Straight Up and Dirty

So last night we went to Stephanie Klein’s book signing at BookPeople. Stephanie was funny and spirited, much as I expected. You could definitely see her “bump”–she’s five months along with twins!

She talked about how when she started her blog, she never expected success to follow, and attributed the popularity and the book deals to her belief in following your passion. I think bloggers these days are probably more aware of the potential of their blogs, although with the blogosphere so inundated, it’s hard to stand out.

She read three excerpts from her book Straight Up and Dirty and answered questions with humor and candor. About 100 people attended, and maybe half of them stood in line to have her sign books. I am in the picture on her blog! I’m in red on the opposite side. She also posted the pictures I sent her.

I also got a book signed, of course, and she wrote her standard phrase “Follow your passion!” inside.

New lens!

My new lens for my Canon came in today. I got a very fast f1.8 standard 50mm because I wanted to play with low light work as well as narrow depth of field. My usual lens, the typical portrait workhorse–a 28-135mm zoom–is a little slow, with a max of f3.5 zoomed out and 5.6 zoomed in. While this is not a bad choice for family portraits as 1.8 risks not getting everyone in focus, I would like to be able to go to conferences and concerts and not use flash.

I checked out the depth of field outdoors in ideal light and was astonished how little is in focus. Elizabeth’s closest eye is tack sharp, her further eye slightly off focus, and her shoulder is already quite fuzzy. Wow! But I loved how totally blurred the grass is behind her.

Indoors, in low light with window blinds slightly opened, I had no problem getting a fix on the exposure. The image was a little softer than I’d like, which was one of the reasons I got this lens, hoping to get additional sharpness since the camera wouldn’t be reaching quite so hard for a decent exposure.

But mainly I love how my camera weighs now–so light! I forget how much the zoom lens adds to it. I’ll just have to get used to framing the shot as is–I can’t get a tighter shot with a twist of the lens anymore.

Ah, the joy of new toys. My Zilker shoots start this weekend! I still have room in my schedule for more families!

Austin City Limits, Days 2 and 3

Saturday we decided it was TOO DANG HOT to arrive early, so we got to ACL about 3:30 when the day became manageable. The crowds were obscene. You couldn’t plow through any section of the park without weaving through a throng.

Los Lobos put on a decent show–a mix of old favorites with some of their new songs. We lay in the blanket in the sun, happy and pleased to be outside and listening. We had discovered Charlie Sexton via the Itunes ACL download giveaway and his live performance was also outstanding. Kurt liked Calexico; I was only lukewarm on the sound, which is sometimes described as alternative country, but I found to be sort of jazzy mariachi, at least in the sets they played Saturday.

We met up with Ivy at the South Austin Jug Band show, although she disliked the music and the lack of jugs. I love SAJB, so we were grooving within good sight of the band at the small stage. We made a brief stop by Explosions in the Sky before unanimously declaring their mix too painful to endure. James had joined us by then, and we immediately made our way to the bar tent to plunk down $4 for beer and $6 for wine.

We all started at Massive Attack, but Ivy and James couldn’t handle them either, so they made off for Willie Nelson. Kurt and I managed a few more songs and took off ourselves, fired up for Day 3, since Day 2 had been so much more manageable.

Then came the rain. We arrived on Sunday at 4 p.m. to find Rebecca STILL in the line for KT Tunstall’s autograph. (She later was threatened with arrest after failing to get an autograph for Muse and refusing to leave–go Becca!) The ground had dried up from the noon showers and the sky held most of the day. We saw a solid show from Matisyau and a surprise delight with the highly entertaining antics of White Ghost Shivers and their x-rated lyrics. Hooray for the Banana Song!

We all sat around listening to the Flaming Lips as we waited to split again–Rebecca, Ivy, and James to Muse and me and Kurt to the Bodeans. I have to say the Bodeans ROCKED! I remarked to Kurt a number of times that people around us during the festival didn’t seem to be having fun. They were like, enduring, like they were just managing the crowds and heat and shuffled from one show to the other like zombies. But during the Bodeans, everyone laughed and danced, like a music festival should be! I so have to get one of their albums now.

