Thursday, April 11, 2013

Catching Up

I was also hoping to do a better job of posting links to my pieces online, and have fallen ridiculously behind in this endeavor. The season premiere of Mad Men reminded me that I never shared a link to my Salon.com essay about Mad Men and my mom's suicide during the last season. I also never posted anything about my second essay on the Rumpus: Where I Write: The House My Mother Built.

I've had several pieces up at Artbound--KCET's transmedia site, where I'm a columnist covering the arts and culture of Riverside County--as well; you can find a link to all of them here.

There are other scattered bits of my writing here and there that I've neglected to post, which I will gather and share when I have a chance. Thank you for your patience!

Come Write with Me (for Free!)

I am trying to remember to do a better job of posting my events here, and wanted to let you all know I have some free workshops on the horizon...

On Saturday, April 13 (the day before my birthday!), I will be teaching a free writing workshop at the Covina Library from 3:30-4:30pm. Registration is required; please call (626) 384-5297 to reserve your spot. 

The following Saturday, April 20th, I will teach a writing workshop as part of the Stop the Pain teen summit in Riverside, a day long free event to raise awareness about dating violence, sex trafficking, and bullying. My workshop will focus on writing as a source of personal power. If you know any teens or young adults in the Riverside area, please let them know about this event. You can read an article about it here.

The next day, Sunday, April 21st, I will have a little booth at a "poetry in non-traditional settings" Earth Day event at the San Bernardino County Museum from 12-4pm. If you swing by, you can eat and write about oranges with me! I will be doing a similar orangey mini-workshop for Earth Night at the Western Municipal Water District Efficiency Garden in Riverside on Monday, April 22nd from 3-7pm.

Would love to see (and write with) you at any of these events!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Literary Orange

I don't often think of Orange County as a literary hotspot, but recent (and near future) events are changing my opinion of the place. Last week, I had two great events in Orange County--I spoke at Barbara DeMarco-Barrett's fabulous Pen on Fire Speakers Series last Tuesday, with the amazing writers Jo-Ann Mapson and Seth Greenland, and last Friday, I met with the Seal Beach Leisure World Creative Writing Club, a wonderful, engaged group of older writers (one of whom was over 100!) Just before my talk, I was nabbed by a Leisure World security patrol guy for entering the "exit" lane of a parking lot--it created a good opportunity to talk to the group about how sometimes as writers, we have to break the rules!

On April 6th, I'll be on the roster at Literary Orange, a day full of keynotes and panels on various aspects of craft and genre (my panel is Literary Fiction: Southland Stories, where I'll be joined by my former Antioch mentor and forever source of inspiration, Diane Lefer, plus Aris Janigian and Hector Tobar.) The moderator of our panel will be Andrew Tonkovich, who wrote this lovely profile of my work for the OC Weekly: To Kill a Mockingbird and Save Mr. Lincoln: Gayle Brandeis and the Political Young Adult.

I am grateful for all of the support, Orange County, and look forward to further literary engagement behind the proverbial Orange curtain.

(Speaking of literary oranges of a different nature, be on the lookout for a call for submissions for an anthology of writings about oranges I'm going to compile/edit for the Inlandia Institute...)

Monday, March 04, 2013

The Next Big Thing

I was tagged by three wonderful women to participate in The Next Big Thing, a way to let readers know about our projects in the works:

--Laura L. Mays Hoopes, who is preparing to launch Breaking Through the Glass Ceiling: An American Woman Becomes a DNA Scientist, the first memoir to explore how a woman has been able to balance a successful career in science with motherhood,

--Cati Porter, whose new poetry chapbook, The Way Things Move the Dark, is fresh off the dancing girl press' presses,

--and Jacqui Morton, whose collection of motherhood-inspired poems, Turning Cozy Dark, will be available from Finishing Line Press in June.

I hope you'll support all three of these brave and amazing mama writers by (pre)ordering their books.

I am working on two projects and wasn't sure which one to write about. The memoir about my mom is truly the "big thing" in my heart, but it's still in its early stages, so I thought I should write about my new YA novel, which is (I hope, I hope) almost ready to lob out into the world. And now, on to the Next Big Thing questions...



What is your working title of your book or work in progress?

Seed Bombs

Where did the idea come from for the book?

A few years ago, there were a couple of bills in the House that would have outlawed organic farming and backyard gardening. My friend Nancy and I were considering putting together some sort of street theater to protest this, but never quite got our act together (I think one of us was going to dress up like a farmer, the other like a cow). Thank goodness the bills didn't pass, but I started to think about what our world would be like if all home gardening was outlawed and one Monsanto-like company controlled the entire food supply. I started to think about a group of kids who wanted to bring food production back into the hands of the people.

What genre does your book fall under?

YA. For a while my agent and I thought it was a Middle Grade novel, but an enlightening talk by  (and later with) the wonderful Lin Oliver helped me realize that it is actually a Young Adult novel (young YA, perhaps, but YA for sure.)

