Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Early Work

If I were a caterpillar, my name would be Tayloo and I would throw fabulous caterpillar parties with lots of balloons. At least, according to my six-year-old imagination.

This is one of my very first pieces, which I wrote when I was in kindergarten.

I was a sassy six.

Then, I wrote for the joy of writing. Creation. Always the artist. Whether my work would find an audience – it was never a question. Now, I write for that, and because I want to change people’s lives. I want to touch people, to be that story that threw a lightning bolt through your gut, the book that made you laugh aloud, forgetting you sat in a coffee shop, and you were unabashed when people turned to look, the one that made you cry, and pass it on for how it moved you might move your sister, or your father, or your best friend. The thing that allowed you to see the other side of someone’s story, and so you could forgive, or the one that brought you closer to someone you thought you’d lost. The one that gave you courage to do something you thought you couldn’t, or gave you insight into yourself that brought you peace, or spurred you to change.

I have always been a writer. I have been creating stories from the moment I could. I write to touch people. To change lives.
These are not original statements, but they are true.

Draft 3...This Novel Will End

As for the writing itself, I’m chugging along. Submitting to groups and revising, moving steadily through Draft 3. Discussing with my mentor the kinds of details I could use to lodge my characters in my readers’ memories, how to rid my story of excessive flashbacks, how to incorporate strange language. He suggested I write his fiancĂ©e, who has published several historical fiction novels, and often uses anachronistic terms. Her advice was useful. I most appreciated her comments:

I'm sure you probably feel like the book will never be finished, at this point. :)  But it will be finished, and you'll feel indescribably elated.

Like it will never end is exactly how I feel. After this draft will be another and another, and so on and so on. I am so glad to have this assurance, from someone who has been through this several times, and who just had her most recent novel picked up by a leading publisher in her genre.
As always, rather than worrying, what there is for me to do is focus on the work itself.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Holidays 2011

For Christmas and Chanukah, I received several books, which I am very excited to read! The holidays have been crazy. I spent three days cleaning, preparing the house for guests, and then the family arrived – grandmother, aunts, uncle, four boy cousins ages 8, 5, and twin almost-2’s.
            In the madness, I still made time to write.
            One evening during dinner, I had a brief conversation that went like this:

Aunt: When are you getting up? Are you writing every day?
Me: I could skip for Christmas. It’s one day.
Uncle: But if you skip one day…

A writer himself, among other things, my uncle knows how easily one day can become two, or three, and so on. And how hard it can be to start back up again, once you break your rhythm.
My family worked around me, allowing me to keep my vacation schedule: sleep late, write. They got the kids out of the house in the morning, and we all met up around lunchtime.
A friend of mine, home for the holidays, has a family full of doctors. He got lecture after lecture about the things he should be doing right now. How he should be spending his time, the way he should be focusing, the classes he should take. He wants to be an artist.
Families – so full of love and joy and togetherness around the holidays, also come with pressure and stress. I am so lucky to have the love and support of mine. I’m grateful for this gift.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Day of Thanks 2011

Above: my sister carving the turkey. She made a delicious –and gorgeous!– Thanksgiving dinner.
I am grateful for the life that I lead, for the people in it, who support me in following my dreams. I am surrounded by incredible people, and I would not be doing what I’m doing if not for them and their love. I give thanks for the relationships I have, with powerful, creative people, full of love and intimacy and helping each other grow.
A year ago I had completed 100 pages of the first draft of my novel. Now, I have completed 2 drafts. I have given myself a deadline – I start the third draft tomorrow, December 1st.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Pie Procrastination

I finished the second draft of my novel over a month ago, so it’s high time I started in on the third draft. So I’m making pie. Pumpkin pie. From scratch. From an actual pumpkin.
And key lime pie. (From actual key limes.)
And chicken potpie. (With, yes, actual chicken.)
My mother and sister are both professional chefs. I grew up with great food, but I didn’t cook – I just ate. I am someone who is great friends with the microwave.
            It started with a pie pumpkin purchase from Trader Joe’s – I thought I was going to carve it for Halloween, but the recipe sticker got me thinking. I found some recipes online, acquired the necessary spices, and set to it:

I was on a roll, so when a couple of friends gave me a bunch of fresh key limes from their lime tree, my thought right after “margaritas” was “key lime pie.”
I think this one would have been easier if I’d had the right tools. Like a juicer. I made the smart move of cutting my thumb while grating the lime zest, so it was especially fun squeezing the citrus juice.

