I had a wonderful time in San Francisco reading from Red Eggs and Good Luck and discussing growing up biracial during the Great American Melting Pot and autographing books for readers. I especially enjoyed the lively discussion with readers who shared the same upbringing that I did. They have inspired me to continue to tell my stories.
Special thanks to my publicist, Eva Zimmerman, for arranging the event and the entire staff of Green Apple Books for making my visit memorable.
Only one more stop on my nationwide book tour…stay tuned.
A special thanks to author Noelle Oxenhandler for the honor of speaking with her memoir writing class this week at Sonoma State University, my alma mater. It was a wonderful experience to return 20 years after I graduated and to share my writing journey with current students. I enjoyed the intimate gathering and appreciated the students who offered valuable feedback on what to read and discuss on my upcoming book tour.
I was honored to be one of several women who read excerpts from Suzanne Sherman’s book 100 Years in the Life of an American Girl to help celebrate the launch of a new series of books chronicling the lives of American females. The first book in the series features stories from girls around the age of thirteen sharing what it was like to grow up in each decade from 1900 to 2000.
The event was held in the main dining room of the French Garden Restaurant in Sebastopol. Photographs from the book were presented in a slide show while music from each decade filled the room. Guests enjoyed champagne, sparkling water, and orange juice while listening to Suzanne share her insights into each decade. Each reader presented a snippet of their stories to a rapt audience.
My story about growing up in the shadow of the American Dream was a prelude to my book-length memoir that will be released later this year.
For those who missed the event, Suzanne will be hosting other readings in the future. You may also purchase a book either directly from Suzanne’s website or through Amazon.
When I went to get my haircut today, my beautician mentioned her eight year old son received a D in writing from his teacher.
“I didn’t even know he was doing poorly,” she said. “When my husband asked what we can do to help bring up his grade next year, the teacher said to have him read more. He already reads a lot. When he finds a book he likes he will read up to one hour at a time.”
“Did the teacher show him how to read like a writer?” I asked.
“I don’t know what she taught him.” My beautician shrugged. “He doesn’t follow directions. He writes only one sentence at a time. The teacher wants him to write three sentences.”
“It sounds like they are working on paragraphs.”
“Yes, but he only writes one sentence. That’s all. The teacher keeps saying he needs to read more.”
Yes, reading can promote better writing. However, someone who reads to learn how to write uses different techniques than someone who reads to learn comprehension. The teacher’s solution to read more sounded glib and ineffective. It didn’t address the student’s real need, which sounded more complex. After all, reading is reading. Writing is writing. They may not be mutually exclusive, but they were not the same.
“Ninety percent of writing is thinking,” I said. “Your son needs someone to help him organize his thoughts.”
The beautician mentioned the young woman who had tutored her son in reading. “I guess we have to ask if she’ll help him with writing.”
“If she can’t, I can help him,” I said.
“I’m a writer,” I said. “I can teach him how to write a paragraph. All he needs is a main idea, two supporting facts, and a final sentence to tie it all together.”
“But you have a job,” my beautician said. “When will you find time?”
I didn’t know. Between the many things I did to earn a living, writing was only one of them. But I couldn’t let someone fail to learn how to express himself through words.
“I can teach him on the weekends for an hour. I’ll give him assignments he can work on during the week. He can start by writing you a daily letter. In the meantime, have him copy a paragraph out of one of his favorite books. By physically writing down the words in that paragraph, he will start to see how someone else organizes his thoughts. Ask him to explain what each sentence means and how it all works together. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but that’s how you need to read in order to learn how to write. You just can’t sit down and read a book to become a writer. You have to take every sentence apart and discover how and why it works.”
She thanked me for the offer and said she would discuss it with her husband before calling me.
While I waited to hear back from her, I wondered how this young boy learned and what it would take to instruct him. The only thing of which I was certain was he would learn how to write well because his parents were determined to find someone capable of teaching him, whether or not that person was me. And that was all that mattered.
Although my short story collection, The Human Act and Other Stories, will not be released from All Things That Matter Press in time for the 2012 holiday shopping season, three new short stories are available for purchase, either as gifts for your favorite reader or as a treat for yourself.
An all-time reader favorite with over 800 buys during its initial release, “Sex and Four Sisters,” chronicles the unexpected twists and turns our sexuality influences our lives.
