June 15th, 2007

One of my literary "mothers" is dead

I can't remember when I first read Sheila Ballantyne's Imaginary Crimes, which came out in 1982. At the time, my clothes all came from thrift stores (I remember a blue plaid skirt that looked like a Catholic school girl's - and it really must have been a girl's because it was way too short), and it was rare that I had the money to buy a book. So I probably spotted it at the library. At the time, I was probably reading three or four novels a week (that's what happens when you have to take the bus everyplace). So for a book to stick with me, to be read and re-read, that's saying something.

If you haven't read Imaginary Crimes, you should. You can pick up a copy at Amazon for a penny, plus shipping.

Here's what the New York Times had to say about the book in her obituary: "A semi-autobiographical account of a young woman raised by a father who is a confidence man. Organized as a series of brief, accumulating shards, “Imaginary Crimes” is set in the Pacific Northwest and California, in a time ranging from the 1930s onward. It tells the story of Sonya and her younger sister, who after their mother’s death from breast cancer are left in the dubious care of their father, Ray. Always looking for the next get-rich-quick scheme, Ray is eventually jailed in a land swindle."

The book was heartbreakingly honest. It cut to the bone. As a writer, I might admire the mix of third and first to tell the same story. As a human being, it's her feelings toward her father that caught me up.

In the early 90s, I wrote to her (care of her publisher, no Internet then), and she wrote back. They had just started filming the movie version here in Portland (with Harvey Keitel), and she told me how they had her write new scenes and sent her videotapes of what they had filmed. I told her how the house the main characters supposedly lived at was next door to my hairdresser's. They paid him money to spray his house with fake dirt so that the neighborhood would look down on its luck. More than a dozen years later, I still remember the thrill of getting that letter from her.

Read her essay here on how she became a writer.

Read her obit here.

I can only hope one day to write a book as true as Imaginary Crimes.



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Eight things

I’ve been tagged by arthurslade for the 8Things Meme. Now technically I’m supposed to tag people in turn, but as someone who used to be able to do three-dimensional calculus in high school (although I now can’t balance my checkbook), I know that if each person tags eight people, there soon will be no one left in the universe. So if you would like to be tagged, consider yourself tagged.

1. My first story was about a woman named Maggie who was crushed by a log rolling off a log truck. I was in third or fourth grade. I just liked the drama of it all.
2. My favorite snack in high school was called “Pizza Spins.” Obviously, I doomed them by liking them. They went the way of Quisp cereal and Space Food Sticks.
3. I know how to camel walk (as in belly dance).
4. I was the world’s pickiest eater as a kid, but one of my favorite foods was lima beans. Don’t tell anyone, but edamame kind of taste like lima beans.
5. I sent a story to Roald Dahl when I was 11, and he helped get it published. It was about a six-foot tall frog who liked peanut butter.
6. I time everything – how long I run, how long I write, how long I can do something before I am allowed to do something else. I also count things. I have self-diagnosed this as mild OCD.
7. I call my mom every morning and have since my dad died. We fought all through high school. Now we're very close.
8. I cannot walk in high heels. Last time I tried, my girlfriend started laughing so hard she fell off the couch and told me I looked like a transvestite.



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