Article: Make It Rain

Filed under: Joy's Work,Nonfiction — Administrator at 7:54 am on Wednesday, April 13, 2022

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For Alta Magazine I wrote about cloud seeding. Did you know we already have the ability to increase precipitation in clouds? And that we’ve been doing it since the 1950s? And that the technology was invented by Kurt Vonnegut’s brother? Read it here.

Article: When Mark Twain Canceled Bret Harte

Filed under: Joy's Work,Nonfiction — Administrator at 8:58 am on Wednesday, February 23, 2022

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I have a new article in Alta Magazine! It’s about the 30 year literary feud between Mark Twain and Bret Harte. 30 years! That Mark Twain could really hold a grudge.

Read about it here.

Article: Haunted by Houses

Filed under: Joy's Work,Nonfiction — Administrator at 1:15 pm on Friday, December 10, 2021

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Over at the Los Angeles Review of Books, I wrote about gothic horror, Shirley Jackson, and California Victorians:

RIGHT BEFORE SHIRLEY JACKSON began working on her 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House, a postcard depicting a California mansion started bothering her. “It was an ugly house,” she wrote. “[A]ll angles and all wrong. It was sick, diseased.” She wrote to her mother, who still lived near San Francisco where Jackson grew up, and asked if she knew anything about it. Her mother replied that her “great-grandfather had built it. She remembered when the people of the town got together one night and burned it down.” Soon, Jackson was at work on the best haunted house novel I’ve read.

More here.

Article: Mary Astor’s Purple Diary, Old Hollywood’s Most Infamous Sex Scandal

Filed under: Joy's Work,Nonfiction — Administrator at 8:44 am on Saturday, April 17, 2021

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For Mental Floss, I wrote about a juicy 1930s Hollywood scandal involving Mary Astor’s Purple Diaries.

It’s one of the first Hollywood sex scandals–plus it inspired part of my novel, Right Back Where We Started From, which starts in 1930s Hollywood and has a Scarlet Diary and a controversial starlet in it.

Check out 10 Juicy Facts About Mary Astor’s Purple Diary, Old Hollywood’s Most Infamous Sex Scandal.

Article: Flight of the Condors

Filed under: Joy's Work,Nonfiction — Administrator at 8:40 am on Saturday, April 17, 2021

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Late last year, I went on a quest to see the critically endangered California Condor in the wild. I wrote about the experience for Alta.

I’ve always wanted to see a California condor in the wild. It’s on a list I keep in my head of animals I’d like to glimpse in their natural habitats, which includes, in no particular order, a male moose with full antlers, a whale, a ringtailed cat, a hedgehog, a swarm of monarch butterflies, and any kind of monkey. But the California condor stands out because it came so close to extinction. When I was a kid, there were only nine wild condors left. At that point, in 1987, they were taken into captivity, and their future looked bleak. The idea that we could lose North America’s largest flying bird—a vulture with a wingspan of almost 10 feet—struck me as tragic even then.

But we didn’t lose the condor. Thanks to conservation efforts, it has made a comeback. There are now around 300 condors in the wild, most living in Central and Southern California, with smaller populations in Arizona and Utah. I kept thinking about this throughout 2020, a year filled with environmental disasters, from wildfires to melting permafrost to a worldwide pandemic caused by a mutating virus. Even as climate change bears down and some scientists say we’re entering an era of mass extinction, the preservation of the California condor shows that we can repair some environmental damage. Not that it was easy. Despite extensive time and resources spent, the condor is still critically endangered. Lead poisoning remains a threat, and the bird’s future is far from guaranteed. So I’m not sure whether my interest comes from ecological hope or an urge to see a rare creature while I can.

Read the rest here.

Essay: Elegy For A Tree

Filed under: Joy's Work,Nonfiction — Administrator at 8:37 am on Saturday, April 17, 2021

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My neighbors cut down their tree and banished all the birds from our yard. I wrote an essay about it for Entropy.

The morning after the neighbors cut down the tree, my yard was quiet. The crows that for the last 15 years had woken me every morning like an alarm clock were gone. A few days before, when the elm tree still stood in my neighbor’s yard, I sat in the predawn light drinking coffee and watching hundreds of birds fly over my house. Crows tossed about like balls in the sky, a necklace of Canada geese flowed past my vision, and songbirds jangled in the bushes. The cacophony they made was loud and wondrous and I loved it.

Now my house rang with silence, and loneliness crept over me. As I stood by the window, avoiding at the gap in the sky where the tree used to be, I could hear the crows in the redwoods several blocks away–a party that moved houses. They had no reason to come here now.

Read Elegy For A Tree

Alta Essay: Searching for Mary Austin

Filed under: Joy's Work,Nonfiction — Administrator at 8:14 am on Saturday, April 17, 2021

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For Alta Magazine, I wrote the essay Searching for Mary Austin: Life for the author of The Land of Little Rain was as hard as the inhospitable region she wrote about. Excerpt:

Right before the coronavirus quarantine, I went to the Owens Valley to learn more about Mary Austin. The Land of Little Rain, Austin’s 1903 book about the California desert, is an environmental classic rivaling the work of naturalists like John Muir. But today the essay collection, and Austin, are largely forgotten, and I found myself wondering why.

Austin was prolific, producing 34 books and more than 200 shorter works. She believed she possessed genius-level talent, but her literary legacy, as biographer Esther Lanigan Stineman puts it, “would have disappointed the writer who finally yearned for an enduring reputation as a social novelist.” Genius or not, Austin was ahead of her time when it came to feminism, racial equality, and environmentalism. The Land of Little Rain was her first and most successful book, important in its recognition of the striking austerity of the Owens Valley and the Mojave Desert. While Austin was writing it, her circumstances were as inhospitable as the environment around her. Trapped in poverty and a loveless marriage, she was geographically and spiritually isolated as she juggled caring for her disabled daughter and working full-time as a writer and teacher. She remembered that period as “long dull months of living interspersed between the few fruitful occasions when I actually came into contact with the land.” So here I was, going in early spring to that same land to see if I could better understand this complicated writer.

Read the rest here.

Article: Greedy Women In LitHub

Filed under: Joy's Work,Nonfiction — Administrator at 1:05 pm on Monday, November 9, 2020

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I have a new article on LitHub, On the 19th-Century Food Writer Who Embraced Gluttony As a Virtue.

It’s about how I read The Diary of a Greedy Woman by Elizabeth Robins Pennell, which I loved… until I didn’t.

Notable In Best American Essays 2020

Filed under: Joy's Work,Nonfiction — Administrator at 12:58 pm on Monday, November 9, 2020

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Hey! I have a notable essay in The Best American Essays 2020.

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Read The First and Last Lives of Jack London.

Article: Searching for Mary Austin in Alta

Filed under: Joy's Work,Nonfiction — Administrator at 12:35 pm on Monday, November 9, 2020

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I have a new article in Alta on Mary Austin, the author of The Land of Little Rain, published in 1903. I went to the Owen’s Valley to trace Austin’s route through the area and found out some juicy things–a hidden child, unhappy marriage, hallucinations of angels helping her writer her work. She was a fascinating lady.

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