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Showing posts from June, 2007

Everything I needed to know about publishing, I learned from Gone With the Wind

According to Writer's Almanac , today is the 81st birthday of a book I loved as a kid and learned from as a writer. It was on this day in 1936 that the novel Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell was first published. When she handed the manuscript over to editors, it was in terrible shape, with more than 1,000 pages of faded and dog-eared paper, poorly typed and with penciled changes. But they loved the story. They asked Mitchell to change the original title Tomorrow Is Another Day because at the time there were already thirteen books in print with the word "Tomorrow" in the title. They also asked her to change the main character's name from Pansy to Scarlett. Gone with the Wind sold 50,000 copies sold in one day, a million copies six months, and two million by the end of the year. The sales of the book were even more impressive because it was in the middle of the Great Depression. The year it came out, employees at the Macmillan publishing company received Chris

Tanya Lee Stone: When is a bad boy good for a girl?

Tanya Lee Stone is officially the bravest writer I know. Not only has she stepped up with an emotionally important YA book that honestly speaks to the tortured topic of teen sex, she did it in free verse. Tanya's touring the Girlfriend Cyber Circuit with the paperback release of A Bad Boy Can Be Good For a Girl that busted out in hardback last year with accolades and starred reviews. Bad Boy was an ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers, School Library Journal Book of the Month, New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age, and -- well, the list goes on. And on. And on. From a starred review in School Library Journal: Three girls succumb to the charms of one sexy high school senior and emerge wiser for the experience in this energetic novel in verse....The free verse gives the stories a breathless, natural flow and changes tone with each narrator. The language is realistic and frank, and, while not graphic, it is filled with descriptions of the teens and their sexuality. This is n

Online Class: "Making Scenes Matter"

Alicia Rasley is a wonderful teacher. If you're looking to improve your novel's scenes, I would highly recommend this online class. Online class: July 18-31, 2007 "Making Scenes Matter" by Alicia Rasley Registration at Scenes are what readers will remember long after they've forgotten the intricate plot or the hero's name. They'll remember that brush with death or the hero and heroine sharing a hot fudge sundae or the mother visiting her child in the hospital -- the scenes that made them shiver and laugh and cry. Scenes are the units of action and emotion. So in this class, workshop leader Alicia Rasley will guide you in conceptualizing and organizing a scene for greater power and drama, including: * Scene purpose * Character goal * Opening * Rising conflict * Emotional arc * Ending surprise or disaster Alicia Rasley leads writing workshops across the country, and teaches writing classes through her website, ww
Usually, I don't have a lot of trouble writing a synopsis. I do it very early in the book's creation, usually by the end of the second chapter, after I've had the opportunity to play with the main characters a bit. At this point, the synopsis is pure discovery, where I play with various ideas and think, "Oooh, I can't wait to write that part for real!" But this time isn't "usually". With the proposal chapters (four, in this case) flowing, I finished them before going back to the dropped threads of the synopsis I had played with earlier. And then I got stuck, bigtime. It took me a while to discover why. The story and growth of the characters required me to try something risky late in this novel, something I've never before attempted. I wasn't sure how it would be received, so my subconscious solved the problem by boycotting the writing of the synopsis. Simply put, I was being a big chicken. But since big chickens don't sell novels

American bards: a declaration of interdependence

Revisiting an old friend today. Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass . It's one of those books I read over and over and discover something new each time I come to it, because I am just that much different from the last time. I'm at a place in my writing life where I've come to profoundly appreciate the writers whose company I keep (or maybe they keep mine) and the way writers have begun to use the Internet to support each other. "But why would you want to help your competition?" a young writer asked me recently. The question made me think about who and what really is my competition. It's not other writers. Authors compete with the continual dumbnation of our culture that breeds less and less interest in books and the people who create them. Our competition is stories that are served over easy with a side order of commercials for used cars and male enhancement products. Our competition is laziness, ignorance, and a lack of patience for a story that unfolds in t

So this is why God created the ellipsis...

By and large, reviewers have been good to me. I've been compared to Molly Ivins, Anna Quindlen, and Larry McMurtry. My memoir about my chemo experience was haled with every possible synonym for life-affirming, including "transcendent", "transformational", and--my personal fave--" upliftinglicious ". I've even been called "brilliant", which just makes my kids laugh out loud. Glowing praise is good for book sales. But on a personal level, it's a tar pit. If a writer buys into blather about her book being "an astonishing literary feat," she is bound to be sucked under and paralyzed by comments like "it's a slog." I've also been called "the possibly talented Joni Rodgers" and "midlist wannabe Joni Rodgers", which also made my kids laugh out loud. Last year, when my novel, The Secret Sisters came out, it got a serious deep-frying from Kirkus. At first, my editor refused to show me the revi

The Guys Have Bond & NASCAR...

Male fantasies abound, and most guys are very okay with that. You don't see men dissing other men for loving Bond movies or buying sports paraphrenalia to help them imagine themselves as stars. So in the interest of equality, why not proudly lay claim to a little romance? C'mon, its summer, so lighten up and check it out. And just in case this makes you hungry for the real thing , my latest romantic thriller Head On is showing up in stores and online!


Every so often, my brain needs rebooting. Especially this summer, on the heels of a tight deadline, a tough business decision, and -- heaven help us -- a blown AC compressor (in the Houston area's legendary subtropical soup & a summer of epic mosquitodom). Sometimes, getting away gives us perspective. Spending time with family and walking the beach each morning and evening reminded me there is another life outside of my imagination -- and that it's a life worth living while I can. The manchild's growing up too quickly, leaving both my husband and I all too aware that each vacation together could be the last one spent together. We make a special effort to savor the moment, to hold onto it and squeeze out each drop of memory we can. The photo is the view from our condo in Port Aransas, a kitschy-cool beach town on Mustang Island in South Texas. Wonderful shrimp, brightly-painted golf carts to bump over the beach in, tacky shell souvenirs, and miles and miles of salt-sc

Kockroach: Tyler Knox flips Kafka

Hate roaches, but I love noir. And Kafka. So I couldn't resist Kockroach , Tyler Knox's quirky, well-written, utterly original spin on Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis . In Kafka's story, a traveling salesman wakes up one morning to discover that he has turned into a roach. In Kockroach , the metamorphosis goes the other way. It is the mid-1950s, and in a fleabag hotel off Times Square, Kockroach, perfectly content with life as an insect, awakens to discover that somehow he's become, of all things, a human. This tragic turn of events would be enough to fling a more highly evolved creature into despair, but cockroaches know no despair. Firmly entrenched in the present tense, they are awesome coping machines, and so Kockroach copes. Step by step, he learns the ways of humans—how to walk, how to talk, how to wear a jaunty brown fedora. Check it out.

Making the most of the longest day of the year

Happy Summer Solstice! I love that Garrison Keillor reminded me in Writer's Almanac today, because the writing life is very much about "to everything there is a season." Today is the summer solstice and the first day of summer in the northern hemisphere. For those of us in the north, today will be the longest day of the year and tonight will be the shortest night. The entire earth is about 3 million miles farther from the sun at this time of the year. The difference in the temperature is due to the fact that our planet is tilted on its axis, and at this time of year, the northern hemisphere is tilted toward the sun, receiving more direct radiation for longer periods of time each day. It is that slight tilt, only 23 1/2 degrees, that makes the difference between winter and summer. The rise in temperature allows most of the plants we eat to germinate. Wheat and many other plants require an average temperature of at least 40º F to grow. Corn needs a temperature of 50º F, and

Wordplay and other serious business

Well, Colleen has packed up her always pragmatic and evolved writing advice and gone off on vacation this week, leaving me to woo woo up the place to my heart’s content. For starter, here’s a cell cam photo of an early morning visitor to my office window. Just in case anyone would like to join me in meditating on the enormous gorgeousness of life so perfectly expressed in the expanding pink throated dance of lizards. I woke up with my muscles screaming from my strength training session yesterday, but I went to pilates class anyway. Unfortunately, I had put moisturizer on my legs just before I went, so it was like trying to hold onto a couple of halibuts, and I had a hard time not giggling. As we were stretching out at the end of the hour, I had an epiphany about the muscles I never use. And not just the ones screaming at me from the fierce regions of my torso and extremities. I was thinking about wordplay muscles and the fine motor skills of creative vocabulary. I think it’s importa

