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Showing posts from April, 2007

The Perils of Diva-dom

I just returned from a wonderful event with a terrific group of people. From fans to booksellers to publishing house types to authors to various and sundry others, we all had one thing in common: the love of books. Nearly everyone was wonderful, from the tireless volunteer organizers to the cover model hopefuls to you name it, they were all nice, fun, and friendly.

Or nearly all, and the very few exceptions present really stood out. Divas who treated others like their personal water carriers. Mean gossips. The abusive or dismissive. Each one made an indelible impression -- and not the one I would imagine they'd prefer to spread. (Though it does -- and faster than herpes in a ho' house.)

As my roommate wisely said, your "public face" is the least expensive and most memorable form of promotion. If you're kind, approachable, and funny, people will remember that about you. They'll root for you when you're down and will cheer you when you make it big. If you…

Happy Duke Ellington's Birthday

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Every book has a soundtrack. The reader doesn't necessarily hear or even suspect it, but I need that music to anchor me to a certain tone, a certain time and place. I'm beginning a novel that will bring me back to some of my favorite Duke Ellington music in the coming months, and I'm looking forward to that. Here's what The Writer's Almanac has to say about the Duke today:
It's the birthday of Duke Ellington, born Edward Kennedy Ellington in Washington, D.C. (1899). After high school, he worked briefly as a soda jerk, and his first piece of music was called "Soda Fountain Rag," (1915). He composed it in his head before he'd even learned how to write or read music. When he first started playing with a band at local society balls, they would often play "Soda Fountain Rag" over and over again. Ellington said, "[We] would play [it] as a one-step, two-step, waltz, tango, and fox trot. Listeners never knew it was the same piece. I was esta…

A Laser-Like Focus

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About six months ago, my agent said something that really resonated with me. While I was having a typical neurotic-writer moment and wondering whether I should hedge my bets in this business by writing in a second genre in addition to romantic suspense, she said that she'd been chatting with an editor and the two of them had concluded that the authors with the best chance of making it big maintain a laser-like focus on one goal. All their efforts are directed toward achieving this goal, and it helps them to figure out which opportunities and avenues to pursue and which to let go.

This comment caused me to do some hard thinking about what I want as a writer. From the time I began in romantic suspense, I have had a clear vision of the experience I want readers to take from my stories and the ways I hope to grow within the genre. Chasing the market had nothing to do with it. I simply wanted to write the kind of book I most enjoy. I do have to take notice of the market and adapt accord…

What a tangled web we weave (or at least we try)

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The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. The kinky art of shibari or "beautiful bondage" from Japan. The early music of Radiohead. The actual quantity of blood involved in the exsanguination of a 160 lb man. These are just a few of the interesting little side roads I explored while researching details woven into the novel I just finished.

One day as we swilled coffee, Colleen suggested I nuance the bondage stuff with a subtle spider web motif, and by the time I reached the end of the book -- the most intricately plotted story I've ever even thought of attempting -- I realized that's what I'd been doing all this time. Spinning a web in which I hope to tangle the reader's curiosity. If there's a hole, it's gapingly obvious. No loose ends allowed. I learned a lot.

Halfway through the process, I came upon these wise words from The Meditationsof Marcus Aurelius (whose birthday happens to be today): Constantly regard the universe as one living being, having one sub…

The Secret Identity of Devon Delaney

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Lauren Barnholdt is touring the Girlfriend Cyber Circuit with her new novel, The Secret Identity of Devon Delaney, launching the new Simon and Schuster MIX line for tweens. Lauren’s first book for teens, Reality Chick, was a Teen People Can’t-Miss Pick and a New York Public Library Best Book for the Teen Age 2007.

From the press kit: Mom says karma always comes around to get you, and I guess it's true. Because last summer I was a total liar, and now, right in the middle of Mr. Pritchard's third-period math class, my whole world is about to come crashing down…

That's because while Devon was living with her grandmother for the summer, she told her "summer friend," Lexi, that she was really popular back home and dating Jared Bentley, only the most popular guy at school. Harmless lies, right? Wrong. Not when Lexi is standing at the front of Devon's class, having just moved to Devon's town. Uh-oh.I get a kick out of the twenty-something authors I meet here and…

Hemingway memoir promises to be strange indeed

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As both a student of the memoir genre and a sappily devoted Hemingway fan, I'm eager to read Strange Tribe, John Hemingway's forthcoming memoir about his life and family. (Pub date is May 1, but Amazon lists it as in stock.) This could be a great book or a perambulating cheese ball. Could go either way. I'm guardedly optimistic. All I know for sure is that I want to read it, but here's a bit of his PR copy: ...the peculiar family dynamics between Ernest Hemingway and his youngest son Gregory. Gregory, the author’s father, tried to live up to Ernest’s “macho” reputation throughout his life. But as a cross-dresser and (eventually) a transsexual, Gregory was obsessed with androgyny and his "female half,” and he struggled with personal demons up until his death in the Women's Correctional Facility of the Miami Dade County Jail in 2001...

This is also John's story--about what it was like growing up in Miami and Montana with his father and his schizophrenic moth…

Having a "wish I'd written that" moment

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Willa Cather:The sun was like a great visiting presence that stimulated and took its due from all animal energy. When it flung wide its cloak and stepped down over the edge of the fields at evening, it left behind it a spent and exhausted world. And the woman knew how to wear hats, too.

Are all writers killers at heart?

"April is the cruellest month," T.S. Eliot wrote in The Waste Land, and the third week of April is going to be a rough one for the American psyche for a long time to come. People struggle to make sense of tragedy, and in the pursuit of understanding, the ever-vigilant media stands ready to trot out whatever scapegoat can be roped by some talking head in a hundred-twenty seconds or less. What video games were to Columbine, writing is to VT. The proof in the poisonous pudding. Before the coroner caught a coffee break, the VT killer became the most famous writer in America, his English assignments more widely read than Moby Dick.

I guess I'm a horrible person, but the first thought that struck me after reading a couple of pages: "This dude was an English major?" I did better than that when I was in eighth grade. Particularly in this extremely creative little story I wrote about a tragically put upon adolescent girl who kills herself, then leaps up out of her coffin…

What the Story Knows That the Author Doesn't

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"In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it."—Michelangelo

I'm happy for Michelangelo, but the truth is, I don't see the finished novel before I begin, or even while I'm working. I catch a tantalizing, sideways glimpse out of the corner of my eye here and there, or see a haunting eye gazing out from the marble and pleading to be freed, but I'm invariably surprised by what I find when I have finally chipped away to reveal the figure inside.

It occurs to me that, for all the myriad books, workshops, and speeches I have studied on the craft of writing, there's an element of mystery to the process. Call it art or inspiration, muse or magic -- but at least in my case, the story knows some things that the writer doesn't.

How else can I explain the way the way tha…

So Not the Drama

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YA Author Paula Chase is touring the Girlfriend Cyber Circuit this week with her debut novel, So Not the Drama. I'm going to dish up her PR exactly as I recieved it, because it gives a great glimpse of the book and because it's an excellent example of a perfect dollop of on pub PR:
“I just realized, I’m the Seinfeld of YA lit,” author Paula Chase says. “Taking tiny teen crisis and turning them into an entire book is my ‘thing.’ In her debut, So Not The Drama, Chase takes her Seinfeldian-style and turns a high school sociology project into a catalyst for good old-fashioned, light-hearted teen angst.

So Not The Drama [Kensington Books/Dafina for Young Readers] introduces readers ages 11+ to bright-eyed, optimist Mina Mooney, a high school freshman with nothing more on her mind than climbing the popularity ladder, until a sociology experiment to rid the world – or at least Del Rio Bay High School – of prejudice backfires. The project causes a rift between Mina and her best friend…

Satisfaction...

I read an interesting story today over on my Yahoo news page regarding the most satisfying jobs. I wasn't surprised to find my husband's job, firefighting (with 80% reporting they are"very satisfied"), near the top of the list, nor was I surprised to see my earlier career, teaching (69% chose "very satisfied"). In spite of both its frustrations and the less-than-stellar pay, my years in the classroom brought me a great deal of joy since every day, I could see the evidence that my hard work had an impact.

