Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Great Minds Think... Differently

Yesterday, I met a friend with whom I'll be working on a brand new two-book writing project. We're both very busy right now, but I carved out some time, after a brief chat with her about general parameters, and typed out several pages detailing the backstory, characters, and a plot idea I had. I was feeling confident about my start.

But as we brainstormed, she started popping off ideas about what would work and what wouldn't and then suggesting alternatives. She supercharged the conversation with her own rapid-fire thoughts, based on many, many books' worth of experience with the publisher and editor involved, and the years she spent living in the city where the story will take place.

And much of what I had written changed, one of us riffing off the other's thoughts, both of us coming up with central ideas and characters for our respective, interconnected stories, and in the end synthesizing something richer than either of us could have done alone.

It happened not because we think alike, but because we think so differently. When I prepare to write a story, I get a whole lot of disjointed visuals. Mood, atmosphere, and setting. Snippets of plot events I have to carefully stitch together without really understanding the why or how. My friend works differently, thinking aloud and hammering out a coherent road map far more quickly.

Is one way right and the other wrong? Of course not. Do I feel compromised by having to alter my original vision to fit with someone else's? Heck, no. For one thing, I've been writing long enough to learn to shove my ego out of the way and listen when an agent, editor, or writer I respect gives constructive criticism. I've learned that my best books aren't written, but rewritten, and that sometimes, seeking input early and making minor course corrections can save heaps of work or even a rejection later on.

Our words aren't etched, inviolate, in marble. Those who rail about their artistic integrity and refuse to properly consider advice don't generally get contracts, or when they do, don't last long in the business. Of course, there are times to pick one's battles, times to defend the core vision at all costs. But there are many, many more times when a mind that thinks differently than your own offers the perspective you will need.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Elizabeth Gilbert on Writing, Genius, and Creativity



"It's better if we encourage our great creative minds to live."


Whenever I'm really down about my writing, I watch this video. It's such a refreshing way to think of the creative process. It's a bit long, since it was a TED talk, but if you haven't seen it already and you write, especially regularly, this is a must see. I wish that academia would embrace this concept.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Writers and Workaholism: The Importance of Balance

I'll never forget a conversation I had with a friend of mine a couple of years ago. She asked Mark and me to come to her annual Superbowl Party, and I said "well, we might, but he has to work on his thesis, and I have to work on my novel." She smiled and said a couple of other things, and then said "well, I had to ask you, but I know you guys are workaholics." Her words stung, and it wasn't the first time, nor with that particular friend. In fact, ever since I slipped into the abyss that is known as my novel, I've been saying "no" to almost everything.

Some of these nos have been necessary; some have been a long time coming. Getting serious about my writing forced me to quit activities I wasn't really enjoying and to end friendships that no longer made sense. In general, it's forced me to evaluate how I spend my time, almost down to the minute, and to realize that every time I say yes to something, I say no to something else.

The problem is that now I think I've gone too far the other way, and I'm a little bit worried. I hardly ever meet people for a social activity, and I shy away from groups. Part of this is because although I love people, I am highly empathic and tend to soak up their energy, which means that if that energy is negative, I will leave feeling exhausted and drained. But another part is that it is just really hard for me to explain my life path right now to people who aren't writers, particularly since I'm in a state of transition. So my default pattern now is to say "no," when before I began the novel it was almost always "yes."

Ideally, I'd like to add at least a couple of things back into my life, now that I've defended my dissertation and at least that hurdle is over. But I'm wary, until the book is done. I still have a day job, and that day job demands a lot of the same mental energy that I give to my writing, so I have to be self-protective. On the other hand, over Spring Break when Mark and I had a heart to heart, we realized the last time we took an actual, honest to God vacation was August, 2004.

It was before I started my comprehensive exams (and I did actually lay on the beach and study for those while I was there) and before he started his master's degree. It seems a little crazy that it's been that long, particularly when I theoretically have "summers" and "breaks" from school. But I have been cramming tons of writing hours into those "off" days, which means that it's been a really long time since I had a mental break. And my mind and body are starting to tell me that.

Over on academicladder.com, Gina Hiatt has this recommendation for people like me: She recommends creating a balanced life chart. On and off during the dissertation process, I used it, to help me remember not only to prioritize my writing, but to keep it from soaking up my entire life. I mention it here because I think this is something we all struggle with, whether we write or not, but I think it's particularly hard for writers. A friend of mine argues that a writer's life is necessarily overextended, because there's always going to be what we do to pay the bills and what we really do. But as several people have reminded me lately, this life is a marathon and not a sprint, and I am only one person.

And last year I did go to that Superbowl party--and had a blast.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Find Your Groove: The Tao of Routine

For the past week, I've been shaken out of my regular routine by both planned and unplanned travel. One of those trips involved a sick relative, and I decided I would bring along my laptop and work wherever, under whatever circumstances.

I know people who regularly write in hotel rooms, airports, coffee houses, public parks, and parents' bedsides. There are those who drag along their netbooks and write their heads off on vacation. (Talk about your busman's holiday!)

Although I've been known to jot notes for a work in progress, winnow down and respond to pressing e-mails, and the like, I've found that I truly need routine to signal my subconscious that it's time to settle in and focus. Countless writers have developed rituals involved thinks like freshly sharpened pencils, freshly-brewed tea (or Diet Coke or coffee), two-point-six hands of computer solitaire, and the lighting of a cinnamon cookie-scented candle.

What the ritual is matters little. Mine has shifted over the years and often involves music, working out my fidgets with a little net-scanning or e-mail, and then finally zeroing in on the task at hand. I try to keep the time of day fairly steady, the interruptions at a minimum, and the fingers on the keyboard, whether or not I'm under contract.

When I'm out of my routine and away from where I normally write, my muse can't always find me. According to her day planner, I'm supposed to be at home, in my writing chair, all ready to go between the hours of about nine AM to three o'clock. If I'm not in the right ZIP code and not in my writing-ready frame of mind, she takes the day off and hangs out with the "real" writers at Starbucks (or wherever they are stationed.)

This is why so many professional writers write every single day (or as close to it as they can manage.) Developing a routine frees us of a mighty struggle to get started and trains our brains to far more readily drop down the rabbit hole into the magical world to gather words.

