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1. The Art of Gardening/by R. William Thomas, Rob Cardillo, and the Chanticleer Gardeners

Yesterday was moving day at my father's house. After so many months of packing and renovation, the big truck came. I snuck away from the activities for two beautiful hours in the afternoon to celebrate the release of The Art of Gardening (Timber Press) by the gardeners of Chanticleer. (And then rushed home, changed back into grunge wear, and began again the unpacking of boxes.)

Readers of my blog and books know that Chanticleer has served as backdrop for many of my musings, both nonfiction (Ghosts in the Garden) and fiction (Nothing but Ghosts). (Indeed, my Inky story about this fabled landscape is featured in Love: A Philadelphia Affair.) But as a writer I merely bear witness. I do not know the names of most things, do not capitalize upon the folds in the earth, do not walk the garden every day looking for the ebbing away and the new opportunity.

Bill Thomas and his gardeners do. They make these now 48 acres (the garden is growing) glow, season after season, with their plants, their sense of purpose, their artistry. You'll find their winter projects—clay pots, wood furniture, metal work, hand rails, sculptures—in among the blooms. You'll hear them talking about ways to preserve the biodiversity of soil and to optimize microclimates, not to mention the secrets still stashed in the greenhouse.

The Art of Gardening, featuring photographs by Rob Cardillo (who once took this photo of me on a rainy Chanticleer day for what has become an award-winning magazine), is subtitled "Design, Inspiration, and Innovative Planting Techniques from Chanticleer." Its authors are the gardeners themselves, with Bill Thomas editing the overall narrative and Eric Hsu providing the captions. The history and vision of Chanticleer is represented here, as are design strategies, reports on experiments, and a planting list.

It's a lovely compilation, celebrated on a gorgeous day that also marked the unveiling of the grand new path that winds up toward the Chanticleer house and (at this particular moment in time) makes the hover above the ground feel airbrushed with a color that is not quite pink and not quite purple.

Huge congratulations to the Chanticleer gardeners (and Rob) whose artistic spirits are so well captured here.

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2. Contemplating the change in season, in today's Inquirer

In today's Philadelphia Inquirer, I'm remembering a recent day spent alongside my father, at Longwood Gardens. We made our way to the meadow. We stood on the cusp of a season. We thought about the summer we had shared packing up his beautiful home, and about all that might come next.

That story can be found in full here, along with an invitation to join me and Marciarose Shestack at the Free Library of Philadelphia this coming Wednesday evening, at 7:30, as we talk about our love for this city.

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3. Tell Us Something True/Dana Reinhardt (you're. going. to. love. it.)

We returned from a rain-soaked Shenandoah Valley to a northeaster being chased by a possible Category 4. But I had places to be. Third and Spruce, for a conversation. Up near the Art Museum, to visit with a friend.

I had places to be, and I was saturated. I was a walking puddle, a character from a Peanuts cartoon.

I had two things in my bag, in my long walk from damp to embarrassing. One of them was Dana Reinhardt's oh-so-perfect forthcoming novel (I apologize in advance that you will have to wait for it until next spring), Tell Us Something True (Wendy Lamb Books, Random House Children's Books).

May I preface this by saying that I have enormous respect for Dana Reinhardt—as a writer, as a person. Despite her impressive breadth as an author, her astonishing talent with character, story, and sentences, and her cache of awards, you will not find her out there on the circuit showboating. You will not hear her raising toasts to herself.

So 1)  I'm predisposed to love Dana Reinhardt, and 2) I felt hugely blessed to receive an early copy of her book. But 3) Even I could not imagine how utterly un-put-downable this new novel is. About a teenage boy who is dumped by a girl and finds himself (on his long walk home) standing before a fading sign—black words on white: A SECOND CHANCE.

This dumped kid, River: He feels he needs a second chance.

And so he enters into this community of teens who are struggling to break free of one kind of addiction or another. He feels at peace. It's his turn to talk and he fables up something. He confesses that he is addicted to weed. It's not true. It's not even close to true. But if River holds onto (then embellishes) this ready myth, he'll always have a chair in this circle.

