Last week I had the privilege of meeting members of Israel’s Air Force at an event I was covering in Beverly Hills – a fundraiser for the Israel Air Force Center Foundation. You can read that story here
However, there was a very personal element to this event for me. It’s always wonderful to see the incredible men and women that defend the Jewish state every single day. These are the same people who fly into war and disaster zones all around the world – helping victims in tsunami’s and earthquakes, who bring the sick and injured from around the globe (and yes, even Palestinian territories and Syria for life saving operations).
There’s a reason these young men and women are revered and the fallen honored the day before Israel’s Independence Day. It’s because of these people that lives in Israel are protected. Most Israelis, however, don’t get to see the work they do up close. However, my connection to the IAF is deeply personal and very, very direct.
As most readers know, I survived an Al Qaeda suicide bombing in Kenya in 2002, while on assignment from Israel. You can read about that here. And you also know it was the Israeli Air Force that flew in on massive Hercules jets and rescued us. Rescued us from a country who had shut down its airports, where we were trapped and unable to return home. To see those men and women from the IAF waiting for us with open arms, coming to bring us home was a moment that will remain seared in my brain forever.
At the gala event in Beverly Hills thousands of miles and 14 years from that horrific day, Brigadier General Uri Oron stood up and gave an incredibly moving speech about his work in the IAF for the last 30 years and his role as head of military intelligence.
As he stepped off the podium and walked back to his table in a fancy ballroom with even fancier silverware I walked up to him and said, “I don’t know if you remember what happened in Mombasa in 2002…” And he said, “Of course I remember, I was part of the effort that coordinated the rescue.” I couldn’t keep the tears out of my eyes as I told him I was there and I would never, ever forget that rescue and what it meant to all of us to see the IAF bring us home.
It took me 14 years to say thank you but feeling the warmth of his hand, and seeing the smile on his face? It was totally worth the wait.
Actually that’s the Apple Store, and Apple Care and my Apple Macbook Pro. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I love my computer. As writers (unless you still do everything in longhand and good for you if you do), we need our trusty computers to actually do our jobs. My 13 inch mid 2014 retina display Macbook Pro is my super sleek, silver friend. At home it’s attached to a large monitor, but I love that I can pick it up and go anywhere with it when I need to.
Yes, I live in L.A. but no, I don’t generally like to write in coffee shops. I prefer to stay home, free from distractions and endless cups of caffeine (and I only drink tea anyway, not coffee). But the other day, I was forced to shlep my laptop to a nearby coffee shop after the electric company turned off our power at 7:30 a.m. without warning (a telephone call to the company revealed it was “an emergency” and therefore there was no time to inform residents). I was also told it would be about 7 or 8 hours before it was turned back on, so it was off to the cafe with me.
However, when I arrived and plugged in my computer, I discovered the screen was cracked. How was that possible? Could a power outage cause this? I didn’t drop my computer, I didn’t spill anything on it – and I’d only bought it six months ago! (Tip: you can save a lot of money on a new computer if you buy the model that came out a little earlier. They work just as well).
Taking my computer to Apple, they informed me that my three year warranty didn’t cover the screen or “accidents,” and it was going to be close to $500 to fix it! Panic set in. But my Genius Bar attendant told me to call Apple Care and plead my case, which I did.
I don’t know if it was my non-American accent, being extremely polite, or that my Apple Care representative could hear the desperation in my voice, but he waived the fee. Relief! After hauling out my old Macbook (circa 2009) and backing up everything, I took my trusty Macbook Pro back to the store for its free repair, which I was informed would take 3 to 5 business days.
Within two hours of arriving home and trying to work on the creaky old Mac, the Apple Store called to say my computer was ready! Wow.
So now, as I sit here back working on my lovely Macbook Pro with it’s brand new retina screen, I just want to give a shoutout to Apple for being so wonderful when it came to fixing my computer – gratis. And so quickly. I am not a spokesperson for Apple, but until my poor computer had to have a date with the Emergency Room, I never really appreciated how much my life depends on my trusty companion.
So thank you, Apple – which I will now call the Obamacare of computers.
How much do YOU depend on your computer?
Long before JK Rowling was scribbling the words that would become the juggernaut that is Harry Potter (or maybe while she was scribbling), and Severus Snape was immortalized on film by the pitch perfect Alan Rickman, I had fallen in love with him (and that great – yet underrated – British actress Juliet Stevenson) in Anthony Minghella’s stunning 1990 film, “Truly, Madly, Deeply.”
If you haven’t seen it, go find it and watch it. NOW. I’ll wait.
Okay. Have you seen it now?
And now tell me how it was impossible to not fall in love with Jamie – Alan Rickman’s character. Jamie. Who died. Jamie. Who played the cello, so hauntingly, so beautifully, and who spoke in that wonderful, mellifluous tone that is – now was – Rickman’s trademark voice? How could you not weep, openly, as Juliet Stevenson, a woman shattered by grief, wished so hard for her lover (Rickman) to return – that he did. In ghost form. And turned up the heat (because apparently it’s bloody freezing in the afterlife or wherever Alan Rickman-cello playing ghosts go) and played the cello, and sneezed a lot and brought his ghost friends round and stayed up ALL NIGHT watching movies. And sang “Sun ain’t gonna shine anymore,” with Stevenson.
This movie. This is where I fell in love with Rickman. Such beauty, such power, such love, such a voice! Such emotional depth. Such physical expression. There is nothing – by Hollywood standards – about Rickman’s features that made him sexy. But he was. With that voice and that emotional depth and talent by the bucketload. He was a great stage actor long before Hollywood discovered him. But “Truly Madly Deeply” is and was to this day both one of my favourite films of all time and Rickman remained one of my favourite actors. Pre-Harry Potter. Even Pre-Sense and Sensibility with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet.
Rickman was one of those guys that you’d pay to read the bloody phone book. That I would have paid good money to see on stage, but never got the chance. So, in case it’s not clear, Rickman was one of my favourite actors of all time and it’s heartbreaking to hear that that talent has been snuffed out. That he’s gone. That we’ll never hear that voice – at least live – again. Not unless he does a “Jamie” and shows up to haunt various people.
However, I’m not just sad that his talents are gone. I’msad that he left this Earth without ever giving up on his anti-Israel stance. When I heard that he had co-written and produced the play “My Name is Rachel Corrie,” in 2005 about American student protesting the demolition of a Palestinian home, who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer while acting as a human shield, I could no longer respect the man.
I wish Rickman – who died today – January 14 at the age of 69 from cancer – had lived long enough to open his eyes to what is really going on in Israel. I wish he’d lived long enough to use his intelligence and compassion and take a long, hard look at the fact that there are two sides to a conflict; that he’d come to know and love Israel. Heck, I wish he’d taken the time to visit Israel!
Either way, the world has lost a great talent. And I will continue to remain truly, madly, deeply in love with Jamie and his cello. Even if I can’t remain in love with the man who played him.
Sometimes you just have to.
Retreat, that is.
In order to advance.
So that’s what I did last week. Went on my first ever writing retreat. Four days. The Women’s Fiction Writers Association writing retreat to be specific. WFWA has been two years in the making and this was our first ever retreat to Albuquerque, New Mexico. (I swear, one day I’ll learn to spell this correctly on the first go round – Albuquerque, not New Mexico).
It was a magical, enervating experience, not just to finally meet some of the people we’ve all been friends with for the past two years online, but to simply soak up the joy, camaraderie, support, sharing and gabbing that comes when you meet with others whose goals align with yours.
This was my first retreat: hopefully it won’t be the last. It is SOOO different to a conference, and for me, at least, just what the doctor ordered. And so, without further ado, here is my list of eight reasons why retreating is a way to advance your writing goals.
- It’s a chance to unwind, relax, and make no apologies for focusing on your writing. That’s why so many of the 65 of us on the retreat could be found at all hours of the day and night (and really ungodly morning hours), with gallons of caffeine busily tapping away on our laptops or scribbling in our notebooks on our latest works. A silent reverie where mind melding wasn’t even necessary. The communal writing spirit was powering us forward.
2. It’s an opportunity to not sit in “talks” or “lectures” but in actual circles – yep – and talk as a group about that hour’s particular discussion group. Hearing how others dealt with rejection, their writing process, their editing techniques and more, makes you feel less alone. You can share tips, reveal low and high points, glean incredible insight and bond with other writers who have plumbed the same depths as you and danced for joy at similar highs throughout the creative process.
