Saturday, September 29, 2007

Books, books, books!

OK two games of back to back tag! Larramie has tagged me with my second official blogtag - but this is a serious one. A book meme of all things. I couldn't actually respond right away because I wanted to think about it, seriously. Cause we writers are a serious lot. Seriously.

So first question. Total number of books?

What do you mean by this? Total owned, total read, total loved, total hated, total picked up started and thrown down in disgust? This is such an open ended question. It is nearly impossible to answer. So assuming that the party of the first part meant for the party of the second part to discuss the total number of books owned over the course of the second party's natural life, whereas the parties would like to come to a mutual agreement as to the proper response to said question, notwithstanding subsequent interpretations of said question, the answer shall be imparted as follows:

I don't know.

For further clarification, I shall respond thusly. The Library of Congress states that its collection fills over 530 miles of shelf space for its 130 million items of books, manuscripts, journals, etc. I have a little less.

Last Book read?

Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. Beautiful, simply beautiful. I was like Niagara Falls.

Last Book Bought?

My most recent book purchased was an e-book (which was also my first e-book ever). It is Weirdly, a Collection of Strange Stories published by Wild Child Publishing. Cool creepy stories that you want to read when you are all alone on a dark, cold stormy night. The lovely and extremely talented Bernita Harris has one of the best stories I've read in it and I plan to do a review and Q&A with her when I finish the entire book!

Five meaningful Books?

For me, meaningful books are the ones that left me a little different after reading it.

If I must limit it to five then these would be the five I would list as most memorable to me at this particular moment in my life:

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I can’t really even explain how much I loved this book. It made me fall in love with the power of the written word. It also made me want to be a lawyer - yeah, I know, but I still love this book.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas, swept me away in an epic tale of betrayal, revenge and redemption. Also gave me my love for adventure tales.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. I cried and cried. And then cried some more. I’m such a sucker for a good tearjerker – but only if it doesn’t make me feel manipulated. This book made me doubt whether or not I had written a book anywhere near as good and then made me determined to find out.

Persuasion by Jane Austen. One of my favorite books of all time. This taught me to fall in love with romance. It has the most romantic love letter I have ever read. And I am not one for love letters. Honestly, I am about as romantic as a head of cabbage, but I loved this book.

The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. I know I cheated and added a whole series as my last entry, but really these seven books must be considered altogether. I could dedicate an entire post to how this series has affected me, but I will limit it to this. Not only did I love the series and the world that Rowling created, I admired the strength of her storytelling that enthralled the world and united all her fans in an experience that will probably never be replicated in my lifetime.

Five People to Tag for a Book Meme

Here's the thing. I'm a lazy tag player. When I actually was It, I wouldn't chase anyone. I'd just go sit under a tree and read or take a nap until everyone got tired of waiting for me and got someone else to be It. But in this case, I really would love to see what everyone's book choices are. So, this is what I'd like to do. If you read this, and you haven't already been tagged with this meme, then consider yourself tagged! Consider this an all encompassing blanket tag, but only play if you want to, and leave a comment here to let me know if you will post on this Book meme so I can come and see the books that mean the most to you. I know I'm not playing by the rules. But rules were meant to be broken, right?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

I miss New York

Downtown Manhattan
Copyright byNicolas Masse available via a Creative Commons License

Evening: New York

Blue dust of evening over my city,
Over the ocean of roofs and the tall towers
Where the window-lights, myriads and myriads,
Bloom from the walls like climbing flowers.
by Sarah Teasdale

As dusk falls, the buildings of New York light up the sky like Christmas lights. Evening is when New York looks its best, like a movie star dressing for a red carpet event. The lights of New York blanket the city scape in an evening gown of diamonds and pearls. Walking down the streets of Manhattan, you brush up against strangers bustling by in clever conversation with friends or cell phones. Passing an underground subway station entrance, you hear the screech and whirr of a train as a burst of air whooshes up the stairs assaulting you with the underground stench of tunnels and stale air. The odor quickly passes and is replaced by the competing scents of hot dogs and sauerkraut of a corner hot dog vendor against that of the gyro stand right next to it. Crossing the street New York style, nearly clipped by a fast moving bus. The brash horn of an impatient taxi driver echoes in your ears as it weaves through the well choreographed traffic. Walking again, headed uptown, the lights of oncoming traffic shimmer like an ocean wave. You look up at the sky, there are no stars. But one hardly misses them.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

