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Showing posts from March, 2009

"Imminent mayhem and timeless patience" (Is James LePore talking about Paris, dads and daughters, or his debut novel?)

The first page of James LePore’s A World I Never Made has us reading over the shoulder of American Pat Nolan as he tries to make sense of the suicide note written by his daughter, Megan. He’s understandably shaken, having just identified her body in a French morgue. We’re understandably shaken when we realize the dead girl is not Nolan’s daughter. With the help of a savvy French detective, Nolan learns that Megan, a freelance journalist, is tangled in a dangerous affair with a Saudi businessman and that her life is just one of millions at risk. As one who loves Paris as much as I love a good mystery, I thoroughly enjoyed chasing down every twist, turn, and dark alley from the Marais to Morocco to the Czech Republic. A World I Never Made does everything the Bourne books do: the story intrigues, the characters engage, the locations are literally a trip, and the plot bombs don’t stop detonating until the very last page. Small press The Story Plant will launch the book in hardcover

Calling All Editors and Agents

A couple of days ago, I posted "Six Things Authors Wish Every Editor Knew," and an astute reader noted that editors (and I presume agents) have their own lists for authors. So I'm issuing an invitation. If you're a book editor or literary agent, e-mail us your own "Six Things" list directed toward authors. Let's keep the lists positive: what authors can do to help ensure a positive working relationship rather than a litany of gripes, please, and we'll help broaden the discussion. Any takers? Consider the gauntlet (ever so politely) thrown. :)

Love is the Answer (Go with God, England Dan.)

Author/musician Jamie Reno sent the following around yesterday after it was reported the musician, mensch, and our fellow lymphomaniac Dan Seals had died: Hey friends, some sad news to report. Dan Seals was a rare talent, and was very kind to me. He was a big fan of my book on lymphoma survivors, and last time I checked in with him he was optimistic and ready to start his own lymphoma treatment. I was looking forward to recording with him. I’m listening to this classic song of his as I write this, with a tear in my eye. If you owned a radio in the 70s, or 80s, you know Dan Seals. He was a gentle, kind country boy with an inimitably tender voice. I will miss him very much. Dan Seals partnered with his high school buddy John Ford Coley, who called him "England Dan" because they worshipped the Beatles and Dan adroitly imitated the Liverpool accent. (That was Dan's brother Jim in Seals & Crofts, by the way -- I'm just full of odd little info orts retained from my d

Booksignings 101

From Tony Carillo's brilliant F Minus comic : I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry. Okay, I choose laughter. Glad to know that Tony does as well.

Six Things Authors Wish Every Editor Knew

We authors know that editors talk about us, and we also know we sometimes have it coming. Writers can be needy, difficult, neurotic -- in part because the business is by its very nature crazy-making. Yet some editors consistently form long-standing, positive relationships with remarkably sane authors. They inspire devotion and win awards and great reps -- few of which have anything to do with the size of the advances they can offer. How do these editors successfully manage? Here are a few tips I've gleaned from dealing with seven different editors at three different publishing houses and countless conversations with authors who have worked with scores. Editors can help to grow a loyal author by... 1. Keeping the lines of communication open. We're as busy as you are; we don't need or want to hear from you all the time, but we're especially vulnerable to capital-D Doubt after we've turned in a proposal or manuscript. And when you leave us hanging for weeks or ev

An Open Letter to Houston Chronicle President/Publisher Jack Sweeney (upon the whacking of their book editor)

Wednesday night, I was up late, crafting a scathing post on how I’ve been alternately irked and bored hypnagogic by the Houston Chronicle’s coverage of books over the last fifteen years. A send-up of Jonathan Swift’s “Modest Proposal,” it suggested that half the working writers in Houston should be processed into packing peanuts so the remaining few could be shipped anywhere they wouldn’t be prophets in their own country. My rant was derailed when a friend emailed me a link to a Wall Street Journal article reporting that Jack Sweeney, president and publisher of the Houston Chronicle, had announced the layoff of 12% of its staff. Among the fallen was book editor Fritz Lanham . My heart sank. How would it impact Houston authors if the Chron’s book coverage got even worse? Oh, wait. That’s not possible, unless they’re planning to actually set local authors on fire. In 2006, Mr. Lanham was interviewed on “Critical Mass,” the National Book Critics Circle board of directors’ blog. A

Viva la RITA! (Colleen's Triple X is short-listed!)

