Thursday, July 31, 2008

Publishers' Catalogs

Posted by Lynne Griffin

Prior to April 2007, I didn't give publishers' catalogs any thought. I suppose if someone asked me about them, I would've known they existed, but I didn't know much more than that. In Eckstut's and Sterry's, Putting Your Passion Into Print, a great book that walks you through what to expect when your book is in production, the authors say the catalogue showcases your book; they tell you to think of it as your book's coming out party. The catalogue is printed roughly one season ahead of your book's publication, and it will be what the sales force uses when connecting with libraries and bookstores. Your spread can be anything from one half page to a full page, or two, and in a few special cases more when a book is excerpted; it's available in hard copy and online.

Back when Negotiation Generation was in production, one day a lovely glossy catalogue announcing the fall books for Berkley, a Penguin imprint, arrived at my door. There in color on a full page was a picture of my book along with nuggets of information aimed at getting my book into bookstores. My editor at Penguin wrote a great piece.

For Life Without Summer, I had a better sense of the production timeline and had planned to contact my editor at St. Martin's early in the process to see if I could have input into what went into the catalogue. Why not ask to have input? I didn't need to. Before I had the chance to ask her, she included me. Long before the copy was due, she showed me a draft of what she'd written and together we discussed it. Over the course of one afternoon, we went back and forth for a few hours over email sharing ideas and editing it until we were satisfied it captured the tone of my novel.

So here it is, the St. Martin's Press winter 2009 catalogue. Life Without Summer begins on page 98.

And one more thing about catalogues. When it's out there, sales can begin. Your book, once it makes it's catalogue debut, begins to show up online at places like Amazon for pre-order. It's a bare bones page that gets fleshed out once you have reviews and a final cover. Speaking of covers, the one you'll see in the St. Martin's catalogue is not my final one. My gorgeous new cover is still being fine-tuned. I'll post it here once it's finalized.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Call Me Crazy!

by Hannah Roveto

Consider this quote from this week's Grub Street Rag (worth checking out even if you don't live near Boston for the header quotes and the contest):

"Many people hear voices when no one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stare at the walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing.” ~ Meg Chittendon

How many times have you tried to explain what it feels like to write to a non-writer? "The characters tell me what to do." "What did you say? I was in Chicago." (You are sitting in Boston.) "I had my head stuck in the dryer, and it came to me: I needed to kill Aunt Elizabeth."

Okay, so we sound crazy. Why, then, do we get a pass while someone else might be carted off to the psychologist? Because, as is evidenced by the posts Monday and yesterday, we take those far-off lands and those imaginary people and through determination and craft and utter magic, we make them real not just for ourselves, but for others. They can see them, too. Once we release our creations into the world, they are public spaces, public entities. Others will talk about them, wonder about them, maybe take them on as their own (fanfic, anyone?).

Don Juan DeMarco is one of my favorite movies, a somewhat treacly fairy tale brought to life by an amazing cast. Johnny Depp plays a young man who insists on wearing a Zorro costume, explains that he is Don Juan DeMarco, descended from the Don Juan. He wishes to die at the hands of his arch-enemy, and waits atop an L.A. building demanding the man be brought to him. The police bring in psychologist Marlon Brando, a man about to retire, living his everyday life at the office and at home with Faye Dunaway. The young man tells him the story of his life, what has brought him to this point where he waits for death. Is it true? Is he crazy? His world is compelling and yet he wants none of it; is it really part of our world, or not? It is interesting to watch this movie with writers and non-writers alike.

I saw Don Juan over the weekend, was musing about what is real and what is not and the overlap between them the day before the Grub Street Rag above appeared in my inbox. Coincidence? Not if you believe in the Muse, and in voices telling you to keep at it, to keep making things appear out of thin air for the world's amusement.

(On a less philosophic note, it occurs to me that the Writing World does not have a name for Non-Writers, and yes, I am borrowing from J.K. Rowling in this analogy. Or does Muggle work in this case, too? Suggestions?)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

It's Here

Monday, July 28, 2008

Oh My God, It's Almost August!

Posted by Lisa Marnell

With family visiting, I haven't had much time to write. My MUSE has always disappeared with the arrival of people in my home. Even people who are welcome and loved. My MUSE is shy; she's so frightened of being stared at, her whispers being heard. She scrams. I don't want to say anything bad about her, but she's kind of wimpy.

In the past few days, I have had time to think though, and this has been a surprise. As I drove through Hollywood the other morning, pointing out this celebrity's home and that celebrity's home, something about my novel was bugging me. Like an itchy mosquito bite, it was irritating me, asking me to scratch. I realized what it was: things weren't bad enough for my main character. When we went to the beach in Ventura the other day, I saw Rose and Rachael and Ava's faces, dressed in winter clothes, shivering before me instead the bathing suit clad bodies before me.

The other evening, after everyone had gone to bed, I stayed up late, propped in bed with pillows, holding a single piece of paper and a gel pen. I thought and thought, promising myself I would not go to sleep until it came to me. And, yes, it did. I discovered that one single thing my protagonist did that was wrong, wrong, wrong. The next morning I altered my plot outline (it only consisted of mildly changing three scenes but the stakes are higher, I think).

Though a writer mustn't rush or force the pages to come, one must push oneself and this is a conscious decision. This is my conscious decision:


Strike while the iron's hot, right? While it's all fresh in my mind, while I feel passion for this work, I must push on.