Even if you can only write for a few minutes each day, you're telling your muse where and when to show up. What I'm looking for right now -- since travel is going to be part of my lifestyle for a while -- is a portable routine that I can take out on the road.

What do you do to get yourself geared up for writing? And do any of you have tips or tricks to help me pack my muse's bag?

Sunday Morning Groove: Bobbie McFerrin "Cantaloupe Island"



Buy the CD here.

Stay frosty, cats.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

From physics to fiction: the necessarily speculative nature of ideas

From a US/LHC particle physics blog via an editor friend on Facebook: "All of our theories are probably wrong. And that's okay."
Just because someone spends some time developing a new idea, that doesn’t mean that they are doing so because they think it must be true. This may sound silly: if they don’t think its true, then why devote so much time to it?

One answer is that it could be true. Thus we should figure out what falsifiable implications it would have if it were true so that future experiments can cross it out. However, there’s a deeper reason to pursue ideas that one isn’t necessarily “married to.”
The point is that good ideas have value just because they’re good ideas, even if they are necessarily speculative.
This dynamic translates to writing and publishing without much mind-bending.

I'm finishing up a huge project. Unemployment is looming. Between me and my next job there are hundreds of ideas, any and all of which have the potential to blossom or fizzle. I honestly don't believe there's any such thing as a lousy idea for a book. There's ideas that are in the wrong head at the wrong time. Or in the right head at the wrong time. Or in the wrong head at the right time. There are ideas that get championed and ideas that don't, and the difference doesn't come down to good or bad, it comes down to what the author is willing and able to do with it.

Book ideas are, as the physicist said, necessarily speculative. Don't let a friend, family member, or rejection letter rob you of that journey. A few spectacularly speculative ideas that have turned into deliciously successful books:

The Interrogative Mood by Pagett Powell

The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 1) and by Lemony Snicket (The rest of the series seemed like a great idea after the first one made a bazilion dollars!)

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

St. Burl's Obituary by Daniel Akst

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

The Lovely Bones by Alice Seybold

Friday, March 26, 2010

Loading my Kindle for Italy. Any suggestions?

The Gare Bear and I are off to Italy next week, flying into Rome and taking the train to wherever it is we catch the ferry over to Sicily and on to the Aeolian Islands to meet my friend, Janet Little. I'm particular about what I read when I'm traveling, so I'm preloading my Kindle with just the right mix. Any suggestions?

Currently on tap:
Lift by Kelly Corrigan (Recently read and loved her memoir The Middle Place.)

Selected Stories of Anton Chekov by (duh) Anton Chekov (Good for trains.)

The Mortgaged Heart: Selected Writings by Carson McCullers

Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann (That's right! I said V to the D, homes. You wanna make something of it?)

I'm also taking a galley proof of The Singer's Gun by Emily St. John Mandel, which is due out in May. I've had it for a while and started it a few times, but this is one of those books I wanted to read with my full brain and heart engaged. Emily's debut novel Last Night in Montreal is one of the loveliest books I've read in years. This girl's writing will always rank a vacation slot for me.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Yes


Yes. It's time to take a break. Stop. Breathe. Straighten your shoulders. Look at your magnificent hands.

Photo credit: Bruce Barone

Feet to the Fire (in grudging praise of good editing)

Last night, after a long conversation with my editor, I girded my loins and trudged into my absolute least favorite part of the book publishing process: the copy edit. You know the drill. After you've slaved for months over every word of this manuscript, some anal retentive, OCD-driven, hyper-literal grammar purist who never gets your sense of humor puts your work through the wood chipper and throws the pulp back on your desk with a parsimonious sneer. "Fix it."

Praise God and pass the red pencil.

As insanely annoying as it is to be tweezed on punctuation that is "technically correct but could be misinterpreted" and clever wording that "may be too arcane" and beloved passages that "cross the line of elegant variation" (I could go on, but that would be "an abuse of rule-bending parameters in the absence of serial commas"), I've grown to love and appreciate the people who do this work. A book lasts a long time. It should be tasked with correctness. It should be finely milled and meticulously crafted. Most importantly, however, it should say what the author wants it to say, and if the copy editor trips over something, that's a red flag that says some readers are not going to get it.

I've been doing this a long time, and I came out of parochial school with excellent traditional grammar and punctuation skills to begin with, so I hand off a pretty clean manuscript. A lot of the mark up is about the publisher's style sheet. At Simon & Schuster, the copy ed capitalized "the President"; now my Random House copy ed is striking it for lowercase. The serial comma, beginning a sentence with a conjunction, ending a sentence with a preposition -- all the rules are meant to be bent and broken, but not without a second glance from the writer.

A helpful hint for those early in their publishing career: use sticky notes for comments. Invariably, I get more and more annoyed as I go through the first half of the manuscript. I start out giving things a firm three dots and "stet!", but after a while, I can't resist commenting on the comments. I angrily whip into the margins: "Really? We need to spend another eight seconds of our lives changing 'Bill said' to 'said Bill'? Seriously?!"

By the 75% mark, I've realized that the copy editor has prevented me from embarrassing myself at least half a dozen times, and I have to go back and try to erase my red pencil retorts, which never works. I always end up returning the ms with a sheepishly grateful note for the copy ed's academic cat-o-nine-tails. It's the copy editor's job to flag every little thing and the writer's job to weigh that marking and decide if the choice is worth a potential speed bump for the reader. Key to sanity maintenance is seeing the ed's mark as saying "Maybe you should think about this?" instead of "Jayzee Q. Cripes, you're an idiot!"

I have nothing against self-publishing, but self-editing is self-delusion, and I worry about the growing sense that strenuous, objective editing isn't necessary. Margaret Mitchell's editor suggested changing the main character's name from "Pansy" to "Scarlet." That kinda says it all. (Make that "kind of." I've been told "'kinda' is a colloquialism that doesn't translate as well as Southern writers imagine." But then I've also been told "the capitalization of 'Southern' is no longer de rigueur.") And if you think anyone is above being edited, check out this item from the New Yorker's "Book Bench."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Both Sides Now: Is it kosher to submit directly to an editor?

