Thursday, May 31, 2007

I can feel the BEA conference bustle all the way here in California...Don't worry, I'm not boasting any clairvoyant powers--it's the silence, silly. Editors and writers alike that I would normally be in correspondence with are off shmoozing. I wish I had had the foresight to go. Maybe next year when I have actual books I can stand behind with a cheesy smile on my face I shall do just that.

Sure is quiet.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Nancy Drew and the Case of the Stupid-Ass Hollywood Producers

I do believe that the producers of the new Nancy Drew movie starring some child I've never heard of, and updated to be so modern as to be unrecognizable as Carolyn Keene's brainchild, have failed to understand that the readers of Nancy Drew, hence the true fans for whom a movie would appeal, fall somewhere between my mother's and my generation (approximately ages 30-60).

Silly hollywood. Do they really think that girls being raised on The A-List and The Gossip Girls, and The OC and similar are going to care about a chaste, intellectual girl sleuth?

I have just officially proved myself uncool.


Monday, May 28, 2007

The Four Deadly Topics

I'm judging a contest. I won't say what contest or for whom because I don't want to influence it in any way or later be accused of inviting my friends to submit. But what I can say is that after looking through somewhere in the ballpark of 300 submissions--and the contest isn't closed yet!-- I've determined that there are really only four things that anybody writes about in the non-fiction form.

1. War

2. Disease (mostly cancer) and its impact on the person who has it
3. Traveling somewhere new (and assuming that because it is new to the traveler, it is exciting to other people)...
4. Government's injustice to those less fortunate (from children, to the mentally ill, to health care).

So if there are only five plots in all of fiction, I would like to suggest there are really only 4 essential topics for all non-fiction. I know, you thought for sure that "boy meets girl" would find its way in, but that one appears to be fiction's mainstay after all.

Non-fiction gets: Boy realizes girl was important to him only after he comes back from war, gets cancer, travels somewhere new with his remaining time, and then learns he can't get his health insurance to cover his necessary treatments.

Gosh. I sound jaded, huh?

How to Tell a War Story

From Tim O'Brien's novel: The Things They Carried

"A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If a the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue. As a first rule of thumb, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil..."

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Childlike excitement

Ever since I cracked the first of Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" books--The Golden Compass (originally published in the UK as Northern Lights) I could see it as a movie in my mind. The following two books (Subtle Knife and Amber Spyglass) delighted me more than the last, and I was, I confess, thrilled to learn that the first book was being made into a movie just as I had finished the last book. I am almost as excited for this movie as I was for the first Harry Potter. I even think that the choice of Nicole Kidman as Mrs. Coulter, Daniel Craig as Lord Asriel, Eva Green as Serrafina Pekkala and Sam Elliott as Lee Scoresby are really good choices (I can't make the embed code of You Tube videos work on my site, so you'll just have to follow the link to see the ever so cool trailer). And little Dakota Blue Richards looks like an adorable Lyra.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

I picked up A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini's anticipated second novel with that little feeling of concern--it's hard to follow up a blockbuster winner like The Kite Runner (which it took me a good long year after its debut to read anyway).

I thought it began in a lovely way. It hooked me enough. It was good, fine, good

Then somewhere along the way--I really can't tell you when, I got gripped by it. Stayed up too late last night wishing I could finish it.

I finished it today.

Socked in the solar plexus. No, deeper. In the soul.

He has indeed done it again.

Three reasons why I haven't been blogging:

I have been sorting madly through these books just this week--all of which I have previously read--for examples. . .(The librarian looked at my stack of 10 books and said, "Wow, you're going to be doing a lot of reading, to which I answered, "Oh, no I've already read these." To which she gave me a confused look. I didn't bother explaining. I prefer the mystique of someone who might read the same 10 books over and over again)

To come up with intelligent (ha!) things to say about writing scenes. . .

 this place of self-imposed, though well-lit, exile (I must say, I thought my desk was messier than it actually looks on camera).

