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Showing posts from June, 2010

True Fiction

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I am way too slow witted to respond immediately to something as insightful and complex and true as Laurie Anderson’s new album, Homeland. I picked it up only yesterday. And I’ve listened to it only twice.

But I have this to say:

I’ve often wondered about how applicable to our lives and our collective worldview is the familiar (practical) assertion that the way for a corporation (or a political party or a human) to get on successfully is to get control over “the narrative.” In the minds of pundits, this isn’t a question of honesty or truth or of art or of writing or even of storytelling really. It's just a matter of being-in-the-mediated-world (or at least of controlling perceptions in that world). What gets me, is that this assertion is repeated constantly in a world where constructed narratives are so often otherwise dismissed for being untrue.

In the liner notes to the remarkable set of narratives that is Homeland, Laurie Anderson has this to say:

[Stories are] illusions. You can ma…

Buy This Book: Captivity by Deborah Noyes

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This wonderfully prescient book is so evocative, well written, and full of questions that beg bookclub discussion. I've been fighting for months to find time to write a proper review of it, but having failed that, I'm going to do a "yes! what she said!" and pass along this terrific review from Library Journal:
In this new work of historical fiction, Noyes (Angels and Apostles) effectively offers two separate stories, both taking place in mid-19th-century America and England. First, there is the story of Clara Gill, a reclusive illustrator spinster shut away from the world at large in her father's home in Rochester, NY. Clara's sternness and acute observations often intimidate the few people with whom she does interact, and as she is no longer young, her prospects in life are diminished. The second narrative focuses on the strange circumstances concerning two young sisters, Maggie and Kate Fox, whose lives takes a decidedly notorious turn when it is believed th…

Hooray! It's the 2010 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

This year's winner in my favorite annual bad writing contest is Molly Ringle of Seattle for this brilliant bit of deathless prose:

"For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity's affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss — a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity's mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world's thirstiest gerbil."

Ye, gads! That's so hilariously awful, my eyes are limpid pools of admiration.

Can't get enough? Check out the complete results, including runners up and fabulous category winners of the 2010 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.

Climbing into Bed with Strangers

The other day over on Facebook, I was involved in a brief discussion with an author who, as part of a novel proposal package, was writing her synopsis before working on the sample chapters.

Yikes, I responded, though I've done it myself upon occasion. To me that always feels as if I'm climbing into bed with strangers. I like moseying through my opening chapters first: a snippet here, a deletion there, a rewrite coming from another angle. It's how I get to know the characters so I'm comfortable enough with predicting what they'll do to put together an outline of their journey in the synopsis. In the opening pages, the story's themes and tone gradually reveal themselves to me as well.

It's not the way I always write, and as I've previously discussed on the blog, I rely on an ever-evolving number of prewriting strategies to focus my energies on the characters and their relationships. None of these methods, or anyone's methods (including starting off with…

On Bugs, Favorites, and Faith

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Dear friends, it's with joy I can announce my novel The Deadwood Beetle is now available in a Kindle edition.  The story of Dr. Tristan Martens, an entomologist who is forced to emerge from the cocoon of his specialized research and confront the secrets of his family’s terrible past, it's been reviewed as "splendid" by the New York Times, “elegantly imagined” by the Miami Herald and as "a compelling read from start to finish” by the Bloomsbury Review.  My warmest thanks for checking it out, and for slipping it into your Kindle and into your lives, if you do.  As I discussed in this earlier post, this book, for and about my father, means a great deal to me.

I also must, must take a moment to thank our fellow BoxOcto blogmate, publisher and editor Fred Ramey, and his partner, Greg Michalson, the two readers who first found this book and believed in it and helped it, at Blue Hen/Putnam, to take flight as the polished, finished thing it now is.  I am forever in yo…

Or start the week laughing till you cry: Ephron spoofs Larsson in "The Girl Who Fixed the Umlaut"

This one's for you, Colleeny. From Nora Ephron's hysterical Stieg Larsson send up in the New Yorker:
There was a tap at the door at five in the morning. She woke up. Shit. Now what? She’d fallen asleep with her Palm Tungsten T3 in her hand. It would take only a moment to smash it against the wall and shove the battery up the nose of whoever was out there annoying her. She went to the door.

