LOL Louise Penny!

Self loves a writer with a good sense of humor.

The following conversation made her laugh out loud:

Setting: a Parisian parfumerie

Reine-Marie, Inspector Armand Gamache’s wife, is trying to help her husband find a murderer. Since this is Paris, the men wear cologne. (Although, if you were a murderer, wouldn’t you prefer to skip this step. Just sayin’)

“May I help you, madame?” a young man asked.

“I’m trying to find a cologne. I smelled it recently but don’t know the name,” Reine-Marie said.

Young Man: “Not to worry. I love this sort of thing. Now, are you sure it was a man’s cologne and not a woman’s?”

Reine-Marie: “Absolutely.”

Young Man: “Bon. That helps . . . Can you describe it? Was it earthy? Did it smell like moss or bark? Lots of men’s fragrances do. They think it’s masculine.”

Reine-Marie: “No. It was lighter than that.”

Young Man: “Fruity?”

Reine-Marie: “Non.”

Young Man: “Citrusy?”

Reine-Marie: “Yes.”

Young Man: “Good.”

Reine-Marie: “Maybe a little woody.”

Young Man: “Okay.”

Reine-Marie: “With a kind of chemical-y smell?”

Young Man: “Are you asking me?”

Reine-Marie: “Telling?”

Young Man: “It seems we’re looking for a lemon tree made out of plastic. It’s a good thing you’re not trying to sell fragrances, madame.”

From Grimdark to Louise Penny

Is quite a leap, self is sure dear blog readers will agree.

Just this morning, we were in bloody Valbeck, but now we are in oh-so-refined Paris, in a gracious building in the Seventh Arrondissement . . .

Hello, Book # 16 of the Inspector Armand Gamache series, All the Devils Are Here.

Post-dinner, self curls up in bed with two books. One of these will be her next read. She’s indecisive like that.

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

Short Stories, Plays, Process: An Interview With Playwright Penny Jackson

Penny and self have been friends for a long, long, long time. Since before either of us were even married.

Self remembers having Penny over to her little one-bedroom in Menlo Park. She met Thomas, Penny’s then-boyfriend, soon-to-be-husband.

We were in the Stanford Creative Writing Program together. Penny lived in the City. She hitched rides to the writing workshops with Jeffrey Eugenides and his dog. They split on the gas.

In recent years, Penny has been writing plays at a terrific rate. Her most recent production was during last fall’s Solo Festival in New York City.

Self wrangled an interview out of Penny. No mean feat, as Penny is terrifically busy. Here are some of her answers to self’s questions:

What attracts you to playwriting as a form as opposed to, say, writing a novel or a short story? What was the first genre you started writing?

I first began writing stories when I was in college (Barnard). I am very comfortable with writing in short forms, and I have adapted three of my plays from three stories, All Alices, Louise in Charlestown, and Before, which have worked very well onstage. Although I wrote a novel, Becoming the Butlers (published by Bantam when Penny was a 20-something), I find writing a novel to be more challenging. Keeping track of the plot and characters over a length of time is difficult. Perhaps I like playwriting now because each scene is like a short story to me, with a beginning, middle, and end. That’s not to say I won’t return to novel writing. I still love fiction writing, and unlike playwriting, you have a sense of control you have to somewhat relinquish when you hand your play over to your director and actors.

Are there conditions that need to be present before you feel you can write your best?

Absolute quiet and no distractions. I joined The Writers Room, which provides a haven for writers. I wish sometimes that the Internet did not exist. When I was at MacDowell, there was no Internet, and I could really focus.

What keeps you writing?

The world. I am inspired all the time by the news and what I see in the city and hear from my friends. I write to be able to understand the complexities, the unfairness, and also the joys of life. If I didn’t write, I think I would go a bit crazy. I hear the same sentiment from actors: if they don’t act, they can’t handle the world. Right now I’m sick about the gun violence in our country, and writing about the issue really helped me with my sadness and disgust at our politicians.

