The photographers cluster at the foot of the steps. As I turn the corner, I see them and immediately feel the heaviness of a gaggle of lenses upon me. I stand straighter and pretend I can’t see them though I can see nothing else. They pan up and down my outfit. The shutters don’t click. Ouch.

It’s a momentary sting. After all, I’m not here to be noteworthy. I’m here to take notes.

The show is about to start, and we’re led into the cave. The benches are austere. There are no windows. It feels like we’re about to be told a great secret. Pulsing off the walls is almost an in utero soundtrack that resonates in the blood.

The runway is a bottleneck of toy cars. The lights go down; the lenses come up.IMG_1683.JPG

In just a few short years, House of Cannon has taken Sydney by storm, because Annie Todd and her team create designs so quintessentially of our time that they evoke a certain nostalgia for the now. The latest collection, Daydreaming Detroit, does not disappoint.

There’s a certain democratic element to the designs this year. Maybe it’s the American heritage of the collection and the fact that this is an election year. (Maybe I’m projecting.) Formerly, the graphic visuals were orchids which have an innate level of prestige. This year the graphics are weeds. It’s egalitarian enough to please Bernie Sanders. The menswear features dandelion blazers and leggings while the women’s dresses concentrate on elevating the fluffy seeds to high art. It’s an innovative modern take on Georgia O’Keefe’s classic idea: No one sees a flower really. It’s so small. We haven’t time. (And that was before Instagram.)

A model plucks her way down the runway. A fluid train of toy cars billows behind her making her look like she’s just landed. She’s not new to town. She’s new to this earth.




