Archive | Books

Writing Goals for 2015

xmas walk
I am so excited for 2015, mostly because 2014 sucked – culminating in a broken wrist that had me out of commission for almost a month. Well, out of commission is relative. The truth is, I already had a week of vacation time planned for Christmas, so I was able to rest the hand and not type, but there were cookies to bake and ornaments to make. My whole family rented a house on the coast in Oregon so we could spend the week together – the photo above is from a walk we took on Christmas morning, during a break in the rain. It was so beautiful.

We didn’t do much for New Years Eve. I had to work, and it’s impossible to get a babysitter, so really, Christmas week was the big deal this year. I’m hoping it marks a turning point, away from the sucky suckness that was 2014 and into the wonderful world of 2015, gravid with potential.

I usually do resolutions, but this year I’m lowering expectations. I have only one goal for this year and it is to revive my writer’s notebook. I used to be so good about jotting down ideas and observations. Any line I stood in was an opportunity for a character study. I wrote about the way light hit different scenes and the nuances of unusual smells. Anything. It’s been years since I did this on a daily basis, and I truly believe it is critical for a writer. So that is my one resolution.

Of course, I also hope to finish “The Feathered Tale of Tallulah Jones” and finally start sending it off to agents. In my wildest dreams I also complete a rough draft of the new novel, the one I have all outlined. Then there’s the blog. All while working full time, raising two kids, and you know, spending the occasional bit of time with my guy.

As usual, I am overcommitting.

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Best Neighbors Ever

My neighbors moved out last weekend. They were the best neighbors ever and I miss them terribly already. It’s hard to say how this development will affect the dynamics of our block. You see – we have (had?) the coolest block in LA.

Celeste was six months old when we moved in and there were no other kids, but in the six years since then seven other kids have been born onto our tiny cul-de-sac. We call Celeste the Sheriff, as she makes sure the other kids stay in line. We meet up at the end of the street each night and the parents hang out while the kids ride scooters and bikes, or draw with chalk. It’s an awesome way to end the day. But now the number of kids has been reduced by two.

And since I always brings things back to the writing with this blog, it’s worth noting that the mom of that household is also my soon-to-be publisher. Elisa published a book about New Mexico a couple years ago. It’s not your usual travel guide, but instead outlines the cultural things you’ll see when you nmbookbuyvisit – things that you won’t find in a traditional where-to-eat-sleep-and-stuff-your-face guide. Like bolo ties and coyote fences. Well, as soon as she mentioned to me that she wanted to do California next, but in two books – north and south, I pretty much pestered her until she agreed to let me write Northern California, which she did, on the condition that Southern California would come out first.

Originally slated to come out late 2012, the Southern California edition was slightly delayed by the birth of their second child and the aforementioned moving, but I believe it’s at the printers and should be coming to a store near you soon.

And Northern California is close on its heels. We still have some photography that needs to be done, but the manuscript is complete. Frankly, I don’t care when it comes out. It was so much fun to write, and it’s not like Northern California is going anywhere. I sincerely hope there is a book tour for that one. It will be a great excuse to go spend some time with old friends.

In the meantime I will gaze wistfully from our kitchen window at the empty parking spot across the street. They will be missed.

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Red Shirts

As you know, this is not a blog where I review books, but if you’ve been following very long you also know that I just can’t help but share the news if I find I book I totally dig.

red shritsI just finished reading “Red Shirts,” by John Scalzi, and it was awesome. I laughed out loud. A lot. Without giving anything away, I’ll tell you it’s a play on the Star Trek series. The title is a shout out to the lowest ranking crew members – the ones who wear red shirts and always get killed off first thing. That’s all I’ll say except this – if you liked Star Trek, or any sci-fi TV show for that matter, you should read this book.

And now I’m desperately trying to finish “If on a Winters Night a Traveler,” which is kind of the opposite of “Red Shirts.” The book club I am excited to say I am now a part of is meeting this Saturday night to discuss it. It is clearly a very clever novel, told by a real master (Italo Calvino), but it is not an easy read. He jumps from first person to second to third in the course of one paragraph, and it totally works, which I bow down too, but the plot is a little convoluted. I will do my best to wrap it up in the next few days, but the task would be a lot easier if I hadn’t just downloaded “Wool” on my Kindle.

“Wool” is not a difficult read. It sucks you in and whisks you along on a strange, futuristic sci-fi tale. And it calls to me. As I’m getting into bed and I look at Calvino’s book laying next to my Kindle and I think “I need to finish this before Saturday, but…” and then I pick up the Kindle.

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Books, Wonderful Books!

