Friday, August 31, 2007

One of Grace Paley's final poems (it just about kills me):

Drowning (I)

If I were in the middle of the Atlantic
Drowning far from home
I would look up at the sky
Veil of my hiding life
And say:

Then I would sink

The second time I'd come up I'd say:
These are the willful waves of the watery sea
Which is drowning me
Then I would sink
The third time I'd come up: it would be my last
My arms reaching
My knees falling
I'd cry oh oh
First friend of my thinking head
Dear flesh

orignal link

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Come join me!

--Tonight at 5:30pmPST/8:30EST to discuss My Sister, Guard Your Veil; My Brother, Guard Your Eyes: Uncensored Iranian Voices through the first ever CODEPINK Book Club (click the link to join the online discussion group.)

*UPDATE* The discussion is actually going to take place at this chat site.

--Wednesday, September 5th, 7pm, at Diesel Books in Malibu, I'll be reading with Chris Abani and Karen Harryman for the second installment in the Art & Activism: Writers on Politics Now series presented by CODEPINK.

--Sunday, September 9th, 11:50am, I will be part of the Writing the First Novel panel at the UCLA Extension Writers' Program's 2007 Writers' Faire. The event takes place from 11-3; it's free and features tons of panels about different aspects of both the craft and business of writing (plus if you register on site, you can get discounts on most of the program's writing classes; if you're considering taking my online Novel Writing class this fall, come say hello and get 10% off!)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

RIP, Grace Paley, writer and (in her own words) ''combative pacifist.'' I am grateful for your example.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

In honor of the 30th anniversary of Elvis' death, I thought I'd share this poem, which I wrote at least 12 years ago. Francine, wherever you are, this is for you.

Freaking Out

"My neighbor freaks out
over Elvis," I said,
the first time I talked
on the phone with a boy
(Timmy Murakami, who
just moved across town,
who stood at the end
of the rink to watch
me skate after school,
Timmy, who wrote me a
"I like you and I hope
you like me" letter,
a plastic locket tucked
in the corner of the wide-
lined paper.)

"My neighbor freaks out
over Elvis." I don't
know how the subject
came up, but those words
rang in my nine year old mind
long after the call. Those words
made me cool, worthy
of being liked by a boy.
I never talked like that--
"freaks out"--and the words
sounded grown up and funky
in my mouth.

The neighbor was Francine,
the landlord's wife.
Their living room sat
on the other side
of my parents' bedroom.
The wall vibrated
with "Jailhouse Rock," "Hound
Dog," over and over again, daily,
loud, and we couldn't call
to complain to the landlord
because it was the landlord
making the noise in the first place.

My sister and I played, loud,
in the long, common, hallway,
to cover up that music in our ears.
We’d spin each other into statues,
run the fifty yard dash, somersault rug
burns into our knees, until Francine
barreled out of Apartment 5-C,
her Elvis iron-on cracked,
strained across her chest.
"Keep it down, will ya?"
she'd bark at us,
and we'd spill back into 5-B,
"Love Me Tender"
thumping through the walls.
This image is my inspiration for the day.
I deeply admire Taslima Nasrin; not only is she a gorgeous poet, she is also a powerful human rights activist. My book Fruitflesh includes an excerpt from her poem "Eve Oh Eve" (translated from the Bengali by Carolyne Wright and Mohammad Nurul Huda)--I love how it ends with the lines "Eve, if you get hold of the fruit/don't ever refrain from eating"; it captures Nasrin's sense of both defiance and celebration. She has been the subject of numerous death threats from Islamic fundamentalists over the years, but she continues to speak out, to speak her truth. I was disturbed to hear that she was attacked at her recent book release event. I am even more disturbed to learn that now she is facing charges for "inciting religious tensions". If I can find any actions to protest this, I will let you know.

Monday, August 13, 2007

I wanted to let any budding novelists out there know that I'm going to be teaching Novel I: Writing the First Novel online for the UCLA Writers Program this fall. I love being part of this program and am excited to get started; the classes run from October 3rd to December 5th.

