Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Elusiveness of Mindfulness

The 70s - crochet's glory days!
You know how some things feel right from the first moment you try them? Like crocheting, for instance - I remember the first time I borrowed a hook and the tail end of a ball of synthetic yarn from a lady up the street, and *crocheted the hell out of* a chain stitch before doubling back with the blissful revelation of single crochet. I wasn't making anything in particular, but it just felt right.

Writing is like that, of course, and also holding babies and planting bulbs and peeling sunburns and kneading dough. Adding columns of numbers - even calculus! - and painting walls and coasting on a bicycle: all second nature.

What does emphatically not feel right to me, no matter how often I return, is mindfulness. This is not to say that I don't believe in its power - it has saved my ass any number of times. But I resist. I abandon it the moment the sailing gets smooth again, convince myself I don't need it, find a thousand other things that seem more important. Pledge to open the notebook, do the breathing exercise, empty my mind, only to find that it is once again evening of a long day in which I did not make the time.

This time of year, when we consider resolutions and commitments and promises to "do better," it's natural to zero in on those practices that elude us. And we're remarkably varied: I don't have much trouble keeping up with exercise or volunteering, for instance, both common resolutions...and there are lots of people out there for whom mindfulness seems to come easily. One woman's eat-more-kale is another's yell-at-other-drivers-less, so to speak. But why is that? Why do we resist some things that we know are good for us, and give ourselves over easily to others?

A big part of my neglect of mindfulness has to do with leaving a formal group practice. It's a lot easier to keep up when there's a looming deadline; I'm not about to let down my fellow DBT strivers or be the lame-ass person who didn't do the homework (that shame/guilt cocktail has been the subject of many a mindful journal entry, ironically). But that in itself is not the whole story, as there are many practices that I keep up quite well without any sort of formal or group involvement (Weight Watcher point counting comes to mind; also 100-words-a-day for those of you who remember…pushup challenge, fitbit, my budget, and so on).

I'm actually being a bit coy because I already know the answer to why I'm resisting. We balk out of fear. The challenges we most resist/procrastinate/avoid are those that bear the greatest risk of failure, where failure is measured by a complex internal equation that may or may not have anything to do with reality. Resolving to finally finish that first novel, for instance, exposes you to a whole compendium of risk - what if it's abysmal, what if it gets rejected, what if someone finds out you can't remember the proper use of lay/lie and further/farther?

In my case, mindfulness practice is a blunt force trauma shove into facing things I don't feel like facing. Yes, it's good for me. Yes, I'm aware that I'll feel clarity after I put my time in, and that I'll be more likely to act in accordance to my values, blah blah blah. But it will be profoundly uncomfortable first. I will have to accept my own thoughts and feelings and "sit with them" (oh, odious phrase) and resist my preferred method of problem solving, which is to attack problems with an axe and a battle cry and no plan to speak of. Will the discomfort be worse, in the long run, than denial and repeating patterns which have not worked in the past? Of course not. But it's still daunting.

All of this is me leading up to a recommitment, naturally. Yeah, yeah, I'll do it, I'll get my mindful back on, grudgingly at first (but I'll notice the grudging and not judge, allowing it to wash over me like a wave…oh, gak!). For any of you who wish to join me, here is a marvelous summary of the concept of willingness and what it can do for you. It's good stuff, despite the occasional unfortunate florid language and purple metaphor with which all new age-y thinking seems to be infected.

Wishing you all a peaceful new year and see you on the other side….

Monday, December 9, 2013

Title Time

It's that most accursed of times, when a title must be agreed upon for the upcoming book, and days are spent trolling for suitable words like a rhode island crabber looking for bubbles in the sand. (i totally just made that up, as i don't really know how crabbing works, but that's evidence of the flawed imagination that really isn't serving me well right now.)

My technique, honed over more than a dozen books so far, has evolved to this:

1. come up with what seems like a clever title and pretend that *this* time, the marketing people will recognize my subtly erudite word-mastery. Pull the wool over agent's, and occasionally editor's, eyes until we're all convinced we've got a gem.

2. editor returns from marketing meeting, soundly thrashed, with the title shredded and stuffed into a wadded brown paper lunch sack, told to try again.

3. write about 30 titles in frenzy of i'll-show-them-ism. each quirkier than the last, they all hint at magical realism. That is not good for selling commercial women's fiction, it turns out.

4. stern talking-to ensues.

5. at this point i remember the sage advice from my mentor Craig McDonald when i was trying to retitle my very first published novel, the one that eventually became A BAD DAY FOR SORRY: head for the bible and country music lyrics.

6. in this round, i am more methodical, and construct tables of possible word choices and constructions. sometimes i try things that are trending in the market. You know, like "The Art of BLAH" or "BLAH in the Time of BLAH" and so forth.  Usually I can get another thirty or so out this way.

7. Rejected.

8. That brings us to the stage I'm in now, where things fall apart a bit. I beseech friends to help (it's always, for some reason, easier to write friends' titles than one's own) and I spend a lot of time looking up synonyms for promising words and then getting distracted by the search results and wandering down google rabbit holes.

