Country Mouse in the Big City

I ask you, who else is going to lead with a photograph of the bathroom at the Beverly Hills Hotel?

None of the pix I took elsewhere in the hotel came out, so this is what you get.  I arrived early to volunteer at the PEN USA LitFest awards ceremony on Wednesday night and sat here–on the vanity chair visible to the right of the photo–writing in my handy little stress-relieving notebook.

I’m an associate member of PEN USA because I was a PEN Emerging Voices Fellow lo these many years ago.

“Oh my god! 1998!?” one of my co-volunteers from a much more recent EV class exclaimed more than once, no doubt envisioning her own diapered condition in that distant historical season.

Perhaps it’s not necessary to say that helping out at this event was a lot of fun, but also challenging on various levels.

It’s a good thing I don’t have a Blackberry, or you’d all have been regaled with my sense of being in costume as a real live girl.  How just 30 minutes earlier I was striding back and forth in the parking lot of a CVS Pharmacy in Burbank to see if the Dr. Scholl’s inserts I bought to customize my new heels were going to keep them from administering a slow and painful death, feet first.  How I’ve lost most of my faith in myself as a writer in the past few months and how mixing with brilliant successful career writers might not be the best way to regain one’s confidence.

I mean, thank goodness I couldn’t blabber that stuff all over the Internet, right?


Artwork in a stall in the first floor lobby bathroom at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

Three other past EV Fellows and I were on hand to usher presenters and award winners from their tables in the Crystal Ballroom to the backstage area. We were armed with binders that told us when to get up from our table–where we enjoyed dinner, conversation and the program–and find our people.   I’d gone online earlier and found photographs of the winners so we could recognize them at the tables, though I got one very wrong.  There’s more than one writer by some of these names!

Here’s a link to the photo I provided, which is apparently of Peter Blake, the artist who designed the Beatles’ “Sergeant Pepper’s” album cover. And to television writer Peter Blake, who was the actual recipient.

When we received our scripts, I saw that it would be my duty to fetch Hugh Hefner, who was given a First Amendment Award and who made about 1/4 of the male announcers refer to him as “Hef” from the podium.  Ahem.

One of the other volunteers asked if I would switch with her so she could take Hefner to the podium.  I’ll just say that if she’d asked in a less insulting way, I might have said yes.

Okay, I admit that when I got home I capitalized on it and changed my Facebook status to “escorted Hugh Hefner from his table to backstage at the PEN USA LitFest last night. Yes. I was Hugh Hefner’s escort last night.”

I’m not oblivious to the whole Hugh Hefner thing, though meeting him was not anywhere near my bucket list.

I  went up to his table and tapped him on the arm and let him know I was there to take him backstage.  The really interesting thing about walking with him was seeing his three body guards obviously but unobtrusively flank us as we walked from the front of the dining area, around the back of the room, and to stage right.  Not threatening, just very present.

I did what I did with all the winners…congratulated him and turned him over to the woman backstage.

The best part of the evening was the moments with the writer/winners.  Being able to say “congratulations” and break a little of the tension that built up like static electricity while they were following me backstage.  I could see in their eyes this little moment of “Oh yeah!  I’ve already achieved something here!”

I also escorted Fiction winner Victor Lodato (for Matilda Savitch) and Mary Melton, editor of Los Angeles Magazine (for her piece “Julius Shulman in 36 Exposures”), amongst others.  I’m looking forward to reading Victor’s book as well as others from the list, which is available here if you’re interested: PEN Center USA 2010 Awards.

Recipient (with co-writer Lin Oliver, for their series of Hank Zipzer children’s books) Henry Winkler wasn’t there, which was too bad.  He’s such a nice man.  He helped a coworker and I look for her contact lens outside the Sports Deli in Century City a long time ago.  When I related this to my co-volunteers I could tell they got hung up on the whole concept of looking for a dropped contact lens, as if I’d said she’d misplaced her monocle.


Me dancing with the china cabinet upon my arrival at home well after midnight.

Shoes this sensible looking shouldn’t hurt this much.

The idea of this photograph was to show what I wore because, as I told a co-worker, “It takes a village to dress this woman.”  I had a lot of advice from friends on Facebook and 43 Things.  It was not for naught, I swear.  This was actually more flattering than it looks here.  I don’t take a good photograph and the all-black ensemble doesn’t show detail.  [When I first met Hydra’s mother at the slender tender age of 24, a friend of hers blurted out, “Oh, she’s so  much prettier than her pictures!”  Which actually was good news.]

So what did I learn?  I need to get the fire back in my belly if I’m going to keep going.  I’ve had short fiction, non-fiction, poetry and photography published in the intervening years since my fellowship, but I haven’t published a book.  I came close with my first novel, but it not selling really sent me staggering more than I realized.  I’ve written a lot since then, but I haven’t polished them enough.

The main thing I was reminded of by this experience is that a writer needs to have faith in her vision and the stamina to keep at it until she fully realizes it.  I think I’ve been looking outside  myself for the answer to what works in creating fiction for too long and it’s time to stop pouting and get back on track.


10 thoughts on “Country Mouse in the Big City

  1. RuthG says:

    You went with the black hose–yay, you look lovely!

    This sounds like a really fun experience. Most of all, I’m glad you’re getting ready to reengage with your writing. Go go go Sally!

  2. Sundry says:

    Thanks, RuthG! It was a good thing to do. I had a good time, helped a little, and you’re right…I’m saddling up that horse!

  3. Gala says:

    Hurrah! First, you looked fabulous!! But more importantly, happy to hear you getting a handle on your writing funk. Prediction: you’re going to start enjoying reading more!

  4. me says:

    Yes, you do look great! Perfect for the occasion. Loved all the photos…how posh!…the Parisian in the stall.

  5. Sundry says:

    Gala – Thanks! I have a new novel I’m reading and actually am looking forward to mining the PEN awards list for more ideas. Victor Lodato’s Mathilda Savitch looks interesting, too.

    Kitty – Aw! I wish I could have gotten a photo of the chandelier in the Crystal Ballroom. Massive and impressive.

  6. Great post, but I got stuck on that last part, there. The same thing happened to me — I hit the fiction selling hard for awhile, then got frustrated and depressed and gave it up for years (although I continued to write). They say editors never look at a manuscript they aren’t sent, and that getting publishes is about perseverence as much as ability — I think that’s true.

  7. Sundry says:

    Mark, that’s very encouraging. You’re absolutely right. And I knew it in my brain all along. Getting my heart back in the game–for lack of a more creative metaphor–has been harder than I expected. I’ve felt that the goal posts have been moved or maybe changed into something entirely different that I can’t recognize yet. It hasn’t been my lifelong dream to see my words on an e-reader… but I can adjust.

  8. I’d much rather see my words on the front of an honest to goodness book! But yes, as you say, I can adjust.

    I’m not a naturally competitive person, so as easy as writing is for me, selling is that much harder.

  9. Sundry says:

    Mark – I feel the same way about the competitive aspects of the writing life. I heard people talk about it at the PEN event and it so turns me off. I’d much rather support other writers than try to step over them.

  10. Mark R Hunter says:

    Luckily, most writers — even though they know they’re competing for a few slots — are still supportive of each other.

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