“I know you’re home,” he said.

Kalle fucking Blomkvist.

She tried to remember whether she was speaking to him or not. Probably not. She tried to remember why. No one knew why. It was undoubtedly because she’d been in a bad mood at some point. Lisbeth Salander was entitled to her bad moods on account of her miserable childhood and her tiny breasts, but it was starting to become confusing just how much irritability could be blamed on your slight figure and an abusive father...Click here to read the rest before you dive into your day. I promise your writing week will be better for it.

Monday jump start: Natasha Bedingfield "Unwritten" (Today is where your book begins)

"Listening to the Deep Know:" Three Questions for Ronlyn Domingue

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Today I'm so proud to have at BtO Ronlyn Domingue, the author of The Mercy of Thin Air (see description in the post below), which was published in 2005 and chosen as a Costco pick of the month for January 2010. The book received excellent reviews upon its initial publication and was both a 2005 Booksense pick as well as a finalist for the Borders Original Voices award. Jodi Piccoult called it "that rarest of first novels--a truly original voice, and a truly original story." But beyond the book, what fascinates me most is Ronlyn's process, and her concept of "listening to the deep know," which she elaborates on here. If this doesn't inspire you, I don't know what will.

1. It's been five years since the publication of Mercy, yet the novel continues to exist and draw new readers. (One of your fans even recently started a Facebook page for it!) How do you account for the continued success, and what is that like for you? Is it incredibly motivating, o…

Buy This Book: Ronlyn Domingue's The Mercy of Thin Air

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In late 2008, I stumbled onto Ronlyn Domingue and her beautiful, ethereal novel The Mercy of Thin Air. Part literary, part women's lit, and part supernatural love story, the novel dances between genres the way its main character slips between death and life. Raziela, also known as Razi, drowns in July 1929, but continues to remain "between," as she wonders what has happened to her lover. The novel moves back and forth between Razi's 1920s past and the lives of the young, married couple she haunts 70 years later. There are fascinating characters in both time periods, as well as those who have spent decades and even centuries between, and the entire effect of the book is like falling asleep on a summer afternoon and having a hallucinogenic dream.

Beyond the high concept and the carefully crafted characters, though, the real treat here is Domingue's flawless, graceful prose. Each sentence is like a poem, and yet not so precious that we don't want to move on to th…

Strategy Session: Edward Albee on Developing Characters

Pushing

For a week or two now, I've been taking a break from writing fiction, resting, writing other things, doing other things--I took the puppy to the lake, where he learned to swim--is there any greater joy than watching something you dearly love, something shaky and timid and excited and awkward take his first great flying leap into the deep?--all of this while waiting for a friend of mine to read over some of a very rough manuscript I've been working on.

"You're pushing your characters around," she told me yesterday, flatly.

My pup came back to me, flailing madly, struggling to hold his head up with the float in his mouth, wide-eyed, wild-eyed, delighted by what he'd learned.

This proud old dog took him home and sat down with her manuscript again.

And saw I was pushing my characters around.

***

It's a mistake I make often in early drafts. I love my story, I need certain things to happen for it to have depth and wave and heft, I'm overexcited . . . some things…

Can an Author Be Too Accessible?

Like most other authors, I love hearing from my readers. Nearly all of the folks who take the time to write are doing so to say how much they've enjoyed one or more of my books -- and what's not to like about that? With only the rarest of exceptions (a few of whom were clearly off their meds) the disgruntled feel no need to share that I dinged their pet peeve meter or that my work just didn't do it for them, for whatever reason. (Happens to the best of us. Don't believe me? Check out Amazon reviews on the last three books you've loved. I guarantee you, someone, somewhere hated them. Especially if they've been sufficiently popular to warrant notice.)