Directing your attention to an interesting post over on Editorial Anonymous today: "To Boldly Give Advice No Man Has Given Before" weighs the realities and rhetoric behind the "no unagented submissions" policy.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pre-order "Promise Me: How a Sister's Love Launched the Global Movement to End Breast Cancer" and get a free copy for your sister

Suzy and Nancy Goodman were raised in postwar Peoria, Illinois, by parents who believed that small acts of charity could change the world. Suzy was the big sister—the homecoming queen with an infectious enthusiasm and a generous heart. Nancy was the little sister—the tomboy with an outsized sense of justice who wanted to right all wrongs. The sisters imagined a long life together—one in which they’d grow old together surrounded by children and grandchildren. Suzy’s cancer diagnosis shattered that dream.

In 1977, breast cancer was still shrouded in stigma and shame. There were no 800 numbers or support groups. The words “breast cancer” weren't said in polite company, let alone on TV or in the newspaper. Just before she died, Suzy said, "Promise me, Nan. Promise me you'll make it change."

Thirty years and one massive cultural revolution later, Susan G. Komen for the Cure is one of the largest grassroots organizations in the world. Millions worldwide have been brought into the promise, and SGK has invested more than $1.5 BILLION in research and services. Last year, when President Obama awarded Nancy G. Brinker the Presidential Medal of Freedom, he said, "In the months after making that promise, Nancy lay awake at night wondering if one person can really make a difference. Nancy's life is the answer."

In September, Broadway Books will release Nancy's memoir, Promise Me: How a Sister's Love Launched the Global Movement to End Breast Cancer. It was a huge privilege to work on the book with Nancy. Watch this space for more about that. Meanwhile, click here to get a free signed copy for your sister and read the first chapter.

Post a Comment, Snag a Book!

Today I've been interviewed by hilarious romantic suspense author Christie Craig (if you haven't tried her books, I highly recommend them!) over at Killer Fiction, where she's giving an autographed copy of my latest, TOUCH OF EVIL, to one lucky commenter.

Plus, you'll find out what really scares... me, at the end of a day filled with eliciting chills from readers. Stop by http://bit.ly/bsXj3N to enter and uncover my darkest "secret."

Monday, March 22, 2010

The answer to everything (and no, it's not 42)

So all of spring break, despite our cat emergencies and ending up sick myself, I worked like a fiend on the novel. Seriously--as in many hours straight through a day, going head to word with what I've written. This may not have been the best thing for my students, as now I head back with tons of papers still to grade, but I feel like I made a lot of progress on my writing. The most important thing, though, was that I rediscovered my direction.

It happened tonight, while I was working out a particularly difficult transition, one that got past all six of my dissertation readers (who I am now convinced really didn't read the book very closely), but one I've never been happy with and I think holds the key to some crucial points of the book. That's what made me spend three days on one paragraph and almost a week on a page, because I felt like if the book didn't turn right there, it wasn't going to. And tonight, about half an hour ago, it did. I finally got it to work. Then I got up and poured myself another glass of diet Coke (maybe all my writing sessions should be fueled by DayQuil and diet Coke), and happened to glance out the kitchen window. And somehow, as I stared at the silhouette of the live oak limbs against the night sky, I felt the answers come to me. They rushed in, faster than I could catch them, and filled my mind. I set the glass down on the kitchen counter and leaned into that image, leaned in and thought and thought and thought.

And then I was giddy. I rushed to the bottom of the stairs and yelled up to Mark, "I have it! The answer for everything!" Sly sci-fi reader he is, he of course yelled back "Is it 42?" before I had a chance to say it wasn't. I knew he was working upstairs (poor man, he is a saint to put up with me), but ran up anyway, to tell him this new development and direction for the book. It's been sitting right there. For four years. It's been right there between the sentences, in the folds of the novel. All the pieces are there, just waiting for it to connect. But until tonight, I hadn't connected them.

My problem was that I have been looking at the book entirely the wrong way--I've been seeing my teenaged girl character as the heroine. And in truth, she is the heroine, and that's how most readers will see her. But in my pitch, I say the book is about three women, and the first woman I list is the girl's mother. When I first conceived the book, it was about the mother, but then the girl took over. And she should take over; I want her to.

BUT--because my original plan was that the mother drive the story, there are a lot of scenes that simply don't make sense if the mother isn't in them. There are a lot of scenes that don't make sense if I look at the story as the girl's. What happened when I looked into that window and saw those oaks (don't ask me how; I never know) was that I realized the original plan was right, and that the mother SHOULD drive the action--for the first part of the novel. Then, at what filmmakers would call Plot Point One, that is where the girl can start to challenge her. Suddenly, when I saw it that way, all the pieces in the puzzle came together. It was like everything began to click beautifully and forcefully into place.

Of course, Mark tells me that was his idea all along, and that he told me that a draft or so ago. I can't remember if he did, but he probably did, and I was too busy not listening. Or I listened and was defensive, or it didn't fit the way I was seeing it, so I discounted it, or any number of other things. But the point is that now I get it. Now I see what's wrong. And the best part is that it's not really going to be that hard to fix! I want the girl to have agency, but she can't have too much agency, not at the beginning. It has to go back and forth.

I get it now--and now I can't wait to fix it!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Life Without Writing

Today I stopped to ponder what my life would be without writing.

It would be very pleasant indeed.

For instance, I would not spend so much time alone in a small room. My shoulders would be less hunched. My abdominals would be stronger. I would do yoga. Or learn to walk a tightrope.

I might make a real breakfast, instead of getting up only to sit down again. My first meal wouldn't be over the keys (well, in the keys, sometimes).

I would look out the window more. Right now I keep the shades drawn. Views are too distracting. They are often better than words. I would finally cop to this.

I would talk more with my friends. I would go out for more lunches. I would be able to talk to them about the tightrope-walking, which would interest them. In the past, not so many of them have been interested.

I would read more. I wouldn't have this dreadful feeling that I should be doing something else. I wouldn't worry if a book is better than mine. I wouldn't treat it like a fortune cookie, for god's sake. I would simply read it.

I would watch tv. After the yoga. With my shoulders erect.

I wouldn't be tormented by plots that haven't happened and characters who don't exist. I would pay more attention to my family. I would pay more attention to my dogs.

My dogs would be better trained. My house would be cleaner. I might have a cushy job. My bank account would be fuller.

I would do things instead of write about them. I've always wanted to swim the English Channel. I've wondered if this is harder, and takes longer to work up to, than publishing a novel. I would find out.