How Not to Write a Novel

October 26, 2015

  1. Get an idea–an idea so captivating is keeps you awake at night more than your newborn. Research the idea until the idea expands: everything you see, everything you hear, becomes related to this idea. It grows until you can’t keep it all in your mind and you must write it down. Put the baby down for a nap and write.
  2. The baby wakes, but you recognize that this is your window. This is your time: from noon to two on Thursdays and Fridays, you will write. No coffee. No internet research. Only genesis.
  3.  Decide this is a book for kids. Buy Roald Dahl. Buy Harry Potter. Start reading fiction again for the first time since your first child was born. Read Disgrace and Enduring Love and Looking for Alaska. Take notes. Annotate. Try to decode the elements of mastery erstwhile falling in lust with McEwan and Coetzee. Consider a hajj to Adelaide where the South African luminary resides.
  4. Read Twilight, Fifty Shades of Gray, and James Patterson’s Cross Fire. Think to yourself, well I can do that. I can certainly do better than that.
  5.  Someone gives you a subscription to Writer’s Digest and you find all the articles somehow relate to your life. Where has this publication been?
  6. Write and write and write. Get beta readers, like your dad, and continue to write and revise. Your kids ask what you are always working on: you say you are writing a book. You realize is it now your life’s dream. Your son goes outside, and he wishes on a star “I hope mom’s book becomes the best book in the whole world.” For the next three years, he makes the same wish even though you know he really wants those Angry Bird Telepods. It makes your heart sing that you and he wish for the same thing.
  7.  You finish up just shy of 45,000 words and start researching agents. Make a list of your top ten–your Ivy League. Fire off some sassy, but clever, queries. Get two full requests. Pat yourself on the back. Hard work and persistence pays off. You’re good. You always knew you were.
  8.  A friend puts you in touch with another alumnus who published her trilogy a year ago. She gives you the nitty gritty: her first book sold for $2500 on the condition that she write two more for $2500 each. She got $7500 for a trilogy and her books are on the shelves at Safeway. You read her book, but can’t get past the first chapter. That, you think, will never happen to me.
  9. The agents have had your manuscript for months. Then, one morning, you wake up to feedback in your inbox. It’s starts off “so many things I liked here,” and “it’s a really great idea.” Close your eyes. Swallow. Open your eyes again. Read it. “It doesn’t fit my list at this time.”
  10. Feel like the first time you got dumped. Feel like you’ve just gorged yourself on a giant cotton ball. Sick. Raw. Defeated. But that’s just one, you tell yourself. It’s still in the hands of another agent.
  11. When your friends inquire, you tell them about the rejection but are surprisingly upbeat. You still have hope. You know deep down you can do this. You were born to do this.
  12. A week later, you wake up to an email in your inbox. It is the one. You open it like a kid on Christmas–full of awe and wonder. “Sorry I held this so long.” You take a breath. “I love the way you write, but…” The agent give you a list of concerns. Some of which include your choice to have talking animals. You cringe. You know she’s right. You ask, if maybe you can resubmit once you’ve rewritten without the animals. She says yes.
  13. You get back to work until you realize the Sydney Writer’s Festival is this weekend. You drop everything and go. You are the first one in line (you are excessively punctual at all times) for a panel discussion about writing blockbusters. There someone mentions Save the Cat.
  14. You read it. It was the missing piece. You adjust your manuscript to hit the beat sheet. It is much tighter. Pacing requires more research. You see someone online thinks a book called Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain is good. The Kindle is getting full with impulse buys.
  15. Someone gives you a book called List Your Self: Listmaking as the Way to Self Discovery. You decide this is a great device to illuminate character traits and incorporate lists into your manuscript.
  16. Dwight Swain, while markedly dated in his style, is very helpful.  You rewrite and rewrite according to the gurus you have read. You appeal to your friends who know agents. This version is the one, you think. It is so much stronger than the last. Finally, you are holding your masterpiece and it is only a matter of time before it hits the shelves. You send it back to the first agent, she immediately agrees to read it again.
  17. The holiday season comes and goes and still you hear nothing. It has been four months. No. Five. You submit to your friend’s friends who are legit agents. Nope and nope. But you didn’t really want to work with those guys anyway. You’re waiting to hear from her. She is the one, somehow, you think, she understands you, she believes in your ability.
  18. She finally replies. It is another soul-kicking rejection. She enumerates some of her hesitations, but says, “I’m sure someone will snatch this up and this time it will find its home.” She is one of the best in the business. You believe her.
  19. You make a querying spreadsheet and proceed to create a list of fifty agents. You fire off a query a day, probably forty-seven all told, but who’s counting? You get not even one nibble. Form rejection after form rejection flows through your inbox each taking with it a small piece of your heretofore largely intact confidence. You hit up very tertiary friends for personal introductions to agents and continue to get rejected by all.
  20. With the manuscript in limbo, you actually have time, so you pick up Writer’s Digest for the first time in months. It says it everywhere in BIG LETTERS: Build your platform. Yes, you say to yourself, this will help.
  21. You start building your platform–join Twitter, join Facebook groups. You get so excited by Twitter contests and all the cool people who are entering them. You realize you are not alone. But inside, think smugly to yourself: these poor folks don’t know what they’re up against. You’re a professional after all. You talk your eighty-five year old father into submitting to #PitchWars realizing he’s been in this game a lot longer than you have and all he has to show for it is a daughter who idolizes him.
  22. You pick up a copy of one of John Green’s novels and check out Eleanor and Park. Both are using the list device. Your work seems derivative and every agent/editor who sees it is going to think you got your list idea from them. But you didn’t, and you love your lists. And isn’t everything derivative because the whole point is to have a cultural conversation? Lightbulb moment: remember to give your audience a chance to speak.
  23. Get rejected from Twitter contests. #neverthoughtIwasthatbad.
  24. Then you realize: you’re not bad, but they, they are damn good. Feel uplifted by others battling Twitter rejection. You see others are down in the dumps, so you try to mentor them. You are still a good writer, you know that for sure. If there’s one thing you’ve learned by now it’s that these things are subjective.
  25. Hire a Twitter personality to critique your work. She not only tears it to shreds, she tells you to learn how to use a comma and an apostrophe. She calls your MC a pervert, and you paid $260 for the pleasure.
  26. You read her bio, and find out she is bible-thumper. She was never the right reader for your work. You don’t suck. She does. Go to bed thinking that your book wasn’t written for her. She’s not your target market. You pick yourself up and stand up for your favorite lines even if that blogger thinks you stink.
  27. You wait a week and look at her edits again. She wasn’t wrong; you were. Bible-thumper or otherwise, that new intro was forced–like trying to jam jokes into the first page so the old homecoming king would like you. He doesn’t and he probably never will.
  28. Dad promises to leave you his unpublished manuscripts when he dies. You wonder if your kids would feel as blessed, if you promised them the same.
  29. Send more queries. Enter more contests. Accumulate more rejections. Begin to wonder if you’re good enough to remain at your day job as a copywriter.
  30. $2500 for four years of your life is starting to sound kind of good.
  31. Get one more rejection from an agent who is a friend of a friend: “the nebulous truth is: I liked it, but I didn’t love it.” Hit molten-core-of-the-earth rock bottom. Breakdown at breakfast. Your seven-year-old asks what’s wrong. You explain as calmly as you can, between broken breaths, that your dream has been crushed, and you need a moment to mourn it. It has been four years during which time you could have been doing anything else other than painstakingly dedicating your time and energy to creating something that no one except for your unfortunate beta readers will ever read. But you realize this should be a teaching moment, so you allow him to see you in defeat, and then you make sure he’s watching when you pick yourself up and go back to the manuscript. Once he leaves the house, you throw yourself an epic pity party full of throat-burning screams that your toddler would be proud of.
  32. Why didn’t anyone warn you that this was a fool’s errand? You have friends who are published: not one, not two, but more than ten friends you can think of who have published books or articles or something. It didn’t look that hard at the outset. Jealousy takes hold of you. You become stingy with your time, your love, your talents. The failure of your manuscript is like a mirror of your whole life. You no longer see yourself sitting on Jimmy Fallon’s couch next to Matthew McConaughey engaging in witty banter about how awesome you are. You see yourself as plumper, dryer, and more wrinkled than you were when you started this thing. You’re too old to be a ‘young and notable’ author now.
  33. You burn dinner. Your kid pushes his best friend to the floor. You decide you have the opposite of the Midas touch, you have the Sadim touch: wherein everything turns to crap. The word for it is ‘woe’.
  34. Your seven-year-old kid comes home after his own birthday party and says, “Mom, I’m just not cool.” Me neither, you say, knowing that you need him right now even more than he needs you.
  35. You put on your running shoes and run–it is the only thing that makes you feel worthy.
  36. Writer’s Digest arrives. You thumb through it, but you know everything about everything they are discussing. From themes to platforms, to pacing, to dialogue, you know it all. Somewhere along the way, you have learned enough that you cannot be taught anymore. So there’s that.
  37. You cancel your subscription.
  38. People have stopped asking about the book. It is perpetually bad news–like enquiring after a sick parent. It’s probably not that they don’t care, but that they can see you becoming unhinged. A tertiary friend asks about the book–you tell her, flatly, that it’s been four years and you are nowhere, but you say (for her benefit) you can’t just give up. She agrees. BTW, she says, you look great.
  39.  It is all too clear that no one is going to give you the praise that you thirst for. You must find it for yourself–like that time when the blogger told you that your book sucked and you, in your own mind, momentarily, told her to go to hell.
  40. You attend a workshop on raising resilient kids and find yourself making your own resilience doughnut. Beyond all other adversity you’ve faced, this continual rejection of your distilled soul surpasses everything. You wish you lived closer to home, because your doughnut has proven that your parents have always been your pillars.
  41. You know what you have to do: somewhere amongst this misery, you must find the finesse to put the final polish on this rock. It is exactly like Coetzee said, you need strength for world building. Authors are Atlas. You give it one more shot, but in the back of your mind, you know that this is not your last trip up the mountain.
  42. You do not stop to rest. You try another route up the mountain. You will get there, because there is no other alternative.

