Friday, May 29, 2009

With Apologies to Screenwriters

This morning I read a book about a boy who gives his sister a "makeover" with permanent markers and chewing gum. The story alternates between the boy's mother scolding him, and other people the boy knows who've made mistakes, too. It's like a series of cinematic jump cuts, and the only way you know which scene you're in is a subtle background difference. It was really confusing.

This cinematic element reminds me of Richard Russo's article "In Defense of Omniscience" from Bringing the Devil to His Knees, which I recently reread. Part of Russo's argument against first-person narration also advises against the old "show don't tell" rule. He writes:

"The trick is to know when to tell, when to show. It should be remembered that we're storytellers, not story showers, and fiction writing is not film. Novels are not pre-screenplays. In a screenplay everything much be shown. There's no such law in fiction. And, often, telling the reader things is a test of what the writer actually knows, and it can also reveal what he or she doesn't know."

Smart words. Except Russo's last book was first-person present. Although his forthcoming book is third-person. Maybe it's similar to the best counter I've heard to the "show don't tell" rule: you show when you need to show, and you show when you need to tell. For first-person versus omniscient: You use first-person when that character needs to tell their story, and you use third-person when that character isn't capable of telling their own story.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

"Why We Read Fiction" by Liza Zunshine

I've always thought people who say "I don't like to read" simply haven't found what they like to read. This book looks at several types of fiction--literary, epistolary, stories with unreliable narrators, detective--and theorizes the different types of cognitive processes that go on inside people who read and enjoy them.

Although only 150 pages, I thought that with all the term-defining and explanation, the eventual five-page payoff of why people read fiction just wasn't enough for me.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


I went on Internet strike this weekend. Ignorance is not bliss, though. I came back to find out my state has decided against gay marriage. California will soon be bankrupt financially, and we have just become so morally.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

"A Regular Guy" by Mona Simpson

So good. This book is so good. It's told in this amazing omniscient viewpoint that spans a whole ensemble cast of characters.

Mona Simpson is the sister of Steve Jobs. The book's biggest character, Tom Owens, is most likely based on him, although Owens' success is in biotech.

I feel like I've always had a pretty good understanding of what my husband does all day (every day, day and night) at the lab. But reading this book, I came to a richer understanding of what he does and why he does it. Maybe I know him a little better now.

If you don't like scientists, there is also Owens' illegitimate child, the child mother, Owens' girlfriend, his friend from grad school, and the family and friends of all these people. And even with this many characters, the narration moves seamlessly between each one.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


You should all check out Taylur's superb story, "I Am My Rooster," up at Blackbird.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Which Way is Up?

In the end, I think my Spanish exam went well. But while preparing my strange experience essay for the exam, I felt as if words were inadequate. I'd like to think this is an unusual feeling for me; I tell stories every day. But I've been having a lot of conflicting, confusing thoughts about point of view lately, so the feeling of story incompetency was quite familiar.

I may not like Ayn Rand's work, but I respect that she learned a second language as an adult, and then wrote a corpus of doorstop-sized tomes in it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

My Spanish Professor is a Genius.

Tomorrow's my final exam, and for part of it I have to prepare an essay about a strange personal experience, and then write it on the test.

Over my Spanish professor's tenure, she's no doubt read thousands of boring essays. I wonder how long it took her to assign interesting topics, like encounters with celebrities, and not what we're studying in school.

When I'm teaching ESL, I am going to require my students to tell me fascinating stories, too. This will do two things: 1) entertain me; and 2) give me story ideas.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Calling All Californians

Go vote!

Monday, May 18, 2009

May 18th

(Louie, wishing you a happy birthday, Mom.)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Full Circle

Seven and a half months after crying uncle on the 2008 Great Pantry Reduction, Bryan and I have eaten those six remaining jars of peanut butter. How did we celebrate? We bought a Skippy two-pack at Costco.

If it seems like you are going through your six jars of peanut butter faster than before, check this out.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Strunk and White Rolling Over In Their Graves

What does one do after arriving home from a planned eighteen-mile run that became twenty because of a bad map? You relax on the couch with a book! I'm reading one in order to write a review for the Tri Club. The book's subject doesn't matter here; what I want to blog about are the frequent grammar and punctuation mistakes.

"Yoga Berra"?

"This simple displacement of his energy on an external goal, fame, undermining his ability to realize his potential."

These makes me go out of me mind.

Friday, May 15, 2009

I Get Outsmarted by a Second Grader

I haven't seen "Up", but from the trailers the movie looks suspiciously like a children's book from 1990, titled "Wilbur's Space Machine".

I read the book this morning for Rolling Readers. Before beginning it, I told the kids I thought the story seemed a lot like a new movie. It only took until page 6--which showed a square porched house, an old man, and a nuisance neighbor boy--for a girl to pipe up with "Up"? On my first read through, it had taken me until page 13.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

I Was Duped

Mi profesora changed the rules of the oral exam. I'd prepared recitations--as she'd said we could--but then when I sat down she started firing off random questions. ¡Aye, caramba!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

May Aquathlon

(Louie gets relegated to the sea wall and the light pole until the dog restriction ends at 6PM.)

(And then moves to the sand to direct racers over the timing mats.)

(The turnaround.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Art of Conversation

I have an oral Spanish exam on Thursday. It's kind of stressing me out. With written exams, you can fuss over answers, contemplate, scratch out, and rewrite. With speech, you choose your words on the fly, and let them fly. There are several parts of my life that I'm afraid to make a mistake in, and communication is a big one.

I suppose this is why I love writing. It doesn't matter if your first draft is crappy, as long as you can bring it around to something better. Editing is the great equalizer; it gives every communicator the chance to improve. You can take written words back.

Five painful minutes of conversation. I can do it. I can do it.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Story of the Week

Since no one likes Mondays, why not shirk your responsibilities and instead read Renee's categorically wonderful story in Narrative?

After reading it, I wanted to jump on a plane to eastern Nevada, to see how Ben and Ava are doing.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day

(My mom, before she was a mom.)

I wish I could be there to brew your coffee and cook your breakfast. But I know Dad will take care of you.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Two Abreast (Stop Smirking)

Thanks, V.

Friday, May 8, 2009


On my way to the dentist today, "Fresh Air" replayed an interview with Alan Ball. I studied his play "American Beauty" in an undergrad film class, and am interested in his work. Ball's latest project is an HBO series called "True Blood," which is about vampires who come back to life with the help of a synthetic blood created by a Japanese company.

Sounds pretty weird, right? But wait til you hear more.

The vampires are second-class citizens in this future society, and are fighting for their rights, looking for love, and seeking out what life has to offer. The series focuses on a non-vampire waitress, and the relationship she starts with someone who has overachieving bicuspids.

Sounds more interesting, right? It does to me, at least.

Usually, I don't like genre stories because they're stories about the genres themselves, rather than the characters in the genres. If you can write a convincing person that I invest emotionally in, then the story can take place inside a carburetor; I don't care.

Last night, Bryan said he's heard great things about the new "Star Trek" movie, and wants to see it. I said that sounded like a great idea, and that he should invite his friend, Tim, to go with him. This turned out to hurt his feelings a bit, because he'd assumed we'd go together. I didn't beat around the bush in telling him I had zero desire to see the movie, but did offer to accompany him and bring a book.

I know there are people who are nuts about this sci-fi story empire, but I just don't get it. I don't find their plight that interesting. And why aren't there more female characters? Everything seems so serious, no levity, no achingly real, human emotions.

So, vampires: yes. Klingons: no.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


Louie's been acting up a bit lately. I think having a stranger take all his hair might have put him back in his canine place.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Self-addressed Stamped Envelope

I knew it would be a good mail day when I opened the box and found less junk than usual. (There needs to be a Do Not Mail Registry, much like the Do Not Call one). Not only was the day's haul light on circulars, it included notification that I was a finalist in the 2009 Salem College International Literary Awards. It almost made cleaning the house enjoyable.

I Attempt to Make Our Backyard Look Less Like a Litter Box

Take I:

(River Rock.)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Sunday, May 3, 2009


On my last Rolling Readers meeting before the kids went on spring break, they told me I often pick books about food.

"You make us hungry and it's not even eleven o'clock."

I thought about it, and realized they were right. I try to pick books from many cultures, and since food is such a large part of any culture, these books often include food. Also, food's a fun topic for children's book writers to base stories around. It's fun for literary writers, too.

I recently wrote a story about a guy who eats a five-pound burrito. An all-food literary journal, Alimentum, has just picked it up. I promise not to read the story to the second-grade class, and make them hungry for Mexican food.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Stealing Words

At 6:30 this morning, while driving to meet Marc and V for a run, I suddenly realized that this headline does indeed make sense.

"Cow-napping" is a play on words with "kidnapping," whereas I'd initially gotten confused with with the verb "nab/nabbing." So I did a little etymological research and found out that in "kidnap," "nap" is a variant of "nab." And that "napper" is an obsolete word for a thief.

I love that anyone can kidnap a word in this language, change its spelling and tweak its meaning, and then return it back to its rightful owners, we the speakers--no ransom paid--in a form that is different but still safe and sound.

Friday, May 1, 2009


From the Union-Tribune

Really? A napping? Does this mean the inanimate, bovine statue was asleep while someone nabbed it?