What surprised me was that authors were so high up the list, with 74% reporting they are "very satisfied" with their careers. Maybe I was surprised because authors I know gripe a lot about their unpredictable income and their lack of control over so many components of success, from market trends (and publishers who never met a bandwagon they didn't want to collapse beneath their collective weight) to cover art to the replacement of their brilli…

"It's a great life if you don't weaken."

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I don't know if John Buchan, First Baron of Tweedsmuir (seriously) was speaking of war or publishing when he made that remark. I can only say it definitely applies to publishing.

Buchan is the author of The Thirty-Nine Steps, a book I fondly remember from my youth. It was published in 1915 and made into a movie by Alfred Hitchcock twenty years later. (I vividly remember checking it out from a tiny, underfunded library in Onalaska, Wisconsin, and reading it high up in the branches of the mulberry tree that dominated the front yard of our house.) Apparently, Buchan never weakened. He was a prolific author and did a whole lot of other interesting stuff.

"It's a great life if you don't weaken."

As Colleen continues to spin those plates and I whack away at the banana stalks with my literary machete, we can't afford to wimp out. We believe in the life. And we try to help each other stay strong.

The Wobblies

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I'm nearing the end of my current work-in-progress, the harrowing part. I'm looking up at all the plates I've set to spinning atop their narrow sticks, only to see that every blooming one of them is wobbling.

There are only two possibilities at this point. Either the entire novel will crash down and shatter beyond all hope of redemption, or I'll run frantically from plate to plate and get each one spinning fast enough to pull off this miraculous trick we call a novel.

Today, I'm trying to remind myself I have an agent who believes that I can do this, an editor who's bet the publisher's money I can do it, and a fan base (however modest) waiting for my success. I remind myself, too, that on twelve previous attempts, I've spotted the wobbling, despaired of ever making a cohesive novel out of imminent disaster, and yet somehow managed to get the book finished and in print.

That ought to count for something, shouldn't it? But the fact is, the fact that I…

No one belongs here more than you

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Last week, Colleen emailed me a link to an incredibly clever web site promoting No One Belongs Here More Than You, a forthcoming book of stories by performance artist Miranda July.

Check it out.

Do ya feel lucky, punk? Well, do ya?

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Friday the 13th, but I'd have to say I do feel lucky. My heart sank when I visited the collision center yard the other day and saw the mutilated remains of poor Spiffy da Boxcar. But then I noticed the damage ended just a few inches shy of the area where my backside was situated at the time of the accident. I was lucky to walk away with a few bruises and a stiff case of whiplash.

I've had a frustrating first quarter, but I just spent a few minutes answering email from a couple aspiring authors who are struggling to break into print.

"I've been incredibly lucky," I had to admit. "Even though it doesn't feel like it all the time."

I was lucky all those big NY agents rejected me. I was better off starting out at that little one-man operation in Dallas. I was lucky to be rejected by...well, the dozens of publishers who turned down my first novel. I eventually found my way to a tiny press where a wonderful editor took the time to educate and nurture me. I c…

Support our troops' wives: Staying Home is a Killer

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Sara Rosett is out on the Girlfriend Cyber Circuit this week with the second in her Mom Zone mystery series, Staying Home is a Killer. As the wife of an Air Force pilot, Sara writes fiction that rings true, set in the all-too-real world of a homefront family.

So what's this book about?
Diaper bag over her shoulder and adorable toddler wriggling in her arms, Ellie Avery strives to balance motherhood, marriage, and her professional organizing business, Everything in Its Place, but her ordered world is thrown into disarray when a fellow military spouse’s death looks more like murder than suicide. Toss in her husband’s deployment and her daughter’s separation anxiety, and Ellie has to keep the home fires burning as she sort clues from chaos.
Sara describes her circuitous journey to the bookshelf:
"I loved going to the library with my mom when I was a kid. We'd go almost every Saturday and I still remember walking to the children's mystery section and thinking, "Please le…

"Life on this planet was a crock." Go with God, Vonnegut

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In the New York Times this morning:
Kurt Vonnegut, whose dark comic talent and urgent moral vision in novels like “Slaughterhouse-Five,” “Cat’s Cradle” and “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater” caught the temper of his times and the imagination of a generation, died last night in Manhattan. He was 84 and had homes in Manhattan and in Sagaponack on Long Island.
I won't bother adding platitudes or praises to the funeral pire. It's probably like Vonnegut said about the passing of fellow curmudgeon Mark Twain:
He finally stopped laughing at his own agony and that of those around him. He denounced life on this planet as a crock. He died.