He wants a chair in that circle.

This is the premise of Dana's book. But Dana never barters with mere premise. She is a storyteller with a heart, a writer (and a mom) who understands that characters make for story, not theses. That the honorable thing to do with a novelistic set-up is to find out who lives inside the chosen frame. Who really lives there. What they think. How they hope. How they screw up. How they take first steps toward forgiveness. How they continually readjust the way they see the world and themselves.

There's not a single throw-away character in Tell Us Something True. No cardboard constructions representing An Idea. There are best friends, an adorable half sister, good parents, white neighborhoods, Mexican ones, missed buses, the romance of imagination. There's humor and infinite humanity. There's line after line of prose so good I kept pumping my fist, and let me tell you something: I didn't want this book to end.

I despair, sometimes, at the YA category. At trends that suffocate original impulses. At books that sell on the basis of a hook and authorial ambition (and little else). At copy cat voices. At plot-point checklists. At self-serving declarations. At marketing machines.

But then along comes Dana Reinhardt, who writes character and considered plots, who quietly, then boldly escalates her ideas, who gets you all caught up inside the family of action, who leaves you running from place to place in a storm, desperate to return to her story.

Tell Us Something True is hope; it is humanity; it offers a master class in ultimately accepting our own impossible imperfections. Original, funny, wrenching, real, and intelligently surprising, it's bound to endure. It might even heal the many cracks between us.

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4. At the Free Library of Philadelphia this Wednesday evening, with Marciarose Shestack, for LOVE

Yesterday, following a long walk through the rain and the wind, I was greeted by the gorgeous pioneering news woman Marciarose Shestack at her eloquent Philadelphia home. We were meeting as friends. We were meeting, too, to plan our coming evening at the Free Library of Philadelphia, when we'll be talking about our mutual love for our city (and its surrounding areas) and about my new book, Love: A Philadelphia Affair.

That event is this coming Wednesday at 7:30, at the Free Library.

The details for the event are above.

A video interview and reading from Love are available here.

We would love to see you there.

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5. what would you think if (a query to you, about a memoir program we're imagining)

We escaped to the mist and hills of the Shenandoah Valley and pondered the days and years ahead. The what next (again) of life. With the wind blowing and the rain pouring and the rivers swelling we imagined a future spent creating and delivering something new—a one-of-a-kind workshop exploring the many ways we find and represent the truth.

We're in the earliest planning stages, of course. But if you think you'd be interested in a program that would come to where you live and work with you and 14 other writers and seekers, please do let me know.

We think this idea has promise. We would begin delivering the program next year.

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6. how to measure our love, from the Pope

"I’ll leave for you a question so that each one may respond to it. In my house do people yell? Or do you speak with love and affection? This is a good way to measure our love."

— Pope Francis

Goodbye, beloved man of humility and wisdom. You have taught the power of silence over boast, prayer over demand.

Thank you, Philadelphia and all who gathered here.

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7. pushing narrative boundaries at the BankStreet Fest, with Tim Wynne-Jones and Daniel Jose Older

A few months ago I received an invitation from one of my very favorite people in all of young people's literature, Jennifer Brown. If our friendship has evolved over time, my respect for Jenny was immediate. As a Shelf Awareness reviewer, prize adjudicator, discussion leader, Bank Street visionary, and all-around children's books advocate, Jenny's opinions have mattered. She has welded intelligence with kindness and become a force. Today she serves as vice president and publisher of Knopf Books for Young Readers at Random House Children's Books—a position that is such a perfect fit for her myriad talents (and soul) that one imagines it was waiting for her all along.

Before Jenny took on that new role, she designed the 2015 BookFest@Bank Street and extended the invitation I noted above. Featuring Rita Williams-Garcia in a keynote, the day will include insights from scholars and writers Leonard S. Marcus, Adam Gidwitz, Elizabeth Bluemle, Cynthia Weill, Christopher Myers, Shadra Strickland, Raul Colon, Sara Varon, Joe Rogers, Jr., Laura Amy Schlitz, Jeanne Birdsall, Kat Yeh, Liz Kessler, and Monica Edinger. BookFest will also feature a panel titled "Pushing Narrative Boundaries in Teen Literature," moderated by the reliably smart and provocative Vicky Smith, the reviews editor of Kirkus.