What it is to witness

I pulled into Starbucks as the sun came up yesterday and was hard at work in my particular little corner when a man stopped by the bar to do his cream and sugar. As he was on his way out the door, the dreaded Stranger Eye Contact was made. I smiled and, since it was Sunday, said, “Peace be with you.” And spent the next two hours engrossed in one of the most poignant and honest conversations I’ve ever experienced. Most folks in the Houston area have heard about the quintessential drivers ed cautionary tale that occurred here last week. Several young teens joyriding. A train. A moment. A tragedy. In less than a second, this man lost his 14-year-old daughter and 12-year-old niece. So now it was Father’s Day, and he was at Starbucks getting coffee to shore himself up after a series of sleepless nights and purchasing a little tan teddy bear to take to a private viewing of his daughter's body. “The call came, and I was on my way down there,” he told me, “and there was this animal howl

Chat with Bestselling Author Jennifer Ashley

Today, we're talking to Jennifer Ashley , a.k.a. Ashley Gardner , a.k.a. Allyson James and Laurien Gardner , (or as I’m calling her, A Rose By Any Other Name), about strategies an extremely prolific writer can use to survive and prosper in the world of publishing. BtO: Thanks so much for taking time from your busy schedule to talk to us. First of all, Jennifer, congratulations on your RITA nomination for A Novel with Strong Romantic Elements for A Lady Raised High , written as Laurien Gardner. Also, congratulations for reaching the USA Today Bestseller list with The Calling , written as Jennifer Ashley, the first book in the paranormal series you originated, The Immortals . Could you tell us about each of these books and about the series? Jenn: Thanks Colleen. I’m very excited about both the RITA nomination and making USA Today. Two firsts for me! (What am I going to do next year? LOL) The Immortals is a four-part series with a continuous arc from boo

All You Really Need to Know

I hear a lot of writers lamenting their lack of higher education, as if college classrooms hold the keys to the kingdom of publishing rather than academia. Here's all I think you really need, other than a lifelong love of the written word: "Writing fiction has developed in me an abiding respect for the unknown in a human lifetime and a sense of where to look for the threads, how to follow, how to connect, find in the thick of the tangle what clear line persists. The strands are all there: to the memory nothing is ever really lost." -- Eudora Welty, One Writer's Beginnings, Finding a Voice They don't teach that in Comparative Literature Studies, or English Literature of the Seventeenth Century, nor do you learn such a thing in Freshman Comp. It comes of keenly observing people, looking into your own heart, and daily exploring your discoveries on the page. And oh, yes, read Ms. Welty's stories to glimpse a master at her work.

Megan Crane: Frenemies

Megan Crane is touring the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit with Frenemies , a hilarious novel about growing up and realizing that your worst enemy – and best bud – just might be yourself. From the Press Kit: FREN-E-MY\noun: The friend who gives you the sweetest smile to your face, while holding the sharpest knife to your back. We’ve all heard the saying, “keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” but what if they’re one and the same? It’s the cardinal, number-one girlfriend rule: don’t date your friend’s ex. In Frenemies by Megan Crane (5 Spot; June 20, 2007; Paperback Original; $13.99), it is Gus Curtis’ supposed friend and old college roommate Helen who breaks that rule and goes one step further: she doesn’t just date an ex-boyfriend; she steals him from right under Gus’s nose. Just a few months shy of her 30th birthday, Gus discovers Nate, her "Mr. Right," hooking up behind her back with her so-called "friend" Helen. Soon it seems despite working to hard t

Artistic Integrity vs. Foolhardy Stubbornness

You've written your book, packed it up lovingly, and sent it off (usually in bits and pieces, by request) as directed by some agent or editor. Then you sit back and wait... And wait and wait and wait some more, while you hair grows gray, seasons change, and hope withers into despair. Okay, maybe it's not that long, but it certainly feels that way. (Important note: The time passes far more quickly when you're working on something new. And unless you've been specifically asked for an exclusive, you should be multiply submitting. Otherwise, you really will go gray before you get anything accomplished. At last, the stars align, and you hear back from the agent/editor, sometimes in a letter, but often in the form of a phone call or an e-mail. The answer's not a blunt rejection, nor is it an open-armed offer of representation or a publishing contract. This time, it's what's often known as a "revise and resubmit" communication. This means, the agent or

