Wednesday, November 30, 2005

When the Honeymoon Ends~

When is the honeymoon over? I've been scratching my head on this one.

For those of you who don't live in Type-1-Diabetes-Land, the "honeymoon" is a period after the initial diagnosis where the patient requires very small amounts of insulin, because his or her pancreas is still functioning to some extent. Eventually, though, all the beta cells (which produce insulin) in the pancreas are killed. And then the honeymoon is over.

Typically, insulin needs spike dramatically when the honeymoon ends. The disease becomes more difficult to control since any mistake will cause a huge fluctuation with blood sugar numbers, where previously, the pancreas's limited function could "cover" for a mistake. Yesterday Violet wrote a very interesting post about her own honeymoon ending. It got me thinking... Our son was diagnosed with diabetes on July 17, 2004, well over a year ago. Most honeymoons don't last past a year, but can you believe that I'm not even sure when his ended? Or IF his has ended?

My gut tells me his honeymoon ended about six months ago. It was a gradual process and one I really didn't notice all at once~and unlike most "honeymoon ending" stories, his insulin needs stayed pretty stable (although we had to increase his morning insulin to carb ratio).

There was one thing I did notice, though. The disease became very unforgiving. It used to be, I could give him a package of crackers (~15g carbohydrates) and his blood sugars would move maybe 10 points. Now, though, if I did that, his sugars would spike anywhere from 50 to 100 points, depending on his activity level. These days, I have to give insulin for everything, even the cough syrup he's taking today. (It's so nice to be able to bolus tiny amounts with the pump~his numbers are a lot better.)

So was this gradual experience the end of our son's honeymoon? Most stories I've been told have been that one day, BOOM. Insulin needs spike dramatically, honeymoon's over. In other words, the end is very obvious. But for him, it wasn't obvious.

Maybe the difference is that he was so sick at diagnosis. Maybe he didn't have that many beta cells left to begin with.

Not that it matters, exactly. But as Sandra said (her son Joseph seems to have come out of his honeymoon, too), it's sad to think about those last beta cells dying.

It's part of my baby dying, after all.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Tactical Tuesday~What Do I Do With My NaNo Novel?

First things first~

Ding ding ding, we have a winner! While several guessers came in with the correct answer, there is one and only one prize--it goes to the guesser who sent her entry in FIRST. So many congratulations to women's fiction author Carrie Kabak, who correctly identified this beautiful art print by Susan Siegel~

~as a cross-section of undifferentiated stem cells. Carrie will receive a signed copy of The Bitch Posse for her correct guess~way to go, Carrie! And everyone else... thanks for playing!

And now on to Tactical Tuesday~

What Do I Do With My NaNo Novel?
National Novel Writing Month is now over. If you played along, the goal was to create a first draft of at least 50,000 words in a month. And even if you didn't, I know your little secret~you have a Really Shitty First Draft of something lying around somewhere. Perhaps it's your NaNo novel; perhaps it's something you've just boxed up for awhile. But now that you have your first draft, what on earth do you do to make it better?

Here are a few pieces of advice that may help you in your quest to turn that first draft into something wonderful.

This may seem obvious, but if you are the parsimonious type, you may resist the idea of wasting precious paper on a first draft. Do it. You'll see things on the printed page that you won't see on that glowing screen. Plus, it adds portability to your manuscript... and personally, I love circling things and making notes on an honest-to-goodness draft. Sometimes I'll even cut pages apart and Scotch tape them elsewhere, just like in the good old days. A notebook for lengthier notes or new scenes is useful, too.

Does this sound crazy? After all, the novel's already completed. What would an outline accomplish?

Well, the second draft outline will help you see holes in the plot. It will help you see chapters where very little happens. To create suspense, you should end chapters with a question in the reader's mind--not necessarily a cliffhanger, since we aren't all writing thrillers--but at least a glimmer of curiosity: a reason to turn the page. Outline each current chapter from start to finish, and study your overall outline for any holes. You'll use this outline to revise and to cut or expand, as necessary.

Again, you're screaming WHAT? I did this already! Maybe you did. Or maybe, like me, you went flying blind. But things may have changed in the course of your novel. A character may have fallen in love with someone unexpected. She may have developed a weird hobby that you now need to research. Or in another case, he may just be boring. Now is the time to sharpen your characters. Create histories for them~old boyfriends, crazy teachers, individual quirks~even cut out photos from magazines, if you like, or sketch your character if your drawing skills go beyond stick figures (mine don't).

Some of the backstory in my W.I.P. (Work-in-Progress) takes place in Concord, Massachusetts. I've never been there, so I just jotted a reminder to myself in my notes that I need to research that place. When I revise my first draft, you can bet I'll be looking over Concord's town website, Googling for pictures, and speaking with my friend who lives near there. I did the same for Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, in The Bitch Posse. Haven't ever been there. It might be the most fully-described place in the book, thanks to research and a personal friend who's lived in Michigan's Upper Peninsula (she knows who she is). Develop your settings. Learn far more than you really need to know. Then include the most interesting or evocative parts. You may cut them down in subsequent drafts, but that's okay.

