Copywriting, Creative Writing

Confession: I am taking a copywriting class here in San Francisco. A class about writing ads. It’s not academia as I know it, though there is definitely a workshop component to the class.

The writing produced is different from fiction in many ways, and the experience only increases my respect for the depth of artistry demanded in writing fiction. Still, copywriting is a skill of its own.

What strikes me most about the class, so far, is the dynamic between students responding to one another’s work. Maybe it’s because advertising is a collaborative field that relies on professional networks (though this could be said of many fields), but there’s a feeling that one person’s well-wrought line of copy doesn’t just benefit that person, but all of us. That line contains an idea we can all work with and be inspired by.

I owe much to the fiction-writing workshops I’ve taken over the years. But too often there is a feeling that each person is on his or her own, or that there are little teams of two or three students who adhere to the same aesthetic and don’t much care for the work of those writing in different styles.

I’ve definitely contributed to this dynamic. I’ve been overly sensitive and taken things personally. But I’m happy to say that I’m learning something new in this class, not just about working with words, but about ways of being a writer and interacting with others who write. It’s a fresh experience, and far from dulling my mind with hackneyed lines, it’s sharpened my sense of words in a way that only heightens my appreciation for literary writing.

So … what about you? Have you participated in writing workshops? Do you have copywriting experience? I’d love to hear your thoughts about what being a writer among writers means to you. BlogSig

Leaf & Sip: Chocolat / Lavender Earl Grey

“Leaf & Sip” is a new series on The Burnished Leaf. For each installment, I pair a book and tea suitable for enjoyment side-by-side.


Chocolat was lovely beyond my expectations.

Chocolat hasn’t left my mind since I finished reading it. Other books have come and gone, but it’s still the one I most want to share with you.

It’s one of those rare titles (like The Virgin Suicides) with a film adaptation that I also love. I’m guessing you may have seen the movie, starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp. It’s been one of my favorites for years, and I’m surprised it took me so long to read the novel that inspired it.

The plot centers on strong-willed chocolatier Vianne Rocher, who opens a shop in a provincial French village. A single mother to six-year-old Anouk and unapologetic champion of chocolate, festivities, and the pleasures they cultivate, she is at odds with the strict churchgoing culture enforced by the town curé, Francis Reynaud. As she defiantly connects with the community, a collection of characters and one Gypsy drifter form a coterie that alters her life. She and Anouk find their footing, and Vianne begins to see her heretofore-rootless existence from a new perspective.

From the beginning, the Rochers imbue their environment with a new ambiance. “We came on the wind of the carnival,” Vianne narrates, and with their arrival the wind, which carries the scents of fried foods and confetti, seems to change. Upon moving into their new abode, she tells us, “We lit a candle for every room, gold and red and white and orange. I prefer to make my own incense, but in a crisis the bought sticks were good enough for our purposes, lavender and cedar and lemongrass.”

These kinds of scents and tastes, mixed into sorcerous concoctions, characterize much of Chocolat. Eithne Farry of The Daily Mail wrote that the novel “glittered with magic, mystery and the weather, and enticed with the indulgent flavours of truffles, bitter orange cracknell and lavender brittle.” Continue reading

Home, as a Location

DSC04361DSC04380 DSC04372 DSC04388It’s strange but lovely to say I spent the first 18 years of my life in a surf town with beautiful beaches and a seaside amusement park.

On January 2, I revisited it. The same pizza, coffee, cookies, views. Since I spent most of the past decade elsewhere, it was familiar and fresh at once. It’s so very much the same, but not quite. You know?

It seems that every entry I write lately relates to the idea of home, but in this case, it takes the form of a very specific location.

After spending so many years in other regions, no one place can encompass everything that has formed me — yet it’s nice to think that the place that comes closest to fitting this description is one small, scenic city on the Monterey Bay.

What reminds you of home?


Tales of Hearth & Home

novembertodecemberIMG_0103 2K and I headed north for Thanksgiving, back to the same place that has come to feel like home. Now that I’m on the West Coast again, I’m able to visit more often, and it’s been lovely to see the seasonal changes in redwood country.

Though the holiday weekend had its ups and downs (for example, our engine overheated and we ended up taking a long bus/train ride), so many details of the experience felt so valuable: gorgeous views from the train; the way that droplets of fresh rain brightened fall-colored leaves; and time spent before the fire, listening to rain fall outside, playing Scrabble, watching movies, and talking. Sartorially, I stuck to a traveling outfit that included a vintage L.L. Bean jacket which I never quite worked into my Maine wardrobe, but which has been perfect for California winter.

IndoorOutdoorInterspersed amidst time socializing and, of course, eating, were snippets spent reading a collection of Charles Dickens’ seasonal stories while sipping a mug of peppermint tea with spiced rum. I admit that these solitary moments were among those I most looked forward to. There’s nothing like Dickens for cultivating a cozy and contemplative feeling.chairblankieteaThe edition I read united A Christmas Carol, The Chimes, and The Cricket on the Hearth. The ordering of stories takes readers through Christmas time and the New Year, with a final tale of home and community.

Often sentimental, these stories helped to define a particular aspect of Dickens’ fame. His association with Christmas is no secret, nor is his commitment to social awareness. These stories may not be Dickens’ masterworks, but they are no less emblematic of his legacy than works that garner greater literary validation. As always, Dickens writes of tender scenes and appealing characters, evoking nooks and crannies of warmth within a cold and unfeeling social structure.

A Christmas Carol is the most iconic story in the collection for a reason — of the three, it is the most compelling. Continue reading

East Bay Days


Standing serene on my peninsula. A little to the right (not pictured) is the Golden Gate Bridge.

All my life, I’ve wanted to live in San Francisco. I can remember being about four years old, walking through Chinatown, utterly enchanted.

Recently, my lifelong dream of living in this city came true. Sort of. I currently live right across the bay from San Francisco, with a foggy view of the Golden Gate just a short walk past my door.

Though the city sits just beyond the stretch of blue that separates it from me and the East Bay, my weekday commute gives the illusion of a much greater distance. {If only I could just take a ferry across the water!} So when it comes to the weekend, I like to explore the little patch of the Bay Area in which I actually reside. Continue reading

Leaf & Sip: Chocolates for Breakfast / Iced Coconut Green Tea

While traveling, often without internet access, I had some time to think about this blog. As I reflected on The Burnished Leaf and what I would like it to become, I decided I would like to combine the categories I write about (style, books, tea, life/travel) more often. Book reviews are easy enough to find online, and there are so many wonderful fashion blogs. It feels fresher and is perhaps a better use of my talents to try to write about overlaps between my interests.


The novel Chocolates for Breakfast, iced Coconut Green Tea, and a reading companion

So, this is my first book & tea pairing, and the start of what I hope will become a series. In a nod to my blog’s title and the linguistic overlap between “leafing” through a book and the tea leaf itself, I’ve named the concept “Leaf & Sip.”

For each installment, I’ll select a book I’ve read or revisited recently, and pair it with a complementary cup of tea. The tea may be reminiscent of the book in flavor or association, or it may provide a refreshing contrast. Either way, it will be something I savored while reading.


This time, I selected Pamela Moore’s  Chocolates for Breakfast and Trader Joe’s Coconut Green Tea with Lemongrass & Ginger. I was lucky enough to read the book and sip the iced tea in my mother’s sun-dappled backyard. {Confession: It’s been weeks now since these photos were taken, but I still want to share them with you.}

Continue reading

Refreshing Rooibos at Selah Tea Cafe

Selah Tea Window

Recently, K and I stopped at one of my favorite teatime spots—Selah Tea Cafe, in Waterville, Maine.

When presented with an assortment of scrumptious teas, I often choose rooibos, a red tea made from the leaves of a South African plant. I like its earthy, slightly sweet taste, and the way it complements other favorite flavors, like vanilla and cinnamon.


This time, I chose a Belgian Chocolate rooibos. It was rich and fragrant, with a deep caramel color and a warming, reviving taste. The chocolatey-herbal flavor comes from the addition of calendula (a flower resembling marigold) leaves and cacao (cocoa bean) pieces. Consider it a tea translation of well-crafted chocolate. Continue reading

Omnivore’s Oeuvre: The Novels of Jeffrey Eugenides


One of my mini-projects this summer has been reading Jeffrey Eugenides’ complete novels. The author’s Greek-American heritage and native Detroit inspire much of his subject matter, and romantic and familial relationships are central to his work. But Eugenides’ seemingly slim output belies the breadth of ambition displayed in his three novels. The first novel is poetic and poignant; the second, intricate, verging on epic; and the third, engaging and quick-paced. All are compelling reads.

1. The Virgin Suicides (1993) is my favorite. If you’ve seen Sofia Coppola’s film you will notice that the movie’s dreamlike quality matches the texture and tone of Eugenides’ novel. The first-person plural narration tells the story of the Lisbon sisters through the lens of a group of neighborhood boys infatuated with them. Seen from afar, the Lisbon girls—Therese, Mary, Bonnie, Lux, and Cecilia—take on a mysterious quality that starts as fleshly beauty and moves into something ethereal. As the sisters grapple with Cecilia’s suicide and grow increasingly isolated, a sense of longing from the the neighborhood boys amplifies the heartbreaking way the girls fade from view.

Despite the subject matter, I would not say this novel is dominated by stark tragedy. Eugenides weaves a lyrical and evocative narrative that luxuriates in the details of the boys’ imaginations and the material clues of the girls’ lives. Though I am one to react against the stereotypical “male gaze,” Eugenides’ gorgeous prose and the mix of innocence, curiousity, and adolescent wonder in the narrative voice creates a complicated and finely-woven tale.

The male gaze is not un-self-conscious. At one point, Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon reluctantly allow Therese, Mary, Bonnie, and Lux to go to homecoming on a group date that includes some of the neighborhood boys. For one night the girls become real, and the narrator acknowledges the gap between who the Lisbon girls appear to be from afar, and who they prove to be on closer inspection. “Who had known they talked so much, held so many opinions, jabbed at the world’s sights with so many fingers?” the narrator asks. “Between our sporadic glimpses of the girls they had been continuously living, developing in ways we couldn’t imagine, reading every book on the bowdlerized family bookshelf.” With a wave of the wand, Eugenides acknowledges the multifaceted and unseen personalities of the Lisbon girls. Though they are developed characters within the novel, they are often imaginary, sifted and glimpsed through the observations and fantasies of their neighbors. Eugenides reveals beauty and flaws in the ways the boys romanticize the Lisbon sisters from afar. Continue reading

Make a Move: Relocation, Community, and Anne Shirley



Goodbye, beautiful cupboards

Though it doesn’t look like much from the outside, the home I’m about to leave is gorgeous inside. Rich wood in the kitchen, a pretty retro sink. High ceilings. A counter with room for two wooden stools. Space for miles.

I didn’t expect to feel much about this place. It was a wayside, a layover, and only for a moment did it seem like a long-term possibility. Mostly, I’m ready for the relief of being at home in a larger sense—the Pacific Ocean, the homeland, a better cultural fit.

Recently, K and I held a yard sale in an attempt to divest ourselves of some of the belongings we simply can’t take with us. We sifted through objects large and small and hauled them to the front yard.

At first, very few came. A pair of new friends from the university dropped by, picked up a few books, and kept us company for a while. Cars slowed and drivers surveyed our offerings with their eyes, but found nothing to merit stopping.

Then, in the late afternoon, something shifted. Two men with beards, wearing suspenders and work clothes, bought a bag of cassette tapes and a coffee maker, respectively. A young couple from across the street looked earnestly at the essentials on view, disappeared into their home, and came out with enough cash for a blender, coffee table, and shower caddy. An older woman from next door wandered over with her therapy dog, Gizmo, a short-haired Shih Tzu wearing a blue bandana. The woman bought a pink-elephant piggy bank and a container of miniature clothespins.

Out of the woodwork, slowly, a community emerged. Continue reading