A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN BY VIRGINIA WOOLF

October 14, 2014 in Adventures in Re-Discovering Myself, Book Reviews, On Writing

If you are a woman and a writer and you haven’t yet read A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf, then you should. It is based on two papers Woolf read to the Arts Society at Newnham and Odtaa at Girton in 1928 discussing the topic of Women and Fiction. It is a large topic, and Woolf endearingly meanders around it and in it and through it until she proves her initial opinion: “…a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction…”

In Woolf’s time, circumstances for women had evolved. They had the right to vote, a married woman was allowed to own her own property, and there were at least two colleges for women in England. Women were beginning to enjoy a bit of freedom. But it wasn’t always that way. Woolf takes us on a journey of the history of women by pulling various books off of her shelves and studying them. For example, Professor Trevelyan’s History of England said this:

Wife-beating was a recognized right of man, and was practiced without shame by high as well as low…Similarly, the daughter who refused to marry the gentleman of her parents’ choice was liable to be locked up, beaten and flung about the room, without any shock being inflicted on public opinion.

John Langdon Davies wrote this in his A Short History of Women:

when children cease to be altogether desirable, women cease to be altogether necessary.

It is interesting to note Woolf’s take on these comments. Why are men writing about women? Why aren’t women writing about women, or women writing about men? She traces the political and social history of women to answer these questions, and finds that despite the limitations placed on women, they still found a way to write. George Eliot and George Sand, both women, adopted male pen names. Jane Austen had no room of her own, so she had to write furtively in the common sitting room, hiding her manuscript under a piece of blotting-paper whenever visitors or servants came in.

Woolf also delves into the quality of women’s writing as compared to men. Women were limited in their scope. They didn’t travel or participate in wars or hold down jobs. What they knew was comprised primarily of interpersonal relationships as observed in their sitting rooms, which Jane Austen wrote about adeptly. But how can you compare Pride and Prejudice to Leo Tolstoy’s epic War and Peace?

Women and women writers have come a long way since then. I am lucky to be living in a time where women are allowed to write out in the open without limitations, and yet, I still struggle. Although I have money and a room of my own in which to write, my problem is that I am never in that room.

I write at the kitchen table where I can be accessible to my kids during homework time. I write a sentence of my own, then answer a question of theirs. I write another sentence, and then correct a math sheet. I write another sentence, and then I break up an argument over something that isn’t even worth arguing about.

I write at the skate park. My kids scooter up and down ramps and bowls while I write a sentence in my notebook and then jump when I hear a sudden screech of metal slamming into concrete. I write a sentence and then cringe when I hear some of the language the older kids are using. I write a sentence and then run to the car to grab some bandages and a tube of Neosporin to fix up a skinned knee.

I’ve written in the car waiting for someone to be done with their soccer/football/lacrosse practice, on the couch during a Seahawks game, and outside on the patio because someone felt “lonely” and wanted me to watch them do tricks on the trampoline.

I am not complaining. As Virginia Woolf says:

When you reflect upon these immense privileges and length of time during which they have been enjoyed, and the fact that there must be at this moment some two thousand women capable of earning over five hundred a year in one way or another, you will agree that the excuse of lack of opportunity, training, encouragement, leisure, and money no longer holds good.

Perhaps in this day and age, a room of one’s own can be wherever it needs to be to get the writing done.

 

 

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS!

August 29, 2014 in On Writing

Fairfield University’s MFA in Creative Writing sponsors an online literary journal called Mason’s Road, which combines literary excellence with education, as each issue is focused on both a theme and a specific element of the writing craft. Each issue features literature in the form of fiction, creative nonfiction, drama, and poetry, as well as Q&A’s with established authors in these fields. The hope is that not only will you be inspired by the stories, dramas, and poems in the journal, but you will learn something that you can take back to your own writing life as well.

Mason’s Road is currently accepting submissions for its tenth issue with the theme of Memory. The submission guidelines can be found here. So send in your most riveting fiction, your most poignant creative nonfiction, your most compelling drama, or your most moving poetry and because I’m in the MFA program, I might have a chance to read yours!

