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Showing posts from August, 2010

Getting the Words Out Quickly: 3 Qs for YA writer Hannah Moskowitz

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As I mentioned yesterday, Young Adult author Hannah Moskowitz was gracious enough to take time out to visit with BtO and answer our famous 3 questions. She also dishes at the end about her process finding an agent, and her amazing one-night revision (kids, don't try this at home). A warm, smart young woman, Hannah's off to a great start, both as a human being and as a writer, and the fact that she calls her Twitter followers "magic gay fish" makes me almost want to sign up for Twitter. Get to know Hannah, and get to know her novel Break. If you like edgy YA in the style of Laurie Halse Anderson, I can almost guarantee you'll fall in love.


I came across you because of your fabulous blog post about male characters and YA. Can you elaborate on that a bit here? How has it been writing from a male point of view, and why do you think you've chosen it? Or did it choose you? Did you just start hearing the voice?

Writing from a female point of view honestly never oc…

Buy This Book: Break, by Hannah Moskowitz

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I came across Hannah Moskowitz's writing quite by accident, when looking up blogs about YA male characters. Tune in tomorrow, when I'll dish with Hannah about this and other subjects, but first I want to introduce you to her and her novel Break, which debuted last year.

Break is in the tradition of Laurie Halse Anderson--edgy but lyrical, intense but nuanced, fast-paced but psychologically ripe. In chapter one, we're introduced to protagonist Jonah, who breaks his wrist in the second sentence. Intentionally. Yes, that's right, Jonah's goal is to break as many bones as he can, and he has his friend Naomi to document it. As usual with a premise like this, the track of the novel is as much about the psychological interworkings and pathology of the central character as it is about the arc of the story, and Moskowitz handles this balance beautifully.

She takes what could have been a melodramatic or emotionally difficult story and carries us through the trauma with bi…

Are you ready to soft rock? (Apply this lesson to your writing week as you see fit.)

Think story, structure, soul, and practice, practice, practice. Have a great work week, everyone!

Choosing Your Battles

Into every writer's life come edits. Revisions, copy-edits, and finally page proofs (sometimes known as galleys) have a way of showing up when we're at our busiest with other projects (day jobs and personal life included) but that doesn't make them any less important. On the contrary, we drop everything to take care of them because these are our last chances to straighten our literary's offspring's collar, brush the crumbs from his mouth, and send him out into the world to make a good impression.

As in the case of some over-eager parents, an author can get too controlling, too fixated on her vision for the book to listen to anybody else's well-meant guidance. And just as this hypothetical control freak parent can drive her child crazy (and eventually away with such behavior, so can the hyper-anal author drive her editors nuts (and eventually away) by donning full battle gear over every dash and colon or whether the publishing house's style guide dictates the…

"I have a dream." (And today's confederacy of dunces can't turn it to a nightmare.)

On August 28, 1963, Ursula Bird King Rodgers fought her way through the traffic, heat, and hoards of people to the Lincoln Memorial. She felt strongly that a great moment in history was about to take place, and she wanted her 11-yr-old son Gary to see it. Forty-seven years later, my husband remembers everything about the day. It meant a lot to him, and he was sickened to hear about Glenn Beck's rally taking place at the Lincoln Memorial today. For me, it's in the bucket with both the mosque and the strip club adjacent to Ground Zero: the freedoms we cherish sometimes translate to another person's right to be incredibly tacky.

With breathtaking hubris and disrespect, Beck called out his faithful and preached to his choir. Stephen Colbert describes the message as "crank up the crazy and rip off the nob." Gary succinctly describes Beck as "a master of huxterism" and wrote this to the Houston Chronicle today:
This pudgy blowhard has conscripted a day in the …

Reining Your Horses: Writing and Social Media

Hot on the heels of Colleen's announcement that she will now become a superhero in order to complete her next book on deadline (go GIRL) and our discussion of time and its limitations, I rise this morning to find yet another friend of mine has abandoned social media (Twitter and Facebook, in this case).  "I just don't have time to interact," he wrote.  Interaction is of course the hallmark of truly engaged social-media use.  It isn't enough to tweet or read a few tweets now and then; you must converse (so the mantra goes), and in a natural and unforced way, with people you are taking the time (slowly) to build a relationship.  I've done this and made some lovely friends on Twitter and Facebook, writers I would not otherwise have known, artists, photographers, even a woman who rescues horses.  But all of this comes at a price, which is of course less time to write, and even when one writes, less energy.  The decision to pull out of the social media experience …

The danger of a single story: Chimamanda Adichie speaks at TED

Taking care of Business

He shoots! She scores! Or at least that's what I thought about my latest -- my twentieth (yea!) book sale Monday, of my second Harlequin Intrigue, Capturing the Commando.

