Another idol totally lives up to my fantasy

Ann Patchett & me

Ann Patchett first won my heart with Bel Canto. After reading State of Wonder, she became one of my favorite authors.

So I was excited to see that she was the guest of honor at one of Book Passage‘s Literary Lunches to promote her newest offering, a collection of essays called This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage.

I bought my ticket months in advance and arrived in the Corte Madera book store at 12:05 for a 12:30 luncheon, but could see that most of the good seats had been snatched up already. But I figured since I was by myself, I might as well see if there was a single open spot near the front.

There was! I sat with some lovely people who had come a much longer distance and had arrived at 11:15 to procure one of the three front tables. Susan and Pat had been in a book club together but still kept in touch after one of them moved. Bob looked ready to take serious notes. He had not one but two expensive-looking fountain pens and a fancy wooden clipboard that were lined up neatly behind his wine glass. Even before the entrée was served, staff kept our wine glasses filled as we chatted merrily about Ann Patchett and other favorite authors.

Although Elaine Petrocelli, book maven extraordinaire, was scheduled to interview the famous author, she wasn’t feeling well. So her good friend took over. Lucky for me, her good friend is Isabelle Allende, whom I’ve seen at Book Passage before. She’s always a great entertainer. Although I’m sure I would have enjoyed a traditional reading, the conversation structure worked well, primarily because it was clear that Ms. Allende had read the book and thus asked great questions.

One of the essays in her book was about her grieving for Rose, her “perfectly ordinary Chihuahua terrier.” She was caught off guard by just how devastated she was when, after sixteen years, Rose died, but she realized that she had spent more time with Rose than with anyone else in her adult life.

Ann Patchett in Parnassus
Patchett in her bookstore Parnassus.

Isabelle brought up the fact that Ann bought a bookstore in what could arguably be called the worst time in history to do so, then asked her point-blank: “So, are you broke?” Ann explained that she has always done well with money. As a 12-year-old, she invested her savings in kruggerands and at some point bought silver. Parnassus, Ann’s little Nashville bookshop, is thriving. It’s good to know that there is someone who is savvy about finances and books.

When asked about her previous marriage, Ann admitted plainly, “I hated my first husband.” It was a short marriage, but it had a lasting effect. She referred to a rather Scarlett O’Hara moment she had when she declared, “Never again!”

She fell in love with Karl five years later, and he asked her to marry him several times over the next eleven years. Her friends couldn’t believe she repeatedly turned down a handsome doctor. Then Karl had a scary heart episode that convinced Ann that they ought to marry so that she would have spousal rights where medical decisions were concerned. They married eight years ago, and his heart has been perfectly healthy ever since. She noted that before they married, 80 percent of what they talked about revolved around his asking and her refusing marriage. Now conversation is relatively friction free.

Because I was lucky enough to be seated in the front, I got my book signed shortly after lunch ended and passed by at least a hundred people waiting in line as I exited the store. It was clearly my lucky day.

I can’t wait to read it!


What Are Your Favorite Writers’ Tips?

“Start as close to the end as possible.”

– Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt VonnegutEvery writer has definite opinions about the writing process, and famous writers are often asked for their secrets to success and tips on the craft. Thus we have a whole sub-genre of literature devoted to writing itself. Stephen King is almost as well known for his writing advice (“Kill your darlings”) as he is for his tales of the supernatural.

Ernest Hemingway famously said,

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Much of this literature is more entertaining than instructive, such as this quote from Douglas Adams: “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”Mark Twain

Mark Twain had much to say on the subject.

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

maya angelou

Some writers speak more to the general condition of being a writer, such as when Maya Angelou said,

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”



Anton Chekhov gave specific advice: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” As did George Orwell: “Never use a long word where a short one will do.”

Once in a while someone writes down what many of us hope but don’t say out loud. Jack Kerouac said, “One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”

Writing is often compared to other ventures, such as this clever quote from E.L. Doctorow: “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

And my personal favorite is this gem from Toni Morrison: “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

Of course some tips are more helpful than others. What are your favorite writing tips? Whether they originated from Twain or your great-aunt Sally, whether they are serious or merely good for a laugh, share your favorite writers’ tips in the comments section below.

I’ll end with an appropriate quote from Frank Herbert: “There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”

Grateful beyond words


My thoughts are running off in so many directions right now that it’s hard to nail down which aspect of last night’s experience I want to focus on for this post.

Last night my play Love Doctor, Heal Thyself: An Old-fashioned Love Story for the Modern World was staged at Berkeley Rep’s Thrust Stage as part of Monday Night PlayGround.

This may sound crass or narcissistic, but I was so amazed by how many people from my various communities came out to support me that I tried to count them. And I’m not sure I even got them all. But as far as I can tell, including my family, writing friends, book biz colleagues, fellow Berkeley Broadway Singers, folks I used to teach with, and half the neighborhood, I think there were 39 people who were there cheering me on. My sister-in-law was there even though it was her birthday!

