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Showing posts from March, 2011

UW Librarians are Ga Ga for that old school information c-c-catalog!

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Blood sport! Blacklisting! Sex with sheep! It's the wild and crazy world of the American Poets Laureate!

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National Poetry Month starts Friday, and Jerusha has been deeply engrossed (occasional emphasis on "gross") in The Poets Laureate Anthology, preparing a daily dollop of wild wordplay and elbow-patched mayhem! (Not kidding about the sheep.) Watch this space every morning, and by the end of April, you will have inhaled a terrific (and completely painless) overview of the American Poets Laureate.

If you don't have a copy of The Poets Laureate Anthology on your reference shelf, buy one!

(It's a busy month for J'ru; she's also captain of Sam Houston State University's Relay For Life team at Starbuck's. Help a gal out and support the amazing work done by the American Cancer Society!)

Which States Are Having a Love Affair with E-Books?

Shelf Awareness posted these intriguing stats compiled by Indie Book Distributor Smashwords.

"Have you ever wondered where the most voracious e-book readers live?" asked Mark Coker of Smashwords, who crunched his company's data to see how "the states stack up against one another" and found that the "numbers are surprising, especially when you look at per capita consumption."

Coker used the 20,000 e-books Smashwords distributes to Barnes & Noble, whose reports break down sales by state. Looking at the numbers for December through February, he then employed population data from the recent U.S. census to determine "the final, coolest numbers of them all, a normalized measure of per capita e-book consumption for each state."

His top five states for per capita e-book consumption:

Alaska
North Dakota
Utah
Wyoming
Virginia

Go Ahead, I Dare You: Across the Universe by Beth Revis

Part science fiction, part murder mystery, part social commentary, seasoned with a fascinating coming-of-age romance, Across the Universe grabbed me from the first lines, which Amazon.com makes annoyingly easy to click onto.

Go ahead, I dare you, and click through and read the sample chapter, where Amy and her parents are prepped for the cryogenic process meant to freeze them for a 300-year pioneering mission. Harrowing and emotional, it's unforgettable. And I can almost guarantee you'll order this if you take that first precipitous step.

And for the record, I'm not recommending this because I know the author (I don't) or somebody sent me a free copy for review (I plunked down my own $). I'm recommending because I friend sent me to read that sample chapter, and I absolutely couldn't rest until I had the book (wow! in hardcover for only $10.59) in my hot little hands and finished it the same night it arrived.

Buy This Book: "The Sky is Everywhere" by Jandy Nelson

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Jandy Nelson's beautiful YA novel is out in paperback. Sisterhood, loss, music, the hot new guy in town and a teenage girl's fascination with Wuthering Heights. Perfect for fans of Francesca Lia Block. Bring Kleenex.

Buzz Alert: Playwright Laura Harrington's debut novel "Alice Bliss" coming this summer

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Tuck this in your back pocket for the all-important Summer Reading List: Alice Bliss, the debut novel of playwright Laura Harrington. The book grew out of Harrington's off-Broadway musical "Alice Unwrapped". Expanding the one-woman show to a book gave Harrington an opportunity to explore the the idea of war as seen from the homefront, including the loss of a father. (Harrington cites the post-war PTSD of her father, a WWII navigator/ bombardier, as one of the greatest mysteries and inspirations of her life.)

I love Harrington's work in theatre and can't wait to see what she does with this book. Advance review copy is on the way, and I'm working out so I can armwrestle Bobbi for it. We'll keep you posted.

Per the PR:
Alice Bliss is fifteen and is heartbroken when she learns her father is being deployed to Iraq. He’s leaving just as his daughter blossoms into a full-blown teenager. She will learn to drive, shop for a dress for her first dance, and fall …

Too Much of A Good Thing? Best and Worst Advice for Writers

I was fumbling around on twitter and came across this blog post by Paul Bassett Davies, which made me laugh out loud. What I like about his post is the acknowledgment that the best thing for writers is often failure, that we learn more from talking with people who don't get our work than talking with those who do. I also agree with his tongue-in-cheek comments about self help for writers. It seems like more and more websites now claim to "help" writers, in addition to writing programs and conferences and critique groups. While some of this advice is a good thing, listening to too much of it can have its consequences, one of which is that we end up reading a lot about writing rather than reading in our genres or ahem, actually writing. Some of that's necessary for new writers, struggling to get a handle on the business of writing as well as the craft, but some of it can be unhelpful and misleading, possibly even damaging.

