Each of these is represented somewhere on this site, but here are links to uncollected and mostly unpublished detritus.
“Medea in the Garden” is on this site.
“Twinkle, Twinkle” is on this site.
Each of these is represented somewhere on this site, but here are links to uncollected and mostly unpublished detritus.
“Medea in the Garden” is on this site.
“Twinkle, Twinkle” is on this site.
(This appeared last year (2014) in issue 6 of Gigantic magazine. Make of it what you will.)
A MILLION BEES
I know one joke. I learned it from my husband, who cracked me up every time he told it. When I tell it, nobody cracks up. I’m horrible at telling jokes. Some people are just no good at it, and I’m one of them. Here’s me telling this joke:
Once there was a man who claimed he had a million bees.
See, this is a bad start. The sentence is too formal in structure, plus it starts out with “once,” like a fairy tale. Fairy tales aren’t funny, on top of which the man turns out to be a farmer, so you have to make that clear right away.
A farmer claimed he had a million bees.
Kind of abrupt. Still too formal. “Claimed.” It’s like the hilarious “writ of mandamus.”
There was this farmer who said he had a million bees.
A reporter for the local paper was assigned to write about the farmer and the million bees.
No. You don’t need “for the local paper,” since we can assume he didn’t write for the Times, and we don’t care whose idea the story was anyway, plus “assigned” blows.
One day a reporter drove out to the farm and approached the farmer and said—
Of course he approached the farmer. He didn’t bellow at the man across a field of wheat.
So this reporter drove out to the farm and said, “I hear you have a million bees on this farm.”
So this reporter drives out and says to the farmer, “I hear you have a million bees on this farm.”
And the farmer says, “Yup.”
And the reporter looks around and says, “Are they outside in this field of wheat?” And the farmer says, “Nope.”
The farmer is standing in front of a red barn. “Are they in this barn”? The farmer says–
Nobody cares about the color of the barn.
And the reporter looks around and says, “Well, they gotta be in this barn.” And the farmer says, “Nope.”
I’m on a roll.
“Well,” says the reporter, “—
Too many wells.
“Are they in the house then?”
“Then” ruins it. Act it out instead. Oh god.
“Are they in the house?” [I attempt to look puzzled and skeptical. My voice rises on “house.” My performance is grotesque.] The farmer says, “Yup.” So they go into the house.
The reporter looks around. “Are they in…the kitchen?” “Nope.” “Are they in the living room?” The farmer says–
God, why don’t you go through every room on the first floor.
The reporter looks all around and doesn’t see any bees. “Are they in the basement—
The reporter looks all around and doesn’t see any bees. “Are they in the fruit cellar—
The reporter looks all around and doesn’t see any bees. They must be upstairs. “Are they…upstairs?” The farmer says “Yep.” So they go upstairs. The biggest room is the master bedroom–
Seriously? The master bedroom?
The reporter looks into the farmer’s bedroom. “Are the bees in here?” “Yup.”
“Are they under the bed?” “Nope.” The reporter is getting steamed.
Steamed! That’s good!
“So, are they in this bureau?” “Yup.” [I attempt to convey exasperation. Eyeroll, maybe, exaggerated slump, maybe. Both. I wish I were dead.]
The reporter first tries the biggest drawer, then the—
The reporter goes through the bureau drawer by drawer until—
It’s one of those old bureaus you see in farms. It’s got these huge drawers—
Turns out nothing’s in the bureau drawers. All that’s left is a large jewelry box on top of the bureau. The reporter says “There aren’t a million bees in that jewelry box…?”
[Wearing what I hope is a look of profound disgust, I stare directly at the imaginary farmer. I sigh, desperately.] The reporter yanks open the jewelry box. Inside there’s some pearls and buttons and pins and a tiny velvet ring box—
That is so very wrong. But I can see that ring box, it’s very small and of course it’s cheap velvet, black, and the top is worn and shiny. It’s shimmering right there in front of me, a goddamn ding an sich, unknowable and indescribable, yet like an idiot I strive to make it magically appear in another’s mind, so that the two of us can hold hands and gaze at it together and for one precious moment not be mistralswept and utterly alone, and if I were writing instead of telling a joke I’d strive like hell, but nobody cares about the ding an sich
Inside there’s some pearls and buttons and pins and a ring box.
“Are you telling me you’ve got a million bees in that ring box?”
“Are you serious? A million bees?”
“You’ve got a MILLION BEES there in that tiny box?”
Here we go.
“But you couldn’t have a million bees in that box! They’d all be crushed!”
