Roppongi, Tokyo, on New Year's Eve

Roppongi, Tokyo, on New Year's Eve
Among other things, I am writing a detective series that takes place in Tokyo. The first novel, "Be Careful What You Ask For," centers on a much-admired Tokyo police inspector being forced to confront his ties to a crime family while investigating a murder in Roppongi.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Quick Hits No. 5

When I began tuning into Social Media one of the first names to jump out at me was Chuck Wendig. I  realized that if there was someone this cool swimming in the deep of the socmed pool then I wanted to jump in, too.
And one of the first things I read was 25 Things Writers Should Stop Doing Right now.

I want to focus on No. 6

"I said “stop hurrying,” not “stand still and fall asleep.” Life rewards action, not inertia. What the fuck are you waiting for? To reap the rewards of the future, you must take action in the present. Do so now."

Take action. 
A friend of mine is trying to get started on a project but did not know where to begin. "Just write something!" I shouted. "Write you name. Draw a line down the middle of the page and write what a boy would say on one side and what a girl would say on the other. Describe the awfulness of your apartment. Tell me how you hate to walk to the grocery store. But just write it down!"
He thought it had to be creative. It doesn't. It has to be something. The creative part comes later. First comes the writing.

Take action.

If you can write a tweet, an email, or text a message, you can write. The creative part comes later. Just write. Write and write some more. What you want to say will rise up from the words on the page. You'll see them reaching out to you, begging to be set free. 
But no such emancipation will take place if you don't take action.

Friday, July 27, 2012

RosieRosie by Anne Lamott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this to introduce myself to Anne Lamott's work. I am glad I did. Despite its title, at first the story seemed to be about Elizabeth Ferguson, Rosie's mother, and the people who populate her life: Andrew, Rosie, Rae and James. The story seems to unfold as a tiny family saga, from Elizabeth's mother to Elizabeth to Rosie. But there is an imperceptible shift, from Elizabeth's tumultuous inner life to Rosie's life of becoming herself in a world where her one constant is her flawed, beautiful, patient-despite-herself mother. Lamott's gift is her ability to simultaneously describe Elizabeth's reckoning of her own faults, Rosie's adventures with her best friend Sharon, and Rosie's awareness of the mysterious world of grownups, one populated with kindness and understanding alongside cruelty and abuse. I was sad to come to the end of the book.

View all my reviews

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Quick Hits No. 4

In his tribute to Nora Ephron in The New Yorker, Nathan Englander shares some observations on the art and craft of writing I'd like to share with you.

He wrote: "It’s that the goal of the true craftsperson is simply to put story out into the universe—to find the tales that really count and to tell them in the form they demand."

Isn't that really what a writer tries to do? Send a story "out into the universe." I know I'm guilty of of keeping my stories hidden from the universe for any number of reasons, most often because I am not satisfied with them. But what writer is?

I have just finished editing a story that began life 20 years ago. The original idea has morphed into something that can only be appreciated if one applies the six degrees of separation rule. The story is now ready to be launched into the universe, but 20 years?

That's ridiculous. But what's worse is I have a story that's been written in some form for 30 years that has yet to see the light of day. 

So you can see, I've been on this journey through the writing life for some time. And I admit it has existed in my head, for the most part. But now I'm ready to go "out into the universe."

This is why I think his conclusion seems to timely for me right now:

"You set out to do something, and to do it right. And if it doesn’t come out exactly as planned—you don’t just live with it, you find a way to make it even better than it would have been before." 

Check out the article here:

See you next week!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Quick Hits No. 3

Sometimes writing begins with the smallest of details. Describing something, however small, exercises the engine of your imagination, and frees the words trapped there. Consider: How a fried egg's yolk runs as if it seems to want to escape its fate. How a fastidious man refuses to allow smoking in his car, he so loves its new car fragrance.
Getting started on a story may be as simple as a small, insignificant observation. At the end of Chapter 3 in "Rosie," Anne Lamott writes "... she lifted a bottle of nail polish and, with a forlorn look on her face and a gaping, heavy hole in her chest, spent the next half hour slowly tipping the bottle back and forth, watching the swaths cut in the polish by the silver stir beads, the silvery etchings in crimson."   
If the devil is in the details, heaven is there, too.