Can I get a "wooot!"? (Or better yet, a "hoot!"?) Colleen's Triple Exposure was nominated (along with approximately 1200 other novels) for the RWA's highest honor -- the RITA Award, and today she got the word that she's a finalist in the Best Romantic Suspense category. Winners will be announced at a red carpet event during RWA's National Conference in July. Till then, we must raise the cone of power... All together now... Gofightwin, Colleen! Update: Here's the full list of noms. I know it's a cliche to say it's an honor to be nominated, but seriously -- to be in the top eight out of several hundred of nominees? An amazing accomplishment making it to the front of the pack. Congrats again, Colleen!

WPA Treasure: Is It Time for a New Deal for Writers?

One of our country's little-known treasures came out of the Federal Government's response to extremely high unemployment among writers during the Great Depression. As part of the WPA (Works Project Administration), the Federal Writers' Project was established in 1935 and signed into law by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The project tasked writers (earning about $80 a month each) with collecting and transcribing oral histories for a dying commodity: the generation that had lived through so many historic events and changes throughout the 19th century. Thanks to the WPA, we now have, through the Library of Congress, online transcripts documenting folklore, folk songs, and the narratives of former slaves , pioneers, participants from the Yukon Gold Rush, survivors of the 1900 storm that killed over 5,000 in Galveston, Texas, - all in their own transcribed words. Better yet, in some cases, the original tape recordings have been digitized, allowing historians, writers, and other

See sneak peek (It's never to early to start building the summer reading list!)

The minute I saw yesterday's PW review of Shanghai Girls by Lisa See I had a vision. chair...white sand...SPF 50 on my nose and the healthy weight of a hardcover in my hand... Saith PW: Pearl and her younger sister, May, enjoy an upper-crust life in 1930s Shanghai, until their father reveals that his gambling habit has decimated the family's finances and to make good on his debts, he has sold both girls to a wealthy Chinese-American as wives for his sons... See's skillful plotting and richly drawn characters immediately draw in the reader, covering 20 years of love, loss, heartbreak and joy while delivering a sobering history lesson. accomplished and absorbing novel. We have to hang on till June, but I'll remind you when it's time to break out the beach cruisers.

Imagination Is the Beginning

"Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.” - George Bernard Shaw You'll notice that Shaw didn't say imagination was the end. It may be a start - and for certain it's what many believe to be the end-all and be-all of being a successful writer. But the difference between the dreamer and the doer is in the discovery of the will and in the act of the creation. So this week for me is going to be focused on the action, the hard work side of an equation that began with dreams and play. This week, I want to make real progress toward completing this draft. What's your weekly goal?

Boo! (Scott Westerfeld on the spooky art of ghostwriting)

This week several people sent me links to this excellent article, "On Ghostwriting" by Scott Westerfeld , author of a popular YA Uglies series. "I am a ghost writer, a literary doppleganger," says Westerfeld. "I write books that other people take credit for. People more famous than I, or busier, or who simply can't be trusted with a pen." He goes on to outline ghost parameters and protocol and addresses some of the pressing questions that haunt the field: "What are the implications of such duplicity? Is ghost-writing a case of false advertising? Is it simply bad manners, like bringing take-out to a potluck supper?" Since Westerfeld ghosted fiction back when he was doing this sort of work, his perspective is a bit different from mine. As a celeb memoir ghost, I do for my clients what the Ghost of Christmas Past does in “A Christmas Carol” — I take them by the hand, lead them past their life experiences from the perspective of an observer,

