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Being Dalva Northridge

October 12, 2010 | by

Jim Harrison's portrait of Dalva Northridge.

It wasn’t my idea to have sex while the dog watched. It was Jim Harrison’s.

I was reading a scene near the end of Harrison’s novel Dalva, when Dalva Northridge meets a Native-American cowboy named Sam Creekmouth and ends up having bourbon-fueled trailer sex with him. During their rib-bruising lovemaking session, Dalva’s pup howls along. “That dog music’s a real mood swinger,” says Sam.

I had discovered Harrison during a lonely summer abroad. His novel Returning to Earth, sent by my mother, was comfortingly American—full of Michigan glacier lakes and complicated delinquents. Now back in the States, I was reading everything he had written. He was a master of the unconventional character, and Dalva was queen among them.

I very much liked the idea of being entangled with a shirtless horseman who fried up post-sex bacon before skinny-dipping in a pond and said things like, “If I see another oilman, I might shoot the son of a bitch.”

There were some challenges: I was not a grand, reckless, independently wealthy beauty who rode bareback over the plains; I gagged at the smell of brown liquor, and grass-chewing rodeo riders were hard to come by in New York.

But I did have a dog. And from now on, I would not shut her away in another room during relations. This was potentially the first step to becoming as brave and earthy as Dalva.

Immediately, there were problems. Read More »

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Meeting the Goose

June 14, 2010 | by

I’d always thought it a shame that Rainer Maria Rilke and Franz Kappus never met. Now, I’m sure that it was a small mercy.

“To want to meet an author because you like his books is as ridiculous as wanting to meet the goose because you like pate de foie gras.”—Arthur Koestler

I discovered My Literary Hero when I was fifteen years old, handed his first book by an English teacher who thought I’d like him. Like MLH? I loved MLH: immediately, completely, and obsessively. It wasn’t a romantic crush; it was a writer crush, and it endured. Over the next thirteen years, I read and reread everything he had written, toting all of his books—essays, novels, short stories, what couldn’t the man do?—from my childhood home to my college dorm to my first apartment to my second, third, and fourth apartments. I read him on road trips, on airplanes, in foreign countries. I scrawled his best lines (poetry!) in my journals. I insisted that friends, family, acquaintances, and random passersby read MLH’s work. I insisted they recognize its excellence. I was a one-girl, and then a one-woman, fan club. MLH was my idol.

I eventually started to write a book myself. One day, as I was struggling with a passage, I thought, “I bet MLH would know what to do. If only I could ask him.” And then I thought “But could I ask him?” Sure enough, his e-mail address was there for the taking—one just needed to be willing to pick through the Internet obsessively for three hours and voila! Access!

I wrote (and revised and rewrote) an e-mail to MLH. Shockingly, MLH wrote back the next day. He’d be glad to help. Our correspondence commenced. It was my condensed, digital version of Letters to a Young Poet. Only he wasn't advising me on how to write lyrical German poetry; he was advising me on how to appropriately market a non-fiction book about a dog. It seemed similar enough.

If MLH and I got along famously over e-mail, I figured, we could potentially be best friends in real life. So when I took a cross-country trip several months after my first e-meeting with MLH, I wrote to tell him I'd be passing through his outpost and asked if I could buy him a drink. By “passing through” I meant “driving thirteen straight hours out of my way.”

Instead, MLH invited me over for dinner. He was significantly older than I and decidedly non-sleazy, but he lived in the bar-free boonies. That’s how I ended up at his kitchen table.

That’s also how I made MLH wish we’d never met.

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