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Ooh, that's a tough one. I'm really not up on young actors these days. I'll have to let a young person read it and let me know. I could picture John Hodgman as the main character's dad, though.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It is represented by the brilliant Ellen Geiger at the Francis Goldin Literary Agency. She has been a real advocate of this book, and has been very patient as I've gone through draft after draft that hasn't quite hit the mark. I'm hoping this draft will get her nod.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I started the novel in the second half of 2009, but didn't make much progress--I gave birth on November 22 of that year, and my mom took her own life on November 29; I was derailed creatively for quite some time after this. In 2011, I started Seed Bombs from scratch and wrote a draft during National Novel Writing Month; I have been trying to shape that raw material into something meaningful ever since.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I can't think of any other books for young people that directly parallel Seed Bombs, but it does have a group of young activists like Cory Doctorow's Little Brother, and it explores environmental issues like The Carbon Diaries by Saci Lloyd.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

See my second answer. :) I suppose the other main inspirations for this book are my love of food and my desire for a green and sustainable future.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It has a life-changing strawberry, just like (but also very different from) my book Fruitflesh. :)

Thanks again to the three fabulous women who tagged me; I'll tag three fabulous women, in turn: Laraine HerringAlma Luz Villanueva and Rebecca O'Connor. Can't wait to read about your next big things!








Friday, September 14, 2012

A very Inlandia weekend

Kind of last minute, but wanted to let you know about the abundance of Inlandia offerings I'm involved with this weekend.

Tomorrow, Saturday, September 15, I will be part of the first Inlandia Book Fair at the Riverside Barnes & Noble. I read at 1:40pm, and there is a roster of amazing readers all day, from 10-4, along with free green chile tastings as Inlandia launches our first independently published book, Julianna Cruz's Dos Chiles/Two Chiles. Click here to find the schedule. You don't have to be in Riverside to benefit the Inlandia Institute; if you use the code 10812964 at any Barnes & Noble, on or off line, between the 15th and 21st, a portion of the sale will go toward vitally needed literary programming.

On Sunday the 16th, I'll be teaching a free ekphrastic writing workshop (writing inspired by art) at the Riverside Art Museum from 12:30-2, and will be reading and presenting a video from 2:30-3:30. More info can be found here.

Would be wonderful to see you at either event (or both!)

Also, just today, my profile of Inlandia Institute's founder, the amazing Marion Mitchell-Wilson, went live on Artbound: Marion Mitchell-Wilson and the Inlandia Institute: The Heart and Soul of Inland Empire Literature. It feels so good to pay tribute to Marion upon her retirement and thank her for all she has given our region.

Viva Inlandia!


Thursday, June 07, 2012

Thank you!

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Thanks to all of your votes and support, my Tio's Tacos article has been adapted into a short film. The people at KCET Artbound did a gorgeous job capturing the vision and spirit of Martin Sanchez, and created such a loving tribute to his whole family. I am so grateful that this is going to bring more attention to Martin and his amazing art. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

diving deep

I've been wanting to write about my mom since her death, but had been scared to get too close, dive too deep. That is starting to change. Yesterday, The Rumpus published my essay, Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying, which was so hard to write, but felt so incredibly necessary...it practically clawed its way out of me. I have been deeply moved by the outpouring of support it has already received over the last day. When I first saw that the essay had been posted, my heart nearly broke through my chest, it was pounding so hard. I felt a little dizzy all day, both from having such a raw piece of myself out in the world, and from having people receive it with so much love.

Thank you to everyone who has already read and shared the piece. You are giving me the courage to continue to dive, as Adrienne Rich said, into the wreck.

Monday, May 21, 2012

ARTBOUND

I am delighted to be a columnist at KCET's new arts and culture site, ARTBOUND, and am even more excited that my first piece there, Tio's Tacos, Riverside's Folk Art Wonderland, is the People's Choice for the week. Now it goes up against the Editor's Choice; the winner will be made into a short documentary. I've always believed that Martin Sanchez deserved widespread recognition for his wild and visionary art, his unstoppable, sustainable creativity. This could be a way for him to get it. Please vote for Tio's Tacos today.

BTW, my husband Michael took all of the fabulous photos in the article. :) If you know of any newsworthy arts/culture happening in Riverside, please drop me a line.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Catching Up

Once again, long time, no post. Life has been a crazy whirl, in ways both hard and sweet.

I have some exciting news to share--I was recently named the new Inlandia Literary Laureate! I will accept the laureateship on April 25 at UCR (and Sandra Cisneros will speak right afterwards, as part of the Tomas Rivera Conference. Details below)--please come if you can. I am so honored to follow in Susan Straight's footsteps--she did such a beautiful job as the first Inlandia Laureate; I hope to inspire many people to read, write and celebrate our region during my two year appointment. Some fun plans are in the works--I will share more as they develop.