So in the spirit of Paul Bassett Davies (o…

Sunday Groove: Leo Kottke and Chet Atkins "Sleepwalk"

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One of those songs that's an ever-fixed mark in my childhood memories. Now whenever I'm feeling low, I long for Mom's cool hand on my forehead and Chet Atkins on the gigantic console stereo.

Erica Jong: "Do you want me to tell you something really subversive?"

"Do you want me to tell you something really subversive? Love is everything it's cracked up to be. That's why people are so cynical about it. It really is worth fighting for, being brave for, risking everything for. And the trouble is, if you don't risk anything, you risk even more."

This includes the love of writing.

Happy Birthday, Erica Jong!

Observations from a Big Box Bookstore

Like so many other people, my book buying habits have changed over the past few years. From home morphed into shopping from home, and Amazon made it so very easy. The gift of a Kindle 2 in December of 2009 didn't completely stop my paper book habit, but it's made impulse purchases oh, so easy and limited those purchases (about half of my total book purchases of late) to Amazon.com.

Yet somehow, I expected my favorite bookstores to still be there, and remain unchanged, when I wanted them because there's absolutely nothing like walking through aisles of attractively-arranged books all vying for my attention. I love the simple joy of exploring whatever title or cover grabs my attention, of plucking a book off the shelf and reading the first few lines to see if it's for me.

Yesterday, I had about forty minutes to kill when I stepped into a suburban Barnes and Noble, my fingers already tingling with delicious anticipation even though I have a stack of reading awaiting me at…

Publishing: 'Not Like Any Other Business'

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"When people say publishing is a business--actually it's not quite a business. It's part gambling and part arts and crafts, with a business component. It's not like any other business, and that's why when standard businessmen go into publishing and think, 'Right, I'm going to clean this up, rationalize it and make it work like a real business,' two years later you find they're bald because they've torn out all their hair. And then you say to them, 'It's not like selling beer. It's not like selling a case of this and a case of that and doing a campaign that works for all of the beer.' You're selling one book--not even one author any more. Those days are gone, when you sold, let's say, 'Graham Greene' almost like a brand. You're selling one book, and each copy of that book has to be bought by one reader and each reading of that book is by one unique individual. It's very specific."

--Margaret Atwood in …

One Lucky Elephant

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Three things that absolutely entrance me: life stories, love stories, and elephants. (Seriously. I still have my 1960s vintage copy of The Travels of Babar.) Can't wait to see One Lucky Elephant directed by Lisa Leeman, currently playing film festivals and scheduled to air on Oprah's new Network.

Draft: The Journal of Process

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Draft, a great new journal, focuses on the revision process, featuring previously published stories and their evolution in stages.  Also includes craft essays, author interviews and a link to their process blog.  Check it out!

Margaret Atwood on the essential love triangle that is publishing

Fantastic interview with the brilliant Margaret Atwood in The Globe and Mail last week. Her comment on the evolution of ebooks:
"The intention is the same: that is, to get stuff from here to there, and from then to now. The author communicates with the book; the book communicates with the reader, and e-books are another connection between them. Whether the technology is printing a text on a Xerox machine or reading it in a book or writing it on a wall, there is always a triangle: writer, text, reader.

...Every time there is a new medium, people get hypnotized by it: the printing press, radio, television, the Internet. It’s certainly a change in the world, which then somehow adapts. A whole section of society was very upset when zippers came in because they made it easier to seduce people in automobiles."Read the rest here and have a great week!

