Saturday, December 22, 2007

Back Home, November in Review



It’s been a while. Naturally, I blame my prolonged absence on the book tour, which come to think of it, doesn’t explain the month of December, which got consumed by the end-of-the-semester business, rest, sleep shoveling snow, doing dishes, paying bills… You get the idea.

But now I’m back and I fully intend to post regularly, about twice a week. Let’s call it my new New Year’s resolution.

My last post was about Pittsburgh and Syracuse. What came next? you might wonder. Or maybe not, but I’ll tell you anyway.

Next came Chicago and a reading at the lovely Myopic Books in Wicker Park. Then Milwaukee, not as happening as Wicker Park, but then again, I was staying in a very stylish hotel in the downtown area (thank you, Norton!), and all downtowns tend to get desolate at night. Then 2.5 days in Houston – the enormous spread-out Houston with its famous traffic jams that can happen at any time, its gorgeous (if not very sturdy) houses, its endless shopping plazas. (A friend was telling me about his family’s experience during a post-Katrina hurricane, and I was starting to see how easy it would be to get trapped in that place.) Finally back to Midwest. Hello and good bye, St. Paul/Minneapolis. I would’ve loved to see more, but by the time I got there, it was already getting dark, and the next morning I flew back to Connecticut.

The following week, Movie Dictator and I flew to LA to do the final – West Coast – leg of the tour. I’ll try to summarize the trip into easily digestible bullet points:

- Flying with a smoker (i.e. Movie Dictator) has its challenges, and we came close to missing our flight from Hartford.

- US Airways sucks. And the food they sell sucks even more.

- Driving in LA, at first, wasn’t as bad as we’ve been told. Armed with our mighty GPS device and secure in our rental car, we did just fine on the first night.

- Then it got worse. I kept missing exits and turns because they would pop up so abruptly. And changing lanes during rush hour… forget it!

- Did you know that LA was terribly polluted? Oh, you did…
(See if you can spot the HOLLYWOOD sign in the distance.)



- LA was one of the places Movie Dictator was ready to fall in love with -- the home of movie geeks and weirdos like himself. What we saw instead was a desperate place, spread out, congested, and compared to New York, kind of empty.

- On the other hand, Santa Monica was rather nice.



- Malibu was endless and ultimately not very interesting.

- Once it gets dark, it doesn’t really matter whether you’re driving on Rt. 1 or 101. You won’t see much either way.

- Avoid Motel 6 at all costs. Even if… no, especially if the lobby looks like a Starbucks with a flat-screen TV.

- Driving on the Golden Gate Bridge is great – unless there’s a fog, in which case you won’t see a thing.



- After San Francisco, switch to Rt. 1 and you’ll eventually arrive at the setting of Hitchcock’s The Birds.



- The coast is very pretty. But you might eventually get motion sick from the very steep serpentine turns. Also, you can’t go very fast.



- Vineyards. So many vineyards.



- And then…redwood forests! Fantastic, surreal, enormous, not to be missed. They make it all worthwhile.



- Redwood forests in the dark. In the mist. On a two-lane road. Fun for the passenger, terrifying for the driver.

- Welcome to Oregon. The coast is even more amazing than in California, harsher, more untamed. People, too, look more ragged. Also, it’s gotten colder.



- More Oregon. Oregon. Oregon. Then Washington. It takes a long time to get to Seattle.





- Even longer if where you’re going not to Seattle proper, but toward Redmond area.

- Even longer if your GPS gets confused.

- Even longer if it starts raining.

- When you finally arrive you might temporarily become hysterical.

- You’d like to sleep for 2 days straight. But you can’t, because next morning you have 2 interviews and then in the evening, a reading. You will briefly fall asleep at the cafĂ© in Barnes & Noble.

There’s a lot more, of course: Seattle, Vancouver, San Francisco. But to tell the truth, just writing about the 3-day drive from LA to Seattle made me tired. Would I do it again? I don’t know. Am I glad that we did? You bet. I now understand people who take over two weeks to do this trip – so many possible detours, so many cool places to stop at. I especially wish we had more time for those wonderful redwood forests.

All right, back in a few days with something more up-to-date and relevant.

It’s good to be back.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Pittsburgh and Syracuse

This blog has been much neglected, due to all the travel lately. The account of my recent trip to Pittsburgh, though, has just been posted on Debutante Ball. (Plus, some thoughts on truth, fiction, and cell phones.)

I’m getting more and more acquainted with our local Hartford airport. But the latest trip was to Syracuse and thankfully, didn’t require flying. The drive took 4.5 hours – I was hoping for less, but nope, it’s almost as long as it was from Boston to Syracuse. I’ve found a long time ago that the best way to deal with long car trips is by listening to books on tapes. This time, I started with The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, read by John Cleese, which was fabulous, but a bit hard to follow while driving. So I switched to The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks, gruesome but thoroughly captivating, and that got me to Syracuse.

As I was crossing Erie Boulevard, grey and desolate and full of garish car-dealership signs, I suddenly felt as if I’d never left. It was all too familiar. I mean, it was good to be back, but also a little sad. My teachers were still there and also a couple of my friends, but the overall MFA community was different now, full of new people, and I wondered what it was like to be them. I had these moments of nostalgia all through the evening, though I also remembered the peculiar Syracuse loneliness: living within the structure of classes, readings, receptions, parties, everything nearby, always somewhere to go – and yet, and yet…

On the other hand, Syracuse now has a small independent bookstore on Westcott Street. With a coffee shop and an extra “study” room. Very cozy. I only wish it was there back when I was at Syracuse. I’m also happy to report that the Empire Brewery is back in business – it closed sometime during my 3rd year – and it looks exactly the same and probably has the same menu as before. We went there after the reading. The following morning I drove home, and the book-on-tape this time was One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Thank you to Movie Dictator for the stellar books-on-tape selection!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Wisconsin

Madison airport doesn’t have free wireless. Nor does Detroit airport, which is huge and full of restaurants and shops, a high-speed train that takes you from gate to gate, and at lest one concourse with the walls that change colors – moody violets to flashy reds to ocean greens -- all of it set to music.

Wireless at Hartford airport is free. Also free is Staten Island Ferry in New York. Free, free, free… You can see the Statue of Liberty and everything. You can buy some excellent books on the streets of Fort Green, $1 for a paperback. But that was a whole different trip.

This trip was to Madison, and Madison airport charges $6.99 a day for its wireless, which is surprising – because everything else about Madison is inexpensive and easy. Hotels dispatch free shuttles to pick you up from the airport, serve free (hot) breakfasts in the morning, and free wine at night. The airport parking – should you ever need it – is 50 cents an hour. The drinks are generous. And the streets are full of people.

It was lovely and strange to walk the streets of Madison again. Lovely because it was just as I remembered it. Strange because I wasn’t a part of its life anymore. I went to the Farmers’ Market – the biggest in the country! It was late and many vendors have already left (or were about to), but the selection was still amazing. I found my favorite cheese stand – the one under the big red tent – and splurged on my favorite cheddars (horseradish and kalamata olive) . (Which reminds me, I must unpack my suitcase and see how well the cheddars have survived.)

Another indulgence involved stopping at one of my favorite coffee shops (Espresso Royal, the one closest to the Capitol), and spending a few minutes there with a cup of hot apple cider and a copy of Isthmus.

State Street, which connects the Capitol and the UW campus, was crowded, lively, and full of very good street musicians, and I couldn’t remember whether it was like that every weekend, or whether a football game or the book festival was to blame. Which, by the way, brings me to the reason for my trip to Madison – the Wisconsin Book Festival.

My first event was a panel on fiction writing, organized by the UW Creative Writing program. It was held at the building known as Red Gym. (I don’t think there’s a gym in there now.) The panel before ours was on atrocities, so we had to keep our voices low. Are you here for atrocities? No, fiction. Ah, okay.

I can’t vouch for the atrocities, but our panel was a lot of fun, moderated by the incomparable Judy Mitchell, who asked the best questions.

It was nice to be among my fellow UW people – old friends and new. After the panel, some of us walked to Crave, a stylish – if somewhat overpriced -- local restaurant, decorated in lovely greens. We used to go there a lot during my year in Madison.

Later I did a reading with Meena Alexander, a fabulous poet, originally from India. We were supposed to read and then have a conversation about writing in our second language – or something like that. But the festival organizers allocated only 50 minutes for the whole thing, so of course we ran out of time and ended up conversing and signing books out in the hallway.

Part of the fun of these readings is the chance to reconnect with old friends. But it’s equally thrilling (and kind of unbelievable) to speak to people whom I hadn’t previously met, people who came to hear me read, people who responded to something in my writing.

The other day, in an e-mail interview a fellow Russian asked me if I thought Americans liked to see immigrants portrayed as “helpless, confused, but trying to find themselves in American reality,” or as she put it the “right” sort of immigrants. “Is this the type of newcomer they want to see?” she asked me.

Perhaps I’m not jaded enough, but I haven’t experienced that degree of condescension, at least not from the people I know or those who’ve read the book so far. On the contrary, most American readers I’ve met identify with immigrants, see immigrant stories as part of their own history. In Madison, a couple of people told me that they too were Jewish of Russian descent – though it was their parents/grandparents who immigrated – and that connection was important to them.

But wait, I didn't mean to get all serious here! After the reading, some of us relocated to the bar across the street. Paul’s, I think, it was called, the one with a tree in the middle. Apparently there had been a game earlier that day and it hadn’t gone well for UW. So the bar was full of these anguished UW guys who wanted to know what we had thought of the game. One of them was especially persistent (and seriously drunk). I told him I was Russian and knew nothing of sports. Well, he said, that was great, ‘cause he had some problems with Russia, particularly with President Putin who just hadn’t been behaving well lately, and what did I have to say about that? Not much, as it turned out. I assured him I would convey his concerns to President Putin the next time I see him, and on that note, we parted.

So that was Wisconsin. My only regret is that due to my travel schedule I didn’t get a chance to attend some of the Book Festival events. Michael Cunningham was reading on Sunday (that’s today!) So was Patricia Hampl, who will be visiting us here at UConn in the spring. I was hoping to catch her reading in Madison, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be. I was on the flight home at 7 in the morning. And let me tell you, it's good to be home.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Pub. Date/Anniversary

Today is the official pub. date for the Chicken. Not sure if it means anything in practical terms -- since the book has been already selling for a couple of weeks on Amazon and some bookstores. But still, the pub date!

By sheer coincidence, today also happens to be the 15th anniversary since my family and I came to the US. (Cue in “Memories” from Cats.)

By way of celebration, I got interviewed by a local paper (Chronicle) this morning. It was fun, and I got to see what their office looked like.

And now I must run to school: today is the first installment of the student reading series. I really like the graduate students at the English department here. (Which is not to say anything bad about undergraduate ones – I just haven’t met many of them yet.) But the graduate students seem to have a really strong and supportive community, which reminds me of the way it was in Syracuse among MFA students.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

P.S.

I’m still figuring out the way blogspot works in terms of moderating comments. I don’t want to have to “approve” (or “reject”) each message. I will however delete the abusive ones.

So to the “fluffy” in question, who’s been trying to post more flaming comments here, I have this to say: Please get a life. Yes, you’re entitled to your opinions, but I’m not obligated to provide a forum for them. Start your own blog, or write your own book if you wish. There are plenty of ways for you to express yourself. This blog, however, is not one of them.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

They hate me! They really hate me!

Okay, not “they.” Just one of them. A young Russian lady, formerly of Squirrel Hill, has posted a hateful and very personal review on Amazon. How do I know that this lady, who identified herself on Amazon only as “fluffy,” is from Squirrel Hill? Easy. She first posted an equally mean comment on this blog, signed it, but then removed it (smart girl!). I’m not sure what the point of her outburst (I mean, review) was. She seems to be under the impression that writers earn loads of money. Oh, and she called me self-hating, which is kind of cool. That’s what critics called Philip Roth, and look where it got him!

Aside from this, though, the reviews have been good – see the new ones from the Moscow Times and LA Times -- and what makes me most happy is how positively the reviewers see the characters in the book. They see them as sympathetic, struggling, and human. They identify with them. So no matter how conflicted I might feel about real or fictional Squirrel Hill, I think I’ve done my characters justice.

What I’ve been wondering lately is how this online culture of ours, with its forums and blogs, seems to encourage meanness, pettiness, and outright abuse. Take, for example, Steve Almond’s tender, beautiful Babble.com blog on parenting. And who is this stalker-like troll who week after week posts the most obnoxious comments, in which he insults Steve, his books, and his family? What personal agenda is at play here? What sort of sick satisfaction does he (or she?) derive from this exercise?

Others get attacked as well. Parents get criticized for their parenting. Immigrants get flamed on immigrant forums – just because someone is having a bad day. A months or so ago, a well-known writer got torn apart on Gawker.com when a personal e-mail about his family situation got “leaked” into the cyber world. Now, I’ve met this author on a couple of occasions, and each time he was gracious and generous. But the Gawker crowd doesn’t care. To them, he was fresh meat, and though they’d never met him – and some had never heard of him -- they nevertheless attacked him in the most vicious and personal way.

The scary thing is, in regular life, these might be normal, maybe slightly gossipy, but basically well-meaning people. But in the privacy of the Internet they turn into monsters. I wonder what makes them lash out like that. The media? The boredom? The repression of their day-to-day lives? I don’t know.

When the mean-spirited comment appeared on this blog, Movie Dictator said, Delete it! And though I hesitated for a moment – free speech and all – he convinced me. “It’s your blog,” he said. “It’s your space. And you don’t want anyone to poison it.” Which is true. It’s not a public forum. And while I love getting questions and responses – whether from friends or people I don’t know -- I don’t need abuse. Fortunately, before I could get to it, the poster was gracious enough to remove her own comment.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Life of Fame and Glory

I got recognized yesterday. At the post office. By a fellow Russian. I was standing in line, waiting to pick up a small parcel. It was noon, only one service window was open, and the woman behind the counter was helping a man with a large box. They were having a discussion. She kept suggesting ways to ship the box, and he kept rejecting them.

I don’t like standing in lines. That’s an understatement. Lines turn me into a mean, angry person. You’d think that after years of lines in Russia, I would develop some level of acceptance, or maybe tranquility, or grace. But no. I stand there with an expression of total disgust, and sometimes make snide comments under my breath.

So when a man in line behind me asked me if I was Russian, my first thought was: Is it that obvious? Or is it my clothes? Or my face? Then he said he’d glimpsed my name on the slip of paper I was holding. Wasn’t I the one with a book? Doing a reading next week? He said he already ordered the book.

After I picked up my parcel, the man asked me to wait for him. On the one hand, I was grateful for his interest; on the other hand, I was late for work. He was mailing a whole bunch of little packages, each of which had to be individually weighted.

I felt like a jerk at this point. There I was – an author! — acting impatient and peeved at the world in general and postal services in particular. Not at all the way I’d like people to think of me. And another thing: I love doing readings and meeting people, and I think I’m quite sociable at work. But at times, I like to step back and be invisible. I rarely get into conversations with strangers, and I tend to avoid eye-contact while shopping, walking, or using public transportation – which, of course, makes my meeting Movie Dictator on the T even more unbelievable.

He and I occasionally debate whether we’re extroverts or introverts. He seems to think that extroverts are people who do all-night parties and dance on tables, naked. I think he’s confusing extroverts with exhibitionists. Years ago, a friend characterized me as an introvert with occasional spikes of extroversion. That sounds about right. I mean, I can be outgoing, but I can also run out of steam, like last afternoon at the English-department party. By the end of the second hour, I found myself incapable of carrying a conversation.

And then there are whole days when I feel (and act) like a total misanthrope. Go figure.

As for getting recognized, today I arrived at the office only to be greeted by a poster (complete with my photo) of my upcoming reading at the university bookstore next week. This damned poster seems to be everywhere in the department, on every door or wall. It's a nice poster, and I don't mean to sound ungrateful. But it’s also a little unnerving, especially when you suddenly see your face in the bathroom, right next to your reflection in the mirror.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Out or Not?

The big news is, Chicken is available on Amazon. Really available. Not for pre-order, but actually in stock, “will ship the same day,” and so on. That’s almost two weeks before the official pub date. A good problem to have, right? Except I’m not quite sure what to do about it. Should I alert the whole world that my books is out? Beg for good ratings and Amazon reviews? Or should I wait until the official date – September 17th – at which point, the book will be in actual stores? I think I might break down and send a mass e-mail this weekend – because it’s just too sad to see it listed on Amazon, unnoticed by everyone.

In another news, I did my first radio interview yesterday. And let me tell you, I wasn’t prepared at all. I’m participating in a reading next Tuesday (9/11) at Real Art Ways in Hartford. The event is called The Evening of Literary and Patriotic Dissent, and I’m reading with Steve Almond and Alistair Highet. So the interview was to promote the event (and, to some degree, myself), and it was kind of a last-minute thing. I got the e-mail from Real Art Ways in the morning and did the interview at 4:40 pm. And we’re talking live radio, people! To say that I was stressed is to put it mildly. It’s one thing to screw up an interview that’s just about my book, but it’s a whole other thing when it’s to promote the venue, event, and two other readers. On the one hand, I knew it was an awesome opportunity. On the other hand, I’d never done anything radio, and I had serious doubts I could manage to be coherent let alone eloquent.

To do the interview, I would need a land line. No problem. While I don’t have one at home, I have a normal phone in my office at UConn. I figured I’d get there and do some prep and research for the interview. What happened next is referred to as Murphy’s Law in America and The Law of Bread-and-Butter in Russia. Earlier yesterday morning, the university had a power outage. By the time I got to campus, the power was restored, but the internet was out. (And it stayed out for the rest of the day.) There I was, in my beautiful (if somewhat Spartan) office, with no access to e-mail, no way to read the Press Release for the event, or the bio for one of the fellow participants. Nothing! I was reduced to using telephone!

In the end, I did my best. How it came out, I’m not sure, and I really don’t want to know. Like many people, I hate the sound of my voice and my accent. In my imagination I sound a lot better than in real life, and that's one illusion I think I can live with.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Clock Starts Ticking

That is, the tenure clock. The holidays are officially over now, and I’ve started my first tenure-track teaching job. The way it works is, I have six years to impress the university with my teaching, publications, and service. Actually, it’s five years – the sixth is spent on having me evaluated. At the end of the sixth year, they (the university) decide whether or not to keep me (i.e., give me tenure).

So far, it’s going well. Last Thursday there was an all-day orientation for new faculty, during which we (the faculty) were fed salads and sandwiches, and told all sorts of useful things about teaching, tenure, diversity, and local art and theater events. A union representative made a brief appearance during lunch. Benefits department was missing – I hear they have their own orientation – so it’s a good thing I’d made a separate trip and got all the paperwork done. I’ve met lots of fabulous new faculty members – including several (gulp!) Russians. Some of them were bemused to learn that I’d been hired by the English department. A Russian? Teaching English? Come On! But what do they know, right? They teach math! Overall, though, all the people were lovely, and I fully intend to keep in touch with several of them – I just need to catch my breath first.

