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Showing posts from December, 2010

Revisiting the decisions that successfully transformed my writing strategy for 2010

My dad always said, "Plan your work, work your plan." We in the business of reeling and writhing - I mean reading and writing - especially need the structure of a yearly business plan and five-year vision plan. My policy is to get that sucker on paper by the last day of December so I can get up January 1st, load the Christmas tree out the door and hit the ground running. I mean writing. Last year, I saw an item in Scott Jeffrey's Enlightened Business blog that blew my mind a little. "5 Powerful Decisions to Transform Your Business" radically changed my 2010 business plan. Scott's original post makes great sense for any company, but I tweaked it for writing, applying the same principles to the soul proprietorship that is the corporate body for most working authors. When I posted it on the blog here, I optimistically said, "These transformative rules have seriously adjusted my thought process and just might make 2010 my best year ever." As it t

You Can Now Lend Kindle Books

. . . and here's the link that tells you how. Thanks, by the way to all of you who are using your gift cards to buy my books (and the books of all BoxOcto writers) on Kindle.  At least, I imagine that's what's accounting for the uptick!

Buy This Book: Poets for Haiti

I seem, at the end of the year, to be on a bit of a buy-books-for-a-cause tear.  Poets for Haiti is a collection now available from Yileen Press. From the publisher: "Six weeks after the city of Port-au-Prince was brought to its knees by one of the most destructive earthquakes on record - 18 remarkable writers including Robert Pinksy, Rosanna Warren, and Gail Mazur, joined together at Harvard University campus and demonstrated the power of the spoken word. That benefit reading was a vital and galvanizing event, and this anthology has been created to capture some of the magic that was sparked that night. With stunning artwork by some of Haiti's most prominent visual artists, the volume is itself a work of art. All proceeds from the sale of this anthology will go to Partners in Health to benefit the people of Haiti."

Silencing the Noise

The carols fall quiet. The merrymaking crowds disperse. The batteries are all inserted and the devices charged. I switch off every one of them and vanish into creamy pages. (This year's choice, Jim Gorant's THE LOST DOGS: Michael Vick's Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption was an outstanding choice, fascinating and involving on many levels. The kind of book that serves up an education in irresistibly-engaging nuggets. And, thank goodness, a dog book whose ending didn't leave me weeping.) Late in the night, I close the cover. I feel the rhythm of my breaths, the strong thump of my heartbeat, the quiet space opening inside me. It is the space that in the coming days, will fill slowly with my own words, with a story only I can tell, characters I will introduce to others. Though the computer is my virtual notebook, that space remains unplugged today as the writer in me reclaims her space, her time, her balance.


On a snowy morning two weeks ago, I went down to the Matheson Nature Preserve to take part in the annual Christmas Bird Count .  Marcy and Mary were waiting for me, coated, as I was, in shiny materials; the snow glanced off our shoulders in flakes that thinned and thickened and then thinned again.  A clumsy stagehand seemed to be in the clouds, that morning.  He couldn't get the amount right.  "I don't know if it's going to get heavier or not," Marcy said.  "But let's go on in."  We ducked into the brush, binoculars bouncing off our chests. How we do love to count things and balance them out, at the end of a year. I have a friend who counts all her blessings.  Literally.  Writes them all down, with numerals to the left and periods to the right: 1) Health. 2) House. 3) Car still runs. How we love to make lists--the best films, the best books, who's the hottest, who's the richest, how many mallards are on the water (three), h

Chop Wood, Carry Water

I read Dorian Karchmar’s advice and then Joni’s and Colleen’s year-in-review entries and it struck me how their experiences so clearly embody that advice. So much of what is worthwhile in any undertaking, whether it is writing or cooking, gardening, whatever, is how willing we are to do the grunt work, put in the sweat equity. That Zen saying comes to mind, the one that goes something like: Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. Substitute finding representation and/or publication for enlightenment and, to me, it's the same. Like the moments of epiphany, the moments of stellar success are cast across a broad and hopefully serviceable and sturdy fabric woven from hours of labor some of which may never bear obvious fruit as both Colleen's and Joni's year-end reviews reveal. Admiration, respect and esteem is due to them both and to my other critique partners, Wanda and TJ, and to any one of us and all of us who have put in th

Magic and Music and the Sacrifice of Christmas

Before I started working on this little thing called a novel, I was a church musician. From choral oratorios to operettas to Native American chants to plainsong to black gospel to Contemporary Christian, I sang it. At one point I was spending more than 20 hours a week singing, serving as both a soloist for a Sunday morning traditional service and the worship leader in a heavily electronic praise band (We used to do a Christian cover of Van Halen's "Jump" that knocked off everyone's socks--and maybe their eardrums, too.) And every Christmas and Easter I'd do no less than three services (sometimes five). Normally, right about now on Christmas Eve, I'd be well into the first of three candlelight Christmas Eve services, singing hymns and gospel and beautiful pieces of music like this and this . But for the past three years, I've had a new tradition on Christmas Eve. Yes, I still go to one service. And I still sing happily and heartily from somewhere n

View from the Trenches:A Look Back at 2010

Like my good friend Joni, I've had a 2010 filled with lots of great reading, a whirlwind of writing activity, and high points enough to balance out the low. This year has seen two new releases for me, a single title romantic suspense I was very proud of, Touch of Evil, and "Lethal Lessons" in Deadlier Than the Male , my first novella and offering with a new-to-me publisher, which was written with the very talented Sharon Sala. That book marked my first appearance on the Waldenbooks/Borders Group bestseller list, and an older book of mine, Triple Exposure , surprised me by zooming to the #1 spot on the Kindle bestseller list for several glorious days. (And yes, I was excited/nerdy enough to save a screen shot of my book perched atop Stieg Larsson's trilogy for that brief moment in time.) In addition, I've sold two more books and look forward to publishing Capturing the Commando, my debut with the Harlequin Intrigue line, in June 2012, followed by Shadowed Dawn (

Merry Querying

Check out writer JM Tohline's EXTENSIVE blog post on The Biggest Mistakes a Writer Makes When Querying Literary Agents in which 50 agents respond to the question: "What is the single biggest mistake writers make when querying you?" Tohline notes that most agents began their response with: "'Only one? How about several!" Tohline writes, "Yes, reading this will take up a bit of your time (20-30 minutes, to give you a fair projection), but…how important is the success of your novel to you? You've (presumably) spent hundreds of hours planning, writing, editing, and perfecting your manuscript. Now, it is time to treat your query with the same respect."

#BuyThisBook: Last minute gift idea for 20something guys who are (let's face it) impossible to figure out

Go with a graphic novel. There are some brilliant ones out there. Last year I gave my son David Mazzucchelli's mind-expanding Asterios Polyp . This year he's getting Carnet De Voyage (Travel Journal) , Craig Thompson's travel sketchbook which chronicles his wanderings in Africa and Europe. "They say 'Wherever you go, there you are....' I thought with Morocco, I'd be setting out on some exotic adventure, but it turns out I'm just a simple, quiet fellow."

#BuyThisBook: Last minute gift idea for the woman you're kinda sorta dating but not sure where it's going

Here you go: The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson . It's romantic but not overtly sexual. Classic but accessible, which says, "I respect your intelligence, but I still hope to get lucky with you." And you know Dickinson. Something for every mood swing. This book has a good physical heft, is easy to wrap, and not so expensive that you'll feel awkward when she hands you the Netflix gift card. Happy holidays!

Oil and Water . . . a Fundraiser for the Gulf Coast

Friends, if you're looking for a gift with a bit of heart this season, or simply want to support recovery from the BP spill, or simply like good collections of creative nonfiction/essays, I hope you'll check this out.  I'm very pleased to have my essay, " Butterfly ," included in this anthology.  From LL Publications: Members of the Southern Writers group She Writes , Zetta Brown and Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson Brown, gathered submissions and created an anthology of stories, poems, and recollections in response to the BP Oil disaster in the Gulf. Oil and Water...and Other Things That Don’t Mix features 27 authors, women and men all dealing with the theme: “Conflict...Resolution Optional.” All proceeds from Oil and Water...and Other Things That Don’t Mix will go to directly benefit MOBILE BAYKEEPER , and BAY AREA FOOD BANK , two charities helping to combat the effects of the spill and help the communities affected. Authors included in the collection are Jen

Buy This Book! SLOW LOVE, How I Lost My Job, Put On My Pajamas and Found Happiness

People show up for things, their jobs, their marriages and families. They make routines, make a good life and then something terrible happens, rudely, abruptly. Without warning, the spouse leaves, or the job is gone, or you lose your house or your health, whatever. Now what? Dominique Browning’s memoir SLOW LOVE, How I Lost My Job, Put On My Pajamas & Found Happiness is a contemplation of this dark place. It is a purely honest and courageous record of her journey through and from the place where she lost her job of thirteen years and then a long-term relationship and then sold her house, (she was already divorced years before) and relocated hours away. Oh, and her children grew up and left too so there was the empty nest thing to contend with (and even that isn’t all). It isn’t a straight-out journey for her either, but fraught with setbacks, doubts, fears and sorrow, yet reading about it is rather like sitting with a very dear friend and having a lovely conversation, one that is

