Composing a Childhood

What I’m reading right now:

In With a Daughter’s Eye, writer and cultural anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson looks back on her extraordinary childhood with two of the world’s legendary anthropologists, Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson. This deeply human and illuminating portrait sheds new light on her parents’ prodigious achievements and stands alone as an important contribution for scholars of Mead and Bateson. But for readers everywhere, this engaging, poignant, and powerful book is first and foremost a singularly candid memoir of a unique family by the only person who could have written it.

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Three Ways to Deal with the Hard Stuff

This is going to be short. It has to be. Thanks to an unexpected case of tendinitis–though is there ever a case that is expected?–in my left shoulder, I’m typing it with my non-dominant hand as I wait for the Ibuprofen to kick in.

And my blog reboot had been going so well!

Luckily, I did some serious spiritual work during my disappearance from social media. Let’s see if any of that meditation, mindfulness, and gratitude practice took root. Right now, I’m calling upon the sage advice of Eckhart Tolle, whose books I’ve read and re-read this past year. As he sees it, there are three sane ways to deal with hard breaks:

  1. Change the situation.
  2. Leave the situation.
  3. Surrender to the situation.

My tendinitis IS. I can’t change it. I also can’t walk away from it. I can only accept that this is what’s happening to me NOW. Well…Tolle admits that there is a fourth way to deal with hard breaks–suffer. But why bother? This injury has caused enough inconvenience and physical discomfort, must I add anger, resentment, impatience? Must I wound myself far more deeply and painfully than the stab in my shoulder?


Not saying it will be easy. I can’t drive like this. I have a disabled mother who requires a lot of physical assistance, and a stepfather who will need transportation to/from a medical procedure in about three weeks. He’s counting on me to provide it. So this is scary.

But I can feel the fear, the frustration, acknowledge it, and then let it go.

So even if my shoulder is injured, I am just fine.

All the rest? It will work out the way it works out, and probably a lot more smoothly without me getting hysterical.

Want to know more about how to thrive no matter your circumstances? Start here:

The Story is in the Eye of the Beholder

For the past two weeks I’ve been slogging away at chapter eight of my current project, which re-imagines my zombie novel Dead Town as a romance. I took on the challenge in response to readers’ demand for full disclosure on the budding relationship between young mother Sara Molloy and ex-marine Patrick Bannon. Since the original horror novel is told in the first person through the eyes of Sara’s 14-year-old brother, there was no way to truly delve into the couple’s minds in that book and witness their attraction build into affection and, finally, true love.

Sara and Patrick share point of view in Dead Town–The Romance. This allows me to dig into their reactions and emotions. Nevertheless, I did worry that I’d end up with a book that was more old material than new. Old material with added sighs and kisses. Turns out this isn’t at all the case. I was lucky in that Scotty and his friend Kranky are so central to the original that they had many many scenes to themselves. This left gave me a free hand in coming up with completely new stuff for Sara and Patrick.  Of course, it also meant losing some of my most exciting zombie-fighting scenes and funniest lines. Kranky and Scotty made such a great team, it hurt to have to demote them to supporting roles this time around.

Writing Dead Town–The Romance hasn’t been easy. There’s a tendency to look at those sections that are held over from the original as written in stone. I resist altering reactions or dialog, even though it’s often the case that changing the point of view changes the entire mood and thrust of the scene.

Chapter eight has proven to be an exercise in that classic advice, “Author, Kill Your Darlings.” Not only did I need to rewrite 90% of it, the point of view needed to switch halfway through. Sometimes a single chapter can handle that. Other times, it can’t. This time around, I ended up with a complicated series of mini-climaxes that just didn’t sing. I couldn’t figure out how to fix it. Probably because it couldn’t be fixed. After two weeks of frustration, I realized that needed to divide it into two chapters. That simple decision threw everything else into focus. The result is two chapters that balance character and action, reflection and reaction, and help elevate the novel from a “retelling” into something that stands on its own.

Seems that what’s true for a novel is also true for the author of the novel–perception IS everything.

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Why You Should Read What You Love

Seems it’s best to read what you genuinely enjoy rather than what you think you should read, or what you’d like to be “seen” reading. Here’s happiness expert Gretchen Rubin’s take on the matter:

“I wanted to make more time to read–more books, with more enjoyment. To do so, I gave myself permission to read at whim. Samuel Johnson observed, ‘If we read without inclination, half the mind is employed in fixing the attention; so there is but one half to be employed on what we read.’ Science backs this up. When researchers tried to figure out what helped third-and-fourth-graders remember what they read, they found that the students’ interest in a passage was far more important than the “readability” of the passage–thirty times more important.”

So when not compelled by work or school or promises to your author sister-in-law, READ WHAT YOU ENJOY.

And if you want to read more from Gretchen Rubin, I suggest starting with The Happiness Project.

The All-Important First Line

While I don’t know if I’d go as far as science fiction author Madeleine L’Engle, who believed that the opening of every book should hold at least the seed of its resolution, first lines do give writers a chance to “hook” readers with a compelling mood, a unique voice, or a startling image. For me, the first line of a novel or story is also my own doorway into the piece, even if, as so often happens, it doesn’t survive past the rough draft.

So here’s the first line of “Blondes From Pasadena,” a story I’ve just drafted. Since I initially work long-hand, and then revise at least a little as I type the chicken scratch into a Word document, this actually at the “second draft” stage. Whether it will continue to hold the honored position of first line through future incarnations…who knows?

“Lulu Esquival’s eighteen years of training in lyrical dance had given her grace, poise and excellent posture, none of which rescued her during her first shift frying fish bits at The Happy Clam.” 

P.S. If you’d like to learn more about the late Madeleine L’Engle, a prolific author of speculative fiction from middle-grade through adult, here’s her website

I also dedicated all of Issue #24 of Carrie’s Notebook, my newsletter, to Madeleine L’Engle, her work, and her influence on me as a reader and a writer. You can find that issue HERE.

Author Madeleine L’Engle, 1918-2007

California Dreamin’



No one could take the place of the recently departed Jackson, but artist Marlowe Stewart and her lover Daa (formerly Sheila Swenson of Minnesota) need someone to occupy his space – and share their house rental in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission district. Their housemate Jack, a masseur, is delighted when Marlowe’s long lost cousin Sheba McKenzie arrives by bus from Indigo Falls, Virginia, seeking room, board, and enlightenment. Soon Jack is leading Sheba up the two flights of stairs to his attic room for a full-body massage. Then comes her introduction to Immortality Thinking and banana smoothies. That’s when Vic Morris arrives in his Chevy pickup, stuffed panda in hand, to bring his high school girlfriend, Sheba, home to marriage and motherhood back East. They’ve burned off their pasts to reinvent themselves in California: Marlowe, a political lesbian ready for a life change; Daa, her devoted lover; Jack, whose brilliant hands belie his head; Sheba, the innocent in Paradise; Dante, the gentle troubadour who specializes in unrequited romance; and Vic, primed for lessons in love, San Francisco style. Here in a land of Buddhist rituals and midsummer nights, full-moon parties laced with magic mushroom tea, they play out their destinies as the realities of life and death intervene.

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