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Showing posts from January, 2011

Former White House chef Matty Wendel shares foodie reflections and recipes in new blog

Matty Wendel is the anthropomorphization of a fresh snickerdoodle: warm, sweet, classic but folksy, and instantly loved by pretty much everyone who encounters him. He came from humble beginnings, learning to cook in his mom's Texas kitchen, and went on to become the chef at the White House. He's an inexhaustible fount of foodie facts, history and trivia and kept me up late with stories of his adventures. Check out Matty's new blog, Dinner With Matty , where he'll be sharing recipes and thoughts on all things delicious. On the table today: Matt ponders chocolate chip goodness and posts the recipe for the Chocolate Chip Cookies , with which he has shut up many a politician and melted the hearts of numerous heads of state.

Monday Jump Start: Wanda Jackson "Thunder on the Mountain"

Jack White produces the 72-year-old Rockabilly diva, backed by a bunch of people who just flat love what they're doing. That's what I'm talkin' about. Have a groovy work week!

Why I Hid My Credit Card and Other Tips to Help You Finish the Damned Proposal

I've been a bad, bad girl of late. I've forgotten that D's (delays) lead to F's (failure) and need to remember a much better combination, the D that stands for Discipline which leads to Finishing what I have started. You see, beginning a new project is easy. There's the mad rush of romance when a new idea hits you, the sweet thrill of discovery as you peel back the layers of new characters, research new settings, and play around with exciting plot potential. It's so much fun that I have four different unfinished proposals started, yet I keep zipping off to begin another rather that completing anything to send it to my agent... where it might be criticized, even rejected. Hmmm. Now, we're getting somewhere. I've recently felt the wasp's sting of rejection (happens to the best of us!) and am in no hurry to get nailed again. Which is why, rather than finishing any one project, as I swore to do this weekend, I went out boot shopping. Bad Colleen! Alt

What literary agents read when they're not reading what you wish they were reading

An interesting article from Karen Dionne in the Huffington Post today: What Literary Agents Are Reading supplies the personal reading lists of about a dozen top agents, including Jenny Bent ( Olive Kitteridge ), Jason Allen Ashlock ( How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe: A Novel ), and Kristin Nelson ( Tinkers ). Check it out.

Buy This Book: STELLA by Siegfried Lenz

Sometimes a narrative is more compelling by what is not said. In his novella, STELLA, Siegfried Lenz, elevates this silence into an art form. The story is simple, a young man, Christian, falls in love with his teacher, Stella. He’s eighteen; Stella is older although the exact age difference is undetermined as is the exact time this very literary gem unfolds . . . at some point in the 1960’s. The setting is more well-defined and important, a small, isolated fishing community on the Baltic coast. Lenz puts the reader there using words like water colors brushed on with the lightest touch. You can smell the water, the sunlight on the waves, taste the salt in the breeze. Christian’s family are rock fishers. They troll for large boulders to use as bulwarks against the incessant washing effect of the ocean on the shore. When the story opens, what seems almost a dream of love has collided with the harsh reality of death. It’s Stella who has died as the result of a tragic accident. Christian is

Claudia Sternbach's road to publication: Chapter 3

My phone rang on a rainy afternoon. Between bites of oatmeal chocolate chip cookie dough I answered it. My old friend was on the line. My manuscript had been residing at her house for about a week. I had been trying not to think about it. Hence, the cookie making. I was trying to reduce anxiety, hence the devouring of raw dough. She loved it. I felt like Sally Field. Send it out, she directed. And even mentioned a publisher she thought might enjoy seeing it. I followed her advice. Bowl in hand I sat down at my desk and sent an email to Unbridled Books asking if they might like to read a bit of my memoir. It was, I told them, a collection of essays about kisses. I then retreated back to my kitchen to actually bake some of the chunky, gooey concoction. Later, while enjoying some warm from the oven cookies with a glass of white wine I heard that "you've got mail" sound emanating from my computer. There was a reply from Unbridled Books. Send it on, said they

Happy Birthday, Etta James! "Born to Be Wild" (mission accomplished!)