What is the biggest difference between playwriting now and playwriting when you were just starting out? Does it get easier? Why or why not?

Playwriting is becoming somewhat easier. I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to work with several brilliant directors, actors, and dramaturges. I understand the form better now. What is not easier is finding a theatre to produce your plays if you are a female writer who is not a recent Yale graduate. Ageism and sexism very much exist in theatres, when I began and still today.

Do you experiment with form and/or dialogue? Who or what inspires you?

Because I’m trained in fiction writing, which is character-based, I always begin with people. An old lady drinking in a decrepit Irish bar. Two teenage girls talking to a mysterious older man at Starbucks. A drag queen waiting for his show in Las Vegas and having to talk to his daughter about marriage.

I love dialogue. I write down snippets of dialogue I overhear in the streets of New York City all the time. And if you follow me on Facebook, you can frequently read about remarkable conversations with New York cab drivers.

In your opinion, what is the best play ever written?

I am a huge Eugene O’Neill fanatic, so I will say Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Family secrets and family guilt and pure poetic language. But of course, King Lear is top of the canon. King Lear howling about his dead daughter still takes my breath away.

Which playwright has taught you the most about your craft?

Rogelio Martinez is a wonderful playwright who has taught me so many important aspects about playwriting. I also love the Lark Development Center which gives you the space and time to try out new works in a safe environment.

Did you have a mentor? Do you think playwrights need one?

Yes, having a mentor is important. So many women directors have been my mentors: Joan Kane, Gloria Kadigan, and Shira-Lee Shalit are three tremendously talented women artists who inspire and instruct me. Writing is a very lonely business. You need a cheerleader!

What’s the worst thing about being a playwright?

That it’s just too damn expensive to produce a play in America. Unlike Europe, we don’t have government funding for theatre. The costs are astronomical. As a female playwright, I face other challenges. Walk down Broadway or The West End. Do you see any female playwrights on the marquee? My organization, The League of Professional Theatre Women, is working so hard for gender equality in theatre, but it’s a very long, frustrating, and seemingly endless battle.

 

 

Memory and Nostalgia: “Sutil” in The Threepenny Review

The Threepenny Review, Fall 1995

The Threepenny Review, Fall 1995

Still one of self’s favorite pieces.  It begins:

I was last home for my father’s funeral.  I say “home” even though I am an American citizen now, sworn in with a twenty-piece Navy band in the grand ballroom of the Marriott Hotel on Fourth and Mission in San Francisco.  Yet, “home” for me was always that other place, that city James Hamilton-Patterson describes as “a parody of the grimmer parts of Milwaukee.”

I’ve never been to Milwaukee, so I can’t tell whether this is true or not, whether Manila really is like a parody of a city in the far north of this country (or at least what I imagine to be the far north, in a general region of the country I associate with heavy snow and Laverne and Shirley).  But that it is different from here, of course.  It is the differences I loved.

When I was last home, which was for my father’s funeral, I slept with my mother in the big wooden four-poster in my parents’ bedroom.  This bed, handed down from my grandfather, was familiar and reassuring.  It was of heavy wood, a wood that doesn’t exist today in any Philippine forest, having been cut to extinction.  It may have been called “molave.”  I am not sure of this, as I am not sure of so many things about my culture, which I think I received very young, too young really to understand context or value.

DSCN1211

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Third Friday of May (2011): Sunny, Finally; Penny’s Play; Still Checking Submishmash

It is a spectacular day, dear blog readers.  Self spent some time watering, hauling around the old green bucket.  All (or nearly all) of her roses are profusely blooming.  Finally!  Last year, she was ready to give up.  She single-handedly dug holes for each of her almost 20 roses —  the Betty Boop, the Chihuly, the climbing New Dawn, the climbing Don Juan, the Fourth of July, the Sheila’s Perfume, the Sunflare, the Winsome, and so forth and so on  —   nursed them through their early stages with lavish applications of water and fertilizer, and still, her garden refused to reward her efforts.  This year, she decided that she would not worry about her garden any longer.  And as soon as she made that decision, everything bloomed, all at once.

