Monday, June 30, 2008

What Matters?

Posted by Lisa Marnell

Tonight, our writers’ group is meeting. As it happens, only my pages will be critiqued. The rest of the time will be spent catching up with each other, personally and professionally. I so look forward to their feedback. I am nervous to get feedback – Yes - but I intend to persevere until my novel is as good as I can make it. I will listen carefully to the positives (what works), and the negatives (what doesn’t).

Here are some rules I tell myself to live by when my work is critiqued:

1- I swallow my pride, and listen.
What others say about your work, matters. What you feel as they speak doesn’t.

2- It’s not personal, it’s business.
Feedback is what counts. You, a writer, need to understand how your work is perceived. It doesn’t matter if you poured your soul into this scene. It doesn’t. It may HAVE to be changed.

3- Don’t sweat the small stuff.
If someone makes a mistake with a minor character’s name, it doesn’t matter. If they are not convinced a major character may act the way she does, it matters.

4- Insist group members don’t hold back.
Each of us in the writers’ group asks for honesty. Lay it on me, I try to convey to Amy, Hannah and Lynne. I worry that if they are worrying about me, they may offer sugar-coated criticism. I don’t want that. I want the truth.

5- Be thankful.
If you are in a writers’ group that helps you improve your “product”, then you are lucky.

Recently, I’ve had more acquaintances and friends ask me for details about my two YA WIP novels. Some have offered to read my work. I’m so reluctant to hand them chapters because I know their feedback will throw me. If they like it, I may become too relaxed; would I let up on that drive I feel each day. If they don’t like parts, what then? Perhaps they’re not the right audience. Perhaps my work isn’t their style. I am loathe to change parts that “passed” writers’ group.

I have come to accept that feedback is not easy. I allow myself to feel proud when I submit pages. You should, too. The road to success is not easy.

To quote a wise writer I know, adore, and respect: "Writing a novel is hard work. Who knew?"

What is crucial is to remind yourself that some things matter, some don't.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Making a Literary Life: Dream Vacations

Yes, Amy is on vacation this week, enjoying the rustic charms of northern New England (and maybe L.L. Bean, but we don't know for sure). There are literary colonies -- planned and spontaneous -- almost everywhere, across the globe and across time as well. If you could plan a truly literary vacation, where -- or when -- would you go?

Ah, I am officially one dimensional. I've been waking to breakfast at Wimbledon on TV each morning this week, so I can't help myself. A tennis/writing vacation? I'll take it. Rise at five. Write three hours. Hit the courts for a the rest of the morning. Lunch, then nap, then a glass of wine and quiet writing time until dinner is served. Admit it, that sounds nice, doesn't it?

Is it literary of me to start with place and work backward to the authors? Paris is my place, and I would love to go back in time to meet Hemingway. He's not my favorite author ever, but I went through that stage of actively disliking him in junior high and most of high school, then was turned around by a brilliant teacher my senior year. I suspect he didn't chit-chat about his process per se, but that's okay. Listening to him ramble about working out a new story would have been an education.

I've been toying with the idea of applying to a writers' retreat, something that would have been much easier to do sans husband and children. La Muse in France, or the Blue Mountain Center. Wow, just writing them down makes me feel more relaxed. As for writers I'd love to talk with, for me, the choice came down to contemporary writers whose work I admire and who I hold in high regard. I'd go with Ian McEwan or Margot Livesey. Coffee anyone?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Author Spotlight Series: Marisa de los Santos

Posted by Lynne Griffin

When I saw the advance praise for the new novel, Belong to Me, by Marisa de los Santos, I was delighted. A big fan (along with millions of other readers) of her first novel, Love Walked In, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. De los Santos delivered with her second gem. After finishing Belong to Me, I contacted Marisa asking if she’d like to be part of our author spotlight series. And lucky for us, she agreed.

Lynne: Can you share with our readers a glimpse inside your literary life?
I taught literature for many years at the undergraduate level. And spent most of my time writing poetry. The idea for Love Walked In came to me after I had my first child. It was published in 2006 and before it was off my desk I started writing Belong to Me, which was just published in April.

Lynne: How great is it to have two novels out in a two year period?
It’s been wonderful, really. Belong to Me has brought new readers to Love Walked In. It’s been very special to have new life to that book, through my latest. I love hearing from readers who’ve really connected with Cornelia Brown.

Lynne: I was surprised Belong to Me was a sequel. Can you tell our readers how you came to that decision?
I started on Belong to Me, when Love Walked In wasn’t even off my desk. The characters wanted to say more, so I wrote it before Love was published. For me, each book evolves over time. I don’t have lots of ideas that I can pick off a shelf. I write the book I need to write at the time. Belong to Me has a different mood, a different tone. I worried people might not like it because the characters are in different places in their lives. In Love Walked In, there was lots of room for play. Belong to Me is more serious, but it had to be written that way; it’s a more grown-up book. My third is not a continuation of last two. But who knows about my forth.