At the same orientation event, I got my parking permit. Parking here is torturous. I somehow got lucky on Friday and Monday. But today! Today was a nightmare. It took me around 40 minutes to find it. Not that I was being picky. I tried one lot after another – not matter how far from my building – and all of them were full. And it didn’t help that these lots – of various sizes, some very tiny – are spread all over the campus. By the time I got to my office, I had ten minutes to get to a lunch meeting that was at the opposite end of the campus, and as luck would have it, I was wearing heels. In short, a world of pain and blisters.

But aside from parking and the blisters, I’m perfectly happy. I love my new coworkers. I love my new office. (I’ve never had an office of my own before, and this one is spacious and light, with lots of shelves and cabinets, and a new PC and laser printer.) And I love my students! This afternoon I taught my first class – a graduate fiction workshop. It’s got six people so far, and all of them are delightful. I can’t wait to start reading their stories and novels.

And then, once I returned after this day of arduous walking (I mean, work), Movie Dictator emerged from his air-conditioned office and we watched The War On Democracy, a fantastic documentary about how America had worked over the years to overthrow various democratic governments in Latin American countries. Depressing as hell. It made me so angry I could almost understand anarchists. I’m thinking we might need to watch something light and silly tomorrow, like Harry Potter #4, or Live Free or Die Hard -- except, um, never mind, we'd already watched it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

My Bookshelves

Since my last whiny post, things, as if by magic, have picked up. Publicity things. Interviews are being scheduled. Print, radio, and even one (or two?) on local Boston TV. And because I’m the kind of person who can’t wing it, or at least sit back and enjoy the good news for as least a couple of days, I must prepare.

What questions might I get asked at these interviews?

One question that routinely makes my mind go blank is, Who are your favorite authors? (The last time was on Friday, during a reception for graduate students.) I usually begin with “Oh, there are so many…” and then trail off, lamely, wishing I was standing in front of my bookshelves.

Determined not to let this tricky question stump me again, I will try to answer it now. In advance.

I must start with the Russians. Because, let’s face it, that’s what everyone expects. But also, jokes aside, because it’s true: that’s where literature started for me.

And that’s where it gets tricky, too. For example: how can I possibly exclude Pushkin? I read him, with pleasure, every fall; memorized his poems for school; wrote papers on The Captain’s Daughter and Dubrovsky; and as for Eugene Onegin, I always preferred Tatiana’s second letter to Eugene (in which she effectively tells him to get lost) to her first one (in which she, the innocent soul, breaks the cardinal rule of dating and confesses her love). Pushkin must have been a huge influence on me. But was he my favorite?

Next comes Lermontov, another classic. Funny how he always seems to come on the heels of Pushkin. (My high-school friend, Sveta, would disown me for saying this. Not only did she love Lermontov, she knew everything – and I mean everything – about him, every bit of his biography, every place in Moscow somehow associated with his short life.) As for me, I memorized portions of his marvelous long poems – some for school, some for fun -- and I used to adore The Hero of Our Time. Still, at the risk of incurring my friend’s wrath – if she were ever to find this blog -- I must confess that Lermontov is not as close to my heart as Pushkin.

And what about good old Turgenev? I distinctly remember claiming him as one of my favorites. I was taken with his prose poems, his novellas, and his long unrequited love for the singer Polina Viardo. I loved Fathers and Sons, too, the first time I read it. But by the time we got done with it at school – with that endless talk of its revolutionary significance – all the magic was gone from it.

The question that comes up a lot is, Tolstoy vs. Dostoevsky? (See also: Hemingway vs. Fitzgerald, and Paul McCartney vs. John Lennon. It’s the kind of question that assumes that all people can be divided into two types.) The first time I read War and Peace, I was twelve, and it was a very traumatic moment in my life. I was supposed to be in a school play about Pushkin (see above). But then I got chicken pox, and, my role being negligible, the play went on without me. I was inconsolable. Then I got my hands on War and Peace. In a manner of most Russian girls, I scanned through War and devoured Peace. But strangely, what soothed my heart the most was not the antics of Natasha Rostova, but the plight of Pier Bezukhov, his involvement with masons, and much later, his war imprisonment. It was with him, and not with the young Natasha, that I identified.

As for Dostoevskiy, he’s someone I appreciate more than love. Besides, as my father always reminds me, he was an anti-Semite.

Chekhov, on the other hand, is someone I include on my list of great influences without reservations. I especially love his plays -- all these mismatched souls, unable to connect to the ones they love. They will never get to Moscow. They will never see the sky full of diamonds, no matter how hard they try.

So who do I have on my list so far? Pushkin, Chekhov, War and Peace. Add to that some poetry by Nikolai Gumilev and Marina Tsvetaeva (plus her sister’s memoirs). Then, moving into the years of Socialism, add some Babel, and Kharms, and of course, Bulgakov, with his Master and Margarita and White Guard.

As for contemporary Russian writers, I’ve read my share of Pelevin and Sorokin, but it’s Lyudmila Petrushevskaya and her gruesome, dark, pitch-perfect satires I must go with. And lately it’s been also another Lyudmila – Ulitskaya – whose wonderful novel, Kukoskiy’s Case, has not been translated into English yet, and whose new novel I’m just about to start.

This, I believe, concludes my Russian list. Which, now that I look at it, seems woefully inadequate. Maybe it’s time to re-read much of what I have just written about here.

In any case, stay tuned for the review of my “English” bookshelves...

Saturday, August 11, 2007

But Is It Enough?

Up until, say, yesterday, I wasn’t too worried. I was mostly thinking about the novel-in- progress, and not so much about the Last Chicken, which is coming out in just over a month.

Then last evening, as I was sorting through old Poets & Writers articles, I felt a twinge of panic. Each publicity-themed article had its own horror story: a hapless writer, who’s thrilled to be published; an editor who’s also thrilled, at first, but then loses interest; the book that goes unnoticed by reviewers and public. I’ve read about this predicament so many times, but does it mean I know how to avoid it?

I’ve done my homework, which is to say I’ve read several books and articles on publicity, took notes, made lists, forwarded tons of useful info and contacts to my editor and publicist. I’ve set up a bunch of readings, to which I recently added Hartford, CT (9/11), New York (10/01), Seattle (11/20), LA (11/16), and San Francisco (11/27, 11/28). My publicist says that reviews/newspaper coverage is a lot more effective than readings. I’m sure she’s right. So far, I know of two scheduled reviews: LA Times and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. (Still no readings in Pittsburgh.) I’ve compiled a huge e-mail list of friends and acquaintances – for when the book is finally out. I even have postcards!

But is it enough? Am I forgetting something important, something essential that can make a huge difference? Should I be writing letters to libraries? contacting book clubs? approaching people randomly? If so, how? And when is the best time to do all of these things?

This morning, I saw something called AuthorBuzz, a system that promises to notify “375,000 readers, 3000 library systems (reaching over 10,000 librarians) and over 2500 booksellers.” Price? $985. Another feature, called Book Clubbing, promises to put you in touch with 7000 registered book clubs. Price? Another $985. I don’t think I can afford either.

But I might try another online thing, BookTour.com, which claims to connect authors and potential audiences. The good thing, it’s free. The not so good thing? I have no idea if it works.

Does anyone know what else I can do?
With one month to go until the pub date, I’m hoping for your advice!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Before School

Suddenly, the summer is all but gone, and it’s making me anxious. On the 23rd, I have an all-day New Employee orientation at UConn, and the following Tuesday, I teach my first class -- i.e., the holiday is over. Suddenly, the syllabus needs to be tweaked. Suddenly, I have no decent clothes to wear to work. Suddenly, where did the summer go?

I have this idiotic idea – I realize – that everything needs to be finished before school starts. The car needs to washed and vacuumed, and the break light needs to be fixed. The first draft of the novel needs to be completed (no chance!). Various papers filed. Old magazines sorted through and recycled. Etc. Etc. I love arbitrary deadlines. Actually, no, I don’t love them, but I torture myself with them. Deep inside, I know that the deadline means nothing and that I’ll probably be more efficient once work starts. I’m not that good with a lot of unstructured time.

Still, I’m trying to do as much as I can. For example, last week I finally went to pick blueberries. And peaches. There are tons of farms around here that grow fruit and vegetables and let you pick your own.

Also, last week we finally met up with the person who knows how to set up a voice-recording studio (for Movie Dictator), and as a result, I’ve ordered lots of various equipment that he will then help us set up.

Then, of course, there’s writing… which is hard. I mean, novels are hard. I’m knee-deep in my novel, and it feels like I’m knee-deep in a swamp. I hope it’s normal. I hope it’s not that different from writing a short story – when I’m slogging through a first draft and it’s awful. It’s an ugly, unreadable mess, spiraling out of control. Then, one day, as if by magic it all comes together in my head, and there’s suddenly clarity, and I know that this will be a story. So I’m hoping it’s like that with novels, except it takes much longer to get to that point of clarity.

In the meantime, I’m reading lots of Russian books. (I ordered a whole stack of them recently, and since my novel is set in Russia, reading and thinking in Russian is helpful.) And I’m still hoping to go hiking one of these days – maybe even tomorrow! This area is full of forests and hiking trails. And we probably need to take a trip to New Hampshire sometime this weekend – as Movie Dictator is almost out of Marlboros. And finally, sometime next week I need to gather up my courage and go clothes shopping – which is somehow more scary than getting lost in a forest.

