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2:52 p.m. - 2012-10-18
A Fab Five plus some.

The fabulous Dichroic picked up a meme and passed it along. (Which sounds like she acquired a virus or something and did a little Typhoid Mary action.) Anyway the challenge is to do a Favorite Five list on topics suggested by others. I left her a couple of Fab 5 topic suggestions and she returned the favor. In the way of memes I am supposed to offer to leave Fab 5 topics in my comments for those who request them, but since I am a selfish cow and nose-deep in my current WIP and am only taking the time to do this because a) I haven't updated here in forever, and b) Joe Barky is having another anal-retentive orgy with his lawn grooming equipment and making such a hellacious racket my concentration is shot. It's a heck of a lot easier to blog than it is to write with all this foo-frah going on next-door. ("But, LA, isn't blogging writing?" No. Blogging is talking with my fingers.) So, I propose that if the idea of doing your own Fab 5 sounds appealing then go for it. Have fun. A good prompt is a good prompt and always a Good Thing. So thanks, Paula.

Dichroic asked me to name my top five books or other works which inspire my own writing. This is not quite the question I want to answer. What I have are other writers who inspire me, though often I can name the specific works of theirs which do me best.

The A #1 All Time Champeen, of course, is Stephen King. I have been having a literary love affair with this guy since I was 14 years old. His writing manual 'On Writing' has been invaluable because it is encouraging and quite specific on the actual mechanics of writing for an audience and therefore pay. Also he was absolutely clear on the need to cut the shit with the adverbs and he was right, adverbs make you sound gushy and gee-whiz. Dead easy to start sliding into Tom Swift country when using the bad writer's crutch of the adverb. However, Steve had been teaching me how to write for lots of years before 'On Writing' came out. I could go on and on about absorbing the arts of character development and of story arc, seeing the skill involved in moving through A to B to C and all the way to Z without bogging down in inane detail and over-explaining, or even the first time I wrote something I felt used language better and told a clearer story than he had in some of his earlier stuff and the elated, "Fuck yeah! In your face, Steve-o!" that I shouted out loud as I hopped around my office Snoopy dancing and laughing like a demented fool. But what inspires me the most about him is the sheer VOLUME of his body of work. Stephen King taught me it was permissible to wallow in words. To gather them up like a big crunchy leaf pile and dive in. To fling words into the air like confetti and let them flutter down all around me. It's okay to gorge on words. To smooch my face around in them and rub them all over my skin. Millions of words. Gazillions of words. His. Theirs. My own. To let go of the fearful clutching discipline which ruled my life in every aspect- from ingesting food to my posture to money to what I said to clients and most of all how I had to have my horns drawn in and my guard up all the time around my sarcastic nasty husband and Stephen King showed me how to simply GO FOR IT. To let myself truly and whole-heartedly love something to utter excess. Ahhhh.......

Jean Webster. She taught me the fun of the epistolic novel. In 'Dear Enemy' a sequel to 'Daddy Long Legs' (sort of) she used the trick of answering a letter with a reply that gave the reader the full flavor of the letters and conversations you didn't get to read. A lovely clever way of having a two-way conversation even though we only get to hear one side. All though I said above that blogging isn't writing, it is in that I've used Jean Webster's epistolary style here more than in my 'writing' writing. (By which I mean producing work people give me money for.) The blog is a comfy conversation at my kitchen table, occasional soap box to shout from, but mostly it's a letter, a love letter to you. And like Sallie McBride's descriptive wordy epistles I hope my letters give you a fuller account of things than what you might expect from a single voice talking about only her stuff. I know Wolf certainly feels he has friends here. As well he should, the boy has gone from diaper baby to deep-voiced teenager in the duration. And Mick, dear shy man that he is, is fascinated to be such a big part of what I talk about. He knows you guys and asks about your doings just as he would about any other friend who'd come by the house while he was gone at work. Plus, my telling of our lives is so descriptive, such a stark contrast to his own offline journal which is a strictly a Joe Friday thing. "Just the facts, ma'am." Mick manages to fit in all the pertinent events from the day- the weather and what we ate and all the places we went and the sundries like car repairs and service calls into the wee box provided in a give-away appointment book from the bank. Whereas I go on for more than 1,200 words about my trip to Shoprite, nevermind I'd also been to the school, the doctor, made/answered 10 phone calls, and did a whole bunch of other stuff that never made it in here.

