Friday, October 26, 2007

I'm doing a couple of events this weekend. Come say hello if you can (and if you come on Sunday, bring a poem or two for the open mic!):

Saturday, October 27
California Writers Week Author Panel

A panel discussion featuring five authors: Judith Merkle Riley (Water Devil-a Margaret Ashbury Novel), Gayle Brandeis (Book of Dead Birds and Self-Storage), Jim Brown (The Los Angeles Diaries), Maurya Simon (Ghost Orchid) and journalist Mike Rappaport. Get your questions ready. They'll answer them.

October 27, 2007 11:00 AM
Location: In Store

5055 S. Plaza Lane
Montclair, CA

Sunday, October 28

OUR POETIC SOULS - Where words go when they want to play
Sunday October 28 - 2:30 PM to 5 PM San Dimas, CA
featured poets and open mic poetry reading

There are two types of poets that inspire me. The first are the ones I hear and respond by saying, "I can do better than that." The second are the writers that cause me to say, "Wow! I wish I could do that. Both of this Sunday's features fall into the second category.

We are located approximately halfway between LA and the Inland Empire. We try to make the most of that location by featuring poets from both sides of the county line. It is common for poets to come from as far away as Palm Springs and Santa Monica to read on our stage. Our presenters' diverse elements of style combine to make a refreshing and intoxicating cocktail of verse that you likely will not find at any other reading.

If you are available, we'd love to have you spend a Sunday afternoon with us.

Oct 28 Features - Rick Lupert & Gayle Brandeis

Rick Lupert
Rick Lupert has been involved in the Los Angeles poetry community since 1990. He served for two years as a co-director of the Valley Contemporary Poets, a twenty-five year old non-profit organization which produces a readings and publications out of the San Fernando Valley. His poetry has appeared in numerous magazines and literary journals, including The Los Angeles Times, Chiron Review, Stirring, poeticdiversity, Zuzu's Petals, Caffeine Magazine, Blue Satellite and others. He is the author of 10 books: Paris: It's The Cheese, I Am My Own Orange County, Mowing Fargo, I'm a Jew. Are You?, Stolen Mummies, I'd Like to Bake Your Goods, (Ain't Got No Press), Lizard King of the Laundromat, Brendan Constantine is My Kind of Town (Inevitable Press), Feeding Holy Cats and Up Liberty's Skirt (Cassowary Press). He serves on the Artist and Community Advisory Council of Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center in Venice, California. (Though he's not sure how that happened or what it means.) He has hosted the long running Cobalt Café reading series in Canoga Park since 1994 and is regularly featured at venues throughout Southern California.

Gayle Brandeis
Gayle Brandeis is the author of Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write (HarperSanFrancisco), Dictionary Poems (Pudding House Publications), and The Book of Dead Birds: A Novel (HarperCollins), which won Barbara Kingsolver’s Bellwether Prize for Fiction in Support of a Literature of Social Change. Her second novel, Self Storage, has recently been published.

Gayle’s poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies (such as, The Nation, and The Mississippi Review) and have received several awards, including the QPB/Story Magazine Short Story Award, a Barbara Mandigo Kelley Peace Poetry Award, and a grant from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund. Her essay on the meaning of liberty was one of three included in the Statue of Liberty’s Centennial time capsule in 1986. In 2004, The Writer Magazine honored Gayle with “A Writer Who Makes a Difference” Award.

Gayle holds a BA in “Poetry and Movement: Arts of Expression, Meditation and Healing” from the University of Redlands, and an MFA in Creative Writing/Fiction from Antioch University. She is writer in residence for the Mission Inn Foundation’s Family Voices Project, and has taught at universities, libraries, community centers, and writing conferences around the country. Gayle is also a community activist and was recently named Communications Goddess of the international women’s peace organization, CODEPINK. She lives in Riverside, California, with her husband and two children.


Home Brew Coffee Company
661 West Arrow Highway
San Dimas, Ca. 91773
Our Poetic Souls
It is a laid back easy reading atmosphere for poets at all levels of experience. We appreciate the master, encourage the novice and have lots of open mic time to let you experiment with style and delivery. It is a great place to try your wings or soar to new heights.

We want to hear your work, but you may also enjoy hanging out with other poets that share your love of words. Discover great coffee or smoothies in a delightful setting and read on a stage that flashes you back to the East Village of the fifties. It is a bohemian backdrop for modern verse.

No Fees Taken, No Fees Given
Performers are encouraged to present their works for sale

It is easy to get there from anywhere in Southern California.
(For those unfamiliar with the area: San Dimas is on the East side of the San Gabriel Valley. It is famous as the home of Raging Waters and Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. It is where the 210 and 57 freeways meet, and is only a few minutes drive from most anywhere in LA, Orange, San Bernardino, or Riverside counties. OK... the few minutes thing is a stretch if you live in Blythe, but you get the idea. It is very near the LA County Fairgrounds, so really it isn't far.)

