Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Those are storyteller's words, the kind of words that make you slyly tilt your head to steal the essence of someone else's conversation if you happen to overhear them in public. Or of if spoken directly to you, they are words that invite you to lean closer, to listen more deeply, to prepare to hear a secret.

The first time I heard them was in a wondrous little restaurant called The Good Harvest Cafe in Crescent City. Marilyn had recommended it, and since I was in her home town, I knew I wouldn't be disappointed. The huevos rancheros with avocado were the best ever.

But this isn't a post about food. This is about Serious Life Transformations, and the occasional necessity of eavesdropping to get them.

While Ted read the paper, I sipped my coffee and took in the scenery. The couple at the next table were middle-aged, and appeared to be on some kind of a date. Their body language was restrained, and they were telling each other their lives, as people do in that situation. Condensing. Highlighting. Perhaps embellishing a little.

Finally, the man said, "My whole life changed when I decided that every time I was tempted to complain about the state of the world, I would stop and do something instead. Even if it was something really small."

He then described how he'd moved into a subdivision where everyone drove bicycles instead of cars, and started some kind of solar company. (I'm fuzzy on the details, but being an eavesdropper, I wasn't allowed to ask questions.)

I'm not sure what his date who was eating buckwheat pancakes with no syrup and water thought about his story, but the eavesdropper who was devouring her huevos and sipping coffee from a huge mug has been thinking about it ever since. And in some small, but amazing way, my life was changed, too.

The second time I heard those mystical words was in Chicago at one of those sparsely attended readings that writers are supposed to find so humiliating. But if there had been more people present, I might never have gotten to hear Heather's story about her years in the peace corps in Bulgaria.

My whole life changed when I saw how people dealt with hardship in that country. If the power went out, which it did frequently, or they couldn't get where they wanted to go, or things didn't go their way, they didn't fume or yell at someone or wring their hands like we sometimes do. They just dealt with it. Living among them, I felt like I grew up. that I think about it, her story wasn't all that different from the man in the Good Harvest Cafe.

And once again, my life changed subtly in the hearing of it.

The third time was also in Chicago (obviously a profound city) when a guest at my friend Susan's party told me her life had changed when her husband retired and decided to take a Great Books Course.

As the books he consumed altered, and excited her husband, the wife found herself growing hungry for what he had. She entered college and earned a degree in English Literature. Her only motive? A love of learning and an avid desire to open herself to the transformation truly great books offer.

So here it is, the existential question of the week: When was the last time your whole life changed?

Saturday, March 24, 2007

10 thoughts about THE KITCHEN

Alice In Domesticland, originally uploaded by BrittneyBush.

1. When I looked around for an interesting kitchen photo, I found a startling abundance of sexy ones. Naked people ambling across the linoleum. Women in lacy lingerie sprawling on the granite countertops. That kind of stuff. I wonder the kitchen in the sexiest room in the house--or the one where sexiness is most forbidden?

2. Yellow is a very good color for kitchens. If I were queen, I would order all kitchens painted yellow at once.

3. Every kitchen should have a kitchen table, even if it's a little one where you can sit in a bathrobe with a cup of coffee and a notebook in the morning and look out at the birds.

4. My kitchen doesn't! (The queen would like that rectified at once.)

5. My favorite item in the kitchen is a little bench my father made for my kids when they were little. The only one who sits on it now is me.

6. It's good to contemplate the world from a little bench on the kitchen floor every now and then.

7. I hate the idea of having a TV in the kitchen. If I were queen, I would forbid it. If you want noise while you're cooking, the queen insists you have to sing.

8. In my grandmother's kitchen, breakfast was a three course meal: first fruit, then oatmeal (the slow cook kind), then fried eggs and toast. She always sang when she prepared it, too.

9. The best kind of floor is the black and white checked kind that I so admired in Laini's kitchen. Along with no TV, and no walking naked through the kitchen (unless it's late at night and you're really hungry) and mandatory kitchen tables for all, and singing even if your voice is really bad, the queen would order black and white checked floors for everyone. And a little bench where the cat can come up and brush against your knees. Don't forget the little bench.

10. If everyone sang while they made their oatmeal, it would not only taste better, it would lower cholesterol 22% more than it already does. Exactly 22%. If you don't believe me, the queen will commission a survey to prove it.

10 and a half: Once, just once, I want to wash dishes wearing shoes and socks like the ones in the photograph by Brittney Bush! Now that's sexiness in the kitchen. And look at the yellow!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


seagulls 1

Years ago, when I was expecting to become a bestselling author at any moment, I read up on book tours. I hadn't much thought about the minor details, like say, sitting down and writing a book, but I had the ten-city author tour planned in intricate detail.

And since this was important to me, I retained a lot of what I read, too. Unfortunately, just like all the advice I've absorbed about organizing your life or reaching Nirvana in ten easy steps, knowledge doesn't always translate into action.

Conventional Wisdom: Don't overpack. Bring simple, coordinating items that hold their press.

What I did: Pack absolutely everything I owned, and then mostly wore my jeans and a favorite black sweater (rumpled, of course.)

with Ed at M is for Mystery
("The sweater" and me with Ed Kaufman at M is for Mystery)

Conventional Wisdom: Eat light, high protein meals that will give you an edge. Since you'll probably be eating crappy hotel food anyway, you might want to pack some trail mix.

What I did: Gorged myself in some of the best restaurants I've ever visited.

(The clock at Fuller's in Portland where the hash browns, the easy banter among patrons at the counter and the atmosphere definitely made breakfast the most nutritious meal of the day.)

Conventional Wisdom: If you're a debut author, be prepared for the humiliating experience of reading to crowds of two or three at bookstores.

What I did: Okay, a couple of times, you might say the crowds were less huge than I might have hoped. But I took that as an opportunity to really get to know the amazing few who turned out. As a result, I thoroughly enjoyed every experience.

book cellar
(With Irish coffee in Chicago on St. Patrick's Day. I really should have been wearing green, but I couldn't resist the lure of the black sweater...and besides, I've got the proverbial map of Ireland on my face.)

Conventional Wisdom: Separated from your family and friends, your days on the road can be a lonely experience.

What I did: Traveled with my husband, and met up with the most wonderful, generous friends a wandering writer ever had in every place I visited. Lonely? Not for a minute.

acting like tourists in SF

Conventional Wisdom: A book tour is a grueling experience, but it will further your career. Keep your eyes straight ahead, and you will get through it.

What I did: Keep looking upward. Otherwise you might miss out on the wonder and amazement.

outside crescent city

Special thanks to everyone who made my book tour the experience of a lifetime:

Sky and her wonderful husband for an amazing day in Seattle, and one of the finest dinners I've ever had.


Laini and Jim who hosted a delightful party in Portland. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera that night, but Laini has some great shots on her blog. Thanks, too, to Alexandra, Neil and Sophia, and Maggie! Leroy also made a huge impression and kept me from missing my dogs quite so much.

Marilyn who shared her hometown, acted as my personal tour guide to the wonders of California, and planned a terrific party with her friends.


Marc Lecard, the first member of Killer Year I've had the pleasure of meeting in person. Thanks to Marc and his wife Jane for coming out after a long day's work--and also for a couple of great restaurant recommendations. Both The Stinking Rose and The House of Nanking were divine.

with Marc Lecard
(Holding Marc's terrific new novel, Vinnie's Head which garnered a starred review in Publishers' Weekly, and was a Booksense pick for March)

The fabulous Jordan Rosenfeld who combined a Liar's Party with a bookstore reading for a uniquely wonderful event at BookSmart in Morgan Hill. Thanks, too, to Cinda and Brad for their warm welcome and everything they did to promote the event.

Jordan and me!
(Please click to get a better look at Jordan's terrific smile. But oh-my-god, where is my black sweater?)