I love Martha Stewart’s pate brisee recipe – easy and always delicious and flaky. But it does take time, and this pie dough from Trader’s is quicker and comes out well.

I tried key lime squares with graham cracker crust, however, and that was even better. Powdered sugar was also essential, otherwise the tart lime flavor was overpowering.

            My dad loved the key lime squares so much, he asked me to make some for his office potluck.

Chicken potpie is one of the few things I make on a regular basis (by that I mean, maybe once every three months), so I only took the finale photo…

All told, I made six pies in less than two weeks. Moral of the story: if you want to learn to cook, start writing a novel.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Post-Draft 2

Feeling proud of myself for completing the second draft of my novel, I promptly stopped writing. For two weeks.
It was kind of like taking a vacation. There was some relaxation to it, something like a reward. I’ve accomplished something, now I can take a break. I spent my time doing other creative things, like carving pumpkins and making Halloween costumes.

And after two weeks, I felt like a total bum. I was still creating things, and I was still making money babysitting, but what was I living for? I had this vague sense of that question roaming around in the back of my mind: what am I doing with my life? 
An interesting side effect was what happened to my writers’ groups. To one of them, I began submitting chapters from the completed second draft, and everyone else began submitting. Where before we had one meeting with only a single submission, suddenly we had a meeting where every single person in the group submitted. With the other group, about the time I stopped writing, the group began to fall apart. One meeting got pushed back two weeks due to low attendance, and then another meeting got pushed back, and where we had been meeting twice a month, the meetings dropped to once a month. And my blog, where I had been keeping up a steady post rate of 3 per month (usually all squished in at the end), fell to only 1 in October.
So I started writing again. I returned to a couple of short stories, one of which I had received several rejection letters for, and another I felt was close but hadn’t yet begun to send out.
I’ve received some feedback from my readers on the second draft, and I think I will be ready to begin the 3rd soon.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Beauty Culture

            The current exhibition at the Annenberg Space for Photography, Beauty Culture, is a beautiful exploration of the lengths to which women will go, what they will sacrifice, for the pursuit of an impossible ideal. 

          The exhibit features a short documentary film, and the walls are lined with photographs of many forms of beauty, including, of course, famous models on fashion magazine covers. There is even a digital boutique where guests can take a picture of themselves and redesign their appearance.

            Beauty in all its superficiality is a prominent theme in my novel. I finished the second draft, at about 315 pages, three days ago. I sent the draft to six readers and am eager for feedback. My mentor told me I should celebrate. I took Sunday off.
            But it all seems so familiar. As when I finished the first draft. It’s as good as it can be, now. But then I will return to revising and there will be so much to change, to make it better. Will it ever end? I feel somewhat like the women of Beauty Culture chasing an unachievable perfection.


Friday, September 30, 2011

The MUG Blog

One of my writers’ groups, called MUG (kind of an inside joke), has started a blog. On the MUG blog, we keep track of the published pieces we read, and whoever submits a published piece puts up questions to get everyone thinking. The blog also serves as a forum for thoughts and discussion about writing.
As we recruit new members, we’ve decided to put up a page called “How We Operate.” I’ll be writing about our expectations for critiquing pieces, while other veteran members will post about what our meetings typically look like and submission guidelines.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

UCLA Extension Writers' Faire 2011

At the end of last month, I went to the UCLA Writers’ Faire. The event, put on by the UCLA Extension Writers' Program, included panels of professors, early/discounted sign-ups for fall classes, meetings with program counselors, and a courtyard full of representatives from local organizations and MFA programs.

