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:

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.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Riverside area friends...

I hope you will be able to join me for an intimate Performances for Peace concert this Saturday evening at 7:30pm, featuring two world-renowned Middle Eastern musicians, percussionist Dror Sinai and musician, singer and composer, Naser Musa. I love that both of them see music as a way of both creating and sustaining peace, bringing people together through sacred sound. It is quite amazing that they are going to be playing together in our area (we have my friend Nancy to thank for that!)--please take advantage of this rare and beautiful convergence. Marguerite Kusuhara will perform a whirling piece, and my troupe may do a dance or two. :)

I am thrilled that Dror Sinai will also be teaching a drumming workshop at my home (aka the Peace Lodge) Saturday afternoon from 4-6. People of all drumming abilities (including first timers) are welcome.

For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit Facebook.com/Saahiras.Gypsy.Soul