Santos tells his inspirational story

Michael Santos

Yesterday I got to hear an author speak who was truly inspiring. Michael Santos was 21 when he started making bad decisions, and at age 23, he was convicted for selling cocaine. Perhaps he didn’t have the best lawyer or maybe the judge was trying to make him an example, but the sentence handed down was for 45 years.

Michael knew he’d done wrong and vowed to make his time in prison mean something. He came up with a three-step plan that included educating himself, contributing to society, and establishing a support network that would help him accomplish step two upon his release. He applied to and was accepted to Ohio University and earned his B.A. He wanted to study law, but no law school could get past the requirement that he physically participate in a scholarly community. So he got his masters degree studying what he was already becoming an expert on—prison.

His first book, Inside, recounts another cellmate’s journey to incarceration, though all the names were changed. He submitted his book to a hundred agents, and one landed him a book deal. He continued writing, despite the barriers constantly thrown up by the prison system, about life behind bars. His next book was the result of many interviews of fellow inmates.

In the meantime, a fellow classmate was trying to track him down and discovered he was in prison. She wrote to him. He wrote back. Their correspondence developed into love, and they married while he was still serving time. After he started selling his books, he was making enough money to put his wife through nursing school.

How many people do you know who could do all that while in jail?

His most recent book, Earning Freedom, is all about his own time in the penitentiary and how he lived for the day when he would finally get to live with his wife.

Thankfully he did not have to serve all 45 years. He was released six months ago after 25 years, or precisely 9135 days. By the time he got out, he’d spent more time in prison than he had on the outside. He was offered a job doing speaking engagements as soon as he was released. Because of his parole, he can’t go very far, but his calendar is pretty full. He is such a strong proponent of education that he’s dedicated himself to educating the public at large about the prison system. And now he’s writing a book on his experience since he’s been free.

His is a heartwarming success story about a man who rehabilitated himself. I’m thankful that I got to hear it—it gives me hope. Learn more at

Theo chocolate is the best!

dp@Theo with beard coverPart of my jam-packed vacation in Seattle recently included a tour of the Theo chocolate factory.

To protect the facility from stray human hair, we all had to wear hair nets. Since Dave grew a beard as a Christmas gift to Kylie, he had to wear a beard net.

Our tour guide was quite charming. And  he kept giving us tastes of various chocolates. We also got to see the machinery behind the scenes.inside Theo chocolate factory

And some interesting novelties.santas & Buddha head

And of course it’s the most politically correct chocolate money can buy.

But mostly, it’s delicious.

Tracy Kidder shares stories and advice

T. KidderLast night I crossed the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge to one of my favorite independent book stores, Book Passage, to hear Tracy Kidder speak about his latest book, Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction, co-authored by his longtime editor Richard Todd. It was a full house on a Tuesday night, so you know Kidder has plenty of fans in the Bay Area.

I’ve admired Kidder’s writing ever since I read Among Schoolchildren, his account of the life of a fifth-grade teacher.

Plain-spoken, modest, and genuine, Kidder began by reading aloud his introduction, then fielded questions on his writing process; his relationship with his editor, Richard Todd; and whether he’s kept in touch with Paul Farmer, the subject of one of his bestsellers. He chooses a subject and then does mountains of research, including interviews, for about three years. He approaches each project somewhat differently and builds the structure around what works best for that subject. He’s worked with Todd for forty years, which is unusual in today’s publishing world, where editors move from one house to another before the ink on their resumes have dried.

In response to the last question: he’s had a little contact with Paul Farmer since Mountains Beyond Mountains came out but made the point that Farmer is a busy man.

I was impressed with Kidder’s relaxed manner, his honesty, and his integrity. He honors facts and states firmly that nonfiction should start with accuracy as its foundation but made the point that it’s possible to manipulate the facts in a way that fails to tell the truth. He wades through thousands of notes to find the common threads that represent the truth, then presents drafts to his editor, which eventually get whittled down to the books that get published.

I’m excited to start reading my signed copy of this Pulitzer Prize–winner’s latest offering. The cover describes the contents as “stories and advice from a lifetime of writing and editing.” Since I am a writer and an editor, I think I’ll get a lot out of this book.

Chihuly exhibition spectacular

chihuly boat pic

I saw a Dale Chihuly exhibit when it was in San Francisco, but the one in Seattle is even better because it has the addition of the wonderful garden pieces, his collection of Native American quilts, and a greenhouse full of  pieces especially made for that space. It’s hard to believe that it’s all made of glass.

Chihuly ceiling pic
This is installed in the ceiling so that you view it above you.
garden red trumpets pic
I think this looks like a bouquet of red trumpets.
drips of green.pic
I call this one Green Drips.

An inaugural address that includes everyone

obama inauguration 2In the spirit of community, I joined about twenty-five others at Berkeley’s Hillside Club to watch Obama’s inauguration up on the big screen. We had a potluck breakfast as we watched Senator Chuck Schumer introduce a civil rights leader, two supreme court justices, the vice president, a minister, a poet, three singers, the Brooklyn Tabernacle choir, and our continuing commander-in-chief.

