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Showing posts from June, 2008

Wha-BAM! Colleen's baby gets a rave from PW!

Yes, Virginia! Colleen's forthcoming Triple Exposure scored a glowing review in Publisher's Weekly today. (Insert Texas Woooot! call here!) The buzz in full: Thompson ( The Salt Maiden ) packs this well-paced thriller full of twists and the local color of a small Texas town. Photographer Rachel Copeland has been formally acquitted of the murder of Kyle Underwood, a young man who stalked her, but she remains disgraced in her adopted Philadelphia community, where many still believe she seduced and killed him. Rumors and harassment follow Rachel as she flees to her hometown of Marfa, Texas, where she butts heads with her stepmother, Patsy, and other locals. One of the few people willing to support Rachel is Zeke Pike, a woodcarver with a secret of his own, and they soon wrestle with romantic feelings for each other as mysterious stalkers threaten and try to separate them. Thompson's supporting characters and their tensions are believable, especially Patsy with her multil

Sunday Morning Quote:The Royal Path

I get pretty peevish when I hear some pundit-writer holding forth on How to Do It (with the implication that if one is only smart enough to follow his/her recipe, one is certain to achieve dazzling successes). So the next time you read or listen to such a guru, remember this: There is no royal path to good writing; and such paths as exist do not lead through neat critical gardens, various as they are, but through the jungles of self, the world, and of craft. ~ Jessamyn West Feel free to select tools from anybody's bag of tricks until you find the right machete to cut your own path through the wilds.

Summer Saturday cartoon: Mary Schmich on life, love, and sunscreen

Writer Mary Schmich said her essay "Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young", which appeared in the Chicago Tribune in June of 1997, was the commencement address she would give if she were asked to give one. Australian director Baz Luhrmann set it to music -- "Everybody's Free (To Feel Good)" performed by Quindon Tarver of Plano, Texas -- and the collective effort became a classic. "Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth. But trust me on the sunscreen."

The gestalt of ghostwriting

Kibitzing back and forth with a writer friend last night, I was trying to explain the mindset that makes it possible for me to write books for which other people receive credit. I've had many such conversations over the years, and responses vary from "How do I get a gig like that?" to "Whore! Whore of the Medicis!" but a common theme seems to be a disbelief that I could possibly be okay with it. And a bit of an eye-roll when I, a lowly ghostwriter, aspire to high artistic ideals. For many (if not all) writers, a major part of the thrill of being published is seeing one's name on the cover of a book, the author photo in the newspaper, a big poster announcing the table signing at Barnes & Noble. For my first few books, I was totally on that bus. Loved getting out there and talking to people and meeting booksellers and doing interviews. It was trippy seeing my picture in the London Daily Mail, I won't deny it. But that buzz wore off for me after my l

Life's a Pitch... Or Is It?

This weekend, I'll be participating in pitching practice with aspiring authors from one of my writers' groups. I've pitched in person a number of projects over the years, and I well remember how absolutely terrifying it was the first few times. And how terrible -- absolutely incapable -- I was of boiling down my plot and characters into tasty nugget form. I've gotten better, largely because of experience and the realization (finally) that any visiting agents and editors I met at writers' conferences were just regular book-lovers, only mentally and physically exhausted from both the travel and the stress of being "on" with so many people (many of them desperate, which can be exhausting in itself). The industry pros aren't there to stomp to death anybody's dreams in their stilletos (or Doc Maarten's or what have you), but they have to take a practical approach to finding profitable commercial work or lose their livelihoods. Another reason I

Exposure vs. Overexposure: Thoughts on Self-Promotion

This morning, I read an essay -- an "open letter to Cormac McCarthy" by Don Graham of Texas Monthly magazine -- that made me roll my eyes. In it, Graham chastizes iconic author Cormac McCarthy (whose work I love, despite the copious bloodshed) for making the transition from invisible recluse to real-and-public person. Basically, Graham prefers his literary idols to remain mute and hidden, devoted purely to their art rather than the pursuit of celebrity (or even book sales.) Since lately, I've been scheduling book signings and visiting book clubs that have read my most recent release and since I've cut my authorly teeth on the message "Promote! Promote! Promote!" (ad nauseum), Graham's preference for keeping his favorite author on a pedestal at first annoyed and then perplexed me. But after thinking about it for a while, I finally got it. And I understood as well that even for working-stiff authors of popular fiction, there's a fine line between ex

Go with God, Mr. Conductor.

