Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Barbara Graham Coming to Kepler's

Join us at Kepler's this Sunday, May 3, 2009 at 2:00 p.m. for a reading and discussion with not one, but three wonderful authors: Barbara Graham, editor of "Eye of My Heart," Susan Griffin and Bharati Mukherjee.

Here is in Barbara's words how the book was born:

Until my granddaughter, Isabelle Eva, was born in 2006, I had no clue just how complicated—and full of wonder—the role of grandmother could be. But when I turned to the place I always turn to for wisdom—books—I couldn’t find anything literary that addressed my alternately joyful, perplexing, painful, amusing—but always profound—new status. And so Eye of My Heart: 27 Writers Reveal the Hidden Pleasures and Perils of Being a Grandmother was born.

For me, stepping into the shoes of a grandmother was sobering and thrilling, scary yet comforting. Although the coming of Isabelle Eva secured the continuity of some fragment of the ancestral essence I carry from my own Russian-Polish-German-Jewish stew—sparking in me an unexpected but palpable sense of relief—I was also acutely aware that her arrival moved me up a notch in the life cycle.

We asked Barbara to share her favorite children's titles, the ones she must share with her granddaughter, Isabelle Eva, the eye of her heart and the inspiration for the book. Barbara wrote us back:

I'm happy to provide a list of children's books. Books, of course, are at the very top of my list of things to share with my granddaughter, Isabelle Eva. I have been buying her books since before her arrival on the planet. I love reading to her. And she, at 2 1/2 is especially eager to "read" to me. When I last saw her in January--she lives with her parents in Italy--she pretty much had "Hop On Pop" by Dr. Seuss down cold.

Other favorites of Isabelle's:

"How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World" by Marjorie Priceman. This is especially apt since she just moved to Italy from Paris and has traveled to more countries in Europe than I have. Her French is quite good, her Italian is coming along nicely--and her English is superb.

"Madeleine" by Ludwig Bemelmans. Perfect for all little girls, as it was for me. For Isabelle, it works in both English and French. And A.A. Milne's classic "When We Were Very Young" is ideal for toddlers.

One book I've just discovered that I can't wait to read to Isabelle is the 2006 Caldecott winner, "The Hello Goodbye Window"--about a little girl and her grandparents--by Norton Juster, with illustrations by Chris Raschka.

Other classics I love that I'm stockpiling for a later date are "Bread and Jam for Frances" by Rusell and Lillian Hoban; "Stuart Little" and, it goes without saying, but I'm saying, "Charlotte's Web" by E.B. White.

Barbara Graham is an essayist, author, playwright, and editor. Her essays and articles have appeared in many magazines—including O, the Oprah Magazine, where she has been a contributing writer, Glamour, National Geographic Traveler, Redbook, Tricycle, Time, Vogue, and Utne Reader—and have been collected in many anthologies.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Wells Tower visited Kepler's on April 28 to sign copies of his short story collection Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned.

Read Michiko Kakutani and Edmund White’s rave reviews of Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned in The New York Times and The New York Times Book Review.

Justin Dimos wrote here that Wells Tower's "debut story collection paralyzes with its unflinching take on remorse and the future’s uncertainty, with stories as believable and as haunting as the epigraphs chiseled into tombstones."

Wells also talked to us briefly about his writing process and his special desk for writing that's completely offline, and his favorite books such as the Known World, by Edward P. Jones and the Moviegoer, by Walker Percy.

Check our You Tube clip, courtesy of Kepler's Angela M. for more.

Friday, April 24, 2009

hello from the middle of the night

Hello to my lovely writerly types, innocent bystanders, and those of you who wandered here by mistake. Unlike Bobbie Riedel, who began her introduction with an interesting question, I have no intriguing tidbit to offer you. I'm afraid I don't even have an introduction, not really, and am only making this up as I go along.

To begin:
My name is Megan. I'm a dancer, currently taking classes at the magnificent San Francisco Conservatory of Dance and going to auditions when I can. I work at Kepler's, mainly in the evenings when I'm not dancing, and write stories. Or try to write stories. My imagination tends toward the odd, the specific, the unlikely, and things that make shortcuts in your brain by pretending to be impossible.

Some writers who have left indelible marks in my head:
Neil Gaiman, Ian McEwan, Kelly Link, Rudyard Kipling, Kazuo Ishiguro, Arthur Conan Doyle, George MacDonald, Haruki Murakami, Philip Pullman, Angela Carter, P.G. Wodehouse, and Jane Austen.
(If any of them are strangers to you, I would be happy to share zealous recommendations.)

Some things I like to write about:
Ghosts, magic tricks, levitation, glass conservatories, shadows, orange trees, illusions, ordinary people, weird people, things turning into other things, and dangerous art.

I didn't write seriously until last summer, when I went to the Clarion workshop in San Diego. Before that, stories were something that other people made so I could enjoy them. Six weeks of writing stories and reading other stories in a mad, desperate rush, all while surrounded by a group of blisteringly talented people and guided by brilliant teachers, made me realize that stories are something I like to make as well as consume.

It was a comforting discovery. Stories make me happy and writing them is, if not always easy or fun, at least very, very interesting. I'm not very good at putting them together yet, and sometimes I feel like I'm poking my fingers into the cage of a supper-deprived lion... but taking something out of my head, without being sure of what it is or how it's shaped, and putting it on paper so I can find out fills my head with slow-motion fireworks.

A miniature something (my but she carries on, you say!):
Giants are invisible these days. Back when stories mixed up with history and everything else, giants were enormous, lumbering beings who could pick up a house the way we pick up a box of books.

Back then, giants would stand still for days in a field, just to watch the birds fly around their legs.

Now, they are invisible and they live in the woods, or in the mountains, and sometimes the birds crash into them and fall down in a daze. A giant never knows when another giant lives nearby because, just as we can’t see them, they can’t see each other. They could call out, but it has been so long since they’ve spoken that they’ve forgotten the etiquette of conversation.

They are also a little afraid that nobody will be there to answer, so they stand still and sleep, and have dreams about what they used to look like.

Wait. I do have a question!

When something to write occurs to you (story, poem, essay, or whatever), how does it appear? Does it come in images? Is it like watching a movie? Do you slip into someone's skin? Is it all words, tasty and movable? What is it like to be you, wandering somewhere unmarked?

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Dear Writers,

To thank our wonderful guest bloggers we have put up a new Well-Read Donkey bookshelf display at Kepler's, featuring our guest bloggers books and their favorite book recommendations. Stop by and check out Victoria Zackheim, Meg Waite Clayton, Caroline Leavitt, Kate Maloy, Michele Zackheim, Lucy Silag, Joyce Maynard, Lynn Freed, Barbara Graham, Gayle Brandeis, Sandra Gulland and many more.

Kepler's April Writing Group meeting is on Sunday, April 26th from 3-5:30 p.m. at Paul's house in Palo Alto. E-mail to to confirm your attendance and get directions.

A few thoughts about our March meeting:

What I have found most appealing about the Kepler’s writing group is their fairly consistent focus on the technique of creative writing. In our last session, for example, the group first focused on their responses to Jeanie’s “flash stories.” Some members suggested that her stories needed more development, whereas others found their condensed and fragmentary structures intriguing. These varied responses—like those that would follow throughout the workshop—were, for the most part, relevant and constructive for the writers. For instance, in response to the piece by Mary Jean Price, the participants generally suggested that more details were needed to better invoke the mysterious nature of her short narrative. In response to this suggestion, another participant implied that establishing a clearer point-of-view would help generate more details and material for this story. The focus on details took on a new turn when participants discussed the story by Mary Stahl. Several participants, for example, claimed that the story’s main character appealed to them for the details that were used to describe his complex, disturbing and yet likable temperament. This focus, in turn, generated an interesting discussion on creating characters that readers can empathize with. These varied and interesting responses made me feel quite good after I left the workshop—I felt as if I had revisited a literary seminar from college.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Story Origins

Here's a question for my fellow writers.

How do you get your ideas for your stories?