Buy This Book: Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell

Long before the Oscar buzz began for Winter's Bone , Colleen was telling me I had to see it. I decided to check out the book first and grabbed a sample on my Kindle. Cliche alert: I could not put it down. The main character, Ree Dolly, is described as "brunette and sixteen, with milk skin and abrupt green eyes." We meet her standing "bare-armed in a fluttering yellow dress, face to the wind, her cheeks reddening as if she'd been smacked and smacked again." Ree's soon on a mission to find her meth-cooking father, who's put the family's home up as security for a bail bond. A grueling emotional and physical journey through the bleakest possible landscape ensues, but Woodrell keeps it readable, redemptive, and firmly on the ground of drama instead of melodrama. Check it out.

In Praise of the Palate Cleanser

Whether it's a refreshing sorbet, a sliver of gari (that pickled ginger business that comes with your sushi), or a nibble of parsley, a palate cleanser refreshes the mouth to allow the diner to get back to the business of savoring the flavor of the meal's next course. Although I've long been an advocate of the "laser-like focus" approach to a publishing career , I've discovered that the palate cleanser can serve the writer just as well. Reading and studying craft outside one's usual niche is broadening and healthy, and taking a shot at writing something completely different stretches creative muscles and frees us from whatever editorial edicts, genre or reader expectations we're usually forced to live by. I've taken a break this past week and done just that, and I'm having great fun. It's strange and scary, being creative for creativity's sake, writing in a market where I've seen no successes on a project that could well be as via

The Journal of Universal Rejection: A Permanent Thumbs Down

Haven't been rejected enough lately? Here's a way to get more . The Journal of Universal Rejection promises that "all submissions, regardless of quality, will be rejected." They encourage writers to submit, saying that "you can send your manuscript here without suffering waves of anxiety regarding the eventual fate of your submission. You know with 100% certainty that it will not be accepted for publication." Hey, it's a Monday. Lighten up!

What Not To Wear (and Do) at the AWP conference: Why I Can't Say What I Really Want to Say

I'm getting nervous. In two weeks, I will be in Washington, D.C., at the Association of Writing Programs conference. I'm nervous for several reasons: (1) I'm worried my current wardrobe won't measure up and I'll be caught out by this blogger , who tracks bad fashion at the AWP (2) I'm still a little afraid of flying and (3)I'll once again be among my peers. But as challenging as 1 and 2 could be, it's really #3 I'm worried about. For the past slightly over a year, I've had the luxury of being able to work on my novel and teach pretty much what I want to, without the scrutiny of other academics. Because I teach at the prison, most people don't care what I teach, as long as I'm engaging the students. Because I'm an adjunct, as long as my evaluations are good, nobody says anything to me, and for that I am very grateful. For so many years, I was scrutinized so much by so many different people, and while some of their criticism w

Three Questions for Kathy Patrick

From her headquarters at Beauty and the Book (the world’s only hair salon and bookstore) in the piney woods of East Texas, Kathy Patrick has created a powerhouse network of book clubs known as the Pulpwood Queens . There are now 400 chapters in the US and ten foreign countries, making it, as Kathy proudly notes, “the largest meeting and discussing” book club in the world. Their motto: Where tiaras are mandatory and reading good books is the rule! Including, of course, Kathy’s book, The Pulpwood Queens' Tiara Wearing, Book Sharing Guide to Life. When we spoke, Kathy was still recovering from last week’s 11th Anniversary Girlfriend Weekend, Author Extravaganza and Book Club Convention. Tiara wearing Pulpwood Queens from across the country had made their way to Jefferson, Texas to meet and mingle with the impressive list o f authors lucky enough to have garnered an invitation to Girlfriend Weekend. There was a Silent Auction (with brisk bidding for a signed pair of Pat Conroy’s

Comparison shopping for eReaders

If you're on the fence about an e-reader purchase, here's a great device comparison chart . I was surprised to see this on the website of new kid on the block, Kobo, because (not surprisingly) Kindle pretty much comes out on top when you lay it out like this. I have a Kindle and a Nook, and I love them both. (My Kindle has a cool Van Gogh skin and my Nook sports a trendy Jonathan Adler shuck .)

"A Wrinkle in Time" in 90 Seconds

James Kennedy, author of The Order of Odd-Fish , is challenging anyone up for it to make a video that compresses the story of a Newbery award-winning book into 90 seconds or less. Visit Kennedy's website for contest rules and details on the NY Public Library's Newbery in 90 Seconds Film Festival . "A Wrinkle In Time" In 90 Seconds from James Kennedy on Vimeo .

An Interview With Author Carol Cassella

In her interview for Author Magazine Carol Cassella, author of Healer and the national bestseller, Oxygen , talks about perseverance and the discipline that the work of writing requires. Given that she has two sets of twins and that she’s also a currently practicing anesthesiologist, she knows a thing or two (or 4!) about these very concrete subjects. But she also knows a lot about the less easily defined matter of the heart that goes into writing (and her work as an anesthesiologist) and that’s what makes her novels so irresistible. It’s through the heart that she hooks you and draws you into her stories. Because you care and when you care, you can’t stop reading and that is exactly the effect an author wants . . . writing that is so compelling the reader can’t put the book down. She mentions something about leaving space for the reader. It’s very interesting. Like her novels. Have a look and I think you’ll see. . . . A portion of the interview is included here, but for the entire

Rejection Reaction:What's Your Style?

If you've chosen the writing life, rejection of some form or another is, unfortunately, part of the package. Not every idea will be the right one, submitted in the right time to the right person. Some of your submissions, you'll realize later, were really stinkers; some of them were simply seeds that fell on fallow soil, with not a thing you could've done about it. But striking out is all part of the game, as unavoidable as death, taxes, and the occasional reviewer who seemingly hates you down to your mitochondrial DNA. How you react to rejection, in my opinion, is one of the handful of factors that determines whether or not you have what it takes to keep your writer's spirit intact and keep producing. Possible reactions to rejection: 1. Whining, self-pity, and self loathing: A little of this is allowed. So call a writing buddy and weep at the unfairness of it all if you must, but allow it to take root and you'll lose days, weeks, months--possibly a lifetime--to

Adult Swim

In Austin a few months ago, after one of my lectures on writing and creativity, a woman in her forties came up to me and asked if she could talk to me about her dream of writing a book about her experiences as an immigrant in America.  After chatting for a while, we decided to go and have a cup of coffee--my new friend was bright and articulate, the day was beautiful, and the setting (on wide, green Lake Austin) was energetic, with boaters and paddlers splashing all around us.  The chance to sit in the sun and talk about memoir was irresistible, so we settled down at a table, and she shared her story, both unique and familiar to me (as an immigrant writer) about feeling neither here nor there, neither one thing nor the other, unsure of home but somehow, slowly, more sure of the self that crossed fluidly back and forth between two cultures.  She told me her book would begin on an airplane . . . She asked me to tell her everything I knew about undertaking such a project (she was a tax

Who's reading (and buying) mysteries? Interesting facts and figures from the Sisters in Crime survey

Via Publisher's Lunch: Sisters in Crime hooked up with Bowker PubTrack to conduct a survey of mystery readers' book-buying habits. Of the 1056 readers responding, the majority are women over the age of 45 and "more likely to buy books if they are familiar with the author, the series, or a particular character, in that order." A few other mystery consumer factoids: 48% live in the suburbs 36% of genre readers live in the South 51% of readers under 30 say they purchase from online retailers 68% of all mysteries are purchased by women Read the whole report here.

Buy This Book: Seth Mnookin explores a killer pop culture phenomenon in The Panic Virus

I can't help it. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks awakened the nerdy reader in me. I was immediately fascinated by Seth Mnookin's The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear , which explores the spread of the ridiculous notion that vaccinations cause autism. Science, media, and pop culture collide, and Mnookin doesn't spare the lash. I was hooked after Gawker ran this excerpt about Jenny McCarthy plugging her book, Louder Than Words: A Mother's Journey in Healing Autism , on Oprah. The book and the movement that resulted prompted this blunt response from Penn and Teller...

