Friday, November 26, 2010


God, it’s so embarrassing. Mama means well, but OMG, she has no taste. Totters around in gold stiletto sandals and leopard skin tights. Like totally yesterday! Well okay, whatever turns her on. But does she have to do me up like a freaking prom queen?

Every Friday she drags me to the beauty shop. Wash, cut, comb, curl, style, powder. Pink ribbons behind my ears. Toenails to match. Puleeze! It’s weird. Oh, and did I mention the diamonds around my neck? Fake, of course.

And if it’s not the beauty shop, it’s the doctor’s office. Duh! I’m like a teenager, for Pete’s sake. There’s nothing wrong with me. But no, I get my teeth examined, lights shone in my eyes and ears, and my stomach like pressed and poked. And no way am I even going to mention where they stick the thermometer.

The worst part is she’s totally a control freak. Like I don’t have a mind of my own, you know? She never lets me out of her sight. OMG, doesn’t she know everyone needs a little privacy? Duh!

Sometimes I just feel like running away. Taking off while she’s yakking on the phone or squeezing her zits. I want to live in the moment. Free. But then I think where would I sleep? What would I eat? Of course nothing could be more gross than the stuff she feeds me. We’re always on a diet. No red meat. No fat. No sugar. No taste. Just the same old quote unquote nutritious food.

So anyways, this week we come out of the beauty shop, me looking like some ridiculous brainless bimbo. It’s a long walk to the parking garage and halfway there a scruffy old man is sitting and, next to him, this like drop dead gorgeous hunk.

He’s leaning on his elbows. So awesome. And you can tell he’s like totally in control of his own destiny, you know? Think gypsy. Like he only hangs with the old man because he wants to.

And handsome? OMG, totally to die for. Long wavy brown hair, curls falling across one eye. And I swear you could drown in those deep dark eyes. Hey, I can tell he could totally snag any girl he wanted.

When we reach them, the old man whistles at mama. She stiffens up and yanks me away, stiletto heels clicking faster. I try not to look back. Just walk on by like I didn’t even notice him. But still I get a deep whiff of his mushroomy smell.

But then I realize, OMG. He probably smelled the stupid talcum powder on me. My face starts to burn. I’m dying here, knowing he’s checking out the pink bows and toenails.

My knees are buckling under me. I can’t breathe, I’m like quivering. Geez, it’s totally all I can do not to whimper. OMG, face it, I’m like in love.

That night I curl up on the bed next to mama and dream of his awesome eyes, his sexy smell. I’m kind of scared she can read my mind, you know? She’d totally freak out. Say he has no breeding. Not good enough for her little girl. I’m like all she has, you know? Sad really. Guess that’s why I try to be a good girl.

But in my head, I imagine being curled up next to him under the stars, feeling his warm body pressed against mine, his hot breath on my skin. Wild and free. I blink back tears. I’m totally aching for him. OMG, I wish I could have his babies. Hey, don’t laugh. It’s possible. After all, he’s the only dog I know who still has his balls.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Los Angeles Lit Crawl 2

It was the first free Saturday evening we'd had in a long time. We had two choices: (1) Grab take-out pizza, put our feet up and watch Graham Norton on BBC America or (2) Get into the Jeep and spend 3 hours on the freeway in traffic to get in line along a seedy stretch of Sunset Blvd., creep into a dark crowded room, buy $6 beers and stand for 3 hours listening to 12 authors reading excerpts from their books. No contest. We got into the Jeep.
Pressed close to us in the dark, was a great couple. She writes a blog called "Bookstorepeople". It's goal is to promote the few independent bookstores that haven't been stomped into the dirt by the big box bullies. Check it out.
As the poster stated, "It's a F**king Read-Off." In the Ring: Neal Pollack, Allison Burnett, Katie Arnoldi, Dennis Danziger, Gabrielle Calvocoressi, Graham Moore, Rachel Resnik, James Greer, Edan Lepucki, Joseph Mattson, and Samantha Dunn.
On the bell, the editors of SLAKE, Joe Donnelly and Laurie Ochoa, and the L.A. Times "lit queen" Carolyn Kellogg.
I'd never read anything the authors had written. That's going to change. They were all so f**king good. Funny, edgy, powerful. It was one of those experiences where you're loving it and you're exhilarated but you're also hating it because they're setting the bar so way beyond your reach. I know I could never write like that.
Once I asked my South African writer-friend, Maureen Martus, "Wouldn't you love to write a bestseller?"
Quick as a wink, she answered, "No, I'd rather read one."
Wise woman. And I'm looking forward to reading a lot of them by the writers who participated in the F**king Read-Off!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Again it's been forever since I posted anything, but I have an excuse this time - two in fact. First, Barry and I took a vacation in New York and Washington and second, I not only took in the big city sights, I also took in a mean and rotten bug that I've been fighting ever since. But let me tell you a true story about New York.

