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Showing posts from September, 2008

Dude, Where's My Intellectual Property?

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The Internet's a wonderful thing, with the free and easy availability of information. Unfortunately, information created by artists, including writers, has increasingly been up for grabs by the unscrupulous.

Case in point: I've seen a pirated electronic copy of one of my books available on a "members only" site, which means that someone who is not me gets paid for the download. Every time the book gets out this way, an angel -- okay, not an angel but a writer -- loses her wings. Royalties are lost, and the sell-through percentage of shipped books declines, which more frequently than ever results in authors not being renewed to write more books. This is becoming a greater challenge to new authors' abilities to earn a living than either the sale of stripped books (boo! hiss!) or used booksellers and libraries (both of which I enjoy as much as the next reader).

I've also seen articles I've written for magazines, as well as one written for and posted on this bl…

Being the Book Lady (a bit of Christmas in the hurricane)

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Overheard and appreciated: “Hurricane Ike was a lot like Christmas. Last minute shopping in crowded stores. Candles decorating the house. And when it’s over, you gotta drag that dang tree out of the house.”

We're still without power most of the time, but we have water. And hope.

The Tuesday after the storm, having put in a full morning lumberjacking the last of the fallen trees in our front yard, I went out in search of internet. No luck. But on the way home, I saw a young woman in the parking lot of a neighborhood Mexican restaurant, cooking on a grill, selling a limited cash-only menu from the open door of the dark storefront.

We’d seen the taco trucks functioning from Day 1 (I swear, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse will be dining off those taco trucks), but this was the first business open anywhere near our house. I had to stop and reward that spirit, even though I was a little nervous about feeding my old man post-power-outage beef burritos.

While I waited for her to cook…

Those Furry Muses

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Beginning yesterday and over the next few Saturdays, Barbara Vey of The Publisher's Weekly Blog Beyond Her Book is having a fun contest inviting readers to match authors with their pets. Look for me, along with one of my furry muses, in the coming weeks.

I'm lousy at matching people with their pets, but looking at cute pet pictures is one of my favorite ways to relax. And since I could only submit one animal pal to Barbara's site, I brought Zippy in for a guest appearance on BtO today. Otherwise, I'd never hear the end of it!

Go with God, Paul Newman

A Fresh Start

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Even as I work to wrap up one contracted book, I'm in the very early stages of writing another. This is my favorite time of day in the life of the novel's creation. With the sun just teasing the horizon, anything and everything are possible.

At this point, I have a basic premise (which excites me), one intriguing character, and a couple of competing ideas for the opening pages. But I'm still very much at the play stage: testing out scenarios, watching for the first appearance of new characters, casting my lure upon the water to see what rises to the surface.

There's a stillness to this place I love, a spot where my imagination runs unfettered before I step into the harness of the deadline or market expectations. For right now, every possibility is open.

And I can't wait to begin.

Jen Singer's You're a Good Mom (Best baby shower gift since valium!)

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I'm making an effort to work through a list of books I've been wanting to blog about, and the selection of the Republican running mate pushed this one to the top of my list: You're a Good Mom (and Your Kids Aren't So Bad Either) by Jen Singer, creator of the popular parenting site MamaSaid.net, "where moms like you can get some laughs and validation while your kids find new places to leave crumbs." (She also writes the Good Grief! blog about parenting tweens for GoodHousekeeping.com.) I read this book on an airplane a couple months ago and absolutely loved this girl's chatty, you-gotta-laugh style. And I thought about it again when people started dredging up a bunch of tired old crap about "mommy wars", which stuffs women into boxes labeled "Working Moms" (condemned as uncaring Lady Macbeth types) and "Stay-at-Home Moms" (harshly judged as lazy slobs.) For a culture that so horrendously underpays our teachers, we certainly ha…

I'd Like to Buy a Vow!

In the wake of Hurricane Ike, I'm swearing this sacred oath: As God is my witness, I'll never eat Spam again!" Seriously, folks, I haven't tasted this stuff in more than thirty years, and now I'm reminded of why. (Shudder...)

In our writing, as in life, we learn from our mistakes and make solemn vows to ourselves. Here are a few, often hard-won lessons, I've learned over the years:

As God is my witness, I'll never again...