In a world of Tiger Mothers, I'm proud to be a big pussy

Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother has evoked (to the publisher's delight, I'm sure) a huge love-to-hate-her response this week. An excerpt appeared in the WSJ under the unfortunate title "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior" , in which Chua boasts that she's raised two "perfect" prodigies with her ultra-strict methodology. A sampling: "Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do: • attend a sleepover • have a playdate • be in a school play • complain about not being in a school play • watch TV or play computer games • choose their own extracurricular activities • get any grade less than an A • not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama • play any instrument other than the piano or violin • not play the piano or violin. ...What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own

Eye of the Beholder

Here's Heidi, the new German sensation, a cross-eyed opossum. (AP Photo/dapd, Sebastian Willnow, File)Apparently, 111,000 Facebook fans think she's adorable. I find that puss freaky and wrong, but that's just my opinion, which matters not a whit to those who find themselves enraptured. My point is, your writing project is a little like poor, ocularly-challenged Heidi. It really doesn't matter how many people don't get the appeal. All that matters is getting it into the mitts of those who really will. That may mean lots of rejections. For the savvy writer (or her savvy and like-minded agent, if she's fortunate enough to have an ally in the business) it means carefully researching the tastes and needs of a targeted group of editors to find the one perfect match, the person who will champion your project and find the optimum way to get it to the reviewers and then the audience who will be inclined to look at it through lovers' goggles. No one else's opi

The Letting Go

For the last few days, I suspect that I've been dawdling, inventing reasons to keep noodling with this manuscript, to continue living these character's adventures for just a few more days. Just one more reread, I tell myself, though I've been over my "child's" face so many times, I cannot see its flaws. Either that or I see all flaws, with no redeeming qualities. Myopic by now, I'm at risk of, at best, losing touch with the magic of my original vision. At worst, there is a danger that I'll become so self-conscious, so obsessed about every darned apostrophe that I'll never letting manuscript go out into the world to live its life... a life that, despite its origins, will be independent of me, and largely lived inside the minds of strangers. Some of these strangers with welcome it with open arms, others will be hostile, looking only to find fault. But this is the way of the world and the story has it's work to do... So I, at long last, attach

From middle of the night musings to book publication: Chapter 2

Claudia Sternbach is out of pocket this week, so I'm posting the second installment of her continuing adventure from brainstorm to bookshelf with her forthcoming book Reading Lips: A Memoir of Kisses . Click here to read Chapter One. When we last left off I was telling you about playing around with stories of kisses for my own personal pleasure while meeting magazine deadlines and newspaper deadlines but neglected to mention the fact that I was also working on a novel. The novel was what I was hoping to sell. The novel was where I thought I would find publishing success. Especially when a New York literary agent read the first few chapters and claimed to believe in it. Our first meeting, over chocolate chip scones and coffee in a midtown cafe left me filled with sugar and fat and enthusiasm. He gave me a few editing suggestions. He paid for my snack. He told me his wife, a writer, had been searching for a purse like the one I was carrying and had been unsuccessful. She was on a

The World's Most Literary Rent Party Ever (which is awesome but I'm sad it has to happen)

Author Charles Bock has some amazing friends in the the litrasphere. According to Jacket Copy , Leigh Newman, Mary-Beth Hughes and Fiona Maazel have enlisted the help of Mary Gaitskill, Richard Price, Gary Shteyngart, Josh Ferris, Jonathan Safran Foer and Jonathan Franzen and are throwing "The World's Most Literary Rent Party Ever" to benefit Bock and his wife, who was diagnosed with cancer shortly after the publication of his debut novel, Beautiful Children . Mary Gaitskill and Jim Shepard will read at the event. Notable authors including A.M. Homes and Susan Cheever will dispense "unprofessional guidance" at a literary advice booth. Silent auction items include literary dog walking by Amy Hempel, a key lime pie made by Josh Ferris, an evening of "hot dogs and shameless flattery" with Gary Shteyngart, and a (less inspired but more Ebayable) signed book from Franzen. Quoting Leigh Newman: "Charles is a magnificent, generous, talented person,

Note to Pubvolks: Please be this guy. (Bookseller Jonathan Tonge's thoughts on the economics of fun and passion)

