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Showing posts from April, 2010

Salinger's not sacred coming (or going) through the rye

This from Publisher's Weekly today via the FeedMe bar: The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has vacated a September 2009 injunction barring publication of Swedish author Fredrik Colting's 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye , which lawyers for author J.D. Salinger argued was an illegal, "unauthorized sequel" to The Catcher in the Rye. Salinger's legal team now has 10 days to seek a temporary injunction, otherwise the preliminary ban will be lifted, possibly paving the way for Colting's book, published last year in Europe, to come out in a U.S. edition. Interesting in light of Fred's post earlier...

The Text Entire

Last night, probably too late to have undertaken it, the estimable Richard Eoin Nash and I engaged in a brief twittering discussion. This odd reality (a tweeted colloquy) kicked in when Richard tweeted a link to a post at Magellan Media . That post is the assertion that a book "is made great by the people who read it, connect with it and communicate about it." That seems to me another assertion of the primacy of the reader, which thought always gives me pause. I don't want that to put me in the wrong light. It's just that for a while it has seemed to me that discussions about the future of the book assume that publishing is universally in opposition to the reader. Although it troubles me, I understand the argument that publishers need to be moved out of the way. Sometimes this is about the reader. But the argument also posits itself in support of the author who is already able to self-publish--which, I think is a clearer discussion. I always respond to the sake-of

Writing Out of the Box

Some young, inexperienced friends of mine bought their first house this week. They asked my advice about decorating it--I've owned half a dozen houses over the years, of all shapes and sizes--and I thought for a moment, and said honestly: beware the box. Some houses, like this one, invite boxiness. The house itself is a rectangle; all its rooms are square. It's a serviceable, in fact substantial canvas. But your temptation, I said carefully (I've owned houses like this one), will be to repeat the box over and over. To buy square rugs, square pictures, and when it comes time to paint a room, paint it all in one nice color. One very nice color, in fact. Because it feels so . . . solid. Safe. And only when you have lived in this steady symmetry for a while will you realize how tight it all feels. How you've left yourself no room to breathe. How the structure has worked you instead of you working the structure. How you've goofed. My advice, I

Serial Monogamy and the Not-So-Single Writer

I'm coming clean with you, dear readers. I've been tempted lately to stray. To cheat on the manuscript to which I've sworn fidelity (if only for a the time being.) I just can't help myself. Main Squeeze Manuscript wants waaay too much attention, while over in the shadowed corner, the Sexy Diversion crosses manly arms (oh, how I love the look of a firm bicep) and casts a smoldering look my way. Discipline, I tell myself, yet I'm continually distracted by the low rumble of whisper, a spicy, masculine scent... and the fact that he's had the waitress bring an extra fork with his strawberry-covered cheesecake. (Forget the beefcake, baby! It's cheesecake all the way!) The trouble is, I'm committed elsewhere, to a swell story I owe every crumb of my attention. Even when -- no, let's make that especially when the going gets touch. Though I might occasionally lust in my heart after that tabled project or scintillating new idea, only a monogamous relation

Nature for the Nature Deprived: A Prisoner Writes About Nature

I just looked at the PEN prison awards listing for this year and was pleased to see a few of my students there. It's a national contest, and we usually do well. I was particularly happy to see one of my favorite pieces from last summer's nature writing class honored with an honorable mention. It's short and vivid, and worth a lunch break read. And congratulations to all the winners of this incredibly prestigious competition! So looking forward to being back at the prison again this summer--to teach my infamous class in Gothic literature . :)

The Four Different Kinds of Writer's Block--And What We Can Learn From Them

Last night, Joni and Colleen came to my fiction class and spoke about various aspects of the writing life, including the importance of setting up a schedule and actually writing. As is inevitable with such a discussion, there were those people who talked about having trouble getting started. This got me thinking about Mylene's earlier post about resistance to writing. The problem with lumping all of our reluctance under the generic terms of "writer's block" or "writing resistance" is that if we don't know why we are resisting writing, we will find it difficult to break through. Writing resistance can happen at any stage of the process, and it usually happens for one of four main reasons: 1) The fear that the words will fail us . This is probably the most common reason, and is also known as the terror of the blank page. Mylene talked about this earlier when she talked about our fear of corrupting that perfect vision inside us, the realization that

The dynamics of word fail (It doesn't matter twat you MEANT to say.)

