Friday, December 17, 2010

It Feels Like a Charles Dickens night...

In 1843, Charles Dickens had writer's block. Anyone who's ever started and restarted and thrown away and screamed to the Heavens for some kind of answer know what horror is contained in those little, tiny words:

Writer's Block

So he went to Scotland, on holiday, as the legend goes. He had Scottish ties and found himself wandering around Greyfriar's Kirkyard (or cemetery to us). Now, this isn't just any ghost yard. T.S. Elliot and JK Rowling have also found their literary salvation among the haunts there. But it is a sad place too. Trouble and poltergeists loom large in the cemetery's past and if you ever have a chance to do the ghost tour there .... be prepared to scream like a little girl. I did
And maybe Dickens witnessed his own apparition there on the cemetery grounds because when he came upon the gravestone of one " Scroogie", he misread it for "Scrooge". According to the guides of the churchyard, Dickens was instantly intrigued by the great and powerful tombstone, obviously designed for a great and powerful man. And yet, there were no flowers, no epitaphs, no evidence of any kind that this man was remembered for all his wealth and power.

And it got him thinking.

Today, a hundred and fifty years or so later, the Western world pretty much recognizes Christmas in the way Charles Dickens imagined it should be recognized in 1843. It's interesting to note that before "A Christmas Carol", the traditions mentioned in the story were not necessarily traditions of the day. Lighting the Christmas tree was a foreign concept brought over by a foreign Prince (Albert) and the idea of Christmas Eve parties and carols were how Dickens imagined it should be. And so it is. Even now.

We all have our favorite versions, of course. And aren't we fierce about defending our "Scrooge" as the greatest? My vote is always for the ONLY English version filmed actually in England with an all English cast: "Scrooge" 1970 with Albert Finney. It is the ultimate version of all versions with the deepest despair and the most miraculous of transformations and rejoicing.

And what of "Scroogie"? The forgotten man who was destined to inspire one of the most miserable misers in history? According to the experts at the graveyard, he was actually a most generous and giving soul who was well loved in his community. Or so the story goes. And yet, wasn't it said the same of Scrooge after the ghosts were through with him? Perhaps "Scroogie" had a bit of Jacob Marley in him, his last kind deed was inspiring a young writer with writer's block.

Charles Dickens in 1843

MERRY CHRISTMAS Scroogie and Charles Dickens and all of you wonderful readers and your families!

God bless us, every one!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I Met Kate Morton!

First, let me say, that I've been a dismal blogger, completely failing in my planned Halloween/ Thanksgiving/ Christmas rants. However, I'm repenting of my absence now by telling you all that last night I MET KATE MORTON, author of "House at Riverton", "Forgotten Garden" and most recently, "The Distant Hours."

It wasn't easy.

But it had to be done. When I read House at Riverton, I was hypnotized for days and, as a writer, rather depressed. Who can compare with that for a first novel? It made my own little manuscript look like left over play-do on a Seasame Street set from 1982. And I'll be honest, I cried. A lot. But then, when the tears had stopped (or, I was in public again) I realized how grateful I was that there still were true artists in the world. Kate Morton is the real thing. Like Bronte, like Austen, like Cezanne. She's it.

Her and JK Rowling. But I digress.

As I sat down to read the Distant Hours on Sunday night, a little needling started at the back of my brain. "I wonder if she would ever visit Vroman's bookstore in Pasadena, California?" Now, if you've never been to Vroman's, I'm sorry. One of the last independent bookstores on the West Coast and just about the cutest thing you'll ever see, it also happens to be 2 hours away from where I live. However, back in the day when my best friend and I used to do cool things like hang out in independent bookstores, we accidentally found ourselves at a book signing for Anne Rice. And if Anne Rice could be in Vroman's, why not Kate Morton?!

So I looked. On Sunday night. She was scheduled -- on TUESDAY!

Oh how the logic and reason tumbled together with laziness and fatigue shouting that driving to Pasadena after teaching for 6 hours only to drive 2 hours home again might actually kill me. But this was Kate Morton, the only living writer I worship (and JK Rowling). So I did it. Yes I did. Got there two hours early ( you never know! The woman has sold more than 3 million books! Sheesh!) And I waited, alone for two hours. In the end, there were about 20 of us and I think I was the only one who had actually read the book. 20 people. For Kate Morton!


Those of you who write will understand. Most of the time you are a foreign species worrying about things most people would never consider. You have an inner dialogue that goes something like this "but she can't just go out in the forest, who would go out into forest in the middle of the winter. I don't care if there is a glow in the woods. Who cares?! I suck! This is horrible. My character has no backbone, no pacing, no motivation. I have no backbone, no pacing, no motivation. I'm fat." Something like this. We think about things like word choice and tone and bang our heads against walls when we suddenly realize that we've spent 2 long years writing a half-wit version of Jane Eyre. How marvelous it was to actually talk to someone who is so decidedly an expert and realize that she speaks "writer" too. That I speak "writer". I'm not making it up. My weirdness is allowed. I'm part of a group. A group with Kate Morton in it.

She spoke of her love of reading, the process of writing her book and the writing process in general. And here's the deal, folks, she's living the dream. She is quite simply as stunningly poised and beautifully elegant as her characters. She is an international best seller on an international book tour after spending 6 months living in England for research for the Distant Hours.

And she's gorgeous.

If there is a Heaven, I am convinced it looks a lot like the world of Kate Morton and if you want a peek into what that is, pick up one of her books -- you'll swim in it.

You can search here for my review on "House at Riverton".