Tonight is the start of the second (and closing) weekend of Penny’s play, “Booze in the Boroughs.”  Did self impart to dear blog readers how, as she sat in the audience exactly a week ago (the space was SRO), she relished every minute, and wished she’d succeeded in getting her nephew to come along?  (But, Friday night in New York, of course young men have plans!)  The action of the play begins in Central Park, winds through the Bronx, the Staten Island Ferry, Brooklyn, and Queens.  Various characters meet, share, ignite.  Here are the play particulars:  It is showing on Joria Mainstage, at 260 West 36th Street, on the 3rd Floor.  It is showing tonight, Saturday and Sunday.  Penny mentioned it might be taken to other places, one of these others being Seattle.

Self was sorry that, during her last trip, she did not get to see:

  • Drew
  • the Metropolitan Museum  (She only got as far as the front steps, where she sat and listened to a band sing “Under the Boardwalk.”  But the day was simply too beautiful, self thought, to spend inside a museum.  She remained outside, and indulged in a peanut butter and fudge cupcake from a vendor called “Cakes and Shakes” —  to die for.  That was her lunch)
  • Minette
  • the Whitney (She usually makes it a point to visit this museum, every time she is in New York.  She actually likes it better than the Metropolitan.  It feels less overwhelming.  They had a fantastic Cy Twombly retrospective, a couple of years ago)

She made an effort to contact Paolo Javier, who she read with years ago, at the Asian American Writers Workshop.  She e-mailed his publisher.  The man was so nice, he answered right away, and said he personally hadn’t seen Paolo in many years.  How do people lose each other?  Time is really a river …

But, here she is, and tomorrow she and hubby are meeting up with son in Monterey, at a pet cemetery where we will finally lay poor Gracie to rest.

Self decides she will e-mail that literary journal, the one that supposedly accepted her piece without a formal notification (She only found out when she logged into Submishmash and saw —  Green!  Her first green in a year!)

She sent out a novella this morning (Deep breath)

Zack is in New Orleans.  She promised him a lengua burrito from the place at the corner of Jefferson and El Camino, next time he is in her neck of the woods.  In the meantime, here’s something about his book from The Wily Filipino.  (Zack’s going to be in Europe and Morocco in June.  Self is of course dying of jealousy)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Voice: The Ten Thousand Doors of January

Blazed through The Bone Ships in the wee hours. Whoa, self did not realize there was actual intimacy between two characters? Anyhoo, she’s just begun The Ten Thousand Doors of January, by Alix E. Harrow, a writer she has never read before.

All the books she’s read so far this year are by writers she’s never read before. Except for Louise Penny. Self has read an early Inspector Gamache, but had no memory of Jean-Guy Beauvoir, go figure!

At seven, I’d spent considerably more time with Mr. Locke than with my own biological father, and insofar as it was possible to love someone so naturally comfortable in three-piece suits, I loved him.

As was his custom, Mr. Locke had taken rooms for us in the nicest establishment available; in Kentucky, that translated to a sprawling pinewood hotel on the edge of the Mississippi, clearly built by someone who wanted to open a grand hotel but hadn’t ever met one in real life.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January, by Alix E. Harrow, p. 5

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

The Reading Year (So Far, 2021)

From wsj’s Best Books of 2020/Science Fiction:

  • The Relentless Moon, by Mary Robinette Kowal – So far, one of the best novels she’s read in 2021
  • Ballistic Kiss, by Richard Kadrey – wildly inventive, self wasn’t so taken with the he/she/they gender politics of a major character

In a category by itself:

  • Dark, Salt, Clear, by Lamorna Ash — A first book by a 22-year-old, E.S.A.D.