An Interview with Patricia Wood, author of "Lottery"

Winning the Lottery

Let’s face it, who amongst us can honestly say they’ve never dreamed about winning the lottery, especially when it creeps up to ridiculous proportions like $200 million. I mean what a ridiculous sum of money for anyone to win. (Please let it be me! Please, Please!) So when I heard the concept of Patricia Wood’s debut novel “Lottery,” I was completely hooked, and so was the entire publishing world.

They called it a high concept hook - “Forrest Gump wins Powerball,” and it created an immediate stir in publishing. Ann Oldenburg’s article in USA Today, stated that Lottery went to auction and landed a six-figure deal for its first time author. It is a dream that all writers aspire too.

So often we hear the hype, buy into it and then end up being disappointed. That is definitely not the case here. I read Lottery in one day in two sittings. And it would have been one sitting but for the simple fact that I had to cook dinner, feed the kids, bathe them, check their homework and tuck them in bed, all while glancing impatiently at my book and growling and muttering under my breath. When I finally closed my book, I sighed with happiness tinged with the sad thought that having finished, I could never have that new book pleasure filled with the discovery of finding new characters that warm your heart. Unless I suffer from amnesia, then please remind me that I will want to read Lottery again.

The main character is Perry L. Crandall, and he is not retarded. He knows this because he scored a 76 on his IQ test and Reader’s Digest says that you have to have 75 or lower to be retarded. So he is not retarded. And from this introduction on, you are absolutely hooked by Perry, his loving but sharp tongued grandmother, his nervous but caring boss and a disgusting burping, farting best friend, Keith, who was my second most favorite character of the book. Not just because I think burping and farting are hysterically funny, although they are, but because Ms. Wood develops Keith, a Vietnam Vet, into a living breathing person you come to care deeply for. Now all the bad guys in the book, Perry’s brothers, in-laws and even his mother, are either lawyers or married to lawyers. (I would feel indignant on behalf of all us lawyers, except I actually know too many like this to take offense for my profession.)

When Grandma dies early in the book and Perry wins $12 million playing the lottery, you’d have to be a real gullible, naïve fool not to know what happens next. The beauty of Ms. Wood’s book is that Perry, who knows he is slow, is neither as gullible nor as naïve as people like to think. And while the bad guys are little more than cliché’s, they work extremely well when placed in the context of the book. Their portrayal is as Perry sees them, no more, no less. As characters, they are not shaded or nuanced like Grandma, Keith or Cherry, a woman Perry would like to have as a girlfriend. That is because the actions of the brothers and Perry’s mother have only ever been unkind, and even when circumstances change and they try to act nicely to Perry, he sees right through to the desperation beneath their surfaces. Their words might have changed, but they are still the same. Perry is one of the most likeable underdog characters you will ever read. You will root for him, cry with him and laugh your head off at things he says. You will definitely not be bored, I promise.

Interview with Patricia Wood, author of Lottery

I came to know about Ms. Wood and Lottery from having seen her as a regular commenter on Miss Snark’s popular writing blog. There she would be seen commenting as Orion, the name of her 48 foot sailboat that she lives on with her husband and her two cats. Originally from Seattle, Washington, Ms. Wood has served in the Army, worked as a medical technologist, taught marine science to high-risk students and is now a Ph.D. student at the University of Hawaii.

After writing three novels which only collected rejections, she wrote Lottery over a three month period last year. In her own words she says, “I was consumed.” As luck would have it, she sent an e-query to top agent Dorian Karchmar, a literary agent with William Morris in New York. Ironically, Ms. Karchmar states that “most of the time I’m so busy, I don’t read email queries.” But Ms. Wood’s email arrived on a slow summer day and the rest of the story is pure magic.

