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Showing posts from January, 2010

Amazon: "Ultimately, we will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan's terms..."

Posted this after noon on Amazon:
Macmillan, one of the "big six" publishers, has clearly communicated to us that, regardless of our viewpoint, they are committed to switching to an agency model and charging $12.99 to $14.99 for e-book versions of bestsellers and most hardcover releases.

We have expressed our strong disagreement and the seriousness of our disagreement by temporarily ceasing the sale of all Macmillan titles. We want you to know that ultimately, however, we will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan's terms because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles, and we will want to offer them to you even at prices we believe are needlessly high for e-books. Amazon customers will at that point decide for themselves whether they believe it's reasonable to pay $14.99 for a bestselling e-book. We don't believe that all of the major publishers will take the same route as Macmillan. And we know for sure that many independent presses and self-published a…

Why I wish I could be at St. Brigid's tonight

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Flannery O'Connor famously described the process of writing a book as "a terrible experience during which hair often falls out and teeth decay." I'm having one of those books. I've never been so emotionally and physically exhausted by a project or so completely grateful and thrilled to be part of the creative process. Final rewrites are now in progress. Two weeks from now, I'll be home in Houston painting my kitchen. That's the light at the end of the tunnel, and my spouse and children are patiently waiting for me to emerge. I just wish I'd made it through in time to participate in the "Womanhood on Fire" even tonight at Brigid's Place.

Per the Brigid's Place website:
This year we celebrate the saint’s Feast Day and the ripening of the New Year with movement and breath, poetry and silence, chant and rhythm. Leading us in this very special tribute will be noted speaker, author and feminist, Dr. Mylene Dressler...a noted author, speake…

What the heck is happening with Amazon and Macmillan?

Disturbing development this weekend as Amazon yanks Macmillan titles from its website and strips sample chapters from Kindles. John Sargent's message, which ran as a paid advertisement in a special Saturday edition of Publishers Lunch, attempts to explain the backstory and calm fears:
This past Thursday I met with Amazon in Seattle. I gave them our proposal for new terms of sale for e books under the agency model which will become effective in early March. In addition, I told them they could stay with their old terms of sale, but that this would involve extensive and deep windowing of titles. By the time I arrived back in New York late yesterday afternoon they informed me that they were taking all our books off the Kindle site, and off Amazon. The books will continue to be available on Amazon.com through third parties.

I regret that we have reached this impasse. Amazon has been a valuable customer for a long time, and it is my great hope that they will continue to be in the very ne…

This Sunday: An Inspirational Event for Women

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Extending a warm invitation to our all women friends and readers in Houston, Texas, to "Womanhood On Fire," a lively and inspirational event I'll be leading this Sunday, January 31, at 6 pm. Crafted to ignite your creative fires and keep you leaping forward into the new year, "Womanhood on Fire" takes as its symbol the Celtic goddess Brigid, patron of poets, smiths, artisans and healers. I'd love to have you join us for this marvelous celebration of women's gifts and women's community. For more information, please click here. Tickets are $25 at the door, with all proceeds to benefit Brigid's Place.

Video Book Preview - Touch of Evil

For the last few days, I've been working on my own book video preview for my upcoming romantic thriller, Touch of Evil (Lovespell, March 2010.) It's been an intriguing exercise, full of technical challenges, visual and audio choices, and the boiling down of close to one hundred thousand words of text into one minute that captures the novel's tone, central conflict, and heroine in what I hope is an appealing and memorable package.

In other words, it's storytelling in a completely different format. I opted to stay away from self-agrandizing author credits and quotes from some of the (lovely, thank goodness) reviews the book has so far garnered, and stick to what I hope potential readers want to see while keeping my message as concise as possible.

Update: I've revised the video to get rid of the scrolling text and added a neat effect in the final frames. Hopefully, this one will be a bit smoother. Thanks so much for all your feedback!

Go with God, JD Salinger

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"I hope to hell that when I do die somebody has the sense to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetary. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you're dead? Nobody."
From Catcher in the Rye

The New York Times obit.

