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Showing posts from May, 2007

Speaking of survivorship

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All over the country this weekend, there will be National Cancer Survivors Day events. I'm off to Indianapolis for the The Wellness Community of Central Indiana's 3rd annual Survivorship Symposium, a free educational symposium for people with cancer, their loved ones, and health care professionals. Tomorrow morning, I'll open the symposium by doing the most powerful thing you can do after you've had cancer: live to tell about it.

By the Wellness Community's definition, the term "cancer survivors" refers to those people who have been diagnosed with cancer and the people in their lives who are affected by the diagnosis, including family members, friends, and caregivers. Every one of them has a unique perspective on an amazing journey of pain and discovery, and I look forward to hearing their stories.

Speaking tomorrow afternoon at the Indie conference is the ridiculously talented and hilarious Scott Burton, world champion juggler and author of A Life in the B…

Darwin Was Here: Rollin' with the Evolutionary Flow

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My sister and I were recently discussing evolution. Not the Scopes trial monkey-t0-man type, but the kind that comes flying at you so fast, you sit there gaping like a fool instead of stepping neatly out of the way.

Point in fact: Conditions change, in relationships, the marketplace, careers.
Point in fact: You adapt or you die... or stagger zombie-like through what's left of your life, muttering crap about the publishing world's (or whatever's) unfairness and how you won't pander to whatever raging stupidity is currently in vogue.

If publishers want to stay in business, they have to make concessions to reality. If authors want to continue publishing, they have to do the same. This doesn't mean you're selling out, not if you can find some way to do so that's in line with your core values and your central vision for your work. The commercial authors I know who have been publishing for twenty or thirty years or more have all transformed themselves at some point …

Colleen ist eine Berliner

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I'm going to bug my BtO cohort Colleen Thompson to post a collection of her cool foreign covers. This one is for the German version of Fatal Error being released by Bertelsmann (the streuseler arm of Random House) in December.

ThrillerFest

Bloodstone author Nate Kenyan is working hard to spread the word about upcoming ThrillerFest and the CraftFest writers conference and asked BtO to pass this along:

ThrillerFest is the most exciting event of the year for fiction's most popular genre. Over 150 of beloved and best selling authors will be in New York City to mix and mingle with fans during this unprecedented four-day celebration. Attending writers will include Clive Cussler, James Patterson, Jeffery Deaver, Heather Graham, Vince Flynn, Lisa Gardner, Lee Child, Gayle Lynds, Tess Gerritsen, David Morrell, Jim Fusilli, John Lescroart, M. Diane Vogt, M.J. Rose, Steve Berry, Doug Preston, Joe Finder, David Hewson, Jim Rollins, Michael Palmer, Christine Kling, D.P. Lyle, Christine Goff, Robert S. Levinson, Jon Land, Shirley Kennett and many more.

CraftFest, a day of intensive, interactive presentations the day before ThrillerFest opens, is for writers at every level. They'll learn from the best, a truly awesome group of …

A moment in the life of a working class hero

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My husband is a working class hero. A jet plane mechanic who goes unquestioningly to work every night, because working is what you do for your family. And because you respect yourself. I love that about him. But this morning, he dazzled me with a burst of Sparticus that left me thinking about what a hero is and what makes the common man delicious to know. And to love. And to read about.

I tend to bogart the back corner table at Starbucks, where there’s a steady supply of caffeine for me and electricity for the laptop. Gary gets off his night shift at the airport at 8 AM and joins me there, reading the paper, doing the daily Sodoku and crossword puzzle. Sometimes we sit and chat. Sometimes we just sit. He’d just settled in across from me with his coffee when I glanced up and noticed a tall, skinny kid walking briskly out the door. With the tip jar.

Without a second thought, Gary bolted after him, chased him out into the parking lot where his friend was waiting in a bright red sports car.…

Oooh, Girl Germs!

