I’m reading at my favorite local bookstore tomorrow at 2:00: A romance + one of the best hate letters I’ve ever received.
Music inspires so much written art, and it’s fun to think of the music that my characters might listen to. With that in mind, the Huffington Post just published my soundtrack written in the characters’ own words (Natalie, Travis, and Creature from This Is The Part Where You Laugh). Read here, and click the links to listen to each song:
Plate-glass morning water with fish shatters. A hummingbird drops over the tent and hangs in the space created by the rain.
I read a Carol Shields novel and the daylight sneaks through the leaves of the cottonwood, white and green.
It rained steady all evening, and starting a fire was like baking without sugar or flour. But now the sky is striped by blue between clouds, and I think, “How many people in history have tried to write about clouds?”
Nubes como las olas…
Nubes sin mala intención…
Drifting thoughts of clouds…
Or some other cliché…
Better ideas waiting that I’ve never had…
It would be easy to steal. To Thomas Edison. To feed an image of greatness. “Look at me, a worker, a brilliant mind.”
But I am not brilliant. My mind is not a rare jewel. I only observe what is around me. Seeing the green grasshoppers collecting on my legs at the river’s edge. The blue heron shushing across to the other side. The osprey sitting sentinel on the fence-post above the cutbank. Flipping my spinner under the branch in four feet of water and the rainbow trout hitting the Rooster Tail in the first rotation of the reel.
We use two rocks as a plate and eat the fish with our fingers. Skin salted with Johnny’s, MSG, meat blackened over a stick-fire. Hot Tang and Folgers from boiled river water.
These are no proverbs.
These are no parables.
This is only the first day. How it is. How it was.
Really inspiring and just released, this film is the combined work of Brooke Froelich, Morgan Brechler, Ali Geiser, and Shannon Robertson.
In Raising a Wild Child millennial parents turned social-media influencers use the very technologies that threaten to separate them from nature to connect with it—and each other—instead. This family-centric outdoor adventure film shares the stories of parents who are raising their kids on outdoor adventure, and using social media to build a community doing the same.
There work shares a common ground with my book Let Them Be Eaten By Bears.
Quite a few fans of THIS IS THE PART WHERE YOU LAUGH have sent me emails or messages on Twitter saying that I should write more romance (after reading Creature’s romance novel in progress, The Pervert’s Guide To Russian Princesses). Then there’s my friend KT who says I should write only romance. Just skip the rest.
The problem is, I don’t really know how to write romance. I’m not well versed in the genre. So I’ve decided to make an attempt. But to up the ante a little, I’m only going to write awkward romance scenes.
To begin, I’ll give you this:
“Making Out With Mao Tse-tung”
(The military leader of communist China who lived from 1893–1976)
There are more than eighty biographies of Mao Tse-Tung, the late Chinese communist leader, but this is not a biography. This is a short memoir of one of my intimate moments with a special man I liked to call “Mao Mao”:
We hadn’t seen each other in three weeks. Mao Mao strode into the room in his military uniform – green coat with the red collar turned down. Red “Soldier” armband. Yellow writing on that band.
He was taller than me. 5’11” and 190 pounds. He didn’t acknowledge my presence when he walked in. He turned on his heels and commanded his personal guards to leave the room.
They bowed and closed the door behind them.
Then we were alone.
Mao Mao’s demeanor changed. He walked over to the bed, slipped off his shoes, climbed up on top of the comforter, and got on his knees. He was right there – not far from me – in his white socks, looking young again. That sad look in his eyes.
I smiled at him, but his face didn’t change. It was as if he had lost his mother once more, as if his first peasant-army’s defeat was fresh again in his mind.
I said, “Mao Mao,” gently. Let my voice drop.
He smiled – just a little – and began purring, like a cat, soft at first, then louder. More distinct than the purring of any house cat.
He beckoned to me and I walked over to the bed.
Before we touched, I looked at him. His uniform was always so rumpled. Frumpy. I felt bad during his speeches, embarrassed for him. I wanted – so many times – to mention his need to iron his clothes, but I didn’t want him to be annoyed by me. We were only able to see each other every few weeks. The rest of the time he pretended to like women.
He was right in front of me, on the edge of the bed, and I leaned in. Nibbled the mole on his chin. Sucked at it.
He breathed against my cheek.
As his personal physician was always saying to the press, Mao Mao didn’t brush his teeth. Ever. He simply rinsed his mouth with tea, and ate the wet tea leaves after, from the bottom of the cup. That was what he did instead of tooth-brushing, so his teeth had a greenish hue, a plaqued film over the top of them, with a consistency like soap-stone.
His breath was unique.
We began to kiss, and I ran the tip of my tongue over the mossy sheen of his incisors.
Mao Mao unbuttoned my shirt. Slid his index finger down the straight line of my sternum. I thought of all the places that finger had been. I lifted it to my lips and kissed it.
He leaned into me then. I smelled the musk at the back of his scalp, saw the white flakes of dandruff in his straight black hair. I nuzzled my nose along the horseshoe of his receding hairline. Felt his chapped lips rasping against my throat.
He was breathing heavy – we both were – but he put a firm hand on my chest. Pushed me back. Said, “I’m sorry.”
“No,” he said, “It’s that…well…I struggle with impotency.”
This is something I already knew. Not a mystery. It was not our first time together. I said, “It’s not your fault.”
He started to say something else, but I cut him off. Put a finger to his lips.
I said again, “It’s not your fault.” Then I placed both of my hands on his shoulders, the green wool of his military coat over his soft shoulders. I said, “It’s okay, Mao Mao. It’s really okay.”
He dropped his head forward. Purred softly now. I couldn’t see his face, but I could hear his tears dripping.
Then I held him for a long time.
Agent Betsy Lerner (author of The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice To Writers) tells what it’s like to submit manuscripts to editors:
“I learned that for every project you sold, you still received about ten rejections, sometimes more. I learned that some editors never responded at all. My agent group nicknamed one the Bermuda Triangle; everything you sent to her disappeared forever. Some editors had their assistants read the manuscripts and/or write the rejections, which had the whiff of college term papers. It was bad getting rejected; it was worse getting rejected by some Williamsburg hipsters who vape.”
Knopf, Random House, and the book blog Me, My Shelf, and I are teaming up to give away 10 free hardback copies of This Is The Part Where You laugh.