Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Listen Here: Discussing the spooky art of ghostwriting on @RNZNights in New Zealand

Last night I enjoyed the best interview I've ever had on the topic of ghostwriting. Bryan Crump of Radio New Zealand National invited me to chat it up, and he came to the conversation with an open mind and intelligent questions. We talked more about the craft than we did about what celebrities I've worked with, and that's pretty unusual.

Listen here.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Happy 100th Birthday to the fabulous Margo Kurtz

While I was working with Swoosie Kurtz on her memoir Part Swan, Part Goose: An Uncommon Memoir of Womanhood, Work, and Family, I got to know her mom, Margo Kurtz, who turns 100 years old today.

Margo's advancing dementia has changed both their lives, but she still has a remarkable grace about her. The poetic way she expresses herself now has the same lyric spirit that shines through in her memoir, My Rival, the Sky, published by Putnam in 1945 and rereleased as an ebook by Perigee last year.

Every time I see Margo, she's delighted to meet me, and I always tell her, "I read your book, Margo, and I really loved it. You're such a wonderful writer." She's always surprised and thrilled to hear it.

"You just made me so happy," she said last time I saw her. "And what do you do, darling?"

I told her, "I'm a writer like you."

"Oh, then you know," said Margo, "the way words come out of their cocoons."

Margo is still remarkably Margo, but her health and happiness, her longevity and everything that makes every day worth living, is a tribute to Swoosie's tender loving care. They both continue to inspire and amaze me.

Happy Birthday, Margo!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Me, this man, and the one thing Kim Davis will never understand about marriage

So the Gare Bear and I have been married 32 years as of today. The first three words he said to me were "I love you," and I hope those will be the last three words I say to him. Words are my stock in trade, but I have none to express how truly grateful I am to have this beautiful, funny, intelligent man in my life.

Over the past three decades, we raised two children to responsible, dynamic adulthood. We've traveled the world together, negotiated the treacherous territory of cancer and chemotherapy, and lived together for several months on a fire tower almost entirely cut off from civilization. We've debated politics and fought over money. We keep gaining and losing the same 50 pounds. We're still into each other. Still onto each other. The only thing we're religious about is doing the New York Times crossword puzzle together every morning.

We don't have a good marriage; we are a good marriage.

This is a concept people who oppose marriage equality don't get. (Along with the concepts of civil rights, science, separation of church and state, and MYOFB.) As irritating as she is, I feel bad for their new patron saint, Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk being lauded for defying the Supreme Court decision to recognize the civil right of any legal adult to marry the legal adult with whom s/he feels at home. The concept of marriage Davis is supposedly championing doesn't include the kind of marriage Gary and I live in. Our marriage is not sacred to us because God said so; our marriage is sacred to us because we said so, and our public commitment to keeping it that way entitled us to the legal and financial benefits of marriage.

We had already been living together for a while before this delightful post-hippie nuptial be-in on a mountaintop, and in Montana circa 1983, we were legally married by common law from the time we opened a joint bank account, indicating our status as "married". Why the ceremony if we were already legally married? In fact, why be married at all, since we were doing fine living together? Back then, I had no logical or illogical answer. We had no clue what this marriage would turn out to be, but we felt it was something precious and important, and we wanted to reinforce and protect it--from the erosive power of time, from the corrosive power of insecurity, from the nattering of all the people who thought we didn't belong together, and from our own inevitable f**k-ups.

Now, 32 years hence, I see the accidental wisdom in that. I still can't quantify exactly what marriage means, but I know this isn't about one man and one woman--insert Tab A into Slot B--this is about One Gary and One Joni. He is who he is, I am who I am, and what we are together is We Are. There is no other marriage like ours, because every marriage is unique. That's part of what makes each marriage precious.

I'm fairly sure Kim Davis is not thinking of all this on any existential level; she just hates homos, as conveniently prescribed by the almighty god who was created for the convenience of haters. (As Gary succinctly put it when the whole thing started revving up, "She's not Rosa Parks. She's the bus driver.") Right now, she's riding this 15-minute wave of fame, a heady experience most dumpy, sullen bureaucrats can only dream of. But the irony of this particular person being chosen to champion the sanctity of marriage is like tin foil between the teeth of anyone who actually understands the true sanctity, the rarity, the inexpressibly precious stroke of luck and dint of industry that is a long, loving marriage.

I'm not saying she doesn't understand or respect marriage because she's never had a good one. I'm saying she doesn't understand or respect marriage because she doesn't understand or respect people. She doesn't understand or respect the scripture she spouts. She doesn't understand or respect the laws that govern the public office she holds. Marriage is way above her pay grade. All she does is sign the paperwork. If that makes her feel powerful, well, add that to the list of things she is bombastically wrong about.

