Thursday, December 31, 2009

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


So you might have noticed that I am writing here more often than just Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at the moment.  I am editing (my book), reading (still Anna Karenina), writing (this blog), plotting (my next book), planning and figuring out more in general at the moment.  I probably should not say that out loud let alone commit that thought to paper as the gods of sleepiness and inertia will come for me instantly if they sniff industry.

I think it has something to do with momentum.  I usually try not to let myself get propelled by momentum when I am writing.  I have very clear rules about writing momentum in fact:

1. Wake up early and turn on the computer before I really know what is going on in order to avoid "deciding" to work.  "Deciding" to work almost always leads to "deciding" not to work and so I avoid that.

2. Stop before I am done and leave something in the bag for tomorrow.  Returning to something I am excited about is easier than writing something out and then having to start over the next day with fresh enthusiasm.  This, by the way, sucks when I am writing a scene I like and have to forcibly put it down in order to keep it interesting for tomorrow.

3. Write the same amount every day.  No momentum driven writing binges as they end in sleeplessness, loss of focus and bumping into stuff the next day.

4. When I am going to take a day off it must be a planned day off with no plan to make up for it later.  I just have to resume the day after without indulging in guilt propelled overdrive.

5. Trust that it will be there.  Do not chase down a half baked scene because I am afraid the momentum will disappear.  But do stop whatever I am doing at any time to scribble story/plot/character/color/name/place/pet/smell stuff on whatever piece of paper I have handy--usually my book.  

That is it really.  I have other writing rules for myself which I will write about another day but that is it for momentum.  It is funny that I am breaking these rules with this blog.  I think it is all the lovely support I have had from wonderful friends and family.  My friend Jainee posted this blog on her Facebook page and I was so touched.  It makes me want to abandon my rules and write for the fun of it--which is... fun.

Pages edited: 239!


Monday, December 28, 2009


Ariel is one of my dearest friends from college. We spoke last night after far, far too long. I sometimes get into ruts where I think constantly of the people I love but that affection in no way translates to picking up the phone. Not sure what I am doing with my time that makes it so impossible to call but suddenly it becomes almost insurmountable. Ridiculous isn't it? Then I sound utterly absurd protesting later "But I have been thinking about you so much!" when there is absolutely no proof of that whatsoever.

Anyway we spoke yesterday and it was heaven. She said exactly the right thing at the right time. Isn't it lovely when people do that? Conversely it profoundly unlovely when people say the exact wrong thing at the wrong time. Random lady in line at the bookstore on Christmas Eve: "Oh thirty-five? Mmm so you do not want kids?" No bueno.

People who have known you for ages and are familiar with the many different you-s that you have been along the way have a unique perspective. Someone who can remember when you wore Doc Martens and wanted to be an archaeologist--that person really understands how funny and twisty the road has been.

There is a wonderful simplicity and lack of having to explain why something is important when you speak to those people. And there is a tremendous sense that whatever you are going to do in your life--you will do it together. Last year when I told my friend Amber that I was about to start querying agents, she asked me "When do we start?" The "we" is the greatest gift a friend can give you.

Pages edited:175!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Home Home

So I am home on the East Coast at the moment. Other months of the year I am "home" in Kauai but this is home home. Don't you love the repeated word, this time I mean it, emphasis of phrases like "home home," "like like," "really really" and "now now"? I do. I love how we understand what they mean even when they technically mean absolutely nothing.

For Christmas (the only five days of the year when the five of us will all definitely be in the same place)----my family believes in elasticized waistbands, three lunches a day, Backgammon, Scrabble, afternoon naps and going out in whatever one happens to be wearing. Going out is a tremendous inconvenience and we punish it by not brushing our hair and leaving the house in semi pajamas. Somehow it doesn't matter. As I grew up here the damage is done. Braces, purple corduroy, yellow velour short shorts, green roller skates worn with woolly red knee socks, grey and pink leg warmers, matching pink Adidas shirt, shorts, shoes and socks, penny loafers with the penny inside, an unfortunate 'prairie' skirt phase, tutus in winter, quarter inch bangs I cut myself--this city has seen it all.

We have snow on the ground--well snow, slush, and unidentified grey funk (part melted newspaper and part slushy mud). For Christmas my brother gave my sister and I fantastic bright yellow knee-high wellies. Identical fantastic bright yellow knee-high wellies. Yesterday, without fear or apprehension, my sister and I ventured out in our matching Donald Duck-esque booties into the fancy new Sephora, Neiman Marcus, Saks and Barney's Coop that have opened near our house. People looked, people giggled and my brother took photos.

