Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Making A Masterpiece

Inspired by Van Gogh's "Starry Night" over the weekend, I've been wondering if we writers can paint our craft.

Can we add texture--thin in places, sparse in others--evoking an idea, a question, a feeling?
Can we make the story shine--the blues, the golds--in contrasting, then in blended elements?
Can we combine techniques that have been used before us, adding our own layer to the depth?
Will each detail, like brush strokes, add to the whole concept?
Can we reach wide appeal, but speak intimately to our reader? And when she finishes the last word, will she be breathless?
Will our work be remembered?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

My friends! My friends!

Tell me of your holiday!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Is Over...And Just Beginning

Our Christmas was teeny. There was an advent calendar, some stockings, and the "tree" was a five-inch-tall manzanita twig stuck in a vase and draped with ribbons. I spent around $30 on each kid: an owl wallet stuffed with local coffee cards for Daney, a duffel bag with fishing lures in it for Dominic, and a fire fighter Lego bin with a Star Wars action figure for Rees.

My aunt Mary had sent the kids lovely things: books, music, Legoes, hiking boots.

After everything was all opened, we went on a walk and played games.

That was Tuesday. So Christmas is over.


Tonight we'll be at my dad's near Sacramento. And the family party there, well, it's hard to describe.

All I can say is that I spent more on the feathers for it than on the gifts I bought for my babies.

Stay tuned.

And have yourself the most joyful holiday!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Turtles in his Turnouts

At his annual fire fighter Christmas party this weekend, my good man won himself Fire Fighter of the Year! As Dave's chief spoke of his humility, his capability, his teamwork, Dave's knees shook under the table, and he turned all white. He's the kind who doesn't like to be in the spotlight, but was honored to receive this award that's voted on by all the guys in his district.

Throughout the sparkly, sugar-cookie night, many of Dave's fire brothers re-told their liveliest, silliest, bravest times with him. And a certain theme kept popping up: how my 6-foot-6, college athlete of a hunk had a soft spot for animals.

Of course, over the last decade, Dave's saved his share of cats from trees.

But there have also been the endangered white tigers that Dave stayed up all night to protect from a wildland fire, the old chihuahua whose smile twisted sideways when Dave scratched his back after a flue fire, the horses stuck in fences, in ditches.

A couple of summers ago, during a fire that burned 200 acres, a prize black rooster attacked Dave's legs, pecking at his big boots. And somehow, as he battled the flames, Dave refrained from kicking the rooster into the next county.

But nothing shows my man's heart like the turtles he shoved into the pockets of his turnouts as blazes raged around their pond. He let them crawl in the cab of the engine until the flames were out, then gathered them up again and put them back. And that, to me, is one heck of a hero.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Between What Rocks and A Soft Place -- Part I

I'm applying for two fellowships: to examine the history and nature of American consumerism at Bard Graduate College in New York City this July, and to the University of Hawaii for an interdisciplinary curriculum approach to integrating Southeast Asian cultures.

I mean, I think I'm applying. I'm collecting letters of recommendation, working with my department head to refine my scope of study. Dave even took off the whole month of July from the fire department, and in my dreams, my family comes out to wherever I am for the last couple weeks and flies me home.

But while I'm forming the research questions--How have the effects of material culture shaped the American class system, and how it has been/will be emulated globally? versus How have the collaboration and conflict of Southeast Asian cultures influenced/been influenced by America?--I'm watching Dominic color a map of the Great Lakes, and I'm asking a different question.

Should I even go?

My boy is thirteen, growing up every single day. What if I miss something really great when I'm gone? What if I miss something terrible?

Is this a selfish thing, going away to study, to stretch? Does it make me a bad mom? Or is it an opportunity I have to try to take? To show my kids that learning is important? Will I be better mom because of it?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Staying In

The best thing that's happened to me in weeks and weeks happened last night at 8.

I dyed my hair. Purple.

Purple was not the color on the box. That color was brown, natural, back-to-basics brown.

But the thirsty blonde highlights soaked up all the purple, and now my head looks like a grape Popsicle.

It's an easy fix, the Loreal hotline says: wash my hair twice a day until the purple fades away.

But I can't go out. Not like this.

So I've made a nice shepard's pie to take to the fire department. I've vacuumed, and wrapped Christmas gifts. I've sat in my room, thinking about how I need to be a more patient mom, about what I might bring to my dad's on Christmas, about how grateful I am to have a hardworking, kind, bright agent like Holly. About how beautifully Dominic's map of America is turning out. About how I'll revise my writing curriculum for winter. About what I might write next. About how I will finish Ape House today, and start Hunger Games tomorrow.

I've sat in my room with my purple head, and I've thought and breathed and cried because of how much I've missed that.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

That's My Boy

When Rees' homework went missing between home and school on Tuesday, he chose to re-do it.

We walked into his classroom together the next day, and with a trembling lip, he looked up at his teacher and asked, "I wondered if you would accept this extra work to make up for the homework I (supposedly) lost?"

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Big Wow!

It's over, this first term of the year, and my students wrote the best research papers, got the best grades I've seen in my teaching career.

Part of this is because of a program my community college is piloting: high school graduates with a 3.5 or higher GPA will have 75% of their tuition paid the first year, 100% the second.

So, the valedictorian from South Medford High School was one of my students, adding to the diversity of a college with 25% Hispanic students, ESL and GED programs, workforce training, first-generation college attendees, drug and alcohol recoverees, ranchers, second-career seekers, two-year degree earners, four-year degree hopefuls, unemployed.

She and her fellow Rogue Ambassadors brought a confidence to the classroom. Lively discussion flowed freely and respectfully, papers were structured and clear, speeches were poised and purposeful.

The class is hard, and (from what I've heard), I'm a tougher teacher. But this term, I entered more As into the computer system than ever before, and we celebrated with donuts and Diet Dr. Pepper and a silly class picture.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Solution

Yes, the Best Kids In The World have been absolutely terrible for going on three weeks now.

There's greed, fussing, fighting, eye-rolling, foot-stomping, under-breath-muttering, enormous mess.

So there's also been a lot of Dave and my sending the kids to their rooms, a lot of having them do jobs together, a lot of crying (from all of us).

This morning, I opened up a book Christy had given me a while ago: Mama Zen. I opened it up to a random page, and read: "Want your kids to be good? Then be good."

I almost cried (some more). It's so simple--being good--but I think I've forgotten that.

Today is a new page, though. A new opportunity. I will try. I will try to be good.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Tainted Tea & Delicious Unpredictability

My favorite tea, Candy Cane Lane, which only comes out during the holidays, made its appearance this weekend at the Co-op, only the shelf was bare. By the time I got there, shoppers had snatched it all up.

After Dominic, Daney, and I bought our other stuff and packed it into the car, the kids told me they'd found a big box of groceries just sitting on the Co-op floor, which included three boxes of Candy Cane lane. So they'd grabbed one.

That was the first surprise.

Then, they went on to say that when a man picked up the box, they'd realized the tea was his. Instead of giving it back to him, though, they shoved it in a rack of raisins.

And that was shocking!

The mom in me was sad. I thought I'd raised kind, honest kids. I sent them back into the Co-op to get the tea for the man.