AND THE FARMER SAYS—
Why can’t I stop now? Why? We’re all drowning in flop sweat. I haven’t made eye contact with anybody since we got to the stupid master bedroom. The Funniest Punch Line in the World, delivered by me to these innocent people, would be cringeworthy. We are united in one hope: That the ordeal is almost over.
We need a new style of joke, one which ends just before the punch line. I could kill with jokes like that. Who the hell cares what the farmer says?
The whole damn point is that there are a MILLION BEES. Just the phrase “a million bees” gets funnier every time you say it. Even when I say it, it gets funnier. Bees themselves are not funny—they’re not funny at all. They make annoying sounds and sting you. But the sound of the word “bee” is funny, maybe because it sounds like the letter it begins with, also when you pluralize it it even sounds a little like buzzing, and of course the number (a million) is perfectly hyperbolic. There are larger numbers, but they don’t work. Try it. “A billion bees” is just tiresome.
So ideally the whole joke could just be boiled down to
There was this farmer who said he had a million bees.
If I only had the strength of character to just say that and back away.
Fuck ‘em. That’s what the farmer says.
I’ve neglected to note that student films (through Prof. Frederick Lewis, Ohio University Media Arts & Studies) have been made from two of my stories. Working with these students was a pleasure.
From “The Best of Betty”:
From “Julie in the Funhouse”:
March 25, 2015, with Barbara DeMarco-Barrett
From Monday’s Union-Tribune, May 26, 2014:
Nope, it’s not there any more. Here’s the piece:
It is always summer in Escondido. Locals claim four seasons, but I’ve been able to identify only one. There used to be a fire season, which threatens to extend beyond November, and countywide conflagrations will soon be no more seasonal than earthquakes. Summer stretches from January, when the median temperature hovers around 60 degrees, to December, when it does the same damn thing. The rainy season (winter, so-called) is easy to miss, and there is no fall at all. Autumn arrives only in theory. Families troop up to Julian to admire the “foliage,” since some leaves do change color, but they do not do this in a magnificent way. For magnificence you need sugar maples.
I moved here from Rhode Island when I was forty-one, a widow with a small child. My family was in Escondido, so here is where I had to be. I bought a house and planted trees, took in dogs and a cat, settled in. But not for good. Even after twenty-five years, I’m still just visiting.
Once the place was paradise. In 1970 my family, minus me, moved here to escape the snow and so my dad could grow everything under the constant sun. At home, his garden had produced as many rocks as it had tomatoes. Here he planted kumquats, mandarins, white peaches, pluots, raspberries, grapes, nectarines, figs, persimmons. He grew flowers too, roses and plumeria, epiphyllum and iris. Persian melons the scent of which could madden you on the hottest day. I loved my yearly visits.
And all the days were hot, and all the nights were cool. Back home, in the dog days, when the humidity topped 95 and the nights were as sweltering as the days, the mayors of Middletown and Newport would sometimes throw open the state beaches so people could stagger, some fully clothed, down to the waterline, lie in the surf, and get a few minutes of sleep. Hardly paradise. Paradise was dry heat.
And swimming pools, accoutrements of only the wealthy in New England, here as middle-class as propane barbecue. The summer sky was always blue and when the sun got to be too much, I could sink into the pool. I always returned home with a tan and looked forward to coming back the next year.
Whether you fall permanently in love with San Diego—a love that takes you from youth through middle age and beyond—really depends on how much the outdoors means to you. The first time I saw swimmers frolicking with dolphins right offshore, I was enchanted. The same with gray whales and coyotes, bobcats and eagles. Birdwatching is much easier here than at home: there’s water all over Rhode Island, so the birds have the great luxury of being where you are not. Here they have to put up with people roaming the lagoons with binoculars and bags of stale bread. (Once, at high noon in July, I saw a kingfisher staking out a birdbath on Felicita Avenue. In Rhode Island he’d have commanded a trout stream.) There’s a whole lot of nature out here, and that’s not including the Zoo and Wild Animal Park, which I refuse to call anything else, and where I spent hundreds of happy hours with my son. But this is not my home.
Although I do see the allure.
They get you with the jacarandas. Fragrant trees the size of oaks, exploding all over May and June with outlandish lavender blossoms. Jacarandas look like Disney trees, dreamed up by the animators of Fantasia. Giant bouquets the color of Elizabeth Taylor’s eyes! My favorite shade, even though, according a test I took when I was a kid—it was in McCall’s– if your favorite color is lavender, you’re immature. Jacarandas look like Nature took a day off and one of her kids just went crazy.
