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Showing posts from August, 2009

Let's Pause for a Moment of Clarity (the good, the bad, and the BS a la "Entourage")

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"Entourage" is (in a bright and hilarious nutshell) all the reasons I don't aspire to live in LA, but last night's ep featuring screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (as himself) and that guy who shall forever be the Nihilist from The Big Lebowski (as an overzealous security guard) inspired a moment of clarity about the under-appreciated benevolent side of BS and the over-arcing truth that keeps creative industry alive on both coasts.

[###SPOILER ALERT###]
Hardcore "Entourage" fans, please be advised I'm going to mention something that happens late in the script of Season 6, Ep 8 "The Sorkin Notes." You've been warned. No whining. (Also note that the video clip below is not work safe.)

The Sorkin storyline revolves around an uber-important meeting for which Andrew (played ridiculously well by Gary Cole) must retrieve crucial notes from the angry grasp of his estranged wife. As his personal life and career simultaneously circle the drain, Andrew takes ext…

Sunday Fun: Inkygirl's Unhappy Muse

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So what sort of snackage does your muse demand? Is is chocolate, cashews, Diet Coke, or Jelly Bellys (one of my muse's personal favorites)? Do you run on caffeine or Jim Beam while writing?

If you haven't checked it out yet, be sure to visit Inkygirl.com for more of her fun, writer-themed comics. Or follow her on Twitter at @inkyelbows

National Book Awards @ 60

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Just added the National Book Foundation's Book-a-Day blog to our feed on the right. From their website:
To celebrate the 60th year of the National Book Awards, the National Book Foundation will present a book-a-day blog on the Fiction winners from 1950 to 2008.

The blog will run from July 7th to September 21st, starting with Nelson Algren’s The Man With the Golden Arm, ending with Peter Matthiessen’s Shadow Country, and including works by Ralph Ellison, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, and Alice McDermott. Discover lesser known but equally talented National Book Award Fiction Winners such as Conrad Richter, Wright Morris, and Robb Forman Dew. Then return here, on September 21st, you will have a chance to select The Best of the National Book Awards Fiction and win two tickets to the 2009 National Book Awards, the first time in its history the Awards will open to a public vote.

Visit every day for the next 77 days, and get your copies of these American classic…

The Trigger-Happy Writer

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I suspect most of us have done it, gotten so excited about an idea that we've killed its chances by presenting it before it's had the chance to fully develop. We might talk it to tell with a spouse or critique partners, show a clumsily-sketched thumbnail to an agent, or pitch prematurely to an editor. Or we might rush a proposal or even a full manuscript to submissions before it's been properly vetted and honed to sleek perfection.

Caught up in our enthusiasm, we squander the magic and give away our fire. I know, I've been very guilty of this on more than one occasion. Very recently, in fact.

Yet there's a balance to be sought. At times, it's very helpful to consult with touchstones who can offer bits of wisdom to help you shape the emerging story. And you can certainly err on the side of playing things too close to the vest and failing to allow the light in, or holding onto material so tightly that you never actually manage to get your work submitted.

Since I ten…

After the Party (Go with God, Dominick Dunne.)

Mark Twain on the particulars of the general readership

From Who is Mark Twain?, a collection of 24 previously unpublished essays.

Woo, hoo! Free Resource on Writing Queries

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Here's a heads up for everyone out wandering the barren wastes of query-land. Literary agent Noah Lukeman, author of The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying out of the Rejection Pile and other helpful writers' resources, is offering the 75-page How to Write a Great Query Letter as a free download!

The Amazon customer reviews are terrific, so snap up this freebie while it's available. And if you enjoy it, be sure to consider buying one of Lukeman's terrific books on writing.