Information including a link to a map is on the web -

Located across the street from Lowes Hardware, one block North off the I-57 freeway, Arrow Highway exit. On Bonita Ave., in the shopping mall area. Corner of Bonita Ave. and Arrow Hwy. Turn in where you see the Boot Barn, look for the corner of the mall with the school house steeple.

The only way we could make this easier would be to send a limo for you. However, if you read the "No Fees" line you will understand why that is beyond our budget.

Hosts: Jim Lyon / Lee Collins / Chrystine Julian

Readings 2:45 - till we finish.
(This is a very public forum and we often have a mixed age audience, so appropriate vocabulary is a must.)

Let us know if you'd like to be featured poet at an upcoming OUR POETIC SOULS reading.

We are proud to present poets at all levels of skill and experience and would love to feature your work. Please submit samples of your work and/or a brief publishing history or other relevant information to the e-mail address below.

Contact: Jim Lyon - / Chrystine Julian -

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

It is such a pleasure to welcome back Donna Druchunas, whose latest book, Ethnic Knitting Discovery, was just released. Even though I am not a knitter, I am fascinated by Donna's work--she does a beautiful job weaving together her art and social change, as you can see on her Subversive Knitting page. Donna and I have been email friends for quite some time now; I look forward to one day meeting her in person! You can find out more about her work on her website, Sheep to Shawl. I am honored to be a stop on her book blog tour as she promotes her new book; what it has to say about the creative process can apply to any art, not just knitting.

>--Welcome to Fruitful, Donna!

Thank you for hosting this stop on my Ethnic Knitting Discovery blog
tour. Your book Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write
is one of my favorite writing books. It's so inspirational that I
come back to it every time I start working on a new book of my own.

--Thank you so much, Donna--that means a lot to me. You speak about how you prefer to make things up as you go along when you knit. It sounds very similar to my approach to writing. Do you approach other aspects of your life the same way, and how else do you find that your life and your art intersect?

I do a certain amount of planning in my life -- to have some sort of
overall structure -- but I like to let the details work themselves
out. For example, when I went to Europe last summer, I bought my
plane tickets and made my hotel reservations pretty far in advance,
but I didn't plan very many day-to-day activities. Instead, each
night or even in the morning, I would take a little time to think
about what I wanted to do the next day. And I didn't fill my days too
much, so if something interesting came up, I could be spontaneous. I
do approach my writing in a similar way as well. I outline my books,
and sometimes even my chapters, but I allow myself to free write and
disregard the outline as I write my first draft, and even the work
develops. I call it "having a plan from which to deviate." I hadn't
realized it before this blog tour, but several people have asked me
similar questions and it's quite interesting to see how my life, my
knitting, and my writing all function in such similar ways.

--You use knitting traditions from around the world to inspire your work. Why would you say it is important for us to explore other cultures? What have you learned about yourself by delving into these practices from around the world? What do you hope your readers will discover about the world and themselves?

It's so easy to think that everyone is just like we are, on an
individual, regional, or even on a national level, but that's just
not true. I always thought I was a little weird and my family was
strange until I went to Lithuania last summer. Suddenly, I understood
everything! It was like I had finally learned the cultural language
that my family speaks, even though we don't speak the actual
Lithuanian language (I'm learning and will be going to a 4-week
language school in Vilnius next year). We may not be normal
Americans, but even after three generations, we are still normal

I've also been reading a lot about traveling to different places. One
book that is really influencing my thoughts is Grammar Lessons:
Translating a Life In Spain by Michelle Morano. The author explores
how culture and language are all tied together and she is constantly
surprised by her own expectations and assumptions and how they are
continually torn apart by her experience with language and living in
a foreign country. The book is making me want to spend a few years
overseas. I guess I'll have to wait until I can "retire."

I'm finding that learning languages (I spent the last few years
studying German) and knitting techniques from other cultures can
break down the habits of thinking that I've been captured by for so
many years. It's an incredibly liberating experience if you can
overcome the initial fear of "otherness" that might attempt to hold
you back. Knitting -- making small stitches with yarn and sticks --
seems like such a simple task that it's hard to imagine that it can
break down so many walls in your psyche.

--I love how your book empowers knitters by giving them concrete steps for how to overcome their fears. I was particularly taken with the section where you speak of "fear of color" and "designer's block". What words of advice would you have for an artist in any discipline (including writing) who is experiencing some sort of creative block?

I think most -- if not all -- creative blocks are caused by fear or,
in its milder form, anxiety. We are afraid to fail, we are afraid to
succeed, sometimes we are even afraid to try.

I write in spiral notebooks with pink ink so I don't take myself so
seriously that I can't write at all. I write what I consider "pre"
drafts in my notebook, and I only count the material as a first draft
when I clean it up a little bit as I type it into the computer. I
find that when I write directly on the computer, I expect my thoughts
to be as neat as the type is, but when I write in my terrible
handwriting and funky colors of ink in a notebook, I let myself play
with the words and I let myself write whatever comes to the surface
without censoring myself. Some material comes out whole, like a third
draft already organized and polished, and some material comes out
like a heap of garbage with one or two interesting sentences buried
in the middle waiting for further exploration. Either way, the time
has not been wasted and I feel like I've accomplished something by
filling the pages.

In knitting, if I don't like the way something is working, I can rip
it out and start over. That's part of the beauty of the medium. In
sewing, once you cut out your pattern pieces, you are committed to
making a certain garment. But with knitting, you an unravel your
project even after it's completely finished, and your yarn is no
worse for the wear. You just wash it and reskein it, and when it's
try, you can start over again from scratch. Another liberating

I think whatever you can do to make the "work" seem more like "play"
goes a long way to breaking through blocks. I read somewhere that the
best way to overcome writer's block is to lower your standards. I
think that's true. Like Ann Lamott, I strongly recommend letting
yourself write "shitty first drafts."

--Writing is such a process of discovery for me, so it was a treat to see that your title contains the word "Discovery." Could you speak a little bit about the role of discovery in your creative process?

The discovery is my favorite part of the process -- doing research,
trying new techniques, shopping for yarn. The conceptualization of a
project is what excites me. I know this is true for many knitters.
While many writers are afraid of the blank page that faces them when
starting a new project, we knitters love starting new projects. We
may even have 20 started projects hanging around our house waiting to
be finished, and we'll still be tempted to start something new. I
have a hard time keeping the excitement level up once a project is
starting to take shape. Then it's locked down and I feel like the
discovery part of the process is ending. I think all artists should
fiddle with other media because it gives us an opportunity to
approach our own discovery process with a different frame of mind.

--I noticed that your publisher is part of the Green Press Initiative, which is committed to preserving ancient forests and natural resources. I love that the publishing industry is becoming more conscious about their use of paper. I wonder whether the knitting world is working to become more green--in the cultures you describe, there is a real emphasis on using local wool. Is that something that American knitters are exploring, as well?

Yes, I'm very happy that I was able to work with a publisher who has
an environmental conscience. This is a trend in knitting, both in the
use of local fibers and the creation of "green" knitting supplies and
tools. Two of the major knitting publications had issues on the theme
of green knitting this year, and a wonderful book called The Natural
Knitter came out this year as well. Hand spinning and dyeing yarn
with natural materials are also gaining popularity.

--Any other thoughts or inspiration you'd like to share?

I think I've babbled enough already. Relax, breathe, have fun. Enjoy
the process. That's the best advice I can give, even if it's advice I
sometimes have trouble following myself!

--Thank you so much for all of your wise words, Donna--I need to follow this advice myself right now. It was a real treat to have you here again!
I wish I had time to write about the devastating fires blazing across Southern California; for now, I'll direct you to an essay I wrote during fire season four years ago, Smoke Inhalation.

Monday, October 15, 2007

This article in the New York Times, "Politeness and Authority at a Hilltop College in Minnesota" by Verlyn Klinkenborg really spoke to me--as a writer, a teacher, a mother of a teenage daughter, and a woman who still struggles on occasion with speaking her own truth:

And yet that is the writer’s work — to notice and question the act of noticing, to clarify again and again, to sift one’s perceptions. I’m always struck by how well fitted these young women are to be writers, if only there weren’t also something within them saying, Who cares what you notice? Who authorized you? Don’t you owe someone an apology?

Every young writer, male or female, Minnesotan or otherwise, faces questions like these at first. It’s a delicate thing, coming to the moment when you realize that your perceptions do count and that your writing can encompass them. You begin to understand how quiet, how subtle the writer’s authority really is, how little it has to do with “authority” as we usually use the word.

Young men have a way of coasting right past that point of realization without even noticing it, which is one of the reasons the world is full of male writers. But for young women, it often means a real transposition of self, a new knowledge of who they are and, in some cases, a forbidding understanding of whom they’ve been taught to be.