Monday, July 30, 2007

British Fetish

Lately we’ve been watching a lot of British TV. It’s a bit of an addiction. In addition to some excellent crime dramas (Cracker and Prime Suspect w/ Helen Mirren), we’ve sampled some sitcoms (Chef!), a multi-part documentary about a family trying to go green (aptly titled “It’s Not Easy Being Green”, though an even better title would be “Don’t try this at home unless your husband is an engineer, your children are in college, neither of you has to work, and you can afford to buy a farmhouse in Cornwall with three acres of land. P.S. Make sure you know lots of people you can rope into working for you.”), some nasty reality TV (“How Clean is Your House?”), and even a game show (like Jeopardy, but for college students and much more intense).

But the biggest discovery for me has been Oliver’s Twist – a cooking show with Jamie Oliver.

To truly understand the significance of this, you need to know that a) I don’t really cook; b) I never watch cooking shows; and c) until recently the only cookbook I used was Help, My Apartment Has a Kitchen.

So why Jamie Oliver?

The answer is, it’s simple! He makes everything look easy, he does a lot of basic dishes like a roast chicken, mashed potatoes, or grilled vegetables, and he’s very casual about the whole thing -- more picnic than a formal dinner party. And of course it doesn't hurt that he's cute, charismatic, funny, and very much down to earth. Also he cooks foods I never knew how to approach. I mean, what do you do with squash, for example? Or parsnips?

Having watched a handful of episodes of Season 2, I’ve become a convert – drizzling my salads with olive oil, adding “a good pinch of salt,” and pronouncing “herbs” the British way – to the dismay of the sales clerks at the Willimantic Co-op.

I also went ahead and ordered a couple of Oliver’s cookbook. And that’s when I made my biggest discovery. There are people (see: Movie Dictator) who can’t read instruction manuals. Well, I’m that way with cookbooks. My mind goes blank at the sight of a recipe. All the steps get confused almost immediately, and I can never remember the ingredients. Nor can I picture any of it. Like when a book says “Preheat your oven and an appropriately sized roasting pan to 450 degrees,” what do they mean by “appropriately sized”? Do I even have a roasting pan?

I gave up on the books. My new approach now is to watch a show, pick a dish, take notes, and then try to do it. Everything is done right in front of me, I can see what "roughly chopped" means and what a roasting pan should look like. So far, I’ve discovered that I don’t like the taste of watercress and that I like mashed potatoes better without spring onions. I now own a small pestle and mortar. The other day I bought some summer squash and a small rosemary plant. I still get confused, of course. I still don’t know how to keep the smock alarm from screaming whenever I fry a pork chop. Also, dealing with the hot olive oil jumping off a frying pan is still a challenge. And speaking of the frying pan, can it go into the oven or not? Movie Dictator seems to think I’ll end up with a pile of melted plastic. I tell him, Jamie Oliver did it and his frying pan didn’t melt. Anyway, you get the idea. Not throwing a dinner party yet, but give me a year and who knows, I might even master something like Baked Cod with French beans.

Friday, July 27, 2007

On MFA Programs…

Yesterday I bought a fiction issue of the Atlantic Monthly. Not for fiction – though of course I intend to read it too – but for an article on MFA Programs by Edward J. Delaney (I swear I know this name from somewhere!). The article itself is available online, but only to subscribers. However, Jessica Murphy’s interview with Delaney can be accessed without a subscription.

The article sort of outraged me. Much of what Delaney says is common sense and I don’t have any issues with that. What I have issues with are his lists. He ranks Top 10 programs overall, as well as Top 5 with notable alumni, top five with distinguished faculty, top five highly selective programs, top five well-funded, etc etc…

Part of my outrage has to do with his omission of Syracuse from any of these lists. When it comes to Syracuse, he's positive, but brief. When listing distinguished faculty, he acknowledges George Saunders and Mary Karr, but doesn’t mention Mary Gaitskill. Is it because he doesn’t consider her distinguished enough? Or because his “research” is outdated.

Personal gripes aside, I’d love to know how he figured out his top 10 list. Some of the programs, such as Irvine, Michigan, FSU, UVA, clearly deserve to be there. They are well funded, selective, and from what I’ve heard, fairly nurturing. Others, like BU, of which he talks endlessly, seem like a questionable choice. He quotes several former students who are critical of BU/Lesley Epstein's methods – and I can think of a few more – but that doesn’t stop him from including it in the top 10 list. Is that because BU is his own alma-mater? The last time I checked – and please correct me if I’m wrong – BU was still a one-year program with less than spectacular funding.

Speaking of funding, apparently these days it’s not enough to fund everyone. The funding has to be competitive, as in 20,000 a year (see Michigan).

The discussion of faculty is important, but I feel Delaney puts way too much emphasis on fame and not enough on quality of teaching, accessibility, and supportiveness. Take NYU, for example, another one of Delaney’s questionable picks – do they offer any funding? NYU might have E.L. Doctorow – but how closely can one expect to work with him? Or with Derek Walcott at BU? Ethan Canin of Iowa is quoted as saying, “he aims to be blunt when he must, without getting nasty.” Oh really? That’s not what I’ve heard. (To his credit, though, he admits that about one-third of his students hates him.)

To be fair, Delaney does mention a lot of interesting programs and teachers – Robert Olen Butler at FSU, Michael Cunningham at Brooklyn College, Barry Hannah at Mississippi, Brian Evenson at Brown. And yes, I understand how it must be impossible to write on this subject without mentioning Iowa. But still, enough of BU. Enough of Iowa. Enough of lists. Why not go to places where students are happy and treated with support and respect? Why not ask them?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Reading Recommendations

I know, I know, it’s shameful. For a fiction writer I post way too much about movies and nearly not enough about books. But that’s all about to change. Starting now.

I just did a guest blog for the Grub Street Blog, Penny Dreadful, in which I talk about Syracuse and the books I’ve been reading lately.

Check it out.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Chicken News

Let’s see. I’ve got my first review, from Publishers Weekly. It’s one of the few places that review books pre-publication. The regular reviews happen once the book is actually released, which in my case means after September 17th.

Also, more book-touring. I got invited to the following Jewish Book Festivals:

November 7th – Houston, TX
November 9th – St. Paul, MN
November 27th – San Francisco, CA

And I’ve just scheduled a reading at Skylight Books in Los Angeles, CA on November 16th!

November is going to be a busy month.

I’m still waiting to hear about Pittsburgh and Seattle – the two places, incidentally, where I’ve got family. Hopefully something will come through.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Last Chicken In…Canada



Remember what I said about the beauty and calm of Willimantic? How I didn’t miss tall buildings and hectic city-pace? Well, we decided we needed a holiday from all that peacefulness and nature, and went to Toronto.

We chose Toronto for many reasons, but mainly because neither of us had seen it and because we knew it was a big busy city.

Reader, we loved it.

We left on Tuesday, stayed in Toronto for three nights, and returned late last night, after a brief detour to check out Niagara Falls.

I must explain right away that our approach wasn’t particularly touristy. We didn’t go up the CN tower, we completely ignored the Hockey Hall of Fame, and we avoided all the museums. Our approach consisted of two parts: 1) explore various neighborhoods 2) find as many South African food shops as possible. (Unlike Boston or even New York, Toronto has tons of South Africans!)

Here’s what we’ve noticed about Toronto:

1) It’s huge. It’s got a downtown with its share of landmarks and interesting neighborhoods: Kensington Market, University Area, Chinatown, garment district, etc. But the fun doesn’t end there. Other parts of the city – somewhat removed from the downtown – are equally lively. The Greektown – immortalized by My Big Fat Greek Wedding – was endless. The Beaches area, where we stayed, was full of funky stores and coffee shops. Then there were suburbs -- also well developed (even if less distinct), often walkable, and full of their own attractions.



2) The architecture is hard to define. Overall, it’s very modern, with a lot of high-rise apartment buildings. It reminded me of Moscow. Movie Dictator loves the idea of living in a tall apartment building. (Or so he says.) Me? Not so much. There might be some things I miss about Moscow, but smelly/broken elevators are not one of them.



3) Toronto seems truly diverse and cosmopolitan. Not in a perfunctory “one-Black-one-Asian-person-on-a-college-brochure-cover” kind of way, but for real. It’s got a huge Chinatown, Koreatown, Greektown, Little Italy, Portuguese area, Indian Bazaar… There’s probably more that we’ve missed. And the residents aren't trying to please anyone. This is clearly their home. And not just in those central neighborhoods either. The kinds of “ethnic” shops we’d have to hunt for in Boston or Hartford areas are everywhere in Toronto, even in the suburbs. Apparently, there are actually five or six Chinatowns, in addition to the one we saw in the downtown area.



4) People seem more relaxed.



5) Very few of them are overweight. Whether it’s because everyone walks/takes public transportation, or because they eat better food than us, we don’t know. But the fact remains: they are slim.

If sightseeing is the primary touristy activity, shopping must be the secondary one. And shop we did – though perhaps not in a way you’d expect. We bought PG Tips tea in a tin can. We bought six rolls of flypaper. But mostly, we bought sauces and spices and headache pills from South African shops – we visited 3 or 4 of them. It was incredibly sad to realize how huge the South African community must be to warrant all these shops, and how far it was from where we live.