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Yesterday, as I was discussing possible avenues for promoting an upcoming book with fellow BtO member, Joni Rodgers, I kept alluding to closed doors -- mainly, the bias against "chick books" in general and mass market romantic fiction in particular that makes its authors less than popular among hosts of radio and TV morning shows. Ironically, a large percentage of TV morning shows have an overwhelming female, often romance friendly audience, but even so, those who choose guests react as if they're going to get girl cooties or have their shiny-new college degrees confiscated if they allow a romance author to grace their set.

The bias runs deep, and, oddly, women tend to be worse about it than men. Book club members would far rather pay up to to thirty dollars a copy for a hardcover or up to fifteen for a trade paperback than the seven or eight dollars a pop of a mass market paperback. And if they had to buy it in the romance section of the bookstore... well, fahgeddaboutit…

In memory of R. H. Rodgers

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This description of a sailor's guileless spirit comes from Billy Budd by Herman Melville and reminds me of my father-in-law, who served in the navy during WWII.Habitually living with the elements and knowing little more of the land than as a beach, or rather, that portion . . . set apart for dance-houses, doxies, and tapsters, in short what sailors call a “fiddler’s green,” his simple nature remained unsophisticated by those moral obliquities which are not in every case incompatible with that manufacturable thing known as respectability. But are sailors, frequenters of fiddlers’ greens, without vices? No; but less often than with landsmen do their vices, so called, partake of crookedness of heart, seeming less to proceed from viciousness than exuberance of vitality after long constraint; frank manifestations in accordance with natural law. By his original constitution aided by the co-operating influences of his lot, Billy in many respects was little more than a sort of upright bar…

In Memory of the Poet Jon Lokowich

Thy gift, thy tables, are within my brain
Full character’d with lasting memory,
Which shall above that idle rank remain,
Beyond all date, even to eternity:
Or, at the least, so long as brain and heart
Have faculty by nature to subsist;
Till each to raz’d oblivion yield his part
Of thee, thy record never can be miss’d.
That poor retention could not so much hold,
Nor need I tallies thy dear love to score;
Therefore to give them from me was I bold,
To trust those tables that receive thee more:
To keep an adjunct to remember thee
Were to import forgetfulness in me.
Sonnet CXXII
William Shakespeare
in memory of Jon Lokowich who served in Vietnam

"No sex, please, we're morons."

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I think it’s the moral duty of studious readers and of karma-conscious authors to combat the legion of poptarded skimmers posting “book reviews” (which are in fact just opinions, the source of which we have no way to consider) on Amazon, BN.com, and other bookselling sites. So I hopped on Amazon yesterday to post this comment on Michael Gruber’s The Book of Air and Shadows:My husband (a Grisham-Clancy-Elmore Leonard type) and I (a Dante-Hesse-Didion-head) wrestled this book back and forth between our nightstands unmarking each other's places until I went and bought a second copy. That's how engrossing, broadly appealing, and wonderfully well-written it is. I laughed out loud, marveled at a few Proulx-caliber metaphors, and was entirely sucked into the intricately woven story. My dad (Zane Grey-Crichton-AARP Magazine) will be getting a copy for Father's Day.And I meant every word, though I will say up front that Gruber and I have an editor in common. (I don't know him p…

Coupon Girl: Becky Motew's debut

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Becky Motew is touring the Girlfriend Cyber Circuit this week with her debut novel, Coupon Girl, a tale of love, longing, community theatre, and -- yes, coupons. Cruising Becky's website is a delight, and book buzz is healthy with raves from Library Journal: The book's focus remains firmly on Jeanie, whose wry sense of humor and good-heartedness make her the kind of gal you'd want as a friend. Jeanie is not perfect, and she makes mistakes along the way-especially in the romance department-but she's a lot of fun...this book is strongly recommended for all fiction collections.
And Booklist: Welcome to the not so glamorous but often hilarious worlds of mail-order marketing and community theater...Motew writes about every day life: work, family, relationships...there's plenty to love about this quirky novel.
Go, girlfriend, go!

