It’s December, which means that in between grading English composition papers, reading college creative writing finals, and doing my own editing and writing, it’s time to think about … presents!

Some of my favorite presents to give—if the recipients are willing, obviously; I mean, I don’t give these to people like cough syrup, because they’re good for you—are books.

We’re a “mixed” religious family. My mother was Jewish, my dad Catholic, and my husband was also raised Catholic. In our household, we celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas. I give our daughter a book every night of Hanukkah, “because Jews value reading and education,” I used to explain to her, until my friend told me that sounded kind of bad.

“Bad, how?”

“You make it sound like other people don’t.”

“I was just referring to the fact that when people came to set fire to your house with pitchforks, the one thing they couldn’t take from you was your education. At least, that’s how my mom explained it.”

“How do pitchforks start fires?”


Anyway: I stopped with the explanation. But I kept on with the book-giving tradition.

If the books are good, my daughter reads them in a day. If they’re not good, she abandons them after a chapter.

Anyone have any good recommendations for fifteen-year old girls? Or husbands who like to read poetry? (Don’t worry. My family doesn’t look at my website.)

Happy reading and happy gift-giving, everyone!

I worked with close to fifty writers in my two weekend and two weeklong workshops at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival this June and July.  I taught a class on dialogue ("Better Talky-Talky: The Art & Craft of Dialogue") with this fantastic group below, which included a Catholic priest, a Lutheran minister, a horse lover, a recent college grad, etc., fabulous writers, all...

Then I taught a weeklong class on Plotting the Novel. Some writers came having already written drafts. One writer came without a clear idea of what she wanted to write about, and we brainstormed ideas. Most writers were somewhere in between. We spent the week plotting, so that they left with the tools and structure to go home and write or finish their awesome books. I loved it when Ellie said, "I came here with 99 problems and Kelly solved 97 of them!"  (That means that Ellie is doing better than Jay-Z at this point. Go, Ellie!) Here we are pictured in front of one of the many amazing Aristotelian plot outlines we workshopped over the week...

Flash Fiction is always a fun class for me to teach, partly because I find the form so satisfying that I love sharing my passion with others. It's a great form for me to write my Disney Princesses at Middle Age stories. And I find that almost all writers, even those with very little experience, write really well when they're forced to write with brevity, making every word count. The writers in this class, from beginning writers to advanced authors, were no exception; they all wrote publishable flash pieces that I hope they'll be sending out very soon so that the world can read their beautiful works.

I wish I'd taken a group picture of my Novel in a Week class. Somehow the week got away from me. I guess that happens when you try to write a novel in a week. We came to Iowa with a plot outline, created a character arc, wrote or revised an opening scene, wrote or took notes on what the climax needed to accomplish, created or heightened an oppositional force, and wrote, revised, or contemplated the ending. No wonder I didn't have time to take a group picture! But a waiter at the festival dinner did namange to snap this one of the participants who remained to chat a while after Thursday's dinner was over, after many of the others went back to their hotel rooms to write book jackets. (Slave driver, I know...) This was another fantastic class.

You would think that out of fifty writers, there would be some themes that would come up again and again, some voices that would feel stale, some stories that would be repetitious. But you would be wrong. Every writer I worked with had a different story to tell, a unique voice, and a different way of looking at the world.

And as the park bench says, DIFFERENT IS GOOD.

I loved all of their stories, and I loved all of the people I met at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival.

I'll be teaching two weekend writing workshops and two weeklong writing workshops this summer. I can't wait! 

Flash Fiction in a Flash: Writing (and Submitting) Publishable Flash Fiction | Weekend Workshops June 24-25
Plotting the Novel | Weeklong Workshops June 25-30
Novel in a Week | Weeklong Workshops July 9-14

I'll also be giving an eleventh-hour presentation on "How to Write (and submit for production) the 10-Minute Play" on Wednesday June 28th. The presentation is at 11 AM and is free and open to all festival participants.

My creative writing workshops are fun, productive, and stimulating. Writers always come away with plenty of ideas, inspiration, newfound skills, and the confidence to complete their projects.

To register, or for more information, go to:

Come write with me this summer!