I, for one, am well and truly convinced that any decline in American students’ academic performance stems from the radical use of one thing: a clear, easy to follow, TV schedule.

You don’t have to live abroad for very long to realize that America is a total outlier in this respect. You think it’s normal to watch Survivor every Thursday at 8 o’clock on NBC until the season ends. It’s not. That is a uniquely American experience.

In Holland, your show may be up to fifteen minutes delayed, because they’ve suddenly decided there aren’t enough babies in the Netherlands, and therefore, they must immediately air some soft porn on primetime.

In England, they love to start shows at 9:05, but that’s just an estimate. It may start a bit early or a bit late depending on how many ‘comic shorts’ they’ve decided to pop in to the day’s schedule. It’s like some bureaucrat knows you’re trying to dodge ads by recording a show, and he gets his jollies off of knowing that you’ll miss the last 30 seconds of Big Brother.

Here, in Australia, a prime time show often airs like this: one and half hours a night on three consecutive nights and then anywhere between one and two hours a night for each subsequent episode of the season. Not with me? Here’s the schedule for the Bachelor: 7:30-8:45 Monday, Tuesday and Wednesdays in August then 8:00-9:15 on Tuesday nights from September 1st. The finale, in October, will surely be on the one night that you haven’t set the hard disk to record anything, say, Monday night at 10pm.

