Thursday, September 27, 2007

Making A Literary Life Friday: Flying

It has been an exciting week for the Writers' Group, with Lynne's news on her fiction and early reactions to Negotiation Generation quite favorable. Wahoo! Someone asked us how Lynne's success makes us all feel. The answer is: wonderful, and that is the honest truth.

We know how deeply Lynne has committed herself to the craft, done her homework, dotted the i's and crossed the t's and, let us tell you, turned around edits and changes in record time! We also believe in our own stories, so Lynne's success makes us all the more confident that the Group is on the right track in terms of how we work and what we are able to produce. There is nothing like productive honesty (spoken kindly) and focused critique (rather than criticism) to push us all to greater heights. Do we wish we were in her shoes right now? Of course! C'mon, how cool is everything that is happening!? Do we believe we will have our turns at playing Cinderella? Yes, yes and yes! Bring it on!

So, sappy as it sounds, we are all flying this week, and we revel in the fact that you all have come along for our rides and allow us to share in yours!

To be honest, when I heard Lynne’s news, I thanked God I am an occupational therapist, as odd as that sounds, because I love it. I love working with children who have autism. THAT is something no one can take away from me. THAT makes me happy. Writing, well, that’s far from a sure thing.

When I met my agent, he told me not to quit my day job. Not a question of my talent, necessarily, but a warning that writing fiction isn’t a sure thing. Susan Cooper once said, “a writer’s timeline is not altogether linear.” I knew that going in.

So am I happy for Lynne? Truly happy? I am, truly. I am because she’s my friend. She’s shown me that a hundred times. She gave me Santa advice last week regarding my seven-year-old son’s questions. She recently offered to take another look at my manuscript, promising to drop everything to do so.

To be honest, if our group was not comprised of caring, loving people, I would likely feel jealous of someone’s success.

Honestly, Lynne, I’m thrilled for you!

Want the truth? I'm really happy for Lynne, truly. I feel as though we as a group are on the right track. The proof is in the pudding. Talking to her yesterday, she marveled at our ability to be so generous with our good will. "You know," she said, "it's like I'm eating the candy bar." "Yeah," I laughed, "with nougat. And nuts." For a moment, I thought, I want to grab her candy bar and take a great big bite, feel the caramel stick in my teeth, crunch the nuts, roll the chocolate over my tongue. God, it would taste good. But I realized this is hers, all hers to savor. Besides, I want my own -- with peanut butter. Congratulations, Lynne!

Lynne's wonderful news has me all revved up. She takes on a difficult subject, and because it wraps around a difficult scenario, she wasn't sure how editors would respond. That an editor saw it for all it is so quickly is thrilling! For me, it has been a good week for writing as well as emailing busily among group members, so I am thinking my revision is going to go out to the Group within the next week or two. Hallelujah! (Okay, maybe be Halloween? But it's coming!) Keep on plugging, everyone!

What a week! It's only just starting to sink in that my novel will be published. How have the members of The Writers' Group responded? With a generosity of spirit only found in the dearest of friends. Each one called or visited me within hours of my deal. They asked about every minute detail with an open heart.

And here is another truth. Amy, Hannah and Lisa will find their own way into the marketplace; it's only a matter of time. And when they do, I will cheer with all my might.

Thank you friends!

Good News--Yes, That!

Posted by Lynne

Six days ago, the story I have believed in for over two years brought me unbelievable news. My novel, Life Without Summer, will be published by St Martin's Press in winter 2009!

Life Without Summer is a novel about what happens to relationships in the wake of profound loss. Two women face intensely personal struggles to deal with the death of a child, and their choices reverberate universal themes about the connections between truth and loss, and love and marriage.

After attending the wonderful Muse and the Marketplace conference, hosted by Grub Street in May, and participating in a manuscript review, the editor I met with requested a full. This charming and knowledgeable editor went on to decline my novel, but was generous with feedback.

Next, my very smart agent sent it out to another editor, looking for another perspective. Another declination came, this time some of the feedback resonated with the first editor's, some did not. I incorporated the feedback that fit my story goals, though I didn't take it all. My agent and I went back and forth three more times tweaking and polishing until we finally felt it was ready to be submitted widely.

On a Wednesday afternoon, she sent me the list of editors that had my manuscript; knowing it was out in the world was the best and worst feeling I've ever had. She didn't tell me how long she thought it would take or about any expectations she had for a deal. She did tell me this, "We will sell this." Her words sustained me for nine days.

Early last Friday morning, she called and before I could register that we don't usually speak until late afternoon it dawned on me--she had an offer! Over the course of seven hours, together we went from offer to deal. Phone calls and emails flew between us. And at the end of the day, I was a novelist.

My husband was with me the whole day, sharing in my mania. We later called our children and announced it together. The love my family offered, told me they knew how much this meant to me. Next a call to my dear sister. I had to tell Amy and Lisa and Hannah. Out to dinner. A bottle of champagne.