If readers want to communicate with me, they don't have to work very hard to do it. My e-mail address is printed in my books, or they can click a link off of my website. (I did recently close my P.O. box because nearly all of my fan communications have been online for several years, but non-connected readers are …

Our "hideous progeny": A Prisoner's Take on Frankenstein

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Yesterday in the Gothic class, we started our unit on Frankenstein. I gave a little background information on the period, and then we began talking about the idea of monstrosity and how it relates to creation. As a writer, I'm always particularly interested in Mary Shelley's reference to her book as her own "hideous progeny," as well as the tale that the first draft of Frankenstein was composed in a mere weekend. One of the prison students surprised me, though, with his take on not only the novel, but the whole concept of "the monsters we create." He argued that the media creates monsters every day by vilifying criminals and by giving criminal attributes to whoever opposes societal norms.

Another student picked up on this and mentioned the oil spill in the Gulf, and how "monster" language was being used both by BP and the government, and still another mentioned terrorism and 9/11. Then a fourth student brought us back to the text and pointed o…

The Writer Who Couldn't Read

After seeing this very short NPR film by way of Huffington post, I was fascinating by what it has to tell us about the mysterious wiring of the human brain - and one man's will to keep telling his stories.

You have to see this to believe it.

The Cialis Warning for Writers: Don't make it harder than it has to be.

This is going to be one of my apt but slightly off color publishing allegories, so for those who are put off by such things, please, step away from the blog.

Whenever I see those Cialis commercials in which they warn "If you experience an erection lasting longer than four hours, call your doctor," I'm compelled to tell Gary, "Hey, baby, if that ever happens to you, forget the doctor--call me!" But formulaic humor aside, in practical reality, too much of a good thing is just as bad, if not worse, than not enough. Priapism (won't-go-away erection) is a harmful, painful medical emergency that can lead to ischemia and even gangrene in extreme cases. Yeah. Seriously not good.

Dragging out the manuscript process to ridiculous lengths is similarly unhealthy and ultimately unsatisfying. Meticulous is great until it becomes masochistic. Rewriting is good craftsmanship until it becomes obsessive rehashing. Artistic integrity is laudable until it becomes a smokescreen…

Call to My Father

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Dear friends, today I am going to try to do something I don't know that I can do in the context of a blog, though I very much want to. I am going to try to write about my father.

I lost my dad on June 20, 1995, when he was fifty-five years old, and I was thirty-two. For years he had suffered from heart disease. A week before he died, knowing only that he wasn't doing very well, I went out to North Carolina to see him; I asked his doctor the prognosis, and was told my father had six months to live. My dad and I spent a wonderful week together, talking. Then I went home to check on things, telling him I would be back very soon. As soon as I got home to Texas I began looking into the possibility of a heart transplant for my father, something he had never wanted to do ("What if I get the heart of a bad person?") but was now, at long last, beginning to consider. I called him to tell him what I'd found out, and this is what we said to each other:

"Daddy, what…

Six Simple Steps to Writing an Effective Query

I'd like to direct your attention to the funniest thing I've read in ages, Slushpile Hell, where "a grumpy literary agent wades through query fails."

The site's quotes are definitely great examples of how not to write a query. But I'm often asked about the right way, so I thought I'd devote a brief post to the topic.

A solid query letter (or e-mail, as often as not, these days) does the following:

1. Conveys that you have done your homework, checking in the most recent edition of the Writer's Market or, better yet, the agent's or publisher's website (for more up-to-date information) to find out if this submission is appropriate for this publishing pro and if he/she is accepting unsolicited queries. If you can't do even that much research, you're wasting everybody's time.

2. Quickly lets the recipient know what it is you're shopping. For example: "I'm seeking representation (or a publisher) for Sparrows in the Storm, a 90,0…

Cross-Blogging

Dear friends, I have a new post up at American Stories NOW called "Tango"--sometimes I'm so moved by the simple stories people tell me, and that I get to write down. An excerpt:

"At the beginning of every school year," Becky says, "I ask my students what they would like their goal for that year to be. What they want to accomplish. What they would like me to help them with. And Ellis, he raised his hand, and he said,

"'I want to walk.'"

