Sunday, August 18, 2013

Blood on the teeth II

   When I was a cub writer back in the 70's, I met an Irishman with prematurely silver hair who
got himself up at 5 a.m. each morning in his little apartment in the city before going off to a tiresome day gig as a clerk.  This was his holy time, and the time he dreaded too, when he rolled a clean white sheet into the typewriter, a mug of tea beside him, and began to write.  He had come up in the desperate poverty of the Irish 40's and 50's, his da a working man who drank his pitiful wages away. 
    "250 words a day, that's a good day of writing," the Irish writer said to me. 
    "But that's only one page!"
    "One page that is the truest thing I can make of it.  It's as hard as breaking rocks," he said.

    Yes, he's right, my Irish friend.  I no longer care so much if there's wit or sparkle in my writing. Over the years, my writing has been hammered and whittled, and I've been beset by a
  sense of the near-miss, the almost there. Now what I'm writing (the new book, The Bad Dream Notebook), is hard, it's hard on me, it tears at me sometimes. I want to write the truth and the truth has changed for me.  And the truth is still so often just around the next bend, the next scene, the new character.

    Yet I've always loved writing, it clears a channel through me and it sets me free.
    Good hard labor.  Like breaking rocks.  Or as another writer said, like getting blood on the teeth.

     Have I also mentioned that it's great fun, this writing game?    

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

How many more writers do we need writing about getting plastered?

Answer: As many as have good stories to tell. My personal favorite addiction tale from the last ten years is the second volume in the Patrick Melrose series,by Edward St. Aubyn. Don't let the name put you off, my fellow Americans. E St. A. gets down and funky in New York chasin' that train. No idea how autobiographical the story of a desperate junkie (wait: Is there any other kind?)is,though clearly, E St. A. has been pretty close up and personal. The reason I love this series (and especially, Volume II) so much is because the humor is wicked and relentless. Yes, it's English cerebral, but the guy is funny. I had already written the nut of "Cleans Up Nicely" when I read E. St. A. and I went back into the mss., sliced as much lugubrious fat out as I could and sifted in more of my wayward take on reality. Really grateful to him for reminding me of the Puck who's always waiting in the wings. Conclusion? Addiction, we already know, is painful, nasty, bad bad bad. Those of us who are lucky to survive have a high tolerance for the ridiculous. Visit an open A.A. meeting and watch people holding their sides as they listen to the pratfalls.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The lazy blogger - re-energized by two new books!

     Heaven for a writer could be defined as having deadlines for two books at once.  Also hell.  And that's what I have been doing for some time.  The books are very different. Cleans Up Nicely  is a novel revisiting the New York of the 70's - decadent, dirty, dangerous and also exploding with creativity along with the craziness. Loving Our Addicted Daughters Back to Life is a guide for parents and loved ones of young adult women who have some kind of substance-abuse problem and for the first time, tells this audience about the great new research in gender medicine in understanding and treating addiction in women.
   Cleans Up comes out in August of 2013!!! Loving our Addicted Daughters is being shopped.
They both explore the particular dangers and destructiveness of female addiction in totally different ways, which I didn't set out to do, but of course, now see was my subconscious drive. I am a woman addict, I have been there, and I know what happens after you clean up, the tango of recovery.  And even after 36 years clean (yup), the dance goes on.  Keeps you limber and alert.   

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Book Review: "The Red Book"

OK, call me snarky, but it seems there's a new category in fiction,which I'll call "high chick lit." "The Red Book" is crammed with cringingly overly self-satisfied characters. Basically, the plot is they can nevah get ovah their young Harvad-educated selves. So instead of the unblinkingly honest character probes by the undeniably well-educated author (Harvard-educated), we have a bunch of privileged Forty-something's mixing and matching during a 20th reunion. How I longed to be able to relate to just one, just one of them. All right, not longed, but it sure would have made turning the pages less of a guilty summer timewaster. Why I am being so hard on the author? Because she has talent and she decided to write a made for t.v. movie book instead. Next time out, I hope she doesn't go for the easy fix.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Blood on the teeth: every writer should have the stain

I'll never forget the wonderful series (BBC), "The Singing Detective" by the wonderful writer Dennis Potter, whose physical sufferings (psoriatic arthritis - unbearable pain and itchings) offered him, in his own words, a rebirth. He felt free to write whatever he wanted and he did! It was Potter who said (and meant it) that every writer should have blood on the teeth. Anyone who has given or witnessed birth knows what a bloody chaotic mess it is.
I came across Potter's words recently and they stopped me cold. Since I'm writing a novel about the messiness of grief, addiction, longing and fear, I checked my teeth in the mirror: Yup. Good: a few red specks there.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Just How Badly Does Addiction Affect American Women?

More than 200,000 American women died of substance abuse in 2009.
That is more than four times the number to die of breast cancer! (Center for Health Statistics).
Question: Why don't we know this? How can we help more women to recover from this deadly disease?
Stay tuned.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Regretful book review: Nica's Dream

"Nica's Dream," a biography about the enigmatic and extremely interesting Rothschild heiress and tremendous jazz patroness, Baronness Pannonica de Koenigswalter, known as Nica, just came about. And it is a frustrating read on several counts. About ten years ago, I came close to taking on this project but decided against it. Why? The Rothschild family has a policy of destroying or imprisoning all personal papers and NEVER giving interviews about family members. I felt then and after reading this book, feel even more strongly, that I made the right decision.
The book is workmanlike and the author clearly (sometimes too clearly) expended great effort in assembling what he could about Nica. Here all the known facts, plus some new anecdotes, are dutifully assembled, but also a lot of padding with the by-now old-hat story of jazz from the 50's on. Sadly, the subject of the book never comes to life, and her conflicts and dark side, the very stuff of a vivid personality and a good read - are never explored. To take two examples: she's drinking constantly ("sipping" is the ladylike verb used often), and eventually gets cirrhosis, yet there is nothing here about alcoholism's destructive power. Two: what especially vexed me was the lack of any insight into Nica's frank abandonment of her children. There were five, including very young ones, but only one daughter lived with her. Then suddenly, when they are grown, the kids are back in her life. This is rich material indeed, but we learn next to nothing about it.
I'm not trying to trash the writer here. But biography is a huge challenge and the Baronness merits the full treatment - or none at all.
About my latest book, a novel, "Gringa in a Strange Land." Set in Mexico in the early '70's, a(n American) female on-the-road adventure, a coming of age tale, but also a kind of love letter to southern Mexico, especially the Yucatan, during the tempestuous counterculture and - many of us thought - the edge of a new era throwing off repression, war and dictatorship (man, were we wrong.)