Wednesday, April 30, 2008

May Day

from Stefan Landsberger's collection

My book went out to publishers today. Which is actually April 30th, but May Day is easier to remember, and it's almost midnight now. 

It's been a long and interesting process getting to this point. I queried the agent with whom I eventually signed on July 5th of last year. Many months of rewrites followed. That part was mostly fun. There was some stress involved — mainly, was I up to this?

The agent at one point picked out a line I'd written that he particularly liked. His note was "More, please!" I'd thought it was one of my best lines too. Did I have more of those in me? I really wasn't sure.

But working with this guy was fun. His feedback was an ego boost, even when it was critical, because what he said told me that he really got what I was trying to do with this book. This still amazes me, given how many directions I'd gone in the earlier incarnations. Take a bowling ball, a chain saw and a chihuahua and juggle them. That's sort of what I was working with.

There was a real give and take and creative exchange that energized the process for me, when I'd thought that I'd wrung every idea out of my own tired head that I possibly could have.

After a few rewrites, I was pretty sure that I was going to get representation, so no more stress on that front, other than my wanting to really make the book as good as I could make it.

Getting the contract felt every bit as wonderful as I'd ever imagined it would. There was just no downside. Having a professional whose job it is to sell books decide that my book was something he wanted to represent was a validation for me beyond just about anything else I can think of in my creative life, particularly given the thought and care he'd already put into the project.

So, smooth sailing, right? Heh. What happened next is something that I would love to post about in great detail, but right now I really can't. I'll just say that it held up the book's going out for nearly two months, and of everything that has happened in this story thus far, it was the most stressful thing I've had to deal with, on a lot of levels. Probably the worst for me was the self-doubt. The longer I sat in this strange limbo, the more I began to doubt the book, myself, everything. At times I went to the bad place, where everything was going to go wrong and all that I'd worked for would be for nothing. I told myself that I was being paranoid, and I knew that I was, but that didn't matter, because all the paranoia could be justified by real-life horror stories, and I knew damn well that things just don't always work out.

Thank you, Agent X, my friends and family and writing buddies, for holding my hand during this period.

Now the book is out in the world. I don't know when we'll hear back from this initial round of publishers, whether the response will be good or bad. But I do know that I've done everything I could do to get to this point, and that for now, my job is done.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Guadalupe Dunes

Guadalupe Dunes

My rule for making the Los Angeles/San Francisco trip is, I try to see something I haven't seen before each time I make it. This trip I accomplished a two-fer — hitting "Taste of India" on the way up and the Guadalupe Dunes on the home stretch.

Going home, I took the 101, and when I got to Pismo Beach, the Mini Cooper decided on its own to peel off onto Highway 1. There was a sign calling this stretch an "Official Scenic Car Route," or something like that. The signs do not lie. The road runs though dramatic green hills, sharp against the sky this time of day, late in the afternoon. On the right, the ocean, now and again, glimpsed through the towns and then receding as the road pulled further away from the shore. I drove through a strange little town called Oceana, a place with a ramshackle, working-class edge that has mostly disappeared from California's beach towns but was very familiar to me growing up.

The gap between beach and highway widens, taken up by croplands, open fields surrounded by hills and groves of eucalyptus. Then, the town of Guadalupe, bordered by the highway, fields and dunes. Cecil B. DeMille's "Ten Commandments" was filmed here, the original sets buried somewhere in the sand. Mostly Guadalupe is an agricultural town, a few historic buildings here and there, tacquerias, a modest subdivision of terracotta-colored tract homes that edges up to the fields on the town's southern boundary. 

Between that subdivision and the fields is a narrow road that leads to the state beach. Again, the Mini wanted to go there. I was along for the ride. The road was deserted, the fields empty of labor; it was the end of the day by now, but there was still plenty of light. 

 At the end of the road was an open car gate, a guard shack, a sign indicating that this was Guadalupe Dunes State Park and suggesting that a $3.00 fee per car was appropriate to help support the place. But no one was in the guard shack, and there wasn't anyplace to leave the suggested fee, so I drove on. 

The road, which had been narrow before, faded to nearly a path, and as it wound into the dunes, blowing sand covered it from either side, and I found myself wondering if this had been such a great idea on my part. I hadn't seen another person, another car. Just dunes, sculpted by the wind, crazy blue sky, golden light.

Finally the little road emptied into a parking lot. About half a dozen other cars were there. Gusts of wind kicked up the sand, and the ocean was slate-gray and ripped by whitecaps. 

