Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Passion

By Amy

My daughter called me over to the television the other night. Her favorite author was being interviewed, discussing what it was to finish the series of books that had taken her 10 years to complete. Her books have been credited with invigorating the publishing industry, inspiring a generation of children to read -- and perhaps write--, and making the author one of the richest women in the UK.

I haven't yet read her books, blasphemy I know, so I started to walk away when the interviewer asked the author who she wrote for, the readers? The author's answer was profound. No, she said, for the story. Her vast audience may have wanted some to survive, others to die, but the author said she needed to write to suit the story first and foremost. I took a seat. Then the interviewer asked if she intended to continue writing. Many people watching probably expected her to say no, that her well of creativity had run dry or that she wanted to take some time to enjoy her excessive wealth. Instead, the author said she was already writing another book. She said it was a privilege to write without the expectation of publication.

Think about that for a minute.

I was talking to a friend yesterday and her book is already creating buzz in publishing circles. Her story is the dream many writers have while toiling away, alone, wondering if what they're creating has any merit. My friend's work was sent out on a Friday, and by Monday the offers started pouring into her agent. An auction ensued, trips to New York, meetings with her editor, the publisher, art department. Then the big news, hers would be the lead title. Who among us hasn't wanted to step into that glass slipper? I told my friend about the interview with the author, about the privilege of writing. She agreed. For all of the excitement of getting published, it's the euphoria writing inspires that moves us to our desks each morning. As badly as I want to write a book that will stand on the front table of every bookstore in America and across Europe, what I want more is to continue to enjoy the sheer ecstasy of emerging from my study, knowing I've just composed the best sentence I could.

I simply want to write.

Monday, July 30, 2007


Posted by Lisa

To be honest, I was astounded. I have been exposed to money, and people with money - I rode horses as a child, the sport of kings and queens. But someone, I recently met, floored me.

His name - he never told me actually. I didn't ask. I met him in a playground, a casual conversation because we both have kids and we were both standing around. He was well-groomed, certainly. Neater than my husband would be at ten AM on a Saturday morning. He did pull away when my dalmation lab mix tried to say hello. Okay, maybe he was bitten as a child. Cut him some slack, I said to myself.

It was when his five- year-old daughter came up to him screaming, "My crocs are dirty. My crocs are dirty," that my jaw dropped to the ground. Why? Because he said, "Ew, they are. Just throw them in the trash. Mom can get you a new pair."

What struck me was his perspective. Is he THAT wealthy, THAT wasteful?

Later that day, I met Manuel, a maintainance man at the Marriott Hotel where I was staying. He came to my room to fix the air conditioner. We got to talking as he needed to wait ten minutes to see if it got cool. Money, wealth, or lack thereof, was the subject of our conversation. Manuel is solid, short, with eyes a warm brown that probably sparkle when he's happy. He has two teenagers. His wife cleans houses. "When I first arrived from Mexico, I made $5.25 an hour," he told me. "I hope to make $22,000 next year."

I probably gulped, my perspective is somewhere in the middle of these two characters, and characters, they are.

Since, I have certainly thought of these two people as characters. Goes with the territory of being a writer, I suppose. One character I liked a whole lot more than the other. I could spend a few hundred pages with that one. The other, well, I'd lose my patience by the third chapter - maybe the second, actually.

So much of writing is trying to write what intrigues you. Write, in fact, what fascinates you to no end. Then it will be fresh, alive, lively, and delicious to read. This, I have always thought of in terms of genre. You like romance? Then write the best darn romance you can write. I've thought of it in terms of plot, as well. I never thought of this in terms of character. Interestingly, as the masterminds of the writing process, we are in CHARGE of characters.

This whole character revelation I had, made me rethink my characters. Do I love them - even the cheeky, mean, impatient ones? If I don't love them, who will? So, if a character is dull, afraid to try something, make them the most outspoken, ill-tempered, agoraphobic dull person you ever wanted to meet. THAT will make unforgettable characters - who your readers (or agents and editors) will adore.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Making a Literary Life Friday: Catch a Little Literary Genius

Guess who's coming to town? Yes, Kristy Kiernan! On Saturday, July 28 at 2:00 pm, she'll be at Cornerstone Books in Salem, Massachusetts (one of my favorite indies, by the way) signing copies of her debut, Catching Genius. If you're one of the two people left who hasn't yet read Deb Kristy's novel that Booklist says is, "A warm, moving novel about the power of familial bonds," then get thyself to a bookstore and buy it. Absolutely a favorite here. And while you're in the Boston area, stop by Grub Street's Tenth Anniversary party and grab yourself something bubbly. If you can't make it, email Grub's creative director Chris Castellani and wish him well. Then buy yourself a present to celebrate, Chris's amazing book, A Kiss from Maddalena. Happy Birthday, Grub!

I have a confession to make. When I finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows late, late on Wednesday evening, I slept with the book tucked in my arms the rest of the night, and the next night as well. I can't, I simply can't let those characters go. I feel such an overwhelming sense of validation that a nobody writer can create such works of delight and splendor.

USA Today's cover story this week about J.K. Rowling nearly brought me to tears. It is SUCH a fairy tale. It simply inspires. There's hope for all of us. There is!

After the enigmatic Larramie sent me Therese Fowler's debut novel Souvenir (Ballantine, February 2008), I spent hours ignoring everything needing my attention and devoted that time befriending Meg, Carson, and Savannah. Do you want an actual review or is it enough for me to say that I'm usually in bed no later than 9:00 pm, but Souvenir had me up until 2:30 am? I--couldn't--put--it--down. I don't want to ruin anything, but I reached for my first tissue by page 188 (the UK version advises keeping a box nearby), completely forgot this is a book written by someone I "know," and once I understood the import of the title -- whew! -- let's just say it was a gut punch. I was so misled. Buy this book. I've been missing the characters all week. Therese, you did it, you wrote an amazing novel.