The most useful panel I attended was the “Story Staying Power for Novelists” workshop. One of the panelists, a literary fiction writer, said that he does 8 drafts before sending a manuscript to a literary agent. The first draft is the "spaghetti" draft (throwing it against a wall and seeing what sticks), the second draft is fixing the big holes, and the third draft is "spackling." He then sends to a group of readers, fixes and spackles, and sends to another group of readers, and fixes and spackles. The 8th draft is a meticulous, sentence-by-sentence revision. 
            So, after I finish this draft (self-imposed deadline: about a week and a half from now), I’ll only have 6 left.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Study in Voices

I first learned about Mona Simpson when, in response to a story I had written for workshop, a UCLA Extension professor suggested I read her short story, “Lawns.” The obvious connection between the two stories was the subject matter: female protagonists who suffered sexual abuse. However, I had a lot to learn from Simpson. Subtlety, character development, scene sequence, for starters.
Often when reading literature or today’s best-sellers, I’m bored or unimpressed. This was not the case with My Hollywood. The novel, which took Simpson 10 years to complete, sucked me in and held me. It was the kind of book I took with me everywhere, using every spare moment to read, one of those books where I couldn’t wait to finish whatever else I was doing so I could read it.
In part this was because I identified with the speakers – I spend much of my time babysitting, so I’m familiar with child-raising questions and quandaries. I also identified with Claire’s issues as an artist: How does one make the time? How does one create the art with consistency and quality? And her questions about her romantic relationship: How much does one sacrifice? What does it take to be happy? Claire faced everything simultaneously. Isn’t that life?
And in part I couldn’t stop reading because the character voices were so strong. Every page held a unique description. Freeways flared, fingers steepled, daffodils were innocent as nuns. The sitter, a 52-year-old woman from the Philippines who was working in America so her own kids could go to school back home, had a clear dialect and unusual speech patterns.
In D.B.C. Pierre’s Vernon God Little, the character voice comes on strong from page one, and continues without a break through to the end of the book. In the first paragraph of Act One, title “Sh*t Happened,” the protagonist says:

God knows I tried my best to learn the ways of this world, even had inklings we could be glorious; but after all that’s happened, the inkles ain’t easy anymore. I mean – what kind of fucken life is this?

            Vernon is a likeable, sympathetic character – I was gunning for him from the start, even when I wasn’t sure of his innocence. Even though there were times when I found the voice grating, when I wondered where this novel was really going, when I wished we could just get to action already, I was always on Vernon’s side. This is the power of a strong, well-crafted voice.

I knew I was going to like Room when I read the book’s Amazon page. Then it arrived in the mail and I started reading, only to have my excitement dampened five pages in. I put the book down, only to feel like I was missing something, and I picked it back up again. I forced myself through ten more pages – and then I was hooked. It’s hard to get into a five-year-old’s mind and stay there, especially when he has been trapped in a room his whole life. I thought as I read, This can’t possibly go on for 300 pages. We can’t be in this room, in this child’s mind, for that long.
            While we may not stay in the room, we do stay in Jack’s head, and we learn to love him and his Ma. We are with them, sharing their experiences and emotions. We hope, we fear, we love. Emma Donoghue's characters are complete and compelling. I loved this novel.

Voice has characters become people.

            In high school, I once had an English teacher ask me to rate my writing abilities. I remember putting character voice as number one. Somewhere along the way, that got lost. Partly I think it had to do with the classes I took, where fiction professors heralded the simple styles of famous authors like Raymond Carver. Show only what is, what happens. Let the actions speak for themselves. I confused these teachings, took them to mean stripping away character voice. In the first draft of my novel, I tried to write only dialogue and actions. My readers were left wanting. Who was my protagonist? What did she think, feel? She was not a real person. In the second draft, I have found myself inserting and refining her voice. She has a ways to go to be like the characters in the above novels, but at least I have powerful models.

Monday, August 29, 2011

First Stories SOLD

I am extremely pleased to announce that I have recently sold two short stories! A friend of mine is starting a company for the production and sales of designer flasks, and he’ll be promoting the hand-painted, etched pieces with creative content. Anything from short fiction to recipes, or so I hear.
            I wrote a few stories and sent them to my friend. His editor picked up one of them for the site and commissioned another piece. I am officially a contributing author for, and have been paid for fiction. My dreams are coming true. My stories will appear when the site launches in the next few months – check back for further details!

