Felicia & Sophie

Felicia & SophieMy friend Felicia lost her best feline companion, Sophie, last week.

Non animal people and non pet owners don’t understand just how animals walk into your life and TAKE OVER.  They become beloved, exasperating, and adored.  In other words, they become family.  In a rational, very human mind, we think: how can this be?  Then one day a cat or dog comes into your life and you are IN DEEP.  They teach you about unconditional love in a way that not even your family can.

Sophie was Felicia’s leap of love.  They were both from homes that didn’t fit them or suit their hearts.  Together, they made a home.  Both in their way, were shy.  When you came to see Felicia, you knew you were IN when Sophie showed her face.  You knew you were GOOD when Sophie came in and hung out with you.  When she showed you her argyle belly, well, you were in the IVY LEAGUE of friends.  Sophie had a quiet meow, but the demeanor of Mae West.  Her tail was a black boa that she paraded in front of you.  Felicia doted on her and loved every second of it–“letting” her steal pasta off her plate, snapping many Sophie images for her blog, and squealing at her girl on the floor with a “YOU’RE SO FOXY!”

Without saying so, you could see how clearly Sophie was Felicia’s home.

I knew when I heard that Sophie was sick that this was BIG NEWS in my friend’s life.  Felicia tended to her and did what she could–even when it meant having a vet come to her home and help Sophie leave.

When I saw the last photo Felica posted of her holding Sophie before the vet came, I wept.  I wept because it was clear how much love was in it–and how much pain.  I was so honored when Felicia asked me to draw a portrait for her and I immediately thought of that photo and proposed a non sad version of it.  I was so happy when Felicia agreed.  I tried to capture the love I saw–both in the image and in the relationship.  I wanted Felicia to have that to remember her companion.

When we lose someone we love, the loss is so large that it is hard to feel what is left behind.  Eventually, you can feel that what they gave you lives on in the home of your heart.  Is it weird to say that an animal can change your life?  Not if you know it to be true.  Not if you’ve had a Sophie.

The Artist in the Nursery Interview: Jennifer McMahon

Jennifer McMahon is the best-selling author of Island of Lost Girls and Promise Not to Tell.  She lives in Vermont with her partner, Drea, and their daughter, Zella.

Although your first published novel, Promise Not to Tell, appeared in 2007, you’d been writing seriously for a long time before that.  Can you talk a bit about your history as a writer and what lead up to publishing your first book?

I studied poetry in college and for a year in an MFA program.  Then one day, a prose poem took on a life of its own and became the start of my first novel.  Once that novel was finished, I sent out a batch of queries and was overjoyed when one of my top agent choices expressed an interest and soon offered to represent me.  I was so overjoyed, enthusiastic (not to mention just blissfully clueless!) that I quit my day job to devote myself to writing full time.  I was sure that the book would sell and my career would be on its way.  The book did not sell.  Months went by, then a year.  I finished my second novel and sent if off to my agent, who pronounced it “a bit dark” but diligently went to work pitching it to editors.  In the meantime, I wrote book #3, a long, rambling mess that I stuck in a drawer, too ashamed to show anyone.   By this time, nearly another year had gone by and my agent hadn’t had any success selling either book.

I sat down to write book #4, determined that this would be “The One.”  It had to be.  So I asked myself, “What sort of book would I most want to read?”  And the answer that came back, loud and clear, was a ghost story.  So I wrote my ghost story and when I was done, I was sure that this was going to be the one that did it.  I knew it was good and had the potential to be a success.  So I sent if off to my agent.  I didn’t hear from her for weeks.  When I did, it was a letter saying the book just didn’t do it for her and much as she respected my work, blah, blah, blah, it was time we parted company.  I was devastated.  I drank a lot of tequila.  I thought about quitting.  But I knew I couldn’t quit.  Writing is too much a part of who I am. Continue reading

The Artist in the Office Interview: Noria Jablonski

NORIA JABLONSKI is the author of the story collection Human Oddities (Counterpoint, 2005). Her stories have appeared in FiveChapters.com, Swink, Monkeybicycle, KGB Bar Lit, and the anthology Who Can Save Us Now?: Brand-New Superheroes and Their Amazing (Short) Stories.

What day jobs have you had, what job do you have now?

The only day jobs I’ve had—that is, jobs I’ve had while pursuing writing—were teaching and working in bookstores. Before I decided to be a writer I worked at a coffee roasting company, weighing out one-pound bags of beans. I was a quality controller, inspecting pants (Chi Pants, which had an extra panel of fabric in the crotch, so you could do yoga or tai chi or whatever got your chi flowing, and you could also have a tiny crystal sewn into the back of the waistband to power-up your chakras) and children’s clothing (lint from the velour outfits would turn my snot purple, teal, bright pink, or deep green). I lasted three days canvassing for an environmental organization. I worked in a movie theater. I sold socks.

