Monday, May 24, 2010

Bohemian Rhapsody: Tonight's Reading Room

If you're around and feelin' bohemian tonight, you don't want to miss the local reading series: The Emrys Reading Room, 7 pm, at the Bohemian Cafe in downtown Greenville, W. Stone Ave.

The Reading Room is a place to hear authors read from their work, eat and drink, be merry, and generally act bohemian. [Black berets and cigarette holders optional.]

Tonight's readers are:

poet, essayist, short story writer, novelist
author of four novels. The latest: the award-winning An Unfinished Score.

The Reading Room is brought to you by Emrys.

Unless you live hundreds of miles away and can't make the drive, it would be great to see you there tonight.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Masterful First Lines

There are first lines, and there are masterful first lines.

The best opening lines of  a novel or short story do many things at once: a first line may intrigue you, create tension or hint at a conflict, say something about a character. A first line is beautiful or lyrical or witty--always memorable.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.
-- One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
 [It's famous for a reason. I'm always amazed how that barbed hint about the firing squad adds suspense, hooks me, until I find out what happens.]

Riding up the winding road of St. Agnes Cemetery in the back of the rattling old truck, Francis Phelan became aware that the dead, even more than the living, settled down in neighborhoods.
--Ironweed, William Kennedy
[Francis is, as he refers to himself, a "bum"--a homeless alcoholic, once a star baseball player, who now digs graves to earn money for his next drink.The Catholic graveyard has large marble headstones for the wealthy families, and unmarked for the poor.]

Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.
--Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
[I remember being shocked when I read that first line at 14-- Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful? Huh?]

In the town, there were two mutes and they were always together. - Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
[Love that line-- that confident narrator. Those characters.  Love that novel.]

The Grandmother didn't want to go to Florida.-- Flannery O'Connor, "A Good Man is Hard to Find."
[The best short story written in English. I'm not partial-- just because O'Connor was a southern writer. That simple line is sharp as a blade and will bring about the doom of the family, put them at the mercy of a serial killer, a nihilist, [the Misfit shows no mercy] who, as he coolly threatens  the grandmother, will espouse his theory-- ("Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead," The Misfit continued, "and He shouldn't have done it. He thrown everything off balance.")-- and bring about the grandmother's moment of grace....but you knew that, right?]

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. - George Orwell, 1984
[Love that matter of fact craziness-- the world is off it's rocker, and has been for some time. We get that right away.]

They shoot the white girl first. - Toni Morrison, Paradise
['nough said.]

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. - Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
[Panoramic wide-screen line, filled with big ideas and a narrator who takes you by the hand.]

Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting. - William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury
[Faulkner is such a visual writer, when I read him I feel I'm in a vivid dream--and this line plunges one in the story.]

We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall. - Louise Erdrich, Tracks
[Oh, that gentle play on words, that brutal meaning:  'to fall' like the snow, like death.]

I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974. - Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex
[You have to read this, after that opening.]

It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York. - Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
[Both gorgeous and foreboding as only Plath can do.]

They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did. - Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea  
[The suffering caused by colonialism is in that first line.]

Thursday, May 20, 2010

My Garden, My Asylum

I'm a guest blogger today over at Magical Musings:

Someone asked me if the garden is where I do my best thinking. I told her it’s where I do my best not thinking. Inspiration arrives unbidden. The seeds of ideas are sown. (Continue reading.)
 Pictured here from my garden: sunflower with smitten bee, sticky with pollen.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Refuge in the Garden, but Dwelling on the Gulf Coast

I changed out the  window box-- from kale, mustard and Johnny Jump Ups to Geraniums, petunias, Lantana, and heather.

The Larkspur is in bee-covered glory, as the Bard can attest.

Everything is clumped and ready to unfurl, petaled and perfumed.

It's a sanctuary. The garden is an asylum in the old--and precise-- use of the word. It's the place where I try to keep my sanity on this crazy, peopled planet.