Making Work Play the Sociogram Way

I've been working away toward the end of a big, hairy haystack of a draft and couldn't begin to keep all my spaghetti strands in order. My spreadsheet (which I resorted to for the first time with this manuscript because it has so many characters) wasn't doing it for me. Index cards weren't helping, and neither were my usual legal pad notes. So I decided to try a lower tech version and trotted out the sociogram , something I studied all the way back (lo, these many years ago) in a college education course. Sociograms are used in many fields, but as a teacher, I used them to map out social relationships among my students. I'd start off by telling the class something like this: The class is going to be doing a project soon for what will be a major grade, and I'd like you to work in groups. Before I assign groups, though, you can help me by writing the answers to these three questions. Be sure to keep your answers covered up and private. We don't want anyone&

"Whimsy matters." (Aimee Mullins on aesthetics, prosthetics, and her glorious gams)

Okay, we've talked a lot of business this week, so I thought we might wind down to the weekend with a healthy stretching exercise, which will hopefully offer a different way to wrap your head around both form and function in your WIP, whatever that may be. A natural born athlete who lost her legs as an infant, Aimee Mullins learned to walk, then run, then fly on prosthetics. As a student at Georgetown, she was the first disabled athlete to compete in NCAA Division I track and field. But don't say that in front of her. "Pamela Anderson has a lot more prosthetics in her body than I do, and nobody calls her disabled," says Mullins. "The conversation is no longer about overcoming a deficiency; it's about augmentation." About five minutes into the video below, Mullins introduces this awesome pair of ornately carved wooden legs, on which she strolled the catwalk in her first runway fashion show. The array of prosthetic legs she's inspired and collabora

Set the Tone, Define the Audience

Yesterday, I read a terrific post on opening hooks by Jennifer Bray Weber over at Musetracks, where the writer talks about grabbing the reader's attention by beginning in the midst of quest or conflict - anything to create a lightning-quick emotional connection with the reader. The opening lines have another function, too, to set the story's tone. Will it be sassy, whimsical, romantic? Mysterious, foreboding? When the reader flips open to the story's first page, it's an if she's seeing a contract from the author: This Is What You're in For, should you sign on for the experience. It's a pretty good system, one that, when supported by an appropriate title, cover art, and cover or flap copy, gives the author the best chance of gaining the right audience, the one most likely to enjoy the story offered and (please, oh pretty please) go looking for more books by that same author. For the purpose of discussion, let's take a look at a couple of opening para

The little press that seriously could (a conversation with Lou Aronica of The Story Plant)

As tough economic times force publishing professionals to think outside the box, perhaps those best equipped to weather the storm are the ones who were already doing it. The Story Plant is a small press and relatively fresh to the universe, but its founders state their goal without flinching: "The Story Plant is dedicated to developing commercial novelists into bestselling authors." Publisher Lou Aronica came to the project after twenty years at Bantam, Berkley, and Avon, during which he edited and published a number of NYT bestsellers. Teammate Peter Miller spent thirty years managing writers, repping several NYT bestsellers, and Executive Producing more than a dozen movies. He's currently working on a HBO miniseries with Tom Hanks' Playtone company. All of which is to say: these guys clearly know what they're talking about. I got curious about The Story Plant when I received a review copy of James LePore's forthcoming A World I Never Made . (Watch this spa

The personal approach (diving for pearls of wisdom from Erin Galloway)

Just finished browsing the lively discussion folowing Colleen's interview with marketing manager Erin Galloway . I'm not great about reading the comments on the blog, but I'm glad I took the time to follow this conversation. One of the many great points Erin makes: The most effective form of author self-promotion I see working now is the “personal approach.” We have an author that personally contacted several hundred bookstores last summer. She contacted each store, provided information on her book and explained why she felt her book would suit their readers. It was extremely time consuming, but it paid off. She went from a virtual unknown to the New York Times list almost overnight. In our current economy the personal touch matters even more. If people are going to spend their money they want to feel very connected to and very confident about what they are purchasing. Click here, scroll down, and check it out.

