Hello from July!

It's been a while, hasn't it? 

Life has been busy and my pace has slowed with the heat and humidity but here we are, life continues to move forward. Books have been read. The Camellia is now scooting about. The ice maker struggles to keep pace with our ice consumption in the heat. Most of the kids' clothes are now stained with cherry juice. The Magnolia has us on a Beatrix Potter binge and well, that's always a good thing.

The Mister allowed me to drag him to the Cathedral for the French Mass they do each year. It was going swimmingly until he leaned over and whispered, Bingo Crepuscule, which made me start laughing. After that, he peppered me with Clouseau imitations and silly renditions of La Marseillaise. He took me out for sushi after to apologize for his silliness. Note to self: go alone next year and then meet him for sushi.

More soon.

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[Reading] The Folded Clock

the habit of being_the folded clock  

“I am a jack-of-all-trades. I edit and teach and at times desire to be a clothing designer or an artist (one who doesn't draw or paint or sew) and I write everything but poetry and I am a mother and a social maniac and a misanthrope and a burgeoning self-help guru and a girl who wants to look pretty and a girl who wants to look sexy and a girl who wants to look girly and a woman in her middle forties who wishes not to look like anything at all, who wishes sometimes to vanish.” ―Heidi Julavits, The Folded Clock: A Diary

 

Having read a good bit of pre-pub hype on Heidi Julavits' The Folded Clock I went back and forth several times about buying it. Ultimately I caved and bought the book. What pushed me to click the purchase button? The cover. Really. I found it lovely and wondered just what might be inside the pages.

Ideally, this is the type of book I would like: smart, funny, self-deprecating woman writes about her life. There were moments I laughed at her, moments I thought I might like to talk to her over a bottle of wine, and moments I was just plain bored.

As a long standing keeper, I thought the diary format would work well however the entries are not in chronological order and often have nothing to do with what she did that day despite all starting with Today I... A few entries in and you realize the entries are merely snippets that serve as a means to deliver anecdotes—some funny, some not. What I did enjoy: Julavits is charmingly neurotic, the reoccurrence of objects (an old tap handle so impossibly beautiful she carries it in her bag and draws it every morning before settling into work), and the sense that Julavits truly likes herself (a woman who likes herself seems so very rare in our culture).

A few lines from June

the habit of being_a few lines from june  

June, month that brings the heat, month that throws the curveballs. Summer is here. It has been here for a while but now it's official according to the calendar. The Magnolia has mono now so that is fun—two girls missing out on the fun that is summer. Given the swollen tonsils and sore throats, I've resorted to buying popsicles because I am a one-woman-show and unable to keep up with popsicle production for our current rate of consumption. Plans have had to change and one of us need always be here with the Magnolia & the Poulette to avoid exposing other people (people we like and want to remain friends with) and their children to the joys of mono. I am at work reading (potential) books and trying to maintain the rhythm of work (writing) despite a plethora of (un)welcome distractions. Maybe I should write a book about distractions.

[Reading] The Life and Death of Sophie Stark

[Reading] The Life and Death of Sophie Stark  

“It’s hard for me to talk about love,' she said. 'I think movies are the way I do that.” ― Anna North, The Life and Death of Sophie Stark

 

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark is an exquisite and unusual story of legacy, love, and emotional scars. The book revolves around Sophie Stark, and what we know of her is told through the filter of others—her lover, her brother, her husband, her college obsession. From these narratives we piece together an image of Sophie—her magnetism, her manipulation, her lies, her vulnerability, and her deep longing to connect in a meaningful way with other people. I disliked Sophie. I pitied Sophie. I felt sorry for her.

While the ending wasn't a surprise, it is clearly stated in the title, what North does in The Life and Death of Sophie Stark is to write fearlessly about scarred and wounded people with freshness and grace. I won this book in a giveaway (thank you Esmé!) and so thoroughly enjoyed it. It's currently my favorite read of 2015 and has given me much to ponder as I move through my days, write in my journal, work on essays—what am I saying in the printed word that I hesitate to say aloud?

