Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Yup. This is a post about Michael Jackson

Over at Five Crows, Louise Plummer blogs about how sad she feels about the King of Pop's death and I feel the same way. I don't know. There's just something about the passing of an iconic figure--someone we all knew of--that makes us feel our own mortality. Plus, a lot of us watched him grow up--from vibrant little boy to boneless dancer to tragic freak show--all played out before our eyes.

Anyway, our oldest son loved Michael Jackson so much when he was in kindergarten that he used to wear a single batting glove to church. I didn't object. I never object if something amuses me and anyway I have low standards when it comes to grooming, as everyone knows.

I later took our son's love of Michael Jackson and gave it to the young boy character, Sinjian, in AMAZING GRACIE--a book I wrote so long ago it almost feels like it was written by someone else who lived on another planet. But I thought of Phil and Michael and Sinjian this morning with longing for moments past.

Monday, June 29, 2009


Book reports: while on the beach I read three-and-a-half books. THE LIGHTHOUSE by the luminous P. D. james, SLEEPING ARRANGEMENTS by the bubbly, prolific Madeleine Wickahm, DISSOLUTION by the thorough and humane C. J. Sansom, and half of THE TOURIST by Olen Steinhauer. As you can see I'm mostly into mysteries. ANYWAY. One word reviews because OKAY I'm still writing with one hand and I tire easily.

THE LIGHT HOUSE: Deeply satisfying (sorry--2 words!)
DISSOLUTION: Surprisingly sad (see above)
SLEEPING ARRANGMENTS: Light and accomplished (3 words)
THE TOURIST: More Ludlam than LeCarre but still enjoyable in a paranoid kind of way (lost count)

Food report: I ate the best steak salad in the history of the world at the ESPN Zone in Disney Shopping Land. AMAZING. I may never eat anything I'll enjoy more.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Home! Again!

Just in.

Came home to a mountain of laundry and mail and loads to do. I'll get to my e-mail tomorrow. But I just have to post briefly about the concert we went to at the MGM Grand in Vegas last night. We saw Eric Clapton and Little Stevie Winwood and MAY I JUST SAY those guys are freaking awesome STUDS. Here's why. They started the show pretty much on time w/o an opening act. Neither guy said much--just went straight for the instruments and PLAYED for 2 1/2 hours without a break. Unbelievable. And they were in great form, too. Everything was tight, tight, tight. They moved seamlessly from one song to the next without messing around in between. Talk about pros. And of course I die from happiness every time Little Stevie Winwood does the squall thing on the organ.

Anyway. It was the best damn concert I've ever been to and I have always loved me a live concert.

Back to reality.

Friday, June 19, 2009

cali update

here. internet super slow.

good news though! gulls screaming. waves crashing. air sharp and salty. heaven.

have eaten at in-n-out TWICE in less than 24 hours. also heaven!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

betwixt and between

Which is where I am. At least when it comes to writing projects. I finished one novel this spring. Haven't started another. There are reasons, the primary one being MAYBE I'M A SLACKER. But I think the larger problem is that none of my ideas make my heart sing.

I've written novels that way before. The idea of writing a pioneer story definitely did NOT make my heart sing. NOT AT ALL. And yet I ended up loving CHARLOTTE'S ROSE. Doing that novel turned into an important experience for me on a lot of fronts and to this day I am completely proud of that book. In spite of the fact I goofed up when it came to some facts of geography. But oh well!

Sometimes you have to get into a project before you fall in love. It's kind of like an arranged marriage that way I guess.

It's just that there's something in me right now that wants to fall in love first.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


In 1974 I went on a BYU Semester Abroad to London, and it changed my life. I made friendships that have lasted to this day, and I came home understanding that the world is a REALLY BIG place. Since then I spend a bit of every day in London in my head. Seriously. I think of my doppelganger often, wondering what she's up to. Riding the tube? Eating a curry? Visiting Old Bailey to catch a glimpse of grown men wearing wigs?

On Monday our third son is taking off for London for a BYU summer abroad, and it's a sweet moment for me. London is a great town for young people. He's gonna love it.

The wrist is SORE people. I overdid at the conference last week and I feel like I've pulled a thing or two, in addition to the break. BUT! FORTUNATELY! There's always good food to be had and that eases the pain. Had spinach/fontina soup at The Tin Angel today and felt happy to be alive.

Monday, June 15, 2009


So okay you know how much I love to write imaginary letters to celebrities. It's fun! And I make myself laugh! Only the letter I want to write this time does NOT amuse me at all. I want to write Jon and Kate and tell them to STOP EXPLOITING THEIR EIGHT. The thought that people would put a camera on their babies for public consumption like that just makes me very, very queasy. What in the Sam Hill ARE THESE PEOPLE THINKING?

It's bad enough that some of us write columns about our kids . . .

Friday, June 12, 2009


The conference is over for another year. I am bone tired. Probably I couldn't have kept up for another day. But I find I'm sitting here at home already missing my students. And missing Louise-in-the-next-room, too.

I treated the whole damn family to Hires tonight to celebrate the end of a week well-spent. They were champs while I was away. And the best news of all is that the newfoundland didn't eat the furniture.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

More conference talk

Well . . . I meant to post all week long. But I've been REALLY tired at the end of each day. Tired but inspired. Great 411 each day all day long. I think the thing that's hit me this time is how important it is that a story have exterior and interior action--and that both kinds should keep the narrative moving forward. Simple. But genius, right?

I've had a wonderful class this year. Excellent writers. Excellent critics. I want them to e-mail me at Christmas and tell me that they've finished their novels and sent them out. That would be a grand gift.

