Saturday, July 4, 2009


Putting this blog on hold. Moved over to Wordpress for a blog that is not confined to GC.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


"140 characters is a novel when you're being shot at."
-- tweeted from Iran

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


the debate goes on, sorta...

I'm about to get my MFA from a low residency program. There are disciplines that are well-suited to the online format and writing is one of them. It's been a great experience to have a community that loves books as much as I do. We debate, share, offer moral support, and compare notes (time for a shameless plug for ANNOTATION NATION!)

I'm about to head into my last residency and will let you know how it goes. Keep writing.

Monday, June 15, 2009


Green for the Iranian protesters. Not quite the shade, but as close as Blogger gets...

Also at Amazon

Friday, June 5, 2009

for you poets

Please check out Richard Garcia's online classes if you are serious about your poetry. 

He also offers manuscript and chapbook consultation.  Payment on an hourly basis.

you can contact him through his website for more information.

(hint, click on the opening in the bamboo forest to enter site... the dark part, yep, you got it)

Sunday, May 31, 2009


Too many gray days here - I need sun. Not much to say, so will give you some links

Have fun in France here

and a small rant on Kanye West

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Beverly Hills Art Show

If you're in Los Angeles this weekend, please stop by the Beverly Hills Art Show Saturday or Sunday 10- 6 and buy something from my friend, sculptor Vicki Banks.

Light posting as I finish my MFA.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Thursday already?

After 10 hours of sleep, I feel much better and ready to write. Doris Lessing maintains that there are no laws for the novel. Still pondering that one. 

Time to write....

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A day of Edgars

I'm not much for mysteries, but this post title made me laugh: The Edgar Winner Group: 2009 Edgar Awards

Decided the best thing to do for creativity today is to take the day off. I am irritated because I thought I had the full text of Edgar Sawtelle on my Kindle and it was only a sample. Unnoticed until they asked me if I want to buy the whole thing. No, Amazon, I'm feeling cranky and am switching to the The Time Traveler's Wife. In paperback. Even your fancy whispernet will not lure me.

I may start a new blog about writing the current novel, which has a character named Edgar.

Friday, May 1, 2009


One of the things that bothers me in fiction is sloppy or non-existent research. The internet has made research easier, but you have to check sources carefully. We're human and we're going to make mistakes, but my advice is to learn to research in a library the old-fashioned way first so you at least have some idea of what you're looking at online. Example: Toni Morrison's been taken to task for including starlings in A Mercy. Is the occasional anachronism or inaccuracy a problem? Depends on whether it takes the reader out of the narrative. Practice good research and it will lessen the odds that your reader will say, 'wait a minute...'

Sometimes my research branches off into something that isn't pertinent, but oddly timely. Turns out that today, Hilary Clinton is scheduled to preside over a ceremony honoring those in our foreign service who've died on duty. I was looking for pictures of eyes of Somalis and Ethiopians in order to describe a character and found the very sad story of Brian Adkins who was murdered in Ethiopia. I initially found an article that he was found dead, then looked further to find out what had happened. May he rest in peace.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Map your sin

What? You thought I was kidding? Would be kind of interesting to use that map in a book - 7 characters in the 7 main areas around the country or something like that. 

Looked at the calendar and freaked out - everything for school is due in a few weeks. I have to get busy.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

up and running!

No, not me. Though I did go for a 4 mile hike first thing this morning. In another piece of synchronicity, I found this piece on close reading. Nice segue to:

It's the launch of Annotation Nation! (cue applause) Kate Maruyama and I are beginning to post annotations and will soon expand. We found annotating books, mostly novels, helpful for our writing. This is not close reading for literary criticism, but as a tool for writing. Hope you enjoy.
Want to feel better? First, turn off the news, then go here.

I took yesterday to go to a taping, then out to dinner with friends.  Back to work.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

L.A. Festival of Books

I vote for football. I concede it was perfect weather for the Festival of Books. Not hot, nice breeze, a little on the cool side. But I hate crowds and it was crowded. The first panel was fine, mostly thanks to David WroblewskiThey each read for a couple of minutes from their books - he also read the best, but I imagine he's also had the most practice. Here are a few of his nuggets: without an element of artifice, fiction doesn't feel real; he likes the narrative tool of a good observer; the elementary structure of the novel is a braid. Plot is a tool for taking stories apart, not creating them - if you use it to create it's like knitting with chainsaws (nice image). A novel = unnaturally long story. And from Joan Silber: plot is about how the writer thinks the world works. Bear in mind, this is a general public event, not one directed at writers.  
Wroblewski recommended So Long See you Tomorrow by William Maxwell. Joan Silber recommended Remembering Babylon by David Malouf.

