Category Archives: Baton Rouge

Quarterly Progress Report: 2015 Q1

Alright now, it’s been a while. You and I both know this, so I’m just ‘fessing up. Since I’ve been pretty quiet this year and because two of my favorite regular posts are the annual end of the year homework and the quarterly reading reports, I thought I’d just smash them together to create a quarterly progress report. Whether this will be a one-timer or a series remains to be seen – let me know what your thoughts are, if it’s something you’d like to see again or not.

Updates on 2015, my life and goals so far:

1. This blog: I’ve been writing and maintaining a blog fairly consistently since 2008 and it’s been a lot of fun. I started out writing 10+ posts a month, sometimes as many as 20-25 during NaNoWriMo in November. The world of blogging has changed so much since 2008, as has my personal and professional life, so there have been different iterations of this blog in that time and that’s the beauty of it, I think, watching it stretch and mutate to become what is most necessary and fun for me at any given time. I think the blog will be undergoing a new iteration soon and I’m in a phase of figuring out what I need from it. I’m crowdsourcing information from a group of other bloggers (look for their links on the right, under Band of Bloggers) and I would genuinely love to know your thoughts, whether you’ve been reading for a long time or catch the occasional random post, whether its in the comments or privately (my email is on my bio page).

2. My low-key New Year’s resolution: During the last few years, my email inbox has become a terrifying place, unproductive and chaotic, a black hole into which good information and correspondence have disappeared. Last year, I had more than 2,000 unread messages in my inbox (not in folders, inbox). Without quite intending to (at first), I started doing something about this late last year, picking up steam as I went. I stopped subscriptions to a lot of email newsletters, switched from daily to weekly in some cases, and deleted dozens of emails in batches. When 2015 started, I had fewer than 200 emails in my inbox, going back to 2012 and I have been steadily dealing with these, as well as developing better and faster data and correspondence management techniques that work for my personality and schedule. As I write this, I have fewer than 25 emails in my inbox, the oldest one is dated 3/1 and I intend, moving forward, to keep it that way. This might seem like an incredibly tedious, nerdy and anal retentive task to update you about however, this took so much patience and I feel such a sense of accomplishment that I just had to mention it.

3. Reading and re-reading: After the blowout success of last year’s Re-Reading Project, I had plans to keep going with new titles and more guest posts. I think a project of the same magnitude of last year’s, especially without having a list of titles in advance or any prep done, was just too overwhelming. The book titles I’d planned to read at the front end of the year were all massive and depressing and I just couldn’t do it in the depths of the winter. I haven’t re-read a single book this year. And on the reading front… well… I’ve been slacking off there, too. I’ve read some really amazing books this year, which I’ll tell you about in the Q1 Reading Report soon. I started off with 10 titles in January, a really decent number. But then I only read 5 in February. As for March…I haven’t finished a single book in March, which is an entirely unprecedented experience in my life (to my recall). I *have* been reading, of course, but mostly articles and excerpts of other work (Delanceyplace newsletter is one I kept, as well as the Smithsonian newsletter and NPR’s book and music podcasts). I’ve been reading one massive encyclopedia-esque book since last year and browsing some other books. Also, I sat down and read through the first 60+ pages of the memoir and have been recently re-reading the blog as part of my impending revamp. I’m sure I’ll finish at least one actual physical book this month… [I actually finished reading 2 books since I began writing this post.]

4. Home sweet home: In early 2014, I moved for the second time in 6 months and spent the rest of the year in a tiny temporary apartment. It was a hot mess when I first moved in and after some renovation and the repurposing of things I’d had forever, as well as things I inherited from friends when they moved, it became my home. It was in an area of town I’d never spent much time in and had always gotten lost in before, yet I started digging the neighborhood almost immediately. It was never supposed to be permanent, but it suits me so utterly, which has taken me by surprise. It was looking like I’d have to move again (3rd time in 18 months), so I started 2015 completely devastated, having realized how much I loved the place and how hard it was going to be to find a new home. Then, on my birthday, I got the news that I could stay for the foreseeable future. Very often, I look around my cozy apartment and think, “I’m so glad I live here.”

5. Eating right: One of my proudest moments of 2014 was when a friend looked in my fridge and said, “Hey, what’s with all this green stuff?” It’s only gotten “worse” (or better, more like) since then. I am now cooking and preparing the majority of my meals, eating at home far more often than I eat out. While I did eat canned soup for lunch pretty much every workday for three months (winter sucks, y’all), most every other meal was prepared using fresh and local ingredients. At the farmers market on my way home from work last week, I was telling the tomato vendor about the great sandwiches I’ve been making with her tomatoes and her market neighbor’s bread, as well as the kale from the vendor at the far end of the market. I told the baker (who’s become a friend) how the 8 people at the recent Peauxdunque retreat ate off one of her loaves of rustic white bread for two different meals (breakfast, paired with homemade apple butter and dinner, alongside my spaghetti). I let the citrus man talk me into a second bag of grapefruit on the promise they’d keep well in the fridge for weeks (and his grapefruit are so sweet I never use sugar on them). While I’ve been cooking quinoa without incident for a while, I was so excited to cook dinner for a friend that I cooked waaaay too much and then had to share several more meals with friends just to get all the quinoa eaten up. Happy accident. This has become my hobby, entertainment, passion, all in one, which makes for a very good investment.

