Monday, December 1, 2014

My Five Fave Books of 2014

A short list of the new books I enjoyed reading this year (all were published in 2014).
Once again, I am not putting on my list of favorites the recent books that have been bestsellers—a couple of which I admired greatly, like Sue Monk Kidd's The Invention of Wings, Five Came Back by Mark Harris and Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult, since they have gotten, and will get, plenty of "ink" elsewhere.
I want to share with you the excellent, important, or just plain entertaining reads you might not hear about otherwise—because, well, the world isn't necessarily fair.
I'm linking to the books' Amazon pages because it gives you all a super simple link to find out more about these books and to maybe even purchase one of them. Why Amazon? Because it's the easiest way to do it—and because, well, the world isn't necessarily fair.
The order of the list is the order in which I read them this year, not in any order of achievement.
So there.

The Stones of Kaldaar by Tameri Etherton I loved Tolkein's LoTR trilogy and I love the echoes of it in this author's new fantasy series-starter. The world our heroine is suddenly plunged into is strange and yet totally believable. I'm waiting impatiently for book two.

The Mapmaker's Daughter by Laurel Corona was a learning experience that transported me—two attributes I love in literature. Set in the years just before the Spanish Inquisition, Corona's story of a young Jewish girl "passing" as a Catholic is heartbreaking and incredibly timely.

In Doubt by Drusilla Campbell The latest from my beloved friend—a brilliant writer, teacher and mentor who we lost much too soon. As always, Dru takes the hard road in this book, by defending the "indefensible" in this unusual and contemporary courtroom tale.

The Bone Feud by Wynne McLaughlin Real rollicking fun—a fact-based western with cowboys, Indians, and dinosaur bones. Enough said.

Metaphysical Odyssey Into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book by C. M. Mayo  Last but certainly not least, the book I just finished, about a time I find fascinating, by one of my favorite authors. Don't be thrown off by the academic-sounding title—this book is like a rambling conversation with a really smart friend who knows a great deal more than you do, but truly enjoys telling the story to you, and does it in an entertaining and enlightening way.

Enjoy your end-of-the-year reading and the holidays...
hasta pronto!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Drusilla Campbell: A Great Writer Leaves a Legacy

You all know I am a fan of Drusilla Campbell, an author who made San Diego her home as well as the home of many of her characters. She also befriended the San Diego writing community in many ways, including serving as a board member of San Diego Writers, Ink, and as a workshop and "Novel Cram" leader at the Southern California Writer's Conference in San Diego.
Many of you might have read her blog in the last few months, and so know that Dru was fighting cancer. She blogged honestly about the fight, just as she had written about so many other fights in her brilliant novels. Her last, heart-breaking post is here.
Dru passed away yesterday, and leaves quite a void as a mother, wife, friend, teacher, and writer.  But she also leaves us quite a literary legacy—not only the knowledge she shared with the many writers whose lives she touched, but also the stories and characters she created on the pages of her acclaimed books.
I've written about her works here and at the SPH blog (this review is for her next-to-last book, When She Came Home). Her books were the kind I love working on and reading, and would love to someday write. She was the sort of author and teacher I hope to become—the sort that can change the world (see my July post for more on that).
Today I want to say thank you to Drusilla Campbell. Thank you for your friendship, and for the life-affirming legacy you leave us. Thank you for taking on subjects many would shy away from; for facing that blank page so many, many times; for writing bravely, honestly, and with love; and for doing the hard work that is required to change lives.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Edit, Teach, Write...Repeat

So, I've been busy this last two months, which is why it's been so quiet here on my blog. We had a wonderful 25th anniversary trip this spring and summer, sailing up and down the California coast and meeting new friends all along the way. The voyage included a stop in Morro Bay to work with my chef friend Len Gentieu on his upcoming memoir of fifty years in the restaurant biz, "Chasing the Heat," due out in November—more on that book soon.

Back in San Diego now, I'm teaching quite a bit with San Diego Writers, Ink, and looking forward to this weekend's "Fall for Writing" event at their new "Ink Spot" in Point Loma's very cool Liberty Station. It's so wonderful to see SDWI expanding and coming into its own, and to be a small part of its success.

And, of course, I'm getting ready for the always-fabulous Southern California Writers Conference, Newport Beach at which I'll be teaching three workshops, meeting writers, agents, and publishers, and reading new great work. There's still time to register—check it out. (If not this month, then perhaps the February SCWC in San Diego?)

I'm still blogging and judging the writing contests at Social Publishing House—in fact, a new short- story contest just got started at SPH. The last contest discovered a treasure trove of talent and three authors got their work published on the site. Check out the contest info here.

Meanwhile, the editing work just keeps pouring in. I'm going to be busy for the next couple of months, and loving the great variety of manuscripts I'm getting to work on—including a science-based thriller, a culinary romantic comedy, and even a Steam Punk fantasy novel. Just finished editing a wonderful middle-grade fiction called "Between the Lines" by Claudia Whitsitt (best known for mystery and suspense); can't wait for that one to be published so I can buy a copy for my ten-year-old niece.

In my spare time, I'm busy working with my husband Russel on a novelization of "El Camino," our feature film script set in San Diego, about the fatal consequences of forcing people to cross borders illegally (our short film version of the same story "El Camino Real" recently was accepted into three film festivals—whoo-hoo!).

So, what am I doing for fun? Reading, sailing, taking walks on the beach, and enjoying life. I hope to see you at one of my upcoming classes or workshops.
hasta pronto!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Authors Changing the World, One Book at a Time

I'm lucky enough to know Drusilla Campbell, but I was a fan of her books long before I met her. I'm a lover of clear and simple prose—you know, like Steinbeck and Cather wrote, the kind that is so hard to write. I found one of Drusilla's books in the library—I think it was Little Girl Gone, and I was hooked. (I reviewed her newest book, When She Came Home, on the SPH blog; you can read that post here.)
Recently, I re-read Bone Lake—it had been years since I'd read it, and I saw on Dru's blog where it was on sale in a Kindle ebook version, so I bought it. It blew me away, all over again. Not only does Dru get into the heart and mind of a little girl who's been raised by white supremacists, but she makes that girl, and her life, and her whole-hearted support of their racist beliefs quite believeable—truly, scarily, believable.
Another book I just read is The Mapmaker's Daughter by Laurel Corona—who just happens to be another author I know and admire. That book is also about a young girl raised in a world whose beliefs clash with her family's and her own. The character and setting couldn't be more different—the girl is a Spanish Jew, "passing" for Catholic, in the years just before the Inquisition. (You can find out more about Laurel and her books on her blog, here.) But what struck me about the two books is how they made me feel about, and feel for, their characters.
No one sets out to have hateful ideas, or to be a hateful person—everyone's upbringing probably starts with their mom and dad teaching them to share and be kind. But somewhere along the way, that instruction becomes adulterated (yep, double-meaning intended) to something like "Share with, and be kind to, only those who look like us"—or worship like us, or love like us. And until we understand how we ourselves do this, how our own children are being "carefully taught," as the song says, then how can we criticize others for doing the same?
The only way we can change the world for the better is to change our way of thinking—hopefully, we can, one book at a time.
So, why not buy books—and support and promote books—that promote peace and understanding?
It can't hurt.
Here's a very short list of some other authors I admire that you might not yet know about, whose works are helping to make a difference: Matthew Pallamary, Marla Miller, Midge Raymond, Robert Yehling, Helen Landalf, and Cate Shepard.
hasta pronto!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Gearing up for the Big Conference!

I've finished my first editing project of the year already, and getting ready to dive into my stack of advance submissions for the Southern California Writers Conference—I'm so excited—it's just over a week away now...
This conference is always a great time—not just because I get to see old friends, and meet new ones, but because I get to both learn and teach, which I love. And it inspires me to be at the top of my game, because everyone else there is!
For those who haven't heard about SCWC before, here's a short clip of SCWC's wonderful Director, Wes Albers, being interviewed about the writers conference, at the 2013 LA Times Festival of Books.
If you haven't been to a writers conference before, you're probably wondering, Why should I go? What will I get out of it?
The biggest reason I know is to connect with a community of writers—and readers (because all writers are readers, no?). Writing is a solitary pursuit and sometimes we need to meet and talk to others in our "tribe," to hear people talk about going through the same things we go through; to learn from their mistakes, and gain insight from their successes.
Of course, you'll also meet and get to chat with agents, editors, and publishers—not to mention people who are successful author-publishers.
The world of publishing is evolving fast, and it's important for aspiring and published authors to keep on top of the changes, and keep their strategies always shifting, in order to compensate. I think going to a writers conference like SCWC gives you the cutting-edge tools to do that. The panels and workshops include subjects that span the world of today's publishing. Check out the schedule here.
Hope to see you there...
hasta pronto!

Friday, January 10, 2014

My Five Fave Books of 2013

I realize that all "best" lists are subjective. I can't tell you what books are "best" for you, any more than I can pick your favorite flavor of ice cream. All I can do is make a list of the new books I most enjoyed reading this year (all were published in 2013).
However, I am not putting on this list some 2013 books that I read and enjoyed, that I also worked on—like Marla Miller's heart-warming Deadly Little Secrets. One reason is because people might think I'm biased (I am) and two, because I've already talked about those books—see my previous post (December 3).
I'm also not including on my list the 2013 books that have been bestsellers—a couple of which I admired greatly, like Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters and TransAtlantic by Colum McCann, since they have been lauded plenty elsewhere.
So, here is a list of my five favorite books of 2013:
Hippy Homeschooling By Carlton Smith: One of the most memorable books of recent years—I frequently flash back to one of the many cinematic scenes from this California road trip novel, almost like it was part of my own memories. The author's brilliantly understated prose and compelling characters live on for me. See my review.
How to Thrive on a Tropical Deserted Island by Mike Riley: This nonfiction book is chock-full of fun facts and lessons—everything from how to build a grass hut to how to make liquor from almost anything. Not just for sailors, these clever tricks and treats are for beach bums, too. (The editor in me had a hard time overlooking the many typos in this e-book, but that's the way indie publishing often goes.)
Creating Adventures, Sharing Stories, by Robert Yehling. Many writers have turned collections of their blog posts into books, and the reading road is littered with the missteps that have been published along the way. Yehling focuses on entertaining subjects, including, but not limited to sports and music, as well as the many fascinating people he knows; taken together, it's addicting—heartwarming and eclectic. 
Blood Moon by Alexandra Sokoloff: This is not usually my genre, but Blood Moon is a crime thriller that has it all—a gripping plot, great California settings, and a kick-ass female "heroine" (of sorts). Actually, it's often hard to tell who the protagonist is—no worries, they are both great characters. And, yes, it is book 2 in a series. Sorry.
And last, but certainly not least:
When She Came Home by Drusilla Campbell: This book is heartbreakingly true-to-life, set in my own San Diego, and as current as today's front page. The many strands of the life of a wife and mother who is also a returning Iraq war veteran are interwoven expertly, with thoughtful restraint, by Campbell—a master of character and dialogue. This link will take you to a free preview of the first seven chapters for Kindle.