Monday, December 31, 2007

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: just another year in the writing life

I have no rowdy plans for New Year’s Eve. I'll be home when the ball drops, snuggled in the arms of my One Sure Thing, drinking homemade cranberry wine, texting my kids, turning in early, taking a moment to reflect on the year gone by: what’s worth keeping, what’s not worth another slice of my stomach lining, what I gained, what I lost, what I learned.

The Good
On the publishing front, The Secret Sisters came out in trade paper this spring with Target boosting the healthy sell-in by 7K copies. Woo hoo! In Feb, I finished working my memoir guru mojo for the fabulous Rue McClanahan. My First Five Husbands…and the Ones Who Got Away came out in April, and I was thrilled to see it climb the NYT list. Rue is hilarious, a passionate artist with an astonishingly generous spirit. She richly deserved this success.

I signed with a new literary agent – an extremely bright and pleasant young woman, who gives fantastic editorial notes and has a fresh, unjaded outlook on the industry. I’m optimistic and excited about a whole new chapter in my career. The decision to begin publishing a lighter, more broadly-appealing brand of fiction under a new name makes me feel like a virgin again, and it makes sense to separate my fiction and ghostwriting identities. It’s really two entirely different careers. (Am I a skitzoid dilettante or savvy multi-tasker? 2008 will tell.)

Writing-wise, I was in high gear the second half of the year, consumed with the same creative spirit that took me over when I was in chemo and totally delivered me to the difficult, joyful, fulfilling labor of making art. With both kids off on their own, I was free to work 14, 16, sometimes 18 hours a day and loved every (well, almost every) minute. I finished the edits on Rue’s book in January, then reworked a novel I wrote last year, finished and refinished another novel, and completed a third rough draft just before the Holidays. I’m incredibly jazzed about the new direction my fiction is taking, and I’m enormously grateful to have powerhouse critique partners who respect me enough to hold my wandering feet to the artistic fire.

This year, I rediscovered the voracious reader I used to be, read more and better books than I have since…Lord, I can’t even remember when I read this much. Came back to classics like A Tale of Two Cities, Beowulf, Leaves of Grass, and several Shakespeare plays. Revisited Poe, Hesse, and Bronte sisters – had to reconnect with my dear old friend Jane Eyre after reading Jasper Ford’s The Eyre Affair and took up Roland’s The Nibelungenlied after something about it came up in a crossword puzzle. (Another item for the good list: Gare Bear and I made a habit of daily morning coffee and NY Times crossword puzzle. We laugh, use Google to cheat, play footsie under the table at Starbucks. It’s quite lovely.)

I devoured the complete works of Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, and made a dent in a Raymond Chandler collection, discovering a new passion for hard-boiled fiction. Read a few Josephine Tey books (soft-boiled fiction?) but cozies are a big meh for me. Commercial contemporaries included Evanovich, Chabon, King, and of course, my blog-busting sidekick Colleen Thompson. Memoirs and more memoirs – Didion, Hellman, Clinton, Obama. I skimmed several celeb books I had to keep up with for ghostwriting and hit a handful of mass pb mysteries/thrillers on airplanes. A delicious, luxurious, embarrassment of riches was this reading year.

The Bad
I changed literary agents for the second time in two years. This sucked on many levels, none of which I can talk about here because I have to be politic about it, but we all know the time and piece-work of researching and pursuing new representation is a huge pain in the ass and creates a dry spell in one's publishing path. Then there’s the fly-without-a-wire feeling of placing one’s fiscal and artistic well-being in the hands of a total stranger. I feel sorry for my new agent, who has to deal with the burn scars that make it hard for me to trust. I’m trying hard not to crucify her for the sins of her predecessor, but I’ve learned I can’t be complacent or a nice, quiet Pollyanna when it comes to my career. This is a tough business, which requires staunch advocacy, and the first one who has to believe in and battle for my work is me.

The good side of the bad is that I know I am in much better hands than I was at this time last year. And I’m newly grateful for the warm, productive relationship I have with my speaking agent, who has been my friend and champion for almost 14 years. (Note to self: send flowers to speaking agent.)

The Ugly
At 5:45 AM on March 23, I was on my way to Starbucks, my brain on fire with ideas when a truck made an illegal left, and my little box car was T-boned. I was carted off in an ambulance and didn’t regain my seriously productive stride until July. I worked hard to hide how knocked down I was, but I was in a lot of pain and horribly depressed, basically lying in bed weeping and gaining weight for about eight weeks. (Another note to self: DO NOT drive with arm on open window when idiots are in vicinity!) The asshole’s insurance company has been ridiculously slow and obstructive, so now Gary and I are being turned over to collection agencies for the medical bills, faced with the choice to pay up or get involved in a lawsuit (a time-eating, karma-sucking excursion I can barely stand to think about.)

The good side of the ugly is that I did my rehab with a strength trainer at LA Fitness instead of going the clinical route. His total body view toward recovery was exactly what I needed. After a month, I was back to work, and after two months, I was feeling better than I had in ages. I’m ending the year 25 lbs lighter, a whole lot happier, and thinking I really need to do a book about the benefits of personal training. I’ve decided that I am going to become a MILF in 2008 – Magnificent, Intelligent, Loving, and Fit. (Shame on you, if you thought MILF meant something else.)

So all things equal, it was a tough year. I learned some tough lessons. But looking around, I have ample reasons to be grateful, optimistic, and happy. I am stupid in love with a good man. I have two white-water-raft-ride kids and a few truly top-quality friends. I spend my days doing work that challenges me and brings me joy.

Screw the bad and the ugly. It’s all good.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Few of Our Favorite Things: Jabberwocky

Home in Houston but still on holiday, enjoying my favorite things.

by Lewis Carroll

’T WAS brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.

’T was brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

And while we're on the subject of Dadaist tone poems...

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A Few of Our Favorite Things: Donne's Valediction

A Valediction, Forbidding Mourning
by John Donne

AS virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go;
While some of their sad friends do say,
Now his breath goes, and some say, No;

So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;
’Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.

Moving of th’ earth brings harms and fears
Men reckon what it did and meant;
But trepidations of the spheres,
Though greater far, are innocent.