More on the Future of Fiction

Continuing a conversation some of us began earlier in the week, on the state of storytelling in America in the 21st century, I refer you to a blog entry by the literary novelist Alexander Chee, entitled "Why Must the Novel Be Boring?" In it, Chee (prompted by one of his own creative writing students) gamely explores the limitations of the 20th-century novel of angst, and quotes writer Lev Grossman on why adult hardcover fiction is having such a tough time holding its own against the YA vampire novel these days:

"There was a time when difficult literature was exciting. T.S. Eliot once famously read to a whole football stadium full of fans. And it's still exciting—when Eliot does it. But in contemporary writers it has just become a drag. Which is probably why millions of adults are cheating on the literary novel with the young-adult novel, where the unblushing embrace of storytelling is allowed, even encouraged."

Chee then adds his two cents:

"The thing that I …

Strategies for Getting Started

I've been struggling for several days with a scene that's just not working. Much of the problem centers on the fact that I'm very early into a new project, and I barely know these characters. Sure, I have a pretty good idea of what I want to happen with (and to) them, but I can't make them do much of anything until I figure out what makes each one tick, who the supporting players are in the lives of each protagonist, and start auditioning a couple of antagonists.

I've never had much luck with those character interviews/dossiers some authors complete in the prewriting stages. (When I've tried this, the characters seem to delight in contradicting every neat little notes I've taken.) Mostly, I just use my head as a battering ram and write my way, in fits and starts, through the characterization process, delighting myself with each new discovery -- and trashing pages and pages that don't fit with my emerging picture of who each person is.

This is all when an…

A moment by the sea (in praise of loneliness)

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Met my memoir client in Palm Beach this weekend for a live group read through of her manuscript. It's an intense experience all around the table. I was grateful to have a free hour yesterday to sit by myself and watch the waves roll in.

From Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift From the Sea:
The loneliness you get by the sea is personal and alive. It doesn't subdue you and make you feel abject. It's stimulating loneliness.
I feel exactly the same way about the lonely endeavor of writing. As much as I love the collaborative process -- and as much as I love my clients -- I'm looking forward to spending the summer in my own little corner in my own little chair, working on my own little book. Personal and alive. That's it exactly.

I love that Anne Morrow Lindbergh chose the word "loneliness" instead of "solitude" here. Solitude is being alone. Loneliness is feeling alone. Which can be quite lovely.

An Interview, a Contest, and a Touch of Evil

This week, I've been interviewed at The Examiner, where author Teri Thackston asks me about getting started as a writer and my upcoming release, Touch of Evil (Lovespell, 2.23.10). Those of you who click through and leave a comment by Jan. 30th will be entered in a drawing to win an autographed copy of one of my backlist titles.

I'd appreciate if you'd stop by so I won't feel so lonely.

The Future of Literary Magazines

It's a pill to swallow, but check out Ted Genoways' article in Mother Jones, "The Death of Fiction?"--note the question mark--and gird your loins to ask the tough questions we need to ask about the future of literary writing. Genoways, editor of the Virginia Quaterly Review, offers up a tidy history lesson, tracing the rise (and current decline) of academic literary journals in the United States. He doesn't have much to say about the rise of lively publications--both online and in-print--that have little or nothing to do with academe but are doing much to keep the Internet an interesting place to read and enjoy fresh writing right now; but he does offer this stringent advice to anyone trying to find an audience in today's competitive literary market:

"Stop being so damned dainty and polite. Treat writing like your lifeblood instead of your livelihood. And for Christ's sake, write something we might want to read."

To read the full article, click

The Fun Quotient

Though I write about and live in the Southwest, I'm a Jersey Girl by birth, which means I'm hard-wired to love most anything Bruce Springsteen sings. This afternoon, I dragged out a CD I haven't listened to in some time called We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions.

Unlike the Boss's usual rock 'n roll, this is folk music, recorded in three one-day sessions at an old farmhouse Springsteen owns with a bunch of folk musicians he respected and enjoyed. It's that enjoyment that really shines through - these men and women were clearly having a blast making art.

Which brings me to the point of this post -- that writing ought to be a fun thing, with a thrill communicating itself from the writer's spirit to her fingertips to the printed word and finally to the reader herself. Because joy can be contagious, and we all need more of that in our lives.

Of course, making any kind of art, books included, takes lots and lots of concentrated effort, and sometimes it feels li…

Milestones and Turning Points: The Moments that Change Our Lives

The day I defended my dissertation, I woke up with a steely, nervous calm. It was like the energy that had been circling throughout my body the entire four years I'd been working on the novel had suddenly risen up through my pores. It stayed there, dancing among the goosebumps, flirting with my hair. Mark (my husband) asked if I wanted anything to eat. "No," I said. "I couldn't possibly." He decided not to eat anything either--he was defending his own master's thesis in computer science later that day. So we drove, empty and charged, to the campus together.

I can't really say what happened next, except that it was sort of like our wedding. All these months and months--years--of preparation, and it all came down to less than two hours. I remember sucking in a breath and feeling it go down through my empty body. I remember putting my palm over my navel and feeling the rise and fall. I remember my second and third readers (bless them!) going …

Weekly Quote: Twain on Assumptions

I was having a conversation with my agent the other day wherein I expressed a business prejudice based upon a business situation in which I'd been burned years before. When held up to the light and examined, I quickly saw that I'd succumbed to the mind's need to create cause and effect associations, an inclination that can prove counterproductive, as Mark Twain noted long ago.

We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it - and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove lid. She will never sit on a hot stove lid again - and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore. -Mark Twain

As you go about your busy week, take time to dust off an old assumption and ask yourself, is there really anything to this that holds up now? Try opening your mind and looking at the possibilities anew. You may find your own faulty beliefs have been holding you back for far too long.

This week's writing theme song:…

Robert Louis Stevenson on trying to make sense of the art and craft of writing

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From Essays in the Art of Writing by Robert Louis Stevenson:
There is nothing more disenchanting to man than to be shown the springs and mechanism of any art. All our arts and occupations lie wholly on the surface; it is on the surface that we perceive their beauty, fitness, and significance; and to pry below is to be appalled by their emptiness and shocked by the coarseness of the strings and pulleys...

We shall never learn the affinities of beauty, for they lie too deep in nature and too far back in the mysterious history of man. The amateur, in consequence, will always grudgingly receive details of method, which can be stated but never can wholly be explained; nay, on the principle laid down in Hudibras, that "Still the less they understand, The more they admire the sleight-of-hand," many are conscious at each new disclosure of a diminution in the ardour of their pleasure.

I must therefore warn that well-known character, the general reader, that I am here embarked upon a …

I Celebrate The Reader

I'd arrived a bit early for the lecture I was scheduled to give, and was introducing myself to some of the audience trickling in who'd come to hear me talk about creativity and leaping forward in our work, when a tall, quiet woman glanced over at me and seemed to want to catch my attention, yet seemed shy about it at the same time. I came over and we started chatting, and finally I asked her what it was she did.

"Nothing," she said.

"Nothing?"

She meant, she explained quickly, that she did nothing "creative." And added that she probably didn't really "belong" at my lecture. She was just . . . visiting.

"But what do you like to do?" I asked.

"Oh, I love to read. I have a book group. I have to read good books, and I have to be with people who know how to talk about books in a way that matters. So I started this group. There are just seven of us. But it's really important to me."

"So you created this group…

An Author in Waiting: How a Gun Knows

Back in September, I asked author Steven Pressfield (The War of Art, The Legend of Bagger Vance) about grappling with our own resistance to writing, and he mentioned something that's stuck with me.

Turning pro" is still the best answer--at least for me. And it helps to associate with other pros, whom we recognize if we ourselves are doing our work. As someone once said, "A gun recognizes another gun."

I've been a member of various writers' groups for more than fifteen years, and I can tell you it's true. Those who are serious about going pro recognize each other and frequently form alliances to the benefit of all, sharing craft tips, information about the business side of writing, and encouragement. Many such alliances (often critique groups) see member after member go on to achieve their goals.

So how does a gun recognize another gun?

1. Natural talent
This is critical. If there's not at least a native spark, there's no chance. Still, it's only a…

All Writers Invited:Sam Havens and Patricia Kay Speak in Houston

I'm a passionate advocate for writers getting out of their hermit huts and connecting, and I've never met a group of writers as friendly and welcoming as the women (and men, too!) of West Houston Romance Writers of America. Once a year, we host an all-day Emily Awards workshop, where we bring in great speakers and invite folks from the wider world of writing. No matter which form, genre, or age level you're targeting, we'd be happy to have you come and join us for a great program on February 13, 2010. (Follow the link for more information.)

