Thursday, November 5, 2009

Optimism for the Future of Books!

This month, on one glorious day, I had two blow-you-away experiences that completely revived my hope for books, authors, and even, GASP, the future of publishing.

First, on In a Word, we had the great pleasure to talk to San Ramon author, Mahbod Seraji about his wonderful book, Rooftops of Tehran. Seraji’s story is one that many aspiring writers can relate to…

He always wanted to be a writer, hooked at an early age by Jack London’s White Fang. After much struggle, and various academic degrees and careers, at the age of 50-something he published his first novel—the story he was meant to tell—a semi-autobiographical tale of romance, politics and coming of age during the last days of the Shah of Iran.

And, not only did he achieve his dream of telling his story, but his book has been wildly successful! Critically-acclaimed, in the second printing and over 40,000 copies sold! (Which, BTW, for any author, let alone an unknown first-time author, is phenomenal!)

Dreams really can come true.

And then, as luck would have it, later that very same day, I took my son to see his favorite author of all time, Jeff Kinney, creator of the Wimpy Kid series. And, get this, he had a bus as big as any rock star!

Seeing the piles and piles of kids in line, many of whom may not be big literary type of readers, who are just in love with the Wimpy Kid character, who have discovered their own joy in reading, even if it’s layered with fart jokes and lots of comic drawing, it reminds me of the importance and the power of the written word, even if, and maybe, especially if, it’s not something considered “literature” by the so-called experts.

What an incredible day!! with the theme of the power of books to both connect us to one another and, also, to take us beyond our everyday lives into worlds that we would never otherwise know. Whether you are writing or reading literary fiction about the history of Iran or a graphic novel about a wimpy fourth grader—books give us the intangibles we long for—empathy, adventure, laughter, connection.

And that is the power of Mahbod Seraji and Jeff Kinney and all of the readers who love them and their stories.

And that gives me hope.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A Great Book for Teens

You know how when your 14-year-old daughter asks you what she should wear to school, and you get all excited, and think, “Yay! Finally! She values my taste and sense of fashion and judgment enough to ask for my opinion about something as vitally important as what-to-wear to high school!”

And then you get all giddy and check your I-Phone to see what the weather will be and you check the family calendar to see if there is anything major going on, and then you mentally sort through her closet and come up with just the perfect recommendation for the climate and occasion, “How about your white skinny jeans and that new screen-printed tee that we just bought?”

And then, she smiles slightly, in what you will later recognize as that noncommittal, patronizing, oh-what-was-I-thinking-asking-you? or maybe great-now-I-know-exactly-what-not-to-wear look, and five minutes later she emerges from her room wearing denim shorts and an old sweatshirt?

Um, yeah.

As parents, it is our tragic destiny that our children chose to ignore not only our exquisite fashion sense, but also our accumulated, hard-earned wisdom about much grander things, such as life and success.

Which is why it is so wonderful to have a book like, Be the Star You Are For Teens to quietly slip to our teens in the hopes that they can learn from their peers peddling the kind of wise knowledge that is relevant to them, packaged in a way that they understand.

And, who could be better to write, collect and edit these stories than the vivacious, gorgeous, blond with sparkly star earrings, brimming with energy and enthusiasm and Star Power, than author, Cynthia Brian.

Brian, the best-selling author of “Chicken Soup for the Gardener’s Soul,” compiles amazing stories from leading experts and teenagers encouraging them to discover their unique gifts, live up to their highest potential and be the stars they are meant to be.

My favorite story in the book is “Persistence,” written by Brian. She describes growing up on a farm, the oldest of five children in a family with little money. One day in the second grade she learned about something called “college” and announced to her family that she was going to go.

All agreed it was a great idea! Only one little obstacle—how to pay for it. After many weeks of brainstorming, it was decided that Brian would raise chickens and sell eggs to save money for higher education.

Waking up at 5:00 am to care for the birds, clean chicken poop, and collect eggs, Brian also suffered raids by foxes and mountain lions, and endured the nickname of “Chicken Lady.” Brians’s spirit was not dampened. As the cheerleading captain, she even had one of her chickens masquerade as the team “Falcon” mascot. Heck, Brian probably made it cool to raise chickens.

The result of all that hard work? Brian writes...

“By my senior year, those first twelve chickens increased to over two thousand. By the time I was eighteen, I had earned enough money from selling eggs to finance my entire university experience.”