I woke at 4:30 am and whispered to my husband. "Are you awake?" When he murmured yes, I asked him if Summer was going to be published. Maybe I was just dreaming--again.

"Yes," he said. "You did it!"

Publishers Marketplace Announcement

25 Sept 07 Fiction: General/Other
Lynne Griffin's debut novel LIFE WITHOUT SUMMER, in which a mother who has just lost her four year old daughter in a hit and run and the grief counselor who helps her try to put her life back together discover that their lives intersect more powerfully than they ever imagined, to Hilary Rubin Teeman at St. Martin's, in a pre-empt, by Elisabeth Weed at Weed Literary (world).

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Personalities on Parade

by Hannah

A stop by Maud Newton's blog brought me to an essay on author personality by Stephen Elliott. We fascinated by what authors are like, so quick to categorize -- self-obsessed or self-effacing? -- yet does it really matter what an author is like? As long as the work speaks to us, the writing and the writer should be allowed to exist in completely different spheres.

On one hand, that makes total sense. While our work comes from the unique people we are, fiction is supposed to be, well, fiction. Made-up stuff. So could an egomaniac write a brilliant novel on the importance of community? Could a shy writer capture a rowdy, bawdy character to perfection? Can women write men, and men write women? Of course.

On the other hand, we wonder, how does that author capture those qualities, if he or she doesn't have them or experience them vicariously? How did she come up with perfect details? Maybe we are quick to slap labels on those in the public eye, and to dissect them, because we want to find something teachable. Perhaps, for some of us, we are curious because we hope or know that we, too, will someday be in our own little spotlight.

So, fun question for those pounding out word after word, day after day: who are you, or would you be when on tour? What will the interviewer write after meeting you, and will that personality be in sync with what you write or drastically different?

I've been interviewed as a corporate spokesperson, never as myself. How will the experience differ, if at all? I would hope, of course, to be engaging and thought-provoking, quick with a one-liner or two. Then again, after a cheap red-eye and a ride straight from the airport Hertz to a radio station or bookstore, what are my chances? Will I be too quiet or talk too much? Will I recognize the personality they claim I am as myself?

What are your hopes for that moment, or stories from the road? What is your real personality, and do you think in that moment, when everyone was looking, were you or will you be most yourself?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Dream Author

By Amy

We writers have our dream agents, even our dream editors, but did you know they have dream clients?

I asked Editorial (Ass)istant to list the qualities of her dream author. Here's her wish list. I think we can all live up to those standards, eh?

Lessons Learned

By Amy

Have you seen this yet? He's Professor Randy Pausch of Carnegie-Mellon University and he's dying.

Prof. Pausch wanted to share some life lessons with his students in the time he has left. Not every dying man has wisdom to impart. These days, I spend a fair amount of time around the terminally ill. Some want a warm sweater on even the most stifling day, many cry for their long-dead mothers, and nearly all reach out a hand to strangers passing by, desperate for human touch from just about anyone. It's difficult to hug some of them, impossible not to. None speak of great accomplishments or obstacles overcome. I hear only regrets.

But Dr. Pausch isn't so desperate, at least not so far as we can see from this video. Instead, he's sanguine about his life's course, grateful even. He doesn't want our pity, so I'll honor that. Instead, I'd like for the writers reading this to focus on one lesson in particular Dr. Pausch has learned in his 46 years.

Brick walls are there for a reason: they let us prove how badly we want things.

As a writer how many brick walls have you encountered? How many unfinished manuscripts do you have, how many rejection letters for that book under the bed, how many days and weeks have you spent wiping away the tears, drinking away the grief because you've slammed headlong into that damn brick wall. Again. Do you still want it so badly your gut twists, so much that you fall asleep at night dreaming about your writing, wake several times through, and then in the morning linger in that dream state because reality is too much to bear. Do you want it that much? Do you?

Well, then you'll probably find a way over, under, around or through that brick wall. Because you're a writer. That's what writers have to endure. It's not exciting or romantic, but when you get beyond the wall, you'll know you've earned it. Each of us has a brick wall in our path -- or a journey peppered with them. This is the life we chose, the one that chose us. Accept it, embrace it, learn from it and know how badly you want it.

Watch the video and you'll hear Randy Pausch share his childhood dreams, discover how he achieved nearly all of them. His lesson to each of us is that bricks and mortar are no match for our dreams. Not even close.

I promised I wouldn't pity Dr. Pausch. It's hard not to do when you see his three young children. So much lost, yet so much found.

No pity, Dr. Pausch, instead thanks for extending a hand to us.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Show, Don't Tell - This is the Real Deal

Posted by Lisa

It’s likely the number one rule. Show, Don’t Tell. Why? Because it makes the difference between poor writing and great writing. Surely, an example is better than me talking about this. I’ve been reading A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith. How’s this for a Show, Don’t Tell start your writing week?