Both Sam Havens and Pat Kay are well-respected expert speakers on the craft of writing, and the energy of the Emily Awards is always so inspiring.

West Houston Romance Writers of AmericaEmily Awards Meeting
Morning Session:

How Characters Happen

Creating objective-driven characters. How to establish and payoff arcs, contrasts, flaws and back story. How to write dialogue in character.

Sam Havens

Sam Havens is Professor Emeritus at the Unive…

Write, Don't Think: Lessons From Finding Forrester

As I've been getting back to the third draft of my book, the thing that most surprises me is the need to, even at this point, add scenes. When I wrote short fiction, revision was really revision, and editing was "just" editing. But this novel animal is so very different. In developing the subplots, I am going back to the beginning again, at least with these particular characters. So it strikes me that while I'm working on the third draft of my novel, I'm really working on the first draft of these particular scenes. And as such, I can't expect myself to get those right the first time. I have to give myself the permission to fail on the page, or else I will never move forward. It reminds me of this scene in Finding Forrester (2000):



You write your first draft with your heart, and you rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is to write, not to think.

--Finding ForresterFor those of us struggling with drafting and redrafting and revision, this is g…

Choreographing the narrative (3 Questions for our new blogmate, author/creativity guru Mylene Dressler)

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I'm so delighted to introduce the next new member of our expanding blog crew, the lovely and lyrical Mylene Dressler.

Mylene (pronounced Milan, like the Italian city) was born in The Hague, the Netherlands, and began her multi-faceted career in the creative arts as a professional ballet dancer. She studied lit at the University of San Francisco and wrote her first novel, The Medusa Tree, as a doctoral student at Rice. Pulitzer winner Robert Olen Butler described it as "haunting and splendid." Mylene followed up with The Deadwood Beetle (Christian Science Monitor 'Best Books of 2001' list) and then The Floodmakers, a comic play/novel hybrid.

Mylene's traveled all over the world (as have her books, which have been translated into French, Dutch, and Turkish) teaching the craft of writing and inspiring the spirit of creativity. And she's lived in Carson McCuller's house. That alone is pretty cool, but it's just a small part of why Mylene Dressler is…

Characterizing From the Inside Out: Why I Heart Laurie Halse Anderson

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I have a confession to make. I get literary crushes. When I fall in love with a book, I will read it over and over again and take it to bed with me, sometimes sleep with it under my pillow. At some point, usually between the first and second readings, I will go online and look up the author. And then I will stare and gawk. Just look at those sensitive eyes. Look at that knowing smile. And if it's really bad, I'll go on facebook and try to "friend" the author, knowing full well I'm just one of many fans, and there will be no real interpersonal contact.

My current literary crush is Laurie Halse Anderson, bestselling author of the Young Adult novel Speak. I don't write YA, but I've learned more about characterizing from her than from most literary fiction. What I most admire in Anderson's work is the ability to use her teenage protagonists to evoke an entire world, from what could be a narrow point of view. She does this through interior monolo…

Aspiring and graceful female novelists this way! (A lovely moment in "A Room of One's Own")

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From A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf

...Now is the time, she would say to herself at a certain moment, when without doing anything violent I can show the meaning of all this. And she would begin--how unmistakable that quickening is!--beckoning and summoning, and there would rise up in memory, half forgotten, perhaps quite trivial things in other chapters dropped by the way. And she would make their presence felt while someone sewed or smoked a pipe as naturally as possible, and one would feel, as she went on writing, as if one had gone to the top of the world and seen it laid out, very majestically, beneath.

At any rate, she was making the attempt. And as I watched her lengthening out for the test, I saw, but hoped that she did not see, the bishops and the deans, the doctors and the professors, the patriarchs and the pedagogues all at her shouting warning and advice. You can't do this and you shan't do that! Fellows and scholars only allowed on the grass! Ladies not …

Calling All Writers: How Do YOU Cope with the Grief that Is Revision?