On Monday a writer friend of mine was in town, visiting from West Virgina. We were in the Masters program at USC together, and she has since moved and found herself a pretty kick ass job as a magazine editor. When she called to say she was coming to town, we both agreed it was a great excuse to have lunch and waste a few hours wondering the isles of our favorite books store.

We are both in love with Skylight Books on Vermont. It’s such a great bookstore. When she lived in town we used to go to readings there together. I don’t think I’ve been since she left, but I do go back to to shop – only these days I go to buy birthday presents, usually for small children. I put on my virtual blinders, fix my gaze on the cement floor, and charge straight back to the kid’s section, because as soon as I look up, it’s over.

I learned that one the hard way. I went there once with the little guy in tow, just as he was learning to walk, and I got sucked into the new fiction section. It was ugly. I was that mom – the one who lets her kid wander around pulling books off shelves. At one point, in a half-hearted attempt to keep him under control,  I was holding the back of his pants with one hand and reading the back of new novel with the other, as he slid and whined on the floor, trying to get away. So yeah, since then, I go with a mission, and don’t allow myself to get distracted.

Except on Monday, I went in the middle of the day, sans kiddos, and just dove right in. I find the entire Wild Girlsshop exceptional, but left to meander, I always end up in the new fiction section. And since I’m nearing the end of this draft of the novel, I took some time focus in on debut fiction. I found three different titles, all by first time novelists, that seem like they have the same sensibilities as my book. In the acknowledgements I culled the names of their agents and have added them to my list of people to investigate. I managed to buy just one, a book called “Wild Girls.” I can’t wait to start reading it.

The whole afternoon just reminded me why I write.

I love books. I just love them.

Did you know there’s a whole book on salt? It’s called “Salt: A World History.” I mean, really, is there nothing books can’t teach me? Worlds long past, worlds that will never exist, miniscule worlds that exist in the cracks of everyday life. Fiction, non-fiction, literary, trashy. I just love them.

It was a wonderful afternoon. I have to remember, the next time I’m feeling frustrated or tired, that an hour at Skylight can change my whole perspective and remind me why I do what I do.

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Las Gracias de Dona Diabla

Congratulations to my father-in-law, who just published his first book.


It’s titled “Las Gracias de Dona Diabla.” There was a huge launch party in Quito, Ecuador, last weekend. I couldn’t make it, but I hear it was a big success.

My Spanish, as of yet, isn’t quite good enough that I can actually read the book, but if yours is, I suggest you track down a copy. He’s a great story teller.

Felicidades, Juancho!


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Pillars of Eternity

I’ve been reading this book, “Pillars of the Earth,” for what feels like forever. It’s quite long, and even though the author (Follett) can sometimes digress extensively into the details of church construction, it is a damn good story.

The thing is, I feel like it’s actually three books in one. The story starts off with one set of characters, and adds more and more, jumping perspectives with ease. Then, about 300 pages in, the focus shifts to more minor characters and some of the ones I loved the most are killed off. Then the story changes locations entirely, taking me into a whole other world. (I’m trying not to give anything away, because it really is a fun read.)

At this point (and I still have several hundred pages to go), I don’t even really need to know any of the events that happened in the first half of the book. I seem to be reading a whole other story.

So I wonder, will he bring it back to the opening scene at the end? Or was there some other reason that he decided not to make this into a trilogy? It would seem, from a marketing perspective, that selling the story as a trilogy would have made both Follet and his publishers a lot of money.

Take the Hunger Games for example. Trilogy. Delicious. Totally could have been one long book. I assume that the reason it’s not a trilogy is because the publisher knew I’d fork over the dough for each one, after loving the first installment so much.

As an author, it’s got me thinking. How does one know if they have a trilogy on their hands, or just one really long book? Is it an artistic choice? Or a marketing thing? Anyone out there have any perspective on this one?

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Best Books of 2011?

I read a lot. I believe it’s part of a writer’s job, so much so that I consider sitting around reading a legitimate day of work (when I don’t have actual deadlines pending).

At the end of 2011 I was swamped in a lot of ways and looking for some good, light reading fare, so I picked up “Fun and Games.” It’s a mystery/thriller/hollywood story, and it was just what I was looking for. But then I went and bought book 2 in the series and frankly, it sucks. I tore through the Hunger Games trilogy, mostly because all the cool kids are doing it, and I actually thought they were great. Again, not historically brilliant prose, but a damn good story.

So then I was stumped. On a recommendation from a semi-nerdy friend I picked up “How to survive in a science fiction universe.” I totally respect it for the ingenuity and creativity, but when I was half way through and couldn’t tell what it was really about, I gave up. Same with “Let the great world spin,” which I’ve been told I should give another shot, because it’s amazing. I loved the writing, but the story just didn’t grab me.