Obviously, spell check isn't enough. There are words like "then" and "than," "who's" and "whose," et cetera and so forth, that your computer's spell check just won't pick up. Is grammar not your strong point? Hand the draft off to a friend who can help you, or, better yet, learn it. A couple days with a good grammar guide will help you. (I still like the Warriner's I had back in junior high.)

Do a character's eyes change colors from the beginning of the novel to the end? (This often happens to me.) Does a character begin chapter 9 knowing a key fact, but in chapter 10 it seems to have completely disappeared? What about Aunt Winifred's cancer, which was a huge plot point early in the novel and is suddenly dropped? A read-through for consistency will help you catch these problems.

See the most recent Tactical Tuesday post about overwriting. Watch for it. Then condense. Some other ways to condense, as well as to add impact, are to lose the passive voice and go "ly" hunting. More on this next week!

It sounds nutty, but you'll catch errors, repeated words or phrases, all kinds of things that you didn't see when your novel was printed in your first choice of font.

This editing thing takes time. I hate to tell you this, but done properly, it may take more time than hammering out that rough draft. (Unless you're an edit-as-you-go person... then you're way ahead of the rest of us. Personally, I can't work that way.) Probably, it will take more than one draft. That's OK. In fact, you'll find your novel far richer for the amount of work you put into editing.

Friday, November 25, 2005

My Christmas Pressy

Hi, I hope you all had a happy Thanksgiving! I'm thankful for family~friends~and insulin. Please post a comment and tell me what YOU are thankful for!

Check out my Christmas present! The artist is Susan Siegel. I will be receiving a large print, which we will have framed.

If you correctly guess what the image is, you will win a free copy of The Bitch Posse! YAYAYAY! Email your guesses to theresnoforgetting{{AT}} Winner is the first correct guesser before 8 AM Pacific Time, FRIDAY, DECEMBER 3. That morning, I will announce the winner (if any) and the correct answer.

No fair cheating if you have already seen the print (I know who you are)...

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Thank you everyone for your suggestions about what happened the other night... EVERYTHING was useful.

You may not be too surprised to learn that Tactical Tuesday is on hiatus until next week! I need to use my tactics on the HOUSE and the DESSERT! In the meantime, head over to Flogging the Quill to see a not-so-recent but most entertaining post titled "Open Your Novel with Kitty-Cats in Action." See you after Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Slow Monday, Long Night

Hi everyone, sorry I've been scarce lately. Believe it or not I've been *gasp* working! Things have been running pretty smoothly lately. Although there's a ton of work ahead of me, I'm feeling great about where the book is going and the topics I'm tackling!

And speaking of~

We had such a tough night last night. Last night I was sooo tired I wanted myself and the kids to go to bed at 8:30. When I gave my son his blood sugar test, he was at 100 with 1.20 units of insulin on board. 1 unit drops him 100 points, so 100-120=not good! That would have been a sure recipe for a seizure, or worse.

I fed him ~40 grams of slower acting carbs. That should have brought him up ~100 points and I figured if I tested him at midnight (I always test at midnight and plan further testings on whatever that number is...) that if I had glucose tabs and juice/crackers at the ready, we would be fine.

When I tested him at midnight (on the calf~I do alternative site testing at night so as not to wake him up), he was 370. 370! I asked him if he had eaten anything other than the crackers, and he said no. He awoke and tested again, this time on his finger, and he was 362... still unbelievable! "Well," he sighed, bleary eyed, "may as well test for ketones." He shuffled down the hall to the bathroom as I sat on his bedroom floor, so angry that not just my sleep, but his, would be interrupted this way. He returned and reported: "No ketones." I bolused a correction down to 155.

I would have tested him again at 3 am, but I slept through the alarm (told you I was tired). My eyes popped open again at 4:20 am. His must have too, because he sat up and tested himself: 245. I bolused him down to 150 and he awoke at 7:00 at 134.

Why on earth would he have gone so high between 8:30 and midnight? My fear is that I didn't feed him enough carbs and he went severely low, then his liver stores kicked in. That's scary because it means it could have been a seizure and it also means his liver stores are depleted for the next few days and we have to be REALLY careful for the next few days. (By the way, he'd had two lows earlier in the afternoon and evening.)

The other theory is he ate a whole bunch of pistachios with his dad and maybe there were some lagging protein molecules that brought up his bgs? I know protein has a minimal effect on blood glucose, but it does have an impact.

FYI to any of my O.C. advisers (cuz if you have advice, please tell me~I don't want this to happen again!), dinner was a whole wheat pasta which we weighed and bolused for and have not had trouble with in the past. He also had crackers after dinner which he bolused for. (hence the insulin onboard)

Also... his cartridge was LOW but not empty in the morning... it alarmed for being low just before bedtime and I didn't think we would need much insulin overnight, so I didn't refill it. This morning it was down to 0.20 units left in the cartridge, some of which were bubbles... I am thinking that's why the midnight bolus didn't fully bring him down to the 155 where I targeted him.

