Monthly Archives: January 2010


Some links I want to share:


Filed under Helpful, Links

Ssshhhh, it’s gestating…

ghost town table

Nova has a blog post up on why she doesn’t talk about her novel-in-progress. Given that I too, do not talk about my work-in-progress at length until it’s finished (and even then, I simply state that “it’s done”), I was bewildered that “whether or not a writer talks about her WIP” was even a hostly contested thing–but it seems to be.

For me, discussing my work-in-progress is like talking about a fetus. People don’t even disclose their pregnancy to the public until after the first trimester, and I feel the same way about my work. I’m not sure if the work will withstand the vigor of the writing process, and die withering on the vine, or if it will thrive…but I certainly am not prepared to describe it, because most likely, I’m not quite sure what its potential is, myself.

There are those who, after the first trimester, share details of their pregnancy with enthusiasm, describing their fetus as if it were already born. The baby’s kicking, moving, and for fathers, sophisticated ultrasounds can now show the fetus in 3D and bring that baby out of the abstract into the concrete. Likewise, writers will gather around a table and discuss the idiosyncrasies of their novel, sharing the novel’s plot, character development, and other details.

But there are those who don’t share much throughout their pregnancy. Some keep the information close to their chests, out of perhaps a desire for privacy. Traditional Jews don’t hold baby showers before birth, in fear of “jinxing” things.

I’m in the latter camp. Until my novel’s done, I can’t talk about it. I’ve finished my first draft, and it’s only now that I can summarize it in one sentence, and if prodded, provide a 3-5 sentence synopsis. Even then, there are moments that I will simply reply, “The first draft’s done. That’s all I can say.” I can’t bear to talk about my novel. I’m scared that someone will steal the idea (yah I know, silly thought), I’m scared that the response I get will stifle my creativity (this is more realistic than you’d think–people say some hurtful things), I’m scared you won’t like it, I’m scared that it sounds stupid, I’m scared of judgment, and I’m scared that I’ve jinxed myself, and I’m scared because it’s just too soon to talk about the novel. The list goes on.

People ask me all the time, “What’s your novel about?” I find the question on par with, “How are you doing?” Most people don’t want to know. So I’m relieved of discussing my novel. Once, I misjudged someone’s interest and gave details about my novel, only to be rebuffed with an abrupt change of topic. Oh. Yah. Okay. Whoops.

There are those who insist I discuss the novel, and in those rare instances, I tiptoe forth, first with a thin description and then something more robust. Occasionally, I am met with a hurtful, disinterested reaction that puzzles me (why did you insist you wanted to hear about it?)…but sometimes, I am met with incredible support and insight. When I hear that support and insight, I get a taste of what I’m missing when I don’t discuss my novel in progress. It makes me wistful.

But on the whole–it’s not my process. It took me a long time to focus on my fiction, and then another swath of time writing my novel. I’m still gestating.


Filed under Novel, Writing

Running and writing for endurance

new running shoes

One of my mentors, in the years before he won his Pulitzer and before he’d finished writing his first novel, said that writing a novel changes your brain chemistry. If he were not fastidiously groomed as usual that day, I would have imagined a grizzled beard and weary eyes based on the tone of his battle weary but proud voice in saying so.

I have, in the years since, anticipated and welcomed the change in my brain as I wrote my novel’s first draft. And I *could* feel my brain changing–I wasn’t sure if it was because of the years of work involved and the course of life wending its way alongside the writing, or if it was the writing itself; regardless, I knew the time spent on my novel was changing me. For the better–and for that fact alone, I would still be happy in the completion of my draft, even if it were not published, even if it were not read by anyone else in the world.

At times, the writing was slow going, and my brain felt rusty and resistant to change even if I wanted it; what could I do to help my brain accommodate the novel writing? In the world of athletics, athletes stretch to warm up, they consume foods that optimize their physical performance…what could I do to help my writing?

After reading Murakami’s book on running (the pleasant What I Talk About When I Talk About Running) , I learned that there is a way to prepare your brain for the landscape of endurance and long distance. According to Haruki Murakami, running is the best training for writing a novel.

It makes sense–a writer sits at a desk, every day in singleminded determination and focus to write words down until she assembles tens of thousands of words, if not hundreds of thousands of words that comprise a novel. It is a grueling feat of mental and physical endurance, one that, according to Murakami is “an act of manual labor,” one that requires “far more energy, over a long period, than most people ever imagine.”