My eyes might be better than they are now. Also, I would see everything I've been missing, staring at this screen. I would take fun vacations from whatever it was I was seeing too much of, the way some of my friends do. I would absorb more vitamin D from natural sources.

Of course, I might miss this dark room, a little.

And the words trying to arrange themselves improperly.

And me fighting them like Russell Crow in a Roman arena.

I might miss the sport, the blood-lust.

I might miss my unreal friends. They're even less interested in me than my real friends, but I have been so interested in them, so confounded by them and curious, so hungry after them, breakfast, lunch and dinner, it's made up for a great deal, I have to say. My characters and I would have to get a kind of divorce, I suppose. That wouldn't be pleasant.

I might miss the satisfaction of getting something right. Oh, yes. Perfectly. It does happen, sometimes. You wait and wait and wait for it to come to you, pacing back and forth on the French coast, as it were. And then it comes. Patience as a feat. Victory as pulling something from the gray, sludgy water and helping it stand.

I would miss my story. That shivering, exhausted thing. That thing that wants to give up the whole time, but I don't let it. Breathe. Pace yourself. Stroke. Now rest. Tread water. All right, that's enough. Set off again. Back you go.

I might lose all the stamina I've developed.

I might short-change my will.

I might miss something really good. Something like O Pioneers!

I don't know if the tightrope-walking would make up for this.

I could straighten my posture while I sit here.

I could get the dogs to stay while I type.

I really should get back to work.

Hand me that donut.

--MD

Wisdom for the week ahead: "Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string."

From "Self-Reliance" by Ralph Waldo Emerson:
Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events. Great men have always done so, and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their perception that the absolutely trustworthy was seated at their heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their being. And we are now men, and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny; and not minors and invalids in a protected corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but guides, redeemers, and benefactors, obeying the Almighty effort, and advancing on Chaos and the Dark.
Click here to read the rest of the essay.

Friday, March 19, 2010

AlphaAlpha





This morning, something to inspire you (in addition to Colleen's excellent post on painting with words, below). Alpha/Alpha is a netbook devoted to the art and beauty of letters themselves. Refresh yourself with the glory of our medium. The letters. Our tools are marvels.

Why Paint-by-Number Writing Never Works

Before I began putting my stories down on paper, I absolutely loved to spend long hours drawing and painting. Since both my great-grandmother and my uncle were talented amateur painters, my parents had some inkling how to encourage me. So from an early age, there were pads of paper, watercolors, brushes and even a couple of art lessons and an easel.

Then they clapped onto the idea of buying me some of those nifty new paint by numbers that were still quite popular in the early Seventies. The idea, I'm sure, was that ladling the "correct" colors into the numbered spaces would not only making painting a "masterpiece" easy, but would teach the child (or adult) creativity.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I found them horribly disappointing. The end result looked flat and lifeless, and I didn't get any real satisfaction from the dumbed-down task of coloring in someone else's drawing with someone else's choices.

Paint-by-number writing, where writers attempt to blindly follow a formula for creating marketable fiction (often genre fiction) without making it their own, doesn't work any better. Without creative choices, without that most important, least-quantifiable ingredient, love, swirled into the mix, the work comes out as flat, lifeless, and in many cases condescending as the worst of the boxed art kits. The reading audience instinctively knows when it is being talked down to, and agents and editors are particularly good at sniffing out this sin... and issuing lightning-swift rejections.

But a writer aiming for a particular marketing niche can go too far with creative choices -- so far that the painting spills far beyond the frame. That's why it's so important to read, read, read recent examples of the type of book you're writing. If you don't, you'll fail to absorb the basic audience expectations. You can bend, tweak, twist, and play with these parameters, but ignore them at your own risk.

So if you're writing toward a particular market, try to ferret out the boundaries. But paint with those distinctive colors that only you bring to the process, and don't be afraid to bump playfully, joyfully, or even defiantly against the borders of your frame.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.

The last few days have been a roller coaster ride for me and Mark, as we've been tuning in to the ongoing discussions about the funding of NASA (for whom he subcontracts), making a lot of difficult financial decisions, and watching our amazing neighbor finish the extensive renovation of our house. To top it all off, Tito, our diabetic cat, collapsed suddenly yesterday while I was writing, and Mark came in to tell me. "Tito's not doing well," was all he could say, and we were off to the vet, tears streaming down my face, with a limp, eleven-year-old cat.

It turned out his sugar had just gotten low, so several hours and several vet techs later, he was happily gobbling down kitten food, and we were back at the urgent care animal clinic to take him home. And somewhere in the middle of this, it hit me: my writing anxiety was almost completely gone. It's like in the face of all these other, bigger issues, all my doubts and fears about the novel evaporated. I had real problems to contend with. On the other hand, I don't want to make light of the writing anxiety itself, because when I experience it, it's very real to me.

So today, when Mark convinced me that yes, it was really okay for me to leave the house and stop watching Tito, I took some pages of the book to a local Chinese place, and ate lunch while doing some line editing. I've been making hard decisions about the novel, including modifying some of my newly planned structure in order to go back more towards my original structure. I've been realizing that as much as I'm trying to up front the more salable aspects of the novel (the psychological horror, the Gothic tropes, the vampire imagery), it still is deeply nuanced and fairly literary. I can call it mainstream, and it might fly that way, but it will never be a heart-stopping, pot-boiling thriller.

Yesterday morning, before Tito fell over in the floor, I was in tears about this and wailing that I was "hopelessly literary." Today, in the warm, spring sunshine spilling over the pages at the Chinese restaurant, I saw the book for what it was. I've written a good book, a deep book, and I have to embrace it. Sure, I can line edit it and make sure it moves as quickly as it can, and sure, I can rework the structure to draw the reader in and drop the right cues and clues, but ultimately, it is what it is, and to change it too much would be to adulterate my original vision.

As I realized this, I opened my fortune cookie, and actually high-fived God (in the air, in front of people) when I read this fortune.

If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.

For someone writing a novel about pathological liars, this resonates for me in so many ways. But I think it's true for all of us, that if we just tell the truth, if we just stay true to the vision that we have, within the world we've created, that's really the most important thing. We can't impose a structure on our novels that doesn't work for them. Nor can we write in a genre that doesn't draw on our natural gifts. We have to go with the gifts we have, and make the very best use of them, and that is exactly what I plan to do: Make the novel the best whatever kind of book it is--and send it.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Answering Pub Perspective's Q of the day: "Has Digital and Self Publishing Devalued Authorship?"

