Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Back when I first started working in the Defense Realm - not my Army Days, mind you, which I have always viewed as just something you give back for all the other opportunities you have in this country - but when I started working in the Defense Contractor World, it was a strange and wonderful place.

My first jobs were at Lockheed and Hughes, two of the biggest contractors of that time. I was a junior security rep on several interesting programs, but mostly I was the kid who made up charts, did briefings to the cleared folks about not committing crimes or getting into debt or otherwise making themselves vulnerable to blackmail, and helped everyone with their voluminous and complicated security clearance forms. I met lots of interesting people and got to see some truly spectacular things.

Once, outside the Lockheed buildings in Burbank, a bunch of us looked up into the sky to see a missile launch failure of some sort out of Vandenberg turning the sky a thousand different colors. Another time, I got to see the Chairman of the Senate Joint Services Committee when he came for a meeting and I was badging visitors.

I had previously worked in libraries and for financial institutions, so this was a new and fascinating world. I really liked it, and was pleased that it paid so much more than what I was used to making. I had bounced around various jobs before, but I knew I would make this my career.

And for nearly twenty years I did. I still bounced from job to job, but this time it was because contracts come and go and in the contractor world, you follow the work. Also, companies merge, split, swallow up other companies and change their names. During one job that lasted a good nine and a half years, I worked for four different companies from the same desk. The next position - in the building next door - sent me to four locations for the same company, which changed its name three times during my three years with them. I even spent three years at a manufacturing company which had a government contract.

But it is coming to an end. The Dork Side - the Defense Contractor World - has changed dramatically since 9/11. Heck, it changed dramatically after the Wall came down and the Soviet Union broke up, too. But this is different. My world is darker, scarier.

My physical limitations are making it difficult for me to continue working in this field. I gave up being a soldier with some reluctance, but no regrets. I guess I'm going to have to give up the Dork Side as well.

The good news: I will be writing more, taking better care of my health, and having a healthier and more positive view of the world.


The red Eames DCW - Dining Chair Wood - in the living room. It's a vintage beauty.

My friends Nancy & Joan at dinner at the house. My Dear Husband pulling up photos on the MAC and everyone talking. The warm summer evening.

Running into old and new friends at the vintage furniture store.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007



It's good to know grammar. It's good to have a wonderful vocabulary, use it properly, and know when to be concise and when to throw it all up in the air at one time. It's good to listen to your teachers: Strunk & White, Roget, Oxford English.

But nothing beats telling the story, except telling it well.

Miss Snark - bless her pointy stilettos - used to say "Good writing trumps all." She was right about this just as she was gloriously right about a lot of other things. But she made it clear that the good writing needed something to tell.

This post is really aimed at fiction, although there may be a good morsel or two for the non-fic writer as well. But this story is about stories.

I have recently read two very good stories: A Year of Pleasures by Elizabeth Berg and The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. The first one, a woman's story of widowhood and getting through the days immediately after her husband's death, is slow-going at first, but pulls you into her changing life a piece at a time until her story is told. The second, a story-within-a-story of a biographer and her unusual subject, sucks you into the dual plot immediately and just doesn't let go.

Both stories had the requisite beginning-middle-end, but there's more to good storytelling than the mechanics. Don't get me wrong - the mechanics are vital. I don't care how great your story is, if you can't spell or don't have at least a rudimentary grasp of grammar, I'm not going to read it. If you distract me with inaccuracies, or take me out of the story with intrusions, I'm not going to read it. If your writing is sloppy, your story isn't going to be neat and I won't read it.

But the story is the key and central part of a work of fiction.

Lots of people think they can write a book when they don't know anything about telling a story. These are the same folks who will look at your book and remark vaguely, "Yeah, I could write a book too, if I had the time…" implying both that your achievement is pretty ordinary and you have way too much free time on your hands.

No. They couldn't. What they are really saying is, "I could write a book, if I had a story worth telling and knew how to tell it in an interesting way. But I don't."

When your novel starts edging up to that hundred gazillion word count, check to see where your story is - did it get buried in the details? Is it squished flat under your heavyweight characters? Could you take your main story - your primary plot line - and tell it to me in one page? You know, like you will have to eventually do in a query letter?

Could it make a wonderful and interesting short story?

Or is it just a chronicle of your character's doings, a slice of life with drippy edges…

Read it over - does it have an end? Stories need a logical, satisfying conclusion. Make sure your book gets put down with a smile or a sigh or a poignant gaze after all the words have been read.
Leave 'em full, but wanting the next one.