When summer comes to a close, I must type the words THE END. I will let you know how I did in my blog post September 1st. Please feel welcome to join me in this quest to finish you own work in progress. Misery loves company right?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Making A Literary Life: Writing Exercises

In keeping with Lisa's post about it taking 10,000 hours to become proficient at writing fiction, we should all probably be exercising more. Do you regularly get into the rhythm of writing or do you skip your routine as fast as you can say the word treadmill?

Some of us use writing exercises to jumpstart our writing and some of us don't. But each of us at the Writers' Group writes regularly. What do you do to keep yourself in flow? If you've come across any good resources for writing exercises, please share.

I read good writing before I prop my fingers on the keyboard. A paragraph. Maybe a page. I choose a writer whose prose makes me shake my head in wonder; how are some people so clever? At the Muse & the Marketplace this past spring, I was surprised to hear Lois Lowry say she always starts a writing session by reading poetry. I am convinced it jump starts that language part of my brain.

Amy MacKinnon
When I think of flow, I think of yoga. Not only does it help my body, it's crucial to my writing. A series of sun salutations to quiet the mind and then the ideas flow too.

There are so many stages to writing, I don't use specific exercises as there is always something new in front of me. For example, with my revisions, I put all comments onto one copy, and now am nearly done writing out changes to make, a bit in keeping with Hallie Ephron's High-Low approach. Today or tomorrow, the actual edits start, and oh, yes, there's a story coming into my head captured thus far both on notecards and on the computer -- angles on character, plot, backstory, lines that make me laugh and with luck, will do the same for others! A little George Harrison music as I prepare to sit to write doesn't hurt.

One of my favorite writing exercises came from one of my Grub Street instructors, Stace Budzko. I still use his setting exercise from time to time. I really enjoy dipping in and out of Brett Anthony Johnston's Naming the World: And other exercises for the creative writer. In it you'll find ideas from Joyce Carol Oates, Richard Bausch, and Ann Packer to name a few. And my daughter is quite fond of Judy Reeves's (no relation), A Writer's Book of Days; it's a lovely book which includes writing prompts for every day.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

New York

Posted by Lynne Griffin

Manage your expectations. Be grateful for whatever support you’re offered. These mantras played through my mind as I shopped for the perfect jacket and the right accessories the day before I left for New York to meet my marketing and publicity teams. I was excited but I was nervous too. Was Life Without Summer really a lead title? And what does that actually mean?

My trip was full of highlights and surprises. The first one came before I left, when my husband called me from work to say he’d like to come with. He said he knew the meetings would go well, and he planned to take me out on the town; we could enjoy a night together in the city.

Once in NY, he checked us into our lovely hotel, and my first stop was to meet my fantastic agent and her newborn son. More beautiful than any of his pictures, her baby is a little prince. Next stop, the neighborhood bistro next to her apartment where we eat marvelous food and talked about my work-in-progress. I am blessed to have an agent who offers kind yet honest, spot on editorial guidance as well as support in navigating the marketplace.

Our lunch flew by and suddenly it was time to grab a cab and head to St. Martin’s Press, located in the Flatiron Building. Elisabeth and I had been told we’d be meeting with the publisher, Sally Richardson. I was excited to meet her, still I told myself anything can happen. She’s busy, she’s the publisher; something could come up, don’t get your hopes up. The next thing I knew, my editor, my agent, and I were sitting in her historic office. She talked about how much she loved my novel and how excited everyone in house was about publishing it. I owed my speechlessness to her stellar view of the city, where the east and west sides meet, where if you look as far as the eye can see, there's Central Park.

In our next meeting with Vice President and Associate Publisher, Lisa Senz and her enthusiastic assistant, Sarah Goldstein, we viewed and discussed cover art. Evidence of my team's hard work was everywhere in that office. The collective refrain was how important it was to get everything from the cover to the marketing efforts just right. I’ve been grateful at every step in the process thus far and I've tried as best I can to convey my appreciation, but in that moment I was in awe of how much my input is valued.

The house support for my novel is humbling. Editor-in-chief, George Witte joined our meeting, as did publicists, Dori Weintraub and Colleen Schwartz, each sharing his or her enthusiasm and strong commitment for the novel as well as the unique role each plays in bringing Life Without Summer to readers. Before leaving, I met the foreign rights director responsible for my sales to France, Holland and Germany. Parting gifts of the books, Sarah’s Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay and Bitter Sweets, by Roopa Farooki, rounded out the afternoon. I can't wait to read them.

Hours after arriving at St. Martin's Press, I walked out of the building, my high heels barely touching the pavement. My novel is going to be published in April 2009. As I write this post, it’s a full week later and I still wake up each morning in need of a good pinch. My writer’s dream is coming true.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Refrigerator Poetry Life

by Hannah Roveto

Life gets crazy, yes? There are points in time when every aspect of existence pulls at once, every one and every thing needs attention. The small things fill your time, however, and the big things get put off for a day or two. You push them off, and they pile up, and one day they join forces and you can ignore them no longer.

Girl bicycle gears orthodontist pay thousand lost office reorganize pitch client additional release edit novel bingo excitement file letter state due house overflow costume buy... the sound of need is constant, overlapping, and grows louder and louder.

I want my mind to hear only one thing right now: my WIP. I am so close, so close. I want to be working on it non-stop, yet when I sit, something else calls me. Fifteen minutes here, thirty there is all I can seem to manage despite the fact that writing most rejuvenates me, excites and replenishes me. Leaving it is wrenching, and choosing which of the dozens of needs to address instead of it becomes more difficult. The sheer volume of real demands against my desire to be writing almost paralyzes me. Things fall behind, and yet life plunges forward -- rides, meals, activities, phone calls -- and I teeter at the top of the wave, about to go under.

