Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

We're back from Mammoth. Our last day there was sunny, brisk, and always bittersweet: I want to stay, but I want to get home.

I also have a Pavlovian response to the last day of the year: I automatically reflect on the past year and consider resolutions. It's always a bittersweet holiday season--my mom died Dec. 26, 2001. Around this time in 2001, the three of us were back east, attending the funeral, dealing with the airline's extremely tight--and sometimes stupid--security measures. Travis was very short then--seven years old--and his name was picked for a personal security check. He had to empty his backpack. Whoa--stuffed animals! Games! Books! Years later he said he was worried the airlines would want to keep him.

The fact that we're vaulting into a new decade is just so strange to me. Wasn't it just 2000? This past year was good enough, but did I accomplish enough? Probably not. I meant to finish my novel, Crazy for You, based on my noir short story that was published in April, but did I? Oy. And I hoped my agent would sell my memoir, but it was not to be--not yet, anyhoo.

I did sign up with WeightWatchers online, and lost almost 14 pounds (15 was my goal, oh woe).

I tried to be a better companion to Brian, a better mother to Travis, a better friend, a better teacher.

But why is it that at the end of the year, we always feel we fell short in some way? Or maybe it's just me...

So next year--tomorrow!--I plan to become better organized, lose that last pound at least, accomplish my writing goals, become an even better friend, relative, wife, mother ... all that.

What about you--any goals for 2011?

I wish for you everything you hope for in the New Year, and hope our paths cross real soon.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A leisurely afternoon walk in a blizzard. Great fun, actually, making a memory...

Snow, again.

I love the snow, as my loyal blog readers know. And we're here once again, at Mammoth, and the snow is sublime. Fortunately Mammoth knows how to deal with snow. Last night more than a foot fell.

And I will admit to you right here and now, the only work with words that I've done is the editing I do for The ASJA Monthly. No working on my book, no writing. And sometimes not writing is exactly what's called for. So much of my life is taken up with words, and like you, sometimes I need a break. So I've been enjoying the snow with my son and in-laws, and knitting. My son calls me obsessed, and it's true.

So below you will see this morning's snowfall, and you'll also see the rubber ducky socks I just finished.

What do you do to take a break from writing--or do you never take a break?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

New Year's Resolutions, anyone?

I don't tend to make resolutions--although last Jan. 3 I signed up for Weight Watchers online and have so far lost 14 pounds (one more to go to reach my goal).

But I've been pondering a way to get my Internet use under control. Does anyone use Anti-Social or Freedom? Just read this in today's LA Times.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Pen on Fire Speaker Series: Merrill Markoe

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett welcomes Merrill Markoe, author of Nose Down, Eyes Up: A Novel, to the Pen on Fire Speaker Series at the Scape Gallery in Corona del Mar.

Download audio.

Edwidge Dandicat

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett interviews Edwidge Dandicat, author of Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: October 20, 2010)

Betsy Lerner and Susan Straight

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett interviews literary agent and writer Betsy Lerner, author of The Forest for the Trees (Revised and Updated): An Editor's Advice to Writers and Susan Straight, author of Take One Candle Light a Room.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: October 27, 2010)

Sharon Dogar and Roy P. Clarke

Marrie Stone interviews Sharon Dogar, author of Annexed and Roy P. Clark, author of The Glamour of Grammar.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: October 13, 2010)

Nicole Krauss

Marrie Stone interviews Nicole Krauss, author of Great House: A Novel.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: November 17, 2010)

Piper Kerman

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett interviews Piper Kerman, author of Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison.

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(Broadcast Date: December 8, 2010)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas cards clarification

I've been receiving private emails from dear friends about Christmas cards and my blog post from the other day, and feel that maybe some clarification is called for.

First, the only cards I truly object to are those mass emailed holiday greetings that present a simple greeting. The images tend to be washed out, the words hard to read. And the fact that they've gone out to a hundred--maybe a thousand--of the sender's closest friends and colleagues does not inspire the Christmas spirit, at least not in me.

I do enjoy emailed cards that contain lots of photos or images. Yes, they've gone out to a bunch of people, but the sender has also put some time into the creation of the card.

I enjoy holiday letters. Yes, they're a recap of the year, but so what? The only thing I don't like about them is when they're written in the third person. Someone in the family: Take ownership! Make it your letter and write about you and everyone else in the family.

What about the paper waste? Well, yeah, there's that, and I don't mean to minimize it. But I've a feeling that those who are complaining about paper waste also happily take cardboard cups from their local cafe, will order take out (which is boxed), use paper napkins, use paper and plastic sacks from the market rather than bring a cloth bag, and use all sorts of other paper. The "waste" comment doesn't hold up for me.

The main thing is this: It's the one time all year that you make it a point to send holiday wishes. So why not make them count? Put some time into creating a card at or another online site. Who wouldn't love that? I do.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Opinionated post...beware....

I haven't made a personal post here in quite some time and I maybe shouldn't right now as I'm feeling a tad under the weather, but because it's timely, and I'm not feeling all that great, I should just let it spill, right?

It has to do with Christmas cards. Does anyone else dislike emailed Christmas cards as much as I do? Perhaps my dislike is out of range. I should just appreciate any communique a person sends, right, whether of the paper sort or email?

But I don't. I receive a card via email and I feel offended, not appreciated. Okay, I'm old school, I admit: I like the personal attention you have to give to writing someone's name on an envelope--or even printing out a sheet of address labels, writing your name (a preprinted card will do) and affixing a stamp. We only do this once a year, right? No one sends out Valentines Day cards anymore, or Easter, or Halloween or Thanksgiving. So how much trouble can it be?

Now, if you don't have someone's address and you want them to know they're in your thoughts, that's different. And of course I want everyone to have a great holiday.

But if someone has my address and still sends me an email card, I hit delete. I don't think, how sweet, how nice, how thoughtful. I think: Well, that was easy. I hope they feel good because I feel worse. I don't feel appreciated at all. Rather, I feel minimized.

At this point, I should delete this post because I know I will offend some of my friends and colleagues who send email cards. In advance, I apologize. My sore throat and general lousy feeling made me hit "publish post."

I'd really like to hear your thoughts on this. Am I being too cranky?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Linda Sue Park and Christian Lander

Marrie Stone interviews children and young adult writer Linda Sue Park, author of A Long Walk to Water and Christian Lander, author of Whiter Shades of Pale: Stuff White People Like, Coast to Coast, from Seattle's Sweaters to Maine's Microbrews.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: November 10, 2010)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Debra Ginsberg

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett interviews Debra Ginsberg, author of The Neighbors Are Watching.

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(Broadcast date: Nov 24, 2010)

Friday, December 03, 2010

Literary Agent Betsy Lerner

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett and Marrie Stone take listeners' questions for author, former editor and literary agent Betsy Lerner, author of The Forest for the Trees (Revised and Updated): An Editor's Advice to Writers.

Download Audio.

(Broadcast Date: December 1, 2010)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Today's show: Jo-Ann Mapson & Debra Ginsberg

On today's show, my guests will be Jo-Ann Mapson, author of Solomon's Oak (Bloomsbury) and Debra Ginsberg, author of The Neighbors are Watching (Shaye Areheart Books). Tune in at 9 a.m. PT at 88.9 KUCI-FM in Southern California, or listen online at or at iTunes, news/talk radio.

And a little about quotations. I love quotes. Quotes immortalize writers--perhaps even more than our books do. That's a scary thought. But I love them. Here are a few that I especially relate to, today, as I work my way though my work in progress:

Plot from the murderer's point of view and write from the detective's point of view.
~Erle Stanley Gardner, mystery writer

Layers don't come from subplots, but from additional problems in the protagonist's life.
~Donald Maass, editor and writer

You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.
~Jack London

Thanks to Mystery Writers Ink. More here.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pen on Fire Salon with Susan Straight and Andrew Winer

Last Tuesday night at Scape Gallery in Corona del Mar, we had another sell out event with authors extraordinaire, Susan Straight, Take One Candle Light A Room, and Andrew Winer, The Marriage Artist. Here are some photos of the event, thanks to C.J. Bahnsen.

Our next event is Jan. 18, 2011, with T. Jefferson Parker and his new book, The Border Lords. More here.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Amy Bloom and Hilary Davidson

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett and Marrie Stone interview Amy Bloom, author of Where the God of Love Hangs Out: Stories and Hilary Davidson, author of The Damage Done.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: October 2010)

2nd Annual Agents Night - Pen on Fire Writers Salon

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett hosts literary agents Jill Marr, Jamie Weiss Chilton, and Sally van Haitsma at the Pen on Fire Writers Salon.

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(Event date: July 13, 2010)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dennis Palumbo and Daniel Pyne -- Pen on Fire Writers Salon

The Pen on Fire Writers Salon presents Dennis Palumbo, author of Mirror Image and Daniel Pyne, author of TwentyNine Palms.

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(Event date: September 14, 2010)

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Kim Dower and Kate Gale

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett interviews Kim Dower, literary agent and author of Air Kissing on Mars and Kate Gale, managing editor of Red Hen Press, poet, and a recent two-term president of PEN USA.

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(Broadcast date: November 3, 2010)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Daniyal Mueenuddin and Shawna Ryan

Marrie Stone interviews Daniyal Mueenuddin, author In Other Rooms Other Wonders and Shawna Ryan, author of Water Ghosts.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: August 4, 2010)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Pen on Fire Salon with Susan Straight and Andrew Winer

An Evening with Novelists Susan Straight and Andrew Winer will take place on Tuesday, November 16, at Scape Gallery in Corona del Mar, CA. You'll find more info here. It's bound to be another stellar evening, and it's almost sold out so, um, register soon. We hate turning people away....

Monday, October 18, 2010

John McNally on voice

John McNally, author of The Creative Writer's Survival Guide and After the Workshop, was on the show in October (linky here).

Here's more conversation with John, primarily about voice. Read on:

Style and voice. What does it mean to you?

Worldview. If you think about the style and voice of Twain¹s Huckleberry Finn, it¹s intrinsically linked to the narrator¹s (and author¹s) worldview,which is what separates memorable fiction from fiction that¹s forgettable.

Do you think in writing fiction, plot is the most important thing?
Style? Voice? What's most important, do you think?

Character and worldview. The characters have to be strong and
three-dimensional, but they also have to have a fiercely original way of seeing the world. By that, I don¹t mean quirky or odd. Again, think of Huck Finn or Holden Caulfield. Take away their worldview, and what do you have?

So if character and worldview are most important, then are you saying voice is what emerges from these two aspects?

Voice is a byproduct of character and worldview, yes. When I think of one of my favorite writers, a writer like Charles Portis, the way his characters see the world is what makes Charles Portis novels Charles Portis novels as opposed to, say, Margaret Atwood novels, which have their own distinct worldviews. But in a Charles Portis novel, when you mix his characters with their worldviews, you often get an absurd, deadpan comic voice. In The Dog of the South, for instance, the narrator says of another character, “He had sold wide shoes by mail, shoes that must have been almost round, at widths up to EEEEEE.” That’s this character’s view of the world: absurd. And it’s hilarious because it’s delivered flatly, in sentence after sentence, as though it’s not absurd. It’s worldview that hooks me into a novel, and it’s why I prefer Portis to Philip Roth. Roth is a great writer, but I prefer the way Portis’s characters see the world.

Do you spend a lot of time sketching out character, and that
character's worldview? Please say more about worldview as I've never heard anyone talk about voice the way you do.

I don’t sketch out characters at all, and I don’t think about worldview when I write. I think worldview is part of the writer’s DNA, even though it’s filtered through a character. Huck’s worldview is Twain’s worldview. The point of view narrators in a Richard Russo novel share Russo’s worldview. I don’t mean to say that the author agrees with everything a narrator does or how he or she behaves. Certainly, Humbert Humbert isn’t Nabokov. But I would say that they probably share certain sensibilities, and Humbert’s love of language and loving attention to detail are Nabokov’s, and how might somebody characterize the voice of the novel? Language that reads like music!


Friday, October 15, 2010


Here's what I woke up to find on my dining room table. Thanks to old friends, good friends, and new friends who are helping to make this one superfine day.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Pen on Fire Salon with Maile Meloy and Mona Simpson

Last night's salon was another sold-out event and a wonderful evening with writers and books. Both authors talked about their current books, publishing, process, they signed, cake was eaten, wine was sipped. Laguna Beach Books brought the books, Scape Gallery loaned the site, and it seems it was another Pen on Fire Writers Salon Success. Thank you all!

to Travis Barrett and C.J. Bahnsen for additional photography. Thanks to Mike Boyle for recording the event for an upcoming podcast. Thanks to Jeannie Denholm and Diane Nelson, owners of Scape Gallery, for loaning their site. And thanks to Deb Cross, Nancy Klann, and Marrie Stone for helping with the door, with refreshments, and with whatever else came up. And thanks to Maile and Mona for braving L.A. traffic and spending hours on the freeway to make the event.

Today's Show

Join Marrie Stone this morning as she interviews Sharon Dogar, author of the YA novel "Annexed" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and Roy Peter Clark, author of "The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magic and Mystery of Practical English" (Little Brown).

Tune in at 9 a.m. Pacific Time, 88.9 FM KUCI or listen online at and iTunes/radio: talk-news.

Thanks for listening!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sara Gruen and Dennis Palumbo

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett and Marrie Stone interview Sara Gruen, author of Ape House and Dennis Palumbo, author of Mirror Image.

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(Broadcast date: September 29, 2010)

Amy Bloom and Hilary Davidson

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett and Marrie Stone interview Amy Bloom, author of Where the God of Love Hangs Out and Hilary Davidson, author of The Damage Done.

Download audio

(Broadcast date: October 6, 2010)

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Amy Bloom and Hilary Davidson on "Writers on Writing"

Tune in tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. PT to hear "Writers on Writing" with authors Amy Bloom, author of the short story collection of "Where the God of Love Hangs Out" (Random House) and Hilary Davidson, author of "The Damage Done" (Forge).

The show airs on 88.9 KUCI FM in Orange County, CA; at iTunes: news/talk radio; and streams live at

Claudia Dreyfus and Jeff Lindsay

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett interviews Claudia Dreyfus, author of Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids and What We Can Do About It and Jeff Lindsay, author of Dexter is Delicious.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: September 15, 2010)

John McNally and Ted Weinstein

Marrie Stone interviews John McNally, author of The Creative Writer's Survival Guide: Advice from an Unrepentant Novelist and literary agent Ted Weinstein.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: September 1, 2010)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Pen on Fire#3 on Book Soup's list

This is so cool, especially since Pen on Fire was published in 2004. It's #3 on their trade paperback nonfiction list. Here's the link to Book Soup. (Scan down.) Thanks to all who made this possible, and thanks to everyone who, since the book came out in 2004, bought it and made possible a number of printings. Many thanks and a virtual hug.

Teaching a class at UC-Irvine Extension...

...beginning on Monday. Five weeks. Check it out here.

And tomorrow's show will be co-hosted by Marrie and me, and our guests will be Sara Gruen, author of Ape House, and Dennis Palumbo, author of Mirror Image. Tune in at 9 a.m. PT at KUCI-FM, 88.9 FM in Orange Co., California, or at iTunes at News/Talk radio.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Greg Breining and Literary Agent Jill Marr

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett interviews Greg Breining, author of Super Volcano: The Ticking Time Bomb Beneath Yellowstone National Park and literary agent Jill Marr.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: April 28, 2010)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Pen on Fire Salon with Maile Meloy and Mona Simpson

Our next writers salon will take place on Tuesday, October 12, at 7 p.m. Our authors: Maile Meloy and Mona Simpson.

Maile Meloy's most recent book, Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It, was a national bestseller in hardcover and a California Book Awards silver medalist, and was named one of the top ten books of 2009 by The New York Times. She is also the author of the story collection Half in Love, and the novels Liars and Saints and A Family Daughter. Her stories have been published in The New Yorker, Granta, Zoetrope: All-Story, and other publications. She has been shortlisted for Britain's Orange Prize, and has received The Paris Review's Aga Khan Prize for Fiction, the PEN/Malamud Award, the American Academy of Art and Letters' Rosenthal Foundation Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2007 she was chosen as one of Granta's Best Young American Novelists.

Mona Simpson studied poetry at Berkeley, then worked as a journalist before moving to New York to attend Columbia’s MFA program. During graduate school, she published her first short stories in Ploughshares, The Iowa Review and Mademoiselle. She stayed in New York and worked as an editor at The Paris Review for five years while finishing her first novel, Anywhere But Here, made into a 1999 film starring Susan Sarandon. After that, she wrote The Lost Father, A Regular Guy and Off Keck Road. Her work as been awarded several prizes: a Whiting Prize, a Guggenheim, a grant from the NEA, a Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University, a Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Prize, a Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize, a Pen Faulkner finalist, and most recently a Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

If you'd like to read more or register, click here. Hope to see you on the 12th!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Pen on Fire Writers Salon: Dennis Palumbo and Daniel Pyne

Here are photos from our last salon. Fun night, great setting, wonderful authors.