Looking for another great book? I don't usually read mysteries (too impatient), but I LOVED Prime Time by Hank Phillippi Ryan. LOVED it! I want Charlie McNally to be my bff, I want to meet her for coffee and then shadow her as she reports the news. I've bought at least five copies to give out to friends. This has a smart plot with an adorable character I think about when I fall asleep, I wonder what Charlie's up to...Good thing Hank has another in the series, Face Time, coming out in October. Funny thing about both Souvenir and Prime Time, very different books, but both have romantic plots. I don't believe in romance, not at all, but these two writers convinced me it just might exist. *Sigh*

Like Lisa, I have replayed Harry in my mind ever since I finished that book. The review in the Wall Street Journal said it all, that it is clear Rowling knew how the entire series would unfold from the start. Wow. My son, inspired to read by this series despite my best earlier efforts, wondered aloud what he will read now. I smiled. He is a Reader, hundreds of titles under his belt and a book in hand a good amount the time. He read Dave Barry's and Ridley Pearson's Peter and the Starcatchers and its sequel devotedly in the six weeks before that midnight moment of magic. Meanwhile, I finally got going on Matthew Pearl's The Dante Club. Set in Longfellow's Boston, I can smell the smells, feel as though I know the literary lights of the time personally, and am never going to look at flies, ankles or anatomy books the same way again.

If I could only carry one bag to my vacation destination, it would be my bag of books. My favorite part of packing is to overfill my seashell covered canvas bag and tuck it next to me for the drive. No matter how often my husband offers to place it in the "way back," I decline. I need my books with me.

I couldn't agree more with Amy on how Hank Phillipi Ryan captures the voice of her protagonist Charlotte "Charlie" McNally in Prime Time. Beautiful and talented, Charlie struggles with universal insecurities, and you will love her for her humanity.

Next up I read The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. Haunting and spare, it's amazingly compelling. Clearly written by an experienced craftsman. Which brings me to the debut novel I chose to read in Maine, Ghostwalk, by Rebecca Stott. The plot is intricate and the writing efficient, it is an accomplished first novel.

Finally, I read the magnificent and tender Beloved, by Toni Morrison. The prose is delicate, precise and the characters vivid. I am in awe of this novel's construction and found myself lost in it as a reader. Oh dear, what more is there to say that hasn't already been said about this novel chosen by the New York Times as the best book of the last twenty-five years.

I closed my vacation with a trip to Bridgton Books, where at midnight on Friday my family stood in line with the entire population of this small town to obtain our copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. We read a third of it between the time we bought it and our last stop on the ride home. Our last day we made a trip to Books, etc in Portland, ME where each family member made a selection. Without knowing Kristy Kiernan was coming to MA, I chose Catching Genius. I can't wait to read it!

Note: I know it looks like all we did was read and go to bookstores, but truly we talked, laughed, swam, played games, ate lots of good food and slept, too. What a glorious week it was!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Why Go on Vacation

Posted by Lynne

Salt mist accompanies me on my way to work. As I walk down the hill to my office, depending on the weather, I'm either greeted by low-slung fog stalled over gray water or cerulean waves rocking the boats that dot the inner harbor. I live in a beautiful seaside town south of Boston.

But I vacation in Maine.

There, the lake is predictably glassy and calm until a jet ski burps by or a pontoon glides past the wooden dock on it's jaunt around the lake. Then a handful of ripples complain their way toward shore. One, two, three; they hit the piney shoreline, and then the lake resumes it's nap.

Everyone, from family member to client to friend, who sees where I live and work asks me, "Why would you ever need to go on vacation?" It's true I'm blessed to live in a glorious place. The east coast of Massachusetts is for many their top vacation destination. Chickadees and mourning doves announce morning, hydrangeas and salt water perfume the air. Swimming is for the brave or those who attempt it in August, hoping the sun's rays have worked their magic to keep the headache from reaching your feet.

For me, Maine is my family's respite, we all go and we all adore it. We bring piles of books, ban technology and spend hours in, on and around the lake. My week in Maine is also my annual writer's retreat, though I rarely write when I visit.

In this lakes region, one I've come to love and I admit think about frequently for the fifty-one weeks a year I'm not there, nurtures the writer in me. I don't attend workshops, or complete writing exercises. I don't read like a writer or even read about writing. Instead I drink in my surroundings. Loons wail well into the night, pine essence is everywhere you walk, it wafts through the air and crunches under your feet. The cool water isn't just for courageous swimmers, it's for early morning canoe rides with my husband, and afternoon games of four-way frisbee and diving off the dock.

My vacation is a time to spend precious moments with the people I hold most dear, that's for sure. It's also a time I use to notice the world anew, to savor the things I take for granted in my fast-paced everyday life. When I hear the cry of the loons, it helps me appreciate the mourning doves that line the phone wires outside my farmers' porch back home. When I breath deep the smell of pine, I'm more able to conjure the sea mist that surrounds me on those mornings I race to the office.

New locations have the power to awaken my senses and this heightened sensitivity, like a gift, gives me details for my writing. Specific, multi-sensory details; ones I'll use here and there to make my writing authentic, to bring readers into my story.

What do you do to make your writing authentic? Have you taken a field trip that provided you with details to treasure?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


by Hannah

My children pity me. Here it is, summer, and their mother is working like a devil.