“Your Eyes” is a romantic short story about first loves, midlife crises, and the surprising discoveries we make once we face the mistakes of our past.
Want a taste of what’s coming in my short story collection? “All We Need Is a Little Magic” is the follow up story to “Hope in the Laundry Room,” which is featured in The Human Act and Other Stories.
I left the house early in the morning for the pilgrimage to San Francisco, knowing I would be battling against traffic for Fleet Week, America’s Cup, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, a Giant’s game and a 49er’s game in addition to the 13th annual Litquake.
Thinking I would ignore my knowledge of the city and trust my benevolent GPS, I drove through Chinatown and the red light district, nearly burning out my engine from the stop and go on the hilly streets. My temperature dangerously rose as I wondered why I didn’t just go around the marina. The drive would have been longer, more scenic, and more importantly flat. But, alas, I thought the almighty GPS knew best, even when I was stuck in traffic beside a jazz bar where handsome young men stood outside holding naked Kewpie dolls.
I found parking in a flat rate garage two blocks from the venue and ate an overpriced spicy turkey sandwich on focaccia bread at Andersen Bakery. I could have done without the secret mayonnaise-based sauce, but I was too lazy to drag my suitcase full of books down to The Grove for a to-die-for grilled cheese sandwich and homemade kettle chips for the same price. Even though the ambiance would have been inspiring, with tree trunks woven with lights growing inside the building and the pigeon who lived on top of a moose head above the wood paneled doors. Alas, my mother was right— laziness was my downfall.
I arrived at the Preview Room at the historic Hobart building an hour before meeting with my fellow Bay Area Hedgebrook alumnae panelists to discuss our one hour presentation. The lounge was a warm reception area full of colorful art by local artists, cozy couches, and an assortment of books from the previous presenters. The woman who registered me for the event commented on how impressed she was with my organizational skills. It was something she found otherwise lacking in “creatives”. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I was married to a former Boy Scout whose advice I took to heart when preparing for a presentation. It was better she imagined I was one of those extraordinary writers who outline their plot twists and execute their literary devices with surgical precision.
Since my publicist was unavailable, I didn’t have someone taking photos on my behalf, which meant I was relying on the publicist hired by or volunteering for the event to provide any promotional footage. Needless to say, I have nothing but the photographs I took of the building. I don’t even have a photo of my fellow panelists in the lobby before the presentation.
The theater where we read and spoke was privately owned by Variety, a nonprofit group benefiting disabled, critically-ill, and disadvantaged children without proper access or coverage by insurance, hospitals, or government agencies. We sat at a table onstage. The strategic lighting allowed us to see the audience, which was both welcomed and disconcerting. Sometimes I couldn’t tell whether the people closing their eyes were mediating on the spoken word or taking a nap, much like parishioners at a church. However, I did notice everyone had their eyes open when they laughed at my comment about the male reader who contacted me through my Facebook Fan Page to question how I knew about the NSA and national security when I was a woman writer who supposedly only wrote about her life.
Natalie Baszile, a fellow Hedgebrook alum and Grotto author, introduced us before we discussed what it meant to be a woman writer writing for change, how marginalizing it was to be a woman writer when women cannot afford to be marginalized, and the tension we experienced between advocating for change and creativity, between the logical mind and the creative mind.
Anne Finger read a riveting essay, “Potato,” that explored how a tiny vegetable symbolized more than just sustenance for a community of people enduring food rations.
Toni Mirosevich read a circuitous essay with a mastery of language I found compelling and discussed the tension between teaching graduate creative writing students and drafting her own work.
Judith Tannebaum explored the tension between her writing and her teaching inmates in San Quentin. Tannebaum’s speech was laced with a dramatic presentation of her poetry and her humbling personal experiences.
I discussed how the repercussions of the Great Recession inspired my novel, Out of Balance, about a stay-at-home wife and mother’s ambivalence about being forced into the workforce.
Together we answered questions from the audience about how our writing about the larger world was reflected in the intimate details of our writing; our experience as residents of Hedgebrook, a retreat for women writers in Puget Sound; and the conflict between how much we give to others through our writing and how much we give ourselves.
After the presentation, we autographed and sold our books in the lobby of the Preview Room before the next event began.
I was honored to be part of this annual event and am looking forward to finding archived footage of the live broadcast to share with those of you who could not, for one reason or another, be present.