6. Writing is my life: I’ve streamlined my life a great deal in order to write as much as possible. I get up at 5:30 or 6 a.m., get to the coffeeshop when it opens at 6:30 and write for an hour before work. Sometimes I meditate before my writing session. After work, I come home and cook dinner and prep the next day’s lunch, occasionally meditate, maybe talk to some friends or watch a movie and go to bed pretty early. I still dance tango once or twice a week, but that’s been pretty much all of my socializing outside my house. (Except for occasional literary events like Delta Mouth and the Tennessee Williams Festival). Except for going to the farmers market, I do nothing else regularly. This hibernation worked very well for me during the winter when it was miserably cold and got dark so early. I’ll probably be shaking it up a bit now that it’s getting warmer. But I know that, despite not being a morning person, I really treasure my hour of writing in the morning (even if the hour is actually only 15 or 20 minutes because I’m running late), so I will work hard to maintain that habit.

7. Traveling: Despite my craving for stability and structure, I really love the way travel shakes things up, energizes me and throws everything into a bit of chaos. I’ve already traveled twice this year. First, 36 hours in Portland, Oregon for ValenTango (and to see my brother) last month. Then, two days on a “ridge” near Nashville for Peauxdunque’s annual writing retreat last weekend. I’ve also recently spent a weekend in Baton Rouge, which was an odd and wonderful “staycation” experience in a city where I once lived for several years. It was a blast from the past that united family, friends from several eras of my life, a literary reading, a tango house party, a visit to a museum and several drives through campus. I hope to visit Atlanta soon and maybe carve out some time for a New York City adventure. Let’s see.

That’s the nuts and bolts about what’s been going on the last three months. You’ll be getting a Q1 Reading Report soon and perhaps a reinvigorated, reconfigured bragging on post (or series…). In the meantime, don’t forget to comment or drop me a note about what you’ve enjoyed about this blog and what you might like to see more of here and from me.

 

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Filed under Baton Rouge, food, literature, musing, NaNoWriMo, New Orleans, The Re-Reading Project, what I'm reading, writing updates

My end of 2014 homework

This is the fifth time I’ve wrapped up the year with some homework, originally assigned by Jamey in 2010. This is my chance, as the year winds down, to reflect on the past and plot the future, to remind myself everything that’s happened and everything I’ve achieved. It’s become my favorite new year tradition.

The 14 Struggles and Successes of 2014

1. I re-read. This time last year, the Re-Reading Project was a scribbled note at the back of my journal. After deciding to re-read 12 influential titles (all originally read before the age of 16), I stuck with it and, throughout the year, I re-read 21 books and 10 friends joined me, writing essays about books that are important to them. I didn’t finish my planned book for December, the only title from the original 12 that wasn’t re-read this year. However, I consider the Project a smashing success because of all of the amazing experiences I’ve had re-reading and all of the tremendous guest essays. Plus, as I suspected, re-reading pushed me to read more. Last year, I read 67 books and this year, I’ve read over 100. And it looks like I’m going to continue it next year, with a different handful of titles.

2. I moved for the second time in six months. This time, I moved to a brand new part of town. I’d always said (and thought) that I hated Mid City, because I inevitably got lost around here and I have a great sense of direction. From day one living here, I stopped getting lost and started finding my way in multiple senses. I’ve made a cozy, impermanent, perfect little home here for myself and while I’ll probably have to move again soon, I know now that I absolutely love Mid City and it’s been an invaluable lesson.

3. I applied for writing residencies and submitted my work like it was a full time job. Because it was, for the first time, my main job. I even got all organized and efficient about it, too.  (I gave up my t.v. in this second move and hardly missed it, I was so busy reading and writing).

4. I ate and cooked healthier. This has been a slow process, several years in the making, but I had a few conversations last year with tango dancers about juicing and hypoglycemia that pretty much pulled everything together for me. I read a few books that blew my mind. And I started eliminating as much sugar and processed food from my diet as I could on a limited budget and without the energy and time to change everything completely. It started with small changes (no sugar in coffee, especially the sugary iced coffees I love) that grew into bigger changes (lots more veggies, mindful of “sugary” fruits, more nuts and grains). I’m now a regular at the closest farmer’s market to my house, I make most of my meals at home and I’ve noticed that cutting down my sugar intake has made me taste and enjoy food so much more. So when I do eat some sugar, it’s a real treat. Sometimes, it’s hard and I really have to make sure I eat small meals/snacks regularly or I crash badly (but this was always true, I just didn’t know how to manage it). The end result is I’m healthier than I’ve maybe ever been and I’m still working to be healthier.

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5. I read the first chapter of my memoir at Peauxdunque’s  second Yeah, You Write, alongside amazing writers.

6. I assisted with the organizing of the New Orleans Tango Festival, which was an exceptional, educational, entertaining experience. I got to meet, dance with and just hang out with so many incredibly talented dancers. Next year’s festival is already gearing up and I am so excited, even though it’s still six months away! Opportunities like this one really helped make me a better dancer this year.

7. I traveled a lot this year. I went twice to D.C. and got to dance at two different milongas. I spent more time in Atlanta and got to take lessons with teachers there. I danced in Philadelphia and in the middle of nowhere on a airfield. I even spent more time in Baton Rouge. While all of the trips weren’t necessarily motivated by tango, I managed to dance wherever I went. All of this travel, while related to the turmoil of this year in many ways, reminded me how much I really love visiting different cities, the openness it brings to my life. I want to make travel a priority in the future. Until D.C., I hadn’t flown in a few years and I haven’t been out of the country since 2007, so I think that’s gotta change soon.

