Friday, September 30, 2011

Book This Book/Watch This Movie: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

I had the weirdest experience this morning. On the BtO link sidebar (Joni Rodgers has put together a wonderful collection, in case you've never checked it out) my eye was caught by the LA Times Jacket Copy link, so I went and checked out the following trailer, for the upcoming movie (based on Jonathan Safran Foer's novel of the same name, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.)

I was so moved by this trailer (featuring Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, and talented newcomer Thomas Horn), so eager to see this Christmas release, that I immediately went to Amazon to order the book. Only to realize, a split second before I hit that insidious one-click buy-it-now button, that I'd already read it when it first came out in 2005! That's why I was so attracted to the trailer in the first place.

D'oh! I can't believe I forgot, even for a moment, how much I loved that book! An emotional story of the love of a very special boy for a father lost in the events of 9/11, it's so much more than a depressing angst-a-thon. It's a tale of hope and adventure, a coming of age story written by a man who's not afraid to feel things along with his readers.

I hope you'll check it out.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

In life, literature and publishing, it's all about the spiral staircase

When Gary and I were in Paris a couple weeks ago, we decided to rent a little apartment instead of staying in a hotel. We got a great place in Montmartre, just a hop skip from the des Abbesses subway station. A great little place, bigger than a hotel room, but cheaper. Slight drawback: it was a fourth floor walk-up. Traversing up and down each day, I kept thinking about what Karen Armstrong said about the spiral staircase: you keep coming around to the same place, but you're a level higher.

This is such an apt description of the novel writing process, an eloquent description, in fact, of any endeavor that requires that sort of constant effort and upward striving.

Karen Armstrong on the subject of fiction:
“...the experience of reading a novel has certain qualities that remind us of the traditional apprehension of mythology. It can be seen as a form of meditation. Readers have to live with a novel for days or even weeks. It projects them into another world, parallel to but apart from their ordinary lives. They know perfectly well that this fictional realm is not 'real' and yet while they are reading it becomes compelling. A powerful novel becomes part of the backdrop of our lives, long after we have laid the book asie. It is an exercise of make-believe that, like yoga or a religious festival, breaks down barriers of space and time and extends our sympathies, so that we are able to empathise with others lives and sorrows. It teaches compassion, the ability to 'feel with' others. And, like mythology, an important novel is transformative. If we allow it to do so, it can change us forever.”

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Crazy for Trying is out of the vault!

My debut novel Crazy For Trying was pubbed by MacAdam-Cage back in 1997. I'm thrilled that the ebook revolution has made it possible for me to bring it out of the vault and make it available to readers. Set in Montana in 1979, it's the story of self-discovery, sexual politics, a fat girl who'd rather be invisible and a walking-wounded man who falls in love with her voice on the radio.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Retracing Your Steps

I really envy those writers who can plan their work, then work their plans, writing their manuscript from start to finish without any missteps, or even the incursion of character insights and more effective plot ideas, because they got it so perfect from the start.

I also hate them sometimes, especially when I'll on a deadline and am forced, like this poor schlep who spent four days dragging his broken-legged self back over his footprints to escape the Utah desert, to retrace my steps to figure out where I went wrong. Like the hiker, who was inspired to visit Little Blue John Canyon by the film 127 Hours, yet didn't clap onto the most important lesson (NEVER go out hiking solo without telling someone your plans!)

I can't help blaming myself. But the truth is, this painstaking crawl, with all its self-doubt and backtracking, has always been my modus operandi.

So, pain and all, I might as well just grit my teeth and try to enjoy the scenery. I just hope it doesn't take me 127 Hours.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

So you don't forget: a lovely moment from Carlos Ruiz Zafon's "The Shadow of the Wind"

My daughter Jerusha says she knew I was going to get weepy over this passage from The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, and I do every time I return to it.
"This is a place of mystery, Daniel, a sanctuary. Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens. This place was already ancient when my father brought me here for the first time, many years ago. Perhaps as old as the city itself. Nobody knows for certain how long it has existed, or who created it. I will tell you what my father told me, though. When a library disappears, or a bookshop closes down, when a book is consigned to oblivion, those of us who know this place, its guardians, make sure that it gets here. In this place, books no longer remembered by anyone, books that are lost in time, live forever, waiting for the day when they will reach a new reader's hands. In the shop we buy and sell them, but in truth books have no owner. Every book you see here has been somebody's best friend."
This captures exactly how I feel about bringing my first two novels out of the vault as indie pub ebooks. Will they sell a shmillion copies? No. But they'll make a few good friends, I think.