And so, inspired by Murakami’s statement that “most of what I know about writing I’ve learned through running everyday,” I set out to run, first at an intermittent trot/walk of one mile distance, then working my way up to five kilometers and then beyond.

I have never been a runner. Running has had me gasping in pain my whole life, but I wanted to really try. For some people, exercise comes from a motivation to fit into a dress, others are motivated out of a drive to improve health–and I, I discovered, was motivated by a desire to improve my writing, no matter how far-fetched the connection. Plus, I had a hole in my heart that was only recently closed, and I was eager to try out my new heart on my new regimen that would change my brain and my writing.

Continue reading


Filed under Novel, Running, Writing

“I’m big in Japan…”


My short story, “It’s Been Way Too Long” was accepted for publication by Yomimono, a small but reputable Japanese litmag a few months ago. Yesterday, issues of Yominono, with my published story, arrived in the mail…and I can now say, “I’m big in Japan” in response to those who tell me, “I’ve never read your work.”


It’s not my first time in print, but it’s my first time in print since my stroke and being able to resume writing fiction. And it’s been a long time since my last time in print (I’ve been finalists in contest, but no publications for years now)–so I’m a bit psyched. 🙂

Also, did you hear? I can now technically say that I’m “big in Japan.” 😛


Filed under Writing

the packaging

where i keep my novel manuscript

I have, like many other writers, a fear of losing my edited, original manuscript, whether by being stolen (I know, who would want to read this thing right now? But *I* love it, so maybe someone else might?), or taking off in the wind, ala the scenes in the movie versions of “Wonderboys” or “The World According to Garp”–or wait, I just thought of another movie scene with pages flying off in the wind: “Love Actually.” See? I’m not the only person who has this fear.

But my fear is mitigated, because of the above mylar, bubblewrap, velcro-closure envelope above. That’s where I keep my novel manuscript. It’s water resistant, keeps my manuscript safe from bruising, and it’s wind resistant.

I have no idea where to buy such a thing, because I didn’t buy the above envelope. Marketing materials were sent to us inside the envelope. We threw away the contents, and kept the envelope. I’ve been googling to find where I can buy another envelope–does anyone know where to find/buy one?

Update: Thank you thank you! They are called “bubblopes” (I love the name), and I have done enough googling tonight to unearth several e-commerce sites that sell them (below in the comments). The envelopes, sized 13.5″ x 10″, are priced anywhere from $2.99/each to about $3.50/each, and come in varying colors. I’m eyeing the green or blue mylar for subsequent drafts…


Filed under Novel


pumpkin rocks

(For those of you who don’t know, who for some reason have internet but don’t check news or Facebook or twitter and hang out with people who don’t check news or FB or twitter, Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, had an earthquake with catastrophic consequences this week).

I have been watching the images from Haiti, aghast and speechless with horror and heartbreak. For every person rescued, many others are languishing and dying under the rubble of concrete buildings. I wept last night as I ran while watching television when a man ran up to CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta with his 15-day old daughter who had a severe head laceration. His wife, the child’s mother had died in the earthquake, that child was all he head left. Every news report is accompanied by the wailing of mourners in the background.

Our fellow human beings are being subjected to suffering, and we need to not only send prayers but actual help, just as we did for Hurricane Katrina. The vast majority of us are unqualified to help, and so we *must* send money. We all have something to give, even if money is tight. Instead of dining out, send that money to aid organizations. Instead of buying that dress, send the money to aid organizations.

It’s as easy as texting “HAITI” to “90999,” which will contribute $10 to the Red Cross that will be charged to your cellphone.

If you want to donate more than $10, you can donate to the Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders or go to the White House Website to look at its list of other organizations you may want to consider supporting.

We are not helpless, because we can ALL help. And should.

My friend is putting together a bakesale for Haiti on Saturday January 23rd, from 10am-2pm, in various locations throughout Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco (Pizzaiolo in Oakland, Gioia’s Pizza in Berkeley, and Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco). Spread the word. There is more than one way to send money to Haiti–you can buy a cupcake and benefit Haiti, too.

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Filed under The World

what can be better than finishing a manuscript first draft?

What can be better than finishing the first draft of my novel?

Having a friend finish the first draft of her novel, too. 🙂 Congratulations to my dear and awesome friend, Nova Ren Suma, whose support is priceless and whose commitment to writing is so inspiring. (I so missed her while she was on self-imposed twitter break so she could, with her usual diamond hard focus, finish on schedule). She high fives me for finishing before her, but I’m about 150% sure that her draft is in better shape than mine, she’s so brilliant.