Happy St. Patrick's Day! (Take a moment to drive your snakes out.)

Taking a moment out of the busy business week to celebrate my daughter's 20th birthday this morning. No more teens at Chez Rodgers. The 20-Somethings have taken over. When Jerusha was little, Malachi was in awe that there was a huge parade celebrating his little sister's birthday. For her sixteenth, Gary took her to Ireland where everyone wanted to buy her her first pint. This morning, she was bubbling over about debate nationals and in a hurry to head out the door in her appropriately green attire. Happy St. Patrick's Day! If you need a moment to wrangle your inner snakes this morning (or just in case you were wondering what it's all about), here's this from "Give Up Yer Aul Sins", the Oscar nominated series from Brown Bag Films. Director/Producer - Cathal Gaffney Animator - Alan Shannon Producer - Darragh O'Connell Original recordings by Peig Cunningham

Industry Insider Interview:Marketing Up (and Through) a Storm

With my next release, Beneath Bone Lake , on the horizon, I’ve been wondering how the current economic climate might affect efforts to promote new books. To find out, I contacted Erin Galloway , Manager of Marketing for Dorchester Publishing and asked if she’d be willing to share her answers to a few questions on the blog. CT: Thanks so much for stopping by Boxing the Octopus, Erin. We appreciate your willingness to share your considerable knowledge of the book biz. First of all, could you tell us just a little about what is it you do for Dorchester? EG: Colleen, thank you very much for having me at Boxing the Octopus. I am the Manager of Marketing for Dorchester, so my main job is to promote our novels to readers. I do this through consumer advertising, email marketing, content on the Dorchester web site, in-person promotion at various conferences and conventions, and through publicity pitches to various online organizations and print publications. CT: How would you say r

Underground and on the outside (Go with God, James Purdy.)

Gore Vidal described James Purdy as "an authentic American genius." Dorothy Parker, Lillian Hellman, and Edward Albee were big fans of his stories, poems, and plays. Pretty impressive company for a guy from Hicksville, Ohio, but if there's a common thread running through that group, it's definitely...(hmm, how to put it)...idiosyncrasy? According to the obit by Hillel Italie in USA Today : Purdy published poetry, drawings, the plays Children Is All and Enduring Zeal , the novels Mourners Below and Narrow Rooms , and the collection Moe's Villa and Other Stories . Much of his work fell out of print; several books were reissued in recent years. In the spring, Ivan Dee will issue a collection of his plays. Gore Vidal, Tennessee Williams and Dorothy Parker were among his fans, but Purdy won few awards and was little known to the general public. He spent most of his latter years in a one-room Brooklyn walk-up apartment, bitterly outside what he called "the anest

The business of the biz (and a busy week on the way)

We've got a nice juicy week ahead here at Boxing the Octopus. On Monday, Colleen's going to be visiting with the marketing manager from her publisher, following up with Q&A. Wednesday, small press publisher Lou Aronica stops by with an insightful interview. If I can get my tech on, booksellers from the Barnes & Noble flagship store in Houston will weigh in on the anatomy of a successful book signing, and we'll hear from the movers and shakers of Nuestra Palabra, where Latino writers have their say. There's a lot going on in the industry right now, and Colleen and I are ramping up our effort to provide a platform for smart soapboxers, industry pros, and emerging writers. We want to hear from you. Let us know what you're doing and who you want to hear from. Flip us an email at or post a comment below.

The making of Madame Tutli Putli (contemplating the creative process)

If it was easy, everyone would do it. "Madame Tutli-Putli boards the night train, weighed down with all her earthly possessions and the ghosts of her past. She travels alone, facing both the kindness and menace of strangers. As day descends into dark, she finds herself caught up in a desperate metaphysical adventure. Adrift between real and imagined worlds, Madame Tutli-Putli confronts her demons and is drawn into an undertow of mystery and suspense..." Click here to see more of the brilliant "Madame Tutli Putli".