On the last day, as we were leaving for Niagara Falls, we decided to look for Nando’s. It’s a Portuguese restaurant chain that makes very spicy chicken. I've seen them in London, and apparently, they are all over South Africa. There were several in the Toronto area, mostly in the suburbs. We showed up at one of them, bright and early, only to discover that it didn't open until 11:30 am. To be honest, we'd kind of suspected that. It was around 9:00 o’clock, and we figured the most sensible thing was to give up on the chicken and start driving to Niagara. But then, at the last minute, we thought we might try one more location. It was kind of on the way. Okay, it was 10 miles out of the way, but what’s 10 miles when you have over 500 miles to go?

It took us a while to find it. By the time we did, it was 10 am and the place was at 11. But what’s 1 hour when you have more than 8 to go? Movie Dictator said we should just go to Niagara. I asked how important Nando’s was to him. On the scale of 1 to 10? He said, 10-ish. He took a picture of Nando’s closed doors.



Naturally, I insisted we should wait. We had tea and coffee at a place called Second Cup, which is a chain like Starbucks. Then we went back to Nando's. Movie Dictator got some extra-extra-hot chicken and a load of freebee sauces. He got me a Lemon Herb Chicken sandwich, which wasn’t supposed to be spicy at all. But it was. It burned so bad, I gave up after one bite. But it still was worth it.

And then we drove to Niagara Falls. From a distance, they looked underwhelming, but once we got close (on a boat) the power of all that falling water took my breath away. I mean it literally. I had a hard time breathing.





And then we rested on a bench, soaked and overwhelmed, while a kind British couple took this picture:

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Happy Fourth!

Yes, yes, I know. I’m hopelessly late. But this whole past week -- with the holiday in the middle – was so hopelessly out of balance that I’m seeing it as a “holiday week.”

Before I forget, Howard Zinn offers some suggestions on celebrating July 4th – Put Away the Flags. (Thank you, Andy, for the link!)

Here in Willimantic, we celebrated the 4th by attending the annual “boombox” parade (me), watching a hotdog-eating competition on TV (Movie Dictator), taking a quick trip to West Hartford (both of us), and then settling to watch some quality British tv drama – only to be interrupted by a… power outage. That’s right, for several hours, Willimantic was in the dark. Also, it was raining.

The following afternoon I drove to Boston (for a writers’ group meeting and a party the next day). Being in Boston felt strange – as if I weren’t really supposed to be there. I half-expected to run into an acquaintance who’d say “What are you doing here? Haven’t you just moved away?” What’s more, Boston felt crowded and hectic, which is something I normally like. But this time, I thought it had an edge of desperation to it.

I’m sure it’s all in my head. During the visit, I was asked many times whether I liked Connecticut. And I said yes and I meant it. Movie Dictator asks me this too: Am I not longing to see some tall buildings? Wouldn’t it be great to have a million of little shops on every street? Normally, yes. Normally, I’m a city girl, pining for bigger and better cities. But for now, I’m kind of loving Connecticut with its rural roads and farms everywhere. I love how green and peaceful it is. I love the lakes. I love the tiny town centers. Somehow that’s what I’m craving now. The quietness. The space. Maybe that’s what I need to quell my never-ending anxiety. And to write.

After my last post, a couple of friends asked whether it was a good idea to admit that I hadn’t written much later. What if I my editor and/or agent read this? Would this get me in trouble? Would they think less of me?

After some thinking, I decided it was probably okay. First of all, I’m sure both my editor and agent have better things to do than read this blog. Second of all, I haven’t missed any deadlines. Even better: having made the admission, I promptly started writing! First thing in the morning, while still in bed. (By the way, there’s an article in the latest Poets and Writers about writing in bed.) I try not to worry about quality and just move forward with the novel. I have this crazy and possibly unrealistic plan to finish the first draft by September 1st. I'm not anywhere near the end at this point. Can I do it? I don’t know. But I’m going to try.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Being Honest

It happened the other night. I was miserable. My flu symptoms came back – aches, thudding head, fever. Plus it was hot, so hot that a heat warning was issued for our area. Plus only one of our ACs was working – the other decided to leak into our landlady’s apartment and we had to turn it off and take it out. Plus Movie Dictator and I had an idiotic fight.

Did I mention I was miserable? I hid in the bedroom – the only vaguely cool room in the apartment – and Movie Dictator insisted on stewing in his office, and all of this made me think about blogs and how we often try to present the best and cutest versions of our lives in our posts. At this point, I rely on blogs to keep in touch with many of my friends. And I swear, judging from the blogs, they all seem to have perfect lives, perfect relationships, perfect children, perfect houses...

And I’m guilty of the same.

Part of it, of course, is the issue of privacy. Blog is not a diary, and no one wants the deeply intimate and possibly troubling details of their lives to be available to strangers. Or acquaintance. Or even friends sometimes.

And yet, and yet…as I read all the impossibly cute posts adorned with the impossibly cute pictures, I start getting a sense that all my friends are leading idyllic lives. They never fight with their partners. They never cry. They never consider therapy or worry about their health. And then, I go and add my own impossibly cute stories and pictures, and my friends are probably thinking I’m leading the perfect life as well – never fight, never cry, never consider therapy… Am I living a lie?

Not that these posts aren’t true. They are. It’s more about what I omit.

But of course, I have to omit things. This blog is a public thing. It’s not even anonymous. By now, it’s linked to my “official” website and anyone can read it and figure out who I am. Editors, booksellers, book-festival organizers, other writers, potential readers. Which is to say, I can’t be self-indulgent, or gossipy, or snarky. Nor can I complain about my old Somerville landlord -- oh, if only you knew how much I want to complain about him! – and how much he contributed to the misery of this past week. Nor would I want to bitch about Movie Dictator – who, apart from that one idiotic fight we had, has been an angel.

Maybe there’s no solution. Maybe everyone has to reach his or her own balance, decide how much private information he/she is willing to divulge. I’d be curious to hear how others who have “public” blogs are dealing with this. Or those who went from private to public ones. Do you miss the anonymity?

But it’s not just about blogs. I’ve been in America for almost 15 years now, but I still feel it – people here are kind of reserved. Too reserved. And I’ve learned to be reserved as well. The way I understand it, it’s either a matter of politeness – people are afraid to burden their friends with their problems – or it’s a matter of appearances – people wanting to pretend their lives are better than they are. For me, it’s both. That’s not to say that heart-to-heart conversations never happen. They do. But sometimes it takes a while to establish that degree of trust. And even then there are limits and boundaries. Sometimes, we are more likely to talk about a health condition – a UTI or an IBS – than about couples’ counseling. And as for sex, no one ever has problems in that department.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to my best and oldest friend in Russia. We’d known each other since we were twelve. She told me she would never need therapy. If something was wrong with her life, she’d go to her girlfriends and they’d comfort her. That’s right. Comfort. Having left Moscow in 1992, I’m hardly an expert on its current culture. But what she said felt true. There was always a culture of lament in Russia. People would lament their personal lives, their work situation, their living conditions, the country in general, and it wasn’t considered shameful or anything. It was normal. We used to say that a real friend is someone you can call in the middle of the night if you’re having a hard time. I have some wonderful close friends here, but the only person I would dare to call in the middle of the night is my sister. (Because she’s family and won’t disown me : )

And now, in the spirit of honesty, I should reveal some things I’m not terribly proud of or happy about:

1) I’m currently reading a book called The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook. With a pencil in hand.

2) My health is freaking me out, and it’s not just the flu symptoms. I don’t know what it is. Maybe anxiety. Maybe a combination of things. I can’t go to my regular doctor, because she’s all the way in Boston and because I don’t like her and because she’ll prescribe antibiotics, which I don’t want, or send me in for tests – i.e., more trips to Boston. Instead, I have an acupuncture/Chinese medicine appointment on Monday, which is something that’s expensive and that I use as a last resort.

3) It’s been a month since we moved to Connecticut, and I’ve done almost no writing. I’m scattered, distracted, poorly organized, and I’m hating myself for it. In fact, I’ve done almost nothing since last summer – apart from some more or less serious Chicken edits. My novel’s been languishing. Not because I’ve been avoiding it, but because I can’t quiet my mind enough. There’s always something that’s taking priority: teaching, job search, paying bills, buying groceries, having a long conversation with Movie Dictator. I feel like I’ve wasted a year somehow (I still measure time in school years) – especially when I think of my amazing writer friends who've managed to finish drafts of their novels while adjuncting at multiple schools or giving birth to multiple babies.

Anyway... I think this should be enough for the first dose of truthfulness. What do you think? And now that I’ve confessed some of these things, I can go back to writing cute posts about my idyllic life in Connecticut.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Being Healthy

I desperately want to go swimming. I got a membership at a community center next town over, a comfortable swim suite, and the rest of the swim accessories. But I can’t go. Because I think I have a bit of a flu.

Flu in the summer? It just doesn’t make sense. But I think that’s what I have. I’m usually okay in the morning, but in the afternoon/evening I start getting achy all over. I also get a bit of a fever. I spent most of yesterday in bed, reading and sleeping. Movie Dictator seems to have something similar – though not as bad. We’re pathetic. We’ve been taking Lemsip, which is this amazing UK lemon drink with paracetamol, perfect for aches and pains and fever.

This flu—or whatever it is we have—is really messing with my plans. I just started exercising. Last week I went to two yoga classes, and this week I was going to get into swimming and maybe even running (or at least using one of those low-impact elliptical trainer things). Also, I’ve been trying to eat well. On Saturday I went to one of the nearby Farmers’ Markets and bought strawberries, new potatoes, scallions, and something called chard (a substitute for spinach, but, as I discovered, way more bitter). I try to eat fresh salads every day, drink plenty of water, take multi-vitamins. I am still hoping to go hiking this summer, learn to ride a bicycle, and try indoor rock-climbing Manchester.

