Tuesday, February 27, 2007



Here in Hawaii we are known for our geckos. Green. Brown. Speckled.
Tiny glue-like feet clinging to a surface loosening only when you pass underneath.
Falling onto some exposed body part or annihilating itself inside some difficult to clean machinery.
I've had them drop down my shirt, ricochet off my chest and bounce into pancake batter.
(Don't worry Gordon, I fished him out.) I am fairly certain 375 degrees kills lizard cooties.
So. What does reptilian shrapnel have to do with writing?
Well. Their tenacity for one thing.
They stick to everything those lizards.
Kind of like excessive adjectives.
Improperly placed adverbs.
And Homeric similes.

His hands slid into his gloves like a well-greased bearing inside a brushed steel wheel with a Goodyear MT Baja all terrain radial tire.

75 degrees and 10 pm.
My nitwittery continues unabated. Hurtling unchecked down the proverbial highway of manic writing.
I like a good metaphor.
I love a bad one even better.
Similes make me smile. The more the merrier. The grander. The amazingly obtuse and the excessively obscure.
Hey Jude.
Allusions. Illiterate alliterations. Perturbations.
I'm done now.
With my literary tantrum.
And this is all due to my reptilian inspiration: The lizards of Hawaii.
Long live the gecko.
The mighty mighty gecko.
What inspires you to lunacy?

Sunday, February 25, 2007



Nitwittery- The process or act of being a nitwit. Especially prevalent condition among writers. Touloose gives a visual demonstration of the principal.

S*** happens.
You go into a diatribe against certain books and find out the person you are talking to writes in that genre.
You send out an e-query -- realize you misspelled the agent's name -- resend another this time misspelling your own name and the agent's in an entirely different way.
All of us have these stellar moments in our lives.



12:30 pm and 81 degrees.
My greatest single nitwittery happened at my very first writers' conference on Maui. I met my sister there and we shared a room. I was nervous, excited, and loud.
But not as loud as my sister. She shrieked. She laughed. She howled. Not usually a problem but it happened to be 5 am. There was a rapid insistent pounding on our hotel room door. My sister fled to the bathroom abandoning me. I answered to reveal our bleary eyed pissed neighbor.
"Could you both keep it down? We're trying to sleep here!" The voice is not amused.
Some people have no sense of humor.
"Uh sorry."
We muffled our giggles each time we passed our neighbor in the hallway
Embarrassing yes, but not the end of the world.
Until my first scheduled consultation with a real live agent from New York City.
You guessed it.
It was the woman who rapped on our door. Our neighbor. Her eyes narrowed and hardened.
My mouth opened and closed but nothing came out. When I regained my speech, I blathered, I stuttered.
"Uh. Gee. Uh sorry."
I think I pitched. I am not sure.
I do not remember.
Needless to say, the agent was not interested in my premise, in my writing or anything else I had to say including my partial. I sent it to her anyway 6 months later hoping she would forget.
I scrawled on the outside of the envelope: "Met in Maui: Requested Material."
Maybe I should have written: "Disturbed your sleep and gave you a migraine the size of a tractor-trailer in Maui." "Neighbors from hell in Maui." or even "Look, I-can't-help-it-if-my-sister-is-loud-I-just-answered-the-door- but-look-at-my-pages-anyway: Maui."
It happens to all of us.
What is yours?

Thursday, February 22, 2007


This is it. The master copy. I use green pencils and decide if I like the change (leave it alone) or put little green dots under it and mark STET (revert back to the way I had it).

8 pm and 76 degrees.
Copy edits.
My last few passes and then I go page by page and make all the changes on my computer copy of LOTTERY. I have the weekend.
Yeah! Then I send this hard copy off Monday. Overnight. To New York.
The person who did my copyedits is wonderful. I decided.
I do not know her name (I think it's a her but I am not sure). I just know her initials EW.
This is an amazing process. This part is all by hand. Specific marks. Red pencil. Squiggles, lines, carrots (carots or carats). Gee, I wish I paid better attention in high school journalism class.
Actually you can find all the abbreviations and marks online.
But already this post is too long.
I do not know how much longer this will take me.
I just wanted to say aloha, hello and ask for a few cheering words in the comments section from my blogging buddies.
And now back to the land of red marks.
stet stet and more stet

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


It's not nice to fool Pele.
You would think being a deity, she does not have a sense of humor.
Actually, she does.
Years ago, the park service workers at Volcanoes National Park decided to tell tourists that if they stole lava stones bad luck would haunt them and terrible things would happen. Ooo Woo hoo (cue scary music).
Be careful what you wish for.
Pele heard their plea.
Soon lava stones were being mailed back to Volcanoes from far and wide accompanied by tales of woe and misfortune.
And what does this have to do with writing you ask?
Sit down.
Make yourself comfortable.
And I'll tell you...

