Thursday, December 19, 2013

Friday Frared Fradvent Frost Storecipes

Hi, kids! I'm playing along with Mr. Loren Eaton and his Shared Storytelling: Advent Ghosts 2013 friends. Here's my exactly-100-word story.

The pale light shines 

Follow us to the Martins’ door, the warmth and lights, the smell of pine. Laughter. Crosby. Rose Martin carries the silver trays overburdened with clementines, with mincemeat pies, with profiteroles.

Midnight. Petrula Jarvis finishes her fifth glass of merlot. She’s having fun. She’s joking. “Rose, dear, why didn’t you invite the neighbors?”

Guests exchange looks. They do not believe the rumors, but they do; Mr. Harvey was always so mean to that poor girl.

Two doors down—a Christmas tradition—Widow Trimble on her porch, chest heaving, pale arm pointing at the bordering oak, ranting, “Dig there! See for yourself!”

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A feast

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I'm grateful to have all of my writer friends!

Monday, November 25, 2013

A baker's dozen

This weekend, the cable installer, the internet installer, the tree remover, and the plumber all came to my house. The cable is installed. Nothing else happened. We have to get a new internet company. The tree remover is coming back in a week. The plumber told us that our plumbing needs a lot more work, and he has to come back when he has more time. I bought a dozen donuts. I ate five of them.

Scott G.F. Bailey is talking about his various writing projects, so I'll talk about mine too. Hey?

1. I keep meaning to get back to Cyberlama, but I've lost some momentum on it, and I'm thinking I might just want to move on to something else. I think the source of inspiration for that project is gone, as my feelings about what I want to write have changed a little.

2. I'm pecking away at my sister-in-law's book Sister Soul. I decided to make it a little more sophisticated, so I may not have it done by this Christmas.

3. I'm toying with an idea of writing a collection of short stories where each story's title is a number. "1, 3, 2, 4" would be a story about a love quadrilateral gone awry. "86" would be a story about my grandmother passing away. "21" would be a story about a young college graduate who learns an important lesson about life. You get the idea.

4. I'm also thinking about starting a new novel about this man who has a very magnetic personality and makes intimate friends quickly only to find that those friendships become awkward and embarrassing. He's trying to figure out how he can build healthy long-term relationships. He finds a young woman who has a similar personality, except it's heightened to the degree where she draws negative emotions out of people. She works as sort of a therapist, but she has to tolerate the negative feelings from her patients as a result of her method of treatment. That's the set up, and it's enough for me to start writing. I don't know where that story will go or how it might end.

Those are the things I've been thinking about. With the move and the semi-new job, I haven't been writing or reading much, but I've been wanting to again, which is nice.

I also bought an easel Saturday.

For anyone who's paying attention, I did manage to enjoy a nice croissant and hot chocolate breakfast this weekend while sitting on the front porch. It was lovely.

What's Peanut eating? Bread crumbs.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Lemon and Fig preserves

I moved last weekend.

I went from a downtown loft that looked like this

to a freestanding house that looks like this

except that the photos of the new house are staged, as the place actually currently looks like a box storage facility as I'm not done unpacking yet.

Moving day was, coincidentally, my 35th birthday, so I spent fourteen hours "celebrating" by carrying all of the books you see in the second picture (and many more) up all of the stairs that you can almost see in the third picture. We had a team of movers helping, but still my knees were wobbling by late afternoon. I even admit to wanting a Kindle.

You'll notice a lot more green in the new digs.

First, the trees are green. I'm not used to having a place with my own trees. I have particularly fallen in love with a fig tree, which I have named "Figgy." I water it and count the little leaf buds that start to develop. Then, I get sad when I come out in the morning to find that birds have eaten all of the buds. But, that's love, right?

Second, the house is green. A bright alien green. I am grateful to that green because it seems to have been the thing that kept the house on the market for three months for me to discover.

Since this food blog is supposed to be a writing blog, I am also compelled to say that the move and my recent job change will let me begin a new chapter of mental peace and sanity preservation. 

I did also celebrate my birthday the following day with Big Red and Little Peanut under the lemon tree. (Those glowing things in the tree are NOT lemons.)

What's Peanut eating? Nature.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Canadian Squash Blossoms

I've had so many ideas for posts, and yet I've managed to not post.

Now many of the ideas are...lost.

I do remember wanting to congratulation Alice Munro for winning the Nobel Prize. As most of you know, I'm a big fan of Munro's. She has such an interesting voice in her stories. I always feel like she highlights very telling details and has both a funny side and a dark side. And she's not heavily political, which makes the Nobel Committee's decision that much cooler. Go, Nobel!

Several days ago, Yat-Yee Chong also posted on late bloomers and linked to this article in the New Yorker. I really liked the post and the article because the descriptions of late bloomers resonated with my own experiences and gave me hope for myself! There was also an interesting hypothesis that early bloomers are more conceptual while late bloomers are more experimental, which resonates with me. Though I'm sure I can think of several exceptions. I think maybe it explains why I can't outline as part of my process. The early drafts are part of the thinking process for me. They help to clarify my ideas in a big way, taking me from very blurry to somewhat clearer.

I assure you I had many other extremely profound thoughts on writing and the writer's life. Really! I did!

What's Peanut eating? Stitches.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Emergency Supplies

About five weeks ago, my computer crashed. I had sworn that I backed everything up, but I hadn't managed to find the most recent backed up files. Until this morning. They were on a thumb drive in the bottom of my backpack. This matters because my Cyberlama novel was missing. I wasn't exactly panicking that the last six months of drafts were gone, but I am happy to have found them again. And sometimes you forget about those cans in the back of the closet, and when you do find them they are swollen or have exploded.

What's Peanut eating? Desert critters. He just got back from a long weekend in Joshua Tree.

Friday, September 13, 2013


Somehow, the whimsical post of a cat on a Roomba in the dark has remained as the most prominent post on my blog for far too long. I just checked the date on it--I guess a month isn't too long, really, if you use an appropriate time scale like the age of the universe.

So, in August, I left my old job as Senior Writer at a university to become Director of External Affairs at a non-profit that is attempting to build a really big telescope. The transition was made over Labor Day Weekend. I didn't have the foresight to include time off in between, just as I didn't have the foresight to include even a day off between my Ph.D. and postdoc, and just as I didn't have the foresight to include time off between my postdoc and my writing job.

Something I noticed whilst ending my shower last night is that I no longer divide my life into a series of big events. Instead, experiences now flow one into another for me, almost in an unemotional way. I've been feeling unemotional lately. I can't quite figure out why. I'm not ambitious the way I was at, say, 25. I don't feel driven by any hidden forces. Life seems random, and that makes me random. I'm floating. Is it because I'm older and have a new view of the world? Why does so little excite me? Does that sadden you, reader?