Despite the overly loud man with limited social skills who clapped a little too vehemently a short distance from my ears, it was a nice gathering of folks who look with hope to the future and didn’t even complain when the coffee ran out.

I was so happy that among the significant historical events that Obama referenced, he included Stonewall. And when he was listing off the people of this nation, he included not only women and people of color, rich and poor, but also “our gay brothers and sisters.”Thank you, President Obama, for finally including everyone when you say “We, the people.”

I think Dr. King would have been proud that the inauguration of our first African American president happened on his birthday. A fitting tribute.

My friend and fellow children’s author, Deborah Frisch, posted a perfect story for today based on Obama’s inauguration four years ago. Enjoy!

Writing contest for YA & sci-fi


I just wanted to share with my writer friends a contest that I learned about on Facebook. It’s the Dear Lucky Agent contest sponsored by GLA (Guide to Literary Agents) and Writer’s Digest. Each year they change the genre. This time they are accepting young adult fiction and sci-fi. The deadline is January 31, 2013, so if you have something that’s ready (or can be ready in under two weeks), this sounds like a good opportunity. Apparently last year’s winner signed with an agent who sold the book. Now there’s incentive to enter a contest. The best part? It’s free! The blog that this link takes you to looks like it might be a good one to subscribe to or bookmark too:

Spread the word!

New Year’s Eve a celebration to remember


I know, I know, New Year’s Eve is history now, two weeks ago, but I wanted to share anyway…

This year we were with family in a cabin in the Cascades of Northwestern Washington when we rang in the new year. Which means while the ball dropped in New York’s Time Square, we were standing in the road taking turns swinging a rope attached to a whisk filled with steel wool that had been set afire. This may sound like a bizarre practice, but it was quite beautiful to watch in the mountain snow at night. We had also smuggled in some sparklers, which briefly lit the small space we had carved out for our experiments in light but died out soon after they got going. At some points the only way we could distinguish each other was by the purple, pink, blue, green, and yellow glow bracelets Santa had left in Dave’s Christmas stocking.

Although Dave claims a wayward patch of fiery wool barely missed his hair and my daughter felt something decidedly emberlike slipping down her shirt, we escaped relatively unscathed to enjoy the second part of the festivities.

The game involved listening to the descriptions written on the back of pulp fiction and writing what we thought could be a believable first line of the book, then voting on which was the actual first line. Unless you have tried to compose the first line of a cheesy murder mystery, you don’t know how fun it can be.

Part three of the evening was less intellectual, more physical. We danced crazily to “Play That Funky Music,” the Supremes, and the Jackson 5. And by we, I mean all six adults in the over-40 range and two of the teenagers. The only holdout took photos, no doubt to post on his Facebook page to illustrate how crazy his family is.

Afterward we stood in a circle and pulled each end of our mini glittery crackers until they snapped and spew forth corny jokes and silver confetti.

It was a great way to say goodbye to 2012.

Paper clips and pounds

ImageThis morning at the gym as I sweated my way from the machine where you push away from your chest to the apparatus where you put all your weight on your forearms and lift both your legs off the ground, a woman approached me with a smile. I recognized her as a regular gym-goer but had never spoken to her.

“You look great!” she said, She continued to explain how she’d been noticing my progress over the last several months and hadn’t I lost weight?

“35 pounds,” I proudly replied. I resisted the longer version of how I actually lost 36 pounds but then gained 4 pounds over the holidays and then lost 3 of the 4 I’d gained. No need to go into details when someone is giving me a compliment, right?

But it made me think about my paper clip chain.

I realize that to people who don’t attend my Weight Watcher meeting would think that statement was a true non sequitur. See, my WW leader, Martha, hands out a paper clip for each pound lost in the past week, so that you have a tangible and colorful record of your weight loss. I lost 3 pounds since last Saturday, so I took 3 paper clips. But it’s not like I returned 4 paper clips when I gained them back; so in essence, I’m taking more paper clips than I actually earned.

If you consider that my weight loss path might be somewhat crooked, I shall continue to regain a few of those pounds I shed before losing them again. Follow this out to its natural conclusion. Let’s say that for every 10 pounds I lose, I gain 2 before losing it again. That would mean that for every 10 pounds lost, I would end up with 12 paperclips. When I lose the whole 67 pounds, which is the plan, I will have in my possession the 67 paper clips I earned, plus 13 paper clips which I’ve gotten through the ups and downs.

Do I say then that I’ve lost 80 pounds and wear my necklace of 80 paper clips for the world to see? Or do I give back the extra paper clips and wear 67? Or do I not wear them at all because middle-aged women shouldn’t wear paper clips around their necks unless they are elementary school teachers or office supplies reps?

Your thoughts?