Category: | Non Fiction

Tidying Up My Bookshelf

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying UpI recently finished “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” I picked it up on a whim, and totally dug it. Since finishing it, I have given away two giant trash bags of stuff from my closet, and donated four grocery bags full of books to the library. And that’s only the fist two steps of five. And keep in mind, I gave away a lot of stuff before we started packing for the move. I was shocked to learn I had so much more to get rid of.

The tidying prescribed in this book starts with clothes, then books, then on to the rest of the things in your life: paper, miscellaneous stuff, and sentimental items.

I thought books would be harder to sort through, honestly. I mean, I love books. I have totally valid reasons for keeping as many as I do, and I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to get rid of any. But, as instructed, I placed all my books in a pile in the living room, and then picked up each one to hold it and decide if it brought me joy. I was surprised by which books I kept. As it turns out, books I’m keeping to read “some day” don’t bring me any joy. I actually found that I resented those books, and even just having them around made me feel sour. So I’m donating them.

On the flip side, there were some books, like “Moby Dick” and “Jitterbug Perfume,” that I love. Just having them on my shelf makes me happy. I will probably never read them again, but it brings me joy to see them there.

Having completed those two big steps, I’m on to sorting all the paperwork in my life. I expect this will also be pretty cathartic. If you’re looking to lighten the load of stuff in your life, check this book out. It’s a quick read, and totally worth it.

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Reading for a Literary Journal Will Make You a Better Writer

Six years ago, I began volunteering once a week to read submissions for a literary journal. At the time I was in grad school, and I was trying to build up my resume. I figured Associate Editor would look good on paper, and it might be a fun way to get to know some of my fellow classmates.

What I discovered is far more valuable than a blurb on my resume. Here it is: The best way to improve your own writing is to read the work of others.

That may seem like a no-brainer. We all read. But if you only read published work you are missing out on something magical. Reading for a journal is a special kind of education.

Because the truth is, most of the work that journals receive for review is not good. And you can learn a lot by reading work that needs a polish. After reading fifteen stories that mix metaphors, you’re going to find mixed metaphors really annoying, and you will be far less likely to mix them in your own writing.

What’s more, if you’re in a room full of readers, you get a unique peek into how editors read submissions. If someone can’t help but read a cover letter out loud because it is so ridiculous, you will make a mental note to never be such an ass in your own query letter.

When it comes down to final decisions, and the group is debating which stories will get the coveted pages between the covers of your journal, you will hear first-hand what pushes one story into print, while others get relegated to the rejection pile.

What reading for a journal will NOT do is make it easier for you to get your own story published in that journal. Do not be the guy who volunteers twice and then asks when they’re going to publish your story. Just don’t do that. In fact, assume that whatever journal you’re reading for is off limits for submission. It’s just a matter of being professional.

If you’re a serious writer, find a journal near you and ask if you can join their team of readers. This will take a bit of sleuthing. Try local colleges, go to a local book fair, check out, or if all else fails, you can volunteer virtually (most journals accept digital submissions, and many have remote readers).

Reading remotely isn’t as good as being in the room, but the exercise of reading a piece, giving it a thumbs up or down, and having to justify your decision in a sentence or two, will improve your writing. I promise.

At the same time, you will be supporting a literary journal with free labor. It’s a win-win.

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Southern California – the Book

Check it out – a book I helped write is coming out soon:

EyeMuse Books

The publisher, Elisa Parhad, was a neighbor of mine for many years. When I met her, she was working on the very first of her EyeMuse Books travel series – a book on New Mexico. It’s a great concept for a travel book. She doesn’t write the usual travel stuff about where to eat, sleep and stuff your face. Instead, she’s created a sort of pocket-sized coffee table book. The whole idea is that when we travel to new places we see new things (that is, for many people, WHY we travel to new places). But there’s no convenient way to learn about the curious/strange/delicious new things you might encounter. Not unless you’re traveling with a local. That’s the niche these books fill.

