Plug: Lemon Reef

Today I want to plug my friend Robin Silverman’s new novel, Lemon Reef (Bold Strokes Books, 2012).

I met Robin in a writing workshop a few years ago, when she was working on this love story-cum-mystery about two adolescent girls. Now thirty, protagonist Jenna Ross learns that her ex-lover, Del, has died of a heart attack while scuba diving in Florida. Jenna goes back to Miami for the funeral and ends up mired in a messy situation indeed. The story is about friendship, love, domestic violence, and loyalty, and it is a hit. When I met Robin I remember thinking she had an idea with a lot of promise. Having just finished this book, I find that she not only has a juicy and exciting plot but a sad and very real story about two people bound for life by their love for one another.

If you’re interested in watching an interview with Robin, here’s one.

And if you’re in Massachusetts, it looks like Robin will be reading from her book at BSB’s Women’s Week Events in Provincetown. Learn more here.

Happy reading!



As some of you may remember from this post on popcorn a few months back, I planned to take a writer’s retreat this fall. And, like some of my goals, I managed to achieve it this past weekend, when I went to a spot near Monterey, California, for a two-day intensive writing retreat.

This is the stack of materials I brought with me: some memoirs for inspiration and laughs, some books on writing, some old notes, some old manuscripts.

Getting away with my laptop, my books, and my bad self felt like the best thing I’ve done for myself all year. I knew it would be all too tempting, on a weekend without my kid in a beautiful setting, to watch movies on my computer, take all-day walks, and read trashy magazines, so I set some clear guidelines: I would write as much as I could. When I needed a break, I would walk by the ocean. I would relax with a glass of wine on my balcony every night. I would get plenty of sleep. And I would shut off any voices of dissent or discouragement, focusing only on putting down what needed to get put down.

Saturday dawned very gray and foggy, and I’d not slept well since the room I was in was too close to a couple of loud parties. So, I requested to be moved, and landed in a corner room with a fireplace. I set up my stuff, turned on the computer, lit a fire, and wrote for about five hours without stopping.

The work itself.

Later, I wrote some more. And then I read, by turns, Bill Bryson’s Neither Here nor There and Alice Sebold’s Lucky. One reminded me to take myself seriously. One reminded me that a little levity is good.

The next day, I did it all again.

I think the best part of the weekend was how easy it was once I’d stopped making such a big deal out of it all and just got started. After all, I have been writing this book for going on six years, and the reason I wanted to go away was to tie up the last loose ends, establish theme, make sure all the threads were drawn tight. Of course there were moments I got stuck, and moments I faltered, but in general I managed to just do what I set out to do. First day, I wrote a five-page…thing—telling myself it would either serve as a prologue or as something to be chopped up and put lots of different places. Prologue, I decided when it was done. And then, using that as a foundation, a kind of well of source material, I drew big stitches, like in one of those cardboard kids’ games with a picture on the front and large holes in it with a shoelace attached. I need to go here now, I’d think, and reference this source material. Now here. Stitch.

Stitch here. Then here. Now here. Stitch, stitch, stitch.


I’ve decided to start a new weekly feature (call me ambitious) on my blog called “Plugs.”

With Plugs I will do quick notes about things I’m “plugging”–writing contests, new books I’m enjoying, anything I want to recommend to YOU, readers. Know that I have no official sponsor, and no particular allegiance, but I DO love to advertise my friends’ work.

So here is today’s plug. My friend, writer Charles McLeod, sent me this great opportunity for California writers who have been published in the last 18 months to be in an anthology (I realize this may only apply to a handful of folks; sadly, it does not currently apply to me). Check it out.

Incidentally, you’ll notice that the small press who is putting together this anthology, Outpost 19, is also the one I plugged a few months ago, because they published Charles’s book and also Loud Memories of A Quiet Life by Tom Molanphy, which I blogged about here.

Do you have a writing opportunity/book/something you want me to plug? Email me/comment here and I just might mention it. No promises, but I’ll do my best.



Tara Conklin Interviews Writer Oonah Joslin (on popcorntheblog!)

I am a part of a wonderful collective blog by a group of women who write in the West and Northwest. Popcorntheblog has musings on all things writerly, from summer reading lists to craft issues to advice. Today on popcorn, Tara Conklin interviews writer Oonah Joslin, whose work was featured recently in an anthology called Pangea: Stories from Around the Globe, about her writing habits, the need for a writing community, and what comes next.





Readers’ Picks Memoirs

I was thrilled that my last post, Must-Read Memoirs, was Freshly Pressed and that so many folks piped up with kind and insightful comments–especially because the post was an easy one for me to write; who doesn’t like to talk about their favorite books? That, of course, is what this blog is all about: bits and pieces about all things literary. If you’re a parent or just like to read ruminations on parenting, you can also check me out at Momming.

The best thing about my last post, though, was the incredible list of memoirs generated by YOU, readers. What a list–cut and pasted into a Word document, it’s four pages long. Suggestions included rock n’ roll memoirs, travel memoirs, memoirs about marriage, love, and commitment, memoirs of childhoods difficult, eccentric, and charmed, memoirs of addiction and recovery, memoirs of political and personal persecution, Holocaust memoirs, spiritual memoirs–even one or two written by readers. So without further ado, here is the list of your memoir suggestions, condensed, at random, into one easy-to-read (and long–92, to be exact) list.

Readers’ Picks:

Just As I Am, Rev. Billy Graham

Please Stop Laughing at Me, Jodee Blanco

Running with Scissors, Augusten Burroughs

Finding Mañana, Mirta Ojito

In the Shadow of Freedom, Tchicaya Missamou

Some Girls: My Life in a Harem, Jillian Lauren

A Mighty Long Way, Carlotta Walls LaNier

Don’t Lets Go To The Dogs Tonight and Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, Alexandra Fuller

When a Crocodile Eats the Sun, Peter Godwin

Malled: My Unintentional Career In Retail, Caitlin Kelly (thanks for reading, Caitlin!)

Google Images

Scar Tissue, Anthony Keidis

On Writing, Stephen King

My Life, Marlene Dietrich

The Importance Of Music To Girls, Lavinia Greenlaw

The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, Bronnie Wares

Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom

Mao’s Last Dancer, Li Cunxin

Babylon’s Ark, Lawrence Anthony

Postcards from the Edge, Carrie Fisher

Born Standing Up, Steve Martin

Lit, Cherry, and Liar’s Club, Mary Karr

Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, Nick Flynn

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Jenny Lawson

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal, Jeanette Winterson

Signs of Life, Natalie Taylor

Bossypants, Tina Fey

Slow Love: How I Lost My Job, Put On My Pajamas & Found Happiness, Dominique Browning

51/50: The Magical Adventures of a Single Life, Kristen McGuiness

Traveling With Pomegranates, Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor

A Girl Named Zippy, Haven Kimmel

Autobiography of a Face, Lucy Grealy

Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me With Apples, Ruth Reichl

Google Images

An Autobiography, Agatha Christie

Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter and The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir

Mircea Eliade’s autobiography

Olga: A Daughter’s Tale, Marie Campbell (thanks for reading, Marie!)

Somewhere Toward the End, Diana Athill

 When I Fell From The Sky, Juliane Koepcke

 Geisha, a Life/Geisha of Gion, Mineko Iwasaki

Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela

Piece of Cake, Cupcake Brown

A Thousand Farewells, Nahlah Ayed

‘Tis and Teacher Man, Frank McCourt

A Three Dog Life, Abigail Thomas

The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank

My Maasai Life, Robin Wiszowaty

Google Images

The Boy in the Moon, Ian Brown

The Color of Water, James McBride

Committed, Elizabeth Gilbert

One More Time: A Memoir, Carol Burnett

The White Masai, Corinne Hoffman

My Lobotomy, Howard Dully

Between A Rock and A Hard Place, Aron Ralston

Life, On The Line: A Chef’s Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat, Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas

White Heat, Marco Pierre White

The Rings of Saturn, W.G. Sebald

The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to his White Mother, James McBride

Let’s Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship, Gail Caldwell

Swinging on the Garden Gate, Elizabeth J Andrew

A Stolen Life, Jaycee Lee Dugard

Night, Elie Wiesel

The Sunflower, Simon Weisenthal

A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway

Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell

The diaries of Anaïs Nin

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou

Google Images

Why I’m Like This, Cynthia Kaplan

For Your Eye Alone: The Letters of Robertson Davies

I Am Ozzy, Ozzy Osborne

Chronicles, Bob Dylan

Light My Fire, Ray Manzarek

Lakota Woman, Mary Crow Dog

Where White Men Fear to Tread, Russell Means

Black Elk: Sacred Ways of a Lakota, Wallace Black Elk

Songs My Mother Taught Me, Marlon Brando

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, Rhoda Janzen

Holy Ghost Girl, Donna Johnson

Letters to Sam: A Grandfather’s Lessons on Love, Loss, and the Gifts of Life, Daniel Gottlieb

Tell Me Never, Janine Shepherd

Don’t Ever Tell: Kathy’s Story: A True Tale of a Childhood Destroyed by Neglect and Fear, Kathy O’Beirne

Shame, Jasvinder Sanghera

Orphan of Islam, Alexander Khan

Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris

Google Images

Boy, Roald Dahl

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver

Maiden Voyage, Tania Aebi

Other author recommendations: Haven Kimmel, Samantha Bee, Michael Perry.

And my favorite comment came from this reader:

“Not just memoirs, but diaries. I have shelves of ‘em, not just Pepys and Evelyn and Anne Frank, but Frances Partridge, the last of the Bloomsberries, Alan Clark, philandering British MP, Klemperer in Nazi Germany, and so many other irresistible windows into real lives as they happen…”

Thanks for reading, everyone!


Must-Read Memoirs

Roz Chast cartoon from the August 13 & 20, 2012 issue of The New Yorker

Having just finished Cheryl Strayed’s excellent memoir Wild (Knopf 2012), I’ve been thinking about all the great memoirs I’ve read in the past five years, since I started reading personal narrative accounts in earnest. It’s not news that in the past ten years or so memoirs have made a huge surge in popularity. What was once a genre of dry, summarized accounts of the lives of famous people or family members has become a juicy canon of life stories that often follow novel-style trajectories. Memoirs have become so ubiquitous it’s impossible not to wonder why we’re drawn to these personal accounts, most with intimate details we once might have blushed to read about. Is this another sign of our penchant for oversharing (via Facebook, Twitter, etc.)? Maybe. But I’m less cynical about it: I think we love memoirs because our understanding of humanity is enhanced by personal accounts of hardship, failure, tragedy, love, and success. Maybe true stories hold the most weight and teach us the most about who we are.

I know that’s true for me. Since a writing teacher a few years back suggested I start reading as many memoirs as I could, I’ve had one on my shelf at all times. Here are a few of the ones that stayed with me the most, my list of “must-reads” (in no particular order).

1. Angela’s Ashes, by Frank McCourt. Maybe someone has done a better job writing about coming of age in extreme poverty in Ireland in the mid 1900s, but not that I’m aware of. A beautiful, beautiful book.

2. Lucky, by Alice Sebold. Once you read Lucky you learn the source of all of Sebold’s demons. A graphic violent event in the first few pages might hold you to your chair; I believe I started to sob, threw the book across the floor, then went and picked it up and finished reading.

3. Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert. Hugely best-selling, this memoir has of course also been raked over the coals by many (Eat, Pray, Shit I heard someone call it the other day). I put this book on my list because I think Gilbert manages to capture the very real societal pressures that thirty-something American women feel to conform to marriage, child-rearing, and a certain life path. I think of it as a quiet memoir of rebellion—and she’s funny, too.

4. The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls. Just great. It details a childhood so shocking, at times you just have to shake your head.

5. This Boy’s Life, by Tobias Wolff. Wolff may be the most controlled prose writer I have read. This is an example of a memoir that’s nothing but the facts. And the facts are intense.

6. The Burn Journals, by Brent Runyon. I loved this memoir about a troubled kid trying to clown his way through a disfiguring depression. I first heard part of this memoir on This American Life.

7.Truth & Beauty, by Ann Patchett. An interesting memoir because it isn’t about the author as much as it is about her dear friendship with the late writer Lucy Grealy. Incidentally, Grealy’s own memoir, Autobiography of a Face, is on my to-read list.

Some memoirs I have known

8. The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion. Inimitably Didion, this memoir is one of the quintessential memoirs of grief and death. Her sequel, Blue Nights, was for me (and for many critics) much less successful.

And if you get through those, you might try Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses by Claire Dederer; Made for You and Me, by Caitlin Shetterly; Expecting Adam: A True Story of Birth, Rebirth, and Everyday Magic, by Martha Beck; The Only Girl in the Car, by Kathy Dobie; Stop-Time, by Frank Conroy; and The Bill from My Father, by Bernard Cooper.

Does anyone else read memoir? If so, what are your favorites?

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