I will post again soon!!
Until then it is up, up, and away!!!
If I needed anymore reassurance about this, I got it yesterday after writing a brilliant writer friend of mine that I was going crazy waiting and not working on another writing project, she wrote back...START A NEW PROJECT IMMEDIATELY! I laughed out loud when I read it, as she was right. She is always working on several projects at once and completely understands how stressed "relaxing and doing nothing", makes me. Some of us are just better when we are busier, and I definitely fall into this category!
What better way to celebrate the end of down time than with a trip to the Silverlake Jubilee. It is a 2 day music/food/street fair and it boasts an incredible line up of musicians. I am excited about the food trucks too! And it is a completely green affair...no plastic water bottles or cups allowed!! Green and Groovy.
What does the idle writer do with her hands? Um, well I no longer smoke and I realized long ago that these hands should do more than just shovel salty snacks into my mouth, and the fridge is already full of homemade soups and stews, so why not tackle a reno project/b-day gift to my dear husband who has never had an office?!
Here are the results after a night of planning, a day of shopping, and another day painting, building, and installing. I love the final product and I love that Jeff loves it. I have never heard him utter "wow" so many times in a row!
The best thing that Jeff said, is that the office feels like him, a real reflection of who he is, and what he loves...travel, water, books, on golf, and scuba, pics of friends that love him, and frames waiting to be filled with more photos of friends and family. He said that he could never have dreamed of an office so great and yet the moment he saw it, realized that it was exactly the office that he had been dreaming of.
To me this is what an office should be, a reflection of who we are and where we are at, right now. I adore my office and I love seeing other people's offices. Where do you work? Send me photos!
Here is Jeff's office built with love and hard work, not just by me, but by our friend Giovanni, a brilliant interior designer and set decorator. Without Giovanni's efforts and vision none of this would have been possible.
This man has more ideas than rooms to fill, so if you have a space that needs re-imagining he is the one to call. Let me know if you want to chat with him, and I can put you in touch.
Now to reorganize my own office...and maybe start a new project....hmmmm.
Apologies. It has been too long. Since my last blog, I have been a whirling dervish! I have edited my novel, proofed it, sent it off to my agent on Tuesday, and spent the night out of town with dear friends. (A lovely one night holiday of stories, wine and friendship!) I have kept myself busy, distracted even as I wait for my agent to read my novel and let me know what she thinks...as I wait to start a new writing project, as I wait....
Waiting is something I am not good at, as I have mentioned before. I like/want /NEED projects, and so I have given myself one, a big one. I am turning the nook in our kitchen into an office for my husband for his birthday. He has always wanted an office, has never had one, and the need for one, has become increasingly greater. So...the process has begun with the help of my amazing set dec/interior designer friend and neighbor. So far we have painted, are going to repaint (my fault, the color is too light), broken a Jeep window (both our fault, forgot it was open when we pulled into the garage door) and will assemble bookshelves etc. all day today so that we can surprise Jeff with it for his b-day tomorrow!
In the meantime, the waiting continues...ah the waiting. I might need another project soon...or a nap!
Caroline is the award winning author of eight novels, most recently Girls in Trouble, which was a Booksense Selection and is now in its third printing. Look for her new book Pictures of You coming out from Algonquin this November 2010.
The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli follows three people caught in war-torn Vietnam: a female photojournalist, a charismatic male photographer and a conflicted soldier. It's a breathtaking book, and I am thrilled that Tatjana can be here to answer my questions.
What made you obsessed with the idea of a female photojournalist in Vietnam? Why this topic—and why at this time?
I was always obsessed with Vietnam. My mother worked for NATO and then at Fort Ord, so the military — soldiers leaving, families breaking up — was real to me even though I was a small child and didn’t understand what it was about. But when I grew up I read all I could in order to understand. Discovering that a few women covered the war as reporters was that magic piece that suddenly turned it into the inspiration for a novel.
I get nervous trying to figure out why I write about certain subjects, but I will explore two things. One, that there were parts of the war that I had never seen addressed before. I wanted a book about war that was rooted in the place where it happened. War does not occur on a stage set, or in a neutral vacuum, but on someone’s birthplace, in their home, where their families live. If it’s not on one’s own home turf, it’s easy to take this all for granted.
Two, I think the reason that a photographer working in a war zone appealed to me is that I wanted to explore what it means to bear witness. I admire journalists tremendously, I’m in awe of what they do, but I also wanted to explore what that kind of work does to one. There are very few that can keep at it for sustained periods. The burnout is incredibly high. What is the dark side to having this altruistic impulse? And of course as in any other profession, there are those in it for the wrong reasons. I wanted to show that too.
Timing was an accident. The novel took ten years, from start to publication. Since 2000, the world, in terms of the US involved in foreign conflicts, has changed tremendously. And yet there are so many parallels between today and the Vietnam war that you could almost view it as a cautionary tale.
You spent ten years writing and researching your novel, which is haunting, alive and quite extraordinary. What sustained you during all those years of writing? Was there ever a point where you felt completely lost or like giving up?
