Posts

Showing posts from October, 2011

I'll have to do something else between . . .

Image
Mark and I just got back from a much needed trip to Virginia, where we took night time walks under a clear, dark sky, and I stood in the middle of the street behind my parents' house, trying to drink in the air. I wish I could bottle it up, that East coast fall, and smuggle it back to Texas. My mother didn't quite understand why I grabbed the blankets from the couch and took them outside, so that we could lay down on our backs on the cold, wet grass and look up. Unlike the light-polluted skies around the Houston area, my parents' sky looks three-dimensional; you can actually tell which stars are nearest. Laying back and looking up, you can almost feel their orbit, it gives such a different perspective.

Likewise does reading stacks and stacks of old diaries, going back as far as the 6th grade. My mother practically forced me to go through "all that stuff," as she calls it, and I was dreading it. Winding through bits and pieces of old stories and parts of nov…

Sugarland is out of the vault!

Image
I wrote my second novel, Sugarland, while I was in chemotherapy. My first novel, Crazy For Trying, was in the process of collecting rejections, but I couldn't be dragged down by that. I was on fire (creatively, I mean, though sometimes the chemo made it feel like that literally) and thinking about publishing would have been the worst thing I could have done at that moment. I wrote.

Sugarland was picked up shortly after CFT, so both books were in the pipeline at different publishers at the same time. The women at this tiny lesbian press really knew what they were doing, and they did it fantastically well. It was a robust launch; the book got excellent reviews, book clubs ate it up, and I landed my first literary agent and a subsequent book deal with HarperCollins for my memoir and next novel.

Sugarland is essentially a modern retelling of the Psyche and Eros myth, set in a southeast Texas trailer park. And yes, there is a tornado.

The book's been out of print for several years, o…

Sunday Quote:Gretzky, Being Surprisingly Relevant to the Writing Life

"You miss 100% of the shots you never take."
--Wayne Gretzky


So what chances will you take this week? What shots will you venture?

Trailer for Sugarland (my sophomore novel, out of the vault ebook reincarnation)

Image
Sugarland is essentially a modern retelling of the Psyche and Eros myth, set in a southeast Texas trailer park. And yes, there is a tornado.

I wrote Sugarland, my second novel, while I was in chemotherapy. My first novel, Crazy For Trying, was in the process of collecting rejections, but I couldn't be dragged down by that. I was on fire (creatively, I mean, though sometimes chemo made it feel like that literally) and thinking about publishing would have been the worst thing I could have done at that moment. I wrote.

Sugarland was picked up shortly after CFT, so both books were in the pipeline at different publishers at the same time. The women at this tiny lesbian press really knew what they were doing, and they did it fantastically well. It was a robust launch; the book got excellent reviews, book clubs ate it up, and I landed my first literary agent and a subsequent book deal with HarperCollins for my memoir and next novel.

The book's been out of print for several years, of …

Saturday comics: The point at which editorial input ceases to be a good thing.

Image

New trailer for THE HURRICANE LOVER

I love this music. "Lippy Children" by Band of the Eye.

Novelists: Stop Trying to Brand Yourself

Check out this terrific post from agent Rachelle Gardner telling us that, hey, just maybe, this whole branding thing is something novelists don't have to worry about so very much.

I especially love what she has to say about focusing on who your readers are. If you get to know them and figure out how to deliver the kind of reading experience they crave, you will become the brand they're looking for, rather than having to create and forcibly impose your brand on them.

Novelists: Stop Trying to Brand Yourself

Dave Brubeck Quartet "Take Five"

Image

Buy This Book: Dwight Okita's "Prospect of My Arrival"

Image

Dwight Okita's "Prospect of My Arrival"

Image
I'm intrigued. Straight to the top of the TBR pile...

Please Don't Make Me Tweet!

Image
When I mention to clients with a book about to come out that they will now be taking on a second job as a blogger/Facebook entrepreneur/Tweeter, I get a variety of reactions -- panic, resignation, defiance and sheer terror. I can't say I blame them. When my editor mentioned setting up a blog for my last book, I bombarded her with a dozen reasons I couldn't possibly take it on. Being an author these days is tough duty.

To try and help out several of my clients faced with the daunting prospect of having to Tweet for the very first time, I put together some Very Basic Twitter Facts. And I'd be really interested in hearing what's worked for you in the land of those annoying little blue birds.

1. Think of Twitter as a party being held at your house. Naturally, everyone will be interested in the latest news about your book, but as the host you’ll also want to introduce guests who have interests in common, start lively discussions and make sure everyone hears about big doings i…

As much as I love Joan Didion, I don't think I can read Blue Nights.

Image
Christopher Hitchens' words with an Annie Liebovitz photo create a stunning portrait of Joan Didion in the October issue of Vanity Fair. Included is this compelling moment from Blue Nights, Didion's forthcoming book about the death of her daughter:
Vanish.

Pass into nothingness: the Keats line that frightened her.

Fade as the blue nights fade, go as the brightness goes.

Go back into the blue.

I myself placed her ashes in the wall.

I myself saw the cathedral doors locked at six.

I know what it is I am now experiencing.

I know what the frailty is, I know what the fear is.

The fear is not for what is lost.

What is lost is already in the wall.

What is lost is already behind the locked doors.

The fear is for what is still to be lost.

You may see nothing still to be lost.

Yet there is no day in her life on which I do not see her.
I loved The Year of Magical Thinking for one reason: reading it made me a better writer. The craft and soul of Joan Didion's writing is a legitimate supe…

Resuming my quest to read all the Pulitzer-winning novels before I turn 50

First, I resolved to do it before I turned 20, and I almost got there. Then I said before I turned 30, but I ended up reading a lot of Rolling Stone and Dr. Seuss that decade. Then I said 40, but I was busy writing books and reading in the contemporary market I was trying to learn about. For the last several years, my excuse is research reading. I have very little time for purely recreational fiction, and I just can't cram that other Rabbit book into my eyeballs and call it recreational. So I have a little over three months to get this done. Wish me luck!

Here's the list, striking what I've read so far:
2011 A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (Alfred A.. Knopf)
2010 Tinkers by Paul Harding (Bellevue Literary Press)
2009 Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (Random House)
2008 The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (Riverhead Books)
2007 The Road by Cormac McCarthy (Alfred A. Knopf)
2006 March by Geraldine Brooks (Viking)
2005 Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (Far…

Monday Morning Goal Update

I'd meant to be triumphantly reporting that I've met my goal from last Monday and completed the draft of the manuscript that's due in only a few short weeks.

But despite countless hours of sweat equity, what will be Book #20 threw me a curve ball, demanding changes, changes, changes as I began finessing the scenes for a complicated climax into place. Since I'd rather have the book done right than simply have it finished, I haven't yet reached the end. Still, I'm getting closer each and every day.

Yes, this means I'm occasionally breathing into the little paper bag I keep by my computer over the daily panic attacks this struggle is inducing. So wish me luck as I do the white-knuckle slide into the home stretch. I WILL have this draft finished by next Monday. I'm absolutely determined!

Hope you'll let me know how you're doing on your weekly goals. Any successes, failures, or readjustments (c'mon, gang! make me feel better, will you?) to report…

Sabbath music moment: "Pink Moon"

Image
Just folks music videos on YouTube and the varying degrees of self-pubbing. Discuss amongst yourselves.

I'm So Effing 50!

Diagnosed with blood cancer at 32, I was told it was unlikely I'd live more than five years. My goal was my 40th birthday. I just wanted my kids (then 5 and 7) to be old enough to remember me, and I wanted to get one book published.

In 120 days, I'll turn 50. My kids are grown, and I've had over a dozen books published. God is good. Life is amazing. And I'm celebrating my advent to the Power Decade by rebooting everything about my body -- fitness, fashion, inner beauty (as depicted in a mammogram), facial regime -- with the philosophy that this is a spa-fest of self care, not a bootcamp blast of self-improvement. So let the Fiftyness begin!

I'm posting videos on my solo blog The Girl With the Shakespeare Tattoo. Here's my first day with personal trainer Bill Rushforth.

The Art and Economics of Ghostwriting

Originally appeared on AOL Daily Finance and AOL homepage Nov 2010.

Among this week's nonfiction bestsellers, you'll see a former U.S. president, a Rolling Stone, an actress with food issues, two political pundits and someone known as "Baba Booey." What you won't see is at least six ghostwriters who make their living actually writing the books "authored" by celebrities and politicos. If you're wondering, George W. Bush's Decision Points was coauthored by his loyal aide and speechwriter Christopher Michel. Life, the Keith Richards memoir, was written by James Fox, a British journalist who devoted five years to the project.

Writing someone else's book is actually a good way for a writer to earn a living these days. You may have heard the saying "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 th…

Buy This Book: The Volunteer by Barbara Taylor Sissel

Image
Barbara Taylor Sissel released her second (of many, I hope) book on Kindle and Nook this week. The Volunteer is a compelling novel about a psychologist who's been sought out by the family of a death row inmate after he declares his wish to be voluntarily executed. Playing out alongside the heartrending plight of his wife and children is the search for the ancient Mayan artifact for which this guy was apparently willing to commit murder and the dark private history of the psychologist herself.