And then my agent broke the news about the deadline. The book is due November 15th, a day on which I agreed to deliver for a variety of sensible reasons. At 55,000 words, this novel will be far shorter than my usual work. Still, this is one daunting challenge, especially considering that I still have a few chapters of another book to finish before I can get started.

So how will I take care of business? By taking care of myself.

Tuesday morning, I made the following changes to my lifestyle:

1. Early to bed, early to rise.
2. Minimum of eight hours sleep.
3. Walking every morning.
4. Fresh, healthy, nutritious meals at regular intervals.
5. Minimum page targets daily and weekly.
6. Finish work day by five o'clock.
7. Be kind to my hands. If this sounds, I'm using a dictation program for this blog post and many e-mail…

Just in case you're sense of wonder is flagging...

Why won't Amazon release Kindle sales figure? (Jeff Bertolucci of PCWorld enlightens us)

From an interesting article by Jeff Bertolucci of PCWorld this morning on the Kindle marketing strategy and why Amazon has been less than forthcoming about exactly how many Kindle devices have been sold:
Amazon's Kindle strategy is to distribute digital content (e.g., e-books) to a wide range of devices from multiple vendors and on multiple platforms, including Apple's iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch, Android smartphones and (very soon) tablets, and Mac and Windows PCs...Perhaps Kindle hardware sales stats aren't all that relevant, particularly since Amazon's e-book strategy appears to be working. Still, it'd be nice to see some numbers alongside those "fastest-selling ever" claims.Read the rest here.

Buy This Book: The Elements of Style Illustrated

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Another nod to back-to-school week. Jerusha and I stopped into a local bookstore on our way up to the university today and grabbed this wonderful illustrated edition of the classic "little book" we all know and love. It's even more knowable and lovable with the whimsically instructive illustrations of artist, author, designer Maira Kalman. You'll recognize the style if you're a regular reader of the New Yorker or an Cheerios-in-your-hair consumer of children's books. Ms. Kalman's include Swami on Rye: Max in India and What Pete Ate from A to Z. She's also designed fabric for Isaac Mizrahi, accessories for Kate Spade, and accessory and gifts items for the Museum of Modern Art.

This is the perfect edition of S&W for Jerusha, who is both hip chick and writerly type, and I'm not the least bit embarrassed that I was a teary eyed nerd mommy handing it to her. I've owned and worn ragged one copy after another since I was in 4th grade, and each o…

New Spice (as opposed to Old Spice) has a back to school message from your local library

A Gift for the Reader: The Embers by Hyatt Bass

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Some gifts, like some books, are harder to love than others, and not as the result of the quality of the writing. In fact in The Embers, Hyatt Bass’s debut novel, she writes in eloquent, if at times dense, detail about the Ascher family, Joe, Laura, and Emily, a family that is broken one day in late winter when one makes a careless mistake that costs the life of another. That in itself is so hard to live with through the pages and what little is said about this tragedy between the members of the Ascher family afterward only serves to drive them farther apart. But then some years later, there’s an opportunity for a reunion; the occasion is a wedding, to be held at the very site where the tragedy occurred, where a beloved son and brother lost his life. You might want to put this story down given the nature of the calamity, the tangle of blame, the frustration of missed communication, but you can’t. You’re going to have to find out about that wedding. How will it work out? How can this f…

Ron Charles (your totally hip video book reviewer!) on Mona Simpson's 'My Hollywood'

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Hey...didn't I have a nerd crush on this guy back when I sat next to him in 10th grade English class? Click here to buy Mona Simpson's My Hollywood.

Franzen's "Freedom" and the Future of Literary Fiction

Fiction is healthy, Lorin Stein writes in the Atlantic, even if the business isn't:

"The critics, from the New York Times Book Review to Esquire, hail Freedom as a throwback to the former greatness of the novel. What makes it former? Just how great does a novel have to be, just how many great novels does a contemporary author have to write, before we admit that the lameness of the publishing business has failed to snuff the spark of greatness, or turn serious readers off?"

Read the rest of the article here.

