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Monday, March 31, 2008

Textual Inspiration #3

...By that time clouds had begun to pile, working in over the whole sky, except toward the west, beyond the pines, where the light struck through the break. The water was very still, and suddenly dark with the darkness of the sky, and away across the bay the line of woods looked black now, not green, above the whiteness of the line which was the beach way over there. A boat, a catboat, was becalmed over in that direction, nearly a mile away, and under the sky and over the dark water and against the black line of the woods, you never saw anything so heart-breakingly white as the sharp sail.

"We better get in," Adam said. "It's going to blow."

"Not quick," Anne said, "let's swim again."

"Better not." Adam hesitated and looked off at the sky.

"Let's," she insisted, and pulled at his arm. He didn't respond, still scanning the sky. All at once she dropped his arm and laughed and began to run toward the water. She didn't run directly to the water, but up the beach, toward a little spit, with her bobbed hair back loose on the air. I watched her run. She ran with her arms not quite outspread, crooked at the elbows, and with a motion of her legs which was graceful and free, and somehow awkward at the same time, as though she hadn't quite forgotten one kind of running, the child's running, and hadn't quite learned another kind of running, the woman's running. The legs seemed to be hung too loose, somewhat uncertainly, from the little hips, which weren't quite rounded yet. I watched her and noticed that her legs were long. Which I had never noticed before...

...The fifth time I caught up, she didn't dive. She rolled over with a light, lounging twist of her body, and floated on her back, looking up at the sky, her arms spread wide. So I turned over, too, and floated, about five or six feet from her, and looked at the sky.

The sky was darker now, with a purplish, greenish cast. The color of a turning grape. But it still looked high, with worlds of air under it. A gull crossed, very high, directly above me. Against the sky it was whiter even than the sail had been. It passed clear across all the sky I could see. I wondered if Anne had seen the gull. When I looked at her, her eyes were closed. Her arms were still spread out wide, and her hair wavered out free on the water from around her head. Her head was far back, her chin lifted. Her face looked very smooth, as though she were asleep. As I lay in the water, I could see her profile sharp against the far-off black trees...

...What happened was this: I got an image in my head that never got out. We see a great many things and can remember a great many things, but that is different. We get very few of the true images in our heads of the kind I am talking about, the kind which become more and more vivid for us as if the passage of the years did not obscure their reality but, year by year, drew off another veil to expose a meaning which we had only dimly surmised at first. Very probably the last veil will not be removed, for there are not enough years, but the brightness of the image increases and our conviction increases that the brightness is meaning, or the legend of meaning, and without the image our lives would be nothing except an old piece of film rolled on a spool and thrown into a desk among the unanswered letters.

The image I got in my head that day was the image of her face lying in the water, very smooth, with the eyes closed, under the dark greenish-purple sky, with the white gull passing over.

That is not to say that I fell in love with Anne that day. She was a kid then. That came later. But the image would have been there if I had never fallen in love with her, or had never seen her again, or had grown to detest her.

- From All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren
This quote has been abridged by me. The complete passage is beautiful
and can be found towards the beginning of Chapter Three.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Follow-up: Literary Quotables

As it turns out, the history of literature is full of writers who weren't too fond of their fathers.

After encouragement from three friends who each in turn reminded me that I am supposed to be something of a writer (and the last simply refusing to take "no" for an answer, thank you, Dave) I decided to write my own "quote," if you will, for my dad. Its reception was decidedly underwhelming. My father seemed rather bemused by all three of his gifts, all three of which I thought were very good, including mine.

In the meantime I should say that a trip up the California coast was just what the doctor ordered. Inspiration abounds in the beauty of the sea. It was cold and windy, but the wild flowers were blooming. I'm a failure at my attempts to capture it, but here are a handful of pictures for your own inspiration, if unfortunately minimally inspiring:

A misty morning view of the sea with reddish ice plant on the cliffs.

A California wild Poppy. Maybe.
If you can otherwise identify this wild flower, please feel free to contact me.

Misty morning mountainside, trail with bridge and wild flowers.

Sunset at the shore with driftwood.

A California sunset*.
*Sunset to the left. Washed out poor digital photo straight ahead.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Literary Quotables

I had been working on a post most of the week about a technical aspect of writing concerning dialogue. After backing and forthing over it a few times, I decided that I needed some time to really research the topic and instead of letting it continually hold up a new post I should put that one on the back burner and post something new.

And so here we are.

This week, I've been working on a gift for my father's 60th birthday - which is tomorrow. For those of you who know me, this kind of procrastination can hardly be a surprise. However, I assure you, I am well on my way and will have my little gift complete in time.

As part of the gift, I have been searching for a literary quote about fatherhood or love or family to go with a picture. At first I pursued the Ernest Hemingway route, prepared to fail of course because of Hemingway's masculine, action-oriented prose. Then I moved on to Tolstoy, then Robert Penn Warren, Shakespeare. All turned up nothing.

