February 20, 2013
I went to hear some soothing low-brow Bossa Nova—a combination of Samba and jazz, with some Bolero influence—at the Cornelia Street Cafe last Sunday. I’m not a musician; I listen for pleasure. But I was with my husband who once played the tuba and has a good ear, and an opera singer/teacher of opera, and an opera singer/student . All of them had a lot to say about the singer’s voice which they thought light and underdeveloped. They were critiquing the performance and didn’t get into the music the way I did. I was really enjoying it and so were many others in the audience, some Brazilian, some not.
I’ve written here about a book club I once belonged to that annoyed me because the readers were not writers. They quickly dismissed a book that might have taken a year or more to write if it wasn’t entertaining, or immediately gripping, or they had to work to understand what the writer was trying to say. I eventually left the group, offending some of the members in my wake. But since I have written my first murder/thriller, I’ve changed my tune a bit. It’s hard to satisfy the demands of the genre and to write well at the same time. I’m now more admiring of books that others enjoy for whatever reason they enjoy them. It’s their privilege . Who am I to say that a work is not worthwhile, or not good enough. if many other people enjoy it? If a musician, or a writer, or an artist, or a filmmaker has succeeded in captivating an audience then that, in itself, is worth applauding, I feel.
Despite the disaffection at my table, I found the young Bossa Nova singer enchanting. I am not a professional and she didn’t ask me to evaluate her performance as a professional. That is another endeavor entirely, sometimes pleasurable, and sometimes not so pleasurable. My husband used to be a film critic and I remember him telling me that he wondered if he’d ever be able to enjoy films again. Now he is a screenwriter and he is always watching the script. I have the same experience of books: they have to be well written. I read twice, once for pleasure, once again to study what choices the writer has made. But I’m not going to tell anyone not to read a book if it is too low brow and/or it isn’t well written. They might enjoy it even if I don’t.
February 13, 2013
Last Sunday, I went to the Neue Galerie with a Dutch friend and his sister. Tobias Tak is a tap dancer and graphic novelist : http://www.tobicomix.co.uk/. His sister, Elise Tak, is a digital artist who creates her own movie stars and narratives—movies within movies: http://www.elisetak.com/.
It’s a talented family. Tobias lives in London and works all over the EU; Elise lives in New York where she has been grounded for many years in the artists’ community in Brooklyn.
Walking around a gallery with artists is a unique and illuminating experience. As a writer, I am always searching for narrative and asking myself: Where’s the story? What is this about? Visual artists study the physicality of the work—shape color, line, composition—and often disregard the content in the first instance. It is only later that they become interested in the artist’s life, for example. I am interested in it from the beginning.
Standing in the dim gallery in front of a Klimt gesture drawing, I was struck by the erotic pose which almost fell off the page with abandon. And because I have researched Klimt’s life for my novella, “Sitting for Klimt,” I wondered who the model was. Tobias hadn’t noticed the pose or the model. Instead, he pointed to the decorative touches in the dress, swirling shapes resembling flowers. And because these swirling shapes were layered, he could tell that Klimt was searching for the right form. The first layer wasn’t quite right, so he kept going. It was all practice. He was searching.
February 6, 2013
Back in the 1920’s, the “it” girl was magnetically and irresistibly attractive. She had arrived, mostly in the person of Clara Bow as designated by the public relations and advertising copy writers. It wasn’t a new concept; even the mystic Sufis knew what “it” was back in the 13th century. And Vincent Van Gogh, a mystic for all of his short troubled life, used the concept of “it” (het in Dutch) to describe the sensation when a painting had “arrived.” Any visual artist, writer, or performer will understand what this means and how it feels. It’s a kind of ecstasy, a bliss.
Most of the time we are just working, slogging along some would say, day by day. Many drafts, sketches, journal entries, more drafts, a final polish. We get published, or don’t. But even the work that is published may be mediocre compared to our vision, our intention. It’s okay, it works, or it’s good enough.
And then, one day, we hit the “it.” The passage we have written, the words chosen, the whole work has transcended our usual effort. How this has happened, we cannot be sure. A confluence of forces and gifts more than likely.
And so it was with my story, “Will Wonders Never Cease,” about an imaginary encounter between Houdini and Freud. I knew as I was writing that I had hit the “it.” It’s a long story and I didn’t try to place it in any literary magazines. Instead, I ran it as the last story in my new collection of novellas, “Water Baby.” But as the summer waned, I looked at it again and thought that it was very good and that I should publish it in London where it is set. My ties to the UK are long and deep; I lived there for ten years. So I sent it off to The London Magazine, founded in 1732, prestigious. Why not try for the best? And so, dear reader, I sent it off by SNAIL. It arrived in two days and two days later I had an email from the editor to say they’d like to run it in their April/May issue. I was chuffed.
Years of practice. What is certain is that we cannot get to the transcendent “it” manuscript unless we have practiced.