Dull sublunary lovers’ love,
Whose soul is sense, cannot admit
Absence; for that it doth remove
Those things which elemented it.

But we, by a love so far refined,
That ourselves know not what it is,
Inter-assurèd of the mind,
Careless, eyes, lips and hands to miss,

—Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to airy thinness beat.

If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two;
Thy soul, the fixt foot, makes no show
To move, but doth if th’ other do.

And though it in the centre sit,
Yet when the other far doth roam,
It leans and hearkens after it,
And grows erect as that comes home.

Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
Like th’ other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circles just,
And makes me end where I begun.

Friday, December 28, 2007

How Some Folks Would Do

"A story always involves, in a dramatic way, the mystery of personality. I lent some stories to a country lady who lives down the road from me, and when she returned them, she said, “Well, them stories just gone and shown you how some folks would do,” and I thought to myself that that was right; when you write stories, you have to be content to start exactly there - showing how some specific folks will do, will do in spite of everything."
-- Flannery O'Connor

Ms. O'Connor and her neighbor make a great point, don't they? A truly wonderful story isn't so much about cleverly-constructed subtext, allusion, or the "Emperor's New Prose." It's about characters so real and recognizable their every action rings true, characters that help us draw parallels from our own lives and recognize the buried truths there.

I thought of these words after watching No Country for Old Men late last night. Fabulous movie (based on Cormac McCarthy's much-lauded novel) and *wonderfully* acted, set in the same starkly-beautiful West Texas locales where my last couple of novels have taken place. But for me, the minor characters were what really made it, the humble clerks, the mother-in-law, the ill-fated Good Samaritan. Folks so "regular" they sparked immediate recognition, even laughter, so interestingly unique, in their ordinary way, that they jumped (and occasional splattered - it's a violent story) off the screen.

The movie was not only great, it was an excellent reminder. It's all about the characters. And how some folks would do.

A Few of Our Favorite Things: Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings

Vacation is wearing on me. Not working. Not going to the gym. Can't go without a bra in front of the young folks. Only took five days off, but seems like...

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Few of Our Favorite Things: Wordsworth's beauteous evening

"It is a Beauteous Evening, Calm and Free"
by William Wordsworth

It is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet as a Nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquillity;
The gentleness of heaven broods o'er the Sea:
Listen! the mighty Being is awake,
And doth with his eternal motion make
A sound like thunder--everlastingly.
Dear Child! dear Girl! that walkest with me here,
If thou appear untouched by solemn thought,
Thy nature is not therefore less divine:
Thou liest in Abraham's bosom all the year;
And worship'st at the Temple's inner shrine,
God being with thee when we know it not.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Sucking It Up… And Un-Sucking It Up

Didn't feel much like working today after getting up at five and spending four hours on the road. But after all the dawdling I could stand, it was time to finally suck it up and get started with the task of un-sucking up the now-completed (Hallelujah!) draft of my next release.

I've forgotten how much I enjoy this part. Cleaning up odds and ends that detract from the story, sharpening its focus, clarifying motivations, strengthening characters... every little nip and tuck is a step toward a more elegant, more streamlined, more successful story and drawing someone (a mysterious being I call IRA, short for the Imaginary Reader Anomaly) more deeply into my elaborate daydream. This is the part where storytelling really comes together for me; I can see the whole picture and work with it instead of micromanaging one component at a time.

I'll fiddle with the story until I can't see it any longer. At that point, I'll solicit opinions from two or three trusted, excellent reader/critiques, who will (kindly, I hope) tell me where I've gone wrong, what I've done right (no wonder I love them), and offer suggestions sure to make me look brilliant when I heed them (most of them, anyway, since our opinions will differ on a few points). Later, my editor will do the same, and I'll listen to her, too, and go back and do some more revision. The copy editor will have a few (or more) queries, clarifications, and corrections, and I'll get one last shot at it during the page-proof stage.

But all that work, all the many passes made and the sometimes-excruciating attention to detail are what finally make a draft into a book. For me, at least (and probably for you as well) there can be no short cuts, so I might as well wring all the satisfaction I can get from this part of the writing process, too.

So how do you feel about revision/editing? Love it? Hate it? Resent it? Do you allow yourself time to revise/edit before sending in a submission/manuscript, or are you one of those folks who literally sends in your manucript hot off the press at the last possibly moment. (I know there are people this works for; I'm just not one of them.)

A Few of Our Favorite Things: Mercutio on Queen Mab

"It Girl" Clara Bow as evil fairy? Works for me.

Mercutio: O! then, I see, Queen Mab hath been with you.
Benvolio: Queen Mab! What’s she?
Mercutio: She is the fairies’ midwife, and she comes
In shape no bigger than an agate-stone
On the fore-finger of an alderman,
Drawn with a team of little atomies
Athwart men’s noses as they lie asleep:
Her waggon-spokes made of long spinners’ legs;
The cover, of the wings of grasshoppers;
The traces, of the smallest spider’s web;
The collars, of the moonshine’s watery beams;
Her whip, of cricket’s bone; the lash, of film;
Her waggoner, a small grey-coated gnat,
Not half so big as a round little worm
Prick’d from the lazy finger of a maid;
Her chariot is an empty hazel-nut,
Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,
Time out o’ mind the fairies’ coach-makers.
And in this state she gallops night by night
Through lovers’ brains, and then they dream of love;
O’er courtiers’ knees, that dream on curtsies straight;
O’er lawyers’ fingers, who straight dream on fees;
O’er ladies’ lips, who straight on kisses dream;
Which oft the angry Mab with blisters plagues,
Because their breaths with sweetmeats tainted are.
Sometimes she gallops o’er a courtier’s nose,
And then dreams he of smelling out a suit;
And sometimes comes she with a tithe-pig’s tail,
Tickling a parson’s nose as a’ lies asleep,
Then dreams he of another benefice;
Sometime she driveth o’er a soldier’s neck,
And then dreams he of cutting foreign throats,
Of breaches, ambuscadoes, Spanish blades,
Of healths five fathom deep; and then anon
Drums in his ear, at which he starts and wakes;
And, being thus frighted, swears a prayer or two,
And sleeps again. This is that very Mab
That plats the manes of horses in the night;
And bakes the elf-locks in foul sluttish hairs,
Which once untangled much misfortune bodes;
This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs,
That presses them and learns them first to bear,
Making them women of good carriage:
This is she—
Romeo: Peace, peace! Mercutio, peace!
Thou talk’st of nothing.
Mercutio: True, I talk of dreams,
Which are the children of an idle brain,
Begot of nothing but vain fantasy;
Which is as thin of substance as the air,
And more inconstant than the wind, who woos
Even now the frozen bosom of the north,
And, being anger’d, puffs away from thence,
Turning his face to the dew-dropping south.