My official title is “Fiction Reader” and my job is to read the stories I am assigned and decide if they warrant a look by the Fiction Editors. This is much harder than I thought it would be. Some days I think I’m a big softie: “These are all great stories! They should all be seen by the editors!” Other days I think I’m being too critical: “Is it too much to ask for someone to proofread their submission?” Sometimes I ponder a story for a day and a half before I make a decision. But every day I read with hope and excitement: “Maybe this will be the story that rocks my world!”

Being on this end of the submission process has taught me a lot. For those of you writers out there, here are some tips that might make your story stand out above the crowd:

  • Proofread your submission.

I am a bit of a snob about correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation. When I see such an error, a lot of thoughts run through my head, but the problem is that not one of those thoughts is about your story. The error pulls me right out of the world you have created, and that is not good. Proofread, proofread, and proofread again. (My best proofreading tip: read your story out loud. You will be amazed at what you catch.)

  • For short stories, limit the number of characters.

There is not enough time to fully develop multiple characters in a short story. The more there are, the more confused I get. If you have a sentence that goes like this: “Eddie, Nancy’s oldest son by her first husband George who had an affair with Nancy’s sister Emily, resulting in the birth of Eddie’s cousin/step-brother Harold, was mowing the lawn,” it is time to go back and simplify your story. (My best keeping-the-characters-straight tip: have your characters’ names start with different letters. A family with three sisters named Emily, Ellen, and Elena is going to be harder to keep track of than Emily, Kelly, and Sue.)

  • Start your story with a bang.

A lot of writers (including me: that is about to change), like to start off with back story, such as a description of the character, the setting, or something else to help ground the reader in what’s about to happen. But the thing that is about to happen is so much more interesting! So use that first sentence to grab your reader by the collar and pull them in. The details can be sprinkled in along the way.

  • End your story with a twist.

Twilight Zone was a master at this. Those old black and white Twilight Zone episodes were short stories in television format, and they all had a twist. Some were sinister and some were heartbreaking, but they all ended in a surprising way. I still remember that episode with the man who only wanted to read. A nuclear war struck, and he was the only one who survived. All he had left were mountains of books and all the time in the world to read them. But then he broke his glasses…my God. The heartbreak of watching this man get so close to reaching his dream only to realize that it will never happen is still crystal clear in my mind. You want your story to do that to a reader too.

Check out  Mason’s Road and submit your best work. I can’t wait to read it!

NANOEDMO: FORGING MY OWN PATH

November 4, 2013 in On Writing

 

Last year I participated in NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month. (Read about that here.) The premise is simple: write 50,000 words in 30 days, and by the end of November, you will have a kind of finished* novel. (*Most novels are 90,000 words plus, so you do the math.) I am happy to report that I accomplished the 50,000 word goal in 30 days, and even continued on into December to finish the first draft!

As fall rolled around, I started planning for this year’s NaNoWriMo project. But instead of starting something new, I wanted to use the month to revise a novel I’ve been working on that needs a major overhaul. I was excited: revise 50,000 words and by the end of the month, I’d be more than halfway done with the revision process.

The only thing I couldn’t figure out was how to count my words. For me, editing involves cutting long, rambling passages that have nothing to do with anything. If I’m supposed to revise 1,667 words a day to meet my goal but I end up cutting 1000 words, is my word count only 667 for the day?

I went straight to the source: NaNoWriMo’s FAQ page. There, in black and white, it said that in order to participate you had to start a project from scratch.

Noooo!

I didn’t have a new project. I had an old project that I desperately wanted to work on. Should I start something new just to participate in NaNoWriMo (and what on earth might that be?) or should I proceed with my original plan and skip NaNoWriMo altogether?

After stewing for a couple of days, I decided to create my own November challenge and I’m calling it NaNoEdMo, as in National November Editing Month. (Since it’s just me, maybe I should rethink the “National” part.) Every day, I’m going to edit my novel until I have 1,667 revised words that I love. It may involve any of the following processes: cutting and pasting, adding, deleting, researching, rewriting, crying, and drinking. But in the end, I will have completed the second draft of my novel.

