Don't be fooled by the grim-faced picture. It was the only unblinking one. For me, words are worth a thousand pictures. I'm looking forward to saying hi to all of you.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Olive and the Bitter Herbs, a hilarious new play by Charles Bush


Charles Bush has managed to once again write lines that are so good I can remember them a day later, but won't repeat them here because I dont' want to ruin them for you. Charles Bush, brilliant writer, actor, and poignantly beautiful drag queen, isn't playing the malcontent older woman this time, but I bet he could do a slam dunk job at it. Bush is the midwife to audiences' belly-rocking laughs.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Interview with Gwendolen Gross about Orphan Girl

Question 1:
I was so interested in how you handled backstory for your main character, Clementine. It's so easy to lose the readers with backstory, but you didn't. How did you choose the way you finally wrote it: present chapter, backstory chapter, etc.

I struggled, in the first draft, with a strong desire to minimize backstory for Clementine. I felt as though I wanted a lot to happen in the present without so much slowdown from the past--so at first, I wrote out the simple past (present--the what's happening immediately) story, but I kept finding I needed to write a parallel story--past perfect--to inform the forestory. Ultimately, I decided to alternate, but not without several juggling acts (no dropped eggs, thankfully) between.One thing I've decided, as writer, reader, and teacher, is that people do want immediacy as readers--and one way to achieve that is not to go too long without something happening. And dialogue is the ultimate in something happening, because we hear it in our head as the direct words of the characters, without all the distance of extra words in a sentence.

Question 2:
Every gripping novel, from Jane Eyre to your Orphan Girl is built on a family secret. Did you know the secret in Orphan Girl before you began to write it?

Gwendolen's answer:
First of all, bless you, Jane Eye and Orphan Sister in the same sentence?! You are so kind!Yes. I knew. And I didn't know. I did experiment with some worse possibilities, but ultimately wanted a forgivable secret, a forgivable mistake. I tend toward the hopeful, and don't like bad behavior ONLY for the sake of titillation, in books or in life.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Gulf Coast Contest for short prose. A legitimate contest!

The Deadline Looms...There's just a little over a month left to enter Gulf Coast's 2011 Barthelme Prize for Short Prose.No matter what you call it--flash fiction, prose poems, micro-essays--send us your work of 500 words or fewer. The winner will receive $1,000 and will be published in the issue of Gulf Coast due out in Spring 2012, along with the two runners-up.This year's judge will be poet, essayist, and story writer Sarah Manguso.Entries are due August 31, 2011. The entry fee is $17 and each entrant will receive a one-year subscription to Gulf Coast. We're asking that all entries this year come to us via our easy-to-use online submission manager. Each entry may be comprised of up to three individual pieces. Just put all individual pieces into one Word, rtf, or pdf document and upload. Last year we were happy to publish three excellent pieces of short prose by Lillian-Yvonne Bertram (2010's winner), Benjamin Glass, and Robert Thomas. These three pieces, along with an introduction by last year's judge, Joe Bonomo, are available on our website.

Just a few more days...As if that isn't enough, our summer subscription special is almost a thing of the past. Until this Sunday, July 31, though, you can still get a deeply discounted year of Gulf Coast. Just head on over to our subscription page and when you enter the coupon code "JUL" you'll get six dollars off the regular subscription price. That's two big, beautiful issues of Gulf Coast for ten bucks (the regular newsstand price for just one issue).The support of Gulf Coast not only gets you some of the best new stories, essays, and poetry to be found on the literary scene, it also helps us to support our writers (fresh new voices alongside venerable favorites) and to remain a venue where those writers can submit their work free of charge.
What's coming up...The upcoming issue of Gulf Coast, due out this October, is almost done and already looking like one of our most compelling issues yet. The issue will feature a section of translated work, with pieces originally written in Danish, French, Spanish and Uyghur, and a special report on organizations that offer asylum to politically persecuted writers.It will also feature poetry from Sherman Alexie, Lily Brown, Graham Foust, Alex Lemon, Sharon Olds, Stanley Plumly, and many others. There are stories from Michael Czyzniejewski, Rav Grewal-Kök, Teresa Milbrodt, Ann Tashi Slater, and new voices Danny Thahn Nguyen and Mario Rosado. And the nonfiction line-up includes Joe Bonomo, Lorraine Doran, Katherine Dykstra, Chidelia Edochie, Stephanie Harrison, and Kristen Radtke.The issue will also feature the winners of the 2011 Gulf Coast Prizes in Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry, and, as always, intriguing and thought-provoking interviews and reviews.Finally, we'll have visual art from photographer Duncan Ganley and a special feature on the work of the late, great Cy Twombly.It'll be an issue you won't want to miss.

Gulf Coast: A Journal of Literature and Fine ArtsDepartment of EnglishUniversity of HoustonHouston, Texas 77204-3013US
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Sunday, July 24, 2011

THE ORPHAN SISTER by Gwendolen Gross, 2011

A doozy of a family secret is unspooled in this quirky and masterful novel about three sisters: Olivia and Odette who came from the same egg that was split after fertilization, while Clementine (what a darling!) was born at the same time, but from a single fertilized egg. Clementine is genetically more of a sibling to her sisters than a twin. The story loops back in time, enlarging each time another piece of the story is written. For a book that has a light touch, it whips up emotionally as the story goes on.

In the class I teach, Emotions into Art, I ask writers to collect off-the-beat expressions of emotion by other writers, not to copy them, but to inspire them. There's quite enough "He swallowed hard" and "his heart thumped", thank you very much. Here's some examples from Gwendolen of stretching for new ways to express emotion:
Instead of "My mouth was dry with anxiety" she writes, "My mouth was suddenly post-dentist fuzzy, half-hot, half-numb.
How about this for creativity in showing bodily sensations? "She was stroking my hair now; it felt so lovely, but tender at the same time, as if my hair had nerve endings and was too sensitive to be touched.
And this for showing someone overwhelmed? "Neither one of us spoke, and I didn't know what she was thinking or feeling, but I could tell it was a big suck-you-under, wavelike feeling."
When you read this novel, besides seeing just how much a family can be torn apart and what they will do to stay together, notice the "egg" motifs that run through the book, emphasicing the theme. The sun spreading across Clementine's living room is described is "like an egg in a pan."
There's a wide cast of characters in this book to enjoy, including a ferret and a boa constrictor.
Read The Orphan Sister like a reader. Read it like a writer. Read it!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Droid, droid, droid

My husband took a picture of me on my new Droid. Like Kermit the Frog, all I can say is, "It's not easy being green." Gosh, this Droid is so hard to use. Too many features. And all day it calls out in a robotic voice, "Droid, Droid, Droid." Sigh. I wanted to be techno-hip, cool. And now I'm just green.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

What I learned at a Raul Esparza Master Class

Why would a writer audit a workshop for actors who want to land roles in musicals? Curiosity, a desire to see how performing relates to writing, and to meet Raul Esparza

Here are the things I took away that would be useful to writers:
1. Pay attention to punctuation. Raul made the people who used Sondheim music to audition go over the piece, speaking it, sticking an extraneous word such as “pins” to indicate a comma or period. Sunday in the Park with George might sound like this: “Stop worrying where you’re going. PINS If you can know where you’re going PINS you’ve gone. PINS Just keep moving on. How could this help a writer? If you’re a poet, you can really get a sense of line breaks, etc. by sticking in pins to help you read the line as the reader will.
2. Don’t close your eyes. It shuts people off from you because eyes are the windows to the soul. When I think about all the poetry readings I’ve gone to where the poet has his eyes open, but is fixed on a point above the audience, he might want to make eye contact to see where folks are yawning. Might be a good place to edit.
3. Don’t give yourself away right off. In writing, you have to constantly be a slight-of-hand artist, leading the reader one way, and then purposely misdirecting them. It’s how you keep tension going, how you keep attention going as well.
4. Raul pointed out how Chekov uses gestures to convey intentions or psychological needs. Writers, don’t forget that in your own characters. Setting gestures on the page is a real art form. If you read Eugene O’Neill’s descriptions of how the drunks in The Iceman Cometh slump over their tables in the bar, each one distinct.
5. “Who are you singing to?” was a question Raul frequently asked. Even in a soliloquy, the character is thinking of someone as he speaks, even if it’s to describe himself.
6. Every line has a subtext.
7. To deliver a song (or a piece of writing) you have to think of an actable moment. If you say a writer wants to get his feelings across, you would do better to sit on a whoopee cushion. At least then you’d get a laugh. Think of what you want to make the other person do that is actually doable, for example: to confess, to beseech, to argue, etc. Think verb!
8. Separate yourself from what you’re selling. If you don’t get a part, if you don’t publish, you’re still a worthwhile person on a worthwhile pursuit.
9. Don’t worry about style. Just think about the human being, the character. If you do this, great writing always takes care of itself. (I HOPE.)
10. Here’s something I wrote down in caps. KEEP A WIDE DEFINITION OF WHAT IT MEANS TO BE AN ARTIST. In other words, if my new novel that’s in my agent’s hands at this moment doesn’t sell, I’m still publishing essays, poetry, and short stories. I’m still blogging. I’m still breathing. (For now.)

To inquire about taking a master class with a master, write to

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Passager's Anthology--I'm in it.

You can order it here:

My poem, At the Candy Store, is published in it:

At the Candy Store, 1933

Flies sit on the covered jars
of jujubes, chocolate babies,
bulls eyes that turn colors
when you suck them.
“The Way You Look Tonight”
is playing on the bakelite radio.

“A hot one,” says the man behind the counter,
flicking his tongue over his thick lips.
Even at seventeen, my mother knows
he doesn’t mean the weather.
For a nickel, she punches
through five holes of the punch board,
unscrolls the rolled up papers.
Three say “You Lose,” one says “Try Again,”
the last “You win a free ice cream.”

He hands her a Dixie cup with a wooden spoon.
She doesn’t say “Thank You,”
doesn’t want him to feel he’s given her a gift.
She’d like to eat the ice cream
beneath the breeze of the ceiling fan,
but this man’s eyes are boring through her.

Outside she opens the lid.
Joan Crawford’s picture is under it.
There’s something fierce about her mouth.
That’s the way a pretty woman needs to look.
Joan Crawford can eat ice cream anywhere.

Friday, July 8, 2011

This is my niece, Brooke Shapiro, Starring in Hairspray at the Zach in Austin Texas


Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

After celebrating Marriage Equality at the Gay Rights parade, I wondered if Priscilla, Queen of the Desert would be dated. But who can resist fabulous dancing, strong characters, and wow stagesets? And who among us can't connect with the basic theme of being different, going through the hard knocks of it, and coming hopefullyto self-acceptance? You'll be up out of your seat, dancing, clapping, yelling, "Bravo!"and "Brava!"



Monday, July 4, 2011

Laurel Nakadate, Is she mining the depths of sadness or milking her tear ducts?

I was moved by Laurel Nakadate's retrospective at P.S. 1. I thought of how much her white-framed photos hanging closely together on the white walls, were old-masterish in their chairoscuro lighting. I was pulled in. And then I got to the videos of Laurel in her underwear, sometimes topless, humping on a bed, and there went the old masters. I couldn't wrap my mind around what she was trying to accomplish when she videod herself wowing unattractive older men. Yet I was drawn into her acting, the sadness she portrayed. Carol Deihl, in her blog, Art Vent, thought that that instead of chronicling her 365 Days of sadness (after all, is she entitled to it, a young Yalie with a retrospective?) Laurel Nakadate should get a job at a convenience store. http://artvent.blogspot.com/2011/02/laurel-nakadate.html

In another blog post, Carol Diehl wrote about how art-goers are spending more time at the walls, reading text about the art than they are viewing the art. Maybe that's just what happened to me.

Friday, July 1, 2011

My Place of Perfect Peace

In any season I can find serentiy at the Planting Fields Arboretum on Long Island. http://www.plantingfields.org/ All I need to do is think of myself there and waves of peace float through me. What's your place of perfect peace?