Friday, September 30, 2011

Write Your Own Obituary!

by Kathi Diamant

Are you sensing a theme here? Several months ago I posted a blog, “How Not to Write an Obituary,” based on my experiences in writing my father’s obituary last November. Since then, I’ve written two more, one for my mother in March, and the latest, in August, for a dear friend, Glynn Bedington, who was, among other things, a wife and mother and a professional actor, director, producer…and writer. She died at age 61, of cancer. A few days after her death, I called Glynn’s husband, Paul, and asked him if he was getting any help in writing Glynn’s obit. Shyly, Paul responded that he had hoped I would write it. “After all,” he said,” after Glynn, you are the writer.”

I spent the next several days immersed in Glynn’s life, pouring over her family photographs, her 38-page Curriculum Vitae, her awards, letters and memorabilia that now represented for her six decades on earth. From a multitude of accomplishments and achievements, through conversations with her teenage daughters and husband, it was left to me to determine what was most important and meaningful, and I realized, again, that I was unequal to the task. The only person who could tell her story with ultimate clarity and truth was no longer with us.

As a biographer, I’ve encountered this problem before. A person’s life lays before you, in documents, files, and a mass of papers that provide the known facts. But the meaning of those facts is truly known only to the person who lived them.

Glynn was a good writer and author, with two published books and several professional articles, but not a single page, as far as I could tell, about her own life, in her own words.

When we think about our own death, which probably isn’t often for most of us, I imagine we all want to be remembered. In writing. We assume someone will write an obituary for us. But who? Will they know you, like you do? Does anyone? Of course not.

There's something else to think about. The exorbitant cost of placing an obit in a major daily newspaper has led to a new phenomenon: the lengthy online obituary. Once only the famous rated a 1,000 word piece (most newspaper obits run between 60-300 words) but now you, too, can have a mini-biography published, online. With so much more than the “who, what, where and when” possible, it’s more important than ever to think about this now, rather than when it too late. And we never know when that day will come.

My solution is that everyone writes their own obituary. No one else will do it like you can, especially if you are a writer. After all, this is your story. Who’s better than you?

Do it now. Open a notebook. Start with your name as you would like it to appear. Add in your parents’ names, and where you lived. Mention the important people and places, the accomplishments in each period of your life that meant the most to you, that molded and made you the person you have became. Have fun with it. Remember: you are alive, and your story isn’t over. Just write as much as you have lived so far. If you want to write an ending, imagine the most ideal circumstance. For example: “She died painlessly and at peace, surrounded by loving friends and family, after finally seeing the green flash at sunset on her 108th birthday” or whatever your best case scenario is.

Add to your notebook over the years, noting the lessons learned and the love engendered. And then, when your time comes, you can die at peace in the knowledge that your obituary will serve those who come after you, to know and appreciate the person you truly are.

Kathi Diamant is the award-winning author of “Kafka’s Last Love: The Mystery of Dora Diamant” (“Best of the Best Geisel Award, San Diego Book Awards) published by Basic Books in 2003. “Kafka’s Last Love” has been critically reviewed in more than 60 publications, and translated into French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, and will soon appear in Germany and Brazil. As director of the Kafka Project at SDSU since 1998, she has led the international search for a lost literary treasure, and this summer will be leading a “Magical Mystery Literary History Tour" to Prague, Krakow and Berlin. For more information, visit

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


by Laurel Corona

Since it is still my week to be the featured blogger, I am putting up a second post that is also on my website, about the cancellation of my appearance as the enrichment lecturer on the Silver Cloud.