To motivate myself, I watch Amazing Race (recently finished Season 5). Somehow it makes me want to be athletic -- fast, strong, adventurous. Though actually, Season 5 was kind of disappointing, especially the three finalist couples, one married, two dating. All three women were pathetic and refused to do any “road-blocks” (a task that must be performed by only one member of the team). Honey, you’re doing it – was their standard response. No matter what the task required -- running or climbing or just getting dirty – Honey, you’re doing it. They would snicker at the camera and admit that they are basically doing nothing. But it didn’t seem to upset them. Nor did it bother their partners.

If I ever do anything like Amazing Race – which I’m not really planning to, but it’s a fun fantasy to have – I’d want to be able to do any of the tasks, from eating a kilogram of black caviar to hand-gliding to going down some crazy rapids.

Fantasies aside, though, I do need to get healthy. This fall will be crazy: a lot of book-related travel + new teaching job + writing + everything else. So I better train for this marathon. And shake off whatever bug I've got. And go swimming.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Tea and Sympathy

Here we continue to explore the gems of Willimantic and the nearby towns.

A few days ago, we went to the Third Thursday festival – which takes place on…you guessed it…third Thursday of the month, 6-9 pm, from May to October. The Main Street in Willimantic gets closed for traffic, vendors set up their shops, and people pour in. There’s food. There’s live music. There’s some political activism and a couple of palm readers. I got cornered into a 30-second survey about dreams. Ukrainian food proved to be disappointing. But falafels were quite good. The festival wasn’t huge – and in fact, Movie Dictator thought it was kind of pathetic – but I liked it. It was good to see so many people out on the streets and enjoying themselves. Besides, for a town as small as Willimantic, I thought it was rather impressive. It might not have been as politically adventurous as, say, a similar festival in Somerville (which had not one but two pro-Palestinian tables), but it’s better than nothing.

(Speaking of political activism, Willimantic has something called, Wrench in the Works, which for some reason, I keep calling Monkey Wrench. It’s a “member-run coffeehouse and social justice center.” Movie Dictator has gone a couple of times -- they have a movie night on Thursday -- and I keep encouraging him to keep going. But we’ll see. I can't tell yet how active or organized they are. Though I see that on Wednesday Green Party is having a meeting there. Hmm...)

Another gem we discovered is this little brewing place that offers beer-brewing and wine-making classes. We wandered in there in search of malt (for bread) and discovered that the person running the place is currently making cheese! We watched him for a bit and had a long conversation about cheese-making. The guy was a fountain of useful information. We also ended up buying some malt and a book on cheese-making.

But what about tea, I'm sure you're wondering by now. Well, we found a place, about 30 miles from Willimantic, called Mrs. Bridges Pantry, which doesn’t sound all that British, but it is. It’s got a lovely tearoom and a shop. I had tea with a cucumber-and-cheese sandwich, all the while feeling like a character in an Oscar Wilde's play. Movie Dictator had tea, steak-and-kidney pie, and mushy peas. Afterwards, we stocked up on pies and sausages and marmite and Bisto sauce, and drove away feeling slightly broke but quite happy.

Friday, June 22, 2007

New Website

The “Chicken” finally has an official website: www.ellenlitman.com

Check it out. It’s mostly finished, except for reviews (which I don’t have yet) and a few other things. Also, the list of readings will be updated. I'm currently working on scheduling something in Seattle and Pittsburgh.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Food Matters

Movie Dictator has been baking bread. Corn Bread. Wheat Bread. He’s also been making pizza, hummus, yogurt, and biltong (a South African version of jerky).

Ever since he arrived in the US -- a little over a year ago -- food has been an issue. He said everything was too sugary, like candy. Even plain bread. Even vegetables. I didn’t understand what he meant at first. We bought some green peas at a Stop and Shop, and yeah, I thought they were sort of sugary. But it wasn’t until we got some other peas at a farm-store on Rt. 2 that I really tasted the difference. It was unmistakable.

Back when my family first arrived in America – almost 15 years ago – I didn't know all that much about food. Which is to say I’d eat just about anything. I was that hungry. We were unspoiled and unused to the ideas of healthy eating. (In Russia, you ate anything you could find in mostly-empty stores.) We were equally unused to the large quantities of pre-processed, pre-packaged, pre-cooked foods. We did notice that strawberries were huge and mostly void of any taste. (“Pink cucumbers,” my father called them.) But overall, we were just thrilled at the abundance of everything. No long lines. No shortages.

I know better now, of course. Thanks to Movie Dictator, I actually know quite a bit. We’ve watched all sorts of documentaries about food industry and supermarkets (in the US and UK), and I’ve read What To Eat by Marion Nestle. I also started paying attention to the ingredients lists on the packaging.

(A side note: The most disturbing bit of information, I guess, was a documentary we watched just a few days ago, The Future of Food, about genetically modified foods. It’s the same old story: big companies (e.g., Monsanto) trying to take over the world, and politicians, either on the board of those companies or otherwise generously supported, doing everything they can to help. Here’s how these companies operate: when the fields of small farmers get accidentally (or allegedly!) contaminated by Monsanto seeds, Monsanto takes them to court and they are ordered to destroy all of their seeds, go into bankruptcy, give up their farms, etc. The scary thing is, it virtually guarantees that in a little while there won’t be any non-genetically modified seeds left. Even scarier is that these same companies are trying to do this abroad, by intentionally cross-pollinating fields, leaving the people to either starve or to pay to the likes of Monsanto.)

Back to our story: Movie Dictator’s theory is that food is the reason there’s so much cancer in America. (Plus, it’s overpriced.) So in an effort to stay healthy and not broke, we’ve been focusing on homemade and un-American foods. Back in Boston, we had a whole list of ethnic stores we frequented: Super 88 (Asian Supermarket) in Brighton, Russian shops in Brookline, a series of Lebanese/Middle Eastern shops in Watertown, a little shop in Methuen that made British-style meat and vegetable pies.

Now we’re in this new location, and the search begins all over. We spent this past weekend hunting for good Farmers' Markets. Given how rural this area is, we figured there would be a lot. Every town, in fact, seems to have its own, and there are quite of few of these little towns around. Unfortunately, even the bigger markets were disappointing small. Yes, I understand, it’s still too early in the season. (But I’m spoiled. I lived in Madison, WI, for a year, the home of the biggest farmers’ market in the country.) Anyway, we did buy a few things: strawberries and farm-made sausages.

We also went to West Hartford, where we found a huge Asian supermarket (better than Super 88!) that sells inexpensive vegetables; a Vietnamese restaurant next door, full of wonderfully healthy food; a Russian store (and a bookstore across the street) – small but well-stocked; an Indian shop, a Middle-Eastern shop, a true-blue Irish pub that does fish-and-chips and bangers-and-mash. It’s a bit of a drive to get to West Harvard, but not too bad.

And of course, when everything else fails, right here in Willimantic, we have a food Co-op, a Polish deli, and a bunch of Hispanic-food groceries we haven’t even explored yet.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

You Are Your First and Last Publicist

The line comes from the panel on publicity I attended back in May (at the Muse and Marketplace), and though I said quite a few disparaging things about the panel itself, the line is sort of true. No one cares about your book as much you do.

I do have a publicist now at Norton. Her name is Samantha and she’s wonderful. We’ve been e-mailing back and forth, exchanging ideas, and she’s been in touch with several booksellers. Things are starting to happen, it seems. She and I are in agreement that independent bookstores are the way to go – especially after Barnes & Noble declined to set up a reading for me at their Squirrel Hill location in Pittsburgh. I mean, are you kidding me? Squirrel Hill is where the book is set, where all the Russians are, and where my family has lived for the last 15 years. Hello?! But no, someone decided it wouldn’t be cost effective, I guess. So I’m exploring alternative routes. For example, booksellers who don’t have bookstores but sell books at the author events they organize. For example, fabulous Stephanie Gayle, whose book, My Summer of Southern Discomfort, is coming out in just a few weeks, will have her book release party/reading at Red Bones, a Southern Barbecue restaurant in Somerville, Mass. The people who organize the event are Haley Booksellers. I just got in touch with them, and maybe they’ll help me with Pittsburgh.

Other things that are in the works: readings around Boston; a reading/party here in Connecticut; a reading in Chicago on Nov. 4th (at Myopic Books), where my Syracuse buddy, Adam Levin, is running a fiction series. I’m also hoping/planning to be at the Wisconsin Book Festival in October. It’s going to be a busy fall.

Truth is, I’m really enjoying this -- coming up with ideas, getting to know booksellers, contacting acquaintances and friends. My web site is almost done, and I also need to create a myspace account. I like being my own publicist. Though of course, it helps to have a real one, too, who knows the ropes, can send copies of the book to the appropriate people, contact booksellers, order promotional postcards. So thank you, Samantha!

And now a little bit of bragging: I’ve developed this unfortunate habit (shared by many) of self-googling. Or rather, googling the title of my book. And last night, I came upon this article from Publishers Weekly. It’s nice to know that some booksellers (completely unrelated to me) liked the book. And it’s nice to be listed as one of the Indie Darlings, especially next to Junot Diaz and Peter Hoeg.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The Frogs Are For Real!

The other day somebody asked me, “Have you heard the frogs yet?” I thought it was a joke, frogs being the symbol, the legend, the fun part of Willimantic (see one of the earlier posts with the pictures of the Frog Bridge).