However, I think it's obvious that the source of my quotation troubles is that I'm searching on the internet. For all of the internet's fine inventions, the complete lack of a quotation search engine is pretty disappointing.

Is it that much to ask to be able to search a selection of literary quotations for key words?

There must be some middle ground between a Hallmark card style quote from "Anonymous" and something written by Goethe.

I'll keep you updated on my search, and am open to suggestions.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


My apologies for my extended absence and failure to post anew in more than a week. Life has been lobbing some giant curve balls my way recently.

Work has been exceptionally busy with a big deadline swiftly approaching on April 1st.

I have managed to secure internet in my apartment, thanks to my determined roommate, but I am now without a cell phone which presents a whole other world of headaches that were unanticipated.

I promise to return to you with new posts soon!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Urgent Message to Publishers: Stop Being So Naïve

Though I had no intention of writing two entries today, in my check-in over at the UCLA Writers' Programs Blog written by Corey Campbell, she referenced this story about yet another highly acclaimed memoir revealed to be fabricated, and I felt compelled to comment. Apparently, Margaret B. Jones, author of Love and Consequences was not even remotely the foster child/gang member/drug runner that she claimed to be in her memoir. In fact, she grew up rather close to my own hometown in the San Fernando Valley, in an upper middle class white family (with her birth parents) and attended private school. It wasn't until her sister spotted her in a NY Times House & Home article and outed her to her publisher that she admitted her fabrication.

I don't feel the need to explain why I find this never-ending stream of mendacious authors appalling. I think it goes without saying. I will say however that it's about time that editors wise-up and start doing some background checking. It's one thing to embellish actual events. It's another to make up an identity.

At the end of the International Herald Tribune article (linked above), the Love and Consequences' editor, Sarah McGrath, says of a recent conversation with Margaret B. Jones about the fabrication that "She seems to be very, very naïve..." Really? Since when are 33 year old women naïve?

Let me tell you Sarah McGrath, Margaret B. Jones couldn't possibly be as naïve as you. Wise up and start doing some basic background checks. Then you won't have to do this.

The Ice Cream Scoop

I have a friend that I will occasionally share a dessert with when we're out at a restaurant. In recent months, we've discovered a strange phenomenon: waiters who don't know what à la mode means. For those who don't know (why not?!?) to order something à la mode means to order it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. The first time there was confusion over the phrase à la mode I found it funny. How amusing that the waiter had never heard that before. After all, isn't it a part of the American English lexicon? There's a whole moment devoted to it in When Harry Met Sally:
Sally: I'd like the chef salad, please, with the oil and vinegar on the side. And the apple pie à la mode....But I'd like the pie heated, and I don't want the ice cream on top. I want it on the side. And I'd like strawberry instead of vanilla if you have it. If not, then no ice cream, just whipped cream, but only if it's real. If it's out of a can, then nothing.
Waitress: Not even the pie?
Sally: No, just the pie. But then not heated.
When a second waiter was confused over à la mode, I found it downright disconcerting. Has à la mode fallen out of use? How did it come to its meaning in the first place?

First let me warn you that I found no reliable sources for what I'm about to share with you, so I hope you'll forgive me for an unusual lack of citations.

As any French speaker will tell you, the literal translation of à la mode is "of the fashion." It's generally used to indicate that something is particularly fashionable. It has been suggested that the American English usage originates from the phrase à la mode de (insert town or region) to instead mean "as they do it in (town or region)." In other words, you would be asking the waiter to have it prepared as it is prepared in a particular place.

However, that still doesn't explain how the phrase came to be used in the United States, and came to mean "with ice cream." The only explanation I could find was a mention that the famous New York restaurant Delmonico's perhaps first added "apple pie à la mode" to their menu in the 1920s. It being an incredibly fashionable restaurant, perhaps the usage caught on from there.

I'm sure if I looked beyond the internet, I could track down a more accurate source of the American use of the phrase à la mode. In the meantime, I should probably just take it as a sign that my friend and I should be ordering less dessert à la mode for us to share.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Literary Life in Los Angeles

I am pleased to have recently stumbled across yet more evidence of Los Angeles' lively literary scene. Red Hen Press is a non-profit publisher of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, dedicated to supporting "quality writing that is being ignored or overlooked by large or commercial publishers." In addition to their catalog, Red Hen Press is involved in promoting literary happenings in the city, including a series of readings at the Geffen Playhouse and public author events.

Since 2003, Red Hen Press has also published their own literary journal, The Los Angeles Review. Back issues are available for order here, along with information about how to submit your own writing (though it's a bit difficult to tell whether they are currently accepting submissions).

For those of you not in Los Angeles, the Red Hen Press home page offers a Poem of the Day for a quick treat during your work break.

As soon as my busy schedule allows, I'll attend one of their live events and report back on it here. Until then, I'll peruse their catalog, and let you know of any other tidbits I discover.