Monday, April 30, 2012

Back up, Back Up, Back UP

It was last Monday. A new work week. I headed off to the college at 7:30 am as I do every morning. Tom left the house around 9:00 am. The house was empty. The street was empty. The neighborhood was empty.

My niece stopped by around 5:00 pm to pick up a dehumidifier to dry out the interior of her car. (I still don't know how her car got wet on the inside, but that's a whole different mystery.) We live in a safe neighborhood, or so we've thought for the past 21 years. We leave windows open in the summer. There have been days when Tom's left the back door wide open - not intentionally, of course, he just has other, more important things, on his mind than locking the back door. But this was April and the house was locked up tight. Tom left the dehumidifier outside the back door for my niece to pick up on her way home from work in case she got there before either of us were home. I was having a rare, get-ready-for-sandals pedicure at the opposite end of town when I got the call.

"I saw the broken glass, but I just thought Tom was working on another project," my niece told me. "I was all the way out to my car before I realized that Tom wouldn't leave such an awful mess, so I ran back."

As I listened, my niece walked through the house. I was numb to her words: "oh my god... oh fuck... sorry about my language... a knife on your desk." I don't know if I said "call 911" or if she did, but I ended the call and my unfinished pedicure in the same moment. Then I called her back. "Get out of there," I told her. "You shouldn't be in the house." And then I texted my husband.

"I know," she said. "I'm talking to your neighbor. Did you know he's a cop?"

I got home through rush hour traffic in record speed, but still Tom beat me. As I drove, I imagined the worst: lost manuscripts, lost photographs, vandalized artwork. I saw my sofa, rugs, furniture destroyed. Tom's new flat screen, a Christmas gift, gone. I saw a ransacked home and I was heartbroken. I didn't, couldn't, wouldn't allow myself to cry. Instead, I drove.

When I walked through my front door, I released a few tears and a big sigh of relief. There was no vandalism and the thief took very little - only what he or she could carry in a backpack. He (I'll stick to the masculine, but there's really no way to know) came in the backdoor and went downstairs. He rummaged through our bedrooms where he found my prescriptions for thyroid, estrogen and progesterone in my bedside table (on second thought, maybe the he was actually a postmenopausal she, desperate for HRT). He found Tom's backpacking knife and headed upstairs, armed.

My writing room was his primary target. He left with both my laptops, as well as cameras, watches and a number of other small items - we're still finding things we can't find. Then, he/she unbolted the back gate and rode away through the back alley on my new bike.

We were lucky. I won't even list what wasn't taken, but as a writer, it was a wake-up call, a reminder to back up everything daily, weekly, monthly. Ask yourself: What are you willing to lose? A week's work of work? Could you recreate a week's worth?

I'd just sent my latest manuscript drafts to a backup email the Friday before. A friend had also set up a cloud account for my writing folders. Still, the losses are profound: all the documents on my desktop that I'd failed to file - gone. All my photographs that I'd yet to back up on CDs - gone. All my contacts, emails, addresses and phone numbers - gone.

I know I'll be making changes in how I do backups and in how I think about home security. I'm still not willing to live behind an electronic fence, but a local sound maker triggered when the door is opened, perhaps. And maybe it's time to consider a new dog. A big, furry, messy, stinky, scary, loving mutt like Mozart. We never had a home intrusion while Mozart shared his long life with us. I wish we could have cloned him.

(Note: If you want to be in my new address book, please send me an email at Thanks!)

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Goodreads Q&A


I'm currently in the midst of a wonderful author Q&A on Goodreads at  Because I can't figure out how to post a photo on Goodreads, I've jumped to my blog.  

For those who have jumped with me, here's the photo I mentioned of the storyboard:

And here's my latest response on Goodreads...

Hi Jack,

I was thinking a bit more about your last question and I realized that if we're talking about process and self-editing, I'm leaving a big hole in the middle... and that is the number of times I see and read each sentence and paragraph before it reaches a manuscript.

For those unfamiliar with timed writing practice, let me explain that most writers use pen and paper. So that means, in terms of style and self-editing, I see and read my scenes aloud after the first write.

Then I see them again as I type and save them. I save them as individual pieces, in appropriate computer folders, and I tend to label them according to the storyboard I have on my writing room wall (here I'd like to insert a picture of the story board, but since I can't figure out how to do that, I'll send you to my blog at to see the storyboard!)

When I have enough scenes to start lacing together a manuscript, I read again as I pull scenes from folders and put them into manuscript form. As the manuscript grows, I read aloud on a regular basis to hear how the story flows.

Though seemingly cumbersome, especially to those who prefer to draft on computer, all of those steps contribute to the self-editing process.

Now, I'm headed to my blog to post that picture of my storyboard. This is for a new novel that is still in the planning stages, so the board is very simple showing only the plot lines. No subplots are currently included. As to the two colors, those represent points of view of the two main characters.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Invitation to Goodreads Q&A

Are you a member of Goodreads?

If not, I hope you’ll consider joining so you can grill me with questions this coming weekend. I’ll be doing a Writer Q&A Friday, April 27 to Sunday, April 29. To participate in the online conversation – and I hope you will! – you need to be a member of Goodreads and of the Writers and Readers group. But it’s simple, painless and free to join both. It only takes a few minutes…

If you’re not yet a member of Goodreads, just go to, click the Join button and follow the on-screen instructions.

Once you’re a member of Goodreads, go to the Writers and Readers group homepage at and you'll see a Join the Group button.

Now that you’re an active member of the Writers and Readers group, you should receive an invitation later this week to participate in a Q&A with yours truly. Hope to “see” you there!

Saturday, April 14, 2012


A normal week, a mid-quarter week, holds at least two timed writing practices. I meet with other writers, set a timer for thirty minutes and let it flow (or trickle or slosh). But not these past two weeks. I whine to my clever friend and dedicated writing partner, Pam Hobart Carter, about my lack of writing, lack of progress on my latest project, lack of time. Pam sends me her sage response: “Many famous and accomplished writers do not write every day. It is a pattern we’ve had touted as if it were the natural and sole road to success. It is only one of the roads.” And I let myself off the hook.

I examine my writing cycle, a cycle that mirrors the three-quarter academic cycle. I write like a maniac during quarter breaks, but when a new quarter begins there are several weeks when I am consumed by work. When I am not writing, I teach. I can say that among writers. At work, I say I write when I’m not teaching. It’s all in where you want to put the emphasis.

A student once asked if I preferred writing or teaching ESL to adult refugees and immigrants. I struggled for an answer. I love both. How could I not? Each quarter I face a tiny United Nations and I get to be Ban Ki-moon, but with greater powers and perhaps more direct, hands on support.

Spring quarter began two weeks ago. Two weeks of dropping and adding and moving the waitlist have passed. Students preregister for these tuition-free college classes, but life changes in a flash for those living on the edge: their boss switches their minimum wage work schedule, a family member falls ill, there’s no money for childcare, there’s a death back home.

I’m teaching two classes this quarter. There are twenty-five students in my 8:00 a.m. class.  Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras. Tonga. Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar. Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia. Iraq and Bulgaria. Twelve nations. In the 11:00 a.m. class there are thirty students. Liberia in West Africa, Morocco to the north, Ethiopia and Somalia to the east. Iraq and Iran. Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, China and Korea. Mexico and El Salvador. Another dozen countries, a few new ones thrown into the mix.

Languages: Arabic, Amharic, Bulgarian, Burmese, Cambodian, Chinese, Farsi, French, Italian, Khmer, Korean, Kunama, Moroccan, Oromo, Somali, Spanish, Swahili, Tigrinya, Tongan, Vietnamese. Twenty languages. Twenty-one when we add English. The number is far greater than the number of home countries because unlike most Americans, these immigrants often speak two or three languages before they arrive on our shores.

How many of us have the privilege of that kind of daily international interaction? I watch and listen as these students negotiate a path begun long ago (or perhaps not so long ago) and faraway when they first made the decision to leave behind all they know and love: home and family, culture and language. Or when that decision was forced upon them by war, violence, famine or religious persecution. All come to America in search of safety and freedom. Concepts that seem to lose their depth of meaning in the complacency of middle class comfort.

As I hear the stumbling conversations, as I look into the eyes behind the veils, as I see the scars, both physical and emotional, I am daily reminded of my amazing good fortune to have the opportunity to work with these survivors. In this tiny microcosm of ages from early twenties to late forties, of educational levels from primary school to university graduates, of religious beliefs and cultural traditions, we build a peaceful community based on a shared goal – to learn the English language. If only all international goals were so unified and all conflict resolution so simple as in my own United Nations. I remember Pam’s words, quiet my whining about finding time to write each day, and enjoy my other life’s work.