But just as I was feeling sorry for myself, it occurred to me that my editor has to READ these chapters. Poor thing.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Little Guy

Only the most ungrateful of writers would take a vehicle for sales of their published book and turn away from it, right? I mean--these are sales we're talking about!

But I have been having increasingly negative feelings about certain large online sources.

I work for an independent bookstore, BookSmart in the South Bay Area (CA). Hardworking, dedicated people who truly love books, and book people. They are generous, they are not in it for the money (who is?), and they run an operation I'm proud to work for. It was my boss who pointed out the absurdity, in a way, of seeing one's book available online at as "having arrived." For that is indeed how I felt at first. The fact is, Amazon is one of the few sources who will advertise books for "pre-order" as many as 6 months before a book's publication date.

The more I thought about this, the more it left a sour taste in my mouth.

So I decided something. If you would like to support an independent bookstore, and do not have one in your area--first try to find one using the
Book Sense Store Locator--and want to order a copy of my book, which would make me happy as a clam, and you send me an email (writelife(at)verizon(dot)net), specifying # of copies and your address, BookSmart generously agrees to give you a 20% discount. I will work out your total and I will personally send you the books. I know it isn't as elegant as Amazon, nor as convenient. But I want to give back to the small bookstores.

Join me if you dare!

Monday, May 21, 2007's only Monday but I'm already whiny, my butt is numb and it feels like it should be friday.




A little-known, non-media reported NASA Space Shuttle launch underwent serious problems on Sunday. These are the only known photos of the incident. There were no survivors:

On the launch pad

Successful launch

Gaining altitude

Reaching target altitude

Serious technical difficulties

Recovery mission

Recovery unsuccessful

Attempted repairs

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Holy crap...though I am not a fan of using Amazon as the leading source for buying books (please, support Independent bookstores! has lists of indie stores near you), I'm rather tickled to discover that my book Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time is available for pre-order already. The sales team at FW/Writer's Digest Books have even written up copy for it (I will remain mum on the copy). WOW. I mean WOW. The book will not actually be published until November, but still--that's cool, eh?

Feel free to pre-order :)

Friday, May 18, 2007


I love reading the acknowledgments page(s) of a novel. You learn a lot about what kind of assistance an author values, whose brains they picked for research, and most importantly you see the enormous network of people behind the writer who support/encourage/enable her to write. Reading these for me gives me the same kind of pleasure as being at the birthday party of someone who is well admired and listening to their friends and family stand up and say nice things. It also reminds me that getting a book published is the end point of a very long journey, rarely ever a result of instant success.

I'm a fan of the gushing, over-the-top acknowledgements. The kind that go beyond thanking the agent and the editor, but give you a peek into the writer's life. I've even had the good fortune to make it into someone else's acknowledgements. My friend Ellen Meister was ridiculously generous to include my name in her hilarious and tender novel The Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA --which is coming out in a very cool paperback in August: pre-order it here--when the most I ever did to help was vent and whine about how hard it is to get published :)

Since I've been in the throes (i hope final) of my book Make a Scene this past month and this past week especially, I've been thinking a lot about support and acknowledgement. This week I have made no dinner, cleaned no corner of my home, picked up not a single thing or tended to anything domestic in any way save kicking my dirty clothes into a corner of my room (oh honey, I'm pretty sure we need TP!!) But E. has been nothing less than sympathetic and devoted even though he works this hard all the time. He has said to me on more occasions than I can count over the years, "I knew you were a writer when I met you" suggesting he knew some of the perils and pitfalls (and as much as I want to shake free from the manacle of considering myself special, we writers and fellow artists are not like everyone. I mean how many sane people do you know who would rather sit at their computer imagining things than go on a tropical vacation?)

