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Showing posts from March, 2007

A fitting tribute to my first novel

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At critique group Friday night, we Midwives were discussing cover art from our first novels. I loved the cover art on the hardcover of my firstborn, Crazy for Trying, but Gary promptly dubbed this trade paper version "the blow job cover." In an eloquent statement about keeping one's art in perspective, my daughter Jerusha used an old copy to wallpaper our downstairs bathroom.

Those #$@! Typos

In this morning's Houston Chronicle, an article ran called "Sometimes We Have to Write the Wrongs," which apologized for an embarrassing error (helpfully pointed out by many alert readers) that ran in yesterday's Star section, where some celeb photographer said Anna Nicole Smith "could barely right a sentence." The article goes on to list a number of bone-headed and often humorous errors for the amusement of Houstonians.

Instead of laughing, I winced. First of all, while skimming yesterday's Star section, my eye snagged on that same line. But I never noticed the typo, just as I skip over an embarrassing number in my own work. Although I'm a good speller and taught English for years, I am not a great detail person. With my attention focused on the "global", I insert many bone-headed substitutions, such as "the" for "of" and "your" for "you're", along with occasional permutations that bear little re…

The Tortoise Straps on Ears

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I've never made any secret of the fact that I'm "the tortoise" when it comes to writing. I don't sprint to my deadlines but rather keep up a methodical pace by writing a small number of pages per day, five days per week. This gives me "think time," the chance to edit as I go, and an opportunity for some kind of balance in my life. As a long-term strategy, it's worked well for me, though I know plenty of blind-panic deadline maniacs who procrastinate for months before completing their books (often late) in the white heat of marathon sessions.

If the "hare" styles works for you, I don't knock it, but I'd personally find it crazy-making. Except that I've agreed to an uncomfortably-short deadline. Since I absolutely cannot be late (we're really cutting this one close as it is), nor can I stand to be late (I was the annoying Hermione-type in school, who turned in papers a day early), I've discovered the "twin ears" …

Fitz this side of paradise

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According to Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac yesterday:
It was on this day in 1920 that This Side of Paradise was published, launching 23-year-old F. Scott Fitzgerald to fame and fortune. The first version of the book was called The Romantic Egotist, and Fitzgerald had started writing it in the fall of 1917 while awaiting commission as an army officer. He wrote most of the manuscript at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and sent chapters as he wrote them to a typist at Princeton where he had been a student. In March 1918, he submitted the novel to Charles Scribner's Sons. Scribners rejected the novel but encouraged Fitzgerald to revise it. He submitted a new version titled The Education of a Personage to Scribners in September 1918, but that second version was also rejected.

In July 1919, after his discharge from the army, Fitzgerald returned to his family's home at 599 Summit Avenue in St. Paul. He pinned revision notes to his curtains and rewrote much of the novel. In Augu…

Would the real Joe Hill please stand up

Every once in a while this biz gives me such a chortle...

Back in 2004, a guy named Joe Hill self-pubbed a little book of poems through PublishAmerica, a POD (print on demand) press, which vehemently denies being a vanity press. Kinda like I deny being a WASP. (I'd so much rather think of myself as a Viking.) Under the "Editorial Reviews" section for Surviving, there's only this:
Book Description
I am a thirty-six-year-old man, born in Des Moines, Iowa. I have an eleven-year-old daughter and sixteen-year-old nephew, both of whom I love very much. Without them this world would be unbearable. They give me reasons I never knew I had to live. I thank God every day for the things He has given me, even the things I don't understand. Poems and my children help ease the pain that everyday life can cause. I have recently found out that you can do anything you want when you believe in yourself. And that's what I will be teaching my children.
There are no media or buyer rev…

That's gotta hurt.

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Looks kinda like the Orion nebula, but it's actually where my seatbelt was after Chucklenuts the Trucker decided to make an illegal left, slamming into some unsuspecting schmoe, who then slammed into me. Stuff like that tends to ruin your whole weekend. Home from the hospital now with aching back and hammering headache, I was reminded by a friend that I actually wrote a glib little column about the redeeming social value of pain back when I was doing my syndicated "Earth to Joni" column.

Earth to Joni April 20, 2003

That's Gotta Hurt: Searching for perspective in the House of Pain

I'm not a masochist, but I don't entirely hate pain. There's something mouth-wateringly alive about it. It's visceral, it's animal. It transcends the grinding norm, transporting us to an adrenaline-soaked plane of existence where we suddenly see with crystal clarity the true value of our temple bodies.

Oddly enough, when I shared this insight with Gary on the way to the m…

The Superstitious Writer

A short time after I finished reading a wonderful book called The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield, I accepted an offer to make my thirteenth sale. Thirteenth novel sale, that is, of a romantic thriller I'm called The Salt Maiden. Strange coincidence or woo-woo moment? I'm not normally superstitious -- I'm about as grounded in reality as one can get -- but for some reason, I was feeling particularly nervous about sale #13.