Here's what Amazon has to say:

Noah Lukeman is author of the bestselling The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile (Simon & Schuster, 1999); of the bestselling The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life (St Martin's Press, 2002), a BookSense 76 Selection, a Publishers Weekly Daily pick, and a selection of the Writers Digest Book Club; and of A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation (WW Norton, 2006). His books are alread…

Back to school (one writer's education and a few good resources for lifelong learning)

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My kids both started the new semester today. Of course, now that they're in college the first day of school thrill isn't quite what it used to be. Not sure they'd appreciate me showing up to videotape them marching in the front door. They're not here to pose for pictures with their shiny new lunch boxes. I did get a couple of text messages. ((sigh))

What is thrilling to me is that they're now beyond my highest level of education. I screwed up my opportunity to finish my degree when I was their age. I planned to go back to college the year my daughter started kindergarten but ended up going to chemo instead. A very different sort of education ensued. I don't recommend it, but I'd have to say it's served me well. Blasphemous as this may be, in my heart of hearts, I think a creative writing degree is the worst thing a person can do to prepare for a career as a writer. The best education for writers (in my humble opinion): a degree in anything else -- seriou…

You Had Me at Hell, No:A Writer's Guide to Boundaries

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In a desperate bid to avoid work the other day, I was reading an article on 10 Things You Shouldn't Do in Job Interviews when I noticed that the number one warning was not to smile too much.

After thinking about it, I agree that excessive smiling can convey the image of neediness, subservience, and desperation. Just as single folks most often run from members of the opposite sex who come off as neurotically eager for approval and a quick commitment, prospective agents, editors, and others in the business of writing can be turned off by an author whose bargaining position is on her knees.

I'm not advocating behaving like a diva (believe me), but neither should you play the doormat by caving to every demand, no matter how outrageous (beat me! whip me! make me write bad checks!) or putting on the please-sir-may-I-have-some-more face when you're negotiating contracts or other terms of business. Because you are a business, bringing a product to the table that others need and wa…

A Loving Observer (the photography of Eudora Welty)

Oh, Behaaave, You Characters!

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We novelists may not be control freaks in their everyday lives, but when it comes to our fiction, watch out! We create whole worlds of characters to boss around, casts of characters to set down inside a maze we've not only laid out for them but stocked with pitfalls, bombs, and monsters.

And then we make these characters behave exactly as we like.

Right...

I doesn't quite work that way. Because if you're created fully-realized "people," they're going to have their own, very definite opinions on how they'll behave. And they're going to develop (at least at your unconscious level) their own thoughts about and relationships with the other characters who populate the story. Once in a while, they'll even tap you on the shoulder and inform you there's a new character just around the corner emerging without so much as a by-your-leave, a "person" that the character you've come up with knows or loves or hates.

Your job, as the author, is to …

In space and in story, there's no such thing as nothing

Gary and I were quite taken with this little piece about the Hubble telescope's observations in deep space. I couldn't help thinking about how this applies to the evolution of story. You open your eyes, allow the light to come in, and the possibilities are infinite.

Backstory Breadcrumbs

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Joni's post yesterday (and the lovely Edna St. Vincent Millay poem used as an example) got me thinking of my own theory of backstory, or the setup explaining all that came before the start of any narrative.

It's critically important to begin a story with some conflict, action, inciting incident, or at the very least, a hint of tension. (One of the most common flaws of manuscripts is having pages and pages of dull and static set-up, where a character basically sits around thinking of how he/she came to be at this point.) To really pull your reader in, start dropping your breadcrumbs - tantalizing little hints of something really intriguing, yet mostly shrouded in mystery (though it doesn't have to be a deep, dark mystery) in the background of the unfolding story. The breadcrumbs are there to raise questions, but you don't want to answer them too quickly -- not unless you've dropped an even tastier tidbit farther along the trail.

Suspense builds in the space between th…

Come up and see me some time (Edna's visit to the nuthouse = great lesson on backstory)

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I was trying to express the concept of backstory to someone the other day: what needs to be told and what needs to be left unsaid, fully known to the writer but barely glimpsed from the corner of the reader's eye -- and how to tell the difference. The best example I could come up with was this wonderful little poem.

"A Visit to the Asylum"
by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Once from a big, big building,
When I was small, small,
The queer folk in the windows
Would smile at me and call.

And in the hard wee gardens
Such pleasant men would hoe:
"Sir, may we touch the little girl's hair!"—
It was so red, you know.

They cut me coloured asters
With shears so sharp and neat,
They brought me grapes and plums and pears
And pretty cakes to eat.

And out of all the windows,
No matter where we went,
The merriest eyes would follow me
And make me compliment.