I'm thrilled to be joining Tim Wynne-Jones and Daniel Jose Older on that boundaries-pushing panel. I was thrilled even before I'd read their new novels, The Emperor of Any Place and Shadowshaper, respectively. But now, having spent the last few days immersed in both, I'm even more eager. This will be a conversation. The kind of conversation that I crave like I crave a perfect peach or a ripe Bartlett pear.

The Emperor of Any Place is a work of supreme art. A nested story within a story (and, one might suggest, within another story) that carries the reader in and out of history. There's the present-day reality of a teen named Evan who has lost his father and must now endure (within the knot of his grief) the arrival of his once-estranged grandfather. There is, as well, the story inside the book Evan's father was reading when he died—the diary of a Japanese soldier stranded on a small Pacific island during World War II. The soldier is not the sole inhabitant of that island, nor is he the only one who ultimately writes inside those diary pages. As Evan reads the book, many mysteries emerge. Why was his father obsessed with this story? Why is his grandfather obsessed, too? And what is the truth inside these diary pages that were annotated, later on, by another visitor to that island?

Emperor is grounded in the fear of war and the haze of solitude and the ingenuity of survivors, both contemporary and historic. It is wholly conceived and executed, yet it trembles with mystery and a touch of magic. It is brilliantly structured but its power does not rest on its conceit. Tim may have pushed the narrative boundaries but he has not taken a single short cut, not expected the readers to follow just because he's feverently hoped they will. Every element adds to every element here. There are rewards for those who ponder, and, indeed, you could ponder all day and never find a fault line in this complex novel's execution.

Shadowshaper casts its own marvelous spell, builds its own mystique, is the sort of original work you would expect from an author who is also a musician who is also an EMT who is also a commentator on social order and disorder. Daniel has built a book about a young girl who discovers within herself a legacy power—and who must learn to harness it for a greater good. Sierra Santiago is a painter who can see, within the art of others, shadow lives and shapes, art that fades, murals that shed real tears. She is a daughter and a granddaughter in pursuit of hidden grace. She chases, and she is being chased. She rises to the challenge.

Sierra does all this within language steeped in salsa rhythms and Brooklyn gaits. She does this while pondering the color of her skin, the explosive nature of her hair, the discrete borders inside the border lands of race. Daniel is not just weaving a magical story here. He is telling his readers something about how it feels to live today within the fractures of society. About how it is to hope, despite the noise of now.

Authors of books that break the rules must know, to begin with, what the prevailing rules have been. They have a special obligation to steer their projects toward a higher grace, so that the strange ultimately does collide with a deep emotional truth, so that the fiction feels real, so that the experience of reading the story goes beyond admiration and straight into embrace. Fiction comes from a human place. The best fiction elevates the idea of the humane.

We'll talk about this and much more, I'm sure, at Book Fest. I'll learn; I'm sure of that, too.

Registration information for Book Fest is here.

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8. one single man. one world. the Pope in Philadelphia.

One single man unites three cities, also the world. He wears white. He raises his hand. He stops his Fiat to kiss a young boy on a head, to touch a baby, to nod at an Argentine flag, to laugh at something, to mime a quick sprint. He speaks, at a mass, of St. Katherine. He honors educators and peacemakers. He talks about the power of being individually different together and about the devastations of attempting global sameness.

Celebrate your history.

Celebrate your culture.

Celebrate our many languages.

He celebrates the immigrant, reminds those who must be reminded that we, here in America, we, here, in Philadelphia, are all products of movement; my own Italian great-grandfather became a naturalized citizen not even 100 years ago. He asks us to look past walls and barriers. To be honest with each other. To seek out peace, to stop perpetuating damage, to hold together family and family life.

Money, fame, celebrity, awards, job titles: These things do not impress him. He prefers his own shoes, his own small apartment, his single suitcase of possessions.

