Tic Tack Talk

Craft of Writing 

Dear Writer-Readers of the Blog,

I use a little trick for creating rounded characters that might come in handy to you at some point. This is not their inner motivation — that comes from the inside, way down deep. Crafting character arc is a whole different and much more complicated post (let me know if you'd like that one sometime — I draw most heavily from John Truby's and Michael Hague's techniques, which might give you a starting point).

This technique, on the other hand, is something that gets me a little deeper into my characters after I've worked out their character arcs and interior/exterior motivations. It's something that's super useful if I come up with it ahead of time, instead of being 75% into a first draft and realizing I still don't have a good handle on my people yet. (In that case, I go back and pepper this stuff in during edits.)

Tic Tack Talk

Tic: A repeated physical action used to show inner emotion.

Everyone has one. I've had characters that create made-up words under stress (phloobts! stamzik!) and characters who tap their teeth. Their tic can be pushing their glasses higher every minute or two or forgetting to say the last few words of their sentences. The tic should be both physical (observable) and unconscious, and it should say something about the character that she herself isn't keen on revealing to anyone else. 

Tack: A concrete object used as a place to store a character's emotion.

It's a touchstone. Let's call it a tack because it's just fun to say tic tack talk. It's normally (but not necessarily) small and it's always meaningful. It could totally be a tack (like, if the main character sat on a tack left on her seat by her annoying but adorable brother who died later that day from a random but wildly-vicious rabid-squirrel attack), but I bet it won't actually be a tack. That would be a pointy, possibly dangerous touchstone (ooh, now I want to use one in a book someday). I have used coins and pebbles and pieces of beach glass and knitting and jewelry. They're clutched and treasured until,  as the character's arc resolves, they are needed less. 

Talk: The character's diction, taken directly from his passion.

This one is super obvious but it took me a while to figure out how effective this shortcut to point-of-view voice is. Here's a grossly-exaggerated example: If your hero is a fisherman, he won't see pink and white clouds at sunset, he'll see a school of salmon and whitefish in the sky. His lover's skin won't be clammy after she's poisoned (go with me here), it'll feel like the inside of a wet wader. When he finds out he's going to jail for poisoning her, he'll feel like he's swallowing rusty fish hooks, one after another. And when he cries in his death-row cell, he can still taste the sea. 

As readers, we love these three things, all of them. We eat 'em up as long as they're not too overdone, something that's completely possible, see previous paragraph. Sure, we can see them for the devices they are, but something in our brains, that simple part that wants to sit around the campfire and listen to a good yarn, still loves them. 

Take your main characters (who are already rich and round, who are already going places in their arc) and give 'em each one of these. Let me know if it helps. 

The Magic of Travel


I'll be speaking this Sunday at 1pm on banishing your inner editor with Chris Baty and Grant Faulkner at the East Bay Media Center in Berkeley. Info here. (Free! You should come!) 


There's so much to say and catch you up on, and I've hit that overwhelmed point at which I don't know HOW to catch you up on anything at all, and so, very happily, I'm letting that go. I'll give you a few highlights. 

I went to Edinburgh to write. 

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Who gets to say that? I DO. *boggles and blinks*

Sometimes (more often than I ever would have thought) I get to say amazing wonderful sentences like that, and it feels–literally–magical. When I was a little girl, I'd dream about traveling the world, writing as I went. I didn't really think it would happen, though. Who thinks that? 

But now? I've written all over the world. While traveling, I like best to write in hotel breakfast rooms (after breakfast is done) because there's nothing interesting to look at and no one bothers you. The thing I've found, though, is usually I do much less writing that I hope to when I travel. I was on deadline during this last trip, and I did do quite a bit of writing. In Edinburgh, I was with four other writers, and we were there to write (we also wandered and ate and found castles, but mostly we were there to work). So we wrote. 

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Lisa, Gigi, Em and I writing at the Elephant House, where Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book


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But I had this one day slated as an all-day writing binge. It was on my schedule. It was my only full day in London, and I was by myself, and I had this romantic vision of myself moving slowly from cafe to cafe all day, working on my book as I went. 

Well. I woke up in London and thought to myself, SELF, YOU ARE IN LONDON. GO LOND. So I did. One never regrets wandering Camden Market, or people-watching, or finding a boat and just getting on it without knowing (or caring) where it was going after it cruised the canals (I hadn't even known London had canals! Or that the boat would let me off in Paddington! I was practically the bear!).

