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Showing posts from May, 2011

Your Own Worst Enemy: Are you using psychological warfare…on yourself? | The Kaizen Plan: Small Steps to Big Change

If you read nothing else this week, check out this post on self-defeating behavior from the blog The Kaizen Plan:Small Steps to Big Change! The career you save may be your own!

Week 21: Are you using psychological warfare…on yourself? | The Kaizen Plan: Small Steps to Big Change

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (Go with God, Gil Scott-Heron)

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According to the NYT obit: "Gil Scott-Heron, the poet and recording artist whose syncopated spoken style and mordant critiques of politics, racism and mass media in pieces like “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” made him a notable voice of black protest culture in the 1970s and an important early influence on hip-hop, died on Friday at a hospital in Manhattan. He was 62 and had been a longtime resident of Harlem."

His death was announced in a Twitter message. The revolution continues.

The Summer They Bridged the Gap

It's hot as hell in Texas this week. It's hell in Afghanistan this decade. So what's new? Clayton James Goss is what's new.

Our country has been at war since he was 10 years old. He's grown up thinking the middle east was an impossible place to go unless you had camo and a big gun. He's grown up being taught that things there can only be fixed militarily. He's grown up knowing that Afghanistan is a thousand worlds away and ten lifetimes back.

Clayton never joined the army or ventured to fight anyone. He talks. A lot. In fact, he's the International Public Debate Association's national champion. Finding solutions and selling them like cool water on a hot day is what he does best. This summer, he joined a cadre of other debaters from our circuit to make history. They've rejected everything they've grown up with and been taught. They chose to create their own path and find a new way to bring our countries a little closer together. They've j…

Dr. Kat's Top Ten Motivational Songs for Writers

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Bouncing off Colleen's post from earlier, I thought I'd explain the "playlist" I'm talking about in the comments. It changes from week to week, but generally, this is my list of go-to songs for working out, for picking me up when I'm down, and for when, as I am now, close to deadline.

Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Uprising, Muse
2. Firework, Katy Perry
3. Under Pressure, David Bowie and Queen
4. Eye of the Tiger, Survivor
5. I'm Coming Out, Diana Ross
6. Unwritten, Natasha Bedingfield
7. King of Anything, Sara Bareiles
8. You Think You're Cooler than Me, Michael Posner
9. Independence Day, Mel C
10. Written in the Stars, Tempah/Turner

There are others, but these are the ones I tend to find myself listening to lately. And if you can stomach Lady GaGa, some of her dance tunes are deliciously motivational. And now, to start off our weeks on a victorious note:

Lev Yilmaz: Tales of Mere Existence "The Best Book Ever"

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Here's to a productive work week! For more Lev Yilmaz visit Ingredient X.

Sara Bareilles' Awesome Musical Response to Know It Alls

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Ever wanted the perfect musical response to a blistering rejection, scathing review, or soul-destroying editorial letter?

Thanks to Sara Bareilles, now we have one. "Who died and made you king of anything?" indeed!

Check out my go-to attitude adjustment, Colleen's-got-her-sass-back theme song! Or better yet, share your own.

Working in a Coal Mine (Lee Dorsey and friends make me feel a little less sorry for myself)

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First can I get a AMEN for M's post yesterday? I'm a tragically poor blogmate right now, slogging through the massive overhaul on a novel that's had me up early and late 16 hours a day for several weeks now. I'm mentally and physically exhausted, but loving what it feels like when fiction goes on fire. I'll be rejoining the real world soon. (But not as real as these guys.)

On Marriage and Dancing As Fast As You Can

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Dear Friends, I thought you all might get a kick out of this: PopEater (AOL's pop culture site) yesterday published my story "How Dancing With The Stars Almost Ruined My Marriage" to coincide with the season finale of Dancing With The Stars.  My husband and I are devotees of the show for all sorts of reasons (some of you might remember I'm a former dancer), not the least of which is that it takes two people who have no idea what it means to move in exact synchronization, chest-to-chest, and teaches them not only how to survive the encounter, but fly.  Music and a good instructor can do that for you.  Even sometimes, in my husband's and my case, after something has gone terribly wrong between you:

Here's the thing: You can be married to someone for two decades and still completely screw up. Make mistakes so profound it's like you've never even met before . . . But Alejandro taught us how to walk, side by side. Then he taught us how to walk facing eac…

