Friday, May 19, 2017

A Repost to Margaret Atwood

'To want to meet a writer because of their work is like wanting to meet a duck because you like pate.'
- Margaret Atwood

So I've been thinking about this, and I disagree.

If you're lucky enough to have the right editor (the first and most important one being yourself), and getting the right editor is like being struck by lightning, your sometimes crazed ramblings, sometimes duplicated scenes, sometimes long-winded asides all get smoothed out and what you end up with is really what you wanted to say all along, with all the character flaws ironed out.

Because I do think our character flaws are mirrored in our writing. For example, when I tell a story I will often (immediately) go off on a tangent, then come back to the story then -- again -- have another aside (you see my instruments at work here, the parenthetical aside and the dash let me just interject dash dash) and I've been told by more than one (all male, btw) that they find it irritating.  I imagine this is because they're being asked to hold the main story line in their minds while then following the writer's mind into a different sphere, then come back to the main story, then have that linearity broken again, even if ever so briefly.

For some reason, I think women don't have as much of a problem, and this is probably because when they talk to their friends, especially if they're at home, they're also doing at least three other things: folding laundry, making a snack, soothing children -- and they're counting on their friends to hold the story they're telling for them ('where was I?'  And then a chorus of 'at the part where --' 'oh yeah!  So...')

Still, I do understand that breaking what is essentially a reader's concentration too many times would be off-putting, and now that I'm aware of it, I do try to keep it to a minimum -- both the length of the tangents and the breadth of the asides.

A friend of mine writes very descriptively.  I love description, the way it sets a scene, the way it puts you right there, but when it's extensive, when it tells every detail of an ordinary task (washing dishes, say), it can be not so much evocative (the point) as suffocating, because it doesn't leave any room for the reader to enter the scene with their own imagination.  As an editor, I would say select a few details then leave some in between out, because really, we all do know what it is to shower, to drive, to cook, to walk in a park.  I love it when it evokes that activity, but there's a certain tedium in being told 'then she put the dishes in the dishrack to dry, and picked up the handtowel to work on the wineglasses before putting them away on the right shelf in the cupboard next to the sink.'

Pick one or two details out of that, I'd say, and you evoke the rest.

But given the right editors, yourself then the next person -- who has to, who must, absolutely love your writing, that's the first prereq -- those bits of irritating distraction or feelings of tedium get lifted off, airbrushed out, and you're left with the way that writer thinks, with how she experiences the world, and what she values the most.

If she's good, anyway.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Spoken word/stand up

FUCK Valentine's Day.  I'd like to shove it up Hallmark's ass.

If I sound bitter, it's because four months ago I got my heart shattered so badly I'm never gonna get all the pieces back again.

Look, I know we get our hearts broken every day – especially now that orange really IS the new black -- and that's a series I don't wanna watch let alone binge on!

But what I'm talking about is the personal stuff...the only time in my life that I got this devastated was when I fell for a younger man some twenty years ago, and I left my husband of a decade for him...only to find out he would have, in fact, preferred my husband.

So THAT sucked (never mind how much I had) but at least there's never gonna be another woman, right?  Even if now he won't even friend me on facebook!
But hey, at least he introduced me to heroin!
And heroin absolutely cured me of my caffeine habit for good.  I still can't have more than two sips before I hafta put the cup down.

This last guy, though, whom I really thought was the love of my life (he was even straight!) -- we spent every spare minute of seven months together from pretty much the moment we met – this despite the fact that he kept saying he didn't want a girlfriend – right up until he left me for a younger chick.  Not just younger than me, but a lot younger than him, too.

For a while there, I really just wanted to die.  But then I thought, what, I'ma kill myself over some guy?   Not.  Happening.

