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Showing posts from October, 2010

What Happens When You Don't Write

Dear friends, I've been away from the Octopus for a bit, and have not, as it happens, been writing (here on this blog or anywhere else).  Nothing drastic has caused me to stop tapping at the keys . . . I've had talks and speeches to give . . . and some family matters to take care of . . . and am traveling . . . and just decided to take a rest, for a while.  At first I felt badly about it.  When I'm not writing I feel that I should be, and all sorts of bugbears nip and tear.  Is there something I am missing out on because I'm not sending my words out into the world?  Some connection or insight?  Will I lose the habit, the thread, the meaning of writing, if I stay away from it for a week, or a month, or more?  Will I forget how?  Am I not really a writer if I am not writing every day, if I actually get tired sometimes, and don't want to do it--is it a sign, the beginning of the end, the turning point marking my inevitable decent into catatonia and endless viewings of

Inspiration (sort of) from me and David Rakoff

In his collection of essays Half Empty , David Rakoff has this to say, regarding writing vs. other tasks: One progresses from novice to adept with a soothing reliability. Except for writing. Well into adulthood, writing has never gotten easier. It still only ever begins badly, and there are no guarantees that this is not the day when the jig is finally up. And this: Creativity demands an ability to be with oneself at one’s least attractive, that sometimes it’s easier not to do anything. Writing — I can really only speak to writing here—always, always only starts out as shit: an infant of monstrous aspect; bawling, ugly, terrible, and it stays terrible for a long, long time (sometimes forever) This is why, I think, so many writers give up. Because unlike so many talents, writing takes years to develop, and even then, the first draft is still going to be so imperfect. It's frustrating, and you do hope that you get better, draft after draft, year after year, but part of b

Your Second Weekly Woof: A Small Furry Prayer by Steven Kotler

After reading Joni's comments yesterday on YOU HAD ME AT WOOF - a book I immediately ordered - I couldn't resist adding my own review of a recent read, A SMALL, FURRY PRAYER: DOG RESCUE AND THE MEANING OF LIFE. Steven Kotler's tale of his move, with the woman he loved, from LA to the beautifully-wild but impoverished Chimayo, New Mexico, to give their rescue dogs the space they needed worked beautifully for me on several levels: as a memoir describing a man looking for authentic meaning in his life, as the compassionately-told story of the abused, abandoned, and unwanted dogs he and his wife have worked with, and as a thought-provoking call to re-examine our relationship with not only dogs but with animals in general. Kotler uses the story of his journey to explore a variety of fascinating topics from whether animals laugh to how both animal and mixed-species groups enter a state of flow to the use of hallucinogens by and homosexuality in the animal kingdom. There's

Buy This Book: You Had Me at Woof: How Dogs Taught Me the Secrets of Happiness by Julie Klam

As the proud owner of a brassy little Boston terrier (actually, make that "the not completely unwilling financeer of a completely self-actualized Boston terrier"), I couldn't resist Julie Klam's new book, You Had Me at Woof: How Dogs Taught Me the Secrets of Happiness , fresh as a newly minted Milkbone in bookstores this week. The wonderfully funny author of Please Excuse My Daughter , a memoir of her privileged upbringing and stormy young adulthood, Klam scored a starred review from PW for this chronicle of her life with a succession of rescued Boston terriers. (Living with Manny the Uncanny has taught me why Bostons often need rescuing...from people who want to throttle them.) Actually, I should have started this with "As someone who loves a Boston terrier..." because that's ultimately what saves the day (and Manny's neck), in my office and in Julie Klam's book. These little guys with their futzy tuxedos and Jimmy Cagney mugs are completely in

The Relationship between Vulnerability and Wholeheartedness: A "researcher storyteller" speaks

I love many parts of this talk by Brene Brown, but one of my favorite moments is right at the beginning, when she tells a story about being invited to speak and being called a "storyteller." Her reaction is priceless. Also wonderful is what she's found about the relationship between shame, vulnerability and wholeheartedness. In a nutshell, she found that the most "wholehearted" people are able to lean into their discomfort, to embrace and operate from their vulnerability. And isn't that what we do, every day, as writers? Like most of the TED talks, it's 20 minutes, but it's worth it.

Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes by Stephen Sondheim

Finishing the Hat hits bookstores tomorrow. I've been counting the days since Jerusha and I saw Barbara Cook and Vanessa Williams in Sondheim on Sondheim in NY a few months ago. Amazing show, amazing artist, and (not a doubt in my mind) an amazing book. According to early reviews, there's plenty of behind the scenes dish, but it's more theatre history than backstage snark. Sondheim has been a huge musical presence in my life since I was a kid (and even more so as I evolved into a Gleekish theatre major in college), but I came away from the Broadway show appreciating the artistry on a totally different level, wanting to explore further, and loving the guy more than ever. From the flap: Stephen Sondheim has won seven Tonys, an Academy Award, seven Grammys, a Pulitzer Prize and the Kennedy Center Honors. His career has spanned more than half a century, his lyrics have become synonymous with musical theater and popular culture, and in Finishing the Hat —titled after perhap

Buy This Book: Mapp & Lucia by E.F. Benson

Per Kirkus: "The six Lucia novels form a kind of epic portrait of striving gone mad, and it's good to have them appearing once again." This is book #4 in the delicious series that sends up the overblown manners and impenetrable pecking order of Tilling, a tiny town that you will wish truly existed in England. Lucia rents a summer place in Tilling at the home of Miss Elizabeth Mapp, who reigns supreme over Tilling and does not appreciate having her power grid blipped by this interloper. Bad Italian, grotesque art projects, and interminable musicales ensue. Think Jane Austen/PG Wodehouse love child with a twist of Monty Python.

A Thoughtful Gift for the Reader - Little Bee by Chris Cleave

You might presume that the only thing an African girl, a Nigerian refugee named Little Bee could have in common with a 4-year old boy, Charlie, who thinks he's Batman, his anguished father and his 9-fingered, mother Sarah, would be something political, something tied to the off-the-grid machinations that surround the international oil market. Or perhaps you’d think it’s a story that gives a view of the unimaginable gulf that exists between first and third world countries, or maybe, you’d think it was something to do with the precarious plight of refugees. And the story of Little Bee does pull in threads from each of these compelling issues. But there’s also that missing finger. And then Sarah loses something else, her husband, in fact, who is also Charlie’s anguished father, to suicide. A mere two years after they have vacationed, in of all places, Nigeria. It was there that they met Little Bee, when they were accosted by mercenaries on a beach where they had no real business bein

Got prologue? (Why writers might need it even if readers don't)

Author/editor Ray Rhamey in Prologues: Yes or No over at Writer Unboxed today: As an editor, I have never liked prologues. As a writer, I’ve never written one. As a reader, I skip them. Yet they keep appearing on my Flogging the Quill blog for criticism. I post the opening lines of the prologue plus the opening lines of the first chapter. Just about all the time, the chapter opening works best. Rhamey polled a cross section of agents and got a pretty resounding thumbs down on the prologue. Most agents find them unnecessary at best and at worst, lazy and distracting. There's some excellent advice on reality checking the necessity factor. Kindly pragmatist Nathan Bransford gently suggests "the easiest litmus test is to take out the prologue and see if your book still makes sense." Less patient Miss Snark is quoted: "Signs your prologue sucks: it’s about a dream, it’s about the weather, it’s about someone who is dead, it’s about someone who never appears again in th

Some sweet TV news coverage love for Bald in the Land of Big Hair one woman show

Nice to come home from Paris and be greeted with Channel 2's sweet coverage love of Lisa Hamilton's one woman show based on my memoir, Bald in the Land of Big Hair . Actress Lisa Hamilton did a fantastic job adapting the script, which stays quite faithful to the book. The tour benefits The Rose , Houston's organization that provides breast cancer screening, diagnostics, and access to care for women (regardless of their ability to pay) and offers outreach, support, and education. Check out the Rose calendar to find out how you can get involved.

