Thursday, August 31, 2006

Billy Collins' poem, "The Lanyard"

Brian needed a guitar pick and Travis was reluctant to give up one of his 100+ guitar picks from his pirate box. I thought of Billy Collins' excellent poem, The Lanyard. I cannot read this poem aloud straight through without getting a little choked up. It's in his newest collection, The Trouble with Poetry and I believe he reads it on the show (accessible at

Billy continues to be one of my favorite poets and certainly one of my favorite radio show guests. He has the rare ability to be whimsical and moving about an item as seemingly simple as a lanyard.

Here is the lanyard Travis made for me.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006


These last days of summer always make me feel a bit bittersweet. But it's been a good one. Travis turned 12 a couple of weeks ago and still likes to hang with me and Bry.

We spent the last few days in the desert--swimming, mostly. Temperature was 120 degrees at 3 p.m., down to 95 at night. Last night at eight-something, after dinner at the Blue Coyote and a stop at Vons where a checkout woman recognized Brian--went to high school with him, actually. She said, "Brian?"--we went to the pool. Night surrounded the aqua pool with pockets of underwater light and a quarter moon burned yellow, sinking into the San Jacinto Mountains. Standing in the water, swimming around, Brian and Travis threw a ball back and forth. I lay back on a chaise longue and watched them, and watched the sky, pocked with stars.

They got out for a moment.

"There's the tail of Scorpio," said Brian. We three looked up.

I like novels and stories that take place in the desert. My friend Allison has written one and we're hoping an agent bites.

Cicadas during the day, crickets at night.

Has anyone ever seen a cicada?

Monday, August 28, 2006

Reading Plaschke's sports writing

I've written about this before; I'm writing about it again. The Sports section has some of the best writing in the entire newspaper. It's active writing, often with anecdotes, often that tell a story.

We root for the Angels baseball team in this house. We're not fanatics, but we've gone to games and we watch games on TV. So I scan the Los Angeles Times Sports section for Angels stories.

Yesterday (8/27/06), a piece by Bill Plaschke caught my eye and got me reading: "Angels Win This Battle by Choosing Not to Fight."

The piece begins like this: "They scored a dozen runs, slapped around 16 hits, slid into half a dozen doubles, sprinted to a couple of stolen bases, ran around Angel Stadium like kids trying to outrace the last shadows of summer."

I love that beginning. What a wonderful lead. It's visual, active; it's got the beat.

I suggest to my beginning students that they read the Sports section. You'll find few passive verbs and dull, abstract writing in the Sports section. Pieces like Plaschke's demonstrate active, visual writing.

I read the Sports section--to improve my writing as well as to read about our Angels.

Find Plaschke's columns, go to

(The photo above is from a Friday night Angel's game in Anaheim.)

Friday, August 25, 2006

Well, it's a Friday night and I....

Remember that old song, too? It goes on: "....ain't got no money...."

Great grammar. But in songs, especially blues songs, the grammar is off--has to be off--and wouldn't sound right if it was proper grammar.

Grammar can be so difficult, though, esp. if you grow up with parents who don't speak the language, as I did. Italian was both of their first languages and so often, around the house, they'd be speaking Italian slang--I later learned--which they didn't want me to learn. It truly wasn't until I was into my 30s that I understood when to use lay and lie! Or what the difference between go and come.

It's true.

Everyone, it seems, hates grammar. A few good books, though, make grammar fun. Spunk and Bite by Plotnik. Sin and Syntax by Connie Hale. Woe is I and Words Fail Me by Patricia O'Conner (I think that's her name....)

Any other you recommend?

The image is from our trip to Catalina last week, Travis and me. This tile is vintage Catalina tile. Gorgeous, don't you think?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Here we are

It finally worked....Here we are....from the left....that's me, then Travis and Brian, Paul Williams and on the right, Elaine, at Brussels Bistro last Thursday night... Mariana is taking the picture. (Elaine, if you see this, send me the photo I shot of the group so I can post the one with Mariana.) See the post below for more on this night.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Rainy days and Mondays

It's not rainy and it's no longer Monday. I tried to post this yesterday and kept crashing on me when I went to upload the photo. So let's see if it works today.