Sunday AM Groove: Dave Brubeck Quartet "Take Five"

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Claudia Sternbach's path to publication continues with Chapter 6: Out the Door

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Another installment of Claudia Sternbach's continuing adventure from brainstorm to bookshelf with her forthcoming book Reading Lips: A Memoir of Kisses. Click here to read Chapter One.

Well. I didn't see that coming. For almost eighteen months I have known that the release date for my book, Reading Lips: A Memoir of Kisses, was April 5th, 2011. This is what my contract from Unbridled Books stated. So, when during the first week of March I received an email from one of my sisters telling me how excited she was that she had received notification that her copy of my book had been shipped, I was surprised. After all, my copy had not been shipped. And wouldn't be for quite a while.

I emailed my publisher and politely asked, “WTF?”

“Amazon,” he replied. “Once a book lands in Amazon's big old storeroom they begin shipping. Filling orders before the official date of publication.”

“But,” said my publisher, “I will overnight one to you so your sister won't get the book befor…

Buy This Book: The Night Holds the Moon by Colleen Thompson and Parke Roberts

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This week our own Colleen Thompson steps out of genre but stays totally in character with her latest release, The Night Holds the Moon, a fantasy epic written in tandem with Parke Roberts.

Per the PR:
An ancient instrument of unspeakable power, Lhant's legendary Saireflute is meant to be played only as a ceremonial reminder of the Queen's might, and to be handled only by a docile, well-trained virgin. When an accident of fate --or magic-- instead places it in the hands of a disgraced and disreputable young lady-in-waiting, Elzin sees her miraculous ascent as her escape from a flogging, the furious Queen sees it as the motive for a murder...

And the mysterious Highlander Count Caldan Val Torska recognizes it as one last, desperate chance for his proud but subjugated people, no matter what--or who--he must sacrifice to save them.
It's been a trip watching this project evolve, so I bugged Colleen to sit still and answer our requisite 3 Qs...

Collen, congratulations on the bou…

Buy This Book: Welcome to the World, Baby Girl! by Fannie Flagg

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My baby girl turns 22 today, so this seems like an appropriate choice. I recently reread Fannie Flagg's terrific follow up to Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe and it holds up beautifully. The story deftly travels from small town Missouri to the dog-eat-dog world of national news broadcasting. Dena Nordstrom, star of America's most popular morning news show, is on emotional autopilot until the stress of her job (and not-so-nice coworkers) gives her a hemorrhaging ulcer. She goes home to unearth the scandal that drove her mother from her hometown and discover the truth about the war hero father she never knew. The cast of colorful (but not overly cute) characters, including Tennessee Williams, keep laughter and tears close to the surface. (It's Fannie Flagg. That says it all.) Published right at the cultural crossroads where we veered away from Walter Cronkite to embrace infotainment as a substitute for being well informed, this book actually weighs quite presc…

A new twist on the workshop concept ;)

Because it's that time of the week where we could all use a laugh.

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Buy These Books: The Borrowers by Mary Norton & The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

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This spring when I haven’t been writing, I’ve been in the process of making a new garden, a fairy garden. A garden in miniature because one day something could happen and I might be only 3 inches tall like Homily or Pod or Arriety from The Borrowers by Mary Norton and I’ll be in need of a cozy place to live. The thing is I got to a certain place with this little garden . . . I had the tiny cottage and a miniature gas lamp, a pond that does double duty as a birdbath and a winding path to the door. There is even a bench to rest on and dream, but then I got stuck. I couldn’t figure out how to flow the miniature garden into the surrounding larger, big person-sized garden. But here’s what’s funny . . . usually the garden is where I go when I’m stuck on some aspect of writing. Since I work organically (I mean green without a synopsis!) I sometimes can’t feel where I’m being led and need a space between me and the story to sort of let things breathe, preferably a green space, a space where …

Oil and Water

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Friends, this is cross-posted at Oil and Water, the blog for a recent anthology to raise money for the victims, human and otherwise, of the BP oil spill.  Thanks for sharing.