Some other exciting news--I learned a few days ago that My Life with the Lincolns received a Silver Nautilus Book Award for Middle Grade/Teen Fiction; the tagline for the Nautilus Awards is "Better Books for a Better World", which warms my social justice-dreaming heart.

Here are some of my recent online appearances:
--I reviewed Terry Tempest William's incredible book, When Women Were Birds, for the San Francisco Chronicle
--I was interviewed about The Book of Live Wires at the West Coast Writers blog
--I also spoke about The Book of Live Wires (amongst other writerly and motherly topics) during this Hip Mama podcast
--The Colony Library Lady wrote a fabulous review of Delta Girls prior to my speaking engagement there (it was wonderful to talk with the high school students who attended.)

Coming up, The Book of Dead Birds is the May selection for the Reading the Western Landscape Book Group at the Los Angeles County Arboretum; I will be there Wednesday, May 2 at 7pm to discuss the book--it would be great to see you there (the grounds are beautiful, even if the peacocks are a bit aggressive)!

Thank you for your continuing support. Hope you're having a gorgeous Spring.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Gather the Women


This Saturday, March 24, I will be gathering with a group of wild, wise, wonderful women to share a day of expression, reflection and sisterhood. Won't you join us? Our 8th annual Gather the Women conference--our second in downtown Riverside--features a Women's Marketplace on the Library Plaza showcasing artisanal products by local women, and a day of inspiring, empowering workshops on creativity, activism and heart-centered living in the Unitarian Church. I'll be teaching a class on Publishing from the Heart, exploring the many ways you can get your voice out into the world. We are asking only  a minimum $10 donation, to keep the conference affordable for women in the community. To find out more and register, please visit womencreatingpeace.org. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Voices of the Day

I learned through Google Alert that I was Voice of the Day yesterday at Sojourners, an organization and magazine "Celebrating 40 Years of Faith in Action for Social Justice". They excerpted a portion of my poem, "The Body Politic of Peace," which has had a reach bigger than I ever could have imagined when I wrote the piece several years ago. It won a Barbara Mandigo Kelley Peace Poetry Award from the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation; it has been used in sermons and yoga classes around the country; it was adapted into a choral arrangement for the Denver Women's Chorus. I am touched and honored that my heartfelt words have found their way into other hearts.

Last week, I experienced the power of individual voices firsthand. My dear friend Greg Walloch invited me to be his guest when he performed at the USA Network/The Moth Characters Unite Storytelling Event. Characters Unite is a campaign launched by the USA Network to combat prejudice and intolerance. They partnered with The Moth, an organization I have long loved, to create a storytelling tour dedicated to promoting understanding and acceptance.



The storytellers were incredible. Tim King, educator and founder of Urban Prep Academies in Chicago, spoke about how his life was changed when a troubled student asked him to be his father. Aimee Mullins, whose legs were amputated below the knee when she was five years old, shared how she turned what could easily be seen as a liability into a strength--she has won world records for running on prosthetic legs, and has become a muse to designers such as the late Alexander McQueen and filmmakers like Matthew Barney. Greg told a story about cake, gay Elvis impersonators and televangelists that is a MUST see/hear (you can see him below telling the story at another Moth event):



Dustin Lance Black, who won an Academy Award for writing "Milk", movingly spoke about the difference between his own coming out experience in a supportive community in California and his late brother being unable to come out safely or openly in Texas. I can't stop thinking about the story and how we need to make the whole country a safer place for people like his brother to live openly (and marry legally). His story obviously touched a nerve--Nathan Lane, who had been emceeing the event, broke out of his scripted (and hilarious) hosting duties to share his own coming out experience. I just read that USA Network star, Matt Bomer, who had introduced the evening of storytelling, came out publicly last weekend--this is speculation, of course, but I can't help but think that he was inspired to do so by Dustin Lance Black and the honesty of all the storytellers at Characters Unite. The evening ended with Academy Award hopeful Octavia Spencer talking about how her experience filming "The Help" inspired her to use her own voice to make a difference.

One of the beautiful things about storytelling is how it breaks down barriers and reminds us that we are all part of a greater human story. I felt so honored to bear witness to these stories (and then to sit with the storytellers while John Legend played piano a few feet away!)

Tomorrow, I am going to be teaching a writing workshop to at-risk teenage girls through the Write of Your Life program co-founded by one of my former students. I look forward to sharing with them the power of storytelling and helping them discover the power of their own voices. We all have more reach than we ever could have imagined.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

My Review of A Theory of Small Earthquakes


My review of Meredith Maran's novel, A Theory of Small Earthquakes, appears in tomorrow's San Francisco Chronicle. I feel honored to have had a chance to review this beautiful, timely book.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

GATE Story Con: The Power of Story

Last Saturday, thanks to the generous invitation of my friend Nancy, I had the pleasure of attending GATE Story Con, an all day (and almost all night!) event exploring and celebrating the power of Story to create personal, social and global transformation. GATE is the Global Alliance for Transformational Entertainment, an organization dedicated to changing our cultural story by changing our media. The event featured poets and physicists, musicians and spiritual writers and movie producers and comedians, all of them committed to moving our human story forward by telling stories that are honest and illuminating and brave. I left feeling deeply inspired and energized, with a renewed dedication to using my voice as a storyteller to make a difference in the world.