Writer #3- John Steinbeck. "Lofty much, LA?" Hey, I'm speaking about inspirations, not peers. Steinbeck as a master and a mentor isn't too arrogant. I've read most of his work. 'Of Mice and Men' and 'The Grapes of Wrath' are too sad for me to read more often than once a decade or so, though I do make the effort. A single reading of 'The Red Pony' was enough for this girl. Again too sad and it broke my heart. It still gives me the willies to think about 'The Pearl'. (Side note* 'Travels with Charlie' is a delight and a far better road-trip story than anything by Kesey and Kerouac.) But all my tears caused by Steinbeck's fiction are redeemed by 'Cannery Row'. My current tattered copy is my third, the previous two were also read to shreds. I hardly need the book itself, I think I can recite the whole of it from memory, but just holding it in my hands and I start to cry. Happy tears this time. With 'Cannery Row' John Steinbeck taught me the magic and wonder to be found in the little things- the ordinary day, small people living tiny lives and from this I understood not every piece of writing has to be 'The Odyssey' or some other weighty tome about Very Important People doing Very Important Things. From 'Cannery Row' and John Steinbeck I learned the joy of simplicity. And that the mundane is anything but ordinary if you look at it correctly.

"Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses. Its inhabitants are, as the man once said, ‘whores, pimps, gamblers, and sons of bitches,’ by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said, 'Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men,’ and he would have meant the same thing."

Never in my whole life will I ever write anything as true or as wonderful as that. But it's okay because it gives me something to aspire to.

Writers #4. I say 'writers' plural because to choose one from the following is imposs. These women have taught me so, so, so much. Ellen Goodman. Molly Ivins. Erma Bombeck. Cynthia Heimel. Beth Quinn. Cynthia Tucker. Anna Quindlen. Gail Collins. Syndicated columnists who write/wrote about everything. Childrearing. Traffic. Politics. Nutrition. Comedy. Righteous Anger-Making Topics. Birth control. Disenfranchisement. Religion. Clipping coupons. Getting older. Feminism. Shoes. Ecology. Environment. The Academy Awards...... Do I have to go on? This cadre of women speaking about what was on their minds in venues as diverse as 'Playboy' magazine and the NYT and the HuffPo and my local newspaper, they all contributed to my belief in myself as a writer. Being out there speaking their minds and daring to be funny, informative, angry, but more than anything else- caring, well, they make me feel like what I have to say matters too. Nobody was patting them on their sweet little heads and indulgently smirking, "Well isn't she just darling when she's all het up?" Or if someone did then that person got his hand bitten. Hard. The condescension of the established (ie: male) voices and critics only made these women tougher and more eloquent. And they've made way for writers like me. Doesn't matter what I write about or where my words are published. What matters to me is because of their wordsmith trailblazing I saw women in positions of power speaking in venues where their voices are heard. And what they have to say is respected.

This is powerful shit. Thank you, ladies.

#5 is a little bit off. I am not a poet. I've put up a few of my less embarrassing attempts here over the years, but as a writer I do not think of myself as a poet or even a fiction writer. I am a hard-nosed practical sort when it comes to writing. Yet, Judith Viorst, is a valid part of my Fab Five writers. Her work, along with the SBS classic Reflections of a Gift of Watermelon Pickle taught me a lot about using concise imagery to convey an emotion or truth about life with my writing. Judith Viorst's 'Alexander' books still connect me to some of the proudest and happiest moments about my time as 'Mom' to my lost and gone forever elder son. 'Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day' and its sequels, holding my own Alexander close and reading those books together and talking about our experiences dealing with gum in our hair and feeling like a dope when we were too young to get what the deal was, oy, it hurts to think about. To this day I have to stay away from the kids' department at B&N or know ahead of time I'll have to deal with Mick and his upset over finding me in tears sitting in one of the little chairs in the reading corner with 'Runaway Bunny' or an 'Alexander' book in my lap and having to explain myself why I'd done this again. But what else is writing for if not to share and say, "Yes, I understand"?

This is the ultimate gist of why these writers are my inspirations. Forthright political commentary or storyteller who takes us away from the everyday or poet who remembers what it was like to be little and powerless or a philosopher who can see the universe in a small Chinese grocery catering to bums and whores. It's the sharing that matters. The striking of the common chord and no matter how homely the instrument with their writing suddenly we hear angels.

Or devils.

Or at the very least the nodding acknowledgment of real things spoken aloud.

Along with my own desire to sing out loud, these are the writers who've shown me it's okay to do it.

Thank you to them and to Dichroic for asking.

Much love, ~LA

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