They get you with fruit fresh-picked from the trees, trees you can plant yourself in your own back yard, because everything grows here and every season is a growing season for something. On a typical summer day in Escondido, ripe grapefruit will roll down my hilly street unmissed and unremarked, because there are so many more where they came from. Rhode Island has fruit trees, but only apples and pears get the chance to ripen fully. The first summer I came out to Escondido, my dad’s neighbor invited me to pick a peach. “Just cup your hand around it. Don’t pull. If it’s ready it will come to you.” And it did, I can still recall the weight of it, a freestone the size of a softball and the color of a New England sunset, its flesh perfectly soft and obscenely juicy, so that biting into it felt like the sort of thing you shouldn’t do in public.
They get you with surfing and swimming and skiing all on the same day, which must knock the socks off of people who surf, swim, and ski. And you can plan outdoor parties, dinners, weddings, pretty much without Plan B. This would be a serious plus for social types. Not so much for hermits.
I do get annoyed by the anti-California bias of people back home. I know more than one New Yorker who won’t even fly out here for a weekend because of imminent earthquakes. There’s something absurdly Biblical about their conviction that any minute California will be punished for its sins and they’re terrified of being caught in the righteous apocalypse. As though the rest of the country, the non-California part, didn’t have its own sins. Others say they would miss the seasons. I miss them myself, but not enough to move away.
It’s the sky, really.
They don’t have good clouds here. They’re mostly very high up, wispy or mackerel or absent entirely. I miss the drama of low clouds, whether threatening or friendly, black or ivory or bright white. The sort of sky you can lie on your back and watch. Here, at a certain time of the year, you can see great big clouds in the distance, but they’re fenced in by the mountains.
And the blue never seems to change. It’s a pleasant blue, your basic sky blue, but I distinctly remember a sky whose hue could deepen at a whim. At home the sky was small, hemmed in by buildings and trees, but its color changed unpredictably. The sky wasn’t background there. It was spectacle.
And the sunsets! Please, I can’t number the times a local has said, “Look at that beautiful sunset!” I hope I smile agreeably. Okay, there’s a modest wash of yellow and some orange and, if we’re really lucky, a cloud or two to set it off, but it’s just your basic sunset, and anyway you’d better look fast, since around here night drops like a felled ox. In order to have a gorgeous sunset, you need clouds. Lots of them, intercepting the sunlight, playing with it, passing it on to us, not for our sake, of course, but what a happy accident! And I still remember an otherwise unremarkable afternoon in Greenville, R.I., must have been more than forty years ago, when the air around us, not just the sky but the air, was pink, as though motes of water suspended in the humid air encased us in sapphire.
When I leave, I will miss a great deal. The night sky, far richer with stars than the sky I remember. I’ll miss the scrub jays and the coyotes and the possibility of rattlesnakes. I’ll miss the runaway grapefruit and the obscene peach. And the jacarandas! But in the twilight of my life, I insist upon a twilight sky.
All writers should have at least one. I’m an online writing tutor. Often I feel like Thurber’s Miss Groby, but I do try not to lose sight of the forest when hacking through the thickets of comma splice, sentence fragment, and dangling participle. (Block that metaphor!) Sometimes I contribute to the WriteCheck blog:
I actually love this stuff, and I’m always learning. If you understand the reason behind a grammar or punctuation rule, you’ll be able to write more effectively. When we write fiction, we’re of course free to break the rules, but we need to know what they are and, in each case, why they should be broken. Respect your tools. That’s the ticket. And since you already do, I’m not going to insult you with the answers to this quiz*:
1. In the sentence “Hortense was furious when the judges overlooked her rhubarb omelet,” the underlined word is an example of which of the following parts of speech?
2. In the sentence, “Hortense vowed, ‘There will be repercussions,” the underlined phrase is an example which of the following verb forms?
3. In the sentence, “As she spoke, Hortense’s face turned an alarming shade of crimson,” the underlined word is what part of speech?
4. Which accurately describes the following sentence: “German shepherds are great problem solvers, and basset hounds never let go of a grudge”?
5. In the sentence, “Infuriated bassets often exact revenge days after the perceived offence,” the underlined word is what part of speech?
6. Fill in the blanks: “A basset hound’s ideal afternoon consists of __________ on his back in the sun with _______ tongue hanging out.”
7. What punctuation does this sentence need? “Because of the city-wide truffle shortage Chef Monsoun will be unable to prepare Coquilles St. Jacques and patrons will have to make do with Coquilles San Souci.”
8. In the sentence “Coquilles San Souci” is prepared from bizarre, literally nauseating ingredients,” what are the two underlined parts of speech?
9. Which accurately describes the sentence “Basset hounds will eat almost anything, however even a basset will turn up its enormous nose at Coquilles San Souci”?