9:30 pm and 74 degrees. Tradewinds were gusting to 40 earlier. How did I know that? I had the nav station instruments on and I felt ORION heeling.
I have been in hurricane Iniki. I have walked along Chain of Craters road. I have seen the smoldering lava from miles away. I have been at sea, sailing away from the extinct remnants of the Waianae range.
But have you? Have you done this?
Could I make you see what I see? Feel what I feel?
Smell the acrid smoke. Have your feet slip underneath and hear stones rattle to the valley far below.
The Halyards hit the mast in a rhythmic song played by the fingers of the wind. The very same wind that blows across Kilauea carrying with it the sulfurous volcanic ash over to us on Oahu. The roads of the Big Island pass by miles of hardened lava from Mauna Loa. Flow from 1843. Flow from 1881. Flow from 1919. Each documented year and flow, spread across the map.
The fire of Pu`u `O`o.
I have seen this.
What have you seen that you incorporate so tightly into your work it cannot be undone? What are your secrets? How do you make your reader see with your eyes? Understand your vision?
And now.
Back to volcanoes.
What does writing have to do with Pele? Have to do with the Goddess of fire?
A fib someone told came true.
A Goddess listened.
Bad stuff happened.
And somebody was very, very sorry.
Sounds like a novel to me!

Sunday, February 18, 2007


Midway again.
If you go outside the lagoon you can keep your fish...only one catch.
Those pesky tiger sharks. They seem to be attracted to the motor of the fishing boat. When a tuna is hooked they see this as a sharky appetizer on a string.
They follow it to the boat, wait for the tuna to tire, and then zoom in and take a bite.
Not unlike critics.

8:30 pm and 75 degrees.
As a writer we have to take criticism.
But of course we don't call it that. We call it writer's groups and work shopping.
That's a joke.
But think about it. Constructive criticism can be helpful, but there are times you have to go with your gut reaction, keep your vision intact, and ignore sane voices of reason.
Ignore reason? That doesn't make sense!
But sometimes creativity defies reason and sometimes the writer is wrong.
How does one tell the difference?
For me it's beta readers. They help me determine when I am full of artistic bunk and when I have written something that will resonate with readers.
So what do workshops do? Well, for me other writers help me clarify my intent. I can see my own faults more easily in other's work. Which is better?
I think they both are necessary for a writer's growth.
What about you? Can you take criticism?
Can you tell when to ignore it or learn from it?
Or do you see them all as shark bites out of your writerly soul.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


My earliest literary effort was self published with cardboard and masking tape.
THICKAMORE was well received by my immediate family but suffered from a lack of distribution and marketing. My prose was derivative yet showed some promise of what would become my future voice.
There is only one known copy.

8:30 pm and 77 degrees.
So when did you know?
I knew I wanted to write ever since I was 8 1/2 years old. My fiction was heavily influenced by Dr. Seuss, but I struggled to find my true genre. The one I felt most comfortable with.
My first inkling that words could profoundly affect other people was when I wrote a report on our bantam chickens in third grade. I had a mission to inform my classmates about these amazing creatures. I talked about what a sidewalk might look like if there were chickens running around loose. The words I used described our chickens' loyalty, our chickens' unique qualities, and specifically what happened to them when the neighbor's cats got involved. It was my first foray into the use of sensationalism and the use of cliche. "You can't count your chickens before they hatch." I talked about "fortification," something necessary to produce baby chickens. It was at that point my teacher sent me to the principal's office where I read my entire piece to Mr. Dunn. He sank lower and lower in his chair and soon his face was covered with his hands. I was annoyed. This was serious non-fiction. My talent was not being recognized.
I eventually found out my piece was a part of the educational cocktail party circuit for years.
As I moved from elementary to High school I was entranced with journalism, creative writing, and drama.
And then something happened.
The powers that be spouted conventional wisdom and suggested I pursue a "normal" career. I dutifully obeyed.
Yet I remained a writer deep down inside.
And I couldn't keep it hidden forever.
So how was it for you?
What made you decide to be a writer?
Do you have a Thickamore hidden in your past?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