~ from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Act I, scene IV

Monday, December 24, 2007

Linus and King James explain it all

Gare Bear and I are on our way to spend Christmas in Florida, stopping at Starbucks to load up with last minute stocking stuffers and power up with that essential latte. Using my last gasp of power (left my lap top cord at the hotel last night -- bah humbug) to post a few Favorite Things to run this week while Colleen and I kick back and pay a little attention to the home folk.

Merry Christmas to all. God bless us everyone. And if we ever forget that the simplest artistic choice is invariably the most powerful, click below.

If You Think My Nose Looks Bad, You Should See the Grindstone!

It's rougher than an old cob, full of inconsistencies waiting to be ironed out, and probably reeks with typos, but my draft (AKA the neverending story) now has a beginning, a middle, and praise the muse, an end.

That's right, Santa came early and we have a draft, folks. The next few weeks will be dedicated to sanding the rough off of this baby and getting it as smooth as I (and my crack team of brilliant critique partners) can make it.

Merry Christmas (or insert your own holiday). I'm stepping away from the keyboard for a couple of days to chill.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Deadlines and the Law of Distraction

I'm currently on a deadline that under the best of circumstances would prove a challenge. But the fact is, it's not the best of circumstances. I've been putting in the sweat equity all right, but the universe keeps lobbing hand grenades into my foxhole, each one more distracting than the next. Illness (bang!), son's birthday (boom!), Christmas (pow!)... then, most recently, a loved one's serious illness (cue mushroom cloud!)

But that's the way it is when you're a writer. Life doesn't stop, and disaster's no respecter of the deadline or art either. I meet so many wanna-be authors who tell me they're get serious as soon as _____ settles down in their lives. But I'm here to tell you, the ________'s just there to teach you how to develop the focus to write through anything. If it teaches you instead to make excuses, then you'll never make it in the trenches. Because the hand grenades will just keep raining down; they don't buy into the myth of the lonely artist living in splendid isolation and grunting out each breach-born word as if it were the Second Coming.

You're in the foxhole when you're working. And the best, bravest, most defiant thing you can do is to plug your ears a little while and turn your total focus to the book.

So how do you react to stress? By escaping into your work or freezing up completely? And is there anything (non-pharmaceutical) that can be done to change the way you deal with it?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

I feel a draft...and it's rough.

Yesterday, after a blazin', bangin', bitchin' four months of work and rework, I sent my agent the finished first draft of my novel in progress. It tuly terrified me to drag this baby bird from the nest -- hairless, squirming, no more able to fly than a baby hamster -- and flop it out on the table.

Ten minutes later, I felt compelled to follow up with a reminder from Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird:
Now, practically even better news than that of short assignments is the idea of shitty first drafts. All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third, drafts. People tend to look at successful writers who are getting their books published and maybe even doing well financially, and think that they sit down at their desks every morning feeling like a million dollars, feeling great about who they are and how much talent they have and what a great story they have to tell; that they take in a few deep breaths, push back their sleeves, roll their necks a few times to get all the cricks out, and dive in, typing fully formed passages as fast as a court reporter. But this is just the fantasy of the uninitiated. I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think that she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her. Although when I mentioned this to my priest friend Tom, he said you can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Cracking the Whip... on Myself

Wrote a ton yesterday. Completed the book's climax, which was a blast to write. Then I got in a hurry and tried to whip out the final chapter.

It's bad. So rushed and genuinely crap-tacular that I'm deleting the thing completely and praying it will never be resurrected from its component electrons and brought back to the light.

I always do this. I get so eager to reach the most blessed words in the English language (The End) that I spew out complete dreck in an attempt to get there. The problem is, this book, its characters, and its readers deserve better.

So it's back to the salt mines until I get it right.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ready, Aim... Climax!

Evvvvverybody loves a great climax... Even the literary kind. It's the pinnacle, the culmination of all the tricky foreplay, rising tension, and every other factor that goes into drawing the book's bowstring.

When you finally let go, there's this amazing twang, and... if you're lucky... the arrow strikes it's target. A bull's eye for both the author and the reader.

More often, my book's climaxes miss their mark the first time. Lucky for me that I can turn back time through the time-lapsed magic of revision and correct the arrow's course. I'm also inclined to listen to a few trusted early readers, who serve to guide me to the mark.

But not even the knowledge that my first shot will be faulty can dampen my enthusiasm for this moment. Because this week, I'm writing my book's climax... which means "The End" is very much in sight.

See ya on the other side! (Leeeroooyy Jennnkinnnsss!!!!)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Francine Prose on reading like a writer

From Reading Like a Writer: a Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose:
"Like most -- maybe all -- writers, I learned to write by writing and, by example, by reading books. Long before the idea of a writer's conference was a glimmer in anyone's eye, writers learned by reading the work of their predecessors. They studied meter with Ovid, plot construction with Homer, comedy with Aristophanes; they honed their prose style by absorbing the lucid sentences of Montaigne and Samuel Johnson. And who could have asked for better teachers: generous, uncritical, blessed with wisdom and genius, as endlessly forgiving as only the dead can be?"

Monday, December 17, 2007

Writing under the influence

Tis the season for colds and flu, and I've fallen prey to the upper respiratory yark-lung that mowed down my daughter last month, my husband ten days later, and me ten days after that. They both went immediately for the antibiotics. Like sane people. I, however, have this -- well, it's not a phobia, it's more like a white hot hatred of the doctor's office and any other clinical setting. I have to be well over the threshold of misery before I'll go. So I've been dosing myself with Thera-flu and various OTC cough remedies. Last night, I invented a little homeopathic kicker-upper I called "Thera-wine", and when I removed the anvil from my head and sat down to work this morning, I had to laugh out loud at the effects on my typing skills, not to mention my concentration level and ability to stay awake at the keyboard. I felt so betrayed. Aren't alcohol, drugs, and writing supposed to be the creative menage a trois?