Today on Publishing Perspectives, Edward Nawotka asks, "Has Digital and Self Publishing Devalued Authorship?" The gist of it:
...the very definition of “author” is changing. It is no longer merely used to describe a solitary writer working away in a room for hours on end. Today, it means the leader of a “tribe,” someone with their own community which they may have developed through their writing, blogging, Tweeting, et al. What’s more, technology has put the would-be “author” on equal footing with publishers: the cost of publishing — online or even in print — is free and/or accessible to most.

As a talented dabbler who developed into a person who writes books for a living, I’m not overly sensitive about other talented dabblers calling themselves “authors.” In my humble opinion, the definitions of “author” and “publishing” set forth above are more a devaluation of the important role others play in the production of a well-crafted book.

Writing a book without an editor is like applying lipstick without a mirror; I suppose a few people can do it, but they never look as good as they think they do.

The art of book design is something people don’t usually notice unless it’s done poorly, but a great design — from flap copy to font selection — makes a huge difference in the life of the book and the experience of the reader. (I was lucky enough to have Chip Kidd design the cover for my memoir, Bald in the Land of Big Hair, and I’m incredibly grateful for his contribution to that book’s success.)

The PR, sales, and marketing people I’ve worked with from Random House to the small presses are smart, business savvy, hardworking missionaries for the books they work on. The anal retentive copy editors and eagle-eye legal reviewers have vigilantly held my feet to the fire. My agent is my advocate throughout the process, keeping everything on an even keel, pushing for better positioning of the book, and shaking the money tree when needed. The head honcho at the publisher keeps the corporate boat afloat. Packing and shipping staff tote proverbial barges and bales. Bookkeepers tabulate royalty statements and (ideally) cut the checks that allow us all to do it for another day.

Of all the ridiculously unfair things about the publishing industry, perhaps the most egregious is that books don't have a rolling list of credits at the end. It takes a village. To dismiss the work of all these people as unnecessary is disrespectful and naive. If any one of them is sub-par, the book suffers for it. It’s scary to think people don’t know the difference, or worse yet, don’t care.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Catch Up with Colleen

I'm chatting online at Romance Reviews Today on Wed. (St. Patrick's Day) at 9 PM EDT. I'll be giving a signed copy of Touch of Evil to one lucky participant! Plus, I hate hearing crickets, so please stop by and say hello!

I'm guest blogging, too, this week. If you'd like to hear about the romantic suspense authors and books that inspired me to join the genre

For those of you in the Greater Houston area, I have some upcoming events, and I'd love to meet you.

March 20th at 4:30, Murder by the Book, Houston. Q&A and autographing my latest, Touch of Evil.

April 3rd from 1:30-3:30, Katy Budget Books, Katy, Texas. Autographing.

April 10th from 2:00-4:00, Good Books in the Woods, The Woodlands, TX. Autographing and special character naming rights presentation.

Hope to see you if you're able!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Spring Break a la Tintin: Chateau de Cheverny is an adventure in comic book history

My girl Jerusha is adventuring in France for spring break, hanging out with her cousin, Jenny, who works as an au pair for a family in Paris. They spent Saturday at the Chateau de Cheverny, which you'll recognize (if you're as big a nerd as I am) from the Tintin comic books.

Belgian author/artist Georges Prosper Remi, writing as "Hergé", used the iconic French estate as a template for Marlinspike Hall, which first appeared in The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure. The Tintin books were known and loved for their meticulous research and sly political satire. There's been controversy over the years about the anything-but-PC undertones in the series, but that's part of what I loved about Tintin books, which I discovered in my geeky early teens. Hergé is one of those rare and wonderful children's artists like Maurice Sendak who whispers in the ear of a kid and is heard by an adult twenty years later.

Marlinspike Hall was home base for Tintin and his friends and a perfect backdrop for their shenanigans. With a recent resurgence in the popularity of the Tintin series, the Cheverny estate and the Hergé Foundation came together to create a permanent exhibition, The Secrets of Marlinspike Hall, at the Chateau. It's a brilliant idea that brings together art, architecture, and history -- and hip globe-trotting twenty-somethings.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Starting from Silence

First, I must apologize to my blogmates, and to our readers, for not having posted in some time. I've been on the road, my thinking muddled by long hours, long miles, and vapid, floral motel rooms. But now, at last, I'm home again, in my own office, with my books around me, a familiar view of snowcapped mountains outside the window, and my feet tucked under my antique pine desk. (The desk is made from the floorboards of an old house; when I rest my hands on it, I travel along the path of ghostly feet.) I have every reason in the world to be happy, at peace, and to do good work.

And that's just the problem.

After weeks or even a few days away from writing, the silence that falls between me and the page is loud. Yesterday, my first day home, I did everything I could to avoid sitting at the computer with it. I unpacked. I looked around. The metal patio furniture urgently required a good wiping. The yard needed raking, the porches needed sweeping, the garage and the outbuildings needed cleaning, or rather none of these things were necessary--it's still winter, after all, and doing spring cleaning now is like setting poppies on ice--but each seemed a likely enough reason for not going anywhere near my office. Where the silence waited.

How quickly it can accumulate, the space between self and work. Into that space all sort of stiffenings and rheums creep, and questions that hang in the air like frost, and won't go. What if I have nothing left to say? What if I go back and look at what I last wrote, and it is terrible? What if it simply isn't as good as I thought? What if I can't get back in? What if I've lost the thread? What if I get lost, am already lost, and I just don't know it?

Surely it would be better not to find this out.

And so I find reasons to stay outside, bundled in my coat, examining the fruit trees for signs of budding, taking inventory of dead limbs that need to be cut down.

I consider going to work for County Extension. It would make more sense than writing.

I peek into my office, still considering.

But no. I sit down. Here in this chair. The silence stretches. It doesn't mock. Or dare. Or titter. Silence--at least my silence (perhaps yours is different?)--doesn't do that. It is simply a line that it would be easier to stay behind.

