Friday, August 29, 2008

Making a Literary Life: End of Summer Reflections

The final long days of August seem to carry with them a melancholy. We slow down, reflect. Warm days that ran together are suddenly turning into memories. With September around the corner, we're another year older, but are we another year wiser? We at the writers' group consider what we've learned.

Lisa Marnell
I learned there is no right answer in plotting, in setting, in character development. It's all a choice. You make a choice, you run with it. Second guessing isn't your job; that's the duty of a writers' group or trusted reader. I've gone down too many roads and backtracked, wasting time and emotional energy.

Amy MacKinnon
Though I've heard Lynne repeat it a thousand times and agreed with her a thousand one, I've truly learned that life is a marathon, not a race.  Even more important, that this journey isn't worth taking without friends by your side cheering you on and allowing you to cheer for them.

Thank you to the folks at Grub Street and the many writers -- published and not yet -- who came to the Porter Square Books Reading Tuesday night.  It was good to be among my people.

Hannah Roveto
I've learned to trust myself more, as well. I dislike stories where the author lingers like God; you see the strings being pulled behind the characters and plot rather than it appearing to happen organically. I probably had shied away more than I should from being a Goddess, and stakes in particular had suffered. I believe I have found the balance, at last, where I make lives turmoil and yet am not seen by the reader twist by twist.

Lynne Griffin
After a trip to New York to meet with my publicity and marketing teams, I learned how important it is to have champions for your work. Thank you Elisabeth Weed, Hilary Teeman, and the rest of my advocates at St. Martin's Press. I am deeply grateful.

As I fine-tune my work-in-progress, and do a bit of manuscript consultation for Grub Street, I'm learning that revision is a beautiful thing. It's where the real word painting begins.

This week, Amy gave a reading with Brunonia Barry, author of The Lace Reader, co-sponsored by Grub Street and Porter Square Books. My daughter and I were there to share in the excitement. Amy was, as you'd expect, a real star! We are so proud of her and her accomplishments. And it was wonderful to catch up with our talented friends, Lara Wilson, Chris Castellani, and Michael Lowenthal.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Writer's Retreat

Posted by Lynne Griffin

I admit I work a lot. Yet to me writing is where work and play come together, it's the definition of being in flow. I don't mind working long hours, I often write six days a week. I have no anxiety around spending an entire day on one paragraph or tossing out a whole chapter in favor of going in a new direction with my work-in-progress. I love the challenge of writing the novel, but I still love a good vacation.

Last week, my family and I took our annual trip to Maine. The house we rent lakeside, in the Sebago region just outside Portland, is magical enough to draw my husband and me away from our career and home responsibilities. More astounding is its ability to coax two teenagers away from friends and technology. It's a just us, no TV, no laptop trip, and it has been for fourteen years.

And while you can take the writer out of her office and away from her computer, you can't take the writing away from the writer. Here's a glimpse inside what I call my writer's retreat.

I've always baked a pie using wild Maine blueberries. This year in honor of Patry Francis, author of The Liar's Diary and her tradition of making a pie for the muse, I made my version of the literary blues pie.


Some of us couldn't wait for the after photo to be taken before diving into the pie.

In Portland, ME, in the wonderful independent book shop, Books, Etc... I couldn't resist searching out Tethered. My daughter thought a photo was called for.

Lost in a family game or puzzle, or while sipping a glass of wine from a local vineyard on the dock at sunset, I worked out a structural change in my novel. It was so easy to see things clearly sitting there.

And of course, I read. Thanks to a recommendation from Michael Lowenthal, I've now added another novel to my top ten. Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates is perfection!

I loved The Shack by William P. Young, The Rest of her Life, by Laura Moriarty, and The Unthinkable, by Amanda Ripley, too.