Huge thanks to all who came. Your presence in the audience made the night truly special. I am still in awe.

I just wish I’d thought to take pictures of the director ( Jim Kleinmann) and the wonderful cast (Jennifer Le Blanc, Nick Sholley, Rinabeth Apostol, and Beverly Sotelo) after the show. But the memory is tucked away in my heart, if not in my photo album.

Diversionary writing can be fun too…

Well, I wrote my musical play that’s due tomorrow. (Yay!)

But I’m way behind on my novel. (Boo!)

And even though it’s Veterans’ Day, I actually had to work at my real job for a few hours. (I have to at least appear to earn my keep, yes?)

But in general, I’m feeling productive. And I even did some writing that had nothing to do with my job, my play, my novel, or my blog. I wrote rhyming clues for a scavenger hunt that my daughter, Kylie, engineered for two of her friends.

One of the clues had to lead them to the bear fountain in the Marin Circle.

Many souls climb their way up a mountain

Others will search for youth in a fountain

You also seek a fountain of sorts

The ursine variety—better wear shorts!

I myself had waded into the frigid fountain the evening before to help hoist Kylie up to where she could attach bear fountain Marin Circlethe clue to one of the bear’s necks. So I waited nearby while they ventured into the water and enjoyed the spectacle of cars honking and waving at them as they climbed up in their swimsuits.

The scavenger hunt was a success. The intrepid hunters figured out all the clues and made their way to the thirteen different sites around Berkeley and Oakland in about four hours.

And I was honored to be a part of it all. My boots are still drying out though…

Face to face with a…motorcycle?

Okay, this tidbit was enough to interrupt the sharing of my NaNoWriMo journey for one day. (I’m still writing my novel, but my blog needs to be about something else today.)

This just in from Honda (via my friend Fred):

FACE DesignHonda face
The human brain exhibits a strong response to facial patterns, especially to the eyes and mouth. Honda’s new FACE design for ASV-3 takes advantage of this to make motorcycles more noticeable to other motorists by modifying the front of the motorcycle so that it resembles a human face.

So if on the freeway, you suddenly get the feeling that you’re being chased by someone riding a robot, it’s because Honda has adorned its new motorcycles with faces—angry faces.

I envision new models coming out with friendlier eyes, maybe even with long curly lashes. And the mouths should have full red lips, don’t you think?

It may be a problem if they start to manufacture them with hair, though, as I imagine longer locks could easily get tangled in an axle or blow back into the rider’s face temporarily blinding him or her and causing an accident.

Ears could be fun, though, especially if you expanded the face repertoire to include the animal kingdom. Honda could mount elephant flaps that hang down from the handlebars or perch perky little cat ears on either side of the windshield. Oh, the possibilities…

But maybe I’m just imagining all these odd derivations to avoid returning to my novel. Hey, maybe one of my characters could drive one of these!

Day 5 of NaNoWriMo also marks my 302nd post

In all the frenzy that is NaNoWriMo, I passed by an important benchmark without mentioning it.


A few days ago I wrote my 300th post on my blog. I remember back in June of 2010 when I started this blog, it was hard to imagine writing fifty posts. After all, I’d started a dozen or more diaries and journals over my lifetime but rarely followed through to the end in any consistent manner. I’m proud of myself. Of course that’s over the course of 1245 days, which only comes out to an average of a blog post every four days. But I rarely went a week without posting, so I never abandoned it just to take it up again later. It was pretty regular.

Here’s to the next 300 posts!

Day 4 NaNoWriMo

nanowrimo logo

I’ve been writing every day so far in November—all four days—and more than half of what I’ve written is actually the novel I’m working on. But I’m also keeping a log and writing this blog, so many of my words have been diverted to those endeavors. However, I’m going to make a concerted effort to prioritize my novel for the month of November, so my blog entries may be shorter and less frequent.

I find myself thinking about my characters when I’m running errands or falling asleep. I wonder if I can still get across Jason’s deeper self if I switch the book’s point of view to Simon.  Jason is more complicated, so I had thought that I should write more from his perspective, but Jason is also talkative and articulate, whereas Simon is quieter and more reserved. So I can let the reader know what Simon is thinking without him having to speak it. I’m beginning to think I can let Jason speak for himself.

I’m also trying to figure out where the two boys are going in the first chapter. The book begins with them on the BART train on their way to somewhere, but I didn’t know their destination. Maybe they don’t really need to be on BART and they are just at school. Would that work?

And would it be okay if I switched points of view from chapter to chapter or is that cheating?

Hmm…so many considerations. So many plot points to work out. So many words to write. Why am I doing this again?