Last Thursday Brian was playing at Brussels Bistro in Laguna with Elaine Miles, his every Thursday night gig.

Paul's wife, Mariana Williams, and I had been emailing a bit. She's a writer and was given my book. Turns out she's married to Paul Williams who wrote many wonderful songs, including "Rainy Days and Mondays," a Carpenters hit. We decided to finally meet. And because Brian and Elaine are major fans of Paul Williams, we decided to converge on Brussells--Mariana and Paul, me and Travis.

It's great when you not only have admiration for someone's talent but for them, too. It was a wonderful evening.

I asked Paul where the song, "Rainy Days and Mondays," came from. He said his mother had come to live with him in Hollywood where he was getting acting parts, but on this particular day was an out of work actor. His mother was moving about the apartment and he heard her say something like, "Nothing to do but frown," and the song began finding its way to paper.

I'd love to have him on the show, to talk about songwriting. Songwriting mystifies me. It's the one form I've never quite gotten. I've written poetry--and still do on occasion--but it's just not the same.

Even Travis had a better time than he expected, though the only food he liked were the French fries.

(I'll post a picture when stops crashing on me when I try...)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Creating a Web site

People keep writing to me about the October issue of Writer's Digest magazine in which my article, "Setting Your Sites," is running. It's about how to set up a web site and blog--I think. It's been so long since I submitted the piece and got paid for it, I can no longer remember the exact specifics. But from the emails I'm receiving, it sounds as if it's been useful to writers. No hate mail yet. ; }

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Lovebirds who met in my class

I heard from a former student, Chad Moore, who took my class at UC-Irvine, a few years ago. He told me he met his wife, Deanna, in my class.

He says, "She was very quiet. Took a little while to get to know. The first day of class was the first time we had ever seen each other... and it was a couple of months before we got to be friends. By the time the class ended, we were finally speaking regularly and emailing, but then she moved to Portland before we could even go on a date! So, then we started racking up lot of long distance calls. She finally came down to visit her family (she's from OC), we went on our first date, spent the weekend together, and the rest, as they say, is history. We were married almost two years ago, and live up in Echo Park. Life is good!"

I love it when that happens.

Here's Chad's blog address:

Monday, August 07, 2006

And here's my memoir workshop...

As well as a critique group, this summer I've been teaching a memoir class. Like my Thursday night group, Writers Block Party, my memoir workshop also meet outdoors. A talented group of folks...some have been in other workshops of mine and some are brand new. First up, Cynthia and Diane, then Joe, Judy and Julie (who is looks like she has a wine bottle for a nose, but I'll make up for that down below)....

Laurie and Ruth....

Laurie and Kim (Ruth, who was between them, had to leave)

Kim, moi and Cynthia ....

Julie and Rebecca ...

Joe, Judy and Julie, as it grows darker ...

Julie and Rebecca, with JoJo between them. He's a cat who likes writers. What cat doesn't?

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Makes you want to write romance fiction

Long ago when I started writing fiction, my older brother and I had a conversation that went something like:

"Why don't you write a romance novel?" he said. "They always sell."

"But I don't read romance novels," I said.

"So what? Write one anyway."

"I can't!" I said.

He could have done it, no doubt--he's always been a talented writer, but he's never been that moved to write. He just reads a ton.

Over the years the romance genre continues to be one of the strongest selling fiction markets. The romance writers met in Atlanta last week, their 26th annual conference. Here's the stats the Los Angeles Times cited:

In 2004, romance novels generated $1.2 million in sales (40% of fiction sales).
Romance novels have expanded into sci-fi and military tales, increasing male readership from 7% in 2002 to 22% in 2004.

Readers and writers of romance novels are a tight-knit group, enviably so. When PEN ON FIRE came out, I spoke at the Romance Writers of America-Orange County chapter's monthly meeting. (Debbie Macomber was the main speaker.) There were a ton of enthusiastic members present, and some were writers in other genres who enjoyed the community.

There's community in the mystery field, too. Lots of mystery bookstores, lots of events and conferences for mystery writers and readers.

Wonder why that's not so for literary fiction writers. Any guesses?