Friday, October 21, 2005

Strong Women on the Road

Novelists Judith Ryan Hendricks (THE BAKER'S APPRENTICE, Wm. Morrow), Daniela Kuper (HUNGER AND THIRST, St. Martin's) and Masha Hamilton (THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US, Unbridled Books) have joined forces to do a traveling road show, "Strong Women Characters: In Fiction. In Person." They're currently touring Colorado and New Mexico, organized by publicist extraordinaire Caitlin Hamilton Summie. (See press release and tour schedule.)

Hendricks sends this dispatch from the front lines:

Strong Women Tour - Part One
Our hotel room looks like a sorority house on Sunday morning. There are shoes—Masha’s cross trainers, Daniela’s black loafers, my cowboy boots. Sweaters and dresses draped over chairs, cosmetics and vitamins litter the bathroom vanity, damp towels on the floor.

We all tell each other, “I really don’t live like this—normally.”

But I think we’ve all been wanting to. Live like this, I mean. We are a sorority. The three laptops plugged into various outlets tell the tale—a sorority of writers. Three midlife women—a war journalist, a bread baker and an advertising CEO who made abrupt exits off the smooth blacktop of known careers onto the potholed gravel road of fiction writing.

It’s not an unknown story. A lot of writers have come from other places. What makes this group startling is the way we have banded and bonded together for this trip…The Strong Women in Fiction Tour, our publicist calls it, for lack of a better description. The irony for me is that on my solo book tour just prior to this, I felt anything but strong. There were too many long drives through rain and traffic that moved by inches to speak to groups of three and four readers, sign some stock and then drive back to my parents’ house in yet more rain and traffic. Alone.

By the time I got to Lizzie’s house in Denver I felt exhausted and beaten, in a way I’ve rarely felt. Elizabeth Eads is an old friend of Daniela’s and she has insisted we stay with her for the Denver leg of our tour. Her house, with its warm wooden floors, comfortable furniture and folk art, is the kind of place that you pull up around you like a blanket rather than walk into. As is Lizzie herself—a tall, lanky beauty with curly hair that I would kill for, a contagious laugh, and a penchant for saying “Oh, shut up,” in an Arkansas twangy voice whenever we try to thank her for anything.

I immediately relaxed in her presence, like butter coming to room temperature. But then Daniela arrived, loaded down with groceries and wine, and Masha, straight off the plane from New York, and Lizzie was roasting chickens, steaming wild rice and the rest of us were cleaning tiny crisp asparagus and washing red leaf lettuce and setting the table. We talked as if we were cousins who hadn’t seen each other in years, not strangers who had only been together once before for a few hours on a panel in Tempe, AZ. That is to say, all we had to do was catch up. We had no need to explain ourselves to each other, tell where we were coming from. Somehow we knew.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Lost & Found in the City of the Dead

1920s graves, Edmonton Cemetery, North London.

Tonight begins Yom Kippur, the day of atonement and remembrance of the dead. So it's about time that I finally recount my August visit to Edmonton Cemetery in London. As I wrote in the July 29 post kicking off my Fabulous Yiddisher Britisher Tour, I and long-lost Stander cousins Dan and father Howard went to Edmonton but were denied entrance. The helpful person who told me the cemetery closes at 4:00 pm on summer Fridays neglected to mention that the gates are locked at 3:00 pm. So we left in defeat, after I snapped a retaliatory photo (see 7/29 post).

I went back by myself the following Tuesday at 1:00. Thanks to the databases on, I knew where three long-ago kin were buried, and figured I'd find others on my own by looking at each and every grave as I had in Margate. But after walking back and forth through maybe 20 rows of tightly packed graves in Q section nearest the entrance (the sections go A-Z, with dozens of rows in each), I realized that I had to rethink my strategy.

At the entrance of Edmonton Cemetery, with the
caretaker's cottage on left & section Q on right.

So I trudged the 1/4 mile or so to the office, where there was a group of men in jeans and T-shirts huddled about. I thought maybe I'd interrupted some frum religious ritual, but on closer inspection they turned out to be playing a mid-day game of poker. I asked the caretaker, a freckled and sandy-haired bloke with a classic Nawf Lunnen accent, whether there was a map to the graves. No, just a plan of the various sections. I left my heavy bag in his care and traipsed back out into the blazing sun (yes, London does get hot & sunny) with just my camera, notebook & pen. This time I decided to look for the graves I knew about, then go through sections T-Z, which weren't yet in the JewishGen database.