That will be something to celebrate, even if I don’t get a NaNoWriMo T-shirt.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

October 31, 2013 in On Writing

 

Doom gloom

Witch’s broom

Streaks across the sky

 

Dark night

Vampire bite

Kiss your life goodbye

 

Fair scare

Spider’s lair

Tangled in a trap

 

Breakdown

Psycho clown

Gives your neck a snap

 

White fright

Ghost delight

Haunting all your dreams

 

Swift prowl

Werewolf howl

Relishing your screams

 

Graveyard

Souls on guard

To lure you to their scene

 

Eat sweets

Trick or treats

Happy Halloween!

I WON! (SORT OF)

March 25, 2013 in On Writing

In the past year, since I’ve decided to spend more of my time writing, I have dabbled in the occasional writing contest. Some are great fun, with open prompts of 750 words or less: nothing too time consuming, just a great opportunity to practice writing.

Some are more challenging, with very specific prompts/genres/longer word counts. Sometimes, I can be inspired; other times I can just tank it. Like the last writing contest I did that called for me to write a short story about a bank teller and a time machine in the genre of comedy. Seriously? My dad just died. I didn’t have a comedy in me. I still practiced writing, and I still sent it in, but I’m going to be honest: my short story sucked.

Maybe all my short stories suck, for I’ve never won any of the contests I’ve entered…until now!

For the first time ever, I cracked the upper echelon of the winners bracket. Sure, it was in the form of an Honorable Mention in the company of 20 others, but still… I won a free ebook! I’m taking it as a sign to keep practicing, to keep flexing that writing muscle, and maybe someday I might even win a cash prize!

In case you’re interested, here is my Honorable Mention-winning short story written for the following prompt in only 24 hours:

Hearing a light thump outside, she walked to the front door and opened it slowly. Wind and snow swirled and the cold lashed her cheeks. By her feet she discovered a small pot with tiny white flowers. She recognized it as a Galanthus nivalis. Footprints in the snow led to and from the porch and a note tied to the slender stalk fluttered in the icy air…

THE GETAWAY

God, do I need a break. Things are getting out of hand. She is getting out of hand.

I stomp my boots on the grate outside the front door, knocking off as much snow as I can. It’s frigidly cold: every breath brings icy air directly into my lungs in a way that is almost painful. I have to take one glove off to manipulate the key into the lock. The wind chill factor alone freezes my exposed fingers in an instant. I get the door open and take off my boots, leaving them on the porch. The cabin is cold and dark; no respite from the weather outside.

I turn on a few lights and ratchet up the thermostat. It’s a nice cabin, as cabins go. Clean and furnished with wooden chairs, a comfortable looking sofa, and–would you believe it?–a flat screen TV. I can feel myself relax for the first time in months.

It takes several trips to the car to haul all my gear in, including the grocery bags from the little market two miles down the road. I get a fire going and sit down on the couch with a beer. Stretching out my legs, I rest my feet on the coffee table, letting the heat from the fire warm them.

This is nice. Peaceful. I like that no one knows where I am. I borrowed this cabin from a friend of a friend of a friend; I’d be hard to trace. Which is exactly what I want. I need some time alone. I need to think about the predicament I’m in.

I can’t hide forever. I need a solution that is more…permanent.

Exhausted from the treacherous drive through snow-slickened, curvy roads, I am content to simply watch the flames flicker and jump in the fireplace and listen to the howl of the wind barely kept at bay by the windowpanes.

I might have dozed off. If so, I have no idea for how long, or what it was that woke me. I thought I heard something… A log shift on the fire? A particularly strong blast of wind?

I hear it again. It’s a light thump coming from outside the front door. Like a drift of snow blown down from the roof. Or a step on the front porch…

No. She can’t have found me again. Not here. I didn’t leave a trace.

I sit up, straining my ears, but the only sound I register is that of my own heart beating. I rise up from the couch and walk quietly to the hearth to select a wicked looking fireplace poker with a sharp metal hook arching away from its shaft, like a barbed hook you’d bait a fish with. Then I head to the door. There is no peephole or window to peek through, so I gather my courage and as quietly as I can, I unlock the door and open it a crack.