Now I am unemployed! I was a lecturer for several years at UC Santa Cruz, but I got laid off last summer. I call it my recession sabbatical. It’s been a blessing. I’ve been teaching in some capacity for eighteen years, first as a high school English teacher, then teaching college. This time off has given me time to explore creatively. Most importantly, it’s allowed me to play, which is what I think is, or should be, at the heart of creativity.

I know there was a time when you were teaching high school and not pursuing your writing.  Can you talk about what changed for you and why you decided to commit yourself to being a writer?

It took me a while to figure out that I wanted to write. Like, seriously write. Like, write an actual book. I was not one of those people who always dreamed of being a writer. I always had a talent for it, but growing up it didn’t occur to me that it was something I could actually do. What I really loved was reading and I read whatever I could get my hands on. Fairy tales, the Oz books, cereal boxes, the TV Guide. Trashy Judith Krantz romances, Agatha Christie, The World According to Garp. But in junior high I had a terrible English teacher who made us diagram sentences and I lost my love for reading. He had greasy hair, he wore the same shiny disco shirt every day, and shoes with pilgrim buckles. His voice was nasal and flat. He had no affection for language. He made words a chore.

During my sophomore year of high school I had an amazingly cool English teacher. She liked the band X and told me I looked like Exene [Cervenka, the leader singer of X]. She lent me her copy of Black Tickets and I rediscovered my love of language. I decided I wanted to be an English teacher, like her. When I told her I wanted to teach she said, “Don’t do it.” (She quit after her first year of teaching and went on to law school.)

At 22, I started teaching high school in San Francisco. Six classes a day, 35-40 students in each class. It was exhausting. In photos of me during that time my eyes look buggy and manic. One night during my second year of teaching I went to hear a friend of mine and her writing group read stories at Red Dora’s Bearded Lady Cafe. I was so jazzed! I went home that night and began writing a story. And then a member of the writing group left for grad school, so I auditioned for a spot and got in. We met weekly, drank a lot of wine. We put out a zine. We did readings at Red Dora’s, the Paradise Lounge, the Chameleon. (All those places are gone now.)

Writing was a way for me to reclaim a part of myself, or to claim part of myself that I’d never really had a chance to express. I’d been devoting all my energy to my students, helping them find their voices, but I hadn’t ever done that for myself.

Continue reading

The Early Years: High School

meets mr right

Back in 1987-88 I believed I was going to be comic book artist of the highest order. I was obsessed with Tintin, vintage Archie comics, and Love and Rockets. I really REALLY wanted to be Jaime Hernandez, but my attempts at “graphic novels” were short lived because I thought the process of creating a comic book page was TEDIOUSLY SLOW. Then I discover Maxine by Marian Henley and EVERYTHING CHANGED. It was simple and funny and to the point. I loved that she called her book “A Cartoon Novel.” I wanted to create a cartoon novel, and what better muse than the love life (or something like it) of my best friend, Meg. And so was born Meg Meets Mr. Right: a cartoon novel.

Back in those days we spent many a day analyzing the plot lines of Days of Our Lives and discussing various boy dynamics. She had a crush on a boy who literally had NO IDEA that she existed. I don’t mean that they were in different social classes. I mean, he didn’t KNOW her at ALL. I think that was the appeal. That, and he looked like he had walked out of one of her own drawings. He had black hair that he slicked back. Crushes in high school can range from the attainable to the far distant idea of attainable. “JB” had no idea the life that surrounded him, the discussions at length as to what he did or didn’t do as he was spotted crossing the parking lot at lunch time. I used it all for my exciting and lengthy cartoon novel, which was definitely a CARTOON of the whole thing. It was based LOOSELY on fact. As they tell young writers, I wrote what I KNEW, which was teenage girl angst mixed with the ridiculous.

With the success of Meg Meets Mr. Right (five star rave reviews from the only two readers, Meg and myself), there just HAD to be a follow up.
triangle - characters
Meg and The Triangle of Love was NOT ONLY not on binder paper, but it was longer and EXPANDED in scope. It featured more of our REAL LIFE FRIENDS AND FAMILY! This time when Meg had a crush on not one, but TWO boys, who might possibly like her back (oh the possibilities!).
triangle - p12
It was also based on a real situation, but completely EXAGGERATED. In the book I had Meg go to Pajaro Dunes (a beach town on the central coast of California) to GET AWAY FROM IT ALL, when in fact she had gone there as part of her Catholic Confirmation retreat. I mean, that is CREATIVE FICTION, people! What GENIUS!

The fact that I didn’t get my ass kicked by ANY of the people involved remains a miracle. I am BLOWN AWAY by the blind smugness I held in creating such a document. I would NEVER dare to be SO CAVALIER with the love lives of my friends now, but it was a different world I lived in then. It was a world where the most fascinating things to me were boys, clothes, comic books and my best friend. And in it’s own way, it was a big love letter to her. Just as the book says:
many friends

And I was one of them (pictured on the far right).