There were a thousand windows,
All latticed up and down.
And up to all the windows,
When we went back to town,

The queer folk put their faces,
As …

Tech Alert: Free Open Office Productivity Suite

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This past spring, I bought one of those cute little Acer Aspire netbooks for travel and those occasions where I want to work elsewhere but don't want to lug around my bulky, hot-as-the-sun, full-sized laptop. One of the first things I discovered was that the Cute Little Netbook didn't come with Microsoft Office, or even just Word. No problema, thought I. I own an older, perfectly legal copy of Word, so I'll install it. Trouble was, CLN has no disk drive.

So I ordered an external CD-ROM to better be able to install software. Wish I'd noticed before ordering that my disk was a DVD. Oh, well.

Next, I looked into buying yet another copy of Office (aside from the one I'd legally purchased and the one I legally purchased for my son's computer.) Silly me, I didn't want to pay Microsoft yet another $150 for the download. That's when I heard about Open Office Productivity Suite.

After hearing that I could A. legally download this open source program for FREE and B.…

Sometimes I just need a moment of meditation (or a very tall building)

I'm having one of those moments Emo Phillips was referring to when he said, "Some days it's just not worth chewing through the leather straps."

Peace be with us all.

Rant of the Moment: Eyes on Your Own Homework!

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I love helping people reach toward their dreams. Truly, I do, or I'd never judge another contest, do another writing workshop, or post again on this blog. Nearly everyone I deal with in this way is polite, appreciative, and encourages me to do more with their enthusiasm. But every now and then, I'm bothered by someone who expects me to do the heavy lifting for them, to hand over the keys to the kingdom, as if I keep a set in my back pocket. They e-mail for advice or cadge my home phone number out of my husband for a niece of a friend. And I spend time - often quite a bit - because I remember how it felt to be hungry, and it gives me great satisfication to toss a handful of seeds onto fertile soil.

But I admit, I run out of patience with those who feel entitled to a short cut. Because (here comes the hard part) there aren't any shortcuts. We all hate that, but it's true.

Everybody on this Earth comes equipped to daydream. We're made that way, and that's a Very Goo…

Chasing Sound (Go with God, Les Paul.)

In my earliest memories, I'm curled up in my dad's guitar case (yes, it was open!) listening to him riff on "The World is Waiting for the Sunrise." I learned about Les Paul in the same context as Beethoven or Mozart. He was...well, he was Les Paul. A great man, nice guy, insanely virtuosic guitarist, and brilliant inventor. One of the great artists who showed us how to live a healthy, hard-working artistic life. Go with God, Les.

Chasing Sound is an authorized film biography that chronicles Les Paul's extraordinary life and career including his partnership with his great love, Mary Ford, and the NY gigs he played right up until a few weeks ago.

Happy B-day, Alfred!

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Fellow author Amanda Stevens (love her suspense!) alerted me to the fact that today would have been Alfred Hitchcock's 110th birthday. In an ubercool non-marketing marketing move, Freixenet Champagne had Martin Scorsese produce this amazing short, Hitchcock-style. I absolutely loved it, but couldn't embed it here with good quality. To watch this short film (maybe about 8 minutes), follow the link. And be sure and stay tuned for the ending. Beautifully done... and pretty funny, too.

And in honor of the day, I give you one of my favorite Hitchcock quotes:

“Blondes make the best victims. They're like virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints.”

Pictured, favorite Hitchcock blonde, Tippi Hedren, from The Birds.

Never underestimate the power (Obama awards Ambassador Nancy Brinker the Medal of Freedom)

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Couldn't be more thrilled to see Ambassador Nancy Goodman Brinker receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom today. As founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Nancy was instrumental in bringing about a dramatic cultural, political, and scientific shift in the way breast cancer is perceived and treated, and the ripple effects from that have had an immeasurable impact on women's health care in America and around the world.

When Nancy's big sister Suzy was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1980, there were no support groups, pink ribbon races, or 800 numbers. Media refused to print the words "breast cancer." Treatment protocols were limited and brutal. Funding and awareness efforts were tepid. Before Suzy died, Nancy promised to change all that, and over the next twenty-five years, she built one of the world’s leading grassroots organizations.