8. I attended an artists residency, Soaring Gardens. I wrote about this quite a bit on the blog, so I’ll keep this one short. Except to say that my month staying at Soaring Gardens with the artist Anne Canfield was everything I needed and utterly transformative.

9. I “lost” NaNoWriMo. This year’s novel was a silly and fun murder mystery that came to me while I was in Pennsylvania. I was excited to write it, but it never came together. I only wrote a few thousand words on that project, but I’ll never consider this NaNoWriMo (or any other) a failure. I always learn something trying to write 50,000 words in a single month. This is why I totally won this year: during November, I started waking up at 6 or 6:30 a.m. to write for a half hour, 40 minutes, an hour, before work. I wrote over 10,000 new words on the memoir. I kicked ass during those early morning writing sessions, getting more done in an hour than I’ve gotten done in whole days set aside to write. What’s even better is that I’m still writing for an hour most mornings.

10. I finally got meditation. Meditation has always been something I understand would be good for me, but it’s been a recipe to fail in the past. I meditated a little, though not formally, while at the residency. Mostly, I journaled like crazy and spent a lot of time in my own head, sitting still outside. In November, while I was *not writing* my murder mystery for NaNoWriMo, I also completed a meditation challenge. It finally clicked for me this go-round and I had a breakthrough about what meditation looks/feels like and how it can help me.

11. I worked on my novel again and while it’s still unfinished (those pesky last 30 pages of the third draft are killer), it’s in very good shape. Meanwhile, I’ve made some great progress with the memoir this year. I blogged more than I have in a long time and published a few reviews and interviews. And, a short essay I wrote will be published in an anthology. I’m looking forward to seeing all of my work in a tangible form that can be shared.

12. I asked for help. I’m not good at this or, I haven’t been in the past. It was very, very hard, but when it looked like I wouldn’t be able to go to the residency, instead of giving up, I launched a GoFundMe campaign. I was utterly blown away by the generosity and support I received. Even when people couldn’t donate anything or much, their notes of encouragement bolstered me. Beyond the fundraising campaign, I’ve received so much help this year (financial, emotional, physical) and after I decided to stop being a basket case about it, I started to accept it as graciously as I could, because everything this year would have been harder or impossible without the help I received.

13. I survived. Historically, I have not managed change well. 2014 was full of transitions, a constantly shifting field. Most of it was positive. Several changes were incredibly sad. Good, bad, positive, sad, it was a lot. I moved for the second time in six months and spent the whole year uncertain how long I’d stay, not just in my apartment, but in New Orleans itself. I fell in love and while the relationship didn’t work out, it changed everything. I wrote my first poem in almost a decade and started journaling hardcore again. I attended two funerals, the first of my life, and I worked hard to support people I cared about through their grief. I freelanced and took on a new role as a salesperson, but I didn’t work on a single movie, though I considered positions on two huge films. My sister’s second son was born, as were the children of friends in the tango community. Three of my friends’ 12 year old sons are now taller than me (no matter how much I grow as a person, I’m just not physically getting any taller). Friends graduated, got married, changed jobs, left town. This year, I struggled to survive all of the changes. Next year, I look forward to thriving. I have ideas and dreams and I’m working on making them plans and realities.

14. I put my writing first. While I’ve never actually given up my writing or stopped completely, I’ve let jobs, relationships, living situations, etc. structure my life and then I fit my writing in between whatever else seemed like a bigger priority at the time. This was the year, for better or for worse, that I decided that my writing, my own goals and plans, had to establish the structure of my life and everything else needs to support my writing. It was really messy and difficult, but I know it was a lesson worth learning. Where I live, who I love and spend time with, what I do to make money, none of this can change who I am: a writer. So all my decisions from now on are going to be made with that in the forefront.

2013 was a rough year and 2014 was, if anything, even rougher. But in the midst of the struggle, as Maurice recently reminded me, is the sublime. I’m ending 2014 stronger than I started it, confident and determined. I’m ready to let go of 2014 and very excited for 2015.

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Filed under Atlanta, Baton Rouge, family, food, freelance work, Friends, musing, NaNoWriMo, New Orleans, tango, The Re-Reading Project, The Residency Road Trip, travel

The Re-Reading Project Guest Post: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral Arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.

Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.

This planet has—or rather had—a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.

And so the problem remained; lots of the people were mean, and most of them were miserable, even the ones with digital watches.

Spoiler alert: If you have not read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and you will be disappointed if I give away the ending, that’s just tough because the book was written 35 years ago and you should have read it by now.

If I’m honest, I only chose to re-read Douglas Adam‘s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (or The Guide as it will now be referenced) because it’s short. At the moment, my life is timetabled into so many compartments (work, email, sleep, work, not writing, reading articles posted on Facebook, looking at videos of cats on the internet, email, sleep) that adding even the most pleasurable of activities needs a flow-chart, Venn diagram, spreadsheet, and series of calendar apps just to formulate if I have time to finish a task such as reading a book.