"Call a friend!" I say, and I offer popcorn and even Nerf dart guns, leave far behind any promises to myself to never let them switch away from PBS. I am on the computer; if they come in to peer over my shoulder, they see PR emails to editors and producers, draft press releases. Ninety percent of the time, however, the second they walk from the room, the screen changes. Hey, they try to do it to me all the time. They believe they are hiding an extra half hour on Runescape or Webkinz as they pretend to email friends. I am hiding my revisions.

They don't think it is "real" work. Even when I am doing paid work, my daughter comes in and tries to chat. As I finish a marketing plan, she starts to update me on which fellow student thespian knows his or her lines, then she launches into the HONK! songbook. I explain that my office is to be respected as much as Daddy's office in the city, that I need her to find something else to do for twenty minutes.

She leaves, humming. I finish the plan in ten minutes; I pull up the story for ten more. If I can get through this chapter today, I think, I will be in good shape. I live fully in the minds of these characters, in that place where it is easy to start writing each chance I get and so, so hard to pull away. I pull it up multiple times a day, for ten minutes, half an hour, two hours. When I am not writing, I am taking notes, or reading. Reading good books as I sit poolside watching the children and their friends makes me want to get back to writing all the more.

I tell myself it is a good thing this mania hit during summer; it would be so easy to let the story slide in the battle for time. The energy to write always ebbs and flows to some degree, but this is full moon high tide. I don't know why, but there is an urgency to this now for me. It is not a need to finish, per se, although that is indeed the goal, a self-imposed timeline in place. I simply have to be writing, getting the story out accurately, refining the details, upping the ante, pushing myself in a way that is infinitely rewarding even though thus far I am the only one to see the results. At the least convenient time of the year, I am obsessed. This is my work, and I need to do it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


By Amy

The other day, magic arrived in my mailbox.

It came in the form of a manilla envelope, Handle with Care etched across the front in machine-printed black ink, the return address, written in excessively neat print, was The North Pole and wonder of wonders, it was addressed to me.
When I opened the package, I discovered a Christmas card signed Santa -- in July -- and the UK edition of Therese Fowler's Souvenir. It's no surprise that someone knew I wanted to read this book, that a stranger somehow tracked down my address, or even that someone was able to get their hands on a book that's been published in England only (so far). What is remarkable is that someone did it. Even more boggling, that she sought no credit for having made such a Herculean effort to spread heapings of kindness into the world. Magic, the fairy godmother kind.
For those of you who regularly read this blog, you know how eager each of us is to read Souvenir, but it isn't being published in the U.S. until February 2008 -- as the lead title for Ballantine, mind you. Part of our eagerness is we all adore Therese, which is an odd concept considering none of us has met her, we've simply read each other's blogs and found in Therese a voice and spirit that inspires a sense of kinship. I was intensely curious to read her book, though, not only to learn more about her -- there is the old chestnut about a memoir being mostly fiction and a novel mostly memoir -- but like you, I love a good book. And I don't want to gloat, folks, but two hundred pages into it, boy, have I got my hands on a GOOD book! A review when I'm done. Now, getting back to the magic. After I opened the package, I immediately opened the cover and read the dedication, "This one is for Mom, whom I like to believe was reading over my shoulder." The timing was uncanny, I understood exactly.
Scanning a newspaper these days, it's hard to believe in much of anything anymore, that goodness even exists. So when it arrives, sent through the mail, borne of a connection originating over the Internet, made with a virtual stranger who knows things about me people I see everyday will never understand, it makes me believe again. Believe.
Thanks for the magic, Larramie.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Why We Keep Reading...

Posted by Lisa

You haven't heard enough about Harry Potter. Really, you haven't. You may not be a fan. Perhaps you've never cracked open a book. Or you read the first and second books, then lost track, somehow, along the way. You might want to check back in; this phenomenon is worth studying.

The top reasons why Potter fans keep on reading:

1- We care about Harry. Who wouldn't? He's kind, orphaned, cute (bordering on Hollywood Hunk post puberty).

2- The setting is well woven and complete. Hogwarts, the school, is so real I close my eyes and I am there. Why? Details like the photograph of a wizard who demands a password from students entering their dorm rooms

3- It's unpredictable. Plain and simple. Readers love that.

4- It's unbelievably creative and unique. The author created the ideas of an invisibility cloak and a mirror that reflects your innermost desires - you mean those things don't really exist?

5- There is conflict and stakes. You-Know-Who. Oh, how that is lacking in some works of fiction (present company sadly included at times, I confess).

The writing has been criticized, but what IS good writing? Frankly, I don't know. It's not literary. But, nonetheless, the prose engages me; I turn page after page, letting minutes slip by unnoticed. I read Harry Potter as a reader. How can I not? But, I read Harry Potter as a writer as well.

As a writer of middle grade and YA to date, I look to Sarah Dessen, Lois Lowry, Jerry Spinelli, and Jack Gantos with awe; I learn from each of these writers each time I sit with one of their novels. They, too, keep readers reading. Isn't that our ultimate goal?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Making a Literary Life Friday: Reflections

Thanks to Lisa Kenney at Eudaemonia, Therese Fowler of Making it Up, and Judy Merrill Larsen of Not Afraid of the "F" Word for nominating the Writers' Group for the Blogger Reflection Award. The award “should make you reflect on five bloggers who have been an encouragement, a source of love, impacted you in some way, and have been a Godly example to you. Five Bloggers who when you reflect on them you get a sense of pride and joy… of knowing them and being blessed by them.” Well! Where to start? As if having such illustrious read our blog weren't enough...Thanks to each of you for thinking of us and then to write such kind words about us.

