Archive | November, 2011

The Vegetables

As has become my Thanksgiving tradition on this blog, I’d like to share a poem by Hafiz.

The Vegetables

Today

The vegetables would like to be cut

By someone who is singing God’s Name.

How could Hafiz know

Such top secret information?

Because

Once we were all tomatoes,

Potatoes, onions or

Zucchini

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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Women in Media

Something has been bugging me, and it’s not Gina Davis’s lack of stage presence.

She right. I watch some of the (forgive me) shit available for kids and I am shocked. I had to stop a video of “Hercules” a while back because the female character broke into a song about how she was just a weak girl, and wasn’t it a good thing there was such a strong man around to take care of her. Excuse me? What? Since then I’ve been seeing more things like Gina Davis’s talk here, and noticing more and more the representation of girls in entertainment in general. While some kid’s shows (“Olivia” is a personal favorite), do okay, others have a long way to .

My husband told me about a conversation he had on the topic lately and related something fascinating. Turns out that years ago some feminist group sat down to craft guidelines for what constituted a feminist film. Here are the three things a story must have to be considered feminist. Ready? It’s pretty extensive…

1. Have two female characters with names

2. Those two characters have a conversation at some point

3. That conversation is NOT about a guy

That’s it. And you know what, it SHOCKING how many films can’t do it.

Well I for one will be doing my part to put some entertaining media out there where two named women have a conversation that isn’t about a guy. It honestly shouldn’t be so hard.

I know a lot of you who read my blog are in the entertainment industry in one way or another. I challenge you to think about this the next time you see a movie, and consider how your own projects measure up. Those of us telling the stories are in the unique position of being able to influence how they are told.

Power to the storytellers. Bring it.

 

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Step Away From The Computer

There was a great article in Poets & Writers recently. It was by Ellen Sussman, and she offered up four simple steps to get more out of your writing. Basically it came down to 1. Write every day, 2. take breaks regularly, 3. meditate for a few minutes before starting to clear your head and 4. turn off your internet. It’s criminal to chop up her prose so inelegantly, but that’s the gist.

Number one is taken care of.

I do occasionally sit for a few quiet minutes before I start working, but usually only when I’m making time for my fiction.

I’m 50/50 on turning off the internet. Since I’ve been working so much on the guide book lately and it’s so research intensive, I do leave my internet on, but I turn my email client off. That works pretty well for me.

The thing I most need to work on is taking breaks. Sussman sites studies that show people are more productive if they take a quarter of each hour to step away from their work, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. Maybe because my writing time seems so precious, since the rest of my day belongs to the family, I just don’t want to stop. I feel like break time is wasted time.

Still, it would probably be good for me. Just to get up and walk around a bit. Maybe I could get back out in my garden for a few minutes a day. That might actually be nice. But I don’t think I can do 15 minutes every hour. That’s a quarter of my work day.

I’ll start with baby steps. Maybe two 15 minute breaks mid day. I’ll have to set an alarm or something, but I can do that. If it seems to have a positive impact I’ll consider upping it, but that’s all I can do right now.

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California Trivia

Some days there just isn’t enough coffee.

I’m stumped for blog topics this morning, so I thought I’d just share a few of the more amusing facts I’ve uncovered while researching my Northern California book.

The Lost City of the East Bay Hills. In the hills just east of Oakland is the Morgan Territory Regional Preserve. It was once home to the Miwok metropolis called Volvon. For 10,000 years this native tribe lived here, grinding acorns and hunting rabbits. Strolling through the preserve you can still see the bedrock mortars – the collections of holes in large flat stones where the women would gather to pound acorn meal.

The personal hot tub began in Northern California, when enterprising young hippies attached wood burning water heaters to old redwood vats that had been discarded by the vineyards. They leaked something awful, and left a person with splinters in their behind, but there’s still something nice about a wood tub. As the fad spread through the country most manufacturers switched to fiberglass. 

The Mission Burrito is an actual thing. Steaming a big tortilla before stuffing it to the gills and serving it with corn chips is actually a very Bay Area tradition. El Faro claims to have been the first to serve it up in the 1960’s, and they’ve been a staple food ever since.

Steam Beer (now known as Anchor Steam Beer) was invented by miners in the 1850s who had a hankering for lager, but no refrigeration to cool the fermentation process so they had to do a warmer (ale style) fermentation and viola! a new kind of beer was born.

There’s much more, but you’ll just have to wait for the book to come out.

Now for more coffee…

 

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Inspiration

Sometimes I fight to pull out a few hundred words. Other times words flow like whiskey at an Irish wedding. I wrote over 4,000 words this morning. I think I’ve found an in to a story I’ve been toying with for a long time. Is it a short story or a novel? I don’t know yet, but I’ve found it, and if the words (and whiskey) continue to flow, it could very well be a full length memoir.

I’ve never felt this way about a project. I mean, I knew it was incubating, but now that there are cracks in the shell and I can see the beak poking through, I just can’t seem to focus on anything else. I want to coax this little bird out into the world, even if it means staying up late at the computer and postponing other projects.

It’s unsettling, because, as a memoir, it pulls up a lot of old skeletons, but for the first time I feel ready to write it. I found the narrative through line this weekend, while chatting with an old friend (you guys know him as Steve the Pirate) at a party in the desert. We were looking at some old photos, and listening to some music that just made everything suddenly fall into place. That’s all I can really say about it just yet. If the words do continue to flow I’m sure there will be more, but for now, I’m just going to revel in the excitement of it all.

(the photo is from the party – I love the mojave)

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Day 49

Today is day 49 of the 100 days of writing challenge.

The goal I set for myself was to write one page in my Northern California guide book every day. I have missed 10 days, and written 39 pages. That’s almost an 80% success rate. That’s a low B. In school a low B would have bothered me, but you know, I’m feeling pretty good about this one. Because it’s not like life has stopped so that I could work on this goal. In fact, just yesterday I turned in a 5300 word feature article that I’d been working on for a month. Not to mention other freelance work that has come and gone in the same time frame. Hello low B, don’t you look lovely.

51 days to go and 43 more pages to write (the book is designed to be 100 pages long, and I already had 18 pages when I started this 100 day challenge). So technically I can still blow off 8 days between now and the end of the year and still make my goal of finishing the draft. I can pretty much guarantee that those days will fall around Thanksgiving and Christmas. In fact, if I’m actually revising my goal – I will write AT LEAST one page a day, but on days when I don’t have much else going on I will write more. Because man it would be nice to wrap this baby up before Christmas. That would feel gooooooood.

The one thing I haven’t figured out yet is how I will reward myself if I actually meet my goal. On the chart where I cross off my successful days I’ve written “celebrate!” at the bottom, but I don’t know yet what that means. I’m thinking about maybe taking myself to the Korean Spa on Olympic, or maybe a new dress or something. Any ideas out there? How do you reward yourselves for goals well met? Let’s get creative here.

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New Headshot, and a Great Book for Writers

My official new headshot is now in full effect (many thanks to Paul Giunta, who also got some stunning shots of my family for me). I took some time to update all my social media pages last night, but still have this nagging feeling that I’m forgetting something. I’m sure it’ll turn up eventually. 

While I was at it, I finally transferred my shelfari bookshelf to this new site. You can see it at the bottom of the sidebar over there on the right. This is one of my favorite widgets. It not only helps me keep track of what I’ve read, but lets me share the list with friends.

Which leads me to the most recent addition to my bookshelf, “The Writer’s Portable Mentor.” This book is awesome, particularly for anyone who has been writing for any length of time. I have pretty much stopped reading books about the craft of writing, as I generally find them sophomoric and repetitive, but this book assumes you know where to put a comma and instead gets into the more artistic nuances of writing. I’ve found it applicable to my business writing, and revolutionary for my fiction. For me, it is like a refresher course on the best writing class I ever took (which, incidentally, was Janet Fitch’s fiction seminar at USC).

If you are serious about writing, this book is a great way to remind yourself of the finer details of the craft. You should add it to your Christmas list.

TTFN

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Don’t Rush Me

I have a deadline on Friday for a feature article I’ve been working on since the first week of October. It’s coming along well, and I feel quite calm about my approaching deadline, but two weeks ago I was freaking out.