There were times though, especially towards the end of a long cold dark winter, when, no matter how hungry Francie was, nothing tasted good. That was pickle time. She’d take a penny and go down to a store on Moore Street that had nothing in it but fat Jew pickles floating around in a heavy spiced brine. A patriarch with a long white beard, black skull cap and toothless gums presided over the vats with a big forked wooden stick…

The pickle lasted all day. Francie sucked and nibbled on it. She didn’t exactly eat it. She just had it. When they had just bread and potatoes too many times at home, Francie’s thoughts went to dripping sour pickles. She didn’t know why, but after a day of the pickle, the bread and potatoes tasted good again. Yes, pickle day was something to look forward to.

This passage speaks to the plain, repetitive, uninspired life young Francie lived. And oh, how well this author shows the reader.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Making a Literary Life Friday: What Are You Reading Now?

The darling of the blogosphere, Curtis Brown agent Nathan Bransford, asked a question of his readers this week: What are you reading now? It was fascinating to see in black-and-white the diverse reading habits of writers. Naturally, many responded that they were revisiting Madeleine L'Engle, others were reading the classics, and then there was everyone else. What was truly fascinating was how many people were reading multiple books at once. What we read shapes us, literally; it has the power to create synapses in our brains. It also informs and inspires our own writing. So how about you, what are you reading today? Or writing?


A lovely teacher I know recently shared some devastating news: her husband was arrested, is in prison for a heinous crime, her bills are piling up, and she's broke. Her financial situation is dire, in fact. She needs money - end of story. I recently made a post about not chasing the market when it comes to writing, but I question myself...What if I needed money, really needed money?

What would I write if I wrote fiction for money. One thing's for sure, it would be different than the story I'm writing. Necessity, after all, is the mother of invention.

In response to Lisa's question, there are easier and more profitable ways to make money than writing. I'd try plumbing and write for myself at night.

I was speaking with Therese Fowler, author of Souvenir, this week and we shared what we were reading. I left her with the impression that I read mostly non-fiction. Not true. It's probably an 80:20 split. How about you?

I am reading Jonis Agee's The River Wife and Last Night I Dreamed of Peace: The Diary of Dang Thuy Tram. Buy River Wife in hardcover; I expect to see Ms. Agee's name on multiple awards lists next year. She is an expert at this craft and if you've the opportunity, she teaches at the University of Nebraska. As for Dang Thuy Tram's diary, I must admit to feeling conflicted. Dr. Dang was a very young physician for the Communist North Vietnamese when she was shot and killed by an American solider in 1970. This book contains the thoughts, fears, frustrations, and, especially, hopes of a woman who despised the "American devils." While reading this book, it's important for me to set aside the politics of war -- if such a thing is possible -- to understand the intensely personal experience of one woman, a poet. She felt so much. I wish I could give her a moments peace.

Last week, I finally read Lois Lowry's The Giver. The book is sheer genius, one that will surely stay with me the rest of my life. I actually gasped while reading. No, not at that part, but when the secret of the apple was revealed. My goodness, Ms. Lowry's brilliant.

To Lisa's question, wow. If I really needed money, would I write something different? No, and not just because I would simply work at the PR more hours! I suspect there are no guarantees that something written for money will sell either. So then where would I be?

As for current reading, I am finishing Updike, finally. I also read Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson semi-recently. Brilliant, brilliant prequel! The Giver is soon to be on my list, as my middle schooler will be reading that after Spinelli's The Loser and before MacBeth and some Twain. (I'm actually excited about MacBeth. I had a great English teacher, and this one has the potential to make Shakespeare click, too!) On an adult level, I want something fun, humorous (dark or blended with intensity is fine) and yet thought-provoking on a Big Questions Of Life level. No kidding. Any suggestions?

Okay, I don't mean to be flip in response to Lisa's question. But I am trying to write for money!! With my daughter starting her first year of college, trust me, I need some. The thing is, at every juncture of my writing career I've had to examine my personal ethics around what I would write and how my writing would be packaged. Walking the path to the writing life involves climbing integrity mountain.

As for what I am reading. I am almost finished with Water for Elephants; I've been giving it a close read because I am studying the structure, as I'm toying with a similar one for my second novel. I just started Falling Man, by Don DeLillo; what a writer! As I read, I feel secure resting in his capable hands. And I am finally reading, Twelfth Night, because my son has a part in the school play.

You Have to Care

Posted by Lynne

"Are you nervous?" the interviewer asked. "Of course, I'm nervous. Anyone who isn't should quit this business and go sell shoes. You have to care," she said.

I was just passing through the family room, clutching Water for Elephants and Falling Man to my chest, on my way to my bed, when I overheard Sally Field's chirpy voice, her words danced off the red carpet and lodged in my ears.