There’s nothing there. Half expecting to be ambushed, I open the door wider and scan the front yard. It’s hard to see with the wind blowing the snow into swirls that could hide anything. I squint, seeing if I can detect any movement out there in the darkness, but the cold wind is doing a number on my exposed face and fingers gripping the poker. I’m about to turn back in when something catches my eye.

There. On the porch by my feet: a clay pot with small white flowers on spring green stems. My heart sinks and it suddenly becomes hard to swallow. The snowdrop. Her favorite flower. The flower she carried as a bouquet at our wedding.

I didn’t see it at first because I was looking head-high, not down. But now I see it, and the note that is tied the stem—the note that is always tied to the stem—and the footprints in the snow leading to and from the porch. Footprints, not bootprints.

She’s barefoot on this frigid night. If I had to guess, she is also wearing a thin, white nightgown with spaghetti straps that used to flow around her ankles when she moved.

Gripping the poker more firmly, I search from side to side, not daring to venture out, not bothering to lock myself back in the cabin.

I should have known: I can’t hide from her. She will always find me.

I don’t bother to read the note: it’s always the same. A copy of her death certificate, with the cause of death listed as accidental.

But it wasn’t an accident. We both know that. And she won’t let it rest.

I’m starting to shiver, but I’ve come to the end of my rope. I can’t run from her anymore. This has got to end.

Even if it means killing her again.

Holding onto the poker, I step into the snow, following the direction of her footprints. I sink down to my knees in stocking feet, jacket-less, glove-less, taking step after step into the darkness, until I can no longer see the lights from the cabin and the footprints behind me have been swept away by blowing snow.

A person could die out here, lost in this cold.

Too late, I realize that’s exactly her plan.

 

NANOWRIMO: WHAT HAVE I DONE?

November 2, 2012 in On Writing

I like challenges with set deadlines. Like Mari L. McCarthy’s Journaling Challenges, where I pledge to journal every day for 21 days. That’s fun!

Or the half-marathon I ran. The training schedule was clearly laid out day by day, week by week. All I had to do was follow whatever workout was scheduled for that day, and it worked. I ran the entire half-marathon and I am still alive! I wouldn’t say it was fun, but I did enjoy the sense of accomplishment. I set a goal and I met it, and that feels good to me.

But now I might have gotten a bit carried away. I signed up for NaNoWriMo, which is National Novel Writing Month. It’s a simple premise: write an entire novel in one month. No editing, no revising, just pure output for 30 days. The beauty of this, so they claim, is that at the end of 1 measly month, you have a complete novel to hold in your own hands. It will need a lot of work, but the first draft will be done.

Writing a 50,000 word novel (or longer) in one month is a bit daunting. There’s no time to take a break and work out sticky plot points or a character’s identity crisis along the way. There’s no room for writer’s block or a day when I just don’t feel the creative juices flowing. It’s write, write,and write some more, and hopefully it will be more than just one word repeated 50,000 times.

It’s not like the half-marathon where I quietly did the daily work and then showed up on race day to run my little heart out in front of cheering spectators. With NaNoWriMo, you have to show progress. I am going to have to post my daily word counts for everyone to see, and in order to continue living with myself, I’m going to have to post word counts that are higher than 2.

They say that it’s a wonderful way to build a community with other writers, forging through November and pages and roadblocks and word counts together. I’m sure that’s true, but all I can see is a month alone. Just my computer and me.

FRIEND: “Want to go to lunch?”

ME: “I can’t. I’ve only written 10 words today.”

 

CHILDREN: “Want to play with us?”

ME: “I can’t. I’ve only written 100 words today.”

 

MYSELF: “Want to take a nap?”

ME: “God, yes!”

MYSELF: “Well, you can’t. You’re only up to one page. You can’t post that pitiful word count!”

I will get through this month, and I will do it with hefty doses of fear, excitement, stress, adrenalin, loneliness, and determination. Oh, and chocolate. It even says so in the rules: “Eat lots of chocolate and stockpile noveling rewards.”

Maybe this is my kind of challenge after all.

AN AFTERNOON WITH INA GARTEN

September 19, 2012 in Book Reviews, On Writing

 

Over the weekend, my mom treated me to an afternoon with the Barefoot Contessa’s Ina Garten. (Thanks Mom!) She came to Seattle’s magnificent Benaroya Hall for a conversation with well-known Seattle chef Greg Atkinson in anticipation of her upcoming cookbook Foolproof. It’s an elegant venue, and the lobby was filled with mini-bars, a pastry table, and, of course, all her cookbooks for sale.

I was beside myself, and not just because I was drinking a glass of wine. I love Ina Garten! I have watched her show for years, starting when my children were very small and I just couldn’t stand another episode of The Wiggles. I started watching Food Network because I never had to worry about someone dropping a bad word in the middle of a sentence or taking their top off and making out with the camera operator.

Watching Food Network was a nice distraction from the mountain of laundry I was supposed to be folding, but somewhere along the way, I realized that I could be making some of these recipes myself instead of relying on boxed mac & cheese all the time. And so began my love affair with Food Network in general and Ina Garten in particular.

Ina is everything in person that she is on TV. She’s calm, down-to-earth, and comfortable in her own skin. She knows who she is and makes no apologies for it. And she’s happy! She giggled her way through the entire interview, not because she was silly or nervous, but because she’s a genuinely happy person. Plus the woman can cook. Is it any wonder Benaroya Hall was filled and as soon as she came out on stage we gave her a standing ovation?

When Ina was young, her mom refused to let her cook because she was supposed to be studying. She studied herself right into a job at the White House during the Ford-Carter administration until she hit the age of 30, at which point she thought “I can’t do this one more minute.”

Her husband, the amazing Jeffrey, whom she met at age 15 (!), told her to pick something that would be fun for her and not to worry about whether she’d make any money at it. How supportive is that?

With no experience whatsoever, Ina took a leap of faith and bought a specialty food store in the Hamptons called Barefoot Contessa: “…when you jump off a cliff, it really focuses your attention.”

She worked there for 20 years and “it didn’t feel like work because [she] loved it.” And then one day, a customer came in and asked her for some chicken salad and she started to cry. The time had come to move on, but to what?

She finally decided to submit a book proposal for a cookbook, and the rest we know: more cookbooks and a TV show on Food Network.

I love her philosophy: she approaches food simply because she has found that the more familiar the meal is, the more comfortable the people are. She takes something as simple as a grilled cheese and dials up the volume by using Parmesan, Gruyere, and sharp Cheddar cheeses with applewood smoked bacon. Voila! The Ultimate Grilled Cheese is born.

As Ina says, you “don’t have to make something complicated to have a delicious dinner.” Her cookbooks reflect this: simple recipes with a nice photograph, and when you cook the dish, it looks like the photograph when you’re done with it—something that doesn’t always work out for me with Martha Stewart’s recipes! I guarantee you that even if I paid meticulous attention to these 2 recipes, they would never turn out like Martha Stewart’s for her granddaughter Jude’s Birthday! (Although I still might try the cake. Brown-Sugar Layer Cake with Caramel Buttercream Frosting …yum!)

Don’t get me wrong: I adore Martha Stewart! I could stare at these beautiful creations all day. I keep her in my back pocket for special occasions, and Ina gave her a shout out for bringing home ec back into fashion.

But for everyday, Ina’s recipes are so easy and full of flavor! I now own three of her cookbooks and cook from them often. Why? Because just like it says on the cover of barefoot contessa at home, these are “everyday recipes you’ll make over and over again.”

 

It’s true. I’ve made her Turkey Meatballs and Spaghetti multiple times, and the Green Green Spring Vegetables are a summer staple.

How does she come up with her recipes? Ina begins by imagining a flavor and a texture of a dish in her mind. She’ll read everything there is to know on the dish she’s creating before going into her kitchen and experimenting. Sometimes it will take her two tries, sometimes it will take her 25 times, but she eventually works it out.