I've spent many years along the Gulf Coast, writing one of my novels in an old house that withstood the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900, another in a weathered loft overlooking the island and the easy-backed water.  A third was set on the water itself, in a beach house.  I know the smells of the Gulf.  I know its gray and green waves, the birds that crash or tiptoe into it, the mullet that leap out of it, the tiny half-moon clams that burrow into the sand like ears going deep to listen.  I know the people who live along the water, who choose to be there because they like it, or because they work there, or because the salt simply gets into their blood.

And I know the oil rigs.  You can see the closest ones easily: they're black insects stuck on pins poised over the water.

I wrote "Butterfl…

When a Part of You Goes Missing: Twin: A Memoir, by Allen Shawn

Like so many singletons, I've long wondered what it might mean to share the bonds of twinship. I've been equally fascinated by the workings of the autistic mind (especially since seeing last year's fantastic HBO first-person biopic, TEMPLE GRANDIN,about a woman who would be nine kinds of amazing, even if she hadn't found a way to articulate her perceptual differences to the rest of us.) Thanks to those two interests, I jumped to snag a review copy of Allen Shawn's new memoir, TWIN, which describes the impact in his life, growing up in the 1950's, of the removal of his eight-year-old autistic twin, Mary, from his family, where she would never again live.

Though in appearance heartbreakingly "normal," Mary always lagged behind her articulate (and musically gifted, as it turned out) brother. The children of a New Yorker editor and his equally high-strung wife, the siblings were quickly separated, and Allen soon learned to think of Mary less as a twin th…

2 dogs, 2 identities, and 3 Qs for author Ethan Cross

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This week, Ethen Cross (the freshly minted identity of a midwestern thriller writer) base jumps to a new genre with his novel The Shepherd.

Per the PR:
Marcus Williams and Francis Ackerman Jr. both have a talent for hurting people. Marcus, a former New York City homicide detective, uses his abilities to protect others, while Ackerman uses his gifts to inflict pain and suffering. When both men become unwilling pawns in a conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels of our government, Marcus finds himself in a deadly game of cat and mouse trapped between a twisted psychopath and a vigilante with seemingly unlimited resources. Aided by a rogue FBI agent and the vigilante's beautiful daughter -a woman with whom he's quickly falling in love- Marcus must expose the deadly political conspiracy and confront his past while hunting down one of the most cunning and ruthless killers in the world.Thanks for taking time to visit, Ethan. How are you? Is launching a book in the current publis…

Back to Basics

As I've mentioned previously, I've been banging my head against the brick wall of a synopsis that just doesn't want to be written. While I can often rough out a synopsis within hours (mind you, I generally spend days or even weeks refining afterward) this book's new territory for me and simply won't be rushed.

My first reaction was, Well, be that way. I'll just go ahead and write the full manuscript. But that's left me with the same issues I was facing in the synopsis. While I have what I thing are terrific characters and an awesome set-up with all manner of complications and plenty of ideas about where I want to go with this, what I don't have is crystallized plot line. Not yet, anyway.

So far, I'm tried many of my usual tricks for getting unstuck, including long walks, vacuuming (a true measure of my desperation), even distracting myself with another proposal and other unrelated chores. But while I sense the threads of the story lengthening, they&…

Help Japan: Text the Red Cross

As in the Haiti earthquake aftermath, the Red Cross is taking texting donations again for earthquake and tsunami relief in Japan. See the link for details. And anyone else have ideas for how we can help?

"The Adjustment Team": Philip K. Dick's short story is available for 99 cents on Kindle

Saw the stylish romance/suspense/scifi hybrid movie "The Adjustment Bureau" yesterday, and I loved the way it looks. Great New York locations and sharp-dressed men abounding. The movie was spun from Philip K. Dick's short story "The Adjustment Team", originally published in Orbit Science Fiction's Sept/Oct issue in 1954. (Hence the Mad Men hats.)

Read it on Kindle for 99 cents.