A huge bestseller in Spain, The Shadow of the Wind was translated and published in the US several years ago. It's kind of Gothic, kind of literary, with a delicious dollop of magical realism. The young protagonist, Daniel Sempere, is entrusted with the safekeeping of a rare book and soon becomes embroiled in the mysterious circumstances surrounding the author's death. The body of writer Julian Carax was dumped in an alley in 1936, and now someone is methodically tracking down and burning every remaining copy of his novel. The cast of rich characters, wry dialogue, and labyrinth of plot twists defy synopsis, but the book is about books and storytelling more than anything else. The writing is unabashed, lush, over the top. It made me simultaneously salute the translator and wish I could read Spanish so I could see the original.

Most extraordinary was the way I started the book thinking he wrote this book for writers and finished it thinking he wrote this book for me.

Inspirations's Where You Find It

One of my fabulous critique partners inherited a roomful (and then some) of antique dolls. To her late mother, the collection represented beloved old friends and a lifetime passion. To her daughter, they represented bittersweet memories, as well as a logistical problem, since finding space for a relative's treasured possessions is never easy, even when they don't number in the hundreds.

To me, that crowded room represented something else entirely: the macabre inspiration for my latest book, PHANTOM OF THE FRENCH QUARTER, whose villain was, as a child growing up...

How 'bout if I just let you see for yourselves from this brief excerpt?

His grandmother had collected doll babies by the hundreds, which his mother arranged on shelves around a single room, where he’d slept as a boy.

How he’d hated those damned dolls, staring at him through the days and nights. How he’d pleaded with his mother to box them up, to let him put up his sports pennants and his plastic model racecars — the kinds of decorations he wouldn’t have to hide from other guys.

Year after year, she had stubbornly refused, saying it would be disrespectful of Grandmama’s memory, hiding them all away, and the narrow bungalow — a damned shack, really — was far too small to put them elsewhere.

“Then keep them in your room,” he had at first demanded and then pleaded, tears streaking down his red face.

But they both knew that she wouldn’t, that the men who visited her at night could never do their business with all those glass eyes staring.

And after while, it was all right. The boy began to like them anyway.

Which just goes to show you that when it comes to life, as well as writing, it really is all about perspective. When you look at a staring doll, a grinning clown, a running dog, or a forest laced in shadow, do you smile or do you shiver? Does your mind leap back to a fond memory or a disturbing moment?

Can you find a way to harness raw emotion, to suffuse your words with its essence? Can you exaggerate, twist, and tweak (or seriously warp, if your mind works the way mine does) to bring a character to life?

Question for the week: What's been your most unusual real-life inspiration and how did you use it in your writing?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Bald in the Land of Big Hair trailer

During the record-smashing hurricane season of 2005, a deadly game of cat and mouse unfolds and a stormy love affair is complicated by polarized politics, high-strung Southern families, a full-on media circus and the worst disaster management goat screw in US history.

The Hurricane Lover is a fast-paced, emotionally charged tale of two cities, two families, and two desperate people seeking shelter from the storm.


The Secret Sisters (an excerpt from Chapter One)

Chapter One: Pia

Whatever happened later, Pia could always know that her eyes were even more green than something and that something something else. Edgar never finished the sentence, and Pia lacked his way with words, so she hadn't even a good guess as to what he was about to say.

"I love that color on you," he whispered just before the entire world collapsed inward. "It makes your eyes even more green than . . ." something.

He did that sometimes. Whispered in her ear. When he'd been drinking a little and watching her from across the room, thinking of later things and earlier things and all sorts of things that were possible between them. Sometimes he didn't even say anything that made sense. He just murmured "la la la" and jangled her earring with the tip of his tongue, and for some reason Pia found this more sensuously eloquent than any words. Edgar was ridiculously inventive with his tongue.

"I'm not a handsome man," he told Pia when they were first dating, "but I am blessed with moments of amazing dexterity." And those moments emerged as promised over the twenty years they were together.

"It makes your eyes even more green . . ."

