The Queen of Kansas

Publishing The Queen of Kansas was a new experience. My good friend, Dewey Watson who, with his wife, Susan, wrote and published a terrific book, Shift and Shout, had enjoyed working with Amazon’s Create Space and suggested I look into it.

I was tentative because I wasn’t sure how it worked or, more to the point, how much work it would be for me. But I explored it and before long, I was hooked. The process was straight-forward and the relationship between Create Space and the author was respectful and helpful. Dewey also suggested an on-line freelance agency called where he said I would find a cover designer. Within a few hours more than one-dozen interested media artists applied. I selected Islam Farid a young Egyptian. BC-Portrait-FrontIt was clear that Islam had paid attention to how I described the job I wanted done because it was reflected in his questions. Islam turned out to be a perfect choice – smart, talented, quick and knowledgeable.

Of course it would be nice if my writing had been discovered by an established publisher but life’s too short to hold out hope for that. I want my work to see the light of day and if that means DIY, then so be it.

Should you decide to read The Queen of Kansas I hope you’ll give me (or some feedback and let me know you think.

Please check back to this website for upcoming events associated with the new book.

And Now For The Hard Part

Now that I’ve finished my new book, The Queen of Kansas, of course I’m relieved and pleased to have gotten this far.  The problem is I’m in what for me is the toughest phase of the whole enterprise.  That is, waiting for a small group of family and friends to finish reading the draft and providing me their feedback.

Lewis Carroll

For the past couple of years, The Queen has been restricted to my head and in my DropBox. While that’s OK, it definitely wasn’t the point of working this hard. Obviously, writing is a form of communication but unless you find mumbling to yourself enormously satisfying, an important aspect of written communication involves other folks reading it.

To help my pre-publication readers know what kind of feedback would be most helpful, I developed a set of questions including:

  • Is the book a “good read?”
  • Are the characters interesting/compelling enough to want to spend time with them?
  • Does the story pull you along?
  • Is the narrator’s voice credible?
  • Do you care what happens to the characters?
  • Are the settings sufficiently realistic/detailed that you can visualize them?
  • Did you get bogged down?  Bored?  Confused?  If so, where?

While I wait for feedback, my imagination freely and happily ranges over a landscape dotted with negative comments.  Of course I know that doesn’t make much sense, so to distract myself I’m working on the outline of a new book.  Does that help keep my negativity in check?

Probably not.

Do You Know When to Stop?

One of the challenges of writing or speaking is to know when enough’s been said and it’s time to stop.  I wish there was a test to make clear when I’d finished.  If such exists, I haven’t found it.

Because I’ve recently completed a draft of a new book, endings are very much on my mind. The book has the working title, The Queen of Kansas.  It’s a fictional memoir set between the years 1936 and 1948,  I’d outlined the entire book in advance of sitting down to write so I had a reasonably clear idea how it would be structured and what would constitute the components of its beginning, its middle and its end.

I’m working with specific time parameters and am basing the book on lives of real persons, so I did know, at least in a temporal sense, approximately when the book would end.  I was less sure of the right emotional note on which to conclude the story.

My first attempt at an ending felt as if I’d found a good parking spot, parked, but when I turned off the engine, my car wouldn’t quit running.  Actually, I’m not sure cars still do that but I like the metaphor.  When I’m on a roll and words kGymnast sticking imageeep coming, it’s not obvious to me I’ve said too much.  In this case, it took reading the draft of my book aloud to Luisa for me to hear that my engine was “running on” and the real ending should have been several pages back.

The “ending” metaphor I like best is sticking an ending the way gymnasts “stick” a dismount.  No hops or lunges.  Just two feet hitting the ground at exactly the same time and staying put.

Enough said.








Don’t Touch That Dial

Tonight (Sunday, April 13) at 8:00 PM Pacific Daylight Savings Time, the Occidental Center for the Arts’ Readers’ Theater will dramatize my short radio play, “Redwood Radio.”  The play tells what happens when the young widow, Jeannie Thimble, takes on the role of “volunteer talk show host” for a community radio station and encounters some very odd callers.

Listen to KOWS stream

The actors, directed by Judith Reimuller, are terrific in their roles of the optimistic Jeannie Thimble, her flamboyant guest, noted jade carver, Greg Quimbly, and a bevy of quirky callers.  The show streams live on K.O.W.S. FM ( ) at 8:00 PM.

Tune in and let me know what you think!

Happy listening!

If You Only Just Ask

As I’ve written before, my new book involves a lot of research and since parts of it are loosely based on events in the life of my family, I’ve become an addict.

Over these past couple of months, what has been so remarkable has been the generosity of persons I’ve asked for help.  I mean, look.  I’m a complete stranger.  Sending an email out into cyberspace and asking a person I’ve never met (and probably never will) if s/he can answer a question or lead me to information about a specific point feels risky.  And the range of my questions (and the replies) is amazing.  I’ve asked about the sales price of a particular, 1930’s era model car; about the interior layout of a Hudson River Steamboat; how a certain street in the Bronx would have looked in the 1930’s.  It goes on and on.  What’s so surprising and gratifying is how willing and helpful complete strangers have turned out to be.