But the writer in me was thrilled. While I sat in the car waiting for the kids to straighten out the situation, I was thinking what a good story this was. That Dominic and Daney were usually pretty level-headed, that they always did the right thing, but that this was the very opposite of anything I'd expect of them.

It's exactly what I need to do in my writing!

This week, I am going to think of surprises I can put into my story: unexpected things the character does, or says. The root of those decisions. How she recovers.
I'm going to work on plot twists that keep the reader interested, excited, perplexed.

I'm going to drink Candy Cane Lane and taste irony and imperfection and regret.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Under Water

Reesie (9) overflowed his second toilet this week, only this time, we didn't catch it as quickly. This time, the water ran and ran, flooding our bathroom, our bedroom, our closet and garage.

Yes, it's two days before Thanksgiving. Before we have five families over for the feast. And instead of thawing the turkey, we're pulling up carpet.

Dave and I could be mad, really mad.

But we're trying not to be. Instead, we're working together with the steam vac and mop.

We had to throw out all the kids' artwork I've been saving for 13 years (which is ironic, considering my last post). We had to throw out my school picture from first grade, Dave's firefighting books.

It was hard at first, but then it got easy. We tossed stuff into garbage bags without even looking at it.

There's now lots of nice space and a smooth floor between the white walls, like it was a decade ago when we moved in. I love it.

If you and I could do this with our writing, if we could let go of "stuff" and keep the essence of the room, what would that bring to our stories? How would our writing become more focused, richer, clean, and clear?

And honest to God, why, when it's snowing outside right now, does Reesie have the hose turned on?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Art Attack!

Art is everywhere, and I'm loving it!

This weekend in Eugene, Mary, Daney, and I went to an incredible art fair. There was pottery, paintings, silver, silkscreenings, soap. Weavers spun wool, glass blowers blew, and Young Bollywood dancers pranced across a packed stage.

When I came home, I framed and put up a few of the kids' pieces: Dominic's bright bald guy sitting on a couch with peace pillows, Daney's watercolor owl under the moon, Rees' colored pencil "Duk Bil Platapoos."

Tomorrow in class, I'm sharing my love; we're doing a lesson on writing essay titles with a billion little worksamples from Pacific Northwest artists.

One of the things I love about art is how long it takes. That it's a process. a quick change, making the world different, better.

I've planted all kinds of bulbs and perenialls outside. Nothing will pop for four or five months, but the seeds are all there, the color is waiting.

If you are in need of some reds, greens, and purples, if you're craving pretty, look up Catherine Denton's blog. You might win yourself some inspiration!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Outside Shot

So, I have a reputation for being a bad sports mom.

I don't wear the jersey and go to every game, clanging a cowbell.

But I'm trying.

The deal was that if Dominic (13) didn't play football this year, I'd step it up as a basketball mama. I would go to more games. I wouldn't bring any papers to grade there. I would pay attention, and at the end, I would know whether Dominic's team won or lost.

Last night, Dave and I drove an hour and a half to Klamath Falls to watch our boy on the court. From under the basket, he waved at me enthusiastically. I love that kid.

By the third quarter (44-24, Klamath Falls), I got a little antsy, though. A grandma sitting near me was scribbling down her shopping list, and I was coveting, obsessing over that notepad.

Eyes on the game, I couldn't stop thinking. What if education drew the same support that sports did?

What if parents drove an hour and a half twice a week for Brain Bowls, Odysseys of the Mind, Spelling Bees, music recitals? And what if half the school showed up to watch?

What if teacher to student ratios were 1:6?

What if money used on transportation for coaches' stipends and team transportation were matched in school libraries?

What if the learning process used the team concept, where students shared a common goal and worked together for months to achieve it?

What if academic school pride matched that of the athletic kind?

What if hordes of parents got together to cheer on students with math?

What if kids practiced reading and writing for two hours every day after school?

What if the arts were as valued as baseball?

What if weeklong celebrations like homecoming revolved around science instead of football?

The bottom line is that athletics are great. They keep kids fit, involved, and out of trouble. I played soccer forever, was on swim team, joined college intramurals. I married a two-sport college athlete; together, we made us some sporty babies. I know the stats, too: higher SATs, lower drug use.

But, from the bleachers, I can't help wondering why if a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of these young athletes will go on to use their talents professionally, what is happening with the much larger number of them who won't?

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Bones of our Family

For the fifth year in a row, my kids put up a Day of the Dead display in our library.

We've been collecting these skeltons since before Dominic was two. We were living in Arizona, and told him he could pick any book at the bookstore. He chose this $28 photo gallery from Pomegranate Press:which we thought was pretty random. Until we took him to Mexico a couple months later, and our little toddler chose a clay basketballing eskeleto.

This was our 2008 display:You can see that our display began a little skimpy.

Here's 2009:

In the past 11 years, we've added so many pieces from Cabo, Tijuana, San Francisco, San Diego, even Portland. People send them to us, too.

And we've made some--some from felt, some clay ones with Steven.

It's kind of a funny family hobby, I guess. But aren't these skeletons great?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

My Dad, Super Editor

Last night, my dad called with his edits on my revision. This is the first of my big things my dad has ever read. And I'll tell you what: he was incredible!

"I liked it so much, I was sad when it ended," he told me. "Your wrote stuff down and I'm seeing it in my head. It's amazing!"

There was lots of love for Drain. And there were some good tips, too, especially about car stuff like fuel lights, back seats, and putting it in Drive.

He caught a big problem with some characters' names: Willy Ray, Wade, and Billy Wade. Yes, I really had them exactly like that. Duh.

Halfway through the story, my dad had emailed me this: "I really like Kat so nothing bad better happen to her!"

There were tips on character, on preserving mystery, on word choice. My smart Poppa also brought up probability stuff and likeliness.

It was so great, having a 63 year-old man's insight into a literary YA novel. I loved working with my dad on this.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Ashland Icon

Today I borrowed Reesie from school and took him to Omar's Steakhouse for the $1.64 Anniversary meatloaf and mashed potatoes.

It was yummy!

While we noshed, we admired the folks in their 80s and 90s who surrounded us. They've been coming here for 64 years now, I told Reesie.

This is a feat for Omar's. Not just any eatery can survive in Ashland. Since Dave and I moved here in 1993, these national restaurant chains have folded:

Pizza Hut
Dairy Queen
A & W
Papa John's

Yep, Ashlanders are definitely picky about their food.

And that meatloaf and potatoes today, it won Rees' taste test!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Super Loose Ends

My friends, I've been working hard, so hard, on a revision.

I've added, deleted, changed scenes.

There's more plot, more magic, more scary.

But I'm finding that every time I un-do or re-do something, I have to un-do or re-do a whole lot more. My writing partner, Christy says that when you untie one part, other parts unravel. That's just the way it is.

Has that happened to you?

This revision is so much stronger. I wish I'd thought of this stuff before. Before the excellent feedback.

Anyway, it's tomorrow. The last day of un-doing and re-doing, before the story goes out to some trusty readers.

I'm looking forward to giggling over the holes they find, then fixing it all up!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sneaked Peek

I'm not supposed to be reading anything until Friday, when I finish revising.

