Monday, October 09, 2006

Hodging your bets...

You have probably seen these latest Apple ads with the two guys playing the Mac and the PC...If not--they are definitely worth checking out!!!!!

Also check out:

So in one of fate's funny little detours, here is one of those lovely 'follow the breadcrumbs' vignettes that make you think that the universe, if not winking in your general direction, is at the very least egging you on...

Several years ago my dad befriended this guy John Hodgman. He is a lovely man and his son John Hodgman Jr. at the time had one of those imoressive New York gritty stories of struggling writer gambling everything looking for his big break...a total inspiration. Hodgman Jr. worked as a receptionist at the New York Times. While there, he worked hard, made contacts and supported a young family on a struggling writer's salary...which is a heroic task in and of itself. In other words...he was committed to his dream to make his words live. A fledgling writer myself, I would touch base with him via email from time to time and he was always completely gracious and encouraging.

Fast forward to now...He is a successful published author of a very funny book entitled, "The Areas of My Expertise" and has been a recurring guest on the Jon Stewart show. But in all of that time that he was up and coming and arriving and here...I never actually met John in person...just corresponded electronically, sporadically over the years and followed his career as I tried to build my own.

One day this summer, a friend and I decided to play hooky and head to one of my favorite places on the planet...The Montague Book Mill in Montague, MA. Their motto (found on their website and t-shirts) is "Books you don't a place you can't find." The Book Mill is an old haunt of mine and I have gone there in all seasons since I was a student at UMASS Amherst. Back in college, I'd study there in the little cafe that overlooks the small waterfall surrounded by trees whose leaves trumpet rust, gold and crimson in the autumn or bend under a blanket of soft white as winter creeps in and covers all silently. The same trees are then riotously bursting with more shades of green than a graphic designer's color palette in Springtime when they practically scream Vivaldi... It is a tiny piece of heaven on earth and has always been a spiritual haven to me. A piece of peace.

As I walked in and scanned the 6 or so tables to find a good spot by the window...I saw John Hodgman Junior for the first time in all of our oblique acquaintanceship. He was just sitting there working on his laptop and on his cellphone.

And how did I even recognize him?

From the commercials, of course.

If I were a betting woman...I'd say the odds of that kind of random encounter were pretty slim, wouldn't you?

When he finished his call, I mustered up my nerve and went over to introduce myself and we chatted briefly. Didn't want to distract him from working on his Mac laptop. :) Yet another of life's little ironies since in the Mac commercials he plays the PC. He was very warm and kind as he'd always been in his emails and very down-to-earth.

It was a surreal moment. But one filled with that kind of glow that only the Book Mill's special brand of serendipity can induce for me. That 'you are here for a reason' glow. It's a place where time doesn't exist since I see myself overlapping with who I am now and who I was as a college student and all of the who I was-es (not a word--I know) I have been in between. Even the who I will be's were there, waving and beckoning and saying...'Someday your book will be here. Patience. Have a cup of tea and look at the leaves. Those trees aren't going anywhere, kiddo, but you are. So relax and enjoy the ride, the scenery and the breadcrumbs.'

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Memoirs of a goose liver...

About 7 or 8 years ago I met Arthur Golden (bestselling author of 'Memoirs of a Geisha') for coffee. I was fortunate enough to have a contact through my dad who was the superintendent of the Brookline Public Schools at the time and Arthur had some kids in the school system. And he was gracious enough to meet with me to let me pick his brain about the writing life, etc. At the time, his book was already a major success.

After getting over my initial case of nervous shyness, I asked him the typical, green, upstart writer's questions about how he got his start, etc. His was a unique story in that he had been writing Geisha for about 7 years, getting rejections left and right, when he finally decided to go back and rewrite the WHOLE a woman's voice. Obviously, the result was well worth the effort. My favorite piece of advice came from this meeting.

He said:
"The manuscript will find its way."

