A Review of Two Lovely Berries on Words For Worms!

Two Lovely Berries_Cover August 2014I can’t express the excitement I felt when I saw the first review of my novel, Two Lovely Berries, on one of my favorite book blogs, Words for Worms. I’ve been following Words for Worms for a long time, and I’ve also participated in her Fellowship of the Worms.

In her review of Two Lovely Berries, Katie wrote:

I don’t know what to say other than this book was excellent. I found the story engrossing from the start. Books that focus on interpersonal relationships sometimes turn a corner into a weird introspective place, but I thought Two Lovely Berries stayed grounded firmly in reality. Everything was realistically portrayed, and even the dramatic bits avoided abject melodrama. Tales of infidelity, workaholics, family violence, and sibling rivalry all blend together with refreshing glimmers of humanity that make the whole thing just work.

I am so glad that Two Lovely Berries turned out to be an enjoyable read for her. Check out my comment to her post to find out more about the origin of the novel and where my own twins make a cameo.  :)

For more background on the novel, see Freshly Pressed & Freshly Published!

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Book Bloggers Beware: The Early Lessons of Hadid v. New York Review of Books

Bloggers BewareAs vitriolic as many book reviews are—to the point that there is even an award for the “angriest, funniest, most trenchant” one of the year—relatively few of these reviews become the basis of defamation lawsuits. When it happens, it makes the news, and the latest one to make headlines is architect Zaha Hadid’s suit against The New York Review of Books and Martin Filler, the author of an allegedly defamatory review.

On June 5, 2014, the New York Review of Books published Filler’s review of Rowan Moore’s Why We Build: Power and Desire in Architecture.* In this review, Filler discussed Hadid’s response to the harsh labor conditions of workers at construction sites in the Middle East. He wrote:

[D]espite the numerous horror stories about this coercive exploitation, some big-name practitioners don’t seem moved by the plight of the Emirates’ imported serfs. […] [Hadid] has unashamedly disavowed any responsibility, let alone concern, for the estimated one thousand laborers who have perished while constructing her project thus far. ‘I have nothing to do with workers,’ Hadid has claimed. ‘It is not my duty as an architect to look at it.’

According to Hadid’s complaint,* filed August 21, 2014, the not-so-teensy-weensy problems with this paragraph are that (1) construction has not yet begun on the project to which it refers and (2) the quotes of Hadid were taken out of context. The quotes were part of a larger statement (a response to an interview question) about the deaths of construction workers at sites unrelated to her projects. What she had said was (as stated in the complaint):

I think that’s an issue the government—if there’s a problem—should pick up. Hopefully, these things will be resolved.


I am not taking it lightly but I think it’s for the government to look to take care of. It’s not my duty as an architect to look at it. I can make a statement, a personal statement, about the situation with the workers, but I cannot do anything about it because I have no power to do anything about it. [...]

That’s a far cry from how Filler portrayed it, and Filler issued a retraction for stating that workers had died at Hadid’s project.

So, this defamation lawsuit sounds like a slam-dunk for Hadid, right?

Maybe it is, particularly if Filler and the New York Review of Books are willing to settle it quickly to make it go away. But, as a purely legal matter, these cases are never easy for Plaintiffs, even with facts like these, because of the First Amendment implications.

I see two potential problems for Hadid’s claim:

First, although Filler’s portrayal strikes me as wrong, it’s not necessarily defamatory under the law. Hadid’s complaint has a strange line in it about how Filler’s article “induced evil opinion of her in the minds of right-thinking persons, while depriving her of confidence and friendly intercourse in society,” a paraphrase of an eighty-year-old New York court opinion that’s still good law today (Here’s an example of the case being quoted earlier this year). Beyond the amusing language, though, the problem is that, although Martin portrayed Hadid’s views unfairly, it’s hard to argue that she was held up to “disgrace.” See Yonaty v. Mincolla, 97 AD3d 141 (2012).

Second, even if Hadid proves that the statement was defamatory, she would probably also have to prove that Filler acted with “actual malice,” both because the statement was made while discussing a matter of public concern and because Hadid is a public figure. New York Times v. Sullivan (1964) 376 U.S. 254, 283. That doesn’t necessarily mean she’d have to prove that Filler meant to hurt her — a “reckless disregard for the truth” would also qualify — but it’s typically a difficult element to prove.

So what’s the lesson for the rest of us, the “uncredentialed” reviewers without a legal team or insurance behind us?

