Technically, I’m not a hoarder – but I totally get what they’re doing and why. For years, it was impossible for me to recycle newspapers and magazines until I actually read them, regardless of how obsolete they might be. I’m more ruthless about recycling periodicals now, not so much because I can let things go as because I can google any article or story I need. Technically it’s progress, but is it really?
It’s harder to toss early drafts of my creative work because who knows? Someday I may need that bit of dialog in scene 3 of a movie that was DOA. Today, of course, I can save these gems on my computer, but I’m talking about the golden age of paper. Guess what? In my thirty-year career as a writer, I have never – not even once! – retrieved a piece of rejected dialog.
J is a different animal. He can trash yellow legal pads without scrutinizing every scribble. It’s true, he’s quicker to toss my rough drafts than his, but that’s because lawyers are legally bound to hang onto files for a specified number of years after a case concludes.
It was thrilling to explore a legendary venue like the Hollywood Bowl. Actually, any casual visitor to LA can explore its exterior – the site is neither gated nor guarded. Tourists can park in the lot, stroll up and down the shell, even take the stage if they choose on off-season days when no one is doing a sound-check or performing.
Backstage, of course, is off limits. That and its exclusivity endows it with irresistible mystique, at least to me. I’ve been backstage at a few rock shows (notably Bruce Springsteen, Motley Crue and Kiss) but on those occasions I was so in awe of the performers that specific details about the surroundings were a blur.
The tour Michael arranged was perfect. Our guide, who’d worked there for years,entertained us with anecdotes about the rich and famous and we could take our time. I took a lot of photos, many already in the clubs and venues section of my site, some reprinted here.
Why my interest in the inner workings of the Hollywood Bowl? I’m writing a novel about a defunct rock’n’roll band, famous in the sixties. One member went on to success beyond his wildest dreams. My hero did not. The book – half of which takes place in the 60s – is about their attempt to reunite 25 years later. Will the secrets and betrayals that shattered them in the seventies resurface in 2000? Have any of them really changed?
My MFA program at USC required a non-fiction book as well as a novel and a screenplay. I don’t remember who told me about Sontag and Evans but their story fascinated me. Basically, Chris Evans – a family man – and his buddy John Sontag became central California folk heroes by repeatedly robbing the hated Southern Pacific Railroad. The story everything – exciting robberies, a noble cause, escapes from jail, mountain communities aiding and abetting the outlaws and a shootout at the Stone Corral!
My in-laws invited me to make their home my research base and I stayed with them for several weeks. Most of my destinations were less than thirty minutes away. Today I could do it all faster on my laptop but in 76, I had to drive to actual locations, scroll through microfilm and handle old newspapers. It was hard work but to my surprise I loved it.
I wanted to focus on Evans’ oldest daughter Eva, seventeen. Eva broke them out of jail and married bachelor outlaw Sontag. Their union was brief because Sontag died from his Stone Corral wounds.
Information on Eva was hard to come by but I believe I discovered a few things nobody else knew. So why can’t you find my Sontag and Evans book at Barnes and Noble? Why didn’t I go the extra mile and write it after all that research?
Ironically, all that research sunk the project. I fell in love with how much I knew and got mired in minutiae. The smallest detail had to be accurate and corroborated. The net result? My first paragraph required seven footnotes. Nobody wants to read a pedantic tome like that.
I put the project aside, intending to resume when my research was less fresh in mind. That’s where it sits today, in cardboard boxes in our garage.
It’s not terribly surprising I was adamant about Santa Clara being my home considering my family left Santa Clara for San Diego a mere six months before I wrote this entry. In contrast, it astonishes me that 47 years later, I still regard Santa Clara as my home – despite the fact I never lived there again. Realistically, hasn’t LA – where I’ve lived the last 47 years – earned the right to be called home?
Yeah, objectively, no doubt about it. Emotionally, not so fast. I grew up in Santa Clara, it will forever be where I spent my childhood, it’s the backdrop for all my highly formative memories and experiences.
Unfortunately, the Santa Clara I regard as home ceased to exist shortly after I left. I’ve covered this in other blogs (July 18, 1969, August 26, 1969) and I’m loathe to repeat myself. Still, Santa Clara’s metamorphoses into Silicon Valley fascinates me.
Someday I’d love to write a historical novel about Santa Clara. I’d approach it as a multi-generational saga about a family who own an apricot orchard, tracing family members and the city itself as it evolves to Silicon Valley. I’ve been warned family sagas are out of fashion but by the time I finish, they might be all the rage again.
I’ve attended more than my share of writing workshops, including some of the most torturous to get into (hello Bread Loaf and Sewanee) as well as other high profile names – Tin House, Aspen Summer Words, Napa, Taos.
Eckerd College’s WRITERS IN PARADISE is one of my favorites. As far as I know, it’s the only workshop with a competition for best and second best pieces in the workshop. (The best got published in their literary magazine; the runner up got a nice write-up). For me, this led to what a friend called “fang extension” – a fierce desire to win no matter what.