1. Attempt a multiple-viewpoint, first-person novel.
2. Use more than a very few (say three or four) exclamation points per manuscript. (If either the words themselves or the narrative tag (i.e. Randolph shouted) get the point across, the exclamation point can be dispensed with. That gives those few one uses real impact and helps avoid the appearance of melodrama.)
3. Allow a villain to head-shoot a sweet little dog "on-screen" (oh, the hate mail...)
4. Go farther than fifty pages into the novel without at least roughing out a synops…

Dr. Wendy Harpham on Oxygen

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This week on her Healthy Survivorship blog, Dr. Wendy Harpham posts about a novel I recently read and liked a lot: Oxygen by Dr. Carol Cassella, an anesthesiologist, whose debut novel is a medical thriller/mystery written with a very Jodi Picoult issues-oriented-faux-lit-fiction feel.

From the Oxygen press kit:
Dr. Marie Heaton is an anesthesiologist at the height of her profession. She has worked, lived and breathed her career since medical school, and she now practices at a top Seattle hospital. Marie has carefully constructed and constricted her life according to empirical truths, to the science and art of medicine. But when her tried-and-true formula suddenly deserts her during a routine surgery, she must explain the nightmarish operating room disaster and face the resulting malpractice suit. Marie's best friend, colleague and former lover, Dr. Joe Hillary, becomes her closest confidante as she twists through depositions, accusations and a remorseful preoccupation with the mothe…

Signs of Resilience:Why Texas Rocks

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Creativity's a fine thing. And coupled with a sense of humor, it can form the backbone of survival. For your browsing pleasure, I've compiled some photos submitted by readers of the Houston Chronicle, whose coverage of all things Hurricane Ike has been first-rate.

A few notes: Centerpoint is the major power company. And I don't have a photo for my favorite sign, from the battered Galveston Bay community of San Leon, where we once owned property.

For a town with such severe devastation, it maintains a sense of humor.

One couple used red spray paint to write FEMA YARD OF THE MONTH on the side of their damaged wooden cottage. Some had more stern warnings: Loot on this street, die on this street.

"We are the outlaws of Galveston County," said Scott Lyons, the assistant chief for the town's volunteer fire department, driving past a home with a fake coffin in the front yard and a sign that said: Looter Vacancy.

Gotta love that Texas attitude!

Meanwhile, back in the real world...

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In the New York Times Op Ed section today, columnist Maureen Dowd invites screenwriter Aaron Sorkin to envision a conversation between Barack Obama and President Jed Bartlett, the iconic character Sorkin created and invested with kickass dialogue in The West Wing...
OBAMA Mr. President.

BARTLET You seem startled.

OBAMA I didn’t expect you to answer the door yourself.

BARTLET I didn’t expect you to be getting beat by John McCain and a LancĂ´me rep who thinks “The Flintstones” was based on a true story, so let’s call it even.

OBAMA Yes, sir.

BARTLET Come on in.
Check it out.(And for mo' betta Bartlett, turn to Bravo for you-never-get-enough reruns of The West Wing.

Theme song for the week: Bare Necessities

Just a thought in the wake of the great breaking wind...

Saturday Morning Cartoon: Gimme the power already!

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Still without electricity at our house. Day 8. The latest estimate for our zip code is Thursday. I've decided to bring a toothbrush and sleeping bag over to the ladies room here at Starbucks on Market Street. A hurricane really blows, but what comes after a hurricane really sucks. The tedium of recovery grinds on after the adrenalin powered spine-starching of the event. Our vocabulary is being rewritten by the day. We now know the difference between basic needs and basic necessities, jeans that are clean and jeans that are clean enough, the difference between electricity and power, between writing as in typing and writing as in pouring out thoughts late into the night by flashlight, longhand on a yellow legal pad.

I was able to be philosophical at first, but now I just feel bitchy. The cool weather blessing has moved on, oppressive heat moving in. I won't even pretend to be enjoying this. My deep and thinky late night thoughts are mostly about wishing I could do a load of towe…

Trees, Trees Everywhere

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I thought I'd post a couple of shots from my neighborhood in The Woodlands. The first shows the view from my front door and morning after Ike crashed everyone's party. Tree debris everywhere but miraculously, no damage to our house.