My sister-in-law's refrigerator provides an answer. Waiting for my children to finish the morning routine for their vacationing cousins' elderly cat and five guinea pigs, I stare at photos in magnetic frames and surrounding them, pieces of refrigerator magnet poetry. Most of the words are in neat lines marching across the surface. At eye level is a pool of space with a few words floating. One is upside down: goals. I search the single words and find achieve. And there, heart. Borrowing only one piece from another thought, I create the following:

Achieve the goals of your heart.

That Gift of Time I wanted to give myself this summer? Gift, shmift. Clearly I'm going to have to steal it. Returning home, I let the kids watch television ("Mom's breaking the rules!") and invoke the Rule Of Two. If you can get two Big Things done and behind you, life is good.

I do one task start-to-finish before launching off in the car. Home again hours later, I do another, and only that. So what if none of the other big demands are addressed? The two most pressing are off my list. Amidst the daily routine and summer hubbub, I am going to knock another two off my list in the next twelve hours. Those four should keep the wolves at bay and tomorrow, I will make the first of my two Big Things my WIP, day after day after day. I can -- and will -- meet my goal, on my self-imposed timeline.

Life gets crazy, plain and simple. Demands press against you, threaten to knock you over. Never fear. The answer comes in focusing on the goals of your heart.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Cinderella at the Ball

By Amy MacKinnon

When my cab pulled up to the hotel, I hoped -- just a bit, I already felt abundantly blessed -- to have a view of Lake Michigan. I took it as a sign when I was upgraded to a corner suite with window after window filled with water views. Then I knew my dinner with Chicago-area booksellers would go well.

Random House sales rep, John Hastie, picked me up and drove me to the boutique restaurant in downtown. I thought it a good indication that he recognized me from my author photo -- not too photo-shopped. Now John is the kind of person one feels immediately comfortable with, someone who laughs easily and obviously loves books. I imagine booksellers are not simply clients to him, but friends. When we walked into the private dining room, I was greeted by the other Random House sales rep, Bridget Piekarz. Now, I had been hearing about Bridget for months. The folks on my marketing team were thrilled when they learned Bridget was excited by my book and asked if she could take me around to meet booksellers in the Midwest. I had the sense Bridget was a force and I was right.

Bridget introduced me to several booksellers who had already arrived, when one directed me to the table. Bridget had wrapped my galleys in beautiful paper, placed a sticker with the new cover in the upper right-hand corner, wrapped it in decorative twine and then tucked into the bow flowers from her own garden. Flowers from my book. It was only because there were hours to go that I didn't weep.

And the booksellers! There was Mary from Anderson's Book Shops (she reached out to me even before I boarded the plane to Chicago!); Suzy from The Book Cellar (clever, it's located in a basement); Scott from 57th Street & Seminary Coop; Wanda, regional manager for Borders (overseeing about 120 stores and a darling dog at home); Sue from Lake Forest Books; Flo of Barnes & Noble, Linda from Centuries & Sleuths, and Ianni of Unabridged Books. Imagine for a moment sitting around a table overflowing with excellent food and wine, and better yet, conversation! These were people who loved books, who loved stories about how books are made, and especially the people behind them. Isn't that stunning? Now I'm not ususally a social person, a little awkward around the "beautiful people" of suburbia I suppose, but I was immediately at ease with these folks. They are my beautiful people. I felt as though I fit in.

When talk turned to Tethered, they listened attentively as I told the genesis of the story. There was a collective gasp when I told them of the envelope, and they loved the new cover.

The night was over too soon, I didn't want the conversation to end and I certainly didn't want to lose touch with these new friends. It was dream-like, better than a ball.

But it wasn't over. The next night I would share dinner with booksellers in Grand Rapids. I'll save that story for next week.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Posted by Lisa Marnell

I'm editing final chapters of my second first draft. Huh?

Let me explain. Last year I completed a draft of my YA work in progress, sent it to my writer's group, discussed it with them, and realized it had a FATAL FLAW: Rose, my young protagonist, was telling her mother's story, not hers.

It happens.

I was sitting in the study of our rental house, reflecting on feedback, suggestions for changing the ending of my novel, when I came to terms with the fact that I had to change more than the ending. I pretty much killed that story, poor thing. It's changed hugely, hopefully improved, and I see the light at the end of the tunnel now.

Last week I blogged about the 10,000 hours it takes to master a skill. The theory is that we need to practice and work at something for 10,000 hours to become good at it. This is not always the case, but how many authors who are "overnight successes" have been writing for years and have at least one novel in that bottom desk drawer. I know, I know, there are exceptions; some first attempts at novels are shoved far under the bed, toward the bedroom wall.

I am excited and happy at this point in my writing life. The light at the end of the tunnel draws me a step closer to it each day. Seeing the successes and inevitable success of my writing friends (those whose tenacity drives them to get up and dust themselves off with each and every writing disappointment) tells me my goal is within reach. I keep on keeping on. And so should you.

Besides, writing is really fun!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Making a Literary Life Friday: Woo-HOO!

Good news! Yup, today at the Writers' Group, we want to hear your good news. Another writer's glory elevates us all, doesn't it? So share!