Coming Monday: An Insider's Look at the Economy's Impact on Book Sales

Be sure to check in Monday when Boxing the Octopus welcomes Erin Galloway , Manager of Marketing for Dorchester Publishing . Erin was kind enough to answer some questions on "Marketing Up (and Through) a Storm," including information regarding the impact of the current economic challenges on book sales and promotions, tips on getting the most bang for the buck with author self-promotion, and information on how to work with an in-house publicist for maximum effect. As time permits, Ms. Galloway will be responding to posts and questions in the blog comments section, so I hope you'll join us for the discussion.

We Now Pause for This Message from the Ministry of Propaganda

We want you to sell. Sell, sell, sell! Don't come within ten feet of anybody without jumping down their throat with bookmarks, a nutshell synopsis, and the hardest press since the '86 Chicago Bears. Don't be shy! You are your own sales force. Okay, now. Let's get real. When I first came to publishing, lo these many years ago (ten, away), I had the naive idea that all I really had to do was write the books. Actually, that turns out to be only a portion of the job, and not even the majority. Much of being a working class novelist is devoted to the biz part: answering copyeditor queries, revising various drafts of various projects, parsing contracts with your agent, replying to reader e-mail (love that part), and attending to the myriad activities that fall squarely under the heading of self-promotion. Never sit down at a book signing! Get out there and press some flesh. Have your friend run up and down the aisles witnessing. Block the book store's exits if you

'Splain it to me, Lucy (Niffenegger gets $5 mill for second novel)

Next time I hear an agent or editor tell me how the faltering economy means authors have to accept smaller advances, I'm going to whip out a copy of yesterday's New York Times . Word has it, Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler's Wife , has signed a "close to $5 million" deal for her second novel. So they say: After a fiercely contested auction, Scribner, a unit of Simon & Schuster, bought the rights to publish the new novel, "Her Fearful Symmetry," in the United States this fall. The book is a supernatural story about twins who inherit an apartment near a London cemetery and become embroiled in the lives of the building’s other residents and the ghost of their aunt, who left them the flat. The auction for Ms. Niffenegger’s second novel involved several large New York publishing houses, as well as the original hardcover publisher of “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” MacAdam/Cage, the San Francisco-based independent, and the publisher that ho

Imagining the Worst (A Case for Backup)

At one time or another, most of us have lost work. An untimely power surge or outage, a corrupted file, or a failed hard drive can take with it the work of an hour, a week, or even years. Years back, I suffered a string of hard drive failures that drove home the value of backing up regularly. Since then, I've owned Iomega Zip drives (remember those), burned CDs, and/or saved my works in progress to a flash drive regularly. But then I got to thinking about the wisdom of storing all this data in the same place. I've known writers who have lost their homes to fires and their roofs to hurricanes. I recently read of one whose computer and backup drives were all stolen by an especially thorough thief. For a while, my ISP (SBC Yahoo) provided an online briefcase, which I used for several years to back up my writing, website, and photos files. It didn't allow for automatic updating, but I was pretty good about manually doing so every few days, and it also helped me move files be

Eating Your Veggies

When the going gets tough on the work in progress (the one with the fast-approaching deadline) there is absolutely no temptation like the project I'm supposed to write next. Faced with the hard work of ironing out my tangled plot threads or writing a love scene (Believe it or not, I've always found these the toughest passages in the books), my devilishly-resistant brain points at some enticing sparkle on the horizon and shouts, "Look! Over There!" for all the darned thing's worth. Think of it as the strawberry cheesecake that just distracted me from my dinner salad. Now I love a good salad, and I feel so much better for having eaten one, but if there's strawberry cheesecake anywhere in visual range, unh uh. No. Not happening. So distracted by the cheesecake, last weekend I dropped what I was doing and worked on a synopsis for another story (which does, in my defense, have its own pressing deadline). And so it was the last two days when I noodled with the o

