"Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart." ~ William Wordsworth

The Writing Life Too

And if you're reading this, it means you're not writing.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Overcast skies this morning. I've sometimes gone for days, weeks, months without watching television, but this past week have watched a lot of the coverage on the death of Ted Kennedy. It seems that his enduring lessons are service to others, compassion,and perseverance.

Since I was a girl I've read biographies of people who overcame difficult odds or struggles, and have always been inspired by the human spirit. It's always a good idea when you're aiming high--to be a published writer--to study the lives of people who have made a difference. So read about your literary heroes--how did they do it, how did they spend their days, how did they bounce back from rejection?

Today is the birthday of one of my writer-heroes, the late Molly Ivins. She is the featured writer on The Writer's Almanac today and in part it says: "Her fiery liberal columns caused a lot of debate in Texas, with newspaper readers always writing in to complain. One time, she wrote about the Republican congressman from Dallas: "If his IQ slips any lower we'll have to water him twice a day." It generated a storm of controversy, and the paper she wrote for decided to use it to their advantage, to boost readership. They started placing advertisements on billboards all over Dallas that said, "Molly Ivins can't say that … can she?" She used the line as the title of her first book (published in 1991).

She went on to write several best-selling books, including Shrub: The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush — which was actually written and published in 2000, before George W. Bush had been elected to the White House. Ivins later said, "The next time I tell you someone from Texas should not be president of the United States, please, pay attention."

Molly Ivins died of breast cancer a couple of years ago, at the age of 62. She once wrote: "Having breast cancer is massive amounts of no fun. First they mutilate you; then they poison you; then they burn you. I have been on blind dates better than that."

Molly Ivins once said: "I am not anti-gun. I'm pro-knife. Consider the merits of the knife. In the first place, you have to catch up with someone in order to stab him. A general substitution of knives for guns would promote physical fitness. We'd turn into a whole nation of great runners. Plus, knives don't ricochet. And people are seldom killed while cleaning their knives."

And, "The thing about democracy, beloveds, is that it is not neat, orderly, or quiet. It requires a certain relish for confusion."

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Everybody has a life of their own. You have to find your secret life. Find the life which you have and nobody else has, and write about that. The things that you know, and nobody else knows. John Mortimer

Friday, August 28, 2009

Clouds moving in here and rain is supposed to be on the way.

I wanted to thank Bill Kenower, the editor of Author magazine for interviewing me yesterday. I’ll let you know when the interview goes live on their site. And if you’re not aware of it, Author magazine, sponsored by the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association is a treasure trove of insights and advice on the writing life.
Thanks too to Powells.com for allowing me to blog over there this week. My last post contains a list of books every writers needs on his or her bookshelf.

A quick fyi: If you’re interested in being a published writer it’s always wise to pay attention to publishing trends. A good source is publishing trends.

Keep writing, keep dreaming.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Dark is descending and still so hot I haven’t opened the windows—just call me a wimp, but after I watered (extensively) and deadheaded a whole flower bed (a much underrated and oh-so satisfying task might I add) I’ve been sequestered indoors in my house of fans. –uhm as in devices that move air, not people who think I’m wonderful. Sigh.

Thanks so much to the Orlando Sentinel for posting a link to my blog at Powells.com. And if you don’t read the Powells blog, baby, you’re missing out.
Lovely azure skies again and things are heating up. I'd like to send a thank you to the long-deceased Willis Haviland Carrier, the father of cool, or inventor of air conditioning.

Still blogging at powells.com so check it out.

But here's information I wanted to pass along from Alimentum, a gorgeous, gorgeous food magazine:
Alimentum announces its first Poetry Contest
Submissions open September 1st 2009
Deadline December 1st 2009
First prize $500 and publication for a single poem. Two second prizes of publication. Final judge internationally renowned poet Dorianne Laux.

RULES: Submit up to 3 unpublished poems related to the subject of food or drink. No simultaneous submissions. No SASE. Winners will be contacted and announced on our website March 1st, 2010. $15 entry fee includes a one-year subscription. Snail mail only:
Alimentum Poetry Contest, P.O. Box 210028, Nashville, TN 37221.
Note: Our regular poetry-reading period is closed this fall. All contest submissions will be considered for publication.

Fiction & Nonfiction
Regular submission reading period opens September 1st 2009

Please note new address for submissions.

Writer Guidelines:

We're seeking fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry all around the subject of food. Submissions accepted via snail mail (no response without SASE). Five-poem limit on poetry submissions. We do not consider previously published work. Simultaneous submissions accepted. Please allow one to three months for response.

Address your submissions to fiction, non-fiction, or poetry editor.

For submissions:
P.O. Box 210028
Nashville, TN 37221

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"For all those whose cares have been our concern,the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die." Senator Edward M. Kennedy

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

An excerpt from Thanks, But This Isn't for Us is at Maria Schneider's blog, Editor Unleashed. It's a great resource for writers and thanks Maria for featuring my book.
Keep writing, keep dreaming.
You blows who you is.
Louis Armstrong

Monday, August 24, 2009

Glorious cloudless skies this morning. I'm blogging at powells.com this week. Check out my posts.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Gorgeous morning with endless blue.

Next week I’m going to be blogging at Powells.com. I’m going to weigh in from the nonfiction side of things, and from my vantage as a developmental editor and writing instructor.

But I’m also talking about my origins as a writer—and how all writers need to write from their fears and passions, and connect to the images that have been seared into memory. For example when I was six my grandfather died suddenly of a heart attack. Before that, I, along with everyone around them, recognized that grandma and grandma were sweethearts—as in hand-holding-take-a-‘nap’-in-the-afternoon-fierce-spats-romance. So when he died in his early fifties it was a big shock to all of us and what I remember most from his funeral was the sight of his daughter’s necks. I was seated behind them in the church pew of our lovely Lutheran church and their heads were bent low with weeping and their necks were exposed and as tender and vulnerable as anything I’ve ever seen, like roses drenched in rain.

Grandpa was a hunter and trapper and fisherman—fly fishing before it was all the rage. I can still remember the silhouette of him and my dad against a northern forest, long fishing lines sweeping the skies, a river bright with rapids. My grandparents’ back porch was lined with his trophies. As in a yawning darkness of Musky heads and fox heads and grinning skulls and a primal smell of stuffed bodies before you could dash outside into the real air….scared the bejesus out of me.

So explore your memories and the aspects of life that won't leave you alone.

If you’re interested in a realistic view of politics and the media, you might want to check out Media Matters. I’m particularly grateful that the writers there are pointing out that the thugs who are disrupting the town hall gatherings this summer resemble the Swift Boaters of the 2004 election, and that once again, the media is sitting back and allowing them to get away with their tactics without doing their job of researching who is paying for all this and what insurance companies have to lose if health care reform takes place.

Just for the record: I would LOVE it if the government would pay for my health care and health care meets government sounds as sexy to this self-employed writer as say, champagne and caviar, high count Egyptian cotton sheets and room service, or chocolate and raspberries. {Please substitute your own food combination/luxury fetish}. And also for the record, I own no weapons unless you count the memos I send to writers, but I appreciate David Sirota’s recent Salon.com essay where he explains that gut-toting jerks aren’t protecting their rights, but threatening the rights of others. “Yes, the gun has been transformed from a sport and self-defense device into a tool of mass bullying.” He sensibly suggests that politic gatherings should be gun-free zones, just as our schools and stadiums are. And maybe the people that complain about all the government intervention in our lives should stop driving on the government-built roads and shouldn’t send their kids to the government-built schools, or visit the libraries, etc.etc. So of course we cannot live without the government providing services—it’s the reason for government, to protect the weakest among us, to provide quality of life for all. End of rant.

Keep writing, keep dreaming.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Overcast skies this morning and temperatures much cooler. I’m trying to get myself organized to have a productive day—the Working Class Acupuncture clinic is having a yard sale and I’m going to donate some items so I need to gather them.

Meanwhile, since there’s still another month of summer and you might be heading to the beach for a long weekend, here’s a delicious list of mysteries you might have overlooked at NPR. I used to read a lot of suspense/mystery titles. As I was working on my books, Between the Lines and Bullies, Bastards & Bitches I realized that I wanted to use a wider variety of books as examples, so deliberately started reading a wider array of fiction.