Nancy pioneered the cause-marketing model that has become the gold standard for charitable fundraising, and awarded over a billi…

In Praise of Slow Cooking

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At times, there can be a lot of pressure to write novels quickly. Self-imposed pressure, for the most part, when authors, most of whom are in reality hyper-competitive little Hermione Granger Type A's, take a look around and see so many others zipping out three, four or even five or more books a year. Often, that's compounded by a look at our banks statements to create a lot of stress and such the joy from writing.

I have nothing but respect for authors who naturally produce a great volume of great work. From Louis L'Amour to Nora Roberts, there are a rare few who make it look easy and do it oh-so-well. What I'm trying to back away from is the idea that I need to compete on that particular field of battle, that pushing myself to blaze through projects ever-more-speedily is a bright idea. Because sometimes, it's slow cooking that brings out the richest flavors.

I'm not advocating taking three or six or more years on a project or blowing off your deadlines. In my c…

Hey! I hear exclamation points are back! (The Vegas showgirl of punctuation marks!)

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Interesting article from Stuart Jeffries in Guardian on "The Joy of Exclamation Marks!":
There is a town of 1,471 happy souls in Quebec called Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha!. The second "Ha!", amazingly, is part of the town's name, not my commentary on the first "Ha!". Unlike, for example, the Devon town of Westward Ho! Ho! There, the second "Ho!" is mine. Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! is the only town in the world whose name has two exclamation marks. It will remain so until Wolverhampton is renamed Wolverhampton!! to highlight its funky new Black Country vibe, which, all things considered, seems unlikely.
Jeffries goes on to chronicle the maligning of the poor exclamation point throughout the noble history of publishing, including F. Scott Fitzgerald's assertion that "an exclamation mark is like laughing at your own jokes."

But wait! That was then! This is now! OMG! The internet is here! And we're all free! free! free! to write like 14-yr-…

Free Summer Read from Colleen

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In honor of the season, I'm leading off a free summer read round robin story called CRIMSON SURF online at Romance in the Backseat. A romantic suspense short story set at my native Jersey shore, the story features Paramedic Andrea Whitaker, still devastated by her divorce from Police Chief Jake Boone in the wake of the murder that rocked Andrea's family the previous summer. But with the new beach season in full swing, a killer has returned... and this time he's targeting another lovely brunette, Andrea herself.

In the coming days, look for the next installment from Rita nominated author Joyce Lamb.

If you leave a comment on the site, I'll enter your name for a drawing to win an autographed signed book from my backlist.

I hope you'll enjoy this free special summer bonus read!

Christoph Rehage takes the longest way (and now you know what it feels like to write a memoir)

This is the blitz version of what I mean when I say a life story is told in moments...



Rehage's website seems to be kaput just now, but there was this on YouTube:
I never finished my original goal of walking to Germany. Instead, I walked for a year and roughly 4500km, passed the desert of Gobi, and then decided to stop walking for now. All of the distance from Beijing to Ürümqi has been completed solely on foot, straight good old walking. There are instances where you can see me in the video sitting on a plane or riding a boat, but those are during breaks I had to take from walking, either to sort out bureaucracy issues or to take care of some personal things.

I had been planning this trip for over a year before I even started, and getting as far as I got was an experience for which I am very grateful. Obtaining the necessary visa for a trip like this was not very easy, hence I had to go back to Beijing a few times to resolve some issues.

The songs I used in the video are 1) Zhu Fengb…

Weekly Quote: Thompson on Coming to Grips

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Ah, so this is it. The real reason so many of us write...


"One of the few ways I can almost be certain I'll understand something is by sitting down and writing about it. Because by forcing yourself to write about it and putting it down in words, you can't avoid having to come to grips with it. You might be wrong, but you have to think about it very intensely to write about it. So I use writing as a learning tool."
- Hunter S. Thompson

"It seemed a romantic business..." (F. Scott Fitzgerald on the rise and fall of a "literary man")

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In 1936, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote this in The Crack Up, a self-searching three-part series for Esquire.
Before I go on with this short history, let me make a general observation -- the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. This philosophy fitted on to my early adult life, when I saw the improbable, the implausible, often the “impossible,” come true. Life was something you dominated if you were any good. Life yielded easily to intelligence and effort, or to what proportion could be mustered of both. It seemed a romantic business to be a successful literary man -- you were not ever going to be as famous as a movie star but what note you had was probably longer-lived; you were never going to have the power of a man of strong political or religious convictions but you were…

Consider Your Deadline Merely a Suggestion? Consider This...

