Of dinner parties and dead people

IMG_3232I don’t have nearly as many dinner parties as I used to. This lull in culinary crowd-pleasing is an artifact of (1) having moved around the world six times in seven years and (2) gotten the writing bug.

When I do find myself in the head-of-the-table hostess seat, I skip the political chatter and gossip, and instead ask my guests questions that really matter. One of my favourites (particularly with Coast Guard / Navy types) is this gem:

It’s New Year’s Eve. The Poseidon has just capsized. Which one of you should I follow, and why?

I bloody guarantee you at least forty-five minutes of heated debate. (And you’ll learn something new about ships.)

But the all-time rock star on my list of conversational stimulants is:

You’re having a dinner party and can invite six dead people. Who are they?

The answers inevitably vary. I’ve heard everything from Vince Lombardi to Winston Churchill. Since I don’t do sports or politics, neither of these guests appeals to me — I simply don’t know what we’d talk about (unless it’s Churchill’s famous parrot). So who would make the cut for my Dead Person’s Dinner Party? Here’s the short list:

Roald Dahl, because he’d tell me a story

Alfred Hitchcock, because he’s the person most likely to bring me a prezzie of a tiny coffin with a Tippi Hedren doll inside it

Ayn Rand, because I want to argue the innateness of language theory with her

Carl Sagan, because he never stopped being full of wonder

Billy Wilder, because his movies and his smile are the best ever

Peter O’Toole, because if it’s a dead-person’s dinner party, my husband won’t be there and I want eye candy

Shirley Jackson, because I don’t need to stop at six and I love her

If I had two extra seats at the table, I’d add Nathaniel Branden (because I’d love to hear what he and his former lover Ayn have to say to one another and because I actually had dinner with Nathaniel when he was still walking among the living). I’d also invite Adolf Hitler — it would be fun to watch the other guests kick the living shit out of him. Since that would happen in relatively short order, there’s the added benefit of having a spare place for any late-comers who happened to drop dead in at the eleventh hour. I do hope one of them will be Shirley Jackson (if you don’t know who she is, I’m sad for you, but also happy because you’ll get to read “The Lottery” and “The Summer People” for the first time). Now that I think of it, Ms. Jackson really is worthy of her very own engraved invitation. See above.

So there you have it: the big guest list. I’d learn a good deal at that table. And in the meantime, you’ve learned a bit more about me.

Your turn.

The (Bitter)sweet smell of success


StruffoliActually, it’s very sweet. Dripping-with-honey-and-sprinkled-with-rainbow-coloured-non-pareils kind of sweet:

My flash fiction memoir “The Honey Clusters” won an honorable mention in the 2015 Bethlehem Writers Roundtable Short Story Award and will be featured in their Nov/Dec 2015 issue!

The bittersweet part is in the content of the story. I wrote it shortly after this past Christmas while I still had a small plate of the traditional Italian treat called struffoli (honey clusters) remaining on the kitchen counter.

They don’t last long. They never do. Read more

The Patience of a Writer

Things could be a lot effing worse...

Here’s a wee fact about me: I don’t have any. Patience, that is. And I expect I’m not alone. Chez moi, we’re working on a cure for PDS (Patience Deficiency Syndrome). Multiple steps are involved:

  1. Resist the urge to bang out a full-blown (or mini-blown) revision the minute your agent sends you an email with suggested changes.
  2. If (1) fails, which it inevitably will, resist the urge to send your agent the revision two days after he’s finished reading the most recent version. He needs his rest.
  3. Practice writing paragraphs with one space between sentences instead of two. Trust me, this will take up the better part of a day.
  4. Do not, I repeat – DO NOT, stalk agents, editors, and publishing houses on the Internet. It’s okay to peek once in a while.
  5. Plan your book’s gestation period like you would plan a pregnancy: write in the winter, aim for submission when the weather gets warm. That way you can plant little things in the garden and make believe they’re organic versions of your novels that will grow into great big things.
  6. Apologise in advance to your agent for any insanity your emails to him may manifest in the upcoming days, weeks, months. Consider sending him cookies. Or North Carolina barbecue.
  7. Tackle that mountain of ________ [ironing, paperwork, bills, sewing, refrigerator science experiments, dead houseplants] that’s been growing over the past several months.
  8. Create a mantra along the lines of “I will not become a pariah.” Repeat it early and often or wind up being the woman your neighbours eye warily before ducking back into their houses when you walk down the street with the pooch.
  9. Think hard about picking up that cross-stitch Monopoly board you began last year. You don’t have to work on it, just consider it.
  10. Write the next book. Hell, write two of them.

If none of these works for you, lie back and read a soothing horror book by Stephen KingMisery is a good choice–no matter how anxiety-ridden your days are awaiting responses to queries, revisions, submissions, etc., at least you can smile and say, “It could be worse. I could be Paul Sheldon.”

Things could be a lot effing worse...
Things could be a lot effing worse…

The Truth is Out (I’m addicted to flash fiction)

It’s true. I freely admit it. That’s the first step, right?

I love flash.


And flash, it turns out, has been pretty good to me these days. While I’m wading my way through edits of Lucky Thirteen (it often seems I’m stuck in an infinite If-Then-Do Loop), solidly into the first 10K words of Work in Progress (I borrowed that catchy title from one of my writing friends), I have to find innovative ways to refresh my mind. Read more

Making that bad character badder

IMG_4012 - Version 2

Yeah, I’m a linguist.  I know the word ‘badder’ doesn’t exist in English.  And I know why it doesn’t exist.  So unless you want a dissertation on morphological processes, you might wanna let that one go.

Back to our regularly scheduled programme…

LUCKY THIRTEEN, like all thrillers, has a bad guy in it.  I read somewhere that it’s a rule for thrillers.  If you know me, you know that I’m not a big rule-follower, but this one seemed pretty important. Read more

To Tweet, or not to Tweet?


That was never the question.  Not for this gal, anyway.

Let me explain.

I’m not really a social media fanatic.  In 2013, I went Facebook-free and enjoyed twelve months of liking-sharing-can-you-solve-this-puzzle-in-under-one-minute darkness.  Twas bliss. Read more

So what does a semi-retired linguist do?

This year, I write.

Between August and now, I’ve written a 76,000-word young adult novel (no, it doesn’t include vampires), drafted two chapters and a proposal for a middle-grade book about linguistics (agents are running away, screaming), and begun working on an adult thriller.  Oh, and I know as much as can be known about the literary agent and publishing business as one can learn in three-months’ time.

It’s tough, but the writing continues.