Redesigning the Traditional, Boring Reader’s Guide for The Art of Floating

Flüchtlingsfrau mit WägelchenA few weeks ago, I decided to write the reader’s guide to THE ART OF FLOATING myself. Sure, I could have handed off this task to the editorial team at Penguin Random House | Berkley Books, but who knows the book better than me, right?

Anyway, while working on the reader’s guide yesterday, I realized that most reader’s guides included in novels read like those terrible, boring, kill-me-if-I-really-have-to-answer-this-question literature guides teachers used to pass out in high school English class. Ugh! As I read through example after example, I tore most of my hair out.

Books rock! They’re fun, funny, heartbreaking, scary-as-shit, chock-full of words, energy, crazy-ass characters, unusual plot lines, death, birth, love, sex, and all kinds of great stuff. Right?

So why in the world are the reader’s guides that accompany them so damn boring? Most sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher reading obituaries out loud.

Therefore, I am writing a new kind of reader’s guide for THE ART OF FLOATING…one that matches the voice, tone, and verve of the book. I want book groups and classes and individual readers to have an f’in blast hashing out the whys and wherefores of this story I spent nearly 5 years writing…whether or not they love the book (fingers crossed) or hate it (inevitable for a few).


No idea whether my editor will buy into my creation, but fingers crossed for that, too.



Confession: I am officially THAT writer…

Confession: I am officially THAT writer…a strung-out mom who is working a fulfilling but demanding full-time job who has a book coming out and who is trying like hell to get the next one written.

But you know what? I love it. I’m loving my new daytime gig (director of publications & editor of the alumni magazine at Phillips Academy); I love (LOVE!) that Penguin Random House|Berkley Books is publishing my new novel (THE ART OF FLOATING) in April 2014; and despite the fact that writing another new novel is like venturing into the jungle without shoes, water, a match, a map, or moisturizer, I’m loving that, too.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, my hair looks like hell most days because, honestly, spending an hour taming my crazy locks is the thing that gives. And, no, I don’t sleep a whole lot (thus, the sizable bags I’m dragging around under my eyes). But you know, I wouldn’t trade a piece of it.

Raise your hand if you can relate!

(besides, I take a wee bit of comfort in the fact that on most days, despite horrid neglect, my hair looks slightly better than that of this poor woman)


Taking My Own Writing Advice: For Pete’s Sake, Make Something Happen!

Working on new novel at ungodly hours of the morning. Now following advice I give writing students when a story stalls. FOR PETE’S SAKE, MAKE SOMETHING HAPPEN! So relinquishing control, I just let a character hop on a scooter in Shanghai w/ a guy she never met. She’s looking for _____; he said the magic words. Oy. What could go wrong? He was smiley, after all.

On Process: Writing & Faith in the Invisible

I’ve got one novel published & out in the world (Thirsty, Swallow Press, 2009); I’ve got one novel in the publishing pipeline (The Art of Floating, Berkley Books/Penguin, 2014); I’m now writing the third. Here’s what’s happening in my writerhead world.

I don’t understand very much at all about the novel I’m writing. I’m just putting my head down, telling the stories that come to me, and trusting that some day on some page in some draft down the road, the women—who all go to Shanghai for one reason or another—will feel so familiar to me that I will believe we had coffee at Starbucks earlier in the week or that I remember meeting each one at Jamaica Blue on Wulumuqi Road in 2010. Or maybe it was 2009. It’s a funny thing to trust in the invisible, to have such faith in the imagined, to believe that this is creativity, not pure insanity.

Hiatus: #38Write Writing Workshops

Last week I announced awesome-blossom news (novel!), and today I’m announcing some not so awesome-blossom news. Due to current insane life pressures (mamahood, job, writing, book coming out, tightrope-walker, etc.), I’ve decided to put #38Write writing workshops on hold for a while.

I know, I know! Boo on me!

I’m just having a hard impossible time not falling off the tightrope, and I need to get a little balance back in my life. As all of you know, helping writers grow, sharing my love for culture and place, and connecting the world via story is one of my great passions, so I’ve not come to this decision lightly.

But don’t worry. I’m hoping to be back in kick-arse workshop mode soon!

In the meantime, get into writerhead as often as possible, write your bloody hearts out, and then write some more.




Gumbo Put Me Into Writerhead

Here’s the tweet that put me into writerhead today:

Heard! Gumbo is a philosophy says @Wyntonmarsalis over @poppyt pot of gumbo for @CBSSunday @paigekk (via @garnerla)

How brilliantly inspirational is that?

“Gumbo is a philosophy.”

If I had time (and oh, I wish I had time), I’d run with that line.

But for today, I’ll have to be satisfied that I got into writerhead, even if it wasn’t followed by writing.