Forty-one years ago, a single penniless twenty-something fresh from South Africa, I arrived in New York knowing nothing and nobody. On a whim, I'd traveled from a summer beach in South Africa to New York in January.

The anti-Vietnam War protests were in full-swing, Hair was a hit on Broadway, Eldridge Cleaver's book was a best seller. It was the Age of Aquarius, a new and psychadelic world.

A super-generous (and obviously crazy) girl in Greenwich Village took me in and I slept on the floor of her studio apartment for three whole months in the middle of a freezing winter! I don't know what I would have done without her. She introduced me to her interesting artsy friends, shared her knowledge of all the best things to do and places to see and food to eat in the city.

She trusted me alone with her precious stuff while she was at work, she lent me warm clothing, covered me with rugs at night when the heating went out, and even hitch-hiked round Europe with me when spring finally burst forth. Thank you, Sally Anderson.

We lost touch over the years but a mutual friend gave me her e-mail and I contacted her to see if we could meet while I was in New York. Didn't ask for six-feet of floor space this time though. This time we were both married with grown kids and homes and I had warm clothes of my own. I was a little nervous though. Forty-one years is a long time and I knew she had a Ph.D. and a successful career while all I'd done was intermittently word-process other people's work.

She invited us for brunch in her lovely co-op just west of Central Park. She hasn't changed AT ALL. I would have recognized her anywhere. After brunch, we strolled through the Park and the Metropolitan Museum and I'm just so glad we reconnected.

Moral of the story: Life is lovely but it's short. Look up all the people who've made a difference in your life. You'll be the richer for it.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Good morning, blog, do you remember me? I'm sorry I've been neglecting you. Let me try to make it up with some new yada yada.

These pix are of a few of my greeting cards, now available at Oceanside Museum of Art for the trifling sum of $5 each. And I'm astonished to find they're actually selling. Good grief!

My manuscript is just about ready for the next step. Queries to agents. Oh boy, everyone tells me hooking an agent makes the actual writing seem like a walk in the park. Thick skin required - we're talking elephant thick. But nothing ventured, nothing gained. And while I wait with bated breath for a response or two, let me ramble on with another vignette from an African childhood.


At the official entrance to the mine property where we lived, there was an impressive brick and iron gateway guarded by an African in a smart khaki uniform. As we entered or left, he would click his heels together, salute and wave us through with his wooden knobkerrie.

Within the property there were workshops for the blacksmith, the welders, and the carpenters, as well as a compound that housed the African workers. All this enterprise used a lot of coal and a coal heap two stories high towered against the side of a two-storey building on the property’s edge.

I and my buddies, Keith and Peter, would race each other to the top of the sloping pile of coal, slipping and sliding all the way. At the summit, we would stand triumphant, panting, grazed and very black. From there, we had a great view over the wall onto the railroad track on the other side.

There was a huge shovel stored at the bottom of the heap and often we dragged it to the top with us. One of us sat on the shovel, clinging to its curved edges while the other two pushed on the handle, sending the rider bouncing to the bottom of the pile. Struggling to keep balanced, we screamed in exhilarating terror all the way down.

But the loudest I ever screamed was the time the shovel went missing and we tried this maneuver using a piece of wood instead. I positioned myself in the middle of the wood and Keith and Peter gave me a great shove from behind. The wood stubbornly stayed put, wedged firmly into the coal, while my body scooted forward. My behind gathered a great harvest of long wooden splinters. I wailed all the way home and had to lie quietly, sooty, snotty and bleeding as my mother carefully tweezed the splinters one by one, scolding me all the while.

Along the outside wall of the property next to the coal heap, the great black steam engines puffed and hissed, loaded with equipment for the nearby gold mines. My mother hated the trains. They would set the ground rumbling and turn her lace curtains grey with toxic soot. Often, when she took them down for washing, they disintegrated in her hands.

But we kids loved those engines. They were so big, so loud, so powerful. We stood silently as they passed by, our necks craning to watch the engineer, naked to his waist and shiny with sweat, shoveling coal into the gaping red mouth of the fire.

When we were flush with pocket money, we would place pennies on the track as the train approached, and then hold our breath as those huge steel wheels flattened them into flat wafers of copper.

In the evenings, African workers walked home along the tracks, weary from their shifts on the mines. They would pick up any stray chunks of coal that had fallen from the train, to help heat their huts and cook their food. All winter long the smell of smoke hung heavy in the air, drifting from the braziers in these huts.

But there were not many stray chunks to be found. So when the evening sirens sounded to end the day’s shift, and the sun sank low in the west, Keith and Peter and I would station ourselves at the top of the coal heap and toss coal over the wall to the grinning Africans. It was just a game to us, but it was probably an unexpected stroke of luck for those tired men heading home to cold and draughty huts.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Where does the time go? A blog update is definitely overdue, so here goes.