My suitcase is inside the front door, my passport still sitting on top of it, just where I left it when I took my partner and sweetest love Jim to the emergency room just hours before we were due to leave for Lisbon.
I know I need to unpack, but there’s something about that hulking form containing the cocktail dresses I won’t be wearing, the bathing suit I won’t need--something as yet unresolved in my mind that demands that it stay there while I figure out what it all means.
As I sat in the hospital yesterday, I followed in my mind the itinerary that would get us to Lisbon.  Right now we’d be flying over New Mexico, I thought.  Right now we’d be waiting in Newark for our connection.  Right now we’d be hearing our plane was starting its descent into Lisbon.  And then the imaginings went dark.  
Today as I sat by Jim’s bed in the hospital my only thoughts of the outside world were of my classes.  Right now the sub was walking in, calling roll, and telling the students I wasn’t going to be gone after all, except this one day.  I pictured each room, each set of faces and the range of reactions. It was far more real to me than a ship I had never been on, the smells, the sights, the sensations of a place I had never been.
I haven’t tried to figure out what time it is in Portugal.  I haven’t looked once to see where the ship is, or whether at this moment I would be giving one of my lectures, or sitting by the pool, or visiting a foreign port.  It isn’t real.  It wasn’t meant to be. 
 My life here with Jim is real.  My life as a professor is real. What could compare?
Talking with my sister last night, I told her I was mentally putting on my Buddhist robes and trying to process this whole disappointment--oh yes, it is certainly that!--in terms of suffering caused by desire.  What were my desires for this trip, and what do I feel I have lost?
What I wanted, deep down, was more quality time with Jim. We’re both workaholics, me with my second full time job as a novelist, and he as a research scientist with a burning desire to understand how just one little piece of this marvelous bio-physico-chemical process called life actually works.  What did I get?  More quality time with Jim, just not of the sort I pictured. Today I kissed his forehead and smoothed his hair and told him I loved him.  He told me the same, held my hand, and smiled.
 “Be careful what you ask for,” my sister said.  “Remember the old adage about getting it.”
The other thing I wanted is more frivolous but still real to me. I had really been looking forward to the opportunity to dress to the nines every night, and now I must plunge into a suitcase and confront the gorgeous clothes I have no use for.  I had been joking with Jim about how he simply doesn’t know what a girly girl I can be, because that’s just not the way we live. The dresses go into the back of the closet now--for months I’d kept them in front where I could see them as my excitement grew.  Now don’t want the reminder.  
Western thinking might suggest that I plumb my psyche to root out every last emotion and expose it to the light of day, but I don’t need or want to. I have conquered most of the suffering by understanding what I desired from this trip and why, or at the very least knowing that I can understand it if I dig a little more, and that such knowledge will set me free, if that is what I desire.
I’m still learning, still changing, and so grateful for the little flashes of clarity life gives us from time to time if we are willing to step away from our grievances and disappointments and just take in a deep breath of good, fresh air.
Will Jim and I step aboard a cruise ship in the future?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Will the sea air smell sharper and the waves dance more brightly if we do?  Undoubtedly.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Hurry Up and Wait
Laurel Corona
Special Announcement: Laurel had been hoping to travel as the enrichment lecturer on Silversea Cruise Line’s “Silver Cloud,” from September 25 through October 14, traveling from Lisbon to Athens, but her trip has been delayed. Follow her daily blog at
Balancing writing with a full time job as a professor at San Diego City College can be a daunting task. I also have a life independent of both those things, which includes tennis and other forms of exercise, time with my wonderful partner, and many miscellaneous things that give me joy.
It’s no wonder then that something very often has to give. These days it has been my writing. I got within seventy-five pages of finishing novel number five, THE INTUITIVE, sometime in early August, and I have gone no further.
My semester at San Diego City College started a month ago, giving me five new classes and more than a hundred and fifty students to get to know by sight and name if nothing more (I’m getting close to recognizing them all!) This week I have dealt with the onslaught of first papers and exams. Of course teaching has to come first. It is my livelihood, above all, but I am one of the truly fortunate souls who can say loud and clear that I LOVE MY JOB!
As an author, though, being too busy to write is a problem. I think most, if not all, authors would agree that we need the continuity provided by regular time to write. A book is like a carnival ride or a speeding train--it is best to hang on and keep going, and very hard to jump back on.
But no one, not even a full time writer, has the luxury of writing without distractions and outside demands. Read Caitlin Rother’s blog from last week if you want to get an idea how crazy it can get.
I accept and live with the fact that there are going to be times that a month or two may pass without any progress on something I care very much about. What is harder to deal with is the reluctance that sets in when I begin to have a little time again. The book starts to scare me. I’m reluctant to go back because writing is an emotionally wrenching and physically exhausting form of work, and in some ways it’s been a relief not to be able to do it for a while.
But those feelings pass, and I always discover that I love being home again inside my manuscript. “Hello,” I say to my heroine and all the characters around her whom I have come to enjoy, appreciate, and love. “I’ve missed you.”
I can almost hear them saying that they’ve missed me too. After all, they need me to unlock the door so they can come out and meet the rest of you when the book is published.
So here’s some advice for writers and would-be writers with busy lives:
Take another look at manuscripts you have let gather dust. They may not be abandoned, just on hiatus. Maybe you’ll decide they’re worth no more than a good laugh, and maybe you’ll find you are ready to re-engage now that you’ve gotten some distance and are (you can always hope!) a bit wiser as well.
If you can’t go into a project for long spells of uninterrupted time, it may be more productive to stick to editing of things you’ve already drafted. First drafts take a special intensity of focus and can’t really be done in a spare hour. Editing, however, can benefit from not staying with it too long, because it you aren’t fresh you’ll probably have to repeat the effort. Heavy editing (i.e. substantial rewriting) is more akin to drafting than to lighter editing, but nevertheless, I’ve found that once a scene is written, even if I have only an hour I can get some very circumscribed heavy editing done.
And advice for every stage of the writing process and every writer out there: don’t beat yourself up about anything, ever. You are putting good into the world with every keystroke, and your work is a blessing.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Books on the Runway