And then, last night, I heard them. Loud and clear. Really loud and clear. They seem to live in an abandoned swimming pool next door, and they go quiet when they detect any motion around them. Fun neighbors to have, don’t you think?

Frogs aside, I’m heading to Boston this afternoon for a major Wisconsin reunion. It will be good to see some familiar and some new faces.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Slow Sunday and Movie Reviews

This weekend Willimantic celebrated its Victorian Days. From Afternoon Tea Sandwiches to the guided tour of Willimantic Cemetery to the 10 Victorian Gems (one of which is where our neighbors live). For two days we listened to the clomp-clomping of horse-drawn wagons. (Predictably, the streets of Willimantic are now covered with horseshit.) We watched much of the commotion from our windows – the horses and some big celebration over at the neighbors’ house. But we took no part in any of it. Maybe next year.

I’ve been trying to take it easy this weekend. Some e-mailing. Some slow unpacking. Some minor shopping. Some movie-watching. Speaking of which, here’s my new list of “recently watched.” Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Planet of the Apes
Beneath the Planet of the Apes
Escape from the Planet of the Apes
I know, it’s almost shameful that I hadn’t seen any of these before. I fell in love with the ending of the first one. (Just like everybody else, I guess.) The second one wasn’t as good, but I liked the sequence in what used to be a subway station. The third one was just plain silly. I have to admit though, Kim Hunter was strangely likable as Zira.

Player
Robert Altman’s movie about movie business. It’s famous for its incredibly long opening shot. If that’s what movie business is really like…then I don’t understand why Movie Dictator wants to be a part of it. I loved the moment when Peter Gallagher suggested that writers could be eliminated from the movie business altogether. (Somehow it made me think of publishing business.)

The Incredible Shrinking Man
A man is exposed to radiation and begins to shrink. Watch him struggle with a cat and a spider. Very Gulliver’s Travels. It got a little boring somewhere in the middle. But the ending was really good. Made in 1957, it could use some of the modern special effect. And what do you know? The remake is scheduled to come out in 2008.

Paper Moon
I couldn’t believe this was made in 1973. It had a total feel of a depression-era movie, which was, of course, the whole idea. Ryan O’Neal and Tatum O’Neal are a pair of crooks who are made for each other. She’s eight (or nine?) and she’s a natural. He might be her father. Of course in real life, he is.

Go West
My first introduction to Buster Keaton. What a face! He’s a cowboy on a ranch. There’s a girl. There’s a cow. There’s a train chase. There’s love. I hope there's more to come.

The Last Man on Earth
The man in question is played by Vincent Price, and the reason he’s the last is because of a vampire infestation. They are sluggish vampires though, sort of like zombies but slower, and the movie itself is, well, sluggish.

Lifeboat
Hitchcock at his best. World War II. A ship is sunk by Germans, and a few survivors are stranded in a lifeboat, along with one accidentally captured German. Is he to be killed? Is he to be trusted? Tallulah Bankhead plays a hard-as-nails reporter. (She reminded me of Bette Davis.) Now, you know how Hitchcock always made cameo appearance in his movies? Guess how he managed it in this one!

Soylent Green
Near-future circa 1973. Extreme poverty, pollution, and over-population. The rich get apartments equipped with live-in concubines, who are referred to as “furniture.” Food as we know it has all but disappeared (unless you’re one of the privileged few). Instead, the masses are fed by something artificial. And one police detective (Charlton Heston) is about to find out exactly what it is. Fun, but a bit dated.

Breach
A spy movie – based on a true story. I thought it was okay. (Plus it had Laura Linney.) Movie Dictator thought it was predictable as hell.

Venus
An ailing old man (Peter O’Toole), who was once a famous actor. A grumpy young girl, his best friend’s niece’s daughter, who appears one day at his best friend’s flat. An unlikely connection. Either he’s being taken advantage or she is being changed and seduced by him. Or both. A quiet gem of a movie. Peter O’Toole is glorious, and the casual banter among the characters is so much better than any Hollywood dialogue. The movie’s got the look, feel, and pace of a European movie. It felt almost Russian.

Mommie Dearest
Faye Dunaway plays an aging Joan Crawford, who adopts two little children and proceeds to make their life a living hell. The most famous line: “No... wire... hangers.” It’s based on a memoir of her adopted daughter, Kristina, and while I feel the woman’s pain, it doesn’t make for a very interesting movie. Once you realize that the "Mommie" in question is genuinely psychotic and needs medical help, there’s very little left to say. Instead of the daughter’s sob story, I would much rather see a story of Joan Crawford herself, from her early days (see Grand Hotel!) to her disintegration.

An Evening With Kevin Smith (1 and 2)
Kevin Smith, aka Silent Bob, aka the director of Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, etc., etc., goes on tour. The first installment is a compilation of the talks he did at various universities. In the second one, he goes to Canada, and then to England. The talks are not really talks but q&a sessions, except he doesn’t really answer questions, but tells stories. He does it very informally, and he goes on tangents a lot, so a typical answer can easily take 20 minutes. He’s very funny. Everything he says feels improvised. Movie Dictator totally loves him – because the man can talk! a lot! (He also loves his movies and general attitude towards life.) I love him too -- watched the whole thing while packing and scanning papers in preparation for the move – but I’m also more critical. I though in part 1, he was a bit evasive in his answers/stories. I mean, when a young college kid asks you how to finance a movie, and you tell him, charge it on your credit card… I don’t know. Even if that’s what you did, it’s still not cool. Funny, yes, but not very generous. But that’s just some minor criticism. He got better in part 2. There were so many highlights I could write about here, but it would take forever. So just find the DVDs.

Lord of the Rings
Extended version! I’d seen the first and the third one when they came out, but missed the second one. Now I got to see them all – on three consecutive evening. There are plenty of fans out there, both of the book and the movie, so I don’t feel like I need to say much. (There are detractors, too. Just ask Kevin Smith!) I myself read the book back in Russia – in Russian! -- and “Baggins” was translated as “Sumkins” (“bag” in Russian is “sumka”). What I love the most about the book and the movie is that incredible sadness that comes at the end. The journey changes and darkens you somehow. You should be celebrating, but you can’t.

Fired!
A documentary by a young actress (Annabelle Gurwitch), who gets fired by Woody Allen. (Apparently, he tells her she’s so bad it’s like she’s retarded.) But the young actress won’t be deterred. She gets her revenge by gathering up some actor friends and other individuals and doing a film about the experience of getting fired. Turns out, almost everyone has a story to tell, and much of them are hilarious. But it gets serious, too, when she interviews the workers at a GM plant or talks to the woman who is fired for being a smoker (turns out, in some states companies are allowed to do that and more). Overall, the movie is really well made. It’s entertaining and tongue-in-cheek (imitating the style of Woody Allen’s movies themselves); it’s informative; and Annabelle Gurwitch is charismatic enough to make the whole thing work. Good for her!

The Night of the Hunter
A stylish black-and-white movie about good and evil. A murderous preacher, two little kids on the run, and the old woman with the heart of gold who rescues them. Movie Dictator is convinced that this is something that must have inspired David Lynch. I sort of agree, especially given the movie’s eerie opening scenes.

Paprika
A gorgeous anime from Japan about dreams being invaded, modified, corrupted, stolen, etc. The logistics of the plot can be a little tough to follow, but the morphing images and the surreal, dreamy quality of the whole thing make up for any glitches in the plot. It’s so vivid, you just can’t look away.

Autumn in New York
Oh Hollywood! I had to keep my mouth shut, knowing how much Movie Dictator loves Winona Rider. But I had to wonder, what kind of a log line you write for a script like that? Let’s see: a handsome womanizer (played by Richard Gere) falls for a young dying girl (Winona Rider). She changes him forever. But only miracle can save her. How do you sell a script like that -- especially when the dialogue is trite and the characters lack any sort of personality? How do you get away with a scene when a girl starts collapsing at a skating rink? Haven't we seen it in The Love Story already?

Crying Out Love, in The Center of The World
More sickness. More death. A Japanese melodrama that’s way too long. A young man is supposedly searching for his fiancĂ© (a young, beautiful, limping girl, who disappears after discovering a tape she’s long forgotten about) and in the process, he is remembering his high-school love, long-lost to leukemia. It could’ve been okay, in a good tear-jerker sort of way, but it needed some major cuts. I did wonder how they were going to tie up the guy’s memories to his limping girlfriend’s story. This kept me going for a while. But in the end, I was too tired to care, let alone feel anything.

Piter-FM
A rare treat from Movie Dictator, who found this one for me. A Russian movie with subtitles, which means we watched it together. It was just before our move, and I desperately needed a diversion, something sweet and beautiful. The movie isn't terribly orginal. A young woman is a DJ at a radio station in St. Petersburg (or Piter). A young man is an architect who's about to move to Germany for work. She loses her cell phone, he finds it, and then they try to meet and keep missing each other. Sounds familiar? Sure! But that's not the point. The whole movie is so gorgeously filmed, it's like a love letter to St. Petersburg. Plus it has a great soundtrack. I'm getting a little soppy here, but this simple movie made me feel so many things, a bit of nostalgia (even though I'm from Moscow), a tiny bit of sadness because I'm a city girl moving to rural Connecticut, all the small ways in which I identified with the characters, or perhaps recognized something of them in myself. And what I want now is the ring-tone from from the cell phone the girl has in the movie.

Friday, June 1, 2007

We Did It!

We’ve moved! And it went fine! And we’re almost half-way unpacked! And it’s June already! June in Romantic Willimantic. I’m pottering around the new apartment, admiring its spaciousness and coolness and making all kinds of plans for it. Mostly, though, I’m still recovering.