After reading Lottery, I had to email Ms. Wood and let her know how much I loved her book and was happy to receive a very quick, warm and gracious response. When I decided that Lottery would be my first ever Book Review on my blog, I asked her if she would be willing to provide a short interview for my readers. Even though she is six hours behind me, I got a quick response that said “What a delight!” and we were off! I hope you all enjoy the interview.

E - Aloha Pat! Are you on your sailboat right now?

PW - Yes. I have just finished packing for my trip to the mainland for readings and signings.

E - I think it is so cool that you live on a sailboat. How long has it been since your residence was on land?

PW - Four years

E - It is amazing that you have access to technology even on a sailboat, but is there anything you miss about living on land?

PW - Not usually - I get a small twinge when I remember my beautiful gourmet kitchen and if I want a bath I go to a hotel.

E - So you have all the comforts of home, even pets on your boat. I understand your two cats are your muses, but they aren't housecats, they are sailboat cats, right?

PW - They didn't use to be but they are now! They got acclimated quite well.

E - Do they ever leave the boat?

PW - Not intentionally, only accidentally.

E – When they accidentally get off the boat, do they suffer from sea legs?

PW - No, but they get wet!

E - So we all know the weather is beautiful on Oahu but when you do get bad weather, how does it affect your routine as a writer living on a sailboat?

PW - I close the hatches and am snug as a bug in a rug. It's quite cozy.

E - You wrote Lottery in three months. But it was eight hours a day for seven days a week. How hard was it to commit to this schedule? How long was your editing process?

PW - It was often 12 to 18 hours a day and it was a first draft - and quite a shitty one at that! I did a couple passes through to fix grammar and spelling and by the fourth pass the skeleton of the story was closer to what Dorian (my agent) saw.

E - Did you have a critique group or readers review Lottery for you and what do you feel is the value of a writer's group?

PW - I've never been one to join groups. I know people swear by them but it has to be the right group. I think readers are better than writers. I have a large pool of beta readers. My friend author Paul Theroux read an early draft and many cruisers from my harbor (marina) read various versions.

E - But you were part of a large online writing community. You were a regular over at Miss Snark's popular blog where I first saw you as Orion. It was real neat to see you thank Miss Snark in your acknowledgements. When you got published, did Miss Snark ever get in touch with you?

PW - Miss Snark ROCKS. She sent several very nice emails congratulating me and did call me when I went to New York. The number came up unknown. It was magic! I owe her so much for all the guidance in her blog and the support the blog has shown me. They were all there from the beginning.

E - She called you? So do you have any idea about her real identity?

PW - No clue at all, but I suspect she has moved on. I read in People magazine recently that George Clooney hired a new maid with amazing literary taste. It could happen...

E - He would be a lucky man, then! As fans of her blog, we all know what we got from her; great no-nonsense advice and a community of writers just like us. Now that you are a published author, when you look back at Miss Snark's blog, what do you think you gained from it the most?

PW - The fact that this business is subjective. The fact that if more writers just sat down and finished their novels they would be more successful. You need to write, write and write some more. That hiring a book doctor or an outside editor is not necessary and that perseverance is the best quality to have.

E - One of the things that I've been so impressed with is how altruistic you have been to your fellow writers. You have a blog where you've given so much insight to the publishing process and you also are a vibrant presence on the Absolute Write forums where you provide a lot of great information and advice to newbies. I love that you have become like a Mentor figure now that you are a famous author, but what makes you do it?

PW - HA! I'm a know-it-all? Actually I am a teacher. Have always been a teacher and love to teach. I will be going to the University of Hawaii next Friday to talk to creative writing students. It is pay-back for the help I have received from generous authors like Paul Theroux and Jackie Mitchard.

E - So are you working on a new book and is there any information you would care
to share about it?

PW - I am ALWAYS working on another book. I have three finished manuscripts and am outlining other projects. My agent and I are giving a great deal of thought as to what will follow Lottery. Of course there is the paperback of Lottery that will come out next summer (08).

E - Lastly, there is so much advice that is out there, sometimes contradictory, but I would love to know what would be the one piece of advice that you think is really important or overlooked that you would give to aspiring writers about fulfilling their dream?

PW - WRITE. Finish your novel and start another. READ. Write. Read. And WRITE some more. Oh yeah... and make sure you write.

E - Thanks so much Pat for chatting with me about Lottery. You are awesome!

PW - Aloha and Mahalo! Writers are welcome to email me with questions at

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Tuesday Introspective - Technology is making us Stupid!

Noted Swiss philosopher, Jean Piaget, once stated that “intelligence is what you use when you don’t know what to do.” But in our technological world, everything comes with an answer or within easy Google reach of information. The ability to reason and solve problems has been supplanted by ready access to the easy answer. We no longer have to worry about not knowing what to do. Calculators take care of math equations, computers input data terms and spit out formula equations and answers, the research process has been replaced by an internet search engine. Even something as simple as the memorization of home phone numbers has been relegated to the memory of computer chips in phones so that most people can no longer remember up to five of their most frequently dialed telephone numbers. I contend that technology is making us stupid.

The Loss of Memory

Before the printed word, people relied on their memory for everything. In fact, those citizens with prodigiously good memories were revered and placed in positions of honor. Oral histories were passed down each generation. Storytellers had important roles in communities. Greek playwright Aeschylus stated that “Memory is the mother of all wisdom.” One might argue that memory in and of itself is no measure of intelligence. True, rote memorization with no understanding is unhelpful. But isn’t memory a component of intelligence? An innate intelligence must have the ability to remember details of importance in its rational search for the answers. Without a doubt, memory is a key component of our intelligence. It is involved in all aspects of thinking, perception, learning, language and problem solving. But we have now entered an age where memory seems to have become irrelevant. Why memorize when everything you need to know is a mouse click away?

A recent article on CNET discussed a UK article that showed a quarter of its residents could not remember their home phone numbers and a third could not remember birthdays of their immediate family members. It states:

“The less you use your memory, the study says, the worse it gets. The study indicates, shockingly, that people in their 50s and 60s have generally better memory than people in their 30s. Why? The older group was tasked with committing more to memory when they were younger, "training" their brains appropriately. Our gadgets make it simple to offload our memory to electronic devices.” (CNET, 2007)

Not forcing ourselves to use our memory is triggering more and more short term memory loss. Because we no longer train our brains to retain information, it becomes easier to forget.

Technology and Children

I worry about the impact of all this technology on our children. There have been more than enough studies on the impact of television to prove that the more you turn off the TV, the better it is for your children. But television alone is not the problem. Computers with its chat rooms and Facebook and MySpace cultures are fostering an addiction to the internet that has supplanted reading, writing, and even outdoor activities. And don’t even get me started on videogames! None of these things are bad if they are kept in moderation. The trouble begins with a new generation that seemingly cannot survive without its technology.

Technology addiction starts young. Companies target their audiences very well. Take for instance the Webkinz rage. It is marketed as “the stuffed animal that comes alive online in Webkinz world” (, 2007). WEbkinz are stuffed animals that come with a code a child can use on its official internet site to enter their animal into a world of one dimensional fun. My children all have 3 to 4 of these creatures each. Some kids we know have anywhere from 10 to 15 of these stuffed animals. It isn’t the toy that is the problem, it is the internet component that sucks your child in to worrying about and caring for the life of their cyber pet. This alarms me. I think eight and six are too young to be constantly on the computer. When I limit their computer time to thirty minutes and to once or twice a week, they complain that I am killing their cyber pets. As if I care. The sooner they grow out of this obsession, the better. But to them, it has begun their obsession with the internet.

Technology has cultivated a world of short attention spans

It has been well proven that children who read a lot do better in school. Reading comprehension is a core component of most intelligence testing. But less and less children are reading given the distractions of television, DVDs, computer, ipods, video games, etc. All of these technological gadgets seem to promote short attention spans and fosters an inertness in the mental faculties of our children. Everything moves quickly. They don’t need to think, just react. Reading, on the other hand, has always been about time and a demonstrated ability to focus for a long period of time. It helped sharpen your mind by the forcing you to provide long term attention to a focused reading activity.

