Moby-Dick Blackout Poems

Moby-Dick blackout poem
Blackout poem in progress

My novel Landfalls came out in North America yesterday (!!!), and I want to share a quirky project I’ve been working on in anticipation of its launch.

The idea came from Austin Kleon’s newspaper blackout poems. Kleon’s technique entails “finding” short poems in a newspaper page and inking out everything else. They’re really cool. Here’s one example:

Austin Kleon, newspaper blackout poems
Austin Kleon newspaper blackout poetry

I first stumbled across Kleon’s work four or five years ago. I was teaching at Sacramento City College and looking for an engaging and approachable in-class writing exercise for the poetry unit of my Intro to Creative Writing class. Many of my students had signed up to write short stories or personal essays. The prospect of writing a poem daunted them. Indeed, their instructor had not written a poem in many years and wasn’t undaunted herself. Continue reading

Over Many a Quaint and Curious Volume: A Fiction Writer on the Pleasures of Research

Shields Library, UC Davis, egghead
Shields Library, UC Davis

When I was working on Landfalls, my novel about the Lapérouse expedition, I used to joke that the whole endeavor was just an excuse to go to the library—but I wasn’t always sure I was joking.

One of the reasons the project took so long—besides my painfully slow writing and the demands of grad school and work and, you know, family—was the time I spent researching. There was always one more book to read, one more lead to chase down, one more link to click, one more intriguing footnote I had to follow up on.

It could be a problem. Continue reading

How I Found My Agent (and a Few Tips in That Regard)

apricot blossoms
Apricot blossoms – because, why not?

Now that I have a book coming out, a lot of people want to know how I found my agent.

The cheeky version of the story is that it took me almost ten years to write the book and only a week to find an agent.

The less-cheeky version is that I worked pretty hard for a very long time, then experienced some great good luck.

Here is the long version: Continue reading

Our Year in Reading 2014

A long, mesmerizing read about a really dysfunctional society.
A long, mesmerizing read about a really dysfunctional society.

This was the year of long books for me and my spouse. Dan read Don Quixote and The Brothers Karamazov. I read The Goldfinch and The Tale of Genji.

Needless to say — but I’ll say it anyway — those books not originally written in English, we read in translation. In fact, most of Dan’s reading for the year was work in translation. I actually attempted to read Genji in a modern Japanese version, an attempt that lasted two hours and one paragraph.

This year my family did a new thing, which was reading a summer book that all four of us agreed to read. We selected One Hundred Years of Solitude. It was, needless to say — but I’ll say it anyway — an inspired choice, and a fitting tribute to the author, who died in April.

Another new thing: I’m giving Goodreads a try. Continue reading

Twelve Highly Subjective Tips about Applying for Writing Residencies & Grants

filling out form
Follow directions!

Over the last four years, I’ve had the privilege of serving as a first-round reader of applications for a couple of organizations that award writing residencies or grants. I’m always amazed by the quality of the applications I read and overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of strong applications.

Sometimes I’m so bowled over by an application that later, if I learn the applicant was awarded the coveted residency or grant, I feel almost as excited as I would were I getting the prize.

Sadly, of course, the process of reading and evaluating applications means saying “no” far more often than “yes”. A few years ago I started jotting down notes about things I kept seeing that edged applications into the “no” pile. Continue reading