Lynne: I know you’ve had the same editor for both books, but not the same publishing house. Can you tell us about that?
Marisa: After Love Walked In was published, my editor moved to Morrow. I will be there for my next two books, as well. It’s very nice to have a home. It’s been a very positive experience, and I think that has to do with the fact that I’ll be with them. It works for me—and for them—to think long term about our efforts. It would only make sense; it’s an investment.

Lynne: Any words about your agent and editor relationships?
I’m very fortunate to be close to both my agent and editor. All the relationships are very personal, with your agent, editor and publicity staff. For me the experience has been extremely positive.

Lynne: How do you balance writing and promoting?
Marisa: The times I’m not writing are just as important as when I am. The first time I was on the road, I remember sitting in a hotel room trying to write. I wasn’t in my space. I’m a homebody when I’m writing. I need total immersion, as much as you can get of that when you have a family. That’s what I need, I figured out. So now when I’m promoting, I’m writing less. But I do a lot of the working out of the story in my head, so I’m always doing that.

Lynne: Tell us about your writing routine.
Marisa: During the school year, when my kids are in school, I write between 8:30- 2:30. Each day I start by reading pages from the day before, and then I plunge in. I write sentence to sentence, and I don’t know my story until I’m writing. I have a vague sense, but the story comes as I write. My first drafts take a long time because I fine-tune as I go. I don’t have numerous drafts, but more of a thorough continuous draft. I send my manuscript to my agent in chunks. She’s a great editor. I’m very at home with her.

Lynne: What’s most important to you as a writer?
Marisa: I can’t write for an audience. I never want my books to lack integrity because I’ve not been true to my story and the characters. I value my audience, but I have to write what I have to write.

As a writer and a reader, characters are paramount to me. I love language, but I get impatient when books don’t have a story to tell. The highest compliment I can get is that my characters feel real. The books I go back to over and over again—the ones that become part of my life—are the ones where the characters are alive.

The way I write is character-driven. I don’t plot, I let the characters tell me what the story is.

Lynne: How are you contending with your new found success?
It’s all wonderful. This whole publishing life for me has been full of serendipitous things, some incredibly miraculous things, but it doesn’t change my daily life. The thing that brings it home for me, isn’t the sales figures, it’s the email, the conversations with readers. The fact that my books are touching people, reaching people, that’s the best thing.

I’m grateful things are happening now that I’m happy, and my life is firmly in place. It is all a great privilege to be doing this, though there was no big identity shift, because I’d had always been a writer. The real relationship is between you and the work; nothing changes that, and nothing should.

I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with the people I’ve worked with; they’ve been dedicated to me and my books. I know I’m blessed and I live in a state of gratitude.

Thank you, Marisa, for sharing your time with the readers of The Writers' Group. Your insights are incredibly valuable.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Free PR Advice

by Hannah Roveto

In my other life, not the one where I make PB&Js and play taxi, but my other-other life, I am a national public relations consultant. You probably have shopped at my clients' stores, bought their stuff, seen them on TV or read about them in national magazines or local newspapers.

When PR types sit with a new or potential client, we ask them to explain in their own words what makes them unique or what makes their product better than anyone else's, and of course, what kind of media attention they expect us to deliver. What's fascinating is the number of successful clients who cannot articulate a precise vision of who they are in the marketplace and what kind of response is realistic.

"We're going to make shopping fun." (Mmm. How precisely? Are customers really in need of spa grocery stores?) "We meet the needs of real people." (That's not an answer until you can define real people, what their needs are and again, why they want massages on aisle six.)

"Our paradigm is such that we optimize the experience and deliver results." (Hunh?) "We want you to get us on the front page of the New York Times." (Not with a paradigm nobody understands, you won't.)

Aspirational statements do not sell a story. Producers and editors hear hundreds of pitches a day, people like me calling and emailing them begging for time and attention. Their antennae are finely tuned to select subjects that are clearly defined, offer something truly fresh or a twist on expectations, and that will be presented quickly, efficiently and in an entertaining fashion. Here's the trick: Nobody wants to know why my clients are great. Lots of people sell stuff. What the media want to know is why their audience is going to care enough to perhaps take action.

Before you go anywhere in the public eye -- and for writers that can be as early as looking for an agent, never mind hitting the bookshelves -- you need to know clearly who you are and where you want to go, and be able to explain quickly why your audience -- agents, editors, readers -- should care.

Consider yourself not from within, but from without: What makes you and your story interesting, a little different, enough to pique curiosity (without making them roll their eyes)? What will they connect to emotionally and/or what is the twist? Last, make sure you can explain all this in a sentence or two, in such a way to draw a nod of interest from a total stranger.

Sound bytes. One sentence, two sentences. Lisa Scottoline tells writers to draft their own New York Times bestseller list blurb. Do it for your story and for yourself, too. That way when you meet an agent, a book editor, a television news producer, you'll be ready. Plus, you'll impress the heck out of the marketing team as a bonus!