Notes on a June Evening

the habit of being—notes on a june evening  

I'm sitting here on the sofa, nursing the Camellia who smells like Weleda baby Calendula bath goodness, watching the sun set on the yellow cottage across the street—a favorite late evening activity because the house and the trees surrounding it are positively ablaze with light and color—I can hear the Mister outside on a conference call, and the chorus of crickets. A hush has fallen in the back of the house as the kids read and ready for bed.

The photo is from this morning. I was tasked with babysitting the Magnolia's beloved blue baby—a name that makes me cringe but that she insists upon as the baby wears a blue outfit, her favorite color, therefore making this particular baby her favorite (there is an identical baby that is ignored because of her pink outfit). We celebrate the Magnolia's birthday on her half-birthday because her actual birthday is just days before Christmas. She has already informed me she wants more blue clothes for her baby and a blue bike and a blue cake. Oliver (the cat) was my intrepid helper.

I worked today reading manuscripts, read through the first pages of a work in translation for a client, and paid bills (depressing). We had sandwiches for dinner—turkey, avocado, sprouts, tomato—and a big bowl of cherries. It's that time of year where meals are impromptu and don't require the use of the oven (too hot). I'm looking forward to this weekend, to Saturday sushi with the Mister, to the Sunday morning crossword, to thinking of work and creating and possibility. More soon.

On a Sunday

On a Sunday

 

“Shame lies. Shame a woman and she will believe she is fundamentally wrong, organically delinquent. The only confidence she will have will be in her failures. You will never convince her otherwise.” ―Jill Alexander Essbaum, Hausfrau

 

Saturday I ran errands with the Mister and the Camellia. We dined on carnitas and margaritas. We made it home, I made him hide my phone, and I settled in for an afternoon and evening of reading Hausfrau. Despite the fact reading it was like watching a speeding train hurtling toward its fiery (and final) destination, I'm still reeling. Oh, to be able to write like that.

And now, I'm sipping wine and watching Ponyo with the Poulette and the Camellia. There is a chicken roasting in the oven, a salad tossed and waiting to be dressed, a loaf of crusty bread on the side table. We're waiting for everyone else to get home from Mass for a quiet Sunday dinner. I have no idea what this week will bring but I'm hopeful.

May reading round up

the habit of being—may 2015 reading

“A baby opens you up, is the problem. No way around it unless you want to pay someone else to have it for you. There’s before and there’s after. To live in your body before is one thing. To live in your body after is another. Some deal by attempting to micromanage; some go crazy; some zone right the hell on out. Or all of the above.” ―Elisa Albert, After Birth

I read After Birth in March. I picked it up again in May for another read through. The writing is incredibly fierce, incredibly honest. There were moments I was embarrassed for Ari, other moments I wanted to hug her close and whisper, You are going to be okay. This is a combination of raw and funny and a smidge pathetic but it I think if we're honest with ourselves we'll recognize pieces of ourselves in the story.

Elisa Albert is a bit of a literary darling right now. Read an interview with Elisa Albert here. Listen to an interview on NPR. Also worth reading is her essay Where Do I Write? All Over the Damn Place and My Friend Breastfed My Baby.

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“Time punishes us by taking everything, but it also saves us — by taking everything.” ―Sarah Manguso, Ongoingness: The End of a Diary

I pre-ordered Ongoingness and read it the day it came from cover to cover. It's a short read but it deserved more attention so I returned to it this past month. Manguso writes of the difficulty in recording the mundane aspects of her daily life—aware all the while that even the most conscientious documentation missed moments: "To write a diary is to make a series of choices about what to omit, what to forget. A memorable sandwich, an unmemorable flight of stairs. A memorable bit of conversation surrounded by chatter that no one records." Her desire to record was accompanied by a fear that she might be recording (remembering) the wrong things.

You might find it worth reading A Life Examined on NPR. As well the New Yorker piece, Dear Diary, I Hate You. You can also read more here and here.

