I had a college classmate who said that papers were like babies: you put all this work into them, then must let them out in the world to stand on their own. Or in the case of papers, hand them over to a critical professor. Sometimes you hear, “Great job,” but other times, “Your baby has developmental issues.” It’s even more painful when you’re an adult – when instead of cramming for a day or two, you’ve spent months or longer writing a novel and you hand it over to someone who then asks, “Is your protagonist supposed to be autistic?” Now, if I’d written a novel with an autistic character, I’d have celebrated. But I hadn’t. Another person used the word “psycho.” Again, not the vision I had for my character.

Criticism is tough. I knew my book was not perfect, that it needed work. But a lot of creativity and time went into my character, so learning that people found her mean and unlikeable felt a bit like getting sucker punched. I pushed it away from me, not having the energy or the wherewithal to spend even more time on a project that was clearly doomed.

Then other day, I had something of an epiphany, by way of my knitting. I’d screwed up a row on my current project, but not noticed it immediately. At first, I’d thought it was a tiny error that would be unnoticeable after the whole thing was done. (For the knitters: I thought it was an issue of gauge that would block out.) I kept blithely along, but the more I knit, the more I noticed my mistake, and the more it bugged me. What had happened? I analyzed my knitting and finally realized I’d screwed up – a rookie mistake, at that. (For the knitters: I’d been alternating skeins and had inadvertently knit right to left twice in a row, thus adding a row of stockinette to all my garter ridges.) This mistake would always stick out – even if it was perfectly symmetrical with the shawl – at least to me, it would. I could not let it go. See what I mean?

Oops, there it is!

I ripped back. It wasn’t about wanting perfection, but about respecting the process enough to not rush through it toward a shoddy finish. I undid several hours worth of work in a few minutes, and as I painstakingly picked up all those stitches, I realized – in a moment of insight – that THIS was no different than my writing. How can I willingly rip back and edit my knitting and yet find it painful in my writing? Knitting is a relatively simple craft, but I still make mistakes. Writing, on the other hand, is a complex craft that takes ages to refine and hone. Of course I will make mistakes! In fact, if I didn’t, I’d still be writing like a first-grader. Certainly I need to go back, erase, cut, eviscerate, change, strengthen, and polish.

My first piece of knitting was a plain square. I moved on to hats and then eventually to lacy, complicated shawls. No matter the end goal, I knit one stitch at a time. Likewise, one word at a time leads to sentences and paragraphs. Ultimately, one word at a time leads to a novel. Sometimes, you have to go backward. It’s all part of the process. My book is not doomed; it’s just not done.

Admitting failure or defeat is scary. But in the name of starting off the new year fearlessly, I admit that I’m an abject failure. At least in terms of the goals I set for 2015:

  • Take 52 photos and write 52 blog posts to accompany photos – according to Lightroom, I have 1,400+ photos from 2015 (the ones I’ve kept so far). But did I post a photo a week? Not even close. Instead of 52 blog posts, a measly 11.
  • 12 stories or articles – Nope.
  • One novel – Negative. I am closer to finishing novels 2 and 3, but not done with either.
  • Read 30 books – Only 25. Since I’ve been keeping track, I’ve averaged 26 books a year and maxed 29.

But I did taste some success in 2015:

  • I got published! One of my stories was chosen for this anthology.
  • I knit seven chemo caps – I actually exceeded this goal by one hat. It doesn’t help me professionally, but knitting lifts my mood and lowers my stress level.
  • We moved into our house! Finally.
  • Our Christmas card photo was the hit of the season.


    Making spirits bright. (Yes, it was hard not to laugh.)

And 2016?

  • A photo a day, just for me. Everyday, I’m photographing something I’m grateful for. I know it sounds like a whole lot of woo, but I figure there’s nothing like stopping to acknowledge the good in my life to counteract failures and frustrations.
  • The resurgence of WTF Wednesdays. Not every Wednesday, but I have a closet full of boxes that I’ve promised myself I’d weed through this year or chuck ‘em in the trash. Those papers, photos, ephemera, and flotsam are sure to contain a WTF or two.
  • Read 30 books. One year! One year, this is going to happen.



In Seattle a few summers ago, we took an underground tour, a decidedly dank and touristy meandering through the history of Seattle and its boom as a result of the gold rush in Alaska.

The tour guide explained how as would-be gold miners set sail from Seattle, many others profited off their dreams. Some businesses sold necessary tools and provisions. Others played on hope and gullibility; my particular favorite was the story of people selling “gold-sniffing gophers.”

Now, I’m a writer, specifically a yet-unpublished novelist. And while I believe I possess balanced amounts of optimism and skepticism, I am trying to navigate through a landscape not unlike the one faced by dreaming gold miners. Sure, there are professionals who make a living truly helping writers; there are also “agents” who charge reading fees and vanity presses that do little more than part a writer from her money.

Writers’ conferences are another staple of this landscape. I’ve been to a few. When my confidence wanes and cynicism takes over, I see so many deluded dreamers (self included) paying to hear the expertise of agents and publishers, hoping to make that one connection that will push them out of oblivion and onto bookshelves. I texted home during a break, “It’s so many gold-sniffing gophers.”

But then I informally pitched to one of the agents. As I described my book, she smiled. “I want to read that when you’re done.” Those words were enough to get me excited again, to erase the thought that my concept is stupid and nobody would want to read it. She may not end up my agent, but her encouragement was the prod I needed to keep going. My enthusiasm is renewed for this book, the one I feel I am uniquely qualified to write, the one that continues to ferment within my imagination even when I’m not actively writing it.

All hail the gophers!

"Really. He's a gopher. He got that big from all the gold fumes."

“Really. He’s a gopher. He got that big from all the gold fumes.”

Well, I can’t say that there were throngs of adoring fans lining up to buy my book, but at least I can say that I didn’t puke at Lit Crawl. I survived my first public reading of my fiction, and even had some fun doing it.

The night before the event, I finished watching the movie Finding Vivian Maier. Then Derek talked me into watching Beware of Mr. Baker, a rockumentary on Ginger Baker, the drummer for Cream. The first, full of beautiful candid photographs by a woman who worked as a nanny and never had any of her photographs shown. The second, full of a man who’s had huge commercial success but nonetheless is a financial disaster, not unrelated to the fact that he’s “quit” heroin dozens of times. In other words, I movie-binged on depressing stories of artists right before my debut. Not the most auspicious timing.

As we were getting ready for the Lit Crawl, I said, “I am in no way suggesting I am going to do this, or even thinking about it. But feeling the way I do right now, and imagining having to go on stage in front of thousands of people, I can understand how they take drugs to get through.” That said, I didn’t take any drugs other than a latte beforehand.


Caught in the act of “air quotes”

When I got off the stage, I noticed my friend all teary-eyed in the front row. That made me giggle. But I couldn’t stop smiling when a few different strangers told me “That was really good.” The clincher, though, was when one guy personally connected to my story, and told me how the father in my story reminded him of his own dad. That’s all I’ve ever wanted, to know that what I write speaks to someone. And at Lit Crawl, it did.

Who needs drugs?

In my daydreams, I’m a wildly successful author on a book tour. As I read to scores of fans, they laugh and cry at the same time. The audience is friendly, smart, and fun, and I chat with them as I sign their books.

Then I wake up. I’m back at my desk, writing in solitude, or at the coffee shop, writing in solitude while surrounded by people.  Since I haven’t sold my book yet, a book tour is unlikely. But tomorrow, I will partake in Lit Crawl, the world’s largest roving literary event. The goal of Lit Crawl and its parent Litquake is to “whet a broad range of literary appetites, present the literary fare in a variety of traditional and unlikely venues, and make it vivid, real, and entertaining.”

Let’s see. We’ll be reading at City Art, a cooperative gallery, and we’ll feed a range of appetites including (but not limited to) non-fiction, children’s literature, mystery, and suspense. I’m reading from my second novel, The Reluctant Bartender. I’m  excited, nervous, and pukey all at the same time, which makes it vivid and real for me, and possibly entertaining for our audience. I’ve heard my fellow writers read, and can say they’re practiced and eloquent.

Leaping back into life isn’t limited to cliff-jumping into snow-fed lakes. It’s about doing scary things that push me further into the writer’s life. Today, I’ll practice some more. Tomorrow, I’ll meet people who love literature enough to fight crowds in San Francisco’s Mission District as they wander from gallery to bar to police station to wherever. C’mon, join the book-loving throngs and meet us there!