Did you write a gorgeous paragraph this week? Overcome a hump in your manuscript that's had you blocked for days? Did you hear back from that dream agent and s/he wants a partial or full, or from that editor at your favorite literary journal who wants to publish your short story? Maybe it was a rejection, but, hey, you got ink. Ink!

Whatever good news you have, we want to celebrate with you. So share!

Lisa Marnell
Elin Hilderbrand long time acquaintance, married to my hubby's best friend, is on the New York Times Bestseller List. For two books, no less (hardcover and paperback)! Well-deserved. Hurray, Elin!

Amy MacKinnon
Woo-HOO to WG best bud and blurber of Tethered, Kristy Kiernan! Her second novel, Matters of Faith, is an IndieBound pick for September!!! MWAH, Kristy! Another FOWG, Gail Konop Baker, received her cover for Cancer Is a Bitch and it is stunning! Take a look at it here and MWAH to you too, Gail. And for all of you who still don't believe perserverance pays off, then you don't know the backstory of Jenna Blum's debut novel, Those Who Save Us, hitting the NYT's bestseller list. It's been there since February and it's still there-- four years after it was published! Suggest it to your book club and then invite Jenna to speak. She'll tell you the extraordinary story of it all.

For myself, I've finally figured out how to structure my WIP. It reminds me that writing really is the best part of this whole journey.

Hannah Roveto
I received critique this week from three fabulous writers, and am thrilled with what they said. Were they unanimous in their comments -- say, choice of an industry for one part of the story, or perhaps the length of Chapter One? No, they weren't. Despite that, their comments when blended with what I was planning to do on one last edit before sending got me excited. The end of this stage is near -- I've already put together their edits into one copy -- and it will be off to agents by my self-imposed deadline! Once I've absorbed it all a bit more, I'll share the critique and how I addressed it.

Lynne Griffin
Lynne is still in NYC. What could be better than that?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

New York

Lynne is in New York city. Her plans include having lunch with her fantastic agent, after meeting her adorable new son, that is. Then she'll spend the afternoon meeting with her wonderful team at St. Martin's Press to discuss marketing and promotion for Life Without Summer. She'll have news and pictures to post next week.

Happy are those who dream dreams and are ready to pay the price to make them come true.

~~ Leon Joseph Cardinal Suenens

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Reclaiming the Room of My Own

by Hannah Roveto

Carolyn See's Making A Literary Life is oft-quoted here, far beyond our tribute to her each Friday, for good reason. Her words inspire, demand, coach and make us laugh in recognition. Charming notes, for example, are among her advice. She says to send one every day, which I don't do. I did send one off this very week, though, and two last week.

My favorite chapters depend on what's happening in my life. At the moment, the best one is Chapter Five: Pretend to be a Writer. She asks, "if you were a writer, what would you want (to make you feel like a writer)? Hemingway wanted to spend his life outside the borders of the United States... Richard Ford must have wished for a madly dashing trenchcoat, because I saw him once, at a reception... swathed in a madly dashing trenchcoat." Anne Rice travels with "an endless supply of Tab." And so on.

What I need most to feel like a writer is the very thing counseled by Virginia Woolf. Room. It doesn't necessarily need to be of my own, but it needs to feel like it's my own. What brings me to this is the fact that I am sitting in my office surrounded by papers that sit at waist-level -- my husband's description, not mine -- on the futon pull-out sofa, the table, the chairs and yes, on top of the vacuum cleaner. My chair is filled with children's game CDs and the brush of the vacuum, in fact, so I am perched as I write on its very front edge.

Ten years ago the room had a desk and the futon couch. Then it took on some files. Then another desk, to hold the old computer for the kids to use when we upgraded. We got a cat, and our house is small, so this room is the only one with a door that shuts that is not a bedroom. You get the idea. It was looking like a large walk-in closet with the cat as the final addition.

Yesterday I moved every piece of furniture except the desk before me. I swung the couch to a different corner, the wicker basket in front of it, like a reading area. I put the files in a different corner. I went to Target and bought a bookshelf and a TV cart that will become a printer cart. Today I will put together the cart, I will rearrange this table. I will put the papers where they go or (gasp) throw them out. Tomorrow or Friday a nice man is going to come and take care of my computer and make it not spit system error messages at me every five minutes. By this weekend, folks, I will have a room in my house that holds two working, healthy computers -- mine in a separate, special corner -- and a futon couch and files, but that is airy, better organized, and feels like a creative space instead of a waystation. I will be (more) bumped and bruised and sweaty and tired and very slightly poorer, and far far happier, all because I re-read Carolyn See and took a look around and realized, you know, that's what I really need most.

I don't know what any of you need; maybe it's a certain coffee, a certain pen, the private car with driver that See needed due to physical limitations and began to see as her special requirement. For me, for now, the room is all. My entire mindset will shift, open, widen, relax. I will feel not only like a writer, but like a writer who has a place of her own.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Pre-Pub Tour

By Amy MacKinnon

Well, the big day has arrived. I'm off to Chicago and then Grand Rapids on pre-pub tour. The folks at Shaye Areheart Books and Random House are gracious enough -- and excited enough-- to send me out to meet with booksellers in advance of the publication of Tethered. I will get to meet with folks from Lake Forest Books, 57th Street & Seminary Coop, Centuries and Sleuths, Schuler's, Borders, and many more.

We'll have lovely dinners arranged by the lovelier regional sales rep and we'll have the chance to talk books. Imagine, just imagine, sitting down with people who care as much about words as you do. Who've devoted their lives to bringing people good stories by favorite authors. It will be delightful.