Post a comment with your answer to my writing question. I'm curious to know what other writers use as the seeds for coming up with a story idea.

I went to an author event with Meg Waite Clayton last night. She talked about writing her book The Wednesday Sisters, sitting outside Tressider on the Stanford campus, having a "pity party" for herself, feeling like she'd never be able to write another word. A woman in a red baseball cap with a blonde braid sticking out the back walked by. And suddenly Meg started writing about a character in a red cap and blonde braid. And an hour or two later, by the time she was ready to leave, she already had a story outline and set of characters for what became her novel. Bam. Just like that.

The muse has never graced me so profoundly as it did Meg, though one of my short stories started with just a title: Imagining the Moon. I was in a writing class; we were told to come up with a story title, write it on a small piece of paper folded up and put in the center of the table. We each drew out someone else's story title, and had to develop a synopsis to fit that title. Imagining the Moon was the title I wrote on my piece of paper. The classmate who drew it had it all wrong; something about aliens and goofy stuff like that. I took my prize title home with me and wrote a story that I still love to this day. (There are no aliens in my story, just a single mother and her 4-year-old daughter who wants to go to the moon.)

Another story started with a friend's photograph of red rock country. You can read an excerpt from that story in my previous post. The story I'm currently working on came from yet another writing class exercise: a 1-sentence plot description. The plot description I drew: a man lives in Montana, 150 miles from the nearest body of water, and is building a sailboat in his backyard. I'll let you know how it turns out. If you're in the Kepler's writing group, you might get to read the draft this summer. We'll see.

Don't forget to post a comment with an answer to my question. I could always use some more great ideas!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Molly McCall: One Baby, One Bookcase, and a Whole Lot of Books

My daughter is six months old. She tugs at her toes, slurps on her toys, and, occasionally, positions herself in such a way that she suddenly and majestically flips from her tummy to her back. She’s rarely patient enough to sit through the reading of a book. But I’m ready nonetheless.

Over the years, I’ve acquired children’s picture books that amuse or inspire me. None were purchased with any thought of a child of my own. I just loved them. Books like Maira Kalman’s sly and exuberant “Ooh-la-la Max in Love,” Istvan Banyai’s wordless “Zoom,” William Steig’s squiggly and true “Grownups Get to Do All the Driving,” or the pitch-perfect “Owen” by Kevin Henkes have long nestled alongside my other books. They are well written, beautifully illustrated, full-hearted, and funny. Something in each of them got me.

Once I found out I was pregnant, however, everything changed. This was a collection -- and it was missing so many of the books I loved as a child: “Where the Wild Things Are,” “Harold and the Purple Crayon,” “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish,” “Make Way for Ducklings,” “Pat the Bunny.”

These books formed the foundation of my love of reading. Returning to them in my burgeoning state, I felt that same flush of pleasure over the familiar curve of the images, the playful slap of the words. Soon, I found myself pawing through new and used bookshops, happily rediscovering long forgotten friends like “Babies” by Gyo Fujikawa and “Katy and the Big Snow” by Virginia Lee Burton. My shelf of children’s books began to grow as fast as my tummy.

In the meantime, friends and family, many of them ex-booksellers, pitched in. Korje, a buyer at Books Inc. (and a former Keplerite), gave me a huge, luscious stack of children’s books. Andrea (also a Kepler’s alum) turned me on to the delightful, smudgy stories of a little French doggie named Lisa.

In a magnificent surprise move, members of the Kepler’s fiction book group put together a basket of children’s books for me. Many of them picked books they loved as kids or volumes they encountered and adored as adults. Through them, I met such new titles as "Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale" and “Little Pea.” Children’s authors Kevin and SuAnn Kiser gave me a copy of one of their own books, “The Birthday Thing.”

So here we are, at six months and already the three-shelf case in my daughter’s room is crammed. Maybe it’s early for all this, but what better way for a book-loving mother to welcome her little reader into the world? When my daughter’s ready to look up from her toes and focus on the page, I’ll be there, book in hand.

Friday, April 3, 2009