Saturday, December 31, 2005

Keeping track, having fun

A writer who read my Writer's Digest article wrote to me with questions. I thought some of you might benefit, as well, from the answers.

How do you keep track of all the notes and pieces of paper and such? she asked.

Keeping track...well, I used to just have a box I threw everything in, all the notes and pieces of paper and cocktail napkins. Then I started carrying notebooks with me wherever I went—the Moleskines I so lovingly discuss and a reporter’s notebook—and now I make notes in them, instead of on shards of paper. That helps. I have filing systems I never refer to, that I really should purge (it being the new year, and all).

I'm paid to write, but it doesn't often feel like fun. How do you keep it fun?

Fun. Freewriting makes it fun for me, and if I have a bit of that in my life, then I’m okay. And writing fiction makes it fun. Something to look forward to. I love writing in my Moleskines (they cast a spell, I swear) and if I can mix up fun with work, I’m okay. I, too, labor over deadlines. I have two deadlines right now for articles for PAGES magazine. Freewriting in my Moleskines keeps the spark alive. In the past, when my interest has flagged, inspirational writing books helped get that spark going again.

How do you know when you have an idea that will sustain you for 200 pages and keep the reader turning the page?

As for ideas that keep nipping at your heels and how to make them long, well, some ideas are teensy and some aren’t. For me, I ponder: Will I be interested in this topic years from now? Since that’s how long it can take to write a book. There are some projects I began as book proposals that I thought I would stay with, and then didn’t. Others—like my book, PEN ON FIRE—kept me long after I thought they would. I've written novels that I later abandoned because I just wasn't interested enough in to revise and do what it takes to sell them. If you’re fascinated with your idea, that’s the main thing, and the main way to keep readers turning the page. The author Chris Bohjalian said when he's involved in a book project, he will abandon it even at page 150 if he's bored with it, because if he’s bored, his readers will be bored.

Platform: when do you know if your platform is big enough?

Good question! I can say that a regional platform can be appealing, and if you’re writing a book that connects to your regional platform, it may be enough. Yet, if your platform is, say, cooking, and you’re doing a book on connecting with adoptive parents, I would think your platform will mean little. If you know an agent, I’d ask her/him. If you don’t know any, I’d find a conference (of which there are a ton—the ASJA conference is in April in NYC— is great at making contacts with editors and agents. Take a meeting and ask them. They are great at being blunt and will tell you how it is.

Now, visuals help writing,help break up long blocks of text, yes? So here is what I saw one day high on the wall adjacent to where I work. The sun through the window created such gorgeous shadows.

Have a great New Year, full of creative energy, great ideas and lots of stamina to keep your butt in the chair!

Monday, December 26, 2005


I'm writing my poetry lecture for my Gotham online class and came across this page on Pulitzer prize winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks. I admire Brooks so much.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Pet peeves

Does anyone else have pet peeves and hate to discuss them? Right now I've got two, and I've just got to discuss them because They Are Everywhere.

The first is cell phones in cars. Now, okay, driving down the freeway or on a street not absolutely clogged with cars and people, and you're bored, and you gotta talk to someone, so you make a call. I try to avoid it, personally. If I'm alone, I'd rather listen to a book on tape or CD (right now I'm listening to The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri) than hang on the phone in the car. If my son is in the car, or my husband, hanging on the phone is just plain rude and I wouldn't do it.

But on the skinny streets of my town, when I see women and men in Mercedes and trucks or SUVs, especially, hogging up the street, turning corners, or backing up--yes! backing up or making u-eees--I want to scream. Sometimes I do, in fact, scream.

The other thing that's been driving me a little nuts is e-mailed Christmas cards. Now, sometimes, it's someone's birthday and you've forgotten to send them a card or you don't have their address and you e-mail a card. I've done it. Sure, why not? But when I receive an e-mailed Christmas card, I'm sorry but I tend to hit delete. (The exception this season was the one I received from Kim Dower, the sweetest book publicist ever. Her artist-husband created a cute cartoon and I printed it out.) And when I'm one on a list of about a million who've also been mailed said e-mailed card, I'm offended. It's almost worst than no card at all.

Technology can be a wonderful thing, but it can also bring out the obnoxiousness that we've all got buried within us, don't you think?

Thanks for letting me rant.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

All you need is one yes to send you on your way

Here's the online link to my article in the January 2006 issue of Writer's Digest on getting Pen on Fire published.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Lest anyone think they are too old to publish....

...this just in from Publisher's Lunch:

Fifty-nine-year-old Paul Torday's debut Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, the story of a middle-aged scientist and his involvement with what initially looks like an impossible project: to introduce salmon into the Yemen, to Helen Garnons-Williams at Weidenfeld & Nicolson, at auction, for publication in February 2007, in a two-book deal, by Mark Stanton at Jenny Brown Associates (world).

It is interesting why Torday's age was printed. Maybe meant as an encouraging word?


Thursday, December 08, 2005

In love with Anita Shreve

There are a few authors whose books I pretty much love, without question. Everything they write, I love. I'm promiscuous that way. Chris Bohjalian (not a surprise to anyone who has read my book. T. Jefferson Parker. Now I've a new one: Anita Shreve.