2010: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Joni's year in writing, reading, and publishing)

Colleen and I have a tradition of posting our Good, Bad, Ugly every December, so I hope to see breakdowns from our new blogmates as well. (Not nervous breakdowns, the other kind.) No complaints here. I fought the good fight and was well rewarded for my efforts. Took it on the chin a few times, but came away wiser. The Good I've been learning addicted since my dad's stint selling World Book Encyclopedias back in the early '70s. Research is my favorite part of this job, and I did a LOT of it in 2010. I started the year immersed in the strange and fascinating history of breast cancer, segued into the over-the-top drama of pop music, then moved on to the intense dynamics of death row politics, and finished up with a deep-dive into the emotional economics of palliative care. Such is the life of the ghostwriter. This fall I wrapped up a 17-month writing/rewriting marathon with three book releases - two memoirs and a YA mini-mem - plus a few magazine articles. Between May 

Stellar advice from literary agent Dorian Karchmar of William Morris

Stumbled upon this fantastic interview on the Guide to Literary Agents: Editor's Blog , which includes the following spot-on advice for writers: Don’t give in to internal and external pressures to try to find an agent before you’ve matured as a writer. The book business is very difficult and not getting any easier; most books that are published don’t sell well, and many careers end practically before they start. Write a book that only you could write, and rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Be more patient and more honest with yourself than you ever thought you could be. Find a couple of writers who you think are better than you are, ingratiate yourself with them, and start reading and workshopping each other. And ask them—beg them—to be merciless. Be humble and quiet while they give you feedback. Be prepared to cut, delete, throw away, put in a drawer. Only when you’ve got your best possible work—something that can stand up there with the best of whatever genre you’re working in—

Buy This Book: Gotta have a nice old school "'Twas the Night Before Christmas"

Ellen Rogers' memoir, Kasey to the Rescue: The Remarkable Story of a Monkey and a Miracle , tells the story of her family's difficult journey after her son Ned was left paralyzed from the neck down after a car accident. (The surprising superhero in the book is Kasey, a 25 year old capuchin monkey trained by Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers for the Disabled .) A few weeks ago, we featured this excerpt , about the Rogers family's traditional reading of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas . Grab a box of Kleenex and check it out.

Buy This Book

"I well remember the 4,000-word day . . . the splendid joy of it--I went and ran, just raced along the country road, for sheer triumph." This year saw the release of Cynthia Davis' new biography of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, trailblazing woman writer, author of "The Yellow Wallpaper" and all-around brave soul.  If you're not familiar with her work and life, snatch this one up (also available on Kindle), or go to your library and grab the older To Herland and Beyond.  Spend some time with a woman in full.


This time of year, there are so many things vying for attention. Presents to be wrapped, family duties calling, the lure of holiday ritual. Each one is important. Each one has its place. Still, unless I make a commitment to my writing, it will be lost in the December hubbub, shunted aside and left for me to rush through later, since I have a revision due in New York early in January. Right now, however, I have a more immediate commitment to myself, to actually get some words onto the paper. Since I'm so distracted now, however, I'm not the best boss of me, so I've made a commitment forcing more immediate accountability. I cannot face my critique group tomorrow evening without at least six new pages in hand. While my buddies probably won't horsewhip me if I fall down in my effort, they will recognize my explanations as the excuses they are. The threat of letting them down will help keep me from letting myself down with the well-worn rationalization that since I'm

#BuyThisBook: "Resilience" by Elizabeth Edwards (plus The Rose founder Dorothy Gibbons on the importance of early breast cancer detection)

If anyone in recent history has personified the idiom "grace under pressure", it's Elizabeth Edwards. I agree with the Los Angeles Times assessment of this book: “Short but surprisingly deep…It's a small book but a powerful one." Elizabeth's death last weekend should also be a jolting reminder to all women of a certain age. She told an interviewer last year that she was too busy to get a mammogram. With the amazing advances in imaging and treatment, breast cancer detected at its earliest stage is 95% curable. The Rose is a wonderful organization that provides breast cancer screening and treatment to women regardless of their ability to pay. Founder and CEO Dorothy Westin Gibbons talks about the Rose, the realities of the mammogram, and the importance of early detection:

Join "Reading Lips" author Claudia Sternbach on her journey to publication

I recently read and loved Claudia Sternbach's Reading Lips: A Memoir of Kisses , which will be published in April 2011 by Unbridled Books. Starting today (scroll down an inch or two for the first installment), Claudia will joining BoxOcto so we can ride along with her on the bumpy road to publication.