We are watching him, learning from him, studying the skies (the morning hue here is the brightest pink). We are celebrating with those, like Sister Kimberly Miller, who have stood in his presence. We are praying for him today, another long day, and we will be praying for him, as his plane departs tonight, and then after, when he has more meetings to attend to, another continent to greet and to inspire.

Make the peace, he says. Or to keep it.

Be honest.

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9. Our Pope in Our City

His humility humbles us.

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10. The plush Pope reads about Truth. A gift from Starla J. King

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11. Sunday Pasta (on Wednesday Night): With Edwin Garrubbo (and Dave Roberts) at Valley Forge Barn

Several weeks ago, in an act of uncalculated whim, my husband bought two places at the table of Edwin Garrubbo, an Italian pasta master who had agreed to bring his art to the Valley Forge Barn in Wayne, PA. The Barn has become a fixture in our lives. The place where I buy my favorite gifts and meet my friend Kelly for our tradition of non-tea (okay, so, I have the tea and she has the gelato). The place that can be counted on for the unexpected pumpkin wreathe, leather from Australia, lessons in planting, flowers to carry home. Art and plenty of room overhead. Cookbooks I buy and actually cook from.

Last night was the Ed Garrubbo night. As I dressed for the event, straightened my hair, put on real shoes, I had no idea what to expect. Only that I was going to leave my worries behind for a spell and step out among lovers of pasta.

We were at ease from the moment we opened the door and entered in. Some sixteen expectant diners, the Barn staff, Ed, and eventually his wife and children, became our friends for the evening. Among those gathered there were Dave Roberts, the acclaimed ABC weatherman, and his stunning wife Patti. I'd watched Dave report the storms and sun for many years. He had projected grace through the TV lens. That grace wasn't, I can tell you, an act.

And so we watched Ed cook. And we ate three of his pasta dishes. And we learned about Italy, olive oil, proportions of salt, favorite restaurants. We talked about the Pope, ribbons of intention, living here and living elsewhere, Italian Christmas traditions. We finished with gelato.

An evening to remember with gracious hosts and guests. We came home with Ed's cookbook, Sunday Pasta, and a link to his popular cooking blog.

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12. taking HANDLING (and memoirs I've loved) to Moravian Academy in Bethlehem, PA

In an hour I'll set out for Bethlehem, PA, where I'll spend the day at Moravian Academy, a high school that has dedicated much of this year to stories of self and memory and that selected Handling the Truth as its all-school read as part of the process.

Moravian also invited students and faculty to read three memoirs I recommended—The Answer to The Riddle is Me (David Stuart MacLean), Brown Girl Dreaming (Jacqueline Woodson), and Gabriel (Edward Hirsch).

We'll begin with an all-school assembly and a conversation about non-traditional forms. I'll then travel to two sophomore-level classrooms to workshop emerging student ideas and to talk more deeply about the making of truth.

A day I have anticipated happily for several months now is about to begin.

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13. signing LOVE for Pope Francis

"For Pope Francis," I write.

And pause.

A friend has written with unexpected news. A copy of Love will be slipped into the Pope's hands. A dedicated copy.

I trembled. Then wrote on.

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14. back to school night, at Penn, with Julia Bloch

I had a summer that didn't use much of my mind, so then I lost words. And my body, too, began to dwindle, only I gained weight in the process.

So when Jessica Lowenthal invited me to the reception honoring Julia Bloch, the new director of Creative Writing at Penn, I had many concerns. One: my wrong hair. Two: my wrong shoes. Also (like I told Jay Kirk and then Greg Djanikian and maybe even Tom Devaney and Avery Rome and Stephen Fried, but not my students Nina and David, or maybe I did, because I don't know, I was feeling irresponsible, and did I tell Al Filreis, too?, but I know I did not so burden Jamie-Lee Josselyn, Lorene Carey, Max or Sam Apple, at least I hope not), I had lost my personality. Left it somewhere. In the summer.

(Perhaps that's a good thing?)

But I went anyway, talking to my son by phone while in transit so that I would not turn back because, as I have noted, everything about me was not quite right, and if I'd not been talking with him, I'd have talked myself back onto the train and headed reverse west, for home.

