Tuesday, November 30, 2010

#BuyThisBook: "Happiness in a Storm" by Dr. Wendy Harpham (How I met the author and why the right book makes a powerful gift)

I get a book in the mail almost every day. Publishers and PR firms have me on their lists as someone who reads alot, blurbs occasionally, blogs as often as possible, and is generally willing to do whatever I can to help other authors succeed. But yesterday I received a book from a friend. As a gift. It made me freshly sensitive to what a real gift is and why books make such potent and meaningful presents.

Backing up: In the spirit of "tis the season to sell, sell, sell", we're posting gift/book recommendations through the holidays. Today's book is...
Happiness in a Storm: Facing Illness and Embracing Life as a Healthy Survivor by Wendy Schlessel Harpham, MD
Recommended by Joni, who recommends it every chance she gets.
Perfect for anyone struggling with cancer or other serious illness in the family.

I first met Dr. Wendy Harpham in the pages of her second book, which was published at the very moment I needed it. The summer of 1995, I'd just finished several intense months of chemotherapy. I was physically and emotionally wrecked. My husband was shellshocked, my kids confused and frightened. I was emphatically NOT seeking out "cancer books", but Gary and I took the kids to Barnes & Noble every Friday night, where they could each select one book and then we all played Scrabble in the coffee shop. One night, we walked in, and I was confronted with a big ol' in-your-face FOS display of After Cancer: A Guide to Your New Life, which had come out in hardcover the previous year and was enjoying a burst of trade paperback release PR.

My new life? Everyone around me was telling me it was time to get back to "normal", but I knew that was not possible. Having someone acknowledge this felt like a hit off an oxygen tank. I started reading the prologue and was weeping three pages in. As a young internist with a private practice, Dr. Harpham had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. She was 36. Her children were 2, 4, and 6. I'd been diagnosed with lymphoma at age 32. My kids were 5 and 7. This was the first contact I had with anyone who'd been down the same terrifying path. She knew. She got it. She got me. We were the same kind of mom, same brand of striver, but Wendy had reached a perspective I wasn't even close to grasping -- until I read this book.

Flash forward a year to my first paid speaking gig as a shiny new debut author. I was giving the closing keynote at a survivorship conference in Albuquerque. Speaking earlier in the day was bestselling author Dr. Wendy Harpham. She blew the doors off the place, as she always does, and afterward, I waited at the end of a long line to get her autograph. My throat closed as I handed her my dogeared copy of After Cancer. At the moment of truth, I couldn't put into words what this book had meant to me, how deeply, personally, tangibly it had helped me. I just babbled something tearful. Wendy signed the book, then linked her arm through mine as if she'd been waiting for me. "Walk," she said, and let me tell you, this woman walks with purpose.

We hit the ladies room, then made for a line of buses that were taking conference attendees to dinner at a native American historical center, where we connected with our perfect third: Bernarda, a fabulous young medical student and fellow lymphomaniac. We laughed and chatted -- about cancer, of course, but more about life -- and each of us bought a little sand painting. Mine still hangs on the wall in my office next to a medicine wheel decorated with the long braids I cut off before chemo could take them from me. On the back of the sand painting is a gold sticker that says: "Navajo sandpainting is used by tribal medicine men as one of the traditional healing arts." Under that, Wendy and Bernarda signed their names, and Wendy (a stickler for details) wrote "October 5, 1996" along with Hebrew characters that translate to "kindred spirit".

Flash forward to Monday. I received a book in the mail. Wisdom's Daughters: Conversations with Women Elders of Native America written and photographed by Steve Walls. The card attached said only "For my dear friend"; it didn't need to say more. The moment I saw the etched figures on the cover, I was transported to that moment when an author who'd profoundly influenced my thinking became a friend who's profoundly influenced my life.

Which brings me to why the perfect book is so much more than a placeholder present that says "I'm obligated to give you something so here's this waffle iron." A book is a gift. It's evocative. Transporting. It says "I saw this, and it made my heart full of you. Because I get you. And I always will."

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Art and Economics of Ghostwriting

I was asked to share some thoughts on "The Art and Economics of Ghostwriting" in an article on AOL Daily Finance.
They say "everyone has a book in them." I say everyone has a spleen in them, too. In both cases, it takes a particular skill set to get it out. Obviously, baseline writing talent and solid knowledge of the craft are required for this job, but a good ghostwriter is also a good listener, meticulous researcher and all-purpose book nanny, with the ability to keep the client's secrets, build a bridge between the client and publisher, and completely set ego aside...
The article goes on to answer the three most common FAQs: "What does a ghostwriter do?" "How do clients and ghosts find each other?" And, of course, "How much do ghostwriters get paid?"

Read the rest here.

3 Qs for Charlotte Gordon, author of "The Woman Who Named God"

Faith, doubt, and the ageless power of stories are themes in Charlotte Gordon's meticulously researched and beautifully written books, The Woman Who Named God: Abraham's Dilemma and the Birth of Three Faiths and Mistress Bradstreet: The Untold Life of America's First Poet, both of which I loved. She's now at work on The Marys, a book about Mary Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft. Last week, Charlotte wrote in her blog:
Writing a book is like having a permanent secret. On Sunday, Mary Shelley died. Yesterday, I gave a test on Oedipus Rex, made sure my genocide students understood the events leading up to the Rwanda genocide, took my son to orchestra and tuned several violins, bought a pizza, and went to a program at my son’s s school. At no point did I mention that she had died. After all, this is old information for the world. But today I am brooding over the aftermath. Mary wanted to be buried with her parents in St. Pancras churchyard, but her devoted daughter-in-law, Jane, did not like this idea; the railroad had destroyed the old neighborhood. The fields were slums. The railroad threatened to cut through the cemetery and ten years after Mary died, it did. Strangely enough, it would be Thomas Hardy, the young novelist to be, who was put in charge of moving the gravestones.

None of this comes up easily in conversation:

“How are you, Charlotte?”

“I am fine. But guess what? Did you know Thomas Hardy was in charge of dismantling the St. Pancras graveyard?”
And somehow in the middle of all this, she found time to answer 3Qs for BoxOcto.