And in my heart.

Exactly right, I thought. If you care, it's a given you'd be nervous when you've finished revisions on your novel, or your book proposal, and submitted your work to your cherished agent. You want her to love your words as much as you do. And it makes complete sense that you'd have an instant panic attack when a dear friend, whose work you adore, tells you her work is out on submission.

You feel, because you care.

Whether you're new to writing or a veteran, there will be days when exquisite words appear on the page, with little effort your thoughts coalesce to create beautiful sentences and paragraphs. You'll love the feeling, no doubt. Other days, you'll be stuck. You'll chastise yourself for your bland setting, cliché characters and your lack of stakes and tension. You'll wonder how anyone will care about this story, if you can't manage to.

With that bum day behind you, you'll begin anew. Because you're a writer, and you write. The next day, or the next, you'll work out the kinks. You'll discover your character's wants and needs, and with every quirky personality trait visible, you'll like them, you'll really like them.

You've started to care.

The cycle will continue until you care so much it hurts. You'll worry like a mother sending her child off to college. Will other people like your baby? Will they cherish her, flaws and all--the way you do?

When your pages finally venture forth, you'll wonder how they're doing. Are they sitting high on that dreaded pile, catching the late summer rays? Or have they been placed haphazardly on a conference room table, vulnerable to coffee spills. Or worse, are they choking in their fed ex envelope?

Since you can't stop thinking about this extension of you, you'll force yourself to imagine a better day. The day when a smart, savvy editor dips into your prose, and is captured by your voice. And because you've cared so much, she cares. She clutches your book to her breast and she dashes out to share her find with other editors. She'll dismiss her plan to leave early to shop for shoes; she can buy those tomorrow.

Today she needs to buy a book.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


by Hannah

What makes a writer? We all know others who have ideas, who've made up a character sure to be the next Harry Potter or Jason Bourne, if they could only find time to get it down. What shapes us, makes us think that we, of all people, can take an idea and tease it into something larger?

In John Irving's A Widow for One Year, Ruth is a writer. Her father is a writer of children's books, more of an illustrator some would argue, but a well-known writer nonetheless. Ruth, in turn, has become "that rare combination of a well-respected literary novelist and an internationally best-selling author."

This is not directly because her father is a writer; he is a terrible role model. It is because of the stories. Ruth is told stories as a small child about photographs that surround her throughout the house, then disappear. At first she tries to remember the story that goes with each, and as those stories fade, she creates new ones. She is haunted, as well, by a sound:

"... the only sound that would ever succeed in comforting her -- at the same time that it made her melancholic... It was the sound of a typewriter -- the sound of storytelling. In her life as a novelist, Ruth would never be converted to the computer; she would write either in longhand or with a typewriter that made the most old-fashioned noise of all the typewriters she could find."

(How many of you are smiling because you, too, own a typewriter?)

Where do our stories come from? Who knows? Why do we become storytellers? Because of the power of stories.

My brother and I grew up with storytellers. The uncle who made up bedtime yarns using words we tossed at him. The great-aunt who wrote stories and translated haunting fairy tales. The neighbor who wrote the YA series I devoured. Parents who read to us, and who altered the facts now and then to -- intentionally or not -- make us see the world from different perspectives, to think that anything was possible. (Did you know a rooster in Germany crows in German, differently than one in the U.S.?) Stories were all around us, a part of the fabric of everyday life. They made anything possible, but more important, real people made them possible, part of the fabric of everyday life.

I don't know where it starts inside each of us. I do know that being a storyteller is something we need to treasure, no matter how many books we write end up on the shelves. Just by being storytellers, we can inspire, make people wonder and believe. Make children laugh, and think. How lucky are we?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Story

By Amy

A reader of this blog, Jack Payne, once left a comment in one of my posts:

"Only part I disagree with is, 'I write for the story.' What does that mean exactly? It's unclear.To me, that would be like the design engineer of a refrigerator saying, "I do it for the refrigerator."Don't we all write for the reader? I always did. Over my long career--55 business books--I always regarded the customer as king. Same way when I came out of retirement to write my first novel, Six Hours Past Thursday. If I couldn't create something beneficial or entertaining for the reader, I had nothing to offer. The story is automatically taken care of when you "score" with customer (reader) satisfaction.--Jack Payne"

Now finished with my edits, I haven't stopped thinking about what Mr. Payne had to say. While writing this book and then revising, I've had four readers: the three savvy women of The Writers' Group and my agent (some months ago, in a fit of panic, I asked Hank Phillippi Ryan to read the last chapter and in exchange for my undying gratitude, she dropped everything to do so). Over these many months, I've glowed under their praise and sometimes took to my bed because of their constructive criticism; their approval means so much. But never did I write for them.

The beginning and ending of the story were always clear to me. As soon as I realized I was writing a novel, I understood what my protagonist's transformation had to be, how it would be. But that wouldn't come until the end. There were many dark days slogging through the middle. I'll never forget going to a reading of Carol Goodman's The Ghost Orchid with Hannah, Lynne, and another writer, Caitlin, and telling them I had made page 100! Certainly I was elated to have reached that milestone, but stumbling around the parking lot afterward, the truth was that I was lost in the manuscript with no compass to guide me toward the end.

Part of the problem was that my story was so very dark. Bad enough to explore the life of an undertaker and her work, but now the story was pulling me toward a young girl and thrusting her in harm's way. With the exception of Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones (a novel that has a "forever spot" on my desk), I can't read books where children are threatened. If I were writing this book for the reader, the story would have been neatly told, and I could have rested well, knowing the little girl was safe. Instead, I had to give myself over to the story, trust it to reveal itself.

It was a terrifying process, one I struggled with until the very last revision. It was uncompromising, not always kind, but in the end, it was what I hoped it to be all along: unfailingly honest.

That's what I mean by writing for the story. It's the best explanation I can give you, Mr. Payne.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Writing: What's Hot, What's Not

Posted by Lisa

At last winter's SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writer's and Illustrators) conference, Susan Cooper spoke. If you've never met or seen Susan, simply imagine the most poised and eloquent Brit you have ever met. If you do that, you may come close to imagining the stage presence that Susan held as she delivered her keynote speech.

Though I was eager to read her book, The Dark is Rising, it's taken me, ahem, eight months to finally settle down to it. Though I've had to read it in bits and pieces over the last week, each day I've looked forward to those quiet moments at night when just me and Will (the main character) face the Dark.

When Susan wrote The Dark is Rising, she didn't follow any rules of what was expected at the time. Its tone is eerie. Its setting in icy British countryside is tangible it's so well depicted. Its story is both imaginative and frightening. Susan said her editor loved it but told her it probably wouldn't sell because it was too dark for kids. It did sell at the time. And, it still sells today. Frankly, I wonder if it is selling better today than years back. You see, it fits into the fantasy genre that is so popular today.

A wise agent I once spoke with told me to write what I want to write. Lately, as I edit my YA novel, I have been reflecting on this sage advice. I cannot think about the market, I have to reflect on the story I long to tell. I write, not for money, but for that dream of publishing a book: the longing to BE a writer. I know the best book I could write must be a product of emotions that drive me to tell a certain story, not of trying to fit into a niche that's hot at the moment.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Making a Literary Life: The Journey

This week, we in the Writers' Group had a proud moment; we held Lynne's book, Negotiation Generation in our hands. We read her words in print, in a book, in a bookstore. Text that we read months and months ago, had somehow become a book. It is a privilege to play a role, ever so small in the journey of turning an idea into a book.

My favorite part of Lynne's journey toward publishing Negotiation Generation has been seeing her speak on her parenting segment on FOX morning news in Boston. She is confident, competent. Lynne is the same person who sits to my left at our Writers' Group meetings, but she is somehow different on television. She deserves to be published, if someone can deserve to be published. Her message is of value to parents and children. And now it will reach so many people who could benefit from it.

Am I silly because I carry a copy of Negotiation Generation with me everywhere I go? (Yes, my pocketbook is the size of an overnight bag.) In restaurants, I leave it face-up on the table; waiting in lines, I skim the pages; at school events I keep my finger tucked between pages, close to my chest. What can I say, it's a conversation starter and, boy, do people ask about it. I love how Larramie tilted my perspective on its uses: that we can apply the techniques taught in Negotiation Generation to all of our relationships. Absolutely brilliant!

Oh, this book could not have arrived in the mail at a better time! And two copies, one from Amazon (Notice this book, oh Conglomerate!) and one from the lovely author; one for me, one for my husband, or one for me and one for a friend. Or one for me and one for the library... or... in any or all of these cases, Lynne has reached an author's dream: not just publication, but publication of a book that will develop loved, worn creases on its cover, curved pages, a coffee stain or two from years of constant touch and reference.

The encouragement, the support and the love so freely given to me by my champions at the Writers' Group leaves me speechless. And that my friends is not an easy feat to accomplish.

A heartfelt thank you goes out to all of you.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Charming Notes

Posted by Lynne

Just like reading and writing are inseparable to the writer, the content of a book is indivisible from the process of capturing the subject matter and packaging it just so, to gain the attention of readers.

I've always loved to read both fiction and nonfiction, often simultaneously reading one of each. I like a little educational psychology with my upmarket fiction. Finding my pleasure in all things book related, I frequently go to author readings and have observed a few patterns among those who attend.

At fiction readings, the author shares a few tantalizing pages, teasing the audience, while letting them bask in the glory of the prose. During the Q and A that follows, within minutes the conversation turns away from the themes of the work and on to the process of writing. Where do you write and for how long? How many words do you write each day? Do you use a computer or do you write longhand? Have you any rituals of literary significance?

In my opinion, there is as much attention paid to the process of writing as to the content of the book; in some cases more attention.

With nonfiction, for the most part, I've noticed it's all about what's inside the book that counts. The premise or thesis is top dog. The process of writing, and often the actual writing, takes a back seat.

So on the publication of my book-- the one my dear friends at the Writers' Group have been telling you about all week--I braced myself for all inquiries to be about parenting, parenting and more parenting. Don't get me wrong, I didn't really mind that no one was likely to care that I wrote the manuscript using mini-narratives, ones that might draw readers in; I'd hoped they'd see themselves in the story-like descriptions of family life. Or that I'd created a detailed outline of each chapter as I wrote, making certain that I included anecdotes of children of all developmental ages, never once repeating a single child's name or favoring a gender.

I prepared myself to concentrate on how I'd share my views in a nonjudgmental way, hoping I could do my small part to change our culture of blame game parenting, in favor of one of compassionate understanding.

Then one week after my book landed on bookstore shelves I received this email from a reader.

"I have purchased and started Negotiation Generation and it couldn't have come at a better time - with all of the transitions into the new school year. You've hit the nail on the head with the advice and the writing is terrific...Truly, you make the reader feel honored, not chastised, while pointing the way to a better parenting path."

And there you have it. The content and process are united. The reader saw what I painstakingly tried to accomplish. One reader can give hope to the writer that there may be more who see it too.

I am grateful.

If you haven't done so already, purchase a copy of Carolyn See's Making a Literary Life. There is no sweeter thing-- to the giver or the receiver-- than what Carolyn calls the charming note.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Parenting Your Writing

by Hannah

Parenting. Writing. Frighteningly alike, in my opinion. Families pick up certain titles, writers pick up how-to’s. We copy, we try to make it our own. The masters of each discipline learn to improvise, to work free-form. With the rules yet around the rules. How do they do it?

I think, to some degree, they find rules that are malleable to the moment, that work time and time again, that prepare us for anything. How many of us have been there:

Mom, everyone else is going.

Craft these ten words into a first paragraph. We’ll all share in five minutes.

Things I learn about writing apply in odd ways to other parts of my life. And I find that in odd ways, things I learn about parenting apply to writing.

If you read this blog, you know that Lynne has written a truly fabulous parenting book, Negotiation Generation. If I may take the liberty, here are a couple of key points that are surprisingly universal about the Negotiation Generation (aka the parents, not the children!).

We tell when we should show. We assume there are skills when skills haven’t been mastered. We ramble when we should be silent. Hmm. Sound already like any other discipline you know?

What we should do, and often don’t, is to prepare with intention, so when the time comes we can put our best out there and let our best do the work. We need to know what is likely to come our way and make sure the knowledge is solid, so that the action we take is effective.

We all know those moments will come: that in-class exercise, that opportunity to show someone a first chapter, or eventually, an entire manuscript. If you can predict, you can prepare. If you read Negotiation Generation, you will find a surprising number of moments in your life to ask yourself one simple question: What Would Lynne Do?

The answer? Follow through with insightful preparation and skilled delivery. You might just find your challenges simplified. I know I have.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

September 11, 2001

We remember.

Dream Big

By Amy

This is the very picture of a dream-come-true.

Like Lisa, I remember when Lynne asked us to review some pages of her non-fiction parenting book. To be honest, I was hesitant. I was comfortable giving feedback on fiction, memoir, narrative nf, but this was all together a separate beast.

The pages sat on my desk too long until I forced myself into the chair to review them. It wasn't that I was uninterested, more afraid I would let Lynne down. What a relief once I read her work! It was near perfect, mere tweaks was all it needed before she could begin her agent search. In the days to follow, she passed along a query letter for us to review and then late one week she sent it out.

Whoa! I wanted to tell her. Don't rush it. Instead I wished her well and tried to prepare her for the inevitable rejections to come. Even though she had a list of agents she intended to query, I began a list of my own to pass along when she ran through hers. Lynne's contained only a few names, some of the best in the business. It wasn't that I didn't believe in her book, it's that I didn't have enough faith in this writing life. I was still burdened by the yoke of rejections I shouldered from my first manuscript: I became an anxious wreck on her behalf.

But not for long. Lynne received immediate requests. Within days, she received multiple offers from agents. She spoke with all of them and chose one, the one. To this day, we can't mention her name without following it with, We love her. When it was decided, Lynne called, giddy, and I remember sinking into the nearest chair. It was really going to happen. Lynne would get her book published.

My husband overheard everything. Noticing my dazed expression and the tears that suddenly welled, he said, "This must be hard for you. Are you you a little envious?"

"No," I said. "Our dream came true."

Monday, September 10, 2007

If You Can Predict It, You Can Prevent It...

