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Showing posts from July, 2010

Seth Godin on the seductive peanut butter 'n' arsenic cookie of self-sabotage

Do you follow Seth Godin's terrific blog over on our FeedMe bar? Go. Read. Print. Post on your office wall. Saith Seth:
We know more than enough about marketing now. We know how to craft a story that will spread, we know how to find and lead tribes. The thing we have trouble with is making the commitment to do it even when it's frightening and difficult.Here's a link to the rest of the item.

Saturday Morning Cartoon: How "Lost" should have ended (a lesson for writers)

Networking in Brief

Conference networking tips: Don't be surprised if you meet no one and have a lousy time if you sit with your arms crossed and a sour expression on your face.

Be willing to smile, ask strangers about themselves, and listen with interest. Share a tip, hear a tip, and converse in the spirit of genuine helpfulness rather than tit for tat.

You'll often be surprised when - sometimes years later - the seeds you've planted flower and bear fruit to nourish you.

"I'm a professional observer." (Sebastion Junger on WAR and rhythm)

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Today on Steven Pressfield Online, Sebastion Junger stops by to talk about his latest bestseller, WAR, and his documentary, Restrepo, which premiers this fall on NatGeo.

Junger commenting on his personal writing process:
I’m a professional observer. I try to understand how things work and what they feel like to experience. Then I take those ideas home and try to turn them into words. Each sentence and paragraph has to have the right rhythm, word choices must be original and metaphors must be exactly right. I know I’ve done it right when I pick up something I’ve written and can’t stop reading it. That’s the same criterion I use, obviously, with other peoples’ writing as well.Click here to read the rest. 

Buy WAR from IndieBound.

Buy This Book: The State of Jones: The Small Southern County That Seceded from the Confederacy by Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer

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In the small phantom world of ghostwriting, you don't find anyone better than Sally Jenkins, who co-authored Lance Armstrong's mega-bestseller It's Not About the Bike. A huge part of my education as a co-author has been reading everything she writes. I was delighted to see her name up front on the release of her latest book (pubbed by Doubleday last summer, now fresh out in paperback), The State of Jones: The Small Southern County that Seceded from the Confederacy.

A starred review in PW says "Sally Jenkins and Harvard historian John Stauffer combine to tell this story with grace and passion. Using court transcripts, family memories, and other sources--and filling the remaining gaps with stylish evocations of crucial moments in the wider war..."

From the press kit:
Newton Knight is the most famous Civil War hero you’ve never heard of, because according to Mississippi legend he betrayed not only the Confederacy but his race as well. In 1863 Knight, a poor farmer fr…

"Secret Room" and Brutus Morris: Stoker's Character Notes for Dracula

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You may have to click on this a couple of times to zoom in, but it's definitely worth looking at. Quincey Morris was originally supposed to be Brutus (can you imagine?) and there's a note about a "secret room." I also love the scratch outs, and the insistence upon Wilhelmina, called Mina. You can also find another version here if you can't zoom in enough from this entry.

Good stuff. Reminds me of seeing the plot of "A Fable" written out on a wall in Faulkner's house. And can you imagine how different the book would be if Van Helsing were a "german professor" named "Mat Windsfoeffel?"

Listen to This: "Wonder Wheel" by the Klezmatics

My comfort food of choice is peanut butter toast and applesauce. My comfort music, "Wonder Wheel", the Klezmatics (a sort of hopped up klezmer band) doing the songs of Woodie Guthrie. It's evocative of the past, enticing to the future, and maybe speaks to the idea of artistic mashup/smashup that's finally making its way into the publishing industry -- that it's groovy to stand on the shoulders of giants and do your own lovely new old thing. Anyhoo. Give it a listen.

Talk Yourself Unstuck

This past week, my work came to a screeching halt as I realized I'd written myself into a corner at the 3/4 point of my book. For once, rereading the synopsis was no help at all, since my characters had taken a detour and fallen off the edge. Rereading the completed chunk of manuscript did nothing either, except for convince me that yep, I had well and truly fallen down the well on this one.

Not knowing what else to do, I decided to whine - I mean talk it out - with my online critique partner, who reads and comments on every chapter of the evolving draft as it's completed (as I do for her.) Since she knows the story more intimately than anyone else to this point, I thought she might have some insight to pull me out of the well.