Kick-Ass Discovery of the Year:

  • Eddie’s Boy, by Thomas Perry, the sequel to a 1982 novel, The Butcher’s Boy – That’s chutzpah, coming up with a sequel 40 years later. Kudos! Self added The Butcher’s Boy to her reading list.

from wsj’s Best Books of 2020/Mysteries:

  • All the Devils Are Here, by Louise Penny — Self adored Jean-Guy Beauvoir and of course Paris.
  • One Fatal Flaw, by Anne Perry — All hail the May-December almost-romance between 25-year-old Daniel Pitt and 40-year-old Miriam Crofft, daughter of his employer.

from The Economist’s Books of the Year 2020/Memoir

  • A Promised Land, by Barack Obama — Beautifully written, can’t believe 45 was succeeded by Drumpf.

from The Economist’s Books of the Year 2020/Fiction

  • SHUGGIE BAIN, by Douglas Stuart — an absolutely immersive experience, though her favorite character was not the title character but his unheralded older brother, Leek

from The Economist’s Books of the Year 2020/Business and Economics

  • No Rules Rules — This one was a disappointment.

from wsj’s Books of the Year 2020/Travels in the New North

  • Ice Walker, by James Raffan — another absolutely immersive experience, the ending almost broke self.

from Jonathan Strahan’s Notes from a Year Spent Indoors (Locus Magazine)

  • the first two books in Joe Abercrombie’s (smashing) Age of Madness trilogy and her first Grimdark: A Little Hatred and The Trouble with Peace

“I’m not part of anything bigger, and I need to be.”

Oh bravo, Miriam Crofft, gentlewoman scientist in England 1911.

Reading One Fatal Flaw, Book 3 of the Daniel Pitt series by Anne Perry. It’s self’s first Anne Perry! Apparently it’s a log-running series (like Louise Penny’s Inspector Armand Gamache series), but most of the books were about Daniel Pitt’s parents. Now, the next generation has taken over.

Daniel Pitt is 25, a graduate of Cambridge, and still quite green. He receives superb assistance from the daughter of his boss, Miriam. Miriam is a much-loved only child, and her father indulged all her scientific notions and built her a chemistry lab in the basement of their home.

It’s very interesting.

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

Angst in All the Devils Are Here

Whew! The angst in this mystery. There’s enough angst here to power a whole galaxy. Everyone in the family is a suspect to Inspector Armand Gamache, including his own son!

Did self mention the angst?

The angst also comes wrapped in a bow in the person of Jean-Guy Beauvoir, former hardscrabble kid (from East Montreal; self never having been to Montreal, or even to Quebec, she can only imagine the horrors of growing up in East Montreal), “found” and made his boss’s No. 2, thereby earning a) the love of the boss’s daughter; b) the hatred of the boss’s son; and c) the curiosity of every reader of Louise Penny’s Inspector Armand Gamache’s series (mostly female, self’s assuming)

Better than the mystery is the suspicion, the miscommunication, the times we worry for Jean-Guy Beauvoir (there’s “something wild” about him, muses a character in this book), the times he’s called stupid by a prissy female colleague (French), the times Inspector Gamache’s son Daniel looks at him with deep hatred, the times Jean-Guy looks at his boss and mentor with fierce protectiveness.

Self doesn’t know if Jean-Guy is as integral to every Inspector Armand Gamache book as he is in this one, but let’s just put it this way: if you do not like the character of Jean-Guy Beauvoir, you will probably not like All the Devils are Here.

Self, it turns out, does like the character, hence she likes this installment (#16!!!) of the Inspector Armand Gamache series, very much.

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

April 6 BRIGHT SQUARES

Every day this April, a BRIGHT SQUARE.

Learn more about the challenge here.

Self took the pictures below in Afterwards, a vintage clothing and furniture store in Menlo Park. She was on her way to the Rodin Sculpture Garden at Stanford, but her attention was caught by the big globe hanging in the window. So she decided to investigate.

The store is huge! And full of one-of-a-kind pieces. So much more fun than shopping in a department store.

Self and the woman there had a nice conversation about Louise Penny.

Squares in Picture # 1: the McDonald’s awning? The shape of the building?

Squares in Picture # 2: The chair back is sort of — squar-ish?

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

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