So i don't have a title yet (though another thirty new efforts will be rattling around my editor's in-box tomorrow morning), but I did stumble across this gorgeous Bukowski, using the unlikeliest of search strings:

Carson McCullers

she died of alcoholism
wrapped in a blanket
on a deck chair
on an ocean
all her books of
terrified loneliness 
all her books about
the cruelty
of loveless love 
were all that was left
of her 
as the strolling vacationer
discovered her body 
notified the captain 
and she was quickly dispatched
to somewhere else
on the ship 
as everything
continued just
she had written it

- Charles Bukowski


Monday, December 2, 2013

Kicking Off the Holidays with Terry Shames

A few weeks ago at the NorCal Sisters In Crime event, I got to chatting with my old friend Terry Shames, author of A KILLING AT COTTON HILL, her highly lauded debut. Terry agreed to share her thoughts on the upcoming holidays here, with us!

Look for her next novel, THE LAST DEATH OF JACK HARBIN, in January.

Me: What kind of holiday shopper are you? Super prepared, completely last minute or somewhere in between?

Terry: Holiday? What holiday? Shopping? What day is it? Yikes!

Over the years I've had a recurrent dream that I'm in a drugstore at midnight on Christmas eve trying to find semi-reasonable gifts for people. There's a good reason for that dream. I hate to shop even when it isn't  Christmas, so the Christmas shopping retrace isn't for me.

When I was young I used to make a lot of gifts, so started really early. One year I made life-sized dolls for my nieces. Another year I made shirts for all the men in the family. After my folks died, I found the wool shirt I made for my dad. He still wore it. I was dazzled at the workmanship in it. What happened to me that I stopped doing things like that? I don't really even like to decorate for Christmas anymore. Scrooge and I could sit down over a nice eggnog, laced heavily with brandy, and get along just fine.

Me: Shirts? You made shirts for *all* the men? Since I sew, I know that was an incredible undertaking…unless they were the poke-a-hole-in-a-trash-bag variety. My mom made my dad a shirt once early in their marriage - every single seam of the plaid was perfectly matched; most of the seams were french. He still owns it, over fifty years later.

As for me, when my kids lived at home, I started the shopping literally a few weeks after Christmas. I loved finding the perfect little inexpensive trinkets for their stockings. My brother and sister and I all love that tradition best from our own childhood, so I tried to recreate it in my own family. Of course, it's a little more difficult now. For one thing, I have much less time to devote to the project and I generally don't get started until December. And for another, it's very hard to find items small enough to fit in a stocking that would suit a 21-year-old college student. I'm thinking of just filling the thing with lacrosse balls.

I'm very amused at the idea of you sharing a spiked eggnog with scrooge. The truth is that I've seen you at enough events to know that you could charm the bells off the reindeer. 

What is one of the most memorable gifts you have received?

Terry: The best gift I ever received: I was seven years old and my sister was four.  Our paternal grandparents were very poor, and lived on a small farm on the outskirts of a small town in Texas. Every year on the day before or after Christmas they would have Christmas celebration at their house. They had four kids and lots of grandchildren. Gifts were strictly for children. One bedroom of the two bedroom house would be closed off,  and a Christmas tree erected in it. The day of celebration, we would all have dinner (this was a midday meal, not evening.) Afterwards, the children would be in a high state of anticipation until eventually a grown-up would say, "I think I saw someone pass the window just now. I'd better go see who it was." The children would all start squealing! Sure enough the adult would come back and say, "That was Santa and he just left some gifts under the tree."

The particular year, when my sister and I walked into the room there were two, amazing, very different baby doll cradles under the tree for us. Because I was older, I could choose the one I wanted first. One was blond wood with curved ends and little decals. The other was dark wood with squared off ends. I was desperate for the light one. But I did not want to disappoint my sister by choosing the one she wanted.  What agony! My mother, who was not known for her kindness, said in the kindest possible voice, "I want you to choose the one you really want. Don't worry about your sister." So I chose the blond one.

Here's the kicker: A couple of years ago my sister and I were talking about this and she said she was in as much agony as I was, terrified that I would choose the dark one--the one she wanted. We both wondered if our mother knew which one we really wanted. Clearly, she knew I would have trouble worrying that I would disappoint my sister--but did she know our taste?

So the best present I ever got was the admonition from my mother to choose what I really wanted. It was a powerful message to a little girl and one that has served me well. I still wonder how my grandparents managed to afford those magical cradles. In a way, it was a double-whammy--the cradles themselves and the lesson I learned.

Me: Love that story...Do you give books as gifts? Any tips for finding the perfect book for each person on your list? What's a book you'll be giving this year? 