I offer you the wana (pronounced vahnah preferably with a cigarette holder in one hand).
The sea urchin. Phylum Echinodermata or "spiney skin."
Don't get close and do not underestimate him. He is small but mighty. Clever at hiding. Positively brilliant at being in the wrong place at the wrong time for this diver. I found the shot of a lifetime. Hovered carefully. A male and female frogfish in the same frame. My leg bent and lowered onto the ocean floor directly on top of forty spines, which were instantly injected deep into my skin. I know there were forty because I counted each puncture as I soaked my leg in steaming bath water to deactivate the protein toxin.
Clumsy of me.
Just like a writer delivering a back handed complement.
Or are they?

3:30 pm and 80 degrees.
The back handed complement. We've all gotten them.
As writers, we seem to get more than our share. There is a perception by some that success is finite. If one does well, another will have to falter. There are fears and traumas that only writers know deep in their souls.
The fear that someone will steal your idea -- that you can't write well enough -- that you'll never be published -- that all the time you spent will go to waste.
In workshops, you see evidence of this in the glances, the licking of the lips, a curving smile hid by a hand when an instructor points out a problem in another's manuscript.
The words might as well be transcribed on foreheads for all to see.
Is my work good enough?
Is it better than his?
Is it better than hers?
I have been the recipient of these barbs.
"Well," I am told. "I mean it's easy enough to write what you write, after all it's just commercial fiction. How hard can that be? I, on the other hand spend hours crafting one sentence. You just jot yours off and you're done."
There are the writers who tell you that they plan and determine exactly what would be more likely to sell and write appropriately. Sometimes luck intervenes but other times not. You see, the passion is missing from their words.
So what then?
I think back handed complements need to be dealt with. Confronted head on like a bee loose in a car. Don't ignore them or they won't ever go away.
"Oh, they are just doing it to be supportive. To be kind. To be honest," you say.
But I ask you what point does it serve?
I have come up with a few phrases that can be used in response. Save them for just these moments, use them wisely. Never let another writer's arrogance put you in your perceived place.
"Could you repeat that please?"
"What exactly did you mean by that?"
"Excuse me?"
Please donate phrases to the common good and make your contribution, today.
I will share my own personal favorite:
"And your point is?"
Kudos to the lovely, bristling sea urchin.
Hip hip hurray!

NOTE: I am extraordinarily jealous that Holly has held TWO (count them, TWO!) contests to great response, so I am holding one of my own.
Offer your best retort to a "writerly back-handed" comment over the next TWO days.
I will evaluate the entries with my friend MARY and have her select a WINNER (You hear that Mary?) so everything is above board and fair.
The Prize?
I will send you a signed ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of Lottery --
Now how arrogant is THAT?

Monday, February 12, 2007


Lets consider the wrasse. This happens to be a saddle wrasse. He is patrolling the waters, looking for food.
He's voracious
If a diver overturns a rock and exposes a nest of writhing brittle stars, he's an opportunist and eagerly takes advantage.
With an intent expression he circles divers. Watching. Waiting.
Does he hope you will push over a rock and give him an easy meal?
Does he expect it?
It doesn't much matter because the wrasse is primed and ready to take advantage of any opportunity.
A hand that topples coral rubble. A fin that displaces tasty invertebrates.
And that's really the key isn't it?
And being ready.
Being very very ready.

2:30 pm and 79 degrees.
"Did you expect this? I mean you must have known right?"
This is what people ask me. I have to think. Probe the recesses of my mind.
I have to be honest here.
I didn't expect it.
I didn't expect anything but I hoped.
Hope versus expectation.
I've been thinking about this a lot. Did I expect what has happened so far?
Did I hope it would happen?
Am I successful yet?
It depends.
If my only goal was to get an agent then I suppose so. If I wanted my book sold, then yes I have achieved my goal.
If I want my book to be bought and enjoyed by readers, however, I have to continue to hope.
Expectations are tricky things. They create disappointment and arrogance. They can lead to dissatisfaction and a hard bitter focus away from being able to write at your best.
I did not set out to write commercial fiction. I did not analyze or plan or study. I had a story in my heart that had to be written. I had characters in my head that clamored to be given life. I had passion.
When it came to finding an agent, I was business-like. That is when I used my rational sense of purpose and ambition.
But the writing?
That came from my soul.
And I am humble.
Expectations and arrogance.
Those get you into trouble each and every time.
But gratification and hope?
Well they are my mantra. Like the wrasse. I am ever watchful for opportunity.