The author does an amazing job of first making us care about these people, pinging curiosity just enough with the mystery surrounding the codex, then pretty much tearing our hearts out with the beautifully written final chapters. She weaves the story from fine, unexpected threads. Characters are complex and thoughtful. Places are fragrant and real. Conversations ring true and meaningful. Plots unfold with startling but graceful turns. She's a terrific author I want everyone to discover --…

Read "The Volunteer" (Barbara Taylor Sissel is an indie author who's doing it right)

Image
Barbara Taylor Sissel released her second (of many, I hope) book on Kindle and Nook this week. The Volunteer is a compelling novel about a psychologist who's been sought out by the family of a death row inmate after he declares his wish to be voluntarily executed. Playing out alongside the heartrending plight of his wife and children is the search for the ancient Mayan artifact for which this guy was apparently willing to commit murder and the dark private history of the psychologist herself.

The author does an amazing job of first making us care about these people, pinging curiosity just enough with the mystery surrounding the codex, then pretty much tearing our hearts out with the beautifully written final chapters. She weaves the story from fine, unexpected threads. Characters are complex and thoughtful. Places are fragrant and real. Conversations ring true and meaningful. Plots unfold with startling but graceful turns. She's a terrific author I want everyone to discover -- …

The Girl With the Shakespeare Tattoo (finally launching my solo blog)

Image
Finally got it together to launch the solo blog I've been working on. I'll still be blogging here at BoxOcto, but I've got a lot of stuff coming up and didn't want to be a blog hog about it.

The Girl With the Shakespeare Tattoo will feature some of the same stuff I post here -- books I love as a reader, thoughts on writing -- but more about my growing indie publishing endeavor and non sequitur artsy this and that.

The backstory on my Shakespeare tatt

As my kids were growing up, I subjected them repeatedly to the great Hamlet monologue, in which Polonius basically does a parenting core dump on his son Laertes. I know that feeling. The kid is on his way out the door. Whatever you feel wobbly about, get it in there now! Truly, it covers everything from doing your laundry on a regular basis to avoiding pre-approved credit cards.

Over the years, my son Malachi and daughter Jerusha got used to the shorthand version: "Be true." That's what I said to them as they went out to the yard to play, over to the pool on bikes, off to college in cars, onward to live their lives.

When Jerusha was eighteen, she had the entire upper third of her back bedazzled with a tattoo of a mechanical bird and an elaborately enscripted "To thine ownself be true." Not exactly where I thought we were going with the sentiment, but it's part of her now, therefore I love it.

When Jerusha left home that fall, I was working on a particularly …

The girl with the Shakespeare tattoo

Image
As my kids were growing up, I subjected them repeatedly to the great Hamlet monologue, in which Polonius basically does a parenting core dump on his son Laertes. I know that feeling. The kid is on his way out the door. Whatever you feel wobbly about, get it in there now! Truly, it covers everything from doing your laundry on a regular basis to avoiding pre-approved credit cards.

Over the years, my son Malachi and daughter Jerusha got used to the shorthand version: "Be true." That's what I said to them as they went out to the yard to play, over to the pool on bikes, off to college in cars, onward to live their lives.

When Jerusha was eighteen, she had the entire upper third of her back bedazzled with a tattoo of a mechanical bird and an elaborately enscripted "To thine ownself be true." Not exactly where I thought we were going with the sentiment, but it's part of her now, therefore I love it.

When Jerusha left home that fall, I was working on a particula…

Note from Font de Gaume (a 16,000 year old lesson in publishing technology)

Image
Cleaning out my office this week, I came upon a travel journal from a trip Gary and I made in 2004 to see cave paintings in southern France. I made a lot of notes the day we visited Font de Gaume, a remarkable cave filled with Magdalenian engravings and paintings from around 14 000 BC. Chisels, flints, scrapers, blades, and other items found in the cave indicate occupation since the age of the Neanderthals.

The young woman who guided the cave tour capably  chatted with the small group in French, English and German. She was incredibly knowledgeable about every inch of the cave, pointing out the transition over the centuries from crudely etched line figures and symbols to fully fleshed scenes which had been essentially airbrushed with blowpipes. Eventually there was perspective, shading, character and movement.