Magic, Hope and Children's Fiction: An Interview with Novelist Jenny Moss

Several years ago, I had the pleasure of working with novelist Jenny Moss at the University of Houston-Clear Lake. Jenny and I were in neighboring offices, and at one point discovered we were both writers. I remember late evening chats between afternoon and night classes, stolen in the hallways and at the xerox machine. And then Jenny was gone, and I never knew what happened to her--until one day I saw her tucked away in the corner of a cafe with her laptop and asked her how she was. "Writing," she said, and went on to tell me about her upcoming novel, the delightful WINNIE'S WAR . A middle-grades historical novel, it introduces students to the 1918 influenza pandemic, and fictionalizes the real events of League City, Texas. Since then, she's published another, and just received the advanced reading copies for the third. While all three are quite different in their writing styles and target audiences, Jenny has done a great deal of research and world building

Fun With John Le Carré

This morning, I stick in the word "writing" and "writer" wherever I please, and come up with this, from Le Carré's A Most Wanted Man: The staple of your writer's life . . . was not, as one might reasonably expect, cash . . .  It was cock-up.  It was the persistent, he would go so far as to say the permanent sound, not to put too fine an edge on it, of excrement hitting your proverbial fan.  So, if you don't happen to like living in a state of unremitting siege, the odds were that writing wasn't for you. Tee hee. The words I replaced "writing" with? "Private banking." But isn't that what writing is? Have fun this week squirreling your work into every nook and cranny. --MD

Are You Stubborn Enough? (Yeah, Baby!)

Here's a quick quote I need to print out and hang on my office wall. Love it! "When you're out of willpower, you can call on stubbornness." - Henri Matisse For your viewing pleasure (and because we can never have enough scantily-clad artwork here at BtO) I'm sharing Matisse's Le bonheur de Vivre. Have a fabulous, stubbornly-ambitious week!

Why Writers Wish we Had Han Solos--and Why it's Probably Good we Don't

Sometimes, as a writer, don't you wish you had a Han Solo at your back? "You're all clear, kid. Now let's blow this thing and go home!" The thing is, in our artist journeys, we have to be both the hero and the sidekick, both the Luke and the Han. We can help each other out, but in the end, there's no one but us who can shoot those bad boys down. Still--it's sometimes nice to dream . . .


Friends, let me share with you one of the quotes I've been using lately in my talks and lectures: My passport photo is one of the most remarkable photographs I have ever seen--no retouching, no shadows, no flattery--just stark me.   Anne Morrow Lindbergh I love this one.  The simplicity of it.  And yet the bravura.  The willingness to redraw--in part through words--the map of the self.  The basic understanding that the story that we tell about ourselves to ourselves matters. Ah, life.  It isn't just made out of the words that are handed to you, the words that you are expected to use ("God I hate that picture of me").  It is made out of the words with which you choose to design your self and what you do. Not just your work. You. I'd love to hear more words that show the way. Do share!

Freebie Friday: Fade the Heat

For a very limited time, Borders (via Kobo ebooks) is offering my romantic thriller, FADE THE HEAT , for absolutely free as a Mobile/eBook platform download! (Like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, Borders offers a free downloadable app so you can read eBooks on your Mac or PC Desktop, iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android, or Blackberry device. It's easy to install! Check it out here.) But I digress. Here's what Publisher's Weekly had to say about FADE THE HEAT: Starred Review. RITA finalist Thompson takes the reader on a roller-coaster ride full of surprising twists and turns in this exceptional novel of romantic suspense. Dr. Jack Montoya becomes the unwilling flash point for two opposing radical groups attempting to influence the Houston mayoral race after someone leaks his habit of falsifying patient records to allow the treatment of illegal immigrant children. Back into his life stumbles a childhood friend, beautiful but troubled firefighter Reagan Hurley, who seeks his

Strong Female Characters--A Flow Chart

I've been sick this whole week with a nasty mix of bronchitis, pharyngitis, and laryngitis (Mark says the house is eerily quiet), but at some point in the mix, I found this post about strong female characters, complete with flowchart. I was overjoyed to see that both my main two made the "strong" character cut! What about yours? And do you see any of your favorite types there?

How Badly Do You Want It?