She definitely heard that much. Keeping her gaze forward, her expression composed, Pia leaned slightly into the whisper. She smiled and tilted her head so that his mouth brushed close to her hair. She wasn't really listening for specific syllables, just allowing his breath against her neck.

It was New Year's Eve. They were at a party, surrounded by polite laughter and chamber music and expensive perfume. They were dressed up. Edgar wasn't usually a dressed-up sort of person, but he looked good in a tux and didn't mind wearing one in winter, when Houston isn't as hot. This was one of the museum's major annual fund-raising events. People with money to donate had to be finessed into forking it over, and every year Edgar did his tie-and-tails best to romance the big benefactors. He was decked out in what he called "Sunday-go-to-meetin'" clothes, even though this wasn't Sunday and "meetin'" had not been a part of their lives for a long time. Pia regretted that later. She wished she'd made an issue of it and dragged him to mass; wished they'd had the boys confirmed and Sunday-schooled, giving them some sort of faith to seize on to when loss yawned like a sinkhole, destabilizing and swallowing everything for miles.

something something

She didn't quite catch it. Pia was left with that unfinished edge unraveling between her ear and the part of her brain that would have collected the words carefully, kept them in a private time capsule. Edgar's Last Words. Part of his private obituary, along with so many other details of him no archaeologist could ever dig deep enough to discern. His sleeping sounds. How he pressed his knuckle under his nose when he was angry, trying not to say something cruel. The way he cracked the boys up by orating street signs in an officious announcer voice.

"Accurate Air Incorporated," he would read from the back of a truck, and then tag it with a fake slogan. "We incorporate air accurately!"

Edgar Wright Ramone, PhD, curator of Eastern European displays, husband of eighteen years, father of James and Jesse, Eagle Scout, cribbage shark, master of the Cajun barbecue, a man blessed with moments of amazing dexterity, whispered his last words to his wife.

something something

Then suddenly, soundlessly, he simply crumpled. And not gracefully or in slow motion. It was an abrupt, boneless descent. His champagne flute shattered on the museum's marble floor. His chin glanced off Pia's shoulder, leaving a small, blue bruise. There was no extending of the hands, no attempt to balance or catch himself. Pia felt in her feet the solid knock of his head against the mosaic tile circle, above which a huge pendulum swung, illustrating the rotation of planet Earth. It happened so fast, Pia didn't even drop her champagne. Someone took it from her hand as she knelt down, confused, calling Edgar's name.

"Edgar?" It was a question, not a scream or even an exclamation. "Edgar?"

The party guests tried not to look, looked, were embarrassed for the couple they assumed to be drunk, became curious, grew concerned, told an intern to call 911, watched a doctor in evening attire administer CPR, told the chamber musicians to stop, stood stunned, sat stunned, and finally left whispering, passing hushed voices back and forth. The sibilant consonants and breathy vowels made a shuffling sound, like paper unfolding behind their hands.

Shush sha . . . said maybe an aneurysm . . . sha sha . . . family . . . really makes you think about . . .

Edgar ended with the dying moments of the year. It turned midnight as they placed him on a gurney. Bells rang across the city. It was 2001. Pia got into the ambulance with Edgar's body. The sirens were silent, and the driver talked on his radio with the same rustling paper tone as the partygoers.

There was paperwork. Forms to sign. A required explanation of legalities before she could officially release his organs for donation. Pia did all that. Then she had to call home and tell the twins to come and get her because she'd left the car at the museum, and they came, and she had to tell them their father was dead. The sun rose on the new year a little while later, but instead of finding Pia the Wife where it had left her, it came up on an empty place, and in the shadows stood Pia the Widow.

Excerpted from The Secret Sisters by Joni Rodgers Copyright © 2006 by Joni Rodgers. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Skinning of the Schnoz

For next seven weeks or so, I expect to be (had better be!) skinning my nose daily upon the grindstone of a very tight book deadline. Due to unavoidable circumstances, I've gotten a lot further behind than this particular tortoise enjoys, and failure is definitely not an option--especially not with another deadline breathing down my neck.

Nor is turning in a book that's anything less than the very best I can do. It's too easy to forget that, to become convinced that this business is about selling book proposals, copies, or even yourself and forever working faster to keep pace with the competition. But now more than ever, with the playing field leveled and the self-published cracking even the most venerable of lists, our business has to be about keeping readers happy by wringing every drop of sweat and blood and talent we have in us and pouring it all into the actual writing of the book.

