Friday, May 29, 2009

Neil Gaiman, my hero

Newbery Medal winner Neil Gaiman surprised his audience, and apparently his publisher, when he announced a competition for independent bookstores. Speaking at the Book Expo Day in New York, Gaiman said there will be a competition for best Halloween theme around The Graveyard Book. The winner will get Gaiman for a booksigning. At a time when independent stores are being crushed under the weight of the big boys, this would be a coup to have a man whose epic career spans the Sandman novels and two books-to-film Stardust and Coraline.
I love that while he is riding high on success, he remembers the roots. To learn more about the contest, visit his journal where he will flesh-out the announcement soon. Tell every indie you know about it. Make it count.
P.S. This is so cool -- He just won Best AudioBook of the Year and he put up a link to a free reading of his first chapter. I'm positive he was the kind of dad who read to his kids. He is one of the best audio readers I've ever heard. I can't wipe the smile from my face when I hear his The Wolves in the Walls, and I love his reading of Stardust, too. He is able to be funny and terrifying (scared the bejeebers out of me with some stories in Fragile Things), as well as deliver subtle character voices.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Unintended Consequences

Just last week the Department of Homeland Security invited science-fiction writers to help them forecast the future, to jiggle the portals of imagination using scientific possibilities.

How strange is that? Not very, really. Early sci-fi authors drew fantastic worlds that are now our reality. Jules Verne was scooting around in space and underwater before we sent rockets to the moon or pressurized ourselves against the ocean depths.

So if Greg Bear, who was MC at the DHS conference, imagines a City at the End of Time, who are we to pooh-pooh such far-sighted vision? When I interviewed Bear last year for a newspaper article, he said he is like radar for deep structures of science and society. When we put those two together, he said, we have a story.

Rolf Dietrich, DHS deputy director of research, told the Washington Post that the authors help department managers think more broadly about projects, especially about potential reactions and unintended consequences.

And that got me to thinking that reactions and consequences are what good stories in any genre are about. Any thoughts on this?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Agent frenzy

Have agents on my mind after joining a conversation on Nathan Bransford's blog and having spent a day with four other agents at a Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators event in Newport Beach.
Bransford asked a question: Who is your favorite character in a novel? There have been about 500 posts and probably more coming. People chimed in for Sam Gamgee, Hannibal Lecter, Atticus Finch, Lestat, Yossarian, Anne Shirley, Jo March and Mr. Darcy. You can see the range. I went for the obscure because I guess I like characters who are eccentric, mysterious and either tragic or humorous: Fleur Pillager, Sophie Hatter, Ged and Stargirl. Do you know the novels they are from? Care to tell me your favorites?
The agents in Newport -- Chris Richman of Firebrand, Michael Bourret of Dystel & Goderich, Stephen Barbara of Foundry and Tina Wexler of ICM -- all were marvelous speakers and gracious in their answers to audience questions.
Richman defined his job this way, "I fall in love with books, and it's my job to make other people fall in love with them, too."
Here are tips for writers:
Don't query an agent if you have not completed your novel and polished it. Richman said Firebrand recieves 600 letters a week, so you need to stand out and be prepared. "If I request a full manuscript and you need three months to finish, I won't wait."
Do work on your pitch so it sings. Richman: "The pitch is so important, because no one will pick it up and read it unless they have a reason to. It is important at every stage of the book's life."
Wexler suggests reading book jackets to get ideas on how to write a good pitch.
Bourret is hot on branding. He wants writers to have a recognizable image. "Authors need to think about it, so when people hear your name, they know what that means. The key to this is focus."
Barbara joked that he likes books aimed at precocious children and immature adults. "If I can find something that works for all ages across the board that is my dream." And while he was the only agent to show up in a suit for the conference, he said he loves stories that are off-beat, irreverent and surprising, and so was he. It was a fun, satisfying day.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Serve up the matilija

If you get lucky, you find Matilija poppies in late spring along a trail or canyon roadside in Southern California. Elegant with their stark white petals wrinkled like a fine linen suit, they also look a bit like an egg served sunny-side up. The flowers can reach seven inches across and the plants up to six feet. I shot this one on the trail up to Mt. Rubidoux in Riverside CA.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Creative Sight Take Three

My article on Doug McCulloh's exhibits Sight Unseen and Dream Street went up on if you want to check it out. McCulloh loaned me a copy of the just-released book, Dream Street, and I find I need to post just one more time. His writing and photos pull me into a place I've never been and make me think about where frenetic development has taken us.
He opens with a man, Eric, splattered with blood and holding a bandage on his right eye. Behind him is a scrubby field where McCulloh found feral dogs, a map of Oklahoma, a used condom and smashed shopping carts. Eric, peering through his one good eye, declares the coming housing track will look nice.
As the story progresses, we meet sign guys, the grader, the promo photographer. Each has a nugget of a tale. Frank, a framer had been shot and knifed before turning to rehab and construction. A woman with a tool bag on her hip was one of a few females, mostly divorced, trying to dig themselves out with physical labor. Her job as a baseboard installer paid ten cents per foot.
In the afterword, McCulloh writes that even after the final family moved to the street, which he got to name when he won a charity auction, he kept going back to visit. If you are observant, he says, there is a story everywhere.
If you want to hear a panel discussion about the dream streets that fill our lives, there will be one 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 19, at the Riverside Art Museum, 3425 Mission Inn Ave. Among the panelists are novelist Susan Straight and author/editor D.J. Waldie.

Creative Sight Take Two

The full impact of Sight Unseen didn't hit me until I met up with Doug McCulloh to see the show he curated at the UC Riverside California Museum of Photography. To be in a room full of powerful pictures shot by those who can't see the work themselves is a moving experience. The blind artists each have vision unique to their insight of the world.

I shot these photos of McCulloh in front of Kurt Weston's "String Theory: The Space Between Us," which is work done by using a scanner. And, stretching into artsy, I captured McCulloh's hand as he talked about the light painting technique of Pete Eckert's work. You're seeing Eckert's "Electroman" slightly out of focus and from an angle.

If you are in SoCal, it's worth a trip to the museum, although you can see photos online, as well. The exhibit is up through Aug. 29 at 3824 Main St. Riverside,
Please take my challenge questions at the post below. Thanks.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Creative sight

Two challenge questions. If you became blind, how would you express yourself creatively? Would you be willing, as a sighted or unsighted artist, to pick random coordinates on a map and go there, even if it's scary dangerous, to expand your creative palette?

Doug McCulloh would have you believe his exhibits and books are a result of simple curiosity, but his work as both photographer and curator, is much more -- innovative, courageous and multi-layered.

"I just chase what I think is worth doing. The rest is aftermath," he says.

In one recent aftermath, more than half-a-million people clicked on Sight Unseen on in the first day those pictures went online. The gallery of photos is a selection from a show McCulloh curated for UC Riverside California Museum of Photography. On display through Aug. 29.

What will surprise people is the artists can't see. McCulloh, who is sighted, says blind photographers possess the clearest vision on the planet. They are unencumbered by conventional ideas of what makes a photo. So how do they do it? Some have studios and construct images in their minds, then use a variety of lighting techniques on subjects. Others, lacking the ability to compose with eyesight, use other senses -- wind, the feeling of sunshine and sound of traffic -- to set up shots.

Among more than a dozen artists in the show, Alice Wingwall calls her work a political act, a radical choice to go against the convention that it isn't possible. Pete Eckert describes the brain as wired for optical input, creating images even without visual aid.

McCulloh has another show Dream Street at the Riverside Art Museum. It's based on a contest he entered to name a street in a new Ontario housing development. He photographed a transformation from empty field to empty dreams. Day laborers and people turned down for loans could only wish for a home. A book is to be released through

His approach to photography is storytelling, and he is frustrated by high-modernist exhibits with minimal text: "Birmingham, 1949."

"I would rage: give me more, tell me something," he says.

So he interviews subjects and shares tantalizing mini-tales, such as one of a tatooed man sitting on a street, which begins "When Chase was eleven, his mother went to the store and never came back."

"Rather than leaving a photo unmoored, I prefer to offer glimpses and clues about some of the sets of meaning embedded in that image," he says.

His former projects include Chance Encounters in which he used random coordinates to travel with his camera, going from sterile gated communities to gritty streets. He is one of six photographers who made the world's largest pinpoint camera and photograph in an F-16 hanger at the decommissioned El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.

Challenge reminder: Post a comment about 1: How you would be creative if blind. 2: Would you roll the dice and go anywhere to find your muse?

Sunday, May 10, 2009


My wild Scottish hairdresser and I were discussing coffee -- the yearning and need thereof -- when I recalled my earliest coffee experience. My family lived in New York, and I was so little I crawled upstairs to another apartment to visit the elderly woman from somewhere in East Europe or the Middle East. Unfortunately, I don't remember that detail. She didn't speak English and I barely did either at that age, so we were fine companions. She served me coffee, black and thick, probably boiled. That was our occasional tea party. Sometimes, I tried to reach the sugar or butter or some pretty trinket on her cloth-covered kitchen table. I can still feel her hands, grasping my small body in toddler overalls and putting it back in the chair. I believe the coffee must have imprinted in my cells, because I still love it dark and strong, and I need it like a a sprout needs water.

Still smiling after all those tears

If you giggled watching Lara Zielin outrun the editorial letter, you can savor Sarah Rees Brennan's hilarious -- but informative -- take on the same subject. On a recent post to she links to earlier musings on the dreaded letter and getting published. (I briefly removed her link when her site was hacked but all is well again although some things were lost. Very sad.) If you're not a novelist, just imagine constructing your dream home and having the building inspector say, "What's this? I expected Spanish Mediterranean not Victorian Revival." And then he tells you what to do about it. You might consider telling him what he can do with it, but that wouldn't be wise.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Treat yourself to a giggle

hahhahahahaha! Please, especially if you are a writer, check out Pub Rants today for Lara Zielin's video, "Editing Letter."

Beagle speaks

Peter S. Beagle surprised me last night, reading a long short-story that felt like a memoir. It was a verbal tone poem, singing the tale of a boy on the eve of his Bar Mitzvah, studying with a patient rabbi who collects odd things: sugar packets and keys that have lost their locks.
"The Rabbi's Hobby" in Eclipse Two, an anthology edited by Jonathan Strahan, gets to its supernatural heart waaaay into the piece. The boy, Joseph, and Rabbi Tuvim become obsessed with a mysterious young woman on a 30-year-old magazine cover. Even though she is in the background, she is the most compelling person in the shot. Eventually, the pair discover a ghost and a lesson about love.
After the reading, Beagle said he has always been fascinated by the things he can't see, and his works reflect the intrusion of the fantastic into the mundane.
His approach to writing is to jump in, making up the story as he goes. "Somebody, I know, is telling me a story, and I have to get it down," he said.
He also talked about growing up in the Bronx within a family that included artists, musicians and writers. One of his uncles gave him this advice: "If the muse is late, start without her."
All I can say is I just hope she catches up with me...

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Peter S. Beagle!

My friend and writing buddy, Donna Kennedy, and I are going to see Peter S. Beagle tomorrow, and we are quite giddy. Here you see Donna wearing her creation for crazy-hat day at our writers critique group. All the little attachments represent a shapeshifting kid in one of her works-in-progress. Alas, she will probably not wear her hat to see Beagle. But plenty of magic is likely to ensue anyway.

If you have never read Beagle, rectify at once! I promise not to shout anymore. But Neil Gaiman calls his stories "jewels." Just about everybody calls "The Last Unicorn" a classic and now an anime version is coming and a sequel, "Two Hearts." My fav is one of the most bizarre takes on werewolves ever written: "Farrell and Lila the Werewolf." Lila's got this problem, you see, she goes into heat in her wolfish form and creates havoc for her boyfriend.

I hope to take notes and post them for you. If you are in SoCal, it is at 7 p.m.
Thursday Pfau Library, CalState San Bernardino.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Won't be just any night

Tonight's a weekly writer critique group, and I can't wait to go. They are a great bunch of talented, imaginative and supportive people, who actually give constructive advice. Plus, there are fabulous stories being told, and I never get enough of those. Just curl me up with a good book. Did I say we have fun, too?

The peep is an Easter gift to me from Nancy O'Connor, whose works-in-progress include a mystery involving a most-resourceful cat. She made peeps for everyone's books. Mine is about a girl harper whose music can move mountains -- really.

The watercolor I painted of the harper girl. I may make an alt-book of art images based on the novel just for the fun of it and to stir the creative pot some more.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Demon Delight

I just finished reading an advance copy of Sarah Rees Brennan's THE DEMON'S LEXICON. Witty, smart, emotionally wrenching, surprising. The girl knows how to tell a tale. I loved it from the first paragraph where a sword under the kitchen sink is rescued from leaky plumbing. Sarah snuck up behind me with the ending, which is totally freaky and satisfying and allows even the extremely marginalized to find hope.
I'll be in line for the sequel and this one isn't even in the stores yet! Her blog is a delight, too. Check it out -- Alert: On May 25, I removed the link to Sarah's livejournal blog because it had been hacked. She is back, thank goodness, but apparently many comments to her were lost. It is very sad. Her great personality is shining despite it and the blog is again active,

Backspace, redux

Two faces of San Clemente. I spend hours watching surfers tear up excellent waves, and I adore these little birds. I believe they are sanderlings, but if anyone disputes that please shout out.

They run around in packs, chasing the water as it washes in and recedes out. I suppose they are finding tiny crabs or something else to snack upon.

Sometimes, like their larger cousins, they have only one leg. I wonder if they lose them in fishing lines or some big fish chomps them off? The one-legged ones hop about gamely, however.

(all rights reserved on my photos, folks. thanks)


Just came back from a week on the beach in San Clemente. All I'm saying is if everybody did this there would be no more war. Ha. Not true, but it ought to be.