Truman Capote attempted "the cure" several times during his career, but while he was writing In Cold Blood, he was chugging a double martini before lunch, another with lunch and a stinger afterward. "I drink because it's the only time I can stand it," he said. And he was apparently in good company. Jack London's wife suggested that his book John Barleycorn be titled Alcoholic Memoirs. London was five years old the first time he got drunk, and forty when he killed himself. Edgar Allen Poe, Stephen Crane, Theodore Roethke, Herman Melville, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner -- all alcoholics. And let's not even get started on Hemingway or Hunter S. Thompson.

While there are no reliable statistics tracking writers afflicted with alcoholism, statistics do show that writers die of cirrhosis of the liver at a higher rate than any other profession except one: bartending. (Note to daughter: do NOT date aspiring writer who tends bar!) Ann Waldron wrote in her Washington Post article "Writers and Alcohol" (courtesy of Unhooked Science Readings):
Nancy J. Andreasen, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Iowa with a PhD in English, did a 15-year study of 30 creative writers on the faculty of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where students and faculty have included well-known writers Philip Roth, Kurt Vonnegut, John Irving, John Cheever, Robert Lowell and Flannery O'Connor. She found that 30 percent of the writers were alcoholics, compared with 7 percent in the comparison group of nonwriters, she wrote in the October 1987 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Andreasen had begun her investigation to study the correlation between schizophrenia and creativity. She found none. But she did find that 80 percent of the writers had had an episode of affective disorders, i.e. a major bout of depression including manic-depressive illness, compared with 30 percent in the control group. Two thirds of the ill writers had received psychiatric treatment for their disorders. Two of the 30 committed suicide during the 15 years of the study.

The study is small but the relatively high rates of alcoholism and depression buttress the folk wisdom that creative artists are mad, with alcoholism an inevitable part of that insanity.

I'm left wondering, though, is it writers -- as if there is a single personality type that is "writer" -- or is it the business of writing that drives so many to seek shelter or numbness or loss of inhibition or perhaps the solitude that will inevitably come to a drunk? Or is it that a person who's given their life so completely to the mind has no fear of where the mind might go, with or without chemical enhancement? Bottom line being, of course, that as the artist circles the drain, the art is the first thing to go.

In The Cup of Fury, Upton Sinclair said this about Sinclair Lewis: "More tragic than any shortage of years was the loss of productivity, the absence of joy."

What a sad and poignant summation of a great artist's life.

I don't know about you, but I need a drink.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Zen of Book Signings

First, a disclaimer. My tongue is firmly in cheek on that title. Book signings can make you feel like a million bucks or they can be two-three hours of ego-flagellating hell. But this morning I’m not writing about the ego-flagellating hell kind. Instead, I’m going to talk about some recent signings that have gone well.

But you should probably know, my definition of a “signing gone well” and any media-fueled fantasies you might have about arrival in a shiny limo, lines of fans snaking out the door, and Entertainment Weekly reporters covering the event have nothing in common. Here’s my real-world criteria for success:

1. My smiles are genuine, not the increasingly-desperate kind that make me want to Vaseline my teeth and (alternatively) stick my head in a gas oven.
2. The booksellers offer active support, and someone on duty has prepared for (and knows about!) your arrival. There are signs announcing the event, (if the press cooperates) newspaper or in-store flyers doing the same, staff members directing store traffic and chatting up your deathless prose, and a pleasant, genuine exchange of “Thanks so much for coming. Please let us know when your next release is out” and “Thanks so much for having me. I really enjoyed my time here.” Telling the bookseller (especially independents) about what you love about the store is a nice addition if you mean it.
3. There’s excellent store traffic. Ask about good times when scheduling the signing. If there’s a howling blizzard or monsoon happening, this isn’t going to happen and it’s no one’s fault. Use the time to chat with the nice bookseller about (what else) books. She’ll then remember you as an interesting, nice person instead of a whiny-baby diva who’s angry about poor turn-out. If she really likes you, she’s likely to hand-sell you book. If you’re a demanding jackass, she’ll start stripping covers before you hit the parking lot.
4. Okay, here’s the hard part. Some people that you should know show up and offer moral support or (if they’re feeling generous) sales. It takes an effort to get to know this people. It takes authentic, positive interest in them rather than exploitative greed for sales. It takes personally asking them to attend so you don’t end up feeling like the sample lady at the grocery store standing there repelling people with pound-puppy eyes and the stench of desperation.
5. Partnering can be great. I’ve found signing with one other author to be ideal if it’s someone you enjoy and neither one of you sits around counting the number of books sold (bad idea) and measuring yourself (worse) against the other person. This is where the Zen of Book Signings comes in, for all you overly-competitive types. Your journey is your journey, totally unconnected with any other author’s success or failure. And no, this business isn’t fair. Either learn to deal with that, or find another business.

If you sign with one other author, you can keep each other entertained during lulls and draw potential customers to each other. One author’s customer will often try a second author’s book (at least to be polite if you’ve been friendly.) If you sign with more than one or two others, this often backfires. Customers can’t afford to buy everyone’s books, so they may feel bad and avoid talking to any of you, or they’ll have to pick and choose the kind of book they most enjoy. Let this be okay with you (the Zen thing again) and go have fun and network. Otherwise, skip the group signings.

These are just a few opinions I’ve formed over the close-to-ten years (already?) I’ve been doing autographing events. It took me a few years to settle on the “Zen” thing. I spent the first few trying (against my nature) to sell, sell, sell books in the recommended, in-your-face manner espoused at the time. That wasn’t for me, and it never will be. Because I’ve begun to believe that the very best thing I can do to ensure a successful signing is to write books worthy of repeat customers to fuel my future sales.

And isn’t that the reason we do signings in the first place?

