Thursday, October 29, 2009

Run for the Weirdos

I'm working though one of my out-of-sync episodes. Where I feel like I'm from another planet. These altered states used bother me. I feared it was a permanent condition, like I would start collecting stray cats and newspapers and never take out the garbage, ever.

As I've gotten older, I've realized separation is part of creative life. You're not going to be here-and-now all the time. And you can't predict when your mind will take leave over some story that works as a scene inside a novel.

But I'm convinced that autumn is an inside-out season for everybody. After the beauty fades, things get weird. Skeletal trees, dead leaves, a haunted holiday that's the second most commercially successful day behind Christmas. Our lively day of death. Of course it's in autumn.

As if to prove the point, a heavy mist cloaked the mountain today. I ran through so many veils of fog that I got lost. In my own neighborhood.

The cul de sac I didn't recognize offered a sign that read, "No Outlet." The house at the end was for sale. Nice house. Remodeled, the whole bit.

But I could see the problem.
Next door, a shiny black hearse was parked in the driveway. The car next to it advertised: "LIVE FIRE SHOWS!! FREE DEMONSTRATIONS!"

When I finally found my way back to my usual path through the cemetery (see post below), a large moving van had pulled up beside the graves. And here I thought you couldn't take it with you.

Rain has been falling for days -- downpours that flooded the fields --but a city worker stepped out of the fog to turn on all the graveyard's sprinklers.

I'm telling you now: Beware the Ides of November.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Truth and Fiction

I had a book signing last night with my favorite journalism professor, Doug Underwood of the University of Washington. This guy helped me stay in newspapers -- and he's also part of the reason I got out to write longer pieces. He followed the same track in his career. His latest book is "Journalism and the Novel: Truth and Fiction, 1700-2000."

Unlike a lot of academic books, I found myself savoring this one with its stories about Steinbeck's journey to gather material for "The Grapes of Wrath" and how Edgar Allen Poe stumbled through life, pen in hand, paranoid, drunk, talented and tormented. There's also a side-by-side analysis of Hemingway's journalism and fiction, featuring the same bull-fighting scene. I wish I'd had this book in journalism school.

Until last night, I hadn't seen Doug in twenty years. When another old friend of ours showed up -- coming all the way from Portland -- we started up like it was yesterday, cracking wise at the get-go. Two new friends also came out, a mother and daughter who seem like old friends already, word-fiends all the way.

That part of the night felt like heaven: people long departed, immediately close again; people just met, kindred in spirit.

At least, I hope that's part of heaven.

The event's discussion about fiction and non-fiction went well, primarily because Doug's a master storyteller and teacher. I managed to place nouns and verbs into the same sentence and told tales about my newspaper days, back when newsrooms attracted rebels. When it came to questions, the floor went to the strange character in the front row. He wore yellow knee socks with grimy green wool trousers, torn tennis shoes and an Army-Navy jacket with bent bus schedules crammed into the chest pocket. His eyebrows looked like owls camping on his face and he wanted to talk about serial killers. That part wasn't like heaven. That was very much like earth. It's why I write crime fiction.

If you missed last night's event, don't worry. Doug and I are having another dynamic-duo appearance at the UW Bookstore on 45th this spring, with the release of "The Clouds Roll Away." We'll talk about everything from journalism and novels to "getting the book done." It'll be a night about words and writing and reading. You don't want to miss it.

If you're in the Seattle area, sign up for my newsletter on this website. I'll send an e-blast as the date approaches. I can't promise the guy with the eyebrows will show up, but you never know . . . .