Monday, August 8, 2011

End-of-Summer Reading

The “Pack Your (Book) Bag” article in TIME Magazine (culture section title page pictured here) got me thinking about end-of-summer reading.

Between the "10 Decidedly Highbrow But Still Beach Appropriate Summer Reads," the New York Times' Fiction Best Seller Lists, the preview pages on Amazon, and a couple of mentor suggestions, I decided to dive into these in the closing weeks of summer.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Joining LinkedIn

After years traversing MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter, and spurred by receiving three requests from people I respect in the last two months, I finally decided to join LinkedIn. My main concern upon that decision was which picture to post in my profile.
Part of my aversion to joining the site had to do with my own lack of validated feelings about being a writer. What makes a person a writer? Why is the traditional chronological job list so favored, and where do I put the articles that show what I’ve actually done? You can’t put up a profile under “Aspiring Writer” and list the hours you’ve spent creatively toiling, or the number of pages you’ve written but haven’t yet published, or the number of drafts you’ve thrown out.
Now I have a professional profile that, in my opinion, hardly quantifies the work I’ve done, my qualifications, or who I am as a writer. However, I think it is a necessary step, and only the beginning of tracking my career.
I chose black-and-white, at first (more writerly), then scanned others’ photos, which were all in color, and switched to the popular option. Here is the current profile header, and the link to my profile (which, by the way, you will only be able to see fully if you are a member of the site yourself).

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Lake Getaway

During the LA Carmageddon weekend, when the 405 was closed from the 101 to the 10, I spent the weekend with friends at Lake Nacimiento

Here’s my friend, whose house we stayed at, wake surfing. I didn’t attempt to wakeboard or wake surf, but I did ride – and drive! – the wave runner.
The amazing thing I discovered during the weekend was that it is possible to have a social life and write at the same time. Also, when people realize how committed you are, they’ll get behind you. In middle and high school, being smart wasn’t always a good thing. I got made fun of a lot. I did wonder, as I packed my laptop, if I’d get heckled for bringing it. But I was among mostly medical students. If anyone knows what it’s like to work hard, and to get picked on for being smart, they do. And as luck would have it, one of the med students’ boyfriends happened to be a screenwriter. “Hey,” he said as I typed away one morning before breakfast, “You’re making me look bad.” A compliment.
Being a writer is different from being a doctor in so many ways. Often my friends have described the way they have to disassociate. Most doctors don’t talk about work. What happens in the hospital stays there. When they do, the way they talk about death gives me chills – so nonchalant it seems almost lackadaisical. But they have to, when they deal with it the way they do. Writers are on the opposite end of the spectrum: rather than detaching, we are always thinking about how things link, about how something could be turned into a story. We are always working.
And I was proud of myself for keeping to my schedule even while on vacation. While others woke early for a spin on the boat or nursed hangovers, I worked on my novel.
I first heard about Lake Nacimiento through a friend and fellow writer – a member of my LA writers’ group, in fact. He happens to have a friend with a lake house, as well. My thought: writer’s retreat?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Farm Animals and Fusing Dichroic Glass

            Continuing to write for as a Demand Media writer, I published two more articles! The first, about how to make farm animals from wood or fabric, see here. The second, about how to fuse a dichroic glass pendant, find here.
            As a new writer, I worked with senior editors on my first three articles. I’m used to speaking with editors in person. They ask me to write or rewrite something, and I ask questions. But most of the actual editing is usually done onscreen, and away from me, anyway. I would submit something and get it back all marked up. Or I’d submit something and see it printed in the magazine, months later, with changes I didn’t have anything to do with. That’s the way it works. So seeing things changed and getting little side notes from an unseen editor actually wasn’t that weird. I still prefer knowing there’s an actual human on the other end. Guess what? There is. I actually connected with an editor by thanking the person for his/her help and, in addition to the edits and comments, the editor wrote a lovely note back:

            Good job, clean writing, minor changes, proper formatting, and a good luck! While I acknowledge myself for my talent and determination, I know what it’s like to work under nasty editors. I’m grateful for the encouragement and hope I’m lucky enough to continue working with similarly supportive editors!