Details of the new job: I have more responsibility and more fear and more money and more time, thanks to my commute time decreasing from 3 hours round trip to about 40 minutes. The extra time has meant that I come home before Peanut is fully awake form his nap after an afternoon with the dog walker. I get to open the door and catch him shaking himself out and sort of limp over to me instead of his usual race to greet me. I enjoy that. I've been working out. I've been cooking more. Now I'm trying to decide if I want to take French lessons, or ceramic classes, or cello lessons, or violin lessons, or piano lessons, or oboe lessons, or martial arts classes, which I started and then discontinued. Or I could focus on fiction again, which I'm sort of tempted to do. But really, my not writing had little to do with time availability and more to do with passion. In other words, I could take a class and also write.

Given my new job, I've been learning a lot more about telescopes and a little more about the universe. That is something that is exciting me. Really, I used to imagine space as nothing but blackness with little Christmas lights hanging about. I am looking forward to knowing much more about what's out there. And, hey, if we find an alien, I will be really proud.

I'm also amused by the idea that I came from a nanosystems institute looking at molecular switches to a telescope company looking at galaxies. If I survive this job, I should have a fine understanding of the scale of things, eh?

Look over to the right, I did finished reading two books, and they were thick books! I don't really promote either of them, but they also weren't bad.

What's Peanut eating? Lychee.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Pixar's rule #6 for storytelling: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

What's Peanut eating? Strawberries and carrots.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Long Beans

Today is gray and muggy and solitary and internal, and I am particularly missing the Literary Lab. Why is it gone? I loved working with a group. I loved people coming in with different opinions and skill sets.

I'm currently reading two books. One is 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. I was really engaged with it, but lately, at about page 600, it just feels long. I feel like the story is being drawn out just to take up more pages. I also recently joined a book club, and the first book I'm reading with them is The Interestings. So far, the point of the book seems to be to tell the story of people who hoped to be interesting but turned out to be ordinary. And that's what it feels like. I'm dragging myself through paragraph after ordinary paragraph. To be fair, I'm only about 70 pages in, and I figure something will happen eventually.

What's Peanut Eating? Watermelon juice, following a rather funny two-day episode of Big Red making watermelon sorbet--there was blood involved, and the sugar was left out.

(and in the optional reading section, more from Sister Soul, continuing from here):

All the dancers formed a large circle around the center stage. In their bright costumes, Maria imagined they looked like a giant Hawaiian lei from up above. They faced inward as a city council member from Little Tokyo gave a few introductory remarks. Maria didn’t pay attention to what the old man in a powder blue sport coat and straw hat was saying. She had heard similar speeches seven years in a row. Besides, at the moment, she was overcome by a nagging feeling that she had forgotten something, an anniversary or a birthday. Her conversation with Asami had triggered it.

She went through her family members: husband, son, mother, father, stepmother, sister. Nope, as far as she knew she was safe, at least with birthdays. Today wasn’t the anniversary of her mother’s death either. She would never have forgotten that.

Though the nagging feeling didn’t leave her completely, Maria tried to focus again as the council member stepped down to tepid applause. She had to remember which routine they were about to perform. The music started, and the dancers began their first bon. Kikuta Kai had chosen to dance with wooden fans this year, and Maria enjoyed the attention they were getting from the crowds. Each year, the event seemed to grow more popular. The sidewalks were so crowded that pedestrians couldn’t make their way through in some areas, and hundreds of children were nudging their way into the street to get a closer look.

As she danced, Maria let her mind wander. She had performed this bon so many times that the choreography was second nature to her. She looked out at the people. Judging by their looks, they were mostly Japanese or Japanese-American, she guessed, but plenty of others were there too, including her Thai husband.

I am Yonsei…I am Yonsei, she repeated mentally to herself. The sense of history that came with that label always made her feel secure. She could trace her own family back several generations, long before anyone came to America. And she had a large collection of old photographs, kimono, cutlery, birth certificates, even a purple heart that one of her distant uncles had earned during the same war that had detained so many members of her family. Many of the objects were so delicate. At the same time, she wanted to make sure she could share them. She carefully scanned many of the original documents and photographed other objects, compiling the copies into several scrapbooks that she made my hand. The work was so impressive that most of the Sansuis, her father’s family, and the Nakamotos, her mother’s family, had declared her to be the unofficial family historian.

Soran Bushi was the second dance, and the dancers mimicked the daily tasks of fisherman. Maria made the movements of casting out a net and gathering it back in again. She watched the faces of the children for signs of recognition, but maybe this generation wouldn’t know what fishing was. Her own son was only five. His life was full of all sorts of gadgets. The only fish he saw were digital. Well, at least he still enjoyed sports and being outside. He stood beside her husband, his big brown eyes gleaming. The August heat beat down on them, but Maria was in a good mood all the same. She imagined facing the clear ocean waters, pulling in the nets heavy with fish. She imagined the smell of salt in the air and hungry gulls flying and squawking overhead. How different her life would have been, she thought, if she had been born at a different time, in a different place. Her life could have had so much more struggle, so much more turmoil. As it was, all she had to worry about was how to improve her dancing and what to make for dinner that night.

She was in the middle of these thoughts when she heard the sound of drumbeats. At first, Maria didn’t think anything of it. The parade was on a crowded street right in the heart of Little Tokyo. So many people were gathered there that all sorts of noises could be heard. But the drumming continued, a loud and steady boom, boom, boom, boom coming from one of the taiko drums. When she had the opportunity, she glanced over to see a young man pounding a mallet on the largest of the drums. Though her face didn’t show any anger, the muscles around her lips tightened. She hoped someone would put a stop to it quickly and teach the rude guy a thing or two about the importance of good manners.

 Boom, boom, boom, boom!

The sound began to disrupt the dancers. Several of the less experienced ones fell out of step. They looked at each other, shrugging and scurrying back into place. The drumming was getting to Maria too. Each beat felt eerily like the ticking of a giant clock. It magnified her nagging feeling that today was an important day, a day to be remembered.

“Why don’t you cut it out?” someone in the audience shouted. But the drummer continued to play. Maria watched as a pair of security guards in yellow jackets marched over to him and asked him to stop. When he ignored them, they took hold of his arms. The mallets fell to the floor. The player began kicking and shouting. His face was strained and red. His eyes looked glazed over, like he was in some sort of trance.

When the performance music ended, the councilman primly rushed back onto the stage.

“The Grand Parade will continue in a few minutes,” he said with an uneasy laugh. He made to bow, but just as he was hunching over, another sound rose up from the crowd. This time it was a scream. An old woman. Maria turned to see a bundle of wrinkled limbs flailing around on the ground. Someone had fallen. A bag of groceries had spilled, its contents scattering all around.

Maria ran over as fast as she could in her geta to help the woman up. She looked to be in her seventies, maybe even her eighties. Her white hair was disheveled. She wore a faded dress, thick wool socks and tennis shoes, an old knit coat that looked far too warm for this weather.