Crane Flies, Ladybugs, and Cracks of Light Between the Trees

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Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, a day that is not only a big day for Christians around the globe, but figures prominently into my novel. Of all the Christian holy days, I have a special fondness for the darker ones--perhaps it's those Gothic qualities creeping in and speaking to my soul. There's something I love about Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and All Souls Day, and the Mexican celebration of El Dia de los Muertos, The Day of the Dead. Sure, Christmas and Easter are great too, but all those other days are what give the celebrations meaning, the days when we are reminded that we came from dust, and to dust we shall return.

I've been thinking about mortality a lot lately, not just because of the time of year, and not just because of my novel. This semester has been tough for me and my colleagues at UHCL, as we've lost not only the convenor of our Literature program, but also one of our beloved graduate students. Both died suddenly, due to acute illness, and without …

Sharon Sala wins RWA Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award

Per Publisher's Lunch today: The Romance Writers of America announced the winners of a number of awards, which will officially be given out during their annual convention taking place in New York between June 28 and July 1. Sharon Sala will receive the Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award.

She's had a busy year (as usual) including a bestseller with our Colleen.

Grandmothers' Story

This week, a dear friend of mine lost her grandmother.

I lost my grandmother ten years ago.

My husband lost his grandmother ten years before that.

Grandmother Number One was named Marguerite.
Grandmother Number Two was named Anna.
Grandmother Number Three was named Cecilia.

One grandmother lived to be one-hundred-and-two.  She spent that last year of her life curled in a fetal position, blind.

Another grandmother lived to be eighty-six.  She spent the last year of her life not knowing where she was, a feeding tube slurping what looked like sand into her stomach.

Another grandmother died shouting at the nursing home attendants, the place where her right leg should have been the place where they set the dinner tray, instead.

"When you die you got to die!" she shouted.

The grandmother who was blind grew up in a bordello.

The grandmother who lost her leg chased "the colored" off her property with a hoe.

The grandmother who didn't know where she was traveled hal…

A broad canvas and the mess that makes it real: 3 Qs for Jasper Fforde, author of the Thursday Next series

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With a fresh Thursday Next book available in stores and online this week, Jasper Fforde stops by to answer 3Qs...

Jasper, thanks so much for taking time to visit. I've been hooked on Thursday Next since I listened to The Eyre Affair while driving across Montana. At the time you wrote it, did you see the series continuing indefinitely or did you start with a specific number of books and a full story arc in mind?
The Eyre Affair was originally intended as a standalone book, and indeed, when I wrote it in 1996, that's all it was. I wrote another two and a half unpublished books before it was accepted for publication in 2000, and I was then asked if it could have a sequel. I said 'Yes' because I wasn't going to say 'no' given that I had waited ten years and seven and a half books to be published!

I think they were expecting a similar tale where Thursday fixes up a problem in another classic, but I rarely like to do what is expected and instead expanded on the ide…

NYT on Kindle Singles (and my own reKindled love affair with books)

It's interesting that people who never thought they'd like Kindle come from both sides of the technochasm. There are those (like me) who had to be dragged away from the physical artifact - hardcover, endpapers, deckled edges - that are undoubtedly part of the book experience. Then there are those who have come of age in a computerized world, who think "chatting" happens when you hit ENTER and are entertained instead of mind-numbed by Angry Birds. They get their news, their friends and their written words on screens that get progressively smaller. In the middle of those two mindsets is Kindle. It's arguably the lowest tech ereader, which is why (IMHO) it continues to be the most successful.

As I've said in this space, I found myself reading less and less as my eyesight aged, stressed by long hours in front of the computer. Audio books and large print offered far less selections at a far higher price. When I got a Kindle, I was immediately taken back to the rea…

Buy This Book: Jasper Fforde's next Next book "One of Our Thursdays Is Missing"

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I got hooked on Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books several years ago on a trip to Montana. My literary agent had recommended I read the first book in the series, The Eyre Affair, as a crash course in world-building. I listened to it while I was driving from Seattle to Billings for a series of speaking and book events, and at every book store I visited, I talked up Fforde's ingenious premise, which is pretty much like crack for book nerds.