Many athletes and actors are said to have off-beat superstitions, from lucky socks to ritual meals to you-name-the-oddity. Perhaps we're susceptible as writers, too, because so much that is important to us remains outside the bounds of our control. Maybe that's the reason I feel compelled to read a book with the number fourteen in the title the next time I'm up for contract -- or perhaps J.D. Robb's fourteenth Eve & Roark book would suffice.

Do you have any writing-related superstitions? If so, I'd love to hear about them.

“It's a very neurotic time, but I’m trying not to succumb to it.”

So says writing guru and "unlikely Christian" Anne Lamott in a Boston Herald interview today. She's talking about book tour, but you could apply that to a whole lot about her life -- and mine -- including publishing, politics, and parenting.
There is no one less likely on earth to have found a church, and certainly being a Christian is the last thing I had in mind. But a spiritual path is a lot of things - registering voters, feeding the poor, getting the homeless off the street. My message is there’s something out there and you will find it. I think Augustine said, ‘To seek God is to have found him.’
Lamott's latest Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith hits bookstores this week.
Some excellent writing advice from Tom Robbins:
Get yourself in that extreme state of being next to madness. You should always write with an erection. Even if you’re a woman.
My own version of that philosophy: Write from the torso; edit from the head.

The first is that utterly visceral, instinctive, and natural state in which we have to shut off the censorship that wants us to be nice, to fit in, to not piss anyone off, to be accepted, to make our parents proud. The second is where cool judgments and harsh cuts have to be made, little darlings have to be slaughtered, and the marketplace has its say.

When the book reaches the shelf, it's (hopefully) a fruitful marriage of art and commerce. The Apollonian/Dionysian Conflict resolved.

Waspish at work

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On our way home from France a couple months ago, Gary discovered he'd lost his keys somewhere in Paris, so when we got home, I had to climb a ladder and enter the house through my office window. We being the slackadaisical homeowners we are, the screen is still off, and now a large paper wasp is building an elaborate home for her coming offspring in there.

When I first noticed her, my knee jerk response was "RAID!" I'm a year-round windows open kind of person, and this is a honkin' big wasp with a wicked-looking stinger. But as I've been turning myself inside out the last couple weeks, driving hard to finish my novel in progress, I've begun to feel a sort of sisterhood with her. We're both single-minded and diligent. We look at each other once in a while, then lower our heads to our tasks again.

I can't bear to brush her work away, so I'll keep the window closed, I guess, and watch her work unfold and fly away. I only wish I was as beautiful as …

Tipping Yourself Over

More from Ray Bradbury's brilliant Zen in the Art of Writing:

"We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled.

The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out."

This past week, I've tipped myself over by showing up at the page every day. My minimum, as suggested by a writers' challenge group I've joined, is a mere 100 words. None too challenging for a professional, one might think, and even on the busiest, most messed-up day, running on a few hours' sleep (as I am now, since my new dog was sick again last night), I can force out those 100.

But the 100 words have proven to be a rusty faucet for me. Once I muster up the energy to break it loose, "the beautiful stuff" has spilled out, pages and pages of it.

So this next week, I'm continuing my goal of writing at least a little every, single day to keep the story flowing and the magical muse's cup refilling every night.

You Can Take the Teacher Out of the Classroom, But...

I thought BtO readers might be interested in the following course that I'll be teaching online through PASIC (the Published Authors Special Interest Chapter of RWA). You don't have to be a member of either PASIC or RWA to sign up. Feel free to link to or forward this if you know anyone you feel is close to publication or has an interest in learning about agents, editors, contracts, and promotion.
Thanks!
May 2 - 29, 2007What You Need to Know When You're About to SellInstructor: Colleen ThompsonCost: $25.00 payable by check or PayPalWorkshop Description: This class will address topics writers on the verge of publishing should understand about the business. Lectures will include:Week 1. Professional relations with your agent and your editor. (Who handles what, when it's okay to call or e-mail, reasonable expectations, etc.)Week 2. Boilerplate basics. Important things to watch for in those first contracts. (What's negotiable and what often isn't. What's "no…

Music of the Muse

Though I sometimes have to have silence for my writing, I often rely on music to help drop me down the rabbit hole. Generally (though not always), I prefer music without any or without any discernable lyrics because words in English interfere with the flow of words in my head.

Recently, I've discovered a new favorite. Philip Glass, with his minimalist compositions, is amazing. In particular, his SOLO PIANO is haunting and evocative, and I've never been much of a fan of piano 'til now. The link will take you to Amazon, where you can hear a clip from the METAMORPHOSIS series. (Try it!) I first heard #5 on, of all places, Battlestar Galactica. Loved it from the start.

In addition to Philip Glass, I often write to Anonymous 4. The group's ethereal, often medieval music is wonderfully meditative, as is the old favorite, Chant, by the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos. In a combination of classical and world music, Adiemus is outstanding and never fails to get me in …

The Furry Muse, Pt. 2

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After losing our beloved greyhound this past September, we finally decided we were ready to adopt a second dog. Rather than buy a purebred puppy, we prefer to give a down on its luck dog a second chance. We looked at a couple of different shelters (the saddest places I know) before deciding on Jewel, a medium-sized Boston terrier mix. She's one-and-a-half, loving (covers your face in Jewel drool if you don't watch out), gentle, playful, and thank the Lord housebroken -- and best of all, our other dog is thrilled to have a new buddy. Plus, Jewel's already learned that it's siesta time when Mom's on the computer. All in all, I think she was a great choice to fill the vacant auxillary muse position.

Jewel's also a good reminder to spay or neuter early. Like our younger mutt, Zippy, she was dropped off at the shelter after having an unwanted litter at less than 1 1/2. With so many animals put down every year for want of homes, it's inexcusable to allow rand…

The world according to Vinchen

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Today I'm into Vinchen, creator of great reminders like this one.

My friend THE END

Cue the Snoopy dance. At 3:01 AM I finished the first draft of my novel. There is a beginning, a big juicy middle, and THE END. Except it's not. Now there's rewrites and re-rewrites and pitching, placing, and publishing the thing. The End is a mile marker, not a destination. But that doesn't take any of the joy out of it.

Anais Nin:
Life is a process of becoming.

The inevitability of fiction

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I am within nanosyllables of completing my fifth novel, and looking through the manuscript today, fluffing and backfilling, I had occasion to return to some notes I made early on.

I stared at that file, thinking, Bgmdvpwha?

The book I envisioned and outlined so thoughtfully bears barely a fleeting resemblance to the book I wrote. But the book I wrote is the book that had to be written. It was the book I had in me. God knows, I would love to be more literary, more commercial, more Oprah-appropriate, more this, more that. But trying to write what I don’t have in me would be both futile and fatal.

Furry Muses

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Sometimes, I don't know what I'd do without the furry muses I've had in my life. Over the years, they've kept me company, offered me diversions, and assured me that a wagging tale and a sloppy kiss are excellent antidotes for the poisonous bite of a rejection or a rough review.

The dogs I've adopted (nearly all from rescue groups) have taught me that steadfastness, in the long run, trumps the highwire excitement some people seem to crave. They've taught me that consistency and understanding can salvage a project others have discarded and turn it into something treasured. They've taught me the world is a subjective place, and that viewed through the lenses of love, the ugly can grow beautiful and the useless indispensible.

Is it any wonder that writers, who face so much rejection daily, have such soft hearts for animals? And especially for the underdogs, who symbolize our own struggles against heartrending odds.


I'm posting a photo of Zippy, a Humane Socie…

A visual aid that captures the essence of my writing day today

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Note the unfurling Lasso of Truth!

Birth of a Story

I was thumbing through my well-worn of Ray Bradbury's Zen in the Art of Writing the other day when I came across these lines:

"The stories, the plays, were born in a yelping litter. I had but to get out of their way."

Bradbury was talking about a series of tales set in Ireland, which he had sworn he had no interest in writing about. He found it a dank, depressing place during the time he spent there. But something tamped the seed down deep inside him, where it took root without his knowledge.

Stories happen like that sometimes, sneaking up when the would-be author least expects them. When they've had time to develop in the darkness, they do tend to come all at once, in a rush. When they're forced to light before their time, however, you end up with a painful forceps delivery, inch by bloody inch.

'Nuff said

Accordig to Baltasar Gracian:
Good things, when short, are twice as good.

The Amazing Shrinking Book Advance: "$125K is the new $250K" is the new BS

Industry blog Gawker shared this semi-discouraging word yesterday:
Book-buying editors sound like they're feeling the heat more than ever. What at least one big-house big-wig editor is telling the cute young novelists this week is that, in the current thinking on author advances, "$125K is the new $250K." We imagine what this really means is that he's damn sick of paying a quarter of a million bucks for a novel that has a 1 in 800 chance of earning out.

You know...yeah. It might mean that. Or it might mean that publishing is like any other industry in America. Top heavy. People at the top expect and receive huge money, while people at the bottom get squat, because that's what they expect and accept.

A lot of people want to write books, but only a few actually do it, and even fewer do it well. So why are those vanishing few not valued in our culture in general or our industry in specific? And why are so many authors willing to settle for sweat shop money?

Answer to …

Who, Me? Spiteful?

Today, I learned a terrific new word (to me): schadenfreude, which refers to the unsettling and unwholesome joy one feels when hearing of the misfortunes of another.

http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/schadenfreude

It is, unfortunately, a condition I can occasionally relate to, when misfortune befalls others who have gotten More Than Their Fair Share, in the eye of the jealous child-self that occasionally throws a nasty tantrum when others appear to be effortlessly grabbing the brass rings I'm unable to reach. My good-girl self knows better, and I always make an effort to act appropriately while burning with shame about my baser emotions.

But at the moment, it feels pretty good to know it's common enough to have a name.

It's also common enough to have an "anthem," in the form of a hilarious poem by Clive James called "The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered," which I first read about in Anne Lamott's hilarious Bird by Bird.

If James' poem doesn't sp…

Finding the good in losing the way

From Dante's Inferno translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say
What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
Which in the very thought renews the fear.

So bitter is it, death is little more;
But of the good to treat, which there I found,
Speak will I of the other things I saw there.

I cannot well repeat how there I entered,
So full was I of slumber at the moment
In which I had abandoned the true way.