Brought to my attention this morning via Shelf Awareness : yesterday's Athens Banner Herald features this article in which local businessmen, including Jonathan Tonge, owner of Dog Ear Books , discuss the ups and downs of the local economy. Tonge, who says he had "a pretty big year" in 2010, working 70-hour weeks with his small staff and playing bass with a popular Athens band, The Bearfoot Hookers , had this to say: "In this day and age, you've got to look at a bookstore like it's in the service industry. I want to provide a complete experience for people, as opposed to just having books on shelves... It's about open-mic nights and book signings and it's about having fun. What stinks is that in the last couple of years, people have had the fun sucked right out of them." Tonge also offers this sage advice that applies to everyone in the book biz, starting with authors: "If you don't care about what you're doing, why would anybody

Buy This Book: "Breathless" or "What the Night Knows"...or pretty much anything else by Dean Koontz

Driving home from Florida last weekend, Gary filled me in on the first couple hundred pages of Breathless , which he'd been reading at the beach, and I read the rest aloud as we cruised I-10 across Mississippi and Louisiana. We spent most of the Alabama stretch talking about why Dean Koontz is such a terrific writer. (Conclussion: BECAUSE HE IS DEAN KOONTZ.) Like Stephen King, he has a habit of going off the rails a bit with his endings, but he's such a great storyteller, he gets away with it. Dialogue consistently rings true. Characters are flat likable. Thrills and creepiness are all the more thrilling and creepy because they're grounded in everyday details and credible motivations. As always, he writes a good dog, and there was even a moment where I was too choked up to continue reading out loud. PW described Breathless as "a hard-to-classify stand-alone set near the Rocky Mountains that will appeal more to fans of his Odd Thomas books than those partial to his

Teaching, Sensitivity, and Literature: When Objectives Clash

I read with great interest Joni's post on the controversy surrounding the "sanitized" Huckleberry Finn , partly because Mark and I had just gotten through having an hour long discussion about it over dinner, and partly because there's some interesting debate going on amongst my friends in the UH rhetoric and creative writing programs. Most of us take the stance Joni has taken, that changing the n word and the i word (Injun to Indian, really?) amounts to censorship and is at worst whitewashing history, and at best nonsensical. But there are some who see the problem as going deeper than this, deeper than the controversy around this one novel. For some of us, this misguided attempt to alter a classic really centers around another elephant in the room--the state of our U.S. education. As a teacher, I know what it's like to walk a fine line when dealing with controversial texts, or texts that have drawn new controversies as times have changed. This semester in my

Note from Font de Gaume (a 16,000 year old lesson in publishing technology)

Cleaning out my office this week (an excellent but horrific chore to begin the new year), I came upon a travel journal from a trip Gary and I made in 2004 to see cave paintings in southern France. I made a lot of notes the day we visited Font de Gaume, a remarkable cave filled with Magdalenian engravings and paintings from around 14 000 BC. Chisels, flints, scrapers, blades, and other items found in the cave indicate occupation since the age of the Neanderthals. The young woman who guided the cave tour capably  chatted with the small group in French, English and German. She was incredibly knowledgeable about every inch of the cave, pointing out the transition over the centuries from crudely etched line figures and symbols to fully fleshed scenes which had been essentially airbrushed with blowpipes. Eventually there was perspective, shading, character and movement. The tour guide said something amazingly profound, which I wrote down word for word and have never forgotten: "When


Be prepared to have your socks knocked off by the moral quandary Amy Bourret presents in her debut novel MOTHERS & OTHER LIARS. Picture this, you are a nineteen-year-old young woman driving across country, hunting a new life. You take a break at a rest stop in Oklahoma and find an infant girl discarded in the trash. What would you do? You’d probably do the first thing Ruby Leander does, you’d pick that baby up. You would hold her against your heart. But maybe you wouldn’t do what Ruby does next. Maybe you wouldn’t put the baby in your car and drive away from there, drive out of the state without a word to anyone about the child or without making an effort to find out to whom she belongs. Maybe you wouldn’t make a home for this child, a life with her. Maybe you wouldn’t allow this little girl to believe for nine years that you are her natural mother. But Ruby Leander does. And it’s fine, really. Clearly Ruby is a better choice as a parent than the ones who threw their baby away. La