The split tree wasn't on our property, but I thought it was an interesting bit of destruction. Everywhere you go you see trees pulled out by the root ball (even gigantic trees) or splintered and twisted at various heights along the trunk. Many landed atop neighbors' fences, roofs, and cars and took out our utilities for days.

But the storm's passage redefined luck -- good and bad -- and my heart goes out to those who've suffered terrible losses, from property to jobs to, in some instances, lives.

Hurricane check in from Joni

Hi Family, Friends, and Cohorts ~

First thanks, everyone, for all the well-wishes and concern in the wake of Hurricane Ike. We’re okay, but still without power. Cells are iffy, but we are able to get some text msgs in and out.

Ike (the boy, not the hurricane) is in Tampa, so he’s just chortling at the rest of us. Jerusha and her housemates had a hurricane party up in Huntsville Fri/Sat during the storm. She volunteered at the shelter the next day, then evacuated to Killeen, where she’s staying with Josh and family until classes resume at the university.

Gary and I lost a couple of trees, lots of limbs and branches, some roofing, bits and pieces of front and back porches, and about 50 ft of fencing. Many, many trees down in our neighborhood. Heartbreaking. We spent the last few days lumberjacking and cleaning up debris, trying to feel lucky as our hands turn to raw hamburger. We know we got off easy compared to a lot of folks south of us. Thank God, the weather has cooled off – 80s by day…

Grist for the Mill

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Though we were told for days our power would take up to six weeks to restore, it came back yesterday here at the house, thanks to the valiant efforts of the utility crews. My phone popped up about the same time, so I have DSL as well for the moment.

Joni's still off-grid, but since we have a laundry pact, she'll be over this PM to wash and hop on my wireless connection. Unless rolling blackouts happen, a distinct possibility.

Meanwhile, I've been thinking about gristmills. Or more specifically, how even life's crises can provide grist for our creative mills. For many of us, writing
offers a way to refine life's injustices, tragedies, and hardships, to transform them into flour to nourish not only our own but our readers' spirits. In processing our personal stresses, we offer others a means of escape from their own hardships. It's always an honor to hear from readers who write to let me know my books have helped them through situations from ranging from a root…

Why Ike Bites

Just a quick post to let everyone know that I'm okay and my house survived. Received a text from Joni saying they're okay and the house is standing. With so many homes damaged, that alone is a real blessing.

There's no power here, no phones, and no Internet (but a few of the myriad reasons Ike bites). I managed to borrow a neighbor's aircard connection briefly but won't have it for long.

The power restoration estimate in my community is 4 to 6 weeks. If I don't hear differently, I'm relocating (sans hubby, who's working in the Houston Fire Dept.) to San Antonio. Will check in from there in a few days if I go that route.

Meanwhile, I have hot and cold water, a gas grill, and some great neighbors who've snaked an extension cord to their generator. Everyone here is pitching in to help with downed tree removal )off of cars and homes in some cases), yard clean up, and finding fuel, ice, and other precious resources. It kind of feels like a giant block party…

In case we've been blown away...

I'm scheduling this post in advance, anticipating the loss of electricity and internet in the next few hours. We gave up on getting plywood for the windows but managed to grab the last gas grill on the shelf at Home Depot. By the time this appears on the blog, I expect we'll be having one of those "humbled by the force of nature" experiences. Hopefully, we'll be able to find wi fi and a strong cup of coffee by Sunday morning.

This poem caught my ear on yesterday's Writer's Almanac:

Where I Am With You
by Ryan Vine

Waking from a nap,
we stand at the window
watching dark clouds crawl
across the sky, whip
state-sized wisps
down and out and up.

Lights come on early,
and people below
on the street scurry
and bumble about
My arm around you, you say—
Let it rain, let it pour.
(From the book Distant Engines.)

The Gift of the Storm

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“It takes a real storm in the average person's life to make him realize how much worrying he has done over the squalls.”

-- Bruce Barton (American Congressman, 1886-1967)

On a day when we're all battening down the hatches for the arrival of Hurricane Ike in the Houston area, this quote seemed an appropriate reminder that life's great storms offer us one gift, and that's perspective. As writers, we spend so much time worrying over minutiae: is my website cutting-edge enough, will my career be over if I don't get tchotchkes to this convention or that trade show, should I make bookmarks on my printers or pay for my own bookstore. We drive ourselves nuts over the small stuff until the big stuff swoops in to give us a sense of scale, to awe us with the reality of its power, and inspire us with our capacity to adapt, respond, and help each other through the worst.

We may lose power over the next couple of days, but until then, stay safe and rest as…

The storm and the stranger

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Hustling around HEB this morning, grabbing hurricane groceries from the depleted shelves, I got into a conversation with an elderly lady who was, like us, planning to shelter in place when Hurricane Ike hits tomorrow. Gary and I have approached the whole thing with a sort of carnival attitude. (It's actually a lovely way to spend the weekend of our 25th anniversary, cuddled up in the candlelight, engaged in a Scrabble-to-the-death match.) But for this woman in her late 70s, living alone in a small apartment, the gathering storm was clearly terrifying.

"Come on over and join us," I said. "We have a spare room with a comfortable bed. And Lord knows, we're getting plenty of groceries here. We'd love to have you."

She bit her bottom lip, thought for a long moment, glanced warily at Gary. Vampire that I am, I couldn't look away from her eyes. Vulnerable. Weighing her options. Face the storm alone or trust a total stranger. Which was more frightening?

"…

Voice: WhichFlavor Are You?

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I have this thing for ice cream. If it's in the house, I'm helpless to resist it. Which is strange, because I once went years (my thinnest years; hmmm... wonder if there could be a correlation) without eating it after working in an ice cream parlor one summer and gorging myself sick.

But I digress. My point is, when asked to define the elusive literary term "voice," I've come to give an answer related to flavors of ice cream, for the following reasons.

1. New ice cream flavors take time to develop. In R&D departments nationwide, recipes are tweaked, taste-tested, and refined over a long period of time. An author's voice (since it is singular) takes years to develop and thousands of pages to clarify. But eventually, the writer's personality shines through, superceding all the homages to other authors' flavors.

2. Sometimes a consumer's in the mood for one flavor or another. I might walk into an ice cream parlor and choose black raspberry one day, …

Is the feast more dangerous than the famine?

Remember the Bible story about Joseph being brought out of prison to interpret a disturbing dream for the Pharaoh? In case the King James version is too tame for Tuesday, here's the Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber version:

The story is part of one of the Good Book's greatest adventures, but it's also a timeless reminder about the feast and famine of life, whether you're talking about money, love, family, or for our purposes, a writing career. To everything there's ebb and flow. When the house if full of kids, we know the time is coming when they'll (hopefully) leave, so we should be emotionally prepared for that. Lord knows marriage is cyclical, and we have to remember during the grinding times that as long as the baseline of love is maintained, the honeymoon will circle back around. For me, this natural wisdom (aka common sense) has been hardest to apply in my career. In the last several years, the modicum of success I've had has actually gotten me into more t…

Forgotten Passion

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After a grueling sprint to the finish on my latest manuscript, last week I revisited a forgotten passion.

With a birthday gift card in my hand, I visited my local Big Chain bookstore and spent an hour browsing, with no particular idea what I’d buy. I can’t tell you the last time I’ve indulged in such a pleasure. As an author, I know a lot of authors, talk a lot of book, and read quite a few reviews. Generally, my purchases are hurried, often made online, and all too often consist of books I feel I “should” read for one reason or another.

But yesterday, I wanted to do it the old-fashioned way. Simply walk among the shelves to see what caught my fancy. Only after leaving the store did I sit back to analyze how I’d made my selections, one hardcover and another mass market paperback, both of them thrillers. (I write romantic thrillers, but enjoy “straight” suspense as well, along with lots of other stuff. And I was in a mood for a good, fast scare.)

On walking into the store, I was immediate…

What's up with that red herring?

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I was sorely confused about the meaning of "red herring" when I was a kid. My father was the son of Scandinavian immigrants, so I'd heard about the pejorative use of the epithet "herring chokers" (the Norsky version of the N word) being applied to him and his family when he was growing up playing hockey on the mean streets of post-war St. Paul. So when I first heard about "red herrings" in the context of a Hardy Boys mystery novel, I was utterly baffled. I asked Miss Andre, my fourth grade teacher, to clarify this for me. She said something about "small fish you eat on crackers" and asked me for the ten thousandth time if I'd decided to accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior.

I finally went to the source I should have started with, the oracle of all things bookish: my big sister Diana.

