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Friday, January 27, 2012

More Awesome Freeness: Crazy for Trying on Kindle

In honor of the 50th Anniversary of Patsy Cline's "Crazy," our own New York Times bestseller Joni Rodgers has made her novel CRAZY FOR TRYING absolutely free for Kindle! Check it out!

Download Free Today: Touched by Fire


First published in 1999 and written under my Gwyneth Atlee pseudonym, Touched by Fire is as much a historical fiction as it is a historical romance, focusing on the 1871 Great Peshtigo Fire, which blazed through Wisconsin territory on the very same day as the Great Chicago Fire. And for the new few days, it's an absolutely free download for the Kindle.

I'd love it if you would download today and help me share the news using the Facebook or Twitter feed buttons!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Breathe

I want to remember this, and so I write it down.

Ted spoke today.  Ted Benfey doesn't often speak up, but when he does, I listen.  Ted is eighty-seven years old, a former chemistry professor--he and I have taught in the same classrooms--and an emigre who as a young boy was lucky enough to escape Hitler's killing machine.  One of the things he taught at our college was the philosophy of chemistry: a field of study which asks us to think not just about how the world is bonded together, but about the very idea of bonding itself.  Ted has been retired now from teaching for many years; his shoulders are stooped, and when he stands in a meeting to speak, he grips the back of the chair in front of him, if one is there.  If not, he stands and folds his hands in front of him, balancing himself from the inside.  His voice is soft, and it shakes slightly.  I should be clear: this is a bit like saying a tree shakes softly.  You don't confuse the delicacy at the edge with the welded rings of the core.

Today Ted stood and gripped the back of the chair in front of him, and this is the story he told, as nearly as I can capture his words, and his lilting voice:

"Today, I am thinking about meditation.  I have practiced meditation for a long time.  When I do so, I do it by focusing on a single sound, or a word; or else I will concentrate only on my breathing, my breath going in and out.  It is very important to me, this meditation, and I am very interested in meditation as a subject.

"But one day, not long ago, something began to happen to me.  I did not only meditate, but I began to think about meditation.  I began to buy books on meditation, and I began reading about meditation.  Then, in the way of things, other people began to recommend books to me, and before I knew it I had quite a pile of books, books about meditation and about other subjects that are also very important.  At about this same time, I became aware of a feeling--a feeling that I had not only so many things to read, but so many, many things to do, so many things that I must do.  I became overwhelmed by this feeling, and began to be quite unwell.  I went to my doctor, and my blood pressure was elevated--it had gone through the roof, in fact--and he put me on medication, and told me that we must do some ultrasound tests to check my internal organs.  At this point, I contacted my sons, who do not live near me--one of them lives in Tokyo, and has done so for a generation now--and I told them what was happening, thinking that I should let them know just in case something was going to take me off to the hospital.  My son in Tokyo wrote back to me right away, and this is what he said:

'I want you to go back to breathing.  I want you to think only about your breath.  Your body needs oxygen, and so you must take it in.  You must breathe in what you need, then you must breathe out what you no longer need.  You must breathe in the oxygen.  You must breathe out the carbon dioxide, which you no longer need but that something else--the plants--can use.  I want you to do this, and think in this way.  Breathe in what you need.  Breathe out what you no longer need.  And I want you to do this for twenty minutes.'

"It was amazing, the difference this made.  I realized, as I breathed this way, that the books that I had did not have to be read right now.  And that the things that I had to do, they did not have to be done, not right now.  When I went in later on for the ultrasound tests, nothing showed up on them at all.  My blood pressure was normal again, and the doctor congratulated himself that it was the medication that had done it.

"As I breathed in and out again, I remembered things that other people had taught me about breathing.  That, for instance, when we breathe in we have the chance to take in the suffering of the world, of a group or an individual, or maybe of the suffering we are immediately aware of . . . and then we have the chance to breathe out our compassion and love.  This memory came back to me as I breathed, as I concentrated on taking in what I needed.

"When I told my son about this memory that had come to me, he reminded me that the idea that we breathe in the suffering of others and breathe out our compassion for the world is a practice known as Tonglen, and that it has been practiced in India and in Tibet.  And I wasn't at all surprised to hear this.  And then I thought of something else."

For a moment I had trouble, as Ted's voice shook, understanding.  He was saying that he had been watching a television program earlier this week, and the program had been about . . .  I breathed, and then I decided that the word he had said was "god."  But that didn't sound right.  Then I breathed again, and I realized he had said the word "garden."  He was saying that he had been watching a program about gardens here in North Carolina, and that one, the Charlotte Botanic Garden, had a section devoted to a meditative garden, a space in which to sit and breathe.

". . . out what you no longer need," Ted ended, and sat carefully down, feeling the chair beneath him, while in the room around him the words god, garden and breath danced, forming an unstable compound.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Free For Kindle 1-20 and 1-21: Barbara Sissel's THE VOLUNTEER


Do you read Kindle e-books on your e-reader, smartphone, iPad or other devices? If so, I *highly* recommend THE VOLUNTEER by Barbara Sissel, and best of all, it's a free download from Amazon on Jan. 20th and 21st.

From my own review of the book:

In the days since this young bride was left at the altar, Livie Saunders has worked hard to put her life back together, steeping herself in the language of flowers and the beauty of the world around her. But her facade has one big crack -- the "red dress nights" in which she falls into the arms of strangers--nights whose consequences are catching up with her just as the painful past comes crashing down. Her errant fiancé, Cotton O'Dell has returned, seeking forgiveness for the unforgivable, redemption in the form of the Ninth Step. But is it too late for either of them?

The Ninth Step is an unforgettable story of loss, forgiveness, and the true cost of redemption, as beautifully-written as it is compelling. Barbara Taylor Sissel's writing is worth savoring. This heart-wrenching, ultimately hopeful story reminded me of the best of Anita Shreve. Since reading the book, I've been recommending it like crazy to anyone who'll listen.

I can easily see this as a great book club selection.

Very highly recommended!

Hope you'll click over to the sight today and give this talented new author and BtO contributor a try!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

25 Things Writers Should Start Doing

If you haven't been reading Chuck Wendig's blog, you're missing some great, unvarnished honesty for writers. Warning: the "unvarnished" part includes a heaping helping of profanity, so consider yourself warned.


25 Things Writers Should Start Doing

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Weekend Vid: The Joy of Books



Haven't you always suspected that books have secret lives?

Enjoy!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Amazon reports healthy numbers for Kindle Select launch

Per the press release:
The Kindle Owners’ Lending Library is off to a strong start: customers borrowed 295,000 KDP Select titles in December alone, and KDP Select has helped grow total library selection to over 75,000 books. With the $500,000 December fund, KDP authors have earned $1.70 per borrow. In response to strong customer adoption of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (as well as seasonal, post-holiday use of new Kindles), Amazon.com, Inc. has added a $200,000 bonus to the January KDP Select fund, raising the total pool from $500,000 to $700,000.
Read the rest in the Amazon Media Room.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Need an Artist's Date? Try The Artist

For those of you who aren't familiar with it, Julia Cameron's classic book, The Artist's Way, is chock full of wonderful ideas to help writers, artists, and other types get their creative mojo back.

One of the ideas I like best is that of taking yourself on the occasional "artist's date," something to refill the well of images and ideas that constant work depletes. An artist's date can be just about anything: a walk through a garden, a trip to a museum, an hour spent hanging out watching birds and butterflies--whatever it takes to get you out of your own head and reconnect you to the universe.

Yesterday, I took myself on an artist's date to see the new movie, The Artist, a black & white silent film that's making a very big splash. I went because my friend and fellow blogster, Joni Rodgers, told me it was full of little surprises that she could only describe as "delights."



She was right about that, and the fact that I'm predisposed to love anything with a cute, smart dog in it, as well. The movie made me laugh, it may me weep, but what really spoke to me was the journey of the protagonist, silent film star George Valentin, who finds himself unable to adapt to the rise of the "talkies," resulting in a meteoric fall, even as the shiny-new young extra he once helped soars to the heights of fame.

There's a lesson in it about the constancy of inconstancy--the way things continually change, not only in the world of entertainment, but the world in general, and how dangerous it can be when one is too slow to evolve. And how (thank goodness) it's never too late to put our pride aside and reinvent ourselves.

All wonderful messages for the writer. Take yourself on an artist's date if it's playing in your area. If not, watch for it at the Oscar's (I'd be willing to bet) and on video. It's a little masterpiece, and an inspiration, too.

Monday, January 09, 2012

The Marathoner's Guide to Writing: Staying in it for the Long Haul without Losing your Perspective, your Patience, or your Mind

The race to get published can be pure hell, but as someone who's spent more than twelve years and twenty books in the trenches, I can tell you it's a leisurely Sunday stroll compared to the Herculean effort of staying published--and staying sane and healthy while doing so. Of the scores of romance writers I started out with (the Class of '99, we called ourselves), very few remain. Some have dropped out, disillusioned. Others flew high for a time, then crashed down and became embittered. Still others succumbed to insurmountable health or financial problems.