The tour guide said something amazingly profound, which I wrote down word for word and have never forgotten: "When Picasso comes to Font de Gaume, he is to say, 'I never …

Author Sherry Jones reads from her forthcoming novel "Four Sisters, All Queens"

Image
Story time! Below, the fabulous Sherry Jones reads from her forthcoming novel, Four Sisters, All Queens, which promises to be another well told, impeccably researched story.

From the flap:
From the award-winning author of the controversial international bestseller The Jewel of Medina, a historical novel that chronicles the lives of four sisters, all daughters of Beatrice of Provence — all of whom became queens in medieval Europe. When Beatrice of Savoy, countess of Provence, sends her four beautiful, accomplished daughters to become queens, she admonishes them: Family comes first. As a result, the daughters — Marguerite, queen of France; Eleanor, queen of England; Sanchia, queen of Germany; and Beatrice, queen of Sicily — work not only to expand their husbands’ empires and broker peace between nations, but also to bring the House of Savoy to greater power and influence than before. Their father’s death, however, tears the sisters apart, pitting them against one another for the legacy …

Is it time for writers to rethink attitudes about agents? (And, dare I suggest, agents rethink writers?)

Image
I laughed a lot when I saw this photo from last week's Frankfurt Book Fair. With 7,300 exhibitors and almost 300K attendees at more than 3,000 events, I understand the need for organization, and I don't know if there was a special segregated potty for writers... but I doubt it. In any case (without even addressing the fact that the agent is assumed to be a man) the sign makes a pretty potent icon for the industry dynamic that's arisen in the last few decades.

When the advent of the home computer made the physical process of writing a book infinitely more achievable, a tsunami of aspiring writers started pursuing literary representation, which cast authors as beggars and agents as choosers, bringing about a massive shift in the power balance. I think indie publishing is now shifting power back toward authors - if authors are willing to grow a pair and do their own dirty work.

True or False?

Agents should champion books based on literary quality, not income potential.
True, i…

Can Stories Heal Us?

Image
One of the things I have enjoyed about working with novelist Barry Burnett is the way in which his novel, HOW TO LIVE FOREVER, makes me think about all different kinds of things. For instance, in an earlier post, I discussed Barry's thoughts on editors and editing, and there was some compelling discussion about the editor's role in shaping a book. Recently I was pondering the concept of how books help us to connect with one another and better understand one another. I was also pondering my long held belief that laughter heals, and wondering why I think so. So I asked Barry, who in addition to being a writer is a family practice doctor. I wanted to know what a physician felt about whether books help us connect, and yes, whether laughter heals. Here is Barry's take on those subjects.1. Do you think stories have healing effects or properties, as in “stories help us connect,” etc.? Of course, as a doc and a writer I’d want to believe that, but I actually do. Where I…

Weekly Goals: They're Not Just for NaNoWriMo

With my deadline looming, it's time to put the hammer down on an ambitious goal: finish the draft before next Monday.

I've always been a big proponent of breaking down huge, overwhelming tasks into manageable chunks with monthly, weekly, and at times daily goals. These goals needn't be back-breakers--indeed, if you want writing to be a sustainable lifestyle and no just an annual National Novel Writing Month binge that leaves you with bleeding eyeballs, carpal tunnel, and an aversion to writing for the remainder of the year, you'll need to come up with a plan that you can live with longterm.

Once I've finished the early, exploratory work on a book and am getting down to completion mode, I try to tack on just a little bit more than the lazy side of my brain thinks it can do for my goal-setting. Then I write down the projected page or word count goals (Since my current publisher uses computer word counts rather than page counts, I've recently switched over to da…

Storms, science, and breathing life into the written man

Back in 2006, when I started researching Hurricane Katrina media coverage for The Hurricane Lover, hurricane specialist Dr. Jack Beven started showing up a lot. A calm, knowledgeable voice in the storm of hurricane hype. I searched out his home page, was intrigued, and whipped him an email. He graciously agreed to spend time on the phone with me, reality checking my science, educating me on the lingo and logistics, and bolstering my portrayal of my protagonist, a meteorologist whose specialty is storm behavior.

Of course, my character is what you’d expect a fictional character to be: brilliant, kind, good-humored, and slightly too sexy to be a geek — all of which Dr. Beven seems to be, but in real guy terms, which means he's educated, well-spoken, basically cool, and way too busy for the sort of adventures my character gets drawn into. Dr. Beven is also a Dr. Who enthusiast, which made me laugh out loud, because in the book, the meteorologist's lover collects Dr. Who memorabili…

"You Must Be SO Disciplined"

I get this comment all the time from people whose fantasy is working in their sparkling, perfectly-organized home on their own schedule. They love to imagine a life with no boss to crack the whip, no rude, annoying, or distracting co-workers, lunch out with friends whenever they feel like it, and the chance to take the day off when the mood strikes.