So I'm back now and ready to begin working again in the traditional sense. I still have my memories of the time I spent with the people I hold most dear and I look forward to next year when perhaps I'll walk into Books, Etc... in Portland and find a copy of Life Without Summer on those shelves.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Spotlight On You

by Hannah Roveto

A crossroads of thoughts came somewhere between watching Ted Kennedy speak on Monday night and reading Amy's post yesterday. Having a book out makes an author a public figure, subject to being recognized, approached, discussed, analyzed. Yet other professions that generate public figures -- politics, or sports or entertainment -- offer a distinct advantage in that their years of junior experience train them not only in their chosen field, but force them to be increasingly public people along the way.

When I was younger, I worked in state government. Once a week or so, I would write a press release for the Commissioner at the Department of Revenue and when it was approved, march it up to the press offices under the golden dome of the Massachusetts State House. As I headed to the rooms where the wisecracking reporters sat, I would pass the young politicos. They were my age, and the young men and women alike eyed my long skirts, short-sleeved tops and flat shoes with suspicion.

Clearly, I was not one of them no matter how comfortable I looked pushing in and out of heavy oak doors. They wore suits, wandering the marbled halls looking earnest, practicing their public faces. They moved from being aides to assistants, meeting constituents, coordinating public meetings, rising and flourishing under increasing public visibility, until some eventually launched their own bids to represent their neighbors. They, like top athletes and entertainers, moved from small stages to ever-larger venues over a career.

Writers do that to some degree. We can publish a piece in a local paper, by-line for a regional magazine, perhaps have a story published in a literary journal. We can network, teach or go to conferences or work through a master's degree. Still, the growth and change and development happens mostly in the shadows. Our craft is quiet and private and happens behind the walls and doors of our homes. Then, with hard work and determination, one day:

Tah Dah!

When the story leaves us, the shield of invisibility comes off and there we stand, in our local libraries, in a bookstore, in the grocery store, blinking into a quick spotlight. With luck, we have acquired some of those tools elsewhere, so that when we are required to handle that moment with grace and aplomb, it's as though we, too, have been practicing all of our lives.

And so to a question: What are your thoughts about the moments when you have sent or will send a story out into the world... and you must follow it out, as well?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

So What's It Like?

By Amy MacKinnon

My email inbox is more full than ever before.  I've heard from long ago friends and complete strangers, all of whom have been supportive and kind.  To know there are people out there actually reading Tethered is a little jarring though, like someone poking around the shadowlands within me.

Neighbors I've never met have stopped by to ask if I'm the one who wrote the book and then wished me well.

My father called the other day to say when he started his car, the radio came on, and my voice filled the space.  "You're like a Hollywood celebrity, Amy," he said.  There was a catch, but he swallowed it.  "Your mother and I are real proud of you."  I didn't tell him it was a very local show and the interview lasted only six minutes; we all want to believe our children are somehow special.

I've scrubbed the bathrooms and the windowsills, I've managed to vacuum every other day.  The laundry still gets away from me.

I walked past my local Barnes & Noble the other day and was a bit wistful to see the display window filled with books that came out the same time as mine.  This is my turf, I thought.  In the next moment, I accepted that my book was one among many and as Lynne says, we each have our own journey.  With my next step, I noticed another display window.  In it was a poster-sized photo of me and copies of only my book.  It reminded me to keep moving forward.

Most people don't know who I am, don't know that I've written a book, and don't care.

I've received my first 1-star review on Amazon.  I expected it to hurt.  Instead, it made me wonder about the laws of attraction.

I received my first newspaper review from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  This from a writing instructor.

My children and I finished their back-to-school shopping.  They'll be leaving me in a week's time, gone for hours each day.  I'll miss them terribly.

Yesterday at my local library, the place I learned to read, a librarian asked if I was the author of "that book."  She said there was a wait-list and she looked forward to reading it.  Another woman approached me with her two children in tow, "I saw you in the paper, you wrote that book. Congratulations." After I mumbled a thank you, she then turned to her kids and said, "This is a real live author, she wrote a book..."  Something to that effect.  I was too embarrassed, too shy to hear anymore much less do the proper thing and greet her children.  I promise to do better next time.