Terry: Of course I give books as gifts. Always. Including children. It's one of the great pleasures to go to a bookstore and look through the books to choose just the right books for the people in my life. Sometimes it's cookbooks, or a beautiful coffee table book of art or travel, or a biography that I know the recipient has been waiting to read. But I almost always choose at least one fiction book for each person as well. I think that to choose the right book for someone, you have to know their taste. I know, for example, that I can read much darker books than my sister enjoys. And I know one of my friends prefers books about historical perspective. One person in particular I love to buy books for is my nephew. For him, I can go out on a limb and choose really odd books that probably no one else will enjoy. He's an avid and wide-ranging reader. And in return he introduces me to books I might never have read. One new reader in my family is Grayson, who is soon to be three. I know that he loves books with food scenes. He will go over again and again what the characters eat at a picnic, or what they have for dinner. By the way, his father is a chef. Go figure.

This year I've already bought "Jerusalem," a cookbook that wowed me and that I think one of my friends will love. And I will be buying mysteries. Who doesn't love a good mystery?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Gratitude is the Attitude - and consider RTO for Holiday giving

I just read a great article in the December issue of Good Housekeeping (women's magazines are a favorite holiday-time indulgence - I can't get enough of those photo essays of perfect food!) about  how helping others can promote optimism which in turn has enormous health benefits.

I've known this at the bone-deep level for a while. One of the biggest challenges of my Terrible Year (as I've come to view the year of my divorce) was maintaining an attitude of compassion and good will, while remembering all the blessings I still had, and the new ones that were sure to come. I was struggling to stay on the Medium Road some days - never mind the High Road - but somehow I intuited that helping someone else might be the best way out of that funk.

I've talked before about how much I enjoy my literacy work in the Oakland public schools, but this year I added a second, very different job: I work on the Tuesday crew to make small home improvements for impoverished elderly here in Oakland.

I had no idea what to expect, and I felt seriously unqualified the first time I showed up, as instructed, in the RTO T-shirt and jeans and boots, ready to work. Since then I've learned a number of skills (some of them involving power tools!) that have enabled me to assist in installing grab bars, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and making other small improvements. I've traveled all over my beloved adopted home town and met some incredibly selfless people, as well as members of my community who have dazzled me with their stories, their memories, their walls full of family photos, their grace and - yes - gratitude. I've had a number of preconceptions shattered, which is the second-best benefit of volunteering, after the incredible optimism boost it gives me, one that lasts long after I get home.

unofficial mascot of the RTO crew,
on recent rainy outing in the ol' RTO pickup
Anyway, I know that many of us face the gift-giving season with a sinking heart. What can we give our loved ones that will actually express our love, that they don't already have? (other than the kids, of course - I'm a firm believer in spoiling the kids in my life absolutely silly) This year I'd like to gently suggest you consider a gift in your friends' names to an organization that can help other folks.

And if you need suggestions, I'll give you three.

Rebuilding Together Oakland

Reading Partners

The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

My compliments to Sherman: no more "By the Book" haters

I'm a week overdue in reversing my grumpy-rampage about the gender-imbalanced cant comprising the "By the Book" column in the New York Times lately.

(For those who'd rather move ahead, check out Amy Tan in this week's column; Amy not only spreads the love, M-F-wise, but also shares my conviction that a prison might be a handy place to get some work done, and had this very wise comment on genre fiction that will appease even with the prickliest of carmudgeons like myself: "I don’t steer clear of genres. I simply haven’t steered myself toward some of them." Ha! Kudos, Amy.)

Some of my smart friends have had literary crushes on Sherman Alexie for years. Now I understand why. Read the whole delightful column, or just enjoy a few of these gems, below. Sherman mentions literally dozens of other authors, proving a generosity of spirit on a level with his own magnificent curiosity, and it's about evenly split between men and women…and genre and literary.

  • "I am a very promiscuous reader. Anytime, anywhere." 
  • "I would love to go on a first date with Dorothy Parker and get verbally eviscerated."
  • "I always have this reflexive animosity toward the new hot writers like Karen Russell or Chad Harbach, so I buy their books, read the first page and then set them aside for months. Eventually, I go back, read the books and discover, of course, that the books are great. It’s my literary pathology."

He has just made the top of my "famous writers I'd invite to dinner" list. (Oh! I just had a bunch of famous writers to dinner! Among others, Rachael Herron and Dave Madden, 1st and 3rd from L in this picture.) Sherman, if you're reading this, totally call me! We'll get something on the calendar!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Farewell, Waffle House

Got some very sad news the other day, via my sharp-eyed brother

The Waffle House where I worked all through college in the 1980s is being torn down:

Such memories I have of that place!  Often, i was either on the graveyard shift (11pm-7am) or, on weekends the early shift, which started at 5am. That shift was especially tough the year I lived in a house with five girls, all of whom liked to party...noisily...on Friday and Saturday nights.

The uniforms were actually pretty cute, at least compared to the dreadful burnt-orange uniform I'd worn at Howard Johnson's all through high school. They were navy blue, jumper style, and if they were made of polyester at least they had a short A-line skirt that made your legs look longer - very good for tips.

I learned a lot from my co-workers and my customers. There were fishermen who came in around 3am, to eat a big meal before they headed out on the lake. There were senior citizens who belonged to a country line dancing club - what I remember most about them was that they were always laughing and teasing each other, playfully accusing each other of trying to steal each other's spouses. The ladies wore lacy crinolines under their skirts even though they were unbelievably old - at least as old as I am now. :) I think those guys had the secret to aging gracefully worked out and I wish I had taken notes.

