Monday, December 31, 2007

Working in Isolation

Any other freelance writers out there know that this is one line of work where the biggest rewards are simply meeting your deadlines and getting your paychecks. That is to say, you have no office teeming with co-workers to take lunches with, to agonize over tough interview subjects with, or to pound you on the back when you did a great job. There are no annual bonuses or surprise vacation days. The joy is in the doing. Or it had better be, at least. It's one of those things that nobody tells you when you have the nerve to start asking other people who freelance what it's like and how they got into what they're doing. Somedays you're going to be very lonely and distract yourself with internet solitaire and the Ellen show, and then feel horribly guilty later.

This preamble is a longwinded way of getting to a point. Now that my book, Make a Scene, has been available in the world for little over a month, a most remarkable phenomenon has been happening. Reader feedback! People who have read it are emailing me to tell me what they think, and whether or not it has been useful to them--and I am shocked to find out that apparently. . .it makes sense! It helps! That blows my ever-lovin' mind. I don't know why--I wrote the thing in English with a clear outline and the prodding of my tough but fantastic editor. Writer's Digest Books has standards--they don't publish books that don't make sense. But still, a writer always wonders, doubts, secretly believes their words are crap. And trust me, I've already read passages in the published version I would sorely like to change.

But for once this freelance business of playing word-wizard behind the curtains does, in fact, come with a bonus, and at the holidays, no less--validation that I don't actually live in a solipsistic world of my own making, and that yes, damn it, people are out there, reading.


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Choose Your Poison

For a long time, my singular fear of ways to die was by drowning. I even recall being terrified as a child on that underwater ride at Disneyland because not only could you drown, but you'd do so with all those scary plastic creatures looking at you (that still gives me the chills). It was not necessarily a logical fear, but over any other method, drowning was the one that set the hairs on edge.

But after reading this news story, I've changed my mind. Death by a pack of pitbulls sounds way more horrifying.
(In defense of dogs, I will say that almost any animal trained to be violent, will act in a violent way--there are plenty of pitbulls that don't kill people).

Friday, December 21, 2007

On the Solstice...

To all who read my blog, I want to wish you happiness on this Winter Solstice night. No matter if your other holidays are over, or you are preparing to celebrate yet in whatever way that you do, with obligation or freedom, I really, truly, deeply hope that you do so joyously in some way.

I may have noticed a lot of negatives this season, but truthfully my life is full of the most joy it has ever been, and I wish that on all of you!

Happy, Merry, and all that jazz

I found a lovely Solstice meditation online
HERE, and I liked it, so I'm leaving it for you:

"Winter solstice is the longest night of the year. After the winter solstice the light returns, the days grow longer. The longest night of the year is a precious time. Night is a time of dream, vision and journey into the depths of oneself, the darkness of unknown possibility. From that journey into the dark new life as well as new light emerges.

"The time of the winter solstice is the time of the labyrinth. It is a time for feeling your way in the dark. In the dark you have to feel your way. You can't see where you are going. You have to trust your senses, your intuition. The winter solstice is a time of heightened intuition, a time to pay attention to your intuition, believe in it.

"The winter solstice has the energy of the womb and the days after the winter solstice have the energy of birth and becoming. The best meditation for the winter solstice is a simple one that some of you may already know. It is the star in the heart.

"The evening of the winter solstice, turn out the lights, light a candle, and meditate quietly for a while with the candle, and then blow it out. Sit for a while in the dark. Notice what arises. Is there a fear of the dark? Does it feel peaceful, relaxing? Ask that dark to guide you. People are fond of asking the light to guide them. But there is guidance in the depth of the night, in the darkness of the night sky.

"Imagine the night sky. Imagine one star coming closer and closer and closer to you, until it enters your heart. Feel that star in the heart . It is radiant. Its bright white light permeates your being, pulsates within you. Feel yourself as a star in the sky, the darkness around you, the light within you, the energy that radiates from you. You, from your heart, by simply being, illumine the darkness. That radiance guides you and illumines the path for others. Light the candle again. Notice the shadows, the interplay of light and dark. You are participating always in that dance of light and dark, day and night, sun and moon and star and sky, the dance of the seasons, autumn, winter, spring, summer. Feel the rhythm of the flickering light, the stillness of the darkness. Feel the radiance of your own heart illuminating the night, guiding you as you feel your way through the labyrinth of this life, this world, this universe.

* * * * * *

May all beings be happy, peaceful and free of suffering.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Holiday Observations

Well, this time of year is nothing if not a time to glean lessons out of daily experience. So here are the ones I've learned this holiday season.

1. If you are at the head of a line at any store and there is any hold-up--say you have to re-enter your pin, or you aren't fast enough getting that cash out of your purse--be prepared for an onslaught of hostility from the mile of strangers who have suddenly piled up behind you. God pity the fool who stops to write a check!

2. Related to number 1, statistically, the longer the line, the older and more befuddled the sales clerk will be. (note: hostility will still be aimed at the person at the head of the line, not the clerk).