As for my writing today... I wonder if there's a way to write in my sleep?

One of those I HATE DIABETES mornings.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Historical Treasure, Banting's Homesite, Threatened with Bulldozers!

This story should be quite troubling for all of us who care about history. A Canadian friend of mine says there are rumors floating about that the homesite may go for subdivisions. This is horrible news. The home of the great Sir Frederick Banting is a national treasure to Canada and ought to be saved. It's a TRAVESTY.

Full story here, excerpt below.
Family fights historical society to save home of insulin discoverer Banting at 16:31 on November 14, 2005, EST.

TORONTO (CP) - The Ontario Historical Society has broken the trust placed in it by the family of Sir Frederick Banting, the Canadian doctor who discovered insulin, by allowing his birthplace to fall into disrepair, his great nephew said Monday.

Nov. 14, Banting's birthday, is celebrated globally as World Diabetes Day in honour of his discovery, for which he was awarded the Nobel prize in medicine in 1923.

But Banting's great-nephew Bob Banting accused the society of failing to maintain the 40-hectare homestead near Alliston, Ont., about an hour's drive northwest of Toronto, which the family donated to the society in 1999.

"The OHS has broken its word (and) neglected to provide even minimal maintenance to the property over the past six years," Banting told a news conference at the Ontario legislature.

"They've allowed the buildings to deteriorate beyond repair and have abandoned them to possible vandalism."...{{MORE}}

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Tactical Tuesday~The Devil's in the Details

Hope you all had a great weekend! Don't forget to check out the Spanish Language Diabetes blog linked below, and link it to yours if you maintain a diabetes blog. Once in awhile I have Spanish speakers drift into this little corner of the Internet, and it's nice to provide links if necessary.

And on to Tactical Tuesday~let's welcome Flusters McKnucklesby for this week's discussion!

The Devil's in the Details
My kids have brought home papers in the last few weeks explaining how to add more details to a story or report. When you were in third grade, you probably received such things, too. Lists of adjectives… even the dreaded adverbs. They’re useful documents for third graders, who usually (!) turn in the bare minimum unless pressed to expand.

Many writers, however, suffer from the syndrome known as “overwriting.” Have you ever received a short story or novel back with this comment? You’re not alone. What’s happened is this: you’ve fallen into the Third Grade Handout Pit of Evil and Doom. Or, to put it another way: you’ve included too many details.

Back in the nineteenth century, novelists painted wide landscapes for their settings. Characters were described in exhaustive detail so that readers would be able to pick them out in a crowd in a millisecond. But something has changed in our cultural landscape since then, and it’s this: television and film.

TV and film give us all that information in an instant. What does this mean for writers? Well, it means that you have a lot less time to get your point across. Readers are usually also viewers, and although they understand the author/reader transaction is different from the editor/viewer transaction, they still have little patience for exhaustive detail. Putting it bluntly: all that detail bogs down your story.

My theory: choose one or two interesting details, and stick to them. Then move on. It’s best to work the details into action. Have the character do something. Compare these two paragraphs (both of which are horrible first drafts, so don’t hold them to some great artistic standard):

Ted wore a brown derby hat, mismatched socks and a rumpled shirt. His eyes were a blue so dark they were nearly black. His breathing sounded like a dog on a very hot day. Ted seemed angry, and Liesel was worried she’d upset him further.

Ted hurled his brown derby hat to the floor. “Go screw yourself, Liesel.” His eyes flashed an angry blue-black, and he panted heavily, like a dog on a sweltering August afternoon.

“Oh, Teddybear.” Liesel reached out and smoothed Ted’s rumpled shirt, clucking her tongue at his mismatched socks. Why she put up with his rages, she’d never know. “Take a few deep breaths and calm down.”

Okay, they are both pretty crappy, but I’d argue #2 beats #1 any day of the week. Something is happening in #2. Although #2 is longer, and traditional wisdom in writing says less is more (say it aloud: Omit unnecessary words~thanks, Strunk and White!), #2 is superior in that it moves the story along.

Look at your work-in-progress. Do you have long paragraphs of description? Highlight them, hit copy, and open a new document. Paste in the descriptive paragraph. Now, try to get the most crucial details across while moving the scene forward. I think you’ll be pleased with the difference.

That’s it from me!

POSTSCRIPT~I'm bringing this post on Flogging the Quill, linked by the inimitable Ray Rhamey (below, in comments), to the front because it contains such valuable advice. Please check it out for further reading on the topic of overwriting.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

La diabetes en español

I wanted to alert all of you to a Spanish Language Diabetes blog:

Mi hijo tiene diabetes

Blog de una mamá sobre la experiencia de criar y cuidar un bebé, y ahora niño de 3 años, con diabetes tipo 1

The blog's title is simply: "My Son Has Diabetes." It's the blog of a mother about taking care of her 3 year old boy who has Type 1 Diabetes. It's the first Spanish-language diabetes blog I've come across, and is full of valuable information and advice. Check it out and please pass it to any Spanish-speaking friends!