It's so easy to put other things first. The bills that must be paid, the home that must be tended, the loved ones who strive to squeeze from us every last drop of attention. Every one of these is worthy, every one of them important. But if you sincerely, desperately want to make it as a writer, if your soul is starving to share your stories with the greater world, you're going to have to look at your priorities. You're going to have to make your writing the rock in the stream, the one immovable object around which the rest of life must flow. Half-hearted efforts will not serve you, nor will constantly looking over your shoulder for permission or approval. You have to want it more than that. Have to need it to be fully realized as a person. And you have to have the courage to claim it for yourself. Does that scare you? Maybe it should. Are you up for it? It's your choice. No one else will make it for you. No one ever can.

From Nancy Brinker's "Promise Me" guest blog on Kindle Daily Post

From Nancy Brinker's guest blog today on Kindle Daily Post: Looking at my life and the breathtaking scope of the work done by Susan G. Komen for the Cure in this broader context, I’m humbled and elated. All around me every day, stories pour down like rain, bringing fresh life to everything we do. When I sit down with friends and strangers in all corners of the world, I still start by saying, “Let me tell you about Suzy.” Read the rest., seriously. (Justin Bieber's memoir hits bookstores today)

With the release of Justin Bieber: First Step 2 Forever today, one of my pet peeves comes urbling to the surface of the blogosphere. Without addressing the literary quality in young Bieber's book (I'm sure enough people will be trashing it without reading it, but that's an entirely separate pet peeve), what irks me is all the people saying, "Isn't he too young to write a memoir?" Memoir and autobiography are two very different forms. An autobiography is the chronicle of a full life span, typically written in a person's later years; a memoir is a slice of an extraordinary life. A talented ghostwriter could do a memoir with a baby. (I'd actually love to try that!) The story could take place over a month, a day, an hour. Why not Memoir of a Minute ? (Hmm. I'd love to try that, too.) I wrote a memoir in my mid 30s. (Which reminds me: Buy my memoir! ) I ghostwrite memoirs for people young and old. ( Buy this one too. And this one !) Hilary Liftin

BtO Contest:Guerrilla Book Promotion Gets Hairy

New authors are often encouraged to engage in "guerrilla book promotion," doing whatever they must to get their books in the hands of readers. In Pennsylvania Sunday, one of those ("over exuberant," according to a Secret Service spokesman) authors apparently got a bit carried away, hurling his paperback at the president in a desperate bid for attention. Well, at least he got a chance to meet the Secret Service up close and personal. His punishment for the stunt? Neither the author's name nor the name of his book was released to the media. Better luck next time, champ! I think we should hold a contest here at BtO to ask, what's the most outrageous book promotion activity you can think of? (Example: Sending a copy of your latest, Romancing the Flyboy, up, up, and away with Balloon Boy!" Your "prize," if selected? Deathless fame in the form of inclusion in BtO's list of the Top Ten List of Uber-Awesome Ways to Get Your Book in Headline

Monday motivation "Mad Men" style

Peggy: "So there's nothing we can do?" Don Draper: "Sure there is. We're going to sit at our desks and keep typing while the walls fall down around us, because we're creative: the least important most important thing there is. " Go forth and conquer!

Author Rakesh Satyal offers free download of "Blue Boy" in response to recent LGBT teen suicides

The recent suicide of an 8th grade boy here in Houston absolutely broke my heart. It is SO time for us to change this dynamic in our culture. I met Rakesh Satyal, an incredibly smart, thoughtful editor in NY a few months ago. Promptly went and bought, read and loved his beautiful debut novel. In response to the recent rash of suicides among LGBT youth, Rakesh is offering  Blue Boy  free on Kindle. Satyal, who won the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Debut Fiction this year, tells : “I really wanted to kind of put together this untold story, a gay Indian-American boy, but at the same time I wanted it to be universal in its pains. I think we’ve seen especially recently this sense that kids can feel isolated when they’re different in any way is one of the most persistent things about being a kid. The idea was to tell a particular story but make it universal and show, ‘Here is a resilience in kids that gives them a way of dealing with the harder things in life much more effecti

The secret to Paolo Bacigalupi's success: "The willingness to write four novels and f#@k them all up"