So now I'm single again at what feels like a most untimely hour...I was whining about this to a sober friend and he told me that's when you just have to be SFG:  Simply Fucking Grateful.
To that end, I want to thank my friends for putting up with me during The Shatter (no mean feat); my parents for a body like a Mack truck, able to handle all and any poisons I've thrown its way; and especially the misery diet – it hasn't always been this reliable -- in the past, it's only drawn either hard drugs or a LOT of carbs, but this case was so bad even fat didn't want anything to do with me!
I haven't weighed so little since I got serious with the heroin diet!  You know, that's the one where you maintain total control?  Yeah.  That one.

For now, let's just say I've worn long sleeves for the last sixteen years, and I thank those crazy Germans for inventing methadone.  Did you know Hitler demanded German chemists invent something to keep their pilots sharp?  Thus, methamphetamines! Because doesn't everyone want a Nazi who's been awake for 36 hours up in the air with access to bombs?  What could go wrong?
They called meth blitz.  Thus, the blitzkrieg:  This alternative fact was approved my ME.

And the nicest thing anyone has said about ME lately is 'you may be white on the outside but you're global within.'  When I repeated this to the non-love of my life, he snorted.
So, he said because you lived in NYC, are you Puerto Rican too?   And because I refused to back down, I said hell yeah – and he cracked up and said the only Puerto Rican thing about you are your fishnets!
Which, okay, yes, have been preserved in cedar since the 90s before they were unpacked again last year for a some highly memorable late-night cameos -- and yes, they are thoroughly shredded, but you show me a man who doesn't want shredded fishnets when the holes are in all the right places, and I'll show you a queen.
(And I should know).

But as my mother -- who like most mothers has that both annoying and reassuring quality of always being right -- tells me, life is full of surprises, and you don't know what's around the corner --so I do want to say if there are any couples in the audience who already have dinner reservations for two on Feb 14th?

And I'm sure you will, all night long.

-Jan 30, 2017

Performed at the Make Out Room in SF on Feb 13, and again at the Octopus Literary Salon in Oakland on Feb 28th, 2017.

Friday, April 14, 2017

My essay for a truly fabulous anthology: Dare to Be Fabulous (fingers crossed!)