I'll let you know everything when I get back. And if you happen to live in either of these fine cities and see me gawking along, give me a wave. I'll be the one floating down the street.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Learning Curve

Posted by Lisa Marnell

There is a learning curve when acquiring skill. It is said a person reaches a level of expertise when they have completed 10, 000 hours of practice. No matter the endeavor…

Piano Playing


Thai Chi

Underwater Basket Weaving

I’m convinced this holds for writing fiction as well.

Four years ago, I decided to write fiction. I hadn’t heard of the term “story arc”; when it was mentioned in a seminar at my first Muse & the Marketplace conference in Boston, I pictured the Wizard of Oz and the tune Somewhere Over the Rainbow bopped in my head. Character development meant nothing to me. Plot, I got. But subplot? What’s that? I’ve come a long way. All of us at the Writers’ Group have come a long way.

In reading recent work by one of our members – last night we all agreed that the quality of her prose is astounding - there was a time when I simply had to stop reading. Over the course of three pages, the beauty, the cadence, the imagery of her writing simply overwhelmed me. I sat and I breathed and savored the moment. She’s honed her skills in the four years I’ve known her. When her book is published, it will be such a delight to those unsuspecting readers. I am so so proud of her. So inspired by her, as well.

Damn, she’s clever!

Assuming a person writes an hour a day, seven days a week for four years (what I’ve done give or take), she will have completed a whopping 1,456 hours. There’s still a few hours to go before reaching that magical 10, 000 hours. Bummer! I’ve still got a way to go.

My point here is that writing skills evolve over time. Though sometimes four years or six years or fifteen years feels like a long time to be working on a book, it’s time well spent. It’s time spent learning. It’s the money in the bank, deposited day by day.

That’s reality. That’s the writing life.


Friday, July 11, 2008

Making a Literary Life: TBR

Is your to-be-read pile higher than your laundry pile? More daunting than that stack of bills threatening to collapse? Taller than the weeds dotting your garden? Well, friends, welcome to the Writers' Group where we feel your pain -- or really, delight. Instead of being intimidated by it, revel in the anticipation of what's waiting for you. Shuffle it around, tease out a few, and share what's on your nightstand. We love hearing about a good book.

Lisa Marnell
I'm hooked, as a person should be when immersed in a good series. I finished Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld, and Pretties waits for me ... but not yet. I need to focus, at present. Much of my spare time is spent working on my WIP; I want a draft by August. But Pretties waits for me. Scott writes a good story, a very fun read.

Amy MacKinnon
Right now I'm reading Loved Walked In by Marisa de los Santos. After readings Lynne's fabulous interview last week, I ran right out and bought it. Once I finished that first chapter, I knew I'd buy Belong to Me as well. Add it to the TBR pile. Then there's The Shack by William P. Young. Did you read how Mr. Young came to have the #1 NYT trade paperback bestseller -- with his self-published novel? I thought it was probably hype, good organizing among a religious organization, but after reading a few pages, I recognize a fantastic read. Expect Oprah's call. Finally, a woman I met at Grub's Muse & the Marketplace, book publicist Megan Kelley Hall , was featured in yesterday's USA Today. Congratulations, Megan! Her book is already a hot summer read and it won't even be released until July 29! Sisters of Misery has a gorgeous cover and an all too familiar hook (if you're a woman or girl). Reading the description brought me right back to seventh grade when Jackie Kelly threatened to pummel me because we both liked Tim Madden...This is one I can read and share with my daughters. So looking forward to it.

Hannah Roveto
Of late my BR (Being Read) pile overlaps with the TBR pile; yours, too? I've been reading Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth, skipping from the gorgeous title story to the third story, and yet was distracted in rereading sections of Carolyn See's Making a Literary Life. The book has new resonance, and I have been chortling at passages, reading them aloud to my husband, who smiles that smile, debating the value of figuring out what I find so vastly amusing. I've never read Rose Tremain's The Way I Found Her, which See recommends, and I am off to the library today anyway, although I do need to renew Dara Horn's The World To Come...

Lynne Griffin
This is a timely post since yesterday my daughter and I went to a bookstore and then giggled as we pulled the car into the library ten minutes before closing to pick up our holds. What a lovely addiction to have, better yet one to share with your child. So what did I struggle to carry out of the bookstore and library? The Importance of Being Kennedy, by Laurie Graham. Pegged as an imaginative fictionalization, I'm interested to see how this kind of story is constructed. Two books I've been dying to read, no pun intended, are Laura Moriarity's, The Rest of her Life and Tana French's, In the Woods. And like a school girl with a crush, I carried Tobias Wolff's, Our Story Begins into my room last night and placed it right on top of the stack. I can't wait to dive into this collection of his best short stories coupled with ten new ones.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Fake Out

Posted by Lynne Griffin

I'm a confronter. In the nicest sort of way, I encourage open conversation between my children and my husband and I. Conflict in our family happens, but it doesn't stick around very long because it rarely has the chance to get under anyone's skin. Conflict in fiction is a different matter entirely. The more it lingers on the page the better.

I've recommended John Truby's book, The Anatomy of Story, before. If you haven't read the chapter on character yet, you should. The most useful section of this highly useful material is about opponents and allies.

Opponents as you know are those characters that are in conflict with what the protagonist wants and desires. Reading Truby, you'll get lots of ideas on how to create opponent characters without merely putting them in the physical path of your protagonist. Be creative.

