My dad died ten years ago. Here’s a letter he wrote to Paul Fussell, author of The Boys’ Crusade (I had given him this book with great trepidation because Dad didn’t talk about the war–combat vets don’t–but I knew that this book was about his group. I’m so glad I gave it to him.) Anyway…
- 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?
- none of the above
2. In the sentence, “Hortense vowed, ‘There will be repercussions,’” the underlined phrase is an example which of the following verb forms?
- the simple future tense
- the present tense, passive voice
- the future tense, passive voice
- the future perfect tense
- the future perfect tense, passive voice
3. In the sentence, “As she spoke, Hortense’s face turned an alarming shade of crimson,” the underlined word is what part of speech?
- a past participle
- a past tense verb
- a linking verb
- a causative verb
- (2) and (3)
- (1) and (2)
4. Which accurately describes the following sentence: “German shepherds are great problem solvers, and basset hounds never let go of a grudge”?
- compound sentence
- comma splice
- (3) and (4)
- (1) and (4)
- none of the above
5. In the sentence, “Infuriated bassets often exact revenge days after the perceived offence,” the underlined word is what part of speech?
- past tense verb
- present participle
- past participle
- none of the above
6. Fill in the blanks: “A basset hound’s ideal afternoon consists of __________ on his back in the sun with _______ tongue hanging out.”
- laying, its
- lying, it’s
- laying, it’s
- lying, its
- lying, their
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 Sans Souci.”
- a semicolon after “Jacques”
- a comma after “shortage”
- a colon after “shortage”
- a comma after “Jacques”
- both (2) and (4)
- none of the above
8. In the sentence “Coquilles Sans Souci” is prepared from bizarre, literally nauseating ingredients,” what are the two underlined parts of speech?
- past tense verb, past participle
- past participle, present participle
- past tense verb, present tense verb
- none of the above
9. Which accurately describes the sentence “Basset hounds will eat almost anything, however even a basset will turn up its enormous nose at Coquilles Sans Souci”?
- a run-on
- a fused sentence
- a comma splice
- none of the above
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?
- preposition, adjective
- adverb, indefinite article
- preposition, definite article
- none of the above
Many years ago, the Russians invaded Afghanistan and I almost lost my mind.* All around me, people were going about their lives, oblivious to the impending nuclear holocaust. I spent my days lurking around newsstands (there was no Internet then), listening to news radio, shaking, and looking out my window, scanning the sky for that white light. I slept one or two hours a night; my muscles ached from constant tension. I envied old people because they had lived complete lives. This went on for five weeks. Then it stopped. I woke up one morning and it was like that moment in Wizard of Oz when Dorothy opened the door and the world had color. My colors were back.
This never happened to me again. I’m not confident it couldn’t (even a brief bout of mental illness is permanently humbling), but I don’t worry about it.
I don’t worry about it because it’s not something I can control anyway.
What I remember most clearly about this episode is my profound bewilderment when people (the few in whom I confided) said “Look, there’s no point in worrying about stuff you can’t control.” I thought they were insane.
Denial is a wonderful human strategy. It makes happiness possible. I’m sure we’re not the only animal that knows we’re mortal, but other animals don’t need denial because they’re too busy surviving. To deny, and to need to deny, you need top-of-the-food-chain-leisure time. Anyway, when the Russians invaded Afghanistan, my denial mechanism crashed, and there I was in the howling void where anything can happen and tomorrow is hypothetical.
I’m not much of a sharer except in fiction, but I’m sharing this today because all around me I see good people worrying about stuff they can’t control, and I wish I could help them, and I probably can’t, because all I can do is tell them to stop it, and I remember how useless that advice was when the Russians invaded Afghanistan.
We hang by a thread. We always have and we always will. Sometimes a thing will happen and we glimpse that thread, which is just a metaphor but metaphors are all we can access because the void itself is unimaginable, and the metaphorical curtain parts and confronts us with what we’ve been blithely denying.
This is not fun. Still, it isn’t unbearably scary if you’ve learned your lesson about the limitations of your own anxious mind. All we have is now. It’s all we’ve ever had and all we ever will.
This is one of those profound truths that you can “know” without really knowing. Real knowledge sinks deep. Millions of people know already, some of them so eminently sensible that they never thought otherwise, others having learned through experience. Also, it really helps to be old. But I do worry about the people who can’t sleep.
If you’re one of them or worried that you might be, this is all I have to offer, and forgive my presumption:
Look after your colors and lean into the now.
*Not funny at the time, but that is a funny line.
My mother was my hero, and here is why.
Back in the 1950s, she was active in Sweet Adelines, the women’s equivalent of SPEBSQSA (both international barbershop singing organizations). After Brown v. Board of Education, both organizations inserted the word “white” into their bylaws to keep African-Americans from participating in championship competition.
Lots of individual chapters protested, but in the end only a handful did so in a meaningful way, by challenging the change in the by-laws and, according to Sweet Adelines, generally being “troublemakers.” My mother was president of the Providence chapter; when Providence put the issue up for a vote, its members voted unanimously to withdraw. Theirs was the first chapter to do so; they were followed by Massachusetts chapters in North Attleboro, Scituate, New Bedford, and a Canadian chapter in Orillia. This small group started its own organization—Harmony, Inc.—which has since grown internationally and continues to thrive. (Both Sweet Adelines and SPEBSQSA discreetly deleted “white” at some point.)
Barbershop music comes across to many as square and very, very white (although its origins are anything but; I grew up listening to records of the Golden Gate Quartet), so all this may seem rather quaint and inconsequential. It wasn’t. This was the Fifties: These women were housewives, file clerks, factory workers, and once a week they got to sing, and once a year they went to international conventions and sang themselves hoarse for three days straight. Singing was their passion, and giving it up was a meaningful sacrifice. And the moral courage it took to buck the system was something I witnessed as a child and never forgot.
My mother went into the fight a young, idealistic, optimistic woman; she went in expecting that of course the right would prevail, the international board would see the light, or if not, then there would be a wholesale exodus of outraged members. She learned a lot about human nature, and so did I, from watching her.
Daughters watch their mothers very closely. Once she said to me, “In life there are tests. If you’re lucky, you’ll never get one, but if you do, you may not recognize it for what it is. Always watch out for tests.” I do.
In memory of Joanne Willett, 1925-2019.
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”:
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.
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.
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: