A house like Blanche du Bois

March 1, 2010  6 p.m.

Cold, socking in after a brilliant morning, a hazy day. The brightness now bled from the sky, the silent sundown, without color, taking with it the warmth of the day.  It’s still spring, the clocks don’t go back, there are new leaves on the tips of the twigs, dense new growth on the hacked up ficus which by all rights should be dead, little flowers, pink and white, on all the fruit trees, trees normally unnoticed in the landscape, like plain little girls in party clothes.

But it looks like rain. Ominous flatness to the sky, blurring the San Gabriels. And my contractor just came down from Santa Cruz, looking for work, I’ve let her take the siding off my chimney, bare wood exposed after forty years. I’m never one to hope for ‘no rain’– Southern California has had 12 years of drought–but tonight I pray, just one more day.

I’m particularly taken by a patch of soft agaves on a kind of junky hillside behind the market at the bottom of my hill, which has burst out this winter with giant sprays of blooms, greenish white, that remind me of my favorite kind of fireworks, that form fat streaks of incandescence.  They have a breathtaking identical droop, so that they look like a score of giant wise swans, nodding in the slight breeze, the tips of their beaks green where the flowers have already begun to drop. My eye is caught by the rhythmic echoes of their necks, fountaining above the fleshy O’Keefiean rosettes. Have they always been here and for some reason, I’ve just missed them?

Also, a little house on a unlovely corner of a huge threeway intersection, used to be completely surrounded by unkempt hedges, a shack of a place, but recently it has been stripped of its vegetation, in the process of being “fixed up”–abashed and bare on its triangle of ground at the tip of a triangular piece of property, most of which belongs to a Fifties’ coffee shop and its parking lot. It looks like Blanche DuBois when Mitch turns on the overhead light.  Ashamed and startled at its own ugliness laid bare.  It’s an  unforgiving location where homeless people park their assortment of vehicles and become part of the neighborhood, with a view of the loading dock of a chain drugstore.

This house–what could they possibly be doing with it? it’s a mean little thing, exposed like that, probably not more than one room, flat roofed, one mean barred window, one new aluminum fixed one, on each side of a security-barred door.  But when it was swathed in its twelve foot high wall of plants,its yard full of salvaged furniture and odd pieces of rusting fence, it was a sanctuary, inhabited by a crusty old man, who reminded me of Charles Bukowski.  It provided an interesting a transition zone between the homeless people parked on the street, and the residents in the ‘proper’ houses on the uphill side of the big intersection.  He was probably friends, or equally crusty, with both.

Who will live there now? What happened to the old man, did his children put him in a home? Or was he there until he went on to the salvage yard in the sky?  Bright handfuls of pigeons flly up like graduation caps.

I think what disturbs me about it, was that, small and rundown as it was, it was a complete world. With those hedges, it was that old man’s world, summery, leafy, green, a place to have a drink in the afternoon with odd friends. And now, who on earth would find sanctuary there.


13 Responses to “A house like Blanche du Bois”

  1. Janet – I was wondering if you could how long it too to complete White Olenader and then have to go through the mill with agents before you got a yes. I’m hoping it was under ten years – life is short.

    • Life is short but literature is long. I had an agent long before I wrote White oleander, got him thorugh short stories, but he didn’t have anything really to sell until I’d written Kicks. It took me four years to write White Oleander and took my agent about a year to sell it. My editor was the first person who saw it, but it was rejected twice in the meantime before he finally accepted it. However, tHe reader doesn’t care how long things took, only that the book is good…

    • My boyfriend’s been playing the violin 12 years. When I heard him play for the first time, I wanted to learn, but all I could think was how it’d take me at least 12 years to be as good at it as he is. I’ll be 33 by then.

      I was whining about it to my dad after the boyfriend went home, and he goes, “Well, you’re going to turn 33 anyway, aren’t you?”

      And I guess he’s right. Life’s short but the meter keeps running whether you’re going anywhere or not. May as well have a destination in mind even if you’re 60 when you get there. Write the book.

  2. The publishing world is so confusing. Agents, Editors, Publishers – all with separate opinions. I too have written a story that took almost four years to write, yet agents can’t seem to find an hour to read the first three chapters, even though they ask for the entire ms. It is SO frustrating when they make comments that really don’t have anything to do with the book, or the writing. One says plot, while another says pacing, when they haven’t even spent 15 minutes reading it. Oy vey – what a crazy business. I can understand slow, I just have hard time with illogical.

  3. Josh Usher Says:

    I simply love reading these; they take me back to the first time I ever read White Oleander. That was still been my best escape in five years. Thanks, Janet and keep writing.

  4. I’m driving down the Pacific Coast Highway trying to remember something I know I should forget.

  5. Are Editors really writers friends?

    I have contacted 6 or 7 Editors that all came highly recommended, but each one has a different take. No 1 say to move this chapter here while No 2 said “Oh my god I love the beginning”. No 3 says it needs a lot of work while No 4 says it only needs minor line edits. Then No 5 – and this takes the cake (no not the Lemon one) – said they would have to read the whole book to give me an opinion, but that would cost $2000!!! for them to read it. No 6, well I think you get the picture.

    Am I wrong to feel that maybe I should simply pick a number out a hat?

    • AS with most advice, you have to listen for the one that feels really right to you. No. 4 certainly sounds promising, though if it were me I’d say you should not be contacting editors. You should be contacting agents. Most publishers don’t want to talk to writers, only agents. Check out the Poets’ and Writers’ book The Practical Writer and read their chapter about agents. Editors are only writers’ friends when they’ve BOUGHT the book. That’s when their interests are the same.

  6. Well thank you Janet for writing back. But what if the agents say it needs to be edited? I feel like I have a compelling story, buts it’s my first time out and so far 3 agents have asked to see it (which is exciting) without signing me. So I feel that I’m at the crossroad of whether to keep submitting, or having it professionally edited than re submit?

    Kind of confused.

    • Read The Practical Writer. Think about how much editing/ input you’ve had (classes/writers’ groups)–you know it’s not just a matter of a compelling story. It’s a story compellingly told. Forget resubmitting. You cannot resubmit. That’s why the ms has to be in top shape before you send it out. Professional editing–i’m not against it. If you’ve submitted to 10 or 12 agents and they’ve all rejected it, then clearly it needs some kind of help. Then send it out as the Practical Writer suggests.

  7. Again Thx Janet! I ordered the book.

  8. Hu Janet

    I have read the Practical Writers sections you suggested. Thank you for that. I’m hunkered down with an editor and am working away editing, and yes it does need some work. The problem, it seems, with editing is the same it is with Design. How do you know when to call it quits? I can see myself editing UNDERTOW for the next five years. But then I’d be in an institution mumbling to myself and I wouldn’t get to finish my next novel I’ve already started.

  9. strange this was not what i serached for in google,but yoda likes.

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