Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Side of Backbone, Please.

So, I picked Maya up from school on Monday. We chatted about all that she'd done that day, and whether she could have an Oreo or a 'cold cookie' (that's the frozen cookies you just pop in the oven) for snack at home.

After all the administrative issues had been addressed, she said, "Isaac told a lie on me to Miss Gabby."

I said, "What? Really? And what did you say to him?"

She glanced out the car window, then said, "I said, 'Why are you lying on me? Stop lying on me.'"

I gripped the steering wheel tighter, thinking about my own reaction to Isaac's accusation. Really, the worse things you can accuse me of are lying and not working hard. I may be dishonorable in other things, but I ain't a liar. And my girl may have Princess Syndrome, but when it comes to school, and Miss Gabby, and behaving, she scores a perfect 10.

So I asked her. "Did you do whatever Isaac said you had done?"

She shook her head. "He always says that stuff."

"Next time he says that," I said, glancing at her in the rearview mirror, "say, 'You're a liar', then walk away from him. You don't have to beg him to stop lying on you. Tell him that he's a liar and leave. Okay?"

She smiled and nodded.

"So what will you say next time?"

"You're a liar," my girl said.


What does any of this have to do with writing, you wonder?

Using words to convey power, that's what.

My heroine in the story went from being needy {Isaac, why are you lying on me?) to empowered (Isaac, you're a liar). It's the same situation - Isaac accusing her, Maya being accused, but now the heroine has confidence. The antagonist may come back later with something because she's just blown him off (as all villains do), but the heroine now has the backbone to deal.

In The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler, our talk in the car would've been Meeting with the Mentor.

In your writing, use strong verbs. Give your hero some room to grow. Give her a mentor to learn from. Get rid of passive words like are, is, will. Make us care.

Will our heroine Maya tell Isaac off next time? Will she turn on her heel with her nose in the air, and return to her coveted position as Miss Gabby's helper? Tune in next week for another episode of "My Momma Says You're a Jerk."

Doom-ed Writer

For those of us who love a good story with our first-person shooters:

GalleyCat published an article about award-winning novelist Graham Joyce -- he's writing the storyline for the upcoming "Doom 4" fps. There's also a link for those of you who are interested in writing for video games.

Ah, "Doom." Loved that and "Wolfenstein." And then, I hit 30, and I couldn't play those games, or the games they spawned - motion sickness. Wah-wah-wah [sad trombone].

Monday, January 26, 2009

You... are not a Published Author.

At one time in your life, you will be rejected. By a lover, a friend, an agent, an editor. How you deal with it? That's up to you.

Back in 10th grade, I broke up with my first boyfriend. Well, he broke up with me. It was my first time being rejected in love. I thought I would DIE, and I went through all the contortions of a teenaged girl convinced she'll never-ever-ever love again. I wrote sad missives in my diary, turned off the radio if Freddy Jackson's "You are my Lady" or Kool and the Gang's "Cherish" came on. Didn't eat. You know - the usual. Eventually, I got over him. And I did love again. And now I can listen to "Cherish" - a lovely (though corny) song.

I've been rejected by agents (not to my liking, or I don't think I can sell this, or your numbers were good with A Quiet Storm, but not great, or I have a client with a book like yours). I've been rejected by editors (didn't wow me, or we're only buying erotic urban vampire memoirs, or what's with the lemmings in chapter 6 - they distracted me, and so, no).

Oh yeah, that hurts. Coz it wowed me. And my book's not the same as you lying client who's never lived in the ghettos of Los Angeles. And lemmings are funny. And then, I take a breath. Okay, several breaths. And then I rant. And then, a few more breaths.

But you know what? The Industry's rejection is not personal. Bottom line, conglomeratization, the need for more erotic urban vampire memoirs to pull publishing from the brinks of disaster.

Then again, their rejection is personal. Because art is personal. Writing, painting, designing, all of it reflects who you are, your experiences, your take on this crazy-stupid world. And so, if someone rejects your story, then they are rejecting you. And it takes all of your might to not run off the set a la "Maury", hands to your face, weeping hysterically.

But that's the writing life. Carrie by Stephen King was rejected 30 times. The first Harry Potter? Nine times. Jonathan Livingston Seagull? 18 times. 18!