Posted by Lisa

Many months back, Lynne Reeves Griffin, my generous and gifted friend in our Writers' Group, asked Amy, Hannah, and I to read Negotiation Generation. "It's not fiction, but would you be willing..." Of course we were happy to offer what help we might on Lynne's path to success as a parenting expert.

It turns out she didn't need much help; Lynne has over twenty years of experience lecturing, writing, and consulting with parents and teachers. It turns out Amy, Hannah and I were the lucky ones.

I have two young children. Juggling a part-time day job, writing, and household chores is trying at times. My parenting skills can be less than stellar. The great thing was, reading Lynne's book has changed the way I parent. I've learned to work toward being a "proactive" parent.

My daughter, was two when I read Lynne's first draft of Negotiation Generation. At the time, my challenge with my child was blanket management at nighttime. Let me explain. In active moments in the wee hours of the night, she would kick off her blankets and then wake me up, calling for help. Rearranging her blankets two, three times a night left me feeling tired and cranky - you get the picture. Well, I learned from Lynne that if you can predict it, you can prevent it. I stopped being a "reactive" parent and I started being a "proactive" parent. I decided to teach her how to pull on her own blankets.

In the mornings, when my daughter was well rested and pleasant, we played a game with her favorite doll. We covered the doll with a blanket, then...uh-oh...the blanket fell down and we showed the doll how to pull her blanket up. Then it was my daughter's turn. Wide awake, she learned how to pull her blankets up herself. Two nights later, I slept through the night. A wonderful bonus was that my daughter was proud and independent. I was well rested.

Thank you, Lynne, for Negotiation Generation. You will help so many children and parents. Congratulations, too!

Friday, September 07, 2007

Making a Literary Life Friday: In the Bookstore

A walk through the bookstore to find one's own creation on a shelf. That's the dream of every would-be author. For Lynne, this week, that's happened. Negotiation Generation has been published.

I haven't bought my copy yet; I'm waiting for Saturday, for my young children to stay at home with their dad. I think I'll head to the bookstore around ten. I'll stroll the aisles, pretending I'm browsing. I know what the cover looks like. It's sure to catch my eye. I'll pick up a copy, then curl in a chair, or on the floor. I will flip through the book though the words will be a blur. They're certain to for the first few minutes. Then a sentence will catch my eye. I had the chance to read it - how long ago now? Lynne, congratulations. THIS is a proud and wonderful time!

I feel as though I'm a proud aunt. *Sigh*, Lynne's baby has been born. Isn't she beautiful, people? Lisa at Eudamonia quoted Harry Crews as saying "I believe that writing a novel is the closest thing to childbirth that a man can experience." I'd say he's very close. Negotiation Generation has obviously been a labor of love for Lynne and watching its gestation and now birth has been thrilling for Hannah, Lisa, and me as well. We raise a glass to you, Lynne, well actually a blue goblet, and cheer: Brave, brava, brava.

Congratulations, Lynne! I passed along the copy I ordered to nudge the Powers That Be at Amazon; how many parents did I tell about this book this summer? It was a privilege to read the draft, and it is indeed the thrill of a friend's well-deserved success to read the actual, printed, gorgeous book. Just in time for back-to-school -- hurrah!

I got up early on a beautiful late summer day. My husband and I drove into Boston, our game plan well thought out. We went to three bookstores before lunch, ate someplace memorable and then hit four more bookstores before heading home to hear about our son's first day of school and our daughter's first day of classes at college. Negotiation Generation was in all but one store.

Thursday, September 06, 2007


Posted by Lynne

I played softball for one season when I was a girl. I liked it, but didn't love it. Then came tennis. Loved it, but I wasn't any good. Then swimming. I loved it and I was very good at it, but there wasn't a place I could do it off season.

Finding my exercise has proven challenging for me. In recent years, I've settled on walking, yet I admit to doing it in fits and starts. When I'm in the groove, I walk six days per week, adding in hills as the week progresses. I throw in two to three days of strength training, and boy do I feel strong. My clothes fit well, I sleep soundly and make better quality food choices, too.

Looking back to when I began to write regularly, I was fully aware that I couldn't write a novel or a parenting book unless I started out small. A writing exercise here or a parenting article there, over morning coffee or while waiting for a client I began to believe I could put my thoughts and opinions on paper and someone would care. With each writing prompt, my imagination was stirred, characters starting appearing out of nowhere and a thesis for Negotiation Generation came to me.

I began scheduling in my writing time. Thursday and Friday work days for NG. Five mornings per week for one hour, my novel. The more I wrote, the more I wanted to write. Needed to write.

Soon I was ready for hurdles. The first one looked insurmountable. Getting an agent. With lots of research, a knockout query letter and proposal, I cleared that hurdle only to face-- what at the time seemed like a taller more ominous one--getting a publisher.