I love good writing. That's what entices me to return to a blog. So Hat's Off to the Grub Street Blog. Whitney, Chris, and Sonya are all so talented, I don't think they could post a bad entry if they tried. Another thanks to Therese Fowler. Reading her posts is certain to both educate me in writing craft and entertain me with her insightful thoughts.

Coming late to this game, I've discovered that all of the blogs I read daily have already been nominated -- multiple times. So I will say please take note of the links we have up and if you see one that's fantastic that we've somehow missed, please let me know. I'd love to include another delightful distraction to my day. As for my literary life, my children are gearing up for the machine that is Harry Potter, heading over to Buttonwood Books in Cohasset at 10:00 p.m. tonight. I'll be the one in the corner thumbing through the owner's ARCs. Can't wait to get my hands on The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold and The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta.

As with Amy, the blogs I visit most often are deservedly already recognized, like those above, Tess Gerritsen and Bookseller Chick, and others to whom we link. Of late I enjoy popping over to Kenyon Review, and oh, how I miss Miss Snark. For those of you who love food, have you checked out Chocolate & Zucchini by Clotilde Dusoulier? I got a truly decadent chocolate hazelnut spread (homemade Nutella!) recipe from her. I also plan to treat myself to a couple of books tonight, and am saving the final decisions for the moment, like a child in a candy store.

Lynne is away on vacation and will be tickled to hear of the goings on here in the blogosphere.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

High Hopes for Harry

by Hannah

Is anyone else caught in this quandry? I wait as eagerly as my twelve-year-old for Friday midnight, when hundreds of local families will finish up a night of "Quidditch," spells and contests with purchase of J.K. Rowling's final installment. Talk about summer treats. I have fond memories of evenings stretched out on the sofa reading the sixth book, a hot fudge sundae or two savored along with the story.

Harry Potter? I know. I read the first three books aloud, cover to cover, twice. Those editors missed more than a few awkward phrases and repeat words; there are a number of suggestions I would have made if wearing their shoes.

Yet a tiny voice in my head says the seventh book could surprise me, not just as a fan, but as a writer. I want to see the craft of the whole, now that it is complete. I want to believe.

Creating the arc of one story is, of course, something every author works hard to achieve. Rowling created seven independent arcs that could -- should -- curve together into a massive saga. I want to be astounded; please, let it be so.

Then, of course, how does it end? Not just for Harry, but for so many vividly drawn characters? Did Rowling found a way to give us an ending that satisfies without being too sweet, one that allows her to walk away from this world, should she so desire, for all time? Harry has the potential to say farewell as more than an angst-ridden teen with a wand and a vanquished evil enemy. He and his friends can deliver much more, if Rowling does.

I have theories: Snape and Harry's mother, Harry as a horcrux, Neville's potential, Wormtail's role to come. About who will die and why. Do any of the threads I think I am following trail off into nothing? Or are they woven neatly, tied tight?

The Potter series, according to one passionate analysis, builds on the experiences of England during World War II. A people who refuse to see the rise of evil, a few outspoken leaders, heroes who choose what is right over what is easy, heavy losses paid to win victory. Could this possibly be true? Or are there historians trying as madly to justify their love of a ripping good story from an academic viewpoint as I am from a writerly perspective?

The fan in me expects to enjoy the finale of this phenomenon. To my surprise, the writer in me desperately wants a seventh book that caps this series to perfection, and I don't know why I want this so much. Any thoughts?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Not Right Now

By Amy

To be perfectly honest, I don't feel like writing this post. No offense, people, but my personal life is upside down, I'm a bit peckish, woefully tired, and, frankly, I'd rather spend my time living in a world I created than the one I've recently been handed. That's not to say my protagonist is having a better time of it, it's just I know the outcome to that particular tale of woe.

I'm thick in the revision process (thank you, Therese, I needed that), and even though it's summer, even though a plethora of amazing books have been released this year, and, yes, shamefully, even though my family needs me, I want to ignore reality, sit here at my desk in my stuffy office, with a puppy in desperate need of a bath (but, my goodness, he is the sweetest dog in the world, isn't he?), and write.

So, please excuse me for this short post, but my time is no longer my own and every moment has become precious. I'm close, so close, and I really need to get back to my writing.

Before you go, a favor? So that I may live vicariously through you, take the kids to the beach and be sure to pack a good book for me.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Knowing When

Posted by Lisa

The first fifty pages are strong. I think they are, anyways.
I've poured my literary soul into them, not to mention those early morning hours, late night hours, and recent sessions at my local bookstore cafe.

Lynne, Hannah, and Amy, it's up to you soon, to critique my YA novel, book number two, as it's close to being finished. My characters, sigh, have lived out their story. Turns out this final product, its plot and characters, are nothing as it started. But a novel evolves, doesn't it?

But there is one caveat...I never know, for sure, when it's done.

Heidi Pitlor, a brilliant editor, and lovely writer, spoke two years ago at Grub Street's Muse & the Marketplace. When writing her novel, The Birthdays, she said it was her husband who told her it was done. She'd been editing and editing, and editing some more. When he voiced his suggestion, she agreed, he was right. Her novel was done, and off it went to her editor.

I won't rely on my husband, I don't think. But I do question, at times, at the start, at the finish of writing sessions, if I'm on the right track. Should a particular sub-plot be expanded? Should another be eliminated? Is there too much weather (cold and icy snow in my New Hampshire setting) and not enough details about physical surroundings (buildings, objects, characters' possessions)?