3. It’s an opportunity to meet with unpublished writers, debut authors, published authors and New York bestselling authors on an equal footing and NOT be intimidated. You get to schmooze over margaritas (there are lots of them in Albuquerque), chow down over jalapeno-spiced meals (this is New Mexico after all), and talk about everything from writing to whether our pets miss us. (I think my dog missed me).
- It’s a reminder that your work MATTERS. That it’s not only permissible but ESSENTIAL to take time out to retreat and focus on your passion: where you can wander the halls or sit on the patio or lounge by the pool and listen to people chat about conflict, protagonists, black moments, publishing deals, agents, editors and all those wonderful buzz words that make you want to jump up and down and proclaim “THESE ARE MY PEOPLE!”
- It’s a way to tap back into your creativity, to discover that your inner four-year-old needs a time out to remind you what matters; where your passions lie and how to harness them and imbue your writing with them. Oodles of thanks to the charming, adorable and brilliant Kimberly Brock for her Tinderbox workshop and making us dance, sing, tell ghost stories and pull out crayons, glitter, stickers, glue and chop up magazine pictures to remind us where our stories came from in the first place and how to keep finding more.
- It’s a way to learn a harsh lesson that it is NOT selfish to spend your time writing. Thank you a billion times over Darynda Jones for your impromptu, impassioned speech about how writing is preparing you for your future career. “You wouldn’t say going to college is selfish, would you?” Darynda demanded of us. And when a New York Times bestselling author tells you you’re not being selfish, you damn well better listen!
- It’s a way to make new writing friends and cement bonds with those you have met online. They are the gift that keep on giving. You now know what their real voices sound like when you go back to your life with them online and they critique your pages, cheer you from the sidelines, bolster you when you hit a wall, and repost your silly Facebook memes.
- It’s a testament to a few determined souls who believe that there’s a niche in the writing market that has yet to be filled and if you build it people will indeed come. Two years ago a group of determined women including Orly Konig Lopez, Laura Drake, and Kerry Hall Lonsdale said, “We need a place for women’s fiction writers.” They thought they’d be lucky if WFWA got 100 members. We’re now at 700 plus thanks to the vision of a few hardy souls. Hats off to all the founders for their foresight, insight, passion and dedication. Without you there would be no WFWA, no retreat and no way for me to advance.Onwards!
This year, I’ll be taking part in the annual PKD walk to fund treatment and find a cure for this genetic, hereditary disease. Walks will take place all over the country and I’ve signed up for the Los Angeles walk in Santa Monica on PKD walk day – Sunday, Oct. 11, 2015.
Here’s my shameless plea letter to donate:
Polycystic kidney disease — one of the most common, life-threatening genetic diseases — strikes both adults and children. It often leads to the need for dialysis and a kidney transplant. It affects thousands in America and millions worldwide, who are in urgent need of treatments and a cure.
The Walk for PKD is the PKD Foundation’s largest annual fundraising event. Funds raised from Walks across the country make up one third of our annual budget.
The more money our walkers raise, the more we can do in the fight to end PKD!
You can help by joining the Walk as a participant, volunteer or donor.
Together, we can walk boldly toward a future where no one suffers the full effects of PKD.
This cause is important to me because I too suffer from PKD. It’s a hereditary genetic disease and there is currently no known cure. My father passed away from the disease at the age of 46. His father passed away from PKD at the age of 50. In addition to myself, both my siblings have PKD as do some of my nieces and nephews. My sister underwent a successful transplant eight years ago.
Please help me reach my goal of raising $250, which will fund treatment for sufferers and research to find a cure for PKD. PKD is not a high-profile disease because you can’t see it. We walk among you and are told we look “fine” But make no mistake, PKD sufferers can and do die waiting on transplants. Their lives are severely compromised once on dialysis. We’re not just looking to raise funds, we’re looking to raise awareness for this disease.
If you’d like to donate, please head to my fundraising page on the PKD Foundation website here and give what you can? Thank you.