My Christmas crazy sister insisted we walk across the street to the Starbucks--she loves the Christmas cups at Starbucks (as well as the seasonal Santas on the Christmas Coke cans). As we walked in yellow bootie unison, I remembered what it was like to be ten years old and go out wearing a giant tutu over your jeans on a Wednesday. No justification or explanation ever offered to spectators. parents or other kids.  Just because.  "Just because" was all the justification I ever needed as a kid--there is something to that.  Tutus are brilliant. I should wear them more often.

Pages edited: 103.  Slowly getting there!  

Saturday, December 26, 2009


So it has been mayhem around here: snow on the ground, cats in the wrapping paper, family playing Scrabble (I lost twice) dogs in the ribbons, papers everywhere, family playing the piano, fire in the fireplace, family drinking tea, phones beeping, family eating chocolate, doorbell ringing--chaos, but fun. Fun but not a great atmosphere to get through five hundred and something pages of a copy edited manuscript. It is day three and I am on page 42--not good.

The problem is that I have become terrified of paper. The book is at the stage (and I have only recently learned that there is such a stage) where I am working on paper. Well actually we are working on paper. The package arrived at our house 12 hours after I did. The package--542 pages of a copy edited manuscript and a green pencil. This was it. This was the manuscript. Not a copy of something that exists on the computer. This is now the manuscript--the only manuscript.

Pressure. Things had to change. No more losing pages, spilling coffee at will, letting cats wander over the prologue and dogs sleep on chapter four--that all had to end immediately.

The lovely publishers sent the edited manuscript (edited in red and blue pencil--much friendlier than red and blue ink) and I am to edit in a green pencil (that they enclosed in the package) and then send it back. I have been instructed to hold onto the green pencil as I will need it to edit proof pages later--I have become slightly obsessive about the green pencil and have forbidden anyone to touch it.

I am basically terrified and keep pulling out the pages only to put them away. Animals, liquid, fire, snow, food or excessive numbers of people send me into paroxysms of fear over the pages and the pencil. Three cats and a fire--put away the pages. Two dogs and my brother drinking tea--put away the pages. Tuna eating toast--put away the pages. Wet snow boots in the next room--put away the pages. I was getting ridiculous. And so after only progressing four pages today I have made an executive decision. The pages will get wrinkled, fuzzy, furry and probably wet. That is the collateral damage of living with family, animals, food and snow.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Snow Day

So, I did not write on Friday. I actually did not do much of anything of Friday except wait on hold to speak to Virgin America. Two feet of snow fell on my parent's house in Washington DC. It fell all over the East Cast but it also fell on my parent's house in DC. I was grumpy. I obviously had less cause to be grumpy than my family who were under the snow with two dogs who needed to go outside. The dachshund flatly refused and Gordie bounced around like a gazelle. But I was thinking more about the fact that I was not going to be able to fly out the next day. I pictured long lines, sleeping in airports, sponge baths in airport bathrooms, and the funny smelling carpet particular to departure lounges. I fidgeted. I packed. I unpacked. I planned to buy Pond's Clean Sweeps Facial Towelettes and travel sized tooth paste. "Your wait time is approximately... 223 minutes," the over chirpy, Virgin America computer voice said. Not good.

So we went out. Phone still stuck to my ear we walked the two blocks to the Grove where we found: an enormous Christmas tree (real, beautiful and smelling lovely even though I technically do not believe in cutting down gigantic trees), fairy lights, Santa's frosted, candy house, complete with faux fur- trimmed North Pole elves (all very Will Farrell/Christmassy Dr. Seuss), lollipops on the walls, a gingerbread door and a sugar icing roof, Christmas carollers, small dogs in Santa coats (four stubby french bulldogs), a puffy Pomeranian in green wellies and a Christmas bow, holly, mistletoe, strung up, lit up snowflakes, garlands, wreaths, bells, and snow falling from giant, aerial snow blowers at ten to the hour, every hour.

It was over done, over blown, over the top Christmas heaven. It made me want to drink peppermint chocolate and eat toffee brittle. "Your wait time is 185 minutes." Suddenly it felt like a snow day. I did not really understand the fun of a snow day until college (at Mount Holyoke in Massachusetts we were frequently blanketed in four or five feet of snow). My high school, well the lovably autocratic principal of my high school, did not believe in snow days. He famously refused to grant them--ever. And then one year he went to rehab and the vice principal took over for the semester. On the last day of the vice principal's short reign he granted a snow day--in May.

Snow days feel like a step out of time, out of routine, out of responsibility. You are suddenly light and silly and supposed to be... nowhere. That is what happened with one hundred and eighty-five minutes to go. I hung up the phone, left the ranks of grumpy inconvenienced people and went in search of peppermint cocoa.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


So, Morgan Freeman's voice... it is very good isn't it? We just saw Invictus. (And then we snuck into The Blind Side to complete our weepy athletic movie marathon). It is twenty-five dollars for two people to go to the movies here in LA, before they consume any candy so we feel it is right to dock them one movie.