For more inspiration, go to

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Art of Racing in the Rain

This month something happened to me that has never happened in the eight-plus years I have been doing the show.

Something terrible and devastating and humbling—something that rocked my literary self-esteem to the core.

Perhaps I’m exaggerating just a tad…

This month I fell in love with a book—our bookclub pick—The Art of Racing in The Rain.
My infatuation was immediate and intense and totally unexpected, like showing up for a blind date arranged by your sister and seeing Brad Pitt waiting for you with a single red rose and a Café Mocha.

The book was #4 on the NY Times Bestseller list. I knew people who loved it (including my co-host, Jim Ott and a guest on this show, Melanie Bentley), but I had my doubts. There are just so many books (I would venture to guess about 75%) that I start and just don’t finish.

Not to mention that the Cliff Notes/Entertainment Tonight version would be:

A racecar driver has a dog who is old and will soon be put to sleep. In a series of flashbacks, the dog remembers all the tragedies and triumphs of a very dramatic life with his master, full of wisdom and love that will warm the heart of anyone who has ever loved and lost a dog.

Big Yaaaaawwwwwnnnn. Plus, besides Marley and Me (and for dog’s sake, I cried enough already between the book and the movie), who can really get excited about a book in which you know in advance the dog dies?!

But from the very first page, I fell in love with Enzo, the dog narrating the novel:

Gestures are all that I have; sometimes they must be grand in nature. And while I occasionally step over the line and into the melodramatic, it is what I must do in order to communicate clearly and effectively…I have no words I can rely on because, much to my dismay, my tongue was designed long and flat and loose, and therefore, is a horribly ineffective tool for pushing food around my mouth whie chewing, and an even less effective tool for making clever and complicated polysyllabic sounds that can be linked together to form sentences. And that’s why I’m here now waiting for Denny to come home—he should be here soon—lying on the cool tiles of the kitchen floor in a puddle of my own urine.

Is that great literature or what?!

Enzo is wise and wonderful and loving and selfless and human in the best sort of way that one would wish an actual person could be human. Enzo is everything you could possibly want in a dog, friend, companion or narrator. And, of course, it didn’t hurt that I am the human (politically incorrect to say “owner” anymore, as if another being could actually “own” another being!) of a dog

who I can only say, with the utmost underestimation, I consider to be very special.

So, anyway, I fell in madly in love with this book and wanted another guest for the perfect discussion, so I invited one of my extraordinarily well-read, articulate, beautiful friends to read the book. I knew that she was a dog-lover and couldn’t wait to rhapsodize about the wonders of this book with her.

Surprise—a couple of days before the show, I got this message:

Heads up - I just finished reading and I am not a big fan of this book!

Yikes! I had to go back to the book and read all the glowing reviews and see the awards that it had won to reassure myself that actually, I had not been a sucker for some overly done sentimental piece of crap about life and death…(no offense to those of you who liked Tuesdays with Morrie)

No matter. On the show, my friend’s differing opinion of the premise of the book added a lot to the discussion—even though, if I remember correctly, she did refer to me as crazy at least once—a description that I happily embraced, and might have even suggested.

Also on the show—Cynthia Brian, the ball of energy and inspiration who is the author of Be the Star You Are! For Teens. More later…

And, just in time for Spooky October, Irma Slage, author of Phases of Life After Death. She really does See Dead People!

Friday, September 11, 2009

When We Were Colored

This month’s show is the perfect example of exactly why I LOVE doing In A Word.

This month, I had the Triple-whammy experience of reading a book that I normally would never pick up on my own (the Dublin “One City, One Book” selection); absolutely falling in love with it; and then—the cherry ontop—I had the honor of meeting and interviewing the amazing author.

That’s as pretty close to heaven as it gets for a book geek like me. To summarize:

Incredible book:

Historically edifying
Emotionally moving

A memoir of Eva Rutland’s time as a stay-at-home, “colored” mother of four in the days leading up to civil rights in America, the book was first published in 1964—the same year that the Civil Rights Act outlawed racial segregation. Then it was titled, “The Trouble with Being Mama.” Rutland’s goal was simple—to seek common ground with white women through the universal experience of motherhood. The book has been recently reissued, with a new title, a new foreword, and the assistance of the author’s daughter, Ginger Rutland, an editor at The Sacramento Bee.

