Sunday, July 31, 2005
I am going to be at the Carlsbad City Library this Wednesday, August 3rd at 2pm, to read from and discuss The Book of Dead Birds over coffee and tea. The library is located at 1775 Dove Lane (a perfect address for my book, don't you think? I promise not to kill any doves during the event.) For more info, please call 760-602-2012. I hope to see some of you there!
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
I love lists like this. I can remember writing a list in fifth grade about which animals all the kids in my class reminded me of. I lay on my stomach my parent's bed with a pad of beige lined paper and thought very seriously about each person and their animal likeness. My best friends Emily and Sonja were both rabbits, as I recall. I think I was a monkey.
Dewi's work, by the way, would be honeydew melon (because that's what I think of when I hear her name) mixed with hot peppers--something scorching and delicious.
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
MY mom always wanted to be a writer. In 1926, when she was 18, she applied for a job at The Washington Post. An editor there told her that the characters she'd meet as a reporter were far too shady for a nice young lady.
But someone who wants to write will find a way to write. And someone who wants to change the world can do it without a big platform or high-profile byline.
It sounds like Peggy Dowd was an amazing, courageous woman. Her daughter (who looks just like her!) is carrying on her legacy beautifully--I love how Maureen Dowd can speak to power with honesty and humor and verve.
Saturday, July 23, 2005
I guess I should just come out and say it: I was offered a two book deal on Thursday. By the editor of my dreams.
I am stunned and grateful and excited and relieved and pretty damn giddy. The last few months have been full of publishing frustrations, so that makes this all the more sweet.
I got the good news in a hotel room in San Francisco, with my daughter, my sister, and my niece around to watch me sink to the bed and cry and tremble and laugh like a maniac. It was so wonderful to share that moment with them. Both my agent and my (yay!) new editor happen to have their own satellite offices in San Francisco, so we were all able to meet for lunch on Friday at the gorgeous Boulette's Larder. We drank melon spritzers that got more and more flavorful with each sip, and stared at each other in amazement, and kvelled over the timing of it all.
Aren't the names Anika and Arielle wonderful?! They are such incredible women, and I am so lucky to be able to work with both of them.
Self Storage will be published by Ballantine, Spring 2007. My next novel should come out a year or two later. I have a lot of writing and revision ahead of me, but I am looking forward to all of it.
Monday, July 18, 2005
It was funny--my trip to Carson City, Nevada was framed by two very jaded articles about teaching writing. On the plane there, I read "Doing Time: My Years in the Creative Writing Gulag" by Lynn Freed in Harper's Magazine, and on the plane back, I read an article by Rick Moody in The Atlantic which blasted the writing workshop environment. Both articles, especially Freed's, were funny and honest, and I admit I nodded my head in agreement at certain passages, but I also found both articles kind of sad. I guess I'm new enough to teaching that I still find it exciting, and hopeful, still find my students' ambitions and efforts touching and inspiring. Maybe someday I'll be jaded and bitter about all of it (although I kind of doubt that) but for now, I love watching people find their voices, stretch their imaginations, delve deeper and deeper into their potential. And not just in my own classes.
A lovely woman came up to me at the conference to tell me how she has used the strawberry exercise from Fruitflesh in her children's writing workshops. She described how she gave the kids magnifying glasses so they could explore the strawberry all the more closely. When it was time to eat the strawberry, she turned off the light and put on classical music. "I wish you could have seen their faces," she said, and she showed me how they chewed with their eyes closed, in revery. She shared some of the poems they had written--amazing poems by kids in 2nd and 4th grade, some of them non-native English speakers, full of fresh and wild metaphors. I love how the book has such a life beyond me now, how other teachers are using it to touch people's lives.
I recently visited my friend Donna's English class at San Bernardino Valley College. Donna decided to assign The Book of Dead Birds in her class; she taught it over several weeks, using it as a jumping off point for essays and dictionary explorations and research projects. Many of her students--a very international group--had never read a novel before. To see how they responded to the book, with such insight and passion and personal involvement, moved me so deeply.
It is moments like this that make teaching, that make writing, so gratifying.
On another writing-related note, my poetry group was recently profiled in an article about poetry in the Inland Empire. I was slightly embarrassed that the article states I was "ecstatic" about having three poems accepted to journals in one week, but then one of my former students wrote to me and said something along the lines of "I guess the reporter didn't know you are ecstatic about everything!" which made me laugh out loud. The reporter is actually a good friend of mine, who I'm sure is well aware of my tendency to bubble over; contrary to my student's sweet assessment, though, I'm not always ecstatic--I can get as dark and funky and broody as anyone--but I think that teaching does induce a kind of ecstasy in me at times. It makes me feel that anything is possible, and if that's not ecstasy, what is?
The GCC visits are coming fast and furious this month! Today, our visitor is Alesia Holliday, who wrote a guest blog about the genesis of her new novel, Nice Girls Finish First:
NICE GIRLS FINISH FIRST
So one day I was thinking about today’s woman, as I often do, considering that I write funny books about the everyday (and not so everyday!) things we all go through, and I was wondering about that perpetual dilemma – the Myth of the Nice Girl.
Somehow, through a peculiar evolution of the professional environment, women today are finally recognized (mostly) as equally competent, ambitious, and dedicated as men in the workforce. (We’ll leave the “we have to work smarter and harder” argument aside for now.) But yet, we have an added burden: we have to be NICE.
Now, this isn’t really tough for most women, most of the time. We were raised to be nice. That’s what little girls do, right? “Play nice!” “Be nice!” Except, well, there are times when you can’t be all that nice . . . Boyfriend cheating? Kick him to the curb! Um, in a nice way? Opposing counsel trying underhanded tactics? Notify the judge and get him sanctioned! Er, nicely?
The idea of a character who is very ambitious and a great person, but a little bit of a tough chick on the surface, really intrigued me. And I had the perfect character in Kirby Green, newly-hired exec at the Whips and Lace Co. She’d pretty much stolen every scene she was in in AMERICAN IDLE (Double RITA finalist, how cool is that??). Then I wanted to compare and contrast Kirby with a character who was so nice that she was in danger of becoming a doormat. Brianna sprang to life. My good friend who is an opera singer (no, really!) provided some great background for her. Then I set the two of them loose to play on the pages – each helping the other learn something about life, and about herself. That’s how NICE GIRLS FINISH FIRST was born.
Can we be successful as women today and still retain some of that niceness that was so valued in earlier years? I think so. But nice doesn’t mean dumb, and today’s nice
girls DO finish first. They might just have to kick a little ass along the way.
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
I have had some amazing fruit this summer, from the farmer's market, and from friends' gardens--green and purple figs, tender apples, peaches that drip their juice down my arms. My favorite fruit this summer has been a certain variety of pluot (a mix of a plum and an apricot.) I've had uninspiring pluots before, tart and pale, but these pluots are a vibrant gorgeous garnet inside, almost electric, and are so fragrant and sweet and delicious, I can hardly stand it.
I love how people have figured out how to make fruit hybrids--and I'm not talking about genetically engineered food, like tomatoes with fish genes woven into their flesh, or bug-resistant potatoes, or other food that disrupts the natural order of things; I'm talking about trees that have been grafted together by hand, their roots melding into something natural but brand new. A friend told me his parents grow apples and pears from the same tree. This is so magical to me--I would love to see it, to taste it, to see if the pears are apple-y, if the apples are pear-y, or if they manage to maintain their separate identities even when they've been grafted together...
Monday, July 11, 2005
A few days ago, I blogged about MJ Rose's fabulous Good Books/Good Causes campaign (based around the Vidlit of her latest spine-and-loin-tingling novel, The Halo Effect.) Today, it's my great pleasure to have MJ as my guest during her GCC tour.
MJ Rose is a real force of nature. Not only is she a sensual, suspenseful, Anthony Award-nominated, international best-selling novelist, she is also a tireless advocate for all writers, and a much-needed whistleblower within the publishing industry. Her blog Buzz, Balls and Hype exposes the follies and triumphs of the publishing world, and explores how we can transform the business to benefit writers, publishers, and the reading public. Her other blog, Backstory, is a fascinating compendium of writers talking about the genesis of their novels.
I had the chance to ask MJ a few questions. Here is our exchange:
--Thank you for being such a fierce and generous advocate for writers. Could
you talk about how you came to want to empower writers (and, in the process,
revolutionize the publishing industry)?
Well, I'm flattered, but I certainly don't think of myself as being a revolutionary. Though the longer I'm in this business the more it's clear it needs a big revolution.
I never set out to do anything but get published and have a few people read my work.