The second panel was an interview and it was pretty dull. I won't name names. I sat there wondering why I was there listening to some mediocre questions on writing instead of going home to work on the novel. So I'm home now after getting jostled by crowds, eating a mediocre $7 cheeseburger and paying $3.75 for a bottle of water because I forgot mine at home.  I couldn't face two more panels, even if they were spectacular.

I guess it boils down to the fact that I get enough of writers talking about writing in grad school. Time to write.
p.s. The San Diego Chargers picked Larry English. Maybe this will finally be the year.


I seem to recall that this happens regularly: the NFL Draft and the L.A. Festival of Books are on the same weekend. This is a problem for me because I love both books and football. Yes, it's possible. Anyway, I'm going to the book fest. I have tickets for 4 of the panels. And I'll settle for the highlights on the NFL network

Lot of trouble with my right shoulder - a problem for a right-handed writer. Maybe it's dehydration. I had a quart last night and a couple of glasses of water this morning and it's easing up. That's when you just feel foolish. Oh, water. Okay.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

win win

Just got my free cone from Ben & Jerry's in Burbank - barely a line, chocolate fudge brownie ice cream and they were collecting for a charity. How outstanding is that? It gets better.... Have to admit I can't remember what I donated to (muscular dystrophy?) because the fireman who served my cone was HOT!  ;-)

Then I came home and finished my novel. 

Okay, kidding about the last bit, but the rest is all true. And I am writing... back to it.

And now for something completely different:

more books

Last Saturday, I went to a wonderful bbq with about a dozen writers and talk turned to books (I know, real shocker). Our post-grad "to read" pile is growing. Now I have even more to add. The Pulitzers were announced yesterday. Here's the list and the winner for fiction is Olive Kittridge, a collection of short stories. Plague of Doves was the runner-up. 

Shoot, I just got around to last year's winner

Have to admit, I've not been a big fan of short stories, but that is slowly changing. I still prefer the experience of getting lost in a novel.  As I wrote in a recent annotation on Johnston's Corpus Christi, I find short stories demanding, requiring concentration. They are not a relaxing art form. I have found that once I started reading books to see what authors were doing, the process moved - logically - from unconscious influence to purposeful learning. I no longer had to worry about my writing sounding like someone else's because I could look at the nuts and bolts of what they were up to and choose to use elements or not.

By the way, I want to start getting a commission on Kindle sales - just showed it off to the doctor who injected my sore shoulder (blessed relief) and he's getting one for his wife. This is probably the sixth one I've sold in the last 10 days. Pony up, Amazon.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Better days

Received the nicest note this morning from my mentor, Gayle Brandeis. She was full of encouragement, something Dorothy Allison spoke about when she came to Antioch last winter. We writers, all artists, have to keep encouraging each other. It's daunting to keep creating when things take a dip as they inevitably do.

Just discovered Martin Levin's blog.  I had the pleasure of meeting him at Book Expo in DC a few years ago. He's a wonderful and kind man and knows more about the publishing business than just about anyone.

Okay, it's a very busy day, already finished two paragraphs and the outline of a scene by 8 am: I need to write something early on so that if I don't get back to it, I won't feel like the day has been a waste in terms of writing. Kind of like exercise - get it done early so excuses don't pile up. Speaking of which, I'm going for a walk in the hills.

Friday, April 17, 2009


Had a massage this afternoon and it was like receiving a new body. Felt a little weird walking around, as in 'welcome to planet Earth' weird. Before that, however, I worked on the new novel and had coffee with an artist.  Also working on a new project with another writer and when we're up and running, I'll give the details and link, so stay tuned. These are the things that help me after a disappointment. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


This is a hard post to write. I did not make the semifinals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards with GROWING CHOCOLATE. I thought I had a solid shot, but either the piece is not strong enough or it's not the right venue.

I just returned from a much needed break (little did I know how much I'd need it!). Onward and upward. I do have an idea for a scene in the book I'm working on now, so that's where my focus must stay.

But oh it does sting.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Had to rename one of my characters about 130 pages in and found it traumatic. I'd gotten used to thinking of him a certain way. I should backtrack and say that I take naming characters seriously. I look up names and their meaning, I look at family patterns in naming children, and so on. I think names affect the reader on a subconscious level. So, neurotic me, I took a week to come up with another satisfactory name. One small complication is that I had made the meaning of the name significant, in a minor way, and wanted to preserve that little scene.