For instance, if you were traveling in New Mexico, you might see this figure hanging about:


And you might ask yourself: what is up with that guy? Well, if you had the New Mexico book handy, you could learn all about him. (Click here for info on where to get a copy.) The book has 100 structures, crafts, traditions, foods and more that are specific to New Mexico, each with a concise, entertaining description like you might get from a local.

Anyhow, when she told me, way back when, that she was planning to do Southern and Northern California as the second and third books in the series, I pretty much wouldn’t leave her alone until she let me play.

I spent most of my time for Elisa working on book number three – Northern California, due out after Southern California. It was so much fun to write. I thought I knew Northern California, having spent the majority of my life there, but I learned so much. (Check out this post for a small sampling.)

Anyhow, both Southern and Northern California were a bit delayed while Elisa was busy having a couple beautiful baby boys, but the wait is over!

Check out the EyeMuse Books Facebook page for information on how to order, or sign up over there on the right to be added to my mailing list and I’ll let you know when and where you can get your copy.

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The Adventures of a Helicopter Pilot

Dad with book
Due to the timing of a number of factors, not the least of which was that damn broken wrist, I completely forgot to tell you all about my dad’s book!

The Adventures of a Helicopter Pilot is my dad’s memoir about flying H-34s for the Marines in Vietnam. His job was particularly scary, as he would fly into the middle of active zones to did emergency medical evacuations. He took a lot of fire, lost a lot of friends.

When it finally came time to publish, he asked me write a blurb for him. Here’s what I put together:

Thoughtful, funny, and full of death-defying escapades, “Adventures of a Helicopter Pilot” is a treasure trove of stories. Bill’s writing captures the feeling of sitting around a campfire with cold beer and old friends. The perspective and humility he brings to the narrative are those of a once brazen young man who has lived to tell the tales. A great read.

ADventures coverThis book is particularly moving to me as his daughter. In the time since the war, so many vets have committed suicide. My dad had his struggles too. For years. Should you ever meet him, you will be surprised what an easy-going, sweet and thoughtful guy he is, but I remember a man from my childhood who was deeply troubled. Thankfully, he finally got help. My step mom had a lot to do with that. She encouraged him to get therapy, which he did, and I truly believe it saved his life. And now, for him to finally finish this memoir and send it out into the world, it just feels like he was finally able to wrap up that part of his life.

You can pick up a copy on Amazon. It makes a great gift, too, if you have any military pilots on your list. He’s been doing book tours all over the west, and is a big supporter of vet associations (as you might imagine). You can always reach out to him for more info. You can find him on Facebook.

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Separation of Truth and Fact

On Sunday I was super lucky to attend an event hosted by my former thesis advisor Gina Nahai. It seems that back in July when the book Zealot was released, Gina and her husband, in support of the Los Angeles Review of Books, hosted an event to celebrate its release, but the author, Reza Aslan, was obliged to rush home and help his wife with a sick toddler before he really got a chance to say much about his work.

So this was their do-over event. Gina had already planned to have an alum event on the same day, so she just invited all of us (her former students) to attend. It was awesome.

This guy is one of the most well-spoken, thoughtful, and interesting authors I’ve had the pleasure of hearing speak.

The afternoon began with a discussion of this Fox interview wherein Lauren Green asks why he felt he was qualified to write a book about Jesus (as he is Muslim), and he lobs a response so far over her head intellectually that she is forced to simply continue reading from her teleprompter like and idiot. (It’s a fun 9 minutes if you can spare them).

Anyhow, back to Sunday’s event. Once we got past the Fox thing, someone asked a question that sparked a discussion of truth versus fact. He explained that up until about 200 years ago, it was truth that mattered. People told stories to impart truth, and that, more often than not, fact had little to do with it.

