Real Wood and Lamplight

I caught a tiny glimpse of heaven on State Street in Santa Barbara a few years back. It was the first bookstore I’d ever seen with a cozy reading area and comfortable chairs, and a little café selling banana bread and croissants to people reading magazines for free. I think it might have had a fireplace, but since it was a warm summer day, that part didn’t really register. Like a poem that hits right between the eyes, The Earthling expressed something perfect, something I’d always known but hadn’t thought of yet.

Last time I was in Santa Barbara, I headed straight for it. It so completely wasn’t there that I couldn’t even figure out where it had been. Sticky pages and coffee stains, or people reading for hours and not buying, were probably not what did it in. It’s gone now, most likely a victim of the crushing forces of online and megastore retailing. Just like so many other bookstores once part of my life.

I’m as guilty as anyone. Ordering books from the comfort of home is just so easy. And the chain stores have such a visible presence, often near somewhere I’m going anyway, that it’s become a habit to make my gotta-have-right-now book purchases as part of my other errands. Which is why, as I’ve made the rounds of local bookstores with advance copies of THE FOUR SEASONS, I’ve been giving the local bookstore scene more thought.

I love the mismatched chairs, the well-trampled area rugs, the glow of real wood and lamplight. I love the shelves with ethnic shawls and bangles, or packets of tea, or funny lapel buttons, or colorful yarn (as at the Grove Bookstore in San Diego), which say something about the personalities and interests of the owners. I love how the staff knows who among them the copy of THE FOUR SEASONS I left with them should go to first, and which regular customers will love it. I love that it will be on one of a few shelves of carefully selected fiction, not wedged among dozens of others written by authors whose last names start with “C.” I love their true caring about books, because I care about books too.

I can’t say my online days are over, or that I didn’t meet wonderful book lovers managing chain stores, but I feel a bit like I do at the end of a wonderful trip, when I say to myself that even though I could happily stay, it’s time to come home. I hope you feel the same.

The Four Seasons


Line up a sitter, feed the dog, and head on down to 14th and C Streets at 7:15 PM on November 5 for a night of great musical and literary entertainment! Exactly one month from today, the launch event for THE FOUR SEASONS will take place in downtown San Diego at San Diego City College’s Saville Theatre. Take the trolley if you can—there’s a City College stop—and arrive early, since we’re expecting a full house.

Only recently did I realize the significance of the publication date for THE FOUR SEASONS: It’s election day in one of the most momentous presidential races ever. I hope the good vibes spread both ways and that sharing the date bodes well for both the nation and for my book. And I certainly hope the day after the election, we’ll be in a mood to celebrate down at the college. It’s looking pretty good right now! But either way, music soothes the soul and elevates the spirit.

I wanted a launch that celebrated not just the publication of THE FOUR SEASONS, but called attention to the tremendous artistic achievements—many of them far too well hidden—of my colleagues at City College. We count among our faculty (as well as our staff and students) first-rate talents in ceramics, glass art, photography, graphic design, poetry, storytelling, fiction and creative non-fiction, playwriting, performance art, voice, music composition, dance, choreography, and instrumental music, and much more.

We’re calling the event VIVA VIVALDI, and it will be a mix of vocal and instrumental performances, dance, and readings from the book. The star of the show is Vivaldi himself, and we’re hoping to build appreciation for this incredible composer beyond the ubiquitous “Gloria” and “The Four Seasons.” Now don’t get me wrong—those two works are hard to beat—but in writing THE FOUR SEASONS I saw the richness of his music for the female voice, and how the complexities of “The Four Seasons” are matched or surpassed by some of his other works.

The event will be taped, and I hope to post small portions on my website, but if you can, come down and see for yourself!

The Four Seasons

Word Wishes

Like most writers, I have ideas about the words I would most like to see in reviews of my work. I don’t mean generally flattering adjectives, like “terrific,” or “marvelous,” although if they knocked on my door I would invite them in and open a bottle of champagne. I mean the words that indicate that someone saw in my work what I had hoped they would. Words that tell me I accomplished what I set out to do. Other than news of stratospheric sales figures or a huge award—both of which I would be more than happy to describe if I should ever be so lucky—there’s probably no better news than a good, validating review.

I suppose every writer has his or her own secret vocabulary:

Articulate ? Amusing?

Briliant? Breathtaking?

Confident? Candid?

Dazzling? Dramatic?

Educated? Ethereal?

Funny? Fanciful?

(I’m running out of steam less than a quarter of the way through the alphabet. Got your own favorites, blog readers?)

I can’t say any of the above are my secret words, or even whether I know exactly what they are until I hear them, but the October 1 Booklist review of THE FOUR SEASONS certainly hit a few I like a lot. Charming,” ”exquisite,” “poetic,” “alluring,” “richly historical.” WOW! It’s enough to make me “lachrymose,” “misty-eyed,” and “teary, “ all at the same time! I hope this review and the equally laudatory one from Publishers Weekly are just a start. Five weeks out and counting….

The Four Seasons

The Middle Muddle

When someone I haven’t seen in a while asks me what I’ve been up to, I usually say, “not much” (even though “too much” would usually be closer to the truth). I’m feeling a bit like this as I start blogging for the first time in my life. What do I have to say? Not much?

In The Sound of Music, the beginning is considered a very good place to start, but it really isn’t. When it comes to my novel The Four Seasons, coming from Hyperion Books’ VOICE imprint on November 4, 2008, I’m in the “middle muddle”–several years out from writing it, near the end of the long period of waiting for it to come out, and about six weeks before its release gives me new and exciting things to say. I am tempted to label this a “not much” period of time except…. Well, let’s look at today:

The sales manager at a store where I dropped off a galley talked about what a great job VOICE had done putting together a beautiful advance reading copy.

I worked with a graphic arts student at my school, San Diego City College, on her knockout design for the poster promoting my book launch.

Three faculty colleagues asked me when my book was coming out, which says they knew it was.

I got an e-mail complimenting me on the great review of The Four Seasons in Publisher’s Weekly.

Funny how “not much” starts to look like “more than I thought” when I’m paying closer attention. Because here’s the thing…I HAVE A BOOK COMING OUT! I whisper, “Repeat after me: I have a book coming out.” Repeat after me….

What have I been up to, here in the middle muddle? Being amazed, thrilled, and grateful for everything that had to go right to find myself here on this beautiful road, just waiting for “much more” to pull up and offer me a ride.