Friday, June 29, 2012

Stingray alert!

Remember how my son Geoffrey got stung by a stingray here two years ago?  Well, my daughter-in-law Kendell got stung yesterday.

On the plus side we knew what to do this time around.  We didn't stand around, wondering whether or not my brother Jimmy should urinate on her foot.  We immediately got that foot into some hot water, ran her up to the ER, and pumped her full of antibiotics.  Because she is tough and awesome, she was even able to participate in the Family Olympics last night wherein she perfectly nailed my brother John with a water balloon.

Nice work, Kendell!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Boys of Summer, 1955

Every day an old man pulls up in a van with a picture on the back of five young men, holding surfboards while looking tan and trim in swimming trunks--the kind Barbie's boyfriend, Ken, wore back when Barbie and Ken were first invented.    Underneath the caption reads:  "Boys of Summer, 1955."

He sits in the van all day with his window down, looking out at Doheny Point, possibly remembering the summer he and Moondoggie and the Big Kahuna fell all over themselves in an effort to impress Gidget (short for "girl midget").   Part of me thinks this is sad.  Another part of me (and I'm very serious about this) thinks, dude.  What could be more awesome than to hang at the beach all day, thinking about good times?

I have the sense he wants people to stop and ask him about those days.  And maybe I will.  But I'm almost afraid he'll tell me more than I want to know.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Conversation overheard whilst sitting here at a McDonald's in Dana Point

One patron to another patron:  "Hell, I just got my third criminal trespassing notice.  I don't even know what that means."

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Yesterday morning I took a long run on the beach from here to the San Clemente pier.  It's a nice beach to run because parts of it are quite secluded due to limited access from the road.  That's probably why I saw a single crane just standing there.  No one around to bother it.

Have you ever seen a crane up close?  They're HUGE.  And this one was standing as still as death.  As I approached, it didn't flinch.  Not a bit . . . until I was a few feet away.  And then with a flick of reptilian eye, it took flight, beating the air with broad prehistoric wings until it glided over the water and into sky.

Awesome.  Truly.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Reporting from the Beach

Beach Week!

Jimmy and I were remembering Vacations of Our Youth.  He remembered the time we stayed at a Motel 6, back in the day when you had to pay for air time by dropping quarters in the slot.  We were watching  THE BABE RUTH STORY (it seems like we were always watching baseball biopics) when the money ran out.  There were no more quarters to be had.  And so our dad told us how the movie ended.

"Babe Ruth dies," he said.

Friday, June 22, 2012

WIFYR 2012: The Final Day

Dear WIFYR 2012 Cannonballs,

You guys have been awesome.  THANK you for bringing your A-game to our class each day.  I have enjoyed getting to know you so very, very much.

Here are a few things I'll remember--

Jared's epic mullet
Linda's calming, intelligent presence
Elizabeth's willingness to step outside her comfort zone
Tabitha's rockin' lyrics
Rebecca's great southern dialogue
Katy's rendering of TOUGH BORIS
Heather's moving story about her experience in China
Fatma's kind eyes and elegant stories from another country

Keep writing.  I mean it.

WIFYR DAY FOUR (yesterday)

Yesterday Trent Reedy spoke in the plenary session.  A veteran of the Afghanistan war, Reedy has written an acclaimed novel about an Afghani girl called WORDS IN THE DUST.  His personal story is nothing short of electrifying.  And, of course, when you listen to someone like Trent, you have that moment where you say to yourself, "I haven't been a soldier in Afghanistan.  What do I have to write about?"

I do take comfort in David Sedaris's words:  "My students were middle-class kids who were ashamed of their background.  They felt like unless they grew up in poverty, they had nothing to write about .. . I felt sorry for these kids, that they thought their whole past was absolutely worthless because it was less than remarkable."

We all have stories.  That is all.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


I find by the time Wednesday rolls around during conference week my brain feels like a sponge that has been wrung dry.  An old sponge that leaves little moldy (also smelly) bits of itself in the cleaning bucket.  Which means that people just go "ew" when they pick it up.  So they throw it away along with the empty Sausage McMuffin wrapper left over from breakfast.  And then they drive to
WalMart to buy a new one.  Or possibly more than one if the price is right.  Which is always awesome when you can buy two sponges for the price of one.