Heather, who inspired me with her conversation--not to mention treating me to the best cupcake I've ever had at The Book Cellar in Chicago.

with heather

And Susan Messer, who introduced me to a fascinating group of new friends at an afternoon Liar's Bash, and with her husband, Jim, brought Chicago to life for Ted and me.

the brides
(Feeding each other the special blueberry pie we bake for our muses every August. This year we expect great things.)

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

You almost feel like you could fly without the plane...

Photo by addicted Eyes who also supplied title for this post and a quote that describes exactly how I feel. Click on the image to see more of his work (and some more great quotes, too.)

“It is the greatest shot of adrenaline to be doing what you have wanted to do so badly. You almost feel like you could fly without the plane.” -Charles Lindbergh

So this is what's happening. In a little more than twenty-four hours, I'm
leaving on my own funky book tour--a combination of readings at
some truly fantastic and unique book stores, and Liars' Parties with my amazing blog friends. (Expect lots of pictures.)

What's more I'll be visiting incredible cities that I've longed to see all my life, but never have.

I'll be looking at a different ocean and contemplating the world from an entirely different perspective. I have no doubt my soul will be rocked like a boat.

I'll also be visiting a city on a lake that's so impressive, it looks like an ocean. For the first time in my life, I'll be drinking my St. Paddy's day pint in a pub that's far from New England.

I'll be meeting some of you, who I've come to know so well here in the sphere.

Even better, Ted is going with me.

If any of you are near these areas and have a chance to come and see me, I would be thrilled to see you in person.

The where and when:

Seattle Mystery Bookshop
March 10th
Noon-2 p.m.

Book Passage
Corte Madeira, CA
(Drop by signing, but if you're in the area...)
March 14th
10 a.m.

M is for Mystery
San Mateo, California
March 14th
7-9 p.m.

Morgan Hill, CA
March 15th
6 p.m.

The Book Cellar
March, 17th

On the 16h I fly to Chicago, and then home on the 18th. Till then, it will probably be pretty quiet around here.

Now maybe I better start thinking about packing...

Sunday, March 04, 2007


Smoking, originally uploaded by noamgalai.

* First of all, let me say something about the photo, which was taken by the outstanding New York photographer known as Noam Galai. I'm reasonably certain that the man in the photograph (who looks like Bob Dylan to me, but is probably--or almost definitely--NOT) is smoking nothing illegal. Just wanted to make that clear.

Now for the question which inspired this post, taken from an intriguing meme on Zhoen's blog.

Have you ever smoked heroin?

1. No.

2. I probably wouldn't be announcing it on the worldwide web if I did.
(They arrest you for that kind of stuff, don't they?) Then again, I tend to be pretty naive. If I had heroin for breakfast, I'd probably be feeling the need to confess here and now.

And 3. They smoke it? Really? I thought they just "shot" it. Hmm...If I ever was going to use heroin in any form--which would probably only occur if I was terminally ill or all my loved ones were killed in a train crash--smoking it sounds more appealing than the vein-popping method.

The truth is I've never smoked much of anything. I never got the hang of inhaling noxious stuff into my lungs, and whenever I tried, I ended up embarrassing myself by choking, sputtering and hacking in front of the friends I was trying to impress with my cool.

It wasn't from lack of trying either. Growing up in a mill town, the art of cigarette dangling was practically de riguer. By the time I was thirteen, everyone I knew was packing Marlboros in their jacket pocket. I tried to cave in to peer pressure; really I did!

Unfortunately, like the much-ridiculed ex-President, I never inhaled. I did do a hell of a good imitation though (and I'm willing to bet that Bill did, too).

The good news is that faking it is not addictive, and I never got hooked. The bad news--if there is any bad news in NOT developing a deadly habit--is that my friends quickly tired of lending me their butts.

In other words, it was a short-lived phase.

When a joint was passed in college dorm rooms an at concerts , I quickly learned that pretending was even more necessary to my image than it had been when I snuck a feigned smoke outside the middle school. Fortunately, the light was provided by a candle or otherwise dimmed--or maybe everyone else was so high they didn't notice.