So sad to hear about the death of George Carlin yesterday. I've loved him since I was a teenager, and my kids loved him on Shining Time Station when they were tiny. From the New York Times obit : “By and large, language is a tool for concealing the truth,” read a message on Mr. Carlin’s Web site, , and he spent much of his life in a fervent effort to counteract the forces that would have it so. In his always irreverent, often furious social commentary, in his observations of the absurdities of everyday life and language, and in groundbreaking routines like the profane “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television,” he took aim at what he thought of as the palliating and obfuscating agents of American life — politicians, advertisements, religion, the media and conventional thinking of all stripes. I'm personally loving the idea of George meeting up with our mutual buddy.

Shining City (the trailer)

Colleen cracked me up yesterday with this brilliant book trailer for Shining City by Seth Greenland . From the Publishers Weekly review: “Uproarious…Greenland's novel is entertaining and intelligent, and packed with enough hooks (and hookers) to keep readers sucked in to the last page.”

Sunday Morning Quote:The Writer's Radar

Lest you begin to think that your Internal Editor is always bad, a big meanie whose only function is to make you feel inadequate, here's Hemingway's reminder as to its proper -- and critically important -- role: The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof shit detector. This is the writer’s radar and all great writers have had it. ~Ernest Hemingway, interview in Paris Review, Spring 1958

Saturday morning cartoon: Frogs and frustration

I've always thought this cartoon was a profound metaphor for the frustrated artist. You know this manuscript is a crazy great thing. Why doesn't it sing for anyone else? Think about it. Or just enjoy! (My take on it...the guy discovers this amazing gift, but his desire to sell it prevents him from simply enjoying it. And so it becomes a curse.)

Velocity: Writing at the Speed of You

I've given a lot of thought of late to speed, the kind that translates into the completion of manuscripts. Though I'm a fairly-productive writer -- by some standards quite prolific -- when I look around the genre world, I see example after example of authors who are three and four times faster. These authors have the option of writing for two or more publishing houses, sometimes under different names and in different genres or subgenres. They can afford to experiment while still writing their bread-and-butter stories, and they can hedge their bets against failure in one area. It's tempting (both creatively and, to be honest, financially) but I haven't found a way to reliably speed up my process. When I use techniques that work for others, I get lost in my convoluted plots and my characters lack the depth I want. I end up rewriting more than writing because I haven't thought things through. For me, writing a draft is an experience of fits and starts, one often int

Lara Owen on love and paradox

I was well struck by a something my friend psychotherapist/ author Lara Owen (who patiently waded through and corrected my horrific French for my last novel) posted in her blog recently, starting with the words of Tibetan yogini Machig Labdron: “You may think that Gods are the ones who give you benefits, and Demons cause damage; but it may be the other way round. Those who cause pain teach you to be patient, and those who give you presents may keep you from practicing the Dharma. So it depends on their effect on you if they are Gods or Demons.” One of those writers who's able to bring thinky thoughts into practical use, Lara went on to examine the relationship between tolerating/accepting paradox and the achievement of inner peace, which sounds a lot less oovy-groovy when she defines it as "spiritual and psychological maturity". Quoting Lara: There are many paradoxes to encounter in life. For example, we think having plenty of money generates happiness, but then we re

Revisiting an Old Friend

I've never been much of a re-reader. There are simply too many interesting new books out there clamoring for my attention. But there are a handful of writing books that I can't seem to get enough of. Some are motivational (Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird , Steven Pressfield's The War of Art ), some are character-related (Victoria Schmidt's 45 Master Characters ), others are career-related (Donald Maass's The Career Novelist ), but one stands out as the bible on storytelling. That singular book, The Writer's Journey , by Chris Vogler, is one I either read, skim, or listen to on tape at least once a year. For the uninitiated, Vogler's classic is based on his study of Joseph Campbell's The Hero with A Thousand Faces , which looks at the underlying structure of myths, stories, and characters told over and over again throughout all cultures. In Vogler's view, a well-told hero's journey plugs into the collective unconscious and strikes a deeply-satisf

Carol Shields on invention over invasion

Something to go with your Sunday morning coffee...Carol Shields did a terrific essay "Opting for Invention Over the Injury of Invasion" for the NY Times Writers on Writing series. Here's a bit: One day I ran into an acquaintance at a shopping mall. She had just bought herself a beautiful new spruce-green nightgown, and she opened her bag an inch or two, so I might admire it. "And now," she said, "I must rush off to buy some matching candles." I must have looked bewildered because she immediately explained, "Oh, I have candles to match all my nightgowns." I was in the midst of a novel at the time, as I usually am, and I couldn't resist putting in this particular report from the Frontier of Real Life. I relish such curious glimpses into people's lives, flashes of uniqueness that reveal, in a blink of the eye, their extraordinary otherness. But months later, when I came to read the proofs for the novel, I took the candles-and-nig