Never was a cornflake girl (Tori Amos sets the stride for a blazingly uninhibited work week)

Be brave, fellow artists, and have a wonderfully productive, soul-feeding, word-bangin' Monday.

Doctor Em Speaks On Noticing Small Things . . .

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On noticing small things: If you haven't done this lately, do it.  The world is an astonishment, a golden coin always jingling in your pocket: whenever you want you can take it out and marvel at its richness.

 And you are a part of it.  You are of the same value. There is the elaborate beadwork of your own skin, there is the perfect array of your eyelashes (bat your eyes, feel them), there are the textures of the things your eyes fall on, some of them as fine as your own skin, even finer, and some as broad as the hull of a ship. There are tiny things that move and crawl, and the way water washes in a gutter, sometimes in long straws, and there is the rather brilliant design of the piece of furniture you might be sitting on, to say nothing of the grass or sand that never complains when we sit there, what resilience, what beauty, what fineness. When was the last time you looked at a cloud, a shadow, the fold in your elbow, the perfect roundness of a dinner plate, a cleve…

Quick Tips from a Tightrope

The other day, I posted this sobering message on my Facebook and Twitter feeds:

New writers don't want to hear it, but staying published is the hard part. Like trying to walk a tightrope in lard-slathered socks.

The publishing biz had just given me another such reminder, with my former publisher (and holder of my entire in-print backlist) deciding to go all digital, at least in the near future and whittling down its editorial staff to nearly nil in response to dwindling sales. But even in the best of economic times, it's a huge challenge to keep one's career alive long enough to build an audience and prosper, especially for the grand majority of authors, who survive on the mid-list. (Big-time bestsellerdom has its own perils, but that's another post.)

Yet somehow, I remain if not wildly optimistic, perpetually hopeful. Over the years, I've seen some very talented authors crash and burn with the fortunes of lousy covers, a line's or publisher's demise, or an ed…

Show me the money (Forbes reports the 10 highest paid authors)

Who's making bank writing books? This article in Forbes reports the top ten literary green grossers in the 12 months ending June 1, 2010 and adds some insight to the hard data.

First, the list:
1) James Patterson $70 million
2) Stephanie Meyer $40 million
3) Stephen King $34 million
4) Danielle Steel $32 million
5) Ken Follet $20 million
6) Dean Koontz $18 million
7) Janet Evanovich $16 million
8) John Grisham $15 million
9) Nicholas Sparks $14 million
10) JK Rowling $10 million (the world's first billionaire author has fallen on hard times since the end of the Harry Potter series, but she seems grateful and philosophical as always. I don't anticipate an Authors Guild telethon for her or anything.)

So what might we learn from them and apply (albeit in microcosm) to our own writing careers?

These writers work incredibly hard, but it's also about branding. The article reminds us that Patterson's latest book deal "involves penning a carpal tunnel-risking 17 book…

Publishing is a bunch of bull (Some days you fight the bull, some days the bull fights you.)

I hope your week was like this...


And not like this...

What's in a Proposal (for Your Novel, That Is)

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From time to time, I'll be discussing proposals or proposal packages and the aspiring author on the other end of the conversation will give me a blank look. So let's take a moment to talk about what goes into a book proposal, aside from blood, sweat, and wee bits of brain matter.

First off, though, you're generally going to have to open the conversation with a publishing professional via the use of a query letter (or e-mail nowadays, as likely as not).

Often, a positive response (or the option clause of a book contract) will ask you to send in a proposal. In the case of a novel, this consists of the manuscript's first three chapters or so. (I like to send between forty and sixty pages to give the agent/editor a representative chunk.) It should go without saying that these pages should be polished within an inch of their lives and gather momentum like an elephant on roller blades zipping down Mt. St. Lard. By all means, choose a stopping point that will (with any luck) le…

Buy This Book: House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

My daughter is spending the summer literally lost in Mark Z. Danielewski's masterpiece of "ergodic literature" -- a book structured to create a visual and physical experience that involves the reader beyond the level of story. PW called it an "eccentric and sometimes brilliant debut" weaving two stories and an almost unfathomable catacomb of footnotes, typefaces with flipped, tipped, and tangled text. At first blush, it seems to be a horror story. Blind recluse Zampano dies, leaving a script for a film called The Navidson Report. In the Report, Pulitzer Prize-winning news photographer Will Navidson and his girlfriend move with their two children to a house in Virginia and discover that the interior of the house measures more than its exterior. A closet appears, then a hallway. Explorer Holloway Roberts is called in to mount an expedition with a two-man crew, and they discover a vast stairway and countless hallways leading into a terrifying psychological darknes…

Quote of the Day:Stephen King, On Writing

"You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair 0the sense that you can never completely put on the page what's in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page."