Yet, this is a very worthy project, and Emilie does not take “I don’t have time to read” as an excuse. So, I cleared the chocolate wrappers, budget reports, and file folders containing single receipts from 2007 off the desk of my day job. I told my colleagues not to bother me. “Please turn down the Christmas music”, “No I don’t want to come to the office party”, “I don’t have time for mulled wine, mince pies, and discussions about how Cindy in Accounts really shouldn’t wear her hair like that.” I was doing something important. I was organising my time so I’d know if I had time to re-read a book. Not a moment for office frivolity.

After seven hours and thirty-two minutes of focused analytics and statistical analysis, I came to the conclusion that I would indeed have time to read the book…if I held all calls, cancelled my appointment with the chiropodist, and cracked on with it.

Realising that I had left my copy of The Guide in a box in my father’s closet in a house on a different continent, I opted to download the Kindle version. The beauty of this platform is that it doesn’t waste time with silly things like page numbers. Instead, it gets straight to the point and tells you how long you can plan on reading.

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Three hours and thirty-nine minutes later, I was quite happy that Emilie is a tough task master and forced me to make time for a novel I’d already read. Twenty-six years after the first reading, the book seemed to change slightly from science fiction to a handy list of contemporary technology. Back then, it was sci-fi and every piece of it was weird, wonderful, and completely fictitious. Reading it in 2014, Adams seem like a fortune teller, able to foresee gadgets of the future:

[…] he also had a device which looked rather like a largish electronic calculator. This had about a hundred tiny flat press-buttons and a screen about four inches square on which any one of a million ‘pages’ could be summoned at a moment’s notice.

 “And you are not,” said Fook, leaning anxiously forward, “a greater analyst than the Googleplex Star Thinker […] which can calculate the trajectory of every single dust particle throughout a five-week Dangrabad Beta sand blizzard.”

And of course, we currently have the infinite probability drive…don’t we?

Actually, the deeper revelation I had while re-reading this book was not about the miracle prophecies – as most science fiction will get lucky and predict something if it sits on a bookshelf long enough – but it made me realise how miserable my life has become. This realisation was completely unfathomable when I first read the book as a sixteen year old living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1988 – ten years after the story was originally broadcast on BBC Radio 4, nine years after it was first published into a book, and six time zones away from where it was written.

I am no longer a high school student with a future ahead of me and enough free time to read a book while swinging softly on a hammock in my parent’s back garden. Instead, I sit at a dreary desk on an even drearier winter’s afternoon, sun down at 4 pm, cheap tinsel lining the cubicles, and the soft seasonal tunes of Bob Geldoff insulting an entire continent playing in the background. As I re-read the pages in which the Vogons vaporize the Earth to make way for an intergalactic motorway, I realise that if this were to happen in ‘real life’—while I might be a bit unnerved and discombobulated—I don’t think the personal distress would last for long. Granted, if the Earth were vaporised and I was on it, I wouldn’t be much of anything. But, let’s say I was rescued by a passing spaceship and I cast my eyes down at the dark space where the Earth (and that infernal desk to which I was chained) used to be, I can’t imagine I’d feel much at all. Or, maybe—like Arthur Dent—it would be too much to take in.

England no longer existed. He’d got that – somehow he’d got it. He tried again. America, he thought, has gone. He couldn’t grasp it. He decided to start smaller again. New York has gone. No reaction. He’d never seriously believed it existed anyway. The dollar, he though, has sunk for ever. Slight tremor there. Every Bogart movie has been wiped, he said to himself, and that gave him a nasty knock. McDonald’s, he thought. There is no longer any such thing as a McDonald’s hamburger.

He passed out.

As a teenager reading The Guide, I thought I was irreverent, interesting, and terribly witty. I thought I would grow up to be a maverick author who plays by her own rules, and I would be lavished in kudos, awards, and cash for recognition of writing a society-changing novel. The reality is very different. It’s the end of 2014, I live in Dundee, Scotland; I’m middle-aged and any notion of actualising anything less than mundane disappeared long ago.

How similar my life is to that of Arthur Dent – pre-destruction of the Earth – is what first struck me about the book: wandering through existence, not taking in the grandeur of the Universe, an unrewarding adult life obstructed my view. Of Arthur, The Guide states, “He worked in local radio, which he always used to tell his friends was a lot more interesting than they probably thought.” I, on the other hand, work in fundraising, which no one thinks is interesting. Because it isn’t. Arthur, upon being picked up by an inter-stellar ship in infinite probability drive, is most concerned with finding a cup of tea, and he spends much of the story allowing the plot to unfold around him. I can imagine that, if placed in a similar situation, I would become preoccupied with finding a cup of coffee.

Arthur blinked at the screens and felt he was missing something important. Suddenly he reaslised what it was.

“Is there any tea on this spaceship?” he asked.

Other than stumbling upon the manufacturing of Earth 2.0, Arthur’s presence is of no consequence. Towards the end, he finally becomes important as he is the last surviving member of the human race who was on Earth moments before its destruction. He has stamped upon his brain an imprint which will answer the meaning of life, the universe and everything. Yet, there is a giant hole in this argument, for there is another member of the human race on board that ship, Trillian. So, despite a last minute attempt to make Arthur relevant, he is – actually – quite inconsequential.

As a kid, I saw Arthur Dent as a character who was swept away, but still acted heroically in the face of it all—a bit like a Doctor Who companion. As an adult I have come to the realisation that Arthur Dent is much more ignoble, an object to follow so that a story can be revealed. If we were to compare him to a 70s film, he would be neither Smokey nor the Bandit; he’d be the car, an important device but not one that’s terribly interesting.