For the Love of Classics, Buy This Book: Anne of Green Gables

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I was in the garden thinking about garden fairies (From the photo you can see why!) when I  remembered Anne Shirley and her love of fairies and her unshakable belief in them, how she would not be dissuaded. Not even by Marilla, who had been so certain that adopting Anne was a mistake, who cautioned Anne time and again that she was too talkative, too imaginative. But then, over time, Marilla fell in love with Anne. She became secretly pleased with her, this slim girl who had hair as flaming red as her flights of fancy. I tried to recall when my own conviction that fairies were true and real took root and decided that day, working in my garden, that I came into this world with that understanding, the same way Anne believed she did. I remembered that as a girl of around the same age as Anne, eleven or so when I read the children’s classic Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery for the first time, I felt vindicated in my belief. I felt reassured. But not only because Anne stood up for t…

Persistence Pays Off: Jenny Milchman's Happy Ending

A couple of years ago, I was fortunate to get to know then-aspiring author Jenny Milchman through her comments on this blog. We've e-mailed back and forth a bit, and I learned she had a good agent for her own suspense novel, but in the way of marketing efforts, things were proceeding more slowly than expected.

On her blog, Suspense Her Disbelief, (which I am sharing with permission) Jenny shared that she'd survived the excruciated ups and downs of 11 years, 3 agents, 5 novels, and 14 almost offers, and not surprisingly, this was beginning to get old. Old to the point where she'd about decided she'd had enough of playing by the traditional rules and was going to take the alternate route expressway, as so many other authors have done of late (some with amazing success, others not so much.)

Enter award-winning mystery novelist/fabulous person Nancy Pickard, who was touched by Jenny's story when she wrote to ask for her advice. Nancy did something authors almost never …

Beta Readers

Before sending a manuscript to an editor or a proposal to my agent, I always try to chase down a couple of insightful reader/writer friends to look over the pages. Time and time again, my beta-readers have saved me embarrassment--and in some cases, almost certain rejection--by ferreting out confusing or overwritten prose, unmotivated character actions, lame dialogue, or slow stretches.

I've just finished reading Jon Ronson's fascinating and highly-entertaining new book, The Psychopath Test: a Journey Through the Madness Industry and loved what he had to say on the subject in his book's Acknowledgments.

"Being my first reader can, I think, be quite a stressful experience, as I have a tendency to hand over the manuscript and then just stand there exuding a silent mix of defiance and despair."
I can definitely attest that a writer is never more vulnerable or more hopeful than in the hands of that first reader. Going over and over the same chapters blinds us to our wo…

Neal Pollack (and agent) on JEWBALL and why it pays for some established authors (like me) to self-pub

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Don't miss Michael Cader's excellent PL article Neal Pollack On Self-Publishing His Next Novel--And Keeping His Agent.

Says Pollack:
For a writer like me, which is to say, most working writers — midcareer, midlist, middle-aged, more or less middlebrow, and somewhat Internet savvy — self-publishing seems to make a lot of sense at this point.
Pollack's agent, Daniel Greenberg, says:
We have and will work closely thinking about editorial, packaging, selling foreign and other subsidiary rights, and strategizing online and traditional publicity and marketing. ...Though we are not doing a deal with a traditional publisher, large pieces of my job are the same.
I'm a huge fan of Neal Pollack's work and already downloaded the Jewball Teaser Chapter. (It's free! C'mon! Hit the link!) From the JEWBALL cyberflap:
From the bestselling satirist and memoirist Neal Pollack comes a funny, gritty noir portrait of a people on the brink and of a great American game coming into its…

If you're working on a novel, you may want to check your rapture status.

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Click to enlarge. Visit Best Week Ever.

Today is a better day, or Scarlett O'Hara got it right

As some of you may have guessed from my lengthy comments on Colleen's last post, yesterday was NOT a good day for me. I was having one of those is-it-all-worth-it/I question my very existence moments. Part of that was that I was just exhausted; since turning in grades last week, I've been working hardcore on the novel, putting in an average of 9-10 hours a day. I've reached the point where the book is in endgame, and all I want to do is work on it. That point actually came for me before the end of the semester, which was interesting, because I couldn't quite give into the flow like I wanted. So when grades were in, I took a night off and watched old Bones episodes, and then dove back into the revision. For a few days, it was great. Then exhaustion started creeping in, and I started forgetting important things, like eating, and Mark started to worry about me, as he does at these times, when I get close to the end of projects and don't want to do anything else…

Veronica Roth on Success

A very young writer, Veronica Roth has scored an amazing success with her fabulous Dystopian young adult debut, Divergent, which I found as brilliant as it was entertaining. More amazing yet is how much wisdom she has going for her. Wish I'd been so very together in my early twenties. Could have saved me a lot of aggravation.

From Ms. Roth's interview on Amazon.com:


Q: What advice would you offer to young aspiring writers, who long to live a success story like your own?