Then I crossed the threshold at Kelly Writers House (there's always a little thrill involved) and everything changed. The place was just, well, filling up. With faculty members I respect and love, and students I adore. Soon (or, it actually happened first) Jessica herself was taking me on a tour of the new Wexler studio, and bam. I didn't look right, but something happened. I felt as if I belonged.

Then the star of our evening, the star of our program, stepped forward and faced a crowded, beaming room and began to read poems from Valley Fever (Sidebrow Books) and Hollywood Forever (Little Red Leaves Journal & Press, the Textile Series) and I, sitting there in the front row, began to feel a hot little prickle inside my head. Like the blank nothing of my thoughts was getting Braille-machine punched by all the delicious oddness of Julia's phrasing and syntax, occasionally repurposed lines, jokes I got and maybe didn't always entirely get (because, as I always say and forever mean, I am just not that smart). Julia was talking and then (I heard this) she was singing, but without any change in the pitch of her voice. Singing by exuding whole phrases in one long breath, then stopping (beat/beat) and starting again. It was like being driven in a car with the windows down, at night, when there is a lot of open road but also some bright red traffic lights.

Damn, I thought.

What do I mean, how can I explain this? These coupled and uncoupled ideas, the surreality of words you assume have been fashioned from parts, the winnowed down ideas that, when toppled and stacked, say something. Mean something. Even if you can't actually always articulate what you have been stung by, you know you have been stung.

Here is half of "Wolverine," from Valley Fever, a poem I instinctively love, also a poem I will ponder for quite some time.


I was only pretending
to be epiphanic

she said, tossing the whole
day over the embankment.

Is the heart collandered
or semiprecious

filled with holes
and therefore filled with light —

This afternoon, following a morning of work and a conversation with a friend, I read Julia's two books through, cover to cover. I hovered. I felt that warm thing happen again in my head, that invitation I will, as a writer and reader, always accept—to slam and scram the words around, to make the heart inside the brain beat again.

Thank you, Julia, for making my brain heart beat again.

And. You are going to be terrific. You already are.

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15. The Prize/Jill Bialosky in the New York Journal of Books

In the midst of crazy, swoony days, I sat down with Jill Bialosky's new novel The Prize, a book I kept racing to return to, because you just know, from about page one, that you won't rest until you know what happened.

Art. Greed. Honor. Desire.

It's all here.

My thoughts, in the New York Journal of Books.

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16. My review of Patti Smith's M Train, on New York Journal of Books (Churched! I tell you. Churched!)

Yesterday, on Huffington Post, I wrote about the importance of structure in memoir. How, indeed, considered structure makes memoir memoir. If we don't care about how the true story gets told, if we don't think broadly, innovatively, wisely about structure, we're only writing autobiography. Telling our story because it's interesting to us, because we feel like talking.

Patti Smith understands structure.

Indeed: How much did I love Patti Smith's utterly humble and humbling new memoir, M Train?


This is a star who moves quietly through this world, sitting at coffee shops, remembering and thinking. Never drops a name. Never boasts a moment. She is, and she takes us with her.

My thoughts on M Train, in New York Journal of Books, here.

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17. LOVE is now an e-book and the top-ranked local travel book. But wait. How many others are there?

Often repeated, always true: I don't check out my own books on Amazon. I can't change the rankings, can't influence the comments. Anxiety fuels enough of my day. Why add, I wonder, with this?

But yesterday my friends at Temple University Press sent me this graphic with the news that LOVE: A Philadelphia Affair is now an e-book. They also sent the news that LOVE was (at least in that snatch of time) Amazon's top-selling local travel book.

Number 1, I thought. Number 1! I never get to be Number 1 (in anything).

Then, a nano-second later, reality crept in. How many local travel books can there actually be? Is LOVE Number 1, 2, 3, and 4?

With pride, with humility, I'm signing off.