If you have a story you'd like to share, please let me know. I'd be delighted to post it.

--MD

Meet IRA, the Imaginary Reader Anomaly

Author Cynthia Reese has a fun and handy post offering up a secret decoder ring of jargon and acronyms romance writers commonly use when critiquing and discussing their work. I loved reading these and even learned some new ones, such as RUE (resist urge to explain) -- which could save many a writer from a multitude of backstory sins. (Do we really need to know about the heroine's traumatic seventh birthday party, when none of the invitees showed up?)

Years ago, I came up with another concept I found handy: IRA, the Imaginary Reader Anomaly. Good old IRA has long helped me to distance myself from the work by imagining myself seeing it from the point of view of some future reader.

I like to assume IRA is a bright, well-read person, never so stupid that he (not that IRA has a specific gender, but roll with me on the pronoun this time, will you?) needs every little thing spelled out or endlesslessly repeated. But IRA's not omniscient, either. He can't read anything into the pro…

Spinning wildly and loving it: 3Qs for Holly LeCraw, author of The Swimming Pool

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Holly LeCraw's debut novel The Swimming Poolis the story of an unsolved murder, a forbidden affair, and a summer that pretty much blows everyone out of the water. We caught up with Holly and managed to wedge 3Qs into her busy book tour schedule.

Holly, thanks for joining us. How are you, dear girl? It took you a while to get here. Now that the book is launched, has it been everything you expected it to be? Or is your head spinning with the debut novel rollercoaster ride?
Definitely the latter. Spinning wildly. Which I did not expect. It is very, very odd to go from being a completely private person to an even slightly public one. I have been toiling in suburban-mom-disguised obscurity for a while and so this is a big change—complete and total strangers have opinions about my book! My book that I wrote all alone in my study! Of course that’s how it’s supposed to work. But it’s still weird. You lose control over this thing that’s been only yours for so long.

Also, promoti…

The Writer Tries to Rest

Okay, folks, I am going to try not to write (by which I mean work on a novel--blogging is allowed) for a little while. I really need to rest.

But oh, I find rest so hard to do.

It's helped that my family has been visiting for the past week. That's kept me away from the computer, and broken the grip of routine a bit. It's forced me to engage with other human beings, cook a few decent meals, go out and look at things I haven't looked at in a while. We went to see the ruins at Hovenweep; I looked at the tiny stones inserted by an ancient mason between the great big ones, and knew exactly how he felt. What an effort it takes to make something as square as stone, curve.

But surely the mason must have rested?

My trouble is that I don't know how. I am a complete writing addict. I feel lost without the characters and story, like the world has no walls. Everything is too open. What do I do? Where am I? What light is this?

I do things that need to be done…

Buy This Book: The Swimming Pool by Holly LeCraw

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If you're looking for a steamy summer read, dive into The Swimming Pool(Doubleday hardcover), a powerful debut novel by Pushcart winner Holly LeCraw. An unsolved murder, an explosive affair, and all the dicey dynamics that are inevitable when a woman of a certain age enters into forbidden territory. As the story moves assuredly toward the deep end, moments of pristinely beautiful writing catch the light. She kept me reading even when I kinda wanted to slap certain characters upside the head.

From the flap:
Seven summers ago, Marcella Atkinson fell in love with Cecil McClatchey, a married father of two. But on the same night their romance abruptly ended, Cecil's wife was found murdered—and their lives changed forever. The case was never solved, and Cecil died soon after, an uncharged suspect.

Now divorced and estranged from her only daughter, Marcella lives alone, mired in grief and guilt. Meanwhile, Cecil's grown son, Jed, returns to the Cape with his sister for the first t…

Writer Gets Over Self - With a Little Help from Loved Ones

When I give talks or signings or make appearances at book clubs, I'm almost invariably asked some version of this question, usually by someone with a slightly awestruck expression: "So, are your relatives excited to have an author in the family?"

Thanks to a recent conversation with my mother, I now have a terrific new story to help answer to this question.

On the phone yesterday, she was complaining that there's nothing good on TV and she doesn't like to watch as much in the summer.