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I could have worked on my book that day. But I didn't. 

Usually, when you're traveling, your environs are new and sparkly. They're fascinating. You want to watch, to participate, to wander. What you do not want to do is put your head down and go back into the world that you made up. You know that world intimately. You can visit that anytime. Go be where you are. Take that home with you. 

I've found the magic is in coming home. It's not something you have to really think about. You don't have to write up your findings and assimilate your new knowledge about Bloomsbury walkways into your everyday life. You don't have to suddenly write a book about a ruined castle or the fighting couple who ran the pub or the gorgeous French barista who sang along with the classical music in the cafe. You don't have to use any of those things at all. That stuff is just in you, and you'll use it when you need it. It'll be there. 

*Y'all, my packing was a thing of beauty. One half-sized carryon, one purse.I kept coming up with things (need a charger? Here's an extra! Clothesline, here you go!) and Lisa kept saying, "WHERE? WHERE DID YOU PACK THAT?" and there is nothing more satisfying for an obsessed underpacker to hear, ever. 



Grey Water on the Cheap

So California's in a hell of a drought, and what's worse is that this water shortage is coming to 40 more states. We've been asked (and will soon be forced) to cut back by 25%. It's hard in our house, where we're already water conscious (we don't water the lawn, letting it go brown ever summer and green in the winter). Of course, I know that single-family residences like ours aren't the big problem in the state. But since I like projects and because I like helping the earth, I'm enjoying thinking of ways to save water simply. 

(What I really want is a laundry-to-landscape grey water system, but 1) it's daunting and 2) we have a creek below our house. You don't want to add (or risk adding) unfiltered grey water to a body of water which it might harm, and we also don't want to risk over-irrigating our back slope, which could lead to a landslide. I love me some Fleetwood Mac, but not that much.)

So while we try to figure out if a mulched grey water system would be safe and not send our house sliding down the hill into the creek, here are a couple of easy things we can all do to save water for under ten bucks: 

1. Get a bucket – Put it in the shower. Catch the cold water you don't stand under while you're waiting for the shower to warm up. Then let the same bucket catch some of your shower water behind you while you soap up, but don't stress about how much. If you fill the bucket, hooray! Don't worry about whether or not it's clean water. It doesn't matter. 

2. The next time you flush, use the bucket water. Don't pour it in the tank, that would be gross and would eventually grow things and clog other things up. Just pour it in the bowl. Every toilet is gravity-activated. Just pouring water in the bowl makes it flush (and you can control how much water you add, using even less than your toilet usually uses). Soapy water in the bowl! It evens helps keep it clean. Speaking of which: 

3. Mellow yellow. Yep, I hate the concept, too, but I was raised doing it that way, so it's okay at home (not at work – perish the thought). At home, just do it. Good article here.  Man, even typing those words just took me back to the 70s when we mellowed every yellow and my mom washed every kid in the same tub of water. I HATE sharing bath water. (Unless it's a jacuzzi bath tub, you know what I mean? I think you do.) 

5. Speaking of bath water – think about not taking a bath. If that's not possible because you need to soak the day off your skin with a Lush glitter bomb or your own awesome handmade bomb, use that bath water to perform Step 2, above.

6. Compost instead of using your garbage disposal. We put our kitchen waste in the green recycle bin right now, but I'm hoping to get back to composting in the yard at some point. It's a big project. (Speaking of big projects, I have the seeds in the straw bales! I set up the soaker hose to both that and our square foot garden! It went off using its timer this morning and scared the hell out of me! (The spigot is under the bedroom window.) It ran for a short ten minutes and things were wet! I won't forget to water! And more than that, I won't overwater!!)

7. Shower water. I'm not going to tell you to turn off the shower water while you lather. That's just crazy. I don't even mind being cold, and I wouldn't do that. (Maybe it's easier in one of those one-handle showers? Ours is two handles – you mix the hot and cold to get the right temperature and it's a delicate dance and what a pain in the ass it would be to get it right for the second time with shampoo in your eyes.) 

Updated to add this from reader StaceyK – a $5 piece of hardware* that attaches to your shower head allowing you to turn off, or lessen the flow of the water while you lather without adjusting the water temperature - we're going to get one! 