I'm going to be a New York City-produced playwright!

Nylon Fusion Theatre Company has accepted my play STOP ME IF YOU THINK YOU'VE HEARD THIS ONE BEFORE (named after The Smiths's song by the same title) for their upcoming "This Round's On Us: The Redacted Play Festival: the F Word," February 24th and 25th in New York.

Academy Award-winning writer John Patrick Shanley (author of OUTSIDE MULLINGAR), and one of the advisory board members of Nylon Fusion, says:

"Nylon Fusion Theatre Company is exactly the right kind of theatre for New York City now. It is young, multicultural, fearless. It provides an open door, inviting unrecognized talent on to the stage, providing entry, excitement, recklessness, candor and comedy, in a joyous atmosphere. There are new actors, directors, and playwrights in abundance. You will discover artists here. You will experience the rush of seeing them first. That's what New York is all about. Discovery!" 

As you might imagine, I'm absolutely thrilled! And hey, if you live in New York and see the show, drop me a line and send me a picture, will you?!
Happy Thanksgiving!  Today we celebrate the anniversary of the feast in which Native Americans helped the first immigrants survive in their new land. This week we've seen Native Americans brutally attacked for defending their right to clean water, while many Americans are being yelled at to "Go back to where you came from!" Of course this only makes us more determined to celebrate our diversity and come together as Americans, whether our families have always been here, or whether they came came here on the Mayflower, on slave ships, steamships, rafts, or airplanes. I'd love to hear about your "coming to America/always been in America" stories; I'd love to hear what you're especially thankful for (if you want to comment below)... Hope you have a happy holiday, everyone, with good company, good food, and good conversation: may your only fighting be over the wishbone!

Pictured is my great-grandfather, Alec Sherman, who emigrated from Kaunas, Lithuania, to New York, in the early 1900s, to escape enscription into the Russian army and to enjoy religious freedom--which he indeed found in America. He married my great-grandmother, Jenny Melkiur, who was from Latvia, and they moved to Los Angeles, where they spent the rest of their lives with their eight children, including my grandmother Sarah. My father's family came from Cork County, Ireland. I am thankful that all of my great-grandparents made the arduous journey to America, and that all of my ancestors lives intersected in such a way that I was born and am writing this today....

Anastasia the Romanian Snake Countess is not a major character in my book; I would hardly even call her a minor one. But she comes up now and again, and so I've been doing a little research on "lady snake charmers" of the circus. Like Eve in the Garden of Eden, these female snake charmers seem to have special relationships with snakes. They can communicate with them, dance with them, "hypnotize" them, and hold them. At a time when women's bathing suits consisted of bloomers and baggy blouses, these women's outfits were downright sexy. My character Anastasia died in a circus fire when her daughter was only 12. But I like to think of her, a young mother, charming snakes and wearing glitzy outfits, making her daughter proud.

It's been over a year since my car accident, and I've just gotten back to working on my novel. Although I still get headaches if I spend too much time at the computer, I can't tell you how good it feels to be thinking clearly and writing creatively once more...

I've been back from Europe for a couple of weeks now. I was there for two months, and had a fantastic time, living and teaching in Scotland and traveling to Dublin, London, and Prague on the weekends. (And having very few headaches!--I think due to lack of screen time, though I'd like to think it was the fresh Scottish air...)  Being home has been a mix of happiness (I'm home! With my family! And pug! And friends!) and sadness (I miss Scotland and my friends there, too).

But I am so glad that I was home when my beloved dog Rosie got sick. I took her to the emergency veterinarian in Madison and learned that she had bladder stones; the next day she had surgery from our veterinarian here in Baraboo. They removed two very large (walnut size) bladder stones and about 20 small ones. Poor Rosie! But they took very good care of her and now she is resting at home, on the mend.

The experience reminded me how much I love Rosie, how much we humans love our pets. Rosie is sweet, happy, funny, and kind--and she doesn't speak in words. For someone who works with words all day--my own, my college students', other writers', professional writers'--having a companion who communicates in wagging tails and big eyes is a beautiful, comforting balm.

I miss Scotland, I miss Europe. But I am very glad to be home.
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