Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Hello, Wisconsin

I’m off to the badger state first thing tomorrow. I think I’m going to treat this as a real vacation, so I probably won’t be blogging until I’m back next week. Have a great weekend!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Fun Fact

Wisconsin produces 25% of the cheese consumed in the United States. My kind of state.

I bring this up because I’m headed there Wednesday morning. My parents have rented a house there, and my sister and I are joining them this week. We’ll be in Oshkosh, on Lake Winnebago. It should be a relaxing and calcium-rich vacation.

Friday, July 25, 2008


My Great Wall of China article just got rejected by the San Francisco Chronicle.

This was a situation where the editor thought maybe he could integrate some of my article into a feature on China he is planning on running soon, but he just sent me an email apologizing for the fact that it won’t work after all.

That’s disappointing, but he said specifically he hoped I didn’t get discouraged, so I’ll try not to take it too hard. I was actually a very nice rejection, definitely in the top decile, so I certainly won’t take it personally.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sign of the Times

I found this sad display on Fruitvale Avenue in Oakland. Making Ends Meet has met its end.

This initially struck me as funny—a business that tries to save money runs out of money, ha!--but of course it isn’t a joke; it’s for real. This is just a sign of tough times all over.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Talking to Myself

In anticipation of my August reading, I’m back in the habit of reading out loud to myself every morning. I’m practicing reading my piece so I get used to the sound of my own voice and so that I’m familiar enough with the words that I can look up a lot, and keep moving if I lose my place. I did this before, preparing for a reading last summer, so I know it’s good practice. But I never get used to it, standing in the living room talking to nobody for 10 minutes. I keep imagining that the neighbors are sick of the story, although I doubt they can actually hear me. This just puts me in a strange frame of mind!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

In Good--or at Least Famous--Company

I wouldn’t have thought I had anything in common with our nation’s most decorated curmudgeon, but there turns out to be one slim thread that connects us: John McCain can’t get published, either.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Technical Difficulties

I finally got ahold of an article I wrote about Monterey that was published several months ago in Philippine Airlines’ inflight magazine. Unfortunately, I can’t show it to you yet because Comcast changed the way its personal web pages work, and I can’t figure out how to make a new page for it. I’ll try to get that figured out tomorrow. I meant to do it today, but I suspect it will take a call to tech support to get things working, and I’m not in the mood.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Red Room

A few nights ago, I went to an event that might be every writer’s worst nightmare: A party where I didn’t know anyone.

The party was hosted by Red Room, a networking site for writers that I’m a member of. I expected a quiet little salon full of people dressed in black scribbling in notebooks and looking at their shoes, but to my surprise, it was a pretty lively event at Tosca, in North Beach.

Once I got over the shock of seeing so many extroverted writers, I did begin to enjoy myself. There was one really fun aspect to the party, and that was that the cost of admission was one signed book. I dutifully signed a copy of The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2007, which includes my Thanksgiving in China story. That felt like cheating a little bit, but I don’t have a book of my own, so it had to do. When I got to the party, I dropped off the book, and got a receipt that entitled me to take someone else’s book on my way out the door.

At the party, I talked to a few people, but not too many because it was pretty loud in the bar and I am not good at high-volume conversations. As I was getting ready to leave, though, I picked up a book by Daniel Handler, one of Red Room’s local celebrity authors. Having his book (Adverbs) in my hand emboldened me to speak to him, so before I left, I found him by consulting the author photo on the back of the book. We had a brief chat, and my impression is that he’s a really nice guy. He started the conversation by apologizing to me—when I walked up to him, he seemed to think he was in my way. I was charmed to see that, big shot though Daniel Handler may be, he still assumes that people approaching him are only doing so in order to get around him.

So I consider the party a success, though I can see I still have some networking skills I could work on, like introducing myself more confidently and having an easily articulated summary of my work ready.

Oh, and I guess I’d better write a book, too.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

MIA Piece Accounted For

It wasn’t good news, but at least it was closure. I just got a rejection note about a piece I sent out so long ago that I had forgotten that this particular paper had even received it. I sent the paper an article on Japan at the end of 2007, and I got the rejection last week, 197 days after I first emailed the article.

That may not be a record, but it’s close.

(If you’re wondering how I know how many days had passed, I figured it out with this new time wasting tool.)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mission Accomplished

I did my reading last night, and I think it went pretty well. I wish I’d had more time to prepare, because I know my delivery wasn’t as seamless as it could have been, and I wasn’t as able to look up at the audience as much as I would have liked. But someone later told me she was surprised to hear that I’d been nervous. So I guess I faked it well enough.

The pieces I read seemed to go over well. People were surprised to find out that neither one had ever been published, so I resolved to try again harder to send them out.

For those of you who missed the reading—and that’s just about everyone, because I didn’t have time to rally the troops—you get another chance next month. I’ll remind you again later, but it’s at the Ferry Building Book Passage location, at 5:30 on August 11. I promise to practice more next time.

Monday, July 14, 2008

I’m Reading! 5:30 PM

I made the cut and I am reading today at Book Passage at the Ferry Building in San Francisco. Unfortunately, I don’t know exactly what time I go on—we won’t decide the set list until just before the event starts. But it’s a great bookstore, with some good places to get a drink afterwards, and I encourage everyone to come down, if you get the chance.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Getting on My Soapbox

The theme of Monday’s reading is “On the Soapbox.” We will all be reading opinion pieces. I have two that I am trying to choose between, both about gay marriage. The one I like best is a little outdated now, so what I have to decide is which is more feasible: updating the old one, or improving the new one. I think I’m going to go with editing the newer one. That will give me something to work on this afternoon.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Another Reading?