But I couldn't help peeking at the first page of Sara Gruen's new novel, Ape House:

"Give orange give me eat orange me eat orange give me eat orange give me you." -- (Chimpanzee) Nim Chimpsky, 1970s

"Gimme gimme more, gimme more, gimme gimme more." -- Britney Spears, 2007

Hilarious, no?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Intro to Editing

This week after work, Reesie and I attended his teacher's "How To Help Your Child Edit" workshop.

It was brilliant.

As the third graders read their work aloud, the parents put stars and underlines for things they did right, and asked them to re-read the parts that weren't so right.

I especially love the way we learned to communicate--"As your reader, I'm confused about this part"--taking the sting out of the child's being crushed.

At the very end of the reading, we counted up all the words on the page and circled it at the bottom.

Just like us writers: "How many words did I do today?"

I wanted to use this gentler approach with my community college writers yesterday. But there wasn't time. I had to get to the point: "Exactly what drugs were you using under that bridge?"

So content is defintiely different.

But there will be a day--and it will be soon--when those papers are filled up with lots of lines and stars.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Good Excuse?

My lovely husband invited me to see "Jackass 3" in 3-D with him last weekend.

I politely declined, however, telling him that I hadn't seen the first two, and it might mess up plot continuity.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Really Remarkable Read

Every so often, I find a book that's so interesting, so unique, so compelling, I can't put it down. I read when I'm supposed to be grading. Or writing. Or making dinner. And when I'm not reading it, I'm thinking about it.

Room is one of these books.

Emma Donoghue crafts a journey that five-year-old Jack narrates from a lifelong captivity in an 11-by-11-foot shed into the Outside.

After Jack's birthday in Room, Ma feels an urgent need to escape, with Jack as the pivotal piece of the Plan.

The book is divided into five parts (Jack's favorite number)--Presents, Unlying, Dying, After, Living--the essence of which is the adjustments moms make for their children, the subconscious selflessness beyond sacrifice physically, mentally, emotionally.

Ma is real. She tries to be strong, and she is, mostly. But the burden she carries of doing what's best for her son sometimes overcomes her.

Jack is intuitive, bright, and curious. Readers will love and admire his courage and clarity, his sensible names for common things: "persons," "littles," "switching off."

An unexpected vessel to Jack's healing in the Outside is Legos, with "so many tiny pieces all colors, it's like a soup," which he discovers and builds with Steppa, his step-grandpa.

Room is the place where certain moms live: the un-boundaries where the health, happiness, and safety of their children comes at a high but never counted cost. A place where these moms do the best they can with what they have, even if it's a Plant, a Lamp, and a Snake made of eggshells.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Is This My Last Post?

No. Not yet anyway.

But I'm swamped with revisions, with grading, with laundry, with flu.

Am filling the spare moments with a really good book.

What have you been up to?

We'd all love to hear about it!

Monday, October 18, 2010

As Close As I'll Come To Clooney

This is the real thing -- the very exo-skeleton George Clooney wore in the 1997 filming of "Batman."

It's part of a traveling costume exhibit at the Turtle Bay Aquarium in Redding, California.

Other fun gear: Darth Vader (1977)

The Wicked Witch's hat from "The Wizard of Oz."

And my favorite (though I'm kicking myself for not taking a picture): the Riddler's elaborate threads worn by Jim Carrey.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


This is what Rees came up with when I told him to put a happy thought in his heart during Picture Day.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Writing Group Theme Song

This is it.

The theme song of my writing group.

This is really it., no joke.

Not so much the words...but maybe the melody?

I promise, you'll be humming it all day.

Click here to sing along.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

"High?" Concept

If you get what "high concept" is, I'm seriously jealous.

I want to know. I've tried to know.

Last spring, I listened eagerly to a really great workshop that HarperCollins editor Jordan Brown gave on "High Concept." And I still came out with no idea.

I get that there's something about being able to sum up the work in one sentence.

But the "Books" section of the San Francisco Chronicle does this with 40 books every week.

And I went through my bookshelf, and could apply "High Concept" to everything in there.

Magic Treehouse # 36: Blizzard of the Blue Moon: Jack and Annie search New York for a unicorn tapestry that will bring hope to the Great Depression.

Pete Hautman's Godless: Four middle-American teens make up their own religion that becomes exactly what they're trying to avoid.

Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible: A missionary family is more changed by Africa than Africa is changed by it.

It seems to me that anything can be High Concept.

Wikipedia is no help.

Okay, I get the "concept" part. But what the heck is that "high?"

Monday, October 11, 2010


Say what you will about Ashland's first gay pride parade, but if you love words like I do, you have to smile about this real estate float's sign:

Thursday, October 7, 2010

6th Plus 1 = Eighth?

After five weeks back in school, Dominic just figured out that he'd skipped a year and is in eighth grade math.

It's called "Transitional Math," so what's obvious is how Dominic and I thought he was in a special class that gave students a little help or something.

What's not so obvivious is how it took my boy over a month to realize his class was all eighth graders.

The whole time, though, I've been thinking this stuff seemed pretty tough for twelve year olds.

Every night for about two hours, we've been converting bar graphs to pie graphs, decimals to fractions.

We've found medians and modes, predicted probability.

When I was about 10, math stopped making sense to me. So this is a whole new thing.

Somehow, over 29 years, I've absorbed some kind of math mind.

For now.

But I already know that these days of helping my boy are numbered. Next year, it's Algebra!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

My New Favorite

store is.... HARBOR FREIGHT!

This is a tool place, and I LOVE it! Every Sunday, Daney and I clip their coupons out of the San Francisco Chronicle, and we hit up the wide aisles of wire and screws and containers for both of those.

We buy our battery tester for $2 minus 20% and get a free pair of utility scissors, a free flashlight, and a free electrical meter with it.

Last week we got a six-piece screwdriver set.

Of course we don't just shop.

One big question we ask ourselves every time is why all women work in a store like this, with wire and screws and containers for both, with toothless man-customers, under the blaring flourescent lights.

Of course we feel guilty buying this stuff made in China, wrapped in plastic.

But we get all crazy guessing what we might get next Sunday with our coupons. We're waiting for the something that will make all our boys here green with envy.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Halo Update


is unplugged.

Too much fighting during it.

Before it.

After it.

Fighting over the game.

The controllers.

The characters.

Fighting with Nerf.

Fighting with Legoes, even?

One week.

No Halo.

No fighting.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

This Is Where I Stop Fooling Myself

It's been going on for a few years, now:

I buy myself a fancy little coffee at a fancy little place, and I consider it free of carbs, calories, and sugar because I didn't see the barista put any in the fancy little cup.

I mean, I could make a fancy coffee myself. But it would require my actual observation of fatty milk and sweet flavory things. And then I would know for sure that maybe it wasn't the best thing to be coating my teeth, stomach, and thighs with.

But I can't keep forking over four bucks to trick myself.

It has to stop.

I'm have to go out abd buy some cream and some caramel syrup. It might be just as unhealthy as the java in the fancy little places, but it will definitely be cheaper!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How They Sit Here

In Ashland, the people, they sit very close.

Tables don't divide partners, pairs.

Families,friends, lovebugs, they sit side-by-side.