Upcoming news: I'm starting another blog in partnership with a talented writer so stay tuned for details when we get that up and running. Should be fun if you love books as well as the nuts and bolts of narrative.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Amazon problems

Sorry I've been so quiet. First, I've heard about a lot of problems when you try to post reviews of GROWING CHOCOLATE (thanks for doing so) or download the excerpt. Please contact Amazon and let them know. There's nothing I can do and if I contact them, they just tell me to have to do it directly so there you are.

Received an email awhile ago that I was in the semi-finals of another contest, Summer Literary Seminars. First prize was a paid trip to one of their 2 week events in either Lithuania, Italy, or Kenya. Unfortunately, they dropped Italy. Anyway, even though I didn't win, as one of the top 20%, they just offered me a fellowship to attend Lithuania. Thinking about it. (feel free to hit the tip jar!)

That's it for now. Finishing an annotation then taking a break to go to Santa Barbara this afternoon. Enjoy your day.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

odds and ends

For you BSG fans out there, cupcakes!

I like it that there are whole blogs about bacon

Thanks to my mentor and friend, Gayle Brandeis, for mentioning my Amazon entry on her blog. She's so sweet and generous, plus she asks the best questions that lead me to improve my writing.

If you want to live vicariously in France, check out ceci n'est pas une blog

Also, Rhonda Mitchell,one of my fellow mentees at Antioch is getting much deserved recognition for writing about her experience in this recession. Check out Recession Daily

Need some musical inspiration? A friend of mine, see_thru, DJs at - check it out.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Looks like I won't be participating in next Friday's reading after all. The venue isn't quite right. GROWING CHOCOLATE deals with the death of child, cutting and other serious themes not suitable for family night at a Y! There will be other opportunities.

Brings up the question of when to say 'yes' to readings. Not all venues are suitable. You have to think about your target audience - who are your readers? Sometimes you have to turn things down.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Thanks for the great reviews! For those I've heard from who have had problems, don't forget to log in to your Amazon account first. Today's a great day and I'm off to be in the studio audience for Dancing with the Stars. Please vote for my friend, Gilles Marini. We've been so blessed by our friendship with him and his family.

Monday, March 16, 2009


I made it to the quarterfinals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest! They winnowed it down from 10,000 to 500. Please help me out by posting a positive review here. The ones with the greatest number of positive reviews move on to be reviewed by Penguin Books. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate it. Thanks for all of your support. Here's the address:

Thank you!

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Did not win the lottery after all. I'd probably be in the Caribbean if I had. No, I'd still be here trying to figure out where I'm going in the current novel. I entered the first 8K words in Narrative's Story contest - mostly to force me to finish the thing. Did I resolve to write 3 pages a day? How foolish. No, there's a lot of writing, deleting, writing, rewriting, adding a few words to a sentence, sometimes taking them out and general staring out the window. Right now it's sunny and there are 2 small clouds to the left. A slight breeze ruffles the trees, well, the trees that are left. There are a lot of hacked off branches since the tree trimmers showed up a couple weeks ago. I like the light though, so no complaints. Gave up complaining for Lent anyway. Finished ELEGANCE OF THE HEDGEHOG and what a disappointment at the end. Come on, do the hard work and write a decent ending. Endings have been pissing me off lately, like the end of the profile on David Foster Wallace in the New Yorker. Really, a choice? You go right ahead perpetrate media stereotypes on depression and mental illness, New Yorker. No heavy lifting required.

Here's a letter that was published in Salon about the poor use of language around suicide:

Suicide and 'choice'

Discussing causality in suicide is a tricky business, both both in psychological and existential terms. Suggesting that David Foster Wallace "chose" to kill himself presumes that his choice-making faculties were intact, that he was David Foster Wallace as those who knew him had always known him. I didn't know DFW and am only glancingly familiar with his work, but for those of us who study suicide and treat people who are tormented (and sometimes, killed) by suicidal despair, it's clear that the emotional agony sufficient to lead to the suicidal impulse is also extreme enough to have, in the same process, undone that person's ordinary problem-solving and choice-making processes. The person who engages in the suicidal act is not the person we have known in other contexts. They person who dies by suicide is, in over 90% of cases studied by retrospective 'psychological autopsy', someone suffering from a particularly virulent form of mood disorder or other suicidality-engendering mental illness. It is not "Bob (or David, or Jane) choosing to kill himself", but rather, "Bob, unraveled by the agony of illness, blindly seeking relief from pain". The act, perceived from outside that agony, seems without reason, or even, as some of the other letters have suggested, intentionally malignant; from inside the seemingly endless and intolerable subjective pain and hopelessness of the suicidal individual, it is, in the moment of unendurable suffering, the only exit visible. Those left behind to mourn in the wake of a suicide often struggle greatly to come to terms with what seems to be a heartless or sadistic 'choice'. Their suffering, which can go on and on, is made just a bit lighter if our discourse can acknowledge that what looks like a 'choice' was, in fact, a person killed being by their illness. ---