Well, as difficult as these lawsuits are for plaintiffs to win, there’s no reason for those of us who write anything on the Internet to risk it. No one wants to be a defamation defendant, a time-consuming and expensive situation. So, check quotes, check facts, and limit the vitriol. This isn’t legal advice. It’s just common sense.

*The complaint is available here (PDF).

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Correcting a Kindergarten Deficit (As Requested By An Almost-First Grader)

How Raven Made The Tides

This summer, we sent our six-year-old twins to an arts camp, one with a performing arts component that we hoped would encourage our quiet little girls to emerge from their shells. Not only did the camp achieve this goal—performing on stage was their favorite part of the summer**—but it also exposed them to culturally diverse material that, apparently, they hadn’t experienced anywhere else.

Most of the performances were improvisational, but the final show was a choreographed rendition of How Raven Made The Tides, a Native American myth from the Pacific Northwest. After the show, which was one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen, my daughter M. remarked, “In Kindergarten, we read mostly rhyming books, not much mythology, and definitely nothing about Native Americans,” prompting my sisters to buy her a copy of The Girl Who Helped Thunder And Other Native American Folktales during an outing at Barnes & Noble later that afternoon.

As I’ve discussed in Racial Diversity: The Pros and Cons of Subtlety and other posts on this blog, I am a strong proponent of introducing children to diversity through literature (in addition to real life experiences). It looks like my inclusive reading preferences have already rubbed off on my daughter, who has turned out to be more similar to me in personality than she is to anyone else in our family — including her twin. I don’t have to nudge her towards these selections; she demands books that feature diversity.

So, of course, we’ve been reading Native American folktales over the last few days, a story or two at a time, which is all we can accomplish because of the lengthy discussions each story inspires.

The Girl Who Helped Thunder And Other Native American Folktales is a collection of  Native American stories divided by geographic region.*** Some tales are easy for my daughters to process, while others present more challenging themes, including ones that even I have trouble reading in literature (as I discussed last week in Reasons to Avoid a Beloved Classic).

The Girl Who Helped Thunder Thumbnail CoverFor example:

When the stepmother in The Blind Boy and the Loon (Inuit) blinded her stepson with rotten whale blubber, one of my daughters cried.

When the father in Why Owl Lives Away from the People (Wiyot) starved his children, my other daughter gasped, and when he burned his wife’s legs with a stick from the fire, they both screamed, “Why would he do something like that?”

But, as hard as it was to read about these atrocious behaviors, my daughters wouldn’t let me put the book away, no matter how many times I offered to read something else with them. They wanted to know how these stories ended, and I acquiesced because avoidance isn’t a strategy I often take in parenting. For previous posts on where I draw the line on what is appropriate/inappropriate for my children, see How Do You Talk To A Child About The Holocaust? and Julie of the Wolves: An E-Book My Children Won’t Read Until They’re Older.

In this case, it was easier for me to indulge their curiosity because, after reading ahead, I knew that these folktales weren’t graphically violent and that, ultimately, the moral at the heart of each story was exactly in line with what we are teaching them: abuse, neglect, and greed are wrong.

My daughters aren’t too young for those lessons.



*The main picture is a still from a video of the performance (hence the poor quality of the image–which is just as well because I don’t want the other children to be identifiable). S., in the long-sleeved white shirt, was a raven, and M., in the green shirt, was a crab.

**Clay was another class they particularly enjoyed. Our basement is now a museum of children’s art after nine weeks of art camp!

***The Girl Who Helped Thunder And Other Native American Folktales is a collection of stories retold by James Bruchac and Joseph Bruchac and illustrated by Stefano Vitale. It does not contain the tale my daughters performed. We have a xerox copy of How Raven Made The Tide, which I will scan and keep forever! :)

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Reasons To Avoid A Beloved Classic Novel (For Now)

A Tree Grows in BrooklynBetty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943) is a beloved novel that portrays poverty, class, and gender dynamics through the experiences of Francie Nolan, an 11-year-old girl when the story begins in 1912.

Or so I’ve been told. This is one of those novels that just about everyone I know read—and loved—when they were teenagers. But I never did.

I downloaded the e-book to my Kindle on December 17, 2012, but it just sat there as I grappled with my fear that I wouldn’t like it as much as my friends did. It’s kind of awkward to read a beloved classic for the first time two decades too late in life.

This week, I finally clicked it open, read Anna Quindlen’s Foreward, then abandoned the book.


These days, with my work seeping into the rest of my life, I’m cautious about how I spend my limited reading time. Quindlen’s eloquent, spoiler-laden Foreward made me think that A Tree Grows in Brooklyn just isn’t the right kind of literary entertainment for me.

The Foreward began with these decouraging words:

“As much as any other beloved book in the canon, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn illustrates the limitations of plot description. In its nearly five hundred pages, nothing much happens.”

She immediately qualified these words as being somewhat “inaccurate,” but the damage was already done. It’s hard to commit to 500 pages of “nothing much.”

With Quindlen’s second paragraph, my motivation to read the novel only continued to drop when she casually mentioned its portrayal of a “pedophile who grabs a little girl in the hall.” That’s not “nothing,” it’s more like “nothing I want to read for leisure.”

There are times when I’m able to read books that address serious and important topics, but this week, when I’m entirely focused on legal work related to sexual violence, I don’t want to go anywhere near this topic in my meager time off.** I guess I only want to read the type of material that Francie’s teacher demanded she write (as Quindlen mentioned in the Foreward): stories about “the beautiful and serene” rather than about “what she really sees around her.”

So, I’ll have to read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn at some other time.

For now, as I come up with alternative reading material, I’m just going to imagine myself here:*


Have a beautiful and serene weekend!


*Anguilla (my sister took the picture). To see more calming scenes, stop over at Donna’s Garden Walk Garden Talk.

**ETA: However, I have been able to include these themes in my own creative writing (such as in Two Lovely Berries). I use writing as a way of coping with the type of work I do.

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Typos: Condemnation for Common Mistakes

Miss Steaks from Spell Checker Poem

Once, after filing a 49-page appellate brief in a case, I received the following email from a well-established attorney in my practice area:

I did not want to undercut the ‘thank you’ email I sent on Saturday by mentioning anything negative [about the brief you filed], but there’s something you may have noted already, but which, in case not, I draw to your attention for the future: the proofing needs to be done more carefully.

The sender then complained that my brief contained two small typos and one incomplete citation. Thankfully, all of these mistakes were in pro forma portions of the brief that the judges were unlikely to read, but I felt awful about them, particularly after spending nearly three weeks drafting and proofreading the damn thing. I read the brief from cover to cover multiple times, as did several other attorneys involved in the case, and not one of us caught those errors.

Why didn’t we catch them?

Well, according to a recent article on Wired:

The reason typos get through isn’t because we’re stupid or careless, it’s because what we’re doing is actually very smart, explains psychologist Tom Stafford, who studies typos of [sic] the University of Sheffield in the UK. “When you’re writing, you’re trying to convey meaning. It’s a very high level task,” he said.

As with all high level tasks, your brain generalizes simple, component parts (like turning letters into words and words into sentences) so it can focus on more complex tasks (like combining sentences into complex ideas). … When we’re proof reading our own work, we know the meaning we want to convey. Because we expect that meaning to be there, it’s easier for us to miss when parts (or all) of it are absent. The reason we don’t see our own typos is because what we see on the screen is competing with the version that exists in our heads.

So, the occasional typo isn’t necessarily an indication of shoddy work, as the well-intentioned grump implied in her message to me. It just happens, particularly under time constraints and limited resources.

Although typos can change the meaning of a sentence or, more seriously, the meaning of a legal document,** they are usually harmless, despite the strong reaction they generate in readers.

As for the brief I filed, the Court didn’t seem to notice the typos. I’m pleased to say that the case turned out the way I hoped it would.

Now, I’m knee-deep in another appellate brief, which might contain plenty of the typical typos found in the early drafts of legal documents: statute→statue, harass→harrass, and, sadly, public→pubic.

Hopefully, we’ll catch them all before we file. If not, I’m sure a little birdie will let me know after-the-fact.


*The image quotes a line from An Ode to a Spelling Checker by Jerrold H. Zar & Mark Eckman.

**As I mentioned in Perfectionism and Publishing, one of the early posts on this blog, “[a] misspelled or misplaced word can, for example, render an order of protection unenforceable.  See Davit v. Stogsdill, 371 Fed. Appx. 683 (2010).”

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What It Means To Be Biracial (A discussion of “Mexican White Boy”)

In 2010, about nine million people selected more than one race on the U.S. Census form.*

I was one of them. I’m predominantly Sri Lankan and Irish American, as I’ve discussed in Uncovering Our Roots: Why Does Family History Matter?, but my multiracial identity has changed over the course of my life in response to the circumstances around me, as I’ve mentioned in a post on racist themes in children’s literature.

Mexican White Boy Thumbnail CoverWith the context of this multi-racial background, I read Matt de la Peña’s Mexican White Boy (2008), a young adult novel that is currently on Vamos A Leer’s reading list for the 2014-15 school year. It features 16-year-old Danny, who is half Mexican and half white, who feels like he does not truly belong with either side of his family. He finds that he is “a white boy among Mexicans, and a Mexican among white boys.” To make matters more complicated, his Mexican father is no longer in his life, for reasons wholly unknown to Danny.

Meanwhile, the novel also features Uno, whose biracial heritage is Mexican and African American. His separated parents are hostile towards each other, causing Uno to feel like “it’s some kind of tug-of-war between black and Mexican, and he’s the rope.”

The boys become friends when Uno recognizes a way to turn Danny’s prowess on the baseball mound into a money-making endeavor. He has found it difficult to make money any other way:

He put in [job] applications at a mess of places, but nobody’s called him back. Not one restaurant, one clothing store, one shoe shop. Not even the coffee shop outside the mall that always has the ‘Now Hiring’ sign taped to the door. What’s up with that?


“It’s ‘cause my ass is half black. It ain’t right.”**

Sadly, the frustrating job market conditions that Uno faces are not unique to fiction. I’ve previously noted research that shows how the name of an applicant—and what potential employers assume about the ethnicity of a person with that name—impacts the likelihood of receiving a job interview. Individuals with ethnic-sounding names are not only less likely to get a job interview, but they’re also less likely to get a response from professors, whom many of us assume are educated enough to overcome their biases against certain ethnic/racial groups.

Mexican White Boy explores these types of structural barriers for ethnic minorities with an emphasis on the experiences of Danny and Uno, two boys caught between two identities. My own experience as a multi-racial American has only a little in common with the experiences de la Peña depicts for Danny and Uno—I’m from a different ethnic and socioeconomic background, and I live in a different part of the country—but it was easy to identify with their struggle to define themselves and to root for these two boys. I’m looking forward to introducing this novel to my own children when they are finally exploring what it means to be redheaded girls of South Asian heritage with Arabic names living in our part of America.

Three Daughters_The Misfortune of Knowing


*This represents only a fraction of Americans with multi-racial ancestry. For example, President Barack Obama is half African and half white, but he selected only the “Black” box. Here’s the 2010 Census Form (Question 9).

**This novel is intended for the 14-and-up crowd, which I think can handle the strong language and serious themes. Not everyone would agree with me, though.

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Freshly Pressed & Freshly Published!

It’s been a busy week at The Misfortune of Knowing:

First, I wanted to announce that I finally released my first novel, Two Lovely Berries. Here’s the description:

Two Lovely Berries_Cover August 2014

Available Through Amazon (Click Image)

Nora and Aubrey Daley were never going to be the type of twins who lived together from womb to nursing home, despite their inseparable childhood in suburban Philadelphia and their matching Yale degrees. Their lives diverge soon after graduation—too soon, in Nora’s opinion—when Aubrey’s marriage to her college boyfriend changes more than her last name.

As Nora adjusts to a future without Aubrey by her side, new revelations about their past threaten to undo her progress and force her to question her memories. She and Aubrey share virtually all of their genes—but perhaps little else.

Two Lovely Berries is an exploration of the struggle for individuality between identical twins, complicated by family violence, divisive relationships, and personal demons from which even those born into a life of privilege cannot escape.

If the description interests you enough to read the novel, I’d appreciate hearing your thoughts on it (perhaps against my better judgment! ;-) ).

Freshly Pressed Mockingbird (2)Second, I also wanted to mention that, earlier this week, I was lucky enough to have a second post featured on Freshly Pressed. It was very exciting. The post was The Mockingbird Next Door: A Parasitic Memoir?, in which I discuss Harper Lee’s opposition to a journalist’s memoir/unauthorized biography.

The first time my blog was featured on Freshly Pressed was for Uncovering Our Roots: Why Does Family History Matter?, in which I discuss a memoir of a Catholic journalist seeking her Jewish heritage in Spain.

I guess memoirs of journalists are my thing. Maybe I should read more of them!

Have a great weekend.

Updated: I haven’t talked about my creative writing much on this blog, but this post on Jae’s Lit & Scribbles gives some background on this novel. Since that post, Two Lovely Berries went through a few rounds of edits, including a professional one, and grew by 4,000 words.

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