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I write about nothing, my cats, or what’s on my mind. When I’m busy, this blog will remain untouched, outdated and unloved. Stay tuned, because there are lulls in everything, but nature abhors a vacuum.

Fall 2017 & Spring 2018 Manuscript Workshops with David Ulin

Posted by on Nov 3, 2015 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Fall 2017 & Spring 2018 Manuscript Workshops with David Ulin

While we call it a 200-page manuscript workshop, this means UP TO 200 pages, with a minimum of 100. We’ll even take fewer if you show you’ve got perseverance. Few other workshops invite authors to submit so many pages-this is a great opportunity to have an astute set of eyes see the larger framework of your book and thus provide more comprehensive feedback. Have you been struggling with seeing the vision for your book come to life on the page? Working on a novel or memoir and desperately need a few readers and some critical feedback? At the Ulin Workshop, an exclusive group of your peers, led by professional critic and author, David Ulin, will spend up to two hours diving deep into the core of your project and help you brainstorm around ideas, solving problems, and most importantly, unearthing the potential in your book. Here are a few things we will focus on as well as some key reasons to attend: Close attention and lengthy discussion around your manuscript not only as it stands today but also your intentions for the direction of the story Input on how to get those intentions into motion on the page Characters and their motivations. You have a great character but what is their story and how do you best tell it? Plot – what elements does your story need? Structure – how do you sequence those elements? How might you re-arrange or re-order events to tell a better story? Deadlines get things done. Signing up for the workshop is a great motivator to make some real progress on your project. The value in reading other author manuscripts and organizing your feedback around their work. This can help you see and solve problems in your own work. So far, we’ve had two attendees who have been published in major publishing houses, three who have found top New York agents. All count our workshop as the key to those successes. David L. Ulin is the author of Sidewalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles, shortlisted for the 2016 PEN Literary Award. He’s authored eight previous books, including The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time and the Library of America’s Writing Los Angeles: A Literary Anthology, which won a California Book Award. A 2015 Guggenheim Fellow, he is former book critic and book editor of the Los Angeles Times. Each day of the two-weekend workshop will include discussion of two manuscripts, this means every participant will have half a day of discussion devoted entirely to their own work. The discussion is in depth, honest critique delivered with the authors’ creative intentions in mind. Because of the intensity and personal focus, the workshop is strictly limited to 8 participants. Attendees will be expected to have read the other manuscripts. See below for comments from previous attendees. Coffee and snacks are served throughout the day. On Saturdays, lunch is provided, usually savory pie or soup; Sundays, lunch is on your own. Ivy Salon is located the historic South Park area of San Diego, 3 blocks from a variety of restaurants. If you are coming from out of town, I can suggest a comfortable hotel in nearby Little Italy, or B&Bs within walking distance. Or, Airbnb has been a great option for...

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When We Were Ghouls: A Memoir of Ghost Stories

Posted by on Oct 21, 2016 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

When We Were Ghouls: A Memoir of Ghost Stories

I tried to avoid writing a memoir but my family’s stories wouldn’t let me go. In fact, they grabbed my by the tail and swung hard. After many temper tantrums, much stomping of my feet, and much cursing my fate, I finally wrote down the tales of our travels and travails living in Nigeria, Peru and Bolivia. I’m in the final stages for publication–filling out paperwork for publicity preparation. Soon we will have a pub date, and I’ll be sure to post it here. In the meantime, this is what the book is about: When Amy Wallen learns her parents are grave robbers and her memory is out of focus, she tries to figure out what truly happened. She excavates both their sojourn overseas and how her family was one-by-one sent away from her until she was left alone at the age of seven in Lagos, Nigeria. When We Were Ghouls, A Memoir of Ghost Stories is about a search for family. In 1971, Amy’s blue-collar Southern peripatetic family was transferred from Ely, Nevada to Lagos, Nigeria. From Nevada to Nigeria, and elsewhere, When We Were Ghouls follows a family that has been dispersed around the world, a family who, like ghosts, come and go and slip through Amy’s fingers making it unclear if they were ever there. A cross between Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight and Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family, with some Indiana Jones thrown in, the tale starts in the middle, around a pre-Inca grave her family uncovers. We see her family members appear and disappear in Peru and Bolivia and beyond. On one level the story is about family, but it also represents how with both innocence and denial our worldly treasures are neglected—not just our children, but the artifacts of humanity, and ultimately humanity itself.    ...

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UCSD Novel I Class

Posted by on Apr 2, 2015 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

UCSD Novel I Class

Novels can be daunting tasks.  They can also be a lot of fun. Usually they are both. But with the right tools, the tools of craft, a novel can come together much quicker.  I love teaching Novel I at UCSD Extension. Each week we learn a new aspect of the craft from creating three-dimensional characters to adding suspense and tension. We do some read and critique, and most of all we get ourselves (yes, me included because it’s that much fun) motivated to get the novel written. If you don’t have a first draft, you can’t have a second draft, and you can’t finish unless you revise and rewrite.  That’s why there’s Novel I, II, & III! Starting January 17, 2017, come join me for Novel...