By Caitlin Rother

One of the most interesting – and challenging – aspects of being a full-time author is that I never get bored because I never have a shortage of things to do. I am a slave to the book of lists I take everywhere I go, trying not to forget anything that I have to do, and I enjoy checking off each task when I’m done. Often, though, I find myself doing things that are important but not on the list, just to get in a little me time, even though it’s essentially all me time. I’m the boss I rebel against and I’m also the worker who never seems to get everything done.

This year, I am in the fortuitous – and sometimes daunting – position of having four books coming out, with two more next year. That means there is much staging and coordinating to be arranged, in essence, to line them up on the runway like planes waiting to take off, as I help get them through production and hopefully into readers’ hands, whether it’s off the bookstore shelf or on Kindle and Nook. I must do this while researching and writing my current project, responding to co-author queries and attending trials for my next true crime book.

Five years ago when I was a newspaper reporter, I could go home within an hour (or hours) of sending a story to my editor. But with books, even if my editor doesn’t ask for revisions, I must read the entire manuscript at least two more times as it goes through production and legal review, looking for typos and ensuring that corrections were made properly.

Meanwhile, a job of infinite scope lurks in the shadows: promotions, which means I must line up as many web tours, reviews, news stories, speaking engagements, book signings, media interviews and other events as possible to get the word out. I may work with a publicist(s) I hire to help carry out my overall action plan (which includes coordinating this blog and organizing SDWW activities). I also coordinate efforts with the publisher’s publicist (if I’m lucky to get one, which is happening more these days now that I have eight books under my belt). I also send the manuscript to other authors seeking their endorsements, known as “blurbs,” to run on the front and back covers, in news releases and on my website.

Because the publishing-media world is a constantly shrinking and/or moving landscape, I’m faced with the inverse, which is the constantly mounting challenge of finding new ways to promote my books. If only books sold themselves (wouldn’t that be nice?). Promoting my books is an unpaid job that takes an enormous amount of time and planning, but if I don’t do it the books won’t sell, and then I will have no more book contracts. So, I must do it and do it well. Thankfully, some of it is fun, when after many months of toiling alone in my home office, I get to go out into the public and answer questions from those who have either read or want to read my new book(s). That kind of interaction and immediate feedback is something I often miss from my newspapers days when even a nastygram was an acknowledgment that someone read the story. The worst thing imaginable is for an author to work for months – or years – on a book only to have no one notice it exists. It’s heartbreaking, but it happens all the time.