8. But do turn off the water while you brush your teeth. That's easy. It's just plain dumb not to do that. 

9. Dishes – sadly, we don't have a dishwasher yet (they save water, did you know that?) so I just bought a dishpan basin to rinse the dishes in. After rinsing them, I'll dump the basin in the garden (I know: not on leaves, no contact with humans, not on root vegetables. The lemon tree will love it). 

What are your easy (cheap) tips? 

*Affiliate link cuz Mama's got a water bill to pay. 

I Quit Drawing

Yep. I quit drawing. 


And it feels so good. I sent out a whole tiny letter about how I wouldn't quit drawing every day, that I'd made that commitment and that's what I would do, because I finished things. 

But lord a'mighty, I didn't WANT to keep drawing for 365 days. I hit Day 188 and dug my heels in for the last time. I complained on Twitter, because what else is Twitter for? 

And several very smart people pointed this out to me: If drawing were an item in my house which I was holding in my hands, trying to figure out if it sparked joy (The KonMari method), I would answer no, it didn't. I liked drawing while I was doing it, sure. It was fun to move the pencil, to color things in, to see a completed 2D version of something that had come through my eyes and hand. 

But did the thought of having to draw spark joy in me? No way. It brought dread. God, another day to have to draw something. 

And this year is about letting go of things that don't spark joy like fireworks and cream cheese frosting.

I realized I was in it for the finish line. A year after starting the project, I'd be able to say I drew for 365 days in a row! THAT was all I was after. I wanted the right to say that. 


That–being able to say that single sentence, to myself or anyone else– was not enough. Not even close. 

I do things this way, sometimes. I'm impetuous (yes, I'm admitting it). I like to hit finish lines, even ones chosen rather arbitrarily. I ran a marathon once (twice). I love writing "The End" in my books. I adore meeting a challenge. 

But this wasn't my challenge. I'm not an artist. I don't actually want to be one. I do still like drawing, very much. I'll keep it up. But I won't require it of myself. It's good for me to require myself to meditate daily, to floss, to run (I signed up for a 5k! I'm doing Couch to 5k again!). Those are things that will help me daily, things that will bring joy because I'll have a healthier mind and body, so it's okay if I don't jump for joy thinking about buying floss sticks (although I sure do like a ramble through a drug store). 

Drawing daily wasn't for me. I thought I'd be embarrassed to tell you. Strangely, I'm not. I'm actually the opposite; I'm a little proud of myself for 'fessing up. (If you want to see the progress, you can look at the Flickr set here.)

This one of Virginia Woolf is my favorite, I think: 


(Also, get this in regards to health: I just got off the phone with the doc – after testing, I've learned I have apnea! I didn't know you could have apnea without snoring! My biggest migraine trigger is lack of sleep and for years, I've woken at least three or four times an hour while sleeping. What if helping this helped my migraines? DUDE. I don't go in for a consult for another five weeks, though.) 

So. What habit are you trying to start (or dump)? 

(Winner of Haven Lake from last post is Kelli – you've been emailed!) 


Haven Lake

I'm SO pleased to tell you about my friend, Holly Robinson. She's a gorgeous writer and a fellow Penguin NAL writer. She wrote my favorite blurb for Splinters of Light. Because of that, I wrote to introduce myself and thank her for taking that time, and we fell immediately in friend-love, and now I'm keeping her for myself! (I swear this is true: I appropriated her as a friend before I learned she lives half-time in Prince Edward Island. I am SO crashing at her house someday.) 

BOOK GIVEAWAY – Penguin sent me a copy of the book that I'm going to send to some lucky commenter! Please ignore the fact that my terrible, awful mailman sailed it over the fence into a stand of weeds and the cover is a wee bit wrinkled. Damn his eyes. (I'll also be sending another copy (not mine or wrinkled- I'm keeping my precious signed one*) to someone subscribed to my email list next week, so make sure you're signed up there, too!)

Haven Lake_FC


Hi Holly!

You wonderful smart thing, you. I loved Haven Lake and I'm thrilled to ask you a few questions about it. You know me – I love that it incorporates SHEEP and KNITTING. (You even have a knitting male teen!) You say you're a beginning knitter – what's been your favorite part of learning so far? (I bet no one else has asked you this!)

 Thanks, Rachael—and thank you for having me on your wonderful site. What a treat! You're right: nobody has ever asked me this particular question, but it's an easy one to answer. I started knitting a few years ago, when a new friend invited me to her Wednesday night “Knit night.” The invitation came via a phone call, and because lice was rampant in our elementary school at that time, naturally I thought she meant “Nit night,” as in, we would check each other for nits! When we got through THAT little conversational hurdle, I told this new friend that I didn't know how to knit and would probably stab myself in the eye with a needle or something. She convinced me to come, finally, by saying, “We have lots of wine.” I've been knitting ever since. My favorite part of learning to knit is that it has given me opportunities to meet and chat with women of all ages. Our own knitting group has women ages thirty to sixty-five. I also go for extra help sessions (yes, I'm a slow learner) to our local library, where they have a Monday night knitting help session run by women in their seventies and eighties. Listening to other people's stories has always inspired me as a writer, and knitting brings so many great life stories my way.

I will seriously never think of Knit (Nit) Night the same way again.

Your main character Sydney is a therapist, and a good one. Did this require a lot of research? (I always put research off till the end. Are you a procrastinate-by-researching writer or a panicked-at-the-end kind, like me?)

 Thanks for that! Sydney's career is one I might have pursued if I hadn't become a writer. I started out wanting to be a doctor—picture me in a multi-pocketed Safari vest, trotting around villages in Africa with a miracle cure—and didn't discover my passion for writing fiction until I was about to graduate from college. (You can imagine my father's reaction when I said I wanted to forget medical school and be a writer.) Anyway, I've had five children to get through school, and along the way, I've occasionally needed help from therapists like Sydney to figure out what's going on with them. One of my best friends is actually an educational psychologist, and she was very generous in sharing stories with me, too, so the research was actually more like fun conversations over wine. (Do you detect a theme in my answers?) In general, the research I do for my books tends to be hands-on; for instance, in order to write the sections about raising sheep, I actually contacted a shepherdess in New Hampshire, the wonderful artist Wendy Ketchum, who let me come see her Icelandic herd and talk to her about what it takes to live that kind of life.

Catherine Friend! You mention her at the end of your book. Isn't she great? I adore her. That's not a question. I just thought I'd mention it. :)

Yes! I've read all of Catherine's books, and in my fantasy life, she calls me up to say she likes Haven Lake, and we become pals! (Over glasses of wine, naturally.)  An anecdote in her book Sheepish inspired one of the key early scenes with Hannah trying to retrieve an escaped lamb—if you've read that book, you'll know which one.

DUDE. I loved that book. I knew that scene reminded me of something, and now I know why! Ha! 

I'm flattering myself when I say that I think our writing voices are similar, that both of us go deeply into complex characters, and that both of us enjoy exploring all aspects of love. Whatcha think?

Absolutely. When I read Splinters of Light, I was brought to my knees emotionally several times throughout the story of Nora grappling with her illness and trying to imagine how her daughter Ellie will cope. What struck me most about your novel was how adeptly you managed the voices—and complex interior lives—of both mother and daughter. Plus, you never lost that spark of humor that saved the book from being maudlin. Your imagery was also stunning throughout—I often feel that novelists today rush their work and don't take the time to truly describe settings in a way that will transport readers. Oh, and I admire how you write about love: the love between mother and child, between sisters, between romantic partners. You do it all with tenderness and class in Splinters of Light. I'm flattered that you think our voices are similar. I think of my novels as “emotional family mysteries” because there is always some dark family secret (or several) that the characters need to discover and understand before they can resolve their emotional conflicts. Like you, I hope to create characters who are complex, imperfect people grappling with issues. I hope that, by the end of each of my novels, readers feel they have been both entertained and enlightened as they accompany my characters on their journeys of self-discovery and love.

NOW I FEEL REALLY FLATTERED. Thank you, friend.  

DSC_3748Novelist, journalist and celebrity ghost writer Holly Robinson is the author of several books, including The Gerbil farmer's Daughter: A Memoir and the novels The Wishing Hill, Beach Plum Island and Haven Lake. Her articles and essays appear frequently in publications such as Cognoscenti, The Huffington Post, More, Parents, Redbook and dozens of other newspapers and magazines. She and her husband have five children and a stubborn Pekingese. They divide their time between Massachusetts and Prince Edward Island, and are crazy enough to be fixing up old houses one shingle at a time in both places. Find her at www.authorhollyrobinson.com and on Twitter @hollyrob1.

Leave a comment to enter the drawing, and I'll randomly draw a winner next week. Alternately, tweet or FB a link to this post and tag me to enter, as well, if that's more your style. And someone on my mailing list will win another copy, too!

(Winner of the Elizabeth Haynes thriller is the darling RedSilvia! I swear I'll get it into the mail tomorrow!) 

 * Holly sent me a signed copy. And get this: it was her first copy. Authors, if you ever think to do this, you should. Sending your very first copy to a writer friend? Tears will happen, I promise. We get it. 

** Amazon affiliate links provided in this post because MAMA JUST PAID OFF HER STUDENT LOAN DOING SHIT LIKE THIS, BAM. 

Best Thriller I’ve Read In SO Long



You guys, Into the Darkest Corner is SO GOOD. When I'm writing (really writing, writing hard), I find I can't read within my own genre, so I depart from it. Right now that means I'm reading mostly memoir and thrillers. This one? Oooh, this is the best I've read in so long. 

Set in London, it's the story of Cathy, who loved a bad guy. No spoilers. You know this from the first page. There's no mystery as to who the bad guy is. It's Lee. He's bad. He's beyond bad, he's just awful. And somehow, Elizabeth Haynes (a fellow NaNoWriMo'er!) manages to make the novel completely spell-binding and page-turning. I read it in a day and a half, which is fast for me. Well written,  emotionally satisfying, and scary enough to make you leave the lights on, I HIGHLY recommend it. 

And, because I'm not keeping books anymore, I'll send my own copy (purchased at the wonderful Murder By the Book in Houston, grab one there if you don't win) to one lucky commenter. Tell me your favorite thriller? Or just say hi. Either is a valid entry. I'll draw the winner on Wednesday. OH MY GOD and I'll DRAW the WINNER on WEDNESDAY. Seriously. I'll do a sketch of whoever wins, if she'd like me to. Heh.

PS – I'm sending out my tinyletter later today with a confession and I'm giving away the new Gretchen Rubin book. Make sure you're signed up! 

PPS – Ah! I was looking at Elizabeth Haynes's bio page, and I've already read and loved Human Remains (SUPER grisly and awesome). I'm her newest (and not-so-new, apparently) biggest fan!

Behind the Curtain

Working on the next book, believe it or not. Busy with that! And so busy with Impact Bay Area, with which I've been assisting, so for the last couple of weeks I've been super busy during my time off watching women learn how to be SO incredibly awesome. So here I'm stealing from an email (let's call it recycling!) that I sent to a couple of writer friends recently. There's writing info here that might be helpful to the writers among you,  and perhaps interesting to readers, too. A peek behind the curtain: 
I have to chime in about entering the "real" world — When I was in undergrad, I was super stressed. There was a reentry student in one of my English seminars who was about 60 or so. I mentioned I was worried about the real world, and she just pulled her glasses down and looked at me: "Oh, honey. The real world is SO much easier than this is." 
I took such heart from that, and it's true! Even with writing deadlines making your whole life feel like a homework assignment, it's nothing like school. School is false, created stress (meaningful, etc blah etc). In real life, when you have stress, you can work on managing, changing things. In school, if you're behind, you're just fucked, you know? 

I absolutely love what you say about getting comfortable with rejection by continued submission. When I was submitting to agents, I checked my email every seven seconds for about six months, and every time I was rejected, I wanted to cry (and sometimes did). But every single damn time, it got easier, and I would just submit to five more (is five the magic answer? just enough to feel like you're really working? I like it). 

How I handle rejection: With a very stiff upper lip. When Harper Collins fired me after my first three books, I told everyone it was fine. Totally understandable, I said. Borders died the week my second book came out while we were in negotiations for a new contract, thereby halving the sales of the first, and there was no recovering from that blow. <–this is true, but it is also a convenient excuse for Why My Career Stumbled Like a Benadryled 5 Year Old in Heels. And then I would sit at my desk and feel pathetic. Yep. I would never write again. I wrote sad letters full of self-pity to good writer friends who all told me what I needed to hear — you'll make it, you'll come back from this, just keep writing, this happens to everyone — and I never believed them, even though they were right. You're right, it's so easy to cheerlead everyone else, and so HARD to cheer ourselves. 
Do you keep a file of positive things? Can I encourage you to do that right now? I call it my mash note file (does anyone else still use that term?), and I have a physical one (that I just went through while going through papers; I found a bunch of nice notes from writers I knew in school reacting to my stories) and an email file. I put the best, most cheering letters in there, saving them for the rainy day when Kirkus pans me and Franzen says something terrible about my womanly morals and I know for certain that my career is over. The most recent one I added was from my dad saying he'd read Splinters of Light and how much he loved it — and from what he said, he GOT it. He totally got the book. That made my whole life, and in it went to the mash file. 
Thus the mash file of notes, hedged against the Very Worst Days. Just knowing it's there is all I need. Did I mention I've never gone into it? Not once. Well, I tried to read some once, but honestly, the notes embarrassed me and I ducked back out like I'd accidentally wandered into the wrong hotel room. 
It comes down to self-care, I think. You need to know what you need (I need saved mash notes, days off to not write at all, wonderful books written in any genre but the one I happen to be writing in, and writing friends). And then you need to be willing to give yourself those things. Also, wallowing is allowed. Know how much time you want to give yourself. I give myself about 30 minutes, usually. I like to get back up on the horse. I have a friend who gives herself a day of wallowing when she gets a bad review because that's what she needs. My first major revision letter sent me to a coastal hostel for a weekend. 
Personally, I have a couple of friends who pass our 1-star reviews back and forth, trying to best each other with the most shocking and/or poorly written ones, and this amuses the HELL out of us, and takes all the sting out. Oh! Here's a good one from my second book: "Rachael rlghts an interesting story = It is to bad she feels like she has to keep us interested withso much foolish sex."  <– what is not to love about this??? *falls sideways in joy* 
and to your question, writing about real people: When I wrote my essay collection, that was a huge challenge for me. I did this: If I loved the person, I let them read the essay before publication. They had the right to insist on a change in verbiage if necessary. There was only one essay in the book that was even slightly critical of someone else (all criticism directed toward self!), but I changed his name and location and called that good. 
Re: fiction, that's harder. Characters are never based on anything but facets of myself, as all my characters are. Sometimes, though, people insist on believing I'm writing about them. And dude, there's nothing I can do about that belief. I just keep being truthful with them, gently, insistently. I've found this over and over again (and other writer friends have, too — I think it's a universal): if you do happen to base something on real life or real people, no one will ever notice, I promise you. One of my friends based an awful character on someone we both know, and that person LOVED the book, just gushed over it. If you write a difficult scene/story/character pulled right from your brain, nowhere else, and labor over it to make it really REAL? Everyone will think you wrote it about them. A compliment, really, isn't it? 
Success really is, most of the time, just time spent in the chair. Even on my worst day, even when I just move a paragraph out and then back in again, the work has lived in my brain and breathed long enough to continue breathing when I close the window. (Oooh, I like this image. I might not be actively looking into the window, but the characters keep growing while I'm doing other things — it only works if you give them fresh air every day… feels true…. too much?) 

I've promised myself 3 hours in the chair with the internet off today. So right now doesn't count. I've already done one agonizing hour, and the next two won't (can't!) be that uncomfortable, so huzzah. My new best practice is to wake up, get coffee, meditate for ten minutes at the desk before I open the computer, then go to work IMMEDIATELY for 45 minutes before looking at the bigger world. Then I go back in and work some more in 45 minutes chunks. It's been working like a charm, which perhaps, it is. I know it's woo-woo! But it's kind of life changing. I never knew how to meditate, never knew that I could LEARN to still my crazy brain till last year when I took Headspace's free 10 day course. Highly recommended. I actually stuck it in Splinters of Light — one of my characters is an homage to Andy Puddicombe, the Brit who teaches meditation so beautifully over there… But as I said, based on my experience, he won't think it's him. ;) 

Launch Party

The launch party for the newly released Splinters of Light was exactly that. A launch party.


First of all, my hair did me right last night. It’s amazing what hairspray can do when you buy it for the first time in twenty-five years.

Second, we went to Forbes Island, which is flipping nuts. It’s a floating man-made “island” just off Pier 39 in San Francisco. Old Mr. Forbes lived there for 35 years (while he moored it out in the Bay) before he pulled it up next to the sea lions sixteen years ago and turned it into a restaurant.

It has a special place in my heart when it comes to sisters — my sisters and I went there last year, and we all fell in love with it. I put an important sister scene in that same restaurant in Splinters of Light–Nora feels the roots of her love grow right through the water into the silt below, ready to hold her family in place, no matter what.

So it was natural I wanted to go there to celebrate the book’s release. (I had an involved fantasy about inviting everyone I knew and loved, actually having a real, open-house launch party with a book signing and flowing wine, but dude! I looked up the price! Six friends it is!)

First, we got on the cable car at Powell Street.


I may have strong feelings about the cable car. I mean, I love it. It was a gorgeous evening, the sky was that bright blue of a city night, and the full moon hung low over Coit Tower. Completely perfect.


Sophie and I were thrilled to be hanging off the back.


Me and my girls.


We took the launch to Ye Olde Crazy “Island.” We boarded and went into the dark, romantic, slightly-creepy-in-a-carnival-ride-way restaurant, and the host spoke to me from the gloom:

Host: Congratulations on your accomplishment!
Me: Huh?
Host: Your book! We would like to congratulate you on this feat!
Me: *nervously* Did I mention that when I called? I don’t remember mentioning that.
Host:  We have a bottle of our best champagne cooling for you.
Host: It’s from Alice and Diane.
Me: ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh *melty puddle of tears*
The extremely wonderful and inspiring Diane Lewis of Alice’s Embrace (both of whom the book is dedicated to) sent a bottle of Dom Perignon. DOM PERIGNON. WHAT?
Um. That stuff is really good, by the way.
I was verklempt.
Then we sat and talked, and we ogled the fish swimming past the cloudy green windows (you dine under the water level), and we watched the chandeliers swing with the tide, and it was gorgeous.
Gigi Pandian took my favorite picture of the night (notice Lala at the very top of the photo–it takes skill to do an upside-down photobomb):
It was a wonderful, intimate night, and I’m so damn lucky to have the people I do surrounding me. THIS is the way to launch a book. Not with nerves, but with excitement and love.
Oh, before I forget,  you can read an excerpt here! 
And you can listen to the Splinters of Lights soundtrack on Spotify! 
Splinters of light

Grab it Now!




I’ve had a minimalism revelation.

I’ll never get there.

(Duh, right? I’m always the last the know.) 

The idea itself? Is awesome. Essentialism (a better term for my way of doing all this culling than minimalism) has been saving me money, something I hadn’t realized until recently. Example! Normally, when confronted with a new-to-me coffee device (Aeropress!) I would buy it, hoping for a revelatory coffee experience that would part the heavens and pour sweet caffeine over me in a non-wasteful drip-irrigation method. Then I really thought about it, and what it meant in terms of what I've been striving for. We have four other coffee making methods in my house: the pot, which is used everyday; the French press, which Lala loves; the Moka caffettiera, which I love; and a Melita drip filter which comes in handy all the time. 

All of these we use. All of these bring us joy. We’re keeping all of them. These are our “essentials.” But I certainly don’t need another one. So I spent a couple of hours happily reading coffee maker reviews, and then I closed the browser tab, satisfied. (BOY, do I love reading reviews online, especially of luggage*. It’s a thing.) 

This is what I've been doing: getting rid of the extras. I've been tossing the things I'd kept because I thought I had to (misplaced sentimentality) or because I would need them (even though I never have and won't). I have much less now (and there's more to go! I'm going into the bedroom closet soon! That space is a horror show!). 

We have extra. We don't need extra. But getting rid of it isn't simplifying my life. 

See, I was heading down the path of minimizing hoping desperately that when I got there—when my office was empty of everything except space and light and the few things I love best—I would finally not be overwhelmed by choice. I'm pretty much there. The only two books I have on my bookshelf right now are Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson because it's the most perfect book ever written, and Bread and Jam for Frances because it's the second best book ever.

Albert-from-Bread-and-Jam-for-FrancesBut I still have so much to read that sometimes it's hard to choose what to sit down with.

I wanted to minimize to reduce choice. Isn’t that a ridiculous luxury? How entitled is that? I have so very much that I want help in narrowing down the things I spend my time on. I am, quite frankly, irritated with myself that I thought I could effect this change outwardly. Silly me. 

It's not going to change. If I sit in my office with one book and nothing else, I'll still have to make the choice between reading and napping and meditating and going bzzzzzzzzzzzz with my lips until my face is numb. Choosing, the stressful part, is sticking around. 

I’ve been approaching it from the wrong direction. Or, at least, it’s been a direction that wasn’t quite right. I wanted to make things be simpler in my life by eliminating clutter. I got rid of books I wasn't going to read and yarn I wasn't going to knit. That has absolutely helped me by making my surroundings quieter and less stressful. 

But nothing can make life simpler. It’s messy and cluttered and busy and frantic and overwhelming, and that’s just the way it is. Sometimes. 

Other times, when you sit with that feeling and just let it wash over you, not trying to do anything about it, not getting mad at the feeling or yourself, it gets pretty damn simple. I really like this post by Leo Babauta: You're Not Doing Life Wrong

I will never get all the interesting articles on the internet read. I will never catch up on Twitter or Facebook. I will never just look around the house and think, Oh, nothing else to do but rest. 

I have to choose to rest. To read. To make. (I don't choose to write–I not only have to but I have to, you know?) 

And that's a gift, really. That I get to choose. I'm grateful for it. 

UnknownOh, speaking of what I've been reading, I've really enjoyed The Map of Enough: One Woman's Search for Place by Molly May (affil link). A self-proclaimed nomad, May finds out what it's like to grow roots as she builds a yurt in the middle of winter. She has a gorgeous way with language, and I'm sad that I'm almost done with it.

* Oh, man, luggage. I think my obsession with packing for trips possibly began with Frances! The way she packs her lunch at the end! I also love salt like she does! Or more! 

** Suddenly, I find myself going to Scotland in May. DUDE. All I can think about is packing for the week in my half-sized suitcase which I love even more than salt. I'm so excited!  


Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 5.12.27 PM

Totally enamored of Poorcraft.* I'm about ten pages in and I love it. It's about living frugally but AWESOMELY. Hello, everything I'm all about. There's one issue for frugal living and one for frugal traveling! 

I've tootled You Need a Budget's horn before (I know it's supposed to be tooted, but tootled was a much more fun typo), but wow. Daily, that application helps us out. Day. Lee. ($6 off that link there, if you wanna try it, because that's how we roll, yo.) 

From YNAB, I've learned things I didn't want to know, but that we needed to know. The next panel after the one above points out that you can't do anything to help yourself until you figure out exactly what you're buying, and how much each of those categories costs a month. If you'd asked me–before we started using YNAB–how much we spent on the animals a month, I would have guessed about $150. If you'd told me it was almost $500 a MONTH (including food, flea treatment, and vet visits), I would have smacked you across the mouth for lying (no, I wouldn't have. But I might have tootled you smartly).

We're spending almost a hundred bucks an animal, per month. Holy crap. To be totally honest, that helps with the essentialist kick I'm on right now. Recently, a sweet little kitten ran in front of my car, held up his teeny little paws and said, "STOP IN THE NAME OF LOVE." There's no way I normally would have been able to relinquish rights on a baby kitteh. But thinking to myself, "If this guy lives for sixteen years, that's a twenty-grand investment…" Well, I figured two cats were enough. (For now. No guarantees for the future, mind. You never know when an asshole like my Digit might show up again.) But now the kitten we saved is named Crowley and lives with my darling friend M and plays video games all day!


Crowley's face is all business.

We know how much we spend a month for all the categories, even the rather silly categories, like What Rachael Spends at the Cafe While Writing and What Lala Buys for Lunch. And that makes all the difference. When the electricity bill goes up, I start snapping off lights. When we spend too much in groceries one month, I make sure we cook more at home the next month. I know how much we need to live, and I know what our discretionary spending goes to, because it's all in the plan, man. 

It helps me sleep at night. 

(I can't repeat this too much: If you're broke, that doesn't make you a bad person. If you're spiraling downward in debt and feel shame about it, talk to someone. Email someone. Say the truth out loud: "I don't know how much I owe, or how much I need to live, or even how much I make, and I'm too scared to find out." Say it. Then say it again to someone who can help. The only way to climb out of the shame pit is to speak the thing you're scared of. Speaking cures shame. And then you'll be able to take the steps (and there are steps!) to pull yourself out. Email me if you need to practice on someone. Even better, leave a comment here so people can read it and support you, cheer you on. You might not hear it, but I bet you'll feel it.)

Hey, did you get my letter? I've been sending out TinyLetters, and they're kind of a new way for me to blog, flying right into your email inbox. You can view the letter archive and/or subscribe here. I'm loving this way of communicating. 

* Affiliate link 'cuz I grab my money where I can