So yeah.  That's how I feel right now.  Conference week is equal parts exhilarating and exhausting.  The exhausting part hit today.  More of the exhilarating part will hit tomorrow.

Meanwhile, a participant gave me a simple, brilliant idea.  I talked about the importance of showing up daily to do the work.  Write 500 words a day and you'll have a novel by the end of the year.  The participant said, "And give yourself a gold star on a calendar every day you write your 500 words."  And you know what?  I AM ALL OVER THAT IDEA.

Will write for gold stars.  That's my new motto, people.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

WIFYR 2012 Day Two

Every beginning should beg a question--that's the theme of agent John Cusick talk's on writing the opening bit that'll grab an agent's/editor's attention.  How did THIS happen?  How did the narrator end up here?

It's a good talk with lots of concrete examples.  Makes me want to get better.

Monday, June 18, 2012

WIFYR 2012

So today was the first day of the WIFYR conference, and it was great fun to see many familiar faces.  Also, I always learn new things, too.  Today in my breakout session wherein I discussed types of journaling authors can do, one woman said a friend of hers keeps a visual journal while she works on a novel--pictures of characters and places, along with graphs and timelines and everything else.

As long as something like this doesn't distract you from the writing itself, I think it's a great idea.  LOTS of fun to be had there, right?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Why the Face?

Here's what editors tell writers when discussing picture books:  "We want books with actual story arcs--we want a character who has a problem and who works to solve that problem.  Also NO RHYMING!!!!"

And yet . . .

I spent all day yesterday and part of this morning reviewing new books for The King's English publication (THE INKSLINGER), and pretty much all of the books violated these rules.  They rhymed.  And many of them didn't have much of a story--just charming moments.  So (as Phil Dunphy says) Why The Face?

I will say this.  I do think picture books that have some sort of a storyline wear better than those that don't.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Now here's a place we didn't necessarily expect to be

So last night Ken and I and a couple of the brothers journeyed up to Ogden to watch Q. and his band play in a club.  As I sat (at midnight) looking around at pictures of skeletons decorating the walls while my son killed it on stage, I couldn't help but think I hadn't thought this is what my life would look like back in the day when I put my little boys in matching outfits and marched them over to Olan Mills for family portraits.

But I'm glad it does.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


This morning as I ran in Liberty Park through light and half-light, light and half-light while shadows slanted through the pines, I felt like there was something almost primordial about the experience--running barefoot at dawn through trees and so forth.  And I thought it would have been cool to be something pre-historic like a druid.

Except, of course, for the part where you were running because woolly mammoths wanted to eat you.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


This is a bungalow I run past every morning, and actually there are four (not just the two you see here) stone lions guarding this house.  I always go YOU GUYS ARE AWESOME because it takes a certain amount of self-discipline to guard a modest Salt Lake City bungalow and keep a straight face when you're a stone lion who was meant to decorate the front yard of Buckingham Palace.

Rock on, Stone Lions.  Rock on.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A little melancholy tonight

I think I've mentioned before that I have a strange, inexplicable affection for island music even though it always makes me cry, and I'm not even kidding.  You'd think I was a sloppy Irish drunk listening to Oh, Danny Boy.  Which also makes me cry.  (Johnny Cash did a lovely version of the song on his awesome AMERICAN IV album.)


Not long ago when I was listening to The Descendants soundtrack, I was overwhelmed by a desire to take one last trip to Hawaii with my parents.  We have a little bit of history there because of the Football Years.  In fact, the only stadium where I thought the opposing team's fans might set my hair on fire was at Aloha Stadium.  Man, those guys HATED BYU, and whenever you sat in the stands you felt like you were caught up in a rolling riot.  In Tehran.  Sports Illustrated once listed my dad as Hawaii's Public Enemy Number One.  And yet off the field, he and my mother were treated with incredible warmth wherever they went.

So I was thinking it would be nice to walk along the beach again with them and play the "remember when" game.  Remember when we drove all over Oahu in that borrowed Trans Am listening to an 8-track CCR tape?  Remember when Sculley was still alive and he and Lou had us to dinner at their place?  Remember the geckos that skittered across the ceilings where we stayed?  Remember when Jim and I took surfing lessons, and I almost got hit by an outrigger canoe when I broke the water's surface?  Remember when Joe took us to the airport in his squad car and turned on his siren so we didn't have to stop at any red lights?