Allies are those characters that assist the protag. Okay, I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. But what I love about Truby's content here, and what I think has added depth to my second novel, is the introduction of the concepts of fake-ally and fake-opponent.

Like these labels suggest, some characters may appear to the reader to be one thing and then turn out to be another all together. With some slight of hand writing and a few reversals in plot, you've added more conflict, more texture, and more layers to your novel.

Creating three dimensional characters by adding in some complexity in the form of wants and needs of minor characters is a great way to up the stakes and increase the tension. Conflict in your family may not be desirable, yet conflict in your novel is a marvelous thing. It keeps the reader reading, and it gets the reader raving.

So take a few minutes of your writing routine to conjure a fake-opponent and/or a fake-ally for your work-in-progress. The oh-so-helpful mother-in-law who loves the children, but inserts herself too prominently in her son's marriage, manipulating his relationship to her advantage. Or the pain-in-the-neck neighbor who drives one character mad when she catches her ear each morning on the way to her car, but who ultimately gives the protagonist vital information, propelling the plot forward, her noisy traits coming in handy. These should not be contrived characters, there for your convenience. They should be characters that offer something unique to the narrative, something the story can not do without.

Have fun with this writing exercise. And if you have any examples of these types of characters, feel free to share them in the comment section.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008


by Hannah Roveto

The surest sign of summer is the clonkety-clonk of large and growing feet around my house. Two voices have joined the cat and I, insisting they are exhausted when asked to do something, and bored beyond belief as soon as I let them rest. One critical detail: we are the only family in town, in New England, in the U.S. and perhaps the world to not have a gaming system.

Not that we aren't considering a system, although not as an immediate option or even a summer addition to our home. Not that the system wouldn't replace limited time on the TV, computer, and DS and come with rules. We haven't made the leap yet, and we are hesitant to do so. We do not see it as anything we really want. "Augh!" They groan, eyeballs spinning. "But why not?"

Because... I want them to live in three dimensions. Instead of playing Guitar Hero, one kid actually plays the guitar and the drums, and the other sings and is thinking about keyboard lessons. Instead addition to watching tightly edited television, one kid makes and edits videos and has done one for a local grocery. Instead of playing Dance Dance Revolution, one kid dances, dances on stage and can play both goalie and kick goals. Because both my kids are a bit obsessive and I worry it will be a battle to keep the primary focus on the 3-D worlds they have found for themselves in that time and space that being bored allows just before you decide what you want -- need, in your soul -- to do with your time.

Then I hear this: "You spend all your free (!) time on the computer." True enough. I spend my time writing, creating new worlds and new beings whom I need to see in three dimensions in order for others to experience them as well. I need to relive long-ago family vacations spent in piney campgrounds, or the feel of a baseball bat in my hands when it connects with the ball, or the summer spent working at a veterinary hospital, the sweet smell of disinfectant and the musk of dog and cat, and the paralyzing tension in the steps of a German Shepherd being brought into a room soon after an old, ill dog was put to sleep. I need to remember how a face crinkled just so with laughter, the precise pitch of a shriek of happiness and not anger, whether a particular person strode or lumbered or sashayed. I need to pull from the 3-D world to build a dream in the 3-D world: a real story, start to finish that may make its way into the real world some day.

I want my children to know how to live in three dimensions and to find their dreams. I want them to be bored, to have space and time to find what they want most in themselves, to nurture it themselves, to live it for themselves. Maybe because I waited so long in my life to dig deep and push my own dreams forward, I am being a bit obsessive myself on this issue. I freely admit this. What's the big deal, right? Maybe it's enough to realize that there is a 2-D and 3-D world at all, and that the rewards of 3-D are richer and fuller. Maybe by living life in 3-D and leading by example, we can all show -- rather than tell -- children in our lives and others as well how to realize their dreams in multiple dimensions, too.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


By Amy MacKinnon

Have you heard about Book Browse? It's a web site for people who love books and want to share their thoughts -- good and bad -- with other devoted readers. People who sign-up for the program can request a free galley and then write a review of it. That's quite a bit of power in this brave, new world where publishers are beginning to focus much of their publicity budgets on Internet marketing. Pay attention, writers.

So while my publicist and marketing director were thrilled to report last week that Tethered was the most requested galley in Book Browse history, I was a little wary. What would people be saying -- for all the world to read -- about my book?

It used to be that word-of-mouth was all done over the back fence or at the local coffee shop, dropping of the kids at school or picking up a book at the library. I tend to believe, and I could be completely wrong, that professional reviews don't inspire the average reader to plunk down their money for a book, nor do ads. Maybe seeing it on the front table at Borders, Barnes & Noble, or especially a favorite indie might inspire interest, but a trusted friend's suggestion is gold, isn't it? Publishers can't buy that kind buzz.

That's what's so interesting about Book Browse. They're corralling a network of readers into an online community in order to get real feedback. This is the wave of the future. The administrators of Book Browse won't accept pitches from publishers for their book selections, though they do accept advertising, they select what books they'll offer to their readers. The want to remain independent of anyone's influence.

Well, some reviews from real, live readers are starting to trickle into the site. While I've no interest in professional reviews, I care deeply what readers have to say. They are the ones who matter.

Monday, July 07, 2008

On Vacation

Lisa is on vacation this week, undoubtedly enjoying herself because rumor has it she brought along a wonderful manuscript: funny, clever, suspenseful. She's reading it to give feedback to a friend. A clever, clever friend who doesn't drink hot coffee after noon. It has to be the iced variety. Go figure!