“Are you okay?” Maria asked, bending down to take hold of the woman’s arm.

“Yes, yes, I’m fine. Damn it! Look at my things!” The woman’s voice was tinted by a slight Japanese accent. She seemed to have just come back from a shopping trip. Around her were various bags and boxes. On the stage, the Councilman was once again assuring everyone that things would be back to normal in no time.

“I’ll help you, but are you sure you’re okay?” Maria asked.

“I’m fine, I’m fine.” She scrambled to her feet. Despite her age, she moved rather well. She was a short but thick woman, her face as round as a pincushion. “What’s important are my things. I’m in a hurry. Where’s the blue?”

Though she still seemed unsteady, the woman began to stumble around, picking up her things. Along with some other items like ginger, garlic, and daikon, Maria noticed several boxes of food coloring. One of them had been smashed underfoot, and a dribble of dark blue fluid was leaking out of the corner.

“Is this what you mean by blue?” Maria asked.

But the woman didn’t seem to hear her. “What time is it?”

“What?” Maria asked, confused.

“Damn it! I said what time is it?”

Maria didn’t have a watch on, but luckily by now a few other people had gathered to help. Someone said it was 11:45 am.

“We only have fifteen minutes,” the old woman declared, rushing even more. She abandoned her other things and focused only on the blue food coloring. Once she had grabbed two handfuls of the small boxes, she grabbed anything else she could and tossed them into a canvas bag she had been carrying. Then, she started to hobble away.

“Don’t you think you should go to the first aid station?” Maria asked. “It’s right over there, by that white sign.”

“Forget about first aid. If anything, it’s time for fourth aid. Just come on,” the old woman shouted over her shoulder.

Come on? Was Maria supposed to follow this strange woman? She looked back at the crowd, at her family still standing among the other audience members. She thought to call out to them, but everything was chaotic enough as it was. Most of the people were distracted by the drummer, who was still putting up quite a struggle between the security guards. The sounds of police sirens could be heard approaching.

“We have to hurry!” the woman shouted. She was nearly half a block away. Maria rushed to catch up to her. She glanced back, hoping some of the others would follow, but they did nothing more than shrug. When she was side by side with the woman, she looked over and saw a fierce look of determination on the wrinkled old face.

“Damn this useless old body,” the woman muttered, more to herself than to Maria. Without slowing, she turned to Maria and looked her up and down. She didn’t seem the least bit stressed over what had just happened. “What’s your name now?” she demanded.

“My name?”

“Megumi? Michiko? Mariko?”

“It’s Maria. What do you mean now?”

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Stir fried vegetables with subtle flavors

I recently have found some joy in writing fiction again. I'm sure it helps that I've been stressed out with house hunting, deciding whether or not to sell my property, and applying for another job. Whenever I get pulled in too many directions, fiction comes in to remind me to have fun.

I've just been playing with a book called Sister Soul that I have wanted to write for a couple of years. It's inspired by the book I wrote for my nephew a few Christmases ago about him in this fantasy adventure story. The story was too scary for a 7 year old, but his mother and aunt--both big readers--loved the idea. Sister Soul will be about them discovering they have super powers and different aspects of Japanese-American culture, including the interment camps. It will also include an experience from their childhood in which one girl lodged a chopstick into the back of her throat and was paralyzed for several weeks. (In my story, this sets off much of the conflict and magic.)

Here's some very rough first draft material. Since it's for an audience of about 3, I'm hoping to write it in just a couple of drafts:

The rhythms of the taiko drums were building to a climax. On the folding stage, arms and mallets moved in intricate patterns like the inner workings of a clock. Maria watched with a smile as she waited in the shade of a fig tree for her own performance to start. Around her, the sidewalks were packed with people. It was the launch of the Grand Parade in L.A.’s Little Tokyo. Nisei Week had begun.

Maria’s hair was pulled up into a bun, and her face had a light coat of makeup: rouge and lipstick—she never liked to put on too much. She wore a kimono that was mostly white, gradually transforming into a rich panel of glistening blue silk just over her right shoulder. Her obi was black and adorned with a simple pattern of red gingko leaves.

Maria had been dancing with the Kikuta Kai dance group for over ten years, ever since she was a young girl. Having been born and raised in Southern California, the dancing was one of the few things that kept her tied to her Japanese culture, something she was always afraid of losing. By now she was one of the more experienced dancers, even though several of the other women were years older than she was. After performances, strangers often came up to tell her on how talented she was. At the same time, Maria always felt like she was never quite good enough. Even at her best, she constantly felt slight errors in her arm movements and the angles of her head. The art demanded so much precision.

“You’re just being too hard on yourself,” her sister, Lynn, would tell her. But there was no denying it. In videos, she always found something to criticize about her performance.

The taiko players finished to thunderous applause. They always delighted the audience. As they prepared to leave the stage, the dance groups stepped into the street, the mingled colors of their various kimono and yukata slowly organizing as the members of each dance group gathered with one another. The sounds of their wooden geta shoes clacked against the asphalt.

“Remind me again, are you Sansei?” another dancer, Asami Tsukamoto, asked. She had approached suddenly from Maria’s left side, startling her a bit. Asami was true Nisei, the youngest daughter of parents who had immigrated to Los Angeles from Hokkaido. She was newly retired and had only recently joined Kikuta Kai.

“Yonsei,” Maria said. “I’m the great-granddaughter of immigrants on both my mother’s and her father’s sides. My father was actually born in Santa Anita.”

“Ah, really?” Asami said with wide eyes as she was struck by the realization of what that meant. Both of them suddenly became aware of their surroundings. A few minutes before the Grand Parade didn’t feel at all like an appropriate time to bring up the internment camps…or what it would have been like to still be living in Japan.

I've also been reading Murakami's "epic" 1Q84. I find myself hungry to read it every morning and evening. It's a strange book because the prose itself doesn't feel very sophisticated, but the story is so intricate and interesting. It's a page turner. I also joined a book club and will soon be reading The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. I know nothing about this book yet. But I like the title and the cover.

What's Peanut eating? Hot dog chunks.

Monday, July 15, 2013


Hey kids and detective novel writers,

Did you see this? It's a story of a writer writing under a pseudonym and not selling very well while getting some nice criticism.

What's Peanut Eating? I think it was Kix.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

BjörkBQ Sauce

I had the supreme pleasure of seeing Björk for the second time at the Hollywood Bowl last night. She is one of my biggest inspirations and a spectacular artist. Her show didn't disappoint. And, she wore this for her encore, where she sang the hauntingly, complexly, ravishingly emotional "Hyperballad," the song that seems to always make audiences quiet and reflective until the heavy beats make them dance.

For dinner, I made pasta salad and wraps with lettuce, tomato, chicken, and bacon, and a made-from-scratch bbq sauce. I'm not a fan of bbq sauce, but I seem to be in this sauces-made-from-scratch phase right now. The sauce was a combo of garlic (1 clove), onion (1/4 onion), ketchup (1 cup), brown sugar (1/3 cup), maple syrup (1/3 cup), chili powder (a pinch), vinegar (3 tbsp), and Worcestershire sauce (1 tbsp). And, okay, I also added a bit of ginger, which skewed in Asian, not necessarily in a good way.

What's Peanut eating? A detached bird's wing. Didn't swallow, nor did he do the original detaching.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Sage Chicken with Cherry Compote

I had a weekend full of experimentation, but in the culinary and the writinary worlds. First, because I bought some cherries, I made what I'm calling sage chicken with a cherry compote. Now, I'll go look up the definition of a compote...

...and it seems to be a suitable word.

The chicken was actually pretty good before the compote, but it was really simple. The cherries made the dish more red and fruity.

So, the compote was:

1 1/4 cup fresh cherries, quartered and with the seeds and stems removed
3 tbsp light brown sugar
1 tbsp grated ginger
1 tbsp vodka
1 cup water

and I think that's it. I brought it to a boil and then simmered it until it was thicker, but not too thick. After it cooled to room temperature, it was quite tasty.

To make the sage chicken, I just got two chicken breasts, salted and peppered them outside and beneath the skin, then tucked in two sage leaves per breast. To cook it, I heated some oil in a pan, placed the chicken skin side down in the oil to crisp up the skin a little and to make the sage flavor permeate the chicken. Then I moved the chicken pieces to a tray and plunked it into the oven at 350 ˚C for about 20 minutes.

Like I said, the chicken on it's own was quite good but simple. The cherry compote could have been substituted by anything that provides some tartness and liquid. We ate it with bread and a delicious Ceasar salad that I should talk about sometime soon.

I also wrote this. I found myself pushing the language and imagery more, out beyond my comfort zone. I'm thinking I would probably pull it back again, but I'm sitting with it to see what I think.

“I admit it’s beginning to make me anxious, my dear. This Lama, this Sera Lama, could delay the whole program.” Pagani paced back and forth near the foot of her bed. Every other step was uneven due to an arthritic right knee. He had one hand braced against the head of his cane. With his other hand he tussled his white beard.

He looked at her. His voice grew soft, conspiratorial. “Perhaps, my dear, perhaps we can get you into their room, not as a spy, not as a spy, no, but, well, after all, you’re the journalist…you’re here to record things—and you have a gift, we all know that. Why are we waiting? You should be starting your work right away.”

“I don’t disagree with you,” she said soberly. Though she didn’t follow his logic, her curiosity had gotten the best of her.

They went up the elevator and walked along the carpeted hall to Sonam’s room. Dr. Pagani knocked on the door, four times softly, like heartbeats. It was silent inside. Diana thought that perhaps the room was empty after all, that somehow the Dalai Lama had fled the country. But after a moment the knob turned and Sonam’s face appeared from behind the white door. Up close he looked more weathered, more like something carved out of wood and hung outside to be colonized by moss, by lichen, by a satiated caterpillar preparing to entomb itself for transformation. Seeing this face floating into view like a dark moon, a sensation that had been swirling inside of her was nucleated and crystallized: the Dalai Lama had lived too much life to be contained in this dorm room, in this building. His was a life meant to spill over like a flooded river.

“If it is still all right with you, I have brought Diana,” Pagani said. “I thought perhaps she could be of help.”

Sonam turned to her with a smile. He was a man of average height, with a sturdy physique that she attributed to the mountain air he had enjoyed as a baby. She met his eyes and saw the wisdom that one sees looking into the eyes of a wild animal.

“If you don’t mind,” she said.

“You are welcome here.”

What's Peanut Eating? Parsley.

Friday, May 24, 2013

String beans

Happy Friday, everyone!

I feel strange because I've been doing a lot of writing-related intensive thinking and yet I don't have much to say about it.

First, I've been thinking about my career. In 2011, I transitioned from laboratory research to science writing, and I have been very happy in my job. At the same time, I need to figure out where I go now. I've been looking into the possibility of more schooling to study journalism or communications ($20K to $45K - yikes), and I've been thinking more deeply about what my long term objectives are.

I've been working on CyberLama. I continue to write it in 3rd person, and currently everything is happening in chronological order. I'm not sure if I will keep it that way, but it sure was a pain to move everything around. I won't be happy if I decide to rearrange it all again, but this is the writing life!

What's Peanut eating? A cotton ball. Didn't swallow.

March 21, 2009

Dear Diana,

I have tried my best to be a good friend to you, and I assure you that this is still my primary motivation. The more you tell me about this experiment that you are participating in, the more I worry for you. What this doctor is trying to accomplish is the stuff of fairy tales and curses. It is the punishment for those who ask for too much. It is like Frankenstein or Dracula—the classic horrors that we can only tolerate because we know that they are not real. No one can imagine what this sort of existence will be like. You will be forced to experience life on a completely different magnitude with more sadness and more anger than a typical person would experience. Life as you know it will be on a different scale. I do not mean to seem pessimistic, but I am also not one to lie and say that life is always full of peace and joy. What we experience is what we can endure, no more, no less. I beg you to rethink this decision. 


Friday, April 26, 2013


My tastes in what a story should be are in flux lately. After writing for some twelve years or so...okay, maybe more like fifteen...I'm seeing some really basic "rules" of writing in a way that I never saw them before. The idea that every scene should contribute to the story, for example, means something new to me now than it used to.

Three months ago, my concept of a story was different. I don't use the term slice-of-life very often, but that must have been how I saw my work. My goal was to capture a time and place in an expansive way. Scenes were included if they were plausible and interesting. I was writing about chaos by being chaotic.

Now, I am more focused on forward momentum. I have stricter rules about what is allowed in a story. It's not enough to be plausible. It must move the story forward.  It feels very linear, not specifically in terms of timeline, but in terms of a singular story that is unfolding.

I find myself still obsessed with chaos, for better or for worse. Is that due to my age? I see the happenings of the world as being completely random, which in many ways keeps my uninspired when it comes to writing. But I also think it moves me to really search for something worth writing about. Given that, I am still attempting to evoke the realization of the world's chaos in my current story, but I'm channeling that through my characters instead of including the chaos as part of the structure of the book.

Here's some rough stuff I'm playing with, including a little nod to the dear Michelle Davidson Argyle. I can't decide if I hate the last couple of sentences.

Each morning, she walked from her apartment to the office, passing the Hotel de ville, crossing the green waters of the Seine at Rue d’Arcole and cutting diagonally across the uneven courtyard of the Parvis Notre-Dame to Rue du Petit Pont, the cobblestones sometimes submerged after rain or after snow. She walked by vendors roasting chestnuts. She walked by gypsies asking for money. She walked by tourists posing for photographs, imagining herself captured and nameless in thousands of photographs, in thousands of households, in thousands of cities. 

For The Spectacle she wrote stories about long lost twins reuniting after fifty-six years, about the migration of monarch butterflies, about grunions beaching themselves at high tide on the shores of Baja California. With each piece she attempted to pry open the face of the advancing world to uncover the machinery underneath, the interlocking gears, the work of steady, knowing hands. She looked for truth in coincidences, in patterns. She looked for truth in chaos.

I don't know why I feel this way at the moment, but I do. And I am realizing just this moment that it has to do with reading Moby Dick. There were things I did not like about that book that I see in my own writing, and it's making me respond by changing my direction. It helps that I've also been reading Murakami and Toibin, who somehow manage to make these beautiful emotions grow by just gradually letting stories unfold.

I guess it's a good thing that I'm reading this year.


1. You put a cuppa sugar in a pot.
2. You pour 1/4 cup of water down over it and, without mixing, let it set until all of the water has saturated the sugar.
3. You put it on medium heat, and,  still without stirring, you let all of the sugar melt and bubble and turn a beautiful golden color. (A little darker if you want more of that lovely bitter taste.)
4. You take it off the heat and slowly add 3/4 cup cream while whisking. Swoooosh! It will bubble and steam and be quite exciting! Don't panic.
5. Add in some butter (3? 3.5 tablespoons?)
6. Add in a teaspoon or so of sea salt. Do it.


I never made caramel before because I'm not a huge fan of it. But I love making things from scratch. And I apparently like the homemade stuff a lot more than I like the stuff from a store.

I drizzled it on top of vanilla ice cream with another sprinkle of sea salt.

What's Peanut eating? My gray Puma sock. It means he loves me.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Baguettes and brie and wine

She went to Machu Pichu, to Egypt, to Rome. She ran her hands along the weathered travertine and tuff of the Colloseum, still solid after so long. The monuments had lasted. They stood through the centuries, mighty and stubborn, as humans never could.

“I want to come home,” she said again. Fog swelled in the narrow alley beneath her open window. The air carried traces of mildew and old wood and the faint odor of rising dough.

 “Don’t come home, Diana. Don’t come to see me like this.” On the phone her father sounded far away. He was already fading.

“Let me see you one last time.”

“I’m not me anymore. That man is gone. I’m just pain and anger now.”

With the last of her money, she went to Paris. She rented a studio on the fifth floor of an elevatorless apartment building on rue Charlot in the third arrondissement. She bought baguettes and brie and wine. She crossed bridges and gazed at the golden light painting the surfaces of churches. She washed her clothes by hand in a tiny sink that had separate faucets for hot and cold water and hung them on the backs of chairs, on the windowsill, on the radiator. Puddles formed and dissipated. Rain came and went. Her father died.

What's Peanut eating? A cotton ball with medical tape on it. I fished it out before he swallowed.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Sugar Free Pictes

Manuel and Isidro are at it again! This article was passed along to me by Red, I think, because I've been throwing around the idea of a Compendium of Lost Languages as one of the projects carried out by the supercentenarians of Cyberlama. (Can you detect the subtle fragrance of progress?)

Happy Friday, tout le monde! Or, as they say in Ayapaneco no one may ever know. 

What's Peanut eating? Tender spring blades of grass.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Eight cups of steamed white rice in a silver chafing dish

I finished Moby Dick several days ago and didn't know what to say about it until now. Here's the background. I read the book many years ago, and I remember liking it. But! I also remember liking a scene where the captain falls into a coma or something, and I was never quite sure if that cool scene was from Moby Dick or some other book. In other words, I didn't really remember it.

So, I read it. And for the first hundred pages or so, I was fairly bored, but I told myself to push on because I was sure it would get better. Then, around 250, I was still fairly bored, but I pushed on. One day, on the bus, I was reading, and a guy named Kevin mentioned that the book was his favorite. He spoke passionately about what was so good about it. Coincidentally or not, I liked the next 100 pages or so. Finally I was getting some of my questions answered and learning a lot of new historically and technically interesting things. I thought, finally, I had gotten to the part that was good and it would be smooth sailing to the end of the book. (Incidentally, Kevin had not read anything by Tolstoy because he sensed that the writing would be too slow.)

I was happy with Moby Dick. Things were happening. I was learning--because really, much of the content could serve as a text book too. But then the book stalled again. And it was just off and on for me until the end. I didn't love the book. I admired it. I enjoyed some parts of it. I don't need to read it again. I feel like if the book was distilled down to the scenes with characters and motivations, it would be a very short book. The rest of it was details that I think some would find really interesting and others might not. This is not to say that a book should only be about characters and motivations, but for me the rest of it was stuff I wasn't interested in. Go ahead argue with me about the goings on of my heart.

But here's the concerning part. As I was navigating through this whale of a book I began to realize that I made a lot of the same choices in Cyberlama that Melville did. (At least that's how I see it; we can't fully know the author's intentions.) In my book I told myself that these sidebars, these digressions, these details were interesting and additive to the emotion of the book even though I could share the journey of beginning to end with fewer words. I began to wonder if my book would bore as much as I was bored by Moby Dick. And I began to ask myself why I had chosen that route. This of course got me on a track wondering about value and what people wanted out of a book. It's stuff that might be a waste of time, or not.

I'm revising Cyberlama now with this in mind. I'm not yet sure how it will affect the revision, but I think the awareness is a good one. When we still had Literary Lab, I feel like I would have thought a lot more about stuff like this. I had given it up because it seemed to be time wasting, but I think it's important to work through these things in parallel to the writing.

What's Peanut eating? A popcorn kernel on the elevator floor. He ate half of it on the way down, and I thought he didn't like it. But he ate the other half on the way back up after a long walk. Of course, he eats paper scraps and plastic nubs too.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Friday Frastrologer

Hey everyone!

Scott G. F. Bailey's debut novel, The Astrologer is officially available!

Bailey is a beautiful writer who really incorporates good stories, good characters, and exquisite prose into unified wholes. I admire him greatly, and you should check out his book.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tilapia and Rice Soup (Kao Tom Pla)

I wrote a while ago that I was reading Moby Dick. But Moby Dick is not the book that has been added to my list on the right. Why? Because Moby Dick was boring me, and I read Mary Yukari Water's short story collection The Laws of Evening for a break. It is a beautiful collection of stories. Her prose style is lovely. Many stories caught me off guard with their emotion. Mary's stories have been chosen for various big anthologies like The Best American Short Stories and O. Henry Prize Stories, and the such. I've since been reading more Moby, and it is getting so much better.

As for my own writing, I've been working on a new short story tentatively called "Two Halves" about a chemistry professor who hires a young liberal arts major to help publicize his work. Scott and Michelle, this attempt is fully equipped with outlines and character sketches!

I recently made Kao Tom Pla, which is the Pla variation of the Thai dish Kao Tom. For those of you who don't know what Kao Tom is, it's boiled rice (Kao = rice and Tom = boil), and Thai people often eat it for breakfast or a midnight snack. You get a bowl of the boiled rice and there are toppings you can add to it like pickles and sweet pork and eggs and what have you. "Pla" means fish in Thai.

To make the dish, you need:
  • A potful of vegetable stock (3 cups per person)
  • Tilapia or other mild white fish (1 filet per person)
  • Rice (1 cup of cooked rice per person)
  • Cilantro
  • Ginger
  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Oil (Corn or Olive oil works)
  • Fish sauce

For the prep:

1. Start with a pot full of vegetable stock made from celery, carrots, onion and possibly lettuce. I strain the stock and salt it up with several dashes of fish sauce. Go ahead and make it a little salty since the rice and the mild fish will counterbalance it later.

2. Make some steamed rice like you normally would. I like to use jasmine rice, but I sometimes use short grained rice too.

3. Make some shaved garlic in oil, which is something that my mum always made vats of. Just chop up several cloves of garlic until the pieces are small (bigger than salt crystals, but not by much). Then, cook them on low heat with constant stirring in a pan with enough oil to cover them until they are golden yellow (they will get a little darker even after you turn off the heat, so don't go too long). Save both the garlic bits and the oil in a jar; it's good for a long time and you can also use it for stir fried vegetables and stuff.

4. Cut up fresh ginger into thin, needle like shavings (2 or 3 tablespoons worth), thinly slice some onion, and wash and pluck some cilantro (again 2 or 3 tablespoons worth).

5. Prepare your tilapia or other white fish by simply cutting into large chunks. I usually just cut each filet in half.

6. Then, right when you're ready to eat it, bring your broth to a boil, drop in the tilapia or other white fish and cook until it's just done (a couple of minutes, don't overdo it).

7. In a bowl, put in the steamed rice and top it with several ladelsful of the broth and 2 or 3 pieces of fish. I like to leave the level of the broth just low enough so that the fish sticks up above it to serve as a little island for the toppings.

8. Top it with as much ginger, cilantro, onion and toasted garlic as you like. (Go easy on the oil that the garlic is in for a lighter dish.)

There you have it!

What's Peanut eating? Still a lot of treats. But, he finished in the top of his class! He sat, he lay, he walked without pulling on the leash, he walked by a shoe full of treats without eating any, he came when I called his name, and he was the only dog in the class to stay for 30 seconds on the first try.  I was very proud.

Does this fix his ear eating problem? It does when I can convince him that he'd rather eat a treat than an ear.

Monday, February 4, 2013


Jonathan Safran Foer's book Everything Is Illuminated is one of the most delightful books I have ever read. He was inspired by Helen Dewitt's The Last Samurai, which is a book I tried to read back in 2008 whilst on a trip to London and didn't get through. Recently, I tried it again and not only got through it, but loved it. It is a beautiful book full of innovation, and I can see why Foer would want to use some of DeWitt's tricks.

<Alert: spoilers throughout>

First, I should say that Dewitt's The Last Samurai was not the inspiration of the 2003 movie The Last Samurai starring Tom Cruise. Dewitt's TLS is the story of a mother, Sibylla, trying to raise her autistic/genius son, whom she calls Ludo, even though his birth certificate states that his name is David or Stephen...she's not sure which. The samurai come into play because Sibylla loves Kurasawa's 1954 movie Seven Samurai, and considers the seven samurai and the seven actors to be 14 ideal role models for her fatherless son.

Both Sibylla and Ludo have learned dozens of languages using books and highlighters, and Sibylla explores the idea that stories shouldn't be written in one language, but should freely draw from several languages independent of the characters speaking them or the location where the stories are taking place. The languages, instead, should be thought of as instruments in an orchestra, and writers should be able to draw on whichever language fits the tone he or she is trying to create.

The book also talks about things like teachers who teach that a good student of literature should be able to see any word on a page and think of twenty other books that use the same word and has lines like "heroes are people who are yet unformed while villains are people who are already formed." That's not always true, of course, but it's an interesting idea to think about because it's true a lot of the time.

The ideas in the book are great, and the writing in the book is full of energy and creativity:

There are 60 million people in Britain. There are 200 million in America. (Can that be right?) How many millions of English-speakers other nations might add to the total I cannot even guess. I would be willing to bet, though, that in all those hundreds of millions not more than 50, at the outside, have read A. Roemer, Aristarchs Athetesen in der Homerkritik (Leipzig, 1912), a work untranslated from its native German and destined to remain so till the end of time.

I joined the tiny band in 1985. I was 23. 

The first sentence of this little-known work runs as follows:

Est ist wirklich Brach- und Neufeld, welches der Verfasser mit der Bearbeitung dieses Themas betreten und durchpflugt hat, so sonderbar auch diese Behauptung im ersten Augenblick klingen mag.

I had taught myself German out of Teach Yourself German, and I recognised several words in this sentence at once:

It is truly something and something which the something with the something of this something has something and something, so something also this something might something at first something. 

The book also made me hungry to learn and to read, which is a wonderful thing.

To celebrate, Red, who I will now call Red, made us millet for dinner, which is the food that the peasants in Seven Samurai are forced to eat instead of rice because they are giving all of their rice to the seven samurai. The millet was not very photogenic, nor did it taste very photogenic, and now I feel like I need to figure out a recipe for millet that makes it taste less like peasant food (in case I should be on an episode of Chopped and millet should be one of the basket ingredients). That will be a nice challenge.

Scott, I think you would like this book, and I'll send you a copy if you don't already have it.

Jennifer, this book made me cry.

What's Peanut eating? Samurai food. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

Friday Frlistcipe

First things prematurely: I finished reading The Last Samurai by Helen De Witt, and I think it is a brilliant book. I will have to give it a proper post soon.

Seconds things first: The only thing I've really cooked this week that's worth talking about is a peach cuppa cuppa cuppa cake, which I love because it's a recipe that's easy to memorize: a cuppa self-rising flour, a cuppa sugar, a cuppa milk (and a little bit more), a stick of butter melted, and a can of peaches. It's not a very photogenic cake, but it's a comforting treat that makes me feel homey.

Now to be on time again: I have wanted to make a list of beautiful descriptions I've heard from people over the years, so I'm going to make that list now. Of course I can't actually include the descriptions because they were so beautiful, and I really couldn't do them justice.

List of beautiful descriptions I have heard from people over the years

1. Andreas, a postdoc in my lab when I was in graduate school, described making eiswein (ice wine), when a little village in Germany waits for their wine grapes to freeze and then spends the night crushing the frozen grapes.

2. Elaine, a writer in a long-ago writer's group, described the release of the Wizard of Oz and going to see it. She said when the first section played, the audience was very disappointed because movies in color looked just like movies in black and white. Then, they went to Oz!

3. George Rossman, a Caltech geology professor, described how the earth made gemstones.

4. Jesse, my closest friend when I was growing up, described getting the courage to ask someone out on a date.

5. My aunt described the last two days of my maternal grandmother's life and the moment of her dying.

What's Peanut eating? More treats. This week lesson was on getting your dog to not pull on the leash. One day, Peanut pulled like crazy as I tried to teach him. The next day, he stopped pulling. It was quite remarkable, and it's all thanks to the G.F.-less Bailey.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Garlic chicken and orzo

First, I finished reading book #3 for January. This one was

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Sterlet slices interlaid with crayfish tails and fresh caviar

Look to the right, my little chipitos. I've read two books in January. Yes two! This may not seem that impressive for some people like Scott G. F. Bailey and Mary, but it is impressive for me, so I'm a-celebratin'.

My most recent book was, of course, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, sent to me by SGFB. I thought this book was about a giant cat sea captain on a boat called "The Margarita."

This is not what the book is about.

Why did I think that?

The book is more about a group of troublemakers who go to Moscow to make trouble, and it includes episodes back in time when Yeshua Ha-Nozri was executed by order of Pontius Pilate. And Margarita is not a boat at all, not at all, but a person, a person, I tell you. That was quite the revelation as I was riding my 720 Rapid LA Metro bus from Westwood to downtown LA or the opposite.

In the early pages, things I liked about the book were the cool chapter transitions that often repeated whole sentences and the jumps in point of view. The technical acrobatics were neat. I didn't particular engage with the goings on in Moscow. Though I found it entertaining, I didn't feel any emotion in the book except for the excellent chapters with Pontius Pilate.

But, as the book got going, I found all of the story threads engaging, and eventually the title characters even showed up, and they were cool, especially Margarita, who is not a boat, I tell you.

Although I didn't particularly follow why the Master and Margarita accepted things the way they did, that didn't bother me too much. And the end was really nice. There was a sort of cool down, where characters transformed into more graceful things and fates became locked and characters who had been called crazy found some relief.

This is not the type of book I would ever strive to write, I don't think, but it is a cool book.

What's Peanut eating? Bits of pork chop cooked in five spice, honey, and brown sugar

Monday, January 14, 2013

Italian Eggs

I'm a few days late in seeing this, but one of my most inspiring scientists died at the end of last month. Here are a couple of articles on Rita Levi-Montalcini, a Jewish scientist working in her own makeshift laboratory, constructed in her bedroom, in the 1930s and 1940s while hiding from a Fascist regime. She'd bike around the countryside collecting fertile eggs for her secret research, which she would be able to eat later. The work eventually led to a Nobel Prize. That's how it's done, folks.  

Go to the Guardian article.

Go to the NPR article.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Tacos and Margaritas

One of the unofficial goals I have for this year is to learn how to cook good Mexican food.

My first foray into it has been the handmade tortilla, thanks in big part to the new tortilla press I got for Christmas. The corn tortillas were tasty and tender and delicious. The flour tortillas were stiff and weighty, but to my defense I tried a recipe with no lard or shortening. The corn tortillas were used in some delicious tacos (not pictured).

not the greatest picture

I'm also closing in on page 160 of The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. The title characters have appeared! As it's following Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys in my reading list, it's interesting to read two very different novels about writers and the difficulties they have with their manuscripts. I'm also wondering about the connection between The Master and Margarita and the animator Miyazaki. That deserves a google when I have some time.

What's Peanut eating? Raindrops

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Cold pizza

I've revised the first 10,000 words of Cyberlama. Here are some changes.


Old draft:
During my time in Paris, I met a co-worker named Olivier de Crecy, whom I looked to as a mentor. Olivier was eleven years older than I was, and, though he had lived in the U.S. for several years, he was a native of Paris. He gained some popularity in the city because of how sympathetic he was to the people in his articles. They were sweet human interest pieces: stories of old couples who collected clarinets or young chefs striking out on their own for the first time—that sort of thing. He labored for weeks when he worked on a story, his desk covered with notes and files that he rearranged constantly as he tried to find a form for what he was trying to say. With all of this work, one might imagine that his pieces would be long. But, by the time he had his finished draft in hand, it would often be no more than four or five paragraphs, fragments of insight that some readers would scour our pages for, ignoring the more ambitious stories—mine included—that the editor selected for the front page. I wanted to learn anything I could from him.

Current draft:
At The Spectacle, I had a co-worker named Olivier Bailleul, a writer who had worked in New York for several years, though he was a native of Paris, which he would declare as good or bad, depending on the time of day. Olivier was eleven years older than I was—not quite a father figure, but more mature than my usual cohort. The residual muscle tone of years spent participating in triathlons, glossy hair that was just beginning to show some streaks of gray, and a well-positioned L-shaped scar on his chin gave him the aura of a reformed swashbuckler. He had gained some popularity in the city because of how sympathetic he was toward his typical subject matter: retired couples who collected antique clarinets or young chefs specializing in bone marrow or foam—those sorts of people. Without ever complaining, he labored for days on each piece, often spending all night at his computer, only rising from his desk red-eyed and sore before a deadline with a story that readers would scour our pages for, often ignoring the more ambitious pieces about police investigations and court trials—mine included—that our editor selected for the front page. Though he freely gave advice when solicited, none of the other staff members had yet managed to soak up any of his talent.

Old draft:
 It was during this time that I was contacted about the Pagani experiment. The correspondence began with a written letter from Dr. Arturo Pagani himself. It was personally delivered to me at home one evening by an American courier just as I was leaving my apartment. My family was living in Pennsylvania at the time, and I was surprised to see that the letter came from Washington D.C.

 I took the letter with me as I went in search of dinner. I lived beside an open-air market—Le Marché des Enfants Rouges—where I frequently ate, but that night, because it had rained all afternoon and the air was still quite chilly, I wanted to be indoors. I went down several smaller streets that I had never explored before and found myself entering a restaurant with an obscure sign that I assumed would be far too expensive for me to eat in ever again during my stay. The place was dim, and I asked to be seated at a table by the window. The hostess brought me to a cozy corner and helped me into a comfortable velvet chair. With a glass of wine beside me and the glistening street outside, I opened the letter and read.

The message was vague, as I realize now it had to be. In it, Dr. Pagani described a “longevity program” that the Department of Defense was funding in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. I wasn’t very well-versed in science at the time, but these were all organizations I had at least heard of. The letter didn’t go into many more details than that. Toward the end, there were a few sentences about how I had been one of the few people invited to participate.

Current draft:
It was during this time that I was contacted about the Southway experiment. The correspondence began with a written letter from Dr. Edward Southway himself, delivered to me in the cobblestone courtyard of my building one evening by a uniformed courier with a buzz cut and shined black shoes just as I was returning from a long day at work. The message was vague, as I realize now it had to be. In it, Dr. Southway described a longevity program founded by organizations with acronyms like Dod and NIH and NSF. In the last paragraph, I skimmed over a few sentences describing how I had been one of the few people invited to participate. I tossed it without second thought.

Another letter arrived a week later, again delivered by the same ironed and lintless courier who, this time, bowed about ten degrees after snapping the letter into my palm and said, “We certainly hope you’ll have the opportunity to respond, ma’am.”

 The details were more specific. Dr. Southway mentioned my graduate thesis and my early writing. He described having read several of my articles in The Spectacle and admiring them. I responded, and a few days later I received my first long distance phone call from him.

“Diana, my dear!” His voice across the ocean was bright and tinted by a trace of a British accent, though I couldn’t be sure it was authentic. “I’m delighted that we have a chance to catch up!” He spoke as if we were good friends. It made me uneasy.

 “I admit I’m quite confused by the whole thing,” I offered.

“Not at all, not at all, my dear. There is absolutely nothing to be confused about. Perhaps, let me just start at the beginning. You just sit back…find a comfortable lounge chair…and I’ll tell you a little story.”

He spoke for well over two hours that first evening, beginning with an introduction about vital organ systems that sounded well rehearsed, but transitioning into more of a free form later on as he spoke about his own dreams and hopes for the future. “And this, of course, is where you come along, my dear,” he said, before pausing, perhaps for effect. “I—well, we—we see something in your work.” At the time I had no idea who the “we” might represent and assumed they were members of the organizations with the acronyms. “Sure, sure, you are young…underdeveloped…immature, perhaps, sure. But there is something in you, Diana, a talent ready to bloom. We can all feel it.”

What I felt was a pang of disappointment. Though I had no reason to trust this man, who could have been a pathological liar with an obsession for recent college graduates for all I knew, he was repeating what my professors had always told me. I wasn’t good, but I might be good someday. Though I refused to admit it to myself, his words immediately enslaved me. I wanted to prove him right and I was willing to do anything I could to do so.


I'm using more specifics--thanks in part to the almighty Chabon--and this is forcing me to see everything more clearly, which is good, even if I end up cutting back on the details later. I'm also changing the voice of the narrator on a trial-basis. She's a little more energetic and slightly more funny, at least I think she is.

What's Peanut eating? Rotisserie chicken 

Friday, January 4, 2013


This post should probably wait until after I finish Wonder Boys, but I've been thinking about what gives stories momentum. I'm learning that with this novel. By page 275 or so, where I currently am, only about 35 hours have taken place in the story...granted the protagonist slept for less than four hours the first night, which bought him some time. What's interesting to me about the book so far is that it doesn't feel memorable beyond the immediate experience. I don't seem to be stamping characters forever in my brain or exploring any important themes or learning valuable lessons. It is just a compelling read so far. How does Chabon accomplish that?

For one, his language is beautiful. I find myself liking all of his characters as well. But, beyond that, there's something about how he has loaded so much conflict up front that I find myself anxiously reading to find out how everything will turn out. It's like watching dominoes fall, which I imagine required a lot of intelligent set up on Chabon's part

In terms of driving forces, I'd say this story is working by having a collection of things happen simultaneously that clash with one another. The "main event" that puts the story into motion, a writer's conference, really has nothing to do with what makes it exciting other than serving to bring the right people together at an explosive time. Everything becomes spring loaded. A reader just lets go and watches to see what happens.

I'd argue that this strategy is different from what I experience with books like Plainsong or Mrs. Bridge or The Buddha In The Attic. I barely recall the openings of these books at all. With these I feel more of a sense of following the natural progression rather than chasing a speeding train. The energetics are more subtle, more naturally flowing, less calculated, perhaps.

Then there's my own strategy which, I realize these days, usually tries to diffuse the linear momentum in an attempt to create these books that can be opened up at any point and read in a piecemeal fashion. Instead of a river I get preoccupied with the idea of a lake with little areas to explore.

I have a lot of explanations for this.

One is that I tend to hate how most stories end. (Or, if I love the story, I don't want them to end.) I often hit a point where I feel like the author is trying to get rid of me, like a person who wants to break up but doesn't actually come out and say so. But I think it's also because I start more books than I finish, and when I love a book I tend to open it up randomly just to get back into the world of the story. This has become a bad habit, perhaps, and I'm trying to create the same experience in my work, for better or for worse. I think part of my motivation is also greed. In most of my novel attempts, I try to get multiple stories in, creating compilations instead of single stories. The overall plot ends up functioning simply like a spine that just barely holds everything else together. This also allows me to think less deeply about any one particular story, perhaps.

At the moment I'm questioning the effectiveness of this. Is it actually a preference or is it my own lacking? When I started Cyberlama, I remember telling myself that I wanted it to jump around in time, I wanted it to twist over itself, so that there was a constant level of discovery rather than a payoff at the end. Is this just a way to create boring writing? I wonder.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Black eyed peas

Happy 2013, everyone!

Scott always keeps a list of the fiction he's read, and I admire it and never do it myself. In 2012, the books I remember reading, in no particular order are:

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell
Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata
Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata
Dear Life by Alice Munro
White Horse by Alex Adams
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
Plainsong by Kent Haruf

There might be others, or there might not be. I'm not sure. There are many books I started and didn't finish, shamefully, and not necessarily because I wasn't enjoying the book.

Among these I remember, my favorite was Mrs. Bridge. This is a really lovely book. It's clever, emotional on a personal level, powerful on a historical level, funny, and so concisely written my lips get pruny just thinking about it. I also think some of my faithful readers would enjoy Plainsong. That's a lovely and delicate book...not as dark as I usually prefer.

This year, although I told everyone I wasn't making any resolutions, I realize that I made a couple of resolutions. 1. I intend to finish at least one book a month. In January, it's shaping up to be Wonder Boys, my third attempt at finishing a Michael Chabon book--I'm enjoying it so far. And in February I'm planning to read The Master and Margarita, which Scott G. to the F. Bailey kindly got me as a gift. Thank you, Scott!

2. I also have in mind the idea of writing one new short story every month, or at least the strong foundation for one that I can revise later. I want to force myself to rush a bit, because I think it has been a while since I've accessed that more panicky part of my emotions...novels offer a lot more time for reflection, at least the way I'm writing them. I have a catalog of stories that I started years ago that address important things in my life. For whatever reason, I don't think I was prepared to conclude many of them at the time, but I think I can now. I'm excited about that, as I'm excited to finish Cyberlama and maybe, maybe write a book for my sister-in-law and her sister because I think they would get such a kick out of it. In truth, this is probably more than I can handle well, but there you have it.

What's Peanut Eating? A stray dog's ear (granted, "eating" is an exaggeration, but it was troubling all the same).