Say It Isn't So - Miss Snark Retires Blog

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Anonymous agent "Miss Snark" has been a blog staple for years. Her acerbic commentary, helpful advice, and devotion to gin and George Clooney (full disclosure: I share one of those loves; can you guess which one?) have garnered her legions of fans and over two million hits.

But alas, Miss Snark is retiring her blog and leaving us the captains of our own nitwittery. (Anybody have a crap-o-meter I can borrow?) She'll remain an agent (anonymous as ever), and Killer Yap will continue to keep an eye on her.

The blogosphere won't be the same without you, Miss Snark. You'll be missed!

A lot of it will be wrong, but just enough of it will be right.

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Driving home from Destin yesterday, my daughter and I listened to an unabridged recording of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 from Blackstone Audio. I'd forgotten what a powerfully well-written, inspiring, and uplifting book it is. Or maybe I never knew. Certainly what it means to me now, as a writer at this moment in time is a far cry from what it meant to me as a high school bookworm. Montag looked at the river. We’ll go on the river. He looked at the old railroad tracks. Or we’ll go that way. Or we’ll walk on the highways now, and we’ll have time to put things into ourselves. And some day, after it sets in us a long time, it’ll come out of our hands and our mouths. And a lot of it will be wrong, but just enough of it will be right. We’ll just start walking today and see the world and the way the world walks around and talks, the way it really looks. I want to see everything now. And while none of it will be me when it goes in, after a while it’ll all gather together inside and…

The Joy of a Great Cover

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Here in writing land, it's been a rather harrowing week, but not without its blessings.

Chief among them is the fact that I'll about ready to send in the manuscript of THE SALT MAIDEN (Love Spell, Dec. 2007), a book I've loved working on. Also, I received via e-mail both the lovely (and decidedly creepy) cover art and the back cover copy, which once again proves that my editor has a real genius for encapsulating a story in a manner sure to entice readers.

The cover art can make or break a book. Along with the title, it often what compels a reader to pick up your novel from among its competitors, but the back cover (or cover flap) book description, in my opinion, is what really seals the deal. Most people don't realize it, but very few authors control their own cover art or write their cover copy (since it's a highly-specialized form, more like advertising copy than writing a novel). Titles, too, are often changed, and other than squawk and suggest alternatives, there…

Graffiti Girl was here

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YA novelist Kelly Parra is touring the girlfriend cyber circuit this week with her debut novel, Graffiti Girl, published by MTV Books. Yes, MTV, as in I want my. An imprint of Simon and Schuster, MTV Books "captures the real-life stories of today's hottest artists, goes behind-the-scenes of hit shows, and brings you fresh & entertaining fiction." (Strange bedfellows at first glance, but I'm in favor of anything that promotes leisure reading by tweens and teens.)

But I digress.

Kelly's enthusiasm about her newborn book and blossoming career are infectious. (As you can see in the better-than-Christmas-morning moment below.) In a heartfelt pub day post on her blog, the Mexican, Filipino, and Italian kid who was "a total art feign" in high school, says:
Today is the official release day of Graffiti Girl...I can honestly say that I am a published author. You see, guys? It can happen. A couple of years ago, when the rejections kept hitting me, I thought it m…

Choose Your Own Mentor

I've given a lot of thought this week to examples. Some working authors in this industry provide an unfailing example of how to act. Others, unfortunately, serve as a terrible warning.

I'll never forget those generous, gracious authors (and more experienced, unpublished souls) who gave me a hand up. These men and women clearly remembered what it was like to step into a world with mysterious and highly-specialized rules of conduct and confusing jargon. They took the time to teach, to explain, and to gently offer advice. Often, they put such advice into the context of funny (but wince-worthy) How I Screwed Up Bigtime stories. I learned more about the business just chatting with these folks than I ever did in years of reading how-to books or blindly writing on my own. Some (as they were able) even gave me cover quotes when I timidly asked, and none ever condescended (at least publicly) to "newbies". As a result, I became their loyal readers and never missed the opportu…

Fabulous flops and flopulous fabs of the publishing biz

"People think publishing is a business," Curtis Sittenfeld was told by her editor, "but it’s a casino.”