Her next step is to write the recipe and pass it on to her assistant to actually make the dish while Ina watches.  Ina’s trying to see what someone at home with only a piece of paper as a guide experiences when making the recipe. If something’s confusing or unclear, she changes it.

When everything’s perfect, she puts it to the ultimate test: she makes it as part of a meal. It’s easy to focus all your efforts on one dish, but if it’s too complicated when adding in all the other elements of a meal, then what’s the point?

I was shocked when she said that if it doesn’t work out, she’ll throw the recipe out and never make it again.

What? What if it was really good?

That just goes to show you how much ease and simplicity is a part of her life. That is something I could really get behind.

It was a wonderful afternoon spent with a cooking icon who, with the way she carries herself, honestly could be my next door neighbor…and I wish she was.

In honor of Ina Garten, I’ll share with you the only ginger cookie recipe I’ll ever use because it is that good. Enjoy!

Ina Garten’s Ultimate Ginger Cookie

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 ½ tsp ground cloves

½ tsp ground nutmeg

½ tsp ground ginger

¼ tsp kosher salt

1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed

¼ cup vegetable oil

1/3 cup unsulfured molasses

1 extra-large egg, at room temperature

1 ¼ cups chopped crystallized ginger (6 ounces)

granulated sugar, for rolling the cookies

Crystallized ginger comes in packages in the produce aisle or in the spice aisle.

 

 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, and salt and then combine the mixture with your hands. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the brown sugar, oil, and molasses on medium speed for 5 minutes. Turn the mixer to low speed, add the egg, and beat for 1 minute. Scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula and beat for 1 more minute. With the mixer still on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the bowl and mix on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add the crystallized ginger and mix until combined.

Scoop the dough with 2 spoons or a small ice cream scoop. With your hands, roll each cookie into a 1 ¾-inch ball and then flatten them lightly with your fingers. Press both sides of each cookie in granulated sugar and place them on the sheet pans. Bake for exactly 13 minutes. The cookies will be crackled on the top and soft inside. Let the cookies cool on the sheets for a minute or two, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

 

AN EVENING WITH GARTH STEIN

September 12, 2012 in Adventures in Parenting, Interviews, On Writing

Last night I was standing in a long, slow line consoling my 9-year-old son. He had just burst into tears because I, as a newbie to book signings, did not plan my attack very well.

I thought I had it down. Complicated carpools were coordinated and a babysitter was arranged for my two sons unable to attend due to soccer practices (my middle son, with the earliest practice, was not so lucky). We made it to the local high school auditorium with time to spare and even managed to snag decent seats. But instead of looking around the room with a dopey grin on my face waiting for Garth Stein to arrive, I should have been in the lobby buying books for him to sign afterwards.

It was the culmination of our city’s first One City, One Book program and Garth Stein was scheduled to speak about his books The Art of Racing in the Rain and Racing in the Rain: My Life as a Dog. I was thrilled! My son, less so. Like a good parent, I bribed him with a stick of gum. He took it, but it was clearly not enough. So I upped the ante, promising a McDonalds milkshake afterwards because I wanted to listen to what Garth had to say.

The second sentence Garth spoke was this:

“If anyone feels the need to dance, please let yourself loose.”

What kind of author begins an evening with a statement like that? I’ll tell you: a funny one. And he was funny, and enthusiastic, and comfortable on stage.

He began with his background: where he grew up, where he went to college (Columbia University), and how he was living in New York with his small children when he and his wife decided to return to the Seattle area.

They had just moved back and were stumbling around with everything in boxes when (I believe) his mother-in-law called and told him to turn on the TV. Garth replied that he didn’t have one. She advised him that he’d better get one. That day was 9-11-2001.

He bought a TV only to see the city—his home—that he had just left in ruins. In front of us all, he choked up. He suggested we all take a moment to remember those that were lost on that horrific day.

He was a class act.

Garth was an engaging storyteller. He told stories that made us laugh and some that made us issue a collective “Aaahhh.” He poked fun at himself and answered questions thoroughly…so thoroughly he sometimes forgot what the original question was. He was a pleasure to listen to, especially when he was reading one of my favorite sections in the book: that of Enzo flying around the racetrack with Denny on a hot lap. Plus, he made inspired remarks like this:

“Reading a book is not a monologue, it’s a conversation.”