I've kept all of my rejection letters. I keep them, and read them sometimes and realize that some were correct in their assessments. But just as I didn't let that 10th grade romance end all future relationships, I won't let a letter from an editor end my writing. I'll find that love again.

How do you deal with rejection? What's the funniest thing someone's said to you that broke your heart?

You... Are Not the Father.

When I'm home on a week-day, I don't start writing until David and Maya leave for school and work. Even after that, I need a cup of coffee and an episode of "Maury" to get my muse off her duff. If I'm lucky, that episode will feature DNA tests. I know, I know, but finding out who the babydaddy is? True drama. Conflict. Revealed motivations. Celebration. Everything a writer wishes to capture in words.

Holy Taco lists 7 Best Paternity Results Reactions.

You're welcome.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

About that Poem...

Poet-playwright-professor Elizabeth Alexander read Praise Song for the Day after President Obama was sworn into office. A few highlights:

We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; words to consider, reconsider.


What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.


In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

Was Ms. Alexander's praise-song too prosy? Or was the prose pitch-perfect? What say you?

This Week's Digested Read

John Crace digests How to Meet a Man after Forty by Shane Watson:

"So I know you've had boyfriends before and you've said you're better off without them, but you know you were really lying to yourself, don't you? Admit it, girls, you secretly want to be me; married to The One. And you can find your The One!! Because men are really very stupid and won't even notice your genital warts if you smother them with Chanel concealer!!"

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

In Keeping with Today's Theme...

Please visit this site - it's not a hint. It's just a hoot.

My favorites?

Reason #1 - You don't buy books.
Reason #14 - Youre speling is atrowshus.

What are your favorites?

Sorry, Darling, I Haven't the Time

Being a writer, I hear the woes of people who want to write, but don't.
"I haven't the time," they say.

I say, "Whatever, dude."

And I won't call them 'writers.' Why? For one, writers write. They don't complain about having the time. They don't kvetch about being too tired to write. They don't whine about the publishing industry and the difficulties in finding an agent and how all of that keeps them from picking up a pen.

Writers write. Period.

Most of us have full-time jobs. Many of us have children who need our attention. Almost all of us don't have access to weekend retreats or even formal desks.

Still, we write. During that hour-long lunch break. At six in the morning, before your boss gets in. In those 15 minutes between leaving the day job and picking up the kid. While waiting at the car wash, the dentist's, the doctor's, on jury duty, on the bus, in traffic. You will have to pry the pen from a dead writer's cold, tight clutch.

And we do this because we love words and stories and the smooth journey our pen makes across a legal pad. We don't care if that journey lasts ten minutes or two hours. Oh, the places you'll go in those moments!

If you can't do that? Find the time, any time? Then, guess what? Maybe writing ain't for you, dig?

While watching the Inauguration yesterday, I was struck especially by the expression on Yo-Yo Ma's face. Love. Joy. Appreciation. That man would play his cello in a dark closet by himself. He would play if he only had two working strings and a broken bow. He would play for me, if I asked nice enough.

That's what art should be, you know? It's hard, but you don't care, you just have to. You do it because... because. Time is on your side. You just have to commit.

What do you think? Are excuses just that?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Becoming a Reader

Maya asked me what I was like as a child? What did I do in school? What did I like to do the most? “I was quiet,” I told her. “I liked books and art, liked writing and learning how to play violin.”

Back in 1978, I didn't think I'd be a writer. I wanted to be a nun (we weren’t Catholic, but the habits looked soooo cool), a Marine (guess I was into uniforms and my Aunt Dorothy was in the Army and she looked sooooo cool).

I loved to read despite my fascination with uniforms, and each time the book fair came to the school library, I'd pore over the possibilities while clutching the $10 bill in my sweaty little hand. I still have Ramona the Brave purchased from one of those fairs. My fourth grade teacher read aloud to us almost every day. My favorite: James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl.

In junior high, I discovered Judy Blume and Forever. My copy had been passed around by the other girls, the scandalous pages highlighted and dogearred, then confiscated by Mrs. Beasley in fourth period English.

High school came, and I consumed everything by V.C. Andrews, starting with Flowers in the Attic. Holy guacamole! Am I reading what I think I'm…but that’s her brother and... Gross! I am SO going to Hell.