Unfortunately, this means you'll be seeing me here on the blog less often. But I'll be back, I promise, as soon as I get this project back under control!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Pleasures of Reading

Having lived in the West for a long time, I recently began to miss it. The flurry and rush of moving, and moving again, had settled into a genuine calm, and I looked around me. The landscape, even the aural one, was new. People here twang. It’s very lulling. But it isn’t what I’m used to. And while I am happy here, suddenly I was also homesick, and so I went to the library.

Yes, the library.

I took out three of Tony Hillerman’s books and immersed myself in the dry, open landscape of the West.

It’s one of the pleasures of reading—that good stories can transport you someplace else for awhile.

Books are magic that way.

It’s one reason I love them.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Buy This Book: Lamb, by Bonnie Nadzam

Bonnie Nadzam in her debut novel, Lamb, has created a complex and disturbing story. David Lamb is a fifty-something-year-old man whose life is falling apart. His father has died and his wife has left him. With nothing solid to anchor himself to, Lamb is cruising, mentally, emotionally, physically. One day, cruising on an unfamiliar street, he’s approached by an eleven-year-old girl, Tommie. A couple of her “friends” have dared her to ask him for a cigarette. Lamb realizes this immediately. That it’s a dare and it raises something inside him. He’s incensed that Tommie is being used in this way. She begins to look like a cause to him, like a project that maybe he can fix up since he can’t fix anything in his own life, in his own head. As the reader you want this child to be all right. You really hope Lamb is going to be the good influence on her he’s striving toward, that he’s going to improve this poor child’s circumstances. Tommie wants this too; she’s yearning for it, for something, anything. But that’s what adolescence is, an ache, a gigantic, exquisitely painful, joyful hole inside that demands to be filled.

Looking back, I guess it could be said that adolescence is the yearning for experience, the longing to be master of one’s fate, but whatever it is, this is Nadzam’s forte, the way she makes you feel inside, like this eleven-year-old-lost child. You pray that Lamb is going to do the right thing by Tommie when he goes back into her neighborhood multiple times to feed her, to bring her gifts, to talk to her. But the whole time you know, you sense this relationship is not conventional. This man and this child have strayed into unknown territory and when Lamb takes Tommie, when he basically kidnaps her and drives her from Chicago west into the Rocky Mountains to some remote cabin ostensibly to teach her about the wilderness, to introduce her to a more organic connection to life, it is scary. It is a rude ride through a mountainous setting that is vividly beautiful and ruthlessly painted.

This novel reads like a rising heartbeat. It is a tale that knots your stomach. You want to put it down, to put it out of your mind, but the writing is so taut, so compelling and haunting that you can’t. At least I couldn’t. Nadzam is a master at point of view. At times, it’s hard to know from what position the story is being told. In a way you might be seduced into believing you are telling it to yourself, Nadzam takes you that far into Lamb’s mind. Not a comfortable place to be. And as intimately as you are there, you are also in Tommie’s mind and emotions, but this is no Lolita redux. There is nothing overtly sexual and yet . . . and yet. . . .

Readers and authors will often say that books should be entertaining, that people don’t want to be reminded of their very human condition, their frailties, vulnerabilities--weaknesses. They don’t want a story about which they have to think. But sometimes a book can do both. If you are drawn to gorgeous writing, disturbed characters, a plot that could stand alone as a taut thriller, Lamb does do both. In a manner that is reminiscent of Lionel Shriver’s, We Need To Talk About Kevin, Lamb is an unsettling journey as hard to put down as it is to forget.

For more about this wonderful author, visit Bonnie Nadzam's website.

Are you happy? (A handy flow chart to help you strategerize your creative week.)

Apply as needed to your writing process, revisions, agent search, agent switch, PR efforts, indie publishing venture etc.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Peter Brady is now my spiritual guru. (An excerpt from "Bald in the Land of Big Hair")

This year marks a milestone (if not a millstone) 10 YEARS IN PRINT for my memoir Bald in the Land of Big Hair! While HarperCollins continues to sell the trade paperback, I did an indie release of the 10th Anniversary Ebook Edition, featuring bonus content, a foreword by Elizabeth Berg, and this fantastic cover designed by Chip Kidd.