The image above is Paul Horn playing the flute. I took his music and tai chi workshop as a work-study student at the Esalen Institute in the late 80s, and his music brought flashbacks of my young, idealistic self dancing on the cliffs overlooking the ocean in Big Sur. The screen above him is filled with images of people in the audience who were live-tweeting the event--my photo is right in the center (if you'd like, you can read my tweets with the hashtag #gatecommunity here). It was fun to see my older self, filled with a more realistic idealism now, virtually together with Paul Horn again, as part of a community of artists who want to connect our personal stories to a greater story, a story connected to the earth, a story connected to the stars, a story that reminds us we are all in this story together--let's try to make it a beautiful one.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Book Giveaway!

What electrifies you as a writer? If you let me know over at my She Writes blog by this Friday, you could win a copy of The Book of Live Wires (the grand prize includes an ebook, a rare physical edition and a copy of The Book of Dead Birds.) I've been so touched by all of the comments people have left so far--it's deeply inspiring to see what makes people tick as writers. You need to become a member of She Writes to enter--something I highly encourage; it's a wonderful community for women writers.

I also recently posted Knocking on Your Door (On reframing self promotion) (if you check it out, you can see a copy of the first page of the neighborhood newspaper I created when I was 11.)

And going back a couple of months, here are my last three NaNoWriMo blogs for She Writes, in reverse chronological order: Writing Into (and Out of) the Void, Thanksgiving, NaNoWriMo Edition and On Perfectionism: A NaNoWriMo No No.

I look forward to finding out what sets your writing self on fire!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I received my contributor's copies of Sudden Flash Youth today; it's a very cool collection of short short stories (all under 1000 words) focusing on young people, published by Persea Books. I'm honored to appear with people like Alice Walker and Dave Eggers and Steve Almond and Naomi Shihab Nye in its pages.

I'm sorry I haven't been appearing on this page very often. I feel as if I should enter some sort of blogger confessional booth, saying how long it's been since my last blog post (way too long, for sure). And, to admit even more bloggerly sins, I've been blogging elsewhere, forsaking my own blog. I will try to do a better job of keeping the blog fires alive here. In order to catch you up to date, here is where I've been over the last month or so...

I am currently blogging about NaNoWriMo for She Writes every Friday. Here are my first two posts:
--The NaNoWriMo Adventure Begins!
--Road Maps (or On Writing with an Outline for the First Time)

I have done some guest blogs about my decision to release The Book of Live Wires as an ebook (and I promise I will write about that more thoroughly here, as well):
--Tricia O'Brien interviewed me for her wonderful blog, Talespinning
--I wrote a guest blog for The Office of Letters & Light, the organization responsible for NaNoWriMo
--I also touched upon the e-book in my blog for Red Room on civil disobedience and writing, Action is the Antidote to Despair

Thanks to Red Room, I also have a piece up on Huffington Post about My Life with the Lincolns and the new MLK, Jr. Monument.

I feel as if I am forgetting some other posts--will share them as I remember them, and will try stay more on top of letting you know about my upcoming events (if any of you are in the Ventura area, I'll be speaking at the AAUW luncheon there this coming Saturday the 19th.) I hope you'll forgive my bloggerly sins!

Thursday, October 27, 2011


I first met Cindy Bokma about 9 years ago on an online writers' forum; she was so bubbly and charming and so excited about the process of writing--I immediately knew I wanted to be her friend. When I met her in person at a writers' conference, that feeling was amply confirmed; I am lucky to be able to call her my friend indeed (and I love that we live less than an hour away from one another so we can meet midway for breakfast every once in a while--although not often enough!) Cindy is a treasure. It's been so wonderful to watch her grow as a writer, crafting one funny, lively manuscript with insanely commercial potential after another. My only frustration is the fact that she hasn't gotten the recognition she deserves yet--this woman should have multiple best selling books and blockbuster movies and her own tv show and line of perfume by now. One day (as I keep telling) her, her work is going to break through and hit the big time. Until then, we are lucky to be able to read her first novel, Here if You Need Me as an ebook, and we can also get regular Cindy infusions through her beauty blog, Hello Dollface and her book blog, Cindy Reads.

I asked Cindy a few questions about her writing (I was especially interested in her ebook experience, as I am going to be launching my own ebook, The Book of Live Wires--the sequel to The Book of Dead Birds--next week. Stay tuned for more info...)

1. When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I have a copy of the little school newspaper from the third grade where I wrote a short story and a notebook full of poems and stories from when I was a kid. I worked on my highschool newspaper, yearbook and literary club. Ever since a young age, I loved to read and always had a book in my hands!

