Back in the before time, meaning before the Delta Variant terrorized us all, my husband and I went to a concert, INDOORS! I know, it was crazy, it was July. We saw Arturo Sandoval, the 71-year-old, Cuban American jazz trumpeter, and let me tell you, it was a joy-filled evening.

About halfway through the concert, Sandoval shared that as a small boy, growing up in central Cuba, he’d asked to learn to play the piano and was told the piano was for girls. So, he taught himself the trumpet. Yet the piano always beckoned and over the years Sandoval taught himself to play. “I’d like to play something for you now,” he said to us. “I hope you like it. I don’t care if you don’t.”

Man, that slayed me. Right on, Mr. Sandoval! He played piano because he was feeding his creative soul. Geez, I hope that’s something we can all do. Of course his playing was gorgeous. And when he picked up his trumpet again, that too was vivid and alive.

We left the concert feeling light and full at the same time, and I promised myself I’d tell you all about him. Sandoval followed his dream. Then he shared his passion, “I hope you like it.” But he also knew that the gift he’d given himself, learning the piano, was in and of itself enough. “I don’t care if you don’t.”

I hope you prioritize your passion and your curiosity with the same ferocity.




We’ve just finished watching 100 Foot Wave, which was fascinating. The power and beauty of the waves had our mouths hanging open. The obsession and fearlessness of the surfers was equally mesmerizing. I don’t understand the drive to put oneself at such grave risk, in the palm of something churning and vast and potentially deadly. Equally riveting was the arc of Garrett McNamara’s journey. To begin with he was selfish, absorbed in his own passion, slightly arrogant, and frankly unlikeable. But as the injuries and the years piled on, he softened. (Funny how that happens to all of us!) By the end of the series, I found him compelling and wholly sympathetic.

We also watched a charming and funny movie, CODA, about a hearing child of deaf parents and the responsibilities that fall on the child’s shoulders to help her deaf family navigate a hearing world. I really don’t want to say too much, it’s just a delight. Do check it out.

Finally, we tried to watch The Righteous Gemstones, a comedy series about a celebrity televangelist, his mega-church and the corrupt family behind it all. Even though I find capitalized religion distasteful, (the Gemstones take over a defunct Sears department store and turn it into a mega-church, which is meta and funny) I just couldn’t manage the show. The show asked me again and again to laugh at people rather than with people. It made me feel uncomfortable and bumped me from the lucid dream of the story. Mean-spirited jabs at large bodies, bad teeth, big belts, wigs and sideburns, greed, unnecessary violence, plus a gratuitous number of penises (why?), just didn’t add up to fun laughter. We gave it four episodes. If you’ve watched it and want to push back, shoot me an email and let me know why I should continue. I delight in being proved wrong!

















I know I’ve mentioned the Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend podcast here before, but I want to suggest the episode with Melissa McCarthy. She’s a joy!  A couple things she said really stuck with me, both as good advice for writing and also why I don’t like mean-spirited comedy.

MM: “If you are making fun of a character you are playing…there is a meanness that bumps me out as an audience member.”

Writing a one-dimensional character, someone who’s a dork, or mean, without giving nuance and complication, and well… humanity, feels cheap and easy. People aren’t like that, they have layers. As one of my writing teachers, Stewart O’Nan said, you’ve got to give characters some contradictions, make your serial killer an expert diaper changer!

MM: “When I play people, I think some people think I’m making fun of that type of woman… Nope, that is the woman that fascinates me. Someone I can’t take my eyes off of. If you’re in a store and there is somebody that’s like, ‘Yeah, I’m all in purple. Wait till you see me in the parking lot because my car is purple too.’ That’s the one I literally get love goggles. I’m not making fun of them. I’m like, you are literally living right because you don’t give a shit what anybody else thinks about you. You’re not hurting anyone, you’re just all decked out in grape.”



I believe that is how we have to write. It doesn’t mean we cannot write asshats, or weirdos, we just have to embrace their full, messy and complicated humanity. Or, as Louise Erdrich says, “To love another human in all of her splendor and imperfect perfection, it is a magnificent task…tremendous and foolish and human.” (Of course I can think of a slew of politicians who don’t fall into the lovable-despite-flaws category. I think that has to do with the power they wield.) But, as writers we must do this for our characters.

Another listen for you! I’m super excited to take part in Kelly Fordon’s project, Let’s Deconstruct A Story. In the first hour Kelly and I will be talking about my story, “Children Are Magic,” which is sold out at One Story Magazine, but you will get an electronic version for the discussion. In the second hour Kelly will provide prompts and you’ll have an opportunity to share your writing. What a wonderful way to spend October 13th from 3:00 – 5:00p PST. I hope to see you! (Side note, Children are Magic is from my novel, MUST BE NICE, and though one is not supposed to have favorites, the family in that story is so near and dear to my heart!)















This cake is so damn good and virtuous!


  • 2 1/4 c flour
  • 1/2 c unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1t baking soda
  • 1t salt
  • 1 3/4 c sugar
  • 1/2 c unsalted butter, room temp
  • 1/2 vegetable oil
  • 2 lg. eggs
  • 1t vanilla
  • 1/2 c buttermilk
  • 2c grated zucchini
  • 60z chocolate chips
  • 3/4 c chopped walnuts


  • Preheat oven to 325°
  • Butter and flour a 9x13x2” baking pan
  • Sift flour (I use whole wheat pastry), cocoa powder, baking soda and salt into a medium bowl.
  • Beat sugar, butter and oil (I usually use canola oil, but next time I’m going to try olive!) in your stand mixer bowl until light and fluffy
  • Add eggs one at time, beating well after each addition
  • Beat in vanilla
  • Mix in dry ingredients alternately with buttermilk in three additions, ending with buttermilk
  • Fold in grated zucchini
  • Pour batter into prepared pan and sprinkle with EXCELLENT quality chocolate chips. (I said semisweet back in the day when I had children at home. Now I use bittersweet. Hmm… that has to mean something, no?) Sprinkle with chopped walnuts as well
  • Bake for 50 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean
  • Cool cake in pan…or not! Maybe just eat right away!



Thanks for spending a minute with me. Take good care. If you’ve not yet gotten a vaccine, please chat with smart people to hear all the reasons it’s a good idea. Also, be certain to mask up and protect the kids who aren’t yet old enough for a vaccine.

If you have the funds, consider helping out our Haitian brothers and sisters. Here and here.

And a message from Stanley: take time to play!



If you need a book, I’ve got all the recommendations from two years of this newsletter at my Bookshop.