My profoundly principled, very distinguished looking, silver haired father protests the extortionate prices at Foodland (our very literally titled Hawaiian grocery store) by shoplifting exactly three green chilies every time he goes in there. If questioned, my father would say "Yes, I have three chilies in my pocket. Your prices are absurd and so I am adjusting them. Please explain your rampant over-pricing."

Alternatively, if I were caught in a movie I did not pay for, I would turn bright red, flee and never return. Dicey stuff at your favorite movie theatre.

But Morgan Freeman's voice... it carries weight and a sort of gravelly vibrancy. He has gravitas. It is not so much what he says, but the restraint, timbre and pitch of how he says it. Last night we saw Hitchcock's Rebecca. Laurence Olivier as Maxim de Winter: gravitas. I am currently working out how to write gravitas. The trick lies somewhere in creating a character who says much less than he knows and thoroughly respects his weight in the world without arrogance. The "he" in that sentence is not sexist coincidentally--I went to Mount Holyoke and have been thoroughly schooled to read the "his" in "history" and the "men" in "women" but in this instance the character I am writing is male and I cannot bear over-scrutinized semantics.

On paper, the air has to shift imperceptibly when this character enters a room. Just as it does when a person of substance joins a breezy conversation. Suddenly, everyone thinks about what they say just a bit more carefully. Verbal sails get trimmed and arguments are more carefully plotted. But how to write that without over writing that? Gravitas, like mystique collapses if it is over-examined or over-explained.

I suppose gravitas would be to simply produce the stolen chilies and expect the store to explain themselves rather than vice-versa.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Character Names

So I have a thing about names. I am one of those people who collects names. Names of people, places, colors, rooms, rugs, furniture, flowers, shoes--everything. I collected names even when I was deep in the trenches of BA, MA, PhD academic critical theory with no where to put a fictional character let alone worry about the name, shoes or street address.

There are names I have always liked, names that lose their freshness and I grow out of them, and then names that grow on me and I like more and more. The smaller fictional characters in my book were cast and recast from a roster of these names. Cooks, footmen, bakers all gradually shifted in and out of monikers. Surprisingly their personalities shifted to match. Sophie the cook was softer and sweeter and wore comfortable shoes whereas when she became Agnes she grew far more stern, wore durable shoes and put less sugar in her pies.

Anywhere I could I would use the historical name, and these names went a long way towards defining the character for me. When I found that King Charles II's favorite spaniel was called Dot, that changed both the king and his pet for me. I decided that a man who named his dog Dot wore colorful dressing gowns.

Funny how names change the light and the walk and the dress and the shoes of a character just as they change a ballgown or a pair of jeans. There is a reason trendy jeans all sport human names. I love True Religion "Joey" jeans. I can't wear the "Billy" (drainpipe skinnies) or the "Cassidy" (huge flares) but am seriously considering the "Becky". Becky and Joey just sound friendlier don't they? Billy and Cassidy sound intimidating.

I have a beloved friend from university whose family has a rare animal farm in Yorkshire. All of the rare sheep have what he calls "old lady" names like Maud and Effie. That has always seemed so right. My brother's dog is Gordon--of course he is. He is a fussbudget and a profoundly odd but truly lovable dog who could only be called Gordon. When I was ten I looked after a friend's hamster called Puff. Puff just sat there eating and getting puffier. It fit.

Friday, December 11, 2009

For Myself

So I have been nervous about putting this blog out there. I have been discreetly sending it to a friend here and a family member there but have hesitated to send it out to the world at large. My wonderful friend Melissa (who is about to start reading a wonderful translation of War and Peace) just told me,

"I know. It is hard to do things for yourself. Just put it out there. People love when people write."

People love when people write. What an utterly lovely, confidence growing thought. That made me really happy.

How I Read

I am reading the most fantastic translation of Anna Karenina. It is brutal and lucid and utterly unlike the prissy, clean, Victorian version I remember. I have read Anna Karenina at least three times since I first plowed through it in tenth grade (with most of it sailing several miles above my geeky, little head) and this is not the same book. It is heavy, messy and I take it with me everywhere.

Living on an island--an island with a Borders Books that is desperately low on books this year--can be tough for someone who consumes books the way I do. I love the idea of the library but after reading a book I just do not want to give it back. I am just not that good a person. A book is thoroughly mine when I am done with it. I write in the margins, inside the front cover, over the text, under the text, around the text and all sorts of other prepositions too. I tear out bits of paper to give notes to other people. I never just put a number in my phone but scribble it in my book only to most likely forget which book it is in later.