There were regulars who gathered to discuss what was going on in the world. I'll never forget a night when half a dozen of them came in to discuss a rash of teen suicides taking place in the town. The sense of a community coming together in a very private and fiercely compassionate way has come back to me years later when tragedy struck other communities I've lived in.

There was a boy I flirted with, shamelessly, month after month. He was a line cook and he drove a yellow Datsun pickup truck. He never asked me out. I don't know, but I suspect, that it was because he was a townie and I wasn't. If you ever saw Breaking Away...yeah, some of that was true.

And oh, the food. I used to take a fork and go back into the fridge and eat the cobbler right out of the pan. I *know* that is terrible and I'm going to hell for it, but people, it was so delicious - especially the peach. Home made right there in the kitchen. I also learned to love fried corn meal mush. I've never seen grits/polenta cooked that way, anywhere else but Indiana. I believe I probably ate about 8,000 calories on every shift, but I had a hell of a metabolism back then and I was skinny as a stick.

The article was written for the campus rag, the Indiana Daily Student. It's quite a nice piece by a young woman named Jessica Contrera

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Reinvention for Beginners

Gillian Roberts
 Not long ago I was at an event with author Gillian Roberts when she said “I do love a good reinvention story.”

That struck a chord with me. I’ve been undergoing my own reinvention for long enough now that it feels more like the new normal than like an act of particular bravery, but I do remember that when it first started I was very frightened. In fact, if a whole set of circumstances hadn’t made drastic change not only necessary but unavoidable, I’m not sure I would have been able to pull it off.

my friend Jan
That’s why, when I see my peers starting second acts armed with nothing more than grit, I applaud with enthusiasm. I had lunch with a friend the other day and found out she’d just started a new business. She and I used to be next-door neighbors, our kids in diapers together. About twelve years ago she decided that her old corporate life wasn’t for her, and signed on as an apprentice at a design firm. Today, she is the owner of Jan Galletly Interiors.

I think sometimes I give people the impression that reinventing must be subversive. (The tattoo and extra piercings may contribute to that impression.) But nothing could be further from the truth. Change only needs to be significant to the person making it. 

In the past month, a friend of mine who was a nurse before raising her children and then becoming a widow, returned to school to be an aesthetician. Another friend left a position she’d held at a law firm for many years to become lead counsel at a risky venture. Her comment to me was “If I can’t do this now, at fifty, then when?”

A therapist once told me that if I was uncomfortable, it meant I was doing the right thing, meaning that we have to push ourselves past what we think we can achieve in order to discover what we’re capable of. 

I’m writing this on a Sunday evening, about to put the lid on this week’s work and tidy up the desk for tomorrow. I’ve been thinking that I’d like to try something a little different next week. Now I just need to decide what that might look like.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Are You Toying With Me, NYTBR?

I'm kind of at a loss as to what to make of this week's New York Times Book Review. I was ready to shut my little "do they read women?" project down, after week after week of depressing results, when Donna Tartt broke my heart a little by including not a single woman in her entire "By the Book" interview (unless you count fictional characters). 

Donna! Where's the love, sister? I  had actually been a fan of yours, not because of your work (my bad; haven't read you yet) but because you were apparently lovely to the hairdresser who accidentally cut you. But good manners are something one must practice every day. It's perfectly fine to have one's preferences ("I'm not very interested in...books about marriage, parenting, suburbia, divorce"), but - since you say you love "fairy tales, ghost stories, adventures" and plan to read King's DOCTOR SLEEP next, it's downright rude to snub the many, many fantastic female authors of same.

But back to the subject. In this week's review, I give credit for the coverage of genre fiction, something we should celebrate with great gusto. (Pause for cheering.)  However, was it necessary to backhandedly snub all those who write it? Perhaps I should be satisfied that - in gender terms anyway - y'all were evenhanded, providing this apologia for Helen Fielding's new book: "This is romantic comedy - chick-lit, really - but [it's okay to read it anyway - paraphrasing mine]" and these snippy words for the new Scott Turow: "The novel grows more lurid and pulpy as it proceeds, with enough running around and twists to make a soap opera writer blush."

(Ouch! Soap opera writers, so sorry, but apparently you've been barred from the party. Don't worry; you may find kinship with romance writers, who were kicked out long ago and are congregating at the lowbrow establishment down the street. You know, the one with SIXTY PERCENT OF THE FICTION READERSHIP.***)

I was feeling a little bruised at this point, but there was little to find objectionable in the reviews of the historic and literary novels and short story collections that followed. The discussion of Philip Roth and Norman Mailer at least allowed (again, paraphrasing) that both men were essentially giant dicks in many important perhaps now we can stop devoting precious dwindling review column inches to them? Please?

Anyway, i find myself wandering from the path. If I keep this up, it seems unlikely that the NYTBR will ever invite me to guest-post. I should admit that the antipathy isn't really mutual. I'm more like a jilted ex-lover. They've said lovely things about me in the past, after all. But in the years since A BAD DAY FOR PRETTY was named a NYT Notable Book, I've grown a little more - what's the word? - critical

*** Yes, it's true. Don't faint. ***

****** UPDATE!!! ******

An astute reader pointed out that Tartt does mention several women writers in her interview. That did not jibe with my memory so I asked a friend and my brother to check their print copies.  Here are their responses:

from my brother - I went to the library and copied the printed version of her interview. The online version is longer, with 3 or 4 additional questions. The relevant one is the first, "What are you reading at the moment?" which is omitted entirely from the print version, and is the only place where Tartt mentions female authors by name. All other questions are exactly the same, or are included only online but mention no authors; apart from that first question, the only female author is mentioned implicitly, in a reference to Tom Ripley.

from my friend - THAT FIRST PARAGRAPH IS MISSING from the paper version. This seriously deserves a NEW blog post. Holy shit. At the end it does an expanded version can be found online. What should we cut? Cut the women! That's it! 

Unfortunately I don't have time to share all my thoughts about this at the moment as I am headed for Phoenix in the morning and there are several beers I must drink first with some friends tonight. So I invite all of you to ponder what this means and if, indeed, by removing the ONLY paragraph mentioning women authors, NYTBR is, indeed, messing with me/us.

Oh, and sorry, Donna!  I owe *you* a beer!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Thursday Salon: On Middle-Age Dating

 Thursdays at my house often mean writing friends coming to visit. These wonderful occasions feature endless coffee and lots of writing. We sometimes do 45/15's, a favorite old standby of mine in which you work flat-out for 45 minutes and then get 15 minutes to chat.

Laughter, as you might imagine, ensues. :)

A recent Thursday Salon

This week I was sharing my recent experiences with online dating. I was curious about this phenomenon I've observed where mature men often want to date strictly younger women - curious enough to ask one of them. 

I read the correspondence to my friends. This gent admits to being 64 and is willing to date ladies 29-50. (I'm fifty, so he generously contacted me even though I'm reaching the upper limit of his sell-by standards.)

ME: i am curious about something that perhaps you can explain to me.  what is it with men who won't date a woman their own age? i get that they are fit, handsome, energetic, etc...but why don't they believe it possible that women could be too? 

HIM: I don't seem to be much like most guys that I run into that are my age. Regarding the women, I've been excoriated about this, with more or less vitriol, several times, so I did an experiment. I raised my age limit. The women that began contacting me were typically very old looking, about 40 lbs overweight, who thought stamping (or something of that ilk) was an art form. When I have actually chosen to meet some of them, they're not very good conversationalists, aren't very curious, sort of don't have much life energy. Also, frankly, they're kind of asexual. This has borne itself out several times. My last two relationships were with a 43 yo and a 49 yo. Most people I meet, if the topic comes up, think I'm 47-55. This happens pretty consistently. 

I invite you to imagine what my smart, funny women friends made of this conversation. After laughing our asses off, the general consensus was that the "asexual" vibe he was picking up was "how long do i have to sit here before making an excuse to leave so i can go re-watch the entire first season of Orange is the New Black."

Because, suprisingly, no lady likes an arrogant douchebag with an inflated self-concept! 

Oh, and...funny, stamping may not impress this guy, but the Detroit Institute of Art thinks it's okay:
courtesy of Dear Mr. Scrapbook
...which perhaps confirms yet again that it's not a good thing to put middle-aged white guys in charge of determining what constitutes art.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Back from Chicago

I just returned from one of the nicest short event trips - back to my old hometown, Chicago.  I moved there with my brand new husband in 1990, and we lived near this venerable old institution in Lincoln Park:
photo courtesy of CenterStage
Later we moved to Evanston, where both of our children were born, and where we stayed until we moved to California in 1998. I got to see so many old friends this week, and catch up on the kids - babies back then - who are in college now.

A highlight of my trip was a visit to the Tuscan Market in Arlington Heights, where I spoke to a sold-out book club crowd, some of the nicest readers I've ever met.  These are book people...and they are also wine people. I held off until after my talk to let them pour me a glass, but I certainly did enjoy their brand of hospitality.

Here I am with Julie Merilatt, who runs JulzReads book blog and wrote a very nice post about the event and GARDEN OF STONES.

this is Julie's picture - i got it from her blog :)

I also spent some time with the Kaye Publicity team, culminating in the Chicago Literati event Tuesday night. I met a ton of other authors and publishing world people - and I got to see my old pal Bryan too. Jamie Freveletti took me out for chicken wings, and then she reminded me of the plans we made back when we were brand-new published writers, and how far we'd come since then. That was definitely something to celebrate.

Thanks so much to Anne and Olivia and Dana for making this week happen!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Cover Reveal: House of Glass

I'm delighted to unveil the cover of my new thriller, out next February from Mira!

HOUSE OF GLASS is the second novel I worked on with editors Erika Imranyi and Leonore Waldrip, after GARDEN OF STONES. We really gave it our all, and I can't wait for you to be able to read it.

Jen Glass has worked hard to achieve the ideal life: a successful career, a beautiful home in an affluent suburb of Minneapolis, a seemingly perfect family. But inside the Glass house, everything is spinning out of Jen's control. Her marriage to her husband, Ted, is on the brink of collapse; her fifteen-year-old daughter grows more distant each day; and her five-year-old son barely speaks a word. Jen is on the verge of breaking, but nothing could have prepared her for what is to come…. 

On an evening that was supposed to be like any other, two men force their way into the Glasses' home, but what begins as a common robbery takes an even more terrifying turn. Held hostage in the basement for more than forty-eight hours, Jen and Ted must put aside their differences if they have any hope of survival. They will stop at nothing to keep their family safe—even if it means risking their own lives.  

A taut and emotional tale of a family brought together by extraordinary forces, House of Glass is a harrowing exploration of both the lengths a mother will go to protect her children, and the power of tragedy to teach us what truly matters. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Great Reviews for GARDEN OF STONES Audiobook!

The audiobook cover
We've been getting some great responses this month to the audiobook of GARDEN OF STONES.  I'm so grateful to my wonderful reader, Emily Woo Zeller, and Sarah Rooney and the Tantor Audio team.

You can read a Library Journal interview between me and Emily.

Or read the nice reviews below!

I'll be giving away two copies of the audiobook in next month's e-newsletter, to randomly chosen subscribers. (Sign up here for the newsletter.)

Emily Woo Zeller, narrator

“On the eve of her daughter's wedding in 1978, the once beautiful Lucy Takeda recounts the horrors she faced as a teenager in a Japanese internment camp. The events of the war years left her both physically and psychologically scarred. Emily Woo Zeller's expressive performance quickly draws listeners into Lucy's world, capturing their interest from the opening murder scene in Lucy's youth and maintaining it to the surprising revelations in the closing chapters. Although her narration is sometimes marred by breath sounds, Zeller's consistent and varied characterizations are impressive. Especially noteworthy is her ability to convey Lucy's growing awareness of the underside of camp life and her transformation from a happy, confident schoolgirl to a lonely, guarded young woman.” - Audiobook

“In Littlefield's ("Aftertime" trilogy; A Bad Day for Sorry) latest stand-alone, three generations of Japanese American women are affected by the forced internment of Japanese citizens in California during World War II. In 1978, with the war long over, Patty is temporarily living with her mother, Lucy, when police arrive to question Lucy about the suspicious death of a man who was a guard at Mazanar, where she and her mother, Miyako, were residents. When they were sent to the camp, Miyako and 14-year-old Lucy were still grieving the recent death of Lucy's father, and the move to the camp marked the end of Lucy's childhood. The camp is rife with corruption and abuse, and the beautiful Miyako is targeted in ways that have tragic consequences for both herself and Lucy. Told through flashbacks, Littlefield's novel vividly describes camp life and the hardships and deprivations of a shameful and often forgotten episode in American war history. Emily Woo Zeller is an excellent narrator, clearly differentiating the voices of the various characters. VERDICT Recommended for fans of historical fiction.” - Library Journal

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Raffle Winners - and a few Stella reviews

Thanks to all of my newsletter subscribers! If you're not already on my list, you may join here - and be eligible for occasional giveaways. 

 To celebrate the release of A BAD DAY FOR ROMANCE, I did a drawing for three sets of the AFTERTIME trilogy. The winners were Maxine Sessions, Cara Guerrieri, and - of all things - my dear friend Cheryl's sister, Denise Kuhn. I love small world reminders like that - I swear it was a totally random drawing but somehow I managed to pick out someone to whom I have a connection. 

 Thank you also to everyone who's reading A BAD DAY FOR ROMANCE. Here's a sampling of what readers have to say: 

 "It was fantastic, with all the terrific character-based humor I've come to expect." - In One Eye, Out the Other 

 “A rollicking adventure with a dash of mystery thrown in…a great enjoyable light read.” – Mysteries Etc. 

 "I'd say Ms. Littlefield got my won't want to miss this one." Book Faerie

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Happy Stella Day!

Labor Day is the perfect day to laze about reading a book, right? If you're searching for something new to download to your reading device, how about...
A BAD DAY FOR ROMANCE, the fifth in the Stella Hardesty mystery series. It's out today!

Many thanks to my agent and editor, Barbara Poelle and Abby Zidle, for their help with this one - we had a great time putting the gang through their paces. Especially the spicy bits! :)

There's buy buttons and an excerpt over on my web site - and here's a synopsis: 

That’s no cupid, it’s a bridesmaid with a crossbow. Stella Hardesty is a seamstress with a sideline job in vigilante justice in this entertaining ebook in the Edgar-nominated and award-winning Bad Day series.

Two days before her best friend gets married, Stella Hardesty has nothing more pressing on her mind than fitting into her fluffy pink bridesmaid gown, mixing her next cocktail, and enjoying a romantic weekend with her sometimes beau, BJ Brodersen. Just as she’s headed to the bridal shower, word comes that BJ and smokin’ hot sheriff Goat Jones have gotten into a dustup over Stella’s affections.