Paying It Forward, Candy Havens Style

Today I attended author Candace Havens' highly-regarded workshops on "Fast Draft" and "Revision Hell," where she shared lots of helpful ideas to help speed up your writing and clean up the ensuing mess. ;) Two things about Candy impressed the heck out of me. First, she manages to hold down a full-time job as an entertainment reporter (which includes frequent Texas to Hollywood commutes), write columns, raise young men, teach online and in-person workshops, and oh, yeah, write three books a year. Clearly, she has come into possession of Hermione Granger's time-altering device. Secondly, the woman gives a ton of her time helping aspiring writers (and published writers as well) make their way toward the brass ring. Follow the link to check out her absolutely *free* online workshops, which include guest appearances from published authors, agents, and editors. Definitely, worth a look, since many published authors credit Havens with helping them get their start.

LA state of mind

The Kinkos on Sunset Blvd. is littered with the broken and bloodied dreams of screenwriters, but the mood in the place is surprisingly upbeat. Something I always notice in LA is the way people strike up conversations with anyone and everyone beginning with the assumption that you're in some way working in the entertainment industry. The wardrobe is creativity du soliel -- a big switch from the Amish community black you see in the New York publishing neighborhoods. Of course, BS is a byproduct of almost every exchange, and that gets annoying, but even the blowhards are sort of lovable because they're trying so dang hard. I have to admit, I usually hate LA, but this was a good trip. I got a lot accomplished, finally got to see In Bruges , and ate at Mel's, the diner where they filmed parts of American Graffiti . Two things happened on this trip that really impressed me and made me think I've had LA all wrong: Monday evening, I went to a reading of a one-act play by

Fringe Benefits of Creative Writing

According to a study by the University of Texas in Austin, creative writing -- or any type of creative work -- has an unexpected benefit. It's apparently terrific for your health and well-being. Sociology professor John Mirowsky, speaking to Bio-Medicine , says, "The health advantage of being somewhat above average in creative work (in the 60th percentile) versus being somewhat below average (in the 40th percentile) is equal to being 6.7 years younger." Better yet, he claims this advantage is as beneficial as having fifteen times the household income or two more years of education. So the next time some helpful "friend" or concerned relative suggests you focus on getting yourself or working harder at a "real" job, I humbly suggest you tell them that you would, but you down want to end up feeling older, poorer, and more ignorant. Take *that*, forces of muggledom!

The Art Part

When writing commercial fiction or nonfiction, there's a lot of emphasis on the business side. We hesitate to use such a lofty word as "art" to describe our own work, particularly in the literary "ghettos" (in terms of respect, if not money) of genre fiction and ghostwriting. But once in a while, something reminds me that art isn't limited to the lofty, that it wasn't simply something that happened during the Renaissance or is limited to lauded works printed in hardcover. Art is made from the most commonplace materials, such as British Sculptor Heather Jansch's brilliant driftwood horses . (Pictured are her works "Apollo" and "Nightmare and Daydream II". Amazing, aren't they? Check out her website to see more.) For Jansch, it's all about the selection and arrangement of ordinary, commonplace materials and the artistry that goes into making them extraordinary. For writers, it's the same. We choose from among the ev

New Excerpt Posted: Triple Exposure

On July 29, 2008, I'll be celebrating the release of my eighth romantic thriller, Triple Exposure . If you enjoy free samples, please follow this link to read the opening chapter. From the Back Cover: A mother's love. A son's life snuffed out. A killer at large. Snapshots of reality, except sometimes layered images do not add up to a whole picture of the truth. Better than anyone, photographer Rachel Copeland knows the camera can lie. That's how lurid altered pictures of her appeared on the Internet, starting a downward spiral that ended with her shooting a nineteen-year-old stalker in self-defense. Fleeing the press and the threats of an unidentified female caller, she retreats to her remote hometown in the Texas desert. In Marfa, where mysterious lights hover in the night sky, folks are used to the unexplainable, and a person's secrets are off limits. But recluse Zeke Pike takes that philosophy even further than Rachel herself. In her viewfinder Zeke's m

LA agenda

Jerusha and I flew to Los Angeles yesterday to meet my current memoir guru client for an important phase in her project. The three of us will sit down for a few days, and Jerusha will read the entire manuscript out loud while my client and I follow along and take notes. We'll be finding out what pops and what flops and getting a sense of how this book will sound in a readers head. Jerusha and I were driving to our hotel from LAX, following the directions of the GPS unit we've named A.J. Hep-G (long story), when we came to a roadblock. The first thing that grabbed my eye on the other side of the orange sawhorses was a huge black sign with white lettering: GOD ABHORS YOU. ("Geez," I said to Jerusha. "Welcome to LA.") We'd stumbled onto the LA Pride parade route, and things were just getting underway. As we tried to make our way around the massive gathering (we later heard estimates of 5-600,000 people -- we saw cheerleaders with beards, lots of leather,

