06 March 2004
From: AJ (firstname.lastname@example.org)
It might be that the answer is somewhere in your archive but ... I've been reading past replies for the last 90 min. or so and I'm tired so I'll just ask. Has "The Blue Place" been optioned for a film? I hope so. I see there has been some discussion about who could play Aud and I agree that a good actor can sell any character but since Aud is such a specific body type I think I'd rather see Peta Wilson play the role than say Kate Winslet.
Before I go ... I totally agree with you about X:WP and season two. How utterly lame was the Ulysses episode and how dare TPTB back off from the Xena/Gabrielle dynamic for this side trip to nowhere. I still haven't forgiven them for butchering Xena as a series ending episode.
It is not needless to say that I have read and loved all of your work and it's just too damn bad that it is impossible for writers to keep up with readers' demands for more stories. It's not like I don't realize that it takes you years to write what I read over the weekend, but could you hurry up with the next Aud? '05 sounds very far away.
No, The Blue Place hasn't been optioned. Actually, it's the only one of my novels that's never even come close. I had some interest with Ammonite (which, frankly, struck me as really bizarre--I can't imagine that book as a film; there again, I'm not a filmmaker), a lot of very strong interest with Slow River, nothing for The Blue Place and a few high-ish level nibbles for Stay (one screenwriter was talking about Nicole Kidman and couldn't understand why I was laughing). "Interest" of course usually boils down to nothing concrete. Hollywood seems stuffed with people who love the sound of their own voices and who genuinely seem to believe that talking fast and not letting you get a word in edgewise makes them important. Mystifying, really. But, oh yes, I'd love to see my books and stories made into film. It's partly the money, of course (one offer I had for Slow River amounted to nearly six times what I got paid by my original publisher), but I think it would be fascinating to see my work through someone else's creative lens. I love hearing what readers think of my work, I even like bad reviews if they help me see what another reader has felt and thought about something I created--but, wow, imagine *seeing* a two-hour extravaganza of what someone else felt and mulled over and had come up because of something I wrote.
As for finishing Aud 3, yes, absolutely, it's my top priority. I've just gone into machine mode: at the computer every day, not allowed to come downstairs and drink my beer and talk to Kelley until I've written at last a thousand words. It's working so far. When the first draft is done, I'm going to party so hard it will be felt across the land.
From: Anita (email@example.com)
I don't have a question so much as comments. I read your book, Ammonite, when it first came out and I was mesmerized. It was a few more years before I came out, but your book was a part of thinking and ultimate realization that yes I am a lesbian. Since I am a late bloomer so to speak...I have never been happier in my life, it seems that all the negative aspects of my life sort of just shifted to the background and I found out who I really was: Anita... I am an artist hence the Kate's Kreations. I would love to do a sculpture of character from one of your books. I just finished Slow River and it was fabulous. Please keep writing, I think you have a wonderful talent and I will be waiting to read more. p.s. I am re-reading Ammonite, it took me forever to track it down I could neither remember the author or the title, just the amazing contents.
I've had many emails (and letters) about Ammonite being, in some way, instrumental in readers' coming out process. Some people also mention Slow River. Nobody ever talks about Stay or The Blue Place in these terms. Is it because Aud isn't a cuddly person? On the other hand, I've heard from a lot of women who are already dykes, and from men, and even from straight women who are happy being straight, telling me they'd give it up for Aud.
But reading Ammonite seems to trigger internal change in some readers in a way that my other books don't. For example, several have told me that it changed their outlook on what they do for a living: one women gave up her highly-paid corporate job to become a professional storyteller; one man had been about to leave his job but decided to stick it out and help his people learn; one academic told me that he now understood why having women represented in textbooks was important to students' self-esteem. This delights me--one of the reasons I write is to change people's lives--but I don't really understand what it is about Ammonite that does it for people. I am, of course, open to any explanations anyone else might be able to offer.
From: Alison (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Hello. Having just read through a bunch of Ask Nicola bits, I thought I'd send you a couple of book recommendations- if you're still interested. My Lesbian Husband, by Barrie Jean Borich is a wonderful set of essays chronicling what makes a lesbian marriage. Her writing is beautiful- my partner and I read it out loud to each other and continue to do so, over and over. Also, for precision of language and integrity of ideas, I don't think one can do better than any of Madeleine L'Engle's adult fiction or non-fiction for that matter. Hope you enjoy!