Charlotte, thanks for being here. What calls you to a particular story? Is it the character, the moment, or the ripple effect it's had on history?
I am drawn to characters, usually women, who led pioneering lives and had pioneering ideas, but have been misunderstood or overlooked. A friend once asked me who I was trying to rescue with my writing. I am not sure, but I do know that I think the women I write about -- Anne Bradstreet, Hagar and Sarah from the Bible, Mary Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft -- should be household names. I am on a mission to bring their ideas/their lives to the world. I also choose women who have something to teach me and am always looking for guides, female guides, who will help me figure out how to live my life more creatively and more intelligently, and, most important, more courageously. The characters I write about are very brave; they inspire me to overcome my fears, particularly my fears about being a writer and an intellectual and a feminist (a word that my students hate); they help me try to be more honest and more public. My new book began when I was surprised to discover that Mary Shelley was Mary Wollstonecraft's daughter. It seemed like this should be common knowledge. I kept looking for a book that focussed on their mother/daughter relationship, but could only find biographies that talked about each of them separately. That is how I came to write a book about both of them; it is the book I wanted to read, a book about mothers and daughters and the influence of family legacy. Over the course of writing The Marys,I have inevitably found that most people have no idea who Mary Wollstonecraft is; they only know who Mary Shelley is if I tell them she wrote Frankenstein. So, once again, I am on a mission: to tell people about these women, their ideas, and the amazing, dramatic lives they led.

How do you approach the research process (which must look like a mountain to climb) and keep it all organized throughout the project?
I am a very disorganized researcher. Sometimes, people ask me if I have "finished" researching my new book. I am never finished. To me, writing and reading are tangled into a messy angst-y knot; my books feel like a fog until they are finally done. I have sources open all over my desk. I do not stop "researching" until the last second of the publication process, in fact, research is a word that feels too formal and too separate a process from writing to describe what I do. I read in a kind of frenzy. I feel rushed and urgent. I get easily overwhelmed. For this book, I stare at the two Marys' letters and diaries. I am continually double checking and flipping pages, trying to find quotations I have lost, or have seen only once, particularly since I leave myself notes that are not always helpful: "see middle of gray book on MW," or "this quote is from that book you borrowed from Emily." This is because once I am writing, really writing, I do not like to stop and check facts. I wait until the white heat is past, so doing endnotes becomes a kind of sleuthing process. Where was I when I wrote that paragraph? What books did I have open? I used to feel apologetic about this, but now I accept that this is how I immerse myself in the lives of my women. I try to imagine what it was like to be them while I write: what their homes looked like, what they ate for dinner, what shoes they wore, how they brushed their hair, and thus many questions will come up only when I am writing -- questions that would not occur to me if I was in some pristine location far from my manuscript. For instance, when I am writing about Mary Wollstonecraft's first years in London, suddenly it will occur to me that I have no idea what chores Mary's maid did and what chores Mary did. Where did they get water? What happened when they got their periods? Where was the outhouse? Was there one? What is the history of the toilet? What was the weather like during her first winter in the city? What did she see when she looked out the window of her first apartment? What was London like in the 1780s, that is, the part of London where she lived. By the end of writing my books, I know my sources very well indeed, as I am continually flipping through them, looking for what I have lost, looking for answers to yet another new question.

Does living in the historical perspective every day influence your view of history as it's happening in the world (and in publishing) right now?
Yes, these books have changed how I see the world and how I live my life. With my last book, The Woman Who Named God, I became acutely aware of American prejudice against Muslims, as the book helps explain the origins of Islam, and the important role of women in its foundation. I also had to grapple with my own preconceptions about Islam. Now, with The Marys, I am very sensitive to the condition of women, how women see themselves in the world, and how women are portrayed in movies, literature, and the media. The other day, I was at the movies and as I watched the previews, I realized that not one of the movies being advertised had a strong central woman character. The women were either girlfriends, daughters, or victims. The men, on the other hand, were beating up enemies, trying to save pretty women, searching for fathers, or going on adventures with buddies. How can this still be? There, in front of us, was every cliche about gender roles. Now I can't watch "Spiderman" or "Iron Man" etc. without getting annoyed, and without thinking about what Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley would say. Don't worry. I know that there are plenty of other movies out there that feature strong smart women, but still, I am appalled at how many "blockbusters" perpetuate stupid ideas about men and women. I am troubled by this. In my own professional life, I take note of how many women are in the room during meetings. How many women are in leadership positions. How many women are being reviewed in the New York TImes. I was thrilled with the response of women writers to the Times' adulation of Jonathan Franzen. As one of them said, how is it that when Franzen writes about family, he is writing about America, but when women write about family, they are writing chick lit. My books about women have suffered from these prejudices. For instance, when my book about Anne Bradstreet (America's first poet, a leading intellectual, and an early settler of New England) came out, a book about male pilgrims received a great deal of attention, while my book was frequently overlooked. I don't like to sound sour grapes-ish, but I am fighting to have these women be seen and heard. Anne Bradstreet had important ideas about American identity. She is as important to the foundation of America as Miles Standish. But still no one knows about her. See how frustrated I am? Anyways, I used to tell myself that this sort of neglect happens because my books are not as "good" as the books about men, but I no longer think this. I think people are less interested in reading about women than famous men. I am not going to stop doing what I do, though.

Read Charlotte Gordon's blog

#BuyThisBook: "Inspirations" by Paul Coelho

Wracking your tryptofan and powdered sugar addled brain for gift ideas? We asked our publishing peers and peeps to help us recommend a book every day from Black Friday to Christmas Eve!

Inspirations: Selections from Classic Literature selected and edited by Paulo Coelho
Recommended by Meghan Fallon, Publicity Associate Viking/Penguin
Perfect for budding readers

"This is a fantastic introduction to a wide selection of literary classics and makes for an excellent gift to a budding reader. From the author of The Alchemist, a unique and edifying literary journey inspired by the four elements. An anthology, as Coehlo describes in his preface, “comes from the Greek words meaning a flower gathering, in other words, a bouquet of flowers. An anthology then would be a sort of reminder of something else, a small token of something much larger.” To say that INSPIRATIONS is just an anthology would not fully encompass the magnitude of Coelho’s selections, his collection of stories, arranged according to the author’s own sensitivities are more like a gift. Stretching the far reaches of the literary gamut, the stories within are ordered in accordance with the four elements (each with an introduction from Coelho): Water, Earth, Air and Fire; symbolizing both our world in all its directions, the way we dwell in this world, and the way we see it. From “Water” we find Hans Christen Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling and Maciavelli’s The Prince; we find writers as diverse as Oscar Wilde and D H Lawrence in “Earth;” In Air Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude and Nelson Mandela’s No Easy Walk To Freedom; Concluding with The Dead Sea Scrolls and a selection from Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein in “Fire."

Buy from Amazon
Buy from Barnes & Noble

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Not to be a downer, but . . . .

I laughed so hard at this!

And thanks to my buddy J. W. for passing it along via facebook!

#BuyThisBook: World faiths collide in Charlotte Gordon's "The Woman Who Named God"

Wracking your tryptofan and powdered sugar addled brain for gift ideas? We asked our publishing peers and peeps to help us recommend a book every day from Black Friday to Christmas Eve!

The Woman Who Named God: Abraham's Dilemma and the Birth of Three Faiths by Charlotte Gordon
Recommended by Joni Rodgers (bestselling author, parochial school survivor, religion history nerd)
Perfect for anyone who loved The Red Tent.