Saturday afternoon, the Gare Bear and I were parked in front of a slow news day on MSNBC. A fresh-faced anchor woman was nattering with New York Plastic Surgeon, Dr. Rich Niptuck (or some such) about the refurbishing of presidential portraits on newly minted money. They flashed up the twenty dollar bill with a new and improved image of Andrew Jackson . "They've filled in his temple with some injectables," said the doctor, "and they've done a really nice blow job on him." The anchor woman uttered a strangled giggle. The plastic surgeon tried to recover, stammering something about Jackson wearing a - a smock from the - the salon, like, they blow dry hair. At a salon. And it's like that. The anchor cut him off with a brusque "yeh-yeh-yeh" and moved on with amazing self-control. So what may we as writers extrapolate from this little moment of zen? It doesn't matter what you meant to say. Words live in cultural context, and skilled commu

By this book: Todd Johnson's "The Sweet By and By"

Todd Johnson's debut novel, fresh out in paperback. Last year, the hardcover release scored a sweet blurb from another debut author who was about to seriously blow up. Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help , says, “I am in love with this book -- the language, the story, the sass. Five women bickering, judging, loving, growing old together. You won’t stop laughing, even when your heart is hurting. Keep a pencil close -- you’ll be underlining all your favorite, funny lines.” Adriana Trigiani calls it "heartfelt and stunning." PW cracked on him for plotting, but conceded “the underlying message of the power of love and friendship resonates, as does its depiction of the way in which people leading unremarkable lives can have a tremendous impact on those around them.” Meanwhile, Todd Johnson's website is a great one for emerging authors to check out. Everything that could be done for this book is being done and done right. And it seems to be working. Click here to bu

Baldacci's brave new book world: "You have to go where the readers are."

Grand Central released David Baldacci's new novel, Deliver Us from Evil , in hard cover last week. From the flap: Evan Waller is a monster. On Waller’s trail is The Whole Truth ’s Shaw. And someone else is after Waller — Reggie Campion, agent for a secret vigilante group. Hunting the same man, unaware of each other’s mission, Shaw and Reggie will be caught in a deadly duel of nerve and wits. Next comes the enhanced eBook with DVDish special features, including deleted scenes and behind the scenes stuff about the writing process. Baldacci told the Associated Press, "For a long time it seemed all people were talking about was pricing and the timing of the e-book. And I want to bring it back to the books themselves, to the content, because that's what should matter. I want people to have a great experience and give them a behind-the-scenes look at what I do, the way you would have it on a DVD." This seems to me the best possible use of the new long as

Cheno Coast to Coast

Kristin Chenoweth gets a nice write up in the LA Times this morning and opens on Broadway in "Promises, Promises" tonight. (I hear the show is edgier than the 1968 version, taking cues from the "Mad Men" aesthetic.) Meanwhile, Kristin's memoir A Little Bit Wicked is out in paperback this month, and Gleeks worldwide will see her working her Bacharach on next week's "Glee." Go, baby girl, go!

Worth A Thousand Words: Using Images to Shape and Reshape Your Thinking

Last Saturday, I found myself in a place where I was excited about my work, but in too much pain to create. I couldn't stand or sit long enough to do any lengthy sessions of revision, and the pain was getting in the way of my mental processing. But it was the weekend, and I still wanted to make progress, so I decided that even if the words were failing me, I could still inhabit the novel's images . So I set up my laptop on my lingerie chest, and started scouring the web for pictures. I found several to represent each character, and several to represent what I think are key elements in the book. It was a lot of fun. In fact, it was so much fun it didn't really feel like work--but it was. Strangely, what I thought would just be a stop gap exercise turned into something much more profound. As I began pasting the images into a Word document and aligning them in tables, I started to see some conceptual and tonal problems in my work. Seeing the pictures made me realize

Sarah Weinman on Random House changes: Will New M&A Exec Expand or Shrink the Publisher?

Despite Sarah Weinman's excellent breakdown in this Daily Finance article , I'm having a hard time tracking changes at Random House. Consolidation has been the strategy of Random House's parent company Bertelsmann throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Most famously, in 1998, it scooped up Random House -- which had long owned imprints Knopf and Pantheon -- and tucked it under the same umbrella as Bantam (acquired in 1980), Doubleday (1986), and Crown (1988), creating the behemoth we know today... "Dohle is all about core businesses, consolidation and trying to get control of the beast," one industry insider told DailyFinance. Control, in this case, may be about separating out chaff instead of buying more wheat. Read the rest here. Here in my own little corner in my own little chair, I'm finishing up another thoroughly enjoyable experience at Random House. I've done three books there in the last six years, and the corporate structure has gone through a lot of

Why Is This Seal Smiling?

Allow me to introduce my new friend Sabrina "Seal the Deal"Seal, from my recent trip to San Diego. She's smiling because I shared the news of a brand-new book sale, of Shadowed Dawn to Harlequin Intrigue for their new Shiver series. Shadowed Dawn (Sept. 2011) is a spooky, atmospheric New Orleans-set story about a young cemetery tour guide, an enigmatic photographer, and the creepiest killer ever to haunt the Quarter. The book's follow-up, Gossamer Moon, written by my pal, Joanna Wayne, will come out the next month. Since this book was sold off of a brief treatment (I'll describe how that works in a later post) I'll be writing the manuscript in the coming months and charting my progress here. I hope you'll join me on my journey -- or at least share a smile in the name of a new sale to a new-to-me line and editor. I'm very excited to be embarking. Can't wait to sink my teeth into this book!

