Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

Liu Xiaobo, Prisoner of Conscience

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

On December 23, 2009, the People’s Republic of China condemned the poet Liu Xiaobo for the crime of “inciting subversion of state power.”  The trial lasted less than three hours, and the defense was not permitted to present evidence. Two days later, on December 25, Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years in prison and two years’ deprivation of political rights.

Mr. Liu’s alleged crime was the co-authoring of Charter 08, which, inter alia, advocates free speech and the end of single party rule.

The PEN website has complete details of Mr. Liu’s harassment before his arrest and the concomitant harassment of other signatories to Charter 08.

As a member of PEN, I am urging people to write on Mr. Liu’s behalf. Letters should be sent to the Chinese Ambassador to your government. For Americans, the details are:  His Excellency, Mr. Zhou Wenzhong; Ambassador of the PRC to the United States; 2201 Wisconsin Avenue, NW; Washington, DC 20007; Fax:  202.588.9760.

In England, the Ambassador is Madam Fu Ying; 49-51 Portland Place London W1B 1JL; Fax:020-7436 9178.

In Canada, the Ambassador is The Honorable Lan Lijun; 515 ST.PATRICK STREET, OTTAWA, ONTARIO, CANADA, KIN 5H3; Fax: 001-613-7891911 7891414.

My experience in writing on behalf of prisoners of conscience is that fax is the most reliable way to communicate, but if you are more comfortable with email, you can go to the embassy websites to get email information.

Daybreak by Liu Xiaobo

over the tall ashen wall, between

the sound of vegetables being chopped

daybreak’s bound, severed,

dissipated by a paralysis of spirit

what is the difference between the light and the darkness

that seems to surface through my eyes

apertures, from the seat of rust

I can’t tell if it’s the glint of chains

in the cell or the god of nature

behind the wall

daily dissidents

makes the arrogant

sun stunned to no end

daybreak a vast emptiness

you in a far place

with nights of love stored away


Thursday, January 14th, 2010

Every January for more than 5o years, people in the University of Chicago community have tried to lighten winter’s bleakness with a musical revue.  For many years, the witty Robert Ashenhurst and Ned Rosenheim provided words and music in a Noel Coward/academic vein.  More recently, Andy Austen, by day ABC-TV’s courtroom artist, by night a playwright, has written scripts that are both clever and charming–and often very funny.

We’re lucky to have the talent in the community to make it a  good show, even though the stage is tiny.  Sara Stern is an exceptional actor and takes a leading role; Dr. Philip Hoffman, a senior oncologist, plays a wealthy society matron, and musicologist Noel Taylor pulls it all together in only 4 weeks of rehearsals.

It’s one of my pleasures to take part as well, and over the last five years, my character –whether an evilly scheming Morgan LaFey or a stern police officer–sings an aria that proves she has more ambition than skill.  This year, I play a fundraiser with a recalcitrant daughter and my aria, sung to the tune of Habanera, is a paean to “L’argent!” (L’argent stays true when lovers flee/when kids behave to you ungratefully…)

The show takes place in the Quadrangle Club and is open to the public; details below.

P.S.  Thanks for all the wonderful title suggestions.  I’m sifting through them as I work on rewrites!

What’s In a Name?

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

I haven’t posted anything new for awhile, because I’ve been working flat out to finish the draft of my new novel before I head off to the UK on tour.  I finished the draft this afternoon, with more of a whimper than a bang.  I lay down for an hour–it’s physically strenuous, writing like a madwoman, and then went to rehearse for the Revels, which take place the last weekend in January. This year I play a fundraiser who sings the “Habanera” song from Carmen, warbling “L’argent,” instead of “L’Amour.”


My working title is Body Work, but I’m not a hundred percent happy with it.  Book names are funny.  Some come with the idea, as happened with Hardball and Bleeding Kansas.  Others come after the book is finished, like Bloodshot and Killing Orders.  Body Work–I’m not so sure.

The action of the book is about an Iraqi vet who suffers from PTSD.  He starts having violent outbursts at a nightclub, and, when a woman who also goes to this particular nightclub is shot and killed, the vet is arrested.  V I Warshawski is hired by the vet’s parents to clear his name.  At the center of the story is a performance artist whose act consists of appearing naked on stage and letting people draw on her.  She’s enigmatic, a figure of mystery.  She’s not part of the main action and yet her presence galvanizes all the disparate people who make up the book…the head of a Ukrainian organized crime syndicate…a civilian defense contractor doing business in Iraq…an immigrant family whose daughter is the person murdered at the nightclub.

With this small bit of information, try your hand at a title.  Remember, the V I titles are two words, with a double entendre.  If you come up with a title that works for the book, you will get a walk-on character named for you.

Happy New Year!

Friday, January 1st, 2010

Happy New Year to anyone who’s able to open their eyes enough to look at a computer today. I was way over my limit last night but finally, at two p.m. on New Year’s Day, in Chicago’s 7 degrees, I’m ready to look at the world if not to smile at it.

Because it’s the new year, and we all want it to be a good one, I thought I’d start with sex. Writing about it, to be more precise. We’ve all heard Elmore Leonard’s dictum about leaving out the stuff the reader skips many many times–but I almost always skip sex scenes. Yes, he/she took off her/his clothes. They got naked, they got into bed/backseat of car/faux-skin rug in front of fire/billiard table, and heaved about like demented hippopotami for a bit and then-can we get back to the story?

I also skip sex scenes as a writer. Every year, when the Bad Sex in Fiction Award is announced, I thank my writing muse for steering me clear of any chance of being publicly humiliated at the In and Out Club.

This past December, Philip Roth was shortlisted for The Humbling, in which an aging actor “converts” a lesbian to heterosexuality: “This was not soft porn. This was no longer two unclothed women caressing and kissing on a bed. There was something primitive about it now, this woman-on-woman violence, as though in the room filled with shadows, Pegeen were a magical composite of shaman, acrobat, and animal. It was as if she were wearing a mask on her genitals, a weird totem mask, that made her into what she was not and was not supposed to be. There was something dangerous about it. His heart thumped with excitement – the god Pan looking on from a distance with his spying, lascivious gaze.”

The ultimate winner was Jonathan Littell, for a passage in The Kindly Ones. “Her vulva was opposite my face. The small lips protruded slightly from the pale, domed flesh. This sex was watching at me, spying on me, like a Gorgon’s head, like a motionless Cyclops whose single eye never blinks. Little by little this silent gaze penetrated me to the marrow. My breath sped up and I stretched out my hand to hide it: I no longer saw it, but it still saw me and stripped me bare (whereas I was already naked). If only I could still get hard, I thought, I could use my prick like a stake hardened in the fire, and blind this Polyphemus…”

In writing about sex, one should ask the same question about anything one’s including. Is there a reason to have it there to begin with? Narrative flow? Plot? Character development? Fun? And if there is a reason, how do you do it well?

For my money, Joyce (or, according to some scholars, his wife, Norah) does it best in Ulysses, where Molly says, “He kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower…and I drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”

On the other hand, you can’t beat Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, for brevity. “The Duke returned from the wars today and did pleasure me in his top boots.”

Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, painted by Charles Jervais

I hope 2010 is a year of health and peace for all who visit this site.


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January 2010