In college, I read to earn my combined degree. Kafka, Dostoevsky,Toni Morrison and Gabriel Garcia Marquez among countless others. In my private reading, I enjoyed Stephen King, Tom Clancy and Jackie Collins. In those novels, I met sexy mob boss Lucky Santangelo, nickel-eyed Pennywhistle the Clown, and square-jawed Republican Jack Ryan.

And now, I read almost everything. Almost.

What books impacted you as a child, as a young adult? Did you get to read whatever you wanted? What books do you still possess that you read so long ago?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Writing in My Car

Time: 6:55 a.m.
46 degrees

Last night, I watched half of one movie, and all of a next. I can't get neither out of my head for the same reason - characters.

As I waited for David to come back home with H. Salt Fish & Chips, I watched a, ahem, "film" (which shall remain nameless). In this-ahem-story, the good guy was noble but not all that interesting. The villain was an awful, awful woman - she should've worn a black hat and twirled an imaginary mustache. The love interest, of course, was successful; therefore, she was stuck up, overambitious, a beautiful bitch who had to be won over and changed by the hero. The three kid actors played daughters, and I'm sure, in the writer's head, they were called The Sassy One, the Sweet One, and The Wise One. No nuance at all. I was told how to feel about these people - not trusted at all to make the correct (or even incorrect) judgments about people I'm spending time with.

Fortunately, David got home before I threw the remote at the plasma screen. And really, I didn't need to see the ending. It had been telegraphed by all that melodramatic organ playing. Cue tears... now.

I had been TIVO'ing Gone Baby Gone. And that film... dude.A great movie, and now, I must read the novel by Dennis Lehane. The characters are so dimensional - no one's ever only good or only bad - they are shades of gray, just like us. Because they are us. They're not so noble all the time; they want to do something bad for the greater good. Every time I thought something would happen, it would but then it would twist back and bite me. And yes, I cried, but not because Lehane wanted me to, but because the situation was just... FUBAR, and I couldn't help but feel the characters' anguish.

Dennis Lehane is just... Wow. Mystic River and Shutter Island are my favorites. He loves his characters - even the nasty ones.

What do you think about obvious characterizations? Who do you think writes characters well?


Hey, y'all!

This week and next, I'll be the featured LibraryThing Chat with an Author. We'll be discussing A Quiet Storm. Stop by and ask a question or just say 'Hey!'

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Books on Deck

Step one is admitting you have a problem. So here goes:

I am a book junkie. I love books. I buy them whenever I can. They are the only things that I will not say 'no' to when my girl asks to buy one. I purchase no less than 10 a year.

That's not the problem. The problem I have is this: I don't have enough time to read them. Woe, oh, woe is me, right?

Perhaps I should make a list of those books I aim to read over the year, you say?

Great idea. Here's goes (in no particular order, and maybe just the first 8):

1. Jump at the Sun - Kim McLarin
2. Tethered - Amy MacKinnon
3. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz
4. Mercy - Toni Morrison
5. Finish In the Woods - Tana French
6. Finish The Monster of Florence - Douglas Preston
[note: both of those books were interrupted by the awesome Jim Jones book]
7. The Suspicions of Dr. Whicher - Kate Summerscale
8. Glyph - Percival Everett

But you know what will happen? My eye will wander and I'll stumble upon something irresistible and that will be that. Sigh - I'm a book slut.

What's on your list? What type of book will make you stray?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

I'm Every Woman... or not.

Back in September, Esquire published a list called, 75 Books Every Woman Should Read.

Doh! I've read 15 of them.

They also have 75 that every man should read.

Read 13 of those. Hunh.

Here's the link for the men's list:

And here is the woman's list:
• The Lottery (and Other Stories), Shirley Jackson
• To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
• The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton
• White Teeth, Zadie Smith
• The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende
• Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion
• Excellent Women, Barbara Pym
• The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
• Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys
• The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri
• Beloved, Toni Morrison
• Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
• Like Life, Lorrie Moore
• Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
• Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
• The Delta of Venus, Anais Nin
• A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley
• A Good Man Is Hard To Find (and Other Stories), Flannery O'Connor
• The Shipping News, E. Annie Proulx
• You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down, Alice Walker
• Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
• To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
• Fear of Flying, Erica Jong
• Earthly Paradise, Colette
• Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt
• Property, Valerie Martin
• Middlemarch, George Eliot
• Annie John, Jamaica Kincaid
• The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir
• Runaway, Alice Munro
• The Heart is A Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers
• The Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston
• Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
• You Must Remember This, Joyce Carol Oates
• Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
• Bad Behavior, Mary Gaitskill
• The Liars' Club, Mary Karr
• I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
• A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, Betty Smith
• And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie
• Bastard out of Carolina, Dorothy Allison
• The Secret History, Donna Tartt
• The Little Disturbances of Man, Grace Paley
• The Portable Dorothy Parker, Dorothy Parker
• The Group, Mary McCarthy
• Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
• The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing
• The Diary of Anne Frank, Anne Frank
• Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
• Against Interpretation, Susan Sontag
• In the Time of the Butterflies, Julia Alvarez
• The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck
• Fun Home, Alison Bechdel
• Three Junes, Julia Glass
• A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Mary Wollstonecraft
• Sophie's Choice, William Styron
• Valley of the Dolls, Jacqueline Susann
• Love in a Cold Climate, Nancy Mitford
• Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
• The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. LeGuin
• The Red Tent, Anita Diamant
• The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera
• The Face of War, Martha Gellhorn
• My Antonia, Willa Cather
• Love In The Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
• The Harsh Voice, Rebecca West
• Spending, Mary Gordon
• The Lover, Marguerite Duras
• The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
• Tell Me a Riddle, Tillie Olsen
• Nightwood, Djuna Barnes
• Three Lives, Gertrude Stein
• Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
• I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith
• Possession, A.S. Byatt

How many have you read?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Peeking in Rich People's Houses

You write what you know.

If true, that would be a devastating thing for working writers. In this world, we'd only write about life at Target, dinner at Denny's, and buying just enough gas to get you there and back.

Readers don't want to read about their lives all the time. So what's a poor girl to do?

Peek in Rich People's Houses and remember everything you see.

A quick story: My friend Alisa just had the pleasure of being invited to the Los Angeles Athletic Club. Nothing like your neighborhood Ballys, the LAAC boasts two, 82-degree swimming pools beneath a glass ceiling, squash and tennis courts, a full restaurant, hotel rooms, a full basketball court, and on and on. Alisa does what I do, which means neither of us make enough to join this club. Still, Alisa went, and the writer in her took in all she saw.

During my time working events for several non-profits, I've had an opportunity to visit the homes of some of L.A.'s richest. While I'm stuffing programs or crossing names off of guest lists, I'm also cataloguing the Ed Ruscha and Francis Bacon paintings on the walls, remembering the jewel tones of the glass in the immaculate mosaic entryways, listening to how They speak to their Guatemalan nannies and coo at their black Standard poodles. I glimpse the sun throwing coppery light over their massive back yards, and listen to the silence of a neighborhood not plagued with guns, illegal firecrackers and L.A.P.D. helicopters.

And after I marvel, I rush home and write.

What about you? What worlds have you visited?


Just read a story on TechCrunch that confirms the most delicious rumor: Apple plans to launch a large-screen iPod touch this fall. ZOMG! Can you imagine getting an e-book from iTunes and reading it on a 7 or 9 inch screen?


Friday, January 2, 2009

Writing Resolutions for the New Year

So it's that time again, right? Making promises to yourself, resolving not to return to old habits. I typically don't make resolutions - I make and break and keep promises year-round. But today, I'll make an exception.

Writing Resolutions for 2009
1. Actively journal. For Christmas, I received two Livescribe journals and a moleskin notebook. I'll keep one in my purse, and will jot down anything interesting I see or any random, yet promising thought that pops into my busy little head.

2. Connect with more readers. Even though A Quiet Storm was published in 2002, books are forever. I will meet with book clubs - on line and in person - to talk about AQS and my WIP. I will use Facebook to my writing advantage, and not just to take movie quizzes, play Text Twist, or pass cyber-martinis to my friends.

3. Patience. One virtue I'm lacking in. I want everything to happen two days ago. And I will sometimes force something to happen instead of letting it bloom on my own. When it's come to my writing, I've started on this resolution already, and wonderful things have started to happen. Keep on keeping on.

4. Exercise more. What does this have to do with writing? A healthy body builds confidence. Being a writer, one needs as much confidence as she can find.

5. Get published again. That's not in my power, you say? Maybe not. But if I follow resolutions 1-4, my chances skyrocket and The View from Here will find a home.

Pip, pip and good cheer! Here's to a new year. What will you resolve to do for 2009?