Alice Sebold speaks a powerful mouthful of mission statement

Last week at Midwives, the topic of "mission statements" came up, and I think I heard mine come out of mouth of Alice Sebold , author of The Lovely Bones , during her remarks at BEA: "I seek to write honest narratives about difficult people and/or lives. I seek not to answer any questions by doing it, just to present a story in a voice that takes hold of you and that you follow -- often despite yourself -- until the end of the ride." Sebold said she was there to address the kazillion dollar question: "Does the book after Bones suck?" We'll find out in October, when I (along with every book club in America and the UK) will be reading The Almost Moon . Publisher's Marketplace subscribers will find the complete podcast on Publisher's Lunch TV .

This Just In -- Area Author Caught Getting High

For me, a research outing has two important functions. First off, it gives me far more accurate information than book or web research could. It fills my head with images, allows me to hear the way those involved in the activity speak, and gives me an authentic feel for whatever it is I'm hoping to describe. Secondly, it's fun, and yes, kiddees, fun's important. It freshens our enthusiasm and infuses our work with a passion that communicates itself through the written word. Without it, writing's just another job. A really onerous job, with lousy benefits. This past Saturday, the benefits were fantastic. Fireman Mike and I, after hanging out last week at a Houston-area gliderport , came back for a sailplane demo flight with instructor/pilot par excellence Glenn Giddings. Each of us took a turn, as that's the way things work in a tiny, two-place sailplane. I was so excited, I awoke hours early that morning, like a little kid at Christmas. At the gliderport, we

Can I get my book with a double shot of espresso please?

I've been getting a hoot out of Doonesbury this week, which featured Jackson Brown prototype Jimmy Thudpucker being interviewed about his latest album on the Burger King label. Obviously (at least to those of us who spend a large share of our waking hours mainlining coffee at the satellite office) that this was a backhanded homage to the Paul McCartney album released by Starbucks this week. Some people are very touchy about Starbucks as a venue for marketing books and music. Isn't it a little whorish to sell art alongside biscotti and frappacinos? Mustn't we at all costs preserve the sheen of oh I'm above all that I'm an artist and avoid any whiff of would you like fries with that ? My only problem with the McCartney marketing is this photo, which my daughter Jerusha pointed out looks kinda like Zoolander. I mean...McCartney: Zoolander: Okay, that's pretty cheesy, and if there's anyone in the world who didn't need to stoop to that, it was McCartn

Top Ten Reason I Love My Job

Let's face it, some days writing is a lousy job. There's near-constant anxiety over getting published, staying published, shifts in the marketplace, no benefits or sick days, late advance checks or non-existent royalties -- you name it. So why do so many people give up more lucrative (and far more stable) careers to take a shot at this one? I'm my own best boss. Agents can advise, editors can reject, but the buck stops with me when it comes down to creative decisions. Though I work hard, I set my own pace and place -- and nobody docks me for taking an hour to play with my dog in the sunshine. When the words flow, bliss rolls out through my fingertips, and I enter a zone that's as addictive as the most powerful drug. Readers. The ones who buy the books, read the books, and get the books. Those who recommend them to their friends. And especially those wonderful folks who write to let me know they ready got what I was trying to say. Thank you. Workplace. I ca

Joshilyn Jackson: Between, Georgia

Congratulations to Joshilyn Jackson , who's touring the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit with her gorgeous novel Between, Georgia . Joshilyn is Georgia Author of the Year, and the Between, Georgia audio edition (read by Joshilyn) won Publisher’s Weekly's Listen Up Award and made AudioFile’s Best of 2006 list. Between, Georgia nailed starred reviews in PW, Kirkus, and Booklist and was a #1 BookSense pick, making Jackson the first author in BookSense history to achieve #1 status in back-to-back years. And talk about buzz... "One of this decade's most commendable novels. Every now and then a remarkable writer, following in the footsteps of great authors, comes along to reenergize American fiction. So it is with Joshilyn Jackson. ...overflows with gut-wrenching sadness and laugh-out-loud humor. Jackson's novel brilliantly explores abstractions - redemption, love and grace - through the most compelling characterizations to be found in contemporary fiction. Between, Georgia is