Buy from Amazon
Buy from B&N
Buy from IndieBound

At the root of all three monotheistic faiths (and a whole lot of violent conflict) is the oft repeated but catastrophically misunderstood story of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar: three all-too-human people in a disastrous love triangle. To understand the story's world-shattering impact, we have to go to that time and place. PW says The Woman Who Named God is "provocative...Gordon gives new power to a woman often left in the shadows. Focusing on Hagar's vision of God in the desert, Gordon argues that Hagar is a prophet and a mystic who names God El-Roi, or 'the God of my seeing'...provides glimpses of the power of Hagar's story for modern religions."

Tomorrow author Charlotte Gordon visits BoxOcto to talk about research and storytelling.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Buy This Book: ROOM by Emma Donoghue

I read a lot of books and share many recommendations to people I think will enjoy them, but occasionally I come across a book so powerful, such a game-changer, that I pester everyone I know to read it. I think the last one that really got me to this degree was Kathryn Stockett's The Help. This year, the book drug I'm pushing is Room by Emma Donoghue.

Why was I so blown away? First off, there's the narrator, five-year-old Jack, who has never been outside of the single room he shares with Ma, a room he believes to be the entire world. All other places, people, animals are make believe, or as he calls it "on TV."

Jack and his Ma share a beautiful bond, a relationship that fills the reader with admiration for a mother making the very best of the worst situation imaginable. For even filtered through Jack's innocence, the reader gradually comes to understand that this unimaginably brave young mother is not trapped in Room by choice,

To share more would be to lessen the impact of discovery, which is what makes the book so extraordinary that I have no doubt it will stay with me forever. Discover it for yourself. I can't imagine you'll be sorry.

Jack's voice is one of the pure triumphs of the novel... Donoghue rearranges language to evoke the sweetness of a child's learning without making him coy or overly darling.... This is a truly memorable novel, one that can be read through myriad lenses - psychological, sociological, political. It presents an utterly unique way to talk about love, all the while giving us a fresh, expansive eye on the world in which we live."
- Aimee Bender, New York Times Book Review

"Powerful.... Seen entirely through Jack's eyes and childlike perceptions, the developments in this novel--there are enough plot twists to provide a dramatic arc of breathtaking suspense--are astonishing.... Donoghue brilliantly portrays the psyche of a child raised in captivity...will keep readers rapt." - Publishers Weekly

Friday, November 26, 2010

#BuyThisBook: Ken Harmon's "The Fat Man" is high camp holiday noir

Wracking your tryptofan and powdered sugar addled brain for gift ideas? We asked our publishing peers and peeps to help us recommend a book every day from Black Friday to Christmas Eve!

The Fat Man: A Tale of North Pole Noir by Ken Harmon
Recommended by Stephanie Manas, Dutton PR diva

"A hard-boiled satire, a send-up of all the great noir novels and films, mashed up with all the Christmas legends we know and love. The title is a play on the classic Dashiell Hammett novel The Thin Man, and the book is full of not only elves and Santa Claus but Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and every beloved holiday character in between. Even the murder victim gets his eye shot out by a Red Ryder BB Gun, owned of course by Ralphie from A Christmas Story."

Buy from Amazon
Buy from Barnes & Noble
Buy from IndieBound

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

'Twas the night before... (or "darkest hour just before") A holiday excerpt from Ellen Rogers' "Kasey to the Rescue"

Ellen Rogers' memoir, Kasey to the Rescue: The Remarkable Story of a Monkey and a Miracle, tells the story of her family's difficult journey after her son Ned is left paralyzed from the neck down after a car accident. The surprising superhero in the book is Kasey, a 25 year old capuchin monkey trained by Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers for the Disabled

Buy this book for: Anyone who needs a reminder to be thankful for life's small miracles. It's not YA, but will appeal to youthies with a cast of (other than mom and monkey) teens and twenty-somethings. 

We decorated Ned’s hospital room with a tiny tree and Christmas decorations and piled his gifts around it. Little things like CDs and T-shirts. He couldn’t make use of much else. Happy faces firmly in place, we went to Ned’s room on Christmas Eve, pretending everything was merry and bright, but ghosts of Christmas past filled the room. Our family traditions were all about food and fun, games on TV, a festive round of house-to-house visits with our friends. We always ended the day reading “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” and I got everyone involved, reading each line and pointing to one of the kids to supply the last word. By the time they were out of elementary school, they all knew it by heart, so most of the confusion and fun happened when one or another of them got caught texting or dozing off and then there’d be no end of razzing.

Jake spent the evening with us at the hospital, then went off to visit friends. Megan and Ron went home, and the girls trudged up to bed. Standing in the silent living room–turned–hospital bivouac, I decided I wasn’t about to let go of our small, important tradition.

“Girls! Get out of bed.”

Sleepy groans could be heard overhead.

“Come on! We have to do ‘The Night Before Christmas,’” I insisted. “We’ll conference Jake and Megan in on the phone.”

“You’ve gotta be kidding,” Maddie harrumphed on her way down the stairs. “Mom, it’s too late. I’m tired.”

“We’re doing it anyway,” I grimly informed them. “It’ll be fun.”

Jake and Megan were less than thrilled to be interrupted while doing whatever people do at eleven o’clock on Christmas Eve, but I forged ahead, dragging everyone with me line by line.

“Twas the night before...”

“Christmas,” someone said as if it were a wake.

“And all through the...”

There was a long silence, a noticeable hole in the voices. Again that realization of foreverness swept over me, and now it was starting to sink in with the rest of the family. I’d been living with it for a while, but the kids weren’t used to it yet. Seeing Ned away from home on Christmas Eve—-so dependent, so helpless, in that sterile white setting—-had brought the painful reality into full, unobstructed view.

Your life will never be the same, Judy had said, but tradition allows us to pretend there’s something unchangeable in a world that spins out of control. This little ritual left over from their childhood may have seemed silly and simple to my kids, but without that anchor, I didn’t know where we might drift—-or drift apart.

On Christmas morning, I went to the hospital.

“They want a discharge plan right after the holidays,” I said. “As if a person gets to decide these things. It’s all about insurance really. And what the doctor says.”

“Which is what?” asked Ned.

“He wants you to go around the corner to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. He decided you need more rehab before you go home.” I was grateful for that. It lifted the burden of having to say it myself. “It’s not a defeat,” I told Ned. “Just a detour.”

“You should probably get back,” he said.

I nodded and touched his cheek. As I left his room, I glanced back in time to see him pick up his right hand to wave goodbye.

“Ned!” I rushed back to his bed. “Did you do that on purpose?”

“I’ve been visualizing those arm curls,” he grinned. “All of a sudden, I actually brought up my arm. Watch. I think I can do it again.”

And up it came. I crowed and clapped my hands together.

“Wonderful! Do it again, do it again.”