Monday, June 23, 2008


Posted by Lisa Marnell

Okay, I changed my mind since Friday's Blog. If I could be anything, I would be a professional tennis player. The travel, the excitement, the attention. And with Wimbledon starting today! Yup, pro tennis player. That's the ticket.

Oops, I changed my mind again. Any of you reading this who know me, really know me, would believe I'm not joking. I'm not! Thirty seconds ago I wanted to be a professional tennis player, but I don't want to anymore. It might be too stressful. I mean, screwing up, choking, is one thing in the privacy of my small world. But choking in front of a crowd of thousands - not for me.

I have a point. And it has to do with writing. Plotting, specifically.

I find plotting a challenge. Not for lack of ideas, necessarily, but for sticking with one idea, one theme over the course of months of writing. When a novel idea comes, a writer must give consider it. Then, there is a choice one makes. The option is to either push it aside (none of us want to have a novel with too many subplots; it may ramble and at the end threads may not be tied). The other option is to embrace it. How many writers say that they started with one idea or a couple important characters, but the Russian hockey player (for instance) that was working as a waiter in the New York hotel just TOOK OVER. It happens all the time.

Now, being an indecisive person, I have decided to change my personality, stick to my guns, and commit myself to ONE THEME, ONE PREMISE.

We'll see.

Rose, dear Rose. You clever and tragic and mixed up main character. I will finish your story. I promise!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Making A Literary Life: What If We Didn't Write?

All the talk this week of other arts makes us think of the questionnaire James Lipton offers to his actor guests on Inside the Actors' Studio. Originally created by Bernard Pivot, with some credit apparently due in some measure to Marcel Proust, the questionnaire includes 10 questions that include the following;

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?


What profession would you not like to do?

And we will add, why?

Lisa Marnell
I would have liked to be a doctor. I would have hated to be a doctor.

I love the idea. I would hate the implemenation of it in real world insurance realities (revolving-door).

Next, a singer. Believe me, if American Idol had auditions for over-thirties I would cue-up ASAP!

Amy MacKinnon
I suppose if I were smart enough I would have been a doctor. The pace, the drama, the purposefulness of it all attracts me. The worst job I've ever had and never want again is that of a waitress. When people have a little power -- customers -- they wield it cruelly.

Hannah Roveto
Beyond the wild-dream professions -- singing, if I had the voice for it, for example -- I always thought being a meteorologist would be fun, tracking weather and predicting it, not necessarily being the one to report on television. Mother Nature is so powerful and fascinating that being closer to a first name basis (Mother? Ma?) would be worth waking up for every day. As to what I wouldn't do, that's hard. There are a lot of difficult jobs (EMT, working with at-risk kids) but those would have rewards to make the challenges with it. Bottom line, anything with tarantulas would be impossible.

Lynne Griffin
Yesterday's post filled you in on my love of dance. I would've loved to be a professional dancer. Yet when choosing a college, even in the late seventies, I was directed toward nursing or teaching. I chose both. I've worked in hospital intensive care units, nursing homes and schools. Jobs I couldn't do? While Hannah loves Mother Nature, I have to say any outdoor work would eventually do me in. Living in New England, winters and summers can be extreme, I wouldn't last long outside in cold or hot temps. And no doubt I'd pull a Lucille Ball if I ever worked in a factory assembly line. Ditto on anything with tarantulas.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Dancing and Writing

Posted by Lynne Griffin

I started my artistic life off as a dancer. Not a Dancing with the Stars kind of dancer, a So You Think You Can Dance kind of dancer. Lyrical, contemporary, jazz and ballet, with some musical theater on the side.

When I was growing up, dancing and dancers were part of everyday life. Variety shows featured big dance numbers, award shows had them too. Before your wedding you brushed off your dance shoes, perhaps you hadn't danced publicly since elementary and middle school dances, where you were taught ballroom.

Growing up in my small town with pretty traditional parents, I'm grateful that art, music, dance and the written word were so well-respected. Neither artistically inclined, my parents supported my love of dance, and books. As surprised as I am that my artistic expression left the dance floor and found the page, I see parallels in these two art forms.

In every novel, capturing mood is essential to story telling. And while some stories are darker than others, taking you to places you dare not go, changing the way you think about things, so can interpretive dance. Some beautiful novels, like dances, are termed quiet, their message simple and beautiful. A novel can inspire a dance. A dance can tell a story.

There's a connection between art forms, as I see it. I'm thrilled to see renewed enthusiasm for dance in our popular culture. It makes me want to take a class. Or create a character who's at home on the stage.

Who doesn't love being the girl on top of the piano?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

by Hannah Roveto

A friend sent me a YouTube video yesterday, you know the kind, that has been mass emailed by people all over the world for months and months. In it was footage of tiny Connie Talbot, who came close to winning Britain's Got Talent last year (Simon Cowell's U.K. TV talent competition). Maybe you've seen it, maybe not. I often delete these things, but then again, I check chain emails claiming to serve some altruistic purpose against

I was moved to tears by Connie. I admit to being in a particularly schmaltzy mood these days, but my thoughts afterward reflected more, I hope, than a bad case of over-sentimentality. Three ideas that have made me smile for the past 24 hours:

One: When someone has real talent, it will be noticed. Some creative people ignore the bubbling sound from within, even for years, as the path it leads to might be (a) impractical, (b) insufficient for bill-paying purposes and/or (c) put one in a position to be critiqued and criticized publicly. If you are known around the gray cubicles or in volunteer subcommittees as "the writer," then everyone is telling you something you need to hear and do something about.

Two: If it comes from a pure place, there is power. You can want something with your whole heart, but you have to want it for the right reasons. To be famous is not a reason. To make money is not a reason. To do it because you love to do it, because you do it in your sleep, because you are miserable when you can't do it, now there's a reason. There is a pure place deep inside you, and if you cultivate it -- the trick to it all -- you will succeed.

Three: Sometimes it is better to be older. A postscript on Connie's story, for anyone feeling equally schmaltzy who links to her performance, is that Cowell's record company came back to the Talbots and told them they believe in the future of this little girl, but that she is too young to launch a real career in the music industry. Kudos to them for having the backbone not to turn a six-year-old into immediate paychecks. There were other companies less ethical, but I hope the Talbots heard the full message and understand that bright lights and applause are frosting on a grindingly hard and brutal industry. Sometimes maturity -- of the artist, not those around her or him -- is truly essential equipment in tackling a dream.

Bottom line: If you want to fly over the rainbow, ask yourself, do you have the wings for it? If yes, then do you have the strength for it, or the willingness to build up that strength? And if yes again, well, get out there and fly. Start low but head high. You don't ever be the one to be stuck on the ground at the end of the day wondering why, then, oh why, didn't I.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Dedication

By Amy MacKinnon

Some who have read Tethered comment that it's dark, it's subject matter "creepy." Others say they'll never read it because it involves the death of child. I understand, I do. I might not read such a story myself. It was years before I reached for The Lovely Bones and now it's one of my favorites. It took all the resolve I had to read through that first chapter when Suzy (last name Salmon, like the fish) was brutalized. But those of us who've read it were granted a reprieve, actually Suzy was, with the ending. And with the writing.

My novel, Tethered is dedicated to Erica Michelle Marie Green. I first heard about her on NPR while driving home. It stunned me. How could a child be discarded? How? I'd already written the first chapter of what I thought was a short story, but after listening to that NPR segment, I knew it had to be a novel that included Precious Doe and others like her. It's not an exact retelling of her story at all, but the way in which she was found is similar. When I started researching cases, I went to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. There I found page after page of children who had been discarded in similar fashion over the years. Far, far too many.

So for those of you who can't read Tethered, I understand, it's difficult to know about the lives of forgotten children. But you can't ignore them either by pretending they don't exist.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The reason I write

Posted by Lisa Marnell

When I was twelve, I read the book, Night of the Red Horse, by Patricia Leitch. I am reading it now. I continue to be awed by this work of fiction, and wholeheartedly inspired by this author.

Last night, after I FINALLY put this book down, three-quarters of the way through, I wondered what it was about this story that made it so fantastic. I got it! I figured it out. This novel is a delight – terrifyingly so – because of two things:

Setting and Suspense.

I googled Patricia Leitch and found the following:

Patricia Leitch born 13 July, 1933, Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland, is a Scottish writer, best known for her series of children's books about Jinny Manders and her wild, traumatised Arabian horse Shantih, set in the Scottish Highlands. The 12 books in the Jinny series were published between 1976 and 1988 by Armada.

I felt like a detective as I thought about Patricia Leitch. She was between 43 and 55 when this series was published. I was lucky, I suppose. I was between 7 and 19 when she wrote them. I WAS her audience. She never met me. I doubt she ever will. But I can say with absolute certainty that she changed my life, and I don’t mean because she inspired me to write, (which she did), but because she let me hope that there are places I want to go to. There are adventures waiting for me in the years to follow. And, maybe, there’s a touch of magic out there.

As I continued to read about Patricia Leitch, my heart sank as I read this line:

The Ginny at Finmory series is currently out of print.

I suppose I was lucky. Tweens and teens today would love these books. I read on:

The Jinny series marks a significant departure from the traditional 'tweedy' horse and pony stories aimed at middle-class children. Jinny is a scruffy, willful, tom-boyish girl who doesn't have any social or romantic aspirations. Serious social justice issues are raised throughout the series, forcing Jinny to confront her own prejudices and character faults.

Underlying the series is a sense of
predestination deriving from Celtic mythology. Jinny is portrayed as a gifted or chosen child with special and dangerous tasks to perform, guided by mysterious and sometimes frightening characters such as the Red Horse (agent of the Celtic Horse Goddess Epona) and the Walker. In this way it resembles the Dark Is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper.

Thank you, Patricia, for writing all of your wonderful books. This forty-year-old wanna-be writer is forever grateful and the twelve-year-old girl somewhere inside me has seen the world differently because of you.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy Fathers Day

Here's a story about mine and hope you'll share about yours.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Making a Literary Life: Who Inspires You?

This week, a couple of us at the Writers' Group shared how musicians inspire us. In their talent, drive and heart, they show us how they followed their dream. This week, we want to share how others - non-writers - inspire us. Tell us who inspires you.

Lisa Marnell
For me, it has to be athletes, and it barely matters what sport it is. In the last winter Olympics, there was a Russian skater whose story brought me to tears. And what about Justine Henning, the champion tennis player from Belgium who recently retired. When she was fourteen she went to a tennis match with her mom and promised her mom that she would play at that level some day. Her mom never lived to see Justine win a Grand Slam.

Amy MacKinnon
John Walsh inspires me. When his son Adam was abducted and later found ed, Mr. Walsh didn't crumble they way most of us would. Instead, he gathered whatever reserves he had and devoted his life to helping abused children by co-founding the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and producing and hosting America's Most Wanted. One man, one man shouldering the most excruciating burden, and he has helped change the world for thousands of people.

Hannah Roveto
I am most inspired by regular people who rise above whatever is going on in their lives with integrity, dignity and compassion. Friends, neighbors, relatives. Randy Pausch, the professor who has become famous for his Last Lecture is inspirational, and not for the reasons you might think at first. He was a regular guy handling everyday adversity with strength and humor at inspirational levels, only few people knew that. His diagnosis put him in the spotlight; certainly, he continues to deal with the most difficult hand that can be dealt with grace. However, it's his successes along the way, showing how a can-do approach and sense of humor deliver real rewards, that is his most inspirational -- and generous -- message to other everyday people. He shows us how to take what we get and get what we need: joy.

Lynne Griffin
I was surprised when this topic left me bewildered. It wasn't easy to come up with a person or group of people who inspire me. Certainly there's the parent I've been working with, who has two children with special needs; I admire her patience and fortitude. There's the gifted teacher I met fifteen years ago and will never forget; she knows just how to motivate each and every student who walks into her classroom. I thought about my own parents, grandparents, & friends. But I just couldn't come up with one person. It seems I draw my inspiration from ordinary people doing extraordinary things. The people who live the paradoxical commandments. People who, in the face of insurmountable challenges, persevere anyway.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Pitches, Pens, and Preferences

Posted by Lynne Griffin

Musing on the posts this week on capturing your story in a pitch, being true to yourself as an artist, and preferred work habits, I saw a theme, a common thread. Everything comes down to a matter of taste.

You can write the snazziest pitch ever, but if one of the main characters is a ghost, a cowboy, or a dog, I probably won't be stepping up to the register to plunk down my debit card for a hardcover. Now I'm not saying there's anything wrong with ghosts, cowboys or dogs, I'm just not that into them, so I rarely choose to read stories about them.

I enjoyed reading Amy's post about Alicia Keys's philanthropic work, and I admire her integrity as an artist. But I don't particularly care for the kind of music she sings. This is more my style.

Quality pens and fine paper are marvelous for writing charming notes, leaving messages for family, or thanking supportive friends, and I love a beautiful journal, but I prefer to write fiction on a computer. (I agree whole-heartedly with Hannah about the frustrations of working with technology.)

Before you write to convince me I should love cowboys, R & B, and writing long hand, consider your own preferences. I'm not terribly stubborn about mine, but I accept them. It doesn't mean I can't be swayed to read something I ordinarily wouldn't, when it's suggested to me by a reader I respect.**

It's merely an issue of preference. In my opinion, if all writers and readers were identical, there would be no art. There wouldn't be any reason to discuss literature; we wouldn't bother to read to think or learn new ways of seeing the world. Here's the thing--I know some people will love my novel and some won't. I can long for stellar reviews and a wildfire of word-of-mouth, but at the end of the day, I know some won't connect with my artistry. I hope reviewers will get what I tried to accomplish, and of course, I want them to recommend it. I'd love to hear readers tell other readers LIFE WITHOUT SUMMER is a must read. Yet just as I have preferences, I need to respect the preferences of readers, knowing my novel isn't for everyone.

Here's another of my preferences: I chose to be positive. I'm not expending a lot of energy on those who won't care for my kind of story. Instead I'm doing my best to connect with readers looking for upmarket fiction about family, forgiveness and the struggle to find hope in healing. My marketing and publicity efforts are targeted and crafted to find my readers. People who want what I have to offer. I know they're out there. It's my job to find them.

**Novels I love about ghosts:
Portrait of Jennie by Robert Nathan
Eva Moves the Furniture by Margot Livesey

**Novels I love about cowboys:
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid by William Goldman

**Novels I love about dogs:
Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst
Lassie Come Home by Eric Knight

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Pen is Mightiest

by Hannah Roveto

For anyone excited to read a review of powerful writing that seeks to correct wrongs and fight injustice, my apologies. I like that idea, perhaps a kernel for a future post, but that's not what's got me going. Instead, come with me to a modest gray-shingled Cape a short walk from the ocean, emerald grass across its front lawn, catbirds mocking each other in the trees.

Our Writer sits at her computer, iced coffee in hand. The morning is warm, the silence promising. She turns on the computer, excited about having created two hours to fill with ideas and poetry. Or at least, a last round of revision.

"Fatal execution error."

(Dear reader: Fill in this blank with the word of your choice.)

"Press okay if you want to continue." Does she? Sure, why not. A large message screen pops up, threatening to eliminate all that lies behind the glass. "Continue" is still an option, teases the computer. Our Writer does want to continue, but knows this is a trick question.

What the heck. Nothing bad happens, although the Internet connection doesn't work, which is fine as the antivirus software is sending a warning to the screen every two minutes saying it is shut off and can't go back on. A quick call to the boss means there may be even more time to write, as no emails will get through, no research can be done.

Our Writer turns off the computer, prostrating herself before the Muse for inspiring her to back up the WIP a day earlier, an infrequent occurence. She pulls out... a pad of paper and a pen. Our Writer heads down the hall to curl up on the sofa, coffee moved to still be within reach. She goes through the outline of her manuscript and notes she has made as to small changes that need to be made. Over two days, as the Dell is nursed back to reasonable health, pages of lined paper covered with blue ink are written over in black ink, red ink, pencil, until everything from dozens of scraps of paper are all compiled into one source. The result is satisfying; a feeling of accomplishment and preparedness makes Our Writer woozy with delight.

In fact, those two days of pen and paper leave a fond memory that almost overshadows the frustration with technology. The feel of pen in hand, the smooth hush of paper, the corner of the sofa with its soft pillows. She thinks of authors who write everything longhand the first round; could that be a possibility for the next project? Perhaps. For the pen is not only mightier than the sword, it has proven itself mightier than the computer. And these days, that is saying a great deal.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Alicia Keys UPDATE

By Amy MacKinnon

I just heard from Alicia Key's publicist. Look at what she's doing now. She is one powerful woman.

Freedom to Fall

By Amy MacKinnon

Any Alicia Keys fans in the house? She's my girl. A musical savant, but even more, a philosopher.
Sarah Rodman, one of my favorite music critics, had an awe-inspiring, hit-me-upside-the-head, everyone-needs-to-read-this kind of interview with Alicia Keys in this past Friday's Boston Globe.

"Everything's not always going to be perfect or exactly the way you wished it was going to be, and the way that you handle that is what shows the growth you're going to have," says an upbeat Keys from New Orleans.

Now sit back a minute and read that paragraph a second time. Going to have. Now that's forward thinking. This coming from a 27-year-old woman. Ready for more?

"...the one thing I really want above all is to feel proud of the choices I made. And I also want to feel if I made any bad choices that I was able to learn from them."

Alicia Keys is telling you, me, the world, and most important of all, herself, that it's okay to fail. She is saying choose wisely, but if you don't, that's okay, learn from it and keep moving forward.

We know this already, don't we? We know that our failures teach us more than our successes. We know as writers, we will be faced with rejections, criticisms, acid-tongued Amazon reviewers. But we forget, too. In the moment, when faced with it, we can feel only the sting of the fall and forget it's a journey of a thousand steps this life we chose. We'll all fall, some of us spectacularly, others in silent torment. Just remember when you do fail -- and you will -- you tripped in the footsteps of those who went before you -- and they kept going. Will you?

Just watch her go.

Monday, June 09, 2008

In a few words...

Posted by Lisa Marnell

It may be the toughest couple of sentences you ever write – and it won’t be fun, at first. But it’s crucial. That all-important, difficult to write, answer to the dreaded auestion: “So, what’s your story about.”

Once, in writer’s group, we talked about theme. One of our members spoke with such confidence saying, “How could someone try to write a book without knowing the theme ahead of time.”


I didn’t admit it at the time, but I wasn’t sure what my book was about. I am in a better position now, but that’s only after a painful conversation with a close friend, explaining my story and asking this person to read a couple pitch lines. It didn’t go well. As we talked more, after I explained the plot and the ending, this friend said, "Hey, your story is about friendship, between a rich girl and a poor girl." Light bulb moment.

Pitch and theme go hand in hand. To have a story, I believe you need a theme. Internal struggle, such as in the novel I am reading, Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld, has the enticing eye-catcher on the back of the book: "Everybody gets to be supermodel gorgeous. What could be wrong with that?" Good, isn't it?

Being able to write a short pitch sentence or two help me, now, as I struggle to finish my WIP. Also, it's a must-have for a conversation with an editor.

I went to my trusty Verla Kay website to search for some thoughts on the topic. I wasn't disappointed.

Take a look at this to see some winning pitches, taken from a contest for winnning pitches.

Here's a pretty amazing "how-to" for writing a premise.

try, now, to write a pitch. It's a pleasure-pain thing, but it will help your story.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Brava, Kristy Kiernan!

Author of Catching Genius and now Matters of Faith, friend of the blog Kristy Kiernan has just received this *glowing* review from Publishers Weekly. Sounds like the perfect pick for summer and your book club.

Matters of Faith Kristy Kiernan. Berkley, $14 paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-425-22179-2

In this tense, well-paced novel about belief, Kiernan explores what happens when faith and love test the limits of family fealty. In southwest Florida, college student Marshall Tobias is in search of something to believe in. He thinks he’s found God and the woman he’s always dreamed of when he falls in love with fundamentalist believer Ada Sparks. But Ada’s against medical intervention for illness, and tragedy results when she sets out to “help” Marshall’s 12-year-old sister, Meghan, overcome her life-threatening allergies. Switching points-of-view between Marshall and his mother, Chloe, Kiernan (Catching Genius) movingly portrays a 20-year-old marriage gone flat and torn apart by crisis, a troubled son, a daughter hovering between life and death, and the hard-to-discern boundaries between true faith and unhealthy fanaticism. She handles her difficult material respectfully. Most interesting is her portrayal of the well-meaning traps parents fall into when encouraging open-ended exploration of faith without context, or choosing to remain silent. The thoughtful themes, interesting characters and page-turning drama of this novel will likely make it a book club favorite. (Aug.)

Friday, June 06, 2008

Making a Literary Life Friday: Pssst!

What are you hearing about the goings on in the book world? Good stuff? What books of summer are you excited about and can't wait to buzzzzzz? We here at the Writers' Group have some picks of our own and we want to hear yours.

Lisa Marnell
It's YA central for me! Now that I'm nearly finished Uglies by Scott Westerfeld - it's an amazing tale - I'll be reading the sequel, Pretties, soon. Then Peeps, Midnighters, gosh he's prolific!

Next, I can't wait to start The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan. I've heard nothing but wonderful praise for this series about a boy who confronts the Greek gods and godesses.

Amy MacKinnon
There are a few books I need to read this summer: Patry's pick Andrew Davidson's The Gargoyle, I Still Have It, I Just Can't Remember Where I Put It by Rita Rudner because she me up; and I need to get my hands on a galley of Dennis Lehane's The Given Day, that will be my mission this weekend.

Thanks to Carleen Brice, author of Orange Mint & Honey, for taking this photo of Tethered at Book Expo America 2008. A dream come true.

Hannah Roveto
What's new? Scott Heim (We Disappear), Mameve Medwed (Of Men and Their Mothers) and Margot Livesey (The House on Fortune Street) are out and about promoting their books, all of which I highly recommend. They are completely different from each other, so you can move from one to the other without pause and enjoy, enjoy, enjoy. At the moment Stephen L. Carter's New England White is being toted everywhere I go, as I am compelled to pack even five minutes in when I can to find out how this unravels! Books on my to-read list this summer include Cynthia Ozick's Dictation, Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth, the posthumous publication by Grace Paley, Fidelity, Gil Adamson's The Outlander, and natch, Tethered. The group saw the last draft of that months ago, and Amy has been teasing us with hints as to what changed across the editing process since. Cannot, cannot wait!

For you quick readers in need of even more suggestions, get Hallie Ephron's 1001 Books for Every Mood. Come on, you can't have read all 1,001 yet, can you? Just a few of the moods listed: Soar, Join the Circus, Blame Your Genes, and Celebrate Friends; this book will be well-thumbed, a good friend with tips on great reads for a long time to come.

Lynne Griffin
Now that my daughter is home from college, the Griffin summer reading challenge is on. Each with our own personal goal and list of must-reads, we read and discuss and recommend books galore. So far the books Caitlin and I have discussed over tea include,
March, by Geraldine Brooks, Charity Girl, by Michael Lowenthal and Peace Like a River by Leif Engler (his latest So Brave, Young and Handsome is on my to be read list) .

Others on my to be read shelf include: Away by Amy Bloom, Belong to Me, Marisa des los Santos, The Commoner by John Burnham Schwartz.

And here's some book industry news--my daughter got a summer job at our local independent, The Front Street Bookshop. Bookloving runs in the family and she and I wonder if she'll ever come home with a paycheck.

And speaking of the Front Street Bookshop--Hallie Ephron will be there next Friday, June 13 at 7 PM, to talk about 1001 Books for Every Mood. Come see us there.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Where the Story Comes Alive

Posted by Lynne Griffin

Last week I finished a first draft of my second novel. Two days after writing the last line, I turned to the first chapter. I had planned to give the whole draft a rest, but about month or so ago, I read that Joyce Carol Oates writes the last chapter and the first chapter of her works-in-progress simultaneously, to ensure consistency of voice. I'm no Joyce, but I thought it made sense--knowing what I now know about my story ending--to plunge right into revision.

Many months ago, when my dear friends at the Writers' Group read my opening chapter, each member questioned whether or not the first chapter really was the first chapter. Guess what? It may have been the means by which I propelled my novel forward, getting words on the blank page, but once there was a full draft, one where major story lines were revealed and character transformations set down, it was clear to me it wasn't the true beginning of the story.

In previous posts, first drafts have been referred to as the journey of discovery draft. The first draft has also been compared to sculpting, while subsequent drafts compared to painting. At this year's Muse and the Marketplace conference, Lisa and I attended a brilliant workshop on revision given by Karl Iagnemma. By giving participants three versions of one of his fantastic short stories, Karl showed us his process, one he likens to using different types of sandpaper, as a framework for revision. He suggests beginning revisions on the broadest story level, then moving on to the scene level. Finally revising paragraphs, sentences, and words.

Hallie Ephron, in her terrific book, Writing and Selling your Mystery Novel, talks about flying high, what she calls big picture revision, and flying low, the little particulars in need of refinement.

The way I see it, there are three levels of work to be done in revision:

  1. Reworking--This is the work of wholesale retooling of a part of the story.
  2. Rewriting--Perhaps a chapter is partially moving the story forward, or exposing some of what readers need at a particular point in the story, but portions or parts need to be rewritten.
  3. Refining--This is the final polishing that every manuscript needs. Though it's tempting to skip this step, either because of exhaustion related to 1 & 2 or belief that you've done all you can do to tell the story, this step makes all the difference in getting an agent's or editor's attention.
So I'm off to rewrite and refine my work-in-progress. Does anyone else have a model they use for the revision process. While some find it a daunting task, I think this is where the real magic of story telling happens. This is where the story comes alive.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Gift of Time

by Hannah Roveto

My birthday came and went recently, accompanied by homemade cards hidden (surprise!) as usual under my placemat at breakfast, flowers from my husband, a cake from the supermarket chosen for maximum lusciousness by my chocoholic daughter, and dinner out a week later alone with my husband courtesy of my parents (during which said daughter did call to report what she'd done all day with Grandma and Grandpa before being put to bed at their house).

A special present is yet to come.

I sat my kids down and told them not what I want, but what I need most from them as we head into summer. I, too, am ready for less stress, later starting times to the day, a regular check on the quality and service at Dairy Twist, the smell of suntan lotion and bug spray and chlorine and sweat. I am not ready, or willing, or able, to lose Writer Time.

My manuscript will be in the hands of the group by month's end and barring fatal flaws, sent to agents soon thereafter. Thus, is the pressure off? Not a chance. I will still need to edit and polish, finalize my query letter, work at the back-office end of getting it ready and out the door.

Even when that happens, there is still no rest -- nor am I weary, in the least! Summer hits right as my WTBIN (Work-To-Be-In-Progress) screams into my ear, having waited patiently over the past several months for focused attention. Now is literally its time in the sun, and it and I cannot wait.

I explained to my kids that summer will run more smoothly for all if Mommy has Time. I need them to do a little more around the house. I need them to respect when I am on the phone and computer, and not just when I'm doing paid work (for which I have a separate but overlapping strategy to make time to do). Bottom line, however, is that Mommy on computer or sitting in corner with notebook plus quiet (low volume?) equals Mommy back to you faster -- and happier.

I will do my share. I've bought bottles of bubbles (for her) and new outdoor toys (for both). My son the videographer has a new greenscreen downstairs (Wal-Mart Arugula paint on a drop cloth). The promise of time at StarLand to play mini-golf and whatever else strikes their fancies awaits as a reward.

So, to follow on the themes of Drive and Tenacity and Moms Who Write, any other tips for creating Writer Time during the summer months? For giving oneself and persuading others to give you the Gift of Time? Bring 'em on!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Moms Who Write

By Amy MacKinnon

I love this Boston Globe article -- no, not because both Lynne and I are featured -- but because it strikes at the heart of what it is you and I are trying to do: write. We will write no matter the barriers, no matter the external pressures, no matter the doubt. We will write.
Thanks to Grub Street for letting us have the photo taken there. If you've read the article, now you understand why I'm a proud Grubbie.

Monday, June 02, 2008

All In Due Course

Posted by Lisa Marnell

To think about on this Monday...

Below is a scene from page 236 (paperback) of The Secret Life of Bees, when Lily finds out that August knew Lily’s mother. It doesn’t matter if you’ve read the book or not – though you should. This is important because it might make sense to you in the same way it makes sense to me, namely...

Writing has its own timeline.

So the passage goes...

“How come you didn’t tell me?”

“Because you weren’t ready to know… I didn’t want to risk you running away again. I wanted you to have a chance to get yourself on solid ground, get your heart bolstered up first. There’s a fullness of time for things, Lily. You have to know when to prod and when to be quiet, when to let things take their course. That’s what I’ve been trying to do.”

That's what I've been trying to do as well.

I wonder, sometimes, if other artisits have the uncertainty writers do. Singers, certainly, struggle in a similar manner to fiction writer wannabes. Many people can carry a tune, have decent range, and simply love to sing in the shower. But it's not these individuals who "make it" to the big time. It's those singers in smokey pubs who oftentimes aren't heard above the din of mindless babble. You have to love to sing.

The more I write, the more I try to write fiction, the more I believe you don't need talent so much as drive and tenacity. It isn't easy. But it isn't boring either.