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18. Why structure actually does matter, in memoir

This morning, on HuffPo, I'm reflecting on why structure actually does matter in memoir — how indeed it helps to define the form—to distinguish it from autobiography, essay, war reporting, journalism, because that distinction matters. I refer in the piece to some of my favorite memoirs and memoirists, though there are, of course, many more.

And, because I must, I remember my brilliant students at Penn, and one particular Spectacular.

The full link is here.

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19. so grateful this morning for Serena's thoughts on LOVE

My great appreciation for Serena Agusto-Cox, for being the very first reader (beyond the team and the kind blurbers) of LOVE: A Philadelphia Affair. The very first.

What kindness lives in this busy mother, writer, reader, worker.

She has a special knack for finding those ineffable qualities I work toward and hope through in the pages of my books.

I don't want to preempt her. And so I link to her. With greatest thanks.

Savvy Verse & Wit, on LOVE, is here.

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20. reviewing Mary Karr's THE ART OF MEMOIR in the Chicago Tribune

Two years ago, the students in my memoir class at Penn were encouraged to read Mary Karr's The Liars' Club—one of those rare chronologically-told life stories that transcends autobiography to become real-live-brimming-with-wisdom memoir. You can't get much more vivid than Karr does with that Club. (I'm also a fan of Lit; both books are featured in Handling the Truth.) And oh, what discussions her words and stories prompt.

I was delighted when the Chicago Tribune invited me to review Mary Karr's The Art of Memoir. The book, which is full of unexpected riffs on a wide range of topics, is especially helpful to those who may be interested in how Karr made, then contemplated, her three life stories. She reports on the writing process, the vetting process, the after glow, and her right to change her mind in subsequent books on the story she lived.

My Tribune review begins like this, below,

When we write about the writing of memoir, we are stuck, up front, with the lexicographer's dilemma: How do we define the word? Is memoir, for example, an autobiographical poem? Is it essay, "new journalism," fiction that feels true, ghost stories, an A-to-Z recounting of me? Is it narcissism, and if it is narcissism, what finally redeems it? Memoir can take many forms. But what, in essence, is it?

In her new book, "The Art of Memoir," Mary Karr — beloved memoirist and Peck professor of literature at Syracuse University — finds herself foiled in her quest for a "Unified Field Theory" for the category. The "first-person coming-of-age story, putatively true" gave the child Karr hope, she writes. Don DeLillo's thought that "a fiction writer starts with meaning and then manufactures events to represent it; a memoirist starts with events, then derives meaning from them" reinforces, for Karr, that "memoir purports to grow more organically from lived experience." A lifetime of reading and writing memoir has persuaded Karr that it is "an art, a made thing." Memoir, for Karr, is many things. Above all else, she suggests, it is a democratic telling open to anyone who has lived.
and can now be found in full here.

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21. Can you get it just right the first time? Colm Toibin and John McPhee reflect on the editing process

The reason it can take me so long to write a single sentence is because I care so much, even in the very first draft, about that single sentence.

This, many might say, is a writerly handicap. Just get the story down, they say. Return to it later, they say. Trust the process.

I do return, later. I do write over that sentence, away from that sentence, disappointed with that sentence. But every single time I write a sentence, or rewrite it, or reclaim it from the trash can, I am hoping for nothing less than sentence that is excellently good.

Writing well, every time, is an eternal hope of mine. I have not cracked that egg.

(Even at the very end of the process, when the book is in galleys, I discover sentences that don't work. Or, an editor with a keen eye questions me about passages that had long seemed set in stone. This just happened, in fact, with THIS IS THE STORY OF YOU. We were in galleys. We thought (after finding several troublesome galley matters) that we were done. But Taylor Norman, reading the book with fresh eyes, stopped, thought, and asked: Do you want your "really" here? Is that double "rappel" intentional? Can't we relax her speech on this page? What do you mean, the wind is incidental? Can she call her mother "Mom"? It's an ongoing process, refining one's work. And I suspect we're never really done.)

Over the last 24 hours I've read two favorite writers—novelist Colm Toibin and nonfiction genius John McPhee—on the art of getting it right the first time, and then looking again. I share their perspectives here. I learn from both.