Well, I can assure you if I had known it would take all these years it would have been bad. Ignorance is bliss. What sustained me is that I loved the story — this was something that I wanted to live out in the process of writing it. As hard as it is to write something and have it not see publication, if it’s deeply important to you, I don’t think it’s time wasted. Like everyone else, I was really moved by Paul Harding’s story, winning the Pulitzer with his novel, Tinkers. It was the same novel, when it languished in a drawer for three years, when it was published by a small house, and now that it’s won the Pulitzer. As a writer, you have to learn to value your work independently from what happens to it out in the world, but at the same time you don’t want to be delusional. It’s a hard balance to maintain.
What surprised you about your research, particularly with female war photographers?
There were many interesting things about the handful of women photographers who covered Vietnam. The two that I focused on, Dickey Chapelle and Catherine Leroy, went out of their way to appear tough, to measure up to the men. Dickey Chapelle was more a product of post-WWII. She was anti-Communist and pro-military, and she bought into the heroism aspect of the war. She was only there for the beginning of Vietnam, but she thought America was right to be there.
Catherine Leroy went on to cover other wars. After covering Lebanon, she swore off war coverage totally. This is just me guessing, but I think something broke in her. After all the awards she had won, the hopelessness, the endless cycle of war, destroyed her. If there was one person I would have wanted to talk to at length before writing the book, it would have been Catherine.
Can you talk about the title, please, and its meaning in the novel?
The Lotus Eaters forget all thoughts of home. But “home” means more than a physical place. It is a mental place of comfort and familiarity; it is a belief system. Once you really “see,” in a deep sense, the injustices of the world, can you go back to a place of blindness? Can you go back to living out your private, happy life? The addiction to the adrenaline of war is superficial compared to that.
The only thing to counteract all the darkness of violence is connection, love, to another human being. But you are grabbing it like a lifeline, so there is obsession involved. This is the only person in the world who has been through what you have, a bond that can’t be shared with many others.
Why did you begin the novel with the Fall of Saigon and then backtrack to tell Helen’s story? How did that particular structure impact your story, do you think?
My interest was in Helen at this particular moment in her life, a telling one both personally and historically. That’s the engine that fuels the search into the past. I’ve been writing about the iconic war photographs of that time, but the whole fall of Saigon, the pictures of the crowds beating against the embassy gates, helicopters taking off from the rooftops, it’s one of those moments in history that you never come to the end of. In some ways, it represents the whole disaster of the war. The rest of the novel is an exploration of how this moment came to pass. Character is revealed in the difficult moments in life, not when it’s all smooth sailing.
I hope that structuring the book in the way I did throws the interest on how the characters change and develop rather than the false glamour of war and combat. Unlike the outcome of a sports game, you are being told at the very start who lost. With that out of the way, let’s find out who these people are. Because that’s the real explanation of war, not the outcomes of battles.
Photojournalists are often witnesses to history, rather than part of it—and sometimes there’s a cost to that. Can you talk about that a bit?
That’s a complicated question. There’s a school of thought that it is more professional to stay outside of events, to not take a position, so to speak. To be neutral, as if there were such a thing. I think that people who do this are trying to protect themselves from being affected by events. The more I read about photojournalists, the more I understood that there is a price to bearing witness. You are part of it, whether you want to be or not. There is the bitterness of being helpless to change the outcome. Of seeing things you can’t recover from. I think that’s what happened to Catherine Leroy. There’s another way, one of my favorite examples, of doing what is within your ability. Nick Ut saved the little girl, Kim Phuc, who was burned by napalm. He became her lifelong friend. It’s what was within his ability to do. Sometimes saving one person is enough.
I’m intensely curious about what topic is obsessing you now for your next book?
After a novel that required so much in terms of research about place, time, photography, the military, I wanted to set myself a different kind of technical challenge with my second novel. It is set on a citrus ranch in present-day California. But my obsession is with the two main characters. Issues of race and power and identity that actually aren’t so different than in my first novel.
What question should I be mortified that I didn’t ask?
You asked such good questions! I’d like to add a lifestyle question, in terms of balance in the writing life. I believe that you should be absolutely obsessed by your work, and then at the end of your work time, let it go. Each day I take a long hike with my husband and my dog. I don’t have time for it, there are about a thousand things that need to get done NOW, but we take our hike. Make sure you have a release valve.
I am anxiously waiting for my pages to be proofed. I sent my manuscript (ms) off on Saturday and hope to get my novel to my fab agent by this Friday. I am anxious and nervous, and relieved and wanting a publishing deal more than ever. I feel so strongly about this new novel and I hope that my agent loves it as much as I do.
In the meantime, I am resisting starting another project as I may still have work to do, and also because I think a little downtime is healthy, if not familiar, or comfortable.
Alas, I am cooking. I've got sweet potato mash on the stove and am about to make a quinoa stew, a pearl barley salad, and a big soup. Having guests as well, allows me to cook more as I know that it won't just be me eating out of the fridge the same thing everyday, until my efforts are all consumed!!
There may also be a little jewelry making today! You know what they say about idle hands...