From Helmet Head to Helmut Lang

Tuesday, October 20th, 2015

At 9:15 a.m. on Sunday morning, I was swinging my bike around into a light headwind on Highway 1. Despite a fog of condensation across my time trial helmet’s visor, I sighted the next woman in my age group and shifted up a gear, accelerating south along the dramatic Pacific coastline. I was on the second leg of Ironman Santa Cruz 70.3 and having the race of my life.

Fewer than twelve hours later, I was sitting upright in a middle airplane seat, sandwiched between two broad passengers on the way to New York City. The trip would lead me to the Publishers Weekly Star Watch reception on Wednesday, where I got to hear Mira Jacob’s viral BuzzFeed speech, and also learned that five hours and nineteen minutes of sustained athletic activity is nearly painless when compared with a short walk in the five-inch Stella McCartney heels I’d bought to wear with this dress.

Forest Avenue Press

Laura Stanfill and me on our way to the party.

I’ve been so busy with editing work that I don’t have time to write a good race report AND give the New York trip the run-down it deserves; and I suspect that the two very different audiences for each will be bored with one (or both) of these efforts. So let’s just jam them into a Procrustean chart.

[Incidentally, I’m finishing this post six weeks after I started it. Lame.]


IMSC: Santa Cruz Pier, California. Also, less than two miles from the Cement Boat, where many 18-foot great white sharks were spotted in the unusually warm water. That’ll make you swim fast.

Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz

Trish, Stacey, Simon, moi, and Erin, ready to out-swim the sharks and sea lions.

NY: Midtown Manhattan, smack in the middle of giant-scale buildings, 99-cent-pizza shops, the Museum of Sex, and not much else.


IMSC: 5 hours, 18 minutes, 58 seconds elapsed between a wild gadarene into the surf, and a soft-sand finishing chute. Let me just say that running a quarter mile through sandcastles, broken crab shells, and ankle-deep dry sand was harder than the foregoing 70.05 miles.

This might have been the most sadistic finish chute in all of Ironman.

This might have been the most sadistic finish chute in all of Ironman.

NY: A day longer than my scheduled return flight on JetBlue, thanks to some poor planning. The banquet was originally scheduled on Rosh Hashanah–oops–and was moved a day later, so I shelled out the $150 to change my flight.


IMSC: To cap off a summer of hard training. I exercise so I can eat. And evidently, I also like to spend money, because no matter how frugal I try to be, triathlon is a ridiculously expensive addiction; albeit a healthier one than drugs, probably.

NY: To continue my wild spending streak. I found a $35 Helmut Lang dress, and proceeded to spend $300 in accessories. This was all worth it because I was supporting my good friend Laura Stanfill of Forest Avenue Press, who was nominated for a Star Watch Award. And being the ace planner she is, she spun the trip into a whirlwind of meet-and-greets with agents, distributors at Perseus, authors, and booksellers. I also visited some clients I’d been eager to meet in person. This insider’s view of the publishing industry blew my mind.

Special gear needed:

12002042_10152987240977447_37723659076377251_nIMSC: Rubber suit, funny helmet, metal-cleated shoes, carbon wheels, and running shoes (oh! you mean the ones I forgot at home? Sigh. I had to bust out the credit card to buy a new pair). Also, 270g of carbohydrates strategically distributed across four water bottles.

NY: Aforementioned nice outfit for the party, plus two nice suits. And a laundromat, because I’ve never visited New York on business in 85-degree weather. I sweated more on a twenty-minute trip from the Flatiron Building to Times Square than I did during the whole race. New Yorkers must spend a fortune in dry cleaning. Might I suggest making every day a casual Friday? (Says the person who lives in California . . .)


IMSC: Eighth place in my age group. I was excited to share the course with my super-fast friends Patricia and Christina, who both qualified for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Australia. The championship is my wife Erin’s dream, too, and I fully expect it’ll happen for her next year. As for me, I have no big triathlon dreams, and my goal was–as ever–just to feel strong and happy during the race. Success.

NY: Also successful. Laura made a ton of great contacts for the press, and gave me some much-appreciated mentoring in the nitty-gritty details of publishing a book. I am happy to say that I will be helping out Forest Avenue Press in an editorial capacity starting next year, and as we both agreed, this intense trip also gave our writer-selves a new perspective on the work of getting a deal. There are so many middlemen between writing and reading; but judging from the good people we met, those middlemen are passionate readers, too, and are part of the economy like anyone else. Still, Mira Jacob’s speech resonates with me, and I am clearer than ever on the need to write as and for the part of the story-loving segment of readers whose identity is different, and difficult to pin down, and part of a wide and diverse spectrum of others who–in some way or other–owe their lives to books.

Review: Rediscovering Palestine (aka, adventures in new research sources)

Tuesday, October 20th, 2015

Rediscovering Palestine: Merchants and Peasants in Jabal Nablus, 1700-1900Rediscovering Palestine: Merchants and Peasants in Jabal Nablus, 1700-1900 by Beshara Doumani
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You won’t know how fascinated you are by the economy of an ancient city until you start reading Doumani’s engrossing portrait of eighteenth-century Nablus. It’s written with the thorough, poignant eye of a biographer and the tacit but relentless authority of a historian: far from the “wasteland” it’s been made out to be in more biased political histories, Palestine had a diverse, thriving economy. Also interesting was the robust capitalism, entrepreneurship, and speculation banking linked all levels of Palestinian society–long before it engaged with the West.

I am supposed to be reading this as research on soap factories, but found myself sidetracked into reading the whole text. It makes me appreciate how detailed, and perhaps even how accurate, a rendering of one’s life can be made by looking only at one’s business activities: orders, contracts, inheritances, suppliers, and sales. I speak mostly as a small businesswoman, but generally, as someone living in the West, it’s difficult to not speculate at times that we are so deeply imprinted by the market that it distorts identity. The text was a clarifying reminder that humans are transactional creatures, and an economy is an intrinsic part of the human environment.

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Schedule: Publishers Weekly Star Watch banquet

Friday, August 21st, 2015

Less than a week after signing up for BinderCon, my good friend Laura Stanfill of Forest Avenue Press invited me to be her plus-one at a PW awards banquet in New York. I wouldn’t miss an opportunity to be with one of the most talented friends I have on this special night, and this just sounds like so much fun.

WhatInaugural PW Star Watch Celebration Party

When: September 15, 2015

Where: New York, NY

And there’s a cherry on top: I’m eager to meet the nice folks at PW who will be running my piece on Arab science fiction in the October 5 SF/F issue.

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Schedule: BinderCon, NYC, November 6-9

Friday, August 21st, 2015

Even as I’m oh-so-overdue for writing about my amazing experience at Shubbak in London last month, I’ve signed myself up for BinderCon, a professional development conference to empower women and gender non‑conforming writers with tools, connections, and strategies to advance their careers. This has been a hugely supportive group of women, and I can’t wait to meet many of them in person and share experiences.

What: BinderCon, hosted by Out of the Binders

When: November 7–9, 2015

Where: New York University campus, Manhattan

And it’s on my birthday, so I guess besides the fact that I can’t spend it with my wife, this is one of the best gifts I’ve given myself in a long time.

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Love Letter to the Weird Things

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

When you have a job in books, you read all the time. And it’s true: I spend literally every single day of the week reading manuscripts on one or two computer screens, hands hovering over the keyboard, usually poised on the seat of my chair in something like a crouch or a perch; a chiropractor’s nightmare. People ask if I get tired of reading.

Where the work happens.

Where the work happens.

First, I have a really easy job. Nobody’s sick. Nothing is going to fall on me, and nobody is shooting. I work in a cozy office at home, with the cat and both dogs snoring on the rug. Yes, I started this business and worked hard to make it viable, but it still feels like a guilty privilege. I take it as seriously as possible and devote myself to the part of it that matters most–offering helpful, effective advice to writers who are staking a major chunk of their future happiness on the chance of publishing novels. I know how this feels because when I’m not editing, I’m writing, too.

That said: I do get tired of being critical. The most delicious thing in the world is a finished novel that isn’t in need of an opinion. At the end of the day (literally, in bed with a book 30 minutes before falling asleep) I want to be something more important to writers–simply, purely a reader.

When almost two months go by without reading anything for fun, burnout is imminent. I think of my imagination as a jazzy, colorful pet, and if it starves to death, what good am I to writers? The ability to run loose in somebody else’s fictive dream is part of both the job of being an editor and the joy of being a reader. And what good am I to myself, or anybody I love, without an imagination, and everything else that flows from it–a sense of humor, a sense of fun?

All of this is context. Right now, my desk is surrounded by science fiction. In a sort of remedial frenzy, I scooped up Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, Ferrett Steinmetz’s Flex, Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon, Veronica Roth’s Divergent, and Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor. In short, it’s a speculative buffet for the little imagination creature: sci-fi, urban fantasy, political spec-fic, YA dystopian, and fantasy. Something about Divergent‘s simplicity turned me off after the first few chapters, but I admired Leckie’s respect for her readers’ intelligence, and I loved Steinmetz’s caper, which transforms OCD into beautiful magic. I’m reading Lagoon right now, and loving the setting (Lagos).


Speculative fiction is superfood for the imagination. It’s full of weirdness and wonder. You can be as precious as you like about the craft of writing, but without imagination, where’s the depth? What’s the point? That’s not to say that all fiction should be written about invented worlds, but having encountered many writing teachers and editors who crinkle their noses at speculative fiction as if it’s as the red-headed stepchild of novels that are Worth Our Time, well, to them, I merely point out that we fun people are sitting at this table here and the Picky Eaters Club is over there, next to the really big bowl of plain lettuce.

In short, editing doesn’t ruin the pleasure of reading–not one bit. Knowing how to change a bike tire hardly destroys the pleasure of riding it. Editing is just a way of interacting with my imagination, articulating how the fictive dream wobbles. But first and always, I’m a reader. Reading is a temperament, a lifelong habit, or a bit of both, and I get a near-ridiculous amount of comfort from the knowledge that even if I live to be as old my centenarian grandmother, I will never run out of good books to read.


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