A re-reading of The Guide has helped me to realise that unless you’re one of a small host of famous do-gooders like Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Maryam Mirakhani, or Amy Poehler, your life is fairly inconsequential. We are all Arthur Dent; our very existence happened at the odds of 7887602006 to 1, and despite the great fortune that we even exist, we do nothing with our lives. Instead, we are pulled haphazardly through the universe unable to completely grasp the vastness of it all.

The second thing I noticed about re-reading The Guide is how much the satire is a dig at being British; something I most certainly would have not “gotten” as a 16 year old American. Now, with over a decade of living in Britain stamped on my passport, I can see the subtle Britishness of the book. And I mean real British. None of that Downton Abbey drivel.* The Guide is “two up two down”, “Tetley Tea and Penguins”, “Rule Britannia”, “spending your Costa del Sol holiday searching for a Greggs” kind of British.

Yes, as a teenager I recognised the deeper satire within the novel, the sentiments that are so very British few teenage Americans would recognize their context. However, there was one thing I did pick up from The Guide as a teenager. Something that has seeped into my subconsciousness. This book taught me the structure of funny. It’s the simple rhythm of the long game. No quick crack falls. It’s the set-up then the punch. Here’s how it works: profound, profound, profound, mundanely simple.

I have carried this rhythm with me throughout life. The ability to find the mundane within the outrageous. The knack for ending a list of the wondrous with the banal. The chance to shut down amazement in lieu of boredom. This book has taught me that being a combination of Arthur Dent and Marvin is okay, because if it’s satire you’re not miserable, you’re just witty.

With a microsecond pause, and a finely calculated micromodulation of pitch and timbre – nothing you could actually take offence at – Marvin managed to convey his utter contempt and horror at all things human.

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Rachel Marsh blogs about being a creative writing teacher and writer at www.rachelmarsh.co.uk, where pretends to be upbeat and completely ignores the fact that she works a day job. At heart Rachel is a truly miserable individual and she blames it all on Douglas Adams.

 *Editor’s  Note: Emilie would like to stress that she doesn’t think Downton Abbey is drivel, even if she was a bit disappointed with one particular plot twist. You know which one.

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Filed under Baton Rouge, books, Friends, pop culture, review, The Re-Reading Project, travel, weirdness, what I'm reading

Who’s got the brag?

I think this may end up being my most massive brag ever.

As usual, Tad has done a fabulous job of keeping track of Peauxdunquian achievements in real time. For instance that Cassie Pruyn is second runner up in the Faulkner-Wisdom’s poetry category, that J.Ed Marston and Tad Bartlett are both finalists, that Maurice Ruffin’s upcoming reading October 3rd, plus much, much more. So I hope you have the Peauxdunque blog bookmarked.

Jeff Roedel was one of 30 writers asked to write a story responding to a photograph by William Greiner for the book Show & Tell.

The Spring 2013 issue of The Eudora Welty Review features Alison Graham-Bertolini’s “Searching for the Garnet Pin.”

The Devil In Her Way by Bill Loehfelm was a “best new local book” on the Best of New Orleans list, picked by Gambit readers.

Ava Leavell Haymon is now Louisiana’s Poet Laureate! Her official induction will be October 24th. Also, her new book of poetry Eldest Daughter was published recently. I attended two events this week where she read from the book, including at a Women’s Week event yesterday at the Baton Rouge Art Gallery, along with Jamey Hatley and several amazing women writers.

Dispensations by Randolph Thomas won the New Rivers Press MVP Prize and will be published soon!

Jenn Nunes has three short fiction pieces at Fiction Southeast.

Blood a Cold Blue by James Claffey is now available. The official launch is this Friday! I love this blog post from his wife Maureen Foley, about being a couple who both write and both of their books being published at the same time.

Che Yeun’s story “One in Ten Fish Are Afraid of Water” has been selected as the winner of Philadelphia Stories‘ Marguerite McGlinn National Prize for Fiction.

Jewel Bush has written several articles for The Uptown Messenger, including a recent one celebrating the 30th anniversary of Community Book Center.

The Booklover’s Guide to New Orleans by Susan Larson has been published!

Cam Terwilliger will be writing an ongoing “field notes” series about his year in Montreal on a Fulbright Scholarship.

L. Kasimu Harris was featured on WDSU‘s pregame show tonight and was photographed by Daymon Gardner for the December issue of Travel + Leisure, which will be available in Nov. Check out this picture that Giancarlo Dagostaro took of the session.

Kasimu

NOVAC’s Web Weekend has three more days to raise the last $200 of their $5,000 Kickstarter campaign goal. Go check out what they have planned for the Weekend, next month, and see the swag they’re offering their backers. Eritria Pitts of She is Alex will be part of the Web Weekend and you can check out her short “Blind Date” to whet your appetite.

Speaking of Kickstarter campaigns… I don’t technically know JJ Tiziou, but I kinda feel like I do since his project “Everyone Is Photogenic” is changing my life. Ever since I saw the video for the campaign, I can’t tell you how many many times I’ve heard someone I care about respond badly to a photograph of themselves. Whenever they do this lately, I bring up this project and we have a great conversation about confidence and photography and beauty.