But how would it be to return to a place you loved together, knowing that would be the last time?  How could you bear it?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

I wrote

2,000 words today and 2,000 words yesterday.  I am muscling my way through, people.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Now here's a skill set I wish I had

This morning on our walk, Nancy and I were talking about that experience we've all had--the experience of getting TRAPPED by the person who completely monopolizes you for two. freaking. hours. and. you. can't. make. them. stop. talking. and. you. can't. escape.  She'd had that experience at the library last night.  I'd had it at work the night before.  I got cornered by a customer who took me on an incredibly detailed guided tour of the thought processes she employs while parenting, even though there were other customers standing around, waiting for me to help them.  I wanted to put my head in an oven.

Nancy said, "Here's what we need.  We need skills that will help us get out of those situations . . . "  At this point I thought she was going to say "like the ability to say sayonara, sucker."  But she surprised me.  Instead, Nancy said,  "We need skills that will help us get out of those situations like the ones Jeannie had in I DREAM OF JEANNIE or those characters in STAR TREK who said BEAM ME ABOARD!"

And I was all YOU'RE RIGHT.  So here's to acquiring a brand new skill set with a full complement of futuristic, magical (and also awesome) powers.

(Meanwhile, why do I always want to put MY head in the oven?  Shouldn't I want to put the other person's head there instead?)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

As if you really wanted to look at my feet

However, here they are.  This is what they look like after I've gone barefoot running.

I decided today that one of the reasons that I like running barefoot is that I have to pay attention to what my feet are doing while I'm running so that I don't step on dirty needles, shards of glass, and so forth.  In other words, at the risk of sounding all Zen, I have to be thoroughly in the moment when my feet are naked, and I am cutting through the mud and grass.  I can't be busy spinning scenarios of future catastrophes for me and mine, a skill in which I awesomely excel.  (HIGH FIVE ME!  WAY TO SPIN THOSE SCENARIOS OF CATASTROPHE!)  In stead I have to pay attention to what's happening now.

Running barefoot = mood meds.

Monday, June 4, 2012

How life is

I know this fabulous woman Connie who has a sharp, cynical wit for which she is much celebrated by her friends and co-workers.  I've been thinking about something she said recently--people think she's a straight shooter because she isn't afraid to call bullshit on something.  But lately she's begun to ask herself why people seem to equate "cynical" with "truthful."  Truth can be dark.  But it can be light, too.  And ignoring that fact just makes you the flip side of a Pollyanna.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

When a good series goes bad . . .

As I've said before, I have cherished the Hamish Macbeth novels by M.C. Beaton.  So!  Much!  I've adored  the Scottish setting (Brigadoon with an edge), the quirky characters, the mildly malicious humor.  Some titles have been better than others, of course, but for years now I've found the series to be consistently enjoyable.

Last year's DEATH OF A CHIMNEY SWEEP, however, felt rushed and underdeveloped--LOTS of telling, not much showing.  Still, I was eager to read this year's DEATH OF A KINGFISHER, which I did today and . . .  wow.  For me the novel was hugely disappointing--disjointed and strangely unlikeable.  Seriously, I don't think I'll read another.

Writers--particularly ones who have successful series--are under a lot of pressure to produce.  As a reader, I get that.  I've been looking forward to a new Hamish each February for years now.  But that pressure can ultimately kill the goose that lays the golden egg.

Bottom line?  I'm just so bummed.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The How-To List

I told my writer friend Stephanie that I'd mostly manage to write 1,000 words per day this week.  She kindly complimented me and then asked what the difference between this week and other weeks had been.  I thought about her question.  What was the difference?  I finally realized I had made a determined decision to bump the writing part up my daily To-Do list.  And then I made a specific plan about how that writing would happen.  What time would I write?  Where?  What did I have to ignore to get it done?

I'm a big fan of To-Do lists.  In fact, tomorrow's column is devoted to the topic.  But I'm beginning to realize that identifying what you want to do isn't enough.  You have to make a plan.  You have to make a How-To list.