Don't miss this terrific interview with science fiction author Paolo Bacigalupi on Techland , talking about his journey to publication: I wrote four novels that I never sold before I wrote The Windup Girl . So I've been writing for, now, it's been about 15 years. I guess it was 13 when I sold The Windup Girl . I wrote a science fiction novel that did get a low-ball offer that I ultimately passed on, on the advice of my agent. Thinking, well, my first novel got an offer, I can write another, and that one's gonna be a sky's-the-limit type of thing. I wrote that second novel, but I actually pushed over to historical fiction. That one treaded closer to what we'd call mainstream fiction, as opposed to genre fiction. And then the next one after that was straight out literary fiction. You know, love of landscape. This thing about the rural west. I don't know. It was what it was. And then after that I wrote a mystery-slash-western sort of novel. A modern western

Buy This Book: What We Have by Amy Boesky

Saw the many raves Amy Boesky is getting for her memoir and had to grab it. My mistake was reading the first page at 11:30 PM, because I did not want to stop. She's an amazing writer, and I plan to drag her over here to answer 3Qs as soon as I can pry her away from her 17th century British lit students at Boston College. Meanwhile, from the flap: At thirty-two, Amy Boesky thought she had it all figured out: a wonderful new man in her life, a great job, and the (nearly) perfect home. For once, she was almost able to shake the terrible fear that had gripped her for as long as she could remember. Women in her family had always died young-from cancer-and she and her sisters had grown up in time's shadow. It colored every choice they made and was beginning to come to a head now that each of them approached thirty-five-the deadline their doctors prescribed for having preventive surgery with the hope they could thwart their family's medical curse. But Amy didn't want to dw

Don't miss Fred's guest shot on Three Guys One Book: "Why We Love What We Do"

I'm still choked up about Fred's post on the circle of publishing life and the death of novelist Cathryn Alpert, author of Rocket City , which was completely weird and wonderful. I still agree with Entertainment Weekly that she came up with one of the best opening lines ever: "Three melons and a dwarf sat in the front seat of Marilee’s ’72 Dodge, but the cop was not amused." Read the rest and remember why you love what you do.

A Way of Seeing

Last week, I signed a debut novel in which the narrating main character is blind. (I'd name it for you, but it has only a working title.) We’ll publish the novel in the fall of 2011 and will be describing it fully to the world in the weeks before publication. But there's something to be said even this early: The reader of this novel can see what is happening, page by page, turn by turn, even though the main character cannot. The narrative moves beautifully, unfailingly and fascinatingly forward, and the means by which this writer portrays the world he leads us through are unfailingly clever. The story, which is heartfelt and pressing, is also perfectly visual. In fact, it’s a road story. As I first read it, I could see the path of the car and the crowded back seat. I could see the scenes of the hurricane and the flood, the roadside confrontations, the drug dens, the shakedowns, the flirtations and seductions, the characters’ leaning into one another, the stumbling protagonis

The (Literary) Establishment Strikes Back, Andrew Shaffer Style

Author Andrew Shaffer's parody of a Jonathan Franzen-Jennifer Weiner smackdown had me howling. If you'd ever scratched your head over why some authors seem to get all the literary love/establishment respect, you, too, could find yourself seriously amused. Unless, of course, you are Jonathan Franzen. Then maybe not so much.

Read, Write, Hope!

Read, Write, Hope! In an entry on her blog, (July 7, 2010 - The Road to Publication: Persistence Counts) Michelle Hoover, author of the lovely debut novel, THE QUICKENING, (see earlier review - this blog - September 14, 2010) has created a gift of hope for anyone who has ever struggled to grow an idea from a handful of words or pages into a full-blown novel. She began the story when she was 23, and only now, when she is 38, is it published. She stopped and started. She wrote other things; she also teaches writing, but all the while her original idea was simmering in her mind. And when she finally returned to it, the story went through many incarnations, gained and lost characters and narrators. But ultimately she persisted; she wrote and rewrote in faith and, perhaps at times, in doubt, but here and now, after all the years of work, she has captured the book sale and growing success. The story is beautifully told; her own journey writing it is inspiring. As she herself so aptly puts it