I also wanted to let you know that my amazing friend Masha Hamilton is going to be teaching novel writing online this fall, as well; she is supportive and insightful and deeply talented, and I know that her classes will be rich and wonderful. I wish I could take them myself. Here's the scoop:

Take a ten-week novel-writing class online from Masha.

Dates: Sept. 4 through Nov. 13.

Novel Writing I is right for any writer who has been thinking about starting a novel or is up to halfway through. The class will include weekly lectures, critiques, and exercises aimed at helping you see your work freshly. We'll motivate you as we cover discovering the essence of your novel (and learning how to convey it in a single sentence), as well as the importance of the opening chapter. We’ll discuss where to start the story, how to create a strong protagonist, the dramatic arcs of major characters, choosing a point of view, and exploring the voice of your novel as well as individual characters within it. We'll analyze scene and delve into the dramatic possibilities created by strong dialogue. We'll also look at setting, pacing, profluence and psychic distance. Finally, we’ll consider the business end – where and how to market your novel manuscript – and you’ll get guidance on the next step. Limited to 10-15 students. $500 for ten weeks.

Novel Writing II is for the writer who has more than half of a novel completed and is looking for a critical, helpful eye before the manuscript reaches the agent or editor. In this class, more of your work will be critiqued, and you will be called upon to write detailed weekly critiques yourself. Lectures will spring more naturally from the nature of the work. We'll talk about motivation in the soggy middle of our manuscripts. This will be a chance to workshop a large portion of your completed work, and resubmit if you choose. We'll focus on the skills of revision and layering your novel, as well as how to become our own teachers, learning by reading the work of others. The class also will include guidance on what to do once the manuscript is finished. Limited to 6-10 students. $650 for ten weeks.

Classes are small to allow for lots of individual attention to manuscripts. Please email me at masha at mashahamilton dot com for more details about either class.

Friday, August 10, 2007

I am very excited to announce the first CODEPINK Book Club! I hope you'll be able to join us in reading My Sister, Guard Your Veil; My Brother, Guard Your Eyes: Uncensored Iranian Voices, edited by Lila Azam Zanganeh; it's an eye-opening look at life in Iran from some of the country's greatest writers, artists and thinkers.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

I'm a big fan of the blog at, and its ever-changing roster of guest-bloggers (usually authors with new books out.) I especially enjoyed today's post by Michelle Wildgen, The Thursday Pleasure Blog on Food and Sex. It has some great tips for writers, such as
For those of you who write, I suggest challenging whatever your inclination may be — if you always cut to the bedroom scene, stay in the living room. If you have a character remaining a little opaque to you, toss them in bed with someone. It may not make the final story, but you may find it extraordinarily helpful to know them in this way. Plus, a good sex scene that doesn't fall back on cliché is not an easy task. Similarly, what food do they eat when no one's watching? Sardines on toast, ice cream with peanut butter on top? What's their comfort food and what's their idea of culinary taboo?
I'm trying to get to know my new characters now, and this is very helpful advice to remember...
After all the commotion of the last couple of weeks, I have a new novel brewing, and I'm starting to get excited about it. The ideas are still green and fragile, but I can feel them start to take root. I feel a new spaciousness inside me, as well, as if my mind and heart are making room for the characters and their story. It feels good. I'm moving forward with my skating memoir, too--and my skating; I did a flip this week (which probably sounds more impressive than it is--it's not like a somersault in the air, but it is a full rotation jump that I didn't think I'd be doing again so soon...)

Thank you again for all of your support--I know it has fueled this new creative surge.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Happy International Blog Against Racism Week! It's cool to see bloggers joining together to raise awareness about racism. I thought I'd write a little bit about racism and housing.

The novel that I recently turned in (and that was even more recently turned down) is set in 1966, during the Chicago Freedom Movement when Martin Luther King, Jr. moved to Chicago (specifically the neighborhood of Lawndale, which once was a Jewish ghetto but had become an African American one) to spearhead a campaign for open housing.