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Monday kicked off Anchor & Plume's open reading period which means I'll spend the next two months reading through collections and manuscripts to build our 2016 list. I decided to splurge and read a few escapist books over the last ten days since my personal reading time will be cut short. In a rare turn of fortune, I was at the library to pick up books for the Poulette who has been blazing through books while recovering from Mono and on one of the display tables I noticed The Silver Witch. This caught my eye as I had read and enjoyed The Witch's Daughter a few years back. Then I thought that what I really need is a good reading binge so I did a little search and found two more titles by the same author: The Midnight Witch and The Winter Witch. I also picked up Fangirl which was definitely not Eleanor & Park but was still a fun read. It's Wednesday and I plan to start reading through submissions next Monday so this means I might be able to indulge in another title or two before then!

What are you reading?

On uncertainty

This morning I posted this photo Instagram with this caption:

the habit of being—on uncertainty

Friday morning. Texts with friends. An Irish mammy working the drive thru window at Starbucks. Decided to buy beignets for the kids' breakfast because it's Friday & the sweetness will soften the news that this house is getting cleaned today. I think I'm winning at Friday.

A rare bright, upbeat moment these last few weeks. Life is full of uncertainty right now. Uncertainty is hard for me. I like to know what is coming my way, I like to plan, I like to feel in control (I know, I know, control is an illusion). The last nine months or so have tested us, pushed us, stretched us. I thought we were passing those tests. I even thought we were passing them somewhat gracefully. Some days I'm not so sure.

I planned to relaunch both Write Now and Wholly Ordinary in April but opted instead to delay it. I planned to launch a new e-course this past month. Didn't happen.

Since these last months (almost a year!) have tested me in every way, I've decided to ride it out. I crossed out the launch of the new e-course, the relaunch of the other two courses, and penciled them in for the fall. The rebranding of this site and the press, delayed.

What I am doing is keeping my head above water. Taking on a limited number of clients. Gearing up for our 2015 open reading period. Reading. Writing when the words come. Enjoying my people. These are the things that keep me going, the things that come together to produce that secret hum on which I run and thrive. The rest will happen or not. For now, I'll listen for the hum and know I'm on the right path.

PS: The creative prompts for June are over here if you're so inclined.

Reading & Giveaway: Beach Town

the habit of being—BeachTown

I was introduced to the work of Mary Kay Andrews last year and I was happy to see Beach Town arrive just in time for summer reading! Ready to get lost in hot and hazy Cypress Key, Florida? Beach Town will take you there as it serves as backdrop for the movie Beach Town.

In Beach Town, you'll be along for the ride with movie location scout Greer Hennessy. Her last job as location scout ended in disaster. Beach Town is her chance to redeem her career. Only there is a small problem. Or problems. The director is ambitious and he has unrealistic expectations. The lead actor is the new "It Boy" with a quite a few problems of his own. Throw in the town's mayor with no intention of letting anyone mess with the pristine natural environment he calls home and the plotting local ex-socialite and well, you have the makings of a blockbuster.

And just for fun, a Q & A with Mary Kay Andrews on the process of writing Beach Town and a hint at what comes next:

Q: The main character in Beach Town, Greer Hennessey, is a movie location scout. What made you choose to write about Hollywood and the movie business? A: I’m the nerd still sitting in a darkened theatre waiting for the location credits to roll at the end of every movie. I’ve always been a big movie buff—and I’m always as intrigued by the real settings of films as I am with the film itself. Also, my daughter Katie issues filming permits for some of the dozens and dozens of film, television and advertising shoots that take place every year in our town.

Q: What research did you do into the movie business and the various roles on a movie set when writing Beach Town? A: I actually went out to L.A. to research the places where Greer lived and worked. I took the Paramount Studio tour, visited a movie costume house, and shadowed a film location scout during a shoot in Atlanta. I interviewed three location managers and the hair and make-up artist who became the inspiration for CeeJay in the book.