2. You've had quite a journey with this book. Could you tell a bit about the inspiration for the novel?

I began it at the time I ran my celebrity gossip website. I wondered what would happen if someone with a normal, non famous life got caught up in the glamorous life of a celebrity. I wanted my character to be a bitchy girl who really gets sucked into the whole Hollywood lifestyle and has a big character arc where she changes completely. I ended up having to rewrite my main character because people (and every single agent I queried) did not have any sympathy for her.

3. I'd love to hear why you chose to re-release the novel as an ebook, with a new title.

I wasn’t totally happy with the way A Thousand Dollars for a Kiss turned out. I felt the editing wasn’t as tight as it should have been. I read all the reviews and took some of the harsh critiques to heart. I knew the plot needed some work and the main character needed to be softened up a bit. I left an ambiguous ending with one of the characters but realized she needed her story wrapped up.

I rewrote much of the book and gave it a new title, Here If You Need Me, which pertains to the character of Barrett wanting so badly to be a part of pop star Kat’s life. I felt like releasing it as an ebook would give new life to the book and expose my writing to a whole other pool of readers- those with Kindles and Nooks and ipads!

4. How has the process of e-publishing been different from the process of more traditional publishing? What are your thoughts about ebooks and ereaders, in general?

With the e-publishing, you don’t need a publishing contract, an agent or an editor. You can do everything yourself via places like Smashwords or Kindle Publishing which is good and bad. I think its very helpful to have someone to give you a critique and point out what the manuscript needs as well as edit the grammar. I’ve been working with a publisher for a girls book I have coming out in the spring and I love the process of working with an editor and having a time line.

I was very, very resistant to having an ereader myself. I love books and pages and holding a book in my hands. But for travel, I think its very handy to have a Kindle in my purse! I can have several books with me and not have to fill up a carry-on which is what I usually do. I normally take no less than six novels with me! So for travel, an e-reader for sure. But for everyday, I want a real book. I go to bed every night and read for an hour or two.

5. You are one of the most ambitious people I know--I so admire your persistence and drive. What are your deepest dreams and hopes for your writing career?

Thank you Gayle! You’ve been such a mentor from day one and I appreciate it. My dream for many years has been to be a best- selling novelist. My stories are very commercial and I want to see them translated on to the big screen. I wish for a book contract to write a novel a year and have a hand in the process of bringing the stories to film or television. I have a big imagination and a lot of creativity so my hopes would be to earn a living doing what I love- writing and creating.

6. What are you working on now?

I try to do daily updates on my beauty blog, HelloDollface and weekly updates on CindyReads, my book review site. I have a kids TV show I’d like to pitch, a novel about Marilyn Monroe I’m trying to edit and I am getting ready to commit to National Novel Writing Month!

7. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

I’ve been rejected by more agents than I can count over the years and I’m still at my little desk, writing every single day. I would tell aspiring writers to keep writing and not to stop. And don’t take rejection personally. Get back on that proverbial horse and keep going! Work towards those dreams.

Thanks so much, Cindy. I look forward to our next breakfast together (and to reading more of your work. Good luck with all of your projects!)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

This Saturday, I'll be reading from/discussing/signing Delta Girls at the Corona Public Library at 2pm. Would love to see you there!

Monday, July 11, 2011

A lovely bit of magnolia-scented synchronicity in my life as a writer/editor...

I am delighted to announce the publication of Magnolia: A Journal of Women's Literature. I was invited to be guest editor for the inaugural print edition, which focuses on socially engaged fiction by women. Magnolia is an offshoot of the wonderful Her Circle Ezine: Feminine Experience and Socially Engaged Creative Practice and is now also a project of the Institute of Arts and Social Engagement, so it's mission is very close to my writer-activist heart. The anthology is a wonder, full of poems, fiction and creative non-fiction that delve into women's experience--in the body, in the world--with great honesty and power. Here is the official description of the collection:
In this first volume of a new series dedicated to socially engaged literature by women, guest editor Gayle Brandeis introduces us to powerful storytelling that speaks out loud the atrocities of our world, breaking the silence and taking pause. Included are the traumatic tale of a mother’s loss during a clandestine border crossing, the unionization of a women’s light bulb factory in pre-World War II Chicago, a child whose life has been stunted by a futuristic device she is stored in on a daily basis, and many more.

This year’s writers represent a diversity of geographies, stylistic sensibilities, and perspectives. Through poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction, they universally challenge us to reconsider what “women’s experience” looks and sounds like—they require us to break our hearts, celebrate even the smallest triumphs, and to critically examine the seemingly mundane moments of everyday life, all through the medium of language. Featuring new and established voices, this collection is a must read for compassionate and thoughtful readers from all walks of life.
Pick up a copy today! (They are also starting to read submissions for next year's edition, edited by Karen Connelly, so if this project appeals to your own sensibilities as a writer, be sure to send in your work.)