This is why so much of the bible contradicts itself. He made the point that the four gospels of the new testament were chosen from about 20. They were chosen because they were believed to be the most truthful.

Now we look at the bible, with our microscopes and carbon dating, and we look for fact. The way Aslan described it, the question of fact would have baffled the theologians of old. It makes sense really. Without all the scientific resources we have these days, the thing that would be the most important would be the truth, not the fact.

And actually, one could argue, that the same holds true today.

The literary world is always bickering over how much fact there is in any best selling memoir. But isn’t it the truth that matters most?

When we gather around the campfire and tell stories about our grandparents, or other lost loves, the details may get exaggerated, the facts may be distorted, but  the truth is passed on through generations. Did Uncle Art have five girlfriends at any given time? or fifteen? The truth is, he was a bit of a scoundrel, and we loved him for it.

Now, don’t quote me as saying fact doesn’t matter in non-fiction. I’m just saying, I love the idea of separating truth from fact. The words even sound like they mean different things. Truth, with it’s soft, soothing taper. Fact all hard and concrete.

Personally, I chose truth. But then again, I write fiction.


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I Have Inspired Critical Thought

My Monday morning post has turned into my Monday evening post. So I’m running about 12 hours behind. I figure with the full time job, two kids under 6, the husband, the exercise, and oh yeah, the unfinished novel, a 12 hour lag is not so bad.

Besides, if I’ve learned anything from blogger JJ Keith (who is awesome, and if you don’t know her work you should), blog posts are usually better when written after a glass of wine (or three).

The news with me is that I am slated to submit a piece to Yes! Magazine in a couple weeks. It’s a response to the winners of a writing contest based on an article I published with them a couple years back. It was a story I wrote about trying to avoid Monsanto products for a month. It was kind of a crazy little experiment that caught all kinds of flack. The Monsanto supporters hated me for obvious reasons, but the hippies came down on me too for not hating harder on GMO’s. It was a tumultuous time, made all the tougher  by the pregnancy hormones I didn’t yet know were coursing through my body.

Anyway, point is, Yes! Magazine held a writing contest wherein the prompt was my article. They sent me the stories written by the winners of the contest, and I am working on a thoughtful, witty, and smart response to their hard work.

I feel like I’ve hit a new point in my writing career. People are reading my work and responding to it, in their own writing. I have officially inspired critical thinking. I feel honored, and a little daunted. You know, as a writer you send stuff out into the world, and you assume some people read it. You might even go so far as to think that a few people not related to you stumbled upon it, but to sit down and read these essays from a range of people aged 9 to 20 (the winners are from three different categories: middle school, high school and college level) kind of blows ones mind. Or, at least, it blew mine.

I’ve read them all through, just as a first pass. I will likely read them each a few more times as I compose my thoughts. I want to write something that will convey how excited I am that the conversation about GMOs continues, that young people care about their health and their futures and are engaged in conversation about it. I also want to encourage them, and anyone else who has read my work, to keep an open mind. When we go into a conversation with our minds made up we might as well not bother. GMO’s are not going away, and there is many an argument for how they could be a source of great good. I guess my hope, ultimately, and the reason I feel so very honored to be a part of this whole thing, is that by being diligent in our questioning of how new technologies are managed we can have a part in ensuring their responsable use.

My official response is due July 17, so I have a couple weeks to work on it.

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Rock Lake Writers Retreat

It’s getting harder and harder to carve out time for my fiction. Life gets busy, and with even the best intentions, I don’t set aside enough time for the work I really want to do.

So I’m very excited to say that my writing group has rallied to set aside a whole weekend in July to step outside our busy lives and work on our novels (or screenplays, as the case may be). It’s the first official Rock Lake Writers Retreat. Well, the rest of the gang went up to Colorado last year for five days, but it happened to coincide with my sister-in-law’s wedding and Daniels subsequent back surgery, so it wasn’t in the cards for me. And that doesn’t count anyway, because we didn’t officially name our group until about six months ago. Which reminds me, we are in the process of setting up a website for our group. In a few weeks I should be able to share a url, and these mysterious writing-group-friends will finally be a lot less mysterious. I bet you were starting to think I made them up.

