Monday, June 06, 2016

Summerwords Creative Writing Festival 2016

I think this festival gets more fun each year. Our keynote speaker was Luis Alberto Urrea, who simply couldn't be a funnier, more witty, more poignant speaker and reader. I heard many "lightbulb ah" gasps from the crowd when his short story (which he had memorized and delivered as a performance) concluded.

I presented on writing series fiction and had a full room with lots of great energy and laughter--love it when group dynamics make this kind of thing an outright pleasure. Thank you all who attended my session!

A brief writing activity in my session on writing series fiction.

I also attended many presentations myself and of course the magnificent barbecue that crowns Saturday night at the festival. People may be amazed to realize that their ticket, very reasonably priced for a four-day conference, also includes a stellar barbecue with free-flowing beer and wine. Just saying, mark it on your calendar for 2017!

We've had amazing keynote speakers in the past: Carolyn Forche, T.C. Boyle and now Urrea (I've only attended the last three years), but the conference really revolves around the daily sessions, usually four to pick from each hour. American River College faculty teach these, as well as visiting writers. It's the kind of literary event you would imagine a major university pulling off, but American River College is a small community college in Sacramento with a passionate creative writing faculty that designs and implements this large-scale conference. ARC's literary magazine also consistently wins national awards, beating out schools like Harvard...

The video for this year's Summerwords somehow features me as the freezeframe, which I found preposterous and fun:

I wish I'd done more pre-Summerwords social media but a) we sold out anyway and b) I was in the throes of a move...yes, we moved house two days after the conference which took place May 26-29 . That was...let's see...less than a week ago. I'm still looking at boxes as I type this. May I mention for purposes of eliciting deep sympathy that it was 100 degrees the day of our move?

Next I'll have to blog about the wonderful Gold Rush Writers Conference. In the meantime, a writer friend is part of Barnes and Noble's new Teen Book event, B-Fest. Lynn Carthage (winkety wink) will be appearing at the Natomas B&N in support of Betrayed and Haunted this Friday, June 10, at 7 p.m.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

That time I had to go write in a field

I'm so pleased with this article in the Sacramento News & Reviews, written by Rachel Leibrock and photographed by Darin Bradford. I think Rachel did a great job of encapsulating my work thus far and highlighting my love of strong women protagonists.

Darin's photo was very fun...I'm actually just in an overgrown vacant lot with my desk that I threw in the back of my car. There's a chain link fence and a freeway ramp behind me, but he did some magic to make it look like the ideal writer's spot. I've always fantasized about a bed in a field (I think based on some perfume ad from the 1980s!) so this was pretty darn close. It's subtle, but there are also some tombstones in the field there with me. Fitting!

The link to the article is here.

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Saturday, March 19, 2016

5th annual Chin Up for Writers Day

Yes, March 19 is upon us again...after the Ides and after the's Chin Up for Writers Day!

Because we writers are a special breed of self-doubting and turmoiled creatures, we need a day on which we examine our chins, winch them up and attempt to keep them up. Because our nature is to explore the very essence of why we're human, we become sensitive when our soul-baring (what is writing if not taking off your brain's clothes?) doesn't bring the attention, acclaim or financial rewards it might. We are turning on tiny lights in far-off forests and sometimes no one sees but the tin-foil fox. I think I ripped off Mandelstam in that sentence.

I had another book in the Y.A. series release and tomorrow is the big launch party at a wonderful independent bookstore.
C'est mon roman.

My chin should be firmly horizontal. It is. I've worked hard for this day and I think the book is pretty kick-ass and fun and should make any visit to Paris or Versailles way more interesting (mental note: get Versailles gift shop to carry it). And yet... the chin drifts. It drifts because I'm introspective and writerly and while I usually get along well in the world (and I think I even successfully carry off an attitude of general optimism and glass-half-fullism), there are days where I belong in a garrett cursing the few stars I can see from its window.

Let me make a quick phone call to the plastic surgeon about this drifting chin issue.

Back! They were of no help.

I've found the best tactic is to move forward. I recently reached up above my desk to check off a major project on my to-do list taped to the wall, and I'm happy that now I can hit the next project. Chin up, head down, always moving.

Until next year, fellow writers! I will know you by the proudly erect jawlines.

If you'd like to read the previous years' posts on Keep Your Chin Up Day:
First year
Second year
Third year
Fourth year

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Sunday, February 28, 2016

Little Unperturbed Women

I've spent the last 20 minutes with my heart in my throat. My daughter has been reading an adaptation of Little Women and as we departed, she told me that Beth had been holding the Hummel baby as it died of scarlet fever, and that now Beth was showing signs of the sickness.

I sat and fretted. When I heard her come down the hallway, I turned to her with open arms. But she wasn't crying. She was grinning. "I finished the whole book!"

"And...Beth?" I asked shakily.

"Beth got better!"

"Beth got better?!"