I've made a note of the Borich recommendation and will put it on my TBR pile--which is rather high at the moment. One book that's on the pile, and which was recommended by a reader here, Matt Ruff's PUT THIS HOUSE IN ORDER, was just awarded a prize by the Pacific Northwest Booksellers' Association.
Three recent reads that I'd like to recommend to readers are TROPIC OF NIGHT, a novel by Michael Gruber, ALL DAY PERMANENT RED, poetry by Christopher Logue, and NOTES ON DIRECTING, non-fiction by Frank Hauser and Russell Reich. The Gruber is fiction, with good and evil, magic and anthropology, zombies and law enforcement, WASPs and African Americans, Africans and Cubans, a small child in danger and the fate of the world at stake. Great narrative drive and an overall fabulous read. It was recently nominated for the Dashiell Hammett award.
The Logue is, well, it's hard to describe. He's an English poet and occasional screenwriter who has reimagined the first battles of Homer's Iliad. His technique is often quite cinematic, with jump cuts and scene notes, and he renames characters from the epic without batting an eye. His imagery is a mix of historically accurate and wildly anachronistic (arrows carve tunnels through people's necks the width of a lipstick, a footsoldier's shield sprouts arrows as thick as the microphones at a politician's podium) but I felt the dust gritting under my palms and the blood in my mouth. The whole is as startling as a flick in the eye. Astonishing.
Hauser and Reich's book is very short, and in the form of numbered rules for directing a stage play ("Never, never, never bully actors," "movement will always draw an audience's eye"). The book began as twelve pages of notes handed by Hauser (an English director who has directed the royalty of the stage: Judy Dench, Ian McKellan, Lawrence Olivier) to Reich (at the time an American neophyte) with the murmured words, "You might find these helpful." In addition to being a fascinating window onto a world I'm not familiar with, it is wickedly funny in places, and thought-provoking for anyone whose business is narrative.
From: taleisian (email@example.com)
I belong to a book club started by my friends and this month one of us picked Ammonite. Wow what a great read, but on to specifics. Your descriptions of Marghe's meditation techniques and all the aspects of deepsearching are some of the best explanations by example of magic that I have ever read. This fact, mixed with the deep wisdom of your characters makes me very curious where you learned these things and what your spiritual beliefs are. I realize these are personal questions but in an era of growing personal spirituality, stemming at least in part from feminine wisdom traditions I can't help but wonder "where you're coming from". Respond if you are comfortable, go on you merry way if not. In any case, thank you for making my way a little merrier.
I don't believe in any kind of god. I don't believe in reincarnation. I don't believe in fate. I believe in the body and the mind. I believe in feeling and learning. I believe in human will. I also believe that sometimes shit (and roses) just happens.
I don't believe that what happens to us is wholly in our charge. Sometimes society just turns around and hurts people (dykes, African Americans, women, people with disabilities, fat people, Deaf people, Jewish people...the list is endless) because it's having a bad day and it wants someone to pick on. Sometimes it appears with a bang and flash and a bag of jewels and hands out treats to people (lottery winners, well-born people, well-connected people, healthy people) because it's spring and it's feeling pleased with itself.
We can, of course, influence our culture's whimsies to some extent. If we play nicely with all the other kids, they tend, on the whole, to play nicely in return. I suspect this is where the notion of karma began. For example, in publishing that clueless editorial assistant who phoned you one day in 1992 and asked, for the third time, the same stupid, useless questions that she could have figured out on her own with just a bit of work, or if she'd listened the first time, ends up twelve years later being a Vice President of a huge publishing conglomerate with your career in her hands. If in 1992 you were pleasant and helpful and patient when she called, your career starts a much better chance than if you told her to fuck off and get a real job and didn't she know you were *working*??
No one ever makes it in publishing (or life in general) wholly on luck. Work is always involved. Some just have to work less than others, because things fall into place at just the right time. But it's always up to us how we deal with the vagaries of the universe. If it punches us in the nose we can choose to hit back, walk away, or burst into tears. Or all three. Or invent a time machine and go back and prevent it from happening in the first place. I often have fun with the What If game, but I'm always careful to keep it a game, not a self-flagellation or bitterness session, because, hey, you never know what's going to happen next. When the doorbell rings, it could be the universe handing you a box of chocolates, or releasing a rabid ferret into your house just for laughs.