Love What I (Mostly) Do

         If anybody asks, as everybody does, I am a writer.  
         I've dabbled with plays, poetry, published a couple of stories, written some reviews, edited other people's work and taught -- but mostly, I'm a novelist, and a very lucky one in that when my first one was finished I was in the right place at the right time (young/NYC/late 80s, with a runaway manuscript that had five sex scenes, not a single one, DARE YOU TO PROVE OTHERWISE, gratuitous).
         Velocity made me a ridiculous amount of money while my second novel had already been bought as an idea. 
         Because of this, I fell, and for too long remained, under the illusion that writing would always sustain me.
         My third novel, Hollywood Savage, published by an imprint of Simon & Schuster called Atria Books was given zero (in math this is called: 0) publicity.  
         They rushed it out without even the author photo I had provided, or any blurbs from other authors, well-known, who would have weighed on my side.  Perhaps SS decided I would make a better tax deduction; regardless, it was very hard to watch something I'd spent several (a lot of) years on come and go without a trace (when you read that, whhhisper).
         I'm working on my fourth (novel), advance-free and editor-less, with an agentress who wants to 'get more into editing,' and who was maybe five when my first book came out.   I don't believe she's read my 'oeuvre' (three books, a few short stories, see above, blah blah blahhhh).
         All of the above is the preamble to the how and why I became an animal caretaker. 
         Primarily, it is something I started to generate cash flow, ANY cash flow -- if not much.  But it is all cash, and boy does it flow.  In and right back out again -- as it should!   That's why it's called currency. 
         I've been stupid rich, and I've been astonishingly poor, and I've discovered that I'm not materialistic, and I don't need more money than it takes for me to live on – which I've learned to do with not much, unless you don't count on tremendous generosity from your friends --- and I do.  Oh boy, do I!
         In fact, part of that help began when a woman I met at my first reading for LitQuake, and who became the most constant member of my fiction workshop, asked if I would consider staying in their back storage unit/living studio to take care of their menagerie (one dog and three cats, plus the house and garden), so that she and her husband could take a 3-month fellowship he'd landed in Marseilles, France.   
         The storage unit is filled mostly with books, has a wonderfully high bed, high ceilings, great insulation and a skylight, while the garden is lush and wild, with plum and apple and peach trees, along with a lot of fennel which attracts Monarch and Swallowtail butterflies.  I couldn't say yes fast enough, especially when I saw that my own kitty, Zelly, a serious hunter, could leap out the window and into the mysterious natural world whenever she wanted, and then back in again.  I felt I'd won the lottery.
         After they returned and graciously allowed me to stay on, I looked for more animal work and slowly began acquiring clients, two of whom book me at the beginning of every year, and who've kept me afloat when other jobs occasionally dried up.
         While the work is not exactly high-pay, I love it – not least because it comes so easily to me, as I've loved animals with a freakish intensity ever since I was a little girl, as I think most children do (just look at picture books!) 
         Innocence has such a soft spot for other innocence, and children are particularly vulnerable, as are nearly all the animals in our world.
         Turns out I'm very good at what I do because I have never not fallen in love with other people's animals.  It's fun getting to know each little sentient being for its own distinct personality, with as many quirks and differing habits as any person I know.   
         The exception, I mean vis a vis humans, is that, given enough time and attention, all of these little guys will start to shower me with affection in their own way – whether it's wanting to be in (literal) touch at all times, or deciding they need to sleep on my chest at three a.m.  Some of them follow me from room to room, others are more, Can you open the effing door already?  (As you can imagine, the latter tend to be cats.   It gives credence to a bumpersticker I once saw:  'Dogs have people; cats have staff').
         But then, cats are magical creatures – the Egyptians knew what they were talking about.  Why shouldn't they be worshipped?  You can learn everything you need to know about visualization-becoming-reality from watching a cat jump seven times its height without so much as a running start.  It's just sitting on the ground and next?  It's waaay up there.
         Like Jules Pfeiffer's cartoon women, I dance to the ever-present grace in every single cat, their ability to drape themselves anywhere (and then sleep!) to twist themselves while free falling in space so as to land on their flexible feet, then simply walk away unscathed (and, more importantly to them, I believe, unembarrassed!)
         I dance to the way they pretend you don't matter, but manage to keep you in their sight-lines at all times, regardless of how well they hide themselves (it's called 'cat space' and if that cat does not want to be found, well then:  good luck!)
         A quote I love: 'If there is a cat in the house, there is no need for sculpture.'
Top of Form
Bottom of Form
Top of Form
         Bottom of Form
When I'm writing I often ask my small charges to help me channel the genie, and so often they will curl up around me (on the arm of a couch, on the floor at my feet, nearby on a windowsill) and fall into the trance-like sleep I so envy, creating an atmosphere of deep serenity into which my mind can drop.
         The only thing I dislike about animal care is that I have to leave Zelly at home by herself, where she basically just waits for me.  She's an Abyssinian, a breed known for their wild beauty as well as their unusual loyalty.  They bond with a single being and you, lucky lucky you, become their world.
         I got Zelly after the cat I had adopted from a neighbor who was never home -- a regal creature I named Napoleon -- was hit by some asshole driving very fast down a single-block street.  Napoleon tried to come home and made it only halfway across the street.  I bent over him and howled.  The grief was so intense I knew the only thing that would help would be adopting another cat, because believe me, there is no shortage of beings who need out of a cage and into your heart. 
         I went with my then-boyfriend, Craig, a tall man, to the Humane Society shelter (ie, Heartbreak Hotel) and we started touring cages. 
         Craig happened to be standing with his back to Zelly and she reached out one long, striped paw and tapped him on the shoulder.
         What're you gonna do when you get tapped?  We took her into the 'Get Acquainted' room and I tried to put her on my lap.  No go.  Her eyes wildly dilated, she wanted to PLAY.  So we dangled string and threw doodads and she dashed around caught everything we threw; Craig turned to me and said, Wow, she's a real party animal. 
         Thus, the name: Zelda Fitzgerald McCloy, aka Zelly, aka Zel-Zel.
         She was curious, insanely playful, and if you threw something for her, she would snatch it out of invisibility and bring it back (no, not like a dog, panting and leaving it at your feet, but much more casually), jumping on the bed and carelessly dropping it near your hand.  Her cool was stunning, and very funny.   But when she needed affection, she let me know.  She would get up on my chest and knead me, then curl up next to me and sling one paw over my collarbone.  
         We often fell asleep holding paws.
         As I said, she's an avid hunter, born to it and mostly nocturnal, though I don't love it when she wakes me up in bed at 3 am with a mama rat in her mouth – whose terrified eyes drive me to disentangle said animal from her grasp till I'm holding it by the tail, then feinting out the back door through which Zelly flies, then quickly letting mama out through the front door (go go go!)