In other Magnolia news, I will be reading my vintage essay, "Meditations on Magnolia" to help celebrate the online launch of Inlandia: A Literary Journey (for which I am an associate fiction editor) this Saturday, 1pm at the Arlington Library, 9556 Magnolia Avenue (fitting address!) in Riverside. Please join me and many other local writers as we explore the Inland Empire through the written (and spoken) word!

Now I feel like finding a magnolia tree and staring up into the lush, startling beauty of its blossoms...

Saturday, July 02, 2011


I am thrilled and honored to be on the Advisory Board for the Afghan Women's Writing Project, which offers online writing instruction for women in Afghanistan and a rare, deeply important, chance to get their voices out into the world. The AWWP recently launched a campaign, The Freedom to Tell Your Story, to raise funds to reach more Afghan women and unleash more of their hidden words. Through July 31, if you donate at least $20 (tax deductible) to the AWWP, you will be entered in a drawing to win a variety of wonderful prizes, from handmade jewelry to signed books (including ones by Amy Tan, Khaled Hosseini, Jennifer Egan and yours truly), cds and films. Donations will fund an internet cafe in Kabul, an expansion of AWWP in Herat, and an oral history project.

Please donate to this special campaign today. As the AWWP website says, to tell one's story is a human right. You can help restore that right to countless women whose voices have not yet been heard.

“When I don’t write, I am like an orphan child searching love of parents — I am like a broken lover — I am like a blasted Kabul street full of blood.” -- Roya

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Just a reminder that I'll be part of the Women Behaving Badly reading this Saturday, July 2, 7:30pm, at Beyond Baroque in Venice, CA, sponsored by CODEPINK. I'm excited to share the stage with Jo Scott-Coe, Stephanie Hammer and Donna Hilbert--amazing writers all. As the flyer says, "Four SoCal women writers of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry share their work and raise their voices: naughty, naked, notorious—and necessary." I plan to read some short stories, and maybe a poem or two, that I haven't shared in public before. Can't wait to hear what the other misbehaving women have to share!



This coming Thursday, July 7, at 6;30pm, I'll be reading from (and doing a little power point presentation about) My Life with the Lincolns at the Riverside Public Library, thanks to the Inlandia Institute. Hope to see local friends there! There will probably be less misbehaving at this reading--although you never know...I could be asked about the word in the book that's gotten me in trouble!

A fun bit of literary news--my novel Self Storage was published in Romania! Here is the cover; I am tickled that they recreated the original cover image in their own way--it makes me smile to think of someone in the art department scouring Romanian stores (or maybe their own apartment) for a red bra and a canning jar. The title translates to "Flan's Auction" (well, technically "Flange's Auction", but hopefully people will realize the title is about a person named Flan, and not metal rims!) I hope the book will find a happy audience in that part of the world.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

I took a dance improvisation class today and it felt like coming home--my body remembering its own idiosyncrasies, its own freedom. It's been over 20 years (??!!?!) since I danced improv on a regular basis, yet my body slipped--albeit a bit rustily--right into the playful flow of the class, moving through space with other bodies-in-the-moment...such an invigorating, inspiring experience. I had forgotten how simple movements like walking, running, standing still, can become profound when done with intention, and in community. And then doing duet and trio work, playing with sharing of weight, sculpting of space--an amazing process. I felt more like myself than I have in quite a long time. I'm going to be sore tomorrow, and already have bruises on my knees and shins, but it's well worth it.

A great moment of synchronicity...after class, the wonderful teacher Sue asked if I was familiar with the work of dancer and writerSimone Forti. I felt such a jolt...Just a few days ago, I had found Simone Forti's book, Handbook in Motion, in a box in my basement after not seeing it for years, and brought it upstairs to soak in its inspiration anew. It's the one thing I can remember consciously stealing--I took it from the University of Redlands' library, probably in 1987, because I was worried I wouldn't be able to find it anywhere else, and it had impacted me so deeply, I couldn't bear the thought of living without it. It turns out that Sue sometimes uses exercises by Simone Forti in her improv class that combine writing and movement--I nearly swooned when she told me. In dusting off that old book and now taking this class (which unfortunately meets only once a month--although it may meet more frequently over the summer), it feels like I've started dusting off parts of myself that I never meant to put in storage.

Another synchronicity--Simone Forti's more recent work has been published by Beyond Baroque, and I have a couple of events coming up at BB in the very near future (please forgive me for not mentioning these earlier--I had every intention to do so, but time is a slippery devil...)

Tomorrow, I will be part of the Hitched series, where established authors are paired with emerging ones (it feels weird to me to be in the "established" slot--I still don't feel as if I have really emerged yet.) I have been hitched to the fabulous Tisha Reichle, a friend and former student who does a beautiful job of marrying art and social change in her work. We will be reading with the wonderful poets Laurel Ann Bogen and Helena Lipstadt. Festivities begin at 5:00pm, 681 Venice Boulevard, Venice, CA.

On July 2 at 7:30pm, I will be back at Beyond Baroque for "Women Behaving Badly", with the amazing writers Jo Scott-Coe, Stephanie Barbe Hammer, and Donna Hilbert--an evening presented by CODEPINK: Women for Peace. A night of fiercely independent work to celebrate Independence Day!

Both events cost $7, which will help keep Beyond Baroque, a most-needed, not to mention storied and historic, literary center, up and running.

I've also been wanting to share the link to this interview I did for the Canadian novelist Lori Ann Bloomfield's blog, First Line Fiction. It's always a delight to find writers with kindred spirits; I've found one in Lori who is a yoga teacher as well as a writer and shares my belief that a writer's most important job is to pay attention to the world. I loved that so much of today's dance class was about paying attention, too--keeping each cell open and ready to respond. It's good to find that intersection in creative processes--today's experience should help me prepare for the seminar I'll be teaching at the Antioch MFA residency a week from today: "'You must change your life': Finding inspiration in other art forms." We teach what we need to learn, yes? I have so much to learn (and re-learn. Glad I was able to do a bit of that today.)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

I want to pull my head above water long enough to let you know about a couple of books...


I have a chapter, "Raising a Ruckus with CODEPINK" in the powerful new collection The 21st Century Motherhood Movement: Mothers Speak Out on Why We Need to Change the World and How to Do It", edited by Andrea O'Reilly of the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement. I was a keynote speaker at MIRCI's recent conference on Motherhood, Activism, Advocacy, Agency in Toronto, and was so inspired and empowered by the voices of mothers coming together to make a difference. This book is an amazing compilation of the profound work mothers are doing around the globe to ensure a better future for the world our children will inherit.

I recently blurbed another incredible book about women, this one Moon Tides; Jeju Island Grannies of the Sea by Brenda Paik Sunoo. If you've read my novel The Book of Dead Birds, you are aware of the women divers on Jeju Island; the haenyeo are a dying breed, and this book explores their lives with such beauty and deep respect. I wish it had existed as I was researching my novel! It's funny--about a year ago, a friend sent me a link to some of the photos from the book, and I recognized the name of the photographer/author--we had gone to graduate school together! Brenda herself contacted me a few months later and asked if I might consider writing a blurb for the book; such a small world. Here is my endorsement: "With a compassionate eye and a generous heart, Brenda Paik Sunoo has beautifully captured the fascinating, dwindling world of the haenyeo. I am grateful she has given voice to these 'grannies of the sea' and their powerful, moving stories. Dive into this book and prepare to be amazed."

I've also been wanting to let you know that I am the fiction judge this year for the Tiferet Journal Writing Contest. Alicia Ostriker is the poetry judge and Josip Novakovich is judging non-fiction. Deadline is June 1st (which would have been my mom's 72nd birthday)--enter soon; I'd love to read your work!

Friday, April 29, 2011

And the bird saga continues...

Today, as Asher and I were heading out to meet Michael for lunch, a blue jay screeched and screeched in the wisteria vines above me. My heart went out to it--I figured it was keening for the baby bird that had died yesterday.

I picked up Michael at his office and we drove over to the Barn on campus to grab a bite before heading to the UCR library so I could do more research for my upcoming talk. I pulled the stroller out of the trunk and was about to drop the diaper bag into the basket in back when I noticed something my brain couldn't quite compute. At first I thought it was Asher's toy bird that chirps when you squeeze it, but it looked too detailed, not plush enough. Then I wondered if somehow the dead baby bird from yesterday had fallen into the stroller by accident as Michael was trying to dispose of it. I looked closer, though, and saw that the little gray body was breathing. A live baby bird in the stroller. The stroller I had left outside overnight, which I rarely ever do; the stroller I had nonchalantly folded up and tossed in the trunk without a second thought. That poor blue jay in the wisteria, watching me birdnap her baby--no wonder she was screeching!

I felt such a rush of emotions...fear, confusion, guilt, awe, giddiness, the promise of a second chance, all racing through my veins at once. I told Michael I felt as if I was living in a myth. "Because there's a bird in the stroller?" he asked, amused at my penchant to turn every little thing into Story. But yes, finding a living bird inside a stroller, a stroller that had been folded up in the trunk, no less, felt magical, somehow--certainly a much different, more hopeful, narrative than finding a dead bird on the driveway.

I'm afraid I am too exhausted to continue the saga tonight--I will let you know what happened next soon...

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Yesterday, a dead baby bird showed up on my driveway, likely a little blue jay. My heart sank at the sight of it--I wanted to see it as some sort of good omen, the way I did when a dead crow appeared on my patio just as I was ready to give up on writing The Book of Dead Birds, but it just made me sad. Probably because I have my own little baby, who has a bad cold, and the thought of any young life snuffed out rattles me deeply. But also probably because I feel so disconnected from my writing right now--I have so little time, so little energy, am so far behind on email, etc.; I am not sure I feel ready for or deserving of a good writing omen.

Still, little writing nudges are coming my way.

I have an author profile on Red Room, and every once in a while, the site invites authors to submit pieces to their affiliate sites at Aol.com. I sent along a piece I had written a while ago about my unexpected adventures as Annie Oakley in a community theater production of Annie Get Your Gun. Gina at Red Room liked the essay (the piece went live today; you can read it here) and told me an assignment had just come up--writing about Kate Middleton's last night of freedom. Would I like to take it on? At first I balked inside--I didn't have the time, didn't have any interest in the royal wedding--but then something in me said "Say yes." And I'm glad I did--it was a fun piece to write (you can read it here.) Beyond the enjoyment of it, though, it reminded me that I *can* find time to write, and if I can carve out time to write an 800 word piece on a subject that I never would have chosen on my own, I can certainly find time to write about subjects that are calling me.

And subjects have indeed been calling me. A novel, a YA novel, a memoir, all vying for my attention. And they're all starting to get louder. I just need to figure out which to focus on. I just need to get past my own resistance, my own fears about having lost my ability to write, my own fears of failure. I need to give my writing the time it deserves. Toward that end, I actually signed Asher up for two half days a week of daycare this month, but he's already gotten sick twice and is so miserable when I bring him there, I'm questioning whether to continue. Somehow, though, I need to find a time other than late at night, when I'm half asleep, to put some words on a page (if you could see me right now, you'd know I am slumped against a headboard in the guest room, my eyes barely open).

I'm currently working on a talk about mothering, fiction writing and compassion for a Motherhood and Activism conference in Toronto next month, and in my research about mother novelists am finding that there were very few before the 1960s, at least ones who were published. For so long, women were told they could have either books or babies, not both. When my older kids were little, I somehow had no problem finding moments to write, but this go around, I'm having a much harder time with the balance. I am finding myself enraged by the historical silencing of mothers, and don't want to follow that tradition by silencing myself. So that is giving me motivation to write. A recent visit with a very lovely and enthusiastic book club to discuss Delta Girls put some writerly fire back in my belly, as well.

Also, I'm going to be a guest on Cassie Premio Steele's Co-Creating Show Friday, May 6. I want to get some good writing done before then so I won't feel like a hypocrite talking about creativity!

And another thing that's helping me along...friends. My amazing friend Laraine recently sent a very loving kick in the pants via email, and a dear friend, Kari Pope, sent me a series of Fruitflesh Meditations she has written as part of her own creative process. What a treat to see my own form written in someone else's hand, mirrored back at me to offer the same inspiration that I had hoped to offer others. I want to share one here:
Banana

I always enjoy waiting for a banana’s voice to change. Green at the tips, its song is not quite ready, but when the peel starts to freckle you may release it to sing its sweet perfume into the world.

The banana helps me remember that there is such a thing as being ready to write. Whether you achieve this preparedness through a writing ritual, through finding distance from your subject, or through hitting upon a pocket of time, space, thought, or emotion in which to write, you can and will be prepared to bring forth your own song. It’s a natural ripening, not to be rushed or undercut. You will find it, or it will find you. You will be ready.
Thanks so much, Kari. I think I'm almost ripe.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011


Happy International Women's Day!

As a woman, a mother, a founding member of the Women Creating Peace Collective, a national staff member of CODEPINK: Women for Peace and an advisory board member of the Afghan Women's Writing Project, this day has great meaning for me. I love connecting with women around the world to share our stories, our strength. This is the 100th year of International Women's Day, and we have a couple of local events planned to celebrate the occasion.

Today (Tuesday, March 8), the Women Creating Peace Collective will stand on the Mt. Rubidoux Ave. bridge (over Mission Inn Ave.) in Riverside in solidarity with CODEPINK, Women for Women International, and women standing up for peace all around the globe. The bridge movement was inspired by brave women in the Congo and Rwanda who joined together on a bridge bordering their two countries to stand up for peace and an end to violence against women. Please join us at 4pm, or find a bridge in your own area here.

The Women Creating Peace Collective will continue to celebrate International Women's Day on Saturday, March 26 at our 7th annual Gather the Women Conference. In the past, the event has been held at Cal State San Bernardino; we are excited to bring the event to downtown Riverside this year, where it will be more accessible to the wider community.

The conference will feature a day of inspiring, empowering workshops on creativity, sustainability, activism, spirituality and more. Our keynote speaker is internationally known drummer Rowan Storm, whose address will be "Women's Work Throughout the Ages: Timekeepers, Drummers, Weavers of Community." The conference runs from 9-5; at 8:30, we will gather at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 3657 Lemon St., Riverside, CA 92501, and break out into concurrent workshops at various downtown venues. There will be a women's marketplace in the library plaza throughout the day and an evening concert of dance, music and spoken word at the Riverside Woman's Club, 4092 10th St., Riverside, CA 92501, 7-9pm. For more information, to register for the conference, or apply to be a vendor in the women's marketplace, please visit www.womencreatingpeace.org (the site which Michael put together for us, through many late nights with WCP creatrix Nancy, even in the midst of his double vision). It will be a beautiful day--please join us if you can.