Happy Birthday, Toni Morrison

It is Toni Morrison’s 88th birthday today, February 18th. Hard to believe that she’s 88, but we all march toward death – the unavoidable – and hopefully she won’t go soon.

My favorite Toni Morrison novels in order:

  1. A Mercy (I know this is a controversial choice, but I’ve read it four times and I know what I know)
  2. Beloved (Pulitzer Prize, 1988)
  3. Song Of Solomon (National Book Critics Circle Award, 1977)

On writing novels, Morrison once famously said, “If there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

Thank goodness that she chose to write rather than continuing as a book editor. Her work on other writers’ novels would never have equaled her ability as a writer.

Also:

Dear Ms. Morrison,

If you would like to get together and talk about writing, I would love to drink coffee or tea with you.

Please contact me through my agent (or directly here at this website).

Thank you.

Love,

Don Pedro

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Writing Better Dialogue

I’m in a coffee shop, eavesdropping on multiple conversations, and I’ve realized a few things:

  • People mostly talk about themselves. They don’t ask a lot of questions. They’re just waiting to say the next thing about themselves.
  • Real dialogue sentences are short. People speak in short, simple sentences. They don’t have vast vocabularies and they don’t speak in complex metaphors. So when writing dialogue, keep it simple. Save your complexities for your paragraphs of exposition.
  • People say, “I feel like…” “It seems like…” and “The thing is…” ALL. THE. TIME.
  • In real dialogue, people repeat their favorite phrases over and over. The guy next to me has said, “Well, people are stupid” 8 times already in less than 10 minutes.
  • People trail off when they speak. They speak in half sentences, then make gestures with their hands. If the conversation is animated, the other person will jump in and finish each half-sentence. If the conversation isn’t animated or emotionally charged, people will sit back, and there will be long pauses while the person gestures vaguely with his or her hands.

Reading With Willy Vlautin, Wed, Feb 21st

I’m reading with Willy Vlautin tomorrow night in Eugene as part of his release tour for his new novel Don’t Skip Out On Me. We’ll be at The Foundry, Sam Bonds on 8th, at 7PM.

Willy was in London last week, and Portland last night (reading at Powells). He’s one of my favorite authors and an incredible reader.

Come check us out if you’re free!

Update From Joshua Tree National Park

View from the front porch of my cabin.

View from the front porch of my cabin. The Lost Horse Wall is half a mile away.

As the writer-in-residence the past three days in Joshua Tree National Park, I’ve revised 72 pages on my novel, written parts of three poems, worked on a new story, and read for hours and hours.

Off-the-grid cabins, in the back-country, up a service road, past a gate, are sort kinda a little bit quiet. Who would’ve thought?

What else have I done?

Bouldered 10 routes.

Rock Climbed 5 pitches.

Stared at the stars.

Watched the sunrise over the Lost Horse Wall.

Researched flora and fauna.

Explored to the summits of three domes near my cabin.

Hiked and ran 9 miles.

Watched a black lizard sun himself on a rock on my back patio.

Followed a coyote as he yipped and jogged up an arroyo.

Stood still as two jackrabbits chased each other through the underbrush.

Nudged a yellow and brown centipede as it crossed the road.

Best of 2013 Lists

LET THEM BE EATEN BY BEARS just made Parents Magazine “Top 5 Books of 2013” list:
http://www.parents.com/blogs/mom-must-read/2013/12/19/must-read/parents-picks-my-top-5-books-of-2013/

And GRAPHIC THE VALLEY was chosen for LitReactor’s “Best Books Of 2013”:
http://litreactor.com/columns/litreactor-staff-picks-the-best-books-of-2013

I’m so grateful to be included on their lists.

Dirtbagging, Climbing, And A Good Books Weekend

Lifting books weights with Willie Vlautin, PNBA Feast of Authors event

Lifting book weights with Willie Vlautin, PNBA Feast of Authors event

Grateful for five days at the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association trade show, Castle Rock State Park, and the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association “Feast Of Authors.” I learned once again that most people are wonderful. The authors were sharp and funny, humble and grateful. Booksellers were looking to promote authors and titles, and doing their work out of love for stories. And climbers are always excellent to be around.

We started the weekend in San Francisco, at the NCIBA author event, a speed-dating experience where an author pitches his book to bookseller after bookseller in fifteen-second conversations, an excellent way to get an elevator pitch down. If she likes me, I sign a book and give it to her. If I’m not what she’s looking for, she walks away. Simple and clean.

Ben Leroy, my publisher, and I went from San Francisco into Castle Rock State Park where we got to climb with locals, including the superhero John Ford, who took hours out of his climbing day to show us around and point out classic after classic.

After hiking west into the sunlight, we camped tentless in a grove of Madrones that night, sharing food and campsite with a guy we met, living the dirtbag ethic.

Then on to Portland on Monday and Tuesday. It was fun hanging out with Willie Vlautin, Tom Barbash, C.B. Bernard, Benjamin Parzybok, and Brian Juenemann from the PNBA.

A few pics:

Backpacking into Castle Rock State Park with Ben

Backpacking into Castle Rock State Park with Ben

First ascent, "Independent Witnesses", Castle Rock, CA

First ascent, “Independent Witnesses” variation, Castle Rock, CA

Camping with a good guy named Joe

Camping with Ben and a good guy named Joe

Shown around by a local, John Ford

Shown around by the local climber, John Ford