Reading Lips

Claudia Sternbach The Story of Reading Lips Chapter 1 Waiting for a book to be published is not, no matter what one may have heard, like waiting to give birth. At least not as far as I am concerned. When I was trying to get pregnant I was fully aware of the fact. Each romp in the bedroom was, I was hoping, going to lead to growing fat and round and swollen and then to the big Ta Da! When I was writing the personal essays that would eventually become a collection to be released by Unbridled Books in April, 2011, I had no idea I was actually nurturing a seed which would grow and grow and become more than just nattering for my own personal pleasure. Each romp at my computer was simply for fun. Not for procreating. I was not imagining celebrations for a newborn or attempting to come up with a name. And yet, here I am, a book on the way. Unplanned to say the least. But a welcome surprise. And perhaps more fun as I wasn't trying at all. I felt no pressure from anyo

Buy This Book: Don’t Quit Your Day Job: Acclaimed Authors and the Day Jobs They Quit edited by Sonny Brewer

“I just wonder why no one has done this before. The truth is that this book will allow writers to do the one thing we tend to strive for most: build a bridge between ourselves and our readers. It will connect us, fiercely, with the people who love to read, and those who dream about writing as they work at their own jobs…” Rick Bragg, author of All Over but the Shoutin’ and former sledgehammer operator It is a wonder no one had thought of it before and if weren’t for a flat tire which led to cheeseburgers at the Bulldog in Jackson, Mississippi ….. you’ll have to read the book for the full story ….. Sonny Brewer might have kept on writing a memoir instead of convincing his writer friends (a veritable who’s who Southern literature) to be part of this remarkable anthology. It should be noted that Sonny knew a fair bit about day jobs — before he sold The Poet of Tolstoy Park to Random House, he was an electronics technician in the US Navy, a six-night-a-week singer in a honky tonk ba

Happy Birthday to Us! (Gratefully celebrating 4 years of Boxing the Octopus)

This blog was born out of many hours of writerly conversation, countless cups of coffee, a shared love of reading, and mutual dedication to writing. In one of those conversations, I referred to the writing life as "boxing the octopus", and Colleen instantly clapped on: "That's the name of our blog." A few days later -- four years ago today -- she posted the first entry, Welcome to Boxing the Octopus: Your Guide to the World of Commercial Fiction : We're glad you stopped by and hope you'll pop by often as Boxing the Octopus takes on your questions about the world of spinning lies -- we mean fiction -- for fun and profit. In the coming weeks, we'll be introducing ourselves, organizing helpful material, and giving you our take on staying sane and solvent as a novelist. We two Founding Mothers eventually came up with this mission statement: To encourage and inform emerging writers, support books and authors we love, dialogue with peers in the publishin

Wonderful Poet Dean Young Needs a Heart Transplant

. . . and needs your help.  Please follow this link to learn more. Dear Friend by Dean Young What will be served for our reception in the devastation? Finger food, of course and white wine, something printed on the napkins. We were not children together but we are now. Every bird knows only two notes constantly rearranged. That’s called forever so we wear pajamas to the practice funeral, buckeroos to the end. We make paper hats of headlines and float them away. My home made of smoke, tiny spider made of punctuation, my favorite poem is cinder scratched into a sidewalk. My friend’s becoming the simplest man, he sees a lesson in everything, in missing his train, in his son hollering from the first branch, Dad, guess where I am. I was with him for my first magpies, governmental and acting like hell. And the new nickel with Washington hard to recognize. We’d driven by a Rabbit flattened by an upset truck, jars of Miracle Whip broken over the tol

#BuyThisBook: Lauren Willig schools us on must-reads for historical romance lovers on your list

Earlier this month, we chatted up Lauren Willig about her latest release, The Mischief of the Mistletoe: A Pink Carnation Christmas , and the historical romance course she's teaching at Yale. If you're shaking the tree for gift ideas for the romance reader you love, here's a recap and buy links for a few of the books in Willig's syllabus: "We opened the class with Austen’s Northanger Abbey , which tackles the seminal question of the relationship between novel and reader," Willig said. It's one of Austen's earliest works, but it wasn't published until after her death. Crumbling castles, cryptic messages, paternal tyranny, and a wry send-up of literary fops of the day. After due respect to the mother of the Regency romance, Georgette Heyer, the class moved on to Kathleen E Woodiwiss’ The Flame and the Flower . The moment Willig mentioned it, I found myself up in the mulberry tree in our front yard in Wisconsin, circa 1974. I clearly remember see