I've received thousands of wonderful letters from readers, survivors, and high school and college students performing scenes from the book for UIL competition. Amazing. Humbling. I'm incredibly grateful.

Here's a little moment from the chapter called "Faith, Prayer and Platitudes":
Luckily, everyone with cancer is issued a Brave Sick Person Face. It comes with the wig. If your prognosis is really bad, you may even be upgraded to Saint Sick Person. It comes in handy, because the moment you’re diagnosed with cancer, you become a platitude magnet. It’s the truth. Cancer attracts proverbs like pocket lint on a Lifesaver. Pastel Precious Moments posters, plaques, and coffee mugs gather at your door like a gaggle of bug-eyed orphans. Aphorisms come flying from every direction.

People I hardly knew came up to me, saying stuff like, "The Lord never gives us more than we can bear” (although, in my experience, this seems to apply only to money and cleavage). Or "If you ask the Heavenly Father for bread, He will not give you a stone.” (Perhaps the problem here is that God is thinking of the banana bread I bake, which could easily be mistaken for stone). Or "You’re an inspiration to us all.” (I knew I must be looking really bad whenever somebody laid that one on me). And then there’s that lovely poem about footprints in the sand.

“So God tells him, “The places where there’s only one set of footprints – that’s where I carried you,’” someone would tell me, blinking back tears, and I would struggle to resist adding, "Yeah, and that big ol’ dent in the sand is where God dropped me on my freaking head!”

My personal favorite from The Big Book of Banality was – and feel free to sing along with me on this one – “That which does not kill us makes us stronger!” This is a little like saying that that which does not kill a seat cushion makes it a flotation device. But at least it gives us a Plan B to fall back on. After a while, I started getting this vision of searchlights, confetti, and the offstage announces saying, "Congratulations! You are the one millionth person to use that expression since Joni was diagnosed! What do we have for our winner, Don Pardo?

…Still, as the months wore on and my jaded exterior wore down, I was hungry for hope, craving for comfort. One day on television, I saw a little entertainment news blurb about the man who, as a boy, had played Peter Brady on The Brady Bunch and had recently been diagnosed with cancer. His TV siblings praised him for his positive attitude, and he boldly told the interviewer,”I got cancer, but cancer didn’t get me!”

I welled up and clutched the remote control to my heart. The first thing that came to my mind was,”I want to be like that. I want to be able to stand there with my dignity and my sense of humor intact and say cancer hasn’t gotten me.” The second thing that came to my mind was "Peter Brady is now my spiritual guru? I can sink no lower.”

Sunday Quote:Bierce on Romance and Imagination

“Romance is the fiction that owes no allegiance to the God of things as they are. In the novel the writer's thought is tethered to probability, but in romance it ranges at will over the entire region of the imagination.”
--Ambrose Bierce

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sometimes a door is just a door...and then there's this cuckoo for Rococo puffs door in Paris

No apologies for my recent absence from the blog. Went Euro-tripping in Germany and France with the Gare Bear, who extracted a rock solid promise that I would not work on this trip. I didn't even keep a journal.

Our last night in Paris, via subway, bus and miles of walking, we searched out this doorway Gary had read about. The building at 29 Avenue Rapp in the 7th arrondisement was designed by Jules Aimé Lavirotte and won the Concours de Façades de la Ville de Paris in 1901, but it caused a controversy when people looked closely at the configuration on the door. (A bit more obvious if you view it upside down, and I don't even want to know the backstory on the person who discovered that.)

Have a groovy weekend, everyone. Back next week with renewed energy for this business that I love with an entirely new perspective. More about that later.

FB's new Subscribe button could come in handy for writers, especially the indies

This excellent article on Mashable describes the ins and outs of Facebook's new Subscribe button and its best uses for celebs, artists, teachers etc.
The Subscribe button is arguably most beneficial for journalists and artists. Though, in a sense, they’re public figures, these types of Facebook users likely aren’t well-known enough to justify a fan page.

If this sounds like you, the first thing you need to do is actively opt-in to allow subscriptions to your profile. You can then choose to allow subscribers to comment on your updates and control your notifications.

Another change to note is that when you unfriend someone, they stay subscribed to your public updates. This is important if you’ve been accepting friend requests from people you don’t know who want to follow your work.
Here's more about how to set up Subscribe on your FB profile or page.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Reader First

Every once in a while, I'll hear a writer say she's unable to read while working on her own projects. That always makes me gasp a little (at least to myself) for how else are we to refill the well of words from which we're drawing? Reality TV? I don't think so!