Turns out she didn't have to. During the process of clearly and methodically explaining both the problem and my ultimate story goals to a knowledgeable and willing listener, the solution popped into my head and out of my mouth within a very few minute…

On Words, Work and Jerry McGuire

This is the time of year when I begin prepping my speeches and lectures for the fall.  Some of these are on topics related to writing and creativity; but others I write for those who don't generally have the luxury of sitting down for any length of time and thinking about how they might use language more effectively, more powerfully, more satisfyingly in their lives--people who don't often get to explore and experience their own, creative relationship to words (as we writers are so fortunate to do), this richness we all carry around with us, in dimes without any weight.  Musing over all the forces that lead us to limit what words can do for us, I found myself writing:

"Life and work have an uncanny way of inviting us into language ruts.  Think about it.  How many of our professions invite us to be routine in the way we use words?  How many of us have set ways of speaking and writing and communicating within our individual fields that we are expected to …

"But can't you just take a look at it?": What You're Really Saying When You Ask An Author To Read Your Unpublished Manuscript

I teach fiction writing. I am revising a novel. I have an MFA. It amazes me that even though I am an unpublished novelist myself, the combination of those three things alone brings all the writers out of the woodwork. In fact, as soon as I tell people any one of these things, somehow they think this qualifies me to read everything from the most experimental literary fiction to their spec script for Cold Case (yes, it's happened). But most importantly, they think I want to, and that I'll do it for free.

Now don't get me wrong; I am all about helping people with their writing, whether that's teaching them to establish a schedule for it, helping them figure out their psychological blocks, or giving feedback to my students and workshop partners. And I don't even mind reading short snippets of things for close friends who aren't in my genre. But when someone I barely know hits me up with their two unfinished screenplays and their 450-paged fantasy novel, I …

Dang, I wish I was cool enough to go to Comic Con!

What You Will and Will Not Get Out of a Writers' Conference

Ever wondered if attending a large writers' conference is for you? As I prepare to attend (and present a workshop at) the Romance Writers of America national conference in Orlando, Florida, I've been a little overwhelmed by the logistics of getting myself together for four jam-packed days of events with about 2100 participants from all over the country (and increasingly the world.)

Despite the stress level, I keep going back for...
1. The best craft/research/business-of-writing workshops, bar none. A large conference has its pick of experienced, popular, and well-prepared speakers on a variety of topics. You're never too old a dog to learn (or relearn) new tricks or benefit from someone else's wisdom. I go to however many workshops I can manage, and buy recorded sessions for the rest. Sure, some are going to end up duds, but there's a lot of good stuff in the mix.
2. Fresh-squeezed market information. Every year, I hear about who's buying what, what's trending…

Are you really selling the story?

Everyone I know loves, loves, LOVES the new Old Spice commercials with Isaiah Mustafa, and with a series of related You Tube vids (including hilarious responses to Twitter comments) the campaign has gone viral.

But sadly, Time magazine is reporting that Old Spice sales have actually gone down since the campaign began.

So what's my point here, on a blog devoted to writing and publishing? Ask yourself today, what ideas am I attempting to sell with my story? And am I really selling it, or clouding my core product (the manuscript's heart and soul) with clever techniques or convoluted asides?

It's so easy to lose focus, especially when you're working on a novel, which takes months or years to produce. You show up to your task, every day a different person. Some days you might be in a down mood or a silly mood or a distracted state, and those all find their way into the story.

Frequently, the revision stage is the place to ask yourself, what is the mood of the whole story? What…

The Cut

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She cuts my hair.

Her own is a starburst of magenta and yellow, fireworks on display.  It must be fun, every morning, I think, to stand your hair up on end.  It must make you feel constantly surprised.

We talk.  She cuts my hair whenever I'm in town, and though months pass before we see each other again, we always pick up as though she's just dunked my scalp under water the day before.  We talk about our work and travels, we gossip about celebrities, we mourn or praise the state of the union, we admit we're not exercising as much as we used to, we share a little about our families.