I gave her a hug and passed a tremulous hand over her hair. It has been averted for now. But someday I want her to read the real book.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Witch boy

Child witch of Nigeria, starving and pushed out of his home. Image: Anja Ringgren Lovén

With a heavy heart, I see child witches are in the news again. It was wretched when the vulnerable elderly or mentally ill were accused in medieval times, but there is a particular evil associated with accusing children of witchcraft.

(They were accused in the medieval period as well, but not to the degree that we find today in African nations.)

How my heart mourns for these children who need protection. Thank goodness the world has responded to these photographs and donated the equivalent of $150,000, thanks to the efforts of Danish aid worker Anja Ringgren Lovén.

Read the news report here.

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Monday, January 11, 2016

Ashes to Ashes, Funk to Funky


My husband told me this morning at the breakfast table.

"Something happened today that's going to upset you."

"Something in world news?"

"Yes. And it will affect you personally. Should I tell you?"

"I don't know." I was thinking about getting the kids off to school and I didn't want to sink into a whirlpool of grief until they were dressed and out the door.

"It's going to ruin your day," he said. "But you'll hear about it other ways."

"Okay," I said. "Tell me."

"David Bowie died."

I let loose with an expletive and immediately hid my face. Crash, crash. No. Not him.

He had cancer for 18 months, my husband told me, and somehow the world didn't know as he put together Lazarus. Interesting name, that. I went to Facebook briefly and saw that I had posted a lot about Bowie recently (was someone releasing a lot to bolster his sense of his impact on the world before he left...I had interpreted it as just publicity around Blackstar), and with one revolving gif that showed all his different identities, I had titled it "Always and forever." As I knew somehow.

I'm forever grateful to Amy Carpenter for introducing me to David Bowie with a mixed tape back in the '80s. He was then popular for Let's Dance, but she gave me the wierder 1970s stuff that opened strange doors that I'd never close again. I loved David Bowie's music, his mutability, his creativity, his vocal idiosyncrasies. His work was filled with emotion and I responded to that.

I'm also forever grateful to my college boyfriend who orchestrated our going to a Bowie concert in Stuttgart, Germany. We were there visiting his brother in Ansbach (we were both on junior year abroad), and we heard on the radio that Bowie was playing in Stuttgart, not too far away. We had Interrail passes which gave us unlimited travel on the railway systems of Europe since we were considered temporary European residents for attending college for a year there, so we said goodbye to his brother and sister-in-law and hopped a train for Stuttgart. We headed for the concert hall there, bought scalped tickets outside, and proceeded in.

It was an amazing show. It was BEYOND AMAZING. It was the Sound + Vision tour, and I'm forever grateful that if I only got to see Bowie perform live one time, it was when he was playing the songs of the '70s that I loved. Sound + Vision was almost like a "greatest hits" tour. And I personally love the song Sound and Vision and what it says about the creative process. He was one of the first to play with video footage and there was a giant three-story David Bowie that accompanied the real man on the stage, interacting with him in clever and sometimes mindblowing ways, bending down to talk with him and the like. It was extraordinary and so freaking cool.

We spend so much on the scalped tickets that we didn't have enough money for a place to stay afterwards (and I think we didn't return to Ansbach because it would be so late at night and we didn't want to wake them--they had a small daughter too. Man, that girl is probably in her early thirties now...whoa...). So, instead we rode the trains for the rest of the night, picking a destination at the end of the line, trying to sleep as best we could, then deboarding and randomly picking the next train going the furthest away, all with that tired exhilaration that comes from watching a great concert, strains of music still in your ears.

We were doing just what he said, "driving like demons from station to station."

I'm sad to have to say goodbye to a musical hero that has filled (and will continue to fill) my life with so much pleasure and ...well, feelings. You can't just have his music on as a background; it's impossible not to dance to it or sing along and wish that you could tell him personally how much his words and music meant to you. I now have to erase one fantasy off my list, the backyard BBQ where we sing Under Pressure together. I guess that means I need to get moving on my other fantasies.

Ain't there one damn song that can make me break down and cry?
Yes, David: all of yours.

My sympathies to his wife and family.

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Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Downton meets Pride & Prejudice

Wickham and Miss Lydia Bennet, courtesy

The season opener for Season 6 of Downton Abbey held a few fun surprises for those just coming off their bingefest of Pride & Prejudice (book and movie version, both).

Firstly, on two occasions I could've sworn I heard the Crawleys refer to Meryton. Secondly, and more verifiably, I caught glimpse of the actor who played Wickham in Pride and Prejudice (the definitive 1995 version), Adrian Lukis. He played the gentlemen who was dismantling his manor and selling off its goods. The one who warned Lord Crawley that he should learn from his example.

It did occur to me that Julian Fellowes was lightly suggesting that years after the events of P&P, Wickham had to let go of all his worldly possessions (and Lydia off or dead?), but he would never have been able to have such a grand manor in the first place, even with Darcy's rescue.

Either way, it was lovely to see that wonderful actor again in his breeches and Regency splendor.

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