The First Audience

The book I'm currently writing is a scary thing. Which is good, because as a suspense (even a romantic suspense), it's meant to be. As I was tweaking one particular scene yesterday, I felt the fine hairs rise along the back of my neck. My pulse picked up, and - yes, ladies and gentlemen - I had seriously freaked myself out. Which is kind of strange, since I've written the synopsis. I know how everything turns out, whodunnit (although I'm kind of murky on the secondaries), the whole nine yards.

My husband, who is not a writer, simply shakes his head, as he does when I laugh at something my characters say or can't stop in the middle of an exciting scene while proofing my own galleys. Simply put, he doesn't understand that every writer is his/her own, crucial first audience.

If your own story doesn't make you laugh or cry in the right places, make your pulse race or your palms sweat, turn you on or make you furious, how can you expect it to do any of those thin…

Happy Anne Lamott's birthday!

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"We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason why they write so little."
Gotta love Anne Lamott, the writing guru who gave us the Bird By Bird guide to life. Single mom. Christian Lefty. Staunch defender of our right to produce "a really shitty first draft". Beyond Lamott's rock solid advice on the nuts and bolts of writing is her ever-philosophical view of fame, fortune, and the vagaries of the publishing industry.
"Seeing yourself in print is such an amazing concept: you can get so much attention without having to actually show up somewhere . . .You don't have to dress up, for instance, and you can't hear them boo you right away."

Thoughts on Characterization

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One of the weaknesses I often notice when judging unpublished manuscripts in blind contests has to do with characterization. Or lack of characterization, I should say. Dialogue in particular should not be interchangeable. Each character, even the most minor, should have his or her own voice.

As I'm working on my latest novel, I've noticed a need to go back and work on a pair of brothers I've developed. The trouble? I haven't differentiated these two minor but recurring characters from each other.

Doesn't work for me. After all, how many times have I heard friends with multiple kiddos (I have only one) exclaim, "I can't believe those two came from the same raw ingredients!" How many times have I seen, when I taught middle schoolers, siblings who couldn't be more different? Even when I've owned dogs with similar stats (same breed, gender, age), their personalities have been remarkably different.

We owe each of our characters no less uniqueness. Let…

Thoughts on a rainy Easter morning

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Easter is a big deal in my latest novel. There's a character named Easter; a little girl who's killed by a drunk driver -- her aunt, actually. Someone with the best of intentions, but very bad judgment. The title of the book, The Secret Sisters, refers to the women who went to Jesus’ tomb on the third morning after the crucifixion and found the tomb empty.

"Why do you seek the living among the dead?" angels asked them. "He is not here. He is risen."

Two thousand years after the angels posed that question to the Secret Sisters, I’m wondering the same thing. And I wanted to ask that question with this book. Are we looking for God in all the wrong places?

Too many people of all religions -- many with the best of intentions but very bad judgment -- seek God among dead teachings that spout God's name, but were designed by men to divide and control.

God is not there.

He is among the living. The loving. The open-minded. The practitioners of daily loving-kindness. H…

Valerie Frankel: mother daughter Easter basket book blitz

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The prolific Valerie Frankel is touring the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit with not one but two books this week.

Fringe Girl in Love, for the YA audience, is a sequel to Frankel's well-buzzed and widely loved (duh!) Fringe Girl. I Take This Man is about "a bride, a groom, her mother, and his father. Sex, kidnapping, wedding cake and a cabana with a towel warmer. Who could ask for anything more?"


Val is a Brooklyn mommy who writes around two daughters and appears to be handling the balancing act with panache. Meg Cabot, author of The Princess Diaries, says, “Valerie Frankel cracks me up! Kooky, sexy, and downright hilarious.” You've seen her stuff in O, Glamour, Allure, Self, and Parenting as well as the New York Times Style section. She's written thirteen novels thus far, including The Accidental Virgin which has been optioned to become a movie starring Heather Graham, Smart Vs. Pretty, optioned to be made into TV show, and The Girlfriend Curse, nominated for a Quills …

Dance Salad and our never ending quest for 'get it'

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Great Pearls Before Swine today.

The sound of one hand clapping. The tree that falls in the forest when there's no one around to hear it. The joke that gets told in the dark.

But Pearls made a ripple in my pondering pool of existentialism today by pointing out that it's all about perspective. Within the frames -- work, family, school, PTO, church -- rules and definitions are accepted as inflexible. Context is harder to break out of than Attica, and you've gotta be friggin' Papillon to escape from the genre-specific pigeon holes the publishing industry wants to stuff every author into.

Last night Jerusha and I went to the Houston International Dance Coalition's Dance Salad Festival, an incredibly entertaining evening of innovative dance companies from around the world. (If there's any way you can make it down to the Wortham Center tonight or tomorrow, I absolutely recommend it.)

The fantastically athletic, ass-over-teakettle exuberant Italian Compagnia Aterballetto

The Writer as Artiste

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Having been an English literary graduate, I've been trying to avoid the idea of doing art ever since. I think the idea of art kills creativity. I think media are at their most interesting before anybody's thought of calling them art, when people still think they're just a load of junk. Douglas Adams (1952 - 2001) The ambition to create art can be fatal to a writer (and I suspect the same is true of painters, dancers, and high-rise window washers.) It's something like the watched pot that never boils, or those irritating hidden pictures that only become visible when you allow your gaze to slacken.

Instead of worrying about what your critics are going to say or - heaven forbid - how you're Wikipedia entry will appear when you're erroneously presumed dead, try instead getting out of the story's way and simply transcribing the experience. Only later can you or anyone else hope to judge what's landed on the page.

With any luck, it might just be commercial, and…

My mom's book on Fort Peck Dam boom towns

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The cover of the very first issue of Life Magazine features a famous Margaret Bourke-White photo of the Fort Peck Dam. Inside the issue are more photos and a story about the people working on the dam. It's an important piece of American history. Unfortunately, Bourke-White got a lot of it wrong. I've known this all my life, because my grandfather worked on the dam, and I doubt there's anyone who knows more about its history than my mother, Lois Lonnquist, who as a little girl watched the dam rise up out of the hard Montana landscape.

Shortly after she retired from her editorial position at our hometown newspaper (the Helena, Montana Independent Record) Mom began working on a book about the real folks who built that amazing chunk of American history. I think at times, she felt like this book was almost as much work to build as a giant cement wall, but Fifty Cents an Hour: the Builders and Boomtowns of the Fort Peck Dam is finally out there.

Here's a bit from her web site:

For All of You Kvetching that You're Too Old to Make It

Take a few minutes to read about debut memoirist Harry Bernstein, 96.
The Invisible Wall, his story of the Christian-Jewish divide in Manchester, England, sounds even more fascinating than that of his unlikely success as a writer. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Here's hoping the rest of us won't have to wait quite so long to make that kind of splash. :)

The Siren Call of Hysterical Self-Promotion

I sold my first novel back in 1998 (though this historical romance came out in May of '99), and at the time, I was eager -- make that obsessed -- with doing everything within my power to make certain it succeeded. Part of this was due to the fact that I had some time on my hands. Though I was working what would become my second book, the long lead times and the infusion of energy from *finally* getting The Call, along with my introduction to a fresh-faced and equally manic number of other young writers, combined to convince me that self-promotion was the key.

I pulled out all the stops and threw myself into a phase I've come to call "Hysterical Self-Promotion." I built my own website, spoke every place that would have me, lined up signings out the wazoo, penned articles, dredged up enough cash to place an ad in Romantic Times, and forced myself (not easy, since I'd mostly been in the closet about writing) to tell as many people as I could about my impending *auth…