The ultimate backstory: Dr. Donald Johanson and Kate Wong on Lucy's Legacy

This week Random House released Lucy's Legacy: the Quest for Human Origins by Dr. Donald Johanson and Kate Wong , and I'm pretty sure I'll be seeing it on Gary's nightstand in the near future. Gary's fascination with all things ancient has led us on some great adventures and sparked many thinky thoughts about the humanity of art and the art of humanity. In the fall of 2007, I blogged about seeing Lucy at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Aside from the wonder of the discovery, I was taken with the idea that a single moment could blossom into a life's work. It's been thirty-five years since the discovery of Lucy, and Johanson is still learning. Still evolving. From the press kit: In his New York Times bestseller, Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind , renowned paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson told the incredible story of his discovery of a partial female skeleton that revolutionized the study of human origins. Lucy literally changed our understanding

The Unlikeliest of Allies

When I saw this beautiful CBS piece on the unlikely alliance (or let's call it what it is: love) between an aging elephant and a stray dog, it touched my heart... and reminded me that in this business, it's important to have a like-minded pal or 2 (or 70) in your corner. If you're open to it, you'll find writing allies from vastly different backgrounds and experience can not only add immensely to your knowledge, but can immeasurably enrich your life. This little clip should be required viewing for those on Capitol Hill. ;)

"Novels need to have an urgency about them..." (a moment with Meg Wolitzer)

A few years back, I asked my editor at Random House to suggest a "Writers Who'll Make Me a Better Writer" reading list. One of the first names out of her mouth was Meg Wolitzer. An author to watch, Meg had a movie deal in motion for Surrender, Dorothy and a solid hit with The Wife at the time. Last year, her novel The Ten Year Nap gained rave reviews, and this week, it's out in trade paper. (Scroll down to yesterday's post for more on the book.) Meg, thanks for taking a moment to chat with us today. Before we get down to the business, how's it going? Is all well and groovy in Megworld? All is well and groovy, indeed. With The Ten-Year Nap coming out in trade paper, it's current popularity with book clubs is bound to beef up exponentially. There's a lot to discuss in this book. How has the book club response been so far, and what's your hope for the focus of future conversations? I think book clubs have been tremendous for writers, and in pa

Rise and shine: Meg Wolitzer'sThe Ten Year Nap is an eye-opener

Chapter One of Meg Wolitzer's novel, The Ten Year Nap , begins with this eloquent wake-up call: "All around the country, the women were waking up. Their alarm clocks bleated one by one, making soothing sounds or grating sounds or the stirrings of a favorite song. There were hums and beeps and a random burst of radio. There were wind chimes and roaring surf, and the electronic approximation of birdsong and other gentle animal noises. All of it accompanied the passage of time, sliding forward in liquid crystal. Almost everything in these women's homes required a plug. Voltage stuttered through the curls of wire, and if you put your ear to one of the complicated clocks in any of the bedrooms, you could hear the burble of industry deep inside its cavity. Something was quietly happening." In The Ten Year Nap , Meg Wolitzer offers us an extended play date with four women who set aside their careers in order to stay home and care for their kids. Ten years later, they open

The end...until further notice (Picoult novel rewritten for film)

When Jodi Picoult's 12-year-old son Kyle picked up his mom's novel My Sister's Keeper , he was immediately engrossed in it. "The day he finished the book, I found him weeping on the couch," Picoult said in an interview. "He pushed me away and went up to his room and told me that he really didn't want to see me or talk to me for a while - he was THAT upset." The shocker ending of the novel evoked a lot of response, ranging from throw-the-book-across-the-room outrage to quiet Kleenex-plucking reflection. But you won't know it from the film starring Cameron Diaz as the mom who has a baby to create a bone marrow match for a daughter with leukemia, and Abigail Breslin as the baby who grows into a teenager and doesn't want to donate a kidney to her big sister. According to an article in USA Today , : Picoult hasn't seen the movie but has read the script: "Having the ending changed would certainly not have been my choice. I wrote the en