Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Went to see the gypsy

I just finished a great book called The Thirteenth Tale, a pulpy gothic novel in the tradition of Jane Eyre, but really fantastic. It’s a very hard thing to do, write a book in an older tradition, and to do it successfully in this day and age. And then to get it published. My dad, who works for a Christian publisher, keeps going on and on about how it only publishes thirty of the 1500 manuscripts it receives a year, and only prints 2500 copies of each book. In order to be a success, the book has to sell out of its first printing and go on to a second, and only twenty percent of the books they publish do that. Only twenty percent of the books even make any money for the publisher. Those are sobering statistics.

Not encouraging news for the nubile young writer. Has there ever been? Meanwhile, all the news is how Americans are reading less and less, and how all of us might as well just give up and go work at convenience stores. So what does one do? I don’t know.

The Thirteenth Tale succeeds because it has a built-in audience: the bibliophile. By consciously echoing all of a book reader’s favorite books, it’s evidently been a success. According to a friend of mine, there was a three-month wait for the book at her local library. So that’s the secret--write a book about books. Who wants to do that?

I've decided to try to make the best of being here, which means making full use of the local library, even if I’m forever placing books on hold and then forgetting to go pick them up, thereby wasting all of the local library’s precious financial resources. I've also invested the $8 a month in Netflix, which I still have a hard time believing is not a waste of money, as much as I love rating movies for hours on end and updating my queue with crazy old Cannes Film Festival winners and Scorsese's early films. My most recent conquest was an Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu film festival (meaning me in front of a DVD player until two o’clock in the morning).

It makes me wonder whether books are being left behind and movies aren’t really the media for our time. Should I switch to screenplays? Or, better yet, writing for television? I’m certainly not brave enough for Hollywood yet.

I’ve also ended up with a small job at the local YMCA, which at least allows me free yoga. Only it’s not exactly free if it costs me hours of my life. I have yet to find any employment I actually enjoy. All I do is keep crossing things off my list--nope, don’t like that. Nope, not that either.

Still, I'm chugging along. One day at a time, right? Each day has enough trouble of its own, as someone once said. I try not to think about Secret too much, although every time I visit my little web page, with its sailboat floating up in the blue, it makes me wish I could make a living as a mariner. How do people find work they like? Or do all of us, as Thoreau says, merely live lives of quiet desperation?

Thursday, September 18, 2008


I've posted a bunch of pictures, going all the way back to June, on Flickr. Knock yourselves out.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Chattanooga, Tennessee

Pelicans in North Carolina

Or maybe not. How many times have I thought I’ve found a home, only to be abandoned by it or have it abandoned by me? More times than I can count. It’s almost a compulsion. I’m a plant that forever pulls itself up by its own roots. A mangrove, maybe. Sending out shoots in one direction or another, then yanking up the old plant as soon as the dirt begins to feel comfortable.

So I’m back in Chattanooga, a town that knows its own, its own of which I am definitely not one. Chattanooga’s the kind of place where there are obituaries that read Ralph Pickett, 99, native of Alabama, lived in Chattanooga 98 years. The kind of place where there’s actual society, with balls and coming-out parties (for marriageable young women, not alternative-lifestyle aficionadoes), like something out of Austen. The kind of place where one must fake a southern accent to avoid discrimination, where yankees are always damn yankees, and mothers shudder to think their children could marry one.

Nothing against the south. I love the south. Its weather, for one thing, is the best in the nation, as is its literature. One could also make a very good case for its food.

Doors are opening for me down here. The one very good piece of news is that I finished a piece on the Appalachian Trail for a Lonely Planet guidebook, and I’m now completing a second so that I can be considered for one of their contracted freelance authors. A dream job for me, to be sure. I’ve enrolled in a graduate-level course down here, my first return to the ivory tower since my departure from it ten years ago, and I’m beginning to seriously consider a Master’s degree. Argh. I know, right? Members of my family can’t seem to escape the magnetic pull of higher education, even though I swore I would always resists.

More good news, as I’m sure everyone is curious to know, is that Secret survived Hurricane Ike unscathed. Nearly unbelievable. It makes me more confident than ever that I left her in the right place. It’s hard for me to imagine a better hurricane hole than French Wells. I have several buyers interested, but we’ll see if they’re able to negotiate me down to a price that I can live with.

I still long for the sunny tropics, especially as summer draws to a close. But life’s not so bad when people shiver as it drops below seventy degrees, I can watch black-tufted titmice (those are birds) out my window, and I spend my days doing yoga and writing fiction. Things could be much, much worse.