In fact, for both of those books I read 100-200 novels in order to formulate and fine tune my concepts. And along the way I mostly stopped reading suspense. I was thinking about this and I realize that my tastes have changed and I was looking for a different kind of drama, but also that the whole genre simply seemed sort of stale to me. Too many of the mystery writers that I once loved didn’t seem to be treading new ground or upping their games. I also read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice fantasy series and it was hard to find a suspense writer who crafted stories with such thoroughness and imagination. (You might want to check out his website and blog—and oh joy! they’re casting the actors for the HBO pilot. I cannot wait…..) But now, looking at this list of intriguing mysteries, I realize that it’s time to revisit the genre and find new authors.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A few clouds are moving across an azure sky and cooler weather is promised. My new book Thanks, But This Isn't For Us, A (Sort of) Compassionate Guide to Why Your Writing is being Rejected is now on sale. You can buy it here or here or order it from any book store. I'd appreciate your comments on the book and again thanks to all the writers I've worked with over the years--it's been (mostly) an enormous joy. Oh, and tomorrow night I'm going out to celebrate the new addition to my family, er, book case. I'm thinking champagne.......
As always, keep writing, keep dreaming.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Pale, pale skies this morning and the heat gods are about to open a can of whup ass on us.

I meet a lot of writers who are looking for agents or trying to break into print with a manuscript. Most don't have contacts in the publishing world and some writers believe they can still get published by sending a manuscript to a publishing house--which is pretty much an impossibility these days. One place to start is to read the blogs and interview of good agents. One of the best interviews I've run across is Jofie Ferrari-Adler, an editor at Grove/Atlantic interviewing Molly Friedrich. It's at Poet & Writer online.Molly is a goddess among agents and I strongly suggest that if you don't have an agent and want one, to read the interview because it's packed with info on the publishing biz.

Here is the final question and answer of the extensive interview:
Is there anything you haven't accomplished that you still want to?

"No. I just want to always be in the game. I want to work for at least another ten years. I don't want to retire when I'm in a walker. The reason why this is such a great job, first of all, is that I've been able to work around my children and my life. I have been able to call my hours my own to an unusual extent, in a way that would not have been possible if I stayed at Doubleday. But I have a very highly developed work ethic. I work really hard. What is extraordinary about this business is that we get to be more interesting than we would otherwise be. Because of our work. That's really important. In other words, we do go to dinner parties, and we do meet interesting people, and reading remains and will always remain a great common currency. It's fantastic to work in the world of ideas, and great plots, and the great insights that are given to us by writers. I don't ever want to be far away from that. And I won't be. I refuse. I feel deeply privileged to be in this business. So what if it's changing? I'm not going to change as quickly as it changes—there's room for troglodytes like me. And I'm never going to rest on my laurels. Because if you aren't always excited to get something in that is fresh and new, then you shouldn't be in this business. If you're just going along like a hamster in a wheel, then you've lost the pure white heat that makes this business so much fun. And it should be challenging. That's what separates the great agents from the good agents."

Monday, August 17, 2009

A glorious morning here in Portland with skies somewhere between shades of Alice and Brandais blue. I never knew about Alice and Brandais, but lately I’ve been musing about the sky and the color blue and how I’ve run out of descriptors for this summer, the various shades in the heavens and our weather. But then I just learned my favorite shade of green is called celadon, so it’s time to get more precise because you gotta practice what you preach. For writers who want a huge palette of colors to choose from, you might want to bookmark this page.

Temperatures are heading into the 90s again and we’re supposed to hit 99 on Wednesday—naturally I’d planned a little soiree in my back yard. It might be time to whip up another batch of gazpacho.

But I digress—I wanted to announce that NPR is running another 3-Minute Fiction Contest. The first sentence must begin “The nurse left work at five o’clock.” While you're at the NPR site you might want to check out the previous winner and entries.

Keep writing, keep dreaming.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

It's a soft, soft night in Portland and from my window comes cricket song and the distant hum of traffic. I've had one of those puttery, quiet days that we all need from time to time to catch up with ourselves and slow the heck down...gardening and the farmer's market and a nap and cooking and long phone calls spent lying on my back, imagining the other person's reality.

Here's a note from the talented Cathy Lamb that I wanted you to know about:
On July 28th, Henry's Sisters and Almost Home my two new books, hit the shelves...