But he couldn’t. It went away completely after that, and I was the only person who’d seen it. We were both simultaneously thrilled and disappointed. The roller coaster ride continued.

“One step forward, two steps back,” I sighed.

“Yeah, but then there’s another step forward,” Ned reminded me.

I squeezed his arm. “Merry Christmas, Ned.”

“Merry Christmas, Mom.”

From KASEY TO THE RESCUE: The Remarkable Story of a Monkey and a Miracle by Ellen Rogers. Copyright (c) 2010. Published by Hyperion. Available wherever books are sold. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

When to Play Possum

There's never a dull moment when you have terriers. At dark-thirty this morning, the fuzzy one got up earlier than her partner-in-crime and managed to take a young possum by surprise. At the sound of her frantic I've-got-a-varmint-Mom barking, I ran and grabbed a flashlight and checked out the small, curled body.

Zippy (shown here contemplating her awesomeness) along with her newly-awakened pal, lost interest immediately, because their terrier instincts only prompt them to throttle and shake to death fleeing prey. When it comes to eating what they kill, they take a pass and opt for dog food.

I felt bad about the murder, especially when I noticed the victim was still breathing. Was it suffering, neck broken? Would I need to get the Shovel O' Doom to bring this story to its sad but seemingly inevitable conclusion?

And then I remembered we were dealing with a possum... a small furry critter, with rather dim-witted but generally well-meaning natural enemies, such as the type of "friends" and relatives who tell the emerging writer that getting published is impossible, that you have to know somebody, that success takes qualities which, it is implied, you lack, such as brilliance or persistence or luck. Instinctively driven to throttle any ambition on the move, they don't exactly mean to destroy you. They simply can't think their way past their knee-jerk naysaying habit.

If you and your ego run from them, you're dead. But if you lie very still, scarcely breathing a word of your excitement over your new story or the agent request you received on a contest entry, they'll lose interest and move on.

Keep your mouth shut and do your thing, in the face of human terriers. Then, when you finally succeed, you'll get to listen to them proudly woofing: "I always knew you had it in you!"

Note from the Author: No animals were harmed in the making of this metaphor. All creatures, canine and opossinine (or whatever the heck the term is) lived to fight another day. In other words, the minutes the dogs went inside, the shrewd little guy got up and scooted to safety.

Coming next March to a theater near you: Michael Connelly's "The Lincoln Lawyer"

Spoiler alert: It ends with Colleen and Joni going out for overpriced gellato and agreeing that it wasn't as good as the book...

Monday, November 22, 2010

Tis the season to #BuyReadLove! (Watch this space for holiday book deals and recommendations)

I don't know about you, but I've had a great reading year, and I'll be passing some of my favorites along to people I love this Christmas. I've also asked friends and colleagues in the publishing biz to let me know what great books they're giving and recommending this year, so keep an eye on BoxOcto if you're at a loss for gift ideas. Every day from Black Friday through Christmas Eve, we'll suggest at least one book that would make a great gift for a particular reader/writer in your life. (You might even spot a few you absolutely have to nab for yourself.)

Shout out to our fellow authors, PR folk, editors, agents, and booksellers: We'd love to have you stop by and briefly plug books to give as gifts. "Buy This Book For..." posts should include, title, author, person for whom the book is perfect (postman who always rings twice, jolly thriller junkie, grrrl next door, Uncle Elbow Patch, book club buddy, myself but we'll pretend it's from Santa, or whatever) and 75-100 words about the book. Email your recommendations to boxocto(a)gmail.com.

Stay frosty and have a great week!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Encore: Good Grief! Revision in Five Stages

Within a single hour this week, I received a batch of edits for one manuscript and a revision letter for another, which interrupted yet another set of revisions. Whew!

As overwhelming as it can be, I took heart, remembering this 2009 post I wrote for BtO. Thought it would be worth reposting because every writer who ever finishes and sends out a manuscript is likely to get gobsmacked by revisions. It's only those who learn to handle it who go on to be pros.


As I wend my way through a particularly challenging batch of revisions, I was brought to mind of the Kubler-Ross model on the stages of grief, which is all too apt in chronicling the reactions of your average working writer.

1. Denial - Surely, the editor doesn't mean my masterpiece! This must have gone out to the wrong author by mistake.

2. Anger - What the (insert strongest, vilest expletive that comes to mind)? Who do those stupid hacks think they are, screwing with me like this? Are they @#$! blind? (Ranting continues, either in the form of silent fuming or a epic hissy fit. If you're very lucky, no phone calls or e-mails to the involved parties originate during this stage and your loved ones have learned to ignore you at this point.)

3. Bargaining - If I change just this one little thing, that'll make it sort of okay, right? You surely didn't mean to imply I have to rewrite the whole, entire...

Oh, no you didn't.

4. Depression - I clearly suck, and everyone else has just been too kind to tell me. Or maybe they're all winking and laughing behind my back. There are septic slugs with more talent, deranged dabblers who smell of old potatoes who write better. I am vile, useless... (reaches for Help Wanted section of paper and checks out listing for fast food clerks.) Writer's block ensues, sometimes for long periods when writers get stuck in this stage.

5. Acceptance. Oh, all right. I guess I'm going to have to do it, so I must as well dig in and make a decent effort. Hey, wait a minute. These changes really do make the story better, and you know, it's getting good here. I'm getting waaay into this again! (Remainder of world peels away as writer falls back in love with his/her own story.)

I'm not sure if it helps knowing we go through these stages, but at least I'm getting a good laugh - at myself and my process.

Friday, November 19, 2010

"Nobody is going to give you a thing:" Excellent advice from Dear Sugar

Whether or not you've seen this "Dear Sugar" post, it's worth revisiting, particularly if you're a woman. It's Dear Sugar's advice to a 26-year-old writer struggling with her identity, her gender and her art. Every time I read it, when I get to the end, I want to stand up and cheer. I also want to give a shout out to my friends in VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. If you're a writer and a woman, and particularly if you write about your "lady life experiences," both of these sites are worth a look. I only wish they'd existed back when I was 26. And regarding the "vagina as metaphor" concerns of the original questioner? Maybe she should take a cue from playwright Eve Ensler. Imagine if Ensler had felt even the slightest bit delicate about her Vagina Monologues. Would the show be the worldwide sensation it is now? Would colleges around the country perform it every February to raise money to provide safe havens for the victims of sex slavery, genital mutilation, and domestic violence?

Sometimes great work cuts.

Via Red Room: The polka dotted history of one author's favorite character name

Hawaii: A Novel
This week Red Room is encouraging authors to blog about favorite character names, and I happen to have a great one, so I thought I'd cross post.

