Carry it home with you

Less than a week has passed since I returned from the Sonoma County Writers Camp, organized by two amazing writing teachers—Ellen Sussman and Elizabeth Stark—with an appearance by Angie Powers and panels of writers and agents. It was held at an equally mind-blowing location: The Occidental Arts and Ecology Center in Occidental, California.

While there, in the company of 23 other mostly fiction writers, I got down to business. Lots of writing, workshops, exercises, lively discussions, and information. I’ll save those for another post. Here I want to share a bit of the magic, in the form of daily writing, and my plans for bringing the magic home.

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The water’s fine but we are not

On vacation, my mind inevitably turns to dark topics, as my posts from last summer prove (“The Nihilist on Vacation” parts one and two).

This summer, I sit contemplating the sparkle of the pool. There is nothing quite like the color of swimming pool water. Ridiculous, since water has no color. But somehow this does, and it is chlorine incarnate.

Razzle dazzle.

Razzle dazzle.


How pleasant to sit here. Pleasant to drink a Diet Coke (one of two or three I consume each year) and eat Smartfood popcorn (stupid: it’s no better for you than chips) and catch up on my New Yorkers. How perfect this afternoon seems, reminding me of other perfect times, like Continue reading

The novel, reduced to absurdity

Unless you’ve been living in a cave or atop a Himalayan peak, you’ve probably heard the news that humans now have a shorter attention span than goldfish. (Eight seconds, in case you’re wondering.)

I got 8 seconds guys... ok, done. [By Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez (Lmbuga) Copyright: GFDL (GNU Free Documentation License]

I got 8 seconds guys… ok, done. [By Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez (Lmbuga) Copyright: GFDL (GNU Free Documentation License]

This revelation translates, for writers, into a series of eminently logical commandments:

  • Write shorter sentences.
  • Use shorter words.
  • Construct shorter books.
  • Use bullet points.
  • Write flash fiction.

No more 150K word opuses; stick to 70K or fewer. Above all, keep your readers constantly engaged—at every moment, on every page—or risk losing them to a more enticing pursuit.

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Growing up, take 2

When you have kids, you become a kid again yourself in many ways. Some of these ways are fun—you can jump in mud puddles, drink hot chocolate, lounge in your jammies, read silly books. Others are not so much fun. Like going back to school.

After re-enduring 13 years of public school, I am happy to report that neither I nor my son will ever have to go through that again. (Unless the same phenomenon occurs with grandchildren? Somehow, I don’t think so.)

Here is a piece of short fiction* in honor of the accomplishment of high school graduation and the decidedly mixed feelings it brings for parents. I originally wrote it for the upcoming MASH Stories Competition (hence inclusion of the words pizza, selfie, corruption). But I decided to publish it here instead. I’ll have to come up with something else for Mash.

* This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.


By Audrey Kalman


He doesn’t respond to my voice. I stand in the doorway. His body, still as a post, spans the length of the twin mattress beneath the blanket.

A soft ping from the microwave in the kitchen tells me the coffee is ready.

“Eli.” More urgency this time.

He keeps the mini-blinds down all the way. I squint at my watch. Close to nine, I think. The practice is at ten.

The room teems with demons and I must walk among them. I step over the threshold and kneel beside the bed. The blanket is the same one I picked from an online catalogue six years ago. Royal blue, covered with cat hair.  My hand hovers above his shoulder.

This cannot be happening.


Demon the First arrived on his third birthday and was named Defiance. Morning till night, Defiance occupied Eli’s sweet body, stabbing the walls with colored markers, throwing the pizza crusts on the floor, dropping the blocks in the toilet.

“He’s such a boy,” my mother said, as if that could help.

Demon the Second arrived during second grade and was named Provocation.

“Eli is very bright,” Mrs. Smitty told me at the parent-teacher conference. “But he needs some help managing his anger issues. Is everything all right at home?”

I’d be angry too if you stuck me in a chair all day and expected me to fill out stupid worksheets.

“Home schooling,” my friend Trisha suggested. But I was incapable of that much love and dedication.

Demon the Third arrived on the cusp of his fourteenth birthday and was named Rebellion.

Rebellion’s sentence was suspended. No time in juvie, no listing on the sex offender registry. “Because he’s a minor,” the judge said. “Because he has no priors. Because he seems remorseful.”

“Jeez, mom,” Eli said. “It was just a selfie.”


Last year he painted over the multicolored alphabet I stenciled on the walls of his room. Next year at this time the room will be empty.

I could let him sleep through the graduation practice and the ceremony later and the collection of the diploma and the party and the sneaking off after midnight to get drunk with his friends. I could keep him sequestered in my heart, away from the corruption of the world, forever and ever, amen.

“Eli,” I say a third time, even more loudly, and begin shaking him.


Have you lived vicariously through a family member—willingly or not? Had to let go of something? Do share.













Recipes are just suggestions (writing, blogging, sourdough)

I’ve been struggling to find a writing recipe for getting through the intolerable middle of writing my novel, as I discussed in March.  Now I think my inability to find a step-by-step guide out of the morass is a symptom of my personality that applies to more things than writing.

I realized this a couple of weeks ago when I blew up my web site by changing WordPress themes.

Little ChefI had decided it was time for an update of the site where I’ve hosted my blog for the last five years. There were three reasons for this.

  1. Visual elements are becoming ever-more important.
  2. I’m launching a new novel this year.
  3. After several years with WordPress’s 2012 theme, it felt like time for a change (as when you look at the comforter you’ve slept under for the last ten years and think, I’d really like to look at something new.)

A weekend would be a good time to muck around, I decided, so one Saturday I spent several hours previewing WordPress themes in search of one that had all the widgets and whistles I need. I settled on Affinity. Late that evening, I took a deep breath and pressed the “Apply” button.

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Where wrinkles are admired, tolerated, and required

It’s the fifth annual Beauty of a Woman Blogfest hosted by August McLaughlin. This year, I offer a meditation in pictures on something women have a big problem with, on our faces and sometimes other parts of our bodies.

Waterolor beautiful girl. Vector illustration of woman beauty salon

Be sure to stop by the fest to read the posts and possibly win some prizes! But first, please continue reading mine. It’s short on words and long on pictures if you’re feeling verbally challenged.

Wrinkles are acceptable on many living creatures

ElephantELEPHANTS – By Aaron Logan via Wikimedia Commons

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Princely: a salute to our lost musical storytellers

The e-mail notification popped up in the lower corner of my screen: “Rock Royal Prince Dead at 57.”

Oh no. Not another one.

This comes in a year when we have already lost more talented musicians than I can count on two hands. Some better known than others; some too soon (though is it ever late enough to lose a beautiful voice?); others after what we describe as “a full life.”

Sometimes a song is worth a thousand words. Listen up.

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