Those quirky writer-types!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Making a Literary Life Friday: Movies

Friends of our blog have recently optioned their books for adaptation to television and film. Congrats, Allison Winn Scotch and Carleen Brice. Oh, to be so fortunate!

On this July 4th, we weigh in on our favorite books made into movies as well as those we'd like to see on the silver screen. What book to film adaptation would you send up fireworks for?

Lisa Marnell
Pride and Prejudice, because it worked for me and I loved that book (each time I read it).

Amy MacKinnon
My favorite books to movies starts with Cold Mountain, The Others, Last of the Mohicans (though, in my humble opinion, James Fenimore Cooper's novel didn't stand up to the movie), Atonement, Stand By Me (from Stephen King's short story, The Body), Gone, Baby, Gone, Mystic River...Enough?

And the novel that I would most like to see adapted to the big screen, though I can't imagine it could be done justice, is The Stand by Stephen King. The nuances would be lost in a movie,though. How about an HBO limited series? Jenna Blum's Those Who Save Us would also be a powerful movie.

Happy birthday, America!!!

Hannah Roveto
I love John Irving's Cider House Rules, as well as his book about the experience of having books made into movies, My Movie Business. While it does not remain true to the book, the recent And Then She Found Me, taken from Elinor Lipman's story of the same name, was fun, in part for the great cast (Colin Firth, Bette Midler, Salman Rushdie and director/actress Helen Hunt, among others) and in part to analyze what stayed the same and differed in translation to the big screen.

Lynne Griffin
My favorite book to film adaptations include Rebecca, by Dauphne du Maurier and Atonement, by Ian McEwan. Brava--these movies remained true to their respective stories and characters. What book(s) would I like to see made into a movie, aside from my own?

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, by Maggie O'Farrell and The History of Love, by Nicole Kraus.

My Website

Posted by Lynne Griffin

It took some time, but my new website launched this week! I invite you to take a look and please, tell me what you think.

A website is a personal thing. It's your image, your brand. I wanted to create an inviting space, where visitors could get a sense of who I am, what I do, and what I care about.

A website is a professional thing. It's your calling card, your brochure. In my case, finding the right tone for merging my identities--parenting author & speaker with novelist--required careful consideration. I didn't want a mish-mash of pages leaving my visitors scratching their heads.

I've learned a lot in the last few months about building a web site, one that reflects my individual personality, one that lets readers know what they can expect from me. I thought I'd share my top ten things to think about when creating or updating your website.

  1. Secure domain name(s): Your name and/or your book's title are especially important. Keep in mind your readers will google the most obvious thing about you. Even if you don't plan to host a site right now, secure the domain names, so you'll have them when you're ready.
  2. Establish a budget: You'll want to know at the outset what you can afford. A simple static site will cost less than one with all the bells and whistles. Ask yourself what you really need vs. what you'd like to have.
  3. Spend time visioning: Even using a designer, which I strongly recommend, you'll need to have a sense of the look and feel you're after. Only you really know the image you're trying to convey.
  4. Know what you want: Writing down what you want and don't want will get you started. For example, I built in a blog to my site so I could announce news. And I wanted a library of television and radio clips. It's easier for your designer to know in advance, the capability you'll need.
  5. Search for sites you like: It can help the designer a lot to know what you like about certain sites. I love Therese Fowler's site so much, I decided to work with her designer. Brian from Low Fat Designs built Amy's site too.
  6. Keep your eye on the future: Knowing what you want and need for your site today is important, but so too is the need to be forward thinking. Will you need an event calendar? Or a place to announce your wonderful blurbs? Be sure your designer factors in the ability for the site to grow as your career does.
  7. Ask for feedback before launch: Just like every writer needs a great editor, every site should be field tested. Ask a few savvy surfers to take a test drive.
  8. Learn some simple programming: My site is built on what's called a content management system, and because I know simple html, I can make all my additions & changes without relying on or paying an outside provider.
  9. Update the site on a regular basis: Sites that change and are added to, keep traffic up. Don't you love going to your favorite sites to see what's new?
  10. Be sure to capture statistics: You won't be able to fine-tune your site with readers in mind, if you don't know who's visiting. Get a stats package from your designer, and learn how to look for key pieces of info.
I hope you like my site, and I hope my post spurs you on to update or create your own. A website is a wonderful networking tool, helps you establish a web presence, and gives you a place to announce your news. Once your site is launched, let me know. I'd love to be one of your first visitors.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

50 Ways to Give... to Other Writers, Too

by Hannah Roveto

I needed to track down a writer last week for my public relations work. She'd written a story for a regional magazine and her area of interest clearly overlapped with my client's offerings. I went online to try to track her down and found, among other things, this: 50 Ways to Give Right Now, written by Deblina Chakraborty.

The list will follow, but I loved how so many of these work on multiple levels. Not just in the wide world, in our larger lives, but as writers and creative people supporting each other. A few of my favorites:

Applaud a great performance: Amy, Lynne and I did this literally on Monday night when we gave Lisa her feedback. Wow, was it fabulous and we were so excited for her that we broke into spontaneous applause. And then three of us again for Tethered, and again for news that Lynne had, and then they for me for delivering gray cardboard boxes filled with 264 pages of either a stunning novel or complete insanity. (Or something somewhere in between, hopefully more toward the first...!)