The summer I was twelve, I went through a serious Michener phase, and my favorite book by far was his sweeping epic Hawaii. The religious themes particularly resonated with me; I'd gone to super strict parochial school since first grade, and it was really beginning to rub me the wrong way. So I was particularly moved and enlightened by the part about the "farm of bitterness" in which the starched evangelist, Abner Hale wins the selfless hand of beautiful, brave Jerusha Bromley, who accompanies him on his mission to the islands and emerges as the true example of what Christianity is supposed to be (if only Christians would give it a try) before she dies in the measles epidemic brought to the natives by their generous benefactors.

HawaiiI subsequently saw Julie Andrews as Jerusha in the movie version of Hawaii, which homed in on the same segment of the book, and I decided right then and there: "Someday I will have a daughter. And her name will be Jerusha!"

Of course, I forgot about it over the years, but when I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband and I were driving through the hinterlands of Montana, and we passed a fishing access marked with a green forest service sign: JERUSHA GULCH. A bolt from the blue! A sign from God! My own Jerusha was born a few months later, beautiful and brave -- with the added advantage of measles vaccine.

When Jerusha was twelve, she informed me that her goal was to someday build a time machine, return to that fishing access circa 1989 and replace the sign with one that says: HEY, YOU HIPPIES! NAME YOUR KID SOMETHING NORMAL!

She has to pronounce it for people twice, three times, spell it out. Teachers would roll call her "Joshua" every year on the first day of school. It's different, which made it hard for her to love until she learned to love everything else about herself that makes her unique. At 21, she's grown into it. Last year, she traveled alone to Cambodia to join a Habitat for Humanity project in Phnom Penh. I tucked a copy of "Hawaii" in her duffle bag before she left.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Trending much? Another small press scores a big award (but can they handle it?)

To be totally candid, I was more intrigued by last night's "Top Chef Just Desserts" finale than I was by the National Book Awards ceremony. I glanced at the twittering just enough to know that speakers were predictably verbose, Patti Smith was predictably fabulous, and another small press scored another big award when Jaimy Gordon's Lord of Misrule routed the big name fiction nominees.

It's a trending topic. Little engines that could.

The 2009 Pulitzer went to Paul Harding's Tinkers. And more recently, Johanna Skibsrud's The Sentimentalists took the prestigious Scotiabank Giller Prize, having sold a grand 400 copies after it's release by teensy Gaspereau Press.

But here's a bit of a conundrum, as reported in The National:
An independent publishing house well known for its lovingly and painstakingly designed books, it is definitely a case of quality over quantity for the Novia Scotia-based publisher, which pressed a mere 2,000 extra copies of The Sentimentalists after it was longlisted for the annual prize. And with previous winners having gone on to sell tens of thousands of extra copies each as a result, Gaspereau Press's inability to publish more than 1,000 copies a week could prove to be a bit of a problem. Determined to keep its integrity intact, Gaspereau has also revealed it had turned down offers from several bigger publishers to help cope with rising demand for the book.
My initial reaction is that this small press is screwing their little author. Big time. Limping out with a thousand copies a week, they were killing what could be the greatest opportunity of her career. (I'm reminded of a friend whose novel was being vetted by Oprah's book club in the late '90s. The tiny lit press who published it turned up their nose at such a crassly commercial idea, declined to print the required number of copies, flat out refused to provide the 300 free copies for the Oprah studio audience, and rejected a big publisher's offer to step in and capitalize what would effectively be the corporate startup of this author's brand.)

But on second thought, I get where Gaspereau is coming from, and it does rub me the wrong way that a big publisher should sweep in and make boocoo bucks off a book for which they were unwilling to take the slightest risk. It trains them to headhunt authors from small presses instead of actually investing in old school author/editor partnerships.

So what may we extrapolate from all this?
1. Small presses rock. They are the future of fiction that doesn't involve vampires and the last hope for us so-called "midlist" authors who've been dumped on the Island of Misfit Toys by the big publishers who launched our careers.

2. Big presses still hold the key to distribution. But I see ebooks as an opportunity to change that. At the very least, The Sentimentalists should have been immediately available on Kindle and Nook. The catch is training readers of road-less-traveled fiction to seek it out in digital platforms when the vast, vast majority of ebooks available now are self-published, unedited, amateur schnauzer crap.

The happy ending for Skibsrud is that Gaspereau was blasted with harsh criticism for their constipated take on literary integrity at the expense of the writer, and they sold Canadian paperback rights to Douglas & McIntyre. She was quoted as being "really pleased" with the deal (Canadian for "elated"), and 30K copies are scheduled to ship tomorrow. Where there's life, there's hope.

Bajo, Edwige and the Luchadors

Thanks, Joni, for interviewing David Bajo. I think Panopticon is a mesmerizing novel about several kinds of borderland. In addition to its real substance (which is clear in the interview) and its brilliantly turning eyes on the world we live in, the novel abounds in pop cultural references.

Which leads me to this confession: While working to bring Panopticon into print (I was its editor), I found myself dipping into the adventures of Blue Demon and Santo. Great fun.

And, of course, I used the book as an excuse to watch old Edwige Fenech gallos (Italian bedroom farces from the days when a mainstream movie-maker could first show bare breasts with impunity).

And then there were the "thrillers". I wanted to screen The Case of the Bloody Iris [nudity alert] on a silent loop in our booth at Book Expo this spring, but I figured I'd be run out of the Javits Center.

If I'd had a booth at Frankfurt, though....

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

This Book Will Light a Fire!

Reading The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow is a little like reading the grandest fairy tale only it’s real. Your imagination is totally hijacked to find out such things as we are made from the same ingredients as stardust and we contain more atoms within our bodies--so small in relation to our astral cousins--than there are stars in the universe. And it is only by this very specific arrangement of certain events, through a particularly mixed concoction of ingredients, that life such as ours is even possible. And the cosmos doesn’t have a single history but a multiplicity of histories, of possibilities. Within its potentially infinite grasp lie endless, numberless, fantastic capabilities. Okay, so maybe I’m reading my own take into what is actual fact. I don’t even pretend to understand the scope of what is contained in this book. But I loved it, every word. I wrote in the margins and on the end pages. It caught fire inside and raised gooseflesh on my skin! And the peeks of humor were a delight and unexpected, like the effect of champagne bubbles. Who knew physics could make you laugh?

You don’t have to “get” physics to get the gift from this book. There is something in the language that resonates, that automatically ignites the mind and sends it rattling down previously unknown or unseen avenues. It is a mind-opening adventure, a journey in words and ideas, a magical, mystery tour that I can highly recommend.

Ever get that feeling you're being watched? (A conversation with "Panopticon" author David Bajo)

I won't lie; I had to look it up. Turns out the Panopticon was an 18th century prison design -- basically an ingenious surveillance machine in which the incarcerated could always be seen but were never able to see the guards, who could see everything without ever being seen. David Bajo uses this metaphor to great effect in his second novel, the darkly erotic and chilling Panopticon, which is now in bookstores (deftly sucking readers' heads inside out.)