Life, Liberty, & the Pursuit of Same-old, Same-old

In biology there's a principle known as homeostasis . In a nutshell, it's the idea that all living creatures have some method of keeping internal conditions within comfortable (or at the very least, survivable) parameters. So it's only natural that we humans -- including those of us who take up the writing life -- should strive to stay within our comfort zones. To me, homeostasis helps take the guilt factor out of what Steven Pressfield calls "resistance" in his excellent book, The War of Art. It's part of our nature to resist change. Even when that resistance stunts our growth and limits our future. How? Take the writer striving toward publication, who can never seem to Finish the Damned Book. Or the one who can't quit tinkering with that first chapter or looking for validation through critique groups or opening-page contests. Or how about the writer who sways in the wind of every suggestion offered (by whomever!) until her original vision for the boo

Space, the final frontier

Last week I spoke at a Wellness Community Survivorship Symposium in Indianapolis, and before I went on, a panel of three other cancer survivors shared their stories. The first speaker was a dynamic dancer named Paula. (My daughter is a ballerina. I would recognize those power-calves anywhere.) She was absolutely terrific. Poised, passionate, and spot-on for the early morning message. After I spoke, I did a book signing. I was hoping Paula would hang around and chat with me and she did. Not surprisingly, she was interested in writing a book, and I encouraged her to go for it. "But how do you find the time?" she asked. "It's not about the time," I told her. "It's about the space. Create a space for yourself to write, and the time will present itself." When my sister, writer/producer Jas Lonnquist , first gave me the same advice I gave Paula, I had recently been diagnosed with lymphoma. My kids were 5 and 7 years old. We were living in a crummy (a

Give me a mystery

Give me a mystery—just a plain and simple one—a mystery which is diffidence and silence, a slim little, barefoot mystery: give me a mystery—just one! So said Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, beautifully articulating the way human nature longs for puzzlement, for mazes to work our way through, for knots that beg to be untied. Last night, I managed to tear myself away from Harlan Coben's Promise Me long enough to see the movie Mr. Brooks . I'm on a quest to improve my plotting skills and both the book and the movie provoked big thinky thoughts about what mystery is and what it needs in order to satisfy the cerebral tickle. SPOILER WARNING! MR. Brooks SPOILER! SPOILER WARNING! SPOILER WARNING! Mr. Brooks SPOILER! SPOILER WARNING! My husband had gone to see Mr. Brooks on Saturday night while I was slaving away over a hot critique meeting with the Midwives (actually, we were slaving away over a cold bottle of white wine, but I digress), and he could hardly contain himself lo

Muzzling the Inner Critic

Back in the bad old days of the Middle Ages, a device known as the branks, or scold's bridle , was used to torture women deemed to be too loud, too bitchy, or too inclined to cruel gossip. Locked into this hideous, metal gag, the unhappy female couldn't speak without injuring her tongue against the spikes. I'm appalled, of course, but part of me says, "Heeeey, I've got a use for that. Finally, something to shut up the hellborne shrew sometimes known as the inner critic!" You know her. She's the voice that mocks that daring new idea you just had, the one who sneers and rolls her eyes at your last paragraph, the bitch who whispers into you ear the cruelest lines of every rejection, nasty comment, bad review, or taunt you've heard since second grade. Is is any wonder you can't write, with this harpy from hell leaning in over your shoulder? So you have to find some way to silence her to allow you to create. Some writers have tried blunting her sh

Brilliant Diversions of the Lazy Brain

Brains, being... you know, brains, are so darned clever about getting out of work. Especially sustained, detailed work, such as the writing of a novel. Aside from the everyday diversions mine throws at me -- surfing (channel or 'Net), computer games (another round of Scrabble, anyone?), household chores (on rare occasions), Starbucks (where I accomplish nothing) -- I have to contend with the coup de grace, the blindingly-brilliant diversionary idea. This "brilliant" idea invariably occurs when the going gets tough on the project-in-progress. Inspiration, by this point, has faltered, and there's nothing to do except trudge through the neck-deep, icy muck of hard, mental labor to find my way to the other side. False starts are inevitable and hours of wasted work quite likely. Then, out of the blue, I'm awakened at two or three AM with the idea: the most perfect, wonderful, sure-fire concept for a book that anyone, anywhere has every conceived. My agent will go c