Friday, March 23, 2012


On Sunday, March 25, I will be reading a brief excerpt from my upcoming novel "Hometown" at the Soul-Making Keats Literary Prize Awards Event at the San Francisco Main Library. The event is free to the public and it would be my great pleasure if you could join me.

Just in case you can't, below is a sneak peek: 

I may have been poor my whole life, but I can't say that I've ever gone hungry. Around here, when someone's broke, it's things like rent and electricity that they can't afford, not food. Here, everyone grows up knowing how to pull food out of the water. Every kid, boy or girl, by the time they're in grade school, can catch, clean, and cook pretty much any critter they're likely to come across in the shallows. Even when the food stamps run out, there is usually something in the crab traps or at the end of a fishing pole. You can have your kids go hunt up crawdaddies for lunch while you fish from the shore for dinner. Hell, give me a couple of beers, and I think it's fun to hunt crawdaddies. I've been a lot of things in life, but hungry has never been one of them.

I first learned to fish on the houseboat Mama and I lived in after my daddy left. We'd lived in a trailer before that, but Mama wasn't able to keep up with the rent. The rent on that old boat must have been cheap, because we lived there for several years, until the old man who owned it croaked. After that came a series of cheap rentals – renovated garages, soggy wooden mother-in-law units built in a time before construction codes, spare back rooms in old homes owned by ancient ladies that smelled of cat piss and stale Madeira. At one point in my life, I even took a quick tour through the foster care system. I generally don't like to talk about it or even think about it. I was in three different homes during the year I was in the system, but only one left a lasting impression on me.

The parents had a handful of kids of their own, but took in two foster kids anyway. The father was a professor at one of the colleges up in Mobile. I don't remember which one, but he used to like to ask me what I wanted to study, as though I were going to go to college. His wife was from Italy – actual Italy! “Northern Italy, near the Alps,” she'd tell us. That must have been why she didn't look like Italians I'd seen on TV. She was fair and very, very slender. She used to tell me that she was envious of my hair because it's so thick and dark. I think she was just trying to be nice, but I did start washing my hair a little more often, just in case.

The place was lousy with kids, but every day they managed to get us all clean, fed, and to school on time. It was chaos, but an organized chaos. Breakfast was mandatory, even if eaten while being hustled on to the school bus. Homework was done as a group at the dining room table and, at least nominally, checked. There were well-balanced sack lunches to barter away at recess, as well as a rule forbidding that same act. There was a set bedtime to rebel against, and dessert privileges were yours to lose. Dinner was eaten raucously, but all together. The kitchen was in every way the center of that home and from morning until night it was alive with people and food. I was only there for two months before I got to go home to Mama, but, every now and then, I still dream about that kitchen.

"Hometown" is now from

Friday, March 9, 2012

Influential Much?

Photo courtesy Gage Skidmore
Buffy the Vampire Slayer

My first thought upon hearing those four words together in that order was something along the line of “What the hell?”... immediately followed by, “Oh. Hell. Yes!”

Welcome to the Whedonverse – where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and the dialogue is above average.*

I have written before of my deep appreciation for the Fierce, Fearless Female, so it should be no surprise that I'm drawn to the heroines of Joss Whedon's works. There's the rogue psychic teenage assassin, the collegiate, computer savvy witch, the sexy rebel soldier turned space pirate, the sexy farmer's daughter turned spaceship mechanic, and the perky, blond cheerleader who kills vampires with pointy sticks... just to name a few. 

Intelligent, loving, strong, and brave, the male characters Whedon has created are just as heroic, skilled, flawed, and compelling as the women and girls. Whedon doesn't bolster his heroines by pitting them against one dimensional louts and losers, but by surrounding them with extraordinary, supportive men. They battle monsters, fly spaceships, cast magic spells, save and are in turn saved by the girl, then deliver soul-baring, emotion-choked monologues about love, family, and honor. In the Whedonverse, a man must be in touch with both his emotions and his judo skills.

Love is a recurring theme in the Whedonverse, but not only romantic love, though hetero- and homosexual relationships are central. Whedon's works also explore family love, that shared by parents and children, siblings, and even close friends. Honor/Duty is another, the willingness to sacrifice the self in service of something greater – Freedom, Truth, or Righteousness.

Though Whedon's characters often suffer greatly in body and spirit, he shows us the valor in their struggle. While the dialogue may be quirky and comical on the surface, it is substantive at the core, bringing discussions of Life, Death, and the Nature of Good and Evil to the high school hallway, midnight graveyard, and spaceship cockpit. The premises, the characters, and the plots may be wildly imaginative, but center around themes common to us all.

Writer, Director, Producer, Actor, Musician, Comic Book Nerd, and Internet Geek, The Yummish Council is proud to announce Joss Whedon as our next Yummish Saint.**

Today's lesson: Someone fell victim to all of the internet buzz about The Avengersand has been re-watching her Buffy discs.

Next: Still trying to pull together that “Yummish Origin” post. 

*With apologies to Garrison Keillor? Not until he apologizes to me for having to live with this piece of nonsense in my head since childhood: Powdermilk Biscuits

**Am I sucking up in the hope of scoring free tickets to a sneak preview of The Avengers? Probably. I'll let you know if it works.