Saturday, March 30, 2013

Life is Beautiful meets Brigadoon in NO ONE IS HERE EXCEPT ALL OF US

Lovely, lovely, lovely writing makes this heartbreaking novel a gorgeous reading experience. A small town in Romania circa 1939 escapes the advancing threat of Nazi malevolence by imagining (or more accurately 're-imagining') the lives of people in the community. Think "Life is Beautiful" meets Brigadoon with a dash of Inglorious Basterds.

Highly recommending and definitely suggesting as a strong book club selection.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

HARLEY LOCO: A Memoir of Hard Living, Hair, and Post-Punk from the Middle East to the Lower East Side

Endorsed by the author's friend, Elizabeth Gilbert, who says: "Her writing doesn't come out on the page feeling like it's been squeezed from the standard-issue literary toothpaste tube."

That's exactly what I loved about it, but for some readers, the frankly appalling anecdotes about the author's hardscrabble drug adventures will be too much. Gritty and depressing at times, hilarious and free-spirited at others. If you make it through the first 30 pages, you'll probably love it.

Reviewing HARLEY LOCO: A Memoir of Hard Living, Hair, and Post-Punk from the Middle East to the Lower East Side

Endorsed by the author's friend, Elizabeth Gilbert, who says: "Her writing doesn't come out on the page feeling like it's been squeezed from the standard-issue literary toothpaste tube."

That's exactly what I loved about it, but for some readers, the frankly appalling anecdotes about the author's hardscrabble drug adventures will be too much. Gritty and depressing at times, hilarious and free-spirited at others. If you make it through the first 30 pages, you'll probably love it.

Why two boring straight suburbanites believe in marriage (and marriage equality)

This year, Gary and I are celebrating 30 years together. We would be thrilled if this could be the year that the US recognizes the civil rights of all adults who wish to commit to the amazing journey that marriage can and should be.

PS ~ I love you, Gare Bear! I get choked up looking at these photos. :)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

I'm still wild about Benjamin Percy's THE WILDING

This phenomenal novel snarls like a grizzly and sings like a lark. Emotional depth and family conflict in the context of a gut-grippingly horrific father-son-grandfather camping trip in Oregon.

I read and loved The Wildingwhen it came out a few years ago; it really stuck with me. Percy has a new novel coming out in May, and I can't wait to lay eyes on it. It's just not that often that a book so cinematically exciting comes on with the quality of writing and breadth of character development that Percy delivers here.

Anyhoo. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

I've been branded. And I think I like it.

This year, I'm turning a page and taking on the next phase of my publishing career with the expansion of my book reviews and opening of Stella's Umbrella, an upmarket online booktique. Seemed like the right moment to organize my own body of work.

Because I've been published by small presses, Big 6 houses and my own digital imprint, my cover designs have been all over the map. I decided to have my novels rebranded, taking a design cue from the austere, high-concept design that was done for my memoir, Bald in the Land of Big Hair.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

THE MAPMAKER'S WAR is unlike anything I've read. (In a good way!)

Highly recommending this unusual novel of love and conflict. The voice and style are unlike anything I've ever read - which might be a challenge for many readers, but for me, it's a strength. The universal aspects of war and love ring painfully, beautifully true.

I definitely want to read more of this talented author's work.

Take That, Voices of Doom!

Reflecting on the irony of the fact that my high school typing teacher said no one would ever hire me if I couldn't type any faster than 35 words per minute (or get my head out of the clouds, which was a running theme among my high school teachers). Though I'm still barely competent as a typist, I do get paid to write books. But it all worked out, since I seldom *think* faster than 35 words per minute, anyway.

Moral of the story: High school teachers are seldom clairvoyant. I've known authors who've overcome dyslexia, poor spelling, and non-existent grammar skills to go on to great success in spite of "authorities" telling them they'd never make it. The real writer might forever have those "voices of doom" nattering in her head, but she is far too driven to tell her stories to listen to all the "reasons" she should set aside her dreams.

What negative prophecies have you overcome today?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Masha Hamilton's WHAT CHANGES EVERYTHING = book club motherlode

Highly recommending Masha Hamilton's novel about love, motherhood and the far-reaching fallout of a faraway war.

What Changes Everything is a beautifully woven, multi-faceted novel full of womanly wisdom and hard, human truth. Book club motherlode. Seriously. Compelling story, fully-fleshed characters, tough issues. Also recommending Hamilton's novel 31 Hours.

Check her out!

An archeologist stands between the living and the dead in Gin Philips' lovely novel COME IN AND COVER ME

Highly recommending Come In and Cover Meby Gin Philips, a beautifully written novel about an archeologist with a special connection to the spirits surrounding the artifacts she studies.