I got out of the car, stretched my legs, stood a while. Then drove back the way I came and continued on my way.

I have this response to overwhelming natural beauty at times: I obsess on what it means, what's the purpose? More to the point (because it is, after all, all about me) what is my purpose?

Somewhere south of Lompoc, the Obvious Fairy hit me over the head with her magic wand and said: "You're supposed to be writing, dummy! How many times do I have to tell you this?"

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Road Trip! Or, Why I Love California

I'd had a stressful few weeks, and though I'd planned a long weekend's road-trip, put it on the calendar and everything, I was really tempted to cancel. It just seemed too hard. Everything seemed too hard. Especially writing. Even a blog post. I couldn't summon the energy or enthusiasm to compose anything beyond emails here and there. 

I started wondering, am I losing my mind? Is this early onset Alzheimers? 

Maybe I'll never be able to write another thing. I sure could not imagine sitting down and starting something new. 

On Friday, the day I was to leave, I managed to accomplish a little business in the morning, enough to lift the exhaustion that had been sapping my enthusiasm like some sort of vampiric shroud. Well, okay. I packed a bag and fed the cats and got in my car and started driving.

Because I'd gotten such a late start, I decided to take the 5 North to San Francisco. Lately I'd been taking the coast route, exchanging speed for beauty. But I was tired, I had a pinched nerve in my back, and I was late. So, the 5.

If you've ever driven this route, you know what I mean. The Great Central Valley is one of those landscapes that is so featureless, it almost defies description. Flat. Endless. Dust. Broken up by cattle feedlots now and again, with their characteristic smell. Truck stops. Denny's. Fields stretching to the dust-obscured horizon. 

Well, not the first hour or so, leaving Los Angeles.  The Grapevine and Fort Tejon are dramatic enough, stark hills and crags, trucks and older cars struggling up the incline, burning transmissions and brake pads and radiator fluid. The pass was particularly beautiful this week, thanks to the rains we've had this winter. Not a lot grows on some of these hills, they are not forested, like in the north; there is scrub, chaparral, grasses of various sorts — to be honest, I'm not really sure what it all is. My knowledge of plants and trees is pretty sketchy. But on some of the hills, there's very little beyond grasses, and whether this is their natural state or the aftermath of brush fires, I couldn't say.

This spring, these bald hills are covered with swaths of color — purple lupine, golden poppies, green grasses, undulating in the wind like some massive natural acid trip. 

Once you go down into the valley, you have to expand your notion of scenic. There's not a lot to draw the eye, especially because what there is tends to be washed out by the omnipresent haze.

When I drive this route, what I usually do is stop at Harris Ranch. Or, as I like to call it, the Cattle Concentration Camp. The feedlots come after the Ranch, proper, and I guess they really aren't so bad, but it still sobers me, seeing all those cattle standing around, crowded together in fields of dirt, shielded by tin roofs and cooled by misting sprinklers. The smell is pretty bad too.

But Harris Ranch is a nice place to stop — a complex of pinkish "adobe" buildings, crafted in a vague "Ranchero" style, several cuts above your typical truck stop or Days Inn. They have a great bar, a casual diner and a nice restaurant, with good food, especially if you're partial to steak.

I wasn't particularly in the mood for steak that day, but the options on the 5 are few if you don't want a burger.

So I was intrigued to see the hand-painted signs for "Taste Of India — Wraps to Go — Authentic Indian Food — Everything Cooked Fresh!" as I approached the McKintrick/Buttonwillow exit. 

I could see "Taste of India" from the freeway. Housed in a typical chain-restaurant building, like where you'd expect to find a Denny's, except with a blue roof (maybe they'd taken over some defunct chain gone bankrupt?). What settled me was the adjacent Starbucks. I needed a cup of coffee.

I was reassured by the "A" rating on the door. Inside, "Taste of India" is a big, open room, with cheap, moveable tables covered by plastic tablecloths. Faded silver striped wallpaper with posters of Indian women, a cooler filled with Indian beer, and a counter where you could order "To Go" Biryani wraps. 

Best of all: a flat screen television mounted on the wall that played some absurd Bollywood musical that I couldn't begin to describe.

I had Lamb Korma (spicy), garlic Naan and a Yeti Premium Beer. All delicious. Complimented the waitress (owner?), an Indian woman. Caught sight of another worker, in a yellow turban (her husband? Who knows?) taking orders at the "To Go" counter.

After I ate, I went outside, passed the Super 8 Motel and the truck stop and grabbed a fresh Starbucks coffee (the new Pikes Blend).

I love California.