My new closet. My Dear Husband built it for me over the past weekend.

Mango sherbet. I wanted watermelon, but mango is what they had. It was terrific.

Susie Eaton, my framer, who has opened her own shop and looked happy to bursting at her own counter with her own work displayed, and dozens of orders lined up.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007



Last night I was on a book panel at the Los Feliz Public Library, just down the road from the Griffith Park Observatory and just up the street from Skylight Books, site of the former literary institution, Chatterton's, a raucous, beat, hip and oh-so-charming bookstore now long gone. But Skylight, now celebrating four years, is a wonderful bookstore, with many of the things that made the old Chatterton's attractive to me in my long-gone youth. Beloved independent bookstores, how I seek you out and spend as much time (not to mention money) as I can in your comfy nooks. Skylight hosted a book signing a couple of years ago in which I was a participant. It's one of my new Hillhurst landmarks. I won't miss Chatterton's anymore: I have Skylight.


Cheers for PEARL YONEZAWA, the Library Manager of the Los Feliz Public Library. In an eclectic Los Angeles neighborhood which is also home to the local Public Television Station (KCET) and a myriad of fab little ethnic eateries, this library has expanded from a one-room building across the street to two rooms and finally the magnificent modern structure that it is today, serving a diverse and literate community.

Pearl booked us in for an evening of chat about LANDMARKED FOR MURDER and how to write short stories and where do we get ideas and how do we do research. All writerly stuff, and so much fun! Up in front were mystery writers Michael Mallory (who also moderated), Gayle Bartos-Pool, Jinx Beers, Darrell James, Pamela Samuels-Young, A. H. Ream and Susan Kosar Beery. And me, too.

And there was icy cold water and fruit salad (!) for everyone. Even though there was a heated local political thingy going on at the same time elsewhere (groups for and against the serving of liquor at the new restaurant at the Griffith Observatory) which took a few of our expected participants away, we still had nearly a full room. It was fun and lively and Pearl did things like reserve parking spaces for the participants.


The magnificent SARNO'S was once just around the corner on Vermont, a knock-your-socks-off Italian restaurant and bakery. Opened in 1946 by Umberto Sarno of Naples,.. Alberto, brother of Umberto, joined them in 1964, after years of voice studies in Italy, stood up one day to sing to the customers, and the coffee shop was turned into Sarno's Caffè dell'Opera. Alberto "served up Puccini nightly with the pasta, drawing a clientele that included Sophia Loren, Jimmy Durante, Gina Lollobrigida, Tony Bennett, Mario Lanza and—when he was in town—Alberto's friend, Luciano Pavarotti."* The pastry chef in 1960 was Antonio Neiviller - who in 1987 opened Il Capriccio on Vermont, just down the block. Sarno's closed in 2000 and is now the Vermont Restaurant. I will miss SARNO'S.

*quote from "In Los Feliz, Life Will Be a Little Less Sweet," by Beverly Beyette, Los Angeles Times Southern California Living; Part-E, Aug 1, 2000, pg. 1


Okay, there's always one in every crowd. Once last year at a similar book talk in a library auditorium in Burbank- a large one - it was raining and a lot of the people sitting before us had just dashed in for shelter. One guy sitting up front looked homeless: unkempt, scraggly beard, old Army jacket, plastic bags at his feet.

He asked a lot of interesting questions, though - and he turned out to be a famous screenwriter.

But last night the guy in the old Army jacket with the plastic bags at his feet turned out to be a Scientologist with a persistent interest in Hermann Hesse's Steppenwolf. Sigh.

Aside from him there was a great assortment of interesting people who nodded and smiled when we up on the stage mentioned our favorite authors.

Let's hear for the odd ones out - even if they don't want to talk about the stuff you want to hear. Even if they need a bath, a new focus or a new plastic bag for their notebooks, they're the ones I remember, the ones who will make a repeat appearance in a story someday.


in Pasadena. It's the home of the best taco burgers on the planet, but they're going to close down and move. Maybe they'll re-open. I have been reveling in their food for more than 30 years. They have been in business for 40 years. I had my last Rick's Taco Burger last night - hope it'll hold me until they get back up and running.

Rick's burrito - the famous "Spuderito"

ALL LIBRARIANS. How can they not be beautiful? They keep the world of books and information flowing, giving access to the world to everyone. Let's hear it for them all, and particularly Nancy Hoskins and Joan Schipper (two of my favorite private firm librarians) and for Pearl Yonezawa of the Los Angeles Public Library, Los Feliz Branch.

