Archives For road trips

In celebration/preparation for my forthcoming book set at Fallingwater (Liliane’s Balcony), I am volunteering be an Ask-Me Guide at Fallingwater. I attended an orientation in April, and this week I volunteered two days.

Tuesday was my first day, and it was high drama from the time I arrived at 10 a.m. The front desk was short-handed, there was a woodpecker trapped in the Visitors’ Center, and busloads of fourth-graders were arriving for their field trips. The kids, of course, were fascinated by the trapped woodpecker, which thought it could fly through the glass panel and was clearly bewildered each time it smacked into glass. One boy proudly told me that he’d raised baby robins after the mother bird abandoned them. A maintenance guy was called, and he managed to clutch the woodpecker briefly between two long duster puffs and eventually direct the bird out of the area – to great applause from the fourth graders.

You can’t see the woodpecker, but the person in yellow is looking right at it, moments before its escape/liberation.

The lone Info Desk person was a mastermind at the Fallingwater command center. Somehow, amid fourth-graders, trapped birds, new membership applications, and visitors who wanted to avoid fourth-graders, she managed to speak to each new visitor, assign them a tour group, and send a group on its tour every 6 minutes.

My job was very simple: assemble the tour groups, count the number of people in the group, and tell them how to get to the house – and I still managed to screw up. A group that was supposed to have 14 only had 12, but someone said two more were coming. I could see them coming so I said, “Great! Here’s how you get to the house.” And as they walked past me toward the house, I counted 16 people – too many for one group. But it was too late. This happened a couple times. It’s times like these that you think you should probably just turn your Ph.D. over to the person at the Info Desk, who is clearly smarter and more competent than you in every way.

Things calmed down eventually, and I was able to have an amazing lunch in the cafe: an apple, butternut squash, and brie panini with couscous!

But when I returned, there was a sudden and huge downpour/storm. A young French family had their tour postponed and the little girls ran around the sheltered area for a half hour. I watched people run to the center in the rain and handed out umbrellas for trips back to the parking lot.

In my days at Fallingwater, I saw school kids of various ages, families from France, the Middle East, the Far East, the US South, and even an Amish group. I talked to a couple from North Carolina (Wright aficionados), a student who asked if the visitors’ center was the house, and a woman who was at Fallingwater to celebrate her 50th birthday. She celebrated her 40th on a mountain in Alaska. And I met all the amazing people who work and volunteer at Fallingwater.

In the epigraph to my forthcoming book, I quote Frank Lloyd Wright: “The rock ledges of a stone quarry are a story and a longing to me.”

I love that quote, and this week at Fallingwater I kept thinking that Fallingwater itself is a story and a longing. Everyone at Fallingwater has a story and a longing, and I loved having contact with so many of them.

I’m giving two readings in two states in 21 hours. Tonight I’m giving a reading hosted by the South Bend branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW), and tomorrow I go back to my alma mater, the University of Cincinnati, for a reading in the Elliston Poetry Room, where I have had the pleasure of attending readings by so many amazing writers.

Tonight:

Tomorrow:

Fiction Reading: Kelcey Parker

Friday, April 13 at 4:00 p.m.

Elliston Poetry Room, 646 Langsam Library

At AWP I got to meet with Kathleen and Abby of Rose Metal Press, who publish amazing, beautiful, and unique hybrid-genre books like these:

They also say super-smart things about the importance of indie-publishing, like this short essay, “On Being Indie,” at The Next Best Book Blog:

Compared to trade publishers, we have more creative freedom because we are independent and a nonprofit and can publish and encourage the kind of writing that we see as ground-breaking and innovative rather than focusing heavily on the marketability and projected sales numbers of any given project. We obviously want our books to sell, but the quality of the work takes precedence in our process of choosing what we’ll publish.