There are times, it's true, when I take a few days, perhaps even a couple of weeks (if I can hold out that long) for a little break from reading. Maybe I'm sick or tired or want to check out a few movies on DVD in the evenings, but it's never long before the well of words draws me back for a good, long drink.

Lately, I've been sipping at a lot of different flavors, reading everything from non-fiction (My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D) to mythology-based Young Adult (Sweet Venom by the talented Tera Lynn Childs) to the thoroughly delightful Lord & Lady Spy, a historical romance by Shana Galen. I've always read all sorts of fiction and non-fiction, so I thought I'd take a moment to ask for recommendations.

What have you been reading lately that you've really loved?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Help....

Hey Everyone: I'd like to extend an invitation to drop in on my blog this morning. I've written a new post on my indie experience so far and included some links that were and continue to be sources of inspiration to me. I want to share as much of what I've learned and continue to learn as I go along, and I'd love to hear from you, to have the benefit of your input as authors, readers, agents, publishers, book sellers, and book publicists and anyone else who has an interest or a need for guidance. The book world is changing; it's an exciting time and like every new endeavor, it will only be as great as we make it. I'd love to hear from you!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

In life, literature and publishing, it's all about the spiral staircase

When Gary and I were in Paris a couple weeks ago, we decided to rent a little apartment instead of staying in a hotel. We got a great place in Montmartre, just a hop skip from the des Abbesses subway station. A great little place, bigger than a hotel room, but cheaper. Slight drawback: it was a fourth floor walk-up. Traversing up and down each day, I kept thinking about what Karen Armstrong said about the spiral staircase: you keep coming around to the same place, but you're a level higher.

This is such an apt description of the novel writing process, an eloquent description, in fact, of any endeavor that requires that sort of constant effort and upward striving.

Karen Armstrong on the subject of fiction:
“...the experience of reading a novel has certain qualities that remind us of the traditional apprehension of mythology. It can be seen as a form of meditation. Readers have to live with a novel for days or even weeks. It projects them into another world, parallel to but apart from their ordinary lives. They know perfectly well that this fictional realm is not 'real' and yet while they are reading it becomes compelling. A powerful novel becomes part of the backdrop of our lives, long after we have laid the book asie. It is an exercise of make-believe that, like yoga or a religious festival, breaks down barriers of space and time and extends our sympathies, so that we are able to empathise with others lives and sorrows. It teaches compassion, the ability to 'feel with' others. And, like mythology, an important novel is transformative. If we allow it to do so, it can change us forever.”

Monday, September 12, 2011

Getting Computer Scenes Right: Where Hollywood's Steered You Wrong

One of the first things I did when moving from writing historical romance to romantic suspense was to tackle a plot that was dependent upon a high-tech twist. Naturally, I was tempted to rely on some of the uber-cool stuff I'd picked up from TV and the movies. Fortunately, I had learned from writing historicals that primary research (i.e.-getting information straight from the horse's mouth) is the only way to go if you are really concerned with accuracy. After conferring with an Intel engineer and having a forensic computer investigator review the relevant scenes pre-publication, Fatal Error was ready to roll.

From that experience, however, I quickly learned that Hollywood "uber-cool" is very often "uber-fudged." Need some specific examples? Check out this brief vid from Kim Komando ("The Digital Goddess.") And check out her radio show for some excellent real-world tips.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

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 reading habits of my youth, consuming fiction like a woodchipper devours underbrush. The thing I most wanted was to read more. The thing I least wanted was more hours in front of a computer, and surprisingly, that's what a lot of web-saturated youthies want too.

Virginia Heffernan of the NYT says in her excellent article on Kindle Singles:
The Kindle in particular brought me the first moment of peace from Web noise that I’d had in a long time. True, I thought I loved the Web noise when the only alternative was to recede into analog culture — but I have adored the silence I’ve found on the Kindle. I never thought I’d back off the Web, but I have.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Getting Gun Scenes Right: Why Most Everything You Think You Know Is Wrong

While researching an action scene yesterday, I can across's fascinating post 5 Ridiculous Gun Myths Everyone Believes Thanks to the Movies. Whether or not you're writing scenes with weapons, this article is so funny and eye-opening (and illustrated with great videos) you're sure to enjoy it.