Critique Groups: The Good, the Bad, and the Coyote Ugly

Back in 18th-century Paris, the literati and the culturati had their literary salons. I'm sure they were fascinating, if crammed full of pretension. In Greenwich Village in the early 20th century, the Dadaists formed tightly-knit groups of artistic weirdness or genius , depending on your viewpoint. Many modern commercial writers gravitate toward critique groups, a working (or aspiring-to-be-working) stiffs' variation on the theme. Like-minded members gather to share pages of their drafts-in-progress, praise the good in them, and offer helpfully-meant criticisms of anything that might impede the authors' path to publication. A good critique group is not only a great place to learn but also a real joy. The critique group forms an alliance, with every member helping every other member achieve his/her potential. Members respect the fact that good writing, characterization, and story transcend market slots such as genre, and snobbism, pettiness, and competitiveness are all

The Unbridgeable Gulf

Every creator painfully experiences the chasm between his inner vision and its ultimate expression. The chasm is never completely bridged. We all have the conviction, perhaps illusory, that we have much more to say than appears on the paper. ~Isaac Bashevis Singer Pictured is a shot of Santa Elena canyon, a West Texas wonder I've visited (and hiked in 100-degree-plus heat, heaven help me) on a couple of occasions. With its split monolith looming above me, I recall thinking that it's the scariest chasm in the world. Or second scariest, I should amend, because Singer's got it right in this quote. The most intimidating gulf is definitely the one that appears between my initial, shining concept of a novel and the all-too-flawed reality of the evolving draft. While working on the thing, I'm often overcome with the thought that I will never bridge it... even the fear that I'll die suddenly and leave the clear evidence of my mental decide unedited on my hard drive.

The R Word

From the greenest beginner, to the most-published novelists, nobody likes rejections. But if you're in the game, they're bound to happen. As you learn the market and develop your craft, you can reduce but never completely eliminate them. Rejection can mean anything from "you're kidding, right?" (loads of form rejections with no personal notes may mean you're pretty far off the mark), to "you can write, but you clearly haven't done your homework on our needs" to "oh, this is cool, but I don't know how to make enough filthy lucre on it to buy" to "this project's right, but the timing's wrong." Or they can mean nothing but the editor or agent involved was in a huge hurry to clean off her desk before vacation. Only rarely will they contain nuggets that will help you figure out how to make the project saleable. Honest, experienced critique partners, contest judges, and book doctors (sometimes, on all three) are more l

Musical interlude: "Birdhouse in Your Soul"

How much did we all love Colleen's moving post about Andrew's graduation yesterday? (C'mon, give it up for Colleen!) I'm up to my neck in deadline soup, but I wanted her to have a chance to recover from the festivities, so I'm posting a tasty little trifle today to nudge your thoughts about originality, creativity, and what works. Every once in a while we get a great reminder that an idea that would sound too bizarrely unworkable for words if you tried to explain it to someone...well, it can fly. Above is a little snippet of a song featured last season on Pushing Daisies , the astonishingly... astonishing TV show created and directed by Bryan Fuller. Kristin Chenoweth and Ellen Green -- two Broadway icons who look great on TV -- deliver a different take on "Birdhouse in Your Soul", a song originally (emphasis on "original") done by They Might Be Giants . And below is the They Might Be Giants version. Pure poetry. And another reminder that anyth

End of an Era

Today, my only kiddo is graduating high school, an event guaranteed to launch a fleet of memories, including those related to motherhood and the career. Early on, when I was just beginning and struggling to balance a more-than-full-time job and a new baby (grad school, too, while I was at it), I squeezed as much writing time as I could manage into naptimes. All too quickly, that was over. Later, I wrote around those moments when he was happily occupied with his Little People or his Lincoln Logs or -- heaven forgive me -- those sing-along or movie videos I used to steal a little time. All too quickly, that was over, too, and he started off to school. Since I was still teaching, I'd come home and spend time with the boy and the man, make their dinner and tuck the little one into his bed, then write between the hours of eight and ten-thirty every evening. On weekends and during the summer, I'd steal even more time as I was able. About this period, I began slipping away for occ

Gofightwin, Colleen! (Rockin' the Daphne's)

Just had to exit the galley for a sec to congratulate Colleen, who just heard that Head On is a finalist for the Daphne du Maurier Award of Excellence. Winners will be announced at the national RWA conference (at the Death By Chocolate Gala, no less) in San Francisco later this summer. Go, girl, go!