The phenomenon of Harry Potter has proven how far reading has fallen. Media coverage highlighted over and over the incredible effect Harry Potter had on jumpstarting an interest in reading again for children. Equally hyped was the growing concern in the publishing industry with the end of the revered HP series. What, they worried, would children now read voluntarily? For it seems that most children do not read anything outside of their school reading lists, although they have no difficulties reading and posting treatise length comments on their web pages.

I am not stating that technology is bad. Of course not. It is a wonderful advent onto humanity. However, I worry that allowing technology to take over our worlds in virtually every aspect of our lives, is not such a good thing. Extremes of anything are never a good idea. I can only hope that parents will look to their children’s technology proclivities and think about curtailing them more. Push a book in their hand and take away their Gameboys and Ipods. Give them a soccer ball and turn off the TV. Teach them to play an instrument or paint a picture. Foster the arts. We, as parents, have a responsibility to offset the evils of the world, and while technology is not itself evil, too much of it may be stunting our minds.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Carnivore's delight

Food is one of my favorite subjects so why not include some of my favorite dishes on my blog? We will start with my favorite barbecued meat. Kalbi. If you have never been to a Korean restaurant, then you have never had the ubiquitous pleasure of grilling right at your table, smoke watering your eyes while the sweet garlicky goodness of succulent short ribs assaults your olfactory neurons. Walking out, you reek of barbecue and garlic that lasts with you until your next shower, but boy was it tasty!

Oh the pleasures of Korean barbecue. Beef short ribs marinated with soy sauce, garlic, sesame oil, green onions and sugar, grilled over a hot flame. Since I am the designated grillmaster, I get to choose what I want to grill. My first choice for barbecue (next to the obligatory weiner roast) are these amazing, delicious, out of the world Korean short ribs. For a carnivore, there is nothing better. The meat is slightly sweet with the tang of garlic, soy sauce, sesame seeds and the smoke of the grill. Heaven!

The problem with Kalbi is that if you go to a restaurant, they will charge you $17 to $25 for a dinner size portion. While it is a good amount of beef, it can be quite expensive. And if you've got a table full of carnivores, the bill can get quite hefty. Also most restaurants tend to make their kalbi on the sweeter side, which is not my preference. But, I've yet to go into a Korean restaurant that didn't have good kalbi.
Luckily, it is actually quite easy to make. Especially if you have a Korean market nearby. You can get Kalbi already marinated and ready to grill for $5 to $7 per pound. A lot cheaper and just as good as the restaurant version. But if you don't have a Korean market nearby, then get your favorite grilling meat and the following recipe and make it at home.
Kalbi recipe
4 pounds Korean style short ribs (which is cut thin - see picture above), or other good grilling meat
1 1/2 cups soy sauce
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup sesame oil
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
8-10 cloves of fresh garlic, crushed
6 large green onions, chopped roughly
Toasted sesame seeds
Combine the soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil and vegetable oil in a large mixing bowl. Add garlic and green onion and stir together. Put short ribs into large sealable freezer bag (you may need two). Pour marinade into bag and mix with meat pieces. Refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight. Heat grill to medium-high heat before adding the meat. Drain excess marinade off short ribs and grill them until medium, about 6-8 minutes. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and chopped green onions.
Pretty much every recipe for kalbi is like the above, with variations on amount of sugar and garlic used. Serve it with a side of hot steaming rice and some red leaf lettuce for freshness, and you've got one of my favorite meals ever created.
I wanted to write about food because as I was going over a section of my WIP, I realized I was reading about a character going through the motions of cooking dinner. And it struck me that I had put quite a lot of detail into the preparation of the meal but none in the actual food created. That struck me as peculiar. Was it because what my character ate was irrelevant to the story line? It seemed such an important detail to omit, especially from someone like me who loves food and the idea of food in all its amazing permutations. I don't know the answer but it made me pick up some of my keeper books to see how food was handled. And in most cases, I realized, food was lovingly portrayed. It was a way to anchor a scene or to create an atmosphere with. Eating alone, no matter how lovely the food, signalled loneliness. Food, whether it be junk food or an elaborate meal, prepared for family was usually filled with warmth and laughter. In many cases food was as much a part of a scene as the room, the secondary characters. When it is not there, its absence is noted. Its importance cannot be denied. So I need to promote my love for food in a written venue so I can be as comfortable writing about it as I am eating it.
Picture 1 Copyright by wEnDalicious 2007
Picture 2 Copyright by Taekwonweirdo 2007
All avaible on Flickr through the Creative Commons License

