Monday, December 21, 2015

Authorship, Parents, and ‘The James Frey Moment’

A Happier Hour with Rebecca Walker and Tracy McMillan

Rebecca Walker and Tracy McMillan sat in a cozy living room in Silver Lake Saturday afternoon and read passages from their respective books Adé: A Love Story and I Love You and I’m Leaving You Anyway.

Then they had the below conversation during the quarterly literary salon aptly titled Happier Hours.

Walker is the author of seven books, including Black, White & Jewish and Baby Love. Adé, her work of autobiographical fiction, is scheduled for filming, with Madonna directing.

McMillan has written for Mad Men and The United States of Tara, but her 2011 Huffington Post essay “Why You’re Not Married” went viral and led to the book Why You’re Not Married…Yet. (She’s been married three times.) Her Ted Talk on The Person You Really Need to Marry has nearly 2.5 million views, and her novel Multiple Listings is set for a March 8th release.

Friday, November 13, 2015

How to Spend Five Hours Alone with a Tired Three-Year-Old Who’s Getting over a Cold

My nephew in his train costume on Halloween. He only wore it long enough for photos. Now, in November, he won't take it off.

You pick up your nephew from his warm gingerbread house of a preschool on a Thursday afternoon.

“Chewy!” he cries.

He grips you as if you’re rescuing him from a concentration camp.

Seven hours ago, he greeted the children and teachers of this same sanctuary with “good morning,” “hi,” “good morning,” smiling and waving to the left and right as if he was on a parade route.

“Bye, Mom,” he’d said in his eye-rolling teenager voice, letting her know it would be swell if she’d leave him there already.

Now he says, “Bye bye, school. All done, school,” and runs toward the exit gate.

Monday, September 28, 2015

A Personal History of Live Music in Southern California (and Beyond)

Here's a comprehensive list of all the concerts I've seen in my life, most of them in Southern California. This constitutes nearly 40 years of shows, starting when I was one month shy of three-years-old. (This doesn't include countless small venue/bar shows, of which there are too many to remember.) I made this list as a starting point for a lengthier writing project. I envision short personal essays, including photos and ticket stubs. Perhaps it will be a coffee table book, as one friend suggested. Or maybe something bigger: another full-length essay collection. I'm not sure yet. It's a mystery. That's the beauty of writing and part of the reason I don't outline. I don't know what I know until I type it. I'm looking forward to mining my memory to uncover what I remember about one of the most fundamental aspects of my life: live music. 

Danny Elfman (Oingo Boingo) danced barefoot on Halloween every year and rocked for three hours every time. Dave Gahan (Depeche Mode) called out, "Good evening, Pasadena" and proceeded to put on an iconic show at The Rose Bowl. I danced with my best friend on the dugout at Dodger Stadium during The Cure and got in trouble. I wore black and white striped tights at PIL and was called "Pippi"; at that same show, someone threw a bottle at Johnny Lydon's head, and he screamed, "That's not fucking funny." The first time I saw Gwen Stefani when she was 19, I thought, "That girl's going to be famous." Bouncers dragged Courtney Love offstage kicking and screaming. Jack Black made me laugh so hard I tripped up a flight of stairs. I had mosh pit grit in my teeth during Bad Religion, and Beck played spoons on glassware at a dinner table. Vaden Todd Lewis (Toadies) said, "We didn't even want to come to Los Angeles, and you guys turned out to be the best crowd." John McCrea (Cake) made audience members do push-ups to win an orange tree and asked the winner to promise to post photos when the fruit was ripe. Fiona Apple pulled her long sleeves off and tied them around her chest; then she laughed at me when I couldn't back out of my parking spot. Backstage, Peter Murphy put his arm around me and said, "I like her," and one trip to the Chairman's Room at the Staples Center during NIN ruined me for all non-VIP experiences from now on. Finally, when I sat in the Descendents trailer and "babysat" Milo's kids while my friend interviewed the band, I thought, "It doesn't get any better than this."

For me, experiencing live music is akin to eating food, having shelter, or breathing oxygen. I won't stop going to shows until I physically can't. For now, I'll endure the middle-aged back pain, tweaked neck, sleep deprivation, and temporary tinnitus. Music keeps me young(ish) and makes me happy, and not a lot of things make me happy these days. 

Note about the list: If I haven't listed a seat number, it means the show was general admission, or I can't remember where I was sitting. In this case, I was either front row center, in the back of the bus, or somewhere in between.

Also, if the show was a festival, I only listed the bands I'm fairly certain I saw (or heard), not the entire side stage set list.