Before Stella can recover from this startling development, more bad news comes along. The minister’s niece, the hard-to-love pageant princess Divinity Flycock, has been arrested for the murder of her fiancĂ©. The bride begs Stella to clear Divinity’s name so that her minister will be able to perform the nuptials. When Stella starts digging into the case, however, she uncovers a world of jealous nightclub singers, firearms dealers, and the ugly underbelly of reality TV. Hot on the trail of the truth, she’s distracted by the arrival of the sheriff, who finally seems ready to make a claim for her affections.

I love this cover so much! (Thanks to the arty folks at Pocket Star!) In fact, I'm going to hang it on my dining room wall. Here's my son, who's enjoying his last few days of freedom before heading back to college by snoozing on the couch. I tried to wake him up to pose with the picture, and as you can see, he got about halfway there before falling back asleep. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

James Patterson: wants to dine with Angelina Jolie, but only reads dudes

A while ago I excoriated Kevin Powers for his poor showing in the NYTBR column "By the Book." Today's column featured James Patterson. Awesome! After all, he's got a whole series about women - The Women's Murder Club series - so surely we can expect a peek into his reading list to be peppered with inspiring women, right?

Well, let's see how our buddy James did today. Remember, all we're doing is checking to see how many male versus female authors (filmmakers, poets, etc.) are mentioned in the responses to questions like "Whom do you consider the best thriller writers of all time" and "If you could meet any writer, dead or alive, who would it be?"

Okay. Counting, counting....ouch!  James, my man, you come in with 25 men and only 3 women - one of whom was Angelina Jolie, who you want to have "dinner" with. (Presumably the conversation would be literary? Or...not?) I'm even spotting you those references to Klee, Chagall and Peter Pan. At least you know slightly more ladies than good old Kevin Powers - 10.7% versus his rather more poor showing of, well, zero percent.

Look, I'm not trying to humiliate any of you guy writers. I mean, my own brother copped to a bias last time, but at least he vowed to be more mindful about his reading choices in the future. That's all I'm asking. Just...think for a minute.

I mean, what if your daughter wants to grow up to work with words? Wouldn't you like her to have a fair shake? I know I would. Speaking of which...

Yesterday, my baby girl started college. Here she is, all moved in to her freshman dorm, and flanked by her loving family. She's going to thrive - and woe to anyone who gets in her way. Littlefield women don't cotton to being told no. :)

Friday, August 9, 2013

My Dad - being smart on TV!

Here is my dad, the rock star law professor, talking about recent Supreme Court decisions.  So proud!!

By the way, I get asked a lot how I get my ideas, how I got interested in Japanese internment, etc.  The answer has at least something to do with growing up in a house where everyone practiced intellectual curiosity - and I'm grateful for that opportunity. Thanks Dad!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

I Love You More Every Day, Jennifer Weiner

...and not just because you're a kick-ASS writer and always have been.

I just finished Weiner's latest, and I loved it (got me through a sad family loss, in fact), but that's not what this post is about. The truth is that I am a little shy about rhapsodizing about my favorite authors in venues where they actually might stumble on me fan-girling. I have a mash letter started, to a favorite author who managed to actually change the course of my life with her latest book last spring, but I doubt I'll ever send it - too stalkery somehow, too tongue-tied/abashed/I-feel-thirteen-and-awkward ish.

But we're not talking about writing today. And we're not talking about being brave even when the haters show their ugly, ugly faces, either, even though Weiner should be your hero too for her courage. (Fuck you, Andrew Goldman, as well as anyone who continues to answer every brave woman's demand for respect by implying they're too ugly to invite sexual interest.)  (Oops, sorry, got distracted.)

Today we are talking about Fashion. In what was probably a cheeky response to the recent furor, the NYT Styles section column "What I wore" - which usually features wealthy and stick-thin men and women describing their couture choices for swanning about town - featured Weiner talking about her fashion choices for a week. It may be the first time anyone featured in that column copped to wearing  anything purchased at Lands End or Old Navy. I practically fell out of my airport gate area chair at the conclusion...

"Woke up and threw on Marni peep-toe black leather bootees, Helmut Lang leather leggings, a Catherine Malandrino crocheted tank, a vintage Balmain scarf and my Chanel glazed-calfskin bag.
Ha! I actually wore my old faithful Lands’ End black one-piece, Eileen Fisher light-blue linen tunic and San Diego Hat Company hat for a walk on the beach, a dip in the bay, a swim in the pool, a trip to the post office, writing and then clamming on the beach: 35 clams!"

Wednesday, July 31, 2013


October 28 marks the release of the second Joe Bashir crime novel, SHATTERED BOND. It will be available for all e-readers from Pocket Star.

Here's a bit about the story:

Detective Joe Bashir enters the glittering world of San Francisco society…and what he discovers will shatter three families.

The discovery of a murdered teenager disrupts a fundraiser given by Napa Valley vintner Hale Francesci at the Montair Country Club. While Hale and his wife entertained their guests, their seventeen-year-old daughter Courtney was the last person to see her best friend Ashley Cole alive in a nearby strip mall parking lot.