It's hard to know since the is no right and wrong. But there is good and bad, and very good and very bad. Sometimes, it's hard to know.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Making A Literary Life Friday: MeMe

Yes, Larramie, meme'd us and while we've always chosen not to post memes, this one was just quirky enough to intrigue. Besides, we adore the enigma that is Larramie. Instead of tagging 8 people, as it suggests, we've decided that those who leave a comment are thus tagged. Purely voluntary. So in the lull that is July, here are the meme rules and our responses:

1. These rules have to be posted before giving your facts.2. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.3. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.4. At the end of the blog post, it's necessary to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names. 5. Leave these eight people a comment on their blog, telling them they’re tagged, and to read your post for these directions.

1. My dog isn't fat, but chubby might describe her. In my effort to keep her from packing on more pounds, I've wrestled pizza crusts, and more, from her mouth, risking crocodile-like bites.

2. The song, I hope you'll dance, by Lee Anne Womack, convinced me to have a second child three years ago (and I'm not even a big country music fan).

3. One of my happiest memories is spending a day with my brother at the Wisconsin State Fair when visiting relatives in Milwaukee when I was 13.

4. When I first meet a person, the more acutely disgusted I feel toward his or her very being, the greater the intensity of my sheer and absolute dislike, the more likely it is that we will become life-long friends.

5. Playing Home Free (hide and seek) at twilight each summer night at Lake Winnipasaukee in New Hampshire is a magical memory, plain and simple.

6. I find the words mom, mommy, ma, and mother all annoying - I think I need my kids to call me Lisa.

7. When I ask my husband to tell me something quirky about me he asks, how much space do I have. Then continues to say..."Today it's Tuesday, of course, I don't like pizza, but, wait, it's after five, so I do like pizza, but not with pepperoni, no no no, just veggies." Okay, so I'm fickle.

8. When I go to bed, my sleeping arrangments need to be absolutely perfect - no exceptions: ink black, walls of pillows, no noise whatsoever (except for the lull of a ticking clock or dripping faucet which I find calming - call me easygoing).

1. I feel at 6's & 7's all day if I don't start my morning with a bowl of Starbucks, a wheat bagel, the newspaper, & NPR.

2. I can almost never remember adults' names, but never forget a child's.

3. I am the most uptight person I know and an even more anxious mother.

4. I once awoke from anesthesia while the doctor was still operating. He yelled to the person standing behind me, "She's waking up, she's waking up!" I didn't feel a thing.

5. Like Tish Cohen, I can find a four-leaf clover in any patch, and have been able to do so since I was 22.

6. I never avoid a confrontation.

7. A week after my first child was born, I contracted a massive infection and slipped into a coma. I was placed on a respirator and the doctors told my husband "it didn't look good." When I finally woke, the need to see my daughter overwhelmed all of my senses. She was beautiful.

8. My goal in life is to be relevant.

1. I've eaten almost everything served to me in seven countries, except one gushy thing in a cup in a temple on a Japanese hillside, which my wonderful brother downed for me on the sly. I did eat sea cucumber; check it out on your next aquarium visit.

2. I can, with intent, find lost things. Money, keys, articles of clothing, even a child once (not mine). My husband believes in nothing beyond what he can see and this freaks him out.

3. I am afraid of falling and cannot get near drop-offs (paths down the Grand Canyon, etc.). I don't feel I will jump, I just don't think terra is all that firma.

4. I like hot or iced coffee before noon, one large cup with milk. I only drink iced after noon, rarely more than one large cup. Tea I can drink any time, any temperature.

5. Mocha chip ice cream rocks, but if I could only have one food category for the rest of my life, it would be cheese.

6. My parents taught me you can't have it all, so live life around what is most important starting with your art, and that nice people can finish first if they think things through.

7. I never assumed I would marry or have children; now I cannot imagine life without them.

8. I believe there's nothing wrong with doing a few things you're not supposed to do, as long as you're not hurting yourself or others. I have taken a puff of a Cuban cigar and sipped absinthe, and I lie on my lawn semi-regularly (yes, as a grown-up) and let my children choose my clothes once in a while, just because.

1. In my twenties, I was a paid lounge singer and radio jingle performer. I still remember my songs and the thrill of performing in public. I even had some very bohemian skirts which I can recall in vivid detail.

2. I had my wedding reception in a castle. No, neither my husband or I are royalty, we just happened upon this lovely place on a cliff by the ocean on a date and we knew it would be the perfect place to celebrate our union.

3. The thing that drives people crazy about me is my ridiculous ability to be organized. I love organizational notebooks, to do lists and spread sheets. I credit this skill set with how many writing-related things I'm working on simultaneously.

4. I am afraid of mice. In many conversations over the years, I've implored my husband and children to never, never, never tell me if there is one in our house. One of us would have to move out. Me.

5. I think crying is therapeutic. When I was a child, I cried a lot more than I do today. But I still feel much better after I let my tears run free.

6. I make up words, especially when I am tired. My husband and children laugh hysterically when I mix words up or simply create my own. Any idea what grodiardo and chustah mean?

7. I love any restaurant with a view. The mountains, the ocean, the lake, it doesn't matter. I will endure mediocre food if the view makes up for it.

8. I wake up every morning before the rest of my family. With a large cup of a specific brand of coffee, I park myself in my window seat and think. One hour of free flowing thinking and then I start my day as wife, mother, business owner and writer.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Publicity and Door Steps

Posted by Lynne

When I found out I was pregnant with my first child, the joy was indescribable. Until I realized at the beginning of my ninth month I would have to deliver.

If you are a regular reader of my entries, you know I can't help but compare having a book to having a child. The emotional rollercoaster ride is eerily similar. The highs include pride and gratitude; the lows, apprehension and enormous amounts of hard work. So here I am seven weeks from the publication of Negotiation Generation, and it's just starting to don on me in a real way--I've got to deliver.

