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.