Tom Petty was about what I expected–solid, low key, a mix of popular songs and things I didn’t know. He talked and sang sort of softly, a subtlety you find in his music, and I found that this did not translate well to a huge open field with tens of thousands of people. Crowds around us kept shouting “turn it up!” but obviously it wasn’t possible. People singing around us were drowning out the music from the stage, and one song we couldn’t hear even when everyone got quiet. So as the rain began half an hour into the concert, about 2/3 of the crowd bailed. I caught a blurry rain-enhanced image of the night stage.

The good part of that was we got out our ponchos and moved up where we could hear him more clearly. Bad part: had to wait 45 minutes before he came on again.

So, looking back over the three days–Los Lonely Boys were definitely the best show. The Bodeans a close second (they SOOO deserved a bigger stage). I definitely plan to catch White Ghost Shivers locally some time as they were just so fun, and I’m never ever going to a day at ACL without my handy pool blanket that wicks water away and folds up into a tiny bundle. We didn’t have it the first day and sitting in grass is icky–witness my 25 ant bites!

ACL Music Festival, Day 1

I never get tired of Los Lonely Boys. This ACL was my fourth time to see them live and I still love their guitar antics, their trading instruments, playing on their backs, and one handed. I got their new album a week ago to prepare for the concert and all I can say is “Oye Mamacita!”

Gnarls Barkley was a surpisingly fun show. Everyone on stage wore white lab coats at the beginning but we all expected they’d shed them before long. He was mid-afternoon and the only time I actually thought I might faint from the heat was during his show. He teased the crowd, as if expecting few knew what he looked like, saying, “Gnarls Barkley couldn’t make it but we’re here to cover his songs!”

When we first arrived, as Asleep at the Wheel was playing, the park was empty. You could walk right up to the stages and be in the front row, weaving between people chillin’ out in lawn chairs. By about 5, though, they place was packed as you’d expect, and the park was a human obstacle course.

They did have more grass, and the misting stations were awesome. We dropped by several other shows–Terri Hendrix, Mishka, Guster, and Stars. Itunes gave out cards with a pass for 30 songs from various artists at the festival. I downloaded them last night. Our favorite band name (although not their music) has been I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness.

Ann Richards, 1993-2006

I remember the gubernatorial race between Ann Richards and Clayton Williams well. I worked at the Daily Texan, and my friend Janel got the glam job of covering her race while I had the ho-hum work of Phil Gramm’s re-election bid. This was November 1990.

I had covered a lot of Clayton Williams’ campaign, most notably the protests after his joke about rape, told to reporters on a hunting trip. For Halloween that year, we all wore Clayton masks cut from the newspaper, because nothing could get scarier than him being governor.

But still, he had money, he was a good ol’ boy, and political correctness had not really hit Texas with a hard heel. He pretty much said what he wanted, acted how he pleased.

As the night wore on, my race ended early with a landslide for Gramm. I was able to finish quickly, but with the governor’s race in a dead heat, we knew it would be a late night for everyone at the paper, so I wrote my story out in longhand in the passenger seat while Janel drove across town to Ann Richard’s campaign headquarters. We knew we ought divide our time at Clayton’s HQ in case he won, but we just couldn’t bear it if he did, so we hoped heading to her camp would somehow tilt the scale.

The euphoria when Williams finally conceded the race is hard to describe. Paper flew; people cried. Janel and I, objective journalists that we were, screamed and hugged, then pushed forward to try and get close enough to ask a question. I finally let her go on through and held back, just smiling and watching everyone celebrate.

It didn’t matter that it was 1 a.m. by the time we got back to the newsroom to file our stories. Everyone was down at the offices, jubilant and relieved. We stayed up all night, thrilled and excited that the clever witty brilliant woman had proven that “A woman’s place is in the dome.”

We’ll miss you, Ann. If only you’d have beaten out W in your re-election bid for governor. Think where the world might be instead. You’d have made a mighty fine president.

Christmas in September

Many people rant about Christmas trees going up in summer at craft stores, gift displays erected before Halloween, and general rumbling about department store holiday Muzak in November.