Friday, February 09, 2007


A funny, poignant, and wise novel about a very rich underdog who shows everyone just how little his IQ says about his smarts.

Perry’s IQ is only 76, but he’s not stupid. His grandmother taught him everything he needs to know to survive: She taught him to write things down so he won’t forget them. She taught him to play the lottery every week. And most important, she taught him who to trust. When Gram dies, Perry is left orphaned and bereft at the age of 31. Then his weekly Washington State Lottery tickets wins him 12 million dollars, and he finds he has more family than he knows what to do with.
Peopled with characters both wicked and heroic who leap off the pages, LOTTERY is a deeply satisfying, gorgeously rendered novel about trust, loyalty, and what distinguishes us as capable.

The release date for LOTTERY is August 2.
Here is the cover.
I am above the clouds.

Thursday, February 08, 2007


Midway Atoll.
Fledgling albatross are learning to fly in order to make their way out to sea.
Tiger sharks sense this and journey to the Northwest Hawaiian Islands by mid-summer.
I did some work on Midway tagging and tracking galapagos sharks with some amazing people from University of Hawaii and the Waikiki Aqauarium.
Back to our regularly scheduled program.
This particular albatross was lucky, but the one just outside the screen was not so fortunate.
I digress.
We will not be talking about birds today.
We will be talking about ideas...

8:30 pm and 77 degrees.
It was there. Just in the back of my mind. A thought. A premise.
Back again. I write ten pages. The story goes nowhere.
Dead end.
Why did I think that story had possibilities?
I dreamt about it last night. The plot worked perfectly. It was brilliant. In my dreams I walked to my computer and wrote it all down.
But alas, it was just my imagination.
In the morning my words appear sluggish and banal through my caffeine self-medication.
Some ideas take you all the way to the end of the story and back.
Like Lottery. Carrying me along in a river of inspiration.
It all came alive and wrote itself. Fully formed inside my brain.
And others?
Well lets just say.
They vaporized.
But we are watchful and we wait.
For their return.
So tell me.
Which of yours eluded capture.
And got away.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


Scrape! Crunch!
I heard the sounds, went outside and looked.
A turtle is eating the seaweed growth off ORION. I went below got my camera and took his picture.
He is familiar to me as a beloved pet.
His name is not Yertle. It is not Fred.
Not Horace or Jacob or Jack.
When I find it, I will know it.
But for now.
He is Turtle with a capital T.
A place keeper. Like my protagonist's name.
Not the real one.
Just temporary.
What is the real one, you ask?
I do not know but...
I will recognize it when I see it.

5:30 pm and 81 degrees.
I have been remiss. I have not shared the rules.
Not those pesky grammar ones, like lay and lie.
Not i before e. Not use said. Not eliminate thats.
Not use Times New Roman and 12 pt font.
The REAL rules.
The big ones that have to do with living life while you attempt to write.

I will cover household appliances first.

Rule number one.
Never try to write while having a major appliance repaired. You will be constantly interrupted.

Repairman: "Hey maam? Ya got a three quarter gud soot ploter gamer that'll take a nine eighths weasel snub?"
Me: "um...let me check..."

Rule number two.
These interruptions will be directly proportional to the number of words you WANT to write and inversely proportional to the number of active brain cells in said repairman's brain.

Two hours later after pulling out all tools.
Me: "I don't think I have one."
Repairman:" Ah never mind, I don't need it -- I used a ten inch garbweller drazzel hoot instead."

Rule number three.

Your repairman will be a frustrated novelist.

Me: "When will my refrigerator be fixed?"

Repairman: "Yanno, I should write a book about what I do."

Me: " I'm sure you should. When will you be done with repairing my refrigerator?"

Repairman: "Yanno I always wanted to write a book. I got a lot of ideas."

Me: (sobbing) "Please..."

Rule number Four.
A part will be required. It will be located in Greece, have to be carried by donkey to Italy, blessed by the pope at the Vatican and shipped to the Philippines by a leaking rowboat. It must be lost three times and reordered twice. When it comes it will be the wrong part.
It will cost more than installing a new appliance.


OK comments minions.
I need horror stories. Specifically APPLIANCE REPAIR horror stories.
How about a contest?
No prizes.
Just the genuine satisfaction you get by whining.
It doesn't get much better than this.