Friday, November 11, 2005

Check Out Coupon Girl!

My longtime writer buddy Becky Motew just got the cover for her forthcoming book, and it's adorable!

Here's the blurb from bestselling author Johanna Edwards: "Coupon Girl is a fun, fabulous read. Becky Motew is the real deal, and her debut novel truly delivers. Delightfully quirky!"

Read Becky's funny blog here, and look for Coupon Girl soon. (Becky, I'll email you the code I used to get the pic up on my blog... just create a new post, click "Edit Html" and paste in the code there.)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Blog for Diabetes Day~Big Success!

Hi everyone, thanks for participating in the first annual Blog for Diabetes day! (See below for explanation.) I enjoyed reading everyone's posts, and reading all the comments you sent my way. And wow! According to my statcounter, yesterday saw a HUGE jump in traffic! Was that true for you guys as well?

Also, a big thanks to Gina at Diabetes Talkfest for arranging it all.

I wanted to link to the blogs of a couple of author friends of mine who also blogged about diabetes yesterday. You may have missed them since they aren't official members of the O.C. (diabetes online community), but here they are:
Angela tells about her personal experience with gestational diabetes.

Gayle Brandeis posts a poignant poem about her family history of diabetes, titled "Cut, with Sugar."
Check them out!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Diabetes Awareness~Teenaged Noncompliance

November is Diabetes Awareness month. As such, my circle of Diabetes Bloggers (see right... most are identified as diabetes bloggers, or have things like Shots, Pancreas, etc. in the title of their blogs) have agreed to make November 9 a day in which they blog about Type 1 Diabetes. (Many thanks to Gina at Diabetes Talkfest for this inspired idea.)

What's your job? If diabetes affects your life in any way, and you maintain a blog, TODAY (WEDNESDAY) is the day to blog about that topic. Come on, everyone! Let's spread awareness using every tool we can... including the blogosphere! And if you don't have a blog and are just sailing through... or if you don't really know much about Type 1 Diabetes... your job is to join in the discussion! Comment, ask questions, add things... join in the discussion, even if you've never before commented on a blog! Let's talk this topic into the ground, shall we?

As many of you know, I'm a novelist whose 8-year-old son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes just over a year ago. After numerous misdiagnoses, he presented in the Emergency Room near coma and was transferred via ambulance to UCSF, where he was in the PICU for two days and the pediatric ward for two. Since then our lives have changed forever. Many of you also know that as my work in progress, I am writing a novel which deals with Type 1 Diabetes as a topic. One of the issues included in the novel is teenaged noncompliance (with insulin regimens) and its consequences. I'd like to open this issue up for discussion among my fellow diabetes bloggers, my readers, and anyone who'd care to chime in!

I heard this tidbit via a friend in my diabetes circle and am quoting with permission.
When our A** was diagnosed at 20 months of age, over 7 years ago now, and we were worried about taking care of him at home, the Ped Endo (pediatric endocrinologist) assured us that we would do fine, and that he expected that A** would not need to be hospitalized again until he was a teen. At that point, he had at least a 50% chance of being hospitalized again. That ped endo, who had practicing for several years, pointed out to us that all the patients that he had in the hospital right then were either newly diagnosed or teenagers. He said that his experience was that 50% or more of the teen patients rebelled against their care and ended up being hospitalized. He also said that in his opinion it was a very split distribution. Very few teens fell in the middle as far as diabetes care goes; most were either very very good or very very bad. I wonder if any research has been done to confirm these numbers.
Folks with Type 1 Diabetes who were diagnosed as kids... is this true? Did this happen to you? Were you hospitalized and was it because of noncompliance? Did you have issues of noncompliance? How did you move past them?

I know Kerri once mentioned somewhere about girls she knew at the Clara Barton camp who'd deliberately miss insulin doses in order to lose weight, and I've heard that elsewhere, too. Andie Dominick also deals with that issue in her heartfelt and troubling memoir, Needles.

How common is this noncompliance business? Of course, I imagine those of you who cared enough to blog about diabetes would by necessity be of some statistical outlier... that you had been more conscientious than your average teen. (Hopefully our family are statistical outliers, too! A former "friend" once told me I was overly obsessed with diabetes... could our obsessions actually be GOOD things for our future teens? I hope so!)

And parents, friends, blogsurfers... any reactions?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Tactical Tuesday~Overcoming Writer's Block

We've all had it. Even Anne Lamott has. In her wonderful writing book, Bird by Bird (which you all ought to pick up, if you haven't), Lamott devotes an entire chapter to it. She says:

"Writer's block is going to happen to you. You will read what little you've written lately and see with absolute clarity that it is total dog shit. A blissfully productive manic stage may come to a screeching halt, and all of a sudden you realize you're Wile E. Coyote and you've run off the cliff and are a second away from having to look down."
Boy, that's true. Writer's block can be paralyzing. Untreated, it can lead to frustation, panic, self-hatred, even self-destruction. Look at me, am I smiling? No. I am dead serious. But fortunately, others have walked this road before you. So please welcome Flusters McKnucklesby as he spurs us on to tackle the ever-dreaded Writer's Block.