At first, for three long years, I had every door slammed in my face and had to deal with a huge amount of rejection. And then when I decided that I wanted to "test market" my novel by way of self publishing it and getting reader reactions, I was met with outright hostility. From booksellers to published authors, I was treated pretty much as a no-talent non-entity. In fact, I was told over and over from the industry at large that if I was any good, I would have been published the "normal" way and I was destroying any chance I had at a career.
I can't tell you how much anger and resentment I felt towards this business I so badly wanted to get involved with. I knew quite a few indy filmmakers and couldn't understand why they got applause and their own film festival and writers who struck out on their own got the metaphorical finger.
It made me furious. But also more determined. And it did eventually lead to me getting published.
And then, there I was with a book coming out and all those negative feelings.
At the same time, I was doing a lot of reading about Buddhism for research for
a new novel and I realized how I needed to deal with all my pent up feelings.
I was going help other writers as much as I could so that no one else would have to go through what I'd gone through. That would dilute the anger. Every time I wanted to scream, I'd try to do something that was positive. It was all about karmic energy not about changing anything.
At about the same time, I got a job as a columnist covering the publishing industry for Wired.com and really got to understand the business inside out. The more I learned, the more I saw this huge disconnect between how authors and publishers dealt with each other and how authors were so disenfranchised from their own books once they turned them in.
Without planning to, I started focusing more and more of my journalism on that schism and trying to come up with solutions for how to erase it.
--I love your Good Books/Good Cause campaign. How did you come up with the idea?
I keep trying to up the ante when it comes to how authors can help promote their own work but at the same time I'm very conscious of how obnoxious self promotion can be and how much most of us - including me - really hate to do it.
To that end, I keep trying to come up with stuff and then be the guinea pig. In 1998, I used banner ads to get the word out about the self pubbed book before other authors did that. Then in 2000, I was the first author to do a virtual book tour, which got written up in Salon and was tons of fun. Every time I had a new book out, I tried to come up with something else. Some stuff has failed miserably, some succeeded. (Backstory - which was the first glog - group blog - for authors worked really well.)
Getting attention for any one book is harder than ever.
The problem that we're facing is 3000-5000 marketing messages a day, a dropping readership in newspapers and magazine - where readers find out about books, 25% -50% fewer book reviews across all media, and so much competition for readers' time from the Internet, iPod's, cable TV, cell phones, etc.
But blogs are getting a lot of attention, and in a way that I think can have some real meaning. Each blogger gets his or her following, has a voice, can seriously connect. So I wanted to come up with a really good reason that bloggers would be willing to link to a book and mention an author.
About a year ago, I started working on an idea that eventually led to Good Books/Good Cause. The jury is still out, but I hope it works. I'd like to do
one book a month, and then one a week, and get a lot of exposure for a lot of
authors and do something positive for a few charities in the process.
--What are you working on now?
I'm working on a novel that will be out in January of 2007. Yikes, that sounds far away. I never talk about books in progress, though.
--I always ask GCC visitors a fruit-related question. Because your writing
is so sexy and full of mystery, I was wondering--which fruit do you find the
sexiest, or most mysterious (or both!) and why?
Pomegranate. It's so complicated with all those chambers inside, like rooms in an underground cavern. The seeds are covered with such a thin layer of jewel like meat. You can barely scrape off enough with your teeth to actually feel like you are eating anything. But you are. Your whole mouth reacts. And then there is the mysterious story connected to this fruit which goes back as long as we have storytellers. As if all that isn't enough, the fruit leaves your fingers and your mouth stained. Marked. It can never be a secret that you ate one, the evidence shows itself.
Thanks Gayle, this was fun. You're books are wonderful and so are you to do
--Thank you so much, MJ; it was wonderful to have you here! Thank you all you continue to do on the behalf of writers everywhere. May the Good Books/Good Causes campaign be a resounding success for The Halo Effect and beyond!
Sunday, July 10, 2005
In the summer of 2004, 18 different poets from all parts of the country had their poems laminated onto bookmarks and attached to 90 bicycles belonging to Budget Bicycle's Red Bikes "free" rental pool. In the fall of 2004, 15 poets contributed to hand-sized books placed in the glove compartments of Community Car which is a local company that has a fleet of cars shared by a membership.
I think this is so wonderful. Poetry should be everywhere.