Ever felt you had an entrenched habit that couldn’t be broken? I recommend the pie test:
I hate cooked fruit. There. I said it. Fruit compote (aka fruit compost), fruit soup, and pies. Especially apple pies. And peach and pear and any other fruit you put in a pie. Fruit is meant to be eaten fresh, no? And I don’t have to be as “American as Apple Pie” because, well, I’m not American. Anyway, for as long as I can remember, I’ve hated pie. Especially apple pie.
Except for berries. I don’t know why. What makes you think logic plays any part in this? I don’t mind berries in a pie. I love a raspberry, strawberry, blueberry or blackberry pie as much as the next pie lover. Just don’t put apples, or peaches or pears or ANY OTHER FRUIT in it. So, you get the picture, yes?
Well, the other day the bf asked me to bake an apple pie. No way, I said because a) have I mentioned I hate pie? Especially apple? and b) I’ve never cooked one. But later that day, I thought, oh, why not? Again, don’t ask me why I thought this. Please leave all logic at the door, here. It will make things easier for everyone. Thank you.
So, as I was saying, I decided to bake an apple pie. Well, an apple tart, really. (Too lazy to make a crust on top). And I didn’t make mooshy shmooshy apple pie (if those aren’t real words, they should be). I baked the tart just long enough to cook the apples but to the point where they weren’t soggy. And the bf LOVED it. Forced me to try it. And, I actually kind of liked it. I was amazed that I had baked an apple pie (tart) without tasting it and it was pretty darn good. I had a piece! Whoa.. It did NOT taste like gelatinous goop, or baby food or mushy fruit compote.
And then a friend came over and tasted it and said it was DELICIOUS. Clearly I must stop tasting my food while cooking. That must be the secret. Unfortunately, that pie was demolished so quickly I never took a photo of it.
And then the bf challenged me to make a berry pie WITH apples. So that’s what I did (not on the same day, of course not!). I’m not crazy (much). And it was delicious too. Two independent tasters offered this verdict. And THIS time we took a picture.
So here I am, 1950s housewife at your service. Did I mention I also made custard to go with it?
You may think that all I do is make sweets. But that’s not true. I cook other things too (only vegetarian, though). Here’s a pic of the homemade pizzas from the other night (yes, that’s veggie pepperoni you see).
So, I’ve discovered I can eat pies made with fruit as long as they’re not mushy. Who knew?
What long entrenched beliefs of yours have been shattered lately?
AKA: A Room of One’s Own. Thank you Virginia Woolf.
I recently moved. Moving day itself was fairly painless. It was the six weeks of packing and shlepping and organising that were utterly brutal. But we’ve all been there, we’ve all done it. And we’ve all (I hope) lived to tell the tale.
It’s not like I don’t know how to move. I’ve moved homes, cities, streets, heck, even countries more times than I care to remember. As kids, our parents would come into our bedrooms with two large tea chests and say: “Whatever fits, goes. Whatever doesn’t, stays.” This meant (and means to this day), I am not a hoarder, or a pack rat and I can move swiftly and fairly painlessly. I think as we get older it just gets harder. Add to the fact that I’d lived in my old place for almost 10.5 years and I think that’s the longest I’ve lived anywhere. Accumulating junk was easy.
Still, it was great to purge (not being a hoarder this wasn’t difficult – just labor intensive and time consuming). There were endless trips to Goodwill, selling things on Craigslist, giving stuff away on freecycle and a yard sale that honestly, in hindsight wasn’t worth the effort. But we live and learn.
Still, Bronte and I are excited to be in our new home. And the BEST part about it? My dedicated office off the garden (formerly known as the junk room but technically a sun room). And I LOVE it. I love working in here, writing in here, having fellow writers pop round and work alongside me on the sofa (Yes, I have a sofa in my office! And a coffee table!).
Right now it’s still a work in progress. I still need to buy a white board and we haven’t yet put my mezuzah up on the door (that’s a project this weekend and important to me!). But I love, love, love my new space. I’m surrounded by greenery (but as a good writer and thanks to advice from Stephen King’s “On Writing” book, I always make sure my desk faces a wall). However, this place has a great vibe. I love stepping out of the house each morning and into my “office” – I feel like I’m leaving the house and going to a place of work even if it’s only a few steps out the back door into the garden.
What about you? What’s your office space like? Do you love it? What would you do to change it? Post your pictures or send me a link to your space. I love being inspired by people’s rooms.