Beating Writer's Block

What causes Writer's Block? Many things, but I think it can be boiled down to two words: Fear and Stress.

Fear of...

The Second-Novel Slump
Everyone Finding Out You're a Big Fat Fraud
What Mom/Dad/The Ex/The Spouse/Aunt Ethel Will Think
Not Being Original
Creating Shit
Not Creating Anything

Stress from...

Personal Problems
Traumatic or Depressing World Events
All the Fears Listed Above
Each Progressing Day of the Writer's Block

Successful Strategies for Wiping Out Writer's Block

Butt in Chair
The first thing to try is to force yourself to sit down and spew out WHATEVER. Jodi Picoult claims: "I can edit a bad page. I can't edit a blank page." Well said. Glue your butt to the chair, and say: "I can write today, or I can kill myself." (Don't remember where I heard that. Some writing book or another, or maybe a writer friend of mine. If you know who said this, pop in on the comments and lemme know, wouldja?)

Remove Distractions... or Remove Yourself
When I was writing my first draft, I went to the library each day with a great little device called The AlphaSmart. The AlphaSmart cannot do anything but type. No internet, no video poker, no virtual pinball or Spider Solitaire. So the machine itself is a very dull little piece of equipment. The library is pretty much a quiet and unexciting place (as long as you don't cheat and wander the stacks... not that I've ever been guilty of that). No toast to make, no phone to answer, no laundry to do, no baseboards to scrub with a toothbrush to avoid writing.

The library/AlphaSmart strategy may not work for you. Po Bronson wrote the full draft of Bombardiers locked in a closet listening to R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" over, and over, and OVER again.

But hey... in the throes of Writer's Block, anything's worth a try.

Plan Ahead for It
Keep a notebook or file of ideas or story openings. When you're feeling blocked, sift through your ideas. This is not cheating. This is smart writing. Planning ahead is the same as packing a healthy lunch for yourself so you don't get superhungry and binge at Jack In The Box. Not that... um... yeah.

If you can't write, READ. Dog-ear pages that appeal to you in some way. Steal someone else's killer opening line and run with it in your own direction. That's not cheating either... that's being inspired. (But don't forget, you'll have to change the line at the end! It really does belong to the other author, sigh...)

Mix It Up A Bit
A friend of mine swears she can stop writer's block in its tracks simply by "moving locale." She moves her laptop to another part of the house, or goes outside with it. Just that change of setting seems to help her blast through the writer's block.

You could also try writing in longhand instead of the computer, or vice versa. Try a new pen in an interesting shade, or odd colored paper. Try dictating into a tape recorder. Instead of using your word processor, compose an email addressed to a friend... then mail it to yourself instead!

Work on a different project. If you've got a novel going... set it aside and try a short story or a poem. What you find may be the key to unlock the "blocked" part of your novel.

Try the Drastic and Unexpected
When Stephen King was writing The Stand, he began to panic one day because he felt the book was out of control. Too many characters and too many plotlines were bogging down his story. If I recall correctly, he was blocked for quite some time. Finally one day during a walk, the idea came to him: kill half my characters.

That day he went home and wrote the scene in which one of the characters opens a closet and sets off a bomb that indeed kills many of the major characters. Once he'd done this, King was able to write to the end.

Of course, you don't need to blow up your characters... your mileage may vary depending upon the type of book you're writing. But the unexpected or drastic twist may be just what you need to jumpstart your writing again.

If All Else Fails, Accept It... and Pamper Yourself
Go for a run. Take a long nap. Enjoy some tea or a long bath or an afternoon at the pool. Play Clue with your kids or kick the soccer ball around. All these things will make you feel better and will improve your general health. When you're feeling good, your brain will work better.

Have a wonderful Tuesday, everyone! May your day be writer's-block-free!

Sunday, November 06, 2005

With Joyous Musick~Gayle Brandeis

"Hear how the birds, on ev'ry blooming spray, With joyous musick wake the dawning day." ~Alexander Pope

I am thrilled to host Gayle Brandeis on the blog today. A wonderful writer and incredibly kind individual, Gayle was an early and enthusiastic supporter of The Bitch Posse. In addition to Gayle's novels, she also has an awesome book on writing titled Fruitflesh that sits proudly next to Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird on my bookcase. Check it out for some delicious inspiration!

Today I'm presenting Gayle's novel, The Book of Dead Birds, now in paperback, as part of The Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Virtual Book Tour. Poignant and memorable, this is a beautiful work of literary fiction of the highest caliber. And don't take my word for it... Barbara Kingsolver, Toni Morrison, and Maxine Hong Kingston agreed, awarding The Book of Dead Birds Kingsolver's Bellwether Prize.


Ava Sing Lo has been accidentally killing her mother's birds since she was a little girl. Now in her twenties, Ava leaves her native San Diego for the Salton Sea, where she volunteers to help environmental activists save thousands of birds poisoned by agricultural runoff.