At the end of the day, all the bloviating and grandstanding will come to nothing, and most Americans will accept what other first world citizens accepted a long time ago. Some people are gay. Get over it. If you truly believe that healthy marriages contribute to a healthy society, don't screw around on your spouse and shut up about the spouses of others.

Until that day, I think it's important for heterosexual couples who thrive in solid traditional marriages to keep speaking up for the civil rights to which all people are entitled. So here's me and the Grizz. My Gare Bear. The love of my life. My husband, for better or worse, till death do us part.

We believe in marriage. That's why we believe in marriage equality.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Brave YOU World: Create & Fund an Unorthodox Life

Jerusha rockin' it a la peacock
at Houston Pride 2015
My fabulous daughter, Jerusha Rodgers, spent the better part of two years traveling the world with nothing but her own ingenuity, a genuine desire to live in a yurt, and an income cobbled together from freelance editing and online essay grading.

My amazing dad, Del Lonnquist, scaled tall buildings and toured with a rock band in his youth. More recently, he cared for my mom as she was dying of Alzheimer's and then took to the road on his motorcycle-sidecar rig. He's since ridden tens of thousands of miles and, at age 80, earned his Iron Butt certification as one of the World's Toughest Riders.

And then there's me. Hate to toot my own horn, but I will claim for myself that I discovered the absolutely WORST Way to Become an Almost Famous Author.

In addition to the gene pool and our love for lefse, all three of us share a flare for the arts, an insatiable curiosity about what lies around the next bend, and an uncanny knack for combining the two in an unconventional lifestyle. What works for us may not work for everyone, but it does indicate that anyone can create an unconventional path that works for her/himself. It's about living by decision, being true to your authentic self, and focusing on giving and doing as opposed to getting and having.

Dad was up up and away, skydiving and hot air
ballooning to celebrate his 80th birthday
Jerusha had the brilliant idea to bring our peripatetic POV to SXSW Interactive 2016 in a three-generation panel: Brave YOU World: Create & Fund an Unorthodox Life. We need your vote to get on the SXSW roster!

Here's the official pitch:
Everyone knows exactly what they’d to do if X, Y and Z didn’t stand in the way, but how do people leap and trust a net will appear? For author and sidecar-biker Del Lonnquist, his daughter, NYT bestseller Joni Rodgers, and her daughter, freelance editor Jerusha, it was three perfect storms of adventurous spirits, necessity and a willingness to try new things. This generational panel discusses the pragmatic approach to exploring and combing disparate skills to develop, grow, and keep a creative career that makes every day the life you dream of. Two SXSW vets and a newcomer to the Texas stage know how to work the world—from frustrations to elations and making the most of things as they come.

Please hop on the SXSW Panel Picker, take a moment to register, and vote. 

Your support is hugely appreciated! Hope to see you at SXSW16. :)

Monday, August 03, 2015

Into the Mystic: Prepare to discover/rediscover the great WB Yeats in Her Secret Rose by Orna Ross

On the flight over to Ireland this weekend, I was reading The Secret Rose, a strange and wonderful collection of stories by William Butler Yeats. One of the many lines that leapt off the page:

"...the dreamers who must do what they dream, the doers who must dream what they do."

The words find new context in Her Secret Rose by Orna Ross, the first in a trilogy of novels about young Willie Yeats and Maud Gonne, a British heiress, change agent, mystic seeker and champion of Irish civil rights.

Gonne was the muse that catalyzed Yeats' career as she became the object of his unrequited passion/obsession. Their political and personal lives were intimately entwined; they were kindred spirits, soul mates, and partners in a long journey of spiritual exploration that included mind-altering drugs and secret occult rituals.

But Maud had another life, another love, that Willie knew nothing about, and inevitably, the two worlds would collide. With great insight, wit, lyrical skill and deep-dive research, Orna Ross transports readers to an extraordinary moment in the history of Ireland and allows us to see it through the eyes of two people whose passion for justice and poetry changed the world.

Limited edition hardcover with Gyles cover design
As a literary artist and publishing industry revolutionary, Ross is a modern day dreamer and doer named twice to Bookseller's list of the 100 Most Influential People in publishing. In honor of the Yeats Sesquicentennial, she's created a special edition of Her Secret Rose bound in one volume with The Secret Rose by WB Yeats. The new limited edition hardcover features the spectacular original cover design created for The Secret Rose by Yeats' friend, artist Althea Gyles, and includes two stories the original publisher insisted on removing from the first edition, though Yeats intended them to be read as part of the collection.

I was thrilled to participate in this project as the editor of Her Secret Rose, and I'm in Ireland to celebrate the book's official launch tonight at the Yeats Memorial Building in Sligo.

I've spent the past few days tromping the green hillsides, exploring the ancient burial sites at Carrowmore, and eavesdropping on musical Irish dialog in the pubs. For me, this experience has been uniquely rich because the poetry and mystic prose of Yeats is resonating through it all. On a bus somewhere between Shannon and Knock, listening to the lively conversations of young and old people around me, I suddenly realized that the voice heard throughout this novel is the voice of Ireland. It's verdant and proud, with a unique melody, hard-won wisdom and wry humor.