I’d love to hear signing tips and/or horror stories from others. Meanwhile, thanks to the booksellers from my recent spate of signings: Katy Budget Books, The Woodlands Barnes and Noble, and Houston's fabulous Murder by the Book. Thanks, too, to signing buddy Christie Craig (on the left in our photo from the wonderfully-supportive Katy Budget Books) and the many friends and fellow RWA members who came out to support us.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Happy Birthday to us!

A couple of summers ago, I was working at my satellite office -- the upstairs cafe at Borders on Market Street -- and I got a call from my husband, who was downstairs poking around for a good airplane read. "There's an author down here doing the table thing," he told me. "She seems interesting. You should come down and talk to her." Table signings for me are the twelfth circle of Hell, so I never walk by, eyes averted, while a fellow crafts person sits there with her hopeful little Sharpie. I immediately packed up my laptop, went downstairs, and met one of my favorite people in the world: Colleen Thompson.

We are writing entirely different kinds of books, we're on entirely different career tracks, and we have totally opposite approaches to the craft, but we have a few important things in common: we are both honest-to-goodness-done-quit-the-day-job working writers, we are both passionate-bordering-on-rabid about research, we both prize artistic integrity uber alles, and we share the same hurricane surfing relationship with the business.

We also share this blog, I'm happy to say.

Launched one year ago today, Boxing the Octopus is our soapbox, therapy couch, and an extension of our corner at Starbucks. We hope to help aspiring and emerging writers by talking frankly about what we've learned and how it is and what it be and all that jazz about thriving (or at least surviving) in the publishing industry. It's a place for us to ruminate on the writing life, for whatever that's worth, to nudge a few laughs, pass along bits of poetry or wisdom or advice we've been grazing on, and talk up books and authors we meet along the way.

My technical expertise barely transcends two soup cans and a string, but I keep noodling with design elements (a meditative exercise while I noodle plot elements in my head) and driving Colleen crazy by changing the background color all the time. We can tell by the stats that a lot of people visit, though only a few leave comments. We're always open to your thoughts and suggestions. Let us know what you'd like to see more/less of. What makes the blog easier on the eye and/or the browser. We want to know what you're reading and writing. And who you are.

Mostly we want you to know how grateful we are that you took the time to stop by.

Friday, December 14, 2007

To Dream, Perchance to @#$%! Sleep, Already

Grinch alert! I'm working, for the fourth day running, on about four hours or so of restless, broken sleep. Why? Because this darn book won't let me.

I often have this problem near the book's end, when I'm mentally struggling to solve the 8,213 inconsistencies, blunders, and question marks of the story. And to do it while bearing down on a tough deadline. And, oh, yes, to write a book that at least measures up to the last, if not (I pray) exceeding it. I also want to finish early enough to get critique partner (Bless you, Saints Bobbi & Joni) feedback and edit before sending the book to my editor. (I'd like to keep up the illusion that I'm as brilliant as the two of them make me look.) I usually ask a "cold reader" (known here at St. Jo Anne), who knows knowing of the story, read it through after these edits as well, to make sure the mystery element holds, since it's hard to do that for anyone who's read the synopsis. (Though I'll say now: nanny-nanny boo, boo! I changed the villain!)

Aside from that, during the last stretch, I put off everyday things. Such as cleaning my dust-clotted house, paying bills, riding herd on my teenager's tendency to procrastinate, and - oh, yes, there's the dreaded "C-word." You may know it as Christmas around your house. But then, you might have a tree up, tasteful decorations, and a fleet of wrapped gives already to go on the big day.

It would be uncharitable, as well as a hallmark of sleep deprivation rather than my basic, usually-laid-back (I hear you laughing! And it's not nice) personality, to say that if this is true, I hate you for it.

The best thing about deadline stress-induced insomnia is that my mind really does work through the problems in some amazing ways, probably because I'm #$!* hallucinating by now from the lack of decent rest. I wrote a spooky scene yesterday that scared the heck out of me, and as for the climatic scenes, I came up with something pretty darned diabolical. The saints (and of course, my editor) will let me know if it all works or if it just comes out looking liking an acid-flashback to an old Adam-West Batman episode. (Click the link for a fun blast from the past!)

Meanwhile, thank goodness for caffeine, critique partners, and an understanding bed-partner (or two - and yes, I'm referring to the dog!)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Eudora Welty on the fine lines of life

Eudora Welty wrote in her memoir One Writer’s Beginnings: "Writing fiction has developed in me an abiding respect for the unknown in a human lifetime and a sense of where to look for the threads, how to follow, how to connect, find in the thick of the tangle what clear line persists. The strands are all there: to the memory nothing is ever really lost."

Which reminds me of something I heard Joyce Carol Oates say once in a talk she gave...oh, somewhere or other. (Unlike Eudora's memory, mine does misplace an item now and then.) She compared the writing of a novel to the building of a bird's nest. You gather a bit of string here, a tuft of fluff there, a blade of dry grass from somewhere else, weaving it and working it until it becomes an entirely different construct from its million varied sources.

I'm pushing hard to finish the rough of my current novel in progress, so I've hardly seen the light of day lately, and Eudora just reminded me how unhealthy that is for a writer. In order to do our work, build our nest, we need to be out gathering that raw material, eavesdropping on beauty shop conversations, playing Scrabble with an old man in a bar, driving with the windows down, playing with dogs, seeing Picasso's doorway in Paris. We have to live life in order to write about it. And more importantly, to be happy.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Just a little something to get us through a rainy day

"Outside of a dog, a man's best friend is a book. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read." ~ Groucho Marx

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"It's like literary viagra.": a conversation with Eliza Graham

Yesterday, we introduced Eliza Graham's Playing with the Moon, a World Book Day ‘Hidden Gem’ nominee. Today, we're coffee-talking with Eliza (Or do Brits tea-talk? I forgot to ask.) about process, publishing, and the writing life.

Eliza, start by telling us how you got from there to here. Did you always know you’d be a writer?
I wanted to write from childhood onwards. My parents and later my husband gave me masses of encouragement. I had written fiction for about four or five years, getting the odd story published and acquiring two agents over the period. I never seemed to have any luck with finding a publisher, though, and found myself unagented when I'd finished Playing With the Moon. Macmillan had just launched a new scheme (Macmillan New Writing) to find writers who hadn't been published and you didn't need an agent and you could submit the WHOLE MANUSCRIPT BY EMAIL. I thought I had nothing to lose.