Sunday, February 04, 2007


How do you take your own picture underwater? My dive buddy, Will, took this and I returned the favor. We were diving the Flower Garden Banks in the Gulf of Mexico --participating in a teacher workshop called Down Under Out Yonder.
Someday I hope to reconnect with the wonderful people I met there.
So how do you see your own writing through another writer's eyes? How do you see another author's work? Do you disparage? Are you in awe?
What is it like having a mentor?
Do you have a mentor?
Tell me about it.

1:30 pm and 79 degrees. This is Monday's post a day early!
I want to tell you about a book.
"Sir Vidia's Shadow" by Paul Theroux. It's the story of a thirty year long friend ship and mentoring relationship. A fascinating glimpse into the minds of two very different and accomplished writers. The angst. The pain of creation. The doubt. I was compelled to finish it once I started; as a writer myself, I learned much about my own journey while reading this book. I recommend it highly.
After I finished reading it, I became analytical about my own relationship with Paul and others who have been generous enough to guide me.
So how did I meet Paul Theroux? I hear you ask.
Well you might call it serendipitous chance, and being the right person at the right time in the right place. All the stars were aligned.It was meant to be.
A phone call. "Can you give Paul Theroux and his wife horseback riding lessons?" a mutual acquaintance asked.
Of course, I could. A friendship grew. Events conspired. Paul found out I wrote and offered to read my manuscript. I was in agony, but handed it over anyway. He told me he enjoyed it and offered his suggestions for improvement (your narrative goes too fast through the last half of the book) and let me know my strengths (your writing is vivid, distinctive and you have wonderful story ideas).
He recommended readings (Maugham, Conrad, Greene, Simenon). Note: even after 44 books, he continues reading, thinking about writing, studying technique. Analyzing.
When told him I had an idea -- what I thought was a unique premise and described my vision -- he told me to stop work on everything else and immediately write that book, then give it to him when I was finished.
When Paul read the original draft of Lottery he said, "This will be your first book published."
It appears he was right. He rejoiced with me when I found representation and was thrilled when Lottery was sold.
So, what do we do now?
We talk about writing. I email him when I read something interesting -- especially when he is in someplace exotic like Siberia -- where he is now.
He provokes me to think, pushes me to write, and have confidence in what I produce.
He does not demean genre. He does not disparage. He finds good things and talks about them.
But it is mostly up to me. He will point out a sentence he especially likes, suggest I transform a narrative into dialogue or tell me about an article he is currently writing or has published.
He is the hardest working writer I know.
When I peruse blogs and read about disappointing critique sessions or writers' groups that are adversarial, I think of what I have, and am gratified an author of this caliber has taken the time to give me a helping hand.
Did he recommend me to his agent?
Did he suggest an agent?
Did he encourage me to find representation?
Mentoring is not pulling you up by the bootstraps. It is a touch. A suggestion. It is teaching you to fish, rather than handing you a meal.
So. What goes around comes around.
When I find myself in a position to help another writer?
I will.
Because that's how it works.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


The gold lace nudibranch
Halgerda terramtuentis
A mouthful of letters for a tiny creature that many SCUBA divers disregard or never see.
They are looking for dolphins.
For sharks.
The big guys.
And miss the sparkling beauty of the infinitesimal.
And writing is like this how?

7:30 am and 77 degrees. The seas have stilled. ORION is docile and stationary.
This particular photo of a nudibranch is one of fifteen on a roll of thirty-six (this is not digital boys and girls).
It is the best of the lot. Some were slightly out of focus. In others the nudibranch is cut off in the middle.
I was interested in the fluttery gills on the exterior of the body. But my intent was to get the nudibrach in the very center of the photograph.
It's close.
But not perfect.
My next photograph was closer.
And others closer still.
Do I read books about photography?
But I learn the most by actually taking photographs.
Hundreds and hundreds of photographs. Each one different. Each one unique. And each one taught me a bit more about photography.
My novel will never be perfect.
I've said it.
I know at some point in time I will have a better idea of how I could have phrased that sentence -- chosen that word -- created that scene so my reader would see with my eyes -- fully understand my intentions.
Ah but my next novel.
My next novel will be better still...and the next...and the next...
So that is my motto.
Learning by doing.
What is yours?
Oh and the answer to the question?
How is an elephant like a plum?
They are both purple.
Except for the elephant.