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According to the Leon Newfakn's New York Observer article yesterday, publishers are more frequently demanding the return of advances on late books. In some cases, it's because the book is really late. (We're talkin' years, folks, in some cases.) In other cases, maybe the publisher's overextended and simply trying to cut its losses on a book they suspect won't be a money-maker. (Boo! Hiss! Let 'em do a P&L - profit and loss statement - up front and take their chances, just as we are.)

To keep in the clear, be prompt whenever possible. If you see you're not going to be able to deliver on time, for heaven's sake, chat with your editor about this. Generally, there's a bit of wiggle room to play with. But two years (surprise!) doesn't cut it.

Any thoughts on this development?

A Rant on a Review

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I was thrilled to see this weekend that the Houston Chronicle book section chose to run Maureen Corrigan's Washington Post review of Nora Roberts' new romantic suspense novel, Black Hills. I'm a big fan of Roberts' hardcover romantic suspense, especially past winners such as Montana Sky, Angels Fall, and Northern Lights along with the futuristic police procedurals she writes as J.D. Robb. That's not to say I love all of Roberts books; I haven't, so I was eager to read the reviewer's opinion on this outing.

And more than that, I was thrilled to see a romantic suspense novel (the genre I write) seriously reviewed. Though newspapers occasionally deign to offer print space to reviews of mystery/suspense/thrillers, the other genres are treated like publishing's red-headed stepchildren... embarrassments that must be kept locked in the basement so they won't rot readers' brains.

My celebration didn't last long. Corrigan not only didn't like the …

The Universe is Calling (Are you screening or picking up?)

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An extraordinary thing happened to my mom on Friday, and it got me thinking about the tides and eddies of the universe.

It started as an ordinary annoyance: the phone and internet were on the fritz all day. Late in the afternoon, the service was back, but Mom and Dad realized they were inexplicably getting someone else's phone calls and this other party was getting theirs. The other party involved called and asked Mom to please make sure anyone who called was given the bollixed number.

Mom, being the Universal Mother Soul that she is, sensed this woman was upset over more than phone trouble.

"Are you all right?" she asked.

The woman was not all right. Her son, a young man in his 20s, had been diagnosed with lymphoma that afternoon and would be starting chemo this week. He has a 4-yr-old daughter, the woman said, and they didn't know what to tell her.

"My daughter was diagnosed with lymphoma when her daughter was five," said Mom. "She's still alive. She…

You'll Laugh, You'll Wince... You Might Even Recognize Yourself Here

I was bopping around the web checking out Dorchester Editor Leah Hultenschmidt's Romantic Reads blog when I came across this book teaser video for Bill Folman's political satire, The Scandal Plan. I probably would've passed on a ten-minute teaser, but Leah said it was hilarious, so I clicked... and laughed my head off.

If you've ever poured your heart and soul into a book, then wondered what the heck you'd have to do to make anyone -- anyone at all -- pay one lick of attention, you've gotta see this send-up of Folman's efforts to get folks to give his book a whirl.

Trust me on this one. Check it out - and Bill Folman's website, too. If he's this funny in film, the novel sounds like a great bet.

How to Blow It

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Thanks to YA author Tera Lynn Childs for her Twitter posts on reasons for instant rejection by agents Jessica Faust of BookEnds and Janet Reid.

Both ladies are spot on. When I meet someone who claims to want to be a novelist, I know I'm in the presence of a light-weight never-will-be when the following credibility bombs drop from their mouths. My curmudgeonly, uncharitable thoughts are included for your edification - and you can bet most agents and edits out there, who are approached so much more often - feel about the same.

1. I just don't really have the time to write, you know?
(Nobody's given extra hours for writing. We just make it a priority, you know?)

2. I have this great idea for a book. You want to work on it together? You do the writing and use your contacts -- I'll share the profits 50-50.
(Excuse me, I'm running late for an appointment.)

3. I have this great idea for a book. It's going to be a huuuuge bestseller.
(Great writers prove their greatness. Wit…