For more information

Visit my website at

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Please, Don't Publish My Nightmares

Well, I feel really sad for anyone who has been opening this page looking for a fresh blog. Life has gotten so busy I am more amazed at what gets accomplished than what falls off the list. But that might be good, right? Oh, please tell me that might be good!

I had this dream last night. Now, this was not an MLK kind of dream about equality or freedom. This was a night terror—the kind that is so real you wake up searching the bedcovers for damning evidence—blood, maybe. In the dream it was two AM; screams and crashes were reverberating from the kitchen. I stumbled downstairs and found my older twins making a cake—flour and butter and sugar and egg shells covered the floor, the counters, the stove, and both of their pajama-clad bodies. Every light in the house was blazing—my younger twins were in the living room playing Cranium Cadoo and listening to NSYNC. I wandered around the house in a panic until I found my husband on his computer, cruising Craig’s list ads. And I asked him . . . OK, I shouted at him: Why is everybody awake at two AM on a school night?? And he answered me, cool as cream cheese: Geez, is it that late? Couldn’t tell you! When I went back upstairs I discovered that someone had stolen my bed. Only a pile of cold sheets lay wadded on the floor. So, I curled into a knot and tried to sleep—the alarm was set for 4AM because I had to get to the hospital by 6.

I guess this dream would be scary for any mom, but for me it morphed into a night terror because it is way too close to what actually goes on around here! One cause of the nightmare could be pinned on the Ecuadoran tortillas I had been frying up with my son at 10 PM for his Spanish class project. The fat in one of those things (think hush puppies stuffed with mozzarella cheese) makes Big Macs look like watercress. There’s more of a learning curve to making stuffed potato patties than you might guess—by the end of the first batch the kitchen ceiling was splatted with oil and mashed potatoes had been ground into every crevice between the floor boards. Somebody’s irreplaceable hand-written homework essay had been artfully grease-stained, and there was a raucous fight going on about it. I finally popped in some ear plugs and collapsed into bed, ignoring the laundry flooding down the hallway, generously laced with a box of spilled cat food. All in all, I think the dream was better than the reality.

But good stories need irony, and the irony here is that just the day before this the Seattle Sunday Times had printed a lovely article about me and my family, based on an interview I had given a month or so earlier. You can link to it here: I bought six copies to ship off to my parents and sisters! The journalist and photographer did such a great job it made me want to be friends with myself! Who is this woman who holds down a responsible job, raises her kids, writes novels, and apparently actually does the laundry and sorts the mail? How could this reporter have printed only half the story—the competent half—and turned such a considerately blind eye to the gritty truth?

Oh, that’s right—she never actually came in my house!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Fifteen Minutes of Fame? Well...

A friend at the hospital heard I was a newly published novelist and asked me if I would be calling in too “Rich and Famous” to work soon. After all, I am on a book tour! I have just published a novel!

Published a novel?? Me?? Who would have dreamed it when I was slogging away in our grungy basement, or local coffee shops with the same fantastical self-image as any middle-aged mother who suddenly decides to reinvent themselves? Was this novelist thing any less outrageous than suddenly taking up yodeling or body piercing? I told my her that I would be happy merely to call in “Out of Debt and Keeping my Same Old Friends.”

Unanticipated as it is, it has been a bit miraculous to be on a book tour, finally holding in my own disbelieving hands the weighty, hard back product of a decade’s worth of silent musing. If I may confess it to this anonymous audience, the only event to surpass this so far is the birth of my twins. Even my wedding paled. (Sorry, sweetie!)

In my fleeting fifteen minutes of fame, I can admit that it has been glorious, and the cause of many deep and soulful blushes, but also comfortingly real. I still look in the mirror after a signing and realize I have lipstick smudged on my front tooth, and I still come home to the same piles of dirty dishes and smelly socks, and my children are thoroughly bored with the whole escapade. Surprisingly, that only makes me more certain they love me for my mediocre cooking and lung-collapsing hugs.

So I am happy to wallow in this fifteen minutes of fame, all the while recognizing that–just like Andy Warhol, the originator of that sweeping anointment–I too shall die and a million more will rise up to replace me. They are nipping at the edges of the bookstore shelves right now, ready to bump me from face-out to spine-out. But I even like that somehow. More books to read in my own future! More reason to keep writing!

In the middle of my tour I ran out of copies of Oxygen and wanted to buy some as gifts. I went to my the nearest big box bookstore, grabbed three off a table and plopped them on the counter.

“Do you have a discount card?” the perky young clerk asked. I gave her my number and she stated my name to verify. She asked for my credit card and photo ID, repeating my name each time, clearly drilled by her manager not to let any identity frauds slip through on her watch. She looked at the cover of my novel and I waited, almost shyly, for her to congratulate me on being the author. “Gee,” she said at last. “I’ve seen this book around a lot lately.” I smiled and started to thank her. Then she continued, “Do you know anything about it?”