Hi, everyone,
As a result of one of my recent posts, "Good Grief! Revision in Five Stages!," I've received an assignment to write an article on the topic for the June issue of the Romance Writer's Report. But I'm going to need help from any writers out there (published or not) in the form of a few brilliant and concise quotes regarding how you deal with any of the following stages when it comes to revision:

1. Denial (Ever wondered, even for a moment, if your editor went on a bender and sent you some other poor, talentless sap's revision letter?)
2. Anger (She. Clearly. Doesn't. Get. Me! Philistine!)
3. Bargaining (Maybe if I just do X, I can keep Y.)
4. Depression (It's hopeless. I'm really just a poser after all.)
5. (and how you finally make it through to) Acceptance (What do you know? She was right all along!)

If you're able to send me a brief quote for possible inclusion, I'd love it. In
return, I'll be happy to mention your most recent (…

Coming Attractions and Burning Questions: What Do You Want to Hear?

Since I'm new to the blog, I thought I'd turn the tables and ask what you're struggling with about writing. What are some questions you have? Today I sat and brainstormed possible topics for my part of the blog, and thought I'd let you help me narrow them down. Here are just a few titles of possible blogs. Which ones would you be most interested in? And what else are you grappling with right now?

Possible Blogs:


On Craft:

Characterizing from the inside out: Why I heart Laurie Halse Anderson

3 Things genre writers can learn from literary fiction (and vice-versa)

First Chapters: What We Risk When We Put it All Up Front

Why Violence Can Be Boring--and How to Handle it So it's Not


On The Writing Life:

Balance and the Writer's Life: Is it Possible to be a writer and remain sane, social and healthy?

What We Give Up to Write--and What We Shouldn't

Best day (or night) jobs for writers

If I ever make it, I still want to be nice

"A Clean, Well-lighted Place:"…

For a young friend starting chemo today...

Got book? "The Love Song of Monkey" is a trippy weekend read.

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Last summer, while researching primate behavior, I accidentally ordered The Love Song of Monkey, a strange little novel by neuroscientist Michael S.A. Graziano. It sat on my desk until a rainy Saturday and then turned into one of those memorable books that serendipitously drops into your reading life.

Jonathan, a young man dying of AIDS, consults a physicist who's constructed a machine in which terminally ill patients undergo a complete molecular rearrangement and emerge invincible. The process is hideously painful (accounting for its marked lack of popularity), but Jonathan endures it, motivated by love for his wife, Kitty. The results of the procedure are less than hoped for, but the story exceeds expectations.

The Cost of Commitment

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This morning I had a call from the parent of a young student I work with telling me that in the coming weeks her first grader would be working on Time and Money.

Afterward, I started thinking, maybe that's where the problem begins, way back in the early years, when we're taught to think of those as two entirely different things.

Because of our unpredictable (and all-too-often miniscule) flow of funds and infrequent paydays, longterm professional writers quickly become savvy about budgeting their money. We have to, or we can't long survive in our chosen profession.

Unfortunately, most of us are slower at learning how to budget time, which is strange, since all of us are allotted the same number of hours per day as everyone else. The trick is, remembering that our time has the same value as people who work on the clock, that everything we choose to do with that time costs a percentage of our day... and our lives.

So the next time you feel pressured to build an online social netw…

Trustworthy donation links for earthquake relief in Haiti

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Thanks to all who sent links and suggestions. Here's where I sent money today:

The American Red Cross International Response Fund
You always know they'll be among the first ones on the ground. If I could give blood, I'd be doing that too.

Habitat For Humanity International
They need funds now so they can go in with immediate temporary shelters and mobilize rebuilding to come. Today I heard the staggering fact that less than 50% of the people had access to clean water BEFORE the earthquake. Virtually all rebuilding resources will have to come from outside the country.

UMCOR - United Methodist Committee on Relief
Gofightwin United Methodists! Good for more than casserole! My friend Rev. Kristin tells me 100% of your donation goes to relief efforts; they get administrative funding elsewhere.

YeleHaiti
Another young friend turned me on to Wyclef Jean's grassroots movement that funds programs in education, sports, the arts in Haiti. Wyclef Jean tweeted earlier today: "Ha…

Exploring the Great Possible: 3 Questions for our new blog buddy, Dr. Kathryn Paterson

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For years, I kept trying to work out a coffee date with Kathryn Paterson. No more. Now, I'm trying to find a coffee op with Dr. Kathryn Paterson. An aspiring author and student at the University of Houston, she first connected with me when I was doing the "BookWoman" blog for the Houston Chronicle. It's been a delight hearing from her over the years as she moved into the PhD program, produced her first novel, and took the first steps toward publication.

Colleen and I have been planning a major redesign and expansion of Boxing the Octopus, starting with the addition of a few new voices. Eventually, our team will include a wide range of industry perspectives, a variety of genres and POVs -- all of us up to our necks in writing, publishing, and selling books. It occurred to me that we should have a token newbie -- and how nice it would be if she had a fresh PhD from one of the most prestigious Creative Writing programs in the country! In her coming posts, Kathryn will b…

What worked last decade just doesn't work anymore. And that's okay.

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No party on for me and the Griz this New Year's Eve. We'd planned to be in Paris, but I ended up having to ask for an extension on my deadline and was stuck here at home, pounding the keyboard. Between chapters, I got up to take a couple of Tylenol to tide me over till dinner and realized we'd slipped into the next decade. Something I already know about the coming years: I'm going to be working harder. Beyond that, I'm open to all possibilities.

Critical Mass has been doing an interesting series, The Next Decade in Book Culture, in which guests were invited to share their thoughts on what might be in store for us as we leave the double-Os behind and adjust to the pre-teens.

One of my favorite responses so far comes from poet Hans Ostrum:
Imagine being alive when the Gutenberg Revolution swept Europe, when printing-technology had made pamphlets, novels, tracts, and anthologies not just possible but commonplace. Obviously, we're in a parallel situation with digi…

Go with God, Miep Gies.

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Just saw this on my BBC news feed:
Miep Gies, the last surviving member of the group who helped protect Anne Frank and her family from the Nazis, has died in the Netherlands aged 100. She and other employees of Anne Frank's father Otto supplied food to the family as they hid in a secret annex above the business premises in Amsterdam...

It was Mrs Gies who collected up Anne's papers and locked them away, hoping that one day she would be able to give them back to the girl. In the event, she returned them to Otto Frank, who survived the war, and helped him compile them into a diary that was published in 1947.

Five Paths to Perspective: Self-Editing Tricks & Tips

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Focus is a great and necessary thing. But when you've been mired in a project for month upon month with your nose pressed to the page and your brain fully immersed, you become a little myopic to its flaws. Blind to the suckitude, is another way I'd put it.

When I'm "too close," I fail to see not only line editing type troubles, from missing words to misspellings and poor diction, but I can also miss more serious problems involving lapses in character motivations, hokey dialogue, "lazy" genre shortcuts (I write genre, so I'm not knocking it, but the whip must be cracked when the usual cliches rear their ugly heads), and predictability. To counter these problems and become my own editor, I look for ways to distance myself from and regain perspective on my pages.

Here are just a few that have worked for me in the past.

1. Take a break from the project to work on something else and then come back to it. Time works wonders to dispel the glamor. A writer on …

Symphony of Science "The Unbroken Thread"

Attenborough, Goodall, and Sagan on why we are all one and why "each of us is a multitude." Probably all the cellular biology research I've been doing for my WIP, but this makes me so happy.

"Every cell is a triumph..."



Visit Symphony of Science for more mind-blowing science smashups.

Buzzation on Elizabeth Gilbert's "Committed"

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Interesting mix of responses to Elizabeth Gilbert's new book Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage. I'm wondering if Elizabeth recorded this amiable interview for the NYT Book Review before or after Janet Maslin trashed the book with a spiny wrecking ball.

I'm downloading a sample to Kindle now, but I gotta say -- the brutality of that review will probably make me purchase purely out of solidarity with this terrific author. There's book reviews and there's value judgments. And then there's just junkyard dog meanness. I'll let you decide for yourself where the review lands on that spectrum.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth's website offers this interesting Q&A.

