Monday, August 2, 2010

Special Event: Babylon Series with Ayelet Waldman and Juliet S. Kono

On Saturday, September 11, Babylon Salon presents authors Ayelet Waldman and Juliet S. Kono. Waldman is the author of the recently-released Red Hook Road and the bestseller Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace. Kono is the author of the new novel Anshu; two poetry collections, Hilo Rains and Tsunami Years; and in 2006 won the Hawaii Award for Literature. Also featuring performances by Cynthia Robinson, Evan Karp, and Cheston Knapp, editor of Tin House. Cantina SF (580 Sutter Street), 7 PM. See

Monday, November 16, 2009

Anne Lamott and the Writing Mamas

The Writing Mamas of Marin hosted a wonderful literary evening with author Anne Lamott on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2009 in Sausalito at the gorgeous Christ Church. It was another quarterly installation of the Mama Monologues, a charity event run by Dawn Yun in which a few of the "writing mamas" plus a special guest "writing mama" -- in this case, Anne Lamott -- face the audience to read (or perform) their tall tales on motherhood... like it really is.

These tales from the trenches of mommydom, as told by eight of the writing mamas, made up the opening act in the first hour. Each reader told a quick three to four-minute story that ripped giggles through the audience, yet delivered a satisfying depth or intelligence beyond the humor. Subjects included PMS, birthing, marriage, meditation, pubic hair, jealousy-riddled Google searching and the misinterpretation of a child's drawing (are those boobs or buttons?). Sorry, guys. This was definitely ladies night -- although the men that did show up, I'm sure, learned a useful thing or two.

Although the readers delivered natural, easy performances that entertained, it was all just the warm up. The cream of the evening was the second hour, driven entirely by the raw honesty, remarkable talent and delightful wit of author Anne Lamott. She is such a charismatic and natural story-teller. Standing before us and sharing her life story in this intimate setting gave the feeling that we were sitting around a campfire, warming our insides with wine, while listening, enthralled, to Lamott unfold the stories of her life growing up and as a writer. She does speak like her books read! Showing us pain we could laugh to.

At one point Lamott asked us if we wanted to hear her read a chapter (and she was poised with book open, ready to do that) or hear her life story. We voted for the latter. So she gave it to us. I can't remember all she said, of course, as she spoke about her now 20-year-old son Sam becoming a father a few months ago, and growing up in Marin, and drugs, and getting drunk, and becoming sober, and becoming a writer, and sending dreadful stories to her father's agent, and so on. But I did manage to jot down a few quotes that made me laugh or think:

"You don't really know how damaged you are until you're a parent."

"I'm counting every day to get less done... because you don't want to wake up realizing that you spent 40 years multi-tasking."

"I'm a black-belt co-dependent."

"You have the ability to write, so you sit down and do it."  (Lamott said she NEVER feels like writing but she has trained herself to sit down at the same time every day and do it.)

About writing "Bird by Bird," Lamott said that she was so easily overwhelmed. So much so she didn't think she could write a novel, but realized "you could write a novel if you write a small piece at a time. ...and then weave [the pieces] together."

Sorry I didn't capture more for you, or something perhaps more salient. Frankly, I was enjoying the wine and the stories too much to pause and actually write something down. So take note: If you have the opportunity to see Anne Lamott speak, especially so candidly and authentically as she did on this evening with us, I recommend you jump at it. You will feel either at the campfire or alone on your couch propped up by an elbow, reading one of her marvelous books.

Also look out for future Mama Monologues (info at, because they're almost always an intimate, behind the scenes affair with the guest author.

Photo credit: AP Photo/ Nati Harnik

Friday, September 11, 2009

Kemble Scott on Non-Traditional Publishing

by Cindy Bailey 9.11.09

I went to see Kemble Scott read from his second novel, The Sower, at Kepler's in Menlo Park the other night, and it was a treat. Kemble Scott is a pioneer in - how do I put it - discovering nontraditional, cutting edge methods of publishing and succeeding tremendously with them. He's also a skilled novelist of course (his first novel, SoMa, became a best-seller and was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award), an Internet Marketing guru, and just a really nice, approachable guy. He's hugely supportive of fellow writers and graciously, generously shares his marketing/publishing secrets.

On the night of his reading, he shared the story of how his second novel came to be, and that may have been just as intriguing to fellow writers as the actual story in the novel (which is a kind of thriller!). Let me see if I can encapsulate it accurately: after the success of his first novel (and he's got some great stories about that), he decided to team up with a company called Scribd to bring out his second novel as a DIGITAL book! Scrbd was/is getting 60 million unique users a month, mostly college students (Kemble defined them as the "YouTube" of the written word.)

As one of the first official authors to do this with Scribd, he got a ton of media attention - just explosive. The idea behind the PR was "democratization of the media;" that writers no longer have to put up with waiting 18 months to see their book in print after acceptance to the publisher (or even have to be accepted by a publisher!!), and then have to wait another year or so to even know how many books they've sold (because pubs are not required to tell, he says), and then wait even longer to get paid from those sales! No, readers could have their books in hand (or on their screen or printer) right away. Scribd lets you know the second you make a sale, so you can adjust your marketing tactics--and even change your book jacket copy!--instantaneously to attract better sales. You don't have to wait years to get paid, either!

But do people read e-books? According to Kemble, everyone is different and has their own choice about how they read: someone only reads e-books, another won't touch them, another will read e-books on his/her iPhone while commuting, but a paper version at bedtime. There is a market and it is growing.

This story doesn't end there, however, for Kemble's second novel. After all the media attention, within a month (I believe; I have to verify timing), Kemble got offers from traditional publishers to print his digital book as a regular hardback book. What did he do? Something once again nontraditional. In Kemble's novel, he creates an alternative present day (it's today, but George Bush has been elected to a third term for example), and Kemble makes many references to modern day icons, such as Susan Boyle from Britain's Got Talent. Those icons might be forgotten by the time his book is published in hardback 18 months down the line. So he picked a small publisher who cranked out those books in a record 29 days!! Isn't that amazing? And to show support for independent bookstores, for this first edition hardback, you can only find it at independent stores, which is where he's making his reading/speaking engagements too.

That is just such a neat story. Love it! Looking forward to reading the other story (his novel).

Some links:

Some press on this: NYT, East Bay
The book: The Sower
About Kemble Scott.

Come visit us sometime at LitRave.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Author Ethan Watters Delivers

by Cindy Bailey, 3.31.09

As you may know, I belong to a vibrant writing salon called the Writing Mamas (, which meets at Book Passage in Corte Madera. We have guest speakers every month and our most recent one was author and San Francisco Grotto co-founder, Ethan Watters.

I come to the talk filled with preconceptions and expectations. In my intimate circle of writers, he’s famous—not only as an author and magazine writer, but as an accessible, patient, nurturing teacher and mentor. Writer friends rave about him, and finally I get to meet him!

There he was on deadline for a book (due in 10 days!), yet he took time off to come talk to us. And not just to rip thoughts off the top of his head, either. Oh, no! He came prepared, with a stack of detailed notes, a gorgeous sample query (by Todd Oppenheimer for his first ever piece in The New Yorker), and a genius, witty sample book proposal (by Mary Roach for her now famous book, Spook).

In his casual, approachable manner, he engaged us with insider information and tips on the business of writing magazine articles and books, asking us targeted questions, answering our own questions, and reading from the aforementioned samples along the way.

Here’s just a smidgen of the hot stuff he gave up:

The four main goals of a query letter (to a magazine) are:

· Get the magazine to say “Yes”

· Show that you’re the one to write it

· Sell the editor on your writing skills

· Develop a relationship with the editor

I can honestly say, I don’t often think of the fourth item because I’m so focused on the first, and I can see what a mistake that is! The ultimate goal, Ethan says, is to develop a long-term relationship with the editor.

Another hot tip: when you call the editor to check on the status of your query, if the editor says “No,” be ready to pitch him or her something else.

Another: editors almost never get back to you. You have to call them, and Ethan suggests calling about 10 days later.

I took down pages of insider notes. If you want in, I highly recommend taking Ethan’s nonfiction writing class, which he teaches at the SF Writers’ Grotto. One of my writer friends has taken his class three times, she loves it that much. Click here for more info: Classes start soon! April 13, 2009.

Ethan’s bio (from the SF Writers' Grotto site):Ethan Watters is a co-founder of the San Francisco Writers' Grotto. His most recent book is Urban Tribes: Are Friends the New Family? He's written for many of national magazines including New York Times Magazine, Spin, Discover, Details, Men Journal, Mother Jones, GQ, and Esquire. He has written two previous books about recovered memory therapy and the mental health profession. The movie rights for Urban Tribes have been optioned by Ira Glass and are in development for a feature film at Warner Bros. Currently, he is working on a book about evolutionary medicine.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

A Girlfriend's Best Weekend Retreat

By Cindy Bailey 4.18.08

At the start of the year, I set some ambitious writing goals and got a good head start on them. Then February happened. My whole family got sick, and all that could go wrong did. Needless to say, the writing didn't get done.

Lucky for me, I had planned to spend the first weekend in March at a women's writing retreat in South Lake Tahoe. Created and run by Jennifer Basye Sander—author, book packager, and publishing consultant extraordinaire—Write By The Lake, her intimate, four-person retreat, turned out to be the oasis of calm I desperately needed.

It was all Jennifer had promised, and more. Late night chats by the fire with a bottle of red wine? Yep, that happened. Walks by the side of the lake? Yep, we did that. A quiet room of ones own to focus and write? Definitely! Access to a publishing guru who can give feedback, advice, and answer questions? Most definitely! Delicious meals? Absolutely! I'm talking lobster ravioli one night, roasted chicken another, fresh split-pea soup and sandwiches for lunch, homemade bread, plus a trip to the local café for Sunday breakfast.

But what made this retreat supremely successful in my view was a combination of the setting, the company, and the way the retreat was run.

Jennifer's gorgeous, comfortable three-bedroom cabin just a couple blocks from the lake provided the setting. Each woman got her own bedroom with either a double or single bed and a basic, clutter-free desk at which to write. (This is huge .) The atmosphere was peaceful, quiet, and inspirational.

Perfect. But what really blew me away was the company. I got to spend the weekend with three talented, accomplished women—women who wrote magazine articles, produced Emmy-award winning television, and authored numerous books among them.

Together, we told stories, personal and professional; cheered and supported each other; and exchanged tips on career and craft. We shared this collective, creative energy that I found both intoxicating and empowering.

A lot of this success was due to Jennifer and the way she ran the retreat, with a perfect balance of structure and flexibility; encouraging discipline, while also accommodating play time.

From the start, Jennifer, a self-described happy, chatty person, got us talking about our backgrounds and holding us to task. This is how the retreat ran:

We met near Sacramento to carpool with Jennifer. Upon arriving at the cabin, we unpacked, had a snack, and went for a walk. Before dinner, Jennifer had invited a guest and neighbor, Barbara Curtis, a former book representative, to share her experiences about the book business while we sat by the fire with wine.

After a tasty dinner, Jennifer handed out packets, and we agreed as a group to get up around seven the next morning and start writing by nine.

After an informal breakfast the following day, we gathered in the living room with our packets. First Jennifer had us pull out a one-page contract on which we had to write what we promised to complete by the end of the retreat, and sign it.

Our packets also included a number of “writing prompts,” a sentence or two that starts a story we would complete as a timed writing exercise. We did two of these, and then (voluntarily) read what we had written. What we came up with on the spot impressed us all, and you could really hear the differences in our styles.

After that, we each disappeared into our rooms. Complete silence descended and we wrote for three hours until we naturally convened in the kitchen for lunch, around noon.

After lunch, we chatted and told more stories. We took a walk to a local store, and then returned to the cabin for another three-hour writing session before dinner, wine, and more gabbing by the fire.

All of us accomplished our writing goal by Saturday evening, and so we decided to use Sunday morning to share our work and get each other's feedback, which proved very productive.

After lunch, we packed and left.

It was such a fabulous, energizing retreat. I would do it every weekend if I could get away with it. I'd get more work done and have more fun doing it than at home with all the distractions screaming at me.

On the car ride back, I felt what one of the writers expressed: “I'm sad that it's ending because I know with the kids and job and everything else, I won't have time to do this again for a while.”

We all exchanged contact information, and parted. I left with fantastic, new friends and enough uplifting, creative energy to keep me persevering on my writing goals—despite whatever awaited me at home.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Mama Monologues and Truth Telling

By Cindy Bailey 3.26.08
Photo by Dilyara Breyer

If you want to hear essays that are raw, edgy, touching, hilarious, outrageous, and truly alive , then you have got to get yourself to one of these Mama Monologues put on by the Writing Mamas Salon. Motherhood never sounded like this before! These talented writers—who also happen to be moms ranging in age from their twenties to their seventies—are telling it like it is, and the result will blow you away, I swear.

Last Saturday evening, March 15, the Writing Mamas Salon presented their latest installment of Mama Monologues, entitled, “Motherhood and Mindfulness,” with special guest, Sylvia Boornstein , co-founder of Spirit Rock and best-selling author of Happiness Is an Inside Job . Book Passage and Spirit Rock also supported the event, which was a fundraiser for spiritual guides, Stephen and Ondrea Levine, who are struggling with medical challenges. Suggested entry donation was $20.

More than 60 people (including men!) packed the gorgeous hall of the Christ Episcopal Church in the hills of Sausalito to hear 20 writers and the guest speaker read from their work.

I was captivated not only by the content of the stories, but also by the variety of voices and styles, and the performance-like delivery these women gave. The evening was electric—and I'm not just saying this because I also happen to be a member of the Writing Mamas. Others in the audience felt it too. My only criticism is that, at three hours, the event ran a little too long.

Dawn Yun , founder of the Writing Mamas and an accomplished author herself, emceed the event. Here are some highlights:

In the story, “My Indiscretions,” Mindy Uhrlaub —a filmmaker who used to be in a rock band that opened for the Smashing Pumpkins—bemoans the loss of her sex life against the overwhelming duties of childcare, which she refers to as “slavery.” Uhrlaub admits that at the end of the day, “the bed is more appealing than what [her and her husband] might do in it.” Because she's horny at noon when her husband's at work, she begins an affair with a cowboy, meeting him at a local motel in the middle of the day. We're enthralled and uncomfortable until we learn that the cowboy is her husband.

Jennifer Gunter had us laughing out loud at her outrageous story, “Designer Vagina.” As an OB doctor, she's seen it all. Her hilarious essay reports on something that apparently is all the rage: injecting collagen in—and having plastic surgery on—your vagina. “There are two ways you can react to this: the first is, What the fuck?” Gunter goes on to say she understands plastic surgery if, say, “your labia has to be rolled up like Dumbo ears and tucked into your underwear.” She has less sympathy for younger women who are looking for a new aesthetic.

Not only was the material side-splitting, but Gunter's delivery was punch line perfect.

Lorrie Golden , a psychotherapist whose essays have been heard on NPR, opened her humorous essay, “Gratitude,” with the following: “This gratitude craze bugs the shit out of me.” What followed was not a rant, but an intelligent, honest look at what it means to have to be grateful all the time. “Life without cynicism and darkness is depressing,” Golden quipped. We laughed hysterically, but also found depth and meaning in her words.