Thursday Next works for Jurisfiction, a British government agency in charge of literary crimes and capers. (In The Eyre Affair, Next pursues the villain through the Bronte landscape after the abduction of Jane Eyre.) Art imitates life in the recent installment, as all hell is breaking loose in BookWorld. No one will find this book more hilarious or more painful than writers. (And yes, my agent was spot on with her advice. The world-building is phenomenal. This is definitely one of those writers you read to become a better writer.)

Per the PR…

Avon Jumps Into the Digital Age

From Publisher's Lunch comes word of another "legacy publisher's" new e-book-only romance imprint:

Yesterday Avon announced its digital-first imprint, Avon Impulse, which will feature ebook novels and novellas (with POD editions also available) by current Avon authors and aims to "seek new talent to nurture in an e-book marketplace that finds romance experiencing expansive growth." The first title will be Katherine Ashe's enovella, "A Lady's Wish," released next week, with plans to publish at least one new title every week going forward. Authors will not receive an advance, but will get 25 percent net royalties for the first 10,000 copies sold, and 50 percent thereafter. Unlike Harlequin's digital imprint Carina Press, Avon Impulse will use DRM, just like all of the traditional Harper imprints.

Authors can submit using an easy online form. Check it out by clicking through to the Avon Impulse website.

So what does an author gain by going…

Cool Idea of the Day from Shelf Awareness

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Cool Idea of the Day: Algonquin Book ClubAlgonquin Books has launched the Algonquin Book Club, which will hold four literary events a year at which an Algonquin author will be interviewed by a notable author. The events will be webcast live, and webcast viewers will be able to chat with other viewers. At the first book club event, which takes place on March 21 at Books & Books, Coral Gables, Fla., Edwidge Danticat, author of Brother, I'm Dying, will interview Julia Alvarez, author of In the Time of Butterflies.

For this first reading, the Algonquin Book Club site offers an original essay by Alvarez about the novel, a description of the book, bios of the author and interviewer, a reading group guide, book club tips and some culinary treats--wine and recipe pairings related to the book, some recipes from Alvarez and recipe favorites of characters in the book.

In addition, Algonquin is giving away signed copies of In the Time of Butterflies and Algonquin Book Club tote b…

Kurt Vonnegut's Eight Rules for Writing a Short Story

Thought this would go nicely with Kathryn's post on the current short fiction competition over at The Texas Observer: 

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
5. Start as close to the end as possible.
6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish th…

Tools for Plotting: Chris Vogler on The Hero's Journey

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For the past few weeks, I've been bashing my head against the wall, struggling to shape an amorphous blob of a "big idea" into what I hope will become a satisfying story, an epic journey for both the story's heroine and its readers. Recently, I came across a mention of Chris Vogler's wonderful The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, which is based on the work of Joseph Campbell,
and I was flooded with relief. Although there are plenty of other ways to tell a story, I've always loved reading, watching, and writing the classic hero's journey-styled tale. For the writer, the conscious examination of the unconscious structure we're all programmed to recognize can help to shore up structure in a way nothing else can.

This week, I'm going to try sketching out my heroine's journey by pulling this favorite from my personal toolbox. If you, too, could use a reminder (or an intro) check out this quick video with of screenwriting story consu…

Calling all Writers of Short Fiction . . .

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This contest, sponsored by The Texas Observer, could be a great opportunity. Limit is 2500 words, guest judge is none other than Larry McMurtry. Deadline: May 1. Entry Fee: $25. (For an extra $10, you can get your story critiqued by fiction editor David Duhr)

Good luck! (And why does the mere mention of McMurtry's name make me want to go back and reread Lonesome Dove?)

Brilliantly hilarious "Let's Panic About Babies" book trailer (Did I mention it's brilliant?)

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I am buying Let's Panic About Babies!: How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant who Will Ruin Your Body, Destroy Your Life, Liquefy Your Brain, and Finally Turn You into a Worthwhile Human Being by Alice Bradley and Eden M. Kennedy as a reward for this brilliant trailer, if nothing else.

Per the PR:
Babies. Some of us want one. Some of us already have one. And some of us even were one.