I'm over the moon because I'm scheduling events, planning travel; I've seen the galley and have been contacted for some interviews. I can't believe publication is right around the corner. Yet, twenty-four hours a day, (Yes, even while I'm sleeping) my mind is racing with all the other things I should be doing to make the book successful. Will I be able to do enough to get the attention of the media, other bloggers, and most importantly parents?

Years ago when I lamented how hard it was to get an agent and a publisher for my book, a dear friend of mine said to relax. She said, "If God wants to get your book out into the world, you could leave it on your front steps and he could make it happen."

I smiled at the time, wishing it were only that easy. Yet her sentiment stuck with me. Now that I have a wonderful agent, and my book is due out, her words come back into sharp focus. All I can control is what I can control.

Sure I'm busy, though there's a lot that can't be done quite yet. It's too early to announce the book in my fall newsletter, or book radio segments, or visit bookstores. School and community leaders are out on summer break, so trying to connect for possible speaking engagements is challenging. Once again in the journey from idea to published book, there's a whole lot of waiting going on. Something I admit is not my forte.

So how do I move forward with publicity while managing my emotions? I review my publicity plan so many times a day I could recite it like a favorite poem. (I imagine that's why it scrolls through my mind while I sleep) Each day, I choose a few tasks to be completed and do my best to close those circles. I reach out to old friends and colleagues to help me connect to parent groups that might be interested in an event. (If you are, please be in touch!)

Best of all--I'm going on vacation. I know the next few months will be thrilling and tiring, so I've decided to get away with my family for an uninterrupted week in a cabin on a lake in Maine. It will be just what I need to empty my mind, re-energize my body and renew my spirit. Not to mention give my full attention to the three people who have supported me for as long as it took to get this book out into the world.

When I come back refreshed and ready to tackle more book launch tasks, I imagine I'll still be filled with exhilaration tangled in self-doubt. I know I won't be able to do everything I want to do to publicize the book. But I know this--I will work hard because I believe in the message. The rest is in God's hands.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Write In Tune

by Hannah

I read and reread the Essay in the New York Times Book Review this Sunday, in which Haruki Murakami talks about becoming a writer and the influence of jazz.

"Whether in music or in fiction, the most basic thing is rhythm. Your style needs to have a good, natural, steady rhythm... Next comes melody -- which, in literature, means the appropriate arrangement of words to match the thythm." He says his style is as deeply influenced by Charlie Parker as F. Scott Fitzgerald, by Miles Davis, by Thelonious Monk.

When I write, I prefer silence, or indeed, jazz. I can listen to U2, of all bands, as long as I don't pay attention to the lyrics, letting sound flow in the background. (My daughter, peeking over my shoulder, asked why I don't mention The Who, her favorite band. There, I did, but I can't write to them.) I like complicated music when I write, if I listen at all, but it needs to be on low and it needs to be such that I can choose not to pay attention to its complexity, instead allowing the whole to wash over me.

When I am not writing, I still love jazz and blues and rock. And folk. And classical. I like music played by the person who wrote it. Take the rock genre alone. I love James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt. I love John Mayer and Aerosmith, The Who, KT Tunstall, Miles Davis, Dixie Chicks, Tom Petty, David Bowie, The Beatles, Brian Wilson, Annie Lennox, Bob Dylan, the Fray, Dave Matthews, Stevie Nicks and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I love musicians who string together more than notes, adding in the poetry of lyrics.

I once thought that if you wanted to teach children who "hate to write" to write, you would sit them down and ask what is on their iPods. What are the songs? What do they say? Write them out on a chalkboard or SmartBoard or a roll of poster paper. Wrap the room in words they love. Then you could throw in a poem, not letting them know it didn't come with a melody. Then slide in a short story. Use music to show them their world is filled with writers and words, tell them anyone can put them together, one by one. Ask them to write a line, to arrange words to match the rhythm of their lives, then to keep that rhythm steady, to keep it going. Just keep going.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

By Amy

If you're in an existential state and you've not yet read Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach, don't. Or do.

I read it with the intention of immersing myself in only the story. I planned to finish -- it's only an afternoon's commitment -- and then promptly re-read it to wallow in his language. It's easy to do, Mr. McEwan is deft enough to make the strings fall away. I'd left time enough in my battered schedule to go back, that is until I reached the last page and was stopped. Minutes passed one into the next until they became hours, each moment wasted -- or not. Where's the time to think anymore? It was a single line that was the sum of the two hundred odd pages, at least for me: This is how the entire course of a life can be changed -- by doing nothing.

We've read the same sentiment a thousand times, but because I'm currently in the aforementioned existential state, it struck me to the core. Doing nothing is a choice just as much as doing something.

How many writers do you know who are plagued by inaction? Their complaints a litany of doing nothing: not enough time to write, too afraid to submit their work, indecisive about leaving an ineffectual agent, etcetera.

And then there are the ones who choose to create their opportunities. They choose again and again to make their work matter, first to themselves, then to anyone who will listen. They battle along against self-doubt and group-doubt, the fractured road to publication and then relevance. They choose to be heard and experienced and read.

Today, take a moment, choose to live outside of yourself for a bit, and then ask that person you're regarding, What do you choose to be the course of your life?

Monday, July 09, 2007


Posted by Lisa

Andy Roddick cut to the chase when he described his feelings after losing to Gasquet in the Wimbledon quarter finals this week.
''It's another lost opportunity at Wimbledon,'' said Roddick, who lost to Federer in the finals in 2004 and 2005. ``I'd love to make you try to understand what it feels like in the pit of my stomach right now, but I don't know if I'm articulate enough to really put that into words.''

Andy stared at the reporters before him, his brown eyes intense. He's not one to beat around the bush. Something in his face told the story, the emotions inside him. But he's right. How could we possibly understand.