If you've been to a show with me, and you remember when and where it was, and I've gotten this wrong, let me know. Thank you!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Writing Fiction: Lying, Logging the Hours, and the Controversial Prologue

An Evening with Novelists
Barbara DeMarco-Barrett invited novelists Bret Anthony Johnston, Lisa Glatt, and Aline Ohanesian to her Pen on Fire Speaker Series at the SCAPE gallery in Corona Del Mar on September 9th, where they had an intriguing conversation about the process of writing fiction.

Johnston is the author of the novel Remember Me Like This, soon to be made into a feature film. He has also written Corpus Christi: Stories and teaches at Harvard, where he is the director of creative writing. Glatt is the author of A Girl Becomes A Comma Like That and The Nakeds, and she teaches at the California State University, Long Beach. Ohanesian is the author of Orhan’s Inheritance.

Monday, July 20, 2015

So, I Wrote a Book

I printed my completed manuscript today. Wa-effing-hoo.
I found a line in my old journal that reads, “What I really want to do is get an MFA in creative writing.” I wrote this on April 25, 2000. Fifteen years ago. At the time I had spent two exhausting years getting a single subject credential to teach high school English, and I had finished student teaching and was waiting tables again, killing time before a school district hired me the next fall—the Friday before school started.

Teaching K-12 had never been on my radar, except people had always told me, “You’d make a great teacher,” but they’d always suggested teaching elementary school. I didn’t want to teach elementary school; I’m not crafty, and math isn’t my favorite subject. I had always loved books and writing, had a degree in English I didn’t know what to do with, thought I could share my love of literature with America’s youth, and had the propensity to listen to outside voices.

Monday, May 18, 2015

YES GIRL Rejected Copy

As I get closer to the end of the editing process of my essay collection, Yes Girl, I have nearly 13,000 words that I’ve saved in a separate document that I cut from the collection that I don’t want to delete for good.

Maybe I can use them later, I kid myself. I can always put the words back in, I often think.

I’m coming to terms with the 45 pages of cut material being forever consigned to the virtual trash. But, I thought some of the sentences would make for a fun, random sampling of soundbites.

So, here goes.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Death and Loss: Women Writing Out Loud

BinderCon LA Recap #6

Nicole Belanger 
Emily Rapp Black 
Mattea Kramer   
Claire Bidwell Smith 
Niva Dorell Smith
Rebecca Soffer 

“In nonfiction, grief is the richest experience you have,” said Emily Rapp Black, author of The Still Point of the Turning World, a memoir about her son, who was diagnosed with a fatal disease in infancy. “Everyone experiences it differently.

“I wrote my book when my son was still living,” she said, “After he died, I literally was out of my mind. I was trying to find meaning, not feelings, before he died. After, all I had was feelings.”

Monday, April 13, 2015

On Writing Memoir: the Literary, the Legal, and the Loophole

BinderCon LA Recap #5

Eileen CroninMermaid: A Memoir of Resilience 
Wendy OrtizExcavation: A Memoir 
Leigh SteinLand of Enchantment
Quinn Heraty, Esq.   

“So we have two therapists and a lawyer,” Leigh Stein joked, beginning the panel.

“How did you decide to write the book?” she asked both Eileen Cronin and Wendy Ortiz.

“I wrote a piece in the Washington Post,” Cronin said. “My mother took Thalidomide without testing.
I wrote a letter to the editor” about another piece they’d published on the subject that angered her. “I was enraged. I felt completely diminished. I wrote my whole life in 2,000 words in two weeks.”

Friday, April 10, 2015

You Only Need One Yes

BinderCon Recap #4

Keynote: Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love and Basketball, The Secret Life of Bees, Beyond the Lights) with Keri Putnam (executive director of the Sundance Institute) 

One of three awesome BinderCon keynotes
When Gina Prince-Bythewood was 12, her TV broke, and her parents didn’t buy another one until she was in high school.

“We were shocked and horrified,” she said.

In high school, when she had a TV again, she became obsessed with soap operas.

“I read an article about how much soap opera writers made,” and thought, “I want to do that.”

Monday, April 6, 2015

Silver Linings: Benefits and Challenges of Writing at Midlife and Beyond

BinderCon Recap #3

Your book is not your baby.” – Eileen Rendahl

Elizabeth EnslinWhile the Gods were Sleeping 
Amy Pence - Armor, Amour 
Eileen Rendahl (Eileen Carr) - Veiled Intentions
Nikki SternDon’t Move: A Novella
Naomi WilliamsLandfalls  

It’s never too late to start publishing your work. That was the theme of this informative, inspiring session at BinderCon LA about writing and publishing after 40. Panelists said they didn’t publish their first books until 51, 54, and even 61.