Laughing, chatting, whispering

By the creek on the plaza across from the park.

Have you noticed Your People?

How they sit?


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Let There Be Light!

There's this lamp on my mind--a little lamp with a little beaded shade you might've found on a cabaret table in Berlin in the '20s--that caught my eye my first year at San Francisco State. I was riding the bus home, and there it was on Mission Street, right in the window: the light of my life.

I must've passed that thing a hundred times before I finally went into the shop one day and asked about it.

"It's a Tiffany Lamp," the woman told me sternly. "It's $300."

I wanted that lamp so badly. But of course I didn't have the three bills to flip for it.

Twenty-one years later, I still remember what that lamp looked like. And even more, I remember how bad I wanted it.

I wanted it more than I had wanted anything so impossible.

Until now.

Now, I'm wanting something terribly badly and terribly impossibly.

And if it happens to happen, the first thing I'll do is order that little red Tiffany Lamp I've already found online.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Cerebral Week

By Thursday night when my writing group resumed after our summer break, my head was seriously swirling.

In four days, I had drafted a new curriculum for the community college writing classes I start teaching on Monday. I began writing a new novel with my husband. I critiqued a fabulous manuscript, went to an inservice day at school, and penned an 8-page essay about my dad. (A couple of these were done simultaneously. Guess which?)

Plus, there was the middle school math homework: Dominic's statistics and Daney's factoring.

Thank goodness for the season premier of "Glee."

Nothing soothes me like some Sue Sylvester.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Yes, But Does It Have Literary Merit?

My boys were begging me to buy the new "Halo: Reach" game for the X-Box their uncle had just given them.

All I'd heard about the "Halo" games was bad, bad, bad. Bad premise. Bad violence. Bad language.

But I checked it out anyway. 4 1/2 out of 5 stars. A new "team" approach. Great graphics. For around 60 bucks.

The economics weren't an issue. Dominic said he'd pitch in $15, and a $20 gift card came with the purchase, so I'd really only fork over $35.

Like everything else that comes through our door, though, I wanted the game to have some kind of literary merit.

We bought it.

"Play with us," the boys then begged, after they'd "tried it out" for a couple of hours.

I did the usual Mom Thing: "I'll just watch you guys play."

Nope, they wanted me to play.

So there I was, sitting on the edge of the sofa, controller in hand, bumping my character -- Noble One?-- into a rock over and over and over.

"Mommy, follow me," Dominic told me.

I couldn't find him. I just kept running, er, jumping my guy into rocks and water and over bridges.

"Mommy, you're shooting me," Dominic said as kindly as he could. "Now you're just running into a wall. And why is your night vision on? And why are you throwing granades at yourself?"

Okay, this "Halo," it has absolutely no literary merit. But I can't tell you how long and hard we all laughed at my "skills."

Sunday, September 19, 2010

My Baby's A Miracle!

Nine years ago, Reesie needed some saving after he was born all quirky.

A little premature with really underdeveloped lungs, Reesie was Mercy Flighted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Rogue Valley Medical Center.

After almost two weeks on the ventilator, Reesie pulled through like the (quarter of a million dollar) fighter we now know he is.

Every year since 2001, Reesie has joined hundreds of other thriving survivors at the Children's Miracle Network's Miracle Baby Reunion for cake, carnival games, face painting and a stroll past the NICU windows, where brand new miracle babies warm under blue lights.

Today we saw 10 week-old triplets -- all girls-- and Rees' one-on-one NICU nurse, Karen.

What a super special celebration, Reesie Roo!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Middle School Must-Have

Oh my gosh, one of you writers who's drafting a middle-grade MS has to put this in:

My sixth-grader, Daney, now has two weeks of middle school under her sparkly rainbow belt.

And mostly, she's nailed it.


There's this one guy, an aide or something, at the school, who blocks off the hallways at lunch, everywhere Daney's trying to go. Library, bathroom, homeroom, gym, it seems this guy is everywhere with his sign: "No Students Past This Point."

So Daney has had to wear chocolate-milk stained white leggins around because she couldn't go wash them off. She showed up in class without the library book she was supposed to check out at lunch. And she roamed the cafeteria all alone when her friends got past Sign Dude and into the gym somehow.

To be continued...?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

CONTAINERS!!! (and pants) (and other stuff)

Last weekend at the Ashland High School Water Polo garage sale, the boys and I scored!

While the boys stocked up on containers--tackle boxes filled with tackle boxes, Pokemon Tupperware, tiny plastic boxes for Star Wars guns--I rifled through the pants, and came out with two pairs of jeans each for them.

After an hour, Dave took them home, and Daney and I stayed for hours, browsing the books and the jewelry and other lovely girl things.

The biggest treasures of the day: a four-pack of vintage Star Wars figures for $1!, little blue and silver earrings for Daney, and a turn-of-the-century vaudeville novel for me! Mmm hmmm!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Even after 12 years of having boys, I can't tell the difference between Clone/Sand/Storm Troopers.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Great, Great Day!

Today is such a great, great day!

It's my lovebug's 39th birthday, all the kids are all the way back in school, my MS is out on submission to publishing houses, AND...

I won a signed copy of Denise Jaden's LOSING FAITH and a gorgeous handbag from Warehouse Fabrics Inc. over at Caroline Starr Rose's blog.

Caroline's interview with Denise is thorough and inspiring. I especially loved the part where Denise reminds us that publishing is a slow business. Because that is easy to forget.

I wish Denise joy and success with her writing, and Caroline, too.

Am thinking of ways I can pay back this goodness...

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Hardest Part?

I've been thinking a lot about voice lately. How to do it. How it varies, specifically. What makes each one special.

In one of my manuscripts, narrated by 16 year-old MC Kat, the voice is hollow. Sad. Kat's been bounced around from foster home to foster home and lands in The Middle of Nowhere, Oregon. Kat is sensitive, but strong. Young but growing wiser. Completely trustworthy. You could tell her anything and listen to her favorite band with her for hours.

In my other manuscript, Josh, a 17 year-old basketball blue chip from Sacramento, narrates the seedy side of sports. Josh is wise beyond his years, but is jaded and unreliable. It's not his fault, right? Because everyone has made him who he is. Because he has to survive his life somehow.

Two very different tales.

Two distinct voices.

Okay, I'm not a master of voice craft, for sure, but here's what I've come up with that might help you strengthen your MC's voice:

* Know your MC! I mean, really know them: their wants, hopes, and fears; when they're from and where they're going; their favorite shirt; what they drink and how they drink it; 20 adjectives that might describe them.

* Know the other characters. So the reader has no trouble understanding/believing why MC does and says the things she does.

* Know your audience: ages, interests, gender.

* Know how you want your story to "sound."

* Know setting. Does the MC stand out or fit in nicely? It's all part of the story.

* Stay in character with dialogue. Think word choice, sentence fluency, length, and structure.

* Think paragraph length and structure.

* Use flashbacks. What was significant in MC's past that relates to his/her story?

* Make the most of tone, cadence, punctuation. Match it all up with plot. Use other stylistic devices, too: rhythm, repetition, humor...

What else?