Q: Is Cypress Key a real place? If not, is it based on any place particular? A: Cypress Key is based on the real, charming Florida town of Cedar Key. I fictionalized the town heavily in the book which is why I didn’t call it Cedar Key.

Q: How did you settle on the FL Gulf Coast as the setting for Beach Town? A: I wanted a sleepy, virtually untouched town for the setting of the book—which the fictional movie producer Bryce Levy describes as “a cross between the town in Jaws and Body Heat. Most of the East Coast is so heavily developed, I thought the Florida Gulf Coast was virtually the last frontier. Just as Greer does in Beach Town I started looking for my setting in the Panhandle, in Panama City Beach, and then worked my way down the coast until I discovered Cedar Key.

Q: Did you run away from home again when writing this novel? Where did you go this time? A: I actually ran away to Cedar Key, FL! The first time I stayed in a tiny tourist motel somewhat like a mini version of the fictional Silver Sands Motel in the book. The second time when I came back I rented a tiny cottage overlooking the Gulf. I find “embedding” myself in the inspiration setting helps put me in the world of the book when I’m writing. But the largest portion of the book got written at our Tybee Island vacation home, Ebbtide, which is named after a beach house in an earlier novel, Summer Rental.

Q: In Beach Town, Eb Thibadeaux is the mayor, town engineer, and owner of the grocery store, motel, and boat yard. What or who inspired this small-town Jack-of-all-trades? Have you known folks like Eb? A: I’ve lived in a couple small towns where it seems that a small number of people take responsibility for making things run. In my own town in the Atlanta area, years ago the city manager was also the chief of police. Eb is purely a product of my imagination, but I wanted Eb to be the kind of person who sees what needs to be done, then rolls up his sleeves and makes it happen. He’s an entrepreneur as well as a do-gooder.

Q: There is a dachshund in Beach Town. How did you select this breed? Tell us about your own pets. A: I liked the idea of having an outdoorsman like Eb having a small rescue dog—because Eb is a rescuer. And dachshunds just strike me as funny. Golden retrievers are the Heidi Klums of the dog world—and dachshunds are the Amy Poehlers. Our own dogs are English Setters—bird dogs, although the only thing they hunt these days are hand-outs around the supper table.

Q: What qualities make up the ideal beach town for you? A: I love an old-school feeling. No high-rise condo towers, no fast-food joints. Just a couple of narrow, sandy roads where families meander down to the beach or ride bikes to the ice cream shop, rows of beat-up wooden cottages, a couple of good hang-out type restaurants with ice-cold beer and good seafood, and of course the beach—preferably wide with sugar white sand.

Q: What is your all-time favorite beach town and why?  A: I suppose the beach town I grew up near—Pass-A-Grille, in St. Pete Beach, FL is my all-time favorite. It’s where my siblings and I learned to jump into the waves from my father’s broad, sunburnt shoulders, where my teenaged girlfriends and I hung out summers, slathered in baby oil and iodine, and where I went “parking” with my very first boyfriend, necking in the front seat of his mother’s Dodge Valiant. It’s also where I got very drunk on under-aged purchased beer the weekend of high-school graduation—with my now-husband.

Q: What can you tell us about your next book?  A: It’s set on an imaginary barrier island off the coast of North Carolina, and I’m actually considering throwing a murder into the plot, just to keep things interesting.

the habit of being_NEWmarykayandrews

Mary Kay Andrews is the New York Times bestselling author of Save the Date, Ladies' Night, Spring Fever, Summer Rental, The Fixer Upper, Deep Dish, Blue Christmas, Savannah Breeze, and Savannah Blues. A former journalist for The Atlanta Journal Constitution, she lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Born in Jacksonville and raised in St. Pete, Andrews describes the Florida gulf coast as only a true native could.

Beach Town is available in stores today, just in time for Memorial Day and your summer reading. The publisher has given me one copy to giveaway (sorry, US residents only) to a reader. Leave a comment and let me know your favorite part of summer. One winner will be chosen at random, Wednesday, May 27.

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