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.


#38Write: If You’ve Ever Felt Like a Square Peg in a Round Hole

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 (#38Write) and a group Pinterest board. Lots of good work getting done.

The theme of September’s #38Write workshop was Square Peg, Round Hole? Thirteen writers in 8 countries participated. After reading a number of essays, articles, and blog entries, as well as watching the oh-so-hilarious episode of the “I Love Lucy” show I’ve embedded below, I asked writers to write a couple of pieces, including a short piece about a time in which they either conformed or did not conform to a cultural reality.

Here’s what a handful of the brilliant #38Write writers put on the page:

 Anita | U.S.

Two weeks after starting work at the convent, Sister Mary Alice questioned me about my religion. After taking her medications, she asked “Are you Catholic Anita?”

“No, Sister”

Her wimple framed her sudden frown. “What religion are you?”

I squirmed under her scrutiny. I was raised Methodist but I now follow the Buddhist philosophy. My mind raced through the ramifications of telling Sister Mary Alice of my fall from Christianity. If I told her the whole truth my role would change from being her nurse to being her project, so I told a half-truth. “I was raised Methodist, Sister”.

Fingering her rosary she gave a weak smile. “I’ll pray for you dear.”

I had become a project after-all.

 Meena | U.S.

I landed at La Guardia airport dying to see the gregarious America sculpted by my childhood staples of Archie comics and slapstick sitcoms. It was summer of ’96. The immigration queue labeled ‘Aliens’ was long. Me, the alien waited for my turn that finally was about to come. Before me was an old Indian auntie who spoke little English. She had her papers in order but was finding it hard to understand the official’s question on the length of her stay. Rolling her eyes, the New York official bellowed the question to the helpless auntie. I stepped forward, past the yellow line saying I could help translate. “Ma’am, step back,” barked the lady official. I heard few sniggers behind my back and felt embarrassed. When my turn came to stand by her window I instinctively knew that my entry to USA was going to be unpleasant. She scanned the front, back of my passport and papers. I was invited to offer database programming expertise for an organization that’d sponsored me for 4 months. She then, handed my visa stamped for 3 months. Finding my voice I stated that the program was for 4 months. “You Indians, you are here more than in your own country,” she said insultingly, waving me away. Offended, I pointed to the company letter and said loudly, “Well, an American company invited me. Your country lacks qualified people to do specialized work and that’s why I am here.” It was petty but heck I wasn’t going to take the slur silently. Maybe it was my anger. Or maybe because she wanted to reserve her bullying for another alien, she became quiet, turning her face away.

The friendly Indian auntie standing beyond the counter smiled at me.

Jennifer | S. Korea

Dongjin told me the stories in moments of vulnerability, the two of us alone and intertwined in the black of night. How his father was separated from his parents at the start of the war, his terrible survival, his persecution as the relative of a Communist, the deaths of his wife and first child. I was filled with sympathy for this man I had never met, and fantasized that I could be the perfect daughter-in-law, a balm to him in his old age.

It didn’t last long. I ground my teeth when he told me that women were responsible for happiness in the home. I nodded when he told me to smile more and always speak with a light, pleasant voice. When he blamed a fight he and DongJin had had on my influence, I only bitched to DongJin about it.

But when he started to give me advice about my child I put my foot down. He told me that long-term breastfeeding would create a wimpy, “Momma’s boy.” He accused me of starving Jae because I wouldn’t follow him around and feed him. He told Jae that no one would play with him if he cried. Lacking the ability to argue well in Korean, I ended up lashing back with the same frustrated, dismissive, petulant tones he used to me. Then I’d repent, turning my anger into analysis: He’s taught himself suspicious of happiness; it never lasts. He deals with his anxiety by constantly preparing for disaster. He doesn’t know how to talk to people, he only knows how to command and scold. For a while, the only solution that worked was to pretend I didn’t understand what he was saying.

Ten years later, I still bounce between good intentions and imperfect execution. But I’m proud that Jae can say, “I used to think that Grandfather was nagging me all the time, but now I realize that that’s just how he says he loves me.”

Rocio | Belgium

When I was six years old, I was supposed to go to Morocco with my parents and my brother after Christmas, but I got a fever. My parents decided to leave me with my grandparents and go anyway. I was just enough feverish not to be fit to go, but it was nothing serious. Going to exotic Morocco, wasn’t a prize for me. We used to go very often as we had some relatives there and my parents loved it. The trip was a nightmare, a whole day in the backseat of the car dividing the space in two halves with my brother. This is before highways existed in Andalusia! After almost a day driving, we had to cross the Gibraltar Strait in the ferry for a couple hours, maybe more, and then at the end go to the border and pass the control. And this, too, was long before any electronic passport was in use.

So I was really happy to be left behind and stay. My grandma cooked everyday delicious stuff; even her fixes of Christmas turkey were transformed in amazing homemade cannelloni. I wonder now, if I didn’t fake that fever somehow… But, always a but, I had to accompany my grandparents to church, oh god! I was so nervous before going! Already that young, I knew it, I was a square peg in a round hole, dying to fit in. I had heard at school about god, angels and all the paraphernalia, scary. When we entered the church, I was wishing my grandparents wouldn’t go sit in the firsts rows. All I wanted was for time to go by quickly, me unnoticed; and all I could see were the images of the saints, with those decrepit and melancholic marble faces.

Being in church was hell for me. The mass began. Each and every single part of the ritual, I was absorbed by all the procedures, now stand, now sit, now do the cross… all I wanted was to get it right and all I was imagining was the priest pointing his long thin finger to me, lightnings and thunders accompanying his gesture, and saying out loud: YOU!!!! It was martyrdom. And then the mass finished, I was still there, alive! Back home to a dish of hot cannelloni.

Maria | U.K

I failed miserably at being a free-spirited student during my university years. You know, the kind of student who studies like crazy during many sleepless nights, but who also parties like an animal when the occasion appears. When I was 19, fresh into Journalism school, and for the first time living alone in a flat in Bucharest, all I could think of was getting a job, earning money, and standing on my own two feet. Escaping from under my parents’ tutelage had been my dream since first year of high school. While other freshmen were learning the ropes of how to get from A to B in the Capital, I got my first job—working nights in a media monitoring centre, smoking two, three packs of cigarettes a day and feeling damn grown-up. I seldom attended parties, never took a trip to the mountains with my friends, and didn’t touch alcohol for about three years. Sadly, it also took me almost six months to actually get to know my university colleagues. At a time when I was supposed to learn all about the hot places to hang out in Bucharest and enjoy my longed for freedom, I incarcerated myself in a job, learned the ropes of office politics, and got almost eaten alive by my older, well-versed work colleagues. After the four years of study were up, I suddenly realized what I had missed. And that’s when the bitter taste of regret started eating at me. All I could show for during my college education were a few paychecks, a lot of working week-ends and an untimely coming into adulthood.