I remember thinking that was such a beautiful, zen sentiment. As though somehow the manuscript had all of the power...not fate or timing, or fickle marketing ploys or trends, not networking or schmoozing...but the WORDS themselves would somehow lead the writer on the journey and not vice versa. You see, Arthur was an exception to the "It's who you know, not what you know" school of thought. He was SO well connected (his family practically owned the New York Times) that he believes it actually worked against him in many ways. He recounted one friend hinting that the publishing realm was filled with an elite snobbery that desperately shied away from any whiffs of nepotism at all costs.

When I met with him I was freshly stinging from the rejection of not getting into Boston University's Creative Writing Masters program which generally has 200+ applicants for 12 spots. Arthur himself had attended the program and been discouragingly told that he would "never be a writer". While I know it's important to create a community of fellow writers, I personally feel that on the whole it should be more nurturing than torturing. That said---honest, constructive feedback can help shape something mediocre into something special. We writers as a group can easily vacillate between self-loathing and pumped-up hubris. So, after hearing that Arthur had been decimated in that way I considered myself lucky not to have spent tens of thousands of dollars to be told I sucked and to give up the dream by some pretentious professor whose cynicism outweighed his ability to spot true talent.

But Arthur Golden was nothing like that. He was kind and approachable and very down to earth. At one point int he conversation, he randomly asked me if I'd ever eaten goose livers? I replied that I had not, trying diligently not to arrange my features into a 'Yuck, are you kidding me?" face...He then went on to say that pan-fried with a little garlic and olive oil they were a delicious treat. I told him I would give it a whirl sometime. All the while he was giving me the goose liver recipe I remember thinking...

"Here I am sitting with one of the world's most successful authors discussing goose freakin' bizarre is this?!"

So I promised to sample the Golden goose livers sometime and thanked him for his time and his words of encouragement to keep on writing and never give up, no matter what.

Unfortunately...even though I am adventurous and will try almost anything once...I still haven't quite gotten up the nerve to try his recipe out yet.

Perhaps the magic of the goose livers will dramatically improve my writing. Maybe these gourmet bird organs hold the true secrets I was trying to pry out of him....After all, when you take the biggest risks you get the biggest payoffs, right? It was a big risk for him to scrap 7 years of work and spend the next three rewriting and resubmitting his work to whomever might read it. It was a huge risk for him to write in a Japanese woman's voice...but it worked.

And at this point---I will try almost anything.

Goose livers? Who knew?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Maui Writer's Conference...getting there and back...

While the following posts have nothing to do in the immediate sense with getting my book published...I look for serendipity and humor everywhere I go...and usually find they are indirectly related to my writing career since they occured on the flights to and from the Maui Writer's which I pitched my book so much even I got sick of myself and my own story. And the pic is the screensaver I returned to find on my computer monitor (practical jokes abound in my office)...a Thelma-and-Louise type of shot of me and the office's summer intern, my buddy Cathleen. Rather appropriate.

Flying high...

So recently I went to Maui for the annual writer's conference and had a blast...But getting there was definitely NOT half the fun...

Since I have trouble sleeping on planes I popped a few Tylenol PMs and boarded for my 13 hour flight figuring I'd be passed out by the time we were airborne.

However...suddenly there were guys in orange vests running around on the tarmac (never a good sign) and the pilot came over the intercom to inform us that the plane had a 'slight fuel gauge problem' and we would all have to disembark and reboard another plane as soon as they could find one for us.

So after a 5-hour delay (during which they must've been cruising eBay for plane parts) I tried to counteract the effects of the Tylenol with some java and felt essentially like a wired zombie...And this was all after the obstacle course to board the plane in the first place...

"Put the lotion in the basket Clarrrriiiice....And the gel, and mascara, tweezers, nail clippers, nose clippers, cellphone, laptop, doodads, doohickeys, thingamajigs, keys and your pen.

Please remove your shoes ma'am (which is worse---taking off your shoes or being called ma'am?) and step against the wall. Now bend over and touch your toes. A female officer (named BettyLou of course) will now conduct the full-body cavity search for contraband."

You cannot bring that water aboard the aircraft, ma'am...violates section 1234548376352BDFGHJK of the Homeland Security Random Humiliation to Fight Terrorism Code."

