Monday, July 31, 2006

The weight of words

This was in the Los Angeles Times yesterday (reported by the AP): "In Iran, Pizzas Will Now be Called Loaves". They're getting rid of foreign words that have inundated their language. "'Chat' will become 'a short talk.'"

Also, a photo ran of a man in Tyre, Lebanon, gathering his books strewn about from a bombing. There is so much about the war that saddens me, but I had to cut this image out of the paper. It's on the wall above this computer. Such a visceral image.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Writers Block Party workshop

Here's my Thursday night class, which we held in the front yard on Thursday since it is SSH (So Stinking Hot) in the house. It was lovely, really, and fun to be outside with all the night sounds and this group of folks. We may make it a habit to meet out here, as long as the weather permits.

In this photo, Andy, our cartoonist/graphic novelist, is making us laugh (as usual). That's Barbara to his left, and Connie, to her left, all long-time members of the workshop.

Here, Diane, Lacy and Marrie are trying to avoid the camera but realize there's nowhere to turn.

Robin, Peter and Andy ... always upbeat folks, ready for a laugh ...

Marrie, Elle and moi...

Elle and moi. We have fun. Does it show?

Dianne and Lacy are focused on the work at hand. Marrie is into the food. And she's so enviably svelte!

It grows dark....

And darker...

Goodnight! Until next time.....

Thursday, July 27, 2006

When your husband hears about your cold bath

Brian says to me, "You wrote about your cold bath on your blog???"

"How'd you hear that?"

"One of my student's, his mom. David's mom. She was laughing about your cold bath."

"Well, that's good she found it funny."

Brian gives me a look that says, what else did I write about on my blog and is there anything that he maybe should be concerned with? He won't read my blog--in part because he's a luddite, when it comes to computers, happily so, and can think of a ton of things he would rather do than sit in front of a computer. But also, I'm sure, a part of it is he's afraid of what he might learn. Which is why it took him so long to read Pen on Fire; yes, he had read many pages early on, way before they were even a book, but once his friends, who'd bought the book, started telling him things about him that they found in the book, he was afraid to look.

It can be a wild, hairy ride, living with an author who might quote you or write about you at any turn. Yet it could be worse. Imagine living with a trial attorney and getting interrogated about your every move. Or living with a dentist, who is always checking out your teeth. Or an ob/gyn who's sees it all.

So Brian says, "You didn't write about....."

"No!" I tell him. "I wouldn't write about that." At least not in my blog. Now in my fiction where I can disguise people and places, well, you just never know.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Me and George W.

I'm sitting here working on The ASJA Monthly and I'm reading Media Bistro's Newsfeeds ( I come across George W. Bush's name, last night's dream flashes by, and I mouth the words: Oh. My. God.

Last night I dreamed George W. and I were dancing. I was infatuated with him and he was infatuated with me, although when he looked at me, he didn't quite look in my eyes, but focused somewhere near my eyebrows. I don't recall Secret Service or Laura Bush or even Brian. We were simply dancing.

Now, the one thing I like about George W., I admit, is that he wears cowboy boots on occasion.

I've begun keeping a notebook of dreams (again, after years and years). Perhaps my subconscious has decided to entertain me.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

A cold bath and There Will Never Be Another You

I have never before in my life taken a cold bath. I'm from back east; I'm not a wimp when it comes to experiencing heat. I've spent August days in the desert when it was 100 degrees in the shade.

But I've never been so moved to take a cold bath as I was tonight.

So I filled the tub, affixed the suction cups of the bath pillow, and settled in to read Carolyn See's There Will Never Be Another You, which just came out. I'm halfway through. I love this book. LOVE this book. She's going to be on the show in a few weeks. Her last three books have been winners: Handyman, then Making a Literary Life and now this. I'm enamored.

So if where you are is as hot as where I am, consider filling the bathtub with cold water and spending an hour or two with this book--or any book you love, really.

Friday, July 21, 2006


Here's me, blathering on--well, it's only a minute so I guess that can't be called blathering--about podcasting. The woman doing the intro is my student, Laurie Sullivan. This was very impromptu, after class one night.

Click here and then click on "Tools of the Trade" on June 10.
You'll find it under "Tools of the trade, part 2."

Saturday, July 15, 2006

A little bit every day

Just a little bit every day, at least, accumulates. I'm up to page 313 and I wish I could say there's an end in sight for my novel, Starletta's Kitchen, but there's not. Here's where an outline would come in handy. But outlines haven't worked for me. I've tried outlining. I get bored. I want to write.

I return to the idea of writing a book on craft. A blog I read this morning prompted that thought--again. Someone ... Gail.... (Here is her blog...) said wonderful things about my book, especially for someone who doesn't like books on writing, but said it didn't go deeply enough into craft for her, and I thought two things: One, it wasn't supposed to--and Gail knew this and indicated such--and two, there's so much to say about craft so that it gets through and isn't loaded down with verbiage, y'know? I've been wanting to do such a book, to take up where Pen on Fire leaves off.

Pen on Fire skims craft and focuses more on getting started and staying on the path. It's good for that. Craft, though, is the next step. There are few books on craft that I recommend. And none that I can think of that quote authors other than the author of the book itself, as I would.

I mean, is there a good chapter in any writing book that covers filters? Janet Burroway in Writing Fiction goes into filters more than any book does, though she could go even more into them. And I'm not talking about the filters that you use in your fish tanks or swimming pool, but the filters we insert in narrative that diffuse the power of the sentence, of the image: "I could see the car in the alley emitting a cloud of exhaust that choked the birds, the bugs, and me" instead of "The car in the alley emitted a cloud of exhaust that choked the birds, the bugs, and me." Remove the filter and you have a stronger sentence, no?