I've hit tennis balls but I couldn't tell you if the court was clay or grass; it was probably ashphalt littered with long cracks and a couple empty Gatorade containers. I've competed in road races and triathlons. But I never broken the top three. I'm not a champion. I don't know how he feels. The only problem, is that's our job as writers, you know. To portray how our character feels in their lowest of lows oftentimes.

Are we articulate enough to describe it? I doubt it actually. If someone, like Andy Roddick, as clearly intelligent and articulate as he is, can't describe it, then how can we? If he, in his depth of feeling and reaction to his loss, can't describe it, then we writers have little chance. If our work is not memoir, then we truly cannot feel what our characters feel.

... So we fudge it. It's true, we do. And this is how:

We fudge it with details: the sound of the ball catching on the net in that final point, the whoosh of the opponent's racket in the very moment when that last set is decided, the pounding in a player's temples as the presenter holds the Wimbledon trophy high before the opponent, moments before presenting. We must put ourselves in that moment and imagine the details that characterize the pain. Though it's all pretend, it leads the reader into a real scene.

The writer must ask questions the reader wants answered. This is good writing.

Have a wonderful writing week!

Friday, July 06, 2007

Making a Literary Life Friday: Hammock Time

What with kids on vacation, beaches calling, neighborhood cook-outs and backyard gardens beckoning, it may seem impossible to find time to create your literary life. But there are ways. While churning earth, allow your mind to wander, to churn more conflict for your protagonist. Instead of standing over a hot grill, fretting that your bbq sauce isn't tangy enough for Uncle Bob, turn your imagination loose and see how you can raise the stakes with your plot. Being near any body of water, allowing the tides and currents to lull your subconscious, will unleash a torrent of ideas. Not all writing happens when committing words to the page.

Lisa is traveling and will post again Monday. Wonder what she's thinking...

Family obligations have taken nearly all my waking hours, which means I have to fit in writing during whatever pockets of time present themselves. Fifteen minutes here, 20 there, and, 'o glorious day, an entire hour. If any of you read the excerpt of Min Jin Lee's Free Food for Millionaires in last week's New York Times, then you understand that in life, every moment counts.

My husband is on vacation this week, which means I was able to revise another couple of chapters as he and the children went out on adventures. I read in the evenings, the Red Sox in the background. My niece (art student) and nephew (biochemist in San Francisco -- and single, ladies!) came into town as well, staying at my father-in-law's. Big dinners, lots of laughs.

Twice this week I was pulled from a trance by my husband-- his question, "Are you okay?" Where was I? Deep into plotting my second novel. Without having written a word this week, I've spent time with my characters, pulled apart a plot line and pondered setting. The rest of the week, I took some much needed time off and read. Summer is a wonderful thing!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

People Whispered

By Lynne

It looked like a small castle with its blocky stone exterior and long windows. Inside, it was cave-quiet, it smelled old and full of secrets. Until I was eighteen, the library I visited regularly held only shelves and shelves of books; there were no movies or music or toys to check out. And back then, people whispered.

Though I haven't been inside it for years, I still love the Gale Free Public Library. There are no cobwebs over these memories. I see a dark-eyed me lost in a first floor wing chair, reading the latest book in the Betsy Series. Occasionally I'd look around, thinking about my grandmother who was rumored to spend her days here, it having once been the town high school. Did I sit in the chair she sat in? Had I checked out a book she'd touched? Black Beauty. The Treasury of Dogs.

I love libraries. My daughter and I make day trips to the special ones throughout our area, spending hours browsing, reading. Sitting in most, it's easy to see that more than the architecture and the furniture have changed. Carols now hold computers, children aren't content with an array of picture books, and people talk like they're in a mall, not a library. These physical libraries aren't all that's changed.

Enter the virtual library. Months back after a round of blog reading, I came across Library Thing. This online website allows you to build your own bookshelves containing books you've read, and those you would like to read. You have the ability to rate your reads, and even list your recommendations on your blog or website.

Here are the five books I've read most recently, and they way it appears on a blog.

To me there will never be a comparison between the church-like atmosphere of my grandmother's and my childhood library. Don't get me wrong, the virtual library is great fun, after all I'm recommending it. To me, it's an altogether different experience. One that doesn't have the power to tickle the senses. Or evoke a memory. Or remind me of a restful, peaceful summer day reading in a library full of books and history.

What are your favorite libraries? Favorite books?

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Small Wonders

by Hannah

While my summer reading list (the post originally planned) holds far more books than I might reasonably read word-for-word, I picked up a book on impulse at the library Monday. I brought home Barbara Kingsolver's Small Wonders; in starting the first chapter, I realized I had read it before, and this week was exactly the time to rediscover its power.

Kingsolver began the essays in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, when she was asked to reflect on what happened, who we are in the narrowest and broadest senses, and where we might be headed. She tackles the most difficult aspects of the world around us and finds bittersweet beauty, time and time again. A sense of loss underscores so many of the essays, yet at the same time hope rises from each one, a pure, quiet, stealthy hope that curls into resolve.

Monday night my daughter had a nightmare. She rarely wants to tell me what they are, does not want to relive the fear. Monday night she insisted on telling me about the bear that chased her, was following her, that she escaped by waking.

Thank you, Barbara Kingsolver, for giving me the answer that had her turning away with a smile, falling asleep in an instant. In the first piece, Kingsolver reports a news story from Lorestan Province in Iran, October 2001. A sixteen-month-old boy wandered away from a group of children being watched by a while the parents worked in the fields. The child was not in the village, was not found in the nearby villages. The parents insisted on extending the search; the father took a group of men to the mountains, where they search, moving five kilometers away from where the boy was last seen. They pass a cave and hear a noise. Entering the cave, they find the boy, curled up against a mother bear. The bear apparently had lost its cub and was heavy with milk. Rather than eating or ignoring the skinny hairless creature that came her way, the bear took the boy home, fed him, kept him warm.

