bright, spicy, friendly


I reread three books by Elizabeth Strout on a recent trip. I know I’m singing the same song about linked story collections, but man, what a treat to read these three. Olive Kitteridge (novel-in- stories) I mentioned a couple weeks ago, but I also reread Anything is Possible (I don’t know how the publisher calls this a novel), and My Name is Lucy Barton (a novel).  I read them in the reverse order in which they were published because I wanted to know more about the characters mentioned in Lucy Barton, all of whom populate Anything is Possible. I also wanted to know what the community of Amgash (the town in which Lucy grew up) thought of her as I read her story. Such a joy! The writing is precise and human. Strout’s character Lucy Barton is a writer and she talks a lot about her desire to write ‘one truthful sentence.’ I found this so compelling. As I revise my own novel-in-stories, I’m going through and looking at what my characters know and don’t know about themselves, making sure that I’ve got truthful sentences throughout. Letting my characters hide behind half-truths is letting me hide behind half-truths, and what’s interesting about that? Nothing.

I also want to recommend a newsletter I get from the NYTs, Smarter Living. Okay, I am so not the target audience, but I guess it speaks to my inner-millennial. Two recent articles seem important about our ever-increasing social isolation. This about casual friendships, and this about investing in relationships. Here’s a little quote to pique your interest: “Take a ton of pictures, text your friends stupid things, check in with old friends as often as possible, express admiration to co-workers, and every day, tell as many people as you can that you love them,” he writes. “A couple of minutes every day — the payoff is small at first, and then it’s immense.”


I am a petty and jealous person. It’s not that I don’t applaud, admire and encourage my writer friends to submit, revise, publish etc.… and honestly, I am delighted for all their successes, but it also stings. The inner dialog goes something like this: “Oh, look what so-and-so accomplished! What’s wrong with you? Why are you so easily diverted? Who do you think you are? You can’t finish anything! Look at your rejections! You’re not a good writer. You’re lazy.” And on it goes. Which begs the question, how does one presto-chango jealousy and self-recrimination into motivation? I’ve got a few ideas:

  • Celebrate your friends’ victories
  • Celebrate your own victories (Whether that means words on the page, a personalized rejection letter, great advice from your writers’ group to help push the work forward, or a publication.)
  • Share opportunities and connections. There is plenty of room at the table! I repeat…there is plenty of room at the table. Now you repeat.
  • Feel the disappointment of a rejection or contest loss, and move on
  • Don’t self-sabotage into immobility
  • Be persistent
  • Send a love note to a writer/aritist/creative you admire! Seriously, you have no idea what rejections they may face/have faced. You’ll feel good and so will they.
  • Finally, and this terrific advice comes from the writer Elizabeth McCracken, befriend the hardest working writers you know, let their work ethic inspire you! (Looking at you with admiration and love R.L. Maizes!)


Apparently people have really strong opinions about guacamole. You may be a purest, or an everything goes consumer. (Fresh cranberries added to guac at a Christmas party…crazy? What about grasshoppers? No joke, we had these recently in Mexico. Follow me on instagram @natalieserber to see the documentation.) My husband likes to put garlic and raw mushrooms in his…I know, why would anyone do that? As I write this, I am discovering that I have strong opinions. I’m all in for chunky, not a fan of the smooth. Absolute musts: Hass avocado, jalapeno, onion (white or red, minced), cilantro, lime (both juice and a little zest), and salt. Acceptable additions: diced mango, and maybe a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds for color. Here’s a few recipes: this one is about technique and pretty interesting, here’s one with the addition of jicama, finally this radical one.

On our recent trip to Mexico we had mushroom ceviche as an appetizer at La Parada and I’m here to report that I went back the very next day to have it again. So damn good! I looked up some recipes to try out at home, and boy, will I. Here, here, and here.

Seems like you’ve got some work ahead of you. Make some guac, some mushroom ceviche, this pretty margarita, fill a bowl with your favorite chips, then sit down on a sunny deck and write a fan note. I promise you, you’ll feel great!