3. Sales people are temporarily inhabited by parasitic pod aliens, delivered straight from the planet cha-ching, from Nov. 26 until Dec. 31. Hence the wild staring eyes, the monotone speech and the drool often seen hanging from their mouths.

4. Turns out, we've been lied to your our whole lives that Christmas is a time of peace and joy and kindness to your fellow man--that's actually a clerical error that never got corrected. Those behaviors are actually the aegis of Presidents' Day, it turns out, while Christmas is a time to prove how much bigger, better and grabbier you can be than other people who have the misfortune to be in your way when you go to grab a sale item off the Home Depot shelf.

5. It's A Wonderful Life has got to be the schmaltziest movie ever made--full of manipulative sentiment and Pollyanna cheer (and it still makes me cry, damn it).

Sardonically yours,

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The talented Xujun Eberlein has posted an excerpt of my book at her blog, Inside-out China: a literary and cultural blog.

Xujun's website reveals the extent of her talent. Be sure to read her work!

She may also grant us a visit here at Jordan's Muse soon!

Monday, December 10, 2007

What, exactly, do we celebrate?

Some friend of ours' nearly four year old daughter recently asked what holiday E. and I celebrate this time of year. This is because she celebrates solstice at home, Christmas with her grandmother and Hannukah with one of her close friends. So I was going to just answer "Christmas," of course, since that's the holiday I was raised celebrating, but then it got me wondering what exactly about Christmas do we celebrate. We don't celebrate the birth of Christ, and we get less and less into the material aspect of it every year. Yet something about putting up a tree, decorating it with lights and sparkly ornaments, and listening to The Charlie Brown Christmas album (Vince Guaraldi) has become very, very important to me.

It's not just the acoutrements that I love so much. For me, there's a feeling of the entire month converging on a day of rest and comfort and family--even if that day doesn't pan out the way you hope, and your family is at odds and you get stuck in traffic on the way there. Something about knowing that it will be Christmas day soon (and I also like Christmas eve very much), has a kind of sedative effect on me the whole month long. Because December is a month when the darkness creeps in. Literally, with the shortening of days, and emotionally for many. I don't know if it's seasonal affective disorder, or if there's some sort of reason for the dark--it forces us inward, asks us to take a look at the corners of ourselves that we can't see when there's so much sunlight.

I suppose I can look back at the years of my past when things truly were dark and unhappy--but somehow, no matter how sick or caught up in their drama my parents were, we always managed to pull it together for Christmas.

So what I celebrate when I celebrate Christmas is, first, family--the feeling that while they are most definitely imperfect, there's still something intrinsically comforting about coming together with kin (whether this is your blood family, or a family you've created for yourself in some other way). And second, I celebrate the notion that when the darkness does come, you can still fill it with light of some kind--tiny little multi-colored lights are my favorites, but candles work well too and reach for relief from whatever the darkness brings.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Kind of Zen

Today is just a perfect day. The much needed drought-relief rain is falling steadily through the latticework of oak branches over my roof (otherwise known as the Department of Squirrel Transportation). Lunch was a lucious combination of English muffin, whipped cream cheese, the heavenly caper (I have an unnatural love for this tart, crunchy little devil) and smoked salmon. My book is out there in the world--even being purchased by actual people!--and according to the doctor, I am in extremely good health.

It seems small, but this was one of those days where I am just happy to be in a human body, on the earth at this time in existence :)

Sunday, December 02, 2007


And now for an "it's all about me" post.

Saturday was my book launch party for Make a Scene--and it was such a good time! If you were there--thank you so much for coming, you made my event. I held it at North Light Books, a small but steady independent bookstore in Cotati, CA--a place that holds a certain amount of nostalgia from my undergrad days at Sonoma State.

Here's a quick show of photos...

She speaks

She works well with others

She signs a copy for her proud mom

She poses with father and sister

She humors her husband for this staged photo

The Venue

Saturday, December 01, 2007

In honor of the last Rocketgirls post by Kim Green this week, our Rocketgirls website has just launched! It will have minor tweaks yet, and changes to come, but please do check it out.

Today, Kim reveals (and she claims, embarrasses) herself just a little in this brief interview. Enjoy!

1. What comes first, character or story, for you?

Character by a landslide. I wish, wish, wish it was story, because plotting is so difficult for me. Generally, a character pops into my head with a sort of “what if” attached. (What if a disgruntled soccer mom was misdiagnosed with breast cancer? What if four women from different walks of life, even different countries, met on a remote Greek island one summer? What if a diehard city girl was forced to live in the country for a year?) Then I have to grow the idea into a premise, then into an actual story with a proper arc. I can conceive characters till the cows come home—which sometimes results in my books having too many sub-characters and subplots that ultimately require killing—but story is very challenging for me.

2. Fiction that stars women who have sassy attitudes and wild capers (which I think your work qualifies as) tends to get called chick-lit, a title many writers hate. What would YOU call it instead?