10. In the sentence “On the other hand, to a discerning basset with refined taste buds, Hortense’s rhubarb omelet is the bomb,” the underlined words are what parts of speech?
According to Entertainment Weekly, I’m the author of a criminally underrated book.
I’m happy to see that the title of another c.i. book in the list is the name of my old African Grey. Catherwood lives!
This is not self-promotion (since these secluded pages hardly function as publicity), but rather a real-time, step-by-step account of the typical run-up to a new book’s pub date (and for a while thereafter). When it’s your first book, this process is almost nauseatingly exciting. By your fourth, it’s not. Some dread remains; almost zero excitement. The book will come and go. Anyway…
First usually come reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist, and Library Journal. Kirkus doesn’t publish theirs until a couple of weeks ahead of the pub date, and they don’t generally like me all that much anyway. [Called it! See below.]
Here’s PW, starred, on May 6:
Willett’s hilarious follow-up to The Writing Class pulls no punches when it comes to current literary trends. Amy Gallup was once heralded as a fresh voice in fiction, but with her novels now long out of print, she’s content with a quiet, anonymous life of leading workshops, keeping lists of great-sounding titles for stories she’ll never write, and maintaining her sporadically updated blog. One afternoon, however, while working in her garden, Amy trips and cold-cocks herself on a birdbath. Still reeling from the head injury hours later, she gives a loopy interview to a reporter working on a series of local author profiles. The result goes viral, and suddenly Amy is a hot commodity on the literary pundit trail. She couldn’t care less about being relevant or famous, which lends a refreshingly brutal honesty to her commentary on the radio, television, and lecture circuit. But her newfound notoriety also pushes Amy out of her comfort zone, forcing her to confront years of neuroses and an unexamined postwriting life. Willett uses her charmingly filterless heroine as a mouthpiece to slam a parade of thinly veiled literati and media personalities with riotous accuracy, but she balances the snark with moments of poignancy. (July)
Here’s the Kirkus:
Amy Gallup, 60, hasn’t published a book in 20 years, and she’s settled into a
quiet life with her beloved basset hound, Alphonse. None too excited about a
newspaper interview she’s agreed to give, she trips, knocking herself out on the
birdbath just hours before she’s scheduled to play the role of has-been local
Oddly, she regains consciousness to see the reporter’s car pulling out of her
driveway. In the emergency room later, she has the distinct pleasure of reading
her own interview–an interview she evidently gave without the assistance of a
conscious, rational mind. Amy’s cryptic, concussion-addled interview rejuvenates
her career. Suddenly, her agent–chain-smoking, aggressive but kindly Maxine–is
calling again, arranging appearances and pushing for new material. Her former
writing students are back, too. After all, their crazed, knife-wielding former
classmate (from Willett’s The Writing Class, 2008) is now safely behind bars.
The collection of friends and opponents surrounding Amy are flat characters
bedazzled with quirks, but that doesn’t quite make them quirky. Grudgingly, Amy
goes on tour, battling wits with shrill, book-phobic radio hosts,
twitter-bewitched moderators, new authors drunk on blogs and old authors drunk
on scotch. Along the way, she confronts the demons of her past, including her
buried grief for her late, gay husband, as well as her ambivalence about
success. The skewering of the business of selling books–despite some hilarious
scenes and Amy’s dry humor–gets repetitive as Amy tirelessly defends real
writing and debunks virtual book launches. Amy is endearing, yet it is difficult
to remain curious about a heroine whose only interest is writing.
Willett’s skill in crafting zany scenes and Amy’s acerbic wit are not enough to
keep this novel afloat.
Apparently AFD is on the July 2013 Indie Next List, which is a good thing, although I don’t know what it means. The whole Bookseller concept is opaque to me. It’s nice news, though.
Booklist Review, Issue: July 1, 2013
Amy Falls Down.
Willett, Jincy (Author)
Jul 2013. 336 p. St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne, hardcover, $24.99. (9781250028273). St. Martin’s/Thomas
Dunne, e-book, $11.99. (9781250028280).
In this sequel to the events that ended Willett’s The Writing Class (2008), erstwhile novelist turned online writing instructor Amy Gallup stumbles in her backyard just minutes before being interviewed for a where-are-the-has-beens-of-yesteryear article. It can only be assumed that her skull’s brief contact with a concrete birdbath is what >transformed Amy from an irascible wag to an insouciant wit. Whatever the cause, suddenly Amy is hot again. After the article goes viral, her former agent resurfaces, booking her on NPR and scoring profiles in mainstream media, and she’s the A-list guest for literary panels discussing such egregious topics as “Whither Publishing?” Best yet, Amy’s creative muse also reappears, and short stories spew forth as if out of the ether. It’s a heady ride for the one-time recluse, showing her that, hey, maybe success isn’t so bad after all. For anyone who has ever wondered what it’s like to be an author, Willett’s thinly veiled heroine provides a saucily irreverent look at the writing life.
