A voracious but discriminating reader
A publishing and writing consultant
A book critic and reviewer
A member of the National Book Critics Circle
I’ve written lots of books, both under my own name and as a ghostwriter for others.
(Above, to the right, I think that’s me, although I’m rarely that serene, let alone focused. I hate that picture, actually, but my husband likes it better than the one with me wearing a ball cap pulled low over my eyes looking like I’m reading a suicide manual, the one that I had up here before.)
Who cares. Not me.
Anyway…the highly edited highlights of–
MY WORK, LIFE AND WORKLIFE
Trite and commonplace as it is, I’ll admit Shakespeare (the well dressed, serious guy on the right) was my first hero and is still an inspiration and example in many ways for me.
But my own creative fiction probably has been most influenced by Flannery O’Connor (the witch beneath the guy on the right).
Why? Two reasons, I suppose. Maybe more. But primarily: because in our time, although she has been dead many years, she remains the undisputed master of the short story form and that is the form that most draws me, the one I’m most comfortable with and in which so far, though some may disagree with me, I believe I have done my best work.
Secondly, I share her ferocious sensibility and write from an intuitive moral, though not theological, standpoint. I am similarly intent upon (and enjoy), calling out and firing at villains, sinners, reprobates and dangerous subversives what I hope are lethal poisoned darts of humor.
There is a possible third factor in that, for better or worse, I am naturally drawn to the American South as the sui generis of my characters and stories.
Oh, and a possible fourth thing, maybe actually a similarity between us: our often freakish fictional characters and the freaking duck soup they’ve made out of their lives.
However, I am more compassionate and forgiving than O’Connor and far less doctrinaire. Less severe.
I don’t think most people are going straight to hell, for instance. (She is a STITCH.) I think too many people are already in hell, have engineered themselves there in the here and now, through poor choices. I am certainly less accomplished. She would probably dismiss me as a slacker, a spiritual weakling, and deficient in moral “fiber.” She was tough.
But a little perspective on this.
If I were seriously sleep deprived or tipsy, and found myself in the ER as a result of one or both of those conditions, and someone asked me my blood type, like a robot zombie I’d automatically blurt Catholic.
It’s more than a state of mind, it’s more than belief, faith, theology, ritual and observance. If they get to you early enough, they suck out your blood, get the Holy Ghost to swirl it around in certain secret patterns, say words over it in Latin, dilute it with holy water, swing incense over it, pipe it back in, and you are Catholic. ( Below, what they did to me.)Period. For your whole guilt-ridden, tear-streaked, confused, cowering life. For all eternity you are thus marked, scarred and cursed (If there is such a horrible thing as eternal life I will have to live it as a Catholic). There is no escape. None whatsoever. There is no known cure for it yet and people will quit looking for one, even the most highly motivated seekers of such, other Catholics, once they realize what Catholic really is, assuming, that is, anyone (other than myself) ever does.
Nevertheless, I also admire and have picked up a thing or two from Twain (cool dude just below).
I adore his work and return to it often for sheer enjoyment. The humor angle, the tendency to skewer by satire, the American stamp, his fluency in my native soil’s lingua franca, his delight in the absurd.
On a more personal note–
I live on a small farm and spend as much time as I can outdoors.
In passing, before I forget it, I think I should just mention that I hate kale. You may not think this significant, but I do.
Anyway, Twain has Huck Finn say in a certain context, “There ain’t no harm in a dog.” Well, I agree and I love dogs. I seem to have a visceral understanding of dogs. I can speak “dog,” apparently. If there are dogs within a 500 foot radius of me, they almost always suddenly stop whatever it is they are doing, look up as if surprised, check things out, and somehow sense me. They suddenly become, as it were, transfixed by my presence, transported to a state of happy blissedness, and will abruptly leave their owners, bones, the bottoms of other dogs they are investigating, you name it, and make a beeline for me as if I were the long awaited canine messiah, the Dog Jesus, and they would become my apostles. They want to sit at my feet and hear the gospel, the good news, according to Dog.
Funny, I love it. Strange, but this often makes my husband quite annoyed and uncomfortable.
(Those are NOT my legs up there by the way. But you get the picture.)
I seem to hold the same charisma and fascination for horses, cats, chickens, wild birds, even lizards and snakes. I could do well without the latter, thank you very much. No idea where all this, this gift of mine, came from. I just get these guys and they get me. Too bad they don’t read. If they did, I know I could sell a lot of books to them.
Incidentally, my favorite food is pinot noir.
I also love birds and I’ve tried keeping peacocks several times a la O’Connor, but so far each time I’ve bought a pair–and I’ve bought several–they have suddenly taken off on a hot lazy afternoon, launched themselves straight up in the air like helicopters or Mary Poppins, and whop-whop-whop, whirr-whirr, headed for the woods next door. In those dark woods there now flourishes a flock of peacocks, an angry histrionic chorus of critics, that sometimes shows up at the fence at twilight, my favorite time of day to be outside, to hurl vehement ear-piercing insults at me. The whole neighborhood can hear it. It’s like being bashed in public by a mob of loud-mouthed bedlamites on crack.
I suspect O’Connor is behind this. It has all the hallmarks. (Below: my most severe critics)
Finally, I have to own up to a serious debt to the mysterious but charismatic Emily Dickinson to whom I was introduced first (seriously) in college and whom I studied most seriously as a graduate student. I began with poetry, poetry remains my first love and abides in my highest estimation as the superior literary form. Dickinson’s work and life were my introduction to and (remains my archetype for) the sere sacrifice (as well as the indescribable transcendence) of what it means to be a poet.
Whew. That was tough. Seriously.
A somewhat different, more flippant (Yes! I can be even less serious and more flippant! I hate talking about myself.) author bio is available on Goodreads.com.
The stark unadorned details of my professional background, my creds and education are available on LinkedIn. Actually, I wouldn’t call them “details” per se. The info there is the bare minimum, an author’s equivalent of a soldier’s “Name, Rank and Serial Number.” More like my Dog Tags or my toe tag in a morgue. Just in case. I mean, who knows? You never know, you know?
As far as I know, those are the facts as I know them.
It occurs to me, as I try to wind this windy whimsy up, that I write to defer, deflect and improve upon The Facts as we know them ( always provisional), especially the most dangerous ones, and to lay bare The Lies that get in our way and subvert our lives.
Somehow it is impossible for me to do this seriously and effectively, and (most importantly) sincerely and authentically in my own voice, without humor. I guess that makes me a spasmodic optimist. Or something.
- Flannery O’Connor Reads from her essay, ‘Some Aspects of the Southern Grotesque in Fiction’ (terilavelle.com)
- Flannery O’Connor on Too Much Interpretation (womenwordswisdom.com)
- Flannery O’Connor on “What Makes a Story Work” (thelivingnotebook.com)