Deep breath. Don't think so much. Thinking is the enemy of action. Thinking is always being done, while you walk, while you cook, while you sleep, while you drive a car from state to state, while you shower, while you dither, while you fret. Thinking takes care of itself. Pick up your fingers the way you would pick up a lamb fallen on snow. Don't hesitate. There is no reason to. Pick your fingers up. Warm them. Bleat. Make a sound with them. Go.

And so.

--MD

Writing Past Doubt

"...Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. "
-Sylvia Plath
How does one banish self-doubt in a sea of rejection, ridicule, and criticism? One thing is for certain: you can't trust to your self-esteem to others, depending on their pronouncements to keep your head above the water (or drag you under by your ankles.) Somehow, you have to find your buoyancy yourself.

You do it by immersing yourself in the written word, reading, reading, and reading until you to absorb the alchemy of storytelling, the magic of well-crafted prose in your pores. The reading is a continual process, not something you quit once you start writing or when your first book is published.

Equally important is the ongoing act of writing -- every day, or as close as you can come. Only with repeated, concentrated practice will you break through to those moments when you finally hear your own words singing the way the best of what you're reading does. In those sweet, still moments, you'll begin to recognize that yes, you really are a writer, that you have something to say that's worth the listening, that's deserving of the struggle to share your words with others.

Those moments and that knowledge have the power to keep your will afloat through the days that threaten to submerge you. Those moments make the battle worthy, whether or not it's ever won.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Problem with Agent Blogs

I have a new obsession: literary agent blogs. Now that I'm in the final stages of novel revision, I'm hard-core researching agents and compiling a back-up list in case my target agent says no. Through all this research and reading, I've learned so much that will be helpful no matter whom I query, and I'm learning a lot about how the business works. But there's a problem here, and that is that writers (including this one) are prone to fantasizing and conjuring up dream outcomes. We're also prone to paranoia.

Case in point: Literary agent A says something about word count in her blog, so then I'm up late trying to figure out if I've miscalculated my word count. Then I go into "ohmygodmybook'stooshort, noagentwilleverwanttoreaditImightaswelljustdie" mode. Then Literary agent B says something about noticing the misuse of repetition, and I think about the use of repetition in my third chapter and how people in my workshop liked it, but then I think "wait, but is that too literary? Am I being too lyrical? Is Agent B going to stop reading the book and put it down right there?"

And then there's another problem, a sort of authorial fallacy problem. If an agent reveals too much about him or herself on a blog, a writer may start to feel a kinship with that agent that doesn't really exist. There are a couple of agents right now that I'm not sure I want to query any more because they've revealed so much of themselves that now if they reject me, I think I'll feel weird about continuing to read their blogs. I mean, it's one thing to be rejected by some name in a directory or on a list online, but to be rejected by someone whose blog you've come to enjoy, well, that would be a particularly personal ouch.

Except that it's not personal at all, at least not for that agent, and therein lies the rub. We may be reading their blogs, but to them, we're still just that wannabe writer, kind of like the geek in Sixteen Candles who suddenly finds himself alone with Molly Ringwald. I think the reason that I'm fifteen in that recurring agent dream is that this whole thing makes me feel like that again, like I'm back in high school trying to get the attention of the cute boy across the room. And I try to look at it as a business, but in what other business are professional relationships so fraught with these kinds of tensions? In what other business can a life's ambition turn on one small decision by just one person?

It's heady stuff, but ultimately, we have to remember that it is a business, and that it's still not personal. And we don't know these agents, no matter how thoroughly we research them and no matter how regularly we read their blogs. They are not our friends. And while an agent may make a pronouncement one day about not wanting x or y in a query or not wanting to see z in a first chapter, that doesn't mean the advice is universal. We have to be savvy about how we handle all this information, and we can't let it make us paranoid. If I compiled a list of every rule I've read in every blog lately, I'd probably just give up in despair and never send anyone anything, because it would all just seem too hard. Above all, we still have to be true to our own visions, and we still have to place our writing first. This means putting our vision above any literary agent's, and putting the biggest percentage of our time into our own writing. Reading industry blogs isn't bad, but we can't let it substitute for our own hard work.

And remember--the geek did end up with the prom queen. ;)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

After a Million Words of Crap... the Right One

The other day, I received a lovely compliment from a reader and aspiring author, who told me how much she wants to write like me.

Flattered as I was (and I can tell you no one laps up praise more happily than I do) I quickly thanked her and hastened to add that that's the wrong idea. Because no matter which author you admire, you'll never be more her than she is. But you're the very best at writing like yourself.

The trick is, writing enough words (Raymond Chandler is said to have insisted that every writer has a million words of crap to produce before getting to the good stuff) to break through to your authentic voice. More than likely, you're imitating other voices, other styles, and/or those you perceive as big successes for about half a million of these. You spend a few hundred grand more floundering, and the last ones grinding out some pretty decent prose that's not quite ripe yet. (When I go back to my old short stories, I see the raw material for what I'm still becoming. And believe it or not, I'm grateful for the rejections that gave me more time to develop.)

At some point -- and this point comes at a different time or number of words for every one of us -- you'll start to realize where you're different from whatever else is out there. You'll recognize the things you're good at, and how you sound in your own head.

Only then, can you capitalize on the uniqueness you bring to the table. You'll wrestle that individual voice into a marketable form.

Will you sell it? There are no guarantees on that one. But there's an intrinsic reward with finding that after your proverbial million words of... let's be kind and call it compost, you've finally grown the perfect crop. Even if no one else ever reads them, you've still written them, and that's worth something.

Because how many people find their own voice in the chaos of this world?

Monday, March 08, 2010

The Truth about Rejection (and why we keep on fighting)

I'd finished writing for the night and finished prepping for class, and was just about to head to bed. Then I decided to check my facebook one last time, and there it was, a young friend's status: "feeling insanely butt-hurt by the rejection letter I just got in the mail." I started to join the chorus of well-meaning comments after her status. I thought of all sorts of hopeful, cheerleaderish things to say. But as I typed in that tiny little box, I thought about my first rejection, that first moment when I realized the world would not shift because of the words I wrote. And I remembered the sting, the hurt, the black despair.