I stuff my book with: movie stubs, receipts, phone numbers, doodles, random bits of scribbled on paper, shopping lists, rail tickets, plane tickets, photos, business cards and anything else from the life I was living while I was reading that book. Anna is currently sporting a baggage claim stub, a plane ticket, notes on Frost's "Out, Out" (for my 12th grade student that I wrote while waiting in line at CVS), two Twilight: New Moon movie tickets (I convinced Noah to see it on his birthday no less), receipts from Chipotle (super veggie burritos for only 3$), six phone numbers and reminders to call the six people, eleven words I love, receipts from the Kilauea Shell Station, beach sand, a written out copy of W.H. Auden's "The Fall of Rome" that I wrote in line at Whole Foods, two dollars, and a bit of sticky candy cane. Priya was definitely here.

As a result the book gets fat, distorted, unwieldy and liable to come apart and spill its very personal contents all over the floors of very public places--not good. Yesterday just this happened at the Starbucks at the top of the Barnes and Noble here in Hollywood where there is never anywhere to sit. The skinny jeans, black trendy plastic glasses, expensively spikey haired young man next to me gave me a pityingly condescending "you shouldn't do that to books" sort of look. The plastic tagged Barnes and Noble man at the information desk gave me the "I really hope you paid for that and are not just trying to make it look like that is your book" kind of look. (Although I might have imagined that one as I have an abject paranoia of being called out as a shoplifter when I walk into a bookstore with my own book.)

To make matters worse I teach my students to write, underline, annotate and generally think out loud inside their books. I love the messy, personal and utterly undignified result.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


I have not written since October! From now on I will write on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and other times as well. A schedule! I love schedules!

So, what has happened. To start with, THE ORANGE GIRL is now EXIT THE ACTRESS. I know! Did you see that--it looks like I pulled a whole other book out of a hat. But no. My publishers wanted a more theatrical sounding name and so voila: my original title. (Cannot find the right key for the accent on voila and so it looks a bit like it left home without its trousers on--my apologies.)

I love the new title. I loved the old title but was a times concerned that it might sound like I was talking about one of the Muppets--this is better. Somehow the letter "x" in the title gives it a biker jacket, high heels sort of feel--very exciting.

So what else has happened? I am en route to NYC where I will meet my publishers for the first time! So far everything has been done by phone/email/post. I am only slowly en route. I left Hawaii just before Thanksgiving and am still only in Los Angeles--geriatric turtles are faster than me.

And! I got a startlingly short haircut. You know when you think you want it short but then are terrified by the result? Oh yes, my friends. She used a razor on my neck to get the last few stragglers. Very alarming. As I am blind as a bat and too self conscious to wear my glasses while getting a haircut--the tarp/towel/foil/bam bam hairclip combination is bad enough; glasses just push it right over the edge--it is always a bit of a shock once I see the result. Now I love my relative baldness but at the time... you know those girls who turn bright red, sniffle and try not to cry in the hair salon? Oh yes.

So: new title, new city, new hair, tons of reading, research, editing, teaching, and walking. Not bad for the last few months.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Wonderful News!

My mentor, friend and former employer Eve Ensler was just named one of US News and World Report's 'Best Leaders'! It is utterly true.

Eve is different. She instinctively thinks on a different scale. Her mind, heart, empathy, and determination are of an enormous scope, as if she were drawn by giants. I will never forget one day in London when I had been working for her for about thirty-six hours and was listening to her give a telephone interview. The interviewer asked in a vaguely condescending tone, if she really believed that an end of violence against women was possible on this planet. "Why not?" Eve countered without waiting a beat. "Why would I ever waste one minute of my life doubting that it will happen?"

I was thunderstruck. It had never occurred to me to live or speak without prevarication; without doubt or apology or the kind of realistic tempering of ambition our society expects. That is what she is like. She is fast and ferocious and moves through the world ruthlessly exposing herself to unimaginable pain; meeting it head on with her profound humanity, humor and singleminded resolve to stop the violence. She expects more of herself, of us, of humanity.

She sees people. Really sees them; hears their stories, acknowledges their experiences and then carries them with her. It helps. Even if the woman's situation does not change immediately after speaking to Eve--the woman's life does.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Writer's Block

It is a knock on wood, kiss the window, touch something blue when you go over the railroad tracks sort of feeling. Like when I am in New York City and obsessively wash my hands to avoid the flu--although that never works. Writer's block. I've heard about it. I do not want it.

It crept up on me where I did not expect it--this blog. For the last two weeks I have written and erased at least fifteen entries. Not good. That is how it starts. I have no proof of that whatsoever but am sure in that total conviction based on nothing kind of way.