The t.v. show I spent part of last year and the first half of this year working on has released an incredible trailer. I get chills every time I watch it. The show, True Detective. will air on HBO early next year. Makes me very proud to have been part of it.

Speaking of being proud of a project, 12 Years a Slave opens on the 18th and I’m eager to see it. Hearing the Oscar talk now reminds me of the conversations we had while working on it last year – we knew it was special and we knew it was important. It’s going to be incredibly emotional to watch and I’m so glad it got made.

Since I promised that I will self-brag when appropriate, here’s some news about me and my work. Since my last brag, my reviews of Bill Loehfelm’s The Devil in Her Way and Suzanne Johnson’s Elysian Fields were published in 225. Karin C. Davidson interviewed me for Hothouse Magazine. It was a great experience and I’m honored to be a part of this series, which includes great interviews with Brad Richard and Andrew Lam, among others.

Next month, on the 26th, I will read “Tango Face” at a special event at Cafe Istanbul. Orquesta Fleur will play live tango music, there will be dancing and readings about tango and its history. Should be very cool. At the Louisiana Book Festival (Nov 2nd), I will be conducting a live interview with Josh Hanagarne, author The World’s Strongest Librarian, and presenting a panel with fellow Peauxdunque members Tad Bartlett, Susan Kagan and Maurice Ruffin, which is pretty exciting. And shortly after that, “Tango Face” will be published in the Double Dealer, coinciding with this year’s Words and Music Festival (Dec 4-8). The last quarter of 2013 is looking to be very productive.

Speaking of quarters…I owe y’all my 3rd Quarter Review soon. I hope you enjoy all of this bragging for now – these people and these projects are amazing, so go spend some time with them.

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Giving thanks for the brag

I am thankful that the people in my life are achieving success with the projects they are passionate about. And that goes for me, too. I am grateful and thrilled that the passions I have toiled at and for,when it seemed fruitless and silly, are now beginning to come to fruition. It just so happens that it’s Black Friday and I am providing you with a plethora of great gift suggestions. With no further ado, the brag…

Mary McMyne’s “Wolf Skin” will appear in the Los Angeles Review and “Old Woman Gothel” in Pedestal. You can read “Old Woman Gothel” online and also, hear Mary read it!

Daniel Morales has a story called “How to Fly First Class for Free” in the Expats Blog Writing Contest.

Jamey Hatley read from her novel at the fall installment of NOCCA’s Creative Writing Series, along with Brad Richard. The rather large room was crowded with an attentive audience, many of them students at NOCCA who are studying writing. Their response to Jamey and Brad was pretty awesome to witness.

Montana Miller’s Playing Dead: Mock Trauma and Folk Drama in High School Drunk Driving Tragedies has just been published. I first met Montana a few years ago when I interviewed her as background research for my novel and we became friends. In addition to being a professor in the Popular Culture Department at Bowling Green, she’s a professional flying trapeze artist, high diver and now, sky diver. I love this bit from her bio on Amazon: “she researches perceptions of risk and attitudes toward death, particularly among groups that are often stereotyped and misunderstood.” She was just in town at the American Folklore Society’s Annual Meeting, to give a paper called “Death and the Drop Zone: The Esoteric and Exoteric Folklore of Skydiving.”

Tad Bartlett has another great column up at Oxford American, called Food and Recovery: Reclaiming After the Storm.

Also over at OA, Kasimu Harris has lots of amazing new fashion columns up, featuring his stunning photos of fashionable New Orleanians, as well as his essays.

Christopher Shipman’s new chapbook I Carved  Your Name is available from Imaginary Friend Press.

Skip Horack’s story “The Cryptozoologist” is in the newest issue of Narrative Magazine.

Recently, Summer Wood gave a phenomenal reading from her book Raising Wrecker at the gorgeous Garden District Books. The novel has just been released in paperback, so check it out. As well as these pictures from the event, which I’ve borrowed from Ross Peter Nelson.

Emily Choate’s gorgeous story “Thunder Sometimes, Never Bells” will be published in The Florida Review.

While going to The Florida Review site to get the above link, I saw that Randolph Thomas won their Editor’s Award Competition in Fiction for his story, “Dispensations.” His story will appear in the Winter 2012 issue.

Two Fictions by James Claffey will be hosted at FWRICTION: REVIEW until November 28th, so go check them out. James is one of the most prolific publishers I know. “We Sunk My Mother’s Mother” is over at Necessary Fiction. His story “Spreading from the False Fly” is available in the Real issue of Pure Slush. Anyway, if you really want to keep up with everything James is doing, you have to go here: James Claffey.com.

Helen Krieger recently traveled to Amsterdam, where Flood Streets was screened at the Film By the Sea Festival. The movie just screened in Portland and Seattle and will be available on DVD November 27th. You can put it in your Netflix queue now.

Maurice Ruffin’s short story “Pie Man” has been published in the current issue of The South Carolina Review. Maurice will be reading his work, along with Niyi Osundare, Carolyn Hembree, Geoff Munsterman, Nasimiyu, and Michael Allen Zell at the Staple Goods Collective/Gallery on Sunday, December 2nd at 2 p.m.

But, before that, Maurice will also be reading at the Words & Music Writers Alliance reading at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, November 28th, one of the first events of the conference. The event takes place in the Black Box Room on the 2nd Floor of the US Mint and will also feature Terri Shrum Stoor, Sara Paul, Matt Robinson, J.Ed. Marston, Tad Bartlett and yours truly. I will be reading a short version of my winning essay, “Tango Face,” which is about learning to tango, of course, but also describes the experience of sitting for a portrait by the artist Gersin, who I interviewed earlier this year.  I’ll include the portrait below, since it’s not online (it is in the print version of the magazine).