"You could always pick up one of those books of mine you've been collecting," I teased, since my mom has never been a reader (and often makes unintentionally hilarious excuses trying to explain herself.)

She then launches into a story about how I might enjoy reading but she's never...(loses train of her thought, before launching into:) "It reminds me of when my sisters once convinced me I'd just LOVE buying a kit and making my own hook rug. I loathed every min…

Sunday Morning Groove: Ed Gerhard "Homage"

Plastic Bag

Take 20 to watch this awesome short film by Ramin Bahrani and visit FutureStates for more of the same.

"Send Us Your Best Work:" But What Does That Really Mean?

Last night, Mark and I went another round in the battle of what he calls "Kathryn Paterson's existential writing angst." I was frustrated after a hard day of revision, the kind where I was splicing together the best of two chapters in order to tighten my rising action and make the early part of the story move. I had literally taken both chapters and used three different colors of highlighters to try to figure out which pieces of the chapters I actually needed. The sentences that absolutely had to be in the story I marked in orange, the ones that I liked the spirit of, but not the execution went in pink, and stuff I liked but didn't really think I needed went in blue. The stuff I knew for sure I didn't need I didn't mark at all.

The idea behind this was for me to start seeing the skeleton of those chapters a little better, and to help me reorganize. But it was hard, because there were sentences that I thought might seem dull to readers that people who hav…

What's Your Alternate Writing Reality?

I just love killing people. In fiction, that is. In real life, I'm so wimpy, I'm seriously afraid of clowns and have been known to faint at the sight of blood. But I'm fearless in my fiction and love crafting suspenseful mysteries with the added emotional umph of romance.

That doesn't stop me from daydreaming about an alternate reality in which I pursue another type of writing altogether. Science fiction.

I love a good science fiction novel, TV show (still in mourning over the end of the recent Battlestar Gallactica series) or movie, and I miss the intelligent social commentary and high-stakes action of the pulp SF I read in my youth. But like any other type of writing, the crafting of great SF requires dedication and commitment - the kind of laser-like focus I've often referred to in my posts.

That doesn't keep me from -- or lessen the enjoyment of -- imagining that career path now and again or tinkering idly with this or that idea I've had for a science fic…

Beasts, balls and bromance: 3 Qs for comic horror author Jeff Strand

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On a recent flight back to Houston, I was abruptly shushed by the Gare Bear, who was deeply engrossed in a bizarre book about a boy named Toby and his pal...killer humanoid beast monster, Owen. Bram Stoker nom Jeff Strand's Dweller is part Sendak, part Lassie, part Fangoria. Bromance meets bloodbath. It's gotten glowing reviews from publications like Hellnotes, CultureGeek and Dread Central. I had to ask.

Jeff, thanks for joining us. So where in the demented mind of Jeff Strand did Dweller come from? Allegory much?
Oh, I’m all about the allegory. (There’s an Amazon review for Dweller that calls it “very DEEP and SYMBOLIC” and when I first read it I thought the guy was being sarcastic!) There really isn’t a fascinating story about the origin of the idea. I was basically just brainstorming a bunch of ideas for my next book, and trying to figure out what twists I could put on standard horror tropes. “Lonely kid feeds bullies to pet monster” has been done before, but I’d never see…

Back to Prison (with students who sneak out for literature)

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Yesterday I went back to prison for the first time in nine months. It was the first day of the Gothic lit class I teach there, and, as usual, the semester got off to a slightly bumpy start. For one thing, the count didn't clear, so the students were stuck in their cells. At the official start of class, I was there in an empty classroom, organizing my handouts and waiting to see if we would have class at all.

While I was waiting, an inmate from one of the GED classes slipped across the hall. I didn't know him and he didn't know me, but he heard I "taught college." He wanted to know what I taught, who I taught it for, and what I'd gotten my degree in. Then he nodded his head and said "Writing and literature, I need some of that. I want to win the Pulitzer prize."