I have been reading up on how one promotes a book these days. It is some frightening stuff. Apparently I do not get to disappear into my pajamas and re-emerge when the new book is finished. Book trailers, websites, a web presence? That sounds Darth Vaderish. I think I read too much in the last few weeks, freaked myself out and then panicked. I am very good at panicking. So we broke it down. We--the select group of angelic, patient people who answer the phone/email/door when I panic--were going to tackle this step by manageable step.

The Website: "" if you can believe it. We bought it. First hurdle safely cleared. Matt (one of my oldest childhood friends--see adorable photo on the followers thingy below) and I sat down to discuss my website--see I said it without squeaking in panic. He is a webmaster--sounds very dungeon and dragons to me. What do I want it to look like? I came up with wanting it to be a bit like a faded, sunbleached, blue bottomed boat or old french shoes, either one would do. Bizarre but I felt they had a certain relevance.

The Book Trailer: my boyfriend Noah is luckily a trailer editor. I wrote to my lovely agent. What do I do? Nothing! We do not have to subdue this particular beastie until spring. Hooray! Second hurdle safely ignored.

The Blog: I decided that whatever I write today, I am going to post. I am going to do mighty battle with the beginnings of the publicity-centric writer's block boogeyman and win. Now I have done it and can take my lovely research materials for my next book out to the sunshine.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

First Round

Done! Round One:

482 pages of revisions
Two weeks of little sleep
Fourteen days of blazing sunshine (frustratingly rare on this island as it is officially the rainiest spot on earth)
A long awaited visit to the island from my boyfriend Noah (I usually go to California as he gets so little time off)
An ear infection (from a big wave crashing on my head at Secret Beach a year ago--keeps coming back)
Nine days of teaching three wonderful students (Things Fall Apart, split infinitives, Cultural Imperialism, adverbs and James and the Giant Peach)
A lost dog (turned out her name was Nani and she ran away from her bath)
A hole in my tongue (bit it straight through when I fell down the stairs--ouch--need more sleep)
My boyfriend's mom's birthday (at Kintaro's)
Three hundred hours of writing
Sixty-eight phone calls to my mom (she would like me to get a stronger grip on split infinitives)
An enormous pile of laundry
Ten bitten down fingernails
One stubbed toe
Three pineapples
A compelling new coffee habit
Four terrible movies
One Tropical Taco
Four unreturned movies
One late fee from the movie machine
Lemons in the lemon tree
Eleven striped shells (from Tunnels Beach)
29 unanswered phone messages
And the result...a 512 page revised manuscript.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Manuscript

It arrived! Over the ocean and through the woods in a UPS truck it came! A rectangular, battered, brown envelope waited on the porch when I returned from an emergency trip to town. I had dropped my phone into the pool and then had to fish it out with my feet like some sort of primate as the pool had just been chlorinated and I did not want my recently bleached hair to turn green. Michelle and Peanut were highly amused watching this display of dexterity. The valiant little phone--not her first swim in the pool--gasped her last breath and blew bubbles over the screen. I am making friends with my new phone and feeling quite disloyal.

But when one stops watching the kettle... the UPS truck arrives! We sat, the brown envelope and I, over a dinner of cantaloupe and saimin and discussed the possibilities: A) We open it alone and panic alone. B) We call in reinforcements to open it with us but then most likely wish whoever it was would go away so we could be left in peace to panic. We went with B, the brown envelope and I. B plus talking to my mother on the phone for support.

And it was marvelous! (Funny 'marvelous' is spelled with one 'l' here and two 'l's' in the UK. I occasionally get out of step with words and nothing looks right--'organis/ze' and 'fork' are terribly tricky.)

The editorial letter was effusive, warm and generous. So happy! My lovely editor's comments were constructive and very, very kind. And I agree with them! Throughout there have been a few patches that felt, not bad but like they could not quite carry their own weight and needed to be tent-poled by stand out lines. Now they are going to get renovated! There is a high drama section where the life of the character plays second fiddle to the extraordinary history of the time (plague and fire of 1665-1666). Not ok! I have to weave her life through the history rather than the reverse. Regardless of the enormity of public events personal lives remain at the forefront for they provide the lens.

Excited to work!

Thursday, September 3, 2009


The UPS truck usually arrives after 2pm. It is 1207pm. It might not arrive today. Does UPS deliver on Saturdays? Monday. My revised manuscript complete with editorial letter, notes and I am sure a great deal of red ink will most likely arrive on Monday.

And so I return to the early 20th Century to read about pre-war Paris, Matisse and... foundation garments. (I am having trouble understanding the slow demise of the corset.) But my brain will not engage with these fascinating subjects and so I turn back to Nell (The Orange Girl) and zap through the pages, deleting words and shifting descriptions, trying to guess where the editorial grenade will land. It is impossible to gauge. And equally impossible to unravel the fate of the corset. And so I am going swimming.