With mixed emotions--anxiety and hope--I persevered. I couldn't stop, I was training.

And now my parenting book is published; I'm working on another and my novel is complete (for the moment). I know I'll need even more fortitude to stay in the race, because even though one book sits patiently on bookstore tables and shelves waiting for readers, this marathon, so aptly the name of Boston's Grub Street annual conference, is equal parts muse and marketplace.

In my expanded world view, looking back on the goal to be published, I see that I'm no where near the finish line. I simply turned a corner to find that my strength, determination and need to fine tune my craft are still required. Only the scenery has changed.

I'm training. And I plan to go the distance.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Under the Anecdote

by Hannah

The weekly Grub Street Rag includes a quote at the top of the page. Every offering makes the newsletter worth reading, even if don't live in Boston; each week I think, there, they have exhausted the supply of fabulous quotes about writing. Each week, I am reminded that writers love nothing more than to encapsulate the mysteries of life and craft in perfect words.

This week's quote is by Alice Munro:

"Anecdotes don't make good stories. Generally I dig down underneath them so far that the story that finally comes out is not what people thought their anecdotes were about."

I am not a short story writer; it is something I would love to attempt after I wrestle my current project into shape -- and perhaps after I do a little something with the next character banging on the inside of my head. Munro's quote, though, seems a perfect starting point from which to attempt a short story.

What anecdotes to choose? My favorite sound: the shouts and laughter of schoolchildren on the bus from beyond the bend in the road, when I can't see them but know they're on their way home on a bright spring day. Neighbors with a last name similar to Roveto; all you have to do is switch out the T. They are not listed in the phone book. Before we knew of their existence, we got their pizzas, the delivery man insisting their last name ours because the addresses are close as well. The first time I met the woman, my daughter was home sick and we were watching a movie, shades drawn and both of us still in PJs, unshowered of course. This brave woman came to the door and I as hermit crawled out of my cave. The U.S. Post Office had delivered my passport to her; my name, my address, but so, so close. A kernel of a story there, for certain, yes? Hmm...

Thank you, Alice Munro! (And to Sonya, Whitney and Chris-who-is-away for getting this fermenting.)

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Difference

By Amy

Waiting for the elevator in the Grub Street lobby were two women, one of whom was the most beautiful person I'd ever seen. I recognized her immediately as Boston's chief investigative reporter, Hank Phillippi Ryan. I tried to melt into the walls as I eavesdropped on their conversation; to this day I'm not sure they realized a third person rode up with them. Hank was telling the other woman her agent was sending out her manuscript that week. She has an agent, I thought, she's going to be published. We sat next to each other in that writing class -- Hallie Ephron's Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel, hands down the best writing class I've yet taken -- and became friends. I expected Hank's book to sell within days, but it didn't. Sent out as chick lit just as the publishing world grew weary of the genre, Hank's novel was rejected. Was she disappointed? You bet. Devastated? Well, that would imply Hank was somehow paralyzed by the experience. No, Hank took her manuscript and after a matter of weeks, she rewrote it as more of a mystery. Her agent had to have been impressed. Prime Time sold in a two-book deal. It's been one of my favorite books of the year, I fell in love with her character, Charlie McNally, and can't wait to see her again when Face Time is released next month. By the way, after the success of Prime Time, Hank's publisher bought the rights to her next two books.

One writer I adore wrote and submitted for two years, receiving nothing but rejections. Friends and family were generally dismissive because they knew her only as Judy, no one particularly special, certainly not a writer. They said she was a dreamer, too big for her britches, they reminded Judy that the odds did not favor the likes of her. Still she continued to write, submit, and be rejected. Until her first book was published, The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo. A fluke then. She continued to prove them wrong when it was followed by Iggy's House, then Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, and on and on...Thank goodness Judy Blume never gave up on her dream, never gave in to the naysayers. How would we have survived childhood without her?

Have you read Michelle Zink's blog? She tells it better, it's her story, but it's ours, too. She gave up her job, her family sacrificed vacations, she had trouble paying her bills, all so she could write. How many times have we told loved ones not right now or I'm sorry, I can't go. How many nights have we lain awake wondering how to pay that credit card bill, or in Michelle's case the mortgage? Michelle wrote FIVE books, none of which were published, all the while struggling, doubting, though still forging onward. And then Indigo Sky came to her and as Publishers Marketplace reports, earned Michelle a much-deserved six-figure advance.

Writers I know have similar stories. First manuscripts rejected by agents. First books submitted by agents and rejected by editors. Second, third, fourth novels, memoirs, non-fiction. Every writer I know. Every last one.

Amanda Eyre Ward (if you haven't yet read her work, run right now to your local bookstore; I just finished and LOVED Forgive Me) hosted a Grub Street South workshop and she said the people in her MFA program who were published were the writers who never gave up.

That's the difference.