Victory didn’t come easy. I lost both first and second place for three solid years. I loathe losing and swore I’d win before I died. Luckily, it happened sooner – because, to my chagrin, Eckerd discontinued the competition after 2013. Under the new system, all participants can revise the material they work-shop and submit it to the magazine for consideration. Speaking strictly for myself, I miss the thrill of cut-throat competition but since that resulted in nine miserable writers who lost and one triumphant writer who won, maybe it undermined community spirit and cooperation. Personally, I don’t think so, but who knows?
With or without the “Best of” competition, what makes Eckerd such a fantastic workshop? For me, it’s their faculty. I don’t read literary fiction unless forced to (I prefer stories /plots). Consequently, I’ve never heard of the majority of author/workshop leaders appearing at even top workshops. This isn’t true of Eckerd. Books by Eckerd authors/workshop leaders are everywhere – many are best-sellers – because they’re entertaining. Where but Eckerd can a student spend time with writers of the calibre of Sterling Watson, Tom Perrotta, Stewart O’Nan, Laura Lippman, Michael Koryta and Andre Dubus? Dennis Lehane no longer leads workshops but he makes himself accessible and never fails to fascinate.
St. Petersburg weather in January is beautiful, as is the lush green campus. It’s a safe place to stick your toe in the water (figuratively – there are alligators in Florida) and benefit from smart, professional feedback. I liked almost everyone I met there, even my competition – and I returned home a stronger writer. What more could I ask?
This is NOT a paid advertisement. Writer’s in Paradise is that good.
I was sandwiched in the center of a vinyl booth, two boys on either side. While they seemed semi-civilized at school, a round of Pepsis and fries at Denny’s unleashed their inner beast. As much as I hated to encounter obnoxious loud teenagers in real life, it was a thousand times worse to be dead center in a pack of them.
My adult self wanted to read them the riot act but my high school persona hunched speechless, red-faced.
They poured out the condiments Denny’s provided in little baskets on every table and scrawled their names in catsup, subbing salt for glitter. They blew straw wrappers at each other. They insulted diners who viewed us with disgust. If my four-year-old acted like this, I’d whisk him outside where he’d remain until he could behave himself but I didn’t have that option here. I wanted to beg our waitress’s forgiveness and leave a huge tip – I doubted the boys would leave a dime – but I couldn’t without calling attention to myself.
After they dropped me off, I called J in LA. “What’s up with your high school boyfriend?” he asked. I told him I wanted to dive under the table at Denny’s. It was hard for him to relate, since he lived a grown-up life with other adults.
The worst was yet to come. My 3rd period teacher sent me to the library because they were taking a pop quiz on material I missed. Another class, taught by Mrs. Murray, one of my former teachers in real life, already occupied the library.
When the lunch bell blared, students mobbed the door. A popular-looking perky blonde shook her bangled wrist and regaled her court with details about where she bought it, who designed it, and how much she paid. Most “girl talk” I overheard concerned fashion. They were as passionate about cute clothes as my sixties friends were about rock concerts and Viet Nam. My musings skidded to a halt when Mrs. Murray peered over their heads and said,
My adrenalin lurched into flight or fight mode. It was all I could do not to react, to pretend I didn’t realize Mrs. Murray addressed me. She repeated herself, not taking her eyes off me.
I feigned confusion. “No,” I said.
“You look exactly like a girl I had ten years ago,” Mrs. Murray said.
“Sorry, not me,” I said. As a preacher’s kid prone to Biblical references, I felt like Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane, denying my own identity three times. How could that exchange not arouse a glimmer of curiosity from one of the student witnesses? It didn’t. They were all more interested in being first in line at the snack bar than anything Mrs. Murray or I said.
I met Gene Simmons for the first time in Gary Lucchesi’s TriStar office. Gene was wearing leopard boots, a multi-strand choker with colored glass beads or gems and some sort of mesh bracelet. I’m pretty sure I looked like a PTA president by comparison in my dress and pantyhose. (What was I thinking???) He liked my spec script and wanted me to write his movie project about groupies.
His plan was for me to attend a lot of rock concerts, go backstage, and soak up the scene. For those who read yesterday’s blog, Simon and Garfunkel’s empty dressing room at the San Jose Civic in ’67 was as close as I’d come to getting up close and personal with a rock star. (Not actually true. I met some heavyweights with Cindy Williams in 80 – but that was more of an “Industry” event, not a groupie scene).
I love rock music and I’m fascinated by the “secret society” that surrounds it – the novel I’m working on right now, in 2016, is set in the rock world. The prospect of safely immersing myself in that world was enormously appealing – but so was my hope of adapting the Moonflower Vine, a novel by Jetta Carleton I’d loved since I read it in the sixties.
It seems as if good things (such as opportunities, rewards, and kudos) as well as bad things (failure, rejection, and financial stress) tend to come in clusters. Either there are two or three projects I want to write or I can’t get arrested. Two guys ask me out or I’m home alone on a Saturday night. I’ve always assumed it’s the same way for everybody (“buses always come in threes”) but I’ve never asked. Is it?
Don’t bother looking up either of these projects on the internet. Another party already purchased all rights to the Moonflower Vine – forever – so there was no hope of optioning the underlying material. I wrote a draft of the groupies’ project for Gene and TriStar at which time it died, never to be resurrected (at least not with me as the writer). In this case, these days of indecision – ripe with intoxicating possibilities – were as good as it gets.