Is C-wording the N-word F-worded up? (Huck Finn now sanitized for your protection)

Don't miss Nina Shen Rastogi's excellent article in Slate exploring the controversy over Mark Twain's Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn: The Texts of His Companion Boy Books . This new version of the classic novels has been purged of the words that keep Huck high on the banned books lists from year to year: "nigger" and "injun". Some are chaffing at the idea of censoring Mark Twain, but Twain scholar Dr. Alan Gribben pragmatically told the NY Times, "I just had the idea to get us away from obsessing about this one word, and just let the stories stand alone." Rastogi quotes Toni Morrison's response to the banning of the book... "It struck me as a purist yet elementary kind of censorship designed to appease adults rather than educate children. Amputate the problem, band-aid the solution. A serious comprehensive discussion of the term by an intelligent teacher certainly would have benefited my eighth-grade class and would

Laura Hillenbrand's Personal Triumphs Rival Those of Subjects

One of my very favorite authors, Laura Hillenbrand has written just two books. But what books they were, with her latest, UNBROKEN, as moving, textured, and fascinating, with its period detail, as her debut, SEABISCUIT . But her keen grasp of her subjects and addictive writing style aren't the most amazining things about Ms. Hillenbrand. What astonishes me is how she manages the terrific feat of organizing so much sourse material and writing such terrific nonfiction without leaving her home, except in the tiniest increments. To read about Hillenbrand's struggle with a debilitating case of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the writing of Olympic miler and WWII POW Louis Zamperini's story, check out Monica Hesse's moving article from the Washington Post. Like Hillenbrand's books, her personal tale is unforgettable.

Upending: At Least the Novel's Not Like This!

An addendum to my last post. And yes, this is our bathroom, or rather was our bathroom, as of last week. It's slightly better now. I think the renovations and the novel are in a race to see who can get done first--or is that last? And yes, the whole time I've been rewriting, various rooms in my house have been in this sort of state of flux. Not going to even try to make a pithy artist metaphor out of that!

On When it's Good to Be a Big Fat Loser: Or Why Fighting the Novel is Better than Not Fighting at All

Today I fought a section of my novel and lost. I gave it a valiant effort, wrote over 400 new words (which for me at this stage of revision is a lot), and completely reshaped the ending of a chapter. I tweaked, I thought, I renvisioned. I did all the things a "real writer" is supposed to do. I put in a solid six hours on the manuscript. And yet at the end of the day, I came away from my laptop sad, because the mood and tone of the scene still aren't there, and I wasn't able to get into it everything I wanted to. Everything, that, quite frankly, I need to. Normally I wouldn't fiddle this much, but I like to tweak chapter openings and endings in general, because I know that these are the places that readers are the most likely to put a novel down. I like to make sure that, in particular, my chapter endings seem complete in and of themselves, while at the same time leading forward in the story's arc. I want to make sure I'm pointing to what's nex

Amazon will open BookScan to authors (just in case Amazon rank doesn't mess with your head enough)

I know information is power, but I have mixed feelings about Amazon offering authors access to Nielsen BookScan via Author Central because A) BookScan is Satan and B) BookScan results without ebook numbers are rapidly becoming even more skewed. But I guess it's good to have. Just in case the Amazon sales rank doesn't do enough of a number on us...

Buy This Book: HEALER by Carol Cassella

I am a huge fan of character-driven novels and character is what Carol Cassella gives the reader in her wonderfully crafted second novel, HEALER. Claire Boehning and her brilliant biochemist husband Addison weren’t born to wealth, but when Addison develops a blood test to detect ovarian cancer, the money comes on suddenly, a lot of it, as quickly as if they’d won the lottery. And they are ill-prepared for it really, for the fairy tale effect that such a windfall can create. That they have been bewitched and beguiled by it doesn’t become apparent until years later, when their daughter Jory, who has been raised in a world of privilege, is an adolescent. Jory and Claire are shopping for Addison’s Christmas present when Claire’s Visa card is denied and she gets her first indication that a seam has ruptured in the beautiful and carefully woven tapestry of her life. Questioning Addison later, it turns out the test results on a new cancer drug he discovered have gone awry and when his backi