Sunday, August 31, 2014

guest post: folding cranes

One of the most lovely experiences I've had working on book design was collaborating with Laura Stanfill on the cranes for Kate Gray's book (whose official pub date is September 1st) Carry the Sky. I photoshopped their backgrounds out and arranged them, but Laura made them. By hand. Lots of them. And photographed them for me in various positions. Whenever I'd need a new color or a slightly different angle, she'd make more.

This is a book publisher I'm talking about. Hand-crafting paper cranes for the cover and interior of her book.  Not only is that dedication, there's something so personal about it to me. The care with which she ministers to her stories.

I asked her to write about the sweet circumstance in which she became the hand-crafter for this book, and she wrote me a beautiful, little essay. Here's Laura, talking about folding cranes.


In fifth grade, I changed schools. From public to private, elementary to middle. An older girl, during the morning rush of bodies in halls, during the first unnerving week, said “Nice backpack.” She had the same one as me. L.L.Bean. I knew enough not to know whether that was a compliment or an insult.

Before that, I made things. At home. An only child, not lonely at all, with popsicle sticks and glitter and pompoms, staples binding my own handwritten books. I made vending machines. I made a paper toilet that one of the neighbor kids used for real. I made cities. It fit that, when offered an array of after-school activities that fifth-grade year, I chose origami over soccer, and began folding neat squares of thin paper into neater, smaller, intricate objects.

I learned how to wash hands so as not to soften the paper, how to run a fingernail over a crease to make it sharp, and how to read a pattern, when I wasn't doing homework or practicing my flute, I taught myself to work smaller, taking little blots of paper, cutting them into sharp-edged squares, and folding them. I filled a Tic-Tac mint box with tiny origami cranes. Ones that still fly, if I tilt the clear plastic container, open the white plastic spout, and pour a few into my palm.

Many years later, as a small press publisher, I found Kate Gray’s debut novel, Carry the Sky, in my submission inbox. In the boarding school within the pages of her book, teachers are required to wear J.Crew or L.L.Bean. I thought of my backpack and that girl in the hall at my new school, feeling buffeted by all the bodies, feeling unsure. Kate describes the rush between classes as rapids.

As a fifth grader, I didn't have community yet, didn't know the teachers and students who would shape me, fold me, into someone willing to take risks, to continue exploring creativity, to make mistakes, to study hard. Another school, or another set of friends within that school, might have landed me in a world more like the one Kate writes about in the unblinking look at bullying that is her debut novel. I might have continued second-guessing what people said. But I found the right people, teachers who value thinking and creativity. “Nice backpack” was intended as a compliment, and that girl became one of my best friends. Is still one of them.

There’s quite a bit of origami in Carry the Sky. Bugs, dinosaurs, a rowing shell, cranes. When Gigi started working on cover ideas, I mentioned my long-ago training, and she asked me to fold and photograph a few examples. My fingers remember how to fold cranes, can still crease paper the way I was taught in fifth grade, and I fold them for my daughters now, offering them a choice of puffed or flapping. They want the ones that move. Gigi wanted the puffed ones, for that extra sense of dimension.

The same week Gigi asked me to fold, my husband brought me a package. My inlaws hosted foreign exchange students over the years, when their children were high school students. One of them presented a pack of small squares of origami paper, and flat splintery chopsticks. A date in the packet says 1984. Kate Gray set Carry the Sky in the fall of 1983. My mother-in-law had no idea I was working on publishing this boarding school bullying novel, no idea that I needed to fold cranes. She was cleaning out, moving on.

Nobody had ever opened the cellophane. The origami paper was fanned out with perfect symmetry, paperclipped, and preserved for thirty years in one of their closets.

I broke the seal, picked one plain bright square, and began to fold.