I was working away on my laptop at home when I received an email, not a call, and I kept scanning it to see if I'd missed the bit that said, '...but I'd like to wish you all the best for the future.' When I couldn't find those oh-so-familiar words I yelled at my husband to come down and check the email for me.

Playing With the Moon was published June 07 in hardback and comes out Feb. 08 in paperback. It's the story of a young couple, Tom and Minna, who come to a remote coastal village to recover from a terrible bereavement. They find a skeleton on a beach and are drawn into the mystery of a violent death that occurred just before the village was evacuated in WW2.

What’s the creative process like for you?
It starts with me finally having got both children off to school and picked up enough clothes and bags off the floor to be able to physically navigate a way to one of our laptops. I have one in the kitchen and one in my 'study'--our dining room. I sit in either place, depending on the time of year (the kitchen is warmer in winter, the dining room has a more interesting view). Usually I answer emails and check messages on various writing boards and try and do any outstanding editing work for my day-job (I am a freelancer). Then I look at what I wrote the day before and tell myself firmly to proceed. That last bit involves jumping up every five minutes on one pretext or another, unless I'm experiencing a flight of creativity. Usually I'm not. Because my writing is research-rich I have go check a lot of facts as I go and usually have to do a lot of reading which I enjoy a lot.

I love the occasional inspiration I get when I'm somewhere inappropriate (in the bath, shopping for food, on the way to take a child to a sports-ground, etc), It's like a shot of literary viagra. It doesn't happen to me as often as I'd like but it's so exciting when it does.

What about the publication and promotional process? Is it the adventure you thought it would be?
Two weeks ago we had a most surprising phone call from the editor of the German version of Playing With the Moon. They are making a television advertisement (almost like a little trailer) for the book and wanted to send a film crew here. I honestly thought someone was playing a joke on me for the first five minutes of the call. Anyway, last weekend the producer and stylist came to our little cottage and spent hours making me up (I definitely needed hours, I can tell you!) and filming me working at my desk, gardening, walking the dogs, etc. The most amusing bit was standing on a landing ramp on the edge of a very stormy sea doing a Meryl Streep in The French Lieutenant's Woman, and letting the wind blow my hair and scarf around me and praying I wouldn't fall in and get washed out into the Bristol Channel.

My favorite question for writers and pretty much everyone else I meet: What are you reading?
I've just finished another Macmillan New Writing author's book. Cover the Mirrors by Faye L Booth is funny and extremely well-researched novel about rogue spiritualists in the north of England in the middle of Victoria's reign. It's quite spicy as well. Spice is important this time of year.

Monday, December 10, 2007

GCC presents Playing With the Moon

Eliza Graham is touring the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit, laying groundwork for her February release Playing with the Moon, a World Book Day ‘Hidden Gem’ nominee. The World Book Day website calls Playing With the Moon "a penetrating reflection on the historical events that have forged our sense of British cultural identity. It is also skilfully constructed, deeply humane, and full of fascinating, flawed, characters."

This from the press kit:
Shattered by a recent bereavement, Minna and her husband Tom retreat to an isolated village on the Dorset coast, seeking the solitude that will allow them to cope with their loss and rebuild their foundering marriage. Walking on the beach one day, they unearth a human skeleton. It is a discovery which will plunge Minna into a mystery which will consume her for months to come.

The remains are soon identified as those of Private Lew Campbell, a black American GI who, it seems, drowned during a wartime exercise in the area half a century before. Growing increasingly preoccupied with the dead soldier's fate, Minna befriends a melancholy elderly woman, Felix, who lived in the village during the war. As Minna coaxes Felix's story from her, it becomes clear that the old woman knows more about the dead GI than she initially let on.

And this from The London Times:
A chance visit to a depopulated Dorset village was the inspiration for Playing With The Moon, the first novel by a former Towers Perrin staffer turned freelance. Eliza Graham, who has worked for the actuaries for 13 years, spent the past five of these trying to find a publisher for the novel, which is about a 1940s inter-racial love affair and the eventual murder of a black GI. The village is Tyneham on the Isle of Purbeck, emptied in 1943 to be used in the preparations for the D-Day landings. "It was poignant, walking around the village," Graham tells me. "It was as if they just stepped out for a day or two – 60 years ago."

Go, Girlfriend, go!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

So here's the deal on the twice-ringing postman

I mentioned yesterday that past and present reads of James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice left me wondering: What postman? The first time I read the book, I was in 5th or 6th grade, so I went directly to my oracle: the librarian. I have some wonderful librarian stories to tell, but sadly, this is not one of them. She scolded me for reading filthy smut, which really just made me want to search out more filthy smut and read it. Anyway, flash forward to the Golden Age of Google.

Cain originally wanted to be an opera singer, and his novels are definitely cross-pollinated with music -- metaphors, melody, and rhythm. "Writing," he once said, "was distinctly a consolation prize." Cain says the genesis of the story was a random stop at a filling station somewhere in Southern California.
"This bosomy-looking thing comes out--commonplace, but sexy, the kind you have ideas about. We always talked while she filled up my tank. One day I read in the paper where a woman who runs a filling station knocked off her husband. Can it be this bosomy thing? I go by, and sure enough, the place is closed. I inquire. Yes, she's the one--this appetizing but utterly commonplace woman."

His working title for the resulting novel was Bar-B-Que.

But Cain was also fascinated by the case of Ruth Snyder, a Queens housewife who enticed her corset salesman lover into helping her kill her husband, and then tried to off the Lothario with a poisoned bottle of wine. Damon Runyon described Snyder as "a chilly-looking blonde with frosty eyes and one of those you-bet-you-will chins." She is said to have received 164 marriage proposals while on trial for murder. When she was subsequently executed at Sing Sing, a journalist from the Daily News strapped a camera to his ankle and pilfered an infamous photograph of her last moment in the electric chair.