So I told this writer--who I've no doubt is very talented--that she shouldn't try not to feel this. And I'm telling her and myself and everyone else who does this job and takes it seriously: There is no point in pretending rejection doesn't hurt. There is no point in conjuring up a thick skin if by nature you are too sensitive to grow one. There is no point in telling yourself that this is just another part of the game (even though it is) and that this means you're playing it. There is no point in doing any of that, but what you do have to do is move through the hurt and keep yourself from stagnating. You have to wrap that grief around yourself and take it in and hold it, then channel it into fuel, fury, ferocity and fight back as hard as you possibly can. Fight by sending out another piece. Fight by sending that one out again. Fight by taking a hard look at yourself and seeing if, perhaps, they might be right, and maybe the piece needs another revision. And by all means, fight by going back to your notebook or your computer and writing something else, something new, something that can only come from you.

Because in the end, the only reason we hate rejection so much is that we so crave acceptance. We want someone to like our writing enough to publish it, to put on it their stamp of approval. We want our writing in the world, to grow and inspire and challenge and entertain. If we don't get that, we think that the work is somehow lacking, that we are somehow lacking. And the sad truth is that sometimes they are right. But sometimes, the rejection has nothing at all to do with the quality of the writing--it's just the tightness of the competition and a matter of personal tastes. I've read for some of these magazines. I know! Often, strong pieces are rejected because the editors do not agree; the piece resonates with one but not another, or one loves it, but another thinks it's too controversial, or any number of other reasons. This is why whole websites are given over to the discussion of rejections, and why countless famous writers will tell their rejection horror stories.

But of course, none of this matters when you hold that post-it note little F-You in your hands. None of this matters, and you will feel it. But if you let it, it will make you better. Hang in there.

Staggering genius Dave Eggers (I bet he gets really tired of that) talks about reading, writing, and the power of paper

My daughter Jerusha and I have been involved in a heated back and forth about my Kindle usage, which she considers nothing short of treason. I'm afraid to share this great article from the Guardian, in which Dave Eggers is optimistic about paper and ink:
"I only read on paper. I don't have an e-reader or an iPhone. I have the best time reading newspapers. I don't believe books are dead. I've seen the figures. Sales of adult fiction are up in the worst economy since the Depression."
He's not s'much on the internet:
"Writing is a deep-sea dive. You need hours just to get into it: down, down, down. If you're called back to the surface every couple of minutes by an email, you can't ever get back down. I have a great friend who became a Twitterer and he says he hasn't written anything for a year."
Read the rest here.

Oscar winner Mark Boal on the psychology behind The Hurt Locker

Yes, of course, I'm thrilled that a woman finally won a Best Director Oscar, but I love that so much credit for The Hurt Locker went to writer Mark Boal last night. (Was there even a mention of the guy who wrote the book The Blind Side?) Anyway, here's a great interview with Mark Boal on Vulture, and below, he speaks to the psychology of why men fight.



Overall, I think it was a pretty good night for writers. The next sound you hear: an outboard motor gunning into high gear on Sapphire's career.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Gotta see "The Ghost Writer"

Okay, how am I NOT going to see this movie today? Two lines from the trailer that got a big "True that!" from me:

"I interview you and turn your answers into prose." An exactly correct explanation of what I do for my clients.

"Inviting the ghostwriter to the book party is like having the mistress at the wedding." Seconded.

Him (to prime minister's wife): "Didn't you ever want to be a proper politician yourself?"
Her: "Didn't you ever want to be a proper writer?"
Zing!

And I have no trouble believing: "It was the book that killed him!"



I'll let you know how it goes down.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Historical Novel: An Unscientific Prognostication

I have this thing I do. When I notice my my mind bending a certain way, when I feel myself tending toward one thing and not the other, I stop and wonder if my proclivity is a purely personal one, or if it might reflect some participation in a larger trend. I've been wondering this lately as I turn more and more toward the historical novel for reading interest and pleasure.

"Historical novel" is a broad category, so let me give my recent bent some specificity when I say that stopping by my local bookstore recently I passed over contemporary nonfiction (which I enjoy), and contemporary fiction (which I write), and picked up instead Kate Grenville's The Lieutenant (about an 18th-century British marine who is among the first colonists in Australia). As I passed by other books to pick up this one, I sensed something in my choice: something that wanted not just novelty, but a particular kind of experience that modern media, with all its access, all its video and audio and links and wikiness and mashes, couldn't give me: the best possible access to a world older than my own. And it struck me that if my urge might be more than personal, and instead part of a larger impulse, that the historical novel should continue to do very well in the years ahead.

For those of us who write novels about the contemporary world, it is sometimes hard to compete with, well, the contemporary world, which is already doing a rather remarkable job of documenting itself through various media. But the world of the past, of Sydney Harbor when it was nothing but mangrove and a few huts, is--for this writer at least--much better summoned by older techniques. Interactive pastiche would only serve to remind me that I am NOT in the 18th century; old-fashioned storytelling gives me a better chance of appearing to participate in a world that no longer exists (and, of course, this isn't because storytelling is less constructed than a remix on YouTube, but because by now it is such an old construct it is nearly invisible. Eventually this will happen to new media, too. But not yet--or at least not yet for this reader).

And then there is my strong desire to "participate in a world that no longer exists." I find the strength of this urge, at this moment, interesting. I suppose it could signal nothing more than a chicken-hearted retreat, on my part, from the modern world, but it feels more like this: that the modern world, so busily and so relentlessly and so easily representing itself, frankly begins to pall a bit, and I turn with admiration to those writers who take the painstaking trouble to conjure up an older world in an old form, while still telling me important things I would like to know, right now, about being human, alive, thinking and feeling. I find this . . . refreshing. I find this curiously . . . original. It's not something just anyone with an iPad can do.

And so I make my unscientific prognostication, based on no research whatsoever but on the simple awareness that I am in no way unique, and that it's likely that if I am buying something, other people are buying it too: the traditional, historical novel as a genre will in the foreseeable future continue to rock.

What do you think?

The Literary Gothic: Why I Love Scary Stories

So it's official: I just got my teaching assignment for the summer, and it's a class in The Literary Gothic. This is a class I created for the Humanities program, ironically because I'm teaching it in a prison, and they don't have access to that many books. I always have to be creative when working with their inventory, and Lit Gothic was one of the easier sells. It's also a fun class to teach in a prison, for a variety of reasons, some of which you'll get to hear in the next few months.