Avvy Mar , a psychologist who's completing a memoir, read her incredibly moving story, “Impermanence,” which was about her realizing in a flashing moment that the life she had before was gone. That moment came to Mar in the hospital while waiting for her newborn to be checked out, and realizing it was taking too long, that something was wrong. Mar's beautiful, lyrical writing never fails to touch deeply. Wow!

After the readers, guest speaker, Sylvia Boornstein , took to the stage and enlightened us with her knowledge and spirituality. She told a classic Buddhist story, read from her book, and had us join her in a short, beautiful meditation. A peaceful ending to a lively evening.

Here were the evening's other readers:

Jennifer O'Shaughnessy read “Smooth Satisfaction,” a story about her husband's idea of a romantic weekend being to sand the deck

Shannon Matus-Takaoka read “You Know What Really Annoys Me About Toothpaste?” a smart, humorous piece about indecision

Lianna McSwain read “Jellyfish,” which was about her husband's insight of his son as a jellyfish

Kristy Lund read “Breathing Room,” which was about needing some!

Pru Starr read “Cheap Party,” a tale about a creative birthday party

Gloria Saltzman read “Still Life with Teenager,” a touching piece about life with teenagers

Laura-Lynne Powell read “Motherhood After Abortion,” which was about just that

Svetlana Nikitina read “Zen Bird,” a beautiful story about her child teaching her the meaning of Zen.

Anjie Reynolds read “Tree,” a poetic piece about what a tree has to offer

Rachelle Averback read “Be the Lighthouse,” which was about learning to let her teenager go

Kate McDonald read “Resurrection,” about her father's death

Kathleen Buckstaff performed “Mama, You're Rich,” a sweet tale of her love for her children

Li Miao Lovett read “Doubting Damn Doula,” a labor story about her misguided doula

Andrea Passman Candell read “The Mixing Bowl,” a piece about the idea of nurturing kids' interests into careers

Kimberly Kwok read “Young Moms,” which was about advising younger moms and the loss of one of her children

• Dawn Yun read “Remarkable Moments,” an essay about incredible life-after-death moments

Dark Readings, All Lit Up

By Cindy Bailey

I attended a book reading at Borderlands on Valencia this last Saturday. The genre was horror. Not my thing. But one of the readers, Maria Alexander, is an old writer friend from L.A., one I hadn’t seen in years. We used to work together at Warner Bros., crafting business documentation for them, while discussing our various creative writing projects on the side. Eventually, I moved to San Francisco and she started with another company, and life went on.

Now here she was, just down the street from me, reading one of her stories. So I had to go. (We writers have to support each other.)

Now, I’m very naïve about horror. When I think of it, I imagine blood and killings and body parts flying. I think of Halloween and Night of the Living Dead. I don’t, necessarily, think of good, quality writing. Yet that’s what I heard from the two women who read at Borderlands.

Maria and Loren Rhoads read stories from Sins of the Sirens: Fourteen Tales of Dark Desire, an anthology of dark stories from four female authors. I found Loren’s story moving—it created an eerie atmosphere that was palpable, complete with a solid sex scene. Maria’s story expressed intrigue and imagination; it was about a journal that writes back to it’s owner, advising him to kill the woman he writes bitterly about.

During the follow-up Q&A, I learned a little something more about my friend. Apparently, what turned her on to all things ghouly is having seen a horror movie on TV at the age of three. It blew her mind. In her words, she didn’t know that was not OK; her parents allowed it. The experience proved liberating for her. As a parent myself it made me think, hmm… maybe I should be careful to allow my son more freedoms...

Unfortunately, my life is such that I had to dash from the reading as soon as it was over, hoping to catch up with Maria later. But I appreciate what I gained from the reading by accident: a new found respect for the genre.

Way to go, Maria!