[*how do I know she's a mama?
*I just do]

         Unfortunately she also lives with two small dogs who delight in persecuting her, snarling and barking, till she leaps right over the fence.  Sometimes I come home and realize she's just been napping inside, waiting for me, and somewhere along the line, I had the realization that my cat was essentially living for me.                
         Aside from attending to her own cat business (oh, where to take those seventeen naps?), she is mostly waiting for me to come home, wanting attention, wanting to play, and later, if I'm very lucky, jumping in bed when I wake up panicked by everything at five am to meow in my face then curl up in the space between arm and heart to purr us both back to sleep. 
         Understanding that this breathing, living, loving, very chatty being was and is singularly devoted to me struck me with a sudden force.  The extent of that devotion left me breathless, and from then on I knew:  she wasn't my cat, I was her girl. 
         I think most people take their animals' utter devotion for granted, and I want to shake them and ask, Don't you understand what an honor that is? 
         So here's the thing:  while I identify myself as a writer, a label that goes a lot deeper than words (no pun etc), who's to say what's the more important work?  Writing books that one hopes will outlast one's own lifetime, and might perhaps achieve what Jean Cocteau always claimed was the main reason for writing – to 'utterly overwhelm a single soul'? 
         Or is it the care and love that flows between myself and these animals I've been entrusted with, including my own?
         I made a deal once with a dog I met at Duke.  Her name was Dirk and she was easily the smartest animal I've ever met (she should have been, considering how many classes she attended with me alone!)  She was one of my roommates during her owner's last semester at the university and I asked for custody, but he sneered and said, You don't even know where you're going to live next year!
         Well, that was true.  But apparently, Dirk did.  Because one day, when I wasn't even home, my sister, with whom I shared an off-campus house along with a litany of others, heard a wild scratching on the screen door, opened it, and in out of the rain came Dirk.  She  jumped on the couch, stretched out, and fell asleep.  She'd remembered my promise, and she obviously had my number.  For the rest of the time I was there, Dirk lived with me.
         I remember coming back from a vacation once the previous year, and running into her where the bus let people off at West Campus.  This beautiful dog who had the height and color but not the long hair of an Irish setter, and the lungs of a greyhound, grabbed my wrist in her incredibly sharp teeth and leapt about me with a joy I've only ever associated with dolphins.  She held my wrist so gently, she didn't even leave a mark. 
         When we had to part, I entrusted her with my soul.  She was the fiercest guard I could think of, and when I die, I pray she will be the first creature I see. And when I look around, I hope that I see every other animal I ever loved, freed, helped, took care of, or mourned for – including every stupid animal sacrifice, every animal hurt, wounded, or poached – every animal in the whole wide world -- because that.  That is my idea of heaven.
         This essay is a shout out to the gorgeous variety of creatures who have their own deep intelligence, and everything to teach us about being at ease in your own skin, trusting your instincts, and loving without limit.

WORD COUNT:  2,022

BIO:  Kristin McCloy (me) is a thrice-published author (Velocity; Some Girls, and Hollywood Savage, all available as e-books and on Audible as well), working and whiling and working away on her fourth whilst living in Oakland with the cat who owns me, Zelly, and with the family who took me in.  I am on facebook; check out my lame author page.  
I also writes a blog which you can find on, called Writer Reading/Writer Writing. 
(YES I DID mean writes -- what?  You got a problem with that?)
(Picture gracious smile here): Do visit, won't you?

1]I thought this looked really scholarly (and I am, you know).

 1[This MIGHT get published in the Dare to Be Fabulous anthology, but it's up against people like Ingrid Newkirk and others who crusade for animals full time and whose voice is so desperately needed, so just in CASE it doesn't make the cut, here 'tis anyway for all y'all (the plural of y'all) to read!]

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

from Love Warrior, and Jen Kirkman's second memoir

From Glennon Doyle Melton's Love Warrior:

After speaking of her mother's beauty and her equal kindness, she writes:

'I understand that beauty is a form of kindness.  It is for giving away, and I try to be generous.'

'Life and love simply ask too much of me.  Everything hurts.  I don't know how people can let it all hurt so much.'

'If life doesn't want me to drink, then life should quit being so damn scary.'

She also talks about 'hot loneliness' and I thought EXACTLY.

'Sleep is my only escape, and the price of escape is waking me up with the fresh awareness that I wasn't dreaming.  This is my life.'

'Grief is nothing but a painful waiting, a horrible patience.  Grief cannot be torn down or scaled or overcome or outsmarted.  It can only be outlasted.  Survival is surrender to the brick wall (grief).'

'People who are hurting don't need Avoiders, Protectors, or Fixers.  What we need are patient, loving witnesses.  People to sit quietly and hold space for us.  People to stand in helpless vigil to our pain.'

From I Know What I'm Doing, and other lies I tell myself, by Jen Kirkman:

'I was happy talking to Allison.  I felt like myself again.  And when I'm happy I don't abuse cheese.  Cheese is a privilege.'

'Which way is Lexington Ave?  Don't say a direction.  Say left or right.  Oh, never mind.  Just point.  Just turn me around like a child in front of a pinata and tell me where to swing.'

Her phone gets stolen and she's talking to two cops on the street and they're talking about her living alone and having to make a decision and just then someone started playing the saxophone, and Cop #2 says:  Sometimes New York just does its thing and we to watch.  You'll never see that phone again but at least you have this story.'

IMAGI E ME G NE, by Adam Haslett

It took my friend Audrey one second to see that the missing letters spelled NO.

Now THAT.  Is a brilliant cover/title.

And this man...oh, this man will take you on a serious (and also very funny) ride and he will break your heart.  I know, that doesn't sound like the kind of review that makes you wanna run out (ie, go to Amazon) and git a hold of it, but it DOES mean that this writer does, and will, get under your skin. And a writer who can't get under your skin -- well, I call them page turners.

No that isn't fair.  An emotionally compelling book will keep me up until it's done.

And anyway I'm not here to bag on genre, or anybody else's taste.  Anybody reading a book makes me happy!  Sitting at the DMV a few months ago (and I gotta go back again, I musta been really really bad recently for THAT kind of K(c)arma!, the woman next to me looked up from her newspaper and said, We are the only people reading here.  And it was true.  Everyone else was staring at their phones.  And YES maybe they were on Kindle.  But I doubt it.

Okay enough ranting...

Here he is:

'The rock is mute and still in the encroaching summer heat.  It has the inhuman patience of objects.  A reminder that mineral time does not care for sentiment, or life.  Every human thing, a ruin in waiting.  On a planet that is a ruin in waiting.  Which says nothing about divinity, one way or the other.  I only know that this trial is what has become of my sliver of time.'

Icelandic family history

From my sister, Johanna McCloy:

I’m corresponding with our cousin Jennifer (Kelly* and Eulah’s daughter) and she told me she went to Iceland to visit the family homestead last year. I asked her to share info and photos, and she’s beginning to send me images and maps and history from what she knows. I am loving it!  I thought you would, too. I’ll summarize many emails and info into as tight a message as I can:

*Kelly is my mother's older brother and was one of her best friends ever.  Eulah is the wife my mother loved too.

