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Showing posts from September, 2011

Book This Book/Watch This Movie: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

I had the weirdest experience this morning. On the BtO link sidebar (Joni Rodgers has put together a wonderful collection, in case you've never checked it out) my eye was caught by the LA Times Jacket Copy link, so I went and checked out the following trailer, for the upcoming movie (based on Jonathan Safran Foer's novel of the same name, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.) I was so moved by this trailer (featuring Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, and talented newcomer Thomas Horn), so eager to see this Christmas release, that I immediately went to Amazon to order the book. Only to realize, a split second before I hit that insidious one-click buy-it-now button, that I'd already read it when it first came out in 2005! That's why I was so attracted to the trailer in the first place. D'oh! I can't believe I forgot, even for a moment, how much I loved that book! An emotional story of the love of a very special boy for a father lost in the events of 9/11, it's

In life, literature and publishing, it's all about the spiral staircase

When Gary and I were in Paris a couple weeks ago, we decided to rent a little apartment instead of staying in a hotel. We got a great place in Montmartre, just a hop skip from the des Abbesses subway station. A great little place, bigger than a hotel room, but cheaper. Slight drawback: it was a fourth floor walk-up. Traversing up and down each day, I kept thinking about what Karen Armstrong said about the spiral staircase: you keep coming around to the same place, but you're a level higher. This is such an apt description of the novel writing process, an eloquent description, in fact, of any endeavor that requires that sort of constant effort and upward striving. Karen Armstrong on the subject of fiction: “...the experience of reading a novel has certain qualities that remind us of the traditional apprehension of mythology. It can be seen as a form of meditation. Readers have to live with a novel for days or even weeks. It projects them into another world, parallel to but apa

Crazy for Trying is out of the vault!

My debut novel Crazy For Trying was pubbed by MacAdam-Cage back in 1997. I'm thrilled that the ebook revolution has made it possible for me to bring it out of the vault and make it available to readers. Set in Montana in 1979, it's the story of self-discovery, sexual politics, a fat girl who'd rather be invisible and a walking-wounded man who falls in love with her voice on the radio.

Retracing Your Steps

I really envy those writers who can plan their work, then work their plans, writing their manuscript from start to finish without any missteps, or even the incursion of character insights and more effective plot ideas, because they got it so perfect from the start. I also hate them sometimes, especially when I'll on a deadline and am forced, like this poor schlep who spent four days dragging his broken-legged self back over his footprints to escape the Utah desert , to retrace my steps to figure out where I went wrong. Like the hiker, who was inspired to visit Little Blue John Canyon by the film 127 Hours , yet didn't clap onto the most important lesson (NEVER go out hiking solo without telling someone your plans!) I can't help blaming myself. But the truth is, this painstaking crawl, with all its self-doubt and backtracking, has always been my modus operandi. So, pain and all, I might as well just grit my teeth and try to enjoy the scenery. I just hope it doesn't

The "Un-American" Playwright: Rare footage of Arthur Miller

So you don't forget: a lovely moment from Carlos Ruiz Zafon's "The Shadow of the Wind"

My daughter Jerusha says she knew I was going to get weepy over this passage from The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, and I do every time I return to it. "This is a place of mystery, Daniel, a sanctuary. Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens. This place was already ancient when my father brought me here for the first time, many years ago. Perhaps as old as the city itself. Nobody knows for certain how long it has existed, or who created it. I will tell you what my father told me, though. When a library disappears, or a bookshop closes down, when a book is consigned to oblivion, those of us who know this place, its guardians, make sure that it gets here. In this place, books no longer remembered by anyone, books that are lost in time, live forever, waiting

Inspirations's Where You Find It

One of my fabulous critique partners inherited a roomful (and then some) of antique dolls. To her late mother, the collection represented beloved old friends and a lifetime passion. To her daughter, they represented bittersweet memories, as well as a logistical problem, since finding space for a relative's treasured possessions is never easy, even when they don't number in the hundreds. To me, that crowded room represented something else entirely: the macabre inspiration for my latest book, PHANTOM OF THE FRENCH QUARTER, whose villain was, as a child growing up... How 'bout if I just let you see for yourselves from this brief excerpt? His grandmother had collected doll babies by the hundreds, which his mother arranged on shelves around a single room, where he’d slept as a boy. How he’d hated those damned dolls, staring at him through the days and nights. How he’d pleaded with his mother to box them up, to let him put up his sports pennants and his plastic model ra

Love Shack, baby! (That's right. I said it.)

Happy Friday, everyone!

Bald in the Land of Big Hair trailer

During the record-smashing hurricane season of 2005, a deadly game of cat and mouse unfolds and a stormy love affair is complicated by polarized politics, high-strung Southern families, a full-on media circus and the worst disaster management goat screw in US history. The Hurricane Lover is a fast-paced, emotionally charged tale of two cities, two families, and two desperate people seeking shelter from the storm. .

The Secret Sisters (an excerpt from Chapter One)

Chapter One: Pia Whatever happened later, Pia could always know that her eyes were even more green than something and that something something else. Edgar never finished the sentence, and Pia lacked his way with words, so she hadn't even a good guess as to what he was about to say. "I love that color on you," he whispered just before the entire world collapsed inward. "It makes your eyes even more green than . . ." something. He did that sometimes. Whispered in her ear. When he'd been drinking a little and watching her from across the room, thinking of later things and earlier things and all sorts of things that were possible between them. Sometimes he didn't even say anything that made sense. He just murmured "la la la" and jangled her earring with the tip of his tongue, and for some reason Pia found this more sensuously eloquent than any words. Edgar was ridiculously inventive with his tongue. "I'm not a handsome man," he told P

The Skinning of the Schnoz

For next seven weeks or so, I expect to be (had better be!) skinning my nose daily upon the grindstone of a very tight book deadline. Due to unavoidable circumstances, I've gotten a lot further behind than this particular tortoise enjoys, and failure is definitely not an option--especially not with another deadline breathing down my neck. Nor is turning in a book that's anything less than the very best I can do. It's too easy to forget that, to become convinced that this business is about selling book proposals, copies, or even yourself and forever working faster to keep pace with the competition. But now more than ever, with the playing field leveled and the self-published cracking even the most venerable of lists, our business has to be about keeping readers happy by wringing every drop of sweat and blood and talent we have in us and pouring it all into the actual writing of the book. Unfortunately, this means you'll be seeing me here on the blog less often. But I

The Pleasures of Reading

Having lived in the West for a long time, I recently began to miss it. The flurry and rush of moving, and moving again, had settled into a genuine calm, and I looked around me. The landscape, even the aural one, was new. People here twang. It’s very lulling. But it isn’t what I’m used to. And while I am happy here, suddenly I was also homesick, and so I went to the library. Yes, the library. I took out three of Tony Hillerman’s books and immersed myself in the dry, open landscape of the West. It’s one of the pleasures of reading—that good stories can transport you someplace else for awhile. Books are magic that way. It’s one reason I love them.

Buy This Book: Lamb, by Bonnie Nadzam

Bonnie Nadzam in her debut novel, Lamb , has created a complex and disturbing story. David Lamb is a fifty-something-year-old man whose life is falling apart. His father has died and his wife has left him. With nothing solid to anchor himself to, Lamb is cruising, mentally, emotionally, physically. One day, cruising on an unfamiliar street, he’s approached by an eleven-year-old girl, Tommie. A couple of her “friends” have dared her to ask him for a cigarette. Lamb realizes this immediately. That it’s a dare and it raises something inside him. He’s incensed that Tommie is being used in this way. She begins to look like a cause to him, like a project that maybe he can fix up since he can’t fix anything in his own life, in his own head. As the reader you want this child to be all right. You really hope Lamb is going to be the good influence on her he’s striving toward, that he’s going to improve this poor child’s circumstances. Tommie wants this too; she’s yearning for it, for something,

Are you happy? (A handy flow chart to help you strategerize your creative week.)

Apply as needed to your writing process, revisions, agent search, agent switch, PR efforts, indie publishing venture etc.

Peter Brady is now my spiritual guru. (An excerpt from "Bald in the Land of Big Hair")

This year marks a milestone (if not a millstone) 10 YEARS IN PRINT for my memoir Bald in the Land of Big Hair ! While HarperCollins continues to sell the trade paperback, I did an indie release of the 10th Anniversary Ebook Edition, featuring bonus content, a foreword by Elizabeth Berg , and this fantastic cover designed by Chip Kidd . I've received thousands of wonderful letters from readers, survivors, and high school and college students performing scenes from the book for UIL competition. Amazing. Humbling. I'm incredibly grateful. Here's a little moment from the chapter called "Faith, Prayer and Platitudes": Luckily, everyone with cancer is issued a Brave Sick Person Face. It comes with the wig. If your prognosis is really bad, you may even be upgraded to Saint Sick Person. It comes in handy, because the moment you’re diagnosed with cancer, you become a platitude magnet. It’s the truth. Cancer attracts proverbs like pocket lint on a Lifesaver. Pastel Precious

Sometimes a door is just a door...and then there's this cuckoo for Rococo puffs door in Paris

No apologies for my recent absence from the blog. Went Euro-tripping in Germany and France with the Gare Bear, who extracted a rock solid promise that I would not work on this trip. I didn't even keep a journal. Our last night in Paris, via subway, bus and miles of walking, we searched out this doorway Gary had read about. The building at 29 Avenue Rapp in the 7th arrondisement was designed by Jules Aimé Lavirotte and won the Concours de Façades de la Ville de Paris in 1901, but it caused a controversy when people looked closely at the configuration on the door. (A bit more obvious if you view it upside down, and I don't even want to know the backstory on the person who discovered that.) Have a groovy weekend, everyone. Back next week with renewed energy for this business that I love with an entirely new perspective. More about that later.