And don't forget to check out Joss Whedon's Top 10 Writing Tips

See ya next week!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Writing something you can put your name to

Perusing through some short films on the PBS website I found this Mike Wallace interview with  Rod Serling from 1959, just after Serling wrote several terrific television programs during TV's 'Golden Age' and before launching "The Twilight Zone." What Serling has to say about writing a story, standing up for what you believe, appreciating good writing as art even if it is a television program is all as relevant now 53 years later as it was then.

The program lasts 21 minutes. It is time well spent.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Quick Hits No. 2

A continuation of last week’s post:

Another topic in the conversations I had focusing on writing centered on how the essence of stories are lost in the verbiage the writer wants to use when stringing sentences together.  In other words, the writer knows what he or she wants to write, and the sentences come out beautifully, but the story is hard to find among the finely turned phrases. I think what happens is the writer knows what he or she wants to say but gets caught up "in the moment" of writing and the words get in the way.

 For example, find any recent college or high school graduation story, print or viral, and see if the story includes basic information: name and location of school,  the guest speaker, valedictorian, salutatorian, what was said, how many students graduated -- you name it. Is it a speech story? Depending on the guest speaker, maybe it is. But far too much time was spent trying to come up with different adjectives and adverbs to describe a run-of-the-mill graduation story without getting in the facts, takes far too much time to write, and for the editor, takes far too much to edit.

How does this apply to writing fiction? Ideas tend to grow from the inside out, like dropping a pebble in a pond, and watching the ripples grow larger and larger. But writing is rewriting. It’s like that unruly shrub that needs to be trimmed back. So get some sharp clippers and have it.

Writers love to stand in shade and drop pebbles into ponds. Who doesn’t? But the work of the writer is standing in the sun, hot and thirsty, clipping back the shrubs to make them look like something. It isn’t easy. In fact, a lot of times it just plain sucks. But in the end it’s worth it.

See you next week!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Another stop along the way

This has been a pretty cool week on the journey. I discovered two amazing things:
A place to let folks know about me and a place for folks to read what I write: and is a site created by the folks at AOL as a "free service that lets you create a beautiful one-page website that's all about you and your interests. Upload a photo, write a short bio and add your favorite social networks to show the world the big picture of you."
Speaking for myself, sharing me is weird on so many levels, but the point is, in sharing our stories we share ourselves, don't we?
I have read over and over the notion that writers cannot work alone any more. It isn't enough to live in one's world and then anonymously send out one's stories to the world -- if that was ever the case.
For better or for worse, engaging with the world, at least the world of like-minded storytellers and readers, is part and parcel of life in the world we now live in.
If anyone had asked me to accept such notions only a few short years ago I would have blanched and pull the covers over me head. "Writers are introverts," I would have shouted. "Writers live in their own worlds. We like it there! That's why we're writers!"
But then I realized I had to embark on this journey, this journey into a life I thought I was living, a writing life. And now that I've embarked on this journey, I know pulling the covers over my head is only useful for sleeping.
In fact, I discovered wattpad because I decided to engage with the online world, a part of which is Twitter. I knew I was on the right path when I discovered writers such as  Margaret Atwood engaged in social media. It was one of her tweets that lead me to wattpad. And what a great idea: a place to share stories.
So I hope to meet you on the internet and read your stories there, too. I think these two sites will improve my chances of doing that.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Quick hits

Here is the first in a series of weekly Quick Hits -- writing tips that that I've picked up on my journey through the writing life.

Quick hits No. 1:

 Over the past week I've had occasion to talk about young writers and writing in general in four completely different conversations with four different people. And I found myself saying the same thing in each one.
   First, let me say that when I am not writing fiction and traveling down the road to publication, I work as a newspaper editor. I've been a reporter and editor in the news field for over 30 years and I have a degree in journalism.
  These days I am a copy desk chief and page designer at a newspaper in California. I read stories every day. I see great ones, good ones, average ones, and just plain awful ones.
   Then I go home and read blogs, Tweets and other things on the web pertaining to writing: writer's block, not having time to write, not knowing how to get started, and other topics that confound writers of all stripes.
   In each of the conversations I said basically the same thing: A writer has to know what he or she wants to write about, they have to have an idea of how they want to start the story and they have to know where the story is going to go.
   I also said that all writing answers the five Ws: Who, What, When, Where, Why. And I throw in How for good measure.
   Sure, it's an old saw from journalism school no one seems to want to use any more, but I guarantee any piece of writing, whether a news story or fiction or how-to book, will answer those questions.
   For example: 
   "Shelly heard shots. Her new-mother instincts kicked in before she knew what she was doing, and her precious Caleb was cuddled in her arms as she quickly knelt to the floor. She didn't see the shooter but that didn't stop her from reaching for the shotgun by the back door."
   In one paragraph we know
   Who: Shelly
   What: grabbed her baby
   When: When she heard shots
   Where: We don't know, yet.
   Why: She is a new mother.
   This paragraph could have been in a news story, short story or novel.
   Overly simplistic?
   I don't think so. It does the job and enables the writer to get something on paper, even if it is only first draft material. Give it a try! 
   See you next week.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Portrait

This is a short story from my collection "Stocking Stuffers." A little December in July, if you will.

The Portrait

It wouldn’t do to have Christmas cards sent out without pictures of the baby.
The thing was trying to decide where to go, which department store offered a better deal, knowing that getting roped into spending $150 for a $9.99 special was what all new parents had to watch out for.
And really, that wasn’t the half of it. It was getting a nine-month-old in a good day with a good temperament and ready smile for the camera, car ride and stroller and bundling and unbundling notwithstanding.
This first Christmas as a parent was turning into a strange, strange thing indeed. This precious, wildly mobile, dazzling baby, with a will and lungs of iron, came into the world in a foreign land and endured undernourishment, allergies, travel, mosquitoes, musty, damp weather, more travel, incontinence, love, being photographed and filmed inside and outside, wet or dry, dressed or naked, was everything to mother and father and grandmothers and grandfathers and all the various relatives.
So there was no pressure in getting baby’s first Christmas picture absolutely perfect.
That’s when dads all over the world step up and say …
“Let’s just go to Sears.”
Murmur murmur.
“When?” the young mother asked, knowing that the baby was guaranteed picture perfect only from 9:00 to 9:15, morning and evening. Any other time is asking for a disaster.
“Whenever you want,” the father wisely replied.
Murmur, murmur, huddle with the older, wiser grandparents, happy now that the new generation had arrived.
“Why don’t I call over there?” the all-knowing-while-still-getting-over-being-suddenly-a-dad father offered, practicing the truly useful art of any-attempt-at-getting-information-is-seen-as-doing-something-constructive.
It was agreed that this was O.K.
The phone call was made.
“Oh, you can come anytime between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.” the sweet voice said in reply to his inquiry. “Seven days a week.”
“I see. Do you have any openings?”
“Oh, it’s first-come-first-serve.”
“Yes. We take names right at nine o’clock.”
“Anything else you need to know?” the sweet voice asked.
“Yes. Where is the studio located?”
“The doors right off Hamilton.”
“Thank you.”
He turned to face his family.
“Well, what did she say?” the mother asked, somewhat impatiently, knowing the father never came right out and said anything.
The pregnancy had been hard on her. The toxemia nearly killed her. Traveling home and living with her parents was hard for her, and having a baby that cried all the time was hard for her, and not being able to find work was hard for her. She was tired all the time and the father felt helpless to do anything about anything except try to make her life as easy as possible, and he knew his answer right that moment would determine whether this would get her support or it would become another stressful ordeal.
“First come, first serve,” he said.
“I’m not going to stand in line with the baby just to get his picture taken. It’s below freezing out there,” she cried.
“I’ll stand in line,” the father said.
“I’ll get there at seven-thirty or eight and be the first one there and stand in line and be the first one in. Then all you have to do is show up when the doors open and we can walk right in. Then they have to take his picture. It’ll work out fine.”
She looked through him, down into his soul, to see if he was serious.
“Trust me,” he said.
“Sounds O.K. to me,” the grandmother offered. “Yes. He can go and wait in line and we can get the baby ready to go and be there at nine o’clock,” the grandmother said with a certain finality in her voice that was very much the period at the end of a sentence.
“When will we do it?” the mother asked.
“Tomorrow,” the father decided.