Helen, her mother, has been haunted by her past for decades. As a young girl in Korea, Helen was drawn into prostitution on a segregated American army base. Several brutal years passed before a young white American soldier married her and brought her to California. When she gave birth to a black baby, her new husband quickly abandoned her, and she was left to fend for herself and her daughter in a foreign country.

With great beauty and lyricism, The Book of Dead Birds captures a young woman's struggle to come to terms with her mother's terrible past while she searches for her own place in the world.

The Book of Dead Birds won Barbara Kingsolver's Bellwether Prize for Fiction. Barbara Kingsolver created the award to advocate serious literary fiction that addresses issues of social justice, and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships. Toni Morrison and Maxine Hong Kingston were the judges who, in addition to Barbara Kingsolver, selected The Book of Dead Birds.


Lyrical, imaginative, beautifully crafted, and deeply intelligent. Before anything else, its characters take you by the heart.
--Barbara Kingsolver

The Book of Dead Birds has an edgy beauty that enhances perfectly the seriousness of its contents.
--Toni Morrison

A moving and perceptive first novel.
--O Magazine

The vivid tale of a woman learning to save and cherish life.
--San Francisco Chronicle

A uniquely inventive novel…How splendidly the author has balanced art with environmental obligation…It is exciting in literary circles when a first-time novelist does as well as Brandeis does with The Book of Dead Birds.
--Rocky Mountain News

Brandeis has a poet's ear for the music of language…[her] characters and their fledgling flights of the heart stay with readers long after the book is closed and set aside.
--January Magazine

Captivating…A poignant and wonderful novel.
--Dallas Morning News

Intricate and elegant…[Brandeis] mines universal human experiences, not the least of which is the need to get beyond the heartbreak of the past to create a livable future.
--Denver Post

Gathers power and momentum to wind up both mysterious and spiritual.
--Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


In addition to The Book of Dead Birds, Gayle Brandeis is the author of Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write (HarperSanFrancisco) and Dictionary Poems (Pudding House Publications). Both Fruitflesh and The Book of Dead Birds were chosen as selections for the BookSense list, compiled by the American Booksellers Association. Her second novel, Self Storage, will be published by Ballantine in 2007.

Gayle's poetry, fiction and essays have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies (such as,, The Mississippi Review, and McSweeney's Internet Tendency) and have received several awards, including the QPB/Story Magazine Short Story Award, a Barbara Mandigo Kelley Peace Poetry Award, and a grant from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund. Her essay on the meaning of liberty was one of three included in the Statue of Liberty's Centennial time capsule in 1986. The Writer Magazine honored Gayle with a 2004 Writer Who Makes a Difference Award for her work in the community as well as her commitment to craft.

Gayle holds a BA in "Poetry and Movement: Arts of Expression, Meditation and Healing" from the University of Redlands, and an MFA in Creative Writing/Fiction from Antioch University. She is on the faculty of the UCLA Writers Program, and is writer in residence for the Mission Inn Foundation's Family Voices Project. She lives in Riverside, CA with her husband and two children.


MO'C: Hello, Gayle, and welcome to the blog.
GB: Thank you for the invitation!

MO'C: Let's start at the beginning; how did you get started writing?
GB: Words have always been a hugely important part of my life; I taught myself to read when I was three and started writing poems when I was four. My memories start at age 4, so I have been writing for as long as I can remember! I was fairly ambitious when I was a kid—I wrote my first "novel" when I was eight (it was only 24 pages, but it felt like a novel to me, and even ended up on the shelves of my school library); I put together a neighborhood newspaper when I was ten and sold subscriptions door to door. Then those self-conscious years hit, and I became very private with my work. I never stopped writing, but it took me a long time to call myself a writer again; it took a long time for me to feel comfortable sending my work out into the world. I wrote mostly poetry for many years, with some non-fiction thrown in, and slowly began to publish work in literary journals and anthologies; then, after my daughter was born, fiction started pouring out of me, and it hasn't stopped since.

MO'C: What gave you the idea for The Book of Dead Birds?
GB: The Book of Dead Birds started out as a poem about a dead bird I saw when I was six (my first direct experience with death.) The poem got longer and stranger, and I realized it didn't want to be a poem any more, and it didn't want to be about me any more, but I had no idea what it wanted to be or who it wanted to be about. That summer, articles began to appear in the paper about the massive bird die-off at the Salton Sea out in the California desert; I clipped the articles, knowing I could tie them into this strange dead bird project, but I had no idea how. Then I happened to see a documentary on PBS , "The Women Outside", about women who had been forced into prostitution on US military bases in Korea, and suddenly my two main characters materialized. I knew from the start that Ava had a nasty habit of killing her mother's pet birds; I knew that Helen had been a prostitute in Korea; I knew that Ava would have to travel to the Salton Sea to help try to save dead birds and maybe make amends with her mother in the process. I knew all of this, but I got very scared—I didn't think I had the right to write this story. I tried to resist the characters at first, but they were incredibly persistent.