But, hmmn, it suddenly strikes me that maybe you're just asking whether I meditate [grin]. I used to do it formally in martial arts, now I do it in other ways. The aim of meditation has always seemed, to me, to be feeling good by being relaxed, present, and connected to body and mind and world. I can do that sitting in a patch of afternoon sunshine at a table in the pub with a really good pint of beer. I can do it lying flat on the floor listening to music. I can do it stroking Kelley's hair as she sleeps. I can do it writing a novel.
From: Angella (firstname.lastname@example.org)
RE your request for good books. I've just finished the last of your novels - I made my local library get them for me - and they are the best works I've read this year. (Which occurs to me is only a few weeks old, so let me rephrase: the best I've read in a couple of years.) I read nearly everything, all the way to the end, whether I like it or not, so I know what you mean about sub-par fiction. I've also been reading everyone else's recommendations and adding to my own reading list - what a relief to HAVE a list rather than just trolling the library shelves like a perv looking for fresh young things! Anyway, you mentioned that you liked Kingsolver's _The Bean Trees_, which I loved (after which she seemed to have lost her editor, but that's another story), so I thought you might like to try Tabitha King (Stephen's wife, which for years made me NOT read her, but there you go), whose style isn't really similar, but I discovered them at around the same time, so the two are linked in my head. No hint of sf or gay characters, but the lush prose and fine characters make up for the lack. My favorite is _One on One_, one of several books set in a small town in Maine and revolving loosely around the same set of characters. This one deals with Sam, the son of a previously introduced character, a teenager struggling with love, life and the universe in general. It's sexy and angsty and fully human. If the angst of this one is too much (is there such a thing?), you might try _Pearl_ or _The Book of Reuben_ - also sexy and lush, beautifully written. Hope you like them (hope you'll have time to read them!).
I read one of her books, or began to read one, ten or twelve years ago, but I don't remember a thing about it. I know we picked it up from the library because Kelley is a huge Stephen King fan (I really admire some of his earlier stuff) but I wonder if my reaction was based on the inevitable preconceptions a reader brings to a novel by the spouse of a more famous writer.
I think it must be very hard being Mrs. Stephen King--apart from, you know, the hundreds of millions of dollars in the bank. She's written eight or nine novels (I'm guessing here), that's twice as many as me, and yet I wonder how many dozen times some gormless fan has beamed at her and said, "Oh, and do you write too?" Writing a book is hard work, physically and emotionally. To not be recognised for it must be crushing. I've been Mrs. Kelley Eskridge twice (in the writing sense; in the corporate sense I've been Mrs. E. countless times) and in both cases I found it mostly amusing. I think it's been a bit harder for Kelley.
Kelley and I met when neither of us had had a thing published but while it might appear that we started out at the same time, we didn't. Although my first story, Mirrors and Burnstone, didn't appear until three or four months after we met, I'd actually sold it about a year earlier. In other words, I'd started earlier, was further along the writing/publishing curve. Then when I came to live in this country, I didn't get a paid job because (a) I was ill, and (b) under the visa rules, I wasn't allowed to. So Kelley worked for GE while I stayed at home and wrote. Kelley wrote, too, but naturally her time to do so was much more limited than mine. I drew further ahead on the publishing curve. Kelley's first story appeared in 1990, by which time I was talking to HarperCollins UK about my first novel. So when Kelley's second story hit the stands, and people were saying, Wow, that Kelley Eskridge is something, and we met her editor, and the editor asked me if I wrote too, I didn't mind, because by this time my unpublished novel was at the printers and had already started getting me buzz on the publishing circuit. I just smiled into my beer and said, Why, yes, I do, and thought, Ha, when your sweetie drags you aside later and hisses in your ear, and when I'm picking up all those awards next year, you're going to feel like a dork.