FB's new Subscribe button could come in handy for writers, especially the indies

This excellent article on Mashable describes the ins and outs of Facebook's new Subscribe button and its best uses for celebs, artists, teachers etc. The Subscribe button is arguably most beneficial for journalists and artists. Though, in a sense, they’re public figures, these types of Facebook users likely aren’t well-known enough to justify a fan page. If this sounds like you, the first thing you need to do is actively opt-in to allow subscriptions to your profile. You can then choose to allow subscribers to comment on your updates and control your notifications. Another change to note is that when you unfriend someone, they stay subscribed to your public updates. This is important if you’ve been accepting friend requests from people you don’t know who want to follow your work. Here's more about how to set up Subscribe on your FB profile or page.

A Reader First

Every once in a while, I'll hear a writer say she's unable to read while working on her own projects. That always makes me gasp a little (at least to myself) for how else are we to refill the well of words from which we're drawing? Reality TV? I don't think so! There are times, it's true, when I take a few days, perhaps even a couple of weeks (if I can hold out that long) for a little break from reading. Maybe I'm sick or tired or want to check out a few movies on DVD in the evenings, but it's never long before the well of words draws me back for a good, long drink. Lately, I've been sipping at a lot of different flavors, reading everything from non-fiction (My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D) to mythology-based Young Adult (Sweet Venom by the talented Tera Lynn Childs) to the thoroughly delightful Lord & Lady Spy, a historical romance by Shana Galen. I've always read all sorts of fiction and non-fiction, so I thought I'd tak

The Help....

Hey Everyone: I'd like to extend an invitation to drop in on my blog this morning. I've written a new post on my indie experience so far and included some links that were and continue to be sources of inspiration to me. I want to share as much of what I've learned and continue to learn as I go along, and I'd love to hear from you, to have the benefit of your input as authors, readers, agents, publishers, book sellers, and book publicists and anyone else who has an interest or a need for guidance. The book world is changing; it's an exciting time and like every new endeavor, it will only be as great as we make it. I'd love to hear from you!

In life, literature and publishing, it's all about the spiral staircase

When Gary and I were in Paris a couple weeks ago, we decided to rent a little apartment instead of staying in a hotel. We got a great place in Montmartre, just a hop skip from the des Abbesses subway station. A great little place, bigger than a hotel room, but cheaper. Slight drawback: it was a fourth floor walk-up. Traversing up and down each day, I kept thinking about what Karen Armstrong said about the spiral staircase: you keep coming around to the same place, but you're a level higher. This is such an apt description of the novel writing process, an eloquent description, in fact, of any endeavor that requires that sort of constant effort and upward striving. Karen Armstrong on the subject of fiction: “...the experience of reading a novel has certain qualities that remind us of the traditional apprehension of mythology. It can be seen as a form of meditation. Readers have to live with a novel for days or even weeks. It projects them into another world, parallel to but apart fro

Getting Computer Scenes Right: Where Hollywood's Steered You Wrong

One of the first things I did when moving from writing historical romance to romantic suspense was to tackle a plot that was dependent upon a high-tech twist. Naturally, I was tempted to rely on some of the uber-cool stuff I'd picked up from TV and the movies. Fortunately, I had learned from writing historicals that primary research (i.e.-getting information straight from the horse's mouth) is the only way to go if you are really concerned with accuracy. After conferring with an Intel engineer and having a forensic computer investigator review the relevant scenes pre-publication, Fatal Error was ready to roll. From that experience, however, I quickly learned that Hollywood "uber-cool" is very often "uber-fudged." Need some specific examples? Check out this brief vid from Kim Komando ("The Digital Goddess.") And check out her radio show for some excellent real-world tips.