Thursday, July 07, 2005
My poem The Body Politic of Peace addresses this, in a way. It was lovely to do a search online and discover that the poem has been used by yoga studios and churches and other spiritual centers as a meditation.
May we as a people some day learn to live together, and in our own bodies, in peace.
Wednesday, July 06, 2005
The body is so much more vulnerable than we'd like to believe. I had a weird body thing happen a few days ago, myself. I woke up on Saturday morning with strange red blotches under my eyebrows. It looked as if someone had dotted the tops of my eyelids, and part of the area under my eyes, with a red pen. I did some nervous web searching, and found that the most likely candidate was burst blood vessels--they usually happen around the eyes after violent coughing or vomiting. Fortunately, I had done neither of those, but I had done some handstands the night before (sometimes I just get an urge to do handstands) and I think that was the culprit. Amazing how something like a simple handstand can cause mayhem!
I think the vulnerability and unpredictability of the body make it all the more beautiful, all the more worthy of our appreciation and respect. We're in these bodies for such a short time--we might as well love them tenderly and passionately, splotches and fractures and all.
The goal of this two-week campaign is to connect book lovers with a good cause and a great summer read via the vidlit for THE HALO EFFECT.
I've secured pledges from real-life supporters - my publisher, agent,
family and friends - who will collectively donate $5 to the nonprofit literacy organization, Reading Is Fundamental, for each website or blog that links to the Vidlit for THE HALO EFFECT before July 19.
The goal is to get at least 500 blogs to link and raise $2500+ for the charity.
I am happy to add my blog to the list. The vidlit is a great peek into the spirit of MJ's sexy, suspenseful novel. And I love that the woman pictured in the vidlit has a real body--not a wafer-thin model frame. Plus, RIF is such a fabulous organization--I was always thrilled when the RIF people came to my elementary school to launch the annual read-a-thon. It was such a treat to get a free book at the end of the time period; I was always so happy and proud to show my teacher the list of books I had read. I need to start keeping lists of the books I read now--I did that a few years ago, but drifted away from the practice; it would be nice to have a record of the stories that pass through me, move me, change me...
You can read my thoughts about the latest book I read, Specimin Days, over at my other blog.
This amazing sestina by Chris Stroffolino
This LA Times story about Lisa Salem, an artist who decided to chronicle her walk across LA (she rigged a camera to a babystroller and is posting updates on her blog.) I especially loved this quote:
"I like the idea of doing something absurd, passionately. To me that's poetic, but you have to find a roundabout way to access that kind of poetic feeling, especially in L.A."And her process sounds a lot like my creative process:
"During the first week I realized that a lot of this project is about
serendipity," Salem says. "Rather than imposing any kind of agenda, I want to see what comes in front of the camera. The point isn't to do an anthropological survey of each area. It's not about 'this place is like this and that place is like that' but more about what happens when I just do the walk."
Tuesday, July 05, 2005
Kelly Link writes amazing metaphors, food related and not. And now you can download one of my favorite story collections of the last few years, her fabulous Stranger Things Happen, for free here. Kelly's new book, Magic for Beginners is just out now. I can't wait to read it. I had the pleasure of meeting Kelly and her partner Gavin at BEA last year, and am so impressed with everything they do together at Small Beer Press.
I hope everyone had a happy Independence Day (I personally celebrated my independence from our administration--at least philosophically and emotionally. And my interdependence with the rest of the planet.) We saw some spectacular fireworks--I am especially fond of the shimmery, sparkly, gold ones--but we saw even more amazing fireworks the night before, during NASA and JPL's Deep Impact mission. We had NASA TV streaming on Matt's computer for a couple of hours--my sister in law Sharon's boyfriend Steve is on the navigational team, and it was fun to see him on the screen, wandering around Mission Control, his long hair flapping. I got a little teary when the projectile hit the comet and burst into white light. I have to admit I have some reservations about the space program--I worry that it diverts resources that our own beleagured planet could benefit from--but at the same time, I am in awe that we as humans have figured out how to go into space. And it is truly wonderful--wondrous, really--to learn more about this universe we live in.
Sunday, July 03, 2005
It's Buy a Friend a Book Week! Thanks to author Debra Hamel for creating this wonderful movement and letting me know about it!