David, thanks for stopping by. What inspired this novel? Did you find it alarming when what you'd written about seemed to be becoming reality?
As a journalist, I was assigned to cover a group in southern California called Border Witness. What they did was host field trips to crossing hotspots along the Tijuana Riverbed. The group’s idea was to sit and watch as a collective the riverbed, the gathering of potential immigrants on the Mexican side, and the Border Patrol sentinels in their trucks on the US side. Everyone could see each other. With camera, I was embedded in the Border Witness group, about twenty of us positioned along a tiered embankment. Mexicans were popping through a seam in the metal wall and finding perches along the opposite bank. There was even a little food vendor near that seam, doing a tidy business. One Border Patrol truck and one Border Patrol holding van were parked on overlooks. We could hear the scrabble of their radios.

Everyone’s action was accountable. We were in a panopticon. My camera, my recognized presence as press, amplified the panopticism because it projected that accountability to a much larger audience (the city of San Diego) and over a much longer time span (the story and photos could be around forever).

As a journalist, I had to remove myself as subject and could not write about that strange, abstracted weight my camera had. But as a novelist I had to. What I wrote about in Panopticon—-people being spied upon through laptop cameras, security systems, border surveillance, disguised lenses, etc.—-already existed as an extensive part of our reality; we just didn’t notice it, grasp it. As a society, we seem to want to deny or ignore the extensiveness of it, even while partaking of it, until it directly effects us emotionally, until we see a group of innocent Pennsylvania high school students get spied on in their bedrooms through school-issued laptops. We become even more outraged when we discover that the school acted legally. I didn’t predict anything; I just wondered when we would all begin to notice.

What role do you think fiction serves now in terms of cultural commentary?
I think novels and short stories allow us to comprehensively approach the most pertinent aspects of contemporary cultural, to emotionally, psychologically, and aesthetically sift through the nuance by piquing and tweaking our imaginations. That general process is achieved best through the written word—words on surface—because reading is the most open and flexible route between the collective and individual imaginations.

Is the love affair in the novel intended to show people still matter, that real relationships still matter?
I think it’s more of an imperfect inversion of that idea; without a sense of the panopticon, without panopticism, we don’t matter. I certainly wanted to test intimacy within the panopticon and I knew a love affair would allow me to explore that and to make that exploration universal and sympathetic. By making it an emerging affair between two very different individuals, with their own unique takes on urban voyeurism, I knew I could tilt the balance of intimacy back and forth between Rita and Klinsman, never letting it become equal, always keeping it dynamic.

What's next?
I’m thinking a lot about William James’ essay “The Hidden Self,” and I’ve found a very entertaining way for me to consider it in light of our contemporary culture. I will probably compose that way as a novel, as something for others to see, but right now it’s just for me to play and work with. Fashioning things into stories has always been for me the best path toward understanding. Even immediate events automatically turn into stories within me; this probably makes me slow. When I was a kid I thought I might be crazy because I thought this way. Then I read an interview in Time where John Irving admitted he would drift out of lively conversations, spinning them into stories inside his head instead of listening to and reacting to what was actually being said. The picture on the magazine cover made him look reasonably sane, so I felt a little better about things in general.

Visit David Bajo's website

Read an excerpt from Panopticon

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Four Quick Cures for Your Story's Tension Headaches

We all know tension when we see it. From that perfect pause before a first kiss to the ominous music when the horror movie's designated sacrificial victim climbs the staircase to the impeccable timing of a comic genius, we recognize and respond with a sigh, a scream, a peal of laughter.

A lack of tension in our own stories may not be as easily diagnosed. But we can recognize it in our own reluctance to complete the project, beta readers who take forever to get back to us, a lukewarm response from an agent, or that special brand of "didn't love it enough"/"wasn't as captivated as I wanted to be" rejection - when one isn't getting the pre-printed form variety.

Here are a few quick tips I've found helpful for upping the ante in a story's tension. Try taking two, then call me in the morning.

1. Accentuate the differences between characters. Polarized pairs highlight each other's attributes. Felix wouldn't be half so interesting without Oscar (The Odd Couple.) Luke Skywalker's youthful earnestness is especially endearing, juxtaposed as it was with Han Solo's roguish cynicism (Star Wars.) Opposites don't really attract, they clash, but wouldn't you be more interested in watching a Youtube vid of Barack Obama trapped in an elevator with Sarah Palin than seeing either of them fawned over by one of his/her supporters?

2. Force proximity. Now that you've notched up the tension between your characters by accentuating their conflicting qualities, you need to prevent them from simply repelling each other. This is the stuck elevator from the previous item. Whether characters are forced by circumstance to work together or made to duke it out in uncomfortably close quarters, find some way to keep the story's most dramatic conflict on stage as often as possible. And never summarize the cool stuff; that's often a sign you're trying to avoid the hard work of putting strong emotion on the page.

3. Make the protagonist's decision tougher. Instead of forcing her to choose between good and bad, it's much more interesting to give her a couple of lousy options, each one its own little morality play, to decide between. Make the reader squirm and ask himself, "What would I do here? What's really the right thing?"

4. Make it matter more. Whatever character goals are in the pot, toss some extra wood on the fire underneath them whenever the plot begins to cool. You can do this by shortening the ticking clock's time, making the outcome affect someone beyond the protagonist (an innocent party works well), or even blowing the initial goal out of the water. Rather than giving your protagonist the "magic amulet," try letting the antagonist come across it, or take away your hero's fall back position. Whatever you do, don't allow the stakes to remain at the same level throughout your story. Think of your readers as famished guests, forever wanting more.

I hope you'll find some of these tips the right cure for your story's tension headaches. Do any of you have additional tips to share on the subject?

Dr. P. and Mrs. Evil: A prison student's take on Jekyll and Hyde--and me

This semester, I've been using Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as a way to get my prison students to connect their backgrounds as behavioral science majors to the reading and analysis of literature. I've had all sorts of interesting responses to the novel, including this gem, from a student's homework. All the student had to do was write a one or two paragraph response to a question about duality, but this student decided to have some fun--and I loved it so much that I got his permission to post it here. Hopefully you'll love it too:

The meaning I perceived from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is that there is always an opposite extreme to anything, whether it's a situation, an institution, or a personal characteristic. An alternative way of framing this work is described below, in the form of an example. The example shows that a person's level or extent of happiness that's expressed with a smiling face can certainly conceal the opposite extreme beneath it, and when given the opportunity to be exercised, this extreme will reveal itself.

For example: "Mrs. Dr. P. and Mrs. Evil," by J.S.
This situation recently occurred in room full of men convicted of an assortment of violent crimes. One little bitty, teeny tiny, kind, polite angel of a lady--whom we'll call Mrs. Dr. P.--spooked the heck out of them all to the point of paralysis, when she metamorphed into a monster. I was there! In my mind, I yelled "Oh my God! What the hell??? Who is that mad woman?"

