Transitions

[cross-posted from the Literary Mama blog]

I am writing to announce that it is time for me to leave Literary Mama. Both my family life (caring both for my children and elderly parents) and work life (directing the Sustainable Arts Foundation with my husband) have grown much fuller these days and I no longer have the time I need or want to give to Literary Mama.

Literary Mama has given me a reliable structure, a supportive community, and a broad platform for my entire writing life as a mother: I started as an editorial assistant in Literary Reflections ten years ago, wrote a column for five years, and have now served as editor-in-chief for five years. Both of my books developed directly out of editorial conversations with contributors. It is hard for me to imagine life without Literary Mama as part of my days! I will miss the editorial staff and the broader LM network of readers and contributors profoundly, but I am looking forward to focusing more closely on fewer responsibilities.

Luckily, we have a deep editorial board, and women with the vision, energy, and commitment to lead LM. I have asked Katherine Barrett, Maria Scala, and Karna Converse to step up and I’m thrilled that they have agreed to serve in these positions: Maria will be LM’s new Editor-in-Chief, Karna will be the Managing Editor, and Katherine will define a new role as the site’s Publisher. They will maintain the same high standards Literary Mama has always been known for, and have plans for some great new improvements to the site. I am confident in their ability to lead LM, and am excited to see how the site will develop under their direction.

Thank you, readers and contributors, for your support over the years. Whether you’ve read an essay, shared a poem, or commented on a column: you are a key part of Literary Mama and you help make it the best writing community on the web. It’s been a privilege to lead the way these past five years, and I look forward to my new role as avid reader.

The Next Big Thing

I’m grateful to the lovely Kate Hopper for inviting me to participate in the Next Big Thing, a blog meme for writers. I met Kate a few years ago at AWP, and now work with her on LiteraryMama. She’s written a wonderful writing guide for mothers, Use Your Words, and her memoir, Ready For Air, is coming out next fall.

What is the title of your book?

The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage: True Stories of Food, Family, and How We Learn to Eat

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Cassoulet is an anthology of original essays about how we learn–and re-learn—to eat, and why our eating habits matter to our lives beyond the table.

What genre does your book fall under?

Creative Nonfiction/Food

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The book was my co-editor, Lisa Harper’s, idea, and I’m so glad she invited me to work on it with her! We’d met through Literary Mama, and then she contributed an essay to my first book, Mama, PhD. Not long after I delivered the final manuscript for Mama, PhD, Lisa and I were hanging out in the park with our kids, watching them play and feeding them snacks, when — as I recall it — she said, “So this is probably terrible timing for you, but I had this idea for a book…”

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Well, it’s an anthology, so we didn’t write the full manuscript but solicited essays from writers whose work we know and love. We started doing that in 2007, and sent out our first proposal in 2008. When that didn’t sell, we retooled the proposal quite a bit and then set it out again in 2011, at which point it was acquired by Shambhala Publications.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The original idea, as I noted above, was Lisa’s; we’re both deeply interested in food and family, cooking with our kids, preserving old family food traditions and creating new ones. Our kids are a continual source of inspiration, education, and frustration!

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Cassoulet is represented by Elizabeth Evans, of the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, and will be published by Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Press.

What other works would you compare this book to within your genre?

The range of food stories in Cassoulet mirrors what you’d find in the annual Best Food Writing collections; a book like Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant , a collection of literary essays about solitary eating, offers the tight focus of Cassoulet, while Kate Moses’ beautiful memoir Cakewalk, offers the book-length reflection on food and family that our writers offer in their individual essays.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I have no idea! The main players in my essay my kids, the chef at our elementary school and me. I’ll leave this one up to Hollywood.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

We hear a lot these days about how we should eat; we’ve heard that “local, organic, sustainable” refrain so much it’s barely meaningful anymore. The essays in Cassoulet are just not contributing to that conversation. Our essays are reflective, not prescriptive. All of our writers are saying, “This is what food means in our family,” and Lisa and I ask you, “What does food mean in yours?”

Now I get to tag some writers whom I think you should know about! So naturally, I’m tagging my co-editor, Lisa Catherine Harper, who has also published a smart, thoughtful memoir of her first year of motherhood, A Double Life: Discovering Motherhood ; Suzanne Kamata, one of LiteraryMama’s fiction editors and the author and editor of several books; Jen Larsen, one of the Cassoulet contributors, whose memoir, Stranger Here How Weight-Loss Surgery Transformed My Body and Messed with My Head , is also coming out this spring; and finally journalist Jennifer Margulis, whose new book, The Business of Baby is going to change the way we think about pregnancy and childbirth . Check out their books.

Favorite Food Picture Books!

It was a pleasure to be invited to write about my favorite picture books for the Children’s Book Review, and fun to focus the theme with my favorite food picture books. The list is long, but I narrowed it down to these fun books by well-known writers and illustrators: Bread and Jam for Frances; The Seven Silly Eaters; Yum, Yum, Yum; Pancakes! Pancakes!; and In the Night Kitchen. Click on over to the Children’s Book Review to read my post, and then tell me, what are your favorite food stories?

Six Word Summer: Vintage Baseball


Inspired by Smith Magazine’s Six Word Story project, Literary Mama blog editor Karna Converse came up with the idea of the Six Word Summer blog post to capture some of summer’s moments, and I’m going to try to play along.

Today we took the boys to a baseball game in Golden Gate Park in which the players follow 1886 rules; we watched the San Francisco Pacifics play the Oakland Colonels. The fielders wore gloves barely bigger than their own hands, and when they got a runner out, they’d remind each other how many “hands down” (outs) they had. But really, this picture and these six words capture it well, I think:


In vintage baseball, players say “Sir.”

AWP Chicago

A lifetime ago – pre-husband and kids — when I was a graduate student in the humanities, I attended the Modern Language Association convention when it met for three days between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Search committees interview job candidates at this convention, graduate students and faculty present their research, and university presses display their books. For me, it was always an anxious conference and the person I saw outside the convention hotel, conference badge askew, chugging Pepto-Bismal straight from the bottle, perfectly summed up my feelings about it.

While I was ambivalent about leaving the academy after my first son was born, I never missed the MLA convention, and so it was fun, after my anthology Mama, PhD was published, to return as a reporter for Inside Higher Ed and write about the support offered to parents attending the conference with their children. I enjoyed viewing the conference as an outsider, with nothing to prove at the conference.

The AWP conference also involves job interviews, graduate students and faculty presenting their work, and a massive bookfair where book and magazine editors display their publications, but it has only ever been fun for me, never stressful. It is the one time every year that I meet up with Literary Mamas and spend three days fully and happily immersed in conversations about writing and mothering. This year, my third time attending the conference, I heard Kate Hopper, Jill Christman, Hope Edelman, Bonnie Rough, Katy Read, Rebecca Skloot, Christina Katz, Jane Friedman and many others give terrific talks about different aspects of writing and publishing. I heard Margaret Atwood give a drily funny keynote speech about the craft of writing (a talk she claimed to be unqualified to give, as writing wasn’t taught when she was a student). I heard my AWP roommate and LM column editor, Nicole Stellon O’Donnell, read from her new poetry collection, Steam Laundry, on a panel with other Alaskan writers. I met the fabulous M. M. DeVoe, a writer and the executive director of Pen Parentis, a literary salon and networking site for parent writers.

To bring it all full circle, I ran into my graduate school housemate, whom I hadn’t seen since our graduation twelve years ago. She’s stayed in academia, teaching American literature and poetry at a small liberal arts college, while I’ve moved far away from that life. Though here we both were at the conference, soaking up talks on craft and enjoying readings from a wide variety of work. The conference offers something for anyone interested in the writing life, and I can’t wait till AWP Boston in March, 2013.

Earthquake Country

I’m really pleased that my essay about earthquakes, real and metaphorical, has been published in Salon. Here’s an excerpt:

An earthquake struck tonight.

I registered the sound before I felt it, a sense that bypassed my ears and telegraphed across my skin. I listened optimistically for the N-Judah streetcar that rumbles our house on its runs, but I also saw the light fixture swaying in the next room.

Sound, then sight, and finally feeling. I didn’t let myself think “earthquake” until I felt the couch shrug beneath me. I caught my husband Tony’s eye, but neither of us spoke, and before we’d finished absorbing the event it was gone, like a gust of wind that blows open a door but doesn’t ruffle the newspaper.

Please click on over to Salon to read the rest!

image credit

The Wishing Tree

I was born in Tokyo, as was my mother; a college housemate lives there now, writing for Reuters, as do my cousins, who work (currently non-stop) for the American Embassy. There are writers I care about who live in Japan, like Literary Mama’s co-editor for fiction, Suzanne Kamata, and one of the contributors to the anthology I’m working on now. Luckily, no one I know has been hurt by the quake and tsunami, but of course tens of thousands of people have — I can’t bring myself to look up the latest numbers, they are so devastating.

There are tangible things one can do to help those in Japan, of course — give money; shop at a Bakesale for Japan; read for Japan — but I am a strong believer in the power of prayer — or good wishes, or positive thinking, whatever you want to call it. So I was so pleased when a school parent organized a wishing tree project at school. She arranged for the donation of a Japanese maple, one of the kindergarten teachers made the blank tags, and students, faculty, staff and parents have been adding their wishes every day. Here is a tiny sample of their many sweet wishes:

March 9th is World Read Aloud Day!

I’m happy to serve again this year as San Francisco’s ambassador for World Read Aloud Day, an event organized by LitWorld to call attention to the power and pleasures of reading aloud.  Litworld reminds us that nearly 1 billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their name and asks, “What would you miss most if you could not read or write? Imagine your world without words.”
LitWorld works with teachers, parents, community members, and children to support the development of sustainable literacy practices across the world.

In San Francisco, I’ll be celebrating by reading to kids at Books, Inc. in Laurel Village. Join us from 6 – 7 PM for a pajama party reading; anyone who donates $10 or more to LitWorld will be entered into a raffle for these delicious hot chocolate cubes. Bring the kids in their pj’s for a fun evening outing!

Nine is Fine

Nine observations about nine:

It’s my favorite number, squared.

It’s the number of innings in my favorite sport.

It’s the number of months (approximately) a baby gestates.

It’s the number of lives a cat enjoys.

It’s the number of squares in a game of tic-tac-toe.

It’s the number of planets I grew up with (sorry, Pluto, we miss you).

It’s an expression — dressed to the nines! — for looking fabulous, for going the distance — the whole 9 yards — and, if you’re on cloud nine, you might feel as I do today, celebrating my firstborn’s ninth year. Happy birthday, Ben!

Mama at the Movies: Rabbit Hole

Since becoming a parent, I can’t really tolerate scary movies but sad movies still draw me in. The recent film Rabbit Hole, based on the play by David Lindsay-Abaire, is one of the best I’ve seen in a while. Here’s an excerpt from my recent column:

I took myself off to see Rabbit Hole alone, tissues at hand, ready to handle the weepy. Nicole Kidman plays Becca, whose four-year-old son Danny was struck by a car and killed eight months before the film’s action. Becca is the center of the action, in practically every scene, and she’s not necessarily an easy object of sympathy. She’s brusque with her sister, rude to her mom, detached and eye-rolling at a grief group. When another of the parents suggests that God must have taken her child because he needed another angel, Becca can’t keep quiet any longer: “Why didn’t he just make another angel? He’s God, after all.”

Please click on over to Literary Mama to read the rest.