Interesting story in the NY Times yesterday about the unpredictable "anything can and does happen" nature of the beast. Sales in the trade segment (which includes both fiction and nonfiction) grew 5 percent in 2005 from the previous year, but year-over-year sales growth is expected to decline to less than 2 percent by 2010, according to book industry trade group data. The industry does follow trends to pursue growth, but when it comes to acquisitions, methods have not changed much in hundreds of years, says Al Greco, a professor of marketing at Fordham University.

"It’S the way this business has run since 1640,” he says. That is when 1,700 copies of the Bay Psalm Book were published in the colonies. “It was a gamble, and they guessed right because it sold out of the print run. And ever since then, it has been a crap shoot,” Professor Greco said.

There is …

Like a mother

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Marguerite Duras: "For that's what a woman, a mother wants – to teach her children to take an interest in life."Had to take a moment today for a little shout out to my mom -- author, editor, librarian, historian, photographer, pilot, musician, songwriter, Easter dress maker extraordinaire, Lois Lonnquist.

My childhood memories are largely soundtracked by the astonishingly fast keystrokes of my mother's bulky electric typewriter. (Ratatatttatattattatat DING!) The boxy camera on a leather strap. The smell of the darkroom chemicals. The loop-dee-loops her flight instructor hoped would prove she didn't have The Right Stuff (which of course, she did.) The bank of guitars and mandolins hanging on the wall. Summer days at the library and shelves and shelves of books at our house.

Mom instilled in me and my five sibs an enormous love of words, language, art, and life. How was I supposed to turn out to be anything but a writer?

Thanks, Mom!

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Today I'd like to publicly thank my mom for the things she did that helped set me on the path to becoming a writer.

My parents, in a lot of ways, were a recipe for disaster. Married in their teens, when my mother was still in high school, they lived first with my mom's parents until Dad's job at the glass plant allowed them to move into an apartment with walls so thin, the toilet paper fluttered each time the wind blew. Higher education was out of the question. Mom was still nineteen when I was born, and two more kiddos followed in short order. Money was tight for years, but somehow they stuck it out. Dad worked a lot of double shifts (swing shifts, too, which are hell on your body and on family life) to get us into a house. Mom worked when she could (not easy with three small children), and in spite of the challenges of their early years, the two of them are still together. Pretty amazing.

As parents, they made their share of mistakes (who doesn't?), but they did a lot …

The Next Glimmer

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My brilliant and generous critique partners both returned my new manuscript to me yesterday, and both claimed to like the story immensely. (Yea!) Both, too, had wonderful comments, corrections, and suggestions that I'm now going through one by one and evaluating. It's painstaking work, but I enjoy it, and each bit of sharpening makes me more confident that the story will put its best foot forward when I turn it in at the end of this month.

But I have to admit, I'm a little bit distracted. A new story has stepped forward from among the many wallflowers lurking around the edge of my consciousness. I still have little sense of it, only a collection of strong images, a setting, and an impression of the two main characters. In place of a plot, I have an idea of the main challenge facing each character and the conflict between them. But everything else is a blank slate, waiting to be filled.

Right now, this glimmer in my peripheral vision is a bit of a nuisance since for the next …

Jennifer O'Connel: Insider Dating

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Jennifer O'Connel is touring the Girlfriend Cyber Circuit this week with the perfect summer beach book (or in the immortal words of Cosmo, “A poolside page-turner.”) Following the F + S = H formula (Funny plus Sexy equals Hot)...One woman is about to take her knack for risk management to a whole new level in Jennifer O’Connell’s new novel, Insider Dating. Abby Dunn, barely past thirty and still reeling from her divorce, has taken herself off the dating market. Instead, she’s using her experience to turn the tables on the opposite sex by building a database to rank underperforming men and set women straight when investing their greatest asset: themselves.Seems to me, Jennifer has struck on the perfect blend of art and commerce. She earned a BA from Smith and an MBA from the University of Chicago, and when she’s not writing, she works as a market strategy consultant. If that's not the recipe for a bestselling author, I don't know what is.

Check the girlfriend out!

It Ain't Over 'Til... You Know

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Since Friday, I've been celebrating the completion of my manuscript, The Salt Maiden (Love Spell Romantic Suspense, 12/07). Or so you would think. Actually, the days since have been consumed with the following activities:
Tearing off the ending and rewriting it.Fixing continuity errors, from shifting hair and eye colors to geographic faux pas to an amazing space-time warp.Tearing off the ending and rewriting it again.Reading through the full manuscript and making a few more tweaks.
Fending off the voices of doom, which feel compelled to whisper the ugliest quotes from the worst reviews I've ever received in my ear at all hours. Meanwhile, those confidence-building voices, freshly stocked with quotes emphasizing my wit and brilliance from all the wonderful reviews, readers' letters, and notes I've received from my agent and editor, have fallen disgustingly silent.
There's a terrible time in the life of a writer: the gap between completing the manuscript and getting fe…

Now in Stores

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Congratulations to BtO regular Joni Rodgers, who is celebrating the paperback release of her novel The Secret Sisters today! The gorgeous new cover is almost as richly-evocative as the book's depiction of the complex tapesty of relationship between three sisters. Not that I'm biased or anything (VBG), but I highly recommend it.

Matzo balls and Monday in the real world

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Yesterday, I decided to rejoin the real world and end my Finding Fast on Day 4 with the most comforting comfort food I know -- matzo ball soup from Katz's Deli. ("I can't help it, I gotta tell ya!") Before I committed myself to seven days, I should have checked my calendar. Not a great idea to refrain from speaking the week of a book release, and the trade paperback edition of The Secret Sisters comes out tomorrow. I've got a lot of legwork to do with interviews, press release followup, and a blitzkrieg of chatty, informal visits to bookstores in Houston and Dallas areas. Does all this do any good? Honestly, I don't know. But I'm trying to apply the Buddhist "finding instead of searching" philosophy I learned from this fast. Mindfulness over matter. Wish me luck.

In celebration of the indolent smile

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On Day 3 of my Finding Fast, and I'm surprised to find that I haven't been hungry. It's been far more difficult to give up speaking, and not just for the sake of convenience. It's a slow writing time, too (I'm dating a new novel, but we're not in a committed relationship) so I miss the dynamic of thinking in words.

Someone at critique group last night used the phrase "an indolent smile" and I flagged it on my copy, asking, "Did you mean 'insolent smile'?" She did not. And that got me thinking about indolent smiles, which I love the idea of, because I've always associated the word 'indolent' with a type of lymphoma. So I've been lying in bed this morning wondering, Can I purposely reprogram that word inside my head to mean something deliciously lazy and Mona Lisa-like as opposed to something insidiously lurking? Either way, it's a rich, succulent bonbon of a word, isn't it? Luscious on the tongue and lovely to s…

I Feel a Draft!

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Yesterday, I finished the draft of my work-in-progress, The Salt Maiden. This doesn't mean I'm finished the book; far from it since I'll have to do quite a bit of editing before I turn in the manuscript. But even so, it's a momentous, exhilarating occassion, one I took the rest of the day to enjoy and celebrate.

Many stories are begun, but it's the finishing that brings the greatest rush of pleasure. People who start myriad projects, only to abandon each, are robbing themselves of the feeling of accomplishment. Worse still, they're training themselves to give up the effort when the going gets too tough.

I'm not saying that every project should be completed, but if I'd given up every time I grew discouraged (which happens at least once or twice per book), I would have missed out on this hard-won feeling of accomplishment and the realization that those victories achieved through long, diligent effort are truly life's most satisfying.

Like a marathon runn…

Shanna Swendson: Damsel Under Distress

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Shanna Swendson is touring the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit this week with her latest: Damsel Under Distress. Here's the buzz from Armchair: I love Shanna Swendson’s Katie Chandler novels. They’re quirky and make me laugh out loud. The dialogue is snappy, the characters endearing (well, maybe not the evil ones...) and the plots are fascinating. She’s taken over the throne from Buffy, Sabrina is losing ground and Bridget Jones doesn’t shine as bright anymore, because we have Katie Chandler and she rules. Genre-bending and pop culture are Shanna's thing. She slipped the surly bonds of corporate America to do what she loves. Her fiction is a mix of fantasy, romance, and chick lit, while her essays and articles explore modern media at its best and worst.

Check the girlfriend out!

Meanwhile, I'm on Day 2 of my Finding Fast. So far, I've found that words are a lot harder to do without than food. And that fasting in any form is about mindfulness, not deprivation. This morning I…

The Ultimate in Penultimate!

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[Writing is] like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. E. L. Doctorow


Sometimes, it's nice to remind ourselves that this writing business rocks. The publishing part can get you down, but is there anything like the rush that comes with unraveling a plot-knot and seeing your way through to The End?

Today I finished the chapter that would not die, the one that (finally) brings home the climax. I then trashed the Awful Epilogue I'd been toying with because suddenly I saw the book's true ending, something that resonates and rings true without being a cloying pile of honey-sweet bee-dung. I haven't yet written that final chapter, but I'm taking a moment to revel in the joy of seeing my destination in the headlights.

Yep. It's true, folks. It's all about the journey.

A week of contemplation and silence

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Every once in a while, I feel a need to reboot. I decided to set aside this last week before my kids come home from college for the summer to fast, meditate, and refrain from speaking. It's not a water fast; I'll be doing tea, coffee, and juice. And I will be going to Midwives tomorrow night as usual. (Carrot juice and critique group -- the essential nutrients I need to survive.)

I used to be very ritualistic about this sort of thing. Got up at 5 AM, read preselected scripture, focused fiercely on one particular thing like generosity or humility or self-discipline. (I tried very hard for a very long time to be a good Christian, then decided to give that up and follow the teachings of Jesus instead.) But I haven't planned anything for the coming week. Only to listen instead of speaking and to use hunger as a cue to take in what I really need. Whatever that is at the moment.

From the last chapter of Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha: "When someone is searching," said Si…

Just when he was about to give up and go into the underwear business...

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Writers Almanac reports today is the birthday of lyricist Lorenz Hart.
He's famous for writing the lyrics to songs like "Blue Moon" (1934), "My Funny Valentine" (1937), and "The Lady Is a Tramp" (1937). As a young man in his 20s, he was drifting around, writing verse in his spare time, when someone introduced him to Richard Rodgers, a teenage composer who wanted to be a lyricist. They worked on a series of amateur musical comedies together, but their future didn't seem promising. Rodgers was just about to give up on music and go into the underwear business when their show The Garrick Gaieties (1925) became a huge success.Publishing and show biz are filled with apocryphal tale about the starving artist on the cusp of failure, despairing, darkest hour just before dawn, and all that jazz. One of my favorites is how Richard Bach was watching the repo man take his car when the mailman drove up with an acceptance letter for Jonathan Livingston Seagull. A…

How 'Bout That Guru?!

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Congratulations to fellow BtO blogger Joni Rodgers, who worked as a memoir guru on the Rue McClanahan memoir, My First Five Husbands... And the Ones Who Got Away. (Don't you just love that title?) This week, the book hit #18 on the New York Times Bestseller List, and it's getting rave reviews and some very nice coverage in the blogosphere.

If this news isn't worthy of celebration, I don't know what is!