I've been slogging away at my book for the last couple weeks and I think it's getting there. Wish I had an editor to reassure me, though. One of these days I may opt for a professional, but money's tight.

Haven't been doing too much that doesn't involve aggravated carpal tunnel, but I have just finished reading a book I loved. Homer and Langley by E.L. Doctorow. You'd wonder how anyone could make the story of two home-bound hoarders so gripping, but he pulls it off brilliantly. Check it out. Talking of writing, below is a little vignette from my long-ago childhood in South Africa:

Mention tickies or tackies to any South African of a certain age and a look of nostalgia will sweep over them. Doesn’t matter if they’re male or female, English, Afrikaans, Indian, Black or somewhere in between. Tickies and tackies sound a lot alike, are uniquely South African, but are otherwise completely unrelated.

Tackies were our footwear of choice – usually our only footwear – growing up. They were white, rubber-soled canvas shoes – at least mine started out white when we brought them home from Cuthbert’s Shoe Shop. It didn’t take long for them to change color, coated with mud from the hand-dug pit that was our clubhouse, droppings from the chicken coop, and coal from the coal heap. George, our houseboy, would sit in the sun once a week, scrubbing at my tackies and applying a thick layer of white, toothpaste-like goop in a vain attempt to return them to their former glory.

When they eventually gave up the ghost, my mother and I would catch the double-decker bus into town to visit Cuthbert’s Shoe Shop. I’d get an extra spit and polish, knees scrubbed, hair brushed and a dress instead of shorts. My mom would wear her hat, matching gloves, handbag and heels. She’d drape her fox fur over her shoulder and its glass eye would stare angrily down at me from its resting place on her bosom.

The best part about Cuthbert’s was the X-Ray machine. Once the saleslady had helped you ease into a new pair of tackies and tie the laces, you could run over to the machine in one corner. It was the size of a large jukebox. It had a couple steps to climb and then you grabbed onto two handles on the sides to steady yourself, and slid your newly-tackied feet into a gap at the bottom. At eye-level, there was a screen with padded edges to rest your face against. As you peered into the screen, a magical shimmering green image of your very own foot skeleton appeared! There were all the little bones joined together in five neat rows, surrounded by the soles of your new tackies! That way you could tell how much wiggle room your toes had. ”Just make sure there’s at least an inch between your big toe and the tackie!” my mother would caution. “We have to allow for growth.”

I always hoped the first pair I tried on wouldn’t meet her exacting standards, so that I could get another chance at the X-ray machine with the next pair. By the time I left the shop with my new shoes, I would probably have sent a geiger-counter into apoplexy.

Well, that’s tackies. Then there were tickies (no relation).

Tickies were little silver coins, about the size of a dime. There were two tickies to a sixpence. There was even a dance named after them. The tickie-draai was a sort of Afrikaans square dance where you had to do tight turns. Literally translated it meant “turn on a tickie.”

Keith and Peter from next door and I each got a tickie allowance every Saturday. We would hike down the road to the corner Koolie shop to spend our tickies. The Indian shopkeeper lady, with the red painted dot on her forehead, would wait patiently as we dithered between the Suchard Sugas, the Smarties, and the Lucky Packets. I really loved Smarties but I was seriously collecting the colored plastic charms that came in the Lucky Packets, so it was a difficult choice. I had a cigar box half filled with charms: Pluto, Mickey Mouse, Snow White, Pinocchio, Donald Duck, and Cinderella. I would take the box to school and swap the doubles with the other girls. Of course Keith and Peter wouldn’t be caught dead playing with charms, so it was an easier choice for them.

When I graduated from Kindergarten, my father decided I was ready for an educational trip to Pretoria, the capital city, which was about an hour’s drive away. He wore his fedora and good grey flannels with the cuffs and suspenders, and I had on my new pink candy-stripe dress with lace around the collar. It was the first time just my dad and I had ever gone anywhere together. We climbed into the big white Chevy and I knelt on the front seat with my hands on the dash to get a better view. We left the town behind and drove past small farms, then the Snake Park, the dynamite factory, the Willows Picnic Grounds and finally into the city of Pretoria, with purple Jacaranda trees lining the streets.

We toured the Government offices in the lovely Union Buildings, high on the hill above the city. It had walls of sandstone and a red tiled roof and its graceful curving architecture glowed like a crown above the city below. I loved the buildings and the aloe gardens, but the Government part was pretty boring!

Next we visited the Voortrekker Monument. The design of the towering square monument reminded me of our big wooden radio at home, but of course way bigger. All around the walls of the monument were carvings depicting the Great Trek by the Boers. Covered wagons pulled by teams of oxen, women and girls in long dresses with big sun bonnets, bearded men with rifles fighting off the attacking Zulus who were only wearing animal skins, even dead bodies with
assegais sticking out of their chests.