Carry the Sky debuts September 1st. The launch event takes place at Powell's City of Books (downtown) on September 5th. You can check it out through Powell's here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

anniversary show off - a retrospective

On Friday, the day before the weekend before the week of our wedding anniversary, both of us busy with projects, Stephen said to me, "Can I ask a question?" He looked like he wasn't sure he should ask. "Have you started working on my anniversary card?"

I said, "Oh my god, no!"

"Me neither," he said. "Everything I thought about working on is lame."

I said, "Oh my god, everything I thought about working on is lame too!"

Raised eyebrows and a half smile can go from tentative to relieved, back to tentative so fast. "What would you say," he said, "if just for this year," he said, "maybe," he said.

I reached out and, without saying anything else, shook his hand.

Of course, as relieved as we both were that we could let the tradition lapse for a year (it's not really a year, of course. We make personalized cards for Christmas, for Valentine's Day, for each birthday...), we've been feeling the expected letdown that comes from not being able to get up in the morning and show off the apparent brilliance of our personalized anniversary cards (because isn't showing off what togetherness is all about?). So, I decided what needed to happen was a retrospective of all the silly anniversary cards we've labored over since we started this tradition.

Because I'm not as organized as Stephen, and can't find my file for the card I made him in 2007, we're going to start with him.

2007, his to me. The outside.

The inside.

Neither of us has whatever the heck card we did for each other in 2008. So, we move on to...

2009, his to me.

2009, mine to him.

OK, I don't have that one either But I assure you it must have been terribly clever.

2010, his to me.

2010, mine to him.

2011, his to me.

2011, mine to him.

2012, his to me. I still think this is my favorite of all time.

2012, mine to him.

2013, his to me. This is the first anniversary after his fall.

2013, mine to him. The outside image.

The inside image.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

true love scars

Recently, I was given a sneak preview of a book that's out this month by music writer Michael Goldberg (who was a senior writer at Rolling Stone among other things). It's Goldberg's first novel, and I've been excited to check it out. Years ago, he spent time in Tom Spanbauer's basement, workshopping this very book, and I've missed his runaway freight train of a voice and the story I got to know so well, but which I never got to hear the end of, since Michael moved out of state and out of the Dangerous Writers workshop before finishing the book.

As it turns out, I still have yet to get to the end of the story, because that breakneck freight train has turned into a trilogy. True Love Scars is book one in the Freak Scene Dream Trilogy, a story about Michael Stein, a 19 year old "freakster bro" at the brink of the seventies, doing drugs, obsessing over music and pining for his "Visions of Johanna Chick" - Visions of Johanna after the Dylan song. Dylan is God to Michael Stein, a god almost as important as the narrator's quest for what he calls the "authentic real" - or his quest for the perfect woman:

Ahab got the whale, which is a huge symbol for some unreachable mammoth goal we yearn for, and Columbus gotta prove the world ain’t flat, which is mammoth too, and he runs right into America, and if that ain’t mammoth, nothing is. And Gatsby got Daisy, who’s pretty much the same deal as the whale and America. No disrespect to Daisy, but she’s a symbol too. Well daunting as any of those three might be are my trials regards my Visions of Johanna. I needed a chick bad that fall day. And I’m not talking about getting laid. This was way deeper. I was searching for the key to the rest of my life. If only I could find my Visions of Johanna chick, she’d do for me what Sweet Sarah once did, mirror back to me who I am, and once again I would stand tall. Once again I would be the last freakster bro standing, guns a-blaze.

This is sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, folks, which normally you probably wouldn't think would be my thing, but Goldberg's book is full of a voice that is so breathless and particular and, what attracts me the most, innocent. There is such a sweetness in the narrator, such youthful naive charm under all the F-bombs. (There are lots of F-bombs. Sometimes when he read pages in the Dangerous Writing basement, we'd count the F-bombs.) Michael Stein knows everything there is to know about music and the music scene. He's a walking encyclopedia of rock 'n' roll. But there's so much that he doesn't know. And it's in what Michael Stein doesn't know that the story finds its heartbreaking charm - and, of course, its danger.

I didn't know the hellfuck of what the next years would bring. You can’t know. If you did it would be too much to bear. There’s this Chet Baker album called Let’s Get Lost. Well that year, the year that began that day I met Lord Jim, we were all looking for a way out. Me and Lord Jim, and the others. You’ll meet them. None of us ready to feel. The drugs and booze and cigarettes and coffee and music and sex—all the ways we didn't feel. Well there were times when the future leaked out. When we had to feel something. Mostly it was let’s get lost. We tried so hard. To feel nothing.

True Love Scars is a crazy ride. And a thoroughly dead-on look at what it was like to be young and yearning and out of control and freakster hip in the late sixties and early seventies. You can check it out here.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

a moment in the day: picking up nicholas

Finally home from our trip to Seattle, we sit on the hard, wooden benches in the little waiting area at the vet's, staring at the open door just past the reception counter. We've paid the bill for Nicholas' boarding and now it's been five whole minutes, and they haven't brought us our dog yet. And that couple. The guy in the brown slacks and the girl in the jeans and sandals and qué será, será tattooed on the side of her foot. They're standing in my way. Between me and the door where, any second now, one of the ladies is going to appear with my precious doggy.

Tattoo foot lady is completely blocking my view.

I should say what will be will be, but goddamn it, I've been waiting for this moment.

I lean over and whisper in Stephen's ear, "She's blocking my view!"

I shift on the bench and try to look around her, but even though I can see through the door when I'm slanty (see through to where the ladies in back are milling around and decidedly not rushing to bring me my dog), it's ticking me off that I also have to have madame qué será, será right there in the almost middle of my vision. In a moment, I get up and move down to the next bench, where I have a clean shot again. Fuck you, qué será, será. 

Stephen laughs, hesitates, finally joins me on the second bench. We sit and stare at the open door.

We sit and stare at the open door.

Under his breath, in a very quiet sort of low growl, Stephen says, "Give me my dog."

Qué será, será takes a couple meandering steps and suddenly - yes, of freaking course - she's standing right between me and door AGAIN.

I lean over and whisper in Stephen's ear, "Oh my god, oh my god."

Under his breath, "Give me my dog."

Now one of the ladies appears in the angelic light of the open door. For one tiny moment, I'm filled with joy.

Then I see that it's not a beautiful caramel-colored perfect-miniature-deer-like Chihuahua but some scruffy, bedraggled runt of a fluffball being returned to Qué será even though we got here first.

"There, now," the vet lady tells Qué será and Mr será as she lifts over the dog into the woman's arms, "keep a good eye on this tube. It's to drain the fluid. But he should be just fine."

"Oh, what a good boy," Qué será coos at him, "what a brave boy."

OK, I am a jerk.

The couple step toward the exit, and once they're gone, I've forgotten them and whatever their plight may have been and I'm back to staring at the open door.

Low, under Stephen's breath: "Give me my dog."

I mean after all, we've been away from Nicholas for one whole day.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

a moment in the day: heatwave

It's sweltering in the back room of our third floor apartment, my writing room, the farthest spot from our small window unit air conditioner. I've been eating ice pops and trying to concentrate on my work, but the thick heat pushes all inspiration and motivation from my brain and makes my wrists itchy and chafey against the edge of my laptop.

Stephen peeks through the open doorway. He says, "You don't even have the fan on." 

I look at the fan sitting on the floor three feet from my chair. "Oh yeah."

As I go to turn the thing on, Stephen says, "What would you do without me?" 

"I'd die," I say. "I'd die an embarrassing, embarrassing death."

Thursday, July 10, 2014

the night, and the rain, and the river: authors' favorite lines - part four

Here's the last in my little series of the authors' own favorite passages from their stories in the Forest Avenue Press short story anthology The Night, and the Rain, and the River. Today's edition: Alisha Churbe, Ellen Davidson Levine and Trevor Dodge.

From "All is Not Lost"

My story is non-traditional in form. I didn't get to start my story with a first line that had any kind of impact. The form was restrictive and didn't follow many of the guidelines that are laid for short stories. I didn't get to think about that as the story couldn't start anywhere other than with "Dear Gary." I did try other forms for the story, but Marlene really demanded to be center of attention. In looking for the line for your project, I was able to choose something that would really draw a reader into the story.


From "The Dog War"

I like the way the words sound together and what they say about the narrator of "The Dog War." He's a high school teacher at the end of the school year, a philosopher, and a romantic who can savor both the smell of lilacs and the scent of passing animals. Here, I try to create a moment of quiet before conflict erupts. I like this quote also because the only time of year I awaken willingly at dawn is in summer.

I remember when I wrote this, I wanted to show how Jim Shuster, the narrator, observes life through the lens of history. I also wanted to reflect the part of him that's connected to nature and rural life. Here too, I like the way the words fit together.


From "Real World Reject"

I've been a letter writer and pen pal of some kind my entire life, and I’m always intrigued at how our personal correspondences with others can both buoy and drown us. In “Real World Reject," the narrator sees the opening and reading of the mail as a simple form of validation. I mean, there are few things more depressing than going to the mailbox and finding it empty; in a way, we’re all like Charlie Brown when we go there, waiting for a letter from The Little Red-Haired Girl that is never going to come.


If you want to check out the book, more info is here.

The Night, and the Rain, and the River is edited by Liz Prato and is available through all the usual places, but my favorite is here..

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

the night, and the rain, and the river: authors' favorite lines - part three

More of the authors' own favorite passages from their stories in the Forest Avenue Press short story anthology The Night, and the Rain, and the River. Today's edition: Domi J. Shoemaker, Christi Krug and Steve Denniston.

from "Left Right Wrong"
I chose this quote because it captures that moment in a child's life where they really start to differentiate from the parent or primary caregiver. That moment they start to see the parent as something other than just an extension of themselves. In this case, the moment is terrifying to the little girl. She sees her mom as someone else. Someone beautiful, yet distant. It gets further complicated in a split second in the mom using the little girl to soothe herself, ostensibly reversing the bond, so it is the mom who sees the child as an extension of herself and the child gets stripped of her own identity before she really has the chance to form one. 


from "The World, the Flesh, and the Devil"
I love the idea of a narrator coming face to face with her own lies, and I love the possibilities of looking at “sin,” a word which is so weighted in our culture. And, a list of sins is totally provocative.


from "It's No Good Telling Me That"

There seemed to be two different kinds of choices, quotes that worked well out of context, and quotes that meant something to the story. I tried to find two quotes that did both things, would work well for someone who hasn’t read the story, and if someone has read it, the quote would resonate.

This quote was an easy one to choose. It’s quirky enough to be eye catching, intriguing by talking about the mom having left more than once, and the odd way the father has of dealing with it.

I’m also drawn to this quote because it’s where the story begins to open up and reveal why this particular moment is a story, why it’s important to the narrator, John. A few lines later we find out John has never heard his dad talk about this before. A shift takes place as the son and father begin to talk about a taboo subject, the mother abandoning them multiple times, yet at the same time they still aren’t quite able to talk to each other about it. 

This quote comes from the son early in the story. It’s his first line of dialog that stands alone by itself and gives a sense of his attitude, which made it an easy choice to be one of the quotes.

What I really like about the quote as part of the story is that even though it’s an outrageous thing for the son to say, the father doesn’t react at all. They’ve been having two different conversations while talking to each other, and even that comment about dynamite doesn’t pull the father in. What I really hope happens here is that the title, “It’s No Good Telling Me That,” has begun to resonate early in the story.


More to come. In the meantime, if you want to check out the book, more info is here.

The Night, and the Rain, and the River is edited by Liz Prato and is available through all the usual places, but my favorite is here.