-- drjonrichard

Friday, February 27, 2009

busy week

Writing took a backseat to real life, but I'm getting back on track. Worked on material for my senior lecture today, including a draft of the handout. 7 pages seems a bit long, but we'll see.

Finished Carl Hiaasen's LUCKY YOU. I played the lotto numbers that open the book today for laughs. Now that would be a great story if they hit. Next up is THE ELEGANCE OF THE HEDGEHOG by Muriel Barbery and LEFT TO TELL by Imaculee Ilibagiza about the Rwandan Holocaust.

Time to get back on track with the novel and 3 pages a day.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

strange stories

It's been a week for strange stories. Robert McKee, screenwriting guru, said that people do bizarre or awful things more often and worse than you can imagine. They also have things happen to them that would challenge the most vivid imagination. Add in accidents, mistakes and catastrophes, and real life usually outdoes fiction. The crash of Continental Flt 3407 took the life of a 9/11 widow. She died in a fiery crash - her late husband died on the 98th floor of the south tower. Would you add such a twist to a fictional story? A woman was allegedly beheaded by her TV exec husband. A chimpanzee tore the face off the friend of its owner. Bizarre twists, tragic stories. McKee was hardly the first to note that life is stranger than fiction.

The chimp story did remind me of elements for the novel I'm working on now. Keeping exotic pets is very dangerous and we have developed a naive hubris about them. They are not just like us. There's some exotic pet-keeping in my book and I need to address the danger. The book's tone is darkly comic. If you're writing something lighter, then you have to pull back in some way from the danger or explicit violence - either not showing it or showing it in an absurd way. However, that doesn't mean that the danger is not present.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Been catching up on movies this week. A friend is having an Oscar party so I may as well be prepared. Started the week with THE WRESTLER - good film, hard to watch for a few reasons. Yesterday, saw DOUBT and THE READER, both written by playwrights so it was interesting to see them on the same day. You could see the play in DOUBT. Both good, well acted. Today, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (book was better, which is usually the case). Once I catch up, I'm hitting the art museums to hopefully fill up enough to propel me to finish the novel (my 4th!). I have been waking up with ideas, better ways to tie elements together - so grateful when that happens.

Haven't had the time to finish Carl Hiassen's novel, LUCKY YOU, but he's teaching me to push the envelope. He makes unlikely situations believable.

Rec'd chapters back from my mentor with comments. Never fails to amaze me that I can overuse a word in two paragraphs and not see it. For me, editing fiction is much like learning to listen to different instruments in a piece of music. I have to go over it and look at different elements each time.

Friday, February 13, 2009

the tea did it

...kept me up all night, that is. But mystery solved - same reason my shoulder has been going into spasm off and on for a few months. Back on this morning. It's the caffeine. Now the search begins for an excellent decaffeinated Darjeeling. Art of Tea makes an amazing caramelized pear tea that I have every day. Chado in Pasadena has some very nice teas and I will stop in after the chiropractor unties my shoulder.

It's been difficult to write lately. Even my walks have been less productive than usual. After Chado, it may be time to stop in at the Norton Simon. Paintings inspire my writing more than anything else.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

getting back to the blog

Enrolled in the MFA Creative Writing program at Antioch University, Los Angeles about a year and a half ago. It's one of the best things I've ever done. I love the program which finishes up in June. I finally finished rewriting GROWING CHOCOLATE and entered it in the Amazon/Penguin contest.

I don't know whether to be optimistic or not. I have learned that what I feel at any given moment about my work has little to do with how it's received. Emotions give us information, but shouldn't be an exclusive guide. Anyway, quarterfinals will be announced in March. In the meantime, I'm working on my fourth novel, WRESTLING ALLIGATORS. About halfway through. Back to it.