It's a refuge from the news--and the coverage of the unconscionable oil spill disaster.
 It's selfish-- I can't stand to think about it: To look at the pictures of oil-drenched dolphins, sea turtles, birds and whales who pay the price of this horrible greedy monstrous tragedy.

Tragedy-- in the ancient Greek definition: heartbreak and ruin brought on by a tragic flaw.

The tragic flaw is our dependence on oil. 

What can you do? Well, besides not driving gas guzzlers--trying not to drive at all-- you can donate to wildlife organizations. I did-- [modestly, unfortunately] to the National Wildlife Federation, which has a targeted response to the oil spill, and to Upstate Forever, a local environmental group-- because I felt the Earth needed some good thoughts and some ka-ching coming her way.

Here's a better way. A powerful way. Are you an author?

A group of authors formed today: LEAGUE OF AUTHORS FOR ACTION IN THE GULF COAST.
The group, spearheaded by author Nicole Seitz, will discuss ways to capture the stories of the animals, wildlife, the people who are suffering-- and share it with the world. Never again. You can join or find out more information on the group's page on Facebook,  or Tweet or DM @NicoleSeitz, or email her at


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Hanging Out with the Chicks

This is the hen and her brood who live down the street from me. They live behind an antique store.There were four chicks last week, but the hawk grabbed one for her own brood. I get it. Hawks aren't vegetarians.

 The rooster--not pictured--crows. A lot. I like it, though. I hear him everyday now. The crowing is both reassuring and disconcerting. Another day, another day, another day.

I once owned a rooster named Foxbait [he was rescued from a fox trap]. He had more personality than most engineers I know.  He shredded dog food bags with his wee spurs--he was a bantam. Maybe because the bags were Purina red? Or maybe he hated that Purina checker pattern? There it was-- a twenty pound bag of dog food one minute, and a pile of kibble and a hula skirt the next.

One of my all-time favorite short stories--the kind of story that will linger in your thoughts, cling to you like smoke after you read it-- is I want to Live! by Thom Jones. A terminally ill woman on her deathbed thinks of Mr. Barnes, the rooster from her childhood, and admires his pluck, his cockiness, his grabbing life and living it. Somehow this theme gets intertwined with the German philosopher Schopenhauer-- but it works. It works.

Read it, you'll see. From the prize-winning collection The Pugilist at Rest.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Oh, The Paperback Arrives!

The paperback edition of SECRET KEEPERS arrived on my doorstep Friday, swaddled in cardboard, pink and healthy. 

 Isn't she gorgeous?  Thank you Picador!

Are you ready for the world, baby girl?

The inspiration: A vintage seed packet. Love the torn edge on top, with the spillin' seeds... [Oops...pardon the double entendre.] The flowers are vibrant and beautiful-- sirens to lure readers in. [Sirens like the women on the island in mythology NOT the ambulance Sy-REENs that scream at intersections.]

Already heard the jokes about the  10 cents.   Ha ha. Is this the price? Ha ha. NOPE. It may be vintage, but this baby has an ISBN can scan!

The official PUB DAY is May 25, and you can have lunch with me on Wednesday, May 26 to celebrate this paperback edition!

Here are the details on the BOOK YOUR LUNCH event at the Lazy Goat on Wed. May 26 at noon--thank you FICTION ADDICTION!  Visit this link to  reserve your space and select your meal [no later than May 24...can't  just walk in...the chef needs the plan, man...sorry.]

Hope hope HOPE to see you there. Unless your hundreds of miles away or in another country or something.

Book Your Lunch with Mindy Friddle

Mindy Friddle
Mindy Friddle
Wed., May 26th, 2010 from 12-2pm
The Lazy Goat, $25 per person
Purchase Tickets & Books / View menu
Greenville novelist Mindy Friddle is also a gardener and her horitcultural passion seeps into her writing. Her second novel, Secret Keepers (Picador, paperback, $14.00) is set in a small Southern town — a land of neglected Confederate monuments, faith-based shopping centers, and overgrown, seedy estates — where a once-grand heirloom garden is covertly rescued, revealing a divided family’s secret lives of turmoil and yearning.
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