Right now I’m reading “The Wedding Gift,” which also frankly sucks, but it was $1 on my kindle. You get what you pay for I guess.

Anyhow, I could go on, but if you want to know what I’ve been reading you can just scroll down and check out the little book shelf in the right hand column there. I generally keep it well updated.

What I really want now is advice on what to read next. I got 2 Amazon gift cards for Christmas (big thanks to my favorite client and my wonderful in-laws), and they are burning a hole in my pocket. I’m done with the delicious junk for the time being. Instead I’m looking for something really engrossing. Something stunning. Something that will make me sit up way too late tonight reading because I simply cannot put it down.

I trolled a few Best Of lists from 2011 and here are my top contenders.

The Sense of An Ending

June Bug

Salvage the Bones

The Auslander

A Visit From the Goon Squad (I want to hope that this is Princess Bride reference…?)

The Tiger’s Wife

The Marriage Plot

I’m thinking about just working my way down the list, but I’d love to hear from anyone out there who has actually read one or more of them.

Or what was your favorite book of 2011, and why will I love it? Seduce me.

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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.


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Stranger Than Fiction – Jaycee Dugard’s Story

If you follow my social media feeds, you know that I couldn’t put “Room” down. It was riveting fiction. Absolutely amazing. But last night I was reading “A Stolen Life,” which is basically the non-fiction version of the story, and I have to say it is so much more compelling.

This girl (now a woman) was kidnapped at the age of 11 and spent 18 years (!!!!) being held captive by this man and his wife. Her account of her life over those eighteen years is stunning. I feel stunned. She writes each chapter in first person present, then, at the end of each chapter, writes a short section from the perspective of the grown woman she is now, talking about the trials of re-entering her life.

Last night, after reading the chapter where she first calls her mom after 18 years of being gone without a trace, I had tears streaming down my face. I had to put the book down to call my mom and just tell her that I love her.I don’t want to tell you too much, because I think it’s absolutely fascinating how the story unfolds, but I will say this – this woman’s strength is amazing. She talks in one of the sections about her girls starting school (opps, I guess that does give away that she has two girls while being held captive (!!!!)) and how she is afraid at first to let them go because she’s never really been apart from them, and what if something bad happens? Then she talks about letting go and knowing that what happened to her is really rare, and she has to let them live their lives. I was afraid to read this book because I thought it might make me never let my daughter go any where by herself ever, but if Jaycee Dugard can take a breath and trust that everything will be okay, then certainly I can too.

If this book isn’t on  your reading list yet. It should be. And actually, if you haven’t read “Room” yet, you should read that first. Would love to hear peoples thoughts on how they compare.

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Cinematic Story Telling

I’m often confused by the way different people refer to “cinematic” story telling. When some people use the words they get a wistful look in their eyes, like they’ve been swept away to a far off land. Others say it with a bit of a smirk – as if the author has somehow failed to be literary enough in their story telling, and has instead fallen into a cinematic (intoned with ickiness) sub-genre.

The difference seems to be the degree to which we as readers as privy to the interior of the main character’s head. The more we know their thoughts, the more literary the resulting story.

I was thinking about this the other day when I was channel surfing while nursing. Mid-day TV is leaves much to be desired, but I stumbled upon “Even Cowgirls Get The Blues.” The book, by Tom Robbins, was the first book I ever read twice. I was more or less obsessed with his books from the age of 19 until about 25, and “Cowgirls” was always my favorite. I knew it had been adapted to the screen, but never sought it out, since the reviews had not been so favorable.

Though it’s been a while since I read “Cowgirls,” I remember feeling transported by it, as if were unfolding on a screen. Everything was so easy to imagine, to picture in my mind. It seemed like a story that was just screaming to be a movie. So why was it so utterly unwatchable?

Seriously, I changed the channel after five minutes. The idiosyncratic characters that had been so charming on the page were simply awful on the screen. Cliche, weird, even racist and insulting. Why? If memory serves, the movie is very true to the book. What happened? And why is it that such a cinematic story could make such poor cinema?

My best guess is that good books, cinematic or not, engage us by hitting just the perfect balance of detail and freedom to imagine. When a filmmaker tries to take the story and fill in what he or she sees as the details, they limit the vision of the story to their own.

So is it true what they say? Do good books make lousy films? A survey of recent attempts certainly points to yes; Lovely Bones, White Oleander, Love in the Time Of Cholera. I’m already dreading Water For Elephants.

What do you think? Are there films out there that you feel really capture a book you loved? If so, would you consider the book “cinematic.” I’m curious to hear some thoughts.

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