Henry's Sisters is about three sisters and a specially-abled brother named, Henry. The sisters are ordered to return home to Trillium River, Oregon, to help their she-devil mother, River Bommarito, recover from heart surgery. Sounds simple, but Isabelle Bommarito is busy burning her bra and thong on her patio while naked at her Pearl District loft and recovering from her most recent blow. Cecilia Bommarito is in the midst of a mind-numbing divorce and ends up watering her ex-husband's Corvette, and Janie Bommarito, a best selling author of graphic crime fiction, a lover of the classics, and a sufferer of obsessive compulsive disorder is hiding out in her houseboat on the Willamette River with her lace doilies resisting all requests to return home.

The story is also about River's refusal to discuss the children's harrowing childhood, a grandmother who believes she's Amelia Earhart, giant - sized cupcakes, a bakery on Main Street, a cosmic twin-link between Cecilia and Isabelle, a rebellious daughter who changes religions monthly, spaghetti nights, a dirty trailer, overcoming poverty, forgiveness of self and others and, of course, Henry, the only person everyone adores all the time.

Almost Home is a short story in an anthology. In the first scene, our main gal, Chalese, is climbing on a roof with her best friend. Why is she climbing on a roof? Because she wants to spy on her ex-boyfriend through the skylight, how dare he have a date so soon after he dumped her? She didn't even like him anyhow. Both ladies are dressed in black, head to foot, and have night-vision goggles. Perhaps they have had one too many daiquiris. All goes well until they actually crash through the skylight, landing on the island counter. "Almost Home" is about having too many secrets, a past that catches up, a children's book writer, a Hollywood screenwriter, and an always pregnant sister. It's about living on a beautiful island with many pets, making "Wild Girls Jams and Jellies," small town island living, a manly man named Aiden, and taking a dare to live with laughter and gusto.

I hope you like both books. As usual, you can find them at Powell's, Barnes and Nobles, Borders, Amazon, etc.

I will be speaking on Thursday, September 3rd at Cedar Hills Powell's in Beaverton at 7:00 about both books. I would truly love to see you there.

I met Cathy years ago when I first started teaching and always knew she'd be published. Besides being talented, she's funny and deep, and real.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Siren screams are zigzagging through the air and the skies are a kaleidoscope of clouds. For you Twitter addicts out there (you know who are) you’ve just got to read Laurel Snyder's terrific Salon. com essay, Addicted to Twitter. “So I quit cold turkey, spent a few days offline completely, in a kind of self-imposed intervention, which only reinforced my awareness of my addiction. In the morning, my need to touch the computer was nearly overpowering. I forced myself to read the paper (the actual paper). By evening, it was easier, and my husband and I went on a date (an actual date, with actual beer). By the next day, I felt freer, saner. Distance really helped.

But now, I’m unsure of how to proceed. My Twitter addiction isn’t quite like a drinking problem. I can’t just abstain altogether. I can’t keep the computer turned off.”
"Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."

-Dr. Howard Thurman

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Can I just be cranky for a moment? Or is the word bitchy?

I've always winced when I heard parents emote in saccharine tones "good job" to their kids for every time they pumped their chubby little legs on the swing or picked up a Lego. I don't know--this phrase just bugs the heck out of me and always sounds so freakin' insincere. So I was just sitting here writing, in love with the glowering sky with about 18 layers of clouds, when I heard a simpering "Good Job" from below my window. Feeling sorry for the kid, I peeked out at a young man with two little fluffy dogs who was praising them for stepping off the curb. Okay, back to writing and minding my own business.
From my in box for Portland-based writers (man, this sounds like fun!):
Sledgehammer Writing Contest

Writers to your marks. Get set. Shatter!

(Your writer’s block, that is.)

For the second year running, the Sledgehammer Writing Contest innovatively incorporates a scavenger hunt with a team competition and a prize package worth thousands of dollars—oh, and did we mention there’s a 36-hour time limit?

Noon, Saturday, August 29–11:59 p.m., Sunday, August 30

All ages welcome. Registration is open now through start time.

Find out more and register at www.sledgehammercontest.com.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Last night it rained and rained the sound as familiar as my breathing. Woke up to a fresh, wet world, more rain, and skies are still overcast. I’m trying to catch up on projects and put my office back into order. Of course we won’t get into how I’m about three years behind in filing and paperwork. Make that four.