Not only are the Founding Fathers rolling in their graves, they are also rolling their eyes and shaking their heads and wondering where it all went so woefully wrong.

"But I'm just going to Maui.....Where's my complimentary cocktail, grass skirt and cabana boy?"

I don't care what the Homeland Security folks tell you...powdered Mai Tais are just not the same....

Heading back home:

As I was leaving Maui airport I had to go to through two agricultural checkpoints and then still had about 20 minutes to spare before the flight started boarding so I, of course, hit the gift shop.

Well....I found a great turquoise and purple...It has pineapples and plumeria flowers on it. As I was leaving this Amazon girl---seriously she must have been about 6'2 and weighed about 130....says "ALOHA---come play the ALOHA GAME and get a CULTURED PEARL"

Ladies and any random gents who may be reading this, if any of you know my taste in jewelry know me and pearls. To me, they more often than not scream "Barbara Bush"... So I was gonna wave her off but she had this plastic bin thing that turned around with all of these little slips of paper in it and it kinda reminded me of Bingo and it looked fun so I figured---what the hell?

So I spun the thing three times---each spin she makes me yell "ALOHA" and I'm feeling like an idiot cuz people are walking by and whatever and she's clearly just the most ridiculously happy person on earth.

But I started getting caught up in her contagious enthusiasm.

So she tells me to pick one of the slips and I do and she says I can pick one of these mangy looking oysters in a bowl of water and get my VERY OWN pearl (seriously---the Orbitz chick has nothing on this girl) for only TWO DOLLARS AND NINETY FIVE CENTS!!!!!!! Did I mention that Ms. Exclamation Point! has a bit of a volume thing happening?

So I pick the mangiest looking one cuz she tells me to and she tells me to wish for what color pearl I want.

And I swear to Christ the first color that came into my head was PINK...I was thinking it would be so cool to have a pink pearl. This is on the heels of totally making fun of my friend Lisa that morning for her threat to put her bridesmaids someday in preppy pink and green...think a Lilly Pullitzer theme. And if you don't know Lilly---she makes these Bar Harbor-esque sheath dresses in neon pink and green with palm trees embroidered all over them. To my friend---they scream taste and the Vineyard and money. To me---it just looks like you're wearing some kid's wallpaper on your bod. So I had ripped on her telling her that pink was so cheesy, so eighties, etc. So why pink popped into my head as the color PEARL I wanted (don't even like the little buggers, remember?) I have no idea....

So Amazon pearl pusher opens the thing up and digs around in the oyster and unearths a beautiful, pink pearl...

Which is apparently pretty rare because she claims (and who knows if this is true or not) that mostly the pearls are white and hardly ever are pink. And then she says...sometimes these oysters have twin pearls and "I DON'T WANT TO GET YOUR HOPES UP, COURTNEY, but maybe there is another little friend in here...LET'S TAKE A LOOK"...

And sure enough there was. She seemed genuinely thrown by that---or was putting it on---who knows? So now everyone in the store is gushing over how lucky I am and the employees are all coming over to see the pink pearls blah, blah...they've got the act down I think....but I was still beaming over my bargain of the century. Felt like I just solved the puzzle on Wheel of Gift Shop Fortune.

So me and my twin pink cultured pearls...(worth about $200 and purchased for less than 3 bucks) will hopefully have a long and prosperous life together. The catch? She wanted me to buy settings for them on the spot. So she cleaned them off all nice and pretty...starts telling me that pink is the color of romance and health and would I like to see the white gold posts with diamonds or the yellow gold posts with diamonds?

Um, neither thanks...told her I have a jeweler back home I like. :)

But she did give me a good story and quite a few laughs and the main one being this...I have always wanted twins...Careful what you wish for...the universe has a wacky sense of humor.

At the very least...It was a very nice way to end my vacation.

Monday, October 02, 2006

High fives on staying alive...

Fun fact:

"Approximately 20.9 million American adults, or about 9.5 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year, have a mood disorder. The median age of onset for mood disorders is 30 years…women attempt suicide two to three times as often as men."
~NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health, 2006)

Guess looking at those stats it's easy to see a need for my book which I ultimately hope will entertain, inform and inspire. Or at the very least, make me lots of money so I can keep on writing.