The moral of the story: you may not like, care about, or know much about guns (or whatever it is you're writing about), but if you don't do your homework, you're going to end up with a scene that's an eye-roller for a knowledgeable reader. And no one sets out to do that. Right?

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

The Language of Flowers: It isn't always about romance....

I have always loved words, their definitions, and in particular, the nuances of their definitions. I like fitting them together in interesting ways. I like the challenge of working out a sentence that will evoke in the reader a precise understanding of my meaning. It’s tricky because words can mean different things to different people. And as much as writing can be evocative of the gamut of emotions, taking a reader from cathedrals of awe to valleys of despair, it is limited and finite and sometimes there are no words. You may have experienced it, some situation or sensibility for which you had no words. Maybe that frustration is what prompted the creation of a language of flowers.

Sometimes called floriography, the language of flowers was a Victorian-era means of communication in which various flowers and floral arrangements were used to send coded messages often in the form of a small bouquet of blooms called a tussie-mussie. Being a lover of gardens as well as a lover of language, I found the idea of conveying meaning through flowers intriguing. At some point a while back my sister gifted me with a small book titled The Language of Flowers. Written in 1913, it was the golden anniversary gift of one husband to his wife. It lay about for years afterward and was finally unearthed from a drawer and reproduced in England with the family’s permission and it is an absolute treasure. The pages are sepia tinted just as the original book’s pages must be by now, and the names of the flowers are hand-scripted in ink the color of well-steeped tea in one column with the meanings painstakingly inscribed on the facing page. Many of the pages are awash in the delicate renderings of water-colored blooms and plants. What a lot of work this husband did to convey his love to his wife. And all we know of him are his initials and his affection. “To Mother,” he inscribed. “Wishing you many happy returns of the day - from Father,” and then he has written the date, August 8th, 1913. And beneath that he wrote:

There is a language, “little known”,
Lovers claim it as their own.
Its symbols smile upon the land,
Wrought by nature’s wondrous hand;
And in their silent beauty speak,
Of life and joy, to those who seek
For love divine and sunny hours
In the language of the flowers.

His initials follow, F.W.L.

Who wouldn’t treasure such a gift? But lest you think the language of flowers is all about love and romance, look up the meaning of foxglove, one of my favorite flowers. When I first was working on The Ninth Step and realized Livie was fluent in the language of flowers, that she was receiving mysterious gifts of flowers, I wanted her to have a bouquet of foxgloves. Their tall stems are regal and elegantly lined with flowers shaped like small bells or fairy hats or one leg of the tiniest ruffle-edged pair of pantaloons. Their throats are speckled as daintily as a bird’s egg and their colors are a sweet range of the softest pastel shades. I was certain their meaning would be something wonderful, something suited to my purpose and Livie’s. But no. A gift of foxgloves is meant to convey insincerity. At least according to Mr. F.W.L. So Livie never got a single one. I thought of narcissus, too, but their meaning is egotism. And it’s funny because the close cousin to narcissus, a gift of daffodils, translates to regard. Doing a quick Google search, I could only find the book, authored by Margaret Pickston, on for a rather steep price--around what it costs to purchase a beautifully-done bouquet of roses, say--if it is purchased new. But a used copy can be had for one cent and the book is well-worth many times that. I truly treasure mine for all the many hours of pleasure it has given me, never mind what it provided in the way of research for my story. I have to thank Livie for the idea though. She’s the one who told me she knew the language, who helped me learn it too.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Do You Need Self Control?

I don't. At least not when it comes to e-mail, Facebook (and its nefariously addictive one-minute "blitz" games), and other "social distractions" on the web. Fortunately, there's an awesome app for Mac called Self Control, which allows me to block any domains of my choosing for a set period of time. Whether I'm looking for 15 minutes or several hours of unbroken concentration, I set it and get writing. Once started, you cannot turn the thing off, not by exiting the program or even restarting the computer.

So you might as well just write.

The developer, artist Steve Lambert, said he created the app because he needed to free himself from distractions, and since then, he's distributed it freely. To visit his site and read about it, download the app, and leave a donation if you choose and find it helpful, visit Steve's site.