Is the story true? If we can believe local sources, yes; the story was printed in reputable media outlets. It doesn't matter. The story I read that evening was the precise story my daughter needed to hear that night, the precise story I needed to hear this week.

Word of local and international tragedies filtered in around the appearance of bright buntings and neatly clipped lawns. With Kingsolver's essays in my thoughts, I absorbed and carried the news in a different way. As my way of celebrating the Fourth this year, I want to honor small wonders in an intentional way. I want to take time to appreciate the natural beauty outside my door, the ocean and the trees, to laugh aloud at the chipmunks scrabbling into my downspouts and the wild turkeys bobbing their heads as though in deep conversation as they stalk along the road. As people gather, here and there, I want to notice courtesies extended without thought, and remember to comment aloud on acts of kindness. I want to think of Lorestan and know that anything is possible when we slow down and see with fresh eyes, so that the bear -- real or imagined -- is something we learn to approach without fear.

May you always recognize and treasure the small wonders in your life, too!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Easy-Peasy Query Letter

By Amy

Last week at Grub Street South at Buttonwood Books, someone in the audience asked about query letters. Writers appear to be under the impression that the query letter is somehow the most grueling part of getting published. Not so!

Writing a query letter for fiction or memoir should take no more than 15-20 minutes tops. Assuming, of course, you've been researching agents while writing your book. By research, I mean you know the agent is legitimate, what projects s/he represents, and most important, that s/he actually sells books similar to yours. This is why a subscription to Publishers Marketplace is crucial about a month before the querying stage. Many agents list literary fiction as a genre they'll consider, but if over the past two years, s/he's sold primarily vampire mysteries and diet books without a single literary title on the horizon, find someone else to query.

Okay, the letter. Your first paragraph should be what we call in journalism, the nut graf. Here is where you'll write your title, genre, and -- very important -- how you learned of the agent. This is a business and your query letter should reflect that. Nathan Bransford, an agent with Curtis Brown, has a great post about this. You wouldn't interview for a job without first researching a prospective employer (and, yes, I understand the author/agent relationship is about teamwork). An example:

Dear Ms. Karchmar,

As an admirer of Scott Heim and Jennifer Haigh, I hope you'll consider my literary novel, The Bastion.

Perhaps you were one of a handful who turned up at a brilliant author's reading, got to talking, and when she discovered you were also a writer, she suggested you contact her agent, use my name if you think it'll help. It's happened to me countless times (another good reason to support fellow writers by attending readings). You could write in your query letter:

Several years ago, I spoke with Bryn Smythe after a reading from her novel The Hazards of Being Young. Though she hadn’t read my work, she suggested I contact you, noting your interest in commercial fiction. As such, I hope you’ll consider my novel, The Bastion.

See? Easy! Okay your next paragraph should be written in the voice of your book -- 3rd person, past tense no matter how it appears in your book --and tell about your main characters, main conflict, and should absolutely lead with the main theme of your story. Obviously, this is where you'll spend the most time. If you don't know the theme of your novel, take a walk, do some Yoga, find a quiet spot and reflect on what compelled you to write in the first place.

Third paragraph includes your publication history, and, no, letters to the editor do not count. Nothing published? No worries. Include that you're a member of your local writing organization. In Boston, we have Grub Street and PEN New England, among a long list. If you don't have one, start one. List what writing classes you've taken. Still nothing? Then tell why you're the person to write this book. If you work with children with autism and your protagonist does as well, then include that. It worked for Mark Haddon who was awarded the Whitbred for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night.

Ah, the final paragraph. Be nice. Include the first few pages of your book. Wrap it up:

I’ve enclosed the first five pages of my 85,000-word manuscript. Thank you for taking the time to read my submission. I look forward to hearing from you.

That's it. Simple. If you have an agent, care to share what worked for you?

Monday, July 02, 2007

Fireworks and Fourth of July

Posted by Lisa

It ends with a bang and leaves you with a sigh. It should anyways. As you put down a book, when you rest it a moment on your lap before moving on, good writing at the close of a chapter should leave you with a feeling of wonder, astonishment, confusion maybe?

This time of year is a kind of New Year; Canada Day was yesterday (for Canadians reading the blog), Fourth of July is around the corner. When these holidays pass, summer is in swing. Two blissful months of writing and revising lay before you (I know that's optimistic). At this threshold of a new beginning, I find myself thinking about endings. About fireworks. A subtle and intriguing phrase or a bold plot development.
I've been reading To Kill a Mockingbird. I'm enjoying it immensely, the way I always cherish literature with brilliant prose. And I've been noticing endings. I'd like to share some chapter endings, to kick start my own writing brain (which has been sleeping for days on a recent trip to Quebec).

Chapter 1 Ending (To Kill a Mockingbird): In this passage, BOOM, the reader is eager to know what is going on.

The old house was the same, droopy and sick, but as we stared down the street we thought we saw an inside shutter move. Flick. A tiny, almost invisible movement, and the house was still.

Chapter 2 Ending: In this paragraph, it's subtle the fireworks, but they're there. For me it's the very last line.

My sojourn in the corner was a short one. Saved by the bell, Miss Caroline watched the class file out for lunch. As I was last to leave, I saw her sink down into her chair and bury her head in her head in her arms. Had her contact been more friendly toward me, I would have felt sorry for her. She was a pretty little thing.

Happy writing! Remember the Fireworks.