I'll share part of a scene that takes place right after Al and his 12 year old daughter Mina attend a speech given by Dr. King at Soldier Field; they join a procession to City Hall where Dr. King posts the demands of the Chicago Freedom Movement on the door. Here's Al's response:
How could he not have known how bad the housing situation was in Chicago? Rats biting babies, trash piling in hallways, no coal for furnaces. Much worse than when he was a boy. It wasn't just in Dr. King's building. It was a plague, a blight in the city. White landlords--Saul!--not fixing anything. Asking for higher rents in slums because they could get away with it. The nearby areas—neighborhoods where white people with more income were paying less for bigger homes—wouldn't even give colored people rental applications.

He and his dad always knew their cramped apartment in Lawndale was temporary. Sure, they couldn't buy a home in northern suburbs like Kenilworth—Jews were barred from ownership by law at the time. But in the early 1900s, the Irish and German residents of Lawndale didn't want to rent to Jews, either, and look what happened—40% of Chicago's Jews ended up living there. Once his dad found a better job, spoke better English, they knew could find a better situation, even if that just meant a better apartment, one of their own, down the street. The families in the neighborhood now were stuck.

The crowd filled the street curb to curb. Some carried signs such as "End Modern Slavery—Destroy Daley Machine" and "Open Up Chicago" and "Hate Costs Too Much!" Some carried banners announcing their affiliations—Methodist groups and Quaker groups, peace groups and housing groups. Someone would start a song--”We Shall Overcome”, “Amazing Grace”--and it would spread through the crowd, more and more voices joining until the lyrics became a roar Al could feel vibrating inside his ribs.
Things have improved since then thanks to these marches, this effort--housing laws have evolved, and the real estate industry can no longer sanction discrimination in their practices--but inequality continues to plague our country's housing. We can see that in this Chicago study, but especially in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina during which housing discrimination was laid painfully bare. Thank goodness organizations like the National Fair Housing Alliance exist to act as watchdogs and advocates, but it breaks my heart that such groups are still necessary today.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Thank you to everyone who expressed support over my book situation. I am feeling less heartbroken about it now and more curious to see what will emerge (although of course there is still some residual heartache). My editor and agent are being so amazing and supportive, as are all my friends and family (and even people I've never met in person--thank you again!) I am very lucky indeed.

So is my husband. He was in a bad motorcycle crash on the freeway yesterday. It is quite miraculous that he only ended up with a nasty case of road rash (and soreness from head to toe. Tumbling on the asphalt will do that to you.) Spending hours in an emergency room definitely puts the book situation in perspective.

Last night, I watched a nurse clean his wounds, so patiently, so thoroughly, getting out all the gravel and tar, and it felt like a lesson to me. I need to be patient and thorough now too (and not be afraid to look directly at a big bloody mess, to treat it--and myself--with tenderness.)

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Last week was quite a rollercoaster. I'm still trying to process it.

Highs include being with my sister and her family, going to a meeting for OBJECT, an awesome new feminist organization, being invited to teach at a writers conference in Alaska (!!!!) next summer, and doing a camel spin for the first time in 26 years. This is not to mention the five speaking/reading events I did over the course of the weekend, each of which was a gift in its own way.

Lows include loads of family stress (which I won't go into out of respect for all involved), a disastrous hair cut (actually the cut wasn't so bad, but the styling--which thankfully I was able to shower away--was hideous and left me in totally stereotypical tears), and the big doozy: getting a phone call from my editor, who told me my new book isn't right for her list. I'm still reeling from this last one.

I love and trust my editor, and am very grateful that she is looking out for my long term career, but it was hard news to hear. This new novel was supposed to be the second book of my two book contract, but she believes it reads more like a young adult novel and won't grip a wide adult audience the way she wants my next book to. So now I'm trying to figure out what to do. She generously agreed to take a look at an old (over 10 years old) novel that I think still has some life kicking around inside of it, but I'm not expecting anything to come of that. I'm hoping to convince her and Ballantine that the skating memoir I'm working on should be my next book (it's the book that is burning inside me right now) but they seem to think that the next book should be a novel. I just need to really sit with this and meditate and decide what my next move should be. I'll keep you posted...
I've already told you I'm a saltoholic, so perhaps you won't be surprised when I tell you that when I first saw this picture of a salt hotel in Bolivia, all I wanted to do was lick it.