How do you define and use voice?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


When I was an undergrad at San Francisco State, I took some fabulous art classes. One of them was a sculpture class which was assisted by Ptah*, a tall, wiry Rastafarian with a real smile.

Ptah was a graduate student. He was broke and 40-ish, and any day, any time, you could find him in the studio: helping strugglers like me, or mixing or firing the clay, or smoothing his art with his large, kind hands.

One day in class, Ptah told us to look at our works from a different perspective. From above, perhaps. Or from below. To turn it, and see it from the side.

I was making a big African head--maybe a planter?--that I thought was almost finished.

But when I turned it, I noticed that the chin and cheeks were under-defined and the nose was way too big.

It needed some serious work. Revision.

Twenty-one years later, I've been thinking about how I can apply all this to writing.

Can anyone help me pay homage to Ptah and use his advice?

*The last day of class, we found out that Ptah named himself after the Egyptian God of Creation.

Monday, September 6, 2010

This One's For the Girls!

Here they are! Meet them and love them -- the amazing women in my life!

There's Mary, my auntie, my Godmother, my friend, with whom I chat and laugh and scrap. And Jeanne, my younger auntie, who I stayed with in San Francisco so many high school weekends, who gave me freedom and trust to run all around the city.

I wouldn't be the same without my sisters: Amy, smart and beautiful; Erika, ambitious and resourceful; Brigit, big-hearted.

Mo's been my bestie since kindergarten. I still remember her peeking out at me from behind her mom's legs on the first day of school. Mo and me, we've played socccer and survived Catholic school, and when we get together like we did last month at the American River to catch minnows and tadpoles with our babies, it's like no time has passed at all.

Andrea made it through St. Joseph's with us. She had the whole collection of Strawberry Shortcake dolls, and she didn't get mad when I took them swimming the summer of second grade and they lost all their smells.

Lisa W. had a knack for making papier mache. She zipped Kristen, our deep and wise gal pal, and me all over in her brown Toyota. And Lisa A. had an infectious giggle and superhuman algebra ability.

Wendi was Dave's friend first. They lived in the same neighborhood, and Wendi got her first speeding ticket with him in the passenger seat. Twenty years after long, lazy summers of lifeguarding, Wendi and I have kids 10 days apart, and we live 12 minutes from each other.

In college, Stephanie lived on the other side of my wall. We both ended up teaching middle school.

Karlee, from the college days, is a part of my every day. She is one of the kindest, hardest-working people I know.

Then there are the writers: Christy, Julie, and Anjie: insightful and bright, and right more often than not.

And Daney, who I haven't known a long, long time, but who I've known the very best: my daughter, who I'll have a rich, deep love with forever and ever.

And many, many more sharp and talented women: Maddy and Miah, my nieces; my cousin, Heidi; Genny; Aunt Nancy; Polly, Linda, and Leslie. Kim and Amy. Daney's bestie, Gracia, and Gracia's mom, Becky. Dominic and Rees' friends' mamas. Holly Root, agent extraordinaire! And all you super cyber-women.

I'm a lucky, lucky, lucky girl.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Giving Ol' Will A Chance

So, after 16 years of living here in Ashland, I finally hit up a real Shakespeare play -- "Twelfth Night" last night.

What was keeping me away? you might ask.

I mean, I've seen almost all the other OSF plays, and nearly everything Off-Bardway (isn't that the funniest word? it means all the other theaters in the area.)

Anyway, it was the language.

I just never felt driven to sit for three hours and decipher mid-sixteenth century English.

But I don't know what I'd been worrying about.

The language was so not a problem!

I want to go again! I want to see everything -- the dramas, the comedies.

And the setting -- the open, outdoor theater, with bugs and bats and the teeniest breeze!

And the costumes -- the lace and brocade and rhinestones!

Oh, and the actors! They were charming, funny, incredibly pro! Veteran Michael Hume is always a treat to see. And "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" director (and my new friend) Chris Moore made the perfect Malvolio.

Okay, I was home late (11) looking up words like "pestilence" and "accost" and "usurp." And I still can't figure out why the whole thing was titled as such.

But now I know where this comes from: "If music be the food of love, then play on!"

Oh, and this little gem I tucked under my shiny belt: "Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them."

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

It's Time!

It's September! September 1st! The very first day of a very good month!

The kids go back to school. I go back to school. It's my 18th wedding anniversary. And! It's the Big Submissions Month! When lots of amazing stories are pitched by agents to editors.

I'm hoping, hoping for a little magic. And doing good things. And sending good thoughts. Particularly for a certain character of mine to come to life on paper.

What about you?

How is this month extraordinary to you?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Mini (Mom)Me

"How did Grammie used to do your hair?"

"Who was your best friend in second grade?"

"Did you ever get in trouble with your teacher?"

Daney wants to know all about her mommy as a Little Girl. She reads the books I read, dresses the dolls I dressed, asks me to describe the matching Holly Hobbie bedspreads my sister and I shared.

It was a lovely thing when Daney came home from a trip downtown yesterday and presented me with a perfectly wrapped gift.

Inside the silver box was this:
A little woolen angel with sequins and straw hair. Exactly what I would've bought myself when I was that age.

I don't know if Daney is just curious about her mommy's youth. Or if she wants to see how alike we are.

But I love that she loves the Little Girl in me. And I completely agree with her when she asks me if we'd be best friends.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I Have A Problem With Time

Since high school, the part of writing I've struggled most with has been organization. It's not introduction or conclusion so much; it's transition, specifically, timing.

When I write, I lose all track of time. Literally. Like, on the page. I have no idea what day I'm writing about, or the day that came before it, or what day comes after.

It's an epic problem.

Because when I'm done writing, and I go through that first draft, I have sometimes 11days in a week in my stories, or maybe 4. Fridays follow Mondays. Afterschool detention precedes breakfast. That sort of thing.

Putting the hours and days and weeks into a logical timeline is one of the last things I do in revision. Because it's SO HARD! Because mine is SO QUIRKY! Because I can't GET IT!

I know. There are ways to avoid this. Outlines. Plot summaries. Those things.

But all that gets in the way.

So I just write.

All out of order.

Exactly like my hours and days in real life.

I never know what day it is. Or what day tomorrow is. Or what time two hours from now will be.

This is one of those things that is really tricky for me.

And I think it will be that way for many 11-day weeks to come.

Monday, August 23, 2010

They Might Be Writers

Some actors get into their roles so deeply, they would have to be excellent writers of first-person fiction, don't you think?

At the top of my list:

Sean Penn

Tilda Swinton

Steve Buscemi

(And...um...Hugh Jackman?)

Who else? Who's on your list?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Fabulous Fiction

My friend Karlee and I have this little debate sometimes about which is better: fiction or non-fiction.

And tonight, when Dave and I watched the quirky comedy The Invention of Lying, I really thought about the real differences between the two genres.

Non-fiction is straightforward, clean. It tells us what to believe. There's no wrong, no mess, no controversy.

Fiction, on the other hand, uses the higher-order thinking skills that Benjamin Bloom defined and categorized over 70 years ago: interpretation, evaluation, analysis. With fiction, we are pushed to wonder, to question. We react emotionally. We feel. We make it personal.

Fiction is created. It takes imagination and some serious hard work to produce.