Clenching our desks with sweaty palms, no one uttered a single word as she prowled through the aisles of the classroom, resembling a starving, rabid lioness in the midst of 16 delicious looking "innocent" baby antelopes. (That is exactly what we became. In one instant, the roles and labels in our lives were altered, from former hunters to the hunted. And we sat in total silence, eyeing the beast seeking to devour us.) Every guy just stared at one another, bewildered. Just as Utterson in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde beheld something "abnormal and misbegotten in the very essence of the creature that now faced" him, I entertained similar thoughts, when Mrs. Dr. P. revealed her dual personality, the evil incarnate Mrs. Hyde, also known as Mrs. Evil.

Mrs. Evil roamed to and fro, fists balled tight and eyes blazing. But no drinking of any elixir nor concoction was ever necessary to vanquish Mrs. Evil, because just as fast as she appeared, she disappeared. Then we were once again staring at the happy-go-lucky Mrs. Dr. P., who'd continued to teach as though nothing had ever happened. But it did happen, so it was too late. For we'd all witnessed Mrs. Evil, and those flaming eyes would forever be seared into our memories. Moments passed, and everyone still sat stunned, believing their eyes had deceived them. What triggered Mrs. Evil's abrupt appearance and departure? It was a photo of a frenemy, in a magazine. I now know that "hell truly hath no fury like a woman scorned." My eyes have seen the coming of the wrath of the Lord. Mrs. Dr. P.'s opposite, Mrs. Evil, became the shining epitome of that wrath.

(For fear of his safety from Mrs. Evil, the original observer has fled into the mountains of Europe and remains secluded inside of a cave, now living as a hermit. Before fleeing, the original observer gave the author consent to write this story of his experience in the first person narrative. Also, all names appearing in this work have been changed to protect the identity of Mrs. Dr. P./Mrs. Evil, and for the author's own safety against her--if you'd have seen Mrs, Evil's eyes ablaze, you'd do so too!)

Sam Tanenhaus, editor of the NYT Book Review on the evolving lists...

Buy This Book: Panopticon by David Bajo

Buy from B&N

Buy from IndieBound

Read an excerpt

Quickly rising to the top of my TBR pile is David Bajo's tantalizing Panopticon fresh out a few weeks ago.

From the flap:
As the California borderland newspaper where they work prepares to close, three reporters are oddly given assignments to return to stories they've covered before -- each one surprisingly personal. The first assignment takes reporter Aaron Klinsman and photographer Rita Valdez to an abandoned motel room where the mirrors are draped with towels, bits of black tape cover the doorknobs, and the perfect trace of a woman's body is imprinted on the bed sheets. From this sexually charged beginning on land his family used to own, Klinsman, Rita, and their colleague, Oscar Medem understand that they are supposed to uncover something. They just don t know what. Following the moonlit paths their assignments reveal through the bars, factories and complex streets of Tijuana and Otay, haunted by the femicides that have spread westward from Juarez, the reporters become more intimately entwined. Tracing the images they uncover, and those they cause and leave behind, they soon realize that every move they make is under surveillance. Beyond this, it seems their private lives and even their memories are being reconstructed by others. Panopticon is a novel of dreamlike appearances and almost supernatural memories, a world of hidden watchers that evokes the dark recognition of just how little we can protect even our most private moments. It is a shadowy, erotic novel only slightly speculative that opens into the world we all now occupy."

PW called Bajo's first novel, The 351 Books of Irma Arcuri, an "intriguing debut, a love story wrapped in a bibliomaniacal whodunit with a hall-of-mirrors bow on top." Sounds promising...

Watch this space tomorrow. David Bajo stops by to talk about the sex, spyware, and the genesis of his mind-bending new novel.

John Scalzi opens up a can of whoop @ss on James Frey, MFA programs, and clueless cleverati students

Had to stand up and cheer for John Scalzi's Open Letter to MFA Writing Programs (and Their Students), which comes in the wake of this New York Magazine article about James Frey's...I don't even know what to call it. It's kind of like Amway, only books instead of laundry soap and vitamins. Scalzi and other writers have spoken out about the oppressive contract terms and general uncoolness of the whole thing, but Scalzi reserves some mamaslap for college writing programs.

Saith Scalzi:
I don’t blame Columbia University’s graduate writing program for inviting James Frey over to talk to its students about “truth.” ...It’s always a joy to see how a master of bullshit spins himself up; publishing and literature being what they are, the students should probably learn to recognize this species sooner than later, all the better to move their wallets to their front pockets when such a creature stands before them.

...Frey was no doubt counting on the students being starry-eyed at the presence of a real-live bestselling author (even a disgraced one) who was waving a movie deal in their faces, but one reason he could count on it was because he was speaking to an audience whose formal educations did not include learning how to spot a crappy deal.
And then he goes on to tell us how he really feels. (Read the rest here.)

Monday, November 15, 2010

How to Get Back to Writing

So interesting to read Colleen's post, below.  After weeks on the road lecturing and leading workshops, giving my guru-energy to others and gently and generally setting writing aside for a time so that the work (and I could) rest and recharge at the well of human contact, the voice inside me (as I said it would in this post) told me that it was enough.  Time to begin again.  Time to sit and write and revise again.  And so I did, beginning a few days ago.  How good it felt.  The back of my chair.  Wing of cherrywood.  The heart, the keys ready to take the punch again.


There are habits I've developed over the years to get back into writing when I've been away from it for a spell.  One is not to make too big of a deal of it.  Don't start on Monday.  Pick a casual day of the week (I chose last Thursday), and if possible go back and revise something that has already been written (you see it so clearly now, don't you, you can get a handle on it, whereas a month ago it was ice at the bottom of a very deep bucket).  Slash and burn with delight (keep a copy of the original document because you may get a little overzealous at this point, what with all that recharged energy scraping the letters off your keyboard.  Will someone please invent a keyboard that doesn't succumb this way?).  If you are beginning something new, give yourself some time to prologue (log in) and  preamble (ramble) and clear your throat with sentences or lines of poetry you're probably not going to keep anyway, but will get you in the mood again, will remind you of how fun and wasteful creativity can be (not everything is precious) and how wonderful it feels to be doing doing doing until the moment something clicks (this will feel like the right color crayon levitating out of the box).  And there you are.

Try not to go until you are completely spent, that first day or week.  Save a little, hold back.  There's plenty more where that came from.  This is not Black Thursday.  The store will not run out.

And finally, no deadline, not just yet, please, at least.  It's all right to play, for a little while.  To remember why you started puzzling over words in the first place, how odd and flimsy and feisty they are, to remember how they sink on you and then suddenly bob up again, to remember the slipperiness, and laugh.  Shiny, funny things.