Wall near office, Edmonton Cemetery. Ladies' sign is
in Yiddish: "Fuhr froyin." For detail of large sign over
fountain, see August post "Signs of the Times: London."

I threaded my way through the claustrophobic K section (see photo at top), dodging leaning headstones while also trying not to step on the graves; an impossible task, as they're maybe six inches apart. Eventually I found the grave of Harris & Jane Stander, who died respectively in 1940 and 1921. I knew they had a son, Benjamin--named for Jane's father, I deduced from the headstone inscription--and wondered why there was no mention of him. Then I righted the tablet at the foot of the grave that had been knocked over so long ago that there was a thick layer of soil under it, embedded in which were lead letters that had fallen off the stone. (Many of the gravestones had letters stuck onto them, instead of carved inscriptions. Must have been cheaper; definitely less durable.) It was a memorial for Benjamin from his sisters; he was killed in action in 1915, age 22. Poor boy; I wondered whether anyone alive besides myself knew he had existed. The grave had obviously not been visited in decades.

Grave of Harris (Zvi) & Jane (Simchah)
Stander, and memorial for son Benjamin.

Let this be a virtual memorial candle to Benjamin Stander and all the forgotten dead wherever--and whoever--they may be.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

What Are You Doing?

Thanks to a reader's comments on the inestimable Miss Snark, the literary agent's blog, I found some fantastic essays on writing and publishing by author Jennifer Crusie. (Yeah, so she writes romances. Get over it.) One of the best is It's All About You: The First Step in Finding an Agent. Even (and especially) for writers who already have agents, Crusie's advice is spot-on. She emphasizes looking at one's whole career, not just this one book--something I've been increasingly honing in on in my Book Promotion 101 workshops. She asks:

[W]here do you see your publishing career in a year? If you interviewed an agent now, could you tell her what you want her to do for you beyond “sell my book”? Do you know what editors you'd like to work with, can you pitch the kind of books you need to write, do you know how long you need to have between books, can you tell her how you feel about starting in midlist? Can you tell her where you'd like to be in five years, the improvements in money and contract terms you want to have by then, the kind of things you want to have happen over the next five years to make those improvement feasible? Do you know where you want to be in ten years, the kind of career and life you're aiming for?
Read the whole essay, and then check out the rest of Crusie's website. It's an object lesson in how to do a perfect author site.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Rolling Stones Report

Here's what you don't want to see part-way through a Rolling Stones concert: An empty stage being minutely examined by three bomb-sniffing dogs and their policeman handlers. But I get ahead of myself...

Turns out there was no activity bus for Darling Child on Thursday (I was too tired to write this up yesterday) because every school bus in town was being used to ferry people from outlying parking lots to Scott Stadium at UVa. We parked at a 500-space garage about a mile away, which by 5:45 was almost full (showtime was 7pm), and joined a couple dozen other clever people for takeout at Foods of All Nations, a local gourmet supermarket. (BTW, you haven't lived till you've had their chocolate-dipped almond macaroons.)

At 6:30 or so we joined the throngs heading to Scott Stadium, and at 7:00, when opening act Trey Anastasio began, we were shuffling up a ramp toward our seats at the bottom tier of the nosebleed section. (I joked that we'd be singing "Nearer My God to Thee.") I'm no Phish fan and Anastasio's band left me cold. Evidently most of the ticketholders felt similarly, as the stadium was maybe 1/3 full. Anastasio's best number was the Beatles' "I Am the Walrus," but even that lacked much vitality. Sure wish we'd had the Black-Eyed Peas, who are opening for the Stones elsewhere. The band was off the stage by 7:30, to deservedly tepid applause.

At a few minutes before 9:00, by which time the stadium was full, the Stones came on with a bang--literally--with "Start It Up." A five-story (!) structure at the back of the stage shot off flames and fireworks from both ends of its swooping wings (the jumbo video screen was in the center). I could feel the heat from 120+ yards away. Yowzah!