Buy this Book: The Best Short Stories of Guy de Maupassant

I'm going through a Guy de Maupassant phase this week. I'd almost forgotten how wonderful his short stories are. From "Boule de Suif" (which for my taste is one of top ten short stories of all time): The woman, who belonged to the courtesan class, was celebrated for an embonpoint unusual for her age, which had earned for her the sobriquet of "Boule de Suif" (Tallow Ball). Short and round, fat as a pig, with puffy fingers constricted at the joints, looking like rows of short sausages; with a shiny, tightly-stretched skin and an enormous bust filling out the bodice of her dress, she was yet attractive and much sought after, owing to her fresh and pleasing appearance. Her face was like a crimson apple, a peony-bud just bursting into bloom; she had two magnificent dark eyes, fringed with thick, heavy lashes, which cast a shadow into their depths; her mouth was small, ripe, kissable, and was furnished with the tiniest of white teeth. As soon as she was recogni

Is Kindle for old folks?

In Publisher's Lunch today: Following Engadget's report in early April, yesterday Target confirmed that they will start selling Kindle as of April 25. But they'll start with just their downtown Minneapolis store and south Florida (which apparently holds 102 Targets), "rolling out to more Target stores later this year." (Does that confirm that the target Kindle demographic is retirees?) Oldladysayswha? I don't want my ereader to multifunction as a video game or mini TV or BlackBerry flavored all-purpose brain dildo. I just want to read books on the thing. Though I do periodically revisit In the Night Kitchen , most of the books I've read since my ninth birthday were not illustrated with full color pictures. The instant library gratification and simplicity of the Kindle has more than doubled my readerly consumption since I got it, and I've been reading mostly classics. I felt a surge of hope that this would be the dynamic for younger readers, too, but

Earth Day 2010

My friends, I wish you a glorious Earth Day. May we all take a moment to stand in grateful, grounded astonishment. La Sal Mountains, Utah

No More Crash and Burn

When I first began writing novels, my friends, I started each day this way: I would sit down at my computer and start all over, each time, at the first chapter, with the very first sentence. And scrutinize it, to see if it could be any better. If it could be, I would then make it so. Or at least try to. And then, and only then, move on to the second sentence. And repeat this procedure. And so on. And so on. And so on. Each feather of my manuscript had to be carefully examined to see if it was properly aligned for flight. Of course, each day, the feathers somehow seemed to be all ruffled again. (How does that happen?) Which meant it often took me months to lose the coop of the first and second chapters. (There's nothing wrong with this, by the way. We write our first drafts--and our seconds and our thirds--in any way we choose. All in a rush, in three weeks. Or painstakingly, over three years. It's our work. It's our life. It's your business.) The u

When the Going Gets Slow... 7 Quick Techniques to Notch Up the Tension

All too often, a really promising beginning runs out of steam. It's the reason agents lose interest in material they've requested, editors sigh and start making notes for the revision letter, and readers stick a bookmark in the novel and forget it. Many times, it's the reason the manuscript is never finished in the first place, as the writer loses sight of the initial spark once so enticing. Many projects fall by the wayside at this juncture, but those willing to perservere can find a way to stoke the fire heating up the story. Here are a few possibilities I've used in the past when things slow down: 1. If your protagonist's goal has a pressing time limit, shorten it. 2. Remove your protagonist's "crutch character," forcing your hero to stand completely alone. Many a best friend has died in the service of this cause, but there are many other possibilities, including a betrayal, or a perceived betrayal. 3. Blow the story's original goal out of

Tinkers, not by Chance

Whatever it means to be beside oneself, that's what I've been--beside myself with hope and possibility--since Paul Harding's Tinkers won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction last week. I'm still trying to get my hands on a copy. I understand from the NPR story that a member of the Pulitzer Committee contacted Mr. Harding and asked him to submit the novel for the prize. I wonder whether, at the time, the Committee realized how significant it would be in today's publishing environment to award the prize to a novel published by Bellevue Literary Press. It is a remarkable moment. Commenters cite the last such award as that for A Confederacy of Dunces in 1981--but that novel was published by a university press (LSU), which I think we can view as something categorically different. Following solid pre-publication trade reviews for Tinkers, LA Times reviewer Susan Salter Reynolds, in a brief review, called the book "astonishing." Considerable credit should go t

Relative Peace and the Right List: 3 Questions for Literary Agent Kirby Kim of William Morris Endeavor

It's been less than ten years since Kirby Kim ditched law school with the idea that books would be more fun than settlement figures. He started out with Charlotte Sheedy, did an educational stint with Vigliano Associates, navigated some rough reorganizational waters at Endeavor, and is now growing a list at William Morris Endeavor. Repping both fiction and nonfiction, Kirby's forged some major deals, including bestselling memoirs by Kristin Chenoweth, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and Motley Crue frontman Vince Neil, without overlooking terrific little novels and less obvious nonfiction. Last month, he sold Z. Rinehardt Linmark's Leche , "a meta-travelogue which follows a gay Asian-American pageant winner through a ten-day trip back to his native home - the chaotic '80s-era Philippines - that unearths forgotten memories and forces him to confront long-neglected issues of dispossession and self-identity," to Coffee House Press. Kirby, as a young agent building a list