But before I depress you, let me say that there were in fact survivors, just as there are those who have been writing for decades and dozens (sometimes even hundreds) of books longer and are still out there kicking tail and taking names. So what are the distinguishing qualities that enable some to keep working through the ups and downs common to every career? What lessons can those of us who aspire to be marathoners take from their stories? I'll begin by sharing those traits I've noticed, and it's my hope that other writers who've been published for more than ten years will add to the conversation with their own observations.

The long-haul writer...

1. Does not equate publishing success with self-worth.
How can we, when we've seen how fickle the business can be? A writer who's this year's hot property can find herself untouchable next year. Another whose career had seemingly circled the drain years before can suddenly emerge triumphant, then soar to dizzying heights. (This is also a great reason to treat everyone with respect and kindness instead of only sucking up to those you think can do you some good!)

2. Finds the balance between chasing trends and selling out...or starving. Trends come and go too swiftly to be predicted, and too fiercely to be ignored. If one speaks to you, it's fine to create your own take on it--as long as you're bringing something new to the subgenre. But faking an enthusiasm never works well in the long run. The readers always know.

3. Cultivates nurturing friendships with people she genuinely cares about and supports. The key word here is "genuinely." If you're *just* networking, you stand the risk of being perceived as a user. And nobody helps out a user, but they share all sorts of great stuff with their friends.

4. Remains professional. The long-hauler carefully considers her schedule before making commitments and then keeps them. If unforeseen circumstances put on the big squeeze, she deals with the problem promptly and honestly. She avoids public snarkage and gossip, erring on the side of kindness, and treats her business relationships with respect.

5. Never stops striving to do better. The truly committed writer never feels as if she's arrived. She reads constantly and keeps studying the craft, experimenting with techniques, and listening to the likes and dislikes of the fans with whom she seeks to connect. She understands that phoning it it is the quickest route to burn-out.

6. Honors her own pace and process rather than trying to be "the next *insert name of publishing phenom.*"
Each writer works at a unique pace, in a unique way. The marathon writer gets this, and realizes it's not a race to see who can write the most books in the shortest time period, or even the most popular or successful. It's an individual journey, where the writer strives to create a deep and meaningful connection with her readers, to the very best of her ability. Besides that, comparing yourself to others will just drive you crazy.

7. Understands that change is the only constant.
Trends, business models, even people change, pulling the rug out from underneath you at the most inconvenient times. The survivors are the ones who go all Darwin on the problem, adapting and evolving rather than getting endlessly mired in the LaBrea tar pits of Woe Is Me (although a little whining to your friends and a lot of chocolate are to be expected in the moment.)

So what qualities do you feel are most important for the career writer? What lessons can those of us who hope to either join the business or stay in it learn from our genre's veterans? I hope you'll share your own experiences or your questions and comments below.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

The real problem with creative writing programs (According to Anis Shivani)

While I am not a fan of laughing at other writers, and hate the whole "let's put writers in a hierarchy" shtick anyway, I found this 2010 article by Anis Shivani in the Huffington post both entertaining and relieving. One of the hardest parts of my whole MFA/PhD experience was feeling like I had to uphold the status quo--that I couldn't push back when people said how great a writer was, and universally ooohed and ahhed at sentences, that, quite frankly, I didn't think even worked.

Everyone's tastes are different, and I do see a couple of my favorite writers among this very tongue and cheek list, but the list itself distracts from the more important points Shivani is making. What happens when we have an establishment that tells us what is good to read, but doesn't exercise any real discernment? And what happens when the aesthetics of that same establishment become so entrenched in a system that, while pretending to be democratic, is really anything but? The academy has become so cautious and aware of including women and minorities (a good thing!), but what about the other, less visible disparities in our midst? What about economic differences? Religious and philosophical differences? Critical stance? And why not a diversity of aesthetic? Wouldn't it be more intellectually responsible to include the works of popular authors who are connecting with audiences and examine what it is that makes them work?

I'm not saying that we shouldn't study the classics, or the late 20th century giants who make up most of creative writing programs' reading lists. What I'm arguing is that it would be more responsible of creative writing programs to also offer classes in other genres, besides literary (which, let's face it, is a genre) fiction, and to host question & answer sessions with writers from a variety of literary walks. And I'm not just talking about responsible from a "preparation for after the degree" point of view. I believe that it could actually be more intellectually stimulating for aspiring writers, even aspiring literary writers, to be confronted with viewpoints and aesthetics radically different from their own.

What do you all think? Could creative writing programs benefit from opening up their own unspoken canons? And do you think Shivani is wrong to ridicule some of America's most prominent writers?