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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.