Anyhow, where was I? Writing retreat. Yes.

IydllwildWe rented a vacation house in Idyllwild, that’s a photo of it at the right there. It’s a nice place with three bedrooms, and we’re splitting the cost between the five us. We’re going up on Friday the 19th and staying two nights.

I’m so excited. I am also unprepared. I have just three weeks to get ready to make the most of my precious few days up there. Basically, I just need to figure out what changes I still want to make to the manuscript. I think I mentioned in a previous post that I got some conflicting advice from my readers on the most recent pass, so I need to really think hard about where I want the story to go.

I’m also feeling tempted by a new story idea. It’s a non-ficion book that really needs to be written (by me). I’m meeting with my agent to run it past her on Friday (tomorrow – wow, that came up quick). If she thinks it’s as exciting as I do, it might be hard not to spend the retreat working on the proposal.

Damn this  creative life and its myriad potential writing projects.

Well, I have a few weeks to figure it out anyway.

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I get paid to be nosey.

I’m very excited to announce that an article I wrote about my uncles went live today on the BETA Magazine website. It’s titled “You, Me, and the Virus Makes Three: Serodiscordant Relationships in the 21st Century.”

For the word nerds – serodiscordant is a fairly new term describing a relationship wherein one person has HIV/AIDS and the other does not. My uncles have been in their serodiscordant relationship since before the term existed. It was a real treat to sit down with them and hear the details of their story.

When Terry was first diagnosed, I was young and nobody spoke much about it. It was still so taboo. By the time I was old enough to know about HIV/AIDS, Terry’s infection was old news, and there just never seemed to be a good time to ask the question: “so… do you guys still have sex, or what?”

Thankfully, in my line of work, I get paid to be nosey.

Check it out (here) when you get a chance. They really do have a great story. I’m honored to get to tell it.

Finally, thank you to all the family and friends who have sent well wishes for Daniel’s recovery. We got to see an x-ray of his spine today. Check this baby out:

Those white things are the screws in my guy’s spine. Burly.

He was having a hard time getting comfortable in bed, so this morning we invested in a recliner. So he’s still laid up, but he’s doing it in style, the doc told him to keep the narcotics coming, and the Euro Cup, or something, is playing soccer non-stop (or so it seems) – so he’s doing just fine.





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For Daniel

It may seem like I haven’t been blogging much the past two weeks, but really I’ve just been cheating on you.

My other blog, The Digging Deep Campaign, has been going through some big changes. We added 6 new writers and I’ve been managing their posts, making myself dizzy with editorial work. As I’ve been getting used to the new schedule, I’m afraid I’ve been neglecting my own blog here. So sorry. I think I’ve got it under control now. If you haven’t checked out the Digging Deep blog in a while, you should stop by. We have new content EVERY DAY now, and it’s all good.

As for my own writing, I’m finishing up the polish on my Northern California book before sending it to the publisher. I’ve integrated the notes I got from my writing group, and am working on the fun intro material (basic history of Northern California, writing a personal preface, that sort of thing). The best part so far was dedicating it. I’ve never dedicated a book before. I’m giving this one to Daniel.

I thought about making the dedication read: “For Daniel, can we go home now?” We’ve been talking about moving back to Northern California since we got to LA, but somehow that didn’t seem right.

I opted instead for: “For Daniel, who loves Northern California almost as much as I do.”

It makes me wonder who I will dedicate my novel to. When I finish it, in like 30 years.

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Today is the Day

I just put a bottle of champagne in the fridge for tonight.

With any luck I will finish the last four pages of my Northern California book today!

I’m so excited to actually, finally, finish something!

Can’t blog. Gotta go write like the wind.

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