Back to this year’s runway itinerary. The two books I wrote on my own are DEAD RECKONING, which came out in February, and POISONED LOVE, the story of the Kristin Rossum murder case, which comes out in December, an updated edition in the book’s eighth printing. This book, which gives you a detailed account of how Rossum murdered her husband, Greg de Villers, also includes 16 pages of new developments in the case since the San Diego County toxicologist was convicted of poisoning de Villers with a powerful narcotic she stole from the Medical Examiner’s Office, then staging a suicide scene by sprinkling red rose petals over his body. I’m very excited about this revised edition because I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve gotten from readers wanting updates on the case, especially since her appeal got some traction last year.

I co-authored the other two books out this year – DEADLY DEVOTION (originally published as WHERE HOPE BEGINS) and MY LIFE, DELETED, but my co-authors and our publishers are handling their promotion. Nonetheless, I am following their progress closely, hopeful that they will sell off the charts. I don’t write in a vacuum, I want people to read my books, and I hope readers will be moved and educated by the stories to which I have dedicated months or years of my life.

Then in January 2012, NAKED ADDICTION, a thriller about sex, drugs, and murder comes out as a trade paperback (and on Kindle). In my first novel, surfing detective Ken Goode explores the underbelly of the affluent community of La Jolla and its neighbor, Pacific Beach, where Goode clashes with twenty-something patrons of a seedy bar who have possible ties to an escort service, drug ring and upscale beauty school for entrepreneurs. The primary characters use substances or other people to try to fill the empty spaces within themselves, with addictions ranging from sex, alcohol, cocaine and cigarettes to Goode’s own, caffeine and damaged women. The untimely disappearance of his sister proves a worrisome distraction as he becomes obsessed with the first victim and is strangely drawn to a pretty, but troubled witness.

Finally, in July 2012, LOST GIRLS, the story of John Gardner’s rape and murder of San Diego County teenagers Chelsea King and Amber Dubois will be released.

After that, who knows what comes next. The book ideas are lining up on the runway as we speak, including another true crime, a thriller, and whatever else strikes my fancy.

Caitlin Rother, a Pulitzer-nominee who worked as a investigativer reporter for nearly 20 years, is the author or co-author of seven books: Poisoned Love, Deadly Devotion/Where Hope Begins, My Life, Deleted, Body Parts, Twisted Triangle, Naked Addiction, and her latest book, Dead Reckoning. Coming next is Lost Girls, about the murder of innocents Chelsea King and Amber Dubois by sexual predator John Gardner. For more information, please check out her website,

Friday, September 9, 2011

Adventures by the Book

By Susan McBeth

How often have you read a book that swept you away to exotic places and times of which you've only dared to dream? I like to think of these alternate realities as "heterocosms," a term coined by Harold Bloom perhaps when referring to brilliant poets like Shakespeare and Wordsworth, but which for me describes a world that otherwise would not have been accessible without the magic of a good book. And if the magic of language can figuratively transport a reader, what would happen if a literal transport were available? That's the concept I sought to explore when I recently founded Adventures by the Book.

After having been a bookstore author events coordinator for years, I was bursting at the seams to escape from the confines inherent in a retail environment, so that I could create the kind of experiential events that would seek to connect readers with authors and their books on a more intimate basis than through a traditional lecture format. I confess I had, and still have, visions of grandeur about what those events would entail - grand trips to Tuscany, weekend escapes to the magical world of Tiffany, and cultural luncheons in exotic venues, just to name a few. But what all those books taught me is that if I dare to dream, oh what magical worlds are open to me.

My Adventures by the Book world was created from a seed that was planted years ago when I first met the beloved New York Times bestselling author of Under the Tuscan Sun, Frances Mayes. How many thousands of readers were exposed to the magical world of Tuscany through her lyrical prose, and how many, like me, had never experienced an actual adventure under the Tuscan sun? When I mentioned this to Frances, she replied in her typical thoughtful fashion that I should come to visit her there. Perhaps if she would have known me better, she would have never extended that gracious offer, because I vowed then and there that someday I would make that happen.