"It's when the book tricks you," she said. "Like when Lucy sets up the football and then jerks it away right when Charlie Brown goes t…

Saturday Vid: Author Gets Slammed by Grandmother, Press, the World

When bestselling thriller (and graphic) novelist Brad Meltzer's latest offering, The Book of Lies, received some... well, less than enthusiastic reviews, Brad took 'em in stride and put together this hilarious trailer.



You've gotta love an author with a sense of humor, and a feel for the power of viral video. Plus, the audacious premise which links the murder of the father of the young boy who subsequently created (the bulletproof) Man of Steel with the world's first murder, committed by Cain.

I'm also including a way cool conspiracy-theory promotional video (featuring Joss Whedon) on the book to whet your appetite. I loved this, but for the record, I picked up THE BOOK OF LIES the old-fashioned way -- because it caught my eye at the bookstore and I the idea sounded too intriguing to put it down and walk away.



Your book's on my nightstand, Brad, and I really like your style!

A Story for Your Vote

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Over the past two weeks, I've watched the national conventions of the Democrats and Republicans with great interest, and one thing (okay, lots of things, but let's put politics aside and stay on track here) has really struck me. That singular thing is the universal power of story to connect us to another human being, even one who is essentially a stranger.

First, we have the narrative of Barak Obama, the son of a young, unwed Midwestern woman and an African student whose swift rise through hard work, talent, and the path of public service embodies the American dream.

Next, we have the tale of Joe Biden, a young Senator-elect whose wife and daughter died tragically and who was sworn in at the bedside of his injured sons and who commuted from Washington by train so he could be at their side each evening.

The following week, we were introduced to the inspiring story of John McCain, a POW who was tortured for years and tempted by offers of freedom, a man whose heroism and patriotism …

Don't get derailed by Dingus Magee

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A while back I read William Goldman's terrific Adventures in the Screen Trade, which is so packed with great writing advice, I had to make a list of things to blog about down the road. One particular passage came back to me when a recent proposal of mine was shot down. Discussing the process and production surrounding his script Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Goldman says that when it came time to market the screenplay, it was a "hot item" with interest from several studios, but it was rejected by MGM. Goldman says:
A Metro executive told me that the reason they didn't bid was this: "We've already got our joke western, The Ballad of Dingus Magee."

The fact is this: If Butch went out today, just as it did originally, a simple unencumbered screenplay available for purchase, it would never have sold.
I laughed out loud when I read this. The only time I'd ever heard of Dingus Magee was in an episode of MST3K. Meanwhile, Butch and Sundance went on to b…

This Just In: Yay!

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I promised myself I'd be finished this draft by September 1st, so I'd have sufficient time to edit. But the story kept growing and growing, becoming The Manuscript That Ate My Brain. So for the past two days, I've glued myself to my chair and fell straight down the rabbit hole.

And what did I find at the bottom, but a (drum roll please) completed draft. Nothing, nothing at all (not even *that*) feels better. So please 'scuse us (Mr. Kool Aid and Jimi are both on my team for this go-round) while we kiss the sky.

And yes, it's September 2nd. Wanta make somethin' of it? ;)

"Ms. Author, Your Character's on Line One

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Have you ever noticed that some characters just show up? Fully formed, they burst out of your skull, much like Athena exploded, fully armed and everything, out of Zeus gi-normous headache (which served that womanizing s.o.b. right for swallowing her pregnant mother, if you ask me).

I love it when a character simply bursts onto the scene. Although the other type, the shy ones you only gradually discover, have their appeal, those fictional folks who simply show up make life so much easier, since they arrive packing their own voices, mannerisms, and the willingness to smack down the author who tries to hammer them into a plot where they won't fit.

Sometimes, this type of character is a hero (the hunkalicious desert recluse, Zeke Pike from my latest, Triple Exposure, and Beth Ann Decker from Head On). Other times, it's a secondary character (Patsy from Triple Exposure and Estelle Hooks from The Salt Maiden. Once in a while, it's a villain who comes to breathe down my neck, raisi…

Shakespeare's Labour Day advice for writers

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From Love's Labour's Lost, Act 5, scene ii:
Taffeta phrases, silken terms precise, three-piled hyperboles, spruce affectation, figures pedantical; these summer flies have blown me full of maggot ostentation: I do forswear them.