Posts

Showing posts from May, 2009

Anne Stuart: "Don't Abuse the Muse"

Image
Over on her "Blah Blog", author Alison Kent has the coolest quote from NY Times bestselling author (and industry legend) Anne Stuart, one so wise I had to share it for your Sunday quote:


"My New Year's resolution is to focus on the book and forget all the crap that surrounds the writing business. To lose myself in a story, and not give a damn if it makes any lists, has a good sell-through, gets glowing reviews on Amazon, pleases my editors, hell, even pleases my readers. I want to love what I'm writing so much that none of the rest of it matters, and if I don't, I won't write it. Life's too short to abuse the muse."

Thanks for the sensible advice, Anne. Love your books, too - dearly.

William Shatner on beginning, endings, and "Why Am I Here?" (followed by a delicious studio smackdown)

With BookExpo 2009 in full swing this weekend, I've got one eye on the twitter and blog feeds in the right hand sidebar, but I haven't gotten the "you are there" updates I'd hoped for. We'll recap the highlights when the dust has settled. Meanwhile, here's my favorite moment from last year's BEA coverage: PW's interview with William Shatner, who was there stumping for his fresh-out memoir.



And then there's this...which I love...so much. (Though I hate that they say on the label "loses it" -- because he's totally in charge. Listen and learn.)

Storytelling in 3-D

Image
Earlier today, I let my college-student son talk me into playing hooky from writing and going to see Pixar's latest, UP, because we both thought it looked like such fun. When we arrived at the theater at 10:30 for the first showing, we were informed they'd rescheduled it for a school group (ACK! Avoid at all cost!) so the next available showing was at 11:30 AM, which would be a 3-D screening. I wasn't really interested in 3D, but I'd read it had improved since I'd last seen it (circa 19-mumble-mumble) and, besides, I love any excuse to spend time with the big kid.

After I picked my teeth up off the floor at the outrageous price ($19.50 for two tickets, because there's no early show discount on 3-D films and also a premium charged for those swell glasses) and we sat through approximately three months' worth of trailers, commercials, and little kids climbing all over one another, the movie finally started.

It was exactly what you'd expect from a Pixar film.…

Shavuotapalooza! (Joni's Ten Commandments For Writers)

Image
Happy Shavuot! ‘Tis the season to celebrate the dramatic delivery of the Ten Commandments by consuming delicious dairy products! (Because the Torah nourishes us like milk, you see.) In honor of the occasion, I humbly offer…

Ten Commandments For Writers
(inspired by my hazy memories of Lutheran Catechism class)

1: Thou shalt have no other gods nor worship any graven images.
Artistic integrity uber alles. The worst mistake a writer can make is the embrace of greed or a neediness for fame. When "success" as defined by numbers is the prime objective, it pollutes every creative decision, corrupts the joy of every accomplishment, seduces us into projects we don’t belong to, and distracts us from the organic nature of our art. I don’t care if you’re writing literary fiction or catalogue copy, do it for love of language or don’t do it at all.

2: Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain.
Nor vainly bandy random potty-mouth verbage. Overusing profanity dulls its effect. Ma…

Post a Phobia, Win a Book

Image
Over at Fresh Fiction today, I'm giving away a free, autographed copy of any of my backlist books to one lucky commenter (comments must be at the Fresh Fiction site to win). The creepy-crawly question: which animal/bug/other creature elicits the most chills for you? (And lets remember, phobias don't follow logic, so if you're afraid of fuzzy bunnies after watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail, fess up!)

If you'd like to expand the conversation over here to include non-animal phobias (and possibly give me some great ideas for taking readers on a thrill-ride in an upcoming book), this is the place to discuss them...

If you dare.

This Post Brought to You by Your Literary Agent

Image
A reminder to authors everywhere that agents can only sell the raw material they're given to work with. :)



I adore Tony Carillo's F-Minus. Check it out for more laughs!

It's all good (Diversify and thrive!)

I started out writing mainstream/women's fiction, then did a memoir and a weekly syndicated column, which led to a monthly advice column in a national magazine, which I continued while I ghosted my first memoir guru project and wrote another novel, which I edited while plotting my first mystery novel and taking a screenwriting class, which led to other mysteries, other ghost stories...

Schizophrenic or Renaissance woman? I guess it's a matter of opinion. In his wonderful book Adventures in the Screen Trade, novelist/screenwriter William Goldman recommends writing in multiple formats and genres as a way to keep the minds moving, and adds: “Writing is finally about one thing: going into a room alone and doing it. Putting words on paper that have never been there in quite that way before."

So in that spirit, let's have a little more writing and a little less conversation.

Hatching Day Blues

Image
So today it's here, release day for my eighth romantic thriller (fifteenth novel overall) Beneath Bone Lake. What's it like, a prepublished friend asks wistfully. Does it really feel like giving birth?

Well, yes, if you're one of my favorite creatures, the sea turtle. Every year, Mama Turtle, ever so graceful and gorgeous in the water, hauls her bulks onto the beach where she hatched, laboriously drags her heavy carcass up to the full moon, high water line with her flippers and slowly, painfully scoops out the hole to lay her eggs. After hours and hours of hard work, she pats the sand over her offspring and treks back to her element, the water, where she will swim and feed and mate so she can do it all again another year from now.

By hatching day, she's already immersed in these pursuits when her offspring dig themselves free and make the mad dash to the water. A host of predators try to destroy them, from crabs to fish and sharks to hungry gulls and stupid tourists (&qu…

Some showers are more fun than others (Your invitation to the BBL Buy Blitz)

Image
Colleen Thompson's latest, Beneath Bone Lake, officially hits the bookshelf tomorrow and is now shipping on Amazon and other online book sources. So let me start by saying:

GOFIGHTWIN COLLEEN BOOK!

No one I know is more dedicated to her craft. And no one does more to encourage, support, and mentor fellow authors. Please join me in a Buy Blitz and review shower for Colleen tomorrow. If you're buying the book in store, take a sec to call today and make sure it's on shelves. If you're buying online, please do so tomorrow before 4PM. And as soon as you've read, take another minute to pop back to Amazon and post a review.

Quoth Colleen in the press kit:
"Stretched along the East Texas and Louisiana border, there lies a lake populated by old cypress trees cobwebbed with thick strands of Spanish moss. Inhabited by the ghostly calls of great birds and huge alligators that lurk just beneath the surface, the lake is also home to the sun-bleached, standing skeletons of huge …

In Praise of the Sunday Paper

Image
I've had quite enough of Twitter, thank you. I'm also over MySpace and growing tired of Facebook, with all the fragmentary discourse on things I couldn't care less about. (Such as, apparently, the "grammar myth" about the undesirability of ending a sentence with a preposition.)

On Sunday mornings, I want spread my newspaper across the kitchen table. Preferably, a great, big fat edition with lots of in-depth, locally-written articles/series. I want a nice book section, color funny pages, grocery-store and car ads, an occasional slow-cooker recipe, crossword puzzles, and Dear Abby.

I want my week to start on simmer, not a boil (or ten million wisps of steam) and I want to enjoy it at the breakfast table with my tea or coffee and my breakfast. I want to quietly recharge my batteries without the noise or clicking or the backlit screen that makes my eyes sting.

I want that sense of continuity that connects me with my parents', grandparents', and great grandparent…

Eggers to authors: "When in doubt about the future of the written word -- email me!"

Image
And I thought I was the last optimist in the publishing industry...

Here's what Dave Eggers said to members of the Authors Guild, who'd gathered last week at the Tribeca Rooftop to honor him for his work with 826 National, his nonprofit writing and tutoring centers for kids and teens:
"Nothing has changed! The written word—the love of it and the power of the written word—it hasn’t changed. It’s a matter of fostering it, fertilizing it, not giving up on it, and having faith. Don’t get down. I actually have established an e-mail address, deggers@826national.org—if you want to take it down—if you are ever feeling down, if you are ever despairing, if you ever think publishing is dying or print is dying or books are dying or newspapers are dying (the next issue of McSweeney’s will be a newspaper—we’re going to prove that it can make it. It comes out in September). If you ever have any doubt, e-mail me, and I will buck you up and prove to you that you’re wrong."
Read more in …

Linking Old Readers with New

Image
I wanted to give you all a head's up that I'm also blogging today over at 2BRead on my thoughts on the new Star Trek movie and how it pertains to the tough challenge of writing sequels.

Please drop by and say hello or share your thoughts by clicking this link!

Tech Report:Netbooks vs. Full-sized Laptops

Image
I have some traveling to do this summer, coupled with a tight deadline and unrealistically-high expectations for my own output. And the thought of dragging around my big, heavy laptop made me groan. Besides, when I go to meetings of the writers' group where I'm the program chair, I invariably forget something (upcoming meeting schedule, the speaker's introduction, uh, the speaker's name), which makes me feel incompetent, scatter-brained, and embarrassed until I bum someone else's computer to look the stuff up online. So I told myself I needed one of those cute little netbooks I've been seeing people tool around with.

But honestly, I just really wanted one, because I've seen a few and fell in love with them. Normally, I sit on my hands until a tech-envy moment passes. I keep myself on a tight budget, and try to differentiate needs from wants.

This time, however, the thought of trying to haul the big laptop (which has recently gone through three motherboards an…

I browse (Thinking about switching to Google Chrome?)

Image
Since my dial up days, I've been pretty much married to Internet Explorer. Oh, sure, the hep cats came along with their fancy Firefox and all, but I'm a total Granny Clampett about all things computer. I don't want to learn any dad-blasted new-fangled contabulations on the computer machine. I'm willing to invest time in learning what I need to know for the work I do, and the rest I leave to those geekier and tweakier (and savvier) than I. Then Internet Explorer did the unforgivable: they changed. Or maybe I just caught up with them when I got a new computer. In any case, I was forced to learn something. So I poked around to see if I might learn something better. And I did.

Chrome is the browser launched at some point (I don't know when because I live in the word cave) by Google. Last year, when the beta testing was going on, PC World did an article listing 7 reasons for and 7 reasons against switching to Google Chrome. I think some evolution has taken place since th…

Commencement

com-mence
transitive verb
from Vulgar Latin cominitiare
1. to have or make a beginning

Maura de Souza earned her degree in music from Sam Houston State, completing her last year of studies after being diagnosed with sarcoma. Maura's graduation was cause for huge celebration -- including a moonwalk, but a few days before the ceremonies, Maura had returned to MD Anderson Cancer Center. The struggle would be over within a few days.

Commencement. From the Vulgar Latin. To have or make a beginning.



If you feel moved by Maura's story, please consider making a donation to sarcoma research.

The World in a Drop of Water: Writing on the Small Stage

Image
When I was a kid, I absolutely loved a science book called The World in a Drop of Water. (The link is to what I assume to be a newer edition.) For some reason, my imagination was captured by the idea of the "wee beasties" that swim and feed and reproduce in their tiny kingdoms. I begged a kid's microscope out of Santa that Christmas, checked out my brother's blood cells, mosquito larvae, and my sister's fine, blond hairs, and ended up a little disappointed that what I saw wasn't nearly as vivid as the photos in that book or the pictures painted in my imagination.

I still love the idea of an entire world in microcosm. I often write romantic suspense set in very tiny towns, where everyone's in everyone else's business and any individual can take on myriad roles. While other writers find charm and warmth within "closed systems," in my stories, I play up small towns for the creep factor and weave a complex fabric of relationships.

At the moment, h…

You Heard It From Nora... There Ain't No Muse

Image
I absolutely love these first lines from novelist Nora Roberts' interview with Clarissa Sansone over at Borders.com:

Well, first: There ain't no muse. If you sit around and wait to channel the muse, you can sit around and wait a long time. It's not effortless.

Since Nora's a bigtime inspiration (and a darned good and incredibly prolific author) I've checked out a number of her interviews, and I love her no-mumbo jumbo, elbow-grease-and-a-strong-work-ethic philosophy about writing. She talks tough on whiners and their endless litany of excuses, as refreshing as Harlan Ellison's sometimes profane but always entertaining take on the writing process.

I do think there's no one-size-fits-all reality, however. There are sublime, if unreliable, moments of inspiration. Writer's block is real and absolutely devastating to those who are afflicted. And every author has his/her own natural pace, which can be enhanced somewhat but never completely overcome. As Joni is s…

Sunday Morning Mellow

I don't know about you, but I had an intense work week. And a house full of 20-somethings until 3 AM. Can we take a moment to reboot and rebreathe before we start the work week?

C'mon...you know you wanna do pilates right now...

It's Here... Beneath Bone Lake

Image
I was surprised to get word the other day that copies of my 5/26/09 release, Beneath Bone Lake, are already shipping from Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble, which should mean it'll be showing up in local stores any time now.