To see screenshots and read more about Self Control, visit this great blog review from

Thanks to BtO reader Ivan Pope, I can now add a link to a similar inexpensive program called Freedom, which is available for both Mac and Windows. You can get a trial version for free, or unlock and purchase for only $9.99. Judging from the number of writer endorsements on the website, it's a lifesaver, and quite the bargain, too!

Check out both programs today. The productivity you save may be your own!

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Hedgebrook Writing Residency

Friends, I've just been contacted by Hedgebrook, the wonderful women's writing retreat in Puget Sound where I have been a resident, to encourage more applications to the residency.  The deadline is this week (September 8), so you still have time to get your application in.  Go to

to learn more.

Hedgebrook is a truly special, transformative place, open to women writers working at all levels.

Go for it!


Saturday, September 03, 2011

Korean edition of "Promise Me"

I can't help it. I always get a thrill when I see the foreign editions roll out. Here's the Korean edition of Promise Me: How a Sister's Love Launched the Global Movement to End Breast Cancer by Nancy G. Brinker (with a little help from yours truly.)

Selling the Genre Novel

This week I'm being featured over at Pitch University, where I'm sharing tips to sell your genre novel, whether its to an agent, editor or directly to readers! I hope that you'll stop by!

Friday, September 02, 2011

Top Ten Reasons New Orleans is the Hottest Place Ever to Set a Tale of Romantic Suspense

1. Above-ground tombs (thanks to the high water table) in beautiful old cemeteries like nowhere else on earth.

2. Voodoo, with its gris gris bags, its rich cross-cultural melange, and its powerful priestesses.

3. Loup garou, a.k.a. rougaroux, a werewolf-like creature once said to prowl the shadows.

4. Crumbling French Quarter mansions permeated with the soft scents of decay and magnolia.

5. Live oaks dripping with Spanish moss.

6. Chicory coffee and beignets, po boys, and a myriad of other mouthwatering delights.

7. Cajun hunks and Creole culture.

8. The mysterious, semi-seedy, distinctly-Southern vibe.

9. The music, art, and architecture.

10. The sense the history is all around you, a living entity.

And here's one more, a little lagniappe: The opportunity to open your romantic suspense with an image like this one from the opening of my brand new release Phantom of the French Quarter:
In an old French Quarter cemetery that cradled saints and sinners alike, dawn stained the slumbering fog bloodred. Layer after layer, it awakened, rising like the resurrected dead and swirling in soft eddies around the young woman cutting through it.

Look for the book in stores beginning Sept. 6th or download it from your favorite e-book seller today.

Photo courtesy

Thursday, September 01, 2011

The pleasures and pitfalls of a Kindle Single

Waiting for my flight to take off yesterday, I was scouting for a quick read to download on my Kindle and decided to try one of their new Kindle Singles: How To Not Succeed In Show Business By Really Trying, Claudia Lonow's shocking and

I don't know what to call it. Bookling? Embryo? I laughed out loud and really loved her writing, but this isn't a book. And it's not a short story. It's a clever, funny word zygote that starts to tell a story, then lurches to an abrupt halt just when the reader has become fully engaged.

Billed as a "teeny tiny show biz memoir", How To Not Succeed... rambles a bit about her childhood, including a few mortifying anecdotes about her wannabe actor parents, then talks a little about her acting career without really saying anything, then takes us on a misadventure at a sex club. Lonow is smart and funny a la Chelsea Handler, but the truncated format and almost insights make the piece, as well written as it is, about as satisfying as a mouthful of uncooked chicken.

I'm open to giving other Kindle Singles a try, but this very clearly illustrates my worst fear about *quick and easy* e-pubbing: the fatally premature birth of what could have been a great book. I truly hope Lonow is able to spin this thing into a book deal and that she can sustain the pace and creativity she started with. If I'd downloaded this as a Kindle sample, I would have clicked through to buy the book. It wasn't the buck-ninety-nine that matters; I was in the mood for and expected something complete and fully crafted. A memoir, no matter how teeny tiny, needs a beginning, middle and end.

Not just a begi--

I feel like the author was done an injustice here. She's very talented, very funny, and willing to go way out there. She somehow manages to make some extremely unfunny aspects of her life absolutely side-splitting. But instead of offering some form of redemption or enlightenment, a sense of completion or that sense of future that makes for a satisfying read, this just sort of drove off a cliff.


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