Perhaps the world will punish them for this confidence. Perhaps their self-possession will chase away everyone who can’t accept it for what it is, which may not be a terrible thing. But whenever I see this transformation — a young woman suddenly understanding the power of her perceptions, ready to look at the world unapologetically — I realize how much has been lost because of the culture of polite, self-negating silence in which they were raised.
I've been so busy, I've neglected to let you know about the October pledge at CODEPINK to Stop the Next War Now! We're asking people to pledge to do a simple action each week this month to prevent war with Iran. The first week, we connected with our hearts by printing up photos of Iranian children and creating Don't Bomb Iran necklaces; the next week, we connected with our minds by reading a list of important articles to educate ourselves about Iran; this week, we're connecting with our lawmakers by calling our Reps and asking them to sign a letter calling for congressional oversight of Bush's plans for Iran. It's not too late to join us; you can pledge here (and forward the pledge to your friends and family. Whoever inspires the most pledges will win a week at the CODEPINK house in DC!)

You can also sign our petition urging Canada and the FBI to stop blacklisting peacemakers. CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin and retired colonel and diplomat Ann Wright were denied entry at the Canadian border because they had been arrested for acts of non-violent civil disobedience. We are delivering the signatures next week to Canadian consulates around the US and directly to the Canadian parliament, as well, and we would love to get as many signatures as possible. Please help us keep the borders open for peacemakers (I feel a personal urgency with this issue since my sister lives in Canada and I can't bear the thought of not being able to visit her.)

Thanks for your support!

Monday, October 08, 2007

You can read some of my thoughts about reincarnation on M.J. Rose's Reincarnationist blog. It saddens me a bit to read this interview because I answered the questions when I still thought my novel Immensity was going to be published next year (that was the case with the interview I posted a few days ago, as well; that one was even conducted when my ill-fated-for-now novel was still called My Life With the Lincolns.) I had fun answering MJ's questions, though, and am grateful for the exposure. I look forward to reading The Reincarnationist--it's been getting great reviews and coverage; check out the compelling premise:
"Photojournalist Josh Ryder survives a terrorist’s bomb, only to be haunted by near hallucinatory memories of a past life in Rome as a pagan priest whose dangerous congress with Sabina, one of the Vestal Virgins, poses a transgression so serious the lovers will face a certain death if exposed."
Intriguing, yes?
Tomorrow, on John Lennon's birthday, Yoko Ono is unveiling the Imagine Peace Tower, a column of light powered by geothermal energy, on Videy Island in Reykjavik, Iceland. You can send your own wishes for peace to the tower through the link above. Maybe I'll visit the Peace Tower on Mt Rubidoux tomorrow in solidarity. It's just down the street from my house, but I don't walk there nearly often enough. I helped edit the second website I linked to, and learned a lot about Riverside in the process, especially its history as a center for peace. I want to do what I can to bring that legacy forward.

Friday, October 05, 2007

It was bound to happen sooner or later. The amazing folk art of Martin Sanchez at Tio's Tacos, just a few blocks away from us in Riverside, has been discovered. I'd been toying with the idea of writing about the amazing gardens and installations at Tio's, myself--every time I go there, I find something new: a chapel made of recycled bottles, a person made out of Barbie dolls, a walkway under arched plumes of water, a marble patio floor etched with the names of social justice icons (including "Abramham Lincoln")--but I was torn. I wanted people to know about this amazing work, but I also didn't want the world to intrude on Mr. Sanchez's process. We'll see whether this new exposure makes a difference, but I probably have no reason to worry--he has such a clear and driven vision, such passion for his continual quirky cycle of creation; I doubt recognition will derail him. I was surprised to learn that Mr. Sanchez is only in his early 40s--the depth and extent of his work led me think that he must be an eccentric old guy. But no, he's pretty young, and crazy-talented, and while the food is not the main draw of his restaurant, they make the best, most refreshing, mixed fruit aguas frescas around.

It's interesting to see Riverside on the art map. This weekend, our town hosts Baby Tattooville; many of the hottest contemporary artists (including Riversider Jeff Soto) are going to be meeting with serious art collectors at the Mission Inn for a few days of art talk and exploration. It sounds like a very cool event, but I'm afraid the $1500 registration fee is too rich for my blood.

Speaking of art and Riverside, I was also excited to discover the existence of Small Wonder Foundation, a new group which "seeks to support cultural development in the city of Riverside and surrounding areas by providing a quality venue for fine art and literary education, and rigorous creative experimentation, collaboration, and exchange." I'm going to meet with one of the founders soon, and am eager to learn more about her vision.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Sorry the blog has been so quiet lately--life has been just the opposite. Here are a couple of places where you can find me while I'm getting into my teaching rhythm--a new online interview at Writer Advice and in person this Saturday as part of the Writing from the Desert series in Rancho Mirage (details on the flyer above). I will try to find my way back to posting soon--thanks for your patience!