It's a good thing my husband knew I was a writer, as he says, though I'm not sure he was always prepared in these 11+ years for some of the insane writing projects I've tackled (National Novel Writing Month 3 times; graduate school and a Master's thesis; innumberable Saturdays devoted to writing about people who don't really exist, spending hours with strangers in order to write 1200 words or fewer about them). So today I want to say how grateful I am for his support. There is no way in God's green earth that I would have done half of it--a third of it--without him. I've thought about how I would thank him in any book I were ever to publish a lot, actually. You'll just have to buy the book to find out :)

Obviously there are so many more people whose support has nurtured, tended and led me to various kinds of fact, there are so many I'm not sure I could ever reasonably thank them all. There are even some people who helped me to get where I am that I am no longer in contact with, even a couple who probably don't like me very much and will never pick up a book I've written...I thank them too, though, in my heart. I am very aware of the help that I have been given and deeply grateful for it.

In that spirit, I thought you might find it fun to see how other authors thank various and assorted people in their books:

From Lottery by Patricia Wood (I read the galley--the book isn't out until August):

"To Paul Theroux and his wife, Sheila Donnelly Theroux, who provided wise words while I tortued them both during their horsebacdk riding lessons. To my good friend Nodie Namba-Hadar. She was the one who told me about the good fortune of dragonflies and allowed one to land on my manuscript..."

I love this line from the acknowledgement in Janet Fitch's novel Paint it Black:

"Most of all, I thank my daughter, Allison, who has had to deal with such an awkward and demanding sibling on a dail basis--thank you for putting up with me."

I especially like acknowledgements that go beyond the people, like Audrey Nifenegger's from The Time Traveler's Wife (also one of my all time favorite books):

"Writing is a private thing. It's boring to watch, and its pleasures tend to be most intense for the person who's actually doing the writing. So with big gratitude and much awe, I would like to thank everyone who helped me to write and publish The Time Traveler's Wife."

I love acknowledgements that give credit or homage to other writers like this from Mary Doria Russell's incredible novel The Sparrow:

"And Molly Ivans Can't Say That, Can She? but D.W. could, so I thank Ms. Ivins for insight into Texans, turtles, and armadillos. Finally, Dorothy Dunnett may consider The Sparrow one long thank you note for her splendid Lymond series."

I'll end with this one, from Les Edgerton's How-To book Hooked, which is just published, edited by none other than my own editor at Writer's Digest Books:

"I've been fortunate to have had a number of books published, and in, each case, have enjoyed the services of a good editor. But my editor on this particular book--Kelly Nickell--has been an editor of rare and uncommon talent. Without a doubt, Kelly has been the toughest editor I've ever had the good fortune to work with, as well as the very best."

To Les's note I had "hear hear!"

Thursday, May 17, 2007

I have a story published in issue 1 of GUD magazine. I wrote the story in my first semester at Bennington College, so it feels both kind of silly and kind of good to see it in print...anyways, since I am really in support of the good things that GUD are doing with their mag, I'm happy to pimp them here:

GUD (pronounced “good”) is Greatest Uncommon Denominator, a print/pdf magazine with 200 pages of literary and genre fiction, poetry, and art. We feature fiction that ranges from 75 to 15,000 words.

Issue 1 comes to life with Darby Larson's "Electroencephalography" where an experiment in robot-building goes terribly awry (and Jordan Rosenfeld's "Alliens" where nothing is what it seems in the Arizona desert). And if you've ever woken up with an unexpected physical deformity-say, an arrow in your heart-you'll truly enjoy the next story. There's also a smattering of flash fiction and psychedelia; a straight-out story where things aren't what they seem, poetry that takes you from the perverse to the sublime, some magic realism, science fiction, and a few letters to another species thrown in for good measure. We haven't forgotten those of you with a literary bent. In addition, the artwork in this issue is particularly strong, with oil paintings, watercolors, photography, and photo illustrations complementing the words with which they are paired.

Please let them know what you think of
Issue 1, and thanks for reading GUD.

How do you deal with pressure? Rise to the challenge...crack under it?

If it's possible to bend to the challenge, then I think that best sums up how I'm doing.

Every synapse in my brain has been forced to fire
Every book in my house has been scoured for examples
All sources of caffeine and chocolate have been consumed

I really wish I could make a sound here rather than write words that best sums up my feeling today. It would be somewhere between Homer Simpson's most anguished "D'ooooooh!" and a sea lion barking.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

No time to I am posting random recent photos for your enjoyment instead:

What am I looking up at? See next photo

Church bells--Mission San Juan Bautista

First time i painted my toes in about 10 years--goofy!