At 41, I am just now starting to hit my stride, so this was nice to hear; I felt motivated and not alone. Plus, the panelists were hilarious.

Score one for late bloomers.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Writing and Publishing Your Personal Essay

BinderCon LA Recap #2

“’No book’ is not a career deal-breaker.” - Anna March

Anna March – Feminist Killjoy (at least, that's what her business card says)
Wendy OrtizExcavation: A Memoir 

Anna March and Wendy Ortiz sharing a moment. Note the Dean and Deluca gummy bears right in front of me.
Anna March offered us Dean and Deluca gummy bears from her hotel. “They probably cost $50,” she said. I may be the only person who ate them.

“I started writing essays 15 years ago when Salon paid $1,500 per essay,” March said. She submitted an essay, went for a jog, and sold it while she was gone. “I thought, ‘I can write it, submit it, go for a run, and comeback and someone will buy it.’”

Everyone in the audience sighed.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

"SEO is Kind of Like Witchcraft"

Headlines, Websites, Social Media, and all Things Internet for Writers
BinderCon LA Recap #1

Best Headline Ever: How to Keep Your Story from Getting Sucked into the Internet Black Hole
Jen Sabella – Director of Social Engagement for

Jen Sabella started with her informative presentation on Internet headlines describing the kinds of headlines "old school white men" like:

“I love puns,” they say.

“No! Get the puns out!” she says.

Her advice is to catch the reader at the headline, or they won’t read it. More specifically, “Six-word headlines are the perfect headline,” and the first three words should be “dynamic.”

She used her mom as an example of catching the reader’s attention.

“My mom is 55, and she gets all her news from facebook. She is a millennial, apparently.”

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

'Whom You are Shapes What You Make': Literary Women

(blog title attributed to Aimee Bender's interpretation of a Flannery O'Connor quote)

On Saturday, I attended my first Literary Women: The Long Beach Festival of Authors conference. Many more women than I anticipated were there, all bonded in their love for books, whether they are writers themselves or just bibliophiles who appreciate the written word and consume it voraciously like I do.

I happen to fall into both categories: a writer who is halfway finished editing her essay collection, Yes Girl, and a reader who sees new books as year-round Christmas presents and has a stack of at least five unread, pristine tomes at any given time on her nightstand.

Attendees of Literary Women at the Long Beach Convention Center

Esteemed authors there included Kate Christensen, whose latest work is scheduled for publication in the fall: How to Cook a Mouse; Cristina Henriquez, with a 2014 novel titled The Book of the Unknown Americans; Sloane Crosley, a witty essayist whose first novel, The Clasp, is scheduled to debut later this year; Jennifer Clement, whose latest novel, Prayers for the Stolen, is the culmination of 11 years of research on the widespread trafficking of girls, and short story extraordinaire Aimee Bender of The Color Master and others.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Everybody’s Valentine

This Valentine’s Day marks Granddad’s 91st birthday. It’s appropriate he was born on Valentine’s Day; he’s everyone’s Valentine. Granddad exudes sweetness from his core. He looks on the bright side when there is no bright side. He’s thrilled by life’s simplest, most mundane pleasures, like an ice cold, overly priced Coors Light at Santa Anita Park. He’s a king among chick magnets, and yet, his heart is dedicated to Granny, whom he married more than 70 years ago.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

‘The Highest Degree of Madeness’

Happier Hour: An Evening with Dani Shapiro and Sarah Manguso
Silverlake, CA

“I’d be able to recover from today if it weren’t for tomorrow. There should be extra days, buffer days, between the real days.” – Sarah Manguso, Ongoingness: The End of a Diary

On Tuesday, Feb. 10, I had the privilege of attending my third Happier Hour in Los Angeles, a literary event for women originally started in New York by Aidan Donnelley Rowley.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Hi, I'm Jacqueline

Crappy Polaroid photo of me, courtesy of Rock Star Daddy

My first impression of Jacqueline was ditzy, not because of what she had to say, but because of her mannerisms. I had yet to read her excellent memoir. She sat on a panel about finding your “hook” at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. It was May 2011 when she shared wisdom with eager onlookers who hoped to glean information that might guide us on a similar path to literary success. I took notes. I always take notes. At the time, I had braved a few online creative writing workshops, but I hadn’t written my essay collection. I wouldn’t do that for three more years.