My mother Lillian Thorbjorg McCloy's grandfather Sveinn Kristjanson was born 9/18/1836. This is where we’re from originally in Iceland, excerpted from one of Jennifer’s emails:

Our family homestead is called Bjarnastadir and if you look at Iceland you'll see Akureyi (second largest city after Reykjavik) in the north & the homestead is a little to the east and south of it.

Look up Bjanastadir, Iceland on Google. Either images or maps. It’s gorgeous! Reminds me of photos of Ireland* The attached two photos were taken on our family homestead by Jennifer. (The woman in photo #2 is her daughter). She wrote this about them:

[*where our paternal grandfather is from!]

That house is on our homestead along with the turf house.

Sveinn moved from Iceland to a small farm 3 miles south of the small town of Gimli, Manitoba in 1883, so… when he was 47 years old. Gimli was called “Small Iceland” due to the large block of Icelandic settlers:
The farm was near what was then called Willow River and a short distance to the main road. They farmed there for 20 years  (not sure what they farmed) and then moved to Sask, close to  Wynyard, Saskatchewan. I looked it up. Another Icelandic settlement:,_Saskatchewan

His son, our grandfather Thorkell, was a child from Sveinn's second marriage. (Who knew? Sveinn had two children with wife #1. No elaboration or info on what happened to her… or when he married each wife.)

Thorkell was one of seven or eight kids with wife #2, Veronika Ragnkedur Thorkelsdottir (her brother was a Minister at the Lutheran Cathedral in Reykjavik).  Thorkell's wife, our grandmother, was Johanna Eggertsdottir Sigurdson from Selkirk.

Sveinn died on 7/4/1918, so almost eight years before Mama was born. So he lived to be 82.

That’s the nutshell.

Isn’t this great??

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Wanting to deconstruct layers:  there are three on the top.
- A raggedy little striped shirt that only reaches to the elbow, gone thin, with tiny holes, from so many washings, Nina gave it to me.  The thinness of that cotton so blissful in heat.
- Over which a soft Danskin jacket of brushed cotton, suede-like in feel, deep red on the outside deep lavender on the in (w hoodie to match ), found washed and pressed in a box in the lobby of an ex-boyfriend's apt building; the Lobby of Many Things, or Hoarders Lived There!)
- Over which my mother's classically designed brown raincoat, very light, with pockets and another hood, while
- around my neck I wore two scarves, very sheer, one with gold thread running through and falling off behind me, something my friend Kathryn gave me; it was wrapping for a present,
-and another sheer very sheer pink scarf, did I buy this one myself, at some cheap fair NYC?
- The boots are vegan (read: plastic), left behind by abovementioned Nina's sometime tenant, a young woman who left them behind when she joined the airforce and became a paratrooper;
- as for underwear, you may ask, and I will say,
- And speaking of what you don't…see, my head is tilted too far back for a glimpse of the samurai knot with a small but slightly splashy kiki fountain vamping out of it, and all those tendrils drifting down.
- Re what you do see?  My camera smile; never unself conscious unless candid.
Thank you to the nice neighbor who took it!  And nice meeting you, Dave, and also Phillip, the gorgeous black deaf* youth who lived in the house next door.  (PYT, don'tcha wanna ask me out??)
*think of the advantages he would have, while going out with me!

Thus I realized that I was walking around in gifted clothing.  Except for the navy pants that tucked into the Cossack-style xcellnt monsoon boots with too-long laces, all of it was given me.
Above me the sky was such a brilliant blue, and the clouds so bright white, it hurt to look up, even as softer, lower, fog draped them and there came down the lightest fractions of water; so light they just caught the sun and were tiny flashes of silver in the air, not nearly enough to dampen anything, but falling upon us like grace.
And there I was, walking with Sammy through it, dressed in gifted.