Yesterday my class took me to Joe Vera's on Center Street where we dined on Bandidos. Muy excellente! And then last night I had dinner with an old friend from Provo and we had chicken tortilla soup from Cafe Rio. Here's what I learned about eating chicken tortilla soup at Cafe Rio with a broken wrist. Dude. It's hard.

Tonight I shared cake with famous author Claudia Mills.

It's been a fine week.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Conference stuff

So I'm sitting here by myself in a motel room in Provo, thinking about how although I do like Conan, I really resent not having the familiar comfort of Jay Leno doing headlines on a Monday night. I feel like my routine has been seriously messed with. AND I DON'T LIKE IT.

But okay. That's not what I want to blog about. I just wanted to mention that my friend Louise Plummer gave a very useful and entertaining talk in a breakout section this afternoon at the conference. She talked about coping strategies for writers overcome with anxiety (and aren't we all). She made the comment that talent + time + discipline = success. And she's right. I'm fond of telling people that you never reach a place in your life where you have "enough" time to write. We're always busy--with school or with little children or with jobs or with aging parents. Whatever. You have to decide to write. You have to then make time for that writing every day--even if it's just for twenty minutes. The writing doesn't happen unless you plan for it to happen.

On the food front! Friend Valynne showed up with cupcakes for me from So Cupcake! And even though I was trying to swear off cupcakes I practically kissed her in front of my students and proceeded to eat them all in secret during the day so I wouldn't have to share.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Heading south

I'm off to teach at BYU's annual (and excellent) Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers workshop. Anybody with an interest in the world of kids' books should seriously check this one out. it's an amazing conference.

This is probably the fourth or fifth time I've taught and I'm feeling almost not up to the task because (I hate to say this) the break thing has taken more out of me than I want to acknowledge. It's an intense, hard week for participants. And yet I'm thrilled to be involved. Honored, even. I'm always so energized by my fabulous students who teach me more than I teach them. So light a candle for me with the prayer that I can do right by all those involved.

I'll try to post throughout the week and share what I'm learning.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

SCBWI event at TKE this afternoon

So this is cool. Several members of our local chapter of SCBWI (see earlier reference this week to my incredibly lame and not funny speech on humor) are having books come out. Way to go, writers! The bookstore (15th east and 15th south) is having a launch party for them today from 2-4. Since I plan to stop by and say hey, I completely groomed this morning for the first time since the wrist breakage. Washed hair. Shaved legs. Trimmed nails. Okay. Definitely TMI. BUT IT WAS HARD AND I WAS SHAKING BY THE TIME I FINISHED.

Had strawberries for breakfast. And a Dr. Pepper. Even though I decided last night to stop drinking Dr. Pepper for a month.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Patti's yummy lemon ice cream

A few weeks ago I mentioned in a column that my mom makes a great lemon ice cream. Some readers have asked for it, so here's the recipe she gave me. I do feel the need to say that my mom often cooks "by feel" which can make her an unreliable reporter of measurements. But this looks about right.

4 cups sugar
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
l 1/2 tsp lemon extract
2 quarts milk
1 pint cream

Add ingredients in the above order, putting the cream in last.

Churn, baby, churn.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

humor and kids' books

i was invited by our local chapter of the SCBWI to talk about writing humor for children. I eagerly accepted the invitation because I've had both editors and librarians tell me lately they'd like to see more funny books for kids. But once I began preparing for the talk, I ran into a little trouble. Can you really teach people how to write humor? I was reminded of E. B. White's famous observation that you can certainly analyze humor but it's sort of like dissecting a frog--you kill the thing in the process.

In retrospect, I realize I could have talked a little about joke-writing for kids--a skill I learned from the inimitable Rick Walton. Start with the answer and work backwards. So in other words if you want to write zoo jokes, you pick an animal (hippopotamus), play around with the word (hippopottymouth) and then come up with an appropriate question: what's big and gray and swears a lot?

But I didn't do that. Instead, the best I could come up with was the idea of modeling--pay attention to WHO makes you laugh (Sceizka? Park? Cabot?) and then ask yourself why. And then try to write in the style of . . .

it seemed like a really lame presentation, actually. I was halfway through and I thought to myself "I'm wasting everyone's time." I hate it when I waste people's time this way.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

a good way to depress yourself

watch a re-run of the cybill show. in the middle of the day. on lifeline. wherein cybill is feeling worthless. while you're feeling a little worthless too.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

wrist update

had cast and stitches removed today. bitchin' scar. will wear supportive brace for a month but already have more movement in fingers. soon i will be using the shift key again.

am preparing a presentation on revision strategies for next week at byu's conference. i'd appreciate any sage advice from you fabulous writers out there.

and finally there are cold mashed potatoes in my fridge from kfc and actually i can't think of anything that sounds better.

Monday, June 1, 2009

an unexpected pleasure

i feel fortunate over the years that i have been able to view the business of books from a couple of vantage points--both as a writer and as a bookseller. lately it occurs to me that one of the really great things about being a writer/bookseller is that i have the honor of handselling books by other writers i know.

utah is crazy rich with writers--particularly in the world of children's and ya lit. and everytime i go to work i almost always sell a book by one of our own. saturday night i sold two by jessica day george. last time i sold one by anne bowen. and of course right now carol williams' new title is flying off the shelf.

yep. this is the place for pretty cool writers.

ate some excellent chicken enchiladas dropped off by margaret neville from the bookstore. i love that place. i love the people there.