This post has been in the works a long time! It’s impossible to keep up with ALL of the achievements and events of my talented friends, but I do my best. I hope you’ll consider checking out the work of all of these folks and attending the upcoming readings!

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The Grandma Road Trip – Leg One

Leg One: New Orleans to Baton Rouge, 80.1 miles

Sunday, August 26th: Becks and I met for dinner, catching up. During dinner, I got a call from my boss, confirming that the office would only be open for a few hours the next day so that we could prepare it for Hurricane Isaac. This was meant to be our last week and now the office would be closed for at least two days. Also, she said, I should fill up my gas tank, because gas stations were already running out. Becks and I finished dinner, grabbed some hurricane supplies and looked for gas. One station we passed had a line for several blocks and two others were sold out. As we separated, Becks said, “You might want to pack the car in case you have to leave straight from work.” So, I stayed up late Hurricane-“proofing” the house, packing for both the Grandma Road Trip and for evacuation. Have you ever had to pack as if you’ll be gone for just 14 days and also maybe indefinitely at the same time? It’s pretty hard.

Monday, August 27th: Monday should’ve started our last week in the office and instead, we had to get it ready to face the storm, as well as a bit of business as usual. As the hours passed, it became clear I was going to Baton Rouge. Several people were encouraging (begging, in some cases) me to leave. I was grouchy. This had happened a few years ago for Gustav and I ended up trapped in Baton Rouge for a week. But, I knew they were right, so I headed to Baton Rouge. I ran a few errands and stopped by to see my editors at the 225 offices. Then, I went to stay with friends who are like family to me. We hadn’t gotten to see much of each other lately, so between that and the BBQ dinner, it felt more like vacation than evacuation that first night.

Tuesday, August 28th – Thursday, August 30th: We had power the entire time I was with my friends, which made them call me their lucky charm. It was so comfortable to be there, but I was still restless. I knew everybody was safe back in Nola, that my house still had power (amazingly, it didn’t go out once), but I didn’t know when or if I would be able to go back to Nola. I knew I’d done the right thing by leaving when I-10 was flooded at LaPlace, making it extremely difficult to get back into the city. It would’ve been difficult to leave on our trip from Nola, had I stayed. As it was, the office had a bit of flooding and we wouldn’t be able to reopen to the following week, so after four days in Baton Rouge, I left a day early for the the Grandma Road Trip.

I texted Mums: On my way home tomorrow.

She texted me back: New Orleans home, or here?

That question of home was a better one than either of us realized, and would echo throughout the trip.

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Bragging on the river

Rolling on the River was one of my favorite songs growing up. They played it every Friday on the radio station that Mamma Mia! and I listened to when she drove me to school. So, I couldn’t resist the pun. Please forgive me! 🙂

This bragging on post is packed with events everybody can attend, so get out your calendars.

First, as I hinted at in my last bragging post, Peauxdunque is hosting a huge, spectacular event. Yeah, You Write is a series of biannual literary concerts that the PWA will host. The first event takes place at Tipitina’s Thursday, October 13th. That’s a week from tomorrow. Our lineup is incredible: Amanda Boyden, Bill Loehfelm, Gian Smith, Kelly Harris-Deberry, Mat Johnson and Terri Stoor. Check out the flyer for the event:

In related news, Peauxdunque member Maurice Carlos Ruffin‘s essay “Cheating the Muse,” will be published in Apalachee Review next year.

Kelly Kathleen Ferguson‘s memoir/travelogue/social commentary My Life as Laura has been published by Press 53. The subtitle says it all: “How I Searched for Laura Ingalls Wilder and Found Myself.”

Engine Books will be publishing Echolocation by Myfanwy Collins, Consulting Editor for Narrative Magazine, in March 2012.

Charlotte Hamrick of NOLAFemmes and Traveling Mermaid has had her poem “Milk for Free” published in Mad Swirl.  Three of her poems will be published in the Feb. issue of The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.

Don’t forget to nab tickets for the New Orleans premiere of Flood Streets at the New Orleans Film Festival and featuring Harry Shearer, who will be at the premiere to answer questions afterwards with Helen Krieger and Joseph Meissner. I’ve had a chance to see an earlier incarnation of the film, so I know you’ll enjoy it.

I have two stories in the October issue of 225 Magazine. One of them is about the return of the Louisiana Book Festival, which is itself an enormously brag-worthy event. Not only is it back, it’s bigger and better than ever this year, featuring many of the writers I’ve bragged on and reviewed for 225. The Festival takes place on October 29th and it’s a free event where you can hear many of your favorite authors read, buy their books and get them signed. It’s one of the highlights of my year every year and I am so glad it’s just in a few weeks. Check out the site for information about the WordShops and the Author Party, which take place the day before the Festival. It’s basically the best weekend to be in Baton Rouge all year long. Guaranteed. I’ll see you all there.

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Bragalicious

First and foremost, as we speak, pretty much all of The Peauxdunque Writers Alliance is gearing up for The Oxford American Summit for Ambitious Writers. Four of our members are attending, including Maurice Ruffin, Terri Stoor, Tad Bartlett and J.Ed Marston. That means something like 40% or so of our membership was accepted.