But they have a lot more trouble imagining the part where you actually put your patootie in the chair and write for hours on end. Day after day, with nobody there to tell you when you have to. So they build me up to be some paragon of self-discipline.

Which is really pretty funny, since I'm definitely not. I'm frequently disorganized (you should see my office), always behind on housework, and have very little willpower when it comes to exercise or ice cream. Because having the neatest house, the most uncluttered junk drawer, and the most toned body out there don't matter so much to me.

But other things do. A lot. And among tha…

"Milkshake" is a smart, funny fiction debut for Boston Globe columnist Joanna Weiss

Image
What makes me happy as a reader: a book that makes me think, a book that makes me laugh, a book that makes me care. Milkshake, the refreshing, thoroughly enjoyable debut novel from Boston Globe columnist Joanna Weiss did all three. It takes balls to write a satiric novel about breastfeeding, and when I heard the high concept, I think I was smiling one of those frozen, vaguely baffled smiles that basically says, "Gahfwah?" I couldn't wait to get my hands on the manuscript to see if Weiss actually pulled it off, and I'm delighted to report that she did.

Milkshake strongly reminded me of two of my all time favorite sass-in-a-box books: Jane Smiley's brilliant academia send-up Moo and My Year of Meats, Ruth L. Ozeki's hilarious spoof on reality TV and the meat-packing industry. Plus a smattering of Primary Colors.

Like all of the above, Milkshake satisfies with bright wit, fast-paced story, zingalicious dialogue and engaging characters. For those of us who tend to…

Author Laura Harrington on Anna Karenina and the seductive wonderland of social media

Image
Novelist/playwright Laura Harrington, author of the lovely Alice Bliss stops by with some thoughts on "How re-reading Anna Karenina – and a vacation – brought me back to writing and helped put the seductive wonderland of social media in perspective", as part of her continuing ponder: Why read?

I’ve just returned from my vacation. A real vacation. Two weeks in my favorite foreign country. Where we chose to have no phone, no email, no Twitter, no Facebook, no media or media devices of any kind. The one hotel where we found a TV in our room we unplugged it and turned its face to the wall.

Why did I need to take such extreme measures?

A little background: My debut novel launched on June 2nd. My publisher encouraged me to get in the game with Twitter and Facebook. I knew so little about either that they might as well have been speaking a foreign language. I gathered my courage and asked a few writers what they had done that was useful during their book launch. The love…

Epic rap battles: Seuss vs. Shakespeare

Image
Nuff said.

Buy This Book: Jewball by Neal Pollack

Image
A while back, I posted about Neal Pollack's decision to go indie with his forthcoming novel, Jewball, which forthcame today! Congratulations, Neal! I read the smart, funny teaser chapter and can't wait to read the rest. (It's burning a hole in my Kindle as we speak.)

"This isn't a book that's going to move via traditional channels," Pollack says on his website. "Its success won't and can't be easily quantified. But if the Internet does what it does best--spread the word about things that are awesome--then Jewball stands a chance in the glutted digital marketplace."

From the metaphysical flap:
From the bestselling satirist and memoirist Neal Pollack comes a funny, gritty historical noir about a tough Jew on the brink and about a great American game coming into its own.

1937. The gears of world war have begun to grind, but Inky Lautman, star point guard for the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association, America's greatest basketball team, i…

Men and the art of motorcycle maintenance (or “Why I love this bird”)

Image
Originally posted on Boxing the Octopus, 9/7/07


Shortly after I posted about risk-takery on Wed morning, my son Malachi walked into Starbucks with his girlfriend, a voluptuous psych major who actually seems to get his sense of humor (a testament to the towering abilities of the psych professors of Central Florida.) Gary and I were doing a fast latte and email check on our way out of town.

I said, “Hey, Spike. How are you today?” He responded, “I am astonishingly well.” And he was. Gary had trucked him and his wounded motorbike around Orlando in search of repairs the previous day, the VPM had driven over from Tampa for a pleasant meet the parents over Mexican food, and Malachi was preparing to meet his fate as a UPS box hefter, a job that might be less than edifying on an artistic level, but will fund his travels to Asia and Europe this year.

Sitting across from him at Starbucks, I observed a happy man. He had wheels. He had a woman. He had work. His life, for this brief and shining mome…