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Love Me Some Death

Posted by on Mar 6, 2015 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Love Me Some Death

I’m the morbidity guru, according to San Diego Voice. I write a semi-regular article for City Beat on Death. The links are below. One about Death Cafes, or at least my sardonic take on these lovely tea and cake events. And another is about my love for graveyards, and obituaries. To me, some of the most interesting people exist in the obituary column, and I’m not talking celebrity obits. Please, I prefer ordinary folk, like the member of the mariachi band for JFK’s funeral, or the inventor of the poodle skirt.  My next article is due out on April 27, and it looks like it will be about Near Death Experience Association. I’m not a believer of the Afterlife, but these folks have some interesting meetings and discussions. Many stories. June, I’m looking into the Hemlock Society. Now there’s  group I can join. If you’re interested in death, afraid of death, or just curious in why anyone would be interested, check out a Death Cafe near you at deathcafe.com. There’s a good chance I’ll be there, sipping tea. Death Cafes: http://www.sdcitybeat.com/sandiego/article-13845-death-café-tea-cake-and-talk-about-the-end.html My love for graveyards and...

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Novels & Memoirs

Posted by on Nov 15, 2014 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Novels & Memoirs

While I write my own books, I also work with others on their novels. I love the process of writing a book. I have just finished my memoir about growing up in Africa and South America (forthcoming from University of Nebraska Press, American Lives Series 2017) and I’m champing at the bit to get back to fiction. The way I keep my appetite whetted is working with students in workshops, classes and one-on-one on their novels and memoirs. I ran the Revisionistas Writing Group for twelve years. Each member is about to finish their own marvelous novel. I also facilitate along with David Ulin 200-page manuscript workshop. Starting in January, I will be teaching Novel I at UCSD Extension. And, I love to edit novels and memoirs to get them to that final stage ready to find an agent. Contact me if you want more information on how I can help you, from keeping the pen to the page, to putting the finishes touches on your...

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Cherry Cabernet Brownies

Posted by on Jun 24, 2014 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Cherry Cabernet Brownies

Here I am wanting to start my recipe blog and never get around it, then one day I’m on facebook and I mention Cherry Cabernet Brownies and everyone wants the recipe, that if I had my blog going I could readily post. Instead, I have to post it here among my other mental meanderings. Alas, it’s still great to share. I’m without a photo of the brownies, so grapes will have to do. I call them Spicy because I add extra cinnamon to almost everything that calls for it. So, if you do the same, be sure to adjust the rest of the dry ingredients accordingly, so the brownies will be moist. Cherries, cinnamon, cabernet and chocolate. Is there really any need for anything else in life?? Here’s the recipe! Cherry Cabernet Brownies Servings: 1 dozen 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted 1 1/2 cups sugar 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract (Trader Joe’s Bourbon Vanilla is delish in this) 3 large eggs 3/4 cup white flour 1/2 cup LESS 2 TB cocoa powder (note the LESS) 2 Tablespoons Cabernet Flour (order online at MarcheNoirFoods.com) 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup dried sweet cherries (also found at Trader Joe’s) 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips. Note: This is a basic brownie recipe with the cabernet flour substituting some of the cocoa powder. I love the extra deepness that the cabernet adds. The flour is simply the grape skins dried and ground to a fine flour-like powder. You can only substitute 8-15% of the recipe’s flour with the cabernet flour. So don’t go crazy. HEAT oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9×9 inch baking dish IN A LARGE BOWL, using an electric mixer, beat together the butter, sugar and vanilla. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until thoroughly combined. IN A MEDIUM BOWL, combine the flour, cocoa powder, cabernet flour, cinnamon and salt. BEAT the dry ingredients into the butter mixture. FOLD in the cherries and chocolate chips. POUR into the baking pan. BAKE 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool before serving. Invite your friends over, serve with milk and/or coffee and wallow in the dark rich yumminess! I’m in piggy heaven over this recipe! If you try it, be sure to let me know how it turned out....

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Saturday & Mr. Kline

Posted by on Jun 24, 2014 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Saturday & Mr. Kline