Filed under Novel, Writing

Before revision

Hope Valley

I tried to read my manuscript the other day. I’m up in the mountains for the weekend, and it’s been a week since I finished the novel manuscript. I’m still on winter break from teaching, at least for a couple more weeks. The setting for reviewing the manuscript, making editorial remarks, and navigating my way to a revision seemed…inevitable.

So I prepared a cup of tea, sat at my desk here in the mountains, in front of windows opening up to the icy slushy street, and opened up my manuscript, sheets of 8.5 x 11 paper, the edges of paper still sharp and untouched. I turned to the first page, and then the second page, and then the third page…

Um. No.

I felt, quite literally, like I was watching a television show four inches from the screen, accompanied by a flood of complicated emotion. Pride, discouragement, hope, love, pity.

Oh. Not ready to revise, despite the perfect circumstances. So I’m stepping away, even though I wish I could delve right back into the manuscript. But if I were to do so, unprepared as I am, I am pretty sure I would make some very foolish decisions–perhaps excising chapters that need to remain, or holding on to passages that need to be cut. Etc., etc.

Before I could even hold my head in my hands in despair, twitter friends came to my rescue, encouraging me to step away, and reassuring me the manuscript will be there when I’m ready to return. A friend of mine graciously reminded me that Stephen King recommends at least six weeks away from the manuscript before beginning revision.

I had known all these things, but they were all jarred from cognition in the wake of aborted ambition. My friends–my friends! Thank you–it takes a village to write a novel.

But, now what? I’ve got a few weeks before I think I can return to my manuscript for revision.

I took a day twiddling my thumbs, restless in the house, feeling adrift without a novel to write. Aimless.

I’m in the midst of writing an essay–but I’m in between drafts on that, too, and am awaiting feedback from a friend. I have no inspiration right now to write a short story, despite conditions being perfect for a short story to leap into my imagination RIGHT NOW, as well. The weather outside (I’m in the mountains for the weekend) is foggy and icy, not good for a jog/run.

And so, I’m writing the syllabi for my (split-level) English class this Spring semester. The semester starts in a couple of weeks. I might as well get an early start.

Feeling as bleak as the grey and white landscape outside.


Filed under Writing

writing residencies and conferences

Check out my guest post on writing residencies and conferences over at Writerland.

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On being a slow writer

Peeler Lake!

In the world of food, “slow” might be a good thing: there’s a slow cooker preparing your meals from dawn to dusk and welcoming you home to hot prepared food, slow braising (mrmmm braised short ribs), slow food (no fast food!) and a slow year (my friend is living such a thing–living life as a freegan and deciding not to pay for anything but bare necessities). In this context, slow is a good thing.

Being a slow writer? Not so good–in fact, downright discouraging.  I was once at a writing residency where a Famous Writer would announce her wordcount each evening at the dinner table, around which all the writers would sit (so there was no escaping her announcement). Some nights, she would announce 5,000 words, other nights 3,000 words, never falling below 2,000 words written each day. Argh, I thought. What was a polite way to say, “Please shut up?”

Me? 1,000 words is a good day for me. 2,000 is pretty phenomenal. 500 is normal.

I just can’t get the words down very quickly. And believe me, there are days where I hit the delete key more than I do any other key, and thus have had negative word counts. Midway through writing this novel, I forbid myself from deleting.

I’m such a slow (and sparse) writer that in successive revision drafts, I have to fill in the blanks, beef up my manuscripts. One of my friends, Elizabeth Stark once tweeted that when it comes to revision, “there are filler-inners and taker-outers.” I am definitely a filler-inner when it comes to revision.

Over the years, I’ve accepted my slow pace. I just see it as “Tonka trucking”: I used to struggle while hiking in the mountains at altitude, and a friend took my hand in his and showed me a technique that would get me up the mountain one step at a time. He said to take half steps, or if necessary, quarter steps, each step being maybe only a few inches in length. Takes the strain off the legs and lungs (didn’t know at the time that I had a hole in my heart, causing altitude sickness at lower elevations).

I made it up the mountain every time when backpacking by “Tonka trucking” up the trail, often taking steps no longer than that of a toddler. Maybe it took longer, but I got there. And guess what: it felt no less awesome for having taken longer.


Filed under Writing