This is something I’m learning about myself as a writer. I need a lot of time for the final stages of writing anything well. That is, for polishing my work, I have to be able to read it through, tweak a little, walk away, come back a few hours later, tweak a little more. In these final days I may literally change two words each time I read it, and since it’s 20 pages long, it takes a lot of time.

Then I send it to trusted eyes to read it for fresh perspective, and I start over, incorporating a little bit, changing the work ever so slightly, with each pass. This just seems to be how I work.

With that in mind it makes sense that I was panicked about my deadline two weeks ago, but feel fine now. Two weeks ago I knew I needed to start entering into this polishing stage, and I only had it half written.

To friends and family it’s hard to explain why I can’t run off to the beach/park/movies because a piece that isn’t due for weeks is only half done. But that’s just how I work.

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to recognize this pattern. I never have been one for last minute dashes. In college I was terrible at cramming, and if I’m going to pull an all nighter there better be loud music and fair amount of whiskey involved. I’m a planner. It’s boring but true. I like things (or at least my writing) to unfold predictably.

It might be a little dull, but it does allow me to make my deadlines, and I’ve always felt like that’s an important part of building a career as a writer. When I’m a big time, famous, hot shit scribe maybe I’ll be able to blow off deadlines without a care, but then again, knowing me, I never will.

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Dissolving Stitches

Three weeks ago my baby boy had a minor, outpatient surgery to fix a hernia in his groin and allow his left testicle to drop into place. It went very well, despite my fears about the general anesthesia. The incision was just above his left hip, and the stitches were actually made underneath the skin, so all he had was a few thin strips of tape over a developing scar that will be quite small once he is full grown.

But then yesterday the stitches (which the doc said we would never see because they are dissolving stitches), began poking through the skin of his abdomen. The site thankfully doesn’t look infected, but I wanted to check in with the doctor just to be safe. Here’s how it went down.

Me: “I’m concerned that the stitches that are supposed to dissolve are pushing through his skin.”

Nurse: “No, they won’t do that, they’re dissolving stitches.”

Me: “But they are, I can see them.”

Nurse: “But they won’t.”

Me: “Okay. Let’s pretend for a minute that my son’s ‘disolving stitches’ ARE in fact pushing through his skin. Should I be worried?”

Nurse: “I’ll have to call you back.”

So now I’m waiting to hear. While I’m waiting, I am beating my head against the opening paragraph of the feature article that’s due next week. It sucks. I can’t seem to find an in to the story. It’s making me crazy and I really want it to be good. I almost hope the doctor does need to see my boy so I have an excuse to avoid working on the article a little longer, but then again, no. What I really want to have happen is that the next time I change his diaper the stiches have amgically dissolved like they’re supposed to. Then I come back upstairs to my lap top and find the intro to my piece has written itself, and it’s stunning.

Is that so much to ask?

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10 Years or 10,000 Hours

My father-in-law was telling me recently about an article he read that discussed something called the theory of mastery, or something close to that. The basic idea is that to truly mater a craft or skill (be it writing or basketball), you have to practice it for 10 years or 10,000 hours.

I’ve been writing now for about five years. I’m talking (almost) every day, in one format or another, writing. Some days I write for hours, some days I only get thirty minutes in, but I am very diligent about getting my fingers on this keyboard. So just for fun, let’s see how far down the road to mastery I am:

To be conservative, let’s say I write 300 days a year. After 5 years that’s 1500 days. Now let’s say I write an average of three hours a day. I think that’s low, but let’s run with it. So I’ve practiced writing for about 4,500 hours. Of course that’s only since deciding to be a professional writer. I’m not counting any writing I did before five years ago, and there was a fair amount.

So I’m about half way to mastery, both in years and hours practiced. That sounds about right. I certainly am holding my own as a professional, but when it comes to my fiction, especially my novel, I still feel like I have so much to learn. I wonder if I will feel different in 2016 when I am finally a master. I might have to through a party and make everyone call me “master” for the night. And a hat. I will definitely need a funny hat.

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