I beat everyone, always, as I have to prepare well in advance of Christmas for holiday portraits.

By mid-summer I’m already sweating the new holiday scene, watching for props, considering card designs. I won’t actually put up the tree in the studio until Halloween night, hanging decorations while I wait for trick or treaters, but I have to shoot sample images to put on my mailouts and ads way ahead of that.

Yesterday I ran around town trying to find red pajamas. They did NOT have to be Christmas, mind you, just red.

I tried discount stores–Wal-Mart, Target. I tried department stores–Macy’s, Nordstrom’s, Dillards, JC Penney. Then I progressed to kid shops–Children’s Place, Gap Kids, Gymboree. My sense of panic grew as the day wore on and nothing but pink, yellow, blue, pastels. Was red just taboo this year? Did they withhold it to make sure everyone bought it at Christmas?

Finally at a boutique shop, Bright Beginnings, I found little pink gowns with characters in red coats and muffs. Close enough! I had just about given up on using my dad, who was in town for the weekend, as Santa in the new scene, even though he loves doing it. I didn’t have anything for the girls to wear!

But saved by the high-end kids clothing store. They tend to have leftovers from previous seasons, so I don’t have to wait for new shipments. Thankfully that had sizes close enough to the girls to make do.

So here’s the new design. I will be selling porcelain plates with images like these on it, perfect gift for grandma–a cookie plate with their grandkids giving cookies to Santa. The set is designed so that it will be very easy to splice in other kids with my dad, a clean seam down the middle.

Dunvegan Keep

Last night my photography group met at Dunvegan Keep, one man’s backyard turned architectural and landscaping mecca. The images in this post are from there–Kurt standing in the doorway of the Knight’s retreat, all dragon windows and swords.

This amazing piece of land has been featured in national magazines and on Good Morning, America, which seemed like a good idea, since the owner rents it out for weddings and photo shoots. But this also caught the attention of the neighborhood association and the tax assessor, so he’s dealt with unending battles with both. Lawyers have threatened to tear down his tower and send him the bill. It’s not pretty.

But the grounds are gorgeous. He’s done all the work himself–immense stone structures, carefully inlaid mosaics, doors and artwork brought from Africa.

It’s funny and ironic and terrible that someone can create something so beautiful, so intricate, so well planned, only to find so much controversy. Life isn’t about art, after all, it’s about resell value.

Good restrictive covenants make good neighbors.

Thank Goodness for Friends and Muses

So everyone who’s been around me since Monday knows I’ve been laid pretty low by the whole Memoirs of a Muse discovery, a newly published book eerily similar to the one I just finished writing.

Today I finally felt like I was coming out of it. I appreciate Henry and Ivy, who put up with me moping at Java all Monday night. And Kurt, of course, who dealt with me moping Monday AND Tuesday night (last night was about rock bottom.)

And I really want to thank all my writer friends who put this in perspective. Here’s what some of them said.

[Here in Paris] is an English bookseller, just across the Seine from Notre Dame — Shakespeare and Company, founded by George Whitman. Every Monday evening they have a reading of novels in progress and published novels. I’ve been here six weeks now and Deanna, I’ve heard nothing in the three readings I have attended that was any better than your writing. And all the novelists who read were published, one with three novels, another with over a dozen, another with two. So, keep faith and bon courage.

Deanna, I am so sorry that you’re feeling kicked in the stomach. The same thing happened to me with my first novel. I had already finished the first draft and was editing it when *Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood* came out. I was knocked flat for over a week, and to this day when I tell anyone about my first novel, they ask if I got the idea from the Ya-Ya’s, or say, “Oh, like the Ya-Ya’s.”

But I guess here’s my point, and it’s an encouraging one. Now that there are scads of books out about the camaraderie between a group of women, that group having a name (mine are called The Sinners, from their old family joke), I see how very DIFFERENT my novel is from the Ya-Ya’s. I had apparently tapped into a trend before it happened, but now that it has, what a broad trend it has become.

That’s a terrible story, Deanna. Lara Vapnyar’s book “Memoirs of aMuse” was handled by my agent, David McCormick, a great, truly literary agent. Lara is an amazing writer. She’s from Russia and only moved to the US in 1994. Her writings are mostly about Russian-Americans and Russian emigrees, so it’s hard to imagine there’s much in common between your books beyond the “Muse” theme. I would think you should hang in there with your book; just make sure it’s as distinctive and particular as it can be. Maybe there’s a twist or a subplot lurking within it, waiting to be developed more fully.

When my debut tweener novel, Rain Is Not My Indian Name was just released, I walked into BookPeople and prominently displayed was Carolina Autumn. The books both were told by girls in the first person point of view.They both dealt with healing from sudden death, and in both, each chapter opened with a journal entry. What’s more, both covers featured a girl and a camera because, well, both protagonists were photographers and their photography was a venue for their healing and how they viewed their changing worlds.

What happened? Nobody noticed. Not reviewers. Not the attentive teacher-librarian community. Not young readers. Why? When I read her book, I was reading as a nervous author. All I could seewere the similarities. But many books have elements in common.

Readers who were farther removed from the books saw them for what they are. I’m not Carol and she’s not me, and though our stories had similarities, they were their own stories. Keep in mind that you’re coming from your own manuscript, comparing with that eye, but another reader may see them as both books she’d like but certainly different and important in their own right. I hope this helps and wish you the best of luck!

Okay, okay. So I’ll get off my butt and send out more queries. Back to the to-do list…

Bile Blackened Bitterness

As a child, I exalted the library as a veritable heaven of the imagination. Golden light blazed through small round windows and shafted onto stories by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Beverly Clearly, Judy Blume and EB White. My mom would only take me once every two weeks, when the books were due, as it was a 30 minute drive into town, so I maxed out my limit every time, pulling books off the shelves like a hungry teen in a convenient store snack aisle.

My love affair with libraries has been on again/off again, but today I trepidaciously stepped inside our local version of the book lender to find some audio books as well as the Shreve novel I’ve been looking for.

The colors danced off the glossy covers as they lay supine on the angled shelves of new fiction. I spotted the Shreve book right away, the only one checked in out of eight–what luck! I grasped the slender volume, slick with its plastic cover, then my eyes spotted this:

Memoirs of a Muse

Black clouds should have gathered, lightening striking at startling intervals, and the sky should have gone dark.

But these things didn’t happen. Finding this book only mattered to me. Only my heart was pierced.

I sat in the car line to pick up the girls and read the first 15 pages–for of course I checked it out. As I waited the wind rattled through the treees like old bones.

I felt lukewarm about it. It unfolded slowly, a bit bitingly. According to Amazon, it came out five months ago, so it was written last year, well before I even conceived my almost identical story line.

I feel much like I did after completing First Lessons, my book about teaching, and realizing a wave had begun for a book called Dangerous Minds. By the time I landed an agent and we were submitting to actual publishers, the movie was coming, a TV series slated. My book seemed silly and flat compared to it. The agent believed in it, and the publishers liked the writing, but still, all no, no, no, no. Once a book has been shopped around, it is dead. You can’t submit it any more lest you annoy them to the point of wrecking your reputation.

My life has proven rather ill timed again, like I’m dancing with a peg leg, falling just behind every beat, sliding clumsily before the audience I long to charm.

Her book is getting good reviews. She’s been published in the New Yorker. Her previous short story collection is lauded as brilliant.

I don’t want to play any more.

First Day of Freedom


Both girls are in school today, the first time they’ve both been gone at the same time.

It’s been a long day. I feel like I should have accomplished a whole lot more.

But I did:

*Take my first NIA class. It did not really challenge me cardio-vascularly, which I expected, since I’m so used to hard-core running in the heat, but I liked the way I used more muscles. My arms will be sore, I think.

*Go shopping for NIA appropriate attire!

*Spend too much time reading blogs.

*Wrap a gift and otherwise prep for a birthday party tonight.

If I haven’t already forced you to see the images of my darlings in the new photo set, which are part of the special I’m running this summer, well, here they are!