When Detective Joe Bashir begins interviewing Ashley’s friends, neighbors, and teachers, suspicion splinters in every direction. Courtney hints of an affair with an older man; rumors fly of a missing sex tape; and Joe discovers troubling details about Ashley’s relationships with her addict mother and absentee father. Meanwhile, the Francescis threaten to disrupt the investigation, and Joe struggles to navigate the waters of their elite circle all while fielding his mother’s attempts to fix him up with a nice Pakistani girl. Will he bring a killer to justice, and peace to Courtney at last?

Monday, July 29, 2013

Read my first Joe Bashir novel - for free!

Exciting news - Pocket has made my first novel in the Joe Bashir crime series, BLOOD BOND, available to read for free this week!

Click here, and check out everything that's new on the XOXO After Dark site.

Here's a bit more about BLOOD BOND:

A fatal hazing accident thirteen years ago comes back to haunt the families involved in this first full-length novel featuring fan favorite detective Joe Bashir.

Sexy Pakistani-American Detective Joe Bashir is called to a crime scene in the wealthy foothills of California, where politically ambitious Bryce Engler’s dinner party is ruined when a guest’s body is found in a pool of blood. Two days later, Engler’s beautiful wife Gail lies dead at the foot of a cliff on nearby Mount Diablo.

When Joe turns to Gail’s sister Marva for insight into the family history, he discovers that thirteen years earlier, Gail was responsible for the hazing death of a fellow co-ed. Her then-boyfriend engineered a cover-up that deflected blame onto another girl. As Joe searches out everyone who might still hold a murderous grudge, he realizes there was more to the Engler marriage than meets the eye….

Please Vote! Book Giveaway to CA High Schools

Hey all, Marshall Zeringue, blogger and supporter of readers and authors everywhere, has put together a book giveaway raffle for California High Schools. This is part of his Campaign for the California Reader.

I've nominated schools from both my old and new lives, but feel free to vote for any of the schools on your list. (Well, actually, if you're not sure who to vote for, maybe pick Oakland Tech.)

It's a simple single click - no long forms to fill out - and some school will get a boost to their library for the upcoming year. Thanks all!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Seriously, Guys...Don't You Know Any Women?

I've noticed a disturbing trend in the NYT Book Review. No, not this one, though I'm very glad the VIDA people are on it, but yet another instance of demoralizing gender bias in our ranks.

I enjoy reading the "By the Book" author interview column every week. I appreciate the glimpse into the minds of a variety of authors and I think they do a pretty good job of inviting diverse voices.

The authors are asked to name favorite reads and authors in a variety of questions ("Who's your favorite poet", "What book have you always meant to read", etc.). Far too often, the ratio of men to women is so lopsided as to be embarrassing. Now, I'll admit that my own list might be skewed slightly male. I don't know what the ratio would be - maybe 60-40? 55-45? But it's when the equation starts heading toward 90-10 that I'd question the author's reading list. Because I think it represents carelessness or bias in selection rather than quality.

I don't mean to pick on Kevin Powers, but of the fifteen authors he mentions in last week's column, there were exactly...ZERO women.

I can feel my pulse racing a little just thinking about it. Seriously, Kevin?

Everyone: if you have a vagina or care about anyone who does, think carefully about who wrote all the books piled on your nightstand or loaded on your e-reader. If you've neglected half the authors working today, maybe fix that.

Monday, July 22, 2013

RWA National Went By in a Blur

Back from RWA and digging into my huge to-do list but I did want to share a few pictures, because I actually remembered to take them this time! I don't have time to make Blogger behave so I'm sorry about the stupid formatting. Wish you'd all been there :)

Only fitting to start with my agency party! Here are few gals represented by the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, digging into what is known at Trader Vic's as a "Rum Keg." I say with much admiration that *three* of these were ordered and dispatched.

Carrie Lofty and I have signed next to each other so many times (because we're "L"s), and it's been such a pleasure to see her career take off. Here she is at the Pocket signing.  

My beloved editor Abby Zidle on the right with agency pal Jenna Black to the far left.
As I'm sure you have heard, Kristan Higgans' keynote brought down the house. I *love* her. 

Agent Miriam Kriss with her pal Mr. Tiki. 

 A shot of the hordes arriving for the Simon&Schuster/Pocket signing...

OK this one takes a little explaining. Outside of my 8th floor window was this...thing. A claw. A *severed* claw, tagged for posterity. At almost 5" long, I'd love to see the other guy...pterodactyl? Quetzlcotl? 
All the inimitable awesomeness that is the best RWA chapter in the world, San Francisco! With Tina Folsom, Carolyn Jewel, Kristin Miller, and Rachael Herron
New S&S friend Shoshanna Evers at her signing. This woman has range, people. 
The Pocket dinner, in a candlelit underground with secret doors. I included this one because doesn't Karin Tabke look beautiful here? She's one of my mentors from way back.

And to end on a professional note, here is Barbara Vey (friend to all writers and PW columnist), along with Sarah Wendell from Smart Bitches and also Gwen and Sarah Reyes from Fresh Fiction. I learned so much from the women of our community this week - thanks to all of you!