The Afghan Women's Writing Project

“I was never ready to share my personal life, but now life has brought me in a crossroad with no option and no hope,” writes the anonymous author of a posting to the Afghan Women’s Writing Project . “I don’t want anyone to know this is me. If anybody knows, it means that will be my last day of life. My family and uncles will kill me. It is not just a word that comes out of my mouth. They would surely kill me.” The idea that simply writing about your day and then sharing those thoughts might literally cost your life is, for us, unthinkable. But for many of the women in Afghanistan, it is a brutal truth. But thanks to the efforts of the extraordinary Afghan Women’s Writing Project, the essays, poems and stories written by these courageous women are now being read by people around the world. An online magazine dedicated to empowering and nurturing the voices of Afghan women, the AWWP pairs volunteer women novelists, teachers, poets, journalists and screenwriters here in the United Sta

Reports say romance is the hottest e-book market (but the big news is that some people are surprised)

According to this article in the New York Times ... If the e-reader is the digital equivalent of the brown-paper wrapper, the romance reader is a little like the Asian carp: insatiable and unstoppable. Together, it turns out, they are a perfect couple. Romance is now the fastest-growing segment of the e-reading market, ahead of general fiction, mystery and science fiction, according to data from Bowker, a research organization for the publishing industry. And this article in World News Media Headlines corroborates with data from Bowker... Romance is currently the fastest growing segment in the market of e-reading, ahead of other categories such as mystery, general fiction, and science fiction. ...All Romance, an online retailer of e-books, reported that sales have increased twofold, with the raciest books being the most sought after. Interesting.

#BuyThisBook: "Safe from the Sea" by Peter Geye

Wracking your pine cone and egg nog addled brain for gift ideas? We asked our publishing peers and peeps to help us recommend a book every day from Black Friday to Christmas Eve! Safe from the Sea by Peter Geye Recommended by Caitlin Hamilton Summie, book publicist and marketer Perfect for Dads, sons, daughters, sailors, Midwesterners, boat and sailing fiends, avid readers "Set against the dramatic landscape of the Minnesota north shore, this is the story of an estranged father and son reconnecting thirty-five years after the father survived the tragic wreck of a Great Lakes ore boat." “Give this book to readers of David Guterson and Robert Olmstead...” ~ Booklist “Inspiring, wise, and enthusiastically recommended for all readers.” ~ Library Journal Buy from Amazon Buy from Barnes & Noble Buy from IndieBound

#BuyThisBook: "First of State" by Robert Greer

Wracking your tinsel and sugar plum addled brain for gift ideas? We asked our publishing peers and peeps to help us recommend a book every day from Black Friday to Christmas Eve! First of State by Robert Greer Recommended by Caitlin Hamilton Summie, book publicist and marketer Perfect for mystery buffs, fans of African-American fiction, and people who love to read about the West. "A prequel to the popular CJ Floyd mystery series. Equally a white-knuckle-ride murder mystery and a tale of a traumatized young Vietnam veteran coming to terms with his past, First of State features the kind of fresh characters, street-smart dialogue, and ingenious plot twists that have made this series a critical and commercial success." Buy from Amazon Buy from Barnes & Noble Buy from IndieBound

So you've discovered that you're a fictional character . . .

In one of my facebook breaks between writing and grading papers, I found this article from the fabulous people at . Too funny, way too funny. Check it out: Realizing you're a character in a work of fiction can be startling. At the moment, you probably feel like you're trapped in an elevator that's in freefall, and your mind has somehow hit the ground before the rest of your body. What you're going through is completely natural for someone in your uniquely regrettable situation. Believe it or not there's a lighter side to be found in all the existential blackness you're feeling at the moment. Read the rest here . And while you're at it, you tell me: what fictional universe do you think you're trapped in?? Who is your author?

Buy This Book: "The Witch of Portobello" by Paulo Coelho (Perfect for nieces and other magical beings)

Spent some quality time with my fabulous niece Jenny last week, and Paulo Coelho's wonderful book The Witch of Portobello came up in conversation. It's been a while since I read it, but it's one of those books that swept through book clubs a few years ago. I immediately hopped online and ordered a copy for Jenny to read on the flight home, and I highly recommend it for the Christmas stocking of the open-minded, free-spirited reader in your life. From Margaret Flanagan's Booklist review: Best-selling fabulist Coelho continues to transform his trademark combination of mysticism and storytelling into spellbinding examinations of the human soul. In this deceptively simple novel, a bereaved lover attempts to chronicle, dissect, and comprehend the often-twisted path followed by Athena, otherwise known as the Witch of Portobello Road. An orphaned Romanian gypsy, adopted as an infant by adoring Lebanese parents, Athena recognized and struggled with the power of her magical g