MO'C: Did you find it difficult to write from the perspective of a character with such a different background than yourself? What type of research did you do to help you do it effectively?
GB:The most difficult part was convincing myself that I wasn't a horrible cultural imperialist for taking on these characters. I questioned myself at every turn, but my characters kept compelling me to move forward. At first, I wrote Ava's story from the 3 rd person because I thought it was safer—I was just observing Ava; I wasn't claiming to be her. The story felt flat, though. I almost gave up writing the story, but two things convinced me—first, a dead crow appeared on my patio, and that seemed like a sign to keep going. Then, I came down with strep throat and had such a high fever that I had these crazy hallucinatory dreams where I became Ava. After the fever broke, I realized Ava had to tell the story in her own voice.

I did tons of research—the typical venues (internet, library, etc.), but also a lot of hands-on sensory research. I find that when I engage my senses, I can write about things more viscerally, so I ate a lot of Korean food, listened to Korean music, spent time in Koreatown, etc.

MO'C: Any plans for a sequel to the book at some point or another?
GB: I actually wrote a sequel during National Novel Writing Month in 2002, the year before Dead Birds first came out. It was wonderful to spend more time with my characters—it was like an intense, month long, family reunion. I don't know if I'll ever publish the story, but I am very glad that I wrote it. I was so happy to catch up with everyone (although I was sorry to see they had found more complications for themselves!)

MO'C: Tell me, what are Barbara Kingsolver, Toni Morrison, and Maxine Hong Kingston like in person? You got to meet them, didn't you?
GB: I did get to meet them (which makes me feel giddy! I still can barely believe that they have given me their blessing via the Bellwether.) I've gotten to know Barbara quite well; she's incredibly warm and generous, so much fun to be around. I continue to learn so much from her. I only met Toni Morrison briefly; what a regal presence. And Maxine Hong Kingston introduced me at one of my readings, even though she was quite ill that evening. She is a delight; she reminds me of a fairy, with her long white hair. The fact that the three of them read my work at all, much less endorsed it, still gives me little shivers. They are all such idols, such models, for me. True goddesses.

MO'C: Did you have any idea or message you wanted to get across with this book?
GB: As I was writing, I mostly wanted to tell the story; I tried not to have any sort of agenda. I was aware, though, that I wanted to touch upon issues of community and environmental responsibility. I wanted to expose the heartbreak of prostitution on US military bases abroad. And I wanted to look into the heart of the ever-complicated mother-daughter relationship.

MO'C: What is your writing day like? How do you manage to juggle writing around the demands of a family?
GB: I tend to write in bits and pieces throughout the day. I love to write at night, but that isn't always an option, so I try to get work done when the kids are in school. I'm teaching now, too, and I do a lot of work as an activist, so the juggling can get a little complicated. I let a lot of things go—laundry is a biggie. Clothes are patient; they can wait—often for a long, long time--while I deal with more important things, like kids and stories (which are usually not patient at all.)

MO'C: What advice would you have for an aspiring writer?
GB: Keep your senses open. Be true to your voice, your vision. Read widely and deeply. Take creative risks. Learn as much as you can about the publishing world, but don't make the publishing the be-all and end-all of your existence; the writing itself is the most enduring source of pleasure.

To put on my marketing cap for a moment (which doesn't fit my head quite right, but I know I have to wear it every once in awhile)…for further advice, feel free to check out my book, Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write. {This is Martha butting in... you have to check out this book. I page through it often!}

MO'C: What's next on the agenda for you?
GB: My novel Self Storage will be published by Ballantine in 2007. I will be entering the revision process soon with my editor, and am excited to polish the book before it hits the shelves. I'm also working on a new novel, which will be published by Ballantine a year or two after Self Storage comes out. I'm doing a lot of political work, as well, especially for the group CODEPINK: Women for Peace. It is important to me to find ways to use my voice for good in the world.

Thank you so much, Gayle, for the visit! And don't forget to buy The Book of Dead Birds at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or your local indie bookseller. Visit Gayle's website, too!

Friday, November 04, 2005

Friday Nothingness

I'm always so TIRED on Fridays. This is also partly because I have been frustrated all week at having so little time to work... the kids have had early dismissal every day for conferences. Anyway, all I have in me today are LINKS.

I'll admit my first reaction to the story about the guy who got super-glued to a Home Depot toilet seat was to laugh. But read this story and you realize that poor Bob Dougherty was treated HORRIBLY by Home Depot during and after the incident. (He is suing Home Depot because he believes the incident triggered his diabetes Due to a serious heart condition, he actually lost consciousness during the incident. Home Depot employees ignored and made light of his pleas for help.) Someone asked why didn't he use a paper seat cover... well, according to the story:
Before Dougherty sat down, Cohen says he tried to grab "one of those waxed-paper, oval-shaped products that establishes a protective layer between a toilet seat and the skin." Dougherty calls it an "ass gasket" and suspects it would have saved his butt. Whatever one calls them, they were gone that day.
The poor guy. It's humiliating for him to go public with this, I imagine, but I do hope Home Depot pays big-time.

Here's a link whose humor speaks for itself... a New Yorker review of Scooter Libby's sex novel, complete with excerpted naughty bits...

Do you or does someone you know do a lot of work for JDRF or another outstanding charity? Then take the time to write 250 words about them for Country Living, and have the chance to win $5000 donated to the charity.

And a huge THANK YOU to Governor Jim Doyle of Wisconsin, who just vetoed an anti-stem cell research bill. The American Diabetes Association says: "Wisconsin has been a leader in breakthrough stem cell research, and today's action ensures that this research can continue unimpeded. Those of us who champion the fight to find cures and better treatments for chronic and deadly diseases thank Governor Doyle for allowing researchers to continue their important work." The full story is here.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

I Am a Winner! And Other Miscellany

It's come to my attention that I am the proud recipient of The Bookseller to the Stars Book of the Year Award! Fuck the Man Booker, who needs the controversy? This is much better! I was a bit punchy during the interview so you'll have to forgive me.

Also, Gina at Diabetes TalkFest is organizing a Blog for Diabetes Day on Wednesday, November 9. If diabetes has affected your life in any way, please write a blog entry about it on that day. November is Diabetes Awareness Month. And check out their groovy new shirts... who wouldn't want a Thanksgiving shirt that says "I Pump for Seconds"? (If you don't get it, consider yourself lucky...)

That's it from me...

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Tactical Tuesday~Getting Started

Hurray for Tactical Tuesday! (Yeah, I KNOW it's Wednesday... blame it on the first draft of the new novel that just INSISTED upon being finished yesterday! Whee!)

Getting Started~Crafting Effective Openings

As someone whose novel starts off with a, erm, bang (those of you who've read my book KNEW I wouldn't be able to leave THAT one alone!), I've been looking forward to writing about crafting effective opening scenes for this week's Tactical Tuesday entry.

Frankly, a dull opening scene can kill your novel's chances of getting noticed... by an agent, by an editor, and in the end, by anyone. As I've mentioned elsewhere on this blog, you've got five pages, tops, to sink your hook into the reader.

I'd wager that first scenes in finished books often AREN'T the first scenes that the author wrote. That's because writing itself is the act of discovery. Often, you don't know what your book's ABOUT before you've actually WRITTEN it. First-draft-first-scenes tend to be heavy on the exposition. The pacing tends to be off. You might not even have introduced the main character or characters yet, because somewhere in First Draft Land, secondary characters rose up in revolution and DEMANDED to be major characters! (Not that that's ever happened to ME or anything, cough cough)

Now, your novel doesn't need to open with the discovery of a body washed up on the beach in order to open effectively. (But if it's a murder mystery, I'm pretty sure you want a body somewhere within the first three chapters...) However, no matter the type of book you're writing, the opening scene must ENGAGE the reader.

The major characters will probably make an appearance, although I often see murder mysteries where the detective is NOT the focal character of the opening. (Often it's killer-victim instead; still quite important characters, wouldn't you agree?) If your book's a serious social drama, laugh-out-loud humor probably doesn't belong in the opening... set a tone. And please keep the story moving. Pages and pages of description will probably make your reader yawn. (Though a setting would be nice.) Oh, and those witty, charming bits of dialogue that remind you how smart and clever YOU are, but don't service the plot? Toss 'em. Very important: your opening chapter ought to at least HINT at the major, pressing conflict of the novel.

I'm just finishing up the latest Joyce Carol Oates novel, Missing Mom. And I'll go out on a limb here and say it may be her best novel in YEARS. This book didn't just entertain me, it affected me in a profound and personal way. Anyway. The opening chapter of Missing Mom follows, in its entirety:

last time

Last time you see someone and you don't know it will be the last time. And all that you know now, if only you'd known then. But you didn't know, and now it's too late. And you tell yourself How could I have known. I could not have known.

You tell yourself.

This is my story of missing my mother. One day, in a way unique to you, it will be your story, too.

Now, that, ladies and gentlemen, is one hell of an opening. True, Oates doesn't explicitly tell us that the novel's protagonist is named Nikki and that she's a thirty-one-year-old rebellious daughter. She doesn't tell us that Nikki has a prissy older sister named Clare. But Oates does show us that the protagonist misses her mother, terribly, even guiltily. And that is what the novel is about. The lack of specifics is more than made up for by the dramatic punch Oates wields with the brevity and universality of the opening. You've got to read this novel. And hey, where's that Pulitzer? (One of the world's great injustices is that Oates has never won, though she's been nominated several times.)

So here's some homework. Pick up five books from your bookshelf and read their opening scenes. Do they introduce the characters? Set a tone and pace? Hint at the big conflict of the novel? Now, pick up the opening chapter of your own novel. Does it do the same? If not, you've got a follow-up assignment....

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Tactical Tuesday Postponed Till Tomorrow~

Good news... I finished the first draft of the new book!

Bad news... I neglected Martha-Land here at the ol' blog. Stay tuned, though... the Tactical Tuesday post about opening scenes will come tomorrow! XO