All moves are tough – everybody knows that – and this one was no exception, stressful and physically demanding. But unlike all the previous moves I’ve done, it wasn’t as lonely and soul-crashing. This time I was moving with a partner, and it made all the difference. Emotionally I was fine.

The move itself went swimmingly. We had the best movers, and if you’re moving any time soon and if you’re living anywhere around Boston, talk to me! I’ll put you in touch with these guys. They were amazing in every way!

Our first night in Romantic Willimantic, we visited a great fresh-sea-food place (store and takeout), where we bough two orders of excellent fish and chips (to be put in the refrigerator and eaten the next day). Then we went to a charming little Mexican restaurant “Cinco de Mayo,” where I quickly got drunk on one glass of sangria.

Have I mentioned how much I love our new apartment? (One of these days I’ll take some pictures and post them here.) I also love our quiet street and the overall neighborhood. It’s very green here. You can sit on the deck and watch the trees, the birds, the squirrels. There’s more space between houses, but the neighbors are very friendly and talkative. On our first night, some neighbors invited us over for some wine (as if I needed any more alcohol at that point : ) We sat in their lovely garden with tikki lights and talked for a while.

The next day (Sunday) was spent on shopping, which seems to come with every move: Home Depot! Wallmart! Linens-n-Thing! We spent way too much money, but that too is inevitable. We even became grownups and bought curtains!

Then on Monday, I went to New York. For Jewish Book Network Festival.

How does one get from Willimantic to New York? Easy. Especially if one has Mia the GPS device. I drove to New Haven, which took 1 hour and 10 minutes. Then I took a train to New York, which took 1.5 hours. I made one mistake though. Instead of taking Amtrak (expensive), I should have taken one of Metro-North (sp?) trains, which run every hour, cost a lot less, take a tiny bit longer, and end up at Grand Central Station (instead of Penn).

Going to New York right after the move wasn’t the easiest thing. It felt like I’d been running a marathon, and I really had to hold myself together to make it through the trip. (All I really wanted at the time was to sleep for a week.) My wonderful generous friend Andy, who allows me to stay at his place on 14th Street, met me a the Penn Station and we made our way home. Then he left, because he dojo was moving that day and he had to go help. He’s a huge judo enthusiast and has a new blog about it, Judo Notes.

At that point, I should have collapsed from all the tiredness or at least taken a nap. But strangely, I was still full of adrenalin or something, and I ended up playing a New Yorker instead: walking about 50 blocks, doing some shopping, soaking up the New York energy, buying sushi at a nearby deli and washing it down with some beer I found in Andy's refrigerator. It was great! Later, Andy, his judo friend Jeff, and I had an amazing Vietnamese/French/Fusion meal at a place call Safran. I think it might be my new New York favorite.

The following day, I slept until 10. Or maybe 11. I can’t remember. Then I had to get ready for my speech at the Jewish Book Festival. It was supposed to be a 2-minute speech, so I had to time myself.

This was the first day of the festival, the Meet the Author portion of it. I arrived at the Hebrew Union College, met up with my editor and publicist, and we went in. The speeches were held at a synagogue inside. Each author had an assigned sitting – in alphabetical order, which put me somewhere in the middle. There was a podium and a microphone, and a woman sat in the first row flashing time cards: 1 minute left, 30 seconds left, 10 seconds. At five o’clock, various representatives of Jewish Community Centers and Synagogues from all over the country filed in, and the speeches began. The idea of the speech was to introduced the book in the best possible and intriguing way. The majority of the books were nonfiction -- parenthood, memoirs, life issues, spirituality and religion, politics – with maybe 10% of fiction in the mix.

The speeches took 2 hours (5 to 7), and the same thing was to be repeated the next 2 or 3 evenings. Afterwards we went downstairs for dinner (aka speed dating). At each round table, 2-3 authors were to be seated. After a while we (the authors) would be told to pick up our plates and move to another table. And then another one. It seemed a little ridiculous, and yet, it was fun. There were people from all across America, and I loved chatting with them. There were two lovely women from Houston. There was a French teacher from San Diego (originally from Montreal). There was a woman from New Jersey (originally from Cuba), whose husband, like mine, was from South Africa. Lots of great conversations!

And what’s the purpose behind these? you might ask. Well, for the next month or so, the conference attendees will be perusing our books (the hundreds of them!). Then, they’ll decide who they want to invite for their local book festivals etc. Then they’ll issue invitations through the Jewish Book Council.

I hope something comes out of it. Now that the book is almost out (the pub date is September 7th, according to Amazon and Barnes & Noble), I want to travel and do readings. I want to really bring it to life. Wednesday morning, before going home to Connecticut, I met with my amazing agent, David, and we brainstormed various strategies for the book publicity, which made me really excited. On the way home, I was buzzing with ideas. Then I got to New Haven and discovered that my car battery was dead : ) Thank god for AAA.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Musing About the Muse

I spent this past weekend participating in the 6th annual The Muse and the Marketplace conference, organized by Grub Street. The conference is dedicated to both the craft and the business of writing, and in addition to the seminars led by various writers, it includes panels and presentations by agents, editors, and publicists.

I’ve participated in the Muse before, as a panelist and moderator. This year, though, I was one of the authors. I taught a seminar on Sunday afternoon, but the rest of the weekend I spent actually attending classes. This was the best part about the conference. (This and the free lunches.) Since my own writing has become almost non-existent lately – I blame it on the job search, apartment hunting, upcoming move, and many other silly excuses – I needed to feel like a student again.

So that was what I became for much of the weekend. A student. Darting in and out of conference rooms, taking notes, collecting handouts, and sipping water.

Here are some highlights.

The first event was actually on Thursday. A seminar taught by Sheri Joseph, a fiction writer, whom I first met several years ago at Bread Loaf. Sheri’s newest novel, Stray, won the first annual Grub Street Book Prize, and the seminar she taught on Thursday (and then on Saturday) was titled, “Have You Got a Novel or Not?” A million-dollar question. And as is often the case with writing (or any sort of art), there's no clear answer to that. There were, however, some interesting ideas and guidelines that seemed to apply to my situation. (1) If you think of the beginning of your novel as a set up before the good stuff begins, then it’s probably a mistake. (2) Another common mistake: a novel that’s not a novel, but a novel-sized portion of someone’s life. It’s got to be about something. It’s got to have a purpose. (3) Yet another mistake, which applies to short stories as well – starting with an establishing shot, i.e., we are shown a scene, but we are not told the story. The story hasn’t started yet. (4) Question: How is a novel different from a movie script? Answer: The novel is usually driven by a narrative voice. (5) The idea of “profluence” (John Gardner’s term) – that as we read a novel (or a story), we are getting somewhere, we are being told things for a reason, that there’s a purpose, and that things are adding up.

On Saturday, the conference itself started. The first event I attended was a lecture by Margot Livesey, “Mrs. Turpin Reads the Stars.” It was about creating characters. Margot Livesey is a wonderful speaker, funny, charming, and self-effacing. She began the lecture by admitting that when she starts creating characters they always seem flat and you would think they were written by a hairdresser or an optometrist – since the descriptions always focus on eyes and hair. These early characters also seem to be capable of few physical gestures, mainly they turn and they shrug. Now, that pretty much describes how I feel about my own characters, the early versions of them at least. We looked at a number of good examples of character development, and even attempted a list of useful strategies – although in the end, the list was replace with one word, ATTITUDE. (Also, a side note made in the course of this talk: When a character in a story draft appears too solitary, it’s likely done out of laziness or convenience.)

Michael Lowenthal’s seminar on Sunday (“Astonish Me!”) was another highlight. It involved a lot of close reading and much focus on sentences (which I love!). As a result, I think I finally understood why so much of Call it Sleep had to be written in that excruciating dialect. I also discovered some authors that I intend to look up: Daniel Woodrell and Claire Keegan.

Charles Baxter, another fabulous speaker, delivered the keynote address. It was called "Losers". He made a good point that our society is way to focused on losing and winning – just look at all the reality TV. Such thinking, though, doesn’t really apply to writers. After all, F. Scott Fitzgerald died thinking himself a loser (his last royalty check was something like $13). Charles Baxter also mentioned Jaroslav Hasek and his hilarious book The Good Soldier Svejk, which I read as a teenager in Russia. (Aparently, Hasek was an incredible scam artist.)

Only one event I attended proved to be disappointing, a panel on Promotion and Publicity. Without getting personal, I will just say that the publicists on the panel seemed to share a strangely contemptuous attitude toward writers. It wasn’t even what they said, but how they said it. The endless smirking and raising of eye-brows as they exchanged exasperated looks. I mean, people, this isn’t a support group for beleaguered publicists. You were invited to talk to writers. I understand that you suffer greatly, which must explain your facial ticks, but please, restrain yourself.

Almost by accident, I stumbled on a seminar called “Blogs into Books,” led by Leslie Talbot. You guessed it, her blog, Singular Existence, has become a book. Of course, to have this happen, as we soon discovered, one needs a blog with a purpose and a voice. My blog, I feel, is much too accidental (or incidental) for that. Still, the seminar was interesting and it made me really think about the meaning and purpose of blogging. Plus, I think it’s something Movie Dictator should do. God knows, he’s got things to say. And he’s funny. Interestingly, Leslie Talbot mentioned that traditionally blog entries are supposed to be short (i.e., not essay-length), which is why she switched from a Salon blog to her own web site. I’m not sure, but I think I might be breaking the shortness rule here.