NYT on Kindle Singles (and my own reKindled love affair with books)

It's interesting that people who never thought they'd like Kindle come from both sides of the technochasm. There are those (like me) who had to be dragged away from the physical artifact - hardcover, endpapers, deckled edges - that are undoubtedly part of the book experience. Then there are those who have come of age in a computerized world, who think "chatting" happens when you hit ENTER and are entertained instead of mind-numbed by Angry Birds. They get their news, their friends and their written words on screens that get progressively smaller. In the middle of those two mindsets is Kindle. It's arguably the lowest tech ereader, which is why (IMHO) it continues to be the most successful. As I've said in this space, I found myself reading less and less as my eyesight aged, stressed by long hours in front of the computer. Audio books and large print offered far less selections at a far higher price. When I got a Kindle, I was immediately taken back to the read

Getting Gun Scenes Right: Why Most Everything You Think You Know Is Wrong

While researching an action scene yesterday, I can across's fascinating post 5 Ridiculous Gun Myths Everyone Believes Thanks to the Movies. Whether or not you're writing scenes with weapons, this article is so funny and eye-opening (and illustrated with great videos) you're sure to enjoy it. The moral of the story: you may not like, care about, or know much about guns (or whatever it is you're writing about), but if you don't do your homework, you're going to end up with a scene that's an eye-roller for a knowledgeable reader. And no one sets out to do that. Right?

The Language of Flowers: It isn't always about romance....

I have always loved words, their definitions, and in particular, the nuances of their definitions. I like fitting them together in interesting ways. I like the challenge of working out a sentence that will evoke in the reader a precise understanding of my meaning. It’s tricky because words can mean different things to different people. And as much as writing can be evocative of the gamut of emotions, taking a reader from cathedrals of awe to valleys of despair, it is limited and finite and sometimes there are no words. You may have experienced it, some situation or sensibility for which you had no words. Maybe that frustration is what prompted the creation of a language of flowers. Sometimes called floriography, the language of flowers was a Victorian-era means of communication in which various flowers and floral arrangements were used to send coded messages often in the form of a small bouquet of blooms called a tussie-mussie. Being a lover of gardens as well as a lover of language,

Do You Need Self Control?

I don't. At least not when it comes to e-mail, Facebook (and its nefariously addictive one-minute "blitz" games), and other "social distractions" on the web. Fortunately, there's an awesome app for Mac called Self Control, which allows me to block any domains of my choosing for a set period of time. Whether I'm looking for 15 minutes or several hours of unbroken concentration, I set it and get writing. Once started, you cannot turn the thing off, not by exiting the program or even restarting the computer. So you might as well just write. The developer, artist Steve Lambert, said he created the app because he needed to free himself from distractions, and since then, he's distributed it freely. To visit his site and read about it, download the app, and leave a donation if you choose and find it helpful, visit Steve's site. To see screenshots and read more about Self Control, visit this great blog review from Thanks to BtO rea

Hedgebrook Writing Residency

Friends, I've just been contacted by Hedgebrook, the wonderful women's writing retreat in Puget Sound where I have been a resident, to encourage more applications to the residency.  The deadline is this week (September 8), so you still have time to get your application in.  Go to to learn more. Hedgebrook is a truly special, transformative place, open to women writers working at all levels. Go for it! --MD

Korean edition of "Promise Me"

I can't help it. I always get a thrill when I see the foreign editions roll out. Here's the Korean edition of Promise Me: How a Sister's Love Launched the Global Movement to End Breast Cancer by Nancy G. Brinker (with a little help from yours truly.)

Top Ten Reasons New Orleans is the Hottest Place Ever to Set a Tale of Romantic Suspense

1. Above-ground tombs (thanks to the high water table) in beautiful old cemeteries like nowhere else on earth. 2. Voodoo, with its gris gris bags, its rich cross-cultural melange, and its powerful priestesses . 3. Loup garou, a.k.a. rougaroux, a werewolf-like creature once said to prowl the shadows. 4. Crumbling French Quarter mansions permeated with the soft scents of decay and magnolia. 5. Live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. 6. Chicory coffee and beignets, po boys, and a myriad of other mouthwatering delights. 7. Cajun hunks and Creole culture. 8. The mysterious, semi-seedy, distinctly-Southern vibe. 9. The music, art, and architecture. 10. The sense the history is all around you, a living entity. And here's one more, a little lagniappe: The opportunity to open your romantic suspense with an image like this one from the opening of my brand new release Phantom of the French Quarter : In an old French Quarter cemetery that cradled saints and sinners alike,

The pleasures and pitfalls of a Kindle Single

Waiting for my flight to take off yesterday, I was scouting for a quick read to download on my Kindle and decided to try one of their new Kindle Singles: How To Not Succeed In Show Business By Really Trying , Claudia Lonow's shocking and I don't know what to call it. Bookling? Embryo? I laughed out loud and really loved her writing, but this isn't a book. And it's not a short story. It's a clever, funny word zygote that starts to tell a story, then lurches to an abrupt halt just when the reader has become fully engaged. Billed as a "teeny tiny show biz memoir", How To Not Succeed... rambles a bit about her childhood, including a few mortifying anecdotes about her wannabe actor parents, then talks a little about her acting career without really saying anything, then takes us on a misadventure at a sex club. Lonow is smart and funny a la Chelsea Handler, but the truncated format and almost insights make the piece, as well written as it is