Monday, August 31, 2009


After being in a strange city for three months, I am home! I feel like the theme song from "Cheers". I have traded big bookstores, close toed shoes, lovely giant grocery stores, good pizza and the frisson of city life for the small town, gossipy drama of the island, transparent air, a warm ocean and green. When I first get back this island seems painted in Kermit the Frog, technicolor green.

It is lovely to be writing in a place where everyone knows what you are doing and is enthusiastically cheering you on. Unfortunately, the two questions are always, "Are you nearly finished?" and "When can I buy it in the bookstore?" Ummm "January 2011?" No one really likes that answer. It is the "2011" that sounds science fictiony far away. In 2011 I will be turning thirty-s... wow, I do not want to finish that sentence.

But honestly, it isn't far away. (Must wear sunblock and buy more wrinkle cream.) It is soon. My editor just wrote to say that she is sending her notes this week. Yikes. I feel like I am getting the most important report card of my life. Cross your fingers!

Friday, August 21, 2009

What Do You Do?

Yesterday in Barnes and Noble:

Random Man in Blue Hat sits down in empty chair next to a woman who is not drinking coffee and reading ten books at once. Among her books are a whopping new translation of 'Anna Karenina', Philippa Gregory's brand new, 'The White Queen' and Shirley Hazzard's 'Greene on Capri'.

Random Man in Blue Hat: "So what do you do?"

Priya: (also in blue hat) "Ummmm"

Random Man in Blue Hat: (Picking up Anna Karenina), "So you like Dostoevsky?"

That let me off the hook.

First of all, only in Los Angeles do people use that as an opening line. Not clever nor subtle, just a bald 'are you worth talking to' kind of question. Yuck. I did not know how to answer. I have written a book that is going to be published--so I will be a writer? I hate this question.

At Edinburgh, for years I lived with writers. Four comedy writers who wrote together: Jack, Jamie, Ewen and Dan. It was happy, noisy and very, very funny. When we all moved down to London I remember another friend asking Jamie what he planned to do now. "Write comedy," Jamie answered blithely. No hesitation, prevarication or deliberation. That was what they planned and wanted and so that was his answer. I love that.

It is somehow a trickier question for me. The two times in this very visually-oriented city I have ventured so far as to say that I write (using the verb and not the declarative structure of the noun), the person has responded with "Have I seen any of your movies?" Definitely tricky.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


So, my family rescues animals. A lot of animals.

Cats: Bert (a fat, mincing grey poufball), Churchy (who is all black and keeps getting locked in closets), The Black Cat (who has an anger issue), and my eccentric sister's two wierdy and totally unrewarding cats both with names starting with 'D' (Daphne and Dandelion maybe?) who never come out from under the bed and have a dreadlock problem.

Dogs: Gordon (the larger, elder statesman in possession of the bunny), The Major (small fusspot who lives on watermelon and radishes and wants the bunny). Plus honorary dog: The Peanut (Michelle's excitable somewhat spastic but lovable pooch).

Birds: Lots of wild chickens in Kauai who take their breakfast on our lawn, in particular: Fancypants, the adulterous rooster, Mama's Hen, an irresponsible teenage mom who keeps misplacing her babies and the Gay Roosters, a lovely, stable couple. Plus a number of serene Nene Geese who enjoy bagels for lunch.

Sea Turtle: That is a random sea turtle I met at Queen's Bath. He looked like he was over 150 years old and his name should be Clemance.

I thought I should mention them as roughly half the conversations in my family begin or end with the animals. Mama: "I have to go, Bert wants to get into the bathtub." To her, this is a perfectly reasonable sentence. Tuna: "You can't read that, The Major wants to sleep on it." My family are crazy about the animals. Some live in Washington DC, some live in NYC, some commute to Hawaii; it gets complicated.

I am currently living in the empty summer house in Kauai with the birds and on most days, Matt, Michelle and The Peanut. As I often have to move (to Summerbreak, Chad and Wendy's beautiful house by the bay--it is heaven) when the house is rented out and I often leave the island for the mainland and am planning to go back to the UK for research, animals are tricky. I have plastic, Walmart boxes. Lots of plastic, Walmart boxes. In go the books, papers, bikinis, beach towels, shampoo, clothes and if I am very lucky, my phone charger. These boxes reek of transient if very happy, limbo. The glorious in between of writing but not finishing. Hoping but not planning.

Animals denote a certain stability; a sense of being responsible and not just winging it. Michelle carries around a large diaper bag full of The Peanut's accoutrements. It gives her an air of motherly gravitas. As I begin research on this second book I feel a new phase of things beginning.