So when the stars were perfectly aligned and I was ready to make the move, I left my bookstore job and set out to literally transport readers on a series of Adventures by the Book. It probably won't come as a surprise that the first author I contacted was Frances Mayes. If she had no recollection of our discussion years prior, she never let on, not did she display panic when I led with the dreaded "remember when you told me years ago..." conversation opener. Months of planning and research ensued, and I am honored to say that I have now experienced an Adventure Under the Tuscan Sun with Frances Mayes, both figuratively and literally. And I can honestly say that while there is no substitute for a good book when the figurative world is all that is available, if you want the whole enchilada, so to speak, there is nothing like an Adventure by the Book.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Writers Conference

By Marjorie Hart

It was a rare opportunity for our writing group when the Del Mar Literary Writer's promised to critique our session one afternoon. At the appointed time, I eagerly handed my sample pages to the leader, who scanned them and sighed, "Two girls running off to the big city? Who the hell cares!"

I cared. I cared a lot.

For years, more than I like to admit, I had been writing one story, as boxes of rewrites accumulated, towering over my computer. My grandchildren in their compelling way had asked. How could I refuse? With my 80th birthday approaching, I engaged the writer, Beverly Trainer, who edited and encouraged me chapter by chapter. No matter what--I would finish.

Fortuitously while sorting and tossing Christmas mail, these words caught my eye: Writers Conference Editors Agents San Diego. Rescuing the brochure from the wastebasket my heartbeat raced when I found the deadline to submit ten pages and the choice of one of five New York editors. Whether it was fate, luck or divine intervention, Jennifer Pooley was my first choice, the editor who would change my life.

With permission, this is Jennifer Pooley's letter to booksellers:

Dear Bookseller,

On Friday January 27, 2006, I traveled to San Diego State University Writers Conference. Days before the conference began, I received sample pages from aspiring writers I would be meeting, and as my plane took off from New York, I dipped into one of the twenty-five manila folders, whose attached title was "Summer at Tiffany."

Reading the opening pages, I immediately felt that I was right there on the double-decker bus with Marjorie Hart and her best friend Marty: desperately hoping to get a job at Lord and Taylor; devastated when it looked like hope for a position as a shopgirl was lost; and nervously following Marty's charge through Tiffany's front door with my own timid steps. I wanted to be there. I wanted to be them. And I certainly wanted to know what happened next!

When we met at last, on Sunday morning, Marjorie shook her head in disbelief at my enthusiasm. She told me that she'd started writing her memoir in 1993, following her retirement, as her grandchildren kept asking to hear her Tiffany stories "just one more time." The promise of her true adventures in the big city working at one of the world's most iconic stores and interacting with individuals such as Old Man Tiffany and Judy Garland took my breath away.

Over the weeks that followed, Marjorie and I began speaking on the phone and by email daily; she shared her manuscript with me, chapter by chapter. No sooner would the next installment arrive than I would dash to the Xerox, preparing copies for my colleagues, who were as eager as I to read on.

The magical experience of working with Marjorie Hart on Summer at Tiffany is sure to be one of the most memorable of my career. Though the summer of 1945 is more than sixty years past, I hope that once you have finished Marjorie's story, regardless of your age, you too will feel as if you had come to New York City that fateful summer: breathlessly jitterbugging to the drumbeat of Gene Krupa; jubilantly celebrating VJ Day in Times Square; and unexpectedly making history-at Tiffany, no less!--with your best friend.

I am so grateful that Marjorie Hart came into my life, and without further ado, I am thrilled to be one to introduce you to her dazzling Summer at Tiffany.

Best wishes,

Jennifer Pooley
William Morrow/ Harper Collins Publishers

I treasure this extraordinary letter and mv never-ending friendship with Jennifer!