He advised the younger ones in the audience (like the one lying in my lap sprawled across two chairs) that if they really believed in something and wanted to accomplish it, they have to put in the effort and make the sacrifices to get it done. Life is too long to do something because someone else says you should do it. That’s great advice for them, and I’m stealing it for myself as well.

He gave tips to aspiring writers:

  • “You need to have stories to tell and you need to have something to say.” (Finally being older is paying off!)
  • Keep writing.
  • Keep reading.
  • Take acting classes. (Didn’t see that one coming, did you?)

He was amazing!

As soon as the final applause began, my son bolted out of his seat and I was right behind him, but we were operating on two different agendas. He wanted McDonalds and I needed to buy books for the signing. By the time we did that and got in the book signing line, it was well over ½ hour long. Hence the poor child bursting into tears.

A good mom would have taken him to McDonalds right then, but I had interviewed Garth Stein on my blog and there was no way I was leaving without saying a personal thank you. Instead, I grabbed a friend and asked if she’d drop my son off at home. But there was no way he was going anywhere except McDonalds for his milkshake. Again, two different agendas but the same result: we stuck it out.

I spent the time thanking the Gods of Dropped Treasures for helping my son find three pennies and two unopened Laffy Taffys in the adjacent bleachers and conversing with the sweet lady in front of me. She looked just like what she was: a kindly librarian with curly gray hair and a stack of books in her arms for Garth to sign. Then she confessed that she wanted to be reincarnated as a dog because she has a thing for tails. (It was a long line: intimate secrets were spilled.) I thought I had her pegged, but then she dropped a bomb on me: she and her husband own four Porsches (one is named Miss Plum) and were going to the track this weekend to race them. She works the pit crew. Wh—what? This tiny librarian who wants her own tail is a bad ass in the racing arena? Who would have thought?

She might be my new BFF.

Finally it was our turn! I told Garth who I was and I thanked him for the interview. He said something like “Oh, Muddy Kinzer. I put you on facebook. Your Q &A.”

Wh—what? I’m on Garth Stein’s facebook page?

My son and I ran all the way to the parking lot: he for the milkshake, and me because I was shouting “I’m on Garth Stein’s facebook page!” the whole way. (I can’t find it on there, but still…)

At home with his milkshake and my autographed copy of The Art of Racing in the Rain, my son and I were content. I reached over, tousled his hair, and told him I was glad he came with me. He grinned and fell into my arms for a hug.

It was a perfect evening.

NOT YOUR AVERAGE LIBRARY, PLUS THE BOOK GIVEAWAY RESULTS!

August 8, 2012 in On Writing

I recently had the chance to visit a unique library that very few people are allowed access to: my dad’s home.

He loves books. I mean, he really loves books. If I didn’t already know it, it would have become apparent the second we pulled into the garage. There on the folding card table were stacks of books: his version of the Friends of the Library book sale. “Take any of those you want,” he told me. I rifled through the stacks before I even set foot in his house, glad I had left some room in my suitcase.

Once inside, I made a leisurely browse through the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves along one entire wall of his living room. This is primarily the Fiction section: Truman Capote, James Clavell, Michael Crichton, John Grisham, Ernest Hemingway, James Michener, John Steinbeck, Mark Twain, and Tom Wolfe, with a few author biographies thrown in. Like a good library, they are arranged alphabetically by author with the spines lined up along the edges of the shelves. But I don’t have to sign up for a library card here; this library operates on the honor system. From this section, I borrowed Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit, a book I have on hold at my own local library, except I believe I’m #253 in line.

My dad has books everywhere, but these books are loved. They are neatly ordered with pristine jacket covers and no bent over corners to mark your place in the book. No wrinkled, crinkled, or smudged pages are found in his library.

I got to stay in the Art Room, a guest bedroom with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves filled with books on artists like Joan Miro, Keith Haring, Magritte, Renoir, Picasso, etc. Among the books stored in the closet, I found a Christo and Jeanne-Claude art book filled with odd and stunning examples of their packaging legacy.

