Project 2015 Is Underway

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

I mentioned earlier that I’m giving this year the big, open-ended, grandiose designation of Project 2015. Mainly, it’s a reminder to me that every day is what you make of it, good or bad. You can pay attention to things that go wrong and stew in your worries, or you can wrap your arms around your big plans, not knowing where they’ll take you or whether they’ll work out. This includes but is not limited to getting pregnant, publishing ROOM 100, and continuing to grow my editing business of thirteen years, The Threepenny Editor. Being ambitious, they are necessarily long-term goals; and I, not being a masochist, realized that it is preferable to spend the journey in a positive frame of mind.

I’m sure I’ll write more about the first two goals soon. In the meantime, here are the first three installments of the #Project2015 series on how to improve your fiction. As always, I’m open to new clients. If you know of anyone, send ‘em my way.

Part 1, “Scaffolding, or How You Build Something Out of Nothing

Part 2, “Make Your Voice Original by Getting Rid of ‘Received Text’

Part 3, “‘Strong Protagonists’ Remind Us How to Feel

More soon!

Shoplifters Will Be Shot

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

In the heat of the Ferguson protests, it was hard to look at Darren Wilson’s corn-fed, supposedly bruised face and not suspect you’re looking into the eyes of white privilege. Or flat-out racism. If anything, the months since the verdict–verdicts–have showcased the ease with which an individual can become a synecdoche, an effigy, or a martyr.

Darren Wilson bruises

Darren Wilson displays the worst of his injuries.

I started writing about this in the midst of it the original protests, but return to it now because people keep getting shot in my neighborhood. Backstory: Last summer I moved from a middle-class neighborhood in Oakland to one where unemployment is high. This was to purchase a house in a place we could afford, because real estate in Oakland is not much cheaper than it is in San Francisco. However, illegal stuff happens on my street all the time. Most of it–casual drug dealing by the mild-mannered guys who live in their vans–doesn’t bother me. Yet the neighborhood has its paroxysms of sketchiness, and sometimes outright scariness. Last week I called the cops three times in 24 hours. That Friday, three people were shot a few blocks away, on a bike route I often use. This came at the end of a two-week period in which our streets were shut down three times for police raids. We woke to the sound of helicopters, smoke grenades, and K-9 units, and seeing men with drawn guns run past the house. The police presence around our new home is huge.

Two blocks away on Jan. 9, OPD tried and failed to serve a high-risk warrant.

Two blocks away on Jan. 9, OPD tried and failed to serve a high-risk warrant.

So it is fair to say that I listen closely when people talk about crime, being black, or the police, because though I am white/Arab, my home is not.

graffiti threat

Creepy graffiti on our fence.

Yet since December’s spate of protests that shut down freeways around our house, popular discourse looks less like dialogue than it does street marches that turn violent; or whole bristly ideas jammed together in a tweet and hashtagged (#fuckthepolice #blacklivesmatter), ideas that rub shoulders in discourse but which are practically antithetical. The most useful material I’ve encountered so far are personal essays about racism and an art project connecting everyday people in Manhattan with ones in Tehran.

It feels like nonsense. It’s almost as if there are no words. And maybe that’s just how it feels to encounter the system. The reason this is on my blog and not tidied up as an essay for Salon or somewhere is because, like so many others, I have nothing to add except more doubt. Yet it almost physically hurts to not talk about it at all.

The protests leave me uncomfortable, albeit not as sad and angry as seeing systemic racism played out in predictable ways at unpredictable times. It makes sense to me that this is a relevant Occupy issue. Yet in trying to sort out what I think of it all, while it’s happening, I am unable to dig very far through this rocky soil before hitting a number of questions that make me feel stuck anyway. Yes, today’s Mike Brown is yesterday’s Oscar Grant, but do we really think we can accomplish something in a society that can’t even prevent school shootings? Does someone, somewhere, have a way of talking to one another instead of over one another? Is there a way to make it better?

And by mitigating or replacing capitalism, will we really solve systemic issues? I answer this bookishly, by turning to the moral center of my literary world, Ursula Le Guin. In her anarchist novel, The Dispossessed, the hero struggles with the same flaws in human society despite living in an otherwise successful anarchist colony. Le Guin is no fan of capitalism, but even she seems to recognize that short of creating Humanity 2.0, some problems just don’t go away. They have to be solved over and over again at the individual level, in everything from your own ethical choices to how you raise your kids.

Or how you train your police, as it were.


Yesterday a woman was shot about a half-mile from my house. A helicopter almost directly above my backyard brought me to the window. Wondering what was happening, I turned–as my wife and I learned to do during the Ferguson protests–to Twitter. A few people had already posted photos from the fringe of the crime scene: a 25-year-old black woman named Yvette Henderson confronted security guards after shoplifting in Home Depot and ran away, encountered Emeryville police officers, and following about seven gunshots, she was dead. They recovered a gun from her body. A witness on a passing bus cast doubt on the report, saying she was waving for the bus to stop and held a purse in her other hand. Cop cars, bystanders, and news crews gathered at the scene all afternoon. By nighttime, Yvette Henderson was a hashtag, and protestors shattered a window at Home Depot. Someone tweeted that her body had “been left in the street for hours.” The news crews posted the story, a brief repackaging of the police statement.

tweet about emeryville cops

It all happened RIGHT THERE. But a fog materializes around the events anyway. It is reflexive to doubt everyone. Of course her body was left in the street for hours–it’s evidence! And how does shattering the Home Depot window help? What does that have to do with anything here? But also: “Police recovered a weapon.” In its calm neutrality, the statement seems undermine itself. A lawless, cynical voice that I had no idea existed in my head silently adds …that these same police planted on her. And more cynicism: The rapper, The Jacka, was shot in East Oakland the night before, but tweeters and candle-holders only appear in semi-gentrified neighborhoods, close to middle-class twenty-somethings in downtown and West Oakland.

A frequent bike route in my own neighborhood is as far away as Ferguson. But the truth feels like it is on the tip of my tongue. What really happened? Some lady shoplifts and goes running down the street, but rather than end up in jail for the afternoon, she’s dead?

It seems wrong, and it is happening all around us.

A reminder to self and others

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

Orwell died this day in 1950. Here’s Knopf’s form rejection of a “stupid and pointless fable” called Animal Farm:

Orwell's rejection

“Damn dull.”

Likewise, in a spirit of defiant optimism, I’m calling this year Project 2015. It’s going to be a year of positive thinking, hard work, laughing at old rejections, and readiness for the future. Read all about it over on my Threepenny Editor blog post, “How to Build Something Out of Nothing.”

Editing and freelancing resources

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

I have been on a hunt for great editing and freelancing resources these past few weeks–the changing of the seasons always inspires me to take a fresh look at my writing and editing business, and make sure everything is on track. Once in a while, Amazon’s list of book recommendations is spot-on, and I thought I’d share a few titles that may be helpful if you are or want to be a freelance editor.

The Business of Editing (2013)
by Richard H. Adin (Author), Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (Foreword), Jack M. Lyon (Foreword)

How to Start a Home-based Editorial Services Business (2013)
by Barbara Fuller

The Wealthy Freelancer (2010)
by Steve Slaunwhite, Pete Savage, and Ed Gandia

Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore (2008)
by Elizabeth Lyon

The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition (2010)

The Editor’s Lexicon: Essential Writing Terms for Novelists (2010)
by Sarah Cypher (yes, I’m plugging my book, but you really will find it helpful in discussing fiction with clients)


Also, don’t neglect to join the Editorial Freelancers Association. It gives you access to the brisk traffic on its JobList, and also the invaluable forums where editors discuss everything from prospecting to business operations. They are generous with answering questions, too.

What Happens in Rancho: Race Report from Challenge Rancho Cordova 70.3

Monday, October 6th, 2014

In some fog bank of memory, years ago, I told Erin I might someday race a half Ironman–a.k.a. a “70.3” for its number of miles. The 70.3 distance is her favorite because, compared to the whimpering, twitching, starved-but-can’t-eat state that beset her after Ironman Louisville 2010, she claims that a half Ironman is hard but only “leaves you sore enough to know you’ve done something.” And indeed, as I write this, the particulars of how I came to feel both hung over and like I’ve been run over by a Prius are wreathed with the kind of debauched haze that usually follows a trip to Las Vegas.

Yes, I “did something” yesterday: in 90-degree heat, for almost six hours, while consuming a copious amount of sickly sweet mixed drinks, which led to peeing in my shorts twice. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was my first 70.3 at Challenge Rancho Cordova.

Challenge Rancho Cordova 70.3

Rancho Cordova, CA

Swim (1.29 miles, 35-ish minutes, 1:43/100m-ish pace)

Speaking of pee, triathletes are wary of borrowing or renting wetsuits for a reason. We like to buy our own, because if there is one constant in every race, it’s that after a few days of obsessive careful hydration combined with pre-race nerves, it’s that you’re going to pee in that wetsuit. So when you see over hundred athletes paddling around in the deep water, gazing with mock interest at the line of course buoys… Yeah, we’ve all done it. Endurance athletes check their shame at the neon inflatable balloon arch.

Oakland Triathlon Club

Before the race, in wetsuits. (Photo Kasey Caletti)

I queued up in my favorite starting location, just behind the far-inside starting buoy, and shared a few excited words with super-fast Oakland Triathlon Club teammate Christina Liebner. Then the countdown seemed to jump from ten to two, and the horn sounded. I sprinted the first 100 yards to the first buoy, according to plan, and for the first time all season, I saw that I’d kept up with the lead swimmers.

That all changed as I slowed down to settle into my normal pace, and I switched to stage two of the plan: Enjoy the day. Folsom Lake is placid, cool, and clear (but not too clear–I don’t want to know what’s on the bottom). As I rounded the first big turn in the course, the sun came up over the trees, lighting up the return buoys a glowing, neon orange. I found myself too far to the outside of the course, adjusted, and sped up a little. My wetsuit forced me to arch my back, causing some lumbar pain which would return with a vengeance later.

Bike (56 miles, 2:58-ish hours, 19mph-ish)

Like all my OTC teammates, one of my main goals of the day was staying cool. As the sun got higher, heat began to rise from the road; I noticed it every time I passed out of a shadow–and there weren’t many of those on this drought-stricken, exposed course. I was thankful for the loan of Coach Raeleigh Harris’s white aero helmet, borrowed to replace my unvented, black cast iron kettle Giro Selector. I also used Pearl Izumi white cool-sleeves for the first time, worn under my wetsuit to get soaked, and which I kept damp with water throughout the bike and run. I actually was chilly for most of the race.

I tackled the first 25 miles of hills (total elevation gain, just under 2,000 feet) in an easy-to-moderate gear, and made sure to maintain the same effort on the later downhills. For the first forty miles, I jockeyed back and forth with a few other women with enormous quads; every time they coasted down the hills to recover from grinding up the hills in a huge gear, I passed them and gained a few minutes. Then they’d catch me again on the next flat. This probably would have continued to T2, until the stabbing pains in my lower back and hips caught up with me, too.

By mile 42 I had to give up on the aero position. I really couldn’t ride the drops, either. Sitting up in a headwind was a bummer, and so was the resulting loss of speed. I still had a half marathon to run, though, and I didn’t want to do it with back cramps. I took my friend Paula’s advice, and looked around for some native blue oaks to appreciate. I didn’t see any, so I enjoyed the singing birds.

Meanwhile, I’d kept up with my nutrition and blew past the final water station only to feel the urge to pee afterward. Peeing on the bike is actually a good thing in long triathlons, because otherwise, it means you are too dehydrated. But the caveat is that you have to do it before a water station so that you can rinse off. Not doing so is gross, and it also leads to chafing. But I’d lost my chance… for now.

Run (13.1 miles, 2:07-ish, 9:42 min/mile pace)

What can I say? I felt GREAT for the first 6.2-mile loop. And then I DIDN’T for the second one.

I haven’t run more than 10 miles (at once) all year, and had cut way back on my weekly mileage while recovering from some annoying hamstring issues. The first loop of this two-loop course felt almost miraculously comfortable: I felt no pain anywhere. My heart rate was good. My pace gradually increased. I drank my nutrition on schedule, poured ice-cold water over my head every mile, and yes, proved to myself–twice–that my hydration was right on target.

A cheering passel that included teammates, Coach Raeleigh, and Erin started off the second loop of the run very well. But by mile 8, my legs tightened up and I felt like I was running on wooden puppet legs. A very fit guy with a carbon fiber prosthetic passed me with an enviably smooth stride. I told myself to toughen up, and stop focusing on what hurt. I sped up for about a half-mile, but my legs weren’t interested in speed. Only by mile 12 did my impatience intervene. My impatience is a force to be reckoned with, and it bullied my legs to hurry the hell up and get this race over with.

Total time: 5:47:something.

Along with six small children, I stood in the Village Green water feature for at least another six hours. I relished the feeling of rinsing off the accumulated sweat, Cytomax, sunscreen, and other byproducts of a day in the heat, imagining that my nausea and fatigue were swirling away, too. And by the time I got a real shower in the hotel, packed up the car, and sat with teammates in the shade, I was ready for that Neapolitan shake from In and Out.

So went my last triathlon of the season. Thank you to everyone who raced this summer, put their fitness to the test week after week, and cheered for Oakland. I know you all have your lives outside of this sport, but speaking as someone who hasn’t lived anywhere for more than 18 months at a time for many years, I am so grateful for your friendship and the chance to share this fun, difficult, dirty, slightly crazy, completely self-affirming sport with you. Have a great off-season!

After the race

After the race.


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