A co-worker, Mia, liked to tell me that our names were mirror images. A-me. Me-A. Okay. We both worked as drive-up tellers and had many regular customers. One, a sad woman whose little boy dangled himself out the car window while she tried to fill out a check. A veterinarian who tempted us with adoptable abandoned strays. The owner of the pipe and knife store in the mall whose deposit money smelled of cherry almond tobacco. And then Mr. Kline in his green Crown Victoria and bitter scowl. Even though he wasn’t a Merchant, the lanes where he had to manipulate canisters that got sucked up into the vacuum tube were too much trouble, he said, so he always came to the first lane with the automatic drawer meant for large merchant transactions. When Mr. Kline arrived all the other tellers scattered. You didn’t get a thank you, and he looked over all your work with great suspicion. One day I told my fellow tellers that I would make Mr. Kline laugh. They sniffed at me, but they were eager to let me wait on Mr. Kline so they didn’t have to. I would click on my microphone. “Hello, Mr. Kline,” “Mmm,” he’d say back. “How are you today?” I’d ask as I counted his money out. He didn’t budge. One day the sad lady came through and as her brat dangled out of the car I dropped two of the give-away lollipops in the drawer, hoping she’d take one. As she drove off, Mr. Kline pulled in right behind her and I flipped the switch to send the drawer out again and I saw the mom had removed only one sucker. When the drawer opened on Mr. Kline’s side of the wall and he saw the sucker, he held it up. I spoke into my microphone, “It’s for you.” The slightest inkling of a smile showed on his face. An almost smile. The next day Mr. Kline came to make a withdrawal, and instead of dropping the sucker in the drawer, I turned on the microphone and asked, “What flavor lollipop would you like today, Mr. Kline?” He hadn’t looked up or even acknowledged that there was someone on the other side of the window yet, “We have lemon, grape, strawberry and something blue that I don’t know what flavor it is.” He looked at me for a moment, perhaps he didn’t trust a joke when he heard it. Then he said, “Which do you recommend?” “Grape,” I said, “Definitely grape is our most popular.” He didn’t respond. I worked his transaction, then pushed the button to send out his receipt. “Have a great day,” I said. He reached in the drawer and saw that I had put in a lollipop of every flavor. “You have to let me know what you think of the blue one,” I said. He unwrapped it and stuck it in his mouth. With a stiff laugh, he said, “Thank you, Mia.” And drove off. Mia! Mia had been assigned the Merchant Drawer that day. He saw the name plate that was stuck to the window and assumed my name was Mia. I was fine with Mia, after all Mia and I almost had the same name. Weeks later I had been assigned...

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Tuesday and Mrs. Tibbles

Posted by on Jun 24, 2014 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Tuesday and Mrs. Tibbles

Mrs. Tibbles, a character in my next novel, is inspired by a friend and student I had many years ago who had been a Martha Graham dancer. She had that willowy bend to her arms and legs. The lilt of her head that said grace. Her shoulders square and straight, but not soldiery. She worked on a memoir of her dancing days in the writing workshop I facilitated. Her stories were tales of working with Zero Mostel, Tennesee Williams, entertaining Russian delegates in her dinky New York apartment, serving dinner on a table made from her bathroom door laid over two bookcases. I picture her in a velvet and lace red dress while pouring ouzo or chilled vodka into tiny crystal glasses. That last part is in my head, details that arrange themselves based on who I imagine she was. A Vogue model, a true fact I only know because I picked her up to take her to lunch after she left the group, and she showed me around her home. A one-story Southern California middle class two-bedroom, with photos and magazine covers framed and hung here and there. The Cleavers could have lived in this house, and maybe they did. That’s what fascinates me about life: we don’t really know what goes on inside anyone else’s world, home, or their head. I know a lot about what went on in Ellen’s life because she told us in the group. She didn’t write it down. What she wrote was very banal and undetailed. But she would elaborate verbally when we would tell her she needed to tell us more. “Put it on the page!” we would say when she’d relate a story about clomping around her apartment with large tomato juice cans tied to her feet to practice for the Lolapalooza. “Put it on the page! Write it down!” She never did. Ellen was diagnosed with severe Alzheimers. She would lose her way to my house (my living room is where I hold my private groups), and we thought she was bonkers. We’d smile at one another, a look in our eye that translated into “She’s loopy.” We meant it with love. Then she had to leave the group because they took away her car. I continued to stay in touch, to take her to lunch, to try to reach out to her. I didn’t want her stories to disappear. I encouraged her to continue to write. She quit taking her medication “because it makes me dizzy” and what dancer wants to be dizzy. She’d had a good life, the best life anyone could expect, she said. She didn’t see any point in having to stick around for what was to come. One day, after a panicky and disoriented lunch, she called, and said I was the only person who still contacted her. She believed everyone had forgotten her. I never heard from Ellen...

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Three Weeks on The Road

Posted by on Jun 24, 2009 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Three Weeks on The Road

I spent the last three weeks on the road. The first two weeks I was in Saratoga Springs, NY at my favorite annual summer event–New York State Summer Writers Institute. I get to hang out with the likes of Robert Pinsky (who is a great joke teller), Marilynne Robinson (who giggles) and Mary Gordon (who I have a huge crush on), and many other National Book Award, Pulitzer, Literari Emeritus award winners and nominees. Why I am there? I can tell a pretty good joke at the dinner table too. Or at least I think that’s why they keep asking me back. This was my ninth year. As part of my job as writer-in-residence I read student manuscripts. This year I read five novels-in-progress, each one unique and intriguing in its own way. I love the way human beings have these engrossing tales to tell. I especially love that I am lucky to get to read so many. This was my second year on the staff, and so no more dorms for me. But my writer friends did come to my faculty housing and eat M&Ms, drink Saratoga Seltzer water, and gossip until the wee hours of the night. The third week of my road trip I ventured into Manhattan to meet with my agents, Meg Ruley and Christina Hogrebe of the Jane Rotrosen Agency. Meg gave a big thumbs up to the publishing industry and said it was doing well, and would always find its way in this world. The last few days I spent in Texas on what my paramour, Eber Lambert calls Redneck Country Safari. I’ll have to blog about the barbecued goat and pecan groves soon. But we were there for my Dad’s...

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