Friday, February 29, 2008

Leap Day

Four years ago, on a day that only exists to dovetail mankind's order with the universe's system, I met my husband.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

"Cowboys are My Weakness" by Pam Houston

If I have a quibble with the much-celebrated stories in this collection, it’s that their protagonists are all of a same type. Young white women in the west, unlucky in love but undeterred. The variables are the name, occupation, and age. On their own, each story is interesting, insightful, touching. And Houston has perfected the second-person narration. But read consecutively (which some people advocate, others disagree), they become a bit repetitive.

I chased the book down with some John Cheever stories. Good, odd, unique stuff.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Words and Cacao

Ron Carlson spoke at UCI's University Club Forum today. His talk centered on the craft of short fiction, and listening to it I felt like I was back at Squaw Valley, scribbling illegible notes and thinking "" Writing is about being okay being in the dark...attention is required...don't hurry...doubt is your constant companion. Thanks to Lisa Alvarez for posting info about the talk on her blog.

This evening, Bryan and I learned to make truffles at the Chuao factory. We both agree that what Bryan's CV needs is Master Chocolatier. And what we both need, of course, are homemade truffles.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Last week, The Salvation Army came and took away all our furniture. Today, Bassett stopped by with some new stuff. In between, Bryan and I scraped our popcorn ceiling, painted, and installed a new wood floor. Change is good.

Monday, February 25, 2008

"Pangs of Love" by David Wong Louie

I purchased this book after a workshop mate from Tomales Bay photocopied and gave me one of its stories, "The Movers." As luck would have it, I received an email from said workshop mate yesterday, the same day I finished the book.

For me, the most salient story was "Displacement." Mr. and Mrs. Chow have been live-in caretakers for a senile woman when Mrs. Chow decides she wants a place of their own. The subservient relationship the Chows have with the old woman is replicated when they meet the apartment manager and her hyper daughter.

Mrs. Chow learned English in China but pretends to not speak it; it's implied that people assume she doesn't speak it. The theme of the American Dream's disappointment is well trod territory. But the senile old woman and unsavory apartment manager, contrasted with Mrs. Chow's silence and internal monologues, strike a staccato chord.

The closing image, Mrs. Chow looking at a home hair perm billboard ad, which she translates for her husband. She says she won't curl her hair, then looks to the Pacific Ocean and realizes her homeland isn't visible. I thought this realization wasn't needed; it could have ended with Mrs. Chow rejecting an American beauty treatment.

Friday, February 22, 2008

And the Winner Is...

At last night's Tri Club meeting, my friend Tom won the Workout Leader of the Year award. He coordinates the Monday swim at La Jolla Shores, which is my favorite TCSD workout. He does a great job of organizing swimmers by ability and desired distance, and always does it with a smile (even if he had to race down the 5 to get there on time). Open-water swimming can be a bit scary (especially with all the talk about leopard sharks), but Tom always makes sure newbies know the course and have a buddy. And, if they so desire, a beer and food afterwards. Congratulations!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Will There Be Coffee in the Breakroom?

My brother got a dream job offer today. He's extremely excited, and I'm excited for him. I also have a selfish reason to be happy; he'll be moving back to southern California.

Daily Affirmation

For Bryan--
There is nothing so wrong that a little spackle can't fix.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Three Certainties

1. Death
2. Taxes
3. The possibility that, at any time, your writing is crap.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Summer Camp for Writers

It's time to pick (a) summer writing conference(s). I had been thinking about Big, Scary, Infamous East-coast Conference. And I like rejection as much as the next guy (really, it gives me a bit of a charge), but after some consideration I don't think it'd be a good fit. At least not this year.

I definitely want to apply to Squaw again. Napa Valley and Writers @ Work also look interesting. I'd like to make it an all-Cal summer and stay in the state (no SAN->JFK red-eye required).

A little research, some coins for postage, and soon it'll be time to pack my toothbrush and practice my "thirty-second-me-in-a-nutshell" patter.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Rock Springs by Richard Ford

To think I wasted so much time with Unidentified Book when Rock Springs was next on my docket.