So naturally, I started asking myself “WHY?!” Why on earth would an otherwise fairly advanced civilization make it so difficult to watch the programs they are presumably hoping you will watch?

Here’s my theory: the government doesn’t want you watching Survivor or Breaking Bad or anything even marginally entertaining. They want you to get so fed up and flustered by missing three improbably scheduled episodes that you give up on TV.

Does that sound far-fetched? It might–until you look at the other evidence. Do you know what was on primetime, 8:00 pm on Wednesday night in Sydney? It’s a show called Australia’s Greatest Spelling Bee. It’s a reality show, where you can sit back and watch other people’s children trying to spell words like ‘disappointment’ with no inkling of irony whatsoever.

Out of desperation, the children here obviously turn to homework for some brief exposure to something rational and predictable. You want to fix America? It’s simple: mess up the TV schedule. That’ll learn ’em.

Hey Dad, watcha doin’ here on my blog?

Chris Keelty suggested I “Pimp My Bio”, so here I am.

You’re 83, right?

Age ain’t nothin’ but a number. Don’t be a hater–it’s not ladylike.

So what are you qualifications?

I’m a published author of a non-fiction guide to writing memoirs, and I’ve been a writer/editor for over fifty years. (Not many of you young whippersnappers can say that!) Experience matters in writing. Honing the craft takes a lifetime.

A father/daughter #PitchWars battle. That’s pretty cool, if I do say so myself.

Yeah, well, I had to go easy on you by picking different mentors. Remember how I used to beat you at chess?

How come you never let me win?

Because you learn more from defeat than you do from winning. If you thought you were born a winner, you never would have learned the art of resilience. You learn tenacity by being knocked down and getting back up again. (Besides, I’m a competitive bastard.)

So tell me about your book…

It’s a pirate treasure hunt for the modern age with a plot that features molecular technologies. It’s got a cast that’s ripe with tension: a privileged teen, a drunken captain, and nerdy dad. Everyone wants to find the treasure for one reason or another and betrayal is the name of the game.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Yeah, if any of your mentors happen to be reading this, you should pick my daughter–I taught her everything she knows.

*This message has kind of been approved by Bill.

Hello Zydeco…

May 4, 2010

The brochure billed it as: “the most eagerly awaited spring happening in Finland,” so on Friday night, I left the baby with Pops, threw a couple over-sized beers into my purse, and headed out into the misty night. It was 8:00 and the sun wasn’t due to set for another two hours, so people bustled around tipsy with anticipation of the Vappu holiday.

Vappu is perhaps the most visibly celebrated holiday in Finland. The recent university graduates, and countless alums, don sailor caps and garish overalls and head to Kaivopuisto, a large park on a peninsula surrounded by the sea. Clans of friends stake out a swathe of grass or patch of smooth granite and drink, and drink, and drink. When the sun arrives on the scene, it has got to be one of the best days in Finland–just watch where you step.

April Jazz, “the largest jazz festival in the Helsinki metropolitan area,” overlapped Vappu this year. It was what I have come to expect of Finland: understated, democratic, and better than expected.

Unlike the Montreux Jazz Festival, April Jazz is better than its billing. There are no crowded queues and overpriced, oversold, shows. There’s no excess traffic or ‘festival currency.’ April Jazz feels Finnish in that its open to everyone and spacious. Even the sold-out shows had plenty of breathing room. The coat check was one euro; a beer was five. There were plenty of port-a-potties to go around. The tickets were a reasonable thirty-five for four hours of music. Anyone could dance under the spray of Dwanye Dopsie’s sweat splashing off the pleats of his accordion. With no premium tickets or front row seats, people jiggled and jostled their way onto the sparsely filled dance floor when the mood and the buzz was right.

I had never heard of Zydeco, but then, I am no music maven. Nonetheless, it was a night of pleasant surprises, not the least of which was witnessing a musical genius playing the washboard. I only wish there was someone there who knew how to dance to Zydeco. The Finns don’t have much to shake, but they’ll shake something: an arm here, a leg there, a reserved head-bop while no one is looking. Still, I couldn’t help but feel that a little Crunk-inspired jiggling would have made the night complete.

As the encore ended and Mr. Dopsie hopped down off the stage to accept kisses and to slick his sweaty palms past delirious fans, I was startled to feel not homesick, not enthusiasm, but patriotism. That’s right, patriotism.