Friday, September 7, 2007


Sunset Straight On
Copyright by Slack12

I have a slideshow link for best sunsets on my igoogle account which is how I found this talented professional photographer's work on Flicker. His stuff is incredible - every picture a work of art. I've fallen in love with several of his pieces. And he generously allows a creative commons license which allows me to share with you all the beauty of his work. I hope you enjoy his work as much as I do.

If you were to ask me what about this piece really gets to me, I think it would be the harmony of light and shadows. The blue of the sky tapering into the layered clouds and then absorbed in a burst of color. A secret house all dark and untouched by even a single ray of light. To me this is like the first line of a mysterious book. We need to dig deeper to find the story beneath. And I think that is what intrigues me so much about this particular picture. I could feel a story roaming on the grounds, dancing in the rays of the sun, hiding behind the dark curtains. It told me a tale of 2 children who had died in their family home while playing one day. A freak accident, grieving parents, a house shut up in darkness. Shadows swallowing it up so that the suns rays were always a hand's span away, but always too far. Two small ghostly forms play sadly in the darkness, wistfully hoping for the sun to break the shadows hold on their house and send them home again. To the light.

It's not just a picture. It's a story.

Monday, September 3, 2007

The Long and Winding Weekend

We spent most of the weekend at my mother-in-law's house on the Chesapeake Bay. Here's a picture of the private pier. The figure at the end is my middle child with the family sitting around enjoying the beautiful weather while my husband fished. My husband is a fishing fanatic. He would rather fish than just about anything else in the whole world. When he night fishes, he fishes all night long. Even going so far as to pass out on the pier with his fishing rod still glued to his hands. Luckily the fishing gods were with us and so there was a whole lot of fish being caught at the pier today. Almost 90% of them caught by my 8 year old. She seems to have caught her daddy's fishing mania, and is already outfishing her daddy! The girl is a natural.

The long weekend also meant I got to read for fun. So I engulfed in one sitting Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner. Yeah, I know I'm late to this party but I loved this book! I was tearing and gasping and totally into this book. And when I was done, I thought to myself, "Self, your book is nowhere near as good as this book." And I felt blah for all of 30 minutes before I started kicking myself in the head trying to snap out of this morass of self-pity. This was actually a new experience and I don't know why it happened. I've read many great books while working on my book - some even similar to my book story - but they didn't cast me into a fit of depression. They didn't make me feel unworthy to have written a book. But why this particular book? Or was it maybe the timing? Was it because I was close to finished with my book and feeling particularly vulnerable? Nervous about actually being ready to start querying? I dont know what it was but it was such a particularly unpleasant sensation. As if someone told you your baby was butt ugly and then you realize they're indefensibly right.

It's been particularly hard because I've lately been editing off my husband's comments. I've asked him to be tough, and he is definitely being tough. He's caught alot of good changes and I know it will be so much better after his changes. But he is a slow reader, and he keeps falling asleep while reading my book. I get pages from him where the pen has leaked slowly into a pool of blue or black where he pressed the pen tip into the page as he dozed. Or where the pen leaves a large mark straight across the page where his hand slipped as he fell asleep. I keep getting these bits and pieces of my chapters every few days from him with visible signs of where he fell asleep and I keep thinking, boy I sure didn't write a page turner! Maybe I should remarket this as a cure for insomnia instead! I mean, he's only had it for all of 3 months now and he's given me back 4 chapters of a 17 chapter book. At this rate, I might be done next year.

Oh well, I guess I should be grateful that he is reading it at all.

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