No time for that today. I am in a city--a mainland city with large, well stocked bookstores, for only four more days. Broken ribs or no broken ribs I am off to soak it up before I return to the relatively bookless island of Kauai...

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Good Body

I have been thinking about creative communities. How charged and comfortable and intimate and fractious and intense they are. When I worked for Eve Ensler, (I worked with her in London and New York and on tour with The Vagina Monologues and for VDAY and then was her dramaturg throughout the writing/workshopping of The Good Body) there was a wonderful sense of group effort. It was crazy. Long hours, fall down exhaustion, total absorption, one track mind crazy. But I loved it.

I loved the rhythm of rehearsing, writing, watching Eve go out on stage to try out the new lines she had just learned (we would still be running through new lines on our walk from the hotel to the theatre-she was amazing), and going up to the tech box with Arabella to furiously take notes through the whole show, and then meeting up afterwards to start writing again, sometimes until 3am. Eve's energy, enthusiasm, commitment and joy were boundless. I have no idea where she found the stamina to work like she did and then perform the show. My energy curiously seemed to be recharged by watching early morning episodes of Dawson's Creek and eating pineapples.

It was a community. We were together all the time. Peter (director), Arabella (stage manager), Tony (VDAY) and me. The constant current running through all our interactions was the show. There was an excitement and a family feeling of togetherness in a strange city (Seattle).

In the last few years, writing in Kauai, my thoughts have returned again and again to that time. To the familiar, rituals, cadence and short-hand speak of a creative community. Asking Tony whether he thought the obscure vegetable we use should be chard or kale; Eve reading bits aloud to wonderful Alison in the NYC office; Arabella giving Eve her calls to get onto the stage, the absurd giggling of the collectively exhausted. It was such fun.

On Kauai I teach and freelance edit but for the most part my writing life has been a solitary process; solitary with the exception of my ever patient editor mother who hears every word down the phone multiple times a day and sees every draft, bless her. My friends cheer me on but the day to day life in my head is mostly private. When asked how it is going I answer in broad generalities. Michelle is pleased for me when it is going well but not included in my worry that a pair of dancing slippers should be cherry red rather than scarlet. I have been thinking about that time of group enterprise and I realise now how very happy it was.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Just Put it out There

I was nervous about finding an agent. That is an understatement. I get nervous about wearing high heels or swimming in big water or driving without my glasses. I was terrified of finding an agent. Or worse, of not finding one. The Worry (as I thought of it) began to loom very large in my mental real estate, taking over whole city blocks and evicting former tenants left and right. It would jump up and down while I was trying to talk to friends about something totally unrelated. I would answer questions like, "Do you want half my papaya?" with "Do you think I will find an agent?" I felt disloyal, self obsessed and just plain weird. This was not me.

What I was really wondering was, "Is it good enough?" Is it worth asking a total stranger to take the time to read this? Am I just deluding myself that anyone other than my endlessly patient mother would want to read this? About that time, my wonderful friend Adriana (Ad) came to the island to visit. She is a terrific artist in London, fun, gamine, silly, frighteningly insightful and I had been missing her terribly.

"Just put it out there," she said with simple logic. "Tell people exactly what you are doing and what you want to happen and something will happen. Something will happen to you when you make yourself do it and something will happen in the world to bring you closer to what you want." I did not really believe her. It sounded a bit airy-fairy, if you just believe-ish. I wanted something concrete to happen, not good just thoughts sent out on cosmic airwaves. Cosmic airwaves took too long and anyway wasn't that what all my worry was anyway?

"Just promise me that you will do it," she said while she was packing up to leave and I was seriously considering hiding her passport to keep her on the island. "It can't possibly hurt and it will do you good to just say it as if it is going to happen. It will make you believe it." "I need an agent to believe it," I thought grumpily.

But I started to do it. At the farmer's market, at the beach, at foodland, at pilates, at the bakery. Each time got a bit easier, came more naturally and rang with more conviction. She was right. I changed. I hadn't really believed it. My worry was a deteriorating rather than ameliorating process. And so it started to happen...

what happened was miraculous and I want to write about it but I must wake up Noah from his Saturday afternoon nap and take him up on his offer to go and see The Time Traveler's Wife. I currently have a couple of broken ribs and am asleep by 930 and so we must go now...more tomorrow!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Getting Rejected

Everyone told me that when I left the lovely, cocoony writing stage that I would need to develop a thick skin. This seemed like a horrid, underfoot, planter warty sort of idea to me. My skin is not thick. I cry on my birthday. I cry when someone is angry with me. I cry if I am angry with someone. And my stomach churns in abject terror when anyone wants to read my writing. Not good.