Confront a friend who needs confronting: This, too, we do in writers' group and it is the reason we are so close. We are honest and kind, which it is possible to do in the same breath, and we now actually seek the truth from each other. Would that everyone had this in our real lives as well -- a friend who would deliver honesty and kindness when something needed to be said.

Forgive yourself. For a bad page, a day without writing, whatever. Get back up and do it right the next time. Forgive and move on.

Give your full attention. To every detail: plot, character, voice, setting, word choice, structure. Every little bit of what you write and what you read.


I love this list. I love that it centers me when I feel like my life is spreading out beyond its borders faster than I can run around and push it back into place. By focusing on what's most important and pushing the good karma out there has it will come back a hundred-fold. And can't we writers use a little good karma now and then?

50 Ways to Give Right Now

1. Applaud a great performance.
2. Become a Big Brother or Big Sister.
3. Buy a meal for someone who’s hungry.
4. Call a friend you haven’t heard from in a while.
5. Confront a friend who needs confronting.
6. Donate blood.
7. Elect to be an organ donor.
8. Extend a warm welcome to a newcomer.
9. Forgive yourself.
10. Give a compliment.
11. Give directions to someone who’s lost.
12. Give up your seat.
13. Give your full attention.
14. Help a fellow traveler with her luggage.
15. Help a younger person discover a hidden talent.
16. Hold the door.
17. Invite someone who’s not a part of your inner circle to a friendly gathering.
18. Kick bad habits, like smoking, that can harm others.
19. Laugh.
20. Lead by example.
21. Leave a big tip when you eat out.
22. Let go of an old grudge.
23. Let your spouse sleep late.
24. Look cashiers in the eye. Thank the bank teller.
25. Make a donation, however small, to your favorite charity.
26. Mentor a colleague who’s new to your field.
27. Next time you’re ready to honk at another car, don’t.
28. Offer a ride to somebody without a car.
29. Participate in a race that benefits a charity.
30. Pass on good news.
31. Pay the toll for the person behind you.
32. Plant a tree.
33. Praise someone who’s done well.
34. Put yourself in another person’s shoes.
35. Raise money for a cause you believe in.
36. Reduce, reuse, recycle.
37. Rescue an animal from a shelter.
38. Say a prayer for someone who’s hurting.
39. Send a thank-you card to someone who’s shown you kindness.
40. Smile at a stranger.
41. Spearhead a petition.
42. Spend time with an elderly person.
43. Stay calm during a stressful time.
44. Surprise someone.
45. Teach your children about giving.
46. Tell a joke.
47. Tell your mom you love her.
48. Throw a party for someone celebrating a milestone.
49. When you see trash, pick it up.
50. Write a letter to a person who’s made a difference in your life.

~ Deblina Chakraborty

Source: body+soul, September 2007

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Tethered Chosen for Borders' Original Voices Program

By Amy MacKinnon

While I was on vacation last week, my publisher called with good news. She said she couldn't wait, it was too fantastic and it was. Tethered was chosen by Borders as one of their August picks for their Original Voices Program!

Naturally, I checked out what they're featuring for June. But what does this mean? Lots of good things it turns out. As I understand it, my novel will be among the five other novels selected for the program among all the novels scheduled for release in August -- not just debuts -- to be prominently displayed on the front table of every Borders in the nation courtesy of Borders. It will also appear with a written endorsement, courtesy of Borders. And it will certainly help build that all important buzz. Again, courtesy of Borders.

Now that's all well and great and I'm more grateful than I can duly express here, but it's not the best part. What moved me to tears was the review the buyer wrote about Tethered on the Borders web site. She didn't have to do it, it was enough that she nominated me. Going this extra mile took time and effort. And what she wrote...well, she got the book. She read it the way I'd always hoped someone out there might. So thank you Deanna P. From the bottom of my soul, thank you.

5 out of 5
An Original Voice for Mystery! June 9, 2008 By
Deanna P, Mystery Buyer from Borders Home Office (read all my reviews)
"Original Voices is a Borders program that highlights fresh, compelling, innovative and ambitious works from new and emerging talents. TETHERED by Amy MacKinnon is a perfect example of a book that belongs in this program, bringing together unforgettable characters and a well-plotted mystery with language that is rich and full.Clara Marsh is an undertaker, a mortician who helps prepare the dead for their final viewing with extraordinary care and compassion. She works surrounded by death, but imparts a last bit of life as she sends each person onto their final journey with secretly-placed fresh flowers in their caskets. Morning glories (affection upon departure) for an old woman who was much loved. Marigolds (cruelty in love) for the man who abused his wife.Clara’s days are structured and constant. She clings to her loneliness just to make it through each day, keeping even those that care about her most at arm’s length. Until the day she discovers a sad little girl named Trecie playing in the funeral home. Until Detective Mike Sullivan starts asking her questions again about the still unsolved death of another little girl that was nicknamed Precious Doe. Until the day that it seems that these two little girls are linked and that the clock may be ticking to save Trecie from a similar fate. MacKinnon has created a wonderfully flawed and human heroine in Clara Marsh, who must face the demons and ghosts of her own past in order to help Trecie. Given her occupation, it is inevitable that the mysteries of death and what come next are examined. Clara is privy to the beliefs of so many different kinds of people because of her job, but she herself is unable to believe. While she does her job, she sees what tethers our bodies to life, but it will take solving the mystery of Precious Doe and Trecie for her to truly understand what it is that tethers our souls to this earth and to one another. Highly recommended and not to be missed, TETHERED will keep you thinking well past the last page."