Odd...

 

 

Stunning!

Next door to my room was the Music section: rows of books about the guitar, musical instruments, the history of music, CDs, etc.

Both the Art and Music rooms are strictly reference. He has some beautiful books here: old, oversized, linoleum-block printed designs adorning the pages, some housed in their own embossed slipcovers…not your usual library fare.

My sons stayed in the third room, which houses a hodge-podge of sections: Travel, Film, Etymology, and Spain, plus the stacks of books on his dresser: his “to read” pile. I raided this pile, walking away with Mark Haddon’s The Red House.

If that’s not enough, I can peek into his pantry where I find the cookbooks, world histories of food, and…200 Easy Homemade Cheese Recipes?

“You’re making your own cheese?”

“No,” he said. “I just wanted to know more about cheese.”

“Good,” I said, flipping through the pages. “I was beginning to worry about you.” Although I still was. Is there no book my dad can resist? I kept turning the pages. “You know what? I’m going to borrow this book too,” I said, fascinated by the cheese making process. “I might want to try making my own cheese!” It’s possible I might have a slight strain of the book-disease my dad has.

Does my dad have a problem with books?

Yes.

But as long as he keeps being so generous with his lending policy, I’m fine with it. In fact, I think I might even be lucky.

 

And now for the winner of Raymond Z. Ortiz’s book We Had More To Say…Esther Bradley-DeTally! If you email me your mailing address, I will gladly get that right out to you! Congratulations!

A BOOK CLUB CHALLENGE

July 18, 2012 in On Writing, Reflections on Pop Culture


I recently wrote about my experiences with book clubs (read about that here), specifically the all-female one I’m in now where I complained about the husband of one of our members, whom I’ll refer to as Joe Book Club, selecting our book for us. My exact comment was:

“Do you think he’d want to read what I thought was the best book I’d ever read?”

Well, the gauntlet has been thrown down, and Joe Book Club has picked it up. He has agreed to read whatever book I throw at him. (cue evil laugh) The question is, which one of my favorite books should I have him read?

Should I be really mean and have him read a Sophie Kinsella novel, like Confessions of a Shopaholic or Can you Keep A Secret? I love her because she’s funny and writes chick lit, but how would a man feel about reading something like that? Perhaps I could suggest my favorite Marian Keyes’ novel Rachel’s Holiday (also known Rachel’s stint in rehab). Only Marian Keyes could turn in a novel that’s poignant, honest, heartbreaking, and laugh out loud funny.


The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society is one of my all-time favorites. Set in the 1940s and told entirely through letters, it comes complete with quirky characters residing on a whimsical island. It’s told from a woman’s point of view, and yes, there is romance, but the fact that it’s set against the hard edge of World War II might make it more appealing to a man.

I could be nice and recommend Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity, which is so much richer than the movie in depicting Jason Bourne’s struggle to discover who he really is. Or Stephen King’s The Stand, about the battle of good vs evil in a post virally-infected world. Or N.D. Wilson’s 100 Cupboards, which I absolutely love. (read more about that here)

But I think I’m going to go with Watership Down, by Richard Adams. From the back cover:

Watership Down is a remarkable tale of exile and survival, of heroism and leadership…the epic novel of a group of adventurers who desert their doomed city, and venture forth against all odds on a quest for a new home, a sturdier future.”

Sounds good, doesn’t it? There’s just one little thing: the characters are rabbits, not people.

Just set that aside and dive into this new world of four-legged, furry creatures who have personalities, emotions, temperaments, and loyalties. Surround yourself with their language and history, and journey with them as they seek freedom and safety at all costs. I’ve read this book many, many times and I’ve never been able to put it down during the last 100 pages.

So, Joe Book Club, your assignment is Watership Down by Richard Adams. If by chance you’ve already read it, then it’s 100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson (Your sons would love this too.). Oh, and you can thank me later!

Anyone else who hasn’t read this gem of a book, please join us!

If you are a woman, what book would you recommend for a man? And vice versa?

Happy Reading!