"But that is the point," Leslie (known in the family as 'the Bun'), one of my oldest friends and a writer herself said. "Why else are you doing this?" Why was I doing this? Because I loved the fibrous, wordy feeling of constructing a story. Because I was not sure what else I wanted to do. Because I had finished my doctorate and did not want to teach. Because writing this book is what I seemed to be doing. There was a lack of volition about the whole thing. Not in an artist in the garret, in a blousey white shirt, dying in the snow in Paris sort of way but in a happening without my being able to do anything about it kind of way. Not as sexy.

I knew that there would be rejection at every stage: agent, editor and (cross my fingers) at some stage, reader. I knew this but was not prepared for the shocking, wind knocked out of me hurt of being rejected the first time. My wonderful, eccentric, quirky sister Tina (called Tuna in the family, which drives her bonkers) is in publishing. I can't quite get it into my head that she is out of middle school but I suppose that is how it is with little sisters. She met a quite high powered agent at a literary conference in Los Angeles, where I happened to be staying with my boyfriend Noah. On the spot, she told this woman about me and my manuscript and this woman invited me to send it to her personal email. Yipee! I was delighted.

After over-examining every word and just generally panicking, I emailed my cover letter, synopsis and the first 50 pages to her assistant, and put my painstakingly handwritten thank you note (a small, thick cream card with applique pink dancing shoes--seemed right at the time) in the mail. I was particularly delighted that this woman had said that she normally prefers manuscripts in the post but was so excited to read it she wanted me to email it right away. After two days of happy back and forth, chatty emails, she asked me if I would mind forwarding her the rest of the manuscript and giving her an exclusive for three weeks while their resident historical fiction specialising agent looked at it? Was it possible that I could just skip the much vaunted, horrific, soul destroying agent search? My boyfriend Noah and I went out with my sister to celebrate. I was over the moon and fizzing with relief.

The next day was a long, generous and detailed rejection sitting in my inbox like a great goose egg. The historical fiction agent loved, loved, loved my prologue and could not stop showing it to people but was not taken by the style of the book. If I would like to re-write the manuscript, change the format and re-send it, she would be delighted to take a look. It hurt.

"If she didn't understand the book then it would have been the wrong agent in the end" the Bun said. I did not believe her at the time. "It was only the first one! There are so many out there," Michelle said. I didn't really listen. "That sucks." Tina Tuna said. They were all right of course but at the time it was dreadful.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Blank Paper

I have been in a curious sort of limbo this summer; waiting for my novel that is not yet a novel to return to me from my Touchstone editor (who is wonderful-I was so worried it would be someone completely intimidating but she is lovely!) and generally not quite sure what I was supposed to be doing.  So I decided to begin work on the next book.  Seemed audacious and absurd to begin my 'second' novel when my first is in its manuscript infancy but no one here but us chickens so off we go.

After furrowing and fretting, taking a census and driving my friends bonkers (Michelle in particular was fully prepared to kill me), I finally chose my second subject and decided to leave wonderful, smokey, cosy Restoration London for early 20th Century,  pre-during-post WWI London.  Dommage.  I miss the wacky 17th Century health cures and impressive foundation garments.  

And I am now back in the research phase and am faced with...blank paper.  Lots of blank paper.  Blank paper sucks frankly.  I know that I must believe that eventually it will be covered with well organised, and cross my fingers, coherent research notes but right now it feels huge and just so...blank.  Well, the only way blank paper becomes un-blank paper is...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Scribble Scribble

When I started this novel that I thought would never actually become a novel, the hurdles seemed endless--absurd, gigglefit endless.  The agent, the publisher, the editor and then of course, writing the book.... 

So I decided not to think about it.  After completing my doctorate (well my doctorate but not my revisions) I moved from Pimlico, London, back to the North Shore of Kauai and ignored all that lay ahead.  What better place to write about 17th Century London than Hawaii?  Made perfect sense.  It also was my only option as writing a book that was not yet a book did not pay terribly well.  So back into Kalani, my parents' empty summer house (empty that is until it is rented by hordes of tourists who boot me straight onto my friend Michelle's couch or my beautiful room in my hanai mom Wendy's beautiful happy house by the sea) to write. 

I was lucky and had done a huge hunk of my research for the book amidst my far-reaching PhD research and armed with the Complete 10 Volume Diary of Samuel Peyps and 300 auxiliary texts, photos, etchings and old maps, away we went.

My mother is an editor and she always says in her wonderful mixed metaphor way: "Nose to the grindstone.  Scribble Scribble."  Not looking up, holding my breath, total immersion, a winter ocean, loving encouragement and three years later...a first draft.  The Orange Girl.  One hurdle safely cleared.  Zillions to go.