These stories are so fresh! They're set in or around Montana, and follow characters with complications. Well, all fiction concerns people with problems (rule #1: conflict). But, on page one, these people start with immediately apparent issues. There is no comedic setup that degenerates into ruins. You start on the ground floor, dank and mold and all.

Like Earl in the title story, fleeing to Florida with his daughter and girlfriend, fleeing from his passed bad checks. When their (stolen) car breaks down, he calls upon a beneficent, resigned woman and her disabled grandson, who live in a trailer park.

Or the male protagonist in "Going to the Dogs." It's the day before Thanksgiving and he's visited by two female hunters looking to pay a visit to his landlord. The women, perfectly described and given pitch-perfect voices, make the story hum along.

I followed Rock Springs with the latest One Story, "Beanball" by Ron Carlson. A terrific little story (actually, it's much longer than most of One Story's issues) that combines baseball, Central America, a career-ending injury and, oh yeah, murder.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

But It's All Made-up Anyway, Right?

Sometimes, when you have trouble writing a particular section of a story, it means the section is non-native and being forced into the story. Other times, all it means is it’s a hard section to write. For citation, see this entry.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Unidentified Book by Unmentioned Author

I stopped reading Unidentified Book thirty pages before the end. I was almost there, but it was

I wasn’t sure how to blog about this, and considered skipping it altogether. I wouldn’t want a book to suffer publicly denigration because I didn't happen to like it. There's a good possibility I don't know anything. But Bryan suggested I blog about this very issue, choosing not to finish a book, so here it is.

The voice--extravagant, sarcastic--was great. But Unmentioned Author didn't do much with scenes. Actually, there were none. Monologue broken up by occasional chapter changes. Which isn't a style I object to; Gilead was terrific. But this one...I don't know, it felt directionless. A bit all over the place.

Even if I don’t like a book, and am at least halfway through, I always push on to the finish. If you leave one book partially read, it'll be easier to do the same for other lackluster stories. Sort of like not quitting a marathon, because it makes it so much easier to quit the next time the miles get tough.

But, really, it’s just a book. And I’m not in school anymore. I won't be graded on my ability to form words into a cogent argument about the story. I am my only instructor. And after some thought, I decided I'm okay with not finishing Unidentified Book.

So I’ll donate it to the library's resale store. I’ve already moved on, to Rock Springs by Richard Ford.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Good News

Louie and I arrived home from the park this evening to a wonderful voice mail: the Sonoma County Women's Voices newspaper is taking one of my short stories, "Cloaked," into its literary home and giving it a steaming cup of tea. I promise it will be a gracious house guest.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Tour de Palm Springs, or, The Rolling Buffet

Pam and I met her sister, Pat, in Palm Springs yesterday for a fifty-five-mile bike ride through the Coachella Valley. Pam's insistence that it wasn't a race and that there would be plenty of food on the course were what sold me on the event. And I wasn't disappointed. Easygoing atmosphere, good grub, ideal weather, and even better company.

On the drive up, Pam asked if I sometimes do these types of things to integrate the people and experiences into my writing. Of course!

The longer piece I've been writing involves this desert, and it wasn't until we were on the 111 that I realized I'd written all these pages with no reference to the windmills! All of those beautiful white windmills erected out of sand and chugging through the air. A revision is in order.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Waltzing the Cat by Pam Houston

In the time it took me to formulate some thoughts about Until I Find You, I also read Pam Houston's second book of linked short stories. I haven't read many linked collections, and taken collectively, the stories had much more of a trajectory than I would have anticipated (silly me thought they would be linked by the protagonist's name only). This was a nice surprise.

The stories are first-person accounts of Lucy O'Rourke, early-thirties nature photographer (and kick-ass adventure woman) who is unlucky in love but undeterred. The early stories are beautifully ragged, and through the course of the book become more determined (I'm not exactly sure what I mean by this, but I felt it). Readers get to know Lucy gradually, and by the end the pathos one feels for her is immense.