The author deftly weaves together the worlds of the living and the dead and creates just the right friction between the protagonist and her foil, a colleague who believes in a more scientific approach.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

If a wasp lands on the book I'm reviewing, does that mean the book has buzz?

Sitting at my kitchen table catching up on book reviews this week and got an unexpected visit.

This critter has excellent taste in literature, selecting the lovely Evidence of Life by Barbara Taylor Sissel, a compelling drama about a woman whose search for her husband and daughter in the wake of a devastating flood uncovers disturbing truths about her husband's life and their relationship.

Highly recommended for book clubs and Hymenoptera!

Here's the review:

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Oh, how I love the tersely brilliant short stories of Ludmilla Petrushevskaya!

Okay, what am I supposed to say that makes you want to read this book more than the title already makes you want to read this book? And why am I the only reviewer out there who thinks these stories are hilarious?

Highly recommending There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister's Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories and Ludmilla Petrushevskaya's previous collection, There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby: Scary Fairy Tales.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

RWA Shout Out & Thank You Gift

Hey, Houston RWA! Thanks for inviting me to spend another delightful Saturday with you. RWA gatherings have hosted some of my favorite speaking gigs over the years. I'm always in awe of the positive energy, the generosity of spirit and the abundance of talent.

Since I was invited to speak this Saturday about my mini-memoir First You Write: The Worst Way to Become an Almost Famous Author and the Best Advice I Got While Doing It, I wanted to make it available to the vibrant Houston RWA authorhood (and other RWA chapters), along with some of the novels featured in the sometimes calamitous but mostly pretty funny story of my publishing journey.

The books below will be available for free exclusively on Kindle Friday, Saturday and Sunday, March 8-10. Just click on the cover image. Enjoy!

   . . .

Rethinking and Overthinking "The Road Not Taken"

Just the other day, I had occasion to revisit Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken," and I was very much surprised to realize it's not at all what I imagined in my junior high years (an old man's boast that he's succeeded because he'd chosen so wisely) but more a melancholy realization that you can never really tell what would have come of if you'd taken a different direction in life. There's no going back for a do-over.

Naturally, this got me to thinking about the decision trees that take us through our writing lives. Should I stay the course, or abandon this story to pursue an exciting new glimmer? Am I really writing in the genre that best suits my talents, or should I jump to a more commercial niche? Should I sign with this agent or that one? Stay with my publisher or move on? Stick with traditional presses or branch out into indy publishing?

These myriad choices are enough to paralyze a person, especially when you weigh the potential risks and rewards. And as in Frost's poem (see below) there's no way to be certain ahead of time which path is right, but that's no reason to waste your life dithering--or trying to imagine what would have happened if you'd chosen differently.

Instead, recognize that the art of making these decisions is just that, an art and not a science, with a healthy dose of luck thrown in. Allow that mistakes are bound to be made, just as there will sometimes be unforeseen rewards. Go with your gut and, even on those occasions when you do look back on a choice with deep regret, be forgiving of your former self--and remind yourself that you may not yet know the decision's final outcome. I can think of several occasions where I've kicked myself for months over a choice that, in the end, did pay off in surprising ways.

What writing/career decisions have you most angsted over? Did beating yourself up serve you as a warning, or was it just a demoralizing waste of time?

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

--Robert Frost

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

The Fearless Writer

Sometimes, the race goes not to the ready, but the fearless.

Since 1999, when I was first published, I've seen a lot of wallflowers wither. I've watched the careful planners fail, mainly because--and this is especially true in recent years--the industry never stands still, so any sort of strategic career goal-setting ends up a dart thrown at a moving target, a careening, twirling dervish that blinks into and out of Whovian dimensions.

The people I've seen prosper have tended to be those on the vanguard. The earliest arrivals gain momentum, garnering most of the readership (and profits) that have already dried up by the time the timid come on scene.

Sometimes, of course, the quick-to-leap fail. Splattering against hard surfaces is a very real risk when you're traveling at breakneck speed. Sometimes, too, they churn out substandard work that fails to maintain their momentum. But occasionally, they hit a sweet spot, merging opportunity, sweat equity, and attention to their craft.

By nature, I'm a careful planner. I like my known schedules and comfortable routines as much as I fear failure. But in the coming year, I want to grow less cautious and more adventurous, to toss aside a little of my natural reserve and jump on opportunities when they become apparent. I may end up a small splat along a roadside somewhere, but I'll be forced to adapt, to change, to grow into the kind of writer that I hope will shape my future.

Move, or stagnate. Adapt, or die.

Repeated often enough, might these simple mantras forge a spine of steel?

Today's question: What do you most fear as a writer? How can facing this fear help you to move forward?


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