When people at corporate parties smiled insincerely at me and asked if I knew the wise and glorious Vice President of Project Management, Kelley Eskridge, then didn't even bother to hide their lack of interest in my response, I didn't mind that much. Corporate goddess was not a role I'd ever aspired to. I was delighted for Kelley, of course (she is, after all, wise and glorious), but I didn't ache for the same recognition. When Ammonite came out, well-meaning but thoughtless readers flocked around me and treated Kelley as an insignificant and lesser being. Not only is this impolite, it's asinine. It hurt. We talked about it a lot. All the same, I didn't realise just how much it hurt until Kelley's first novel, Solitaire came out, and sales people at Barnes & Noble beamed at Kelley and looked at me blankly, and, although it was only six months after publication, I couldn't find any copies of Stay on the shelves, anywhere. My delight in Kelley's success and achievement, which was huge and robust, was nonetheless shot through with a dark gleam of insecurity. I started thinking a lot about which version of "A Star is Born," Henry Mason or Kris Kristofferson, was more true to life.
Earning one's living from art is a precarious business. I've always thought of myself as self-confident but I've found that the most ridiculous things can damage the almost psychotic level of self-belief necessary to write. Kelley and I both have to deal with this self-image bruising. Fortunately beer and laughing at our own ridiculousness almost always restores our towering egos.
From: Mary Pardo (email@example.com)
Some weeks back you noted that the translator for Sebald had also translated the Asterix comics. Just wanted to add a bit of personal reminiscence. I grew up Francophone and as a kid (I'm in my 50s, so yes, Asterix belongs in the Dark Ages) was thrilled when some friend of the family recycled my way these wonderful bound volumes of French children's magazines in which the Asterix strip was prominently featured. I'm sure a lot of the wit went right over my head (though any work that self-conscious about Gallic identity was bound to get through at some level), but the tremendous sophistication (blending crispness and Baroque profusion) of the drawings did not. Along with the exquistely drawn Tintin books (older yet!), this was my first inkling that some of the best modern art is in cartoon form. Have you read Art Spiegelman's Maus? It's riveting as history and as art.
Uh, and greetings to Aud, wherever she is.
Aud is currently on her way back to Atlanta from Seattle and is feeling depressed. This won't last. Aud will get her own way in the end. (Oh, it's lovely sometimes being god of my fictional universe.)
Where do you stand on the question of gay marriage? Aud doesn't read like the marrying kind...
Where do I stand on the question of gay marriage? On my head. On the table. Inside a hollow chocolate easter egg. If you've bothered to read anything about my life with Kelley you know what my answer to this is: women should be able to marry women, and men should be able to marry men. In fact Kelley and I did, in 1993.
But maybe your question was really, Will Kelley and I dash to Portland to get married? The answer is no. While I admire all the women and men in Portland, OR, New Peltz, NY, and San Francisco, CA who are suddenly finding that they're tired, they're mad as hell, and they're going to just take that seat on the bus, damn it, for me there's no point in repeating the ritual until the certificate means something at the federal level.
Marriage is a double-stranded issue. There's the ritual, which to me is not about god but about standing up before family and friends and saying: I love this woman, she loves me, we pledge to be strong, and brave, and fierce for one another for the rest of our lives and we'll need your help in doing so, because life can be hard. Kelley and I have already done that. Then there's the civil: social security benefits, adoption rights, the right not to be subpoened to testify against your spouse, visitation rights in jail in case she gets banged away even without your testimony, health decisions in case she gets into a fight with the dominant butch once she is unfairly shoved in the slammer (apropos of nothing at all, I keep thinking of Martha Stewart here [g]) and--and, oh, have you bothered to read *anything* I've written about my life with Kelley?--immigration. We spent five years and uncountable financial and health resources getting me my green card. I had to change US law to do it. If one of us had been a boy, we could have waltzed into a county clerk's office somewhere, got married, and paid a $75 fee to the INS to get my immigration application rubber-stamped. So take a minute to think about it: where do you think I stand?
I love Kelley. She loves me. I can state categorically that there isn't a person in the universe who has been hurt by that fact. Some people were hurt when I left the UK--the woman I was living with, my family, my friends--but not by the fact of the love itself. What I want to know is why human beings persist in believing that in order to keep something, in this case marriage, they must take it away from someone else. It puzzles me extremely.
And as for Aud's opinions on the matter, well, so far none of her girlfriends has hung around long enough for the question to come up (death is such a nuisance when it comes to long term planning).