Writerhead Wednesday: Changes Comin’ Round

For the last year and a half or so, I’ve started most Wednesdays with this:

“Welcome to Writerhead Wednesday, a weekly feature in which a brilliant, charming, remarkable author talks about her/his writerhead…a precious opportunity for looky-loos around the world to sneak into the creative noggins of talented writers and (ever so gently) muck about.”

file000255302390As we move into 2013, that’s going to change. While I’ll still feature cool authors’ writerheads from time to time AND I’ll still (always & forever) be writing and speaking about writerhead, Writerhead Wednesday is no longer going to be a weekly feature.

I know, I know. I’m going to miss it every week, too. But I’m feeling the need for less structure on this blog and more freestyle. After a year and a half of Mojo Monday, Writerhead Wednesday, and #38Write Fridays, I’m moving away from such a regimented schedule. I’ve got lots to share about writerhead, #38Write, global writing communities, books, inspirational stuff, and more. I’m creating the space and place for me to talk with you about whatever is bubbling. And there’s so much a’bubbling.

[Please note that I am looking for a new home for a Writerhead column. If you are an editor (or if you know an editor) of an online literary journal, I’d love to talk with you about offering Writerhead as a dynamic feature. Please get in touch.]

See you soon!

Mission Inspiration: This F’ing Hunger: #2

Here’s what I confessed on Facebook last night:

“Confession: I’m in one of those periods when I’m ready to chuck it all—teaching, eating, showering, blogging, Tweeting, trimming my toenails, etc.—to write.”

You! You’ve felt this, too, haven’t you? This f’ing hunger.


#38Write: The Oct/Nov Writing Workshop Is Open for Registration

#38Write—my global writing initiative—is a monthly series of online writing adventure workshops for place-passionate, culturally curious writers around the world. Each writing adventure focuses on one particular aspect of craft or the writing life (for example, writing kick-butt descriptions), and during each 38-hour adventure, writers connect with me and #38Write writers around the world via a Twitter hashtag and a group Pinterest board. In the September workshop, we had 13 writers in 8 countries.

The *October/November #38Write writing workshop is open for registration!




November 3–4.


$38 (U.S.)

How to register?

Easy peasy. Click over to the CLASSES pages.


#38Write is a writing adventure workshop designed specifically for place-passionate, culturally curious writers that will get you out of your house—no matter where you live—and into your environs.

In June, I launched the first #38Write online writing adventure with #38Write | Description.

In July, I continued with #38Write | Structure, which went forth with 16 writers in 9 countries. One of the assignments for that workshop was to define culture without using a dictionary, thesaurus, or other reference tool. It sparked some pretty spectacular definitions (read them here) and a lively conversation on Twitter.

And in August, 16 writers in 8 countries participated in #38Write | Peregrination. Though the writers are still nursing their blisters, they wrote some pretty amazing pieces about walks that connected them culturally to places. (Read those here.)

Most recently, in September, 13 writers in 8 countries explored experiences when they either fit in or didn’t fit in during #38Write | Square Peg, Round Hole? (You can read a few of their short pieces here.)


  • Each writing adventure is 38 hours long. It’s a manageable amount of time that fits into anyone’s busy schedule. (Good gracious, no, you will not be writing or adventuring for 38 hours straight. I’m ambitious for you, but not crazy. You will need approximately 2-4 hours to work during the 38-hour period…give or take an hour.)
  • Each writing adventure will focus on one particular aspect of craft or the writing life. You will not be writing an entire essay or short story (but you might accidentally do so). Some adventures will focus on a skill, like writing kick-butt descriptions; others might get you to look at what inspires you or how you move from idea to writing; all will encourage you to engage with and explore the culture in which you’re living.
  • During each 38-hour period, you’ll be able to connect with me and #38Write writers around the world via a Twitter hashtag. (How cool is that?!)
  • You will get feedback from me. (For more info about me, click here.)
  • Terrific for folks writing fiction, essays, memoir, or poetry.
  • Beginners and experienced writers are welcome and encouraged to join. There are some of each (and everything in between) in every workshop.
  • It’s affordable. A single #38Write writing adventure costs only $38 (U.S.).


While living, writing, and teaching writing in the U.S. and Shanghai, I learned (and/or relearned) a number of things:

    1. Each of us has a heck of a lot to learn from folks in other countries (and not usually the things we think we need to learn).
    2. Story is an international conversation that can help us better understand one another.
    3. By helping writers from all over the world to improve their craft, I can play a wee role in facilitating this global conversation.
    4. Writing is recursive. You must practice. (And if I do say so myself, I’m pretty darn good at getting writers to practice.)


#38Write adventures are designed for all place-passionate writers, including expats and repats, globetrotters, armchair travelers, nomads, cultural spelunkers, deeply rooted souls, mapmakers and mapbreakers, wanderers and wayfarers, voyagers, and all writers interested in exploring and writing about their environs.

So, yup, if you’re asking, #38Write is probably for you.

To learn more and sign up for #38Write | Habits, visit CLASSES.


*Yes, this particular workshop is a combo…Oct/Nov. I’ve got something special planned for December so I needed to double up on these two months.