I actually bought a book for a friend (my daughter's friend) earlier today before I even knew that this was BAFABW. My daughter is obsessed with all things Japanese, so we went to the Anime Expo today (a wild and slightly overwhelming experience! Lots of people with neon hair and school-girl mini-skirts and swords and capes and dramatic make up. Hannah named herself Zika Moonbeam, sprayed the tips of her hair blue, colored her lips black, and wore a groovy purple dress that I had worn in a dance performance she and I did together when she was 2.) We picked up copies of the Crayon Shinchan manga for her and her friend Sara (aka Lola). Not fine literature, but books, nonetheless!
To celebrate Buy a Friend a Book Week, I want to offer a special deal. I will send a free signed first edition hardcover of either The Book of Dead Birds or Fruitflesh to the first person who can prove you bought one of my books for a friend this week (you can email me the receipt if you purchase it online.)
Happy reading! Happy giving!
Saturday, July 02, 2005
Friday, July 01, 2005
Currently winging her way through the Girlfriends' blogosphere is Deborah LeBlanc. And in case you think Girlfriend books are just sugar and spice and everything nice, Deborah's latest, Grave Intent, is a spine tingling horror/mystery/thriller blend. Paul Goat Allen of Ransom Notes likens Grave Intent to "a wild roller coaster ride through the seven levels of Hell that doesn't stop until readers are all suitably slack jawed in shock and delirious with all-consuming fear. In a word: Awesome!" Deborah has also created a literacy challenge which you can participate in here.
I had the opportunity to ask Deborah a few questions about her process. Here is our conversation...
--What inspired this book? What inspires you, in general?
As a management consultant, I happened upon funeral service about ten years ago in a business capacity and wound up falling in love with this unique and fascinating industry. Death of a loved one is certainly one of the most tragic events we experience as human beings. The weight of that loss can be so profound, we're often blinded to the lengths some funeral professionals go to in order to ease our suffering. True, there are some funeral directors I've met who may have better served society as a diesel mechanic or taxidermist, but overall they work with diligence and compassion.
Funeral directors, embalmers, and funeral home hostesses normally have a strong passion, or "calling" if you will, for helping the bereaved. I admire them immensely, for some of the issues many of them have to deal with regarding unruly family members, drunken clergy, and horrid conditions of the deceased, would cause the rest of us to run for cover. What truly goes on behind funeral home doors and the stories funeral directors never tell to outsiders, would keep bookshelves stocked for years. Grave Intent is, in part, one of those stories.
In general, unique ideas and the strange twists life takes at times inspires me. :)
--Could you give us a window into your writing process?
My writing process varies, depending on the deadline I'm working under or the urgency I feel in my gut to hurry up and get the story out. I write every day, but the amount of time depends on what else is going on that day and what sort of deadline I'm facing. Minimally, I'll write two hours a day, but I've been known to stick to that keyboard 14-16 hours at a stretch.
--Any words of advice for aspiring writers?
Read, read, read. Write ,write, write. AND NEVER GIVE UP!
--How did you come up with the idea for your literacy challenge?
Believe it or not, the LeBlanc Challenge was not set up to be a promotional device.
Last year, while on a national book tour, I had the opportunity to visit numerous bookstores and chat with some of their customers. Unfortunately, it didn't take long for me to realize that many patrons visited the bookstores because of the adjoining coffee shop. Yes, a few individuals would browse through the bookshelves, maybe flip through a magazine or two, but many of them left empty handed. Whenever I asked one of these coffee-only browsers, "Who's your favorite author?" or "What do you enjoy reading?" the most common response was, "Oh, I don't read much anymore." Even worse, if they were under the age of twenty-five, the response was usually, "I don't like to read."
To say I was disheartened by this seemingly endless tide of non-readers, would be a gross understatement. So I decided to do something about it. In essence, the literacy challenge was a device specifically created to help increase reader pool. Promotion is just a by-product of the effort.
--I always ask a fruit-related question, since my blog is named Fruitful.
Because you're a horror writer, I thought I should ask: What do you consider
the most horrific fruit, and why?
The most horrific fruit for me is what I can not see, understand, and/or control, especially if it has the potential to harm children.
Thanks so much, Deborah! Best of luck with the rest of your tour!
For those of you inspired by Deborah's literacy challenge, I want to mention another great site--The Literacy Site, where you can click for free every day to donate books to children who might not otherwise have books in their homes. At the same site, you can click for free to combat hunger, breast cancer, and rainforest depletion, provide health care for children, and rescue abandoned animals. The site is an every day stop for me.