Rutland writes genuinely and lovingly of her childhood in the South in the days of segregation. Her grandfather, a former slave, had built a successful business and put every one of his dozen children through college. Although it’s hard for us to imagine, Rutland remembers her middle-class “colored” youth as magical, “How beautiful it seemed--Atlanta, with its ermine-trimmed, diamond-studded, velvety cloak of segregation.”

It turns out that life was much more difficult and complicated for Rutland once she moved with her husband and small children to “liberal” California, which did not officially segregate whites and “coloreds,” but had a strong undercurrent of prejudice that was much more difficult to navigate than the clear delineation between the races in the South.

For example, even though there were no boundaries of white and “colored” parts of town, when Rutland and her family wanted to buy a lot on which to build a house, they had to get a white friend to buy it and then sell it to them. The owner would not sell directly to a “colored” family.

Rutland’s soft touch brings you gently into her world, makes you empathize with her as a mother, and then knocks you over with an anecdote about the reality of being “colored” at that time. The personal and the politics are seamlessly woven together and that is the power of the book.

Incredible author:


As I read this book, it seemed like Rutland was telling my story, although, on the surface, we could not be more different. Eva Rutland is a Black/African-American/“Colored” mother who tells of raising four children in the 60’s in the midst of the rapidly changing world of segregation and integration, and all the everyday challenges of any mother trying her best to take care of and teach her children well. By contrast, I live in a multi-cultural city that embraces, even celebrates, diversity. While Rutland’s daughter was forbidden to play with one of her white friends because the friend’s mother believed that “Negroes were dirty,” my children bring home friends of all colors and races, without a fleeting thought to their differences.

Still, as Rutland supposed, we mothers have common ground.

My favorite part of the book had nothing to do with race. It was when Rutland reflects upon all the time she has spent volunteering for child-centered activities like Girl Scouts and PTA—many times leaving her family at night to attend meetings or spending lots of energy on things that we supposed to be “enriching” for the kids, but often turn out to be more about the egos and social lives of the mothers.

Her conclusion, and I’m paraphrasing here, “If I had it to do over again, I would spend more time reading books, reading myself and reading to my children and cleaning the house.” Well, I agree with the reading part at least.

Incredible discussion:

Two passionate guests who lived through this period in California—one as a child and one as a parent.

A Must See show! You can watch online, streaming video! Just click here and watch the show M-F at 6:30 am, 1 pm and 9:30 pm.

Eva Rutland is a hero—not just for her courage, good sense and elegance in speaking out and finding common ground in a time of racial divide and fear—but for giving us all an example of how powerful the written word can be. To make us understand, to make us feel, and bring us, as readers, into a world that we would have otherwise never known—leaving us the wiser and richer and, maybe even kinder for the experience.

I leave you with these words, from the new foreword, Rutland writes, “Now, almost fifty years later, life in America has changed, but my story is as relevant today as it was then.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

August In A Word

“Oh, Da, Da, Dear, Dear,” as one of my favorite characters of literature, Piglet from Winnie the Pooh would say.

I am quite behind on my blogging. It is not for any lazy lack of literary gusto, but because all these pesky personal things (which I will not bore you with) keep getting in the way.

Oh, Bother.

Our July show features the very fabulous Christine Arylo, author of Choosing Me before We--the book that EVERY WOMAN SHOULD READ before entering into a serious relationship—especially marriage.

Wisdoms that, if followed, would save single females many years and tears chasing after the wrong man, fantasizing about the impossible dream man, and rebuffing the perfectly good, (if, perhaps style or hair-challenged) man who could potentially be the right guy for a lifetime of happiness. It should be noted—the book is not about being selfish (as some might surmise from the title) or about settling (as some might surmise from my description), but about finding yourself, knowing yourself, and then being open to letting the right guy into your life without judgment or ego.

Perfect for the young single girl or the newly-divorced cougar!

On to the bookclub discussion:

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society.

I liked this book in the same way I liked the title. Intriguing at first, then charming, then a bit cloying and ultimately predictable, but overall enjoyable.

I picked up the book when it first came out in hardback and Judy Wheeler from Towne Center Books assured me that it would be a NY Times Bestseller. I read the first three pages and did not have a problem putting it down. So many books, so little time!

Later, as Judy prophesized, the book hit the Bestseller list. All of a sudden, EVERY bookclub seemed to be reading it. And I can see the appeal. The book is quirky funny—clever, and a quick, easy read. But most of all, the book is a love letter to the power of literature, books in general and how reading and discussion and community around books can enrich a person’s perspective and even change one’s life.

In other words—a great bookclub pick!

And, as Pooh Bear has been known to say, “It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words, but rather short, easy words, like, ‘What about lunch?’”

Sunday, June 14, 2009


Although all M.J. Ryan's books are great, I thought her last book, This Year I Will was a masterpiece. This book is about how to make changes we want to see happen in our lives—losing weight, changing jobs, getting organized—and it combines optimism and encouragement with some real, for-sure scientific evidence about how the brain works and why we are motivated to do the things we do with some compassionate understanding. Kind of like having an awesome mother with a Ph.D. in neuroscience who mixes a mean margarita while she cheers you on and dispenses spot-on advice—powerful, intoxicating, but also subtle and non-judgmental.

Her latest book, Adaptability: How to Survive Change You Didn’t Ask For, addresses change of a completely different kind—not happy, proactive change like New Year’s resolutions, but change that is forced upon us like getting laid off from our job, losing our retirement money in the stock market, seeing our business implode—in other words, the stuff that many of us are going through right now.

M.J.’s publisher, Broadway Books, pushed this book through the normally snail-paced publishing process quickly because this is a book that we need immediately. To quote Broadway,

“In her book, (M.J.) teaches the fundamentals needed to become a master of change, These essentials will allow you to accept the need to adapt and become aware of your internal resources…and learn how to get your brain on your side.”

The back of the book has my favorite section—20 Quick Tips for Surviving Change You Didn’t Ask For. Here are a few of my favorites:

• Because feeling in control is so crucial to resilience, and unasked-for-change can leave us feeling very out of control, try asking yourself this question during the day: What am I free to choose right now?

• When considering options, before you say something won’t work, consider how it might work. Try it on for a while.

• Get out and help someone else. When we focus on someone else’s problems, we put our own in perspective. If we focus on helping others, panic diminishes.

• What really matters here? That’s a question that will help you keep the change in proportion. A woman who lost her house was told by her minister that what she needed was a home, not a house. It helped her move to a rental with greater peace and perspective.

For the other 16 Tips, you will just have to buy the book. Or better yet, go to M.J.’s talk at Towne Center Books in Pleasanton on Wednesday, June 17 at 7:30 p.m.

See you there!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Have I Got a Book for You?!

Another Writer We Love...

One of my all-time favorite authors (and PERSON—and here’s a good time to fully disclose that we are friends) and one of the smartest people I know is M.J. Ryan.

M.J. is the brains and the inspiration behind the bazillion plus selling “Random Acts of Kindness” books. M.J. specializes in writing books about virtues—kindness, generosity, and patience—although she is the first to admit that living these virtues is a challenging and on-going learning process.

M.J. has the official “dream job” profession of “thinking partner,” in which she travels around the world, giving advice to big companies like Chevron and also individuals struggling with career and life decisions.

Of course, there are oodles of self-help/inspirational books out there, but M.J. combines the latest, cutting-edge brain research, experiences of her clients and friends with her own wisdom and a dash of spirituality to produce books that are not only fun to read, but that can actually help you and have something new to say—not an easy task in the bloated self-help arena.

M.J. mixes the practical and the exotic like the perfect salad of healthy greens tossed with a few cranberries and carmelized walnuts and balsamic vinegar for surprise and tang, but not so much to overwhelm.

Although she writes as an “expert” about virtues, she is really more like an explorer, writing “into” her books rather than writing as a “guru.”

After the big hit of Random Acts of Kindness “it started me wondering what other qualities we can cultivate to make ourselves happier and more connected to others,” says M.J. “I asked myself, “What do I need that will help me be happier? When I looked around me, I saw that happy people are kinder, more grateful, generous, and patient.”

Hailed as an expert in change in the NY Times, her new book is “Adapt-ability: How to Survive Change You Didn’t Ask For.

Has there ever been a better timed subtitle in all of history?

More about the book later…

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Making Dreams Come True

Have you ever dreamed of owning your own business—working at what you love to do, earning millions of dollars, AND making the world a better place?

If so, be sure to tune in to the May edition of In a Word to find out exactly how it is done.

This month I interview Marc Allen,

who has achieved all of these things, in spite of the fact, maybe even because of the fact, that he is lazy! Allen works a maximum of thirty hours a week, sleeping until at least 11:00 am and taking all Mondays off. Allen embraces the dreaded L-word, relishes his laid-back lifestyle and believes that it is his unique gift to the world to demonstrate and share how he lives an abundant life, full of meaning, with plenty of time for all the rest, mediation and pastimes that he loves.

He begins his book, The Type-Z (as in ZZZZZ) Guide to Success with these words:

“I’m lazy. I admit it. For years, it was one of the things that kept me from succeeding in life—after all, you’ve got to work really hard to succeed, right? That’s certainly what I was told, and certainly what I believed.”

Allen founded New World Library, the Marin-based publisher of New Age classics like Creative Visualization and The Power of Now

with Shakti Gawain when he was thirty years old, unemployed, and broke.

A failed actor and musician, Allen visualized his ideal life of owning a company that would produce his music and publish the books that he had yet to write.

How he went from struggling to pay the $65 a month rent on his “cheap little slum apartment” to the owner of a multi-million dollar business is a phenomenal story of success. Allen shares the secrets to his success in several books, including Visionary Business, the one we talk about on the show.

This interview was a real treat for me because when I moved to California from Virginia many, many years ago, my first introduction to the power of this type of positive, transformative thinking was reading Shakti Gawain’s Creative Visualization. Growing up in a traditional southern way, grounded in logic and practicality, this book, which promised that you could create your own reality by imagining it, seemed radically New Age, fruits and nuts, woo-woo. But, when in Rome, as they say…

Tossing aside my fears, doubts, and preconceived notions, I decided to give it a try, even going to Marin to take a class in Creative Visualization at Gawain’s center there.

The whole story is long, but, here’s the short version:

I had a hot pink, spiral notebook in which I wrote ten things that I wanted to create in my life. I hadn't looked at that list in years, but I recently came across it when rummaging through some old boxes:

I loved looking back on this list--a wild mix of the grandiose and superficial, meaningful core values, objective and subjective goals that only an ambitious, practical, clueless, optimist in her twenties could have created. (way before Sex in the City, I had never heard of Manolo Blahniks--my big dream was color-coordinated Nine West shoes!)

While some things are still in progress and probably always will be (travel the world, make the world a better place, shoes matching all my dresses) it is amazing to me now (so many years later) that all the objective dreams (getting married, buying a house, having babies, having a puppy, publishing something significant, drinking Dom Perignon) of a broke, young, unfocused, unconnected person like myself could have come true.

I hope you will tune into the show, listen to Marc Allen talk about making dreams come true, and then decide to create some dreams of your own.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Your Last Chance

Be sure to tune in before the end of March to see Jim Ott’s interview with Albert Rothman, author of A Brooklyn Odyssey.

Rothman, 84, of Livermore, has just published his first memoir about his childhood as a Jew in Brooklyn during The Great Depression. A perfect jumpstart for a great screenplay!

Rothman earned his Ph.D. in chemistry and chemical engineering from the U.C. Berkeley in 1954. He retired from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 1986. Since then he has spent much time remembering. And writing.

Rothman's stories will take you back to a time that was simpler, sweeter, more complex, more bitter--a time that perhaps holds lessons for us all to appreicate in these tough economic times.

Read Jim's feature about Dr. Albert Rothman that appeared in The Tri-Valley Herald

And p.s.--Rothman took the very first class I taught about how to write and publish a book. He was a delight! Lots of questions! When he came to the studio for the interview, he immediately embraced me and told me that I was as beautiful today as I was then--Another Writer We Love!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Real Comeback Kid

Mark Curtis begins his book, The Age of Obama: A Reporter’s Journey with Clinton, McCain and Obama in The Making of the President 2008

with the story of how, when he was 5 ½ years old, on election day 1964, he stayed home from school in his small Wisconsin town and listened to the election coverage with his mother, a news junkie who faithfully watched Walter Cronkite while she ironed.

Mark was fascinated as the results came in from each state, although he had never travelled outside of Wisconsin. His mother bought him an atlas so he could see where Florida, New York and California were.

Is it any wonder that Mark became a political junkie like his mom?

Mark’s love of the process, personalities and drama of politics is evident in his book, which spans the 2008 election from the Iowa Caucuses through the primaries to the eventual, historic election of Barack Obama.

Mark was a guest on our March show

to talk about his book, a candid chronicle of his journey to over 30 states as a freelance reporter/political analyst covering the election.

The book is warm, real and insightful.

But what I enjoyed most was Mark’s relentless enthusiasm and optimism—and his inspiring story as the ultimate “Comeback Kid.”

Mark spent over two decades as a traditional journalist, including almost ten years as the co-anchor of the top-rated “KTVU Morning News.”

At the age of 48, he was let go by a manager who told him:

“Mark, if I could use a sports analogy, you’re Kurt Warner. You took us to the championship, but now you are on the second team!” He really said this! It was as if to say: “Mark, you’re a ‘has been,’ and your best days are behind you.”

A little scenario that might seem all too familiar right about now, especially to Baby Boomers who have worked hard their whole lives, only to learn that they are easily expendable.

So what did Mark do?

Maybe he cried silently into his pillow or drank too much cheap white wine or made Voodoo dolls of the TV executives.

(That’s what I’d do!)

In the short run, we don’t know, because Mark doesn’t dwell on this.

What matters is what he did in the long run.

He reinvented himself:

"Rather than walk away in defeat, I had been encouraged by my friends to transition to the “new media and to embrace it."

When you read the book or meet Mark, there is (astonishingly) not a hint of anger, victimization or defeat.

Only profound passion for what he is doing now and a work ethic and daily work schedule that blows you away.

I don’t know much about sports, but I do know that Kurt Warner came back, leading the Cardinals in the Super Bowl.

As Mark wrote on his blog on Super Bowl Sunday:

"Cheers to all my fellow “has beens” who’ve fought back after being counted out!"

Cheers, indeed!

Thanks, Mark, for being an example and an inspiration!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Yay! I’m a Villain! Another Writer We Love

Me, Camille, and Jim

Who doesn’t fantasize about being a Villain? Think of the most compelling characters of fiction (or non-fiction)—Erica Kane in All My Children, Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, Tony Soprano, Ted Bundy, Bernie Madoff, Tamra from The Real Housewives of OC!

Disturbing as it is, these people are WAY more fascinating than the Average Joe or Josephine who file their income tax returns on time, never have more than two glasses of wine at a party and always remember to floss.

In my real life, I try hard to resist my evil impulses. I strive to be conscientious, thoughtful, kind—a good wife, mother, daughter and friend. My guilty shame is that I love bottled water, but I repent by religiously recycling.

But, in my imagination…Oh, the things I can think!

When mystery writer Camille Minichino (aka Margaret Grace) asked if she could hang out with us, watch us tape the show, and pepper us with questions about the inner workings of a TV station to research her new mystery, Malice in Miniature, I quickly agreed.

Camille is the most delightful of authors—on time, well-prepared, eloquent, exceptionally pleasant.

She brings fudge and candy for the crew! In over seven years of doing the show, Camille is the only one who has ever brought sweets—and she’s been on three times! (Hint, Hint, for all you aspiring authors!)

When she told me that she was basing her next book in a TV studio, I was more than happy to help her with the research.

Camille/Margaret loves using her fiction to learn about new things. When I read her latest book I was happily surprised to see how many details she got just right and how her powers of observation added to the realism of her writing.

But most of all, being the closet narcissist that I am, I loved how she took a few details of me and turned them into a not-so-likable character.

Nan Browne is blond and I am not, but I noticed that we both wore the same “flowered skirt with a handkerchief hemline” (I totally have one of those!) and I liked that Nan was “well put together,” which is something that is not so true when I am being the carpooling mother character in my real life.

A little bummer about Nan being “fortyish”—next time I’d like my imaginary villainess self to be more early thirties, with perhaps a sultry Angelina Jolie vibe….

And one more teensy request.


Margaret/Camille, next time, can I be the murderer?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Writers We Love--Sandra Kay on Blogging

To learn everything you've ever wanted to know, but were afraid (or too shy or too technically-unsavvy) to ask, be sure to go to Sandra's blogging workshop at the Pleasanton Poetry and Prose Festival!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Writers We Love

The first in a on ongoing series of writers—local, national and international--who we love…

Sandra Kay, Writeous Mom and The Tri-Valley Gypsy Poet

How do we love Sandra, let us count the ways….

1) She is a prolific blog writer of epic proportions—funny, genuine, irreverent, heart-rending…She’s a definite bookmark on our homepage!

2) Let me say again—genuine! I love Sandra because she says what she thinks and she thinks what she says. She is unafraid to peel off the layers of social convention and reveal her naked self—even if that self is feeling a little bloated after indulging in cheesecake for breakfast!

3) Despite her debilitating fear of public speaking, she has courageously appeared on In a Word multiple times, and she has always been a thoughtful, eloquent, extremely well-prepared guest.

4) Nine years ago, she was my writing teacher, when, after a lifetime away from writing, I decided to dip my toe in the turbulent waters of writing again. She taught me to “show, not tell!” Her warmth and encouragement were just the gentle push I needed to get me swimming again.

5) She is a survivor of the fiercest, most splendid kind. She is an inspiration in so many ways.

6) She always makes me laugh. Her take on Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken and her version (which is a part of a larger poem, in her wonderful, handcrafted book of poems, Beautiful Fish):

two roads diverged in a wood, and i ---

i took the one well paved. -now am a cliche'

should have went the other way

who put that flippin' fork in the road anyway?!?

Be sure to sign up for Sandra's blogging workshop at the Pleasanton Poetry and Prose Festival!

Friday, January 30, 2009

A Blog by Jim: In Defense of Food

One of my favorite desserts as a little boy was chocolate ice cream. My
sister and I would sit together and eat a few bites, then begin stirring
the ice cream into a whipped frenzy of delicious delight.

This was in the 1960s before my mother got swept up in the health food
craze--that cultural phenomenon that delivered wholesomeness to the
suddenly-moot taste buds of many youngsters growing up in the age of

Overnight, the ice cream disappeared, as did cakes, pies, sugared
cereals, fried foods, and many other goodies. One culprit was Adelle
Davis, whose books on food my mother purchased and read with great

I'll never forget my mother serving--in lieu of birthday cake--what we
learned was a "torte." To a young boy this flat square appeared to be a
combination of sawdust and ground cardboard sweetened with honey and
topped with a birthday candle.

Of course, much as we made faces at the new non-tastes, we kids knew the
food she served us would secure our good health for decades longer than
the unfortunate children in town whose unenlightened mothers allowed
them to clog their arteries and mainline sugar into their kidneys on a
daily basis.

In fact, I soon preferred my mother's new and healthy cooking.

All these memories came flooding back when I read Michael Pollan's "In
Defense of Food," the book we're featuring on "In A Word" during our
bookclub segment throughout February. Livermore is reading the book for
its third annual "Livermore Reads Together" program.

Kathy and I talk about the book with guests Christine Wente, V.P.
Hospitality, Wente Vineyards (and a fifth-generation winegrower), and
Lucinda Wisniewski, V.P. for Innovation, The National Food Lab.

Anyone interested in food will enjoy the show as well as the book!

In fact, throughout February, the Livermore Public Library will present
a series of programs related to food, agriculture, cooking, and other
issues explored in Pollan's book. Many copies are available for checkout
at the library's three locations, thanks to a donation by the Friends of
the Library.

Although I've read many books in my life on a wide range of subjects,
I'd never been tempted to read a book about food. And yet now I wonder
why, because Pollan's book provides a fascinating discussion about the
history of food and the emergence of what he calls "nutritionism," which
should be a good thing, right?

No, argues Pollan, nutritionism is bad science. In one chapter called
"Eat Right, Get Fatter," Pollan describes how Americans have become more
obese on the low-fat diets that have been endorsed and encouraged by
experts in the food industry.

This is just one example of the many food myths that Pollan
deconstructs. I won't give away any more of the book, which is subtitled
"An Eater's Manifesto," but I do encourage you, whatever your home town,
to join Livermore by reading "In Defense of Food" and to tune in to our
show on TV30 in February.

For details about events, go online to
for a listing of activities sponsored by the library.

By the way, if you read the book, I promise my mother will be proud of

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Meet The Crew!

Oh, I know, we make it look easy. But a lot of hard work goes into creating In a Word! You see Jim and me on every show, but I want to introduce a few of the behind-the-scenes people who make the television magic happen for us every month:

Terisa Thurman, Senior Producer/Director

Terisa is a cooler than the coolest cucumber on the longest vine on the frostiest April morning. NOTHING upsets her. She is as reliable as the sunrise and as sure to shine despite the clouds.

Recently, after going through all kinds of machinations to get a crew to come in on a Sunday to accommodate the schedule of a visiting author, the author's assistant e-mailed (not even phoned, but e-mailed!) to cancel—fifteen minutes AFTER he was scheduled to be in the studio!

I’m still practicing all my forgiveness and loving-kindness meditations on this one. At that particular moment in time, let’s just say, I was more than a little upset.

Terisa, on the other hand—Cool.

“Maybe we can reschedule,” she said shrugging her shoulders. As I thanked her profusely for giving up a Sunday afternoon for this show that would never be, she was completely unfazed, and then she said these words that made me feel really lucky and proud to have her as a part of our crew:

“I love to make TV and that’s why I’m here.”

Then there’s Dar Clark, Studio Manager

Dar is a bit of a mystery. I don’t know much about his history or his experience or his resume. It’s probably best that way. If he ever told me, he might have to kill me.

What I do know about Dar is that he showed up at the station some I-don’t-know-how-many years ago and now he is quietly doing the very same job that three people once did—and he does it better! I know that if Dar is doing the show, everything will be set up on time and it will run as smoothly as humanly possible.

Even though I suggested Dar’s quote should be “It’s all about the lighting,” which it really is and, BTW, Dar is great at lighting, he came up with something much better:

“To leave the world better than I found it.”

And then there’s the newest member of the crew—Kenny Avila, Production Manager

Kenny is a 27-year broadcast veteran—by the looks of him, he must have started his career in elementary school! He has worked at KICU in San Jose and other big-time TV gigs. I’ve only worked with Kenny twice, but I can say he is the utmost professional, he's totally upbeat, and he has an awesome smile.

Kenny’s quote:

“To learn something new every day.”

That’s the crew!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Everything Bad is Good for You (And sometimes things that are good for you aren’t so bad after all)

I thought of this headline because last night Jim Ott interviewed Steven Johnson, author of Everything Bad is Good for You, a book that argues that popular entertainment like video games, reality TV, and other diversions that we literary types like to think are mind-numbing wastes of times are actually—get this—beneficial to our problem solving skills and other important cognitive abilities! Thank you, Steven! I feel less guilty as a parent already!

Jim was interviewing this incredibly smart, (also not bad on the eyes!) New York Times best-selling author about his latest book, The Invention of Air, (from’s product description) “the story of Joseph Priestley—scientist and theologian, protégé of Benjamin Franklin, friend of Thomas Jefferson—an eighteenth-century radical thinker who played pivotal roles in the invention of ecosystem science, the discovery of oxygen, the founding of the Unitarian Church, and the intellectual development of the United States." Wow!

I won’t ruin the suspense by telling you about the interview…You’ll have to tune in to TV30 during the month of February at 6:30 AM, 1:00 PM and 9:30 PM Monday through Friday to see it for yourself.

I also thought of this headline because when my 13-year-old daughter got home from school today, I asked her to take the dog for a walk. Complaints ensued as they typically do when you ask a kid of this age to do anything other than lick the bowl for a bunch of brownies you are baking.

“Oh, come on. It will be good for you,” I implored.

“Why is it that everything that is good for you I don’t like,” she slumped. “Like vegetables.”

“Fruit is good for you. And you like fruit. Blueberries are great for you. Lots of antioxidants! And you LOVE blueberries!”

“But which is better for you, fruit or vegetables?”

“They’re the same good for you.” Brief reflective pause. “Although vegetables probably have fewer calories.”

“See? I’m right!”

And it got me to thinking about how we have this idea in our heads that things that are good for you are bland, boring, obligatory—generally stuff we don’t want to do. And, ok, that is sometimes the case.

But, I’ll tell you one thing that is good for you that is more like eating fruit than vegetables. Something that is thought-provoking, intellectually stimulating, fodder for small talk at cocktail parties or PTA meetings, and sometimes even fun! Watching In a Word!

For over seven years now, In A Word has been interviewing local and international authors of fiction and non-fiction, many of them New York Times bestselling authors (!) and talking to local people about their thoughts and ideas and passions about books. We’re like a literary salon, coming straight to your TV, featuring your friends and neighbors. And we’re on many, many times (at least 60) month! Even if you don’t have a Tivo and you have a social schedule like Paris Hilton, you are bound to have one of those 60 times when you are clicking the remote, looking something other than a repeat of The Real Housewives of Orange County to watch.

So I hope you will tune in. Enjoy. Give us feedback. Let us know what you like, what books you want to see as future bookclub picks, submit essays for our A Few More Words segment, complain about my hair (ok, that last one was for my mother.) Anyway, we would love to hear from you, and love your ideas for the show.

And, by the way, I ended up walking the dog. And it was wonderful.