I always loved the idea of Ireland. This book finally brought me here. I always loved the idea of Yeats, the firebrand poet. This book brought me to his life and work in a way that made it vibrant, meaningful and completely, timelessly relevant.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Top 10 succulent Southern lines from Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman

Can we set the controversy aside for a moment and just enjoy what a masterful writer Harper Lee is? I devoured Go Set a Watchman in one sitting this morning with just the right balance of laughs out loud and lumps in my throat. The Southern dialogue and character sketches are incredibly rich, astonishingly well done when you think how young she was. As I read, I grabbed screenshots of one great line after another, just so I could revisit and wallow in her wordsmithery.

A few of my favorites:
1) "The music instructor. He taught a course in what was wrong with Southern church music. He was from New Jersey. He said we might as well be singing 'Stick your snout under the spout where the gospel comes out' ..."

2) "A bigot. Not a big one, just an ordinary turnip-sized bigot."

3) "You've turned and tackled no less than your own tin god." [Apply as needed to swirling controversy.]

4) "If you wish to continue in darkness, that is your privilege." [I can think of so many uses for this one!]

5) "There's nothing like a blood-curdling hymn to make you feel at home."

6) "Hypocrites have just as much right to live in this world as anybody."

7) "Human birth is most unpleasant. It's messy, it's extremely painful, sometimes it's a risky thing. It is always bloody. So it is with civilization."

8) "Underwood, who in his time had published memorial verses of indeterminate variety, said he still couldn't publish this one because it was blasphemous and didn't scan."

9) "Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends."

10) "Oh dear. Oh dear me, yes. The novel must tell a story."

Bonus line to keep in your hip pocket for the right opportunity: "Aunty," she said cordially, "why don't you go pee in your hat?"

Goodbye to magnificent Miss Ellie, mom of Susan G. Komen and Nancy G. Brinker

So sad to hear about the death of Miss Ellie Goodman, mom of the fabulous Goodman sisters, Susan G. Komen and Ambassador Nancy G. Brinker. It was a joy getting to know her while I was working on Nan's book, Promise Me. Miss Ellie was 90 years old then, still remarkably sharp, and one of the most authentically beautiful human beings I've ever known. 

Tough and direct, she'd seen her share of heartbreak, but there was not whiff of bitterness about her. She was joyful, generous and quick-witted, but also deeply pragmatic and very smart. Once you meet Miss Ellie in the pages of the book, you quickly understand why Suzy and Nancy grew up with a deeply ingrained sense of service to others and an unbreakable bond with one another.

From Promise Me:
Mom was beautiful and stylish, making the most of everything, even when there was little money to work with. Aunt Rose passed along an evening dress with a beautifully crafted pearl and rhinestone collar. The fancy gown was too big and not something mother had occasion to wear, but she snipped off the collar and sewed it onto a plain black dress Fritzi had made for her. And when that dress became faded and worn, Mommy snipped the collar off and sewed it onto the next generation. Old photographs show her blossoming into that collar. At first, on a girl of twelve, it seems a bit much, but by the time she was in her late teens, it looks elegant and proud. Instead of the collar glitzing her up, she’s the one making the old hand-me-down look like something special. 
… She understood the difference between service and servitude and wore her traditional role the same way she always wore the perfect shoes: she liked feeling comfortable, functional, and beautiful. Mom never questioned or denigrated the different choices made by other women, but this was her choice, and she never regretted it. An unquestionably liberated woman, my mother did exactly what she wanted to do…

A few months before my parents were married, Grandma Fritzi took ill with a kidney infection. A simple thing, these days: usually little more than an inconvenience. Ten minutes in the physician’s office. Ninety seconds at the pharmacy drive-through. Penicillin, the drug that would have saved her, was discovered quite by accident in 1928 and first tested on human subjects in 1939. In 1940, when Fritzi’s fever drove her to the hospital, that simple but effective remedy was in the pipeline and would be commonly available just a few years later—barely a breath in the scope of history. Meanwhile, sulfa drugs were all the rage, the most potent weapon there was against battlefield infection; soldiers were issued a powdered form in their first aid kits. But because of its low solubility, sulfanilamide tended to crystallize in the kidneys when taken internally. Fritzi’s doctor—drunk, Mother maintains to this day—accidentally gave Fritzi a toxic dose.

Poor Mommy crouched in the corner of the hospital room as her mother, this angel of mercy, died in twisting agony. It left her grief-stricken, infuriated, and radicalized. From that day forward, contrary to the “doctor’s orders” standard of the times, Mom was unfashionably fearless about questioning the judgments of God and doctors who think they’re God’s golf buddies…


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