But what are “babies,” exactly? Are they really tiny people? How did they get inside larger people? How will they get out? And if you’ve got one, what do you do with it? Our most cutting-edge scientific researchers have, to date, only mumbled theories and then distracted us all with shadow puppets and obscene limericks.

But no more! Because Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy are here to shed light on this heretofore un-light-sheddable topic. In their comprehensive, no-facts-are-too-disgusting guide LET’S PANIC ABOUT BABIES!, the authors answer age-old baby-related questions, as well as…

Buy This Book: 3 Excellent Reasons to Lay Hands on the Library of Congress Poets Laureate Anthology

In October, the Library of Congress (in congress with W.W. Norton) released a new anthology that includes a brief bio and several works from each of the 43 poets who've held the position of Poet Laureate. It's an eclectic bunch, beginning with Joseph Auslander, our first Poet Laureate in 1937, best remembered for his collection "The Unconquerables", a stirring shout out to the Nazi-occupied cities in Europe. Later came Robert Pinsky, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, Elizabeth Bishop, Billy Collins, Rita Dove, and more recently, Louise Glück and W. S. Merwin. If you were to read all these poems one after another, it would be like walking through the Louvre; after a while, you get a bit numb. It's just too much greatness in your face. You need time and a knowledgeable guide. Seeing each of the Poets Laureate in their place on the timeline and reading their work in the context of modern American history breathes an entirely new life into the poetry we usually…

Buy This Book: Lonely Planet's "Volunteer: A Traveler's Guide to Making a Difference Around the World

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Last year my daughter Jerusha made a life-changing voyage to Cambodia. She traveled by herself (she's 21) but joined up with Habitat For Humanity in Phnom Penh and worked with a team of people from around the world to create an entire neighborhood. They worked side by side with a number of families who'd been living in a garbage dump. Jerusha was humbled by how much they'd endured, how hard they were working to improved life for their children, and how grateful they were for her willingness to come from the other side of the world to help them.

We're not wealthy (by American standards), but Jerusha's life has been pretty comfy for the most part. She started working at Starbucks as a teen and is an industrious sort by nature, but I think she amazed herself with what she was capable of on this journey. She laid bricks, built walls, climbed over obstacles and reached across language barriers. What she gave in time, resources and sweat was returned to her a thousandfol…

"I'm pretty well adjusted for a writer." 3 Qs for Tawni O'Dell, author of "Fragile Beasts"

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Tawni O'Dell's Fragile Beasts is fresh out in paperback this week. Yesterday, we gave you a peek inside the PR kit and steered you toward Tawni's excellent op ed on gender bias in literary fiction. Today, as promised, she takes a moment today to answer 3 Qs.

Tawni, thanks for your time. I know a lot has happened since the hardcover release last year, including the making of a Back Roads movie. How have readers reacted to Fragile Beasts?
I’m happy and relieved to say that my readers seem to love it. I’ve been hearing a lot of, “it’s your best book so far,” which is something you want to hear as an author because you want to grow and improve with each novel but there’s also that part of you that wants to defend your others. It’s sort of the way you feel when someone compliments one of your children and you feel obliged to point out that your other child is equally impressive. But I agree with them. I don’t like the use of vague superlatives like “best,” but I think it’s my mo…

Eating the Elephant

I've lost count of the number of times non-writers entertaining the fantasy of becoming (wildly successful, famous, Oprah-lauded) authors have asked how I can possibly write a book. Although the notion of having written is attractive, the non-writers can't wrap their heads around the enormity of the task.

It's a problem I share, many books later, especially when faced with a looming deadline. It's easy to become overwhelmed by the totality. And it's not only the writing of a draft that can cause the onset of this panic. It can be anything from a task as "small" as working one's way through a set of edits (something I found myself choking on this past week) to the larger challenge of managing a career in publishing.

So how does one eat an elephant? The old joke says one spoonful at a time. There's wisdom in that, but to it I'll add this: with a willing, willful blindness.

When the task is huge and the timeline short, that's when you break i…