"How is he?" I ask about her husband while she drapes the bib around me (it always makes me feel like a little girl again).

Her husband (like my father) was diagnosed at 51 with congestive heart failure.  He's already lived longer than expected--thanks, she's told me, to his athletic background and his mighty lungs.  He was an avid mountain biker and the owner of a …

Serenity Now: Seinfeld as Thriller

Buy This Book: Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

Not a recent read. This book came up in small talk last night in the context of an exchange with a fabulous stranger as we both waited for drinks at the bar upstairs at House of Blues in New Orleans. Thirty-plus years after I read Jean Rhys' beautiful novel, Wide Sargasso Sea found its way into our circuitous conversation.

Now that's a great book. One that haunts a far dark corner in memory and returns to the reader decades hence, when the reader is an entirely different person. All the old insights are suddenly new, calling the reader to return. And I'm feeling that call from Wide Sargasso Sea.

Emily White writes:
The novel is Rhys's answer to Jane Eyre. Charlotte Brontë's book had long haunted her, mostly for the story it did not tell--that of the madwoman in the attic, Rochester's terrible secret. Antoinette is Rhys's imagining of that locked-up woman, who in the end burns up the house and herself. Wide Sargasso Sea follows her voyage into the dark, both …

Novels Like Swords

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Tonight I was frustrated by the pace my revision is progressing. I've gotten a lot of work done in the past 10-12 days, but I still have so much further to go before I'll be in a shape to query/submit to agents, and the amount of work is daunting. I mentioned this to my good friend, Sharon, who is both a prize-winning martial artist and an excellent writer, and she sent me this:

Think about making a sword. The steel has to go through the fire many times to be purified. Then it has to go through again to be shaped, to be honed; then it's sharpened, a handle attached, cleaned and sharpened a final time before being called a sword.

Maybe your novel's like that.

I hope so.

Buy This Book: Blazing Saddles: The Cruel & Unusual History of the Tour de France

July will always find Gary and me one of two places: glued to the TV watching Tour de France coverage or in France, watching as many stages as we can catch in person. I first heard of le Tour 27 years ago when I met Gary, who was into bike racing in Bozeman, Montana and rode his bike an average of 40 miles/day. (Suppressing a sigh as I recall what that did for his backside...but I digress.) My first impression of this epic sporting event was a mix of horrified fascination and a non-competitor's cynicism. Over the years, it's grown to an avid love for the extraordinary history, humanity, and thrill of every stage. Howling, head-butting, bloodied bodies, beautiful girls, naked old men and costumed characters running alongside riders decked out and teched out in state of the art socks and ear pieces. The yearning, the road rash, the unforgiving climbs and breakneck descents through panoramic mountains and quaint old villages--we can't get enough.

But don't take my word f…

Buy This Book: What I Thought I Knew

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I absolutely loved Alice Eve Cohen's moving, excruciatingly-honest memoir, What I Thought I Knew, which details a 44 year old woman's struggle to come to grips with an "impossible" and very high-risk pregnancy finally diagnosed by doctors when she was more than six months. Expressing her doubts, fears, and struggle to cope was one of the bravest, most honest things I've ever seen put to paper.

As a person who's circumspect by nature (I express my truths beneath the veil of fiction), I so appreciated Cohen's courage in sharing her extraordinary journey. I've already passed it on to friends and highly recommend it to readers of this blog as well.

Coming around signifying

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Over the course of the last week we’ve received several emails with wonderful responses to three of our forthcoming novels. Each one has borne all the compliments I hope all our books will elicit—about the writing, the characters, the story. And I’ve been pleased (and relieved) to hear early opinions from outside the company that jibe with my own. But three of those responses also included another familiar and still (to me) surprising assertion. It felt like the 100th (and 101st and 102nd) time I’d read a note like this about one of our books: “It didn’t sound like something I’d be into, but I loved it.”

Sometimes the comment arrives in this form: “I didn’t know what to expect…but….”

And often, it’s said in this way: “This is not a book that’s easy to pigeonhole.”

Such comments always re-clarify the task we face. I mean, every time I hear such things I realize again how tricky the work is of publishing fiction that doesn’t fit into a so-called genre.

I read books—and manuscripts—for the t…