It is exaggerative, enhanced with stylistic devices like metaphor, hyperbole, and setting. It welcomes ownership and debate; promotes thought; and fills the human need to study, to understand.

To me, this is what reading is all about--when the actual reading itself is secondary to the interpretation and emotion and discussion that comes from it. To not have truth all spelled out, but to find it for myself.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Where We've Been / Where We're Going

Would you believe that in the last 48 hours, we've zipped back down I-5 to my dad's, where I whipped up a mediocre organic dinner for him and Mac, we've hit up the American River one last time, had a ball at a big family bbq in Davis, then sent off Dave and Dominic to net a nice salmon from the Feather River?

It's true, all that!

So it was no wonder that Dominic kept tapping on my wall last night, wanting to snuggle with me (it's the first time I've held one of my babies who's actually become bigger than me).

And today is begins the craziest week of our summer: the kids and I will be at Tree Frogs Treks science camp, chasing boa constrictors and launching rockets of Spaghettios off our heads.

We'll come home hot, tired, sunburned, sticky, completely unable to wash the vinegar off our legs.

It will be absolutely incredible!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Last But Not Least

Setting is somehow the last thing I put into and polish up in my stories.

From the very beginning, I do have a definite idea about setting, but I don't add much of refine until plot and character are completely flushed out. I think the reason is that I have to know my character first. Then I can write her world as she sees it.

For example, in Drain, my MC (16 year-old Kat) tries to find a quiet place to sort out everything:

I walk away, back toward the church, unwrapping a Jolly Rancher and popping it into my mouth. Outside the gate, I hold the iron spears in both hands. The metal is cold and smooth.

The gate swings open widely when I push it, but the big wooden church doors don’t budge. It’s starting to rain harder, though. Water from my hair is dripping onto my eyelashes. So wandering around the outside of the church, I keep my eyes open for a crack or a crevice I can sink into for a while, at least until the downpour stops.

But after I’ve circled the building twice, I can’t find an opening. I can’t find anything, except some kind of a tomb outlined with seashells.

On my third walk around the church, a flight of steps catches my eye. It’s hidden by dense gardenias, and suffocated by ivy, and it heads down into a cellar or a basement or something. This is just the place, I’m sure of it.

Stepping lightly down the narrow steps, I find a door with an antique knob: tarnished brass, and bumpy, with a key hole underneath. When I twist it slowly, it turns. I crack the door and peek into the darkness. It’s a tiny room with a cement floor, and a big Gothic cross with blackened silver and spirals and vines leans upside-down in a corner.

Widening the door, I find a few chairs stacked on each other, and leather hymnals crammed into a book shelf with empty glass jars.

I sweep my hand along the wall, flicking on the light, a dim single bulb.

From way down here, I hear the tower bell ring five muffled rings.

I’ll give myself an hour.

Closing the door on myself in the little room, I slump against the wall, and I turn the cross right-side up, and I breathe in the leather from the hymnals, and I close my eyes.

This was all put in last. After the story was written.

The setting lends itself to Kat's loneliness, her inner conflict.

She's searching for an opening, literally and figuratively.

She's looking for a place of comfort.

In this scene, Kat is the only living thing among forgotten books and empty jars. And yet she feels at home here.

It is right here, right in this scene, where without even telling her audience, Kat makes a critical decision. Did you find it?

It's when Kat turns the cross right-side-up.

She makes a choice then to serve a greater purpose. She will sacrifice everything she's ever wanted for it.

So setting enriches plot and character, but it also strengthens tone.

This is a sad scene. But there aren't many modifiers or dialogue to show that. It's all in the time, weather, sound, surroundings.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Fluid Fluency

Since Sentence Fluency is one of six traits in the Oregon Writing Benchmarks, I've thought some about mixing up sentence beginnings.

Especially in narratives, it's easy to start with "I" "I" "I."

But what are other, more interesting/sophisticated beginnings?

Okay, there are adverbs: Slowly, the ketchup oozed across the floor. But adverbs can always be replaced by a strong verb, and are distracting and often redundant.

Prepositional phrases are definitely interesting/sophisticated: After the ketchup oozed across the floor, I had to jump over the puddle. They also lend themselves to varying length. Delicious.

Participial phrases and gerunds are also yummy: Coming downstairs for dinner, I smelled spaghetti.


Participial phrases also lend themselves to funny dangling/displaced modifiers: Coming downstairs for dinner, the spaghetti smelled of garlic and basil. Since participial phrases always modify the noun closest to it, in this case, the spaghetti is coming down the stairs. Quick fix: Coming downstairs for dinner, I could smell the garlic and basil of the spaghetti.

It's important to stay true to voice when mixing up sentence fluency. But it's fun playing around and trying something new.

How about you? What are your tricks for sentence beginnings?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The August Question

It came today, that thought I always have around this time of year: "How much longer until the kids go back to school?"

Don't get me wrong.

It's been a great summer of swimming, visiting, reading and math. We've had good talks and good times together.

But there's this craving I get--and it usually comes sooner than now--for quiet. For the freedom to take a walk, hit the yoga mat, bake honey bread. For writing time.

The lavender is blooming. It will begin to dry out just as the Hibiscus pops. The last reminders that summer is short, that fall is coming.

In many ways, I want to tell autumn to wait. I have so much still to do with the kids. So many places to go, things to teach, stories to read.

But there's a pile of stuff on the front lawn that the kids are "saving" to sell at a garage sale in a couple weeks. Whittled sticks and sanded manzanita branches litter my doorstep.

Inside, there are Legos on the floor of every room. And today I confiscated the sixth pair of scissors from which GI Joe dangled on purple floss.

In five weeks, the Star Wars action figures and nail polish and cups will be exactly where they're supposed to be. And so will the kids and me, I guess.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Here's the Handwriting!

Shannon at Book Dreaming tagged me with a handwriting game.

So here's my sample!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Gas & Groceries -- Days Three Through Five

For the last three days, we've been mostly on track.

If it wasn't for that darn fruit stand again, I'd have spent almost no money.

And yet, we've spent a whole day at the incredible American River canyon catching minnows and tadpoles, and jumping off rocks, and riding rapids. Again, we'd packed up a picnic, and my sister Amy and I set our beach chairs in the water while we sipped Diet Coke and watched her 8 year-old, Maddy, splash around with my water babies.

We've dug out a bunch of old toys from my dad's house, and the kids spent hours rummagine through boxes. The boys' treasures were mini Star Wars figures and an almost new GI Joe and his ten billion guns.

We've gone swimming at Maddy's house, and to her birthday party at some indoor trampolines, and my dad has taken us to Mel's Diner and Chevy's. MMmmm...

I've made my own mocha every day, and there's been afternoon time for reading and resting and even doing a little math.

Today Mackie is home from his orientation at UC Santa Cruz. Bacon is sizzling on the stove, and I'm already whipping up a pasta salad to take to the Folsom city pool this afternoon, where Daney will meet up with her best girlfriend, Gracia.

And I don't think I've said yet that Daney had strep throat our first couple of days here. $42 went to the Target pharmacy, but cheerfully, to get my girl back on her feet!

Sickness. Penny-pinching. It's a lot of work down here.

When I get home, I'm treating myself to a day of vacation in Ashland!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Gas & Groceries -- Day Two

I had really good intentions.

I mean, I had logged 300 miles with 3 kids over 8 hours without spending a single penny. I did it, but it wasn't easy.

The second day was going to be easier, right?

We got up and had bagels and went on a long lizard walk (that's where we watch rocks for little lizards perching on them).

Then we had delicious juice spritzers and sandwiches and fruit salad with marshmallow cream at Erika's house in Folsom. We lounged around like the lizards we'd found earlier.

We were happy and rested and full-bellied.

So why did we stop at the fruit stand on the way home and flip 28 bucks for cookies, muffins, and peaches?

And that wasn't all.

Later, for dinner, we took ourselves and my dad to Taco Tree. Another $28. Whoops.

Must. Try Harder. Tomorrow.

Total for Day Two: $56.00

Monday, August 2, 2010

Only Gas & Groceries? Day One

So the kids and I added a little twist to our trip from Ashland, Oregon, to Auburn, California. While Dave stays home raking in the overtime, we thought we'd try not to spend any extra money beyond gas and groceries. Could we make a 300 mile drive without spending a dime?

The way out of town was hardest. I knew I wouldn't have access to Noble Coffee for over a week, and I had to really restrain myself from grabbing a creamy caramel latte. So I conjured up my own concoction -- definitely not as yummy -- and we hit the road.

Our first stop two hours in was Redding's Turtle Bay Museum/Aquarium.We're members of the International Association of Science & Technology Centers, so admission was free. So was the Wild Animal Show.After watching monarchs hatch and painted ladies land in the Butterfly Garden, we had our packed picnic at the Paul Bunyan Park.

A few more miles down I-5, we stopped to sample some treats at the Olive PitRees' fave was the smokey garlic.

Before pulling into my dad's driveway, we'd piled ourselves silly with library books (I still have my card from when I was a little girl).

It was a night of laughing with Erika and Ryan, and chasing around the eight ducks that Mac is raising. And of course, there were Legos. Lots and lots of Legos.

Total Cost for Day One: $0.00!!!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Dog Days

It's pretty quiet out here in the Blogosphere.

Are you writing? Reading? What else are you doing with the last days of summer?

The kids and I are all packed up for a week-long trip to my dad's near Sacramento, while Dave rakes in the overtime.

During this part of the year, I'm not working, so I'm not paid. And it seems that the kids cost five times more than usual, with pool passes and movies tickets and lost flip flops. And the food -- the food!!! The grocery bill has definitely tripled, easy.

I should be writing.

I know you know that feeling.

But there doesn't seem to be any opportunity to do it.

Did you read Tuck Everlasting? Do you remember the intro, where Winnie's drying up from the "dog days" of summer?

That might be us writers.


September is right around the corner.

When the leaves are turning colors, and the kids go back to school, and there's that buzz in the air, but a lull at the same time. An excellent time to pick up a pen...

imgage from www.worldofstock.com

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Writing Group Water Babies!

Okay, so we "forgot" to take a picture of ourselves last night at a very wet writing group. But we had a (beach) ball splashing and noodling around. There's was even a bit of writing talk, but mostly giggles and gossip and Jolly Rancher Popsicles.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Getting Fancy With Felt and Sequins

Today was hot and muggy, but thunder-y and dark, too.

So we spent the whole day having fun making these:

They took a lot of thread, and patience, and commitment. The kids were so proud!

Each one has a little bit of that kiddo's personality.

These will definitely go in our yearly Day of the Dead display at the library in November.

I always forget how good it feels to make something. $17 of materials brought us incredible joy!

Friday, July 23, 2010

What We're Reading

On the way up to Portland, I zipped through Aimee Bender's The Impossible Sadness of Lemon Cake. While I longed for more scenes of the MC's "super power" over the feelings ("empty," :hollow," "rushed,") in food, I appreciated her struggle with it, and the unfolding family conflict. Dialogue was good, setting was perfect, and a near-decade passed smoothly, though I did get hung up on the fragments that popped up every so often. This was a sad book, and I like sad books (I think there's depth in suffering), and one scene made me particularly teary. I love a young, wise narrator, and I also admire a book with a question as the conclusion.

Then there's this:
which Reesie (9)and me are reading together. Tom Angleberger writes a hilarious stack of stories about MC Tommy's deciding whether paper puppet Yoda is real or not. We giggle, we cringe, Rees begs to read one more chapter. Even Chewbacca makes a guest appearance, and every so often, we get to use the Yoda voice. What's not to like?

Dominic (12) has this going on:
I don't know anything about it, other than it's written by Carl Hiaason, and it must be good, because Dominic was reading it last night in the dark, instead of watching a family movie.

Daney (11) has to be on her 153rd library book review form. She's trying to win an iPod Nano, but even if she weren't, she'd still be devouring everything she could get her hands on (more on this in a later post). Daney whips through words so fast, I had to creep in her room while she was sleeping, to see what she has right now. While there's a huge pile by her bed of Hardy Boys, a Dangerous Sea Creatures guide, and The Girl Who Could Fly, there's also my copy of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (again, more later), and I know for sure she's a couple discs into Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why, which his writing partner gave me a couple years ago when we were roommates at a conference.

And Dave? Just those graphs and charts that show how his stock is faring, as well as an occasional page of flashlights in a firefighting catalog, and maybe a Sports Illustrated article or two.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Do Not Believe What I Say

Even though I want you to.

I want you on my side.

But I'll say things that aren't true.

I'll do things I otherwise wouldn't do.

Because the alternative hurts.

Because I need an escape.

Because I want respect.

I want to be heard.

I want to matter.

You might see my flaws.

But you'll look past them.

You'll know it's self-preservation or nothing.

You'll know the reason.

Do not believe what I say.

But want to.

And accept me anyway.


"Who you were in Fight Club was not who you were in the rest of the world." (Fight Club)


This is what I've gathered from a little study on unreliable narrators. It's tricky, creating a somewhat believable but also doubtful character who says and does terrible things, but who we love regardless.

What I used: Fight Club, Shutter Island, Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye, Inexcusable. All male. Hmmm...

Can anyone think of a book/movie where the unreliable narrator is female?

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Let's talk "revision," my most frequent blog label, right after my kids, and even more frequent than "writing" itself.

How do you revise?

How much?

I was thinking about the word "revision" this morning (at 3). There's the "re" prefix, meaning "come back to" and the root, the great word "vision."

"Revision" is a change in the way we writers see things. It goes beyond substituting vocabulary or restructuring sentences, to whole new elements of plot, premise, theme.

Carolrhoda Lab editor Andrew Karre told me that he most admires "fearless revisions."

I've found that the more fearlessly I change the way I see my writing, the stronger it becomes.

It's not always easy. Sometimes I'm really married to stuff I have to throw out or re-do.

But it's always, always made the work richer and deeper.

What do you think about when you think about revising?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I Caught This!!!

First cast. Last night.

Monday, July 12, 2010

No Limits

Last night before the Oregon Shakespeare Festival plays started, we watched the Green Show, a free 30-minute performance every Sunday-Tuesday.

It's different every night: taiko drummers, washboard bands, Thai dancers, acapela, comedians...

Yesterday, we were lucky enough to see Jen & Nate, acro/arial artists, who have performed for Brittany Spears, Prime Ministers, and at Disney World.

Jen and Nate spun, swung, and bounced. They narrated between acts.

There's something really extraordinary about this duo. Check out this link to see what it is, and to be truly inspired.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Oh my gosh, I had such a bad dream last night: I had sent Holly back my manuscript with the last 20 pages unrevised.

This is because I've been asking myself the last couple days if I did everything she asked me to.

Accept grammatical changes? Check. Post up certain chapters? Check. Add context for MC's first day of school? Check. Emphasize MC's moment of decision and the result of it? Ummm....

Did I do that?

I can't remember. My writing group says I did. Dave says I did.

But I don't know.

The re-revision didn't take weeks and weeks, like I thought it would. Like it did before.

My writing group said it was because I had already done that huge revision. Dave said the same.

Should I trust them?

Friday, July 9, 2010


Moon. Plow. Bird of Paradise.

These are the poses I'm still trying to master.

Candlestick. Crow.

Almost there.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Day "Off"

"I was a slug -- so unproductive," I whined to Dave when he called from the fire department today. "I have no idea why I'm so tired. All I did was...take the kids to swimming lessons and the library, cut Daney's hair, finish revising the manuscript and send it back to Holly, make some French toast then lentil soup, do the floors, and hit up Wal-Mart for sunscreen and vitamins."

When I listed it all out, it didn't seem quite so unproductive.

Neither did it come close to the kind of day I usually have.

I wonder what that means...

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Word Choice

Over the years, we've accumulated an interesting vocabulary in this family.

Here's a sample:

hi yo = hello
Noodle Baby = Top Ramen
Choicey = Market of Choice Grocery
Taco Juice = bottled sodas from the taco place
Goose = scoot over
Aker/Eeper = awake/asleep
Goo = good
Little boonie = baby blanket
Bad Baby Pie = 1)disobeying 2) quiche with bacon and potatoes
Charlie Potatoes = halved tubers with garlic and olive oil
Chick quick and grab the lucky before you get swacked = if you're the first one to come read in Mommy & Daddy's bed, you get the best spot and nobody can kick you out of it

(Can you tell the summer is sucking my brain power?)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Big Weekend -- How It Went

My adorable dad was here over the weekend. So was my brother Mac (18) and his girlfriend Sarah, my sister Erika and her husband Ryan, our niece Maddy (7), and my silly old friend from high school: Steve.

We went to the park, to the river, to the Redwoods, to the ocean. Dave gave us a ride in the fire engines. We watched the crazy Ashland parade. Of course we had Noble Coffee. And Mexican food. And Yogurt Hut.

There was crying. There was laughing. There was a lot of laundry and little sleep.

I finished up teaching the Lego class and swept the floor and hung on every word of my dad's immigration story.

And then, when it was time for them to go, after Maddy's sobs became fainter and fainter down the driveway, I went out. I sat down in Blue and I told the server, "Look. Here's what we need. We need these lyres and castanets turned way down. We need minimal attention. And I'll have a drink, any drink, you pick it."

But five minutes in, I missed all those guys already.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Big Weekend

The Fourth of July is Ashland's craziest holiday (Halloween is definitely first). This year, we're sharing it with my dad, Mac and his girlfriend, Erika and Ryan, and my friend Steve from high school.

It should be chaos!

Will post pictures after it's all over, so stay tuned!

And hey, America, happy birthday! Hope you're celebrating with her and us.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


So the wonderful Holly Root returned my MS with several little suggestions on ways to make it tighter and more clear.

At some--okay, at most--of these line edits, I was both laughing at myself and dying of embarrassment. Like, hee hee hee. OMG! OMG!

For example, my MC shows up at a brand new high school, late in the year, and she just knows her way all around. And I mean, all around. How did I not think about that?

This MS has gone through my writing group twice, not to mention my own seven thousand readings, and yet this lovely mishap slipped right through:

“Watch yourself by the river,” was the other thing besides Hobo Spiders that Mr. Elliott had warned me about that day the social worker dropped me off. It was the thing right after he told me to watch out for the Hobo Spider.

(I'll wait while you laugh yourself silly for a moment.)

Okay, deep breath. Welcome back. There's more.

My MC sets up a meeting with another character "after school tomorrow." Which would be a Saturday.

And a super symbolic finch makes its debut at the same time as its departure.

Yes, I have some fixing to do. It won't take long. Already, I've learned two big lessons: what a goof I can be when I'm in the writing zone, and that Holly has one heck of a sharp eye (thank goodness!).

Friday, June 25, 2010

Country Boy

My baby, Rees, will be nine on Sunday.

Rees claims he drove a tractor out of my belly, it's how he was born, and that might be true.

When he was one, he went crazy over a country station we accidentally had on the radio. At the time, his favorite outfit was a too-big pair of cowboy boots, and a "goggy," (a leather vest) over a diaper.

When Rees was three, we took him to Disneyland, where he cried in line for the rockets, because he thought we were going to my aunt's ranch in central Oregon.

This ranch is Rees' Utopia. Since he could walk, he's been collecting eggs, climbing hay, and riding quads. Once, a wire gate fell on him, pinning him onto a patch of strawberries, face-up and all splayed out, with his light-up Bugs Life shoes flashing.

Rees knows the difference between combines and Kubotas. He's a John Deere man, particularly. And he's never been without a pair of knee-high rubber boots.

I think Reesie loves the quiet of the country. He's drawn to the openness, the tomato plants, the rolly pollies. It's a perfect match. He's respectful of nature: trees, sticks, snakes. His idea of a good time is laying irrigation pipe.

Only thing is, since I'm all city, and Dave's no ranch hand, we have no idea where Rees came from. Oh, right: from my belly! On a tractor.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

My New Agent Is

the talented, bright, kind, hardworking
Holly Root
from the Scott Waxman Agency!

I'm super excited to work with Holly;
we're already quite a team. The
suggestions she gave my first draft
of Drain made it

Whee! This is fun! And I'm so so so so

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


This was my wake-up today, from Shannon at Book Dreaming, who has to be the kindest, most hardworking mom/wife/teacher/writer around,
and who makes me want to be a better (cyber)person!

And hey, everybody, don't stop believin'!

Monday, June 21, 2010

From A Place Of...


That's where Drain began last winter.

My daughter Daney, almost ten years old, was stuck in a cluster of grand mal seizures. She was tired. She was sore. She missed a lot of school.

It was terrible, watching this kind, bright, lovely girl suffer.

I worried how she'd get through it. I worried how I'd get through it.

Of course, I had stopped going to writing group. I had stopped writing.

Until Christy (who knows I'll try anything she tells me) challenged me to come up with a few new pages. Which, somehow, I did: a story I thought had nothing to do with anything. A story that ended up having everything to do with something--of seeing suffering, without being able to stop it.

That first draft, it was rough. I was writing it on two hours of sleep, between ambulance rides and hospital visits and EEGs. I was was writing it with Daney tucked into bed beside me.

The voice came out hollow, realistic but cautious, sad, and slow.

Exactly the way I felt during those dark winter months.