Here Hope Whitmore interviews Colm Toibin for the Barnes and Noble Review on, among other things, process:

BNR: I’m interested in your writing process, because much of the power, particularly in Nora, comes from what isn’t said. There is a lot of inference — with her relationship with her mother — for instance. So I was wondering how you refined this, what is your editing process like?
CT: Oh, there’s no editing process. I mean, you just write down what’s needed — what you think is needed. And while I may change words, or pluck things, I mean not much. There’s no actual editing process.
BNR: So you don’t write then cut?
CT: No, you see, that won’t work, because if you don’t get it down right the first time, I mean — it doesn’t mean you don’t have to do editing or re-reading, re-writing, but not editing; meaning I’ll write this long and later on I’ll make it short, that won’t work. That won’t work.
I mean, well, there are writers who do drafts, knowing there will be later drafts, and that works for them, but I don’t do that. It doesn’t mean that there won’t be later drafts, but I write as though I will never get another chance.

Now here is John McPhee in a New Yorker piece called" Omission: Choosing what to leave out." He too is talking about the importance of selection, in the first paragraph. In the second (non-contiguous) paragraph, he is reflecting on greening, a process he teaches his students:

Writing is selection. Just to start a piece of writing you have to choose one word and only one from more than a million in the language. Now keep going. What is your next word? Your next sentence, paragraph, section, chapter? Your next ball of fact. You select what goes in and you decide what stays out. At base you have only one criterion: If something interests you, it goes in—if not, it stays out. That’s a crude way to assess things, but it’s all you’ve got. Forget market research. Never market-research your writing. Write on subjects in which you have enough interest on your own to see you through all the stops, starts, hesitations, and other impediments along the way....

Green 4 does not mean lop off four lines at the bottom, I tell them. The idea is to remove words in such a manner that no one would notice that anything has been removed. Easier with some writers than with others. It’s as if you were removing freight cars here and there in order to shorten a train—or pruning bits and pieces of a plant for reasons of aesthetics or plant pathology, not to mention size. Do not do violence to the author’s tone, manner, nature, style, thumbprint. Measure cumulatively the fragments you remove and see how many lines would be gone if the prose were reformatted. If you kill a widow, you pick up a whole line.
Toibin and McPhee—two writers working two genres—are, in different ways, talking about the same thing: caring. There's a discipline to writing that may not seem so glamorous. There's more to this than just concocting story or throwing out an inventive phrase. We select, we refine, we work to get it right. Perfection may be out of reach. But we're lost when our commitment fades.

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22. five new dishes, one cake

With my Salvadoran-born, Dallas-based, court-translator brother, Mario, visiting for the weekend, I wanted to do something new in the kitchen. I decided on a six-tapas picnic and a cake. I also decided (I'm never sure why I do this) to make all things I hadn't made before. With the exception of the cake. I had to have one safe stand-by.

But I also wanted all the dishes to be light, and the purpose of the dishes to be, as Mario says, flavor. As opposed to calories.

And so I had fun in the kitchen yesterday. (Except when my blender working the sixth (and subsequently failed) tapa broke.) Pictured above is one of those simple delicious dishes, which is highly recommended and this easily made: Peel and slice oranges, blood oranges, grapefruits, clementines (if you can find them) and arrange them on a platter. Heat the following ingredients to a nice temperature: dry white wine, lemon juice, amber honey, rosemary, orange zest and grated lemon zest, salt and pepper. Combine the two. Serve.

It's good. It's really good.

Bonus points: it keeps you away from the computer.

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23. celebrating my husband's first gallery showing, at Jam Gallery in Malvern, PA

Mario Sulit, my brother-in-law, came in from Dallas to help us celebrate (among other things) my husband's first gallery showing, at Jam Gallery, in Malvern, PA. Bill (pictured in the dark shirt behind two of his pieces and beside sculptor Doug Mott) joined painters, ceramicists, sculptors, egg artists, woodworkers, metal works, and salvaged-wood artist Laura Petrovich-Cheney (whose work—built from the salvaged wreckage of Storm Sandy and incredibly inspiring to me, as the author of the forthcoming storm novel This Is the Story of You—hangs just behind Bill) for what proved to be a wonderful reception and conversation.