Stephen King (1947 - ), On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, 2000

Seth Godin on the high cost of butt-covering

Gotta love what goes on in the shiny little head of Seth Godin. Writers are (make no mistake about this) entrepreneurs, and the "fear tax" Godin talks about in his blog today seriously burdens the publishing industry right now. Saith Seth:
A lot of entrepreneurs get an MBA because they are afraid to go out into world without one. They are seeking the reassurance a credential will bring them, even though the cost is huge and there's no data to indicate that they'll be more successful as an entrepreneur as a result.

We pay the fear tax every time we spend time or money seeking reassurance. We pay it twice when the act of seeking that reassurance actually makes us more anxious, not less.

We pay the tax when we cover our butt instead of doing the right thing, and we pay the tax when we take away someone's dignity because we're afraid.Click here to read the rest and follow Seth Godin's blog in the Authors section of our FeedMe bar.

My recent Kindle samples

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Josh Bazell's brash debut novel about a hit man in the witness protection program, working through his internship at a grungy NY hospital and trying to steer clear of trouble, which of course, is easier said than done. Hardboiled storytelling meets that cleverati prose style being turned out by current creative writing programs -- which doesn't generally work for me, but in this case, the author's unique talent rises above his 20-something.
Verdict: Purchased for $9.99

Jonathan Weiner earned a starred review in PW for his exploration of the history and science of immortality. As far as I can tell from the sample, it's a big geeked-out feast of weird science and history written in accessible, enjoyable prose. Definitely will appeal to my fellow fans of Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The real question is if immortality is...well, is it healthy? I think death is an integral part of evolution.
Verdict: Um...not in the mood right now. But I purchas…

Today I'm seeing a movie based on a book...but not the one you think.

My Top 5 Creepy Reads for Friday the 13th

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If you're staying home to avoid bad luck this weekend, you should have a few good books on hand. And please chime in with your Creepy Top 5 in the comment section!

#5 The Shining by Stephen King
The book is so much scarier than the movie! Why? Because the characters are so real, the dialogue so dang familiar, you really go there and get sucked into the madness.

#4 The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
I read it under my desk in 6th grade -- parochial school, no less, where we were taught to live in fear of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. I was terrified for weeks, and 30something years later, I still haven't found the courage to see the movie or revisit the book.

#3 Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
The Grandmama of all Gothics. Spine-tingling, beautifully written, intricately plotted, and an education for writers. Time, place, storytelling, world-building, characters -- it's all there.

#2 Wuthering Heights (Norton Critical Editions) by Emily Bronte
My first Bronte, …

New Cover Love: Deadlier Than the Male

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Indulge me for a moment, will you? I'm always excited to receive a new cover, and this one is a landmark for me. First book for a new company. First novella in an anthology (though there are only two novellas here), and a wonderful opportunity to work with my good friend Sharon Sala, an author whose stories I have so long admired.

This duo was pitched as a way to bring to the forefront "everyday" women working in traditionally female roles, who are forced by extraordinary circumstance to find their untapped strength and courage. (And yes, we each include an epigraph from Rudyard Kipling's "The Female of the Species." My contribution, "Lethal Lessons" features the Gothic-styled tale of a young-woman who moves across country to the (fictional) town of Red Rock, Arizona, seeking a fresh start with a new teaching position.... something I did myself (to my parents' horror) right after college. Only I never encountered the kind of hair-raising advent…

On Supportive Spouses and Talking Computers

Yesterday, after a tough day writing and gearing up for the fall semester at school, I came home to my office to find the following note in an open Word file on my computer:
Hello. This is Dell, your computer.I have added some spacing after the bullets in your Writing 3037 documents. I did this because I thought it looked better that way. The documents are on the Desktop next to this window, on the left from your point of view (my right, of course, as I look out at you).I think they look pretty good now. But if you would like more space, you can edit Style1 to add it. To do this, open them, then right click on Style1 in the Styles section of the header bar (right above the ruler at the top of the window). Select Modify. Click on Format, then select Paragraph. In the Spacing section, set After to whatever you think best.Best of luck this semester. By the way, I like what you've been writing on me lately. Philip is really coming alive. Good job!Dell