She handed me my bag and I shook my head. “I just liked the cover.” Next time, though, I just might flip to the author photo on the flap when she asks for my ID. If I’m feeling bold.

Also Posted on at

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Family Vacation--You've Been There

I am vacationing in the mountains of Colorado with my family, the first true break we have taken in six months. It has been a grueling spring—I have been prepping for my first ever book tour, trying to fish my new novel out of the fast moving river launching my recently released novel, and still practicing anesthesia. My husband is finishing up two houses and taking care of his elderly father. Trader Joe’s is a dinner staple and the kids are rotating KP. To put it bluntly, nobody’s mopping the floors or scrubbing the bathtubs. We need this break.

Now, the one downside to this writing thing is that there really is no break. Your hands may not be on the keyboard every minute but, rather like gestation, if a new novel is in the making, your writing mind is fully occupied and your fingers are itching. The fact that you are always in working mode is definitely mitigated by the requisite writing wardrobe—a bathrobe and coffee-stained Uggs—but I think I’ve given up any memory of a real summer vacation. Oh well, it’s not like motherhood comes with actual time off either.

So the beckoning anticipation I’ve been conjuring for this mountain getaway is time to write: time just after dawn when everyone else is still puffing away in breathless dreams at this unfamiliar altitude, or after dinner when they are all locked in games of Cranium and Apples to Apples and I can sneak away to a back bedroom with my laptop. I want time inside a house that does not require my attention, with no desk covered with unpaid bills and unanswered mail, with no yard to weed or laundry to sort.

We tuck in that first night and I have to force myself not to think about the first words I want to put on the LCD screen in seven or eight hours. Maybe I will dream about the ending to the novel that I don’t yet know. My eyes open at first light and I look at the clock—only five, at least one more hour to go. Now it is six and I slip out from the comforter without waking my husband, pull on the bathrobe and start scooping coffee grounds into the filter.

Then I hear it. Every mother knows it. The low groan followed by the crescendo of a retch—and no, it’s not the dog. I drop the bag of coffee into the sink and I’m in the back bedroom before last night’s dinner can hit the floor. The next eight hours will be spent rinsing pans and washcloths and rocking this child to sleep whenever he can. And then another child will have incubated this virus to personal maturity and we can start again. Another novel put on hold. Another vacation memory made.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Blog Fodder at Last--The Book Tour

OK. The secret is out. I do not have this blogging thing down yet.

I came across an article that said I should blog at least once a week or it isn’t worth the effort. Worth it to whom, I wanted to ask? Are you now going to tell me, just like my kids, that I am hopelessly behind the times in music and fashion, too? At least I know what a blog is (I think.)

So let that stand as my apology for anyone logging into my website hoping for regularly scheduled glimpses into my life. Trust me, my life is pretty mundane, filled with carpooling and rotated leftovers and cleaning out the cat box that every child swears is not their assigned chore.

This month, though, I indeed have news to blog about! For my fleeting fifteen minutes of fame, I have been on a book tour, and it has truly been life changing. Not because of any briefly blinding spotlight, and not because I had the best-ever excuse to redo my make-up and buy some new clothes, and not because I got the luxurious excuse to order room service breakfast in bed on my publisher’s dime (or twenty, as it ended up). The life change came from scanning the faces in every audience and discovering dozens that are too familiar: someone I went to grade school with, someone who knows my parents or lived next door to us when I was ten. someone who taught me English in high school or drove one of my own carpools, studiously ignoring our girl-gossip while they absorbed every word. People I have not seen or spoken to in decades came to my readings in every city. Half of them probably had to drive longer to get there than my talk lasted, and we didn’t even serve food. I could not hope for more at my own funeral!

So what is it that brought so many friends, and many strangers too, into a bookstore on these blue summer days? Much of this support is personal, I know—the same collective generosity that brings us out to weddings and baby showers and birthdays that end in a zero. There are moments the signing line comes to a standstill because I am near tears.

But the volume of congratulations goes beyond me, I believe. After all, most of these friends could not have read Oxygen yet—it is too new. Besides, I worked the same number of years on my medical degree, but only my near and dear family dragged themselves to that walk.

There has to be a more universal element at play. I wonder if it is the power of the printed book and the value it still holds for us as a culture—the legacy of a story-telling animal, a trail straight to the cogs of the Gutenberg press. The National Book Award ceremony may never get the Oscar-level prime time that makes people opt for a frozen TV dinner, but it seems we do still honor writers. Maybe my homebound book tour put human flesh on the words “published author” for these friends; a chance to talk to the story telling voice we hear with every novel we read. It makes me want to drop my home cooked dinner plans and rush out for the next book signing event at my local bookstore.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Lost in Books at BEA

I have just left Los Angeles and my first experience with Book Expo of America. In case you are afraid that the age of the printed, cardboard and paper book is dying out, and Americans have given up on pressed ink and turnable pages, one hour on the Book Expo exhibitors’ floor will re-Kindle your hopes for Guttenberg’s 600 year old legacy.