So you can imagine how thrilled I am that they are publishing my book, Liliane’s Balcony, in fall 2013. They wrote up a juicy description of the book to preview their upcoming publications:

Liliane’s Balcony is a novella-in-flash that takes place at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. Built for Pittsburgh merchants E.J. and Liliane Kaufmann in 1935, the house is as much a character as it is a setting. One September night in 1952, Liliane Kaufmann—tired of her husband’s infidelities with a woman named Stoops—overdoses on pain pills in her bedroom. From there, Liliane’s Balcony alternates Mrs. Kaufmann’s mostly true story with the fictional narratives of four modern-day tourists who arrive at the historic home in the midst of their own personal crises, all of which culminate on Mrs. Kaufmann’s over-sized, cantilevered balcony. With its ghosts, motorcycles, portraits, Vikings, and failed relationships, Liliane’s Balcony is as dizzying and intricately beautiful as the structure in which it is set.

Here’s a link to the opening chapter published at Talking Writing:http://talkingwriting.com/?p=640

Frank Lloyd Wright was on my mind because of the book and because I was in Chicago, where he’s kind of hard to avoid. On Sunday, after I had my final coffee-with-a-friend and before I drove back to South Bend, I visited FLW’s home and studio in Oak Park. Here are a few of the like 50 pictures I took. They’re kind of crappy because I used my iPhone and was often rushing to take pics before other tourists got in my frame, and they’re in reverse order so just pretend you’re walking backward through the tour.

Wright's Oak Park house and studio, 1889-1909.

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Love the ceiling lights throughout the house.

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Secretary's desk in the studio office.

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Waiting room to the studio. And also a talking room where they could lay out plans on the table and shut the studio door and discuss the PLANS.

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Side of studio.

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Model of the Robie House.

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Center of studio with hint of the vaulted ceiling. Amazing.

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Yep. Apparently the second floor was originally supported by the chains, but current building codes won't allow it.

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First view of studio. Robie model on left. The desks straight ahead are the ones in earlier photo. Light shining down from upper level windows.

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The children's play room! (There were 6 kids.) Windows on both sides. Grand piano wedged into the wall on the left side of image.

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More awesome ceiling lights. These are in the dining room, which was pretty small and typical of the time.


Living room. Bay window seating.

For Wright, the hearth is always the center of the house and family.

Travels to Central Michigan

November 6, 2011 — 1 Comment

Thanks so much to Darrin Doyle and his awesome colleagues and students – and his wife Courtney! – for making me feel like a rock star at Central Michigan University this week. And for putting up with my coughing fits, and for serving up lots of hot tea so that my voice would survive my reading. Darrin’s graduate students had been reading For Sale By Owner, and they really impressed me with their insights and questions about the stories.

And thanks to my IUSB students, who were all very sweet, wishing me safe travels as I left, and to Joe, my beekeeper student, who brought me a jar of honey from his bees! I felt like Winnie the Pooh!


Ohio! and Don Quixote

October 29, 2011 — 5 Comments

I got to spend a day in Ohio this week! I even got to be on I-75 for a couple miles!

I was invited to give a reading at Bluffton University, with its beautiful Ohio trees and fall Ohio leaves and winding Ohio paths, and which looks like this:

That is the path to the beautiful library where I got to read, which looks like this:

And I got to meet the terrific students of poet Jeff Gundy and of my hostess extraordinaire, Susan Carpenter. And we ate dinner at Tu Pueblo, and ended our visit at the coffee shop the next morning, both downtown, which looks like this:

Thanks so much to Susan Carpenter and everyone at Bluffton for a great visit (and for buying so many books)!

On the drive there, I saw the strangest sight, and on the way home I got to document it:


Windmills. Not just one, or a few, or a field of them. Miles of them.


I started clocking the miles: 16 miles of these windmills east-west along Highway 30, and to the north as far as the eye could see. Miles and miles, hundreds and hundreds of them.

I felt like Don Quixote, unable to believe they were anything other than giants that need to be slain.

But then again, maybe I’ll get used to them. As I have to these other members of the species, in Ft. Wayne: