Playlist for THE CAKE HOUSE

June 10th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

As I wrote THE CAKE HOUSE, I went through several playlists of songs and music. Some writers can’t write with music, but I always have. There are occasions when I need total silence, maybe during particularly tricky scenes, but for the most part, I love listening to music when I write.

]I went through phases of listening only to music with a female voice, but that lasted just a few months. Sometimes I listened to the same 10 songs over and over again. Sometimes it was my entire library of music. In recent years, I did away with playlists all together and primarily listened to music apps like Pandora and Spotify.

I remember a costume design teacher I had in college who instructed all of his students to listen to music while designing and drawing, but not just any music. He told a funny story of how, when he was in school, he had a class assignment to design an opera but he was short on time so he didn’t go out and get the music for it and, thinking it didn’t much matter, listened to a different opera all together while he sketched. The assigned opera was serious and dramatic, while the opera he listened to was broad and comedic. When it came time to show his designs in class, his teacher kept looking at his pieces, then at him, then at the pieces again, because the designs didn’t match the opera at all. Writing a novel isn’t the same as designing for an opera, but every book has it’s own soundtrack, even if the story has nothing to do with music at all.

For this playlist, I wanted to choose music that would have been available to the characters, which means basically nothing released after 1993. I also wanted to choose songs there were different than the ones mentioned in the book. These are songs the characters would have listened to, perhaps un-ironically, but they are also character descriptions. They are how I think of them.

Because links to YouTube are so transitory, I am not going to link to songs, but I encourage anyone interested or unfamiliar to search for them. As far as I know, they’re all searchable on the internet.

  • “Halah” by Mazzy Star –

Mazzy Star is the ultimate make out music. I think Alex introduced Rosie to Mazzy Star, and afterward, she listened to this song on repeat.

  • “Daughters of Kaos” by Luscious Jackson

Rosie discovered Luscious Jackson on her own, without Alex.

  • “Dance This Mess Around” by The B-52s –

I can see Rosie dancing to “Dance This Mess Around” in her bedroom, arms flailing, head banging.

  • “Quelqu’un m’a dit” by Carla Bruni (Rosie)

This song choice breaks my 1993 or earlier rule, but I wanted a French song that wasn’t the lullaby Rosie sings in the book.

  • “Walking the Cow” by fIREHOSE –

This song might be Alex’s anthem. It’s moody and strange and I can see him lying in his bead with his headphones on listening to this over and over again.

  • “Been Caught Stealing” by Jane’s Addiction –

This song reminds me of high school and home work and teen angst. Alex would probably turn his nose at Jane’s Addiction in public but secretly always listen to this song when it played on the radio.

  • “Under the Bridge” by Red Hot Chili Peppers –

When I think of Los Angeles and Southern California, especially in the 90s, I think of RHCP. This song is for Alex, mostly, but it’s also for Rosie. RHCP was a constant presence. You could turn on KROQ and they’d be always on, this song in particular.

  • “Flower” by Liz Phair –

In THE CAKE HOUSE, it’s Rosie who listens to Liz Phair and identifies with Phair’s tough-girl lyrics, her in-your-face sexuality, but when I think of Tina, I think of this song. This is Tina’s song. She might never have listened to it, but it’s her song.

  • “Music and Politics” by Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy –

Claude would never listen to the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. He would be unfamiliar with hiphop in general, and would likely think it distasteful. But “Music and Politics” is a song about an asshole coming to terms with being an asshole. Something Claude is nowhere near admitting.

  • “Different Drum” by The Stone Poneys/Linda Ronstadt –

Dahlia doesn’t listen to music. She doesn’t give herself that luxury. But she isn’t a stranger to it. She hears it sometimes coming from Rosie’s room, or Alex’s room. Her mother listened to a lot of music. Her mother had music in the house all the time, and especially loved Linda Ronstadt.

  • “The Stranger” by Billy Joel –

Claude listens to “The Stranger” while driving alone in his car.

  • Ya Mama by Pharcyde – 

This is a song you listen to with your best friend, getting high in your car, giggling over ‘your mama’ jokes and trying to come up with funnier ones than are in the song, and failing. This is how I see Aaron and Tom on their better days.

Extras that didn’t make the cut:

“The New World” by X (Rosie)

“Kiss Off” by Violent Femmes (Alex)

“California Uber Alles” by the Dead Kennedys or the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy cover (Alex)

“You don’t Own Me” by Dusty Springfield (Dahlia)

“Mama Said Knock you Out” by LL Cool J (Tom and Aaron….)

“With or Without You” by U2 (Rosie)

“About a Girl” by Nirvana (Alex)

“Ophelia” by The Band


Recent Audio Books:

The Good Girl, by Mary Kubica

The Flame Alphabet, by Ben Marcus

Broken Harbor, by Tara French

What the Dead Know, by Laura Lippman

Pictures from THE CAKE HOUSE Launch Party and Reading

March 23rd, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink


A wonderful evening at Skylight Books. My favorite bookstore! Having my debut novel launch party there was truly a wish come true.

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I wanted to eat every one of these lovely macaroons, in a shape of a cake house! But alas, most of them were all gone by the time I finished signing.

Immensely grateful to my friends and family who came in support of my debut novel. Although I was nervous, once I started it was a lot of fun! Might even even enjoy more readings in the future, should I be so fortunate.

Out in stores now! THE CAKE HOUSE has arrived.

March 5th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

Finally, my debut novel is here. It exists and is a real thing in the world! Go to your local book store and buy a copy today. Or order it online anywhere that sells books. A few convenient links are located to the right.

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Flashing Neon Light

February 26th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

In less than a week, my debut novel The Cake House will be available in stores. Just a little while ago this date seemed months, nay years out. How did I even get here?

Most of the time my life carries on completely normal, but then a neon light starts flashing in my head and I realize holy crap this is a real thing.

My friends and acquaintances and co-workers keep asking me if I’m excited. Of course I am! I’m also curious. A bit anxious. Thinking a lot on my next project.

It was a pretty cool journey, though, this ride from idea to published book. Here is a (not so) brief timeline of The Cake House’s journey:

~ At the start of the summer in 2007, I began working on what would be my thesis project for the MPW program at USC. I had an idea. Sort of.

~ I chugged along all summer, writing about 200 pages or so. I met with my thesis advisor and, after he read my work, he told me that the story didn’t actually start where I started, but started… 200 pages in.

~ So, after a period of mourning, I cut those 200 pages and reshaped the story. It was spot on advice, and I’m grateful he didn’t hold back in giving it. If you’re curious what was in those 200 pages, all of it was unnecessary backstory.

~ Let me tell you, writing a first draft of a novel, going to school, and working full time, and still wanting a social life? Means you don’t get any sleep. My right eye began twitching and didn’t stop for two years. This is not an exaggeration.

~ I finished the damn thing! Huzzah! But then I had to do something with it. Got an agent, spent some time rewriting, then basically ignored it for months at a time and busied myself writing short stories, horseback riding, living life. This is where the bulk of time was spent. Years of it.

~ In 2011? (memory fuzzy) My agent told me that she got an interesting rejection from an editor who was willing to talk with me. I said yes. You betcha.

~ This kind person, who would become my editor (the fantastic Andrea Robinson), very gently told me that my story didn’t start were I started it, but actually started a few chapters in, 50 or so pages into the manuscript.

~ After another period of mourning, I followed her advice, reshaped the entire first part of the novel and sent it to her. She sent me back 3 pages of notes. I said fine and rewrote the entire novel from beginning to end during the summer of 2012. By the end of the year the novel was sold.

~ Then the real work began. What followed was a couple of years of intense rewriting, sometimes grueling, always fulfilling. I learned a lot during this time.

~ Occasionally, the eye twitching returned.

~ And now we’re in the final stretch of the journey. Somehow, my book and I, we managed to stick it out.

Recent Audio Books:

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

Friendship, by Emily Gould

The Movement of Stars, by Amy Brill

The Calm

January 2nd, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

Final jacket cover is final! Very exciting. Learned a great deal through the experience, the give and take, the evolution from one idea to another. I’m pleased and thrilled with the result.

And now, I guess this book is well and truly on its way. I can’t believe this journey is almost done. But most of the time I’m wondering what’s next.

I started writing THE CAKE HOUSE in 2007. By the time it’s in stores it will have been close to seven years in the making. That sounds about right.

Recent Audio Books:

The Penelopiad, by Margret Atwood

Foreign Bodies, by Cynthia Ozick

The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker

No One Belongs Here More Than You, Miranda July

The Absolutely True Diaries of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie



the brief life of Irwin

October 25th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

This is where we’re at:

1. Second pass through the manuscript done. Although the production editor may still email me with a question or two, it is possible that I may never again change another word of this novel. It’s strange to think, since I started this journey in 2007. The weird, stumbling path it took to get from there to here.

2. I took a poetry class in 2006. It was an overseas class, a month in Prague. I traveled, I experienced the city and the Czech Republic, I wrote in my journal (I always journal when I travel; it seems I only ever journal when I travel), I had fun with friends sitting in smoky bars. I learned a great deal about history, and myself, about the beauty of old city centers, about passion. What I didn’t learn is how to be a poet.

3. I mention the poetry class because I am reminded that I am stubborn and that new experiences are fantastic, even the ones that I don’t think I’m very good at.

4. After that class, I started this novel. But it began life very differently and then constantly changed: changed its chemistry, its shape, its goals. I think I have thrown away more written pages, whole chapters, than have ended up in the final manuscript. This is probably very normal but it also seems insane.

5. For example, I had completely forgotten the existence of Irwin. Going through old emails, I discovered a couple of chapters that I ended up discarding or reworking completely. One contained the introduction of a character named Irwin, a young friend to my protagonist. I wrote a whole chapter with Irwin. He liked to be called Win, liked to talk on the phone. And he wore glasses. He was like a little gnome of a friend. Irwin existed but briefly before I cut him from the novel. Then, I forgot about him until yesterday. But, the echo of his existence, remains in THE CAKE HOUSE. I was surprised to see how much of Win made it through to other characters.

6. So, all those hundreds of discarded pages, those reworked paragraphs, they must remain too, somehow. Maybe.


Recent Audiobooks:

A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan

The Keep, Jennifer Egan

The Yellow Birds, Kevin Powers

Dissident Gardens, Jonathan Lethem

that efficient erasure of minor blemishes

September 20th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

I cornered a friend to take my author photo. We met at the barn. It was a sunny, windy day and each picture has a million fly-away hairs floating around my head. As I did my make-up that morning, I had the same thought I always have when I’m getting ready for anything more than a regular work day, which is that I need to have someone show me how to do my make-up.

Outside, with the breeze, my friend and I took over 300 pictures, and I had a memory of my teenage years and early 20s, when I was still acting and hired photographers to take professional headshots. The first time I got headshots I was 13, I think, and I still had braces, and refused to smile fully. Now, I smiled too much.

We are now in the galley-producing stage of things for THE CAKE HOUSE. And also reviewing the production edit phase. There’s a cover in the works, but I haven’t seen the final cover yet.

Rereading the manuscript for the gazillionth time, I took great joy in taking a black pen and crossing out repeated words and phrases that I had previously read countless times and never took note of, as well as that one random slip into present tense that I don’t know where it came from. Then I switched to a blue pen. Why? I don’t know, except I was searching for that perfect, satisfying weight in my hand and that efficient photoshop erasure of minor blemishes. So close.

Now, I want to listen to Erasure.


Recent (by some definition of ‘recent’) Audiobooks:

Tumbleweeds, by Leila Meacham

Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston

Finding Caruso, by Kim Barnes

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, by Ann Patchett

A Dirty Job, Christopher Moore,

Bring Up The Bodies, Hilary Mantel

You Are One of Them, by Elliot Holt


All Delivered

July 5th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

The edits are all done, and the manuscript delivered. It’s been eighteen months of chapter-by-chapter editing, then from the beginning again, then again. And then a little more. I knew eventually we would call this thing delivered, and now we’re there.

The other day I had to write my dedication and acknowledgments. I’ve never had to do that before. That brought this out from behind the curtain of hypothetical into a spotlight of reality.

I keep thinking that soon I’ll have gone through this entire process — from idea to page to publishing to actual book — and it will no longer be a new experience. Right now I’m still somewhere near the middle of my first time riding this roller coaster, but eventually this ride will take me all the way through to the end. And then, like all of us who love roller coasters, I’ll run back to the start and do it over again. But it won’t be new, the way it is now. And that’s all right. It’s a reminder to take a step back and enjoy the experience.

Here are a few tricks I used to help me during this seemingly endless editorial process:

~ whatever editing I had to do, I made sure I got it all done with enough time to give myself at least a couple of days to read and reread (and reread again and again) before sending the edits.

~ Some people are able to write in the morning and I think that’s amazing and I’m a little jealous. Maybe one day I’ll manage that, but for now, I work in the evenings, and I limit this to just a couple of hours, three at the most. Free weekend days I might write for longer. I am perpetually a little sleep deprived but who isn’t?

~ I don’t do well in isolation, so I make sure I get out to see friends. I trust the writing will happen, I don’t need to exclude the rest of life to get it done.

~ This novel got written in coffee shops, in my living room, at work, on trains, on planes, at the barn, in Mexico, in Peru, in the UK, at the beach. It’s mobile.

So I wait for the next phase of this adventure, and I’m not entirely sure what that is. The manuscript is now out of my hands and in the hands of the publisher. I’m curious about what’s next.  There’s still copy-editing to be done, and I’m looking forward to it. I love copy editing! Is that weird? Although I thought I loved line-edits and that proved to be a lie.


Recent Audiobooks:

The Blue Hammer, Ross MacDonald

The Painted Bird, Jerzy Kosinski

Call of the Wild, Jack London

Zealot, Reza Aslan

Going Clear, Lawrence Wright

(Listening to Zealot and Going Clear back-to-back is quite the amusing experience.)


this moment, not a future moment

May 14th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

It is a thousand degrees outside, but I am sitting in a chilled coffee shop, enjoying my day. Later, I have a riding lesson that will be both awesome and sweaty, because it doesn’t begin to cool down till well into the evening.

I have the first half of line edits done on the manuscript, and I’m waiting for the second half. This deep-in-the-weeds editing is far more difficult, in my opinion, than the big picture stuff. Pinning down the first two chapters, in particular, makes me want to bang my head against my keyboard but each pass makes it better. Slowly, slowly, this manuscript nears it’s completion. I am both ready, and also cherishing this moment. This quiet.

I heard a writer of television once say, (paraphrase) “don’t sacrifice the present scene, what’s going on now, for some future possibility.” He was specifically referring to writing for TV where you have an on going story that can span years, you focus on what you’re writing now rather than what you speculate might be the case some time down the road in a future episode or season that might not even exist. Don’t sacrifice the present for the future.

Now is what matters. I have to constantly remind myself of this.


Current Audiobook:

The Middlesteins, by Jami Attenberg

Recent Audiobooks:

The days of Anna Madrigal, by Armistead Maupid

The Light Between Oceans, by M.L. Stedman

Oleander Girl, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

The Ocean at the End of the Line, by Neil Gaiman

Two Objectives

April 3rd, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

One more round of edits done and sent to my editor. And now I’m waiting for line edits. As I said to my editor, pretty soon this book is going to be a thing in the world. It still doesn’t seem like reality.


Aside from reading as much as I can, theatre and acting have been the strongest influences in my writing. The biggest tool I learned while studying theatre that also applies directly to writing is the universal “show not tell,” which is of course something that should be true for all art whether preformed, written, or drawn. But, aside from that golden rule, my other favorite is the two objectives.

Regardless of what the action or the plot may be, the two objectives are: you either want to kill the other person in the scene, or you want to have sex with them.  These two extremes ripple  underneath the surface of your performance. It informs the actual objectives and motivations. It can make it very raw, and in some cases very twisted. Or it can just add a touch of flavor. This is as useful if you’re performing Equus as it is if you’re performing The Importance of Being Earnest.

When I write, I don’t sit around and think, “does character P want to have sex with or kill character K?” But I still return to these two objectives, like a touchstone, as I’m writing. I like to play around with it, and then let it go.

It’s also kind of fun (by someone’s definition of fun…) to ask yourself  how this either/or applies to whatever it is you’re reading or watching. For example, with Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, I mean, come on, does Merricat want to have sex with or kill her sister Constance? We know she wants to kill everyone else and darn near does so. Does Constance want to have sex with or kill her sister? Or both!

An amusing film for this is Mr. and Mrs. Smith, in which the two main characters spend most of the film trying to kill each other when they really just want to have sex with each other.



Veronica, by Mary Gaitskill

On Beauty, by Zadie Smith

Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman, by Richard P. Feynman

The Fifth Child, by Doris Lessing.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson