Posts

Showing posts from June, 2009

Author/Reviewer Death Match Round 2: deBotton v Crain

Image
Must be the heat.

Alain de Botton (author of The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work to Caleb Crain (NYT Review of Books): "I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make. I will be watching with interest and schadenfreude."

Old: "I never read reviews."

New: "You won't like me when I'm angry."

Can't we all just get along? (Alice in Blunderland and a Few Simple Rules for a happier publishing community)

Image
The publishing world was all a-twitter yesterday with gossip, bloggery, and a rush to judgment about the weekend meltdown of venerable bestselling author Alice Hoffman.

Just the facts, ma'am:
Sunday, the Boston Globe published Roberta Silman's review of Hoffman's new novel The Story Sisters.

Later in the day, Hoffman posted this response on Twitter:

A flurry of blah blah blah ensued, and Hoffman eventually posted this:

And that's why she's now being thrown into the volcano all over the internet.

First of all, the phone number was incorrect and Silman herself said there was no harm done. And one thing Alice and I agree on:

I think it would have been fine to post the number of the Boston Globe and the email posted with her public profile. Proffering an already public contact for a newspaper that "welcomes your opinion" would have been perfectly acceptable. Sadly, this looks like a personal email address, and twittering another writer's private contact info is…

About the C-word...and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's "The Thing Around Your Neck"

Image
Yeah, that's right. I'm gonna say it. Right out loud. The C-word:

Commercial.

I was just having a moment here, appreciating the shift in sensibilities I see in the Houston Chronicle's book coverage. I was optimistic when I saw Maggie Galehouse had been anointed book editor earlier this year, and (while I wish, oh, how I wish there was more book coverage, and I wish, oh, wish there was a modicum of local and regional author love) sure enough, the Chron's book coverage is better than it has been in a long, long time for the simple reason that it features books people actually read. Books that are -- gasp! choke! cough! -- commercial. They sell. People buy and read them, and not just because they're forced to order it for the author's 400 level nonfiction course.

A lot of the content in the Chron's book coverage is imported now. Sad for reviewers making their way through grad school forty bucks at a time trashing the literary debuts of the unlucky innocent; good …

Greetings from "Down the Shore"

Image
Thanks so much to Joni for carrying the load at BtO while I'm hanging out on the East Coast visiting my family and recharging my batteries. Husband Fireman Mike and I are having a ball "down the shore" in Ocean City, NJ (best boardwalk ever), eating way too much wonderful junk food, and soaking in the cool ocean breezes.

But Mike better watch himself. I've met a new summer love...

Have a great week, and try to keep cool, Houston contingent!

"When I want to be a director, I write a novel." (John Irving on the craft of fiction)

The best 73 seconds of craft advice you're ever going to get.

American icons

Image
i-connoun a picture, image, or other representation of some sacred personage; a representation that stands for its object by virtue of analogy to it.

I'm not sure what these two particular icons say about our culture or who Americans are as a society, but I'll tell you this. It doesn't make me feel bad. I'm part of that non-generation born between Baby Boom and Gen Ex. Too late for Woodstock, too early for Nirvana. We gave the world feathered bangs, jeweltone blazers with shoulder pads, and the moonwalk. And the rest of you are just jealous that we had so much fun.

Go with God, Farrah and Michael.

Are you webervescent?

Image
Ten years ago, at BookExpo '99 in LA, I was chatting with a well-known bestselling women's fiction author I admired, and we were both all excited because we'd just gotten -- dun-da-da-DAAAH! -- email. This was the creeping slow dial-up web of yesteryear, but we thought it was Star Trek and agreed that it was going to revolutionize the process for writers, editors, agents, and everyone else associated with the making and selling of books.

"My only worry," she said, "is that it'll be like 'video killed the radio star.' Now in addition to writing books, we'll be expected to look nice on screen."

Little did we know...

Website is totally last century. These days, authors are expected to have a "web presence." The problem is, social networking, twittering, facebooking, blogging, etc end up sucking us in and killing a lot of typing time. I have in me only just so many keystrokes per day. How best to use them?

Yen over at the Book Publicit…

BURN THIS BOOK: PEN Writers Speak Out on the Power of the Word

Image
No time to wax poetic today, but I did want to post about this important book. Ripping straight from their press kit:
BURN THIS BOOK was born out of a speech last April that Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison gave at the PEN International Festival dinner. Morrison observed that night, "A writer's life and work are not a gift to mankind; they are its necessity." As she paid tribute to the difficulties and challenges writers face in many parts of the world, she also reflected on the steep price we all pay when voices are silenced. This powerful, incantatory talk sparked a notion for a book of essays that would explore the issue and impact of censorship in the world.

Published in conjunction with the PEN American Center, Toni Morrison's speech now opens this collection of extraordinary voices from around the world: John Updike (in one of his final pieces), David Grossman, Francine Prose, Pico Iyer, Russell Banks, Paul Auster, Orhan Pamuk, Salman Rushdie, Ed Park, and Nadine…

Higher Ground

Envision your literary agent in the Maori war paint. If publishing could dance right now, this is what it would look like. All biz with primal drive and a whole lotta soul, the perilous balance of funk and precision. Keep on striving for that higher ground, friends. (Thanks to my hip kid Jerusha for making me look at this amazing piece of choreography by Mia Michaels.)

Gotta have friends (Sheila Curran shares the backstory on "Everyone She Loved")

Image
Jodi Picoult on Sheila Curran's latest novel, Everyone She Loved: “Filled with characters who make you laugh out loud even as they break your heart, this is a funny, warm, inventive, original book.” (Sweet blurb from the undisputed diva of women's fiction. Go, Sheila!) Everyone She Loved is fresh out in the world this week, and the set up is intriguing.

From the flap:
Penelope Cameron, loving mother, devoted wife and generous philanthropist, has convinced her husband and four closest friends to sign an outlandish pact. If Penelope should die before her two daughters are eighteen, her husband will not remarry without the permission of Penelope’s sister and three college roommates. For years, this contract gathers dust until the unthinkable happens. Suddenly, everyone she loved must find their way in a world without Penelope.
Make one wonder...and anticipating that, Sheila shares this backstory on the origins of her latest novel:
Books are born in strange places. This one was con…

Happy Father's Day, Dad!

Image
Just had to shout out to my awesome dad, Del Lonnquist, who worked his way through broadcasting school (and teenage fatherhood) cleaning windows on skyscrapers in Minneapolis and Saint Paul. He's always been a man of amazing vision. And high aspirations. I love you, Dad.

Character Theme Songs

I love theme songs, and at a tender young age, I decided that if Princess Leia, Shaft, James Bond, and... heck, even Gilligan could have one, so could I (Voco's cover of the Jr. Walker classic "Cleo's Back" was my choice at the time, since I sometimes went by the nickname Cleo. I still wish I were half as cool as that song.)



Since that time, many of my books' characters have had their own personal theme songs. From HEAT LIGHTNING, community crusader Luz Maria Montoya rocked to Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down." As I wrote another heroine from an upcoming book, I repeatedly played Tracy Chapman's "Change" because the lyrics represented the character's journey so beautifully.

The cool thing is, even years and years after I've written a manuscript (and I'm including a small mountain of unpublished work here), whenever I hear a song I've come to associate with a particular character, I'm instantly snapped back to that i…

Come Celebrate "Beneath Bone Lake"

Don't forget the release party for Colleen Thompson's chillah thrillah Beneath Bone Lake and Christie Craig's Gotcha! this afternoon from 2-4 at Read It Again, Breaswood Square in Houston. Grownup beverages, fajitas, and a guaranteed good read.

Writers get revenge in Terry Griggs' "Thought You Were Dead"

To celebrate the launch of Terry Griggs’s Thought You Were Dead, Seen Reading and Biblioasis schemed to unleash the murder they suspect is lurking in the dark little heart of every writer. Click here to view the top submissions to their Revenge-Lit contest.

Here's the baffling book trailer, followed by flap copy for those of us who are left in a fog. (Those exotic Canadians, you know...)

Terry Griggs's Thought You Were Dead book trailer (take 2) from Biblioasis Press on Vimeo.
"Meet the Perfect Man...no, no, he's not the hero of "Thought You Were Dead". That would be Chellis Beith, literary researcher, slacker, reluctant detective, and a man bedevilled by every woman in his life. There's his lost love, Elaine Champion, a now happily married inventor who uses him for market research, his best friend's dotty ex-wife, Moe, his two vanished mothers, and his menacing boss, Athena Havlock, a celebrated writer who herself becomes embroiled in the dark side of …

Kids in Fiction, Redux

Image
The link I originally put up to this blog post, originally written for the Emily Bryan blog, was bad, so I thought I'd repost here.

As a reader and a writer, I’ve found children in books to be a pretty dicey proposition. Nothing nauseates me like an overly-precious or disgustingly-precocious kiddo sapping up the pages. Seriously. And throw in a lisp or baby-talk, and You Have Now Entered the Wall-Banger Zone.

As both a mom and a former teacher, I appreciate children as they really are, complete with the tendency to pinball from annoying (PING!) to adorable (PING-PING) to hysterical (both the HA-HA and the WAHHH kind!) in an instant. As a result, I work hard to depict them that way, as I did with the heroine’s four-year-old daughter, Zoe, in Beneath Bone Lake.

But I write pretty intense romantic suspense, and the premise of this story, which involves a young widow returning from Iraq only to find her family missing, her house in flames, and her life turned upside down by a caller who …

The sole of wit (Tolstoy's delicious "Alyosha the Pot")

Image
Something about short forms in the water this week. Colleen's working on a novella, Harlan Ellison's Angry Candy is on my nightstand, my son turned me on to flash fiction, and a friend just sent me a link to "Alyosha the Pot" by Leo Tolstoy, one of the short stories in a collection called Family Happiness, freshly reminted by Harper Perennial.
Alyosha was a younger brother. He was nicknamed “the Pot”, because once, when his mother sent him with a pot of milk for the deacon's wife, he stumbled and broke it. His mother thrashed him soundly, and the children in the village began to tease him, calling him “the Pot”. Alyosha the Pot: and this is how he got his nickname.

Alyosha was a skinny little fellow, lop-eared – his ears stuck out like wings – and with a large nose. The children always teased him about this, too, saying, “Alyosha has a nose like a gourd on a pole.”
Read the entire short but unbearably sweet story here at the Globe and Mail.

Tom Folsom on Daily Show with "The Mad Ones"

I've already snagged the book I'm giving Malachi for his birthday next month. (Even better he'll be reading it on a flight to Tel Aviv.) Blogged about it here and caught the author last night on Daily Show.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10cTom Folsomwww.thedailyshow.comDaily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJason Jones in Iran

Get your daily flash of SciFi at 365tomorrows

Image
My son Malachi recently turned me on to 365tomorrows, a cool site that offers a surgically precise little bit of flash fiction every day. "What is flash fiction?" you ask. Kathy Kachelries, brain-mama of 365tomorrows, answers:
“The most concise and widely-cited example of flash fiction is the story Ernest Hemingway penned, allegedly to settle a bar bet: “For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.” Despite the limitations of its length, this story, framed as an advertisement, satisfies all of the requirements of a short story: protagonist, conflict, and resolution..."
Of course, some of the daily flash pieces ain't exactly Hemingway, but the idea of flash fiction as a writing exercise intrigues me, and some of the pieces are perfectly...perfect. Like eating a single capsule of Good'n'Plenty. My favorite so far is "Oates" by Ian Rennie...
I don’t want to do this any more.

It’s cold, and we’re all hungry. I knew it would be like this, but that’s the difference bet…

Kids in Fiction

Image
Have you ever wanted to hurl reading about overly-precocious kids in fiction -- or cringed during a scene depicting harsh violence against children? Over at the Emily Bryan blog today, I'm yakking about the Danger Zone of writing kids in fiction. Giving away a free signed copy to a commenter as well.

Please stop by and say hi.

Quote of the Week: Ferber on the Love of Writing

Image
Life can't ever really defeat a writer who is in love with writing, for life itself is a writer's lover until death - fascinating, cruel, lavish, warm, cold, treacherous, constant. ~Edna Ferber, A Kind of Magic, 1963

Pictured, another treacherous lover, Mata Hari.

Getting Your Teeth into Your Work

Image
When I was a preteen, I had this dental problem with my premolars and molars coming in before my baby teeth were kind enough to get out of the way. While the babies were still firmly rooted, the new teeth pushed through. Right through, splitting several of the babies in half, where they eventually came out in fragments.

I feel a bit like that now, as a work on one project while another thrusts its way toward the surface. "Hold on!" I try to tell it. "Wait until I get this other guy out of your way!" But the new idea is so strong, so determined and exciting, it threaten to shatter my concentration on the current work in progress.

One way I've found to deal with this kind of distraction is in the creation of a "future file," where I speed-write a few notes and tuck them away to be sure I won't forget them. Only then will the "new teeth" quit aching and give me the peace I need to give my full attention to the toughest part of writing -- the …

Tolstoy to publishing hierarchy: "Take out your own chamber pot."

Feeling revolutionary? Broadway's Bruce Kuhn interprets Tolstoy.

Must-Haves for the Selling Romance Synopsis

I'm blogging on the topic today for Mid-Williamette Valley RWA. If you've ever wondered what oft-forgotten attributes are an absolute must for your synopsis, stop by and check it out.

Continuing my Quest for the Jest

Determined to make it through David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest this summer, I've been keeping an eye on the Infinite Summer blog. (Scroll down our "Feed Me" bar on the right for updates.) This week, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt editor Matt Bucher answers the question,"Why read Infinite Jest?"
"...A persistent theme of the novel is the struggle to sincerely connect with the world. In the process of describing this struggle, Wallace ends up building a connection, a trust, with the reader. ...Infinite Jest is my desert-island book, a book that I could not wring all the pleasure from if I squeezed for a century."
Check it out. And there's also this...DFW on the occasional failure of words and other upside-down triumphs of the writing life.

It was probably the penguin (Tim Maleeny is at Murder By the Book tonight)

Image
Last year I went through one of my favorite fiction reading phases of all time: hard boiled detective stories. I visited the old school masters like Hammett and Cain and asked around for contemporary recommendations. One of the books that came my way via a young man who chatted me up on an airplane was Tim Maleeny's Stealing the Dragon, which Lee Childs blurbed as "the perfect thriller debut." I liked it enough to check out a couple of his short stories, including "Death Do Us Part", the title story he wrote for an anthology edited by Harlan Coben.

Tonight, Maleeny is at Murder By the Book in Houston, signing his latest, Jump. PW says, "We're firmly on darkly comic terra Hiaasen. Fast-paced and funny, this is a perfectly blended cocktail of escapism, with or without the beach towel."

Chapter One, which you can read on Maleeny's website, begins:
The scream tore through the building like a pregnant nun on her way to confession. It bounced off the w…

Secret Ambitions

Image
Do you have a secret writing ambition? Something you'd do in a minute if you could clone yourself or the opportunity rang you up on the phone? (Unfortunately, ambitions rarely if ever do this unless you're a big celebrity. Even secret ambitions require hard work in the real world.)

Okay, here's mine. I'd absolutely love to write for a cable TV drama, because that's where I think some of the best writing around has been taking place these last few years. Some of my nominees: the late, great Battlestar Galactica, Dexter, and my new favorite, Breaking Bad. (Thanks to Joni and my sister, Connie, for the fantastic recommendation.) Not to mention the prematurely canceled Firefly (though I may never forgive Josh Whedon for killing off my favorite characters in the movie version, Serenity.) I've been impressed as can be by the way the writers craft an addictive, overarching story out of episodes that have a compelling plot arc of their own. Strong story questions all bu…

Cancer Survivor's Bookshelf (recommended reading for phoenixes and the people who love them)

Image
Sunday, I spoke at a National Cancer Survivor's Day event in Danbury CT, a beautifully organized and well-attended event that was a pure pleasure. Usually, I keynote conferences designed to educate cancer patients, families, onco nurses, social workers, and other care providers. I'm brought in as the proverbial spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down; after my morning message, the day is filled with endless statistical lectures, where oncologists attempt to predict the future, and scary PowerPoint pie charts, where survivors sit there willing themselves to cling to the thinning slice of "lived to tell about it." Sunday's event had just one purpose: celebrate life. We came together to relish the fact that whatever happens in the future, we're alive now, and life is beautiful. Which isn't to say that education doesn't happen. Cancer survivors and caregivers quickly learn to network more effectively than college kids planning an off-site kegger…

Three Chances for Free Books Plus Lunchreads Special!

Image
Today, I'm blogging on atmospherics over at the Romance Book Club. To win a free, autographed copy of any of my backlist titles, please follow the link and leave a note about your favorite book settings (feel free to mention the books and authors that go with them) and don’t forget to leave your e-mail so I can contact you if you’re one of my three winners.

Also, I wanted to give a huge shout-out to BtO reader Jenny Milchman, who's two-part suspense story, "Gone" is featured over at this amazing blog called Lunch Reads, which describes itself as "a blog dedicated to short fiction you can read on your lunch hour. Lunch Reads stories will come in all genres but will be brief yarns designed to entertain, enlighten and/or uplift. One a day will be posted, Monday through Friday."

I loved Jenny's story of a missing husband and a "perfect" marriage than might not be. Beautifully written and engrossing, it reads like the love child of a Harlan Coben nov…

Essential Optimism

Image
Yesterday, I watched the televised running of the Belmont Stakes, where an 11-1 colt who'd run a disappointing sixth in the Derby and hadn't even raced as a two-year-old slipped in to steal the lead. And I got to thinking how similar horse racing must be to writing, where we continually pin our hopes on the next shot instead of looking back on past defeats.

If you're by nature negative, both racing and writing are endeavors that will eat you alive. They're rife with rejection, disappointment, and unfair breaks, and criticism is often both unkind and public. Both career paths are riddled with the bodies of the talented and deserving.

And yet, for many of us, our chosen calling is a glittering path of hope. A pattern of belief that the nextrun will be special, the next
venue the lens that focuses our talent to a beam so pure and perfect, the effort will be distilled into pure light. Victory will surely follow, or at least a showing that proves us as a contender.

Some might …

Beat the Heat Low Tech Style

Image
We had a pretty good run, my Targus Laptop Chill Pad and I. Every time the weather turned hot (which is about 90% of the time here in the Houston area) I dragged the thing out, plugged its USB cable into my laptop, and voila! No more melting thighs.

It was that USB cable that led to its demise. I kept snagging the darned loop of it on things or forgetting I had the chiller plugged in and picking up only the laptop, so I ended up dragging and bashing the poor thing up against various lamp tables, etc. Honestly, I've been surprised that those poor little rinky-dink little fans and cheap plastic survived my abuse as long as they did.

But two weeks ago, the thing died, and since tolerating this laptop's heat all summer was unthinkable, I set about looking for a sturdier replacement. I found it in the Belkin CushTop Notebook Stand, a nifty little solution with no wires to snag or electronic components to break down. It's comfortable in my lap, provides a stable, nonslip perch fo…

AbeBooks top 20 tales of shattered childhood (Now go call your mother!)

Image
Just in time for Father's Day! If you need to be reminded that your childhood wasn't actually all that bad, AbeBooks offers the most depressing summer reading list ever:
"In many ways, our childhood defines the rest of our life. Books about childhoods shattered by pain and suffering – both fiction and non–fiction – are commonplace today but they have a long history dating back to the English tale of the Babes in the Wood in the 16th century. Some like Oliver Twist and Anne Frank's Diary illustrate a period of history, while others, such as Lord of the Flies and I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, have become deeply symbolic."
The list includes everything from classic genre fiction like Flowers in the Attic to big bucks contemporary memoirs like A Long Way Gone and Running With Scissors, my personal favorite being Ham on Rye, Charles Bukowski's strangely wonderful roman a clef of ass-kickings and acne. Great book. Check it out.

Stop by The Chatelaines & Win

Image
Today I'm hanging out over at The Chatelaines blog, where author Jennifer Ashley's interviewed me about Beneath Bone Lake, Triple Exposure, and my fascination with Lone Star settings, from Caddo Lake and the Hill Country to Marfa with its mystery lights.

I'd love to see some familiar names and friendly faces, and I'll be giving away a signed copy of Triple Exposure to one lucky commenter.

Today's photo of Caddo Lake is by E. Joseph Deering at the Houston Chronicle. Beautiful, isn't it?

Spend an Infinite Summer exploring the twisty delish maze that is DFW's "Infinite Jest"

Image
It's one of those books the literati have all read, intend to read, or lie about. David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest.

"You’ve been meaning to do it for over a decade," says the Infinite Summer website. "Now join endurance bibliophiles from around the web as we tackle and comment upon David Foster Wallace’s masterwork over the summer of 2009. The festivities begin on June 21st and run through September 22nd." (This breaks out to an infinitely doable 75 pgs/week.)

As heinously overscheduled as I am this summer, I can't resist. I'm in. I've already received the hefty tome from Amazon, and I'm ready to make a fourth and final attempt on Wallace's wildly creative, way too long, impossible to synopsize, suck your head inside out book about...lots of...aboutness.

From Doris Lynch's review in Library Journal:
Wallace's second novel is not for the faint-hearted or the weak-wristed. Wallace (The Girl with Curious Hair, LJ 7/89) throws every…

Emily Bryan's Stroke of Genius Contest

Thought I'd pass along some info for a cool new contest from my buddy, historical romance author Emily Bryan. Check it out!


Want to see your name on the acknowledgment page of Emily Bryan's next book? Here's your chance! Emily is giving her readers an opportunity to name an important secondary character in her upcoming STROKE OF GENIUS. The winner will receive signed copies of Emily Bryan's entire backlist (including A CHRISTMAS BALL anthology, due out Sept 29th). PLUS you'll be mentioned on the acknowledgment page of STROKE OF GENIUS. The contest begins June 1st and entries close July 1st. For more information, visit www.emilybryan.com.

Get the Stroke Of Genius widget and many other great free widgets at Widgetbox!

Love, forgetting, and raspberry language souffle (a conversation with novelist Emily St. John Mandel)

Image
Back in February, I received an advance copy of Emily St. John Mandel's gorgeous debut novel, Last Night in Montreal, "a story of love, amnesia, compulsive travel." Driven by a disturbing void where her childhood memories should be, Lilia Albert spends her life abandoning one identity after another. It's a great premise, and Emily St. John Mandel completely delivered the goods in terms of craft. I won't deny it. I gushed.
I can't help it; I am about to utter the hacky cliche of all book recommendations: I couldn't put it down. The words "pleasure reading" hardly begin to describe it. This was somewhere between a spa treatment and mid-day lovemaking. It's a mystery and a love story, a twisting path through the heart and mind of a richly drawn character.
The lovely writing and engaging characters in this book haunted me for weeks, and I love it when that happens. This week, Last Night in Montrealofficially hits the shelves, and I hope this terri…

Check Out Colleen's "Big Thrill" and Win

Recently, Colleen sat down with author Cathy Clamp for an interview for this month's "Big Thrill," the webzine of the International Thriller Writers, where the two talked about Beneath Bone Lake's surprising origins.

In a plot ripped out of the daily newspapers, Colleen Thompson delivers yet another thriller that's sure to grab readers by the throat and set their hearts racing. But this book will also pull emotions out of them that they didn't expect. Contributing editor Cathy Clamp sat down with the author and found out how the story came about.

You've made this a timely book with a heroine returning from a war zone. Do you have anyone in your life that's serving overseas, or how did you create the reactions you've given the heroine?

Coming through the Houston airport one day, I was privileged to witness the emotional reunion of a returning soldier with his family, complete with balloons and banners, hugs and tears, and a crowd of onlookers spontane…