Our friend, ceramicist Lisa Lynn, braved the rain and joined us as well.

For more on Bill's work, please visit his web site.

To see his work in person, please visit the very hospitable Jam Gallery, located at 321 East King Street in Malvern, PA.

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24. my father's house is now officially for sale (remembered in an excerpt from LOVE)

Readers of this blog (and friends) know that I've been at my father's side much of this summer, readying his beautiful home for sale.

That house is now on the market, thanks to the great work of one of my area's most beloved and effective realtors, Marie Gordon. I'm also lucky to count Marie as a neighbor and as a friend.

If you're interested in a fully refurbished, five-bedroom, perpetually-well-cared-for, full-of-natural-light-and-window-boxes home in the Radnor School District—a house that sits up on a hill on a beautiful wooded lot—(or if you know someone who is), please check out this web site (including the amazing video!) and contact Marie.

In the meantime, I share this excerpt from LOVE: A Philadelphia Affair—reflections on the house where I lived from the age of thirteen until I embarked for school, marriage, and motherhood:

We drove—or, rather, our father did. We hardly spoke, save for the short verbs (Look.), the exclamations (Wow.), the necessary adjectives. It was like going to the movies in reverse—we moved, the scenes stayed still. It was like going window shopping, but there was nothing to buy. It was like getting away with something, but hunting for light is never a crime.

Finally, of course, we’d turn back toward the house where our holidays had begun—the house with the half-eaten turkey still in the pan and the gifts unwrapped and the games subverted. In our slow and usually silent approach along the bend of the last road, we could see, for an instant, our own lives lit as mysteriously and spectacularly as the strangers whose homes we’d just spied on. The shimmer of that big tree through the window. The white wings of the angels in the yard. The illuminating lights beneath the twin wreaths.

Who was lucky enough to live there? We were lucky enough to live there. It caught us, fabulously, by surprise.

From a chapter titled “The Lights Fantastic,”
LOVE: A Philadelphia Affair

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25. Reflections on the European Migrant Crisis—and a matter that lies at the heart of GOING OVER, on HuffPo

Today, on HuffPo, I'm reflecting on the European Migrant Crisis—and on a primary theme, the Turkish guest workers, that sparked the writing of my Berlin Wall novel, Going Over (Chronicle Books).

The entire piece can be found here.

A brief excerpt, from the end of the piece, below:

When I set out to write my 1983 Berlin Wall novel, Going Over (Chronicle Books, 2014), I thought my research would primarily take me to the divided lives of those on either side of the wall. To the failed attempts at freedom. To the successful passages. To the lives of graffiti artists and stymied stargazers.

I found that. I wrote that. But there was something more, something bigger at the heart of this Berlin story -- the lives of the Turkish immigrants, those "guest workers," who had been called to West Berlin to help mitigate a rising labor problem in the wake of the war. Vaccinated, packed onto planes and trains, and redirected to worlds they couldn't foresee, these Turkish citizens left often-rural homes to become poorly paid semi-skilled laborers on German assembly lines. They were crammed into ghettoized apartments, left to their own societal devices, sometimes despised. Those who sought protection from German police -- women, mostly, seeking to escape abusive marriages or challenging conditions or threats of "honor" killings--were often foiled in their search for help. The Turkish immigrants were resident foreigners. They were a culture within a country, both separate and essential.

This Turkish story, it seemed to me, was as resonant, as relevant, as supremely timely as the story of walls and divisions and political strikes against family life. It contained lessons that even today disrupt ideas about German identity and about diversity -- anywhere, in any country. It had to be written about, to stand beside the better-known Wall story.

Those who are fleeing ravaged homes in Syria, Afghanistan, and elsewhere know only that which they are leaving. They cannot imagine what is next -- who will help them, who will open doors, who will allow them to maintain their dignity. As governments, agencies, and families all around the world watch the exodus in horror and with broken hearts, it becomes an urgent matter to also imagine what happens next.

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