But it got me thinking: why do we love scary stories? What is it about the Gothic that gets us? Out of every kind of literature, I always end up gravitating towards a literary sort of horror, along the lines of Henry James's The Turn of the Screw, or Bram Stoker's Dracula. And Poe. Wow, talk about a literary crush. I could dig him up and marry him.

What I most love about the Gothic is the way it deals with the psychological. I love the way it takes our anxieties and toys with them, the way it teases and pokes and prods. I also love its dark possibilities, the sense of mystery that lurks in those dimly lit hallways and those thick, dark woods. And it's the one realm of literary fiction where a writer can get away with bringing in the supernatural and not immediately get slammed. Through the Gothic and its war between dark and light, a writer can more comfortably explore issues of spirituality and religion.

And if you're looking for a quick, fun read, it's worth taking a trip in time back to 1764 and Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, which is widely thought to be the first Gothic (although I argue against that claim in my class, shhhh). It's a nutty book, as most prototypes are, and filled with what we would now call Gothic cliches. But you just gotta love a book that starts off with a groom being crushed on his wedding day by a giant helmet. And then there's his father, the evil prince, who corners his son's betrothed with the ominous "Since I cannot give you my son, I offer you myself . . . "

The Last Station is all about truth, love, and Tolstoy

My son Malachi is in town for a few days, and we're trying to see a bunch of movies for which I haven't had time and he hasn't had money. I've recently been on a Kindle-induced Tolstoy binge, so I especially loved The Last Station...



Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren are up for Oscars as Mr. and Mrs. Tolstoy. It's a great script, beautifully executed. Laughed, cried, couldn't wait to get home and read more Tolstoy.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Storytelling Smackdown: Avatar vs. A Serious Man



Predating our recorded history, storytelling has been part of what makes our species unique. Our stories help us make sense of the world around us and build our confidence by assuring us that even the humblest person can find the strength to overcome daunting troubles. Reading, listening to, or watching stories relieves stress, reaffirms core social beliefs (often telling us that love, family, and friends truly matter), and underscores heroic values, such as loyalty, self-sacrifice, courage, and hard work.

As a writer of commercial genre fiction, I argue that that's a noble tradition and something our audience has a right to expect from us. We may be able to "get away with" straying or (sometimes) be rewarded with critical acclaim for dramatically altering the story landscape, but it's tough to endear oneself to a large audience that way.

Case in point: two recent Academy Award Best Picture nominated films, James Cameron's Avatar, which for all its nifty special effects is as heart an old-fashioned, ultimately triumphant hero's journey, and the Coen's Brothers' film, A Serious Man, which defies audience expectations by showing us a poor, downtrodden schmuck who never does rise up against the massive injustices heaped onto him by God and his weird family alike.



I left the theater completely inspired after viewing the first. Shouted "What the Heck?"(okay, I said worse, but I'm not copping to it in print) upon reaching the ending (meaning the movie's "ending," not the story's, because it didn't have one) of the second. Though I've loved the majority of the Coen brothers' past efforts (O, Brother, Where Art Thou? and No Country for Old Men are two of my all-time favorite movies) to and found the characterization of A Serious Man very well done, this film, for my taste, felt maddeningly self-indulgent.


Now, I think it's fine for a writer to challenge readers (or viewers.) I love being forced to reconsider a long-held opinion, knee-jerk prejudice, or to see the world from a wholly-unexpected viewpoint. Within the parameters of the storytelling framework, we have the power to illuminate all sorts of dark places in a way that still offers the powerful cathartic experience thousands of years of evolutionary culture has trained us to expect.

But at the end of the day, if you're going to indulge anyone, shouldn't it be the people who are plunking down their hard-earned dollars rather than yourself? Don't we owe our audience not necessarily a happy, but a satisfying, emotional experience?

Anyone else care to weigh in on either the question or the films?

Monday, March 01, 2010

Sherman Alexie and the Loving Spoonful (a publishing parable)

I've heard this little parable in various versions -- rabbi, priest, monk, generic seeker -- and I'm thinking we need to adapt it to the publishing industry:
A monk asked God to show him heaven and hell. First, God showed him a banquet table laden with a great feast. But the people at the table were shrunken and famished. They had spoons melded to their fists, and the handles on the spoons were longer than their arms, so the people couldn't put the food in their mouths.

"This is hell," said God.

Then he showed the monk an identical table with an identical banquet and the same spoons with impossibly long handles. But the people assembled were healthy and strong, laughing and feasting.

"This is heaven," said God. "They learned to feed each other."
Over a blog posse lunch at El Pueblito in downtown Houston yesterday, we were discussing how great it is when authors lift each other up when the opportunity presents itself, and we agreed it's something we want to do more of in this space.

A thousand years ago at my first BookExpo in LA, I stood in a long line waiting for Sherman Alexie's autograph on his novel Indian Killler and a collection of stories, The Toughest Indian in the World. He'd served as a judge for the Barnes & Noble Discover Award a few years earlier, and my debut novel was close-but-no-cigar. I'd been smitten with him since The Business of Fancydancing, so it was a serious thrill for me to think he might have read even part of my firstborn book.

"Mr. Alexie," I blurted when it was my turn, "I'm Joni Rodgers. I wrote this book called Crazy for Trying...about the Blackfoot guy...and it was in the Discover thing?"

"Joni!" He got up from behind the table and swept me into a big hug (swoon) as if I were his long-lost cousin. Then he turned to the long line of booksellers and said, "Have you met Joni Rodgers? Her first novel was about a Blackfoot. Joni, what are you working on now?"

I said my second novel was being released by a lesbian micro-press and my memoir had just sold to Harper Collins. Mr. Alexie deftly got the conversation rolling between me and the booksellers as he went back to signing. I have no idea if he actually recognized my book or not, but my confidence soared when this author I'd long admired treated me like a peer. And it gave me a whole new level of credibility in front of the booksellers.

That moment meant a lot to me, but I'd be surprised if Sherman Alexie even remembers it. I suspect that's just how he is; that moment has probably played out hundreds of times with hundreds of emerging writers who admire him. It's a perfect example of how an established author reaches out his long-handled spoon and makes the whole culture of publishing just a little bit healthier.

Appropriate Monday grooviness: Lovin' Spoonful "You Didn't Have to Be So Nice" (This one's for Sherman.)

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