A few notes for writers:
The latest Author magazine has an article by the editor Erin Brown—Top 10 Ways to Increase Your Chances of Getting Published. Practical advice.

And here’s more practical advice from Julie Powell, the writer whose blog was turned into the movie Julie and Julia.(which by the way, made $20.1 million in the first weekend):

"I think you always have to keep your eyes on the prize in terms of writing about the things you are passionate about, writing about the subject matter that you really love. If you get too concerned with branding and getting the links and making sure that enough people know me—getting away from writing about what you want to write about as well and clearly and evocatively as you can—you might publish a book that way, but you won't turn into a writer. The writing always has to be at the center."

If you read this blog you know that I worry a lot about the state of journalism these days—so much is at stake if we don’t have investigative journalists around to keep us informed and if people stop reading newspapers and credible news sources. The current brouhaha over health care reform is a great example of our need for accurate information. Of course, it’s hard to guess at where the right wing shock troops who are doing the corporations dirty work are getting their so-called information. A simple fact check will prove that there are no death panels in the health bill, although there certainly are policies at health insurance companies that could earn that title. In fact you can find a story about the death panels on NPR.org since it was covered on Morning Edition today.

On to good news…..Recently Advertising Age reported that ad revenue is expected to increase in newspapers across the county and there’s more good news from Editor and Publisher in their list the 10 That Do It Right. The article includes the reasons why these newspapers are thriving in tough economic times:
Las Vegas Sun
Sioux City (Iowa) Journal
Briefing (Dallas, Texas)
The Post-Star (Glens Falls, NY)
East Bay Express (Emeryville, CA)
Star Tribune, Minneapolis
St. Petersburg (Florida) Times
The Daily Independent ( Ridgecrest, California)
New Times (Phoenix)
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Clouds looming over the skies this afternoon and it’s starting to rain and the wet ground smell is glorious and should be made into a perfume. Well, I think I’m finally rested from the 40th annual Willamette Writers Conference. If you’ve never attended a writer’s conference, you should. But expect lots of buzz, energy, ideas, and information being slammed at you. In fact, expect the place to be crackling with energy. Expect to be inspired, amazed, and possibly exhausted. So pace yourself, have a plan, create the perfect pitch, be friendly and sincere, and dazzling if you’re that sort.

I chatted with people this year that I think you should know about and wanted to send a thanks to: Charlotte Cook, publisher of Komenar Publishing of Walnut Creek, California. Charlotte’s funny, real, and knowledgeable. If you ever have an opportunity to attend one of her workshops, do so. Then there was Deb Werksman the editorial manager of Sourcebooks, Inc. They publish a variety of titles and are based in Conneticut. We chatted at my book signing and she bought my The Writer’s I Ching book and she’s kind and smart and accessible. Then there were Jeff and the oh-so friendly Deborah Herman. They sell nonfiction, particularly inspirational titles. I caught up with the irrepressible and always-looking forward Julie Fast. We talked about her latest ventures, the current reality of publishing and e-books, and her new interns. As always, she gave me ideas on how to manage my career and to bite off life in large gulps. On Saturday I met Melissa Hart who besides being bubbly (but in a good way), adorable, and stylish is also whip smart. That day I also chatted for awhile with agent Angela Rinaldi about the nonfiction market. She called many of the book pitches and proposals she hears these days “google ideas” meaning a reader can simply google the information on-line and doesn’t need to buy a book for answers. More to think about.

And thanks too to Katherine Wagner who came down to attend the conference from Vancouver B.C. and brought her sister from Ottawa. We met at a workshop I taught in Vancouver B.C. a few years ago. I so enjoyed talking with you and hearing about your life and passions. And do expect some emails from me nagging you to get on with your writing. Thanks and good wishes to the many students I ran into, the kind members of Willamette Writers who asked how I was doing since my accident. And Chelsea Cain’s keynote address at the Saturday night banquet was witty, captivating, and made everyone in the room imagine that they too could land a multi-million dollar deal if they stick to their writing practice, no matter what, and write the book they want to read.

You know the drill: keep writing and keep dreaming.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Gorgeous indigo skies this afternoon and temperatures in the mid-70s this week. Last Thursday I returned from camping in the Cascades to a familiar gray palette here and then the day just got better as a box of my new books arrived from Tarcher and the mail brought the new The Writer magazine with a review of my new book, Thanks, But This Isn’t for Us by Melissa Hart. She ended the review with this note: “But she never lets the reader forget that amazing writing, far from being romantic and mystical, is hard work. It involves hours of solitude, multiple revisions, the humble acceptance of critiques from first readers, and—if we’re lucky—the skills of a bad-ass editor.”

On Thursday I unpacked most of my camping gear, tossed a few loads of wash into the machine and started getting ready to speak at the Willamette Writer’s Conference. The conference was more fun that I anticipated—I met lots of lovely writers and saw students and clients from years ago, my workshops went well, and my new book sold out. Sunday was spent on yard work, a visit to the farmer’s market and stores for provisions, and finally storing all the camping stuff. I woke this morning and answered e-mails and since I haven’t been home for a week or so, vacuumed, swabbed the decks, watered flower beds, and made this place feel habitable again.

And by the time the dish washer and wash machine were humming and the kitchen floor was clean, I realized that the prickly feeling I’d been experiencing for the past few weeks is the need to be firmly entrenched in my writing routine again. Now, I’ve been making notes and plans for a book and while I was walking down to a lake last week the first sentence to a book popped into my head. I knew if I spent time away from my concerns that this would happen, and I also know that once I find that first sentence, the rest will follow.

But back to that prickly feeling—it means I’m ready to rise before dawn every morning and work on a book and focus my thoughts around it, improving it, and bringing it into being. It’s the same feeling I get around New Years come January, when I don’t want to eat another cookie or attend another party or shop for another gift—I want to haul out the tree and decorations and clean out the refrigerator. And once all the Christmas geegaws are gone and the tree is tossed onto the curbside and the needles have been vacuumed away, I can return to the routine that sustains me. The barrenness of my surroundings in January is always calming—the clean slate with fewer distractions. So I’m done with summer’s siren call and I’m ready for autumn and working on a new book. I’ll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, thanks to everyone who attended my workshops and bought my books at the conference. Keep writing and dreaming.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

White washed over blue skies and temperatures expected to only hit the mid-80s. Thanks to the weather gods for the new front arriving in our region.

Recently a friend was seeking an agent for her terrific first novel and ran across an agent that asked for an exclusive. As in don’t submit your manuscript to anyone except me for a specific period of time. I tend to believe that agents that demand exclusive rights before you sign with them are a waste of time/and or have grandiose ideas about their importance in the publishing universe. And lo and behold literary agent Janet Reid agrees with me. And her blog describes her as “An agent filled w/ the kind of dripping, salacious badassness that usually comes from the mind of Quentin Tarantino"--Jason Roer so you gotta love her. I hope that if you’re looking for an agent that you’re reading the blogs of people like Reid and other agencies. While you’re at her blog I strongly suggest you peruse her query letter checklist.

Meanwhile, I finished reading Richard Price’s Lush Life and want to give it a big thumbs up and recommend it to any writer who needs to tighten their dialogue or make it sound more authentic. Haven’t you noticed how all the writers who worked on The Wire are amazing? It’s the story of New York detectives caught up in a murder case and has one of the best characters depicting grief that I’ve run across in storyland. Now I need to read Clockers.

More words to add to my word list (and some of them courtesy of Richard Price): scrum, tweety, riffle, bookoo, bamboozle, judder, gibber, chittering, amorphous,jittering, judder. Man I love onomatopoeia.

I’m heading up to a mountain lake to work on a new book concept. Keep writing, keep dreaming.

Monday, August 03, 2009

"The only thing that keeps us from floating off with the wind is our stories. They give us a name and put us in a place, allow us to keep on touching." Tom Spanbauer
Blue skies again this morning and a gradual cool down is coming through here this week and it might stay below 90 today. Hallelujah. Two things from National Public Radio. As I was driving to a friend’s house for dinner on Saturday night I listened to James Wood, a book critic for The New York Times and author of How Fiction Works discuss the winner of NPR’s Three Minute Short Story. You can read Molly Reid’s story Not That I Care at their site.
Second, about 16,000 listeners responded and voted for the Top 100 Beach Reads:
1. The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling
2. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
3. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
4. Bridget Jones's Diary, by Helen Fielding
5. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
6. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, by Rebecca Wells
7. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
8. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
9. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, by Fannie Flagg
10. The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver

11. The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
12. Life of Pi, by Yann Martel
13. The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan
14. The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
15. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
16. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
17. Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett
18. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
19. Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides
20. Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen

21. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
22. The Bean Trees, by Barbara Kingsolver
23. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith
24. The World According to Garp, by John Irving
25. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
26. The Prince of Tides, by Pat Conroy
27. Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel
28. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
29. The Accidental Tourist, by Anne Tyler
30. Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer

31. A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole
32. East of Eden, by John Steinbeck
33. The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant
34. Beach Music, by Pat Conroy
35. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
36. Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier
37. Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card
38. Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry
39. The Thorn Birds, by Colleen McCullough
40. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, by Michael Chabon

41. Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett
42. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
43. Interview with the Vampire, by Anne Rice
44. Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier
45. Empire Falls, by Richard Russo
46. Under the Tuscan Sun, by Frances Mayes
47. The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas
48. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, by Tom Robbins
49. I Know This Much Is True, by Wally Lamb
50. Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie

51. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
52. The Stand, by Stephen King
53. She's Come Undone, by Wally Lamb
54. Dune, by Frank Herbert
55. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
56. Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
57. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll
58. Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
59. The Godfather, by Mario Puzo
60. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith

61. Animal Dreams, by Barbara Kingsolver
62. Jaws, by Peter Benchley
63. Good in Bed, by Jennifer Weiner
64. Angle of Repose, by Wallace Stegner
65. Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson
66. The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway
67. The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand
68. Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut
69. Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
70. The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler

71. The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
72. The Hunt for Red October, by Tom Clancy
73. Cold Sassy Tree, by Olive Ann Burns
74. The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
74. Bonfire of the Vanities, by Tom Wolfe [tie]
76. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte
77. Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon
78. The Shell Seekers, by Rosamunde Pilcher
79. Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver
80. Eye of the Needle, by Ken Follett

81. Cannery Row, by John Steinbeck
81. The Pilot's Wife, by Anita Shreve [tie]
83. All the Pretty Horses, by Cormac McCarthy
84. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson
85. The Little Prince, by Antoine De Saint-Exupery
86. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
87. One for the Money, by Janet Evanovich
88. Shogun, by James Clavell
89. Dracula, by Bram Stoker
90. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera

91. Presumed Innocent, by Scott Turow
92. Franny and Zooey, by J.D. Salinger
93. The Secret History, by Donna Tartt
94. Dead Until Dark, by Charlaine Harris
95. Summer Sisters, by Judy Blume
96. The Shining, by Stephen King
97. How Stella Got Her Groove Back, by Terry McMillan
98. Lamb, by Christopher Moore
99. Sick Puppy, by Carl Hiaasen
100. Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson
I’ve read most of these books, how about you?

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Skies are Robins-egg blue and the high today is only supposed to be only 88. Cannot remember when it was below 90 around here. My new book, Thanks, But This isn’t For Us was written to help writers, especially beginning writers avoid rejection. Here’s an excerpt from chapter one:

Remember, began with tension and immediacy. Make readers feel the story has started. They want to be in your world, not be told about it. Don’t preface—plunge in.” Jerome Stern

Dear Wannabe a Published Writer;
This isn’t a book about false promises or cheery u-rah-rahs. This book will never claim that anyone can write a best seller or become a billionaire just by typing away, or even that writing is the greatest joy, because after all we cannot forget about dancing, chocolate, and sex. Rather, it’s written by a Demon of Harsh Reality and meant as a hefty dose of reality along with encouragement to keep trying, to keep learning. Because writing is a craft and it can be learned.

When you’ve never been published it seems that all you want to do is break into the publishing world by finding an agent or editor who will believe in you. But actually what editors and agents are looking for is writers who can break out. This means instead of a book hanging out in the midlist category or in obscurity, it somehow stands out and leaps into the spotlight. So breakout equals buzz, pizzazz, mega sales and a book being called a “must read.” When a book breaks out it is infectious, popular and imitated. Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones and Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park are examples of breakout novels and Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs, Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel, and The Glass Castle by Jeannette Wells are examples of breakout memoirs. This happens for all sorts of reasons including good reviews, being picked for Oprah’s Book Club, being blurbed by a celebrity, but mostly because enthusiastic readers and booksellers spread the word about a book.

So what does this mean to an unpublished writer? It means your manuscript must be impeccable and you’ve got to think big. You need to write a compelling story, which is quite different from typing a manuscript. Lots of people can type, but not everyone can tell a story. You need to write stories that haunt readers about characters or real people they cannot forget. You want the reader to be excited about it the moment he starts reading your first words. You want him to act when he reads your book by telling all his co-workers at the agency or publishing house about your manuscript. So it’s all about buzz.
First Impressions

Let’s start at the beginning of your tale and talk about making a kickass first impression. Your story openings are like a job interview and if the words on the page entertain, you get the job. If they don’t, somebody who writes better gets the job.

The best openings of a story, novel, or memoir are contagious—they make the reader yearn for more because you’ve commenced your story by choosing the best words at the best moment to launch the events that will follow while raising questions that demand answers. After all, you’re writing for an editor, a highly discerning reader. Editors are word people. They are connoisseurs who love the written word; appreciate delicate language, carefully crafted sentences, and refinement.

Along with a knack for crafting beautiful language, your first paragraphs need to set the tone for the story to come. Especially in these days of blogging, dashed-off emails, and self-publishing, it’s important to strive for perfection. As in strutting-the-red-carpet-at-the-Academy-Awards-first impression. And your opening needs to have the impact of a starlet draped in a strapless gown and diamonds or a debonair actor in a crisp and oh-so sexy tux. It needs to dazzle and assure the reader that you can handle what follows. It needs to make a promise about the kind of story that will follow.

Promises, promises
Your opening words contain a promise to your reader: Read these pages, and I’ll transport you to a world based on your expectations, where the story events will deliver an emotionally-satisfying experience. And the unfolding events in your novel must be appropriate for the genre or type of story that you’re writing.

This works for memoir also. When a reader opens the first page of a memoir he wants to read the truth about the author’s dramatic experiences. Your opening promises that the true events of a life are fascinating and possibly horrifying. Now, your story might be a bare-assed expose′ of squalor and debauchery with your skinny-necked stepfather starring as the true-life villain. Or it might be luminous and uplifting tale of endurance, or a life story that lies somewhere in between. No matter your approach, your first words telegraph that this story will make a reader laugh, cry, and ponder truths about the human experience.

On the other hand, when a reader opens a novel he’s signing up for a pack of lies. You, the writer, are the liar and your reader is the sucker who is going to buy all these lies, hook, line and sinker as the old saying goes. It’s part of the contract that you and the reader are agreeing to. Your opening promises that you are going to tell the sort of lies that the reader specifically wants to hear. This logic is fairly simple because each genre has a built-in audience and your opening winks a come-on at that audience like a saloon girl in the Old West.

If a reader plunks down $24.95 for a fantasy or science fiction novel, he expects fantastical elements and interesting explorations of themes that perhaps cannot be explored in a story that’s based strictly on realistic elements. Of course some sci fi stories are set in today’s world because lots of chilling truths can be told about this world, especially about ecological nightmares or technology unleashed. So your opening can start in a galaxy far away or just down the street, but your opening promises that imaginative ideas will be explored.

Likewise, suspense novels are always about a crime and a criminal eluding capture. Besides the classic detective story, there are subgenres such as espionage, psychological suspense, romantic suspense, police procedural, courtroom procedural, whodunit, and cozies. Each type has varying degrees of violence and grit, but all are a thrill ride. And the opening must present a world in which all hell is about to break loose.

If you’re writing a romance, in the opening pages love will be in the air, as the lovers collide, usually appearing at an inconvenient time. In a romance, readers expect to deeply delve into the hero and heroine’s psyches, want to watch the blossoming romance falter and fizzle before it finally blooms, and want all other aspects of plot—even if it is set on another planet in the distant future—to rank secondary to the romance. But all this is promised in an opening that opens with just the right note.

An emotional opening prepares the reader for a heart-rattling journey, just as a philosophical opening promises a thoughtful exploration of themes, an action-packed opening promises a bronco-breaking ride, and a quiet beginning usually promises an intense exploration of characters’ lives.

So start with a specific promise about the story within and then, drumroll please, keep the promise.