I just finished Fortune's Rocks, an astounding book with much complexity (sounds like something she'd say, or something the judges would say on Iron Chef).

Prior to that, I read Seaglass, which I also loved, and prior to that, The Pilot's Wife. Yes, I loved that too.

When I started Seaglass, I learned that Shreve intended it to be one of three books in a trilogy, but not your usual trilogy. What all three books have in common is the house the main character lives in, a wonderful, rambling beach cottage in New Hampshire. They were written out of order, too.

And now I'm reading A Wedding in December. I just love Shreve's writing.

Are there authors whose work you pretty much love, no matter what they write?

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

San Francisco in Jello

I don't eat Jello--haven't for 20-some years--but I love this use of Jello.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Hooray for notebooks and candles

After I delivered Travis and Alex to their birthday party gig in Redondo Beach--yes, the Green Room, Trav's classic rock band, had their second paying gig yesterday; today they play at Gina's Pizza at the Corona del Mar Christmas walk (for tips)--and on the way home stopped at Pudgy Beads in Long Beach (a glorious vintage bead store with wonderful owners), bought a few things, then drove home, cleaned up a bit (always cleaning up a bit, it seems), lighted the candles I had bought at Ikea on the way to Redondo, and sat on the sofa with my Clairefontaine notebook and Waterman fountain pen (indigo ink).

My iBook G4, which I love, tends to make me a little too perfectionistic, when it comes to first drafts of fiction. It's so easy to delete. With the notebook, I just write. I don't care about being perfect. I can cross out, but I can't delete, and for me, this is a good thing. So I set the timer and sat and wrote and by the time I was done, the room was dark, lit only by candlelight.

This morning at 6:15, Rosie, our six-month-old cat, jumped on the bed and woke me. I tried, for a minute, to go back to sleep, but the house was quiet, bamboo wind chimes by the front door were clacking tastily, so I got up, straightened up a bit (see ... always straightening.....) and sat down with the notebook and pen and wrote a couple pages.

This got me thinking about tools, again. I still love sitting with paper and pen, getting comfortable, and writing. The laptop is good for nonfiction first drafts, though not fiction. Wish I'd remember that when I'm trying to write at the laptop and nothing's coming out.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Squid and the Whale

Debra and Michelle and I went to see this movie tonight. Jeff Daniels is a pompous, no longer successful novelist. His wife is more successful than he. It's downhill from there. An intense movie. And an anti-divorce film, if there ever was one. If you and your spouse are on the fence about splitting up and you have kids, see this film. You will decide you are being whiny and work a little harder to stay together, for the kids, anyway. Laura Linney was great; what else has she been in? I can't place her.

Thursday, December 01, 2005


It's going to rain. The sky is overcast, damp. I like rain. But I want it to pour and then be done with--at least until after Sunday when my 11-year-old's band plays at Gina's Pizza at the Corona del Mar Christmas walk. That's the one day a year this town is like New York. The streets are packed. There's one long traffic jam. I'm a back East girl at heart, still, and I love it.

But I don't feel like writing.

Still, I work on The ASJA Monthly, which I edit. But I don't feel like writing--doing my own writing, that is. So I pull on my purple boots, wrap my clapotis around my shoulders and head out with the list for Mother's Market.

I go to the library and check out a book on CD (The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver, which I read years and years ago, and loved). I am so addicted to books on tape or CD. You can listen when you walk, when you clean, when you knit. They help me have more patience with books. If the book starts slow, I don't mind so much. But I do find that certain readers are irritating. I checked out Don DeLillo's Underworld, which I only got to page 400 in (it's an 800-page book) and figured I'd listen to the rest on tape, but the narrator sounded like that digitalized voice you hear when the library calls you to leave a message that your book has come in and is on hold (my friend, Allison, does a perfect rendition of the voice), so I couldn't listen. And the narrator for Middlesex wasn't right either--not for me, so I turned the book in. I did love the narrator for Little Earthquakes, though, and loved the book, too.

Then I go to Mother's Market and down a wheatgrass juice and a Brain Power smoothie, figuring the combo should turbo charge my bloodstream, shop a little, and on the way home, stop at a little store, Paris to the Moon, where I read there was a section entirely devoted to Mother Mary, one of my idols. The store is all glittery and small. There's a pink area, a black and white area, a kids' nook with tin crowns from Mexico, and lots of vintage Christmas tree ornaments and snowglobes.

Onward to home, with goods and groceries. I clean up a little. Swiffer. Iron a red and white vintage tablecloth and spread it out on the table, in preparation for tonight, for Writers Block Party, my every other week group of talented students. Actually, all of people in my private groups, those current and departed, are talented, and it's a pleasure reading their work. My class at UC-Extension is a group of stellar women, bright and funny.

I still don't want to write, though, so I eat lunch: rice with soymilk and maple syrup. I know, I know... But I'm a vegetarian and Italian and like to eat a little differently.

I check in on my Gotham online class. Post a message on the blackboard.

Soon I will go pick Travis up at school. I have to prepare for my show, and my class. Maybe stop by Barnes & Noble and buy a new Moleskine notebook.

I don't think this will be a writing day for me.