"It's nice to misbehave in a tuxedo." (Max Raabe & the Palast Orchestra play Carnegie Hall)

It's been a while since a particular music filled my head with ideas. Thought I'd share.

Tales from the Orphanage: Surviving Publishing Changes

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Once upon a time, I had this dream. In it, I was consistently writing bestsellers my agent, editor, and millions of fan were clamoring to get their hands on. I frequently hung out in Manhattan, where I shopped with my agent of 20 years, lunched with my editor of about the same length, and was invariably assured, within hours of handing off each manuscript, that this one was my best yet and was sure to be a hit.

Oh, wait. That wasn't a dream. I think it was the plot from Romancing the Stone. But that makes sense, because what aspiring genre writer didn't fantasize about becoming a real-to-life Joan Wilder?

The truth is, the modern publishing world has changed, shifting dramatically from our fantasies and fictional renditions. Bestsellers still happen, of course (yea!), but long relationships with one's professional partners have become increasingly rare. Agents leave the business, editors move on to other houses (or jump the aisle to become agents), lines fold, publishing hou…

(What) You Don't Show: The Fine Art of the Tease

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As I work on beginning a new project, I begin with a scenario in mind, a scenario with such an intense conflict and harrowing backstory, I can hardly wait to put it on the page.

Though I absolutely know better -- knew while I was writing it that I was going to be forced to cut or rewrite -- I couldn't help myself. I started with a delectable chunk of flashback, so I could capture with crucial event that serves as a catalyst for my story.

For a few days, I even deluded myself with the thought that the flashback was dramatic and compelling. Surely readers wouldn't mind if just this once I started...

Many of them wouldn't, but the truth is, the backstory is so emotionally strong that leaping ahead into the "real time" of the story would dramatically lessen the book's tension. And having so quickly given up the goods of its most dynamic secrets, the story might lose the interest of its readers before it once more gathers steam.

Definitely, I thought, imagining a str…

Going West (super cool short film from New Zealand Book Council)

So tomorrow we start the first work week of the new year. Time to set aside all the angst of the oughts and embrace the adventure of Publishing 2010. Go West, baby!

3 Key Questions to Get Your Story Off the Ground

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Ever find yourself struggling as you launch a new project? For me, getting the story off the ground offers a daunting challenge, at least until I figure out the answers to these questions. Keep answering with each new story, chapter, and scene, and eventually, you'll have yourself a book -- or at least an engaging, complete manuscript, ripe for shaping and editing.

1. Is the person telling the story sufficiently compelling? Will the reader emotionally relate to and quickly bond with this character? Or does the character elicit a strong reaction, whether it be curiosity, fascination, or even horror? Interchangeable, "generic" characters need not apply, even for supporting roles. When working to answer this question, ask yourself if the scene would be stronger or more interesting from another player's point of view? Don't hesitate to try writing the same scene from a different POV to find out which works best.

2. Does the character's trouble matter enough? Stori…

Anti-Bella (Twilight spoof promos Critics Choice Awards)

Upular (an awesome tribute to the art of editing)

I'm buried this week, so expect gimme posts. I'll try to make them entertaining and encourage you to tune in on alternate days for content of substance from Colleen. Let's pretend this one is related to writing via the art of editing. Or just use it as a four-minute stretch/bust-a-move break. Up on your feet!

Back on the Horse

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Today was supposed to be the day where we de-Christmased the house and I rewrote my first scene, since I finally know enough about this story to be dead certain I began in the wrong spot.

Life had other plans, in the form of a long search for our little Houdini, Zippy, who capitalized on an unguarded moment and an unlocked back gate someone had left ajar in the back yard and vanished into thin air. Eventually (while we were all frantically out looking) the little squirt came home on her own no worse for wear.

Then, while dealing with what should have been a minor issue in the attic, we ruptured a hose containing gallons of disgusting, goopy black water, which soaked my husband, me, a wall, and the carpet beneath the attic hatch.

No fun, any of it, but life comes along every now and then and knocks you the heck off your horse. Sometimes, it repeatedly comes charging forth, and you get darned sick of picking yourself back up.

But if you're a writer, that's what you do. As many times…

Happy Twenty-Tennyson

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Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night--
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new--,
Ring happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peac…