Not since the election of Barack Obama have I felt that America does indeed have something truly unique in this world to contribute. And here it was–in the flesh. The Hellraisers are a motley crew with a fifty-something saxophone player, a muscle-clad, burly, accordion-toting lead, and a twenty-something, wiry, washboard wizard who all embody the ingenuity and exuberance that rests and the core of the American soul. Their music reminded me that hope and persistence are not foolhardy characteristics, that tapping into the light of childlike awe is what makes life zesty, and that reinventing oneself isn’t so difficult.

Ok, so maybe that’s reading a bit too much into their performance. But that’s what hit me. And as Dwayne Dopsie himself sings, “No matter where you go, I got to bring you home.”

And so he did.

For a few years, we lived in St-Gingolph, Switzerland. Population: 831. Then we had a baby. Population: 832.

But before the baby, I had a lot of time on my hands. And I had asthma. And now I don’t.

During these years, I spent a lot of time touring the web for cures for my hayfever, asthma even my cellulite. (This blog is anonymous right?) I was getting married and didn’t want to be teary-eyed, sniffling and wearing Spanx on my wedding night. So I had to get these things cured.

Anyway, if you’re into alternative healing, eventually you’ll come across whose tag line is something like: the cure for all diseases. And they tell you to cleanse. Cleanse with lemon juice. Cleanse with vinegar. Drink psyllium. Drink juice. Drink clay. Imbibe Epsom salts. Imbibe olive oil. Imbibe cayenne pepper. Eat raw food. Don’t eat. So I had time on my hands, so I tried it. All of it.

And yes, it was gross.

But it does work–at least to some degree, for some stuff. But not my asthma.

Just to be clear: my asthma had always been mild, but when I got pregnant, it got downright scary. Of course, the last thing I wanted to do was move up to heavy duty steroidal meds with a baby aboard. So I kept digging.

If you hunt for an asthma cure online, eventually, you come across the Buteyko method. Shoot, he even made it to the NYTimes last year. Buteyko’s theory is that asthma is caused by taking in the wrong mix of chemicals in the air. And something about breathing through your nose and not your mouth alleviates much of the problem. Exhaling deeply also helps. But don’t trust my breakdown, look it up.

But you can’t breathe through your nose if you have hayfever. So Buteyko didn’t cut it for me.

Then I came across a scientific article that said that magnesium is used in the ER to treat acute asthma attacks. And once you search magnesium and asthma, you find a truck-load of pertinent information.

So I went back to my Encyclopedia of Healing Foods and read that excess calcium can block the absorption of magnesium. Well, popping supplements is my forté, and my grandmother died of osteoporosis, so I’d been taking calcium supplements for a decade. (About the time my asthma started.) And I took a lot when I got pregnant. Bingo.

Here’s the theory: mild to moderate asthma is caused by an excess of calcium and too little magnesium.

Here’s the scandal: most inhalers and pharmaceutical treatments for asthma inhibit the body’s ability to absorb magnesium. [] Shocking, but not totally surprising right? I mean, nothing brings in consistent profits like chronic disease. Bad pharmaceutical companies. No dessert for you tonight.

In short, I’ve taken magnesium for two years and haven’t need my inhaler since. So for me, the proof is in the pudding. Try some.

Bounce it y’all

April 22, 2010

This is day one of trying to stay relevant while raising a toddler and moving at the whim of my husband’s career.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s an interesting life. Finland is good, really good. Switzerland was not, really not. Globetrotting just isn’t so glamorous when you’re not Paris Hilton.

No matter what 50 Cent says, bouncing from Sydney, to Eindhoven, to St-Gingolph, to Geneva, to Helsinki, etc. is tough. You have people who manifest your entire world for six months. But when you leave, your BFF becomes BFFN (Best Friend For Now.) Only now is over.  Yeah, it’s depressing like that.

The other trouble with The Bounce is it leaves a hole in your résumé like the holes in your heart. But today we’re changing that.

Blog experience? Tick.

I guess the bright side is that one of these days I’ll become one of the people Malcolm Gladwell writes about in The Tipping Point. “A Connector.” The hottest contemporary shoe designs come from Finland? You heard it here first. That’s gotta be worth something.

Connector. I’ll put it on my next business card.

For now, I’d better bounce.