Back to writing.  Back to chair.  Back to life.


The Limitations of Mountaintop Gurus

I believe there is a kind of writer's karma, where every act of generosity attracts positive energy to the giver. Whether it's pouring hours into judging contest entries, helping a newer writer vet an agent,understand a contract, or improve her craft, or reading a critique partner's manuscript, doing good feels good. So good, in fact, that some writers stop taking risks (including submitting their own manuscripts) and instead pour all their energies into helping others. After all, guru-dom is so much safer and emotionally rewarding than periodically having one's heart torn out and stomped on -- which is something publishing is bound to do from time to time.

Gurus know all, where working authors come to realize that writing and publishing are unknowable.

Gurus offer wisdom from on high, where writing and publishing all too often toss one down the mountain.

But unless the guru is still out there risking failure, he/she forgets what it's like to work for weeks, months, or even years without knowing whether the product will be acclaimed or reviled. The guru's wisdom becomes dated, since the realities of the business change from day to day. And all too often, the advice offered is composed of complicated checklists and exercises designed to stall the emerging writer's journey, because once the trigger's pulled, the target is either going to be hit or missed - but there's no taking back the submission.

What a working writer knows is that you have to keep reloading, refining and firing off products until you finally hit the bullseye - or at least come closer to your goal with each attempt. Your own creativity will provide the ammunition, so don't be so gun-shy. Or too quick to listen to the guru who's retired from the field.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Buy This Book: Happiness in a Storm by Wendy Schlessel Harpham, MD

On her blog this weekend, physician, lymphoma survivor, and bestselling author Dr. Wendy Harpham marks the 20th anniversary of her cancer diagnosis and takes a moment to ask "Why me?" -- but not the way you think. Wendy says:
I feel humbled by the great mystery of my survivorship. In the course of my 20-years-and-still-counting journey, I've lost friends and family -- many of whom were diagnosed after me. I can only wonder why Wendy Schlessel Harpham is still walking, talking, writing, speaking, eating, loving and...living. Why me?
Wendy's first two books (published at exactly the moment I needed them) take survivors by the hand, addressing the hard information that needs to be dealt with in an accessible Q&A format. Both Diagnosis: Cancer: Your Guide to the First Months of Healthy Survivorship, Expanded and Revised Edition and After Cancer: A Guide to Your New Life were tremendously helpful to me and my family. But my favorite of Dr. Wendy's books is Happiness in a Storm: Facing Illness and Embracing Life as a Healthy Survivor. Oddly enough, this is one of the books that helped me cope with the slings and arrows that come with life in the publishing industry, because it's about letting go of the mindset that mires in "it's not fair!" and embracing a mindset that laughs and loves life for what it is: a hot mess.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Meet our new blog crewmate, PR diva, author, PW contributing editor Lucinda Dyer

Delighted to introduce our newest BoxOcto crewmate, Luncinda Dyer. I can't improve on the bio she sent me (chick's in PR, and it shows) but I can add that she impressed the heck out of me with her seasoned, even-keeled view of industry trends, and I'm looking forward to hearing what she has to say about marketing, emerging authors, books she loves, and whatever else comes up in conversation.

From her press kit:
Lucinda Dyer has been publicizing books and authors since Oprah hosted a local talk show in Baltimore and authors (even ones who weren’t tabloid famous) were regularly invited to sit on the “Tonight Show” couch.

Over the last far too many years, Lucinda’s freelanced for all the usual publisher suspects and done national media campaigns for authors ranging from Pulitzer Prize winning reporters to eHarmony.com founder Neil Clark Warren and Arctic explorer Helen Thayer. She’s promoted non-fiction titles on everything from worm composting and homeopathy to UFOs, Dean Martin and the creation of the Thighmaster and novels about falcons, lost tribes, South American angst and a Texas cheerleader gone astray.

Before she accidentally stumbled into becoming a book publicist (a fairly convoluted story involving Shari Lewis, Lamp Chop, publisher Jeremy Tarcher and a move to Los Angeles) Lucinda did publicity for the Dallas Symphony and the Shakespeare Festival of Dallas.

After one too many earthquakes, she settled in Nashville with seemingly everyone from LA who didn’t move to Seattle. Lucinda is a longtime contributing editor at Publishers Weekly magazine and has recently become an author herself, turning her lifelong passion for horses into books -- Back to Work: How to Rehabilitate or Recondition Your Horse and Eco-Horsekeeping: Over 100 Budget-Friendly Ways You and Your Horse Can Save the Planet.

Friday, November 12, 2010

And the Promise Goes On

Dr. Wendy Harpham, author of the blog, "On Healthy Survivorship," sings the praises of Promise Me.  Harpham writes today of our blogmate Joni's work with Nancy Brinker, founder of Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure:

"We have front-row seats to everything . . . from Brinker's family joys and travails to her rise from retail clerk to CEO of a foundation that has contributed more than $1.5 BILLION for research and community programs. . .

"I will never look at a pink ribbon or the SGK logo in the same way again."

Buy it this holiday season for a woman you love!

Get this Book: Oxygen by Carol Wiley Cassella

Oxygen - everyone needs it. In the novel, Oxygen, by Carol Wiley Cassella, Dr. Marie Heaton is the expert anesthesiologist who delivers it. And then the day comes when an eight-year-old girl is delivered into her care, the mentally fragile, precious only child of a woman who has already suffered her share of losses in her life, her share of hard knocks. The mother searches Marie’s face; she’s looking for reassurance, a way to trust. A wilted daffodil is pinned to her pocket; there’s another, also wilted, woven through the eyelet of her daughter’s blouse. You can see this: Marie crouched looking up into this mother’s anxious face, wanting her to find the reassurance she needs to give consent for what should be routine surgery. Your mental eye fastens on that poignant detail: the twin daffodils. It is so significant of the mother’s deep love for her little girl. You know something terrible is going to happen. When the nightmare becomes the reality, Marie is horrified, bewildered; she is crushed by guilt and self doubt. She is also targeted by the hospital and many of her colleagues. The ensuing investigation threatens the career she loves. By now you feel the weight of disaster in every word. Author Carol Wiley Cassella wastes none of them. Each one winds a tighter coil of suspense. But there is so much more than the sharp-edged suspense to recommend this novel. There are the relationships: Joe, the former lover, now friend and continuing mystery of the heart, and there is Marie’s sister and the dilemma they share regarding the care of their ailing, aging father. Each of these relationships has its complexities, its foibles that are so real and richly layered. And again, there is such beauty in the language and in the clear rendering of the details, the whole thing about how real life never stops in deference to calamity. The bills have to be paid, the trash taken out, former lovers and aging fathers tended to.

And in the end, sudden, blinding, and cruel, a revelation simply waits.


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