Home sweet home!

We are glad to be coming home to Los Angeles.  Mark misses sushi so much so we are going out for sushi right away with the whole family to discuss Jared’s trip and ours and Tobi starting at Red Hen and Steve having a fantastic summer and the dog having to go to the vet and the air conditioning breaking down on July 4th which expense will cause us to have to sell the dog who went to the vet so thank god she’s been all fixed up so we should be able to charge enough that we can pay for the air conditioning bill. Kidding.

Saw one interesting movie on the plane.  Coco about Chanel.  Such good acting that even for someone like me who doesn’t understand fashion or care about it, the movie was fun to watch and it made me think about my friend Darlene every minute because she’s actually romantic and fashionable and I am sure she loved the movie.

No one would give any money for JJ.  She’s cute enough but not that bright.  However, when our dog Luna was in her last stages, we went from feeding dry food to wet food and finally we were cooking a whole chicken every few days and giving her everything down to the marrow.  At that point, Luna was having trouble walking and she limped quite a bit dragging one leg.  JJ watched all this, the limping and the chicken and she began to limp as well and to cry as she dragged her leg along. When she couldn’t see us, she’d be out, playing with Ginger, but when we came into sight, she’s begin to make small whimpering sounds, the occasional howl or dog sob would escape her lips and she would barely be able to navigate from water bowl to bed so great was her pain.  We were shocked at this sort of slimy behavior from our noble canine friend; nonetheless, we rewarded her efforts with bits of chicken and cheese.  Perhaps she is a bright dog, who knows?

This will be a great week: Sushi, a party at Doris Sosin’s house on Monday.

We look forward to the Tuesday night event at the Annenberg Beach House which will be amazing.


Published in: on July 5, 2015 at 7:26 am  Leave a Comment  

Pride Week Celebration, Madrid, I will survive

Madrid Spain, we are here for Pride Weekend which is a jolly good thing because we missed Pride in the U.S. especially in West Hollywood and San Francisco where I hear it was really rocking.  Here, we attended a gay rally which had more beautiful gay boys than I’ve seen for ages just loving up on each other.  So many gay people singing, dancing and celebrating.

We’re at a hotel called Only You which makes this ruthless tequila drinks.

We’re at the Pride celebration and these drag queens are singing and everyone I dancing.  I’m on a tall bench and I’m dancing and then the drag queen comes out to sing I will survive in Spanish, she has huge knockers but when she turns around and peels off her wedding dress piece by piece, she has ass from here to some other country and in her tight beaded white outfit, you can see all of it, and she’s in heels.  I tell you, the men went wild and that’s when I noticed Mark was being interviewed on Spanish television. I raced over to see if he was okay since his Spanish is limited, but he was having no problem, sheets to the wind, telling several Spanish reporters, how proud he is of his amazing lesbian daughter and her partner and then they were asking where Tobi is and why she is not in Madrid to celebrate Pride week with the LGBT community.  I didn’t really catch what his response was, but later he told me that in indicated that we all wished Tobi were there to celebrate.  She and Molly would have taken it all to a new level.

We went out afterward for paella.  We fly to NY tomorrow, Sunday Los Angeles.  Home sweet home.

Published in: on July 3, 2015 at 12:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

We climbed the Giralda today.

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It’s 341 feet tall and the Moslems built it with all these ramps so that you could ride a horse up.  Not sure why you would want to ride a horse up to the top of a minaret, but then again, why not?  Spain is full of Moorish influence.  The Cathedral of Seville is a vast echo of story.  The grave of Christopher Columbus; huge quantities of gold taken from the Americas, silver too, the statue of four men carrying Columbus’ casket, the cathedral built in the 1400s on top of the mosque which had been there since 1198.  The Cathedral uses the bell tower of the Giralda as its highest point.  The mosque in Cordoba actually has a cathedral built into the forest of pillars, one of the strangest sacred places I’ve ever visited.

During Santa Semana Week, the holy festival week, over a million people visit Seville and they wear the hooded robes which most Americans would find extremely frightening because they look exactly like the regalia that Klansmen wear and refer to as their “glory suit.”  During Holy Week Parades, you see penitents wearing those same costumes as American Klansmen.

We are going to dinner tonight and for a walk along the river and tomorrow walk through the gardens by the castle and then take the train to Madrid.  We’re looking forward to being home.  We are both working on new books, and we’re excited to feel those new stories emerging.

From the top of the Giralda, all of Seville was spread out, pigeons fluttered along the eves, the heat rose from between buildings; some had courtyards and trees.  The sun pooled between the trees; and somewhere on the other side of the world, California is waiting.

Published in: on July 2, 2015 at 9:56 am  Leave a Comment  

Be an amazing story


We sat at the bus station in Nerja with our toast and coffee.  During the hour bus ride to Malaga, we couldn’t read.  We talked, we drifted between the Greek economy and how you develop voice in a story.

In Malaga, the train station had all these shops.  I found a dress while Mark drank coffee.  We had sandwiches, mine was salmon. I drifted around the train station.

I finished the Alice Munroe book Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You on the train ride to Seville through orchards and fields and drank my whiskey.  The last time we were in Seville we stayed by the Cathedral; this time we are nearer to the river.  We always walk along the rivers it seems, the Thames, the Seine and now the Guadalaquivir.  We’ll walk and find some tapas and sangria.

All the reading is making my head full of story.  I can’t really think in a linear way, everything that happens I imagine as a story with a woman running, a man yelling orders a child playing on the side ignoring both of them.  Spain moves slowly in its thick  light.  It’s a rich golden light, not as smoggy and threaded with desire as Los Angeles light.  LA is full of dreamers.  Spain is full of drifters, and I’m not sure that drifters and dreamers don’t have more in common than they imagine.  That’s all of us at our best, drifting creates dreams.  We can all think a bit and then become our own best selves, our own most thrilling selves, but maybe that’s just a story too.

Published in: on July 1, 2015 at 10:31 am  Leave a Comment  

The water is full of Medusas!

nerja_beachDon’t go out in the water, an Irish woman called out to me in her Irish accent.  That’s what they call jellyfish.  I nodded and dived in for my long swim which I do every day.

The water was indeed full of Medusas and by the time I got out, the lifeguard rushed over to me (would he have rushed so quickly if I hadn’t been swimming topless? I wonder) and said I needed to be treated immediately.   My legs had huge stings on them and my ankle was swollen and had thick weals across it.  I’d be stung several times and I was actually a bit dizzy in the sun with all the stings.  I had some trouble getting to shore as one leg was barely operational.

I found my top and wandered over to the lifeguard station where he began treating my ankles and thighs.  I must say the Spanish lifeguard was good at his job.

By the way, it’s a myth that urine is helpful.  Lemon juice or vinegar sure.  Mark got me some Absolut which helped a lot.  What you do with Absolut which helps in these situations is you drink it.  A couple shots does wonders.

In Spain, we go to the fish market almost every day and buy our langostinos, pulpo and calamari.

We go to the bakery every day for fresh bread. The carrots in Spain are better than our carrots.

We have gazpacho and manchego, fruit and vegetables every day. When we go out, we drink sangria. Spanish wine is good and cheap.

Tomorrow we go to Seville for a couple days and the trip is winding down then. We fly to NY on Sat and then home.  I am going to be glad to be in our own bed for a few nights before I go to the Nebraska residency.

Published in: on June 30, 2015 at 8:32 am  Leave a Comment  

Catapults vs Curtains, Girl books and Boy Books

Before my husband and I left for a writing vacation in Spain, we had dinner with Ron Carlson and went over our summer reading lists.  We discussed Lila by Marilyn Robinson, but I couldn’t imagine either man reading it.  My friend Jim Tilley, sure, but Jim’s an animal, he’ll read any smart book, but Ron and Mark, I was pretty sure wouldn’t make it through Lila which is very much a woman’s book.  I read Elena Ferrante’s book, My Brilliant Friend the first week of the trip.  It was fun, but I cannot imagine a man reading it.  Like Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood, it gives us a world of girls.  Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See gives us that girl world in China.  Women love these stories.

At the grocery store book level, women tend to read romances while men read action stories, but that’s a reduction of the idea that women crave romance while men crave adventure, stories that happen against a big backdrop.  Women live big lives outside the house now, so how does the split in literary reading continue?  Angela Merkel is arguably the most important leader in Europe and America’s on the verge of having a woman president.  How are we in the 21st century still stuck in gendered reading habits?

As an editor, you think about who the audience is.  Who is going to read this book?  The answer when it comes to novels is that women tend to read books by women and men read books by men; however, more women will venture into male territory than visa versa.

Women read because the story itself interests us, because the lilt of the language is familiar, and because it feels like the writer is talking to us.  Toni Morrison, Marilyn Robinson, Margaret Atwood are all writing stories I can walk around in and hear my heart beating.

                Most men would rather read Cormac McCarthy. When I hear a man say that he loves David Foster Wallace, Michael Chabon and Dave Eggers, I glaze over.  I know they probably like Pynchon too.   WASP with dough and gym time? I think.  Let’s write about being a junkie, being fucked up and let’s make it sound male and pathetic and narcissistic but cool at the same time, and I want to scream, Hunter S. Thompson did it so much better.  Men who’ve never had a problem their daddy’s money couldn’t solve usually love these books.  I want them to read Razor’s Edge, now there’s a book about living without Daddy’s money, but Maugham isn’t clever enough for these boys. But let’s get back to what men read and what women read.

Men like a story where something is actually happening.  Where something is going on.  Not just talk, talk, talk. They get enough of that at home. They need a break.  It doesn’t have to be fireballs and car chases, that’s in their favorite movies.  Even in a thinking man’s book, something needs to happen. I peeked into my husband’s book bag, and I saw a little stack of Murakami, Marquez and because he’s a cerebral guy as well a smattering of Calvino.   He likes a knife appearing in his stories; he perks right up then, somebody is going to do something bad in this book! Elena Ferrante would make him scream.  What are these little girls doing wandering around the town square?  That’s a story?  Give me guns. Cars. Chainsaws. Something falling or being blown up. Big stuff. Big and men go together. Something needs to happen, a big mashup otherwise why did we come to the racetrack?

There are stories that cross gender lines.  I read Dave Eggers The Circle on the train through Spain and then read all the reviews bashing it, saying that he didn’t get it right. But he did.  He’s writing about all of us in the electronic world who have to tell everyone about every little thing we do.  All of us who can’t unplug.  Who can’t bear to let a minute go by without checking in.  It’s a brilliant book.  Everyone should read it and then ask themselves why they don’t kayak more.

My phone was stolen my first night of this trip and because I couldn’t check in, couldn’t post pics on Facebook, the whole trip has been a lot better.  When I did post, it was about what I was reading and thinking and doing and I mostly just read and had the experience.  The Circle is an example of a book men and women could equally enjoy.  It’s a dystopian novel about what’s wrong with our culture crouched around a viewer screen as if it were the first campfire at the beginning of the world. Other examples of books either gender could read are Ron Carlson’s A Kind of Flying, T.C. Boyle’s The Women or Water Music,  George Saunders The Tenth of December, Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky, The Diary of Anne Frank, Citizen by Claudia Rankine, Ian McKuen and Somerset Maugham, Doris Lessing’s short stories, but most novels lean fiercely into the gender binary.

We as readers will have bigger ideas if we lean as far out of our comfort zone as we can.  We won’t discover what’s possible until we stretch past the edges.  The best books might be surprises.  Online dating hooks us up to a carefully collated version of what we think we’d like, but the best relationships aren’t like that at all, you find your way forward in the dark and you suddenly fall in love with someone who sees you as you wish you could see yourself.  Try a story outside your reading comfort zone; you might find yourself part of something that like Alice in Wonderland is both bigger and smaller than you ever imagined. “I can’t go back to yesterday because

Published in: on June 29, 2015 at 9:21 am  Leave a Comment  

Stung by a jellyfish!

Today I was stung by a jellyfish.  My stomach has big sting bites on it. Fortunately it was not a Portugese Man o’ War.  I wondered about it but I kept swimming out into the ocean because if you’re stung fatally by a jelly fish I was pretty sure my hustling in to shore wasn’t going to help anything.  It was still hurting pretty badly when I finished my long swim but then Mark bought me mint chocolate chip icecream cone! And then of course I felt better.  It’s Sunday, church bells are ringing, we’re still on vacation. We’ll be flying into NY on July 4th and landing at JFK amid the fireworks.

Published in: on June 28, 2015 at 9:39 am  Leave a Comment  

Who Cares About your Life? The overabundance of memoirs

“Europeans don’t buy memoirs,” I was told on my first trip to Frankfurt and reminded on every subsequent trip to Frankfurt and London Book Fairs. I asked why and got a series of answers none of which added up.  “We’re narcissists too,” one French publisher told me, “Just not as much as Americans.”  I’ve given this some thought.  Are memoirs an odd little subset of the American literary canon that Europeans just can’t be interested in?

In fact, there are a number of great literary memoirs that have been published in other countries.  Mary Karr, Vladimir Nabokov, Toi Derricotte, William Styron, Tobias Wolff, Alison Bechdel, and Maxine Hong Kingston, to name a few. “You must not tell anyone,” my mother said, “what I am about to tell you.” That’s the opening line of Woman Warrior, partly memoir, partly myth.  What Maxine Hong Kingston accomplished in this memoir, which has been translated into more than twenty languages, was to spin the personal into the collective, to discuss mothers and daughters, silencing and language, colonization that continues into the new world.   She did what memoirists should do, wrote very well about her own life in a way that echoed into the lives of millions.  That book made me want to want to light out for the territories, do something big, become a writer.

Confession is nothing new.  Most people have experienced the thrill of leaning in to whisper a secret. Telling a secret about someone else is easier than telling one about yourself.  But once you tell a secret about yourself it gets easier.  Ask anyone who’s ever been to confession.

Look at Facebook.  Americans post stuff on FB that nobody should be telling anyone let alone posting on the internet.  We post personal stuff, bathroom stuff, drug confessions, weird obsessions, dirty deeds, secret desires.  Americans want attention and will do anything to get it.

The memoir problem is this:  Unless reading your book is going to change your readers’ experience of themselves and the world, it isn’t worth writing.  If what you’re going to tell me is that your kids were born with some kind of problem, that’s not a book in itself.  Your parents weren’t nice to you? Not a book.  Your parents suffered from dementia, then died? not a book.  Any of these could be great books in the hands of a skillful writer, but just having those things happen to you is not worth a book.  We’ve all suffered.  In almost every family, there is one crazy person.  Some families are blessed with several.  Ask yourself if your book is going to change the world.

Good books are written from a deep connection to the life of the imagination and a serious attention to craft.  They also tell a good story.  One question worth asking is whether your life is really a good story or a series of happenings.  Did you make anything happen or did stuff happen to you?  In a good story, the characters set something in motion; they act on the world and on each other.  There are twists and turns. Unexpected events.   Many of the memoirs that are submitted for publication lack these qualities.

We continue to publish a couple each year that we feel fall really resonate.  This fall it’s Paul Cummins, Confessions of a Headmaster about the founding of Crossroads School.  When Paul explains to one parent that he can’t give his daughter weed to sell at school, the dad argues that he wants his daughter to have quality weed.  Paul reminds him that it’s illegal and George Carlin kindly agrees that no weed at school is probably best.  It’s a book about a subject that concerns parents in urban areas, why public schools for the most part no longer provide our kids with a good education.  I don’t expect the Europeans to buy it, but I’m interested in personal stories that resonate out into the larger world.

I love good memoirs and so does the American reading public.  Think about yours before you write it.  Writing a book takes a long time.  Make sure you’ve got a great story that’s going to blow your readers’ skirts up.

Kate Gale is the author of the memoir, On the Eighth Day God Created Horses about growing up in a brutal Christian cult in Southern New Hampshire until she was eighteen.  It is making the rounds of New York publishing houses.  The last line of the book is, “If you cannot be a hero in your own life, whose life are you waiting for?”

Published in: on June 27, 2015 at 9:57 am  Comments (1)  

Nerja Caves and Aqueduct

imagesWe explored the Nerja Caves today.  They don’t let you see the cave paintings. They say that the caves have been inhabited by humans for more than 20,000 years, and hyenas have spent some time in the caves as well.  The whole place is enormous.  You feel like the darkness is swallowing you. They are 32 metres high.  Three huge galleries stretch away into small rooms. We hiked out to the caves and walked all through them and then got lunch.  We got a tomato salad, fries, Manchego and olives. Mark had a beer and I had a glass of white wine.  We paid 7 EU for that lunch.  We hiked by the old aqueduct which is kind of amazing as well, hanging against the sky.

Tonight Mark made paella again and we had some Spanish wine.  Good Spanish wine is about 8 EU. Great wine like we’re having tonight is 14 EU.  Of course, there is some spectacular stuff that’s even more, but I’m cool with great.

We’re writing well, getting a lot done.  So far, I’ve written a piece for Huffington Post


a piece for The Guardian and a piece for O Magazine.  So one is accepted, the other two hanging in the balance. I’m on to the next project. We’re writing well and we like this little town. It’s very laid back here. Tomorrow I’m going swimming again.

Published in: on June 26, 2015 at 2:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

I love this picture of Gore Vidal and my former hero Anais Nin


Vacation is about breathing and dreaming. It’s not about planning every single minute and getting the most out of it.  I’m reading a collection of short stories by Gore Vidal, Clouds and Eclipses.  Vidal was vilified by the American literary community for being gay.  I remember meeting him when I was president of PEN and he was being honored.  “Ursula,” he called out to LeGuin.  “I’ve read everything you’ve written.” It still brings tears to my eyes thinking of that.  We live in a world that lacks generosity.  And not the way writers mean.  Writers think if he/she would just publish me, all would be different, but it isn’t quite like that.  It’s actually helping people and not always thinking you are better than other writers.

Money creates a bit of a cushion.  Without a cushion, you’re often sitting on a rocky coastline which is still better than a cornfield if you ask me. You can see the waves.

The Mediterranean is dirty.  People say the Southern California coastline is dirty and the waters are polluted. Sure, I once swam for two hours in the ocean at Redondo Beach and had to go to the hospital because my eyes were literally gelling over because of all the bacteria, but I’ve never done a lot of swimming in the Med that didn’t send me scurrying for antibiotics. I am shimmering on the edge of the need for penicillin. I’m going to try to hold out until I’m stateside.

The house we are staying in has a laundry machine and racks for drying clothes. The rest of the world is not so much into dryers.

Okay, you can read the whole article, but 10 reasons that Europe is kicking our ass besides the fact that we have to deal with the Christian right which let’s face it is like Scientology, more into mind control than logic.  It’s like the only part of Spock they picked up on was the part where he does that hand thing and makes you go to the ground.  That’s just if you’re the bad guy or you’re Kirk and you’re being stupid.  The essence of Spock is logic, my friend.

Okay, here we go with the 10.

  1. Lower Incarceration Rates
  2. Less Violent Crime Than the U.S.
  3. Better Sex Education Programs, Healthier Sexual Attitudes
  4. Anti-GMO Movement Much More Widespread
  5. Saner Approaches to Abortion
  6. More Vacation Time
  7. Universal Healthcare

8.Greater Life Expectancy

  1. Mass Transit Systems
  2. Europeans More Likely to Speak Foreign Languages


Published in: on June 25, 2015 at 11:32 am  Comments (1)  

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