Glad you asked. Personally, I have no issues with the Chick Lit label, patronizing though it may be. If sassy characters and a spirit of adventure are my biggest literary crimes, I’ll accept the tag! If pressed, I suppose I might call it Commercial Fiction (grin). (I tried on Postmodern Romance, Women’s Adventure, Women’s Lit, Sass Lit and Attitude Adjustment lit, but they were all so wrong.)

3. Are you a nose-to-the-grindstone type of writer, or a let-inspiration-strike type?

Nose-to-grindstone. I’m a Capricorn through and through. I’m very unprecious about my process, which consists of sitting down and staring into space, writing a few words or paragraphs, answering emails, bitching and moaning, drinking, Web surfing and writing some more. I used to have to have a chai in hand, but now that I’ve had my second child and am on my second round of horrific calorie restriction in an attempt to regain access to my clothes, I have green tea. Seriously, though—it took me a solid year of writing six days per week at exactly the same time and place to build the muscle required, the discipline. Now I can play with it a little, but I had to earn it first, and it was hard, because, in the beginning, you are constantly finding ways to rationalize why you can put it off. This is not to say that inspiration never strikes, just that I don’t wait for it and it doesn’t interest me much as a way to solve problems and produce material. Strangely, it always strikes when I’m running, and have no access to pen and paper. So I have to repeat the idea like a mantra all the way home, which is not a great way to make a run go quickly.

4. You have a degree in political science from UC Davis. This must have been great character-study work for the writer in you.

Er...not so much. I am old enough that poli sci was something of a pseudoscience in those days (the 80s). It was all realpolitik and game theory and other crap I can’t even remember. No real characters to speak of. Then the Iron Curtain fell and everything changed (I think the theories were all there to explain the Cold War or something). I have often pondered why I chose to study what I did—poli sci at UC Davis and UC Berkeley, then international relations at the University of Amsterdam—and have come up with the theory that I wanted to be a character in one of my books: girl studies world affairs, girl moves to exotic foreign locales, girl sleeps with exotic foreigners whilst saving the world.

5. Was writing something you always did, or took to later on?

I’m a late bloomer. I didn’t start writing seriously until I discovered how much I hated working for The Man in my early 30s. I will say that I was always a voracious reader—I mean voracious—and from a young age truly lost myself and lived in the worlds of my books. I always wanted to be a writer but it seemed so farfetched—how could I aspire to such a thing? I wish I could say I was motivated by something magical and positive and touchy feely, but it was truly my inability to do corporate work without developing acid reflux and homicidal mania that sent me to my computer.

6. You have a daughter—when on earth do you find time to write?

Actually, I have a 4-year-old daughter who never stops talking and a 10-month-old son who never stops yelling. To wit: I wrote before they were born, I wrote in between while my daughter was at school and I wrote when family members volunteered to watch them. I am just now getting officially back in the saddle after my son’s birth. I really missed working this time. I’m almost 39 and very set in my grumpy, solitary writer ways. That said, you only get one shot at being there for your kids’ babyhood and I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. But now that I’ve officially started working again, I am absolutely fascist about my schedule. There is no room for compromise in this profession; you have to be a little obsessive-compulsive to succeed. Freakish, but true.

7. What influences show up in your writing (these need not be other writers)?

Well, I am influenced by other writers, including Susan Isaacs, Jennifer Belle, Olivia Goldsmith and Candace Bushnell. I also like the director and screenwriter Nicole Holofcener. I like dark situational humor and people who are not afraid to write about our baser instincts with rawness and honesty, even if it’s embarrassing. I’m also inspired by the sensibility of some of my good friends and family members, people whose voices are often reflected in my characters’, and whose senses of humor helped shape my own view of the world.

8. The excerpt from Live A Little is about a woman being diagnosed with cancer—a sober topic, yet you manage to make it funny. Does this ability come naturally to you?

I think maybe it does. I don’t know why, but every time I set out to write something more serious and sober in tone, some sort of comic voice trickles in. So far, I am a complete failure at Substantive Literature That Takes Itself Seriously and Is Terribly Serious. Still, I like to believe that there are truths and valid observations about human nature in my own work, even if my characters often have a comical perspective on their own trials. Here’s a funny story: When it came time to shop this manuscript, two editors wanted it—my old editor from my first two books, who had landed at a new house, and the person who became my new editor. But my old editor was overruled by committee because they were scared of the cancer angle, and one of their comments was something like “We like it. Can you do it without the cancer?” I was like, um, no. Actually, I can’t.

9. If you could have any other writer's career, whose would it be and why?

Oh, this is so easy. You see, I’m a really envious, competitive person by nature and I think about this all the time (it’s one of those staring-into-space time-fillers). It’s very unattractive. Short answer: I would want Jennifer Weiner’s career because she is so fucking successful, celebrated, prolific, intelligent, rich, well-spoken, opinionated and gets to travel all over the place. But I would want to have written Jennifer Belle’s, Alice Adams’s, Eleanor Lipman’s, Candace Bushnell’s, Maeve Binchy’s, Val McDermid’s, Madeleine L’Engle’s and Rosamunde Pilcher’s books, because I adore them so.