Roth: One piece of advice I have is: Want something else more than success. Success is a lovely thing, but your desire to say something, your worth, and your identity shouldn’t rely on it, because it’s not guaranteed and it’s not permanent and it’s not sufficient. So work hard, fall in love with the writing—the characters, the story, the words, the themes—and make sure that you are who you are regardless of your life circumstances. That way, when the good things come, they don’t warp you, and when the bad things…

Sam Klemke's character arc in reverse

I've heard that proofreading is more effective if you work backwards through the manuscript. The same dynamic applies here.

Soren Kierkegaard: "Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards."

Muse vs. Marketplace

I've been teaching an online class this week, and today one of the students asked a great question about how to write something that will appeal to readers in the marketplace while still being true to your muse. Thought I'd share my response here, since it's a question that often comes up.
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I think the key to writing a manuscript that sells to a traditional publisher and the book buyers responsible for getting your masterpiece in stores involves a balance between knowing/loving/richly imagining your characters and story and studying the market segment you want to target. Absorbing and understanding reader expectations for each area makes a lot of difference.

I'll give you an example. After writing a number of American historical romances, I was faced with the hard truth that that segment of the market was in severe decline. My reading taste had changed as well; I was glomming gobs of romantic suspense, straight suspense, and mystery novels and loving them. Rathe…

Quick Update

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Friends, two of my three published novels are now available on Nook.  I'm a Kindle gal myself, but it's nice to see the words spread around.

Link to my Nook titles is here.

Kathryn Stockett's "The Help" Turned Down 60 Times Before Becoming a Bestseller

That's right.  Sixty times.  Five years of writing.  Three and a half years to find an agent.  She.  Never.  Gave.  Up.

I opened my 40th rejection: “There is no market for this kind of tiring writing.” That one finally made me cry. “You have so much resolve, Kathryn,” a friend said to me. “How do you keep yourself from feeling like this has been just a huge waste of your time?” That was a hard weekend. I spent it in pajamas, slothing around that racetrack of self-pity—you know the one, from sofa to chair to bed to refrigerator, starting over again on the sofa. But I couldn’t let go of The Help. Call it tenacity, call it resolve or call it what my husband calls it: stubbornness.

Read more at More.

Buy This Book: Sometimes Mine by Martha Moody

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There’s a very interesting question posed in Martha Moody’s third novel, Sometimes Mine. What happens in mid life if the man you’ve loved for eleven years, the one with whom you have made a quasi-retirement plan, a plan that means you’ll have someone to grow old with, falls seriously ill? And what if you aren’t the wife of this man, but his mistress about whom his wife knows nothing? At least not yet. As you might imagine, these are very fine ingredients for a delicious fiction stew. Especially given Martha Moody’s gift for developing perspective. Genie Toledo is the ‘other woman’, a highly successful, articulate, often wryly funny cardiologist, the divorced single parent of a grown daughter who has maintained an eleven-year affair with an equally successful college basketball coach, Mick Crabb. Genie and Mick meet routinely every Thursday at the same hotel. Some might find it odd, but a weekly date and the nebulous notion of an idyllic future together in later life, after Mick’s kids…

Buy This Book: Open Road restores lost passages in new "From Here to Eternity" ebook

Available on Kindle today! James Jones’s classic tale of army life in the days leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor is being released with scenes and dialogue that were considered obscene back in the 1950s and rare photos from the author’s estate.

What I love about this: I'm revisiting a book I loved in my teens, and I'm inspired about the neverending story now possible with the advent of ebooks.

NPR did a great story about the book release.

Scrappy

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So the other day I go rock climbing with Dan and Megan.  This is how it came about: I had helped them with their manuscript--they are writing their first novel, a young adult fantasy/adventure about dreams that aren't only dreams but as real as stone--and in return and thanks they offered to take me up the side of a sheer cliff.  Seemed fair enough.  I hadn't climbed in over ten years, but that morning--it was a beautiful, perfect day--I liked the symmetry of what we were about to do: Dan and Megan had felt ungainly writing their book, and needed my help; now it was my turn to be the ungainly one, looking up in awe and watching them climb elegantly, dancers on a vertical stage.

If you've never been climbing, here is what it feels like; if you've ever written, you'll recognize it:

First, you have to grab onto something.  What to grab onto can be quite a puzzle.  There aren't always obvious handholds.  If there are, they don't necessarily lead in the directio…

Win a Free Copy of The Restorer: Interview with Amanda Stevens

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Every so often I read a book so great I just have to crow about it. Amanda Stevens' latest, The Restorer, is a Southern gothic-styled mystery so eerie and compelling, it kept me reading late into the night. From its creep-tacular Charleston setting, cemetery lore, and first-class mystery to its lushly sensual writing style, this novel gripped me from the opening pages and didn't let go…

Today, please welcome Amanda Stevens to Boxing the Octopus, where she's answering our standard three questions and giving away a free, autographed copy of The Restorer to one lucky commenter. (Note to our readers: Please include your e-mail address in your comment, written out like such to fool the spambots: myname at gmail dot com)

BtO: Hi, Amanda. We're delighted to have you here on the blog today. As I gushed in my e-mail to you, I just loved The Restorer, whose protagonist, Amelia Grey, is a cemetery restorer who's always dropping cool bits of info about funereal symbology, custo…

Saturday Matinee: Gotta see Werner Herzog's "Cave of Forgotten Dreams"!