I didn't know what to say, other than to encourage him. I told him to remain true to his voice, that that would carry him far further than anything else he could do. And read. I t…

Slate messes with minds...and discovers minds are pretty messy to begin with

Fascinating article in Slate about the wobbly nature of human memory and the work of experimental psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, who specializes in the study of false memories.

From "The Memory Doctor":
In 1984, George Orwell told the story of Winston Smith, an employee in the propaganda office of a totalitarian regime. Smith's job at the fictional Ministry of Truth was to destroy photographs and alter documents, remaking the past to fit the needs of the present. But 1984 came and went, along with Soviet communism. In the age of the Internet, nobody could tamper with the past that way. Could they?

Yes, we can. In fact, last week, Slate did.The results of their experiment are predictably disturbing. Read the rest here.

Interesting word of caution to anyone writing a memoir. In my work as a ghostwriter, I exhaustively research the stories people tell me. I also come into the interview process with ironclad memory anchors--verifiable dates from which to backdate events, pho…

On the road with too much technology

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It seems I was on the road too long. Five days in New York — did I tell you about my problems with the booth? Okay, the show was great for us, absolutely invigorating—and I ended up quoted in The Dallas Morning News, which would have made my in-laws proud, except that by the time it appeared they were all in Houston, meeting me and Ms. E for a graduation-related reunion. (period) And that was the second part of the trip—Eating in Texas. I’d talk about the joy of being in Corsicana the last night of the trip, but that’s another subject.

Anyway, for a week and a half, I was trying to stay attached to the (widespread) office of Unbridled Books via the small screen of my Blackberry. Which is my point here.

The sales reports were tiny—I mean the typeface was. I could increase the focus/print size, but that only meant that what I saw was even more fragmented—pieces of reports. The ad proofs were illegible. The flash ads boiled down to a single opening frame.

I had trouble focusing on the map t…

Buy This Book: Nurses on the Run: Why They Come, Why They Stay

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In Nurses on the Run: Why They Come, Why They Stay, editor Karen Buley, RN, BSN, presents the personal stories of 25 women and men who've devoted their lives to caring for us as we get born, grow up, give birth, crash, burn, break, and -- if we're lucky -- get old. The collection of essays is an examination of what calls people to this emotionally and physically demanding profession and why they stay with it while so many feel the need to walk away. Both joys and frustrations are many.

Each story is gripping and surprising in its own way. The stories come from obstetrics, hospice, oncology--everything from pediatrics to geriatrics--but have in common the generous spirit and humor necessary to survive the job. (In her essay "Nursing in the Big House", prison nurse Sara Stassen writes, "Walking back to the control bubble, I felt like a nurse in the Wild West...a gun-slinging sheriff walking though town after killing an outlaw.")

A nurse for 31 years (and a re…

The Construction and Care of the Writing Habit

Yesterday was a heck of a stressfest. My husband and I are dealing with the logistical challenges of an elderly family member's care (with its incumbent extended separations and myriad phone calls) and my son's routine car maintenance turned into Automotive Armageddon. I was fried by day's end, and I hadn't written one word.

But I'd checked in on a writer friend who's dealing with her own health issues and is one of the busiest folks I know. We talked a while before she said, "I have to go and get my 100 words in before I go out this evening."

It reminded me of one of the best strategies I've ever come across for building up the writing habit. Some years ago, a group of writers chatted about research that indicated it takes 100 consecutive days to fully establish a habit. They also decided that, as helpful as things like NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) can be for some folks, it's not realistically sustainable and the giant goal of crash…

Joni's Tribute to Rue McClanahan

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Today, the Houston Chronicle published our own Joni Rodger's moving tribute to her recently-departed friend and client, Rue McClanahan.


I was touched to see that Joni donated her fee from the piece to Susan G. Komen, for the Cure. A breast cancer survivor and speaker for the cause, Rue would have been pleased.

Rue McClanahan was much more than just a Golden Girl. I hope you'll check out the link to find out more.

From Breaking Bad to Walking Dead (How did AMC get so cool?)

Just got the heads up from AMC that they're launching a new series this fall: The Walking Dead, based on the graphic novels of Robert Kirkman. More later about the creative forces involved. But this is Saturday morning.