Who would of thunk it!?

It’s especially wonderful because these last two months have been difficult for us.  Luisa has experienced an almost constant pain that has managed to defy the analysis of our local medical community. So, of course, I’ve been even more distracted than usual (and that’s a lot!!).  But thanks to the internet and my hummingbird approach to writing, I’m moving ahead with the new book.   190 pages in and still feeling enthused.

So what’s the takeaway?  It’s that people are pretty darn terrific if you give them half a chance!


And here’s how it’s working

In my last blog, I talked about my “hummingbird” approach to writing — all fits and starts and never letting yourself assume that you can only write when and if you have long, uninterrupted blocks of time.  Yes, it works, but do I yearn for long, uninterrupted blocks?  Of course!

A progress report.  My current project, a novel about a Jewish-American woman born in 1918 and that follows her life for approximately 40 years, is actually taking shape.  I’m about 130 pages into it and even though it’s mostly being writing under the constraints of my “hummingbird” method, things are starting to fall into place.  I’m enjoying getting to know the protagonist, as well the other characters in her life, and look forward to each new, albeit brief, session.

eb56bb711def1f34ffb1a16a49c7a222Because this novelis set in real places and at a real time in history, I needed to do a lot of basic research before

I ever wrote a word.  But once I’d completed what I absolutely needed in the way of research, I had a choice:  to either continue to research everything I possibly could or or to start writing and do

I love the research and could easily let it drag on for years and years and never actually start to write. Working as I do, when I come to a point in the story where research is essential, I either stop and do it on the spot or mark the passage and return to it later.research on the fly.  I chose the latter.

Stay tuned.

Write Like A Hummingbird

Since my last blog in which I bemoaned what has become (temporarily, I hope) an all-consuming focus on things canine, I’ve actually discovered a way to write.

It’s true, that Mischa, the Newfoundland, is by my side 90 percent of the times.  That’s because I’m under strict orders from the vet not to let her play, run, jump, frolic, cavort, prance, caper, gambol, romp or even walk more than a few steps.  So, as long as she’s awake, I’m  up and down . . . in and out . . .  with Mischa.  She’s a puppy that, after all, is constantly on the lookout for opportunities to engage in any and all of the above activities.

You might wonder what kind of writing I can get done when I’m interrupted every few minutes by a dog or a kid, or anything else for that matter.  I was feeling sorry for myself and figuring I’d have to put it all aside, when I noticed a hummingbird buzz in to eat from a feeder that hangs about four feet from where I’m sitting.  The little guy zoomed in, took a few sips and flew away.  His wings never stopped beating.  That’s when it hit me that if I really want to write, I’ll have to expect to do it more the way a hummingbird feeds and less as I would if I were enjoying a slow, leisurely, gourmet meal at a fine

Russian River-Coastal-20131020-00052restaurant.  I’ll need to pop in, write what I can, and zoom off to the next thing.

In the end, it comes down to realigning my expectations.  If mine are such that the only way I can imagine myself writing is to require long, unbroken stretches of silence, I might as well give up now.   But, if I can modify my expectations so that rather than wait for that perfect, interruption-free environment, I can see myself writing in short, frequently interrupted, bursts, I might surprise myself at what I can accomplish.

I’m not advocating this as the optimum way to write.  It’s not.  But it is a way to write.  Eventually, I’ll need to carve out those long, uninterrupted periods so I can take what might be a jumble and turn it into coherent, well-written prose.  My point, however, is that if I can “write like a hummingbird” and do what I can, when I can, I’ll be much farther along than if I wait for that perfectly silent, uninterrupted stretch of writing time.


When it’s all about dogs!

I know.  This is supposed to be a blog about writing, but let’s talk about this last week, shall we?

Since a year in the life of a dog equals seven in the life of a human, I suppose one dog week is equivalent to seven human ones.  What’s the point?  The point is that since last Saturday (a human week ago that feels like seven to me!) I’ve been drowning in dogs.  Or maybe I’m becoming one.

Last Saturday, one of my two dachshunds, Taro, found a scrap of bone in the dirt in front of the house up at the farm.  We were there for the weekend and enjoying fantastic weather and sharing it all with our daughter and her husband and children.  The bucolic mood was abruptly shattered when Mischa, our Newfoundland/Bernese Mountain Dog puppy (17 months) wandered over to see what Taro was so happy about.  Taro is at least 10 years old and has never been inclined to share.  He flew at Mischa who, despite being a gentle giant, was unhappy to have this snarling, rodent-like thing snapping away at her.  So, she fought back.  It was only a few seconds before my son-in-law and I pulled Mischa away and stuck her in a car but that was enough for Taro to sustain some nasty tears to the scruff of his neck.  We treated them with hydrogen peroxide and since they didn’t seem life threatening, anxiously tried to enjoy what was left of our country vacation.

