name, I just didn't notice them. The world has expanded with the simple act of identifying, of recognizing and remembering.

This evening, as the sun faded, the birds burst out in a collective chorus, the squawks and peeers! of jays, the buzzzzy chirps of a Bewick's wren, the melodies of finches, the calls and clucks and squeals that I don't recognize (yet), often overlapping, resembling those wonderfully chaotic moments when an orchestra tunes up, though this would be more like tuning down, the last vocal hurrahs before dark.

Walked down to the river. On the way back, I found a collection of heart stones arranged on a bald spot in the grass near the edge of the bank. Suddenly it seemed like the best place for the three weighing down my jacket pocket. How many do I really need? So there are here.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Writer in Residence: Pt 3: Elk, California

Last Thursday, a side trip to Elk, a small town on the very edge of the coast, clinging like a limpet to bedrock jutting out into the Pacific.

....let's get a closer look at that bedrock...

I was hoping to visit the Greenwood State Park Visitor Center and Historical Museum, but alas, due to our rotten state budget, it was closed.

...but I got a shot anyway.

And besides which, there is a certain historical quality to the town in and of itself.

This is what I call the South Shore...a sand-barred cove with the Greenwood Creek seeking the ocean.

and this is the North Shore...stony bluffs, broken, toothy rocks strung out into the ocean. 

Usually, the ocean is the ceaseless noise of Elk unless, like today, it's the wind. A fierce sort of wind, with a stern roar that overwhelms mind-chatter. A wind that requires buttoning up, requires pulling down into one's self, requires paying attention, watching where it comes from, where it's going to. The scuttle of clouds against the brightest blue sky. Little birds tucked under low bushes.  Hawks and ospreys struggling, flying into the wind at a stand-still before tilting a wing and swinging around to try again later.

The sort of wind that livens the blood, stirs up the appetite and makes ducking into Queenie's Roadhouse Cafe more of delight than ever.

hmmmmm, corned beef hash, eggs over, a small tower of toast...

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Writer-in-Residence: Part Two

Today, sun. Lots of it. The meadow held the warmth all afternoon, the air hot enough to bring up thoughts of swimming. Thoughts only and then quite fleeting. I wouldn't even stick a tiny toe in the river; it is galloping for the coast at what looks like several knots an hour to me.

The sun made for some true basking on the porch though, watching red-shafted northern flickers (Colaptes auratus cafer) investigate the eucalyptus, stab for ants in the grass and dash around, with orange wings, white body in the air. Otherwise, the flicker is one fine dapper dandy of a dresser: soft grey basic coat, like dress-up flannels, with a tidy black ascot at the throat, a speckled waist coat and a striped jacket over that. The male sports a flamboyant red mustache-- or is it lipsitck from his lover? He only needs the sporty fedora ... with one of his own feathers in the brim.  My camera sucks at getting bird pix (no real telephoto, slow as molasses) so I'm posting a link to about a thousand pictures of the creature.

In contrast, I just have to say, those Acorn Woodpeckers (Melanerpes formicivorus) are too much. As I said, they look clownish, with white eyes in a half-mask of white, a black bill and red topi. In flight they remind me of the Harlequin, black wings with a wide white stripe, a black back but a white rump. From the rear, as they fly away from me, they seem to be making wing-angles in the air; flying towards me, they just seem....goofy.

This is by far the best photo I found online, at Steve Velo's pix.
These are very interesting birds, residing in sizeable groups of 4 or 5 or more, and sometimes several groups at a time.  They are larder-hoarders, hiding acorn like squirrels in granaries by drilling holes into old trees,  stumps, the side of the water tower, then stuffing acorns in the holes, which the birds defend against all comers. Pretty fascinating.
We think of it as storage, maybe they think of it as art.

Jeepers, sounds like our family, stuffing things in boxes and bundles and defending them against anyone with plans to "organize." Must have some woodpecker in our DNA.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Writer in Residence - Trial Run

To write about Wellspring Renewal Center, is to write about nature. The place sits just outside the hamlet of Philo, California, in Mendocino County; 50 acres of woods and meadows with the Navarro River running right through it. One long meadow, hemmed with small oaks and manzanitas along the north bank, parallels the river. Across it, redwoods spire to the sky, filling the horizon, topped only by trees of the hill commanding the horizon.  Hendy Woods State Park is adjacent to the property, across and to the west down the river; it feels like the redwoods go on forever. Which they did once, but no longer.

The buildings cluster on the northern, top edge of the gently sloping meadow which rolls down to the deep banks of the river. In recent summers, the river has slowed down to barely more than a large creek in spots, winding in a shallow trench across the rocky river bottom; this winter the channel is filled all the way across as an astounding volume of water barrels out to the ocean. Nevertheless, the river hasn't risen to the top of these banks in living or even recorded history. If it did - now that would be scary-or a different eon..

The meadow runs east to west the long way and thus is graced with sun the full day long. The cabin I like to claim has a generous porch facing south, overlooking the meadow, several majestic oaks, the scrim of trees and brush hiding the river and the redowwds across the way. The river, even as full as it is right now, sits so far below the tall banks it is invisible; only the noisy rush and tumble of the high water gives it away.

To write about Wellspring is to write about nature; it is to write about the birds first, for they truly abound. Acorn woodpeckers, clownish in their half-masks of yellow and black, flit about, working their way, knocka-knocka-knocka, around the tall wooden water tower and the oaks; they are everywhere with their a-whacka-whacka-whacka calls. Vultures wheel around the sky, blue, grey or blustery. The call of hawks and ravens echo off the redwoods; closer by I hear the brash squawks and burry chirrrs of the scrub and Stellar jays, the funny whistles of the northern flickers, the pips and peeps of towhees, juncos, phoebes, sparrows, chestnut-backed chickadees.

(psssst: don't take this Writer-in-Residence bit as official, it's not authorized in any way by the Wellspring Renewal Center. I just wanted a project. Anything to distract me from the dang-blasted novel.)

Friday, April 2, 2010

Wrting, writing, writing, keep those authors writing....

On my way up to the Wellspring Renewal Center for my Personal Writing Retreat (created by moi, funded by moi), I stopped at my favorite Indy Bookstore (Copperfield's Books in Petaluma, but of course) for some reading material. Some inspirational and reference books to keep me on task, some sexy-trashy magazines for the downtimes: Best American Essays 2009, a pocket-sized field guide to birds in California and The Writer mag. Yeah, so now you know, sexy-trashy = writer's mags.

But wait, before you dismiss outright, here's the article that got my attention in the middle of yesterday afternoon on a long covered porch in full view of meadow, with redwoods and mountains. " 'Writer in Residence' ? Sign me up!" by Kathy Stevenson...aside from the wonderfully complex instance of punctuation, I was struck by the circs that opens the essay: Alain de Botton had the gig of Writer in Residence for a week at ... wait for it....London's Heathrow Aiport. That's right: he spent a week at the airport * and wrote it up for a book.

Now how cool is that? Kathy Stevenson thinks like me: "Where do I sign up?" she asks.

As you imagine, these gigs are not growing on trees, and Kathy Stevenson puts her fertile good mind to use and comes up with all sorts of alternate locations where she might shine, W-I-R at Godiva Chocolates, for instance.

Which  is when I wondered: couldn't I be the Writer in Residence at Wellspring?

* cool photo on  that link

link to article on Kathy Stevenson's blog