A few times, despite my ability to really inhale the stuff, I actually thought I was high, too. I giggled, I got the munchies--the whole routine. Now I'm left wondering if it was more a testament to the power of imagination than the trace narcotic I got from puffing.

I'll never know. But I do know how you tell a real smoker from a faker: We may puff, but we never purchase--particularly not when cash is scarce and the objects of my real addiction--chocolate chip cookies (!)--were available at the all-night snack bar.

Interestingly enough, most of my characters are mad smokers. But then, living in one of my books, has got to be pretty stressful. They are, after all, suspense novels.

The good news: my characters are among the most resilient and determined people I know, and every one of them is trying to quit...Maybe by the time I reach book #5 or 6, it will be a smoke-free world.

Saturday, March 03, 2007


There are books you read, and then there are books you inhabit. For me, The Dead Fathers Club was in the latter category.

In the course of reading this novel, I lived in the mind of a sensitive, funny, complicated eleven year old boy who's struggling mightily with the sudden loss of his father.

I lived over the pub his father used to own, but which was now being taken over by the dreaded Uncle Alan; and I nursed my secret suspicion that Uncle Alan was after more than the family business. When he started putting his hand on my mother's bum and buying me a Playstation, my worst fears were confirmed.

If grieving over a father who appears regularly as a highly demanding ghost, and trying to protect my mother from Uncle Alan weren't enough, I also had to worry about everything else eleven year-olds agonize over: getting picked last on the soccer team, being bullied at school, and deciding whether or not I should kiss the girl who had the most beautiful red-brown hair I'd ever seen.

At first, to be honest, I wasn't sure I wanted to live in the mind of an eleven-year-old boy, nevermind one with so many troubles. The first two or three chapters, I wondered what I'd gotten myself--and the huge membership of the Third Day Book Club--into this time. Was this a children's book I was reading? I checked the cover art skeptically.

As it turned out, it was a people's book. You could read it if you were eleven, but you could enjoy it if you were eighty, too. (And yes, it is like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time in that sense.) The deeper I went into it, the harder I found it to emerge. And when I did? I found myself thinking in the voice of the young protagonist.

I won't say more, because I don't want to spoil the marvelous, complex and surprising conclusion for anyone who might read it. But I will say I loved this book. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I kept talking about it at my readings this week.

A couple of times, my helpful husband had to poke me and say, "Excuse me, but aren't you supposed to be promoting The Liar's Diary?"

So, oh yes: Read The Dead Father's Club, and that other book with the punchy title? Read that, too. Rumor has it they're both fantastic.

Other reviews of Matt Haig's novel:


Friday, March 02, 2007


obituary, originally uploaded by bryan_schuetz.

...and leave behind astonishing stories and inspiring legacies that just beg to be captured in the one-line obituaries.

While searching through Flickr for a photo to illustrate my post, I found this one, which was posted by Brian Schuetz. (Click photo to see more of his work.)

I'm not sure when Tommy Williams died or where he lived, but reading about him in the early hours of March 3, 2007, his life once again had resonance.

A few more:

Keith Kyle, historian and writer: "He was devoid of guile and incapable of envy."

Alan McDiarmid, scientist and Nobel laureate, speaking for himself: "I am a very lucky person and the harder I work, the luckier I seem to be."

Mai Ghoussob, Publisher, writer and artist: "She was without compromise, but she always cared for everyone."

Job Bwayo, renowned scientist and AIDs researcher, killed in a carjacking: "Bwayo had a towering physique, a smile for everyone, and an expression that gave hope to all."

Celia Franca, dancer, choreographer and teacher: "If I was born to anything, it was to start a ballet company and boss people around."

Howver, Thomas Williams, who made the caretaking of graves into a solemn avocation, come upon by accident on Flickr, was the one who made it hardest to choose a single line .

There was this: "He had never required the services of a physician or a dentist in his life."

And this: "Grief stricken families found in him a sympathetic listener."

Or perhaps it is the simplest line of all that says it best: "Mr. Williams was a kindly man."