I have a confession to make. Nay, make that two confessions:
1. I love Margaritas
2. I am the world’s cheapest drunk.
I have no idea what got in to me today, but we decided this afternoon to go out for a drink. No, that’s not true. We decided to go out for something to eat. It was a rough day all round and we felt like we could use some time relaxing – or as the bf called it – “a bit of a holiday.”
Maybe it was the heat (it’s been brutally hot here in Los Angeles), but for reasons that I’m not sure of, I decided I would order a Margarita with my meal. Now this “meal” was a lunch/dinner hybrid, having had breakfast at 8 a.m. and it was now close to 5 p.m. So order a Margarita I did! Did I mention it was Happy Hour too? So that meant a cheap Margarita.
Despite warnings that I would:
a) take two sips and be silly/giggly/happy and
b) then feel hungover, get home and
c) crash into a stupefied coma…
I refused to listen. We all know that you don’t feel the effects of a Margarita until after the worm has turned. So I had my Margarita with my lunch/dinner and then promptly did exactly as listed above with the addition of:
Somewhere between the end of lunch/dinner and driving home (no, I wasn’t the one driving)… my feet started BURNING and TINGLING. We looked that up when we got home to discover that apparently this could be caused by an allergy to alcohol. I’m allergic to alcohol? Sheesh…
Anyway, I decided to have a “bit of a lie down” at 6:15 p.m. and didn’t wake till 7:35 p.m. (and that was only because the dog woke me up).
So there it is: I’ve never been able to really hold my liquor at the best of times. I rarely drink it because of the above problems and NOW I discover that I may even be allergic to it (or maybe just Margaritas?). Did I mention it was an excellent Margarita? And that I only drank about half of it? Hopefully worth the hangover and burning feet, and passing out and the woolly head.
Anyone else unable to hold their alcohol? Anyone else get burning feet? I’m in search of a new vice right now, too. Too much chocolate gives me severe headaches (probably allergic to that too). Sigh.
I want to be a better drinker but apparently that’s not in the cards for me. So what is?
As you know, I’ve waxed lyrical, poetical and every other “al” you can think of about the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and I can’t wait for our retreat in New Mexico at the end of September. But one of the greatest things about our little (well now over 600 strong member) group – and we’re barely two years old – is that we’re an online entity and the retreat is going to be a wonderful opportunity to meet everyone IN PERSON.
If you’re a writer, you understand how important this is. Some of my greatest supporters, cheerleaders and now friends have been made over the Internet via WFWA and our workshops and chatty Facebook page discussions. If it weren’t for WFWA I’d never have met (online) the wonderful Barbara Claypole White, chatted to her over the telephone and received my first acknowledgement in her latest book The Perfect Son. I wouldn’t have met the best critique partner ever – Brenda Linskey – were it not for WFWA’s find a critique partner programme. And I wouldn’t have met my roommate for the upcoming retreat – Beth Havey. And of course, I wouldn’t have found the perfect planner to keep track of my writing progress if it weren’t for WFWA’s Jamie Raintree.
However, last week I actually got to meet – in person – three fellow authors, thanks to Scott Wilbanks. Scott – one of the few men in WFWA lives in New Zealand, but thanks to a great Donald Maass online workshop through WFWA, I fell in love with Scott’s writing.
Last week, Scott flew back to the US for his debut book tour thanks to his publisher, Sourcebooks. His debut novel? The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster. It’s as delicious and quirky and funny and wonderful as it sounds. It’s women’s fiction! It’s magical realism, it’s time travel, it’s adorable. I read it in a weekend. And then I got to meet its magical, quirky, plane travelling creator (and his Kiwi husband) at a reading at the wonderful indie bookstore Book Soup here in Los Angeles.
What a wonderful evening and how fantastic to meet my fellow writers. To show you just how fantastic it was here’s some photos (no idea why my bloody eyes are shut) and two wonderful videos. One is of Scott reading from his book and the other is of Scott sharing an email exchange with WFWA’s President Orly Konig-Lopez, which shows you why WFWA is such a cool organization.
On my “For Writers” page on my website, I talk a lot about writing being solitary and how it can be lonely and the importance of finding writing buddies either in person or online. This post shows how wonderful that can be!
Why you should buy Scott’s book. Listen to him reading from it….