Intrigued? Follow The Walking Dead on Facebook and Twitter.

Spelling "Revolooshunaries" Protest

This week, according to the all-seeing AP, angry (okay, they're mostly only mildly peeved) geeks picketed the Scripps Spelling Bee to protest of the illogical, often frustrating English lexicon.

It's always fun to see the nerds out exercising their dander. Especially word nerds, since I count myself a card-carrying member of the club.

Maybe it's because spelling comes fairly easily for me (although my typos don't always prove the point) but I appreciate English for its huge vocabulary and nonsensical spellings. Both are the result of a long history of mongrelization with words introduced by various invaders of the British Isles. (Words are notoriously indiscriminate in their mating habits!) Romans, Saxons, Vikings -- all of these rich cultures are represented. And who knows? Maybe all this blending accounts for the "hybrid vigor" of what is arguably the richest language and definitely one of the most commonly spoken (after Mandarin Chinese and possibly, dependi…

Seth Godin: "Write nothing instead. It's shorter."

I love what Seth Godin's take on writing really good words without saying anything:
Most people work hard to find artful ways to say very little. Instead of polishing that turd, why not work harder to think of something remarkable or important to say in the first place?This is so key to editing. Instead of asking "Can I cut this?", come at it from the question "Do I need this?"

Read the rest here and follow Seth's blog on our FeedMe bar.

Buy This Book: My First Five Husbands...and the Ones Who Got Away by Rue McClanahan

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If you want to know the real Rue, you have to read My First Five Husbands..And the Ones Who Got Away, her delightfully over-the-top memoir of her deliciously over-the-top life and loves. But what really shines through the pages is...well, Rue. She was an artist from her first day to her last. Her creative spirit and joie de vivre were contagious. She accepted every tom cat and stray dog that came her way and loved people with an openness that was irresistible. And she was hilarious. On stage and off. As columnist Liz Smith said, "This book is a riot."

Rue McClanahan

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My darling friend, Rue McClanahan, died early this morning. There's so much to celebrate about this wonderful, magical being. But right now, I just want to share this from the final pages of Rue's memoir, My First Five Husbands...and the Ones Who Got Away:
Even as a child I had a strong feeling that life is good. I had a passion for work, an openness to love, and a penchant for joy. In a word, I had hope.

I still have it.
Go with God, Roo Boo.

Peanuts vs. Caviar

"Those big-shot writers ... could never dig the fact that there are more salted peanuts consumed than caviar."
-- Mickey Spillane, from The Making of a Bestseller: From Author to Reader by Arthur T. Vanderbilt

I stumbled across this quote last night on Twitter, and it got me to thinking once again about the longstanding rivalry between writers who perceive themselves on opposite sides of the dividing line between art and commerce. To my mind, it's a ridiculous distinction, steeped more in the human desire to feel superior to someone else than anything worth fussing over. And I'm very aware that the antipathy (whether it's snobbism or reverse-snobbism) runs in both direction.

If you're growing peanuts (I was going to say "writing for peanuts," but alas, that's all too common in both literary and commercial fiction camps) and you've put time and love and thoughtful effort into raising, harvesting, and roasting the ver…

On self-publishing, poetry, and courage: 3Qs for author Hilary Thayer Hamann

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Yesterday, I offered my two cents worth on Anthropology of an American Girl, Hilary Thayer Hamann's debut novel, self-pubbed in 2003 and revamped for release last week by Spiegel & Gau, which has been eliciting critical superlatives and comparisons to everything yumcious from crack to Salinger. Today, we have a word with the author.

Hilary, thanks for taking time to visit. On the topic of self-publishing, you've said, "I wanted to work with something really organic, the whole way through. I wanted to make that art my own." Does the novel feel any less your own now that you've reworked it within the traditional publishing process?
The self-publishing process was definitely organic! It was like working with a living entity that required constant consideration and care. And it demanded a different application of strength and intelligence than I've had to exercise as a writer exclusively. So though it was liberating, and I evolved in ways I never could have an…