Monday, December 20, 2010

and the critics say...

Check it out, Publisher's Weekly just gave KINDRED a starred review!

Tammar Stein, Knopf, $16.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-375-85871-0
In this refreshing twist on a traditional call narrative, theological musings transform into urgent moral questions requiring decisive action as well as literal and metaphorical leaps of faith. Skillfully intertwining family, medical, and supernatural dramas with a sweet romantic subplot, Stein (High Dive) unleashes cosmic battles to play out among the inhabitants of smalltown Hamilton, Tenn., a setting replete with Civil War history. Narrator Miriam, a college freshman and budding journalist, responds with a persuasive blend of faith and doubt to archangel Raphael's terrifying appearance, dropping out of college after her only partly successful attempt at obeying his command to "evacuate Tabitha before the Sabbath." Thus launched on an unexpected path, Miriam confronts a serious illness and the growing awareness that her spiritual quest pits her against her twin, Moses, a recruit of demonic forces. Additional parallels add intriguing nuance, such as the Christian and Jewish faith perspectives offered by the twins' divorced parents. Miriam's initial interpretation of her illness as divine punishment gives way to more complex theological reflections in this riveting tale, an angel book that stands out from the chorus. Ages 12–up. (Feb.)

What a lovely way to end 2010. Thank you PW for that awesome review!!

More later,


Monday, December 13, 2010


I'm not a big sports fan. And of all the professional sports out there, I care about football the least. I couldn't care less about football. And I think making heros out of successful athletes is just asking for trouble. But I always read Sport's Illustrated's profile of their Sportsman of the Year, and this year it was Saints' quarterback Drew Brees. (I had to look at the cover to type this, I am that clueless about football.)

It was a very long article and as you might expect, down right worshipful of him. He's a dedicated team player, a caring father and husband, and has given a lot back to the New Orleans community, in addition to winning the Superbowl.

The part of the article that really struck me was a quote from his memoir Coming Back Stronger about when he proposed to his wife, Bethany.

"...when I put the ring on Bethany's finger, I said 'For better or for worse, till death do us part.' Period. No matter how bad it could possibly get, I am committed. It's not about happiness. It's not about a feeling. I committed myself for the rest of my life, and I promised never to walk away."

What an emphatic, beautiful explanation of what it means to commit. In one way, he's saying it's not about the romance, it's not about those giddy, lovely moments that make you fall in love. Yet just saying that, it's incredibly romantic. He's pledging to stand by his wife through thick and thin, through ups and downs, external and internal to their relationship.

It's beautiful.

I wish them a long, happy marriage and a successful football career. Here's one athlete that makes a good hero.

More later,


Friday, December 10, 2010

Kindred trailer

Check out the trailer for my new book, Kindred, coming out February 8!!

Kindred by Tammar Stein

If you're wondering about that awesome song, it's Cassandra by Tiger Weather, obviously a very talented group on their way to big things! (And who kindly let me use their song in the trailer...thanks again!)

More later,


Thursday, November 18, 2010

My favorite quote

There is neither a proportional relationship, nor an inverse one, between a writer's estimation of a work in progress and its actual quality. The feeling that it is magnificent, and the feeling that it is abominable, are both mosquitoes to be repelled, ignored, or killed but not indulged.
--Annie Dillard

I've been telling a lot of people lately about the quote I keep pinned up on the board above my desk in my office. It's a long one to declaim, so here it is, for those of you who wanted to read it.

More later,


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dear Money

As a novelist, one of the most common questions one gets is "How are your sales?" And as novelist Martha McPhee says, that's just another way of asking "how much money do you make?" It's irritating because I'm pretty sure no one asks computer programmers how much they make. (Or maybe they do.)

But it got Martha McPhee thinking about art and money and then a legendary Wall Street trader propositioned her. He said if she gave him 18 months he'd turn her into a (multi-million dollar making) Wall Street trader. As a literary novelist, this must have been tempting. Money. So much money. Instead, she wrote a novel about a literary novelist, tight on money, who is propositioned by a legendary Wall Street trader who says he can turn her into a (multi-million dollar earning) bond trader. And she says yes.

Dear Money is such a wonderful read. Entertaining, lyrical, (and at one point, laugh out loud funny) and at the same time thought-provoking and disturbing. I loved it.

More later,


Monday, October 18, 2010

Beautiful Possibilities

I think life harbors the possibility that we can push forward and come out better on the other end. In this country, one thing that's certain is that not far around the corner from every ugly thing there's something really beautiful. And if you stop at every bitter comment, you will never reach your destination. --Soledad O'Brien

What a lovely way to start Monday.

More later,


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Bookaholic Blog

I recently guest-blogged for the wonderful Bookaholic blog. If I were a certain kind of blogger I would post a link. But since I'm not (able) I've just cut and pasted. Here's the short (true) story I wrote:

The first time, the only time, I ever saw an angel I was five years old. I know that sounds amazing but it wasn’t some big, miraculous event. It was actually pretty ordinary. We were living in Israel at the time, in a tall apartment building. It had just finished storming and as the rain eased, I saw a rainbow. I had a perfect view of it from my window and I remember resting my elbows on the windowsill, watching it and the dark gray clouds.

There was a particularly odd shaped cloud drifting closer to the rainbow and I watched, curious, wondering why it seemed to be moving with purpose. So I had a perfect view of a hand emerging from that oddly shaped cloud. It reached over, touched the rainbow and just like that, the rainbow and the hand dissipated like mist and the cloud drifted off, all innocent and normal.

I jumped up and raced to my mother. I had seen an angel! It made such sense. I’d read the story of Noah’s ark. I knew the rainbow was a sign from God. It made sense angels kept track of them. Yet my mother, smiling fondly, insisted that all rainbows fade and that clouds often have shapes. Even five-year-olds know condescension when they hear it. I returned to my window, scanning the clouds, looking for proof. There was nothing to show, of course, nothing to point out. But I knew. And to this day, I can still see that hand, can still remember the unnatural way the rainbow simply vanished.

I used to feel disappointed that my one experience with the supernatural was so mundane. There were no fireworks , no goosebumps, no lasting repercussions that I know of. Just a little girl catching a glimpse of something amazing. As I grow older, though, I don’t mind the lack of fireworks, or the unexciting nature of my sighting. It’s kind of nice to think there might be wonders happening all around our oblivious selves. That miracles and marvels don’t need a drum roll to precede them, don’t need life altering meaning to follow. They’re just there, on a rainy afternoon, keeping us company.

More later,


Monday, September 27, 2010


I saw an alligator on my morning walk today! There used to be a large seven foot 'gator that lived in the pond across the street from our house, until one day it wasn't there anymore. Had it moved to a different location? Did neighbors complain and had it "relocated"? Was it lurking in the shadows, waiting to pounce? I'll never know.

The alligator I saw this morning was only about three feet long. Down right cute. Its eyes and snout were just above the waterline and let me tell you, living in Florida your eyes quickly learn to search and recognize that sight.

What a cool way to start the day.

More later,


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Journal Keeper

You know that when Elizabeth Gilbert and Naomi Shihab Nye positively gush over a book, that it's going to be good. And so far, The Journal Keeper, by Phyllis Theroux is wonderful.

Here's a quote I just had to share with you:

When people say something changed their life, I think they usually mean, upon deeper examination, that something had revived their imagination. A door we didn't know existed, or always thought was locked, suddenly swings open. Old ambitions, which we were too timid or thought we were too unqualified to realize, are gathered up and reconsidered. A talent judged too small is reevaluated.

Lovely, isn't it?

More later,

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Hello little pineapple

Look at it! Just look at it. Isn't it the cutest little thing? It's about the size of a softball, and it won't get much bigger. We'll know it's ripe when it turns a bit golden and then, we'll eat homegrown pineapple! And here's the really cool part. Each pineapple plant only produces one pineapple during its lifetime. But to get more pineapples, all you have to do is take that leafy top and stick it in the ground. A new pineapple plant will grow from it, along with a new pineapple. Just like that, simple as pie. Ah, the circle of life. Although this is more of a line, isn't it?

More later,

Friday, June 4, 2010


I know I've been pretty closed-mouth about my up-coming novel, Kindred. I've learned the hard way is baaaaad ju-ju to talk about a work in progress and then, even when it was all finished, it was just easier to smile mysteriously and promise that good things come to those who wait. (Read: I really hate talking about what my books are about. I could made JR Ward's Brotherhood series seem dull, it's a curse.)

But now, I don't have to mumble and bumble, Kindred is available for pre-order on Amazon and comes with a nice, concise description, all ready to go.

Here's what it says:

The first time I meet an angel, it is Raphael and I am eighteen.

Miriam is an unassuming college freshman stuck on campus after her spring break plans fall through. She's not a religious girl—when pressed she admits reluctantly to believing in a higher power. Truth be told, she's about as comfortable speaking about her faith as she is about her sex life, which is to say, not at all. And then the archangel Raphael pays her a visit, and Miriam's life will never be the same. Chosen to save two of her contemporaries, Miriam begins a desperate race to fulfill her mission. But why has she been chosen? And what is the real purpose behind her mission?

Pretty cool, huh? And that first paragraph, that's my opening line. I am so proud of that line! I can't wait to share Kindred with you.

More later,

Monday, May 17, 2010

High Dive on New Hampshire Public Radio

High Dive was mentioned on New Hampshire public radio last week. A nice blog (and radio) shout-out for High Dive for its portrayal of the Iraq War, below:

In other news, I've been plagued by technical difficulties the past month. Intermittent internet service, a busted power drive, and just in general twitchy-ness among my mechanical devices. It might be heat (regularly in the 90's), perhaps the humidity? Plus we have this creepy new type of mosquito, as thick as a fly, black with a red bump on it's back, kind of where it's shoulders would be, if a mosquito had shoulders. That thing looks like it would make you anemic if it bit you. Oh, and someone's been feeding the alligator that lives in our pond, so now it comes when it sees us on the dock. This is cute when a duck or a squirrel does it. It's bad news when an alligator does it since it means they've come associate people with food. Which means they come to believe that people=food. Which means we have to call the county and they'll send someone to deal with it. And deal with it means killing it. All because some stupid neighbor thought it would be fun to feed the local 'gator.

So please, if you live in Florida or Louisiana, please DON'T feed the alligators. They're really not that dangerous as long as it isn't mating season and as long as people haven't fed them. It's not fair to them. Or to those of us who want to stay as respectful neighbors.

More later,

Monday, April 12, 2010


I recently judged a short-story competition for the National Society of Arts and Letters. The NSAL, by the way, is this amazing organization whose sole mission is to support young artists as they begin their careers. To that end, they hold several competition throughout the year with very generous cash prizes to help support young talent. I was really proud and happy to be part of this literary contest. And the winners, whom I met at the award luncheon on Saturday, were wonderful and very deserving of their prize.

I have been a contestant of literary competitions many times but this was my first stint as judge and it was really an eye opening experience. Some of the stories were wonderful, really unique and well written and beautiful. And some...hmm. Some were not.

It got me thinking about what is important in a literary piece. So here are some tips that I've compiled to all future contestants:

Grammar: I'm not a stickler for grammatical rules. I think that as a writer you use whatever you need to make your story and if that means tinkering around with sounds, with tenses, with dangling participles, fine. But don't be sloppy and don't be lazy. So that if your story is in present tense, make sure you don't forget half way through the paragraph and switch to past tense. You would be amazed how often that can happen.

Story: as in, please tell one. Even short stories are still stories. So make sure you're actually writing one, not a scene or a journal entry.

Unlikeable protagonists: Not everything needs to be sugar, spice and everything nice. Not every story needs a happy ending. But be careful that you're not writing a story about a total jerk. There needs to be growth, or change, or insight about what created such a creature and not just that they're mean and rude for the sake of it. You really need to think about your readers when you write.

And last but not least: Keep writing. We all need to keep writing, to keep practicing, to try new things, and yes, to fail sometimes. So if you didn't win this competition or any other, pick yourself up and try again. Write another story, try to make it better, and find another contest, a magazine, a school paper. Every one of us fails about a hundred times before we succeed. Success is the difference between those who gave up and those to stuck with it.

More later,

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


After a seven months deployment in the Middle East and Far East, my badass sister-in-law of eight-months is in American waters and steaming to her home port of San Diego. On her way home, however, she stopped in Seattle to pick up a couple of guests. That's right. The famous Nimitz aircraft carrier is now carrying a few extra passengers, my mom being one of them (the one on the left). Molly's mom is the other intrepid guest on the right. I should mention here that they are not the ONLY guests on board. They are Tigers, guests of service members, who join them on the last few days of their cruise at the end of deployment.

I mean, really, is that not the coolest thing ever??

I'm so excited for my mom and even more for Molly and Dan's reunion. A million thank yous are not enough for all the sacrifices and dedication of our supermen and superwomen of the military.

You guys rock.

Mom, I hope you're having a great time.

And Molly, me next. Okay?

More later,

Monday, March 1, 2010


There was a study done recently about just how predictable people's days are. Participants agreed to have their location tracked at all times through their cellphones and within a few weeks, researchers could predict their location 93% of the time. The most unpredictable subjects, those who labeled themselves without a regular routine, were predictable 83% of the time.

I found this study amazing, and yet unsurprising at the same time. I guess I always knew that I was boring and predictable, I just didn't realize everyone else was too.

More later,


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Mental Relief

I've hardly slept the past two weeks, so I'm stumbling around with a low grade headache, scratchy eyes, and a very low tolerance for bad drivers and sad books. I don't want to know about the pesticides in my lettuce or just what the "broth" that my chicken comes pre-soaked in contains. I don't want a tragic love story or a gritty tale set in the slums.

In a mood like this, there's only one kind of book to read: a romance. And of all romance writers, the best of them all is Lisa Kleypas. After years and years of writing Regency romances, she recently started writing some contemporary fiction set in Houston, Texas. Now I lived in Texas for three years. It has a very fond place in my heart and I have to admit that it makes a fine setting for a romance novel. There's just this feeling that hangs in the air there that anything, anything at all is possible. And in the hands of a talented writer like Kleypas, this setting just enhances every interaction her charming, funny, and sexy as hell characters have.

The book I just read is Smooth Talking Stranger. I'm not even going to tell you what it's about because that's besides the point. The dialogue just zings, the descriptions of high society are vibrate and original, and reading the book helped me forget the cranky tiredness and kept the headache at bay. That's a lot of powerful good from one little novel.

More later,

Saturday, February 20, 2010

More Food

I tried reading Thomas Pycheron's Inherent Vice but it didn't work out. Pynchon's one of those quality writers and so I felt obligated to give his book a try. And Colette Bancroft, the book editor at the St. Pete Times said this was his most accessible book and one of her favorite books of 2009. But sadly, I just couldn't get into it. It's kind of a cross between a classic detective mystery and a stony-beach culture, 1960's sort of scene. Cool enough concept but it didn't work for me.

So I moved on to Novella Carpenter's City Farm-The Education of an Urban Farmer thereby continuing my trend of reading food-based non-fiction, which is a very strange trend for me. And oh man, what a book, what a woman. Carpenter lives in the ghetto of Oakland. Drive by shootings, prostitutes on the corner, homeless men as "neighbors". She has to deal with a 13 year-old who pulls a gun on her to steal her bike, with police raids across the street, the highway visible and audible just a few yards away. In the middle of all this, she takes the vacant, weed-chocked lot next to her apartment and turns it first into a huge vegetable garden. Then she adds a small flock of chickens. Then a bee hive. And then finally in a burst of madness, she raises two pigs to slaughter and turn into bacon, salami, prosciutto, and ham.

She also raises and slaughters a turkey for Thanksgiving and sweet little bunny rabbits for stew. I have some major respect for this woman.

More later,

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Not pretty

I'm really struggling in the aftermaths of reading Jonathan Safran Foer's book about the meat industry. Eating Animals, you can tell from the title, has a slate to the information presented, but even so, the conditions he describes in chicken, turkey, pig, and cow farms are horrifying. Even fishing isn't off the hook.(Come on, how could I resist that pun?)

The sad thing, and Foer writes this, is that we all know that something's not right with our meat industry, but none of us really want to know the specifics. And it's true. I want my shredded beef burrito, my sushi, my chicken soup, and I don't want to think about tiny chick getting pitched in a grinder, or live cows hung by one leg, conscious seven minutes into their "processing". It's horrifying (see there's that word again.) He describes much worse in his book (don't get me started on the things they're fed) and then attempts to grapple with the moral turpitude that we must all suffer from--how else can you account for the massive cruelty and disgusting evolution of factory farming?

I don't know that this book turned me into a vegetarian. But I know I'll never look at a $4.99 rotisserie chicken from Costco the same ever again.

More later,


Sunday, January 31, 2010

Not cool

I just finished reading the mega bestselling memoir Eat, Pray, Love. As you may have noticed, I don't like reading mega-bestsellers, kind of the same way I refused to have a crush on the same red-headed 7th grader all the other girls had a crush on in Junior High. And yes, in Junior High you can decide who you have a crush on.

With EPL, though, I'd read about it when it first came out and before everyone went ga-ga over it and thought it sounded really cool. But then everyone else thought so too and I cooled off on it. Who wants to go out and be friends with the most popular girl in school?

But that was a couple of years ago and Elizabeth Gilbert just came out with another book picking up where she left off and my curiosity got the better of me.

The general gist of her tale is that she had a horrible divorce followed by a horrible affair that just about destroyed her. So she sets off on this Marco Polo-esq adventure going to Italy to eat, India to pray and Bali to learn how to put the two together (I know, I know, Bali?). The thing that is so cool about Elizabeth Gilbert is her amazing ability to meet people and make friends where ever she goes. I'm flat out in awe of that. She meets awesome people in Italy, makes friends in India, and pretty much picks up a new family in Bali. For anyone who's ever been shy, tongue-tied, lonely, and full of wishful thinking about how great it would be to have awesome friends all over the world, well, this lady is like some kind of guru.

But I tell you, it takes one heck of a silver tongue to turn a situation where you instigate a divorce pretty much because you changed your mind about being married to this person, rush off to have this hot and steamy affair while said divorce is happening, and then have the gall to say "woe, woe, woe is me and the pitiful situation I find myself in." Gilbert does just that and as a reader I don't hate her for it. Should this woman go into politics, she'd be unstoppable.

Overall, it was a good read. She's engaging and so well traveled she's got great tales to tell. But she does fall into ruts and starts ruminating on the same few pieces of cud she's already chewed through a few times. Read it to be an armchair traveler (I sooo want to go to Bali now!) and for some interesting thought on G-d. But don't go looking for your new best friend. Elizabeth Gilbert already has too many.

More later,


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Mandatory Reading

There are books we read for escape, books we read for mental stimulation, and there are books we read to be better people. Under this last category falls: America, the owner's manual by Senator (and former FL governor) Bob Graham.

The basic point of the book is that we Americans treat civics as a spectator sport. We sit back and watch our politicians enact inane laws, ignore abuses that should be curbed, and lead us with something less than the basic common sense we all hope for. When we have a problem, from something as small as parking issues, to as a large as drunk driving, most of us vent to our friends and family and then shrug it off as something we have to live with, like mosquitoes in the summer.

What Senator Graham does in his book is show how if you have a certain grievance how to figure out which level of government's management it falls under (local, state, Federal) and then takes you step by step on how to air your grievance before the right people and convince them it needs to change.

It was such an inspiring book to read. Immigrants have to take a citizenship test before they can become naturalized American citizens. The rest of us, fortunate to be born into American citizenship, should read this wonderful manual about our amazing, cumbersome, Byzantine government.

More later,


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Life List

It's funny how some books seem to stalk you.

I first bumped into Life List, a biography of Phoebe Snetsinger about six months ago. My local paper ran a review and when I read it I thought, "here's about book about bird watching, which I really don't know anything about, or care that much about, but it sounds really interesting." Which was about as far as it went. I didn't go seek it out or read more about it, or even really think about it again.

A few months later, the St. Pete Reading Festival featured the book's author, Olivia Gentile, as one of its speakers. I read her impressive biography (Harvard undergrad, Columbia MFA). Saw her beautiful author photo. And thought, wow, what an interesting story. And I didn't go.

And then, I'm not really sure how, but I heard about it AGAIN, and this time I found out she's pregnant and married to Andy Borowtiz, who has a really funny column that I follow, and I thought, why haven't I picked up her book already? So I did.

And it's fascinating, although to be honest, why in the world Olivia Gentile chose such an obscure figure to chronicle for her first book or spend so long doing it (7 years) is as compelling as Phoebe Snetsinger herself, who was the first person to see 8,000 species of birds (which is almost all the species in the world, and is very, very, very hard to do.) She got herself killed doing it. At least, I think that's what happens. There have been all sorts of crypic allusions to the way she died in 1997, that I feel fairly confident that birdwatching killed her. Birding got her raped, at any rate, by 5 thugs in New Guinea when she was 55 years old.

It's hard to mesh my view of bird watching with extreem danger and obsessive behavior, but that's a common misconception, apparently. The closer one is to the tropics, the birdier it gets, leading dedicated birders into some very sketchy countries and areas. Also, keeping a list of all the species one has seen seems to lend itself to stiff compition with fellow birders and with one's own number goals.

Reading the book has made me much more aware of the birds in my area. And living on the gulf coast of Florida, there are some amazing birds in my backyard, raptors, pink sponbills, herons and egrets.

That's what hooked Phoebe Snetsigner in the first place. A neighbor took her bird watching in St. Louis and showed her birds she'd never seen before. The fact that these amazing creatures had been in her backyard her whole life and she never noticed them stunned her and started her down a new path.

So what have we been blind to in our backyard?

More later,