Or a writing book that talks in depth about the various types of outlines there are and how you pick one that reflects your personality? Or how you should choose none because that's your personality?

Anyway, I was sitting here working on my book before Travis wakes up, wearing a black hat befitting Zorro that belongs to my son (Why a hat? If you have Pen on Fire, somewhere in the book, author Kelly James-Enger talks about putting on a hat when she writes fiction so everyone, including herself, will know it's time for fiction) and I thought to blog while I was thinking (again) about this book idea on craft.


If you're here in Orange County, and want something literary to do today, come down to the Huntington Beach Barnes & Noble off Edinger and Beach at 1:00 for Jo-Ann Mapson's signing and talk. Her new book is The Owl & Moon Cafe. You can also listen to the podcast of the show with Jo-Ann.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

July is still green...

....and so are the books on the mantel.

And regarding the lilies, they look like silk flowers, don't they? But nay, no silk flowers in this pad. There are never enough flowers in a life.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Write first thing

I say this to my students all the time and it's true. Most of us have to do it first thing.

This morning I said screw it to exercise and I sat down to work on Starletta's Kitchen. (I must admit, I first polished our silver butter dish and four pieces of silverware that were left sitting on the island--long story...)

I fed the goldfish--two new little ones in the tank this morning that Travis and my brother-in-law won at the Orange County Fair yesterday-- filled the kettle, turned on the computer and DID NOT check e-mail, but opened Word and opened my last chapter, the one I was working on before my hard drive crashed a few weeks ago--Chapter 23--and started tweaking. Then I continued writing and now I'm back into it.

That's the thing about momentum; once you lose it, it's so hard getting it back. You have to force yourself. First thing in the morning is what works for me. I know this, but when I start making exercise important, I tell myself I have to do that first thing, too, or it doesn't get done. But both can't be done first. Maybe I'll alternate mornings ... I don't know. Or keep mornings when everyone's sleeping to write fiction and get Travis to ride bikes with me or something during the day. Maybe during low tide today--4:30?--we can walk to the beach and look for sea glass.

But it's the doing of it every day, or most days, that keeps you locked in. And like most things, being half in and half out is being nowhere.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Don't write the entire book....

...if it's nonfiction. Y'all know this, yes?

I met someone last night who didn't know this, who is writing a how-to book on educating kids. He thought you had to write the entire draft.

That's really only for fiction and memoir. Forms where the dramatic arc is vital.

How-to books, service do a book proposal. About 50 pages. I sold Pen on Fire on the basis of 50 pages. Of course I had many more because I had been working on the project for years. But I only submitted the best chapters with the proposal.

New writers--authors-to-be--think it's more impressive to an agent and editor if they've writtent he entire book. But no. An agent may want to shape the project differently. And your editor will need something to do.

One of the best books on how to write a book proposal is called just that and it's by Michael Larson. It's been in print for years. I used it for Pen on Fire.

There are exceptions to every rule, but unless you are an exception, follow this rule.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Monday, Monday ....

I woke up at 6:30 with a start, remembering that I'd forgotten a student's housewarming party yesterday. Then another friend--a former student--just wrote to me and scolded me (lovingly, I hope) for not posting something meaty to my blog. (I'm a vegetarian--what can I say?) He wants something controversial.

Well, what's controversial in my life is how I'm hardly working on my novel. Brian (Mr. Focus) thinks I should be able to avoid everything--mostly email; "I haven't checked my email in three years!" he says--and write fiction and just not think about the rest.

Dennis Palumbo said email is the death of writers. YES! We think, What did I do without email? But I remember my focus of yesteryear, when email was not on my radar screen.

Okay, here's my day. I wake up early, feed the cats, feed the fish, and if it's early enough--6:30, say, before the sun glares--I go for a walk. Got to keep the bulge at bay, but so far it's winning.

Back at home, I make a cup of tea. I add a drop of soymilk. And then I deal with emails.

And then....there's my parttime gig editing the ASJA Monthly (, which I'm on deadline for. There's the 2007 ASJA conference, which I'm cochairing. There's my online students at Gotham, there's my two workshops I teach privately. There's my web site, that needs updating, and my radio show, which I book. There's, of course, updating my blog. And there's more.

And there's my son, my number one priority. He's 11. When gets up, forget about writing fiction.

Yesterday I told Brian I think I need to rent an office. A room empty except for a desk. NO INTERNET ACCESS, no email. Maybe have a computer that stays there and it's only for fiction.

Actually, this is something else I've been thinking about doing: Opening a Writers Room-type place where people rent time/space to write. Only write.

I use a dayplanner and meet my deadlines. Fiction tends to be the thing that suffers. Brenda Ueland said writers need idling time, time to dawdle, meander about. I had that once. And it was great. My life is different now. I don't have idling time. But I also enjoy what I do and feel grateful to be able to make a living writing and teaching.

Or maybe it's that I'm at the 300 page mark and am losing interest in my story.

I sound confused. That's enough about me. Tell me about your discipline and how you are able to write fiction in the midst of your busy lives.

(This meaty enough for you, J?)

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Fourth of July stack

I forgot to post my holiday mantel books. Here they are--and about to change for the orange of this steamy summer surrounding us. (Sorry...I couldn't resist.)

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Harper Lee

In O, the Oprah Magazine, Harper Lee also writes for the first time in ... how many years? Since To Kill a Mockingbird. In her letter to Oprah, she says, "Now, 75 years later in an abundant society where people have laptops, cellphones, iPods and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books."

But where are the books? Ms. Lee, please ... we have been waiting.

Her letter to Oprah is short but I'm a Harper Lee fan and anything at all will do.

(I'd give you the link to the magazine, but the letter's not online; you have to buy it--or go to the newstand to read it. It's on page 151 of the July issue.)