Next came "Only Rock 'n' Roll," then "Shattered," "Ruby Tuesday," and a song from their new album. Interestingly, the videography for the latter was in black & white, while the rest were in color, so the new song looked "old." (I might have missed a couple songs in there.) Then Jagger got out an acoustic guitar and harmonica and said, "We don't get to play this one very often," and brought the house down with "Sweet Virginia." The crowd, including Your Humble Correspondent, all sang along, and went wild when the video screen showed a young woman in the audience with a "Sweet Virginia is for Stones Lovers" t-shirt. Much to my surprise, Darling Spouse--he of the 700+ record album collection & encyclopedic knowledge of popular music--had never heard "Sweet Virginia" before & was astonished that practically everyone there (especially YHC) knew it. It just goes to show: You think you know someone and then...

It hardly seems possible, but Jagger then brought the house down even more with a tribute to Ray Charles, complete with b&w pix of Charles on the Jumbotron, singing "Nighttime Is the Right Time" with the female backup singer. Besides her amazing voice, she provided a good deal of visual excitement, as her jiggling embonpoint threatened to overflow the cups of her low-cut vest. But the levees held and there was no wardrobe malfunction.

After that, Jagger started introducing the band and was just turning to Keith Richards when he abruptly left the stage, then a couple of minutes later reappeared to say that he was very sorry, but there was a"technical problem" not of their making & they had to stop the show. He stressed that this was not planned and they'd be back in about 10 minutes. Next thing we knew, the stadium lights were all on, the Jumbotron was off, and the stage (including the few hundred seats in the 5-story structure) & first 20 rows of the field seats were cleared out. Hmm, that's weird, I thought. Weirder still was when I saw the policemen and dogs. I and some other bystanders figured (correctly, as we learned from the news next day) that someone had phoned in a bomb threat. Ugh. I uneasily recalled that a friend had joked that if a bomb went off in Scott Stadium that night, half the teenagers in Charlottesville would be orphaned. Suddenly it didn't seem so funny, especially with my own teenager right there.

The "10 minutes" stretched to an hour, towards the end of which the audience passed the time by doing multiple stadium waves. All those pale arms (I think there were more African Americans on stage--5?--than in the stands) looked like coral fronds in an undersea current. Finally, the Stones came back at 10:30, appropriately with "Miss You," then launched into "Honky Tonk Women," which brought on the rain that had been threatening for the past two days, though fortunately not very heavily. The humidity had been something like 110%--we were sweating just sitting still, and that was up where there was a breeze. Earlier Jagger had observed that it was "a sultry Southern night." I'll say! (We're still desperately awaiting fall weather. Please send some this way!)

To cut a long story short, the Stones rocked out with many of their golden oldies: "Midnight Rambler" (great visuals in sync with the music); "Sympathy for the Devil," which had the audience singing "woo woo" long before Jagger chimed in; "Get Off of My Cloud," "Paint It Black" (Jagger seemed off-key on that one). There were one or two new tunes in there, then a grand finale of "Jumpin' Jack Flash." The encores were "You Can't Always Get What You Want," with the female singer's powerful operatic soprano, and "Satisfaction." By then it was after midnight and despite the late hour, there was another spectacular jet of flames followed by a bunch of loud, bright white fireworks. I'm sure they were appreciated by every dog, cat and baby in the neighborhood.

We didn't get home till 1:20 a.m. (we'd originally estimated we'd be back by 11:30. Ha!) and not 10 minutes later the rain came down in torrents, which didn't let up till this afternoon. I imagined Jagger looking in his hotel-room mirror, saying "Après moi le déluge."

In conclusion: You can make all the jokes you want about "geezer rock," but the Stones still have It. And Charlie Watts makes every other drummer look as though he's working too hard. Also, our drought is officially over.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

TJ* Would Not Be Amused...Or Would He?

The Rolling Stones are playing in UVa's Scott Stadium tonight and they're the biggest thing from Britain to hit Charlottesville since...well, probably since the Redcoats stormed the town in 17-whatever. (I guess all those lectures at Monticello didn't stick.)

There is no other news here in Charlottesville, VA. Seriously. Except that Darling Child's activity bus from school is late and his Doting Parents are anxiously waiting to start up the flivver and join the throngs looking to park near the stadium (i.e., within a mile).

Full concert report tomorrow.

*That's Mr. Jefferson to you.