Finally, we went to the mint to watch money being made – literally. There were guards at the door and we went on a guided tour so they could be sure we didn’t steal any of the money. The guide had to shout above the noise of the huge machines that cut and stamped the coins – half-crowns, shillings, sixpences and tickies. Water sprayed to keep the metal cool, and the newly- minted coins traveled on conveyer belts that dropped them into big bins.

When we got outside, my father was grinning. “Guess what,” he said. “I think I’m the first person to steal a coin out of the mint!”

He bent down and felt in his trouser cuff. Sure enough, there was a buckled blank tickie that must have shot out of the machine, missed the conveyer belt and landed in his trouser cuff. He’d felt it land, but didn’t say a thing. He handed the tickie to me. “You should keep this tickie to remind you of today,” he smiled.

And I have. I wear it on a silver bracelet so I’ll never forget the first excursion I ever took with my father.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Bontebok Ridge near Cape Town, South Africa

Making major fixes to my book is just no fun! I've been staring at a blank computer screen all week, feeling guilty and frustrated. So I decided to ramble on in my blog instead.

One good thing to report this week. I got 12 of my collage greeting cards in the Oceanside Museum of Art gift shop. Yeah! Never thought I'd end up with stuff in an art museum - even if it is the gift shop and not the galleries!

I've been making "Caffeinated Cards" with teabags for a couple years now. First I drink the tea, then I dry the teabags, then I slit them and empty the tea into the compost, then I iron them, then I glue them onto the cards along with other odds and ends I find on my walks (feathers or leaves or eucalyptus bark or seeds.) I know, it's crazy but all that snipping and glueing is good therapy.

Anyway, seeing as how I'm not getting anywhere with the book fixes, I'm including a poem I wrote after my last visit to South Africa. I'd spent time there in the game parks and also on my friend's wine farm, Bontebok Ridge, near Cape Town. So peaceful and close to the earth you could smell it and feel it and connect with it.

And then, here I was back in Southern California where everything felt so rushed and crazy and superficial. So this is what I wrote:


"Please stay on the line and your call will be answered in the order it was received."

Close your eyes, breath deep, remember Bontebok Ridge
Dust billowing behind the tires on the rutted dirt road
The ancient eucalyptus bordering the vines
A thrill of recognition as the farmhouse comes to view
below the craggy mountains where the fish eagles glide.

"There is a sig. alert on the north 805. A jack-knifed big rig is blocking all lanes."

Close your eyes, breath deep, remember Bontebok Ridge
Chaka, the golden ridgeback rushing out to greet the Jeep
Frost brushing my ankles and soaking my socks
Geese scratching for snails in the winter-bare dirt
Morning mist rising from the water of the pond.

"Are you considering breast augmentation, liposuction, Botox or collagen injections?"

Close your eyes, breath deep, remember Bontebok Ridge
Waiting in the boma at the edge of the dam
Numb fingers thawing round a steaming coffee mug
As the quagga, the impala, the eland and the bontebok
Step daintily down to the dam to drink.

Close your eyes, breath deep, remember Bontebok Ridge

Thursday, February 4, 2010

SDSU Writers' Conference. Brix, Louise and me in front of a board full of agents names.

Yikes. I'm overwhelmed. Exuberant, Exhilarated, Energized, Exhausted. Three chock-full days at the SDSU Writers' Conference. Listening to sessions on genres, synopses, query letters, pitches, editing, publishing, and even unleashing your primitive dog. And always the big fat bottom line - MONEY. If the Gods of publishing can't make a lot of it, your book is doomed.

My head is spinning. And the hardest part is I realize I've blown it. If I want to conform to the middle-grade genre structure, I shouldn't have all those different viewpoints in my story. I thought they brought my characters alive and helped them interact but all the agents I talked to said, "Only one viewpoint in middle-grade novels. Maybe two max."

Wish I'd heard that before I began writing. Do you know how hard it is to silence those people you have lovingly brought to life and nurtured? Alternatively, I can keep the viewpoints but make the characters older and aim for the young adult market. Either way, lots of sweat and tears. I don't think I can do it. Not yet, anyway. I have to come back down to earth first.

But the agents were all wonderful. Sat next to one at lunch who didn't get to eat a thing because she was pelted with questions from everyone at the table and she patiently put down her fork and answered as if we were all the next J.K. Rowling.

Overall they thought I had a good story and suggested a long reading list of Newbury Award Winners to help with the voice of that age level. They also offered to take a look at it once I've gutted those pesky viewpoints.

Well, that's enough whining. I'm honestly so glad I went. I learnt a lot. And the most inspiring moment came from Robert Dugoni, the bestselling author who gave the keynote address. He said that next time someone asks you what you do, tell them, "I'm a writer." Wow.