Sunday, May 30, 2010

Another Top Writing Books List

I love lists. I recommend making lists to my students to use as topic lists. And I'm always curious what's on top book lists. My top writing books list changes with the seasons, though some of them remain. As if you need one more list, here is a list with three perpetual writing book loves, right now, this minute:

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. I read it when I was in college and writing poetry, but even if you have no intention of writing poetry or becoming a poet, so much here applies to writer of all genres. One passage: You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this ... I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now....." In other words, get your butt back in the chair and write.

The Evasion English Dictionary by Maggie Balistreri. As the back cover says, "'s a merciless translation of the banalities of contemporary speech..." I love it and always get a giggle from any page I open it up to.

Making a Literary Life by Carolyn See. I love Carolyn See. Who doesn't love Carolyn See? And I love her writing book. It's informative, funny and charming, just like her. (And here's a link to two podcasts of when she was on my radio show....)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

An Evening with Aimee Bender and Michael Jaime-Becerra

Join us on Tuesday, June 8, for an evening with novelists Aimee Bender and Michael Jaime-Becerra.

Aimee Bender is the author of four books: The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, a New York Times Notable Book of 1998; An Invisible Sign of My Own, a Los Angeles Times pick of 2000; Willful Creatures, which the Believer selected as a best book of 2005; and a new one: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. Her short fiction has been published in Granta, GQ, The Paris Review, Tin House, and more, and has been heard on "This American Life" and "Selected Shorts." She's a graduate of the UCI MFA program and lives in L.A., where she teaches creative writing at USC.

Michael Jaime-Becerra is a native of El Monte, California, a working-class suburb of Los Angeles. In 2004, his debut collection of inter-related short stories, Every Night Is Ladies' Night, was published by Rayo, the Latino imprint of HarperCollins. Ladies' Night garnered glowing reviews from critics nationwide and was also named to lists of the year's best books by The Washington Post and the San Francisco Chronicle. It was also awarded a California Book Award for a First Work of Fiction. In 2005, The California Report, a statewide radio program, named Jaime-Becerra one of ten Californians to watch in the next decade, a distinction that recognizes the unique nature of his literary voice, as well as his broad vision for California literature. His first novel, This Time Tomorrow, was published in 2010 by Thomas Dunne Books. He teaches creative writing at the University of California, Riverside.

To sign up for this event, click here.

Photo credit: Aimee Bender (photo by Max S. Gerber)

No disclaimers

If you've taken a class with me, this will be familiar. Or if you've read my book, you will know why during at least once a class, I berate my students to stop offering disclaimers for their work. And I've probably even written about this here.

A little backstory: We always do freewriting at the beginning of class and, inevitably, one or more students preface reading their freewriting with something to the effect of, This isn't very good, but here goes.

Now, while we all think at one point or another that what we're writing stinks, I'm anti-verbalizing this negativity aloud. I even like to get at the thought; when you think what you're writing isn't very good, quiet the thought by writing some more, not moving away from your computer or tablet.

It's nothing new: Negative thoughts influence you, well, negatively. We need to be our own biggest advocate, most enthusiastic supporter. And when you put yourself down, it's like dousing your biggest supporter with a bucket of cold water.

I usually write on the board: NO DISCLAIMERS. In my private group, I penalize students a quarter for giving a disclaimer. I'm out to eradicate disclaimers, don't you know.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Susannah Charleson and Sarah Moss

Marrie Stone interviews Susannah Charleson, author of Scent of the Missing: Love and Partnership with a Search-and-Rescue Dog and Sarah Moss, author of Cold Earth.

Download audio.

(Broadcast date: May 12, 2010)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Today's show: Robert Sabbag and Ander Monson

Today, at 9 a.m. PT, tune in to Writers on Writing for guests Robert Sabbag, author of "Down Around Midnight" (Penguin) and Ander Monson, author of "Vanishing Point: Not a Memoir" (Graywolf). A New York Times review of Monson's book is here.

The show airs on 88.9 FM KUCI, at and at iTunes: Radio>talk/news.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Orange County Noir last night

Another great evening for the Pen on Fire Speakers Series. C.J. Bahnsen moderated the panel, with editor of the anthology, Gary Phillips; Marty Smith, Mary Castillo, Patricia McFall and me. Soon I'll post the podcast but for the time being, here are some photos of our night. Hopefully some of you can join us next time when Aimee Bender and Michael Jaime-Becerra will be our guests.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Rebecca Miller and Victoria Chang

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett interviews Rebecca Miller, author of The Private Lives of Pippa Lee and poet Victoria Chang, author of Salvinia Molesta: Poems.

Download audio

(Broadcast date: March 10, 2010)

Friday, May 07, 2010

Pen on Fire Speakers Series

Nice, huh? Designer Dave Mosso at Spacious Mind Web & Graphic Design did a fabulous job with the first official poster for the Pen on Fire Speakers Series. He's also great to work with and affordable. He did my website, too. A big shout out to Dave.

My mother in law and I were emailing about the Evening with the Writers of Orange County Noir that's taking place next Saturday. She reads mysteries and so I invited her, as my guest, thinking she'll enjoy it. Not being familiar with the genre, she asked me about noir.

It's not like mysteries, I said. Everything does not turn out gloriously in the end.

You mean it is like real life??? she said.

I had to laugh. Exactly, I said.

And got to thinking: Noir is probably the fictional form that is closest to real life because it's about your stupid side taking over, isn't it? And instead of wising up, you get more and more stupid, at the mercy of your lower nature. Think of Double Indemnity (one of my favorite movies) or The Postman Always Rings Twice. Things start out okay, even wistful, but they go downhill fast.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

An Evening with Short Story Writers

If you're able, I hope you'll join us for the Pen on Fire Speakers Series on Sat., May 15, when other contributors to Orange County Noir will join me at Scape Gallery. We'll be talking about writing short stories, and about noir, and it should be a generally raucous time. There will be wine, nibbles, and cake--yes, cake! with the book cover embedded in the icing. Yum. You can meet Gary Phillips, the editor; Martin Smith, editor of Orange Coast magazine; writers Mary Castillo, Patricia McFall, and C.J. Bahnsen (moderating), and this time I'll be a panelist. Fun!

We'll talk about writing short stories, writing dark fiction, setting in short stories and in noir, and more.

Laguna Beach Books will be on hand to sell books.

Seats are $20, but for students, $15. What a deal. The event would be free if I didn't rent the gallery, chairs, buy food and drink, etc., etc.

I hope to see many of you there! And if anyone's going through hard times and wants to bring someone, both of you can come for $15 each. (Go directly to PayPal and send the payment to

More info here.