Award-winning author
Unusual times, remarkable places

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

26 June 2008

A nameless meme

I’m behind blogging this week (and behind in visiting blogs as well, in case you were puzzled why I was suddenly so quiet). I was wondering what I could write about quickly and without much effort. As if he read my mind, Steve Malley from Full Throttle and F**k It tagged me for a meme. Thanks again, Steve.

Now, onto the meme!

What were you doing 10 years ago?

My book The Commonsense Guide to Weight Loss for People with Diabetes (co-authored with Barbara C. Hansen and published by the American Diabetes Association) had come out in April 1998, and I was still celebrating.

I was also still catching up on chores (such as balancing checkbooks and opening nonurgent mail) that I hadn’t done while working seven days a week for nine months to get that book turned in by its July 1997 deadline.

I was living in New Orleans with my current husband and two cats. Writing fiction was still a dream for the future.

Five things on your to-do list for today

  • exercise
  • blog
  • contact the person who is taking over a current client’s job and introduce myself
  • polish a column due to a client on 1 July
  • work on novel
  • refill bird feeder
  • change cat litter
  • catch up on other people’s blogs for the past week

What would you do if you were a billionaire?

  • The first thing I’d do is give up my nonfiction writing and editing jobs and focus solely on fiction writing.
  • Second, I’d set up trust funds for college and grad school for all of my nieces and nephews.
  • Third, I’d pay landscapers to design and install a beautiful pleasure garden with fountains and exotic plants and secret rooms in our yard.
  • Fourth, I’d set aside some money for travel and retirement.
  • Fifth, with the $990,000,000+ I’d have left, I would help rebuild New Orleans.

What are three of your bad habits?

  • I’m a messy cook. I’m real glad I don’t have to clean up after me. (Sorry, Dave, that you do.)
  • I don’t keep my office straightened up, so I often can’t find things I need.
  • Because of my allergies, I blow my nose often and loudly.

What are some snacks you enjoy?

  • Nestlé Sno-Caps and other non-pareils
  • Ghiradelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Chips
  • M&Ms
  • Nestlé Dark Chocolate Raisinets
  • chocolate-chip cookies
  • ice cream with chocolate chips on top
  • brownies
(Perhaps I should add a fourth bad habit to the list: eating too much chocolate)

What were the last five books you read?

  • Cold in the Light by Charles Gramlich (horror/sf). I don’t want to spoil the surprises by telling you the plot; I’ll just say this is beautifully written, has an original concept, and contains may twists and turns, so hurry to and order it.
  • The Lost Duke of Wyndham by Julia Quinn (romance). I had never read Julia Quinn before, but will from now on. I loved this light historical romance, and the structure and dialog were so perfect that I plan to buy another copy to mark up and study.
  • Only Begotten Daughter by James Morrow (sf). This classic work follows the career of Jesus’ modern-day sister, who struggles to divine (divine, get it?) her purpose in life while avoiding those who wish to exploit her gifts—or kill her for them.
  • Midnight Never Come by Marie Brennan (fantasy). Beneath the London of Queen Elizabeth I lies another royal court, that of the evil Queen Invidiana, who terrorizes the fae she rules and meddles in human affairs.
  • The Secret Adventures of Charlotte Brontë by Laura Joh Rowland (historical mystery). While in London on business, writer Charlotte Brontë witnesses the brutal murder of an acquaintance. When the police show little interest in solving the murder, Charlotte sets out to do it herself. This is Laura’s first mystery not set in Japan.

What are five jobs you have had?

  • drugstore clerk
  • worker in a military park
  • archaeologist
  • nanny
  • lizard caretaker
  • telephone operator
  • temp worker
  • magazine writer
  • freelancer writer and editor

What are five places where you have lived?

  • Beavercreek, OH
  • Philadelphia, PA
  • Evanston, IL
  • Chicago, IL
  • Iowa City, IA
  • Washington, DC
  • Vienna, VA
  • New Orleans, LA
  • Riverside, CA

I tag the following people to continue the meme:
Rae Ann Parker
Farrah Rochon
Carleen Brice, the Pajama Gardener
Michele Cwiertny

18 June 2008

A new classic for writers: Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark

“Writing is a craft you can learn,” says writing teacher Roy Peter Clark, Ph.D. His book Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer puts his assertion into practice, packing many (fifty, in fact) writing “tools” into 260 easy-to-read pages. Although he primarily teaches journalists, Clark intends his book to be useful for everyone, including bloggers and students writing college application essays.

And it is.

The book has four parts. “Nuts and Bolts” covers ten basics of good sentences. Tool 3, for example, is to use strong action verbs, and tool 5 is to limit adverbs. “Special Effects” talks about ways to strengthen your writing, such as being specific instead of general, avoiding clichés, and using sentence length for pacing. “Blueprints” deals with structure: organizing your writing, using foreshadowing and other techniques, and rewarding readers with what he calls “gold coins” to keep them reading. “Useful habits” reviews all the things you should already be doing (such as tool 48, “Limit self-criticism in early drafts”), but probably aren’t.

Each tool ends with a Workshop section that includes four or five exercises, and the fifty tools each receive a one-sentence summary at the end of the book.

Rather than prescribing rules, Clark shows you how to use them—or break them—for greatest effect. He livens up his text with examples from newspaper articles, novels, the works of Shakespeare, and even nursery rhymes.

Writing Tools has two great virtues. First, the discussion of each tool takes only a handful of pages. You don’t need to set aside a block of time to read the book; you can read it a few pages at a time while waiting to see the dentist or to have your groceries checked out.

Second, the discussions are simple enough for a beginner to follow yet contain enough meat to make them worthwhile for the pro. Thus, you can give it to a graduating high school student or a multipublished friend, and each would benefit.

Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer should be on every writer’s bookshelf—except when it's taken down once a year and reread.

The book is available at bookstores as well as online at both (hardcover, Kindle, and paperback) and Barnes & Noble (hardcover and paperback).

11 June 2008

My Town Wednesday: Stuff in my yard

Stuff in my yard, part 1: Critters (invertebrates)

“My Town Monday” is the brainchild of Travis Erwin at One Word, One Rung, One Day. The goal is to introduce your blog readers to what’s special about your town. Because I usually blog on Wednesdays, I do a "My Town Wednesday" instead. My next several "My Town Wednesday" posts will feature the plants and animals that frequent my yard.

Semitropical New Orleans is a bug’s idea of paradise.

Arid Southern California is not. Since we moved here, I have not seen a single cockroach. No caterpillars infest my tomato plants, and no aphids mar the beauty of my roses.

Still, many insects and other invertebrates make a good living here. Here are some that live in my yard. I will identify those I can. Please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong and to identify others.

We have many flowers and fruits trees, so honey bees (Apis mellifera) are welcome guests. I do not know the name of the wildflower this one is visiting.

Other members of the Hymenoptera live and breed in our yard. This nest of paper wasps (Polistes sp., perhaps Polistes fuscatus) is shown on 14 May (top) and on 10 June (bottom). The builders sleep on the outside of the nest at night and add new cells during the day.

I suspect these mud structures may be abandoned nests of different species of mud dauber wasps.

Brown garden snails (Helix aspersa) are our yard’s greatest pests. They love to eat tender young flowers, leaves, and plant stalks. They are not native to California, but were introduced here in the 1850s as food. (Yech!) Above, from top to bottom, are a snail on a wall out of its shell; a snail on a wall in its shell; snails enjoying their usual daytime activity, huddling together in a shady place; and snails clustered together for the night on a pile of nyger seeds under the finch feeder.


Coming soon:
  • Review of Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark
  • Stuff in my yard, part 2: Critters (vertebrates)

03 June 2008

Book Expo America 2008

This past weekend, nearly thirty thousand people gathered in Los Angeles for the American publishing industry’s biggest trade show, BookExpo, or BEA for short. Roughly a thousand authors signed books, and two thousand exhibitors plied visitors with flyers, pencils, books, and other give-aways as well as tote bags to haul their goodies in.

The press reported that the show was poorly attended and lackluster compared with previous shows. Still, I found it worthwhile, in part because of the light crowd.

Without hordes of people demanding attention at every booth, I was able to talk with many authors and publishers. I was pleased to bump into two writer friends (Carleen Brice the Pajama Gardener, who had signed Orange Mint and Honey the night before, and Lisa Gardner, who was about to sign Say Goodbye). I got a load of books for myself. Much of my Christmas shopping for my nieces and nephews is now done. Most exciting, I got to meet my agent in person, and we had a long dinner topped off with yummy desserts at a restaurant that used to be a firehouse.

My highlights from the show:
  • Biggest surprise seen on the exhibit floor: Gibson, the world’s tallest dog, who was there promoting his new book (He’s pictured at right with his vet.)
  • Oddest book plot: Corpse of Freedom by Dax Garner and Lloyd Garner, in which a teenager digs up a corpse and, in the words of the book flyer, “befriends the carcass . . . [and] is mentored toward a new perspective on life”
  • Most enthusiastic exhibitor: I stopped by the ManLove Romance booth and asked why male-male romances are written and read primarily by women. One of the women staffing the booth answered, “Because women like men!!! And in male-male romance, there are two of them!!!”
  • Coolest product: The Booksaver, which acts as a prop under large hardcover books so that the pages don’t sag and tear away from the binding
  • Booth with the most unusual give-aways: Ellora's Cave, which gave away condoms in many colors and beefcake calendars of its cover models
  • Most over-the-top author bio: “— — is an educated filmmaker, author, adventurer, and creative mastermind. Known for his chiseled beauty as much as his gutsy attitude, — prefers to live by his own values—a lifestyle that often spills into his work and confounds his more uptight critics.”
  • Most clueless exhibitor: I asked a woman at the Dorchester booth what they were looking for in science fiction and fantasy, and she told me they did not publish either. That would probably come as a surprise to well-known Dorchester spec fic writers such as Anne McCaffrey.[note added 4 June 2008: see comment from Dorchester's Erin Galloway below.]
  • Most out-of-place exhibitor: a tooth-whitening booth
  • Favorite give-away received: a fold-up book light

Next year's BEA will take place in New York City.