Shortly before her death, Snyder converted to Catholicism and confessed all. She'd tricked her husband into signing a personal injury insurance policy that paid double in case of death (hence the phrase "double indemnity"). To keep him from seeing the payment coupons that came in the mail, she persuaded the postman to deliver the coupons directly to her. The postman's private signal: ring twice. A catch phrase was born. "Watch yourself, sport, 'specially if the postman always rings twice, eh?" Wink wink nudge nudge.

And then there's this:

Saturday, December 08, 2007

James M. Cain on the perfect murder (and the perfect murder mystery)

My recent hard-boiled fiction vision quest led me to a couple of classic James M. Cain novels this week: The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity. I'd read Postman before somewhere back in my personal Paleozoic Era, and during both reads, the biggest mystery involved was...well, where the hell is the postman? More on that tomorrow.

Double Indemnity is about a perfect murder. It doesn't come off perfectly because of the imperfect perps, but the strategy was sound. Walter Huff explains the high concept to his co-conspirator, Phyllis Nirdlinger (yeah, if my name was Phyllis Nirdlinger, I'd wanna kill somebody too), thusly:
"Get this, Phyllis. There's three essential elements to a successful murder. The first is, help. One person can't get away with it, that is unless they're going to admit it and plead the unwritten law or something. It takes more than one. The second is, the time, the place, the way, all known in advance -- to us, but not to him. The third is, audacity. There comes a time in any murder when the only thing that can see you through is audacity."

The exact prescription holds true for the writing of a murder mystery, I'm finding.

Help: I can see writing an introspective memoir or relationshippy women's fiction in solitude, but the layered plotting, red herrings, and double back flip triple sowkow stuff requires additional eyes. There's no way you can step far back enough to see if the surprises actually work or if they come off as cheap gags. The intricacies of mystery require lots and lots of conversation and critique.

Planning: Note cards are my friend. The chess board has to be constantly moving to keep the pages turning, and it has to play out like a tapestry -- all knots and loose ends while you're working on it, but flip it over when it's done and marvel at the elegant design. Pointless meandering is not allowed. Over the past several weeks, mainlining the hard-boiled novels of Hammet, Chandler, and now Cain, I've been blown away by the clean, straight lines of the stories. Characters and events are utterly purpose-driven. Very few words are wasted on description, kvelling, or lovemaking, yet that clean-starched prose manages to be incredibly evocative, revelatory, and even, at times, erotic. (I posted a while back about literary sex in brief, and Cain has two fabulous three-word sex scenes in Postman: "I had her." And "We did plenty." AhOOgah!)

Audacity: Like the man said. There comes a time when it's the only thing that can see you through.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Joke's on Me

A writer arrives home to find his house a smoldering wreck, with the fire trucks just leaving. His sobbing, ash-covered wife is standing outside.

“What happened?” the man asks.

“Oh, John, it was terrible,” she weeps. “I was cooking, and the phone rang. It was your agent. Because I was on the phone, I didn’t notice the chicken I was frying caught on fire. It went up in second. We've lost everything. I nearly didn’t make it out of the house, the car burned in the garage. And poor Fluffy is--”

“Wait, wait. Back up a minute,” The man says. “My agent called?”


Now it's your turn. Who has a great joke about writers to share?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Nice work, if you can get it

In honor of Ira Gershwin's birthday today, I was listening to some of his Broadway classics while I prepped for my domestic partner this morning. (Some people would call her the cleaning lady, but I have more respect for her, having been my family's cleaning lady for 20 years before I was lucky enough to find her. But I digress...)

"Nice Work If You Can Get It" was written by George and Ira Gershwin and performed by Fred Astaire in the movie A Damsel in Distress but was multi-purposed later for the Broadway show Crazy for You. You may also remember it as the theme song for the Cybill Shepherd sitcom

Click here to listen and contemplate this elegantly simple metaphor the writing life.

The man who only lives for making money
Lives a life that isn't necessarily sunny
Likewise the man who works for fame
There's no guarantee that time won't erase his name
The fact is, the only work that really brings enjoyment
Is the kind that is for girl and boy meant
Fall in love and you won't regret it
That's the best work of all, if you can get it
Holding hands at midnight
'Neath a starry sky
Nice work if you can get it
And you can get it if you try
Strolling with the one girl
Sighing sigh after sigh
Nice work if you can get it
And you can get it if you try
Just imagine someone
Waiting at the cottage door
Where two hearts become one
Who could ask for anything more?
Loving one who loves you
And then taking that vow
It's nice work if you can get it
And if you get it, won't you tell me how?"

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

On Trying too Hard

Sometimes with all this study of writing craft, we get too darned self-conscious of it for our own good -- and the story's. Here's something brilliant C.S. Lewis had to say on the subject:

Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.

So here's to the not noticing. As you write today, try not to get too caught up in the "art" of it. Save that for the critics -- or at least the editing phase. Just get the dog-gone story on the page. Otherwise you're risking some serious verbal constipation.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

To sleep, perchance to dream

Sunday night at critique group, Colleen made a suggestion that I use a little magic trick to transform the plodding scene I'd just read to my fellow Midwives. I could physically feel the blank stare on my face. How would such a thing be accomplished? Would any reader be able to follow it? Would any writer? I politely dismissed the idea as unworkable and went home with a more pedestrian approach planned. But this morning, well before my alarm clock started playing "Stairway to Heaven", I jolted awake completely understanding what she'd said and remembering that I had in fact performed a similar sleight of hand in a previous manuscript. Not only could this be done -- it could be done by me!

I rocket out of bed most mornings with my brain on fire. I often dream a seamless version of a scene that had my waking mind completely pretzelated. Curiosity about that drove me to google during a quiet moment and I discovered an interesting report from the Center for Sleep and Cognition at Harvard's Department of Psychiatry, which came to this conclusion:
The development of mathematical insight, the knack for discovering novel solutions to mathematical problems, might be one of the most erudite forms of learning that we can hope to achieve. However, Wagner and his colleague now report that a night of sleep after being exposed to a class of mathematical problems more than doubles the likelihood of discovering just such a novel solution.