– Carol Haggas
Since Willett’s fey, popular novels include a winner of the National Book Award, it is perhaps no surprise that the protagonist of her latest book is a writer. Withdrawn, cranky Amy Gallup hasn’t written much lately, but when she clonks her head on a birdbath after tripping in her own backyard, then follows through with a scheduled interview that ends up portraying her wandering thoughts as sheer genius, Amy is suddenly a media hit. And she starts to write. With a reading group guide and lots of publicity.
I am a Top Ten Beach Read. Or at least “Jincy Willet” is.
Pub date. Amy is an “Apple best book of the month.” I don’t know what that means.
Reading at Warwick’s in La Jolla.
Megan Labrise’s Kirkus Interview
Review in the Dallas News. They hate it, although apparently one chapter pleases them. I think I know which one.
Also brief review in the Ft. Worth Star Telegram:
Translation rights inquiry from Norway. (I love translations.)
Also, AFD featured in This Week’s Top Picks on BookBrowse (http://www.bookbrowse.com/). Not sure whether this helps sales.
At about 16:10, Nancy Pearl on AFD (on NPR). This is actually kind of thrilling. A librarian likes my stuff! (The highest praise imaginable. In another life, I’d be a librarian.)
Kind word from David Sedaris on FB.
Who would I like to play my characters in a movie? Never going to happen.
Review in the ProJo.
By Betty J. Cotter
Special to The Journal
We could say that Jincy Willett’s new novel is “hilarious,” that her wit is “wicked, savage, ferocious,” that her theme is “compelling,” had she not beaten us to the punch by skewering book reviewers using those very words.
The fact is that Jincy Willett is hilarious, witty and compelling, and whether you are a writing biz insider or just an average reader who believes that authors should entertain us once in a while, “Amy Falls Down” succeeds on every level. Her characters and her story ring all-too true, her satire of the literary life is dead on, and she artfully follows all the writing advice her novelist-heroine churns out.
Amy Gallup hasn’t written a word in years. Instead she makes a modest living as an online writing teacher; her previous face-to-face class disintegrated after a student shot up the place. An admitted misanthrope (her blog is titled “GO AWAY”), she has a working knowledge of the Twitter-Facebook universe but not much faith in its usefulness.
Amy would continue on her grumpy path, were it not for a literal misstep one New Year’s Day. She takes a flying half-gainer in the backyard while chasing her Basset hound, Alphonse, and strikes her head on a birdbath. The resulting concussion leads to a blackout, during which she gives a cryptic interview to a local newspaper reporter that soon goes viral.
Soon her long-lost agent, Maxine, is calling, and Amy is being booked on talk shows, conferences, even NPR. And lo and behold, Amy is writing again, and she has no hope of keeping the world at arm’s length much longer.
Amy doles out writing advice with plenty of vinegar. She tells a writing conference audience: “this is the last place you should be. Nothing’s going to rub off on you.” During an NPR interview, she declares, “most writers just aren’t that interesting.” Bemoaning the book glut, she proposes a moratorium on publishing for a decade or so, just to let everyone catch up.
“For the first time in a hundred years, readers would have time to read all the books they’d been meaning to get to, and the tens of thousands more that they never even heard of,” Amy tells a radio interviewer.
Moratorium or no, put “Amy Falls Down” on the top of your list.
November 4, 2013
November 20, 2013
At an ALA webinar, the fabulous Nancy Pearl recommends my book for holiday gift-buying.
The Brown Alumni Monthly gets around to mentioning AFD (http://www.brownalumnimagazine.com/content/view/3542/28/):
Amy Falls Down by Jincy Willett ’78, ’81 AM (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s).
Fame, it seems, can arrive when you least expect it. Amy Gallup (The Writing Class) is an unlikely heroine, a weary writing instructor who hasn’t written a book in three decades. But Amy slips in the yard and bangs her head on the birdbath. A concussion ensues, followed by a loopy, unremembered interview with a reporter, which leads to a burst of Internet notoriety and a fresh chance at literary glory. A hilarious and hopeful novel.
November 23, 2013
Nifty aside from the redoubtable M.J. Andersen in the Providence Journal
November 24, 2013
December 4, 2013
Made NPR’s Best Books of 2013
Furious Fiction web interview posted
February 19, 2014
AFD is a finalist in the Audie (audiobooks and spoken word) competition held by the Audio Publishers Association:
(Interview in December 2013)