Loz Feliz Branch Library

APPLE PIE. It's what's for breakfast sometimes. There are three tiny apples on the Fuji tree this year. We transplanted it at the wrong time of year, but had no choice as the concrete went in and it had to be moved to its new permanent home. Not enough for pie this year, but next year should be glorious!

Saturday, July 07, 2007


It is a Beautiful Thing - thanks to all who were interested in this delicious Caribbean treat.

Here's a source online for purchasing a real Jamaican Easter Bun:
The 17th Street Market in Tucson, AZ
And if you want a whole panoply of Caribbean treats, hop on over to SAM'S CARIBBEAN ONLINE STORE - there's a whole assortment of EASTER BUNS in the BAKERY section!

Here's a recipe for those who are culinarily gifted:


Jamaican Easter bun


1 1/2 ozs margarine
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 Tbs honey
1/2 cup stout
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tspn baking powder
1 egg
4 Tbs raisins
4 Tbs Currants
1 Tbs mixed peel
2 Tspns mixed spices


Melt margarine,sugar, honey & stout on a Low flame, stirring.
Sift flour and baking powder and spices
Add beaten egg, fruit and cooled melted mixture.
Mix well.
Pour into a greased and lined 1lb tin and bake at 350 for approx. 45 minutes or until done.


Thursday, July 05, 2007



I write mostly short stories - concise, complete, beginning-middle-end pieces with one or two plot points, one or two (or at the most three) main characters and maybe a satisfyingly twisty ending. I take a week or so to get one out, sometimes longer, sometimes much shorter. The "thought time" - the time I spend ruminating about an idea - can be much, much longer, years even. The end product is usually no more than a page or two for flashes, and not much more for the rest.

But I have been thinking about a novel. Yes, it's a big project. Yes, it makes putting together a precise if not precious little short story collection look easy, and yes, I must be out of my mind. But the idea is there, lurking in my head like a well-behaved child, quietly playing in a corner, smiling when I look directly at it.

I did start something, a first page of a mystery set in Connecticut, I think, with lost dogs and lost children and at least one spooky old house full of secrets and dread. I like my Main Character and I like the vacation premise, a nifty device which limits the amount of time that MC can hang around and get the meat of the story on the table. I like the setting as I myself have recently vacationed in that part of the world. I like lost people and lost stuff and old secrets and spooky houses.

But writing a novel is hard. Even the "thought time" is hard. I know I just want to tell a story, and when I tell the story in short form, I get to the point pretty quickly. But in a novel, I have all this room. It's like being a container gardener who enjoys the little pots of color and scent but is now thrust onto an acre and told to grow food. I *did* write that first page, it *is* intriguing (well, to me, anyway) and I really do want to push forward. But the landscape is daunting.

So maybe I need to do something I have never done before: outline. Outline the big story, and then fill in the smaller stories, maybe. Make character lists in which I describe them so they don't change hair color or family ties or gender mid-story. Sketch out locations, descriptions, where the tension is, where the body is. Okay, *who* the body is - and why they are now just worm-fodder.

But I am afraid to outline and then lose interest, because once I know the whole story, what's the point in telling it? Is this what all novelists face? Do they plod on anyway? Is it really more work, more trouble, more tedium than it's worth?

Maybe. Maybe I'm just really a short-story writer with a screwy idea. Maybe the novel form is more difficult than I imagined, harder than anyone who hasn't tried it knows. For all those folks who sneer and say, "Huh, I could've written this!" after reading a novel, I just want to publicly say, "Oh, yeah? Well, show me!"

Because it's hard. But it's not impossible. At least, I don't think so yet.


My new Florence Knoll couch. Okay, not new - used. Very old in fact, and re-upholstered and really modern looking. Sort of a purpley color, little pointillism dots of red and blue. Very firm, and just the right height. Long enough to stretch out on for a nap, too.

The fireworks last night. We always pick up a chicken dinner and drive to a parking lot and watch the fireworks show put on by a local high school. It was really nice, complete with patriotic music and a local band playing, inexplicably, old Jefferson Airplane hits.

The "Easter Bun" our friend Greg gave us. He lives in the Cayman Islands and gets all kinds of cool Caribbean foods. The Easter Bun turned out to be a particularly delicious kind of fruit cake, perfect for slicing, toasting and slathering with butter. Ideal with cups of tea. What a treat!