Okay, but that still leaves me wondering why? In my heart of hearts, I believe that it's because I go to sleep every night repeating a mantra given me several years ago by a Blackfoot shaman: Creator, open my mind to create. But a less woo woo explanation is offered in "Self-Organization in the Dreaming Brain", in which Stanley Krippner and Allan Combs asserted:
The dreaming brain “relaxes” into natural patterns of self-organized activity, which often reflect the residual moods, stresses, and concerns of waking life. To understand this, recall that during dreaming the brain is immersed in something like a sensory isolation tank and cut off from the influences of external sensory input. In this situation patterns of brain activity can relax into forms that are dependent primarily upon internal conditions. Consider, for instance, what happens when sand is dropped onto a vibrating surface like a drumhead or orchestral symbol. It dances about forming complex patterns characteristic of the physical dynamics of the vibrating surface beneath. ...The patterns of activity that unfold over time in the dreaming brain are experienced as the narratives, which play themselves out in dreams.

Which would explain why even a twenty minute power nap reboots and inspires me. Next time Gary comes into my office and finds me snoozing on the floor with my dogs, I plan to tell him, "I'm not loafing, my brain is self-organizing." No joke. Sleep is an important part of a writer's work.

(Above, by the way, is Giorgio de Chirico's "Le double rêve du printemps" -- "The Double Dream of Spring" -- painted in Paris in 1915.)

Monday, December 03, 2007

Close, But No... You Know

If it's disheartening for a writer to be so far off the mark that she's only scoring form rejections (which have happened to the best of us), there's a particular heartbreak in coming oh-so-very-close that you can taste it and then falling just a smidge short of making the damned sale. It's the coitus interruptus
of the writing life: exciting but oh-so-unsatisfactory.

You'll know it when you get there. It's an enthusiastic call or e-mail from your agent that some editor's oh-so-excited about your book/proposal. She's either finishing it this week (which often drags on in the manner of a doctor's waiting room-minute) or "taking it to committee." There's a long delay, during which -- since you're a writer -- you begin imagining success in vivid detail: what you'll tell your Doubting-Thomasina/Snidely Smartass Sister-in-Law, where you're get your significant other to take you for a romantic celebration (click on the "coitus interruptus" link above for the how-not-to-celebrate example), what saucy little designer number you'll wear to the Insert-Prestigious-Awards-Ceremony-of-Your-Choice. Because you're so excited and it's dragging on so long, you start telling the sort of people who will be genuinely happy and excited for you. And maybe just a few who will be jealous but deserve it.

And then, something happens. You almost always get the crushing news by e-mail because your agent (or whoever) doesn't want the embarrassment of dealing with your breakdown on the phone. Plus, maybe the agent's just a little bit embarrassed about letting his/her own premature verbal ejaculation (my, this post is getting risque) get your hopes up.

Owwwwwch. It hurts. Hurts like childbirth or an abscessed tooth or an IRS audit without anesthesia. And it requires some grieving time, perhaps a good, old-fashioned wallow in self-pity.

For maybe an hour or two. And then it's time to realize that getting that close means you ARE close, so close to your dream that it would be a crime to quit now. When a publishing professional expresses strong interest in your work, that almost always means it IS publishable. Maybe the scales didn't tip your way because the house didn't have a good track record with your type of fiction or there wasn't an open slot on the schedule for three years or one of the more senior editors just signed another author who fills a similar market niche or the editor with the say-so is allergic to cats and your book has one or... There are a million reasons you can come close without getting the cigar.

But if you quit now, you never will achieve it. And that would be the greatest loss of all.

P.S.- Besides, now you have someone (besides your snooty sister-in-law) to "show" when you achieve world-domination.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

My Interview at "Jennifer on Writing"

In celebration of this week's release, I've been out guest blogging hither and yon. Here's the first bit of a writing advice interview with the very talented USA Today Bestselling Author Jennifer Ashley.

I had the great pleasure to pick up Colleen Thompson's new Romantic Suspense, The Salt Maiden a few days ago. I asked her to be my guest this week, and I was able to ask her about the Romantic Suspense market, agents, and writing in general.

J: Do you have an agent? Why or why not?

Colleen Thompson: I've always worked with an agent and feel it's well worth paying the commission to have someone to run interference. This helps me keep my relationship with my editor about the book and allow the agent to deal with any potentially-contentious matters.

J: Can you talk a little about your road to publication?

Colleen Thompson: I wrote on the side for years while teaching. Only after I decided to give writing a real priority in my life and make an effort to education myself about publishing did I make progress. Both multi-genre and romance writers' groups (RWA) taught me what I needed to know and allowed me the opportunity to gain an agent's attention through entering contests. For me, this opened doors.

J: What challenges did you face once you got there?

Colleen Thompson: I first published in historical romance (under the pseudonym Gwyneth Atlee), but I found history-rich, American-set books were losing favor. In addition, I went lost several editors (three!) in rapid succession. I knew I needed to try something else at a different publishing house to break out of the tough place where I was stuck. As I result, I started over, writing romantic suspense, which I adore, under my real name. I've never been happier.

Click here to read more.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Tool box: PM's book tracker

Colleen talks about "reading the tea leaves" when a book hits the stores, and the tea leaves are looking soy-chai-licous for her newborn baby The Salt Maiden. Not only is the book getting glowing reviews, her sales ranks have been steadily ticking upward.

We were coffee-talking Friday morning about whether or not it's healthy for writers to pay attention to those numbers, and obviously, anything that turns into an obsession is unhealthy, but Colleen and I agreed that there's no such thing as "too much information". Information is useful even when you don't like it. And when it is what you want it to be -- well, hot dog, then you're really in biz. Besides, let's face it, we all do it. (When I hear an author claim that they never read reviews or check their numbers, I'm reminded of Paula Poundstone's comment that "polls have shown that 93% of people masturbate and 7% lie.")

But I digress...

Publisher's Marketplace has several handy info-getters, including Book Tracker. Pop in the ISBN numbers you want to keep an eye on, and you can instantly pull up a list of books, organized by order of sales rank on Amazon,, plus any bestseller lists on which they are lucky enough to appear. Bonus feature: "mega-tracker" gives you a week-to-week progress report.

Handy little addition to the toolbox.


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