While the logical part of me wishes the release date would be the same everywhere (this is rare except in the case of authors so profitable that the publisher can afford to police/threaten sellers into complying), the excited little kid part is dancing around and singing, Yea, it's here! It's here!

This may be my fifteenth novel, but I'm dying to hold my author's copies in my hands. I hope I never lose that feeling... although I *am* wondering where I'm going to store an extra box of books.

In case you've missed the video trailer for the book and might be interested, I'm reposting. Enjoy!

Networking Etiquette

Had to post this little video about Facebook etiquette just because it cracked me up. A lot of the "rules" certainly apply to those of us networking out little hearts out online as we promote ourselves professionally. Especially the TMI rule!

Enjoy

Web-present: A conversation with PR diva Yen Cheong of "The Book Publicity Blog"

Image
We started Monday with Sharon Mignerey's idea pitching tips, then heard some hard-ass writing advice from Harlan Ellison. Seems like we're having a very reality based week here at Boxing the Octopus. Perfect time to talk about what to expect when your book launches--and what you can do to help your baby bird out of the nest.

From her vantage point in the PR department at a major New York publisher, Yen Cheong pays close attention to what ranks and who tanks. In a recent communications/tech article in the New York Times "You've Got Voice Mail, But Do You Care?", Yen discusses the importance of velocity in day to day book industry dialogue. And there's a steady stream of pragmatic insight on her "Book Publicity Blog." I caught up with Yen long enough to press her with a few questions about the constantly changing (but always challenging) art of promotion as it relates to both established and pre-published authors.

Thanks for your time, Yen. Let's …

The Schenectady idea factory (Harlan Ellison on the real secret of writerly success)

Profundity du jour...

From SF Site's "Conversation with Harlan Ellison":
"The trick is not becoming a writer. The trick is staying a writer. Day after month after year after story after book. That's the secret. And if you can do that and produce a body of work, no matter how large or small it is, that is true and can pull the plow, then you're a writer. If you are not prepared to spend your life doing that, then, for christsake, don't do it."
And then there's this from "Dark Dreamers"...

More on Pitching by Sharon Mignerey

Image
Yesterday, I introduced my friend and fellow writer, Sharon Mignerey, along with Part One of an article she wrote on pitching your novel project. Today she's back sharing more tips on how to boil down your idea to a delectable, marketable, sound byte.

Feel free to post questions, comments, or your own tips on pitching.

And now, Part Two of "The Pitch . . . Formula or Free-for-all?"

Figure out what your story is about. According to Dwight Swain (Techniques of the Selling Writer) every story, no matter how complex, can be reduced to the following five elements: (1) a character in a (2) situation with an (3) objective he or she hopes to attain, an (4) opponent (villain or situation) who strives against your character, and (5) a possible catastrophe that can result. If you can reduce your story to these five elements using no more than two sentences, you’ll be a star. One common technique is to put the first three elements in a statement and pose the last two as a question…

Sharon Mignerey on Pitching Your Book

Image
Every writer out there needs to learn to pitch a project. Whether you're participating in a formal pitch session at a conference, asked what you're working on by an agent at a mixer, or on the phone with your editor when she says, "So tell me what you're writing next," you have to be able to boil down your idea into something concise, appealing, and hopefully marketable. Even if you're not great at thinking on your feet, a well-written nugget can be tucked into a query letter or an e-mail and used to great effect.

Recently, author Sharon Mignerey, who's also an amazing writing teacher, wrote an article so terrific on the topic for the Happily Ever After, the newsletter of the West Houston Chapter of the Romance Writers of America, that I asked for her permission to reprint it here, in two parts. She'll also be stopping by the blog the next two days to answer your questions on the topic.

The Pitch . . . Formula or Free-for-all?
by Sharon Mignerey

You’re …

Happy Mother's Day (from Child #5)

Image
My five sibs and I grew up in an immaculately kept house, surrounded by music, books, art, and encouragement. All six of us have gone on to lead extraordinary lives, each of which in some way mirrors our mother, Lois Lonnquist. She can play (and I mean really play, with or without sheet music) any stringed instrument, including the piano and was always able to ramp cash by playing gigs, first with her dad in the bars around the WPA project where he worked, later with my dad (who looks a bit like Orlando Bloom in this picture, doesn't he?), and eventually with all the little Lonnquists in tow. When I was little, she got her pilot's license to fly the two-seat Aronca Champ she and Dad bought so they could take aerial photos, which Mom developed in an old school dark room in our basement. (And yes, The Dakota Ramblers are still married, Dad being hardy enough to stay married to an artist and smart enough to know how lucky he is.)

When I was in high school, Mom went to college (hav…

Secrets and memories (a conversation with "Annie's Ghosts" author Steve Luxenberg)

Image
"Part memoir, part detective story, part history," Steve Luxenberg's riveting memoir Annie’s Ghosts is the story of a journalist's search for his own hidden family history. (Read more about it on the Friday edition of BtO and click here to read the prologue.) The book is out in hardcover from Hyperion this week, buzz is healthy, and Luxenberg is making the rounds...

Steve, I was really taken with this book, and I appreciate your taking the time to pay us a visit. I have my theories about the healing properties and “cosmic cartography” of memoirs. Was it just the journalist in you that couldn't resist the secret your mother had so painstakingly kept or is something larger at the heart of this memoir?
There's a personal journey involved in any memoir, and there's one in mine as well. I wanted to apply the discipline of journalism to ferret out the reasons why my mom kept hidden the existence of a disabled sister, a secret she kept for more than more than 50, …

The truth will out (Steve Luxenberg's "Annie's Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret")

Image
Journalist Steve Luxenberg has worked for more than 30 years as a newspaper editor and reporter. In 1991, he succeeded Bob Woodward as head of the investigative staff at the Washington Post, shepherding reporters through several major reporting awards, including two Pulitzers. He's spent his life excavating facts and assembling stories, but in 1995, he opened a trap door in his own family history and was confronted with an impossibly compelling mystery.

"The secret emerged, without warning or provocation, on an ordinary April afternoon in 1995," Luxenberg says in the prologue to Annie's Ghosts. "Secrets, I’ve discovered, have a way of working themselves free of their keepers."

His mother, Beth Luxenberg, had always made a point of identifying herself as an only child, but approaching eighty and in fragile health, she mentioned to her doctor that she had a "disabled" sister who'd been institutionalized as a toddler. Beth claimed to know nothing o…

Jennifer Ashley Book Drawing Winner

Commenter #1, Willa,
Your name was drawn as the winner of Jennifer Ashley's drawing for a free backlist book (choose from among those written under any of her names.)

Please e-mail me at colleen@colleen-thompson.com for more information.

Thanks to everyone who commented!

"Editing Letter" (Debut novelist Lara Zielin's karaoke of creative angst)

I don't know where Colleen comes up with this stuff, but she flipped it to me and I had to pass it along...

"Lara Zielin's agony and ecstasy as she edits her debut novel, DONUT DAYS."



Click here to pay Lara a visit and look for Donut Days in bookstores this August.

Jennifer Ashley on Breaking New Ground

Image
Every once in a long while, a genre book grabs the reader by the throat and gives her a good shake by standing some convention on its ear. In The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie, Rita®-winning USA Today bestseller Jennifer Ashley breaks new ground with a hero who suffers symptoms consistent with Asperger’s Syndome, a serious disability that afflicts him with rages, difficulty understanding "normal" emotion, and a profound aversion to eye contact.

I absolutely loved this book — and immediately knew it would make a big splash in the historical romance world, so I asked (insert arm-twisting sound effects here) Jennifer if she’d be willing to take time from her very busy schedule and answer a few questions.

BtO: Jennifer, welcome to the blog, and congratulations on the outstanding work and wonderful buzz this book has gotten (from stellar Publisher’s Weekly and Romantic Times reviews to its own fan group on Twitter!)

First question for you: When you started developing this book, d…

Learning from Failure

Image
We've all heard them, those myriad platitudes that tell you if you just hang in there, you will make it. The ones that say the only difference between success and failure is the persistence to make one more submission.

This appeals to our inner sense of justice, to the idea that working hard will always eventually be rewarded. Unfortunately, the universe doesn't consistently play fair. So while hanging in there is commendable, a surer route to success in publishing involves what I call "hanging in smart."

In other words, you have to have the sense to recognize when something isn't working and you need a course correction. Often this involves steep learning curves, plenty of false starts, and the occasional all-out failure. But generally, if you simply continue on the same unsuccessful course, even with some refinements, you're likely to experience the same results.

So let's say you've been sweating out, submitting, and studying the craft of poems and sho…