When we got back to town, I took Taro to our vet who cleaned the wounds properly (finding an olive leaf in one of them!), installed tiny white-plastic drains and stitched everything up.  Taro spent the night and I spent plenty of plastic.  When I picked Taro up, he resembled nothing less than a Franken-furter.  A canine “hot dog” with plastic projections sprouting from his back.

OK.  Enough about Taro.

Misha had been previously diagnosed with elbow dysplasia.  I didn’t know dogs had elbows, but they do, and her front, left one was painful as evidenced by her limp.  Our vet had suggested we take her to the University of California at Davis where they have an excellent veterinarian school and where, upon referral, can take small or large animals for specialized treatment.  Davis is a two-hour drive from Sebastopol.  So, on Wednesday, Luisa and I, plus the Franken-furter (Taro); his litter-mate, Oni; and our Corgi, Smudge Pot made the drive to Davis for the long-scheduled evaluation.  The result was that Mischa was a good candidate for arthroscopic elbow surgery.  We all drove home Wednesday afternoon.  Then, on Thursday,

Mischa with Nose ConeI drove Mischa back to Davis so she could receive a CT Scan and be prepped for surgery on Friday.  The surgery went well and today (Saturday) I picked her up and brought her home.

So now, after 12 hours of driving Miss Mischa, and vet bills that have rendered my poor credit card limp from overuse, we now find ourselves running a convalescent home for dogs.  Mischa, who weighs in at almost 100 pounds, must wear something like the plastic nose cone of a rocket until her tiny incisions heal.  Fortunately, she’s sufficiently drugged that she’s not causing permanent injury to the unfortunate humans who find themselves in her path.

And Taro.  After getting home with Mischa, I took Taro back to our local vet who took out his tubes and declared he was healing well.

I can only hope the same holds true for that little plastic card in my wallet and my career as a writer..

What I’m Working On Now (Part I)

Now that I’ve finished the film treatment for “I Love You, California!” I’m moving on to a new, challenging and exciting project.  But what happens with the film treatment, you ask? Stuff it in a drawer?  Honestly, I’m not sure.  I’ve never done anything like that before and so I’m unsure about next steps.  I suppose that with luck, we’ll find somebody in the film-making world who thinks we have a great story and will help it get made.  This is not the part of the work that appeals to me.  I enjoy the research and the writing.  In an ideal world, I’d leave every bit of the promotion to others.

Be that as it may, it’s still time to dig in to a new project and let the treatment “ferment.”

Trust the process!

Writing a novelSo the new project:  I’ve started the research for a novel that will follow an American family through the 1920’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s.  For a writer, this 40-year period is particularly juicy.  The Roaring 20’s, the Great Depression, World War II, and the McCarthy era, along with the post-war expansion, will comprise building blocks of the story.

How do I approach a writing project like this?   Since I’ve never tackled writing a novel, I’m figuring out what works for me as I go along.  There’s a good deal of finding my way by bumping into things and then changing direction.  I started out with ideas for a beginning, middle and end.  As a playwright, I know that the place to begin should follow an inciting incident.  Something has to have happened that sets the play . . . the machine . . .  the story . . . in motion.  I want to start this novel in much the same way and to that end, I’ve drafted a beginning that, for the moment, I like and that I hope will infuse the story with the energy it needs to keep a reader engaged.  Now I’m collecting my characters and working up their life histories.

If you’ve tackled writing a novel, I’d be interested to hear how you got the ball rolling . . .

In the Moment

Now that summer is winding down, I’ve launched a new writing project and boy . . . does that feel good. Summer is a busy time for me. Luisa and I receive (and welcome!) many out-of-town family members and friends, either in Sebastopol or at the farm. This is also the time that my work representing the Università Cattolica del Sacro CuoreUCSC-Milan in Milan heats up. This summer we had Italian students at UCLA; Stanford; UC Berkeley; Columbia; The University of San Francisco; and the University of New Orleans. Last summer, I was starting work on the film treatment that eventually became “I Love You California.” I tried to squeeze in minutes of writing between social and professional obligations. It didn’t work well. Mostly, I felt frustrated with myself for not getting enough done. But this summer, I played it differently. I had a general idea of what my next project would be, but rather than Rezanov & 'Concepcion imageexpend energy feeling resentful, stressed or conflicted, I let myself enjoy our family and friends and did what needed to be done to insure good summers for our students. In short, I did my best to stay “in the moment” and use whatever downtime I had not to write, but to think about writing. The result: we had a very enjoyable, relaxed summer and, truth be known, I wouldn’t have accomplished much even if I had fretted about it.   This way, having thought about it but not having butted my head against a wall, I’m ready to go with a sufficiently clear idea of how to proceed. This summer taught me  an important lesson.  Now all I have to do is remember it!