It never rains but it pours on my public appearance calendar.

The woman who organizes the Ferry Building events invited me to do a reading next Monday, forgetting that she’d already signed me up for the August reading. We both agreed that two months of Nicole might be a lot, so right now I’m penciled in as an alternate. If she can’t get a full schedule of readers, I get to go on.

If this does happen, I’ll be reading at 5:30 on July 14 at the Book Passage Ferry Building store. I will let you know as soon as I do!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Book Passage Reading

I decided which story I’m going to read at the Book Passage event. It’s the one about Taiwan. Of all the travel stories I have that would be appropriate for the event, that’s the one that’s gotten the least exposure so far, so that’s the one I’m going to go with.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Mark Your Calendars

I believe I’ve said before in this space that I’m not an enthusiastic speaker. I’m okay once I’m at the podium; I’m just terrified of the idea. As a consequence, my public appearances as an adult have been very limited.

But, rock stars have to support their new material, and so do writers. (See, there’s something else I have in common with Mick Jagger.) So I decided it was time to take advantage of an opportunity offered by a writers’ group that I’m part of. Every month, this group (Left Coast Writers) hosts a bookstore reading. Any member can volunteer to present, but I’ve never had the courage.

Yesterday, however, the group met and I allowed myself to be talked into signing up for August by one of the other members. August’s theme is travel writing, so if I don’t do it then, I may never.

The event is August 11 from 5:30 to 7:30 at Book Passage bookstore in the Ferry Building in San Francisco. There will be several other readers, but I don’t know yet how many or which number I am.

If anyone’s worried about this, I think the two-hour time frame includes drinks at the Wine Merchant afterward—I’ve never known one of these readings to take anywhere close to two hours. Book Passage is an excellent bookstore and I encourage everyone to stop by if only to patronize a clean, well-lighted, and independent place for books. (The San Francisco branch is small, but they can order anything for you.)

Monday, July 07, 2008

When to Buy?

It used to be that buying airplane tickets was a little bit of a gamble. You never knew if you were buying at the right time. You might commit to buying a ticket and the next day the price might drop significantly. Or it might go up. It all seemed very random and it was hard to decide when to make the purchase.

Lately all the advice I’ve been getting says to buy now, because prices will only go up. And over the weekend, I had an experience that suggested very dramatically that this is true.

My family is planning a getaway to a lake near Oshkosh, Wisconsin at the end of July. On Saturday, my sister and I had a pow-wow on the phone, each of us in front of our own computer, in order to book plane tickets to Milwaukee. We looked at airfares for various dates and times on several different web sites. Finally, we decided on a particular American Airlines itinerary, which Hilary found on Orbitz and I saw on Travelocity for exactly the same price. We went through the booking process together, picking seats that were next to each other.

When we got to the end of the process, we double-checked with each other and then we both clicked our purchase buttons at what must have been almost exactly the same time.

I instantly got a confirmation that my purchase had gone through. Hilary, though, got a message saying that one or more of her flights was no longer available. When we tried to start the booking over again, neither site offered that exact itinerary as an option. After a few minutes, the flights reappeared—for several hundred dollars more than I had just paid. We hoped this was a fluke, and that prices would come back down after a few hours, but so far, no luck.

I am aware that two people sitting next to each other on a plane can pay wildly different prices for those two seats, but I never realized this could happen when they’re booked seconds apart. In retrospect, I see now that we should have been using one computer to purchase both the tickets at once. But if we’d taken the extra time for one of us to drive to the other’s house, who knows what would have happened to prices during that hour?

Like I said, it’s a gamble.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Happy Fourth of July

Pipi and I like to be ahead of things, so we already saw fireworks, last night at the Marin County Fair.

This frees us from the annual Bay Area ritual of packing into a crowded public place and standing in the damp chill while watching muted color flashes going off in the fog. I’m relieved that I won’t feel obligated to do that this year in order to say I saw fireworks on the fourth. It feels, well, freeing.

The weather was good in Marin. Joan Jett played a set right before the fireworks show, and what’s more American than rock ’n’ roll? Pretty much only hot dogs and corn on the cob, which is what’s on the menu for at least two meals tomorrow.

Happy Fourth, everybody!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Marketing Pays Off?

A few days ago, I had a rare nibble of interest from the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. He wrote back to me in response to an article I’d sent him about the Great Wall of China. He said he already had an article lined up, but that he would see if he could incorporate any of my work into the China issue. I haven’t heard anything since then, and I’m not holding my breath, but it’s more encouraging than anything I’ve ever heard from him before, so I’m cautiously optimistic.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Introducing Glenview

The original idea behind my walking project was to get to know parts of Oakland that I knew very little about. I’m definitely still interested in that, but right now, I’m taking a little bit of a break by exploring the Glenview neighborhood. This area is not far from where I live, so I do know it a little already.

Glenview has the distinction of being the last neighborhood I will be able to walk to. Any other unexplored neighborhoods are far enough away that by the time I walk to them, that will be my exercise for the day. So soon I will be in the odd position of always having to drive to take a walk.

Not too soon, I hope. I’m afraid that driving to exercise will make me irreformably Californian.