While the digital media on display was impressive (snapping at the heels of the amalgamating publishing houses), the breathtaking quantity of three dimensional books being pumped out every year is still astonishing. It was, in fact, a book collector’s orgy, with freebies on every table and authors in every aisle. If I come back next year, I will know to bring along an empty suitcase to transport my free library home.

I caught myself roaming the booths with a ridiculous, mesmerized smile on my face. Expo is a coliseum—two coliseums in fact—crammed full of people who revere books. It goes a long way toward making me feel less anachronistic in this Internet, People Magazine and cell phone dominated era. Writers—sometimes sexy, but often old, out-of-shape and unattractive—are the heroes here. Take that ESPN and Reality TV and Universal Studios! Descriptive voice, character development, page-turning plot and language reign as the idols in this bubble.

As a writer myself, though not in the hero league, I have always walked around with ceaseless narration ricocheting around in my brain. It gets quite noisy—almost intrusive, to tell the truth. Now, for all I know a lot of people do this, but I’d bet my career that every writer tolerates the same unvoiced cacophony. At Book Expo I couldn’t help wondering how this collective unconsciousness might shake up the world’s imagination, if we could only figure out a way to pipe that mental noise over the speaker system.

As I count down to the release date for my first novel, after four years of writing and rewriting and rewriting, BEA was a numbing reminder that about two hundred and fifty thousand other authors are also tussling for a spot in this year’s line up. Should I send Oprah my cell phone number, do you think??

On the other hand, how comforting to know that even if the Kindle or its like bumps books aside with the same lightening speed that the home computer eclipsed the IBM Selectric, in my lifetime I will never run out of the ruffling weighty pages of a good book—no batteries required.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Yes, But Is it Art?

I am sitting with my thirteen year old son in a café. I am writing, he is hijacking a nearby wireless signal to work on a computer graphics program called Blender. We are both creating personal art on our laptops.

I am a writer. I am also a doctor, but today, away from the hospital I am the novelist. Thus far my son has not read my novels. Not that the content is necessarily too old for him, but I’ve suspected the pace would feel too slow, the sentences too long. My words would need to lasso the zip and zing of the objects he crashes through walls and flings around curlicue tracks, and—frankly—they cannot compete. I write for a different age group, maybe a different generation. He may grow up to my words, but he is decidedly growing up in the graphic world he is bringing to life using different media.

My son likes to read—Lois Lowry, Lemony Snickett. Rowling, of course. Once a book has grabbed him, I have to push food in front of his face to keep him from starving. But, to my frustration, anything that flickers on a screen clenches him like the tenacious Jaws of Life at a bad car accident scene, (which would come in handy for some of his favorite video games). I fought it for years: timers, computer locks, Internet controls, star charts and earned points. We own no X-boxes or Playstations or Wiis. Would you stock cocaine in your cabinets it you lived with an addict?

“Please, can I load a C ++ programming compiler onto your work computer?” He begs his dad. No need to tell you the response, given that Dad just spent two days reformatting a crashed computer discovered frozen on Addicting

The other night, after another round of limit-setting battles, he pled to download a physics engine onto the ancient and persnickety laptop that he rescued just before I hauled it off to the recycler. “A physics engine?” I asked. He looked at me like any explanation would be too complicated for my aging brain to wrap around, determining me hopelessly uneducable in the advanced calculations required to crash a cart into a stack of blocks. It is, after all, tricky to build a 3-D roller coaster game on a last generation laptop that your parents only allow you to use for one hour a day. But like all artists, the pressure inside of him to create has found its outlet, despite parental barriers and prejudice.

At the café table, I pause in my struggle over adjectives and plot, and look over at his screen. A Coke can is tumbling down a hill with as much verisimilitude as I’ll ever describe using a dictionary or thesaurus. I wonder if a PET scan would show the same fiery lights in identical segments of both our brains at this moment.

As a doctor, I can’t help but revel in the infinite variety of output the human imagination generates, endlessly evolving and expressing the world, brand new everyday. But as a writer, I can’t let my own passion for printed words lapse in my children, and I will continue to fill their bookshelves and try to teach them the cursive that schools seem to eschew in this era of email and Google. I still insist on hand written thank you notes.

After we get home, my mother calls me to commend my son’s recent letter to her. “Did you read this before he sent it?” she asks.

“No, why? Is it just totally illegible?”

“He wrote it in C ++ programming language.”

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Hello fans!

Welcome to my blog. This is where I hope to create a dialogue with my readers who, unfortunately, I never get to meet, or talk to.