Until I Find You by John Irving

I finished this book several days ago, but it's taken some time to get my head around it. Protagonist Jack Burns is four years old at the book's outset, and his story is told by a third-person omniscient narrator. Fifty pages in, with the narrator going to great pains to make narrative allowances and over-explain things, it occurred to me that I might be in for a long read.

The story spans several decades, and begins by following Jack and his mom as they search for his father through Europe. Failing to find him, Jack grows up and eventually becomes a movie actor. But his unknown father remains a draw, and the story circles back to Jack again searching for his father, whom he finally locates.

This book has received a lot of criticism. Some of it (for reasons already mentioned) are understandable. Others I don't agree with. For example, some reviews called the book "strange." And while I agree some of the sexual matters are a bit odd, it's a John Irving book! He's the master of melding deviant with heartfelt. It's what he's made his career on.

"Until I find You" was a compelling story that I simply had to keep reading. Which, for some, is the essential measure of a book.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Super Tuesday

In some respects working a precinct is more interesting than one would think, and in other respects it is less so. Interesting: dealing with ornery voters who (loudly) refuse to write their address on their provisional ballot envelope. Less so: 10AM to noon and two to four-thirty.

Kidding aside, I highly recommend the experience.

Monday, February 4, 2008


I voted absentee today at the County Registrar of Voters. Usually, I like the rush of filling in my Scantron bubbles in the local library or high school some other random locale, all while trying not to knock over the flimsy cardboard podium. I look forward to the "I voted" sticker as much as I once looked forward to a scratch n' sniff reward sticker in kindergarten. And last election, BO and I were seen on CNN at our precinct! But I'll be on call this election as a standby poll worker. They call, and I fill in at a precinct. San Diegans who aren't sure where their precinct is located can look it up here.

After voting, I came out of athletic retirement to meet up with MarcFit for a run around the bay. At seven miles, I think it was my longest run since SuperFrog (yes, that race back in September). Since I was still standing afterwards, I went back to V's place along with Amy, where V cooked a mean pasta--capellini, sausage, marinara, tomatoes, and cilantro--and we watched looped footage of Britney Spears. I could get used to this running and carbohydrate-replenishing thing.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Super Bowl

Usually, my writing process involves a Word document that contains, in the following top-down order: a story’s beginning, scene fragments, and then notes and cues about where it looks like the plot’s going. It’s disheartening to read through a story you’ve let be for a few weeks and feel decently happy with the words, only to get to the end and find your “notes” anemic. And you can’t scroll down any more. It’s one thing to read a finished story and be surprised by where the plot goes. It’s another thing to look at twenty-some pages and not be sure what these characters want to do (for my next trick, this character will…stand here and look pretty?). This is why writers drink. It’s also why writers let pieces be—like how Bryan fills plates with cells and lets them grow—and work on something else. And when you’ve done that with all the pieces you’re working on (my halftime score for anyone keeping track: two short stories and one longer “thing”), it’s time to go watch football.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

At Home

I caught the Maryland-Georgia Tech game on tee vee this morning. You pay way too much money for way too many channels, and occasionally it pays off. The game was on some backwoods ESPN channel--The Ocho, or something. Anyhow, we won!

From last night:
I call it "Louie Shares a Late-night Snack with His Pappa." (Just kidding, Dr. Brandes.)

Friday, February 1, 2008

Encomium to a Long-suffering Volunteer

When Jim suddenly passed, TCSD's Treasurer, Brian Long, assumed the role of President. In doing so, he took the lion's share of TCSD duties on his (recuperating) back.

The job: overseeing 1700+ club members, three race series, monthly meetings, a couple dozen volunteers, lots of sponsors, and a few charities.

It is: unwieldy, monstrous, and thankless.

Basically, it's a second full-time job without any perks like break-room coffee, a gym membership, or a paycheck. If you see Brian at a club event (if there's something going on, he'll most likely be there) give him a quick, appreciative "thanks."