Proof that someone came to visit me in my faraway town--my friend Emily

Lovely shot of the Golden Gate bridge from Angel Island

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Our preliminary cover for Write Free! We're still fine-tuning the font, but the background image is definitely going to stay--a watercolor by the divinely talented Irene Ehret. Isn't it gorgeous?

Monday, May 14, 2007

I really have been in a long denial about my own perfectionism--this is because I'm not a consistent perfectionist. Not all areas of my life get me to pull up the rails and ride my own back. The end of Make a Scene is REALLY in sight now. June 4th is the deadline...a ridiculously close one--not by anyone's fault--it just seems that the closer you get to the end of something the slower you begin to work. Perhaps I should stop writing in the second person lest you think I'm not actually writing about myself :)

In a best of all possible worlds kind of mode I can write one new chapter a week with lots of room to think and play. At the rate I have to go for these remaining 17 days, I'll be writing about 3 chapters a week. Which means that I have to write really crappy first drafts, fighting my tendency to fine-tune, then go back over the drafts a few days later and revise. It's a tough process, but my critical abilities (and I mean this positively) have been strengthened.

I will come back to blog again, I promise!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

I don't know what it is about babies, about cuteness that makes me want to get close to it... but when I saw these little buggers at Angel Island over the weekend, I had to snap a shot.

Of course, that wasn't quite close I moved in. After all, these are geese who probably eat more ice cream sandwiches and white bread courtesy of the tourists than they do bugs or grass. These are gentrified geese.

And yet, I quickly learned that just because they're willing to mooch off of us, does NOT mean they'll tolerate rubbing shoulders with us. (Not only is the mama hissing at me here, but so are the kids. Sheesh! Moochers!)

Friday, May 04, 2007

Who knew that the cure for feeling low was high tea--which the new (yes, British) owners of my favorite coffee hangout feature 1ce a month.

I still have crumbs on my sweater and chin from the apricot scone and cucumber finger sandwiches. I also got a very calming hour of soothing piano music, cup after cup of Earl Grey tea, and the quickly consumed aforementioned items in the company of my book (and the other tea partakers) for less than $9.

Normally I don't like to be the only person alone in a crowded room (I get self-conscious that people are staring at me...I know, I know, that's insanely egocentric thinking) but I really enjoyed myself.

That was a good idea (and also my artist's date for the week).


Truth telling

I'd make a terrible memoirist because I'm terrified of writing the truth about my family. Or rather, I'm terrified of what they'd think of me for telling the truth. I already had it out with an extended family member (not blood related) some years ago for publishing an essay that was absolutely true from my point of view, but from his, was incorrect and worse (I think the words I was called were "mendacious" and something else that suggests I am an ill-intentioned liar). Truthfully I was angry when I wrote the essay. I was exorcising years of feelings I had not been able to express. But the essay was true nonetheless. I regretted that he only read the essay and that he never got to hear that I've since forgiven him. That I have let go of that anger. Still--the words are out there, impossible to take back.

How would I feel if I wrote something that made my father feel this way? Or one of my siblings? I admire the likes of David Sedaris or Anne Lamott who can speak so honestly about people they still have to face. I want to be able to do it too, but I'm afraid.

I'm sure this feeling is more common than not, though I've met (and read) plenty of brave writers who do just that. It begs the question: at what point is your experience yours to write about? If it involves another person, is it fair? Regardless--people do it anyway.

This is all just a lot of bluster. Lately, I've had family on the brain but a lot of what I think I don't want to write. Some things I was told in confidence, even, so I can't.

In a word, I've been feeling sad. Sad that there has always been a code of silence in one part of my family and that we only talk about things when they reach a dramatic eruption. Sad that I feel so outside, and yet, at the same time, I'm no longer really sure I want to be inside, either.