Originally I wanted to call the book "Just Plain Crazy" but got mixed feedback on that, so the new working title of my book is:

Lipstick and Thongs in the Loony Bin
Courtney A. Walsh

And here are the opening few paragraphs....

"I always wanted to be good enough to die young, but apparently Death has a catch-and-release policy. When the Reaper is go.

And not a minute sooner.

If I learned anything from this aborted suicide attempt, (apart from the fact that most automobiles nowadays have catalytic converters—prohibiting carbon monoxide poisoning from happening at a rapid rate)…it was about new beginnings. And that only when you are tired of waiting for your life to begin are you at your true starting point. And lastly, that a failed suicide attempt is the only failure that is ultimately a success. Or so they kept telling me at the hospital..." ~CAW

I've had quite a journey with this manuscript. I've often wondered which has been harder...trying to put the pieces of my life back together after a suicide attempt and subsequent hospitalization?...Writing a book about the experience? Or getting the damn thing published....?

I think it's been almost as challenging to get the book published as it was to live all those months in the 'loony bin'. Writing the book was the easy part. The process of getting it in front of the right set of eyes has been weirder than some of my fellow patients who, let's face it, were pretty odd at times and suprisingly normal overall. I was incarcerated with some of the most brilliant and quirky people I've ever met or will probably ever meet. Schoolteachers, lawyers, therapists and even a soap actress...folks who, on the surface, would be considered extremely 'high functioning."

My therapist, Larry, has read the book and is a true champion of my goal to get it published. He feels it has the potential to help a lot of people from family members and loved ones of the mentally-less-well, to the afflicted themselves. This is the same lovely man who came to the hospital the week after the attempt looking exhausted and haunted. I'll never forget what he said, it soaked through my psych-drug haze and clicked somewhere in that tiny, remaining survival part of my brain...

"I'm here to help you, Courtney. But I can't help you if you're dead."

The man had a good point.

Fast forward to a year and a half later, the book is written and I am serendipitously at the Hemingway/PEN awards and Joyce Carol Oates (very prolific and successful authoress who teaches at Princeton) is there, as is Andre Dubus III (who wrote House of Sand and Fog).

I somehow mustered the courage to approach both of them separately after the ceremony for some fawning fan time and Joyce Carol Oates (who is a little slip of a woman) complimented my shoes (forever hereafter to be known as my 'lucky' shoes) after she signed my program. My mother was goading me to approach Andre and finally at her insistence I shyly went over (with Mom in tow) to say hello...Her philosophy was...when would I get this sort of chance again?

So we went over and he was very gracious and told my mother she had beautiful facial bone structure...said he wasn't coming on to her, since he was a happily married man, but just making an observation. Then they chatted about painting for awhile and my mother of course did what any mother would do in that situation...she bragged. About how I was this fabulous writer who'd had all of these great articles published yadda, yadda. And then some force overtook me and I pitched my book to him.

He loved the idea so much that he high-fived me three times in the course of my 4-minute pitch. That's a lot of high fives. And I made some joke about how maybe he'd write me a blurb someday. And he actually said he would and gave me his personal email address saying that he'd read the manuscript and told me when I get a publisher to contact him and he would write something up for the book jacket.

I was floored!

So...naturally I followed up on that email a few times trying to strike a tone of 'remember me?' but not stalker-esque. Obviously he is a very busy man and he's currently working on adapting one of his books into a movie so I never heard back. But I was encouraged nevertheless and inspired to continue. He basically said that you just have to keep trying and don't let rejections deter you...the same advice that most people give in the literary world to those who haven't decoded the secret handshake yet, but it was great to get those high-fives. Especially since we were not in a high-five sort of environment or situation. He'd definitely been more reserved in his conversations with the other guests of the reception so I felt his enthusiasm was genuine.

As for the blurb? Who knows....?

Maybe it doesn't matter....maybe I got out of the exchange exactly what I needed.

I know one thing for sure...I will definitely be wearing those lucky shoes again.