Jamey Hatley is also attending the Summit. Additionally, she’s won a prestigious waitership to Bread Loaf later in the summer.

Also, Maurice Ruffin‘s short story “And Then I Was Clean” will be published in UNO’s Ellipsis Journal.

Another Peauxdunque member, Joselyn Takacs has been accepted into the MFA program at Johns Hopkins University and is on her way.

A little birdie told me that Barb Johnson will be receiving the Barbara Gittings Literature Award at the ALA Conference tomorrow.

Sarah Morton is creating a graphic novel out of a short story written by Bobbi Perry, who attended the LSU MFA with me and Jamey. You can read it online!

Helen Krieger and Joseph Meissner are screening Flood Streets at the San Antonio Film Festival on Thursday.

Lindsay Rae Spurlock‘s song’s “As for Now” was featured on Adult Swim’s “Children’s Hospital.” You may still be able to download it for free if you like her Facebook page. Here’s an awesome photo of her, too:

Lindsay Rae Spurlock, photo credit Julia Henry

Congrats to all my phenomenally talented friends!

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Farewell, Jeanne Leiby

I woke this morning to the news that my friend Jeanne Leiby died yesterday afternoon in Baton Rouge. She was a writer, the editor of The Southern Review and a beautiful person. I worked with her on a few small projects related to the Review and LSU and my work for 225.

Our mutual friend Alex Cook wrote a beautiful elegiac post on his blog that encapsulates what I feel about Jeanne and now, her death, but I’ll say a few words here as well.

The first time I officially and really met her was in her office in The Old President’s House. We recognized each other immediately as like-minded spirits and within five minutes of meeting, we were talking and laughing like decades-long friends and plotting a benevolent new world order. This was Jeanne’s magic. She was so vivacious and passionate that she couldn’t help exciting the people around her, encouraging grandiose ideas as being very, very possible. She recognized the passions in others, which helped them see it themselves.

She was a wonderful editor, tough but compassionate. She was generous and warm, funny and bold. And while I am not her oldest or closest friend, I feel that my life is enormously bereft without her in it, without the possibility of her.

I still can’t believe it.

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Going to Bragtown

This is a double decker brag post as the clever people in my life are succeeding left and right. Let’s dive right in.

Flood Streets, the film created by my friend Helen Krieger and her husband Joseph Meissner, will premiere at WorldFest Houston on April 11th and is also showing at the Boston International Film Festival April 23rd. Helen just had a signing event for her book In the Land of What Now, which inspired the film.

Lindsay Rae Spurlock just had several shows during SXSW and is performing regularly now in L.A., supporting her CD Heart On.

Zack Godshall just the Louisiana premiere of his film Lord Byron at the Manship Theater in Baton Rouge. I loved reading this:

Made in Lafayette for less than $1000, the film features the first all-Louisiana cast and crew film to go to the Sundance Film Festival.

Q & A to follow, so stick around to hear from Zack and some of his talented cast spill the beans on how they pulled off this no-budget film right here in Louisiana! And what it was like to bring to Sundance the lowest budget film in the festival’s history.

Barb Johnson will be reading April 12th at 7 p.m. as part of Loyola’s 1718 Reading Series at the Columns on St. Charles. If you’ve never seen her read, you really shouldn’t pass up this opportunity. And if you have seen her before, it’ll be a great time to catch up with her. 🙂

Maurice Ruffin just had his short short “Zimmerman” published on the Gold Room reading series’s website and his story “The Sparer” is a finalist in the Country Roads Writing Contest. During the month of April, all of the finalists’s stories are up and we can vote for the winner of the Reader’s Choice Award. I hope you’ll go read them all and vote for your favorite. My favorite is “The Sparer.” 🙂

Terri Stoor has a funny, touching piece published with the St. Petersburg Times. It’s on their website, so you can read it in its entirety. I heard her read it recently, which was a special treat.

While I was writing this, Nick Fox gave me the great news that a story of his has been accepted for publication by Third Coast.

And my latest 225 piece is about writer’s block. I got to talk to some of my amazing writer friends for this and what they had to say is incredible. Check it out. Unfortunately, we had to cut some great quotes from Brian P. Moore and Jamey Hatley because of space. I want to include a bit of what they said below. Enjoy.

Brian, who writes for the New York Post, told me:

It’s my guess that the despairing totality of, say, Dashiell Hammett’s paralysis is a rare bird. Most writer’s block is case specific, and with some time away can be tackled with minimal angina. Writer’s block isn’t something to be confronted so much as elided, which should suit the non-confrontational personalities of most writers. If I can’t get a character out of a room in my novel, there’s always a newspaper story to work on. It’s a reverse whac-a-mole approach, where the mole is free to roam without fear of head wounds.

And Jamey said:

When I think of writer’s block, I mean that something isn’t working. I remember reading an interview with Toni Morrison where she said, ‘You shouldn’t write through it. It’s blocked because it ought to be blocked, because you haven’t got it right now.’ So, being blocked for me is crucial information. When the writing is stalled, when I can’t get the right words, there’s usually something that I haven’t figured out yet that I need to know.  This is not to say that I am gracious during the waiting process. I whine, I complain. I draw dramatic red lines through pages of text. I have never regretted waiting out the block. The rewards have always been worth it.

 

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