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Last night while I was at critique group, Gary saw Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Werner Herzog's amazing 3D movie about Paleolithic art in Chauvet, a cave in southern France. Discovered in 1994, the walls of Chauvet are covered with rhinos, mammoths, bison, lions, horses and handprints painted from 20 to 30,000 years ago.

Chauvet is zealously protected (as it should be), so not open to public view, but there are many other similar sites in southern France. Gary and I went on a Paleolithic art spelunking trip several years ago. Looking at these rich images, knowing what it took to survive the day in that era, the necessity of art is profoundly evident. It made me look at my own artistic existence with an entirely new heart. The creative energy and spirit of the caves has never left me.

Distractapalooza!

Like a lot of other working writers, I'm often juggling multiple creative projects at the same time. I may be researching one, writing another, and editing a third. Or, like today, I may be attempting to assuage the jittery nervefest of waiting for agent feedback on one book proposal by completing another oft-interrupted proposal.

This week, I'm having trouble with it. Though I'm very near the end of synopsis for Project B, Project A keeps distracting me with worry, second-guessing, and additional, very cool ideas. Like a jealous lover, Project B seizes on my wandering mind, points a finger, and yells, "Busted!" Then it slams the front door on its way out of my head.

(((Drat! More spam e-mail and not one from my agent!)))

Okay. Regrouping here. Because project B is right. It has the potential to be a great book, and it really does deserve my *full* attention. So for the rest of the day, I mean to woo it, to treat it as if it's the only project in the world fo…

Bookalanche! For My BoxOcto pals (and in honor of a silly cat)

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During my morning writing session, Mali, our fearless little Burmese, figured out that books on shelves make great forts. She also realized that when the big boy cats come (one of whom is twice her size), she can hide behind the books and push them out onto them, rapid fire, until she creates an avalanche of books.

The kicker: This is the shelf where I have my BoxOcto books and books by other writers I admire. Note Colleen's Touch of Evil on the floor there next to that giant picture of Amy Tan, and if you squint, you can see the corner of Joni's Crazy for Trying peeking out two books back from Kathryn Stockett's The Help. A friend of mine on facebook pointed out how clearly she could see the word "help" in this picture.

Even better? That book that's precariously positioned between standing and falling?

Sophie's Choice.


Oh, and busted:

Read This: The Urgent Matter of Books

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Check out Lidia Yuknavitch on The Rumpus, reminding us what books are: "Portable brain defibrillators."

Books, like all art, breed in us desire. In times of crisis and fear and misrepresentation we need desire, or else we shut down and hide out in our houses, succumbing to infotainment and the ease of an available latte, turning off our brains and emotions. Books breed desire.


What I'm (re)reading now:

A Spirit of Openness

There are so many qualities that are important to the career writer, but one of the most critical may be the spirit of openness.

Unless you're self-publishing, the process of bringing a book to fruition is far more of a collaborative venture than you might imagine. The term "submission" is apt, for when you start submitting your project, whether it's to an agent you hope will represent it or an editor you want to champion and acquire it, you're in a position of stepping back from your own words and listening to other points of view, based on the professional's experience.

Some of what these folks have to say will smack hard against the wall of your resistance. Whether it's because the suggestion contradicts your original vision or because your subconscious is screeching that making the requested changes will be a heck of a lot of work, this reaction (I call it the "This editor's a complete moron!" moment) is a predictable, even instinctive p…

End of an Era: Go with God, Rev. George Harper (inoculating #OBL fever with a shot of love)

Everyone in the world today is reacting to the death of Osama bin Laden, and while I will admit to an initial Snoopy dance, by midnight I was feeling kind of uncomfortable about laughing when John Fugelsang tweeted, "I hope no one sits with bin Laden in Hell's cafeteria tomorrow." I appreciated our president's appropriate response. Another great speech goes down in history. People are talking about the end of an era. I don't think bin Laden deserves that much credit. But I'll tell you who does.

Reverend George Harper, who also died last night, had a much quieter but no less profound influence on the world. He was basically the polar opposite of a man whose religion was fueled by hate. His words were always strong, but always about love, from the first time Gary and I attended St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Helena back in 1985, through the baptism of both our kids in '87 and '89, to this sermon George gave at St. Paul's last summer.

Fro…