As we were driving to Morrissey the other night I told E. about how, when I was 2 and a half, and my parents were separating, my mother found out she was pregnant again. But she was splitting up with my father, it was no time to have another baby. So she didn't. Not having that baby grieved her deeply--I have no idea what he thought of it.

Now don't get me wrong: I love my siblings--those borne of my Dad and stepmother. But we weren't raised together. They are so much younger than I am. Sometimes, admittedly when I'm feeling low, I imagine that ghost-sibling. The one who would have been there for all the great dramas and joys of my life. How different would life have been if I had a sibling less than 3 years younger than me?

Completely different.

And there is my Frirday afternoon melancholy post.


Thursday, May 03, 2007

I woke this morning with my left eye crusted shut...just as if someone had painted rubber cement over it while I slept. Damn it! Pink eye is no fun. It's a mild case, but still--it's one of those conditions that only small dirty children are supposed to get, like my other favorite childhood condition: impetigo. Yuck.

Where am I going with this? Nowhere. Just wanted you all to share in my sticky misery.

Tuesday night E. and I went to see Morrissey at the Oakland Paramount theater...
it was fun, as much for the people watching as the music. I feel a little proprietary about the 80s look that's back in fashion. When we dressed that way, we just didn't know any better. It was bad and ugly the first time around--but the kids wearing it today have movies and the internet as reference...don't they know how dumb those pencil-leg jeans and stupid stripey shirts with the thick wastebands look?
I think we both felt our age a little, though there were plenty of folks older than us. The Smiths reached their height of popularity, after all, in the 80s, and even Morrissey's solo popularity was probably early to mid 90s. The 23 year old girl I work with, for instance, was entirely clueless. "Morrissey," she said. "I think I've heard of her."
We got lucky in one respect, though. Only two young angsty boys threw themselves on stage and had to be dragged off. In Stockton the night before, so many people rushed the stage that he cut the concert short.
I thought about how odd it is that musicians become such a focus of passion. You rarely see a writer rushed at the podium, believe me...even other forms of celebrity get less bodily contact from fans. I think it's because music is so emotional--it stirs people up, gets deep into the psyche.
Anyway...I'm tired and a little under the weather, so that's really all I have to say today.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Since I haven't got much new to say I thought I would post something I've been musing on for awhile (and since this is my only public place to muse...):

Jordan's Rules for Polite Society

1. If you cut me (or someone else) off in traffic--please have the courtesy to drive FASTER than me so I do not suffer a concussion as I slam on the brakes.

2. When you make a bm in a public restroom it is YOUR JOB to see that it makes its way down the toilet. While you may fear embarrassment by asking the sales clerk for the plunger, trust me your humiliation is far less than what I will have to suffer later on.

3. Please remember that some people do not have good relationships with their parents. Their parents might be hobo gypsies who steal wallets for a living, and therefore money is a touchy subject altogether. They might be dead or addicted to glue-sniffing. To avoid looking like a raving boob or getting punched, stay away from comments that suggest the answer to any particular material crisis is to "just borrow some cash from the folks."

3A. Please remember that some people do NOT see living in debt now, commuting more than 1hr to work each way to work and living in some pop-up condominimum as viable ways to acquire equity. See #3 above to avoid similar consequences of such suggestions.

4. Don't assume you can tell someone's age by looking at them. Ban the phrase, "That was probably before your time," especially when the subject is video games or roller coasters (though I do thank the kind gentleman who believed I was 21 or younger!).

More to come. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

I'm grumpy today. What happens overnight in my sleep that makes me fine one day and grumpy the next? I'm also a little anxious--kind of the way you get before a job interview. What is up with me today? Well, for one thing, my neighbor seems to be building an arc--and his favorite time to get out the hammer and nails is around 11pm...that didn't help. Maybe I'm just tired.

I had such a lovely weekend, too. E. and I went hiking with our good friends at Henry Coe state park--a beautiful place. It was fun. We bought camelbaks for carrying water--why didn't I get one of these before? A wonderful invention. We flew his Nasa space kite yesterday and I read a very interesting book...what's to complain about?