Yesterday, I went to the doctor's, the pharmacy, supermarket, and corner store.  No one knew or cared who I was.

Also yesterday, a package arrived from New York, something from my agent.  I opened it and was stunned to discover a gorgeous fountain pen inscribed with the title of my book and its pub day. She believes in me and that is why you need an agent.

Tomorrow I'll be doing a reading in Cambridge, MA with Brunonia Barry, author of The Lace Reader.  It's sponsored by two favorites: Grub Street and Porter Square Books.  Those will be some coattails.

I received a charming note from Ann Patchett in response to one I wrote her.  It's tucked away in the first copy of Tethered I received from my publisher.  If my house were on fire and my children safely out, I would race back in to save both. 

I sleep through the night now.

Monday, August 25, 2008


Posted by Lisa Marnell

I was away last week - spending time in BEAUTIFUL! Santa Barbara and beyond, but I'd love to play catch-up with Friday's MLLF question: What's Cool About The Writing Life?

My answer is simple. It's cool to daydream.

Just yesterday, I was walking back from our neighborhood pool, I meandered along a series of walkways that are hidden away by stone fences and pine trees. I was so very alone. It was delightfully relaxing. And yes, of course, I was thinking about my WIP. How could I not be? That ten minute walk was time I gladly share with my characters.

What, I wondered, should be Ava's reaction when she finds out Rose is in danger again?

Just how friendly should I allow my two main characters become?

It's fun - to daydream. It's a lovely perk of being a writer. I get to be a child, to daydream, to fantasize.

Ah, did we choose writing or did writing choose us?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Making a Literary Life: Cool

As the dog days of summer turn cool (at least in these parts), we'd like to reflect on what's cool about the writing life. We've kvetched about the heartache when the words won't come, the angst of getting an agent (or not), selling a manuscript (or not), but let's talk the good stuff. What's your favorite aspect of this journey?

Lisa Marnell
Lisa is away, but will catch up next week.

Amy MacKinnon
Last night, I sat in my family room surrounded by boxes and boxes of Tethered. Why, you ask. Well, rock star Random House sales rep Sherry Vritz asked if I'd be willing to sign copies for bookstores that requested them. So they were shipped to me first, I spent several hours gratefully signing them all, and will then ship to them to fabulous IndieBound book shops. Many thanks to The Mysterious Bookshop in New York City, The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, AZ, and Murder By the Book in Houston, TX. Very cool.

Hannah Roveto
What's cool for me is that writing was a life I used to live completely in my head. Not only the writing part, but the life part. I'd doodle, I'd lurch, and I would always let "real" life push it aside. Writing is a life I live now, and yes, there are still the job and the kids and the house and... yet... every day, I write, and now there are goals, milestones, and accomplishments.

Lynne Griffin
Lynne is still away, but we'd like to hear her thoughts on this topic when she's back.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A New House

Lynne is away on vacation, but here's one of our favorites of hers:

Posted by Lynne Griffin

I've never built a house, but I took a wonderful course on building a novel. When I was deep in to a revision of Life Without Summer, I took a course on story construction offered through Grub Street by the smart and talented Stace Budzko. It helped me then, but how was I to know that eight months later, as I delved into crafting my next novel, that things he taught me would flood into my mind with new relevancy.

The elements of our stories are not unlike those of a house. What we know about our characters--how they behave and misbehave--their desires, wants and needs are as important to the writer as the windows that allow light into the living room. Plot can be seen as the opening and closing of doors. Voice--the house's architectural style.

Having built and sold one novel already, I know that building a good foundation is critical to the novel's ability to stand out in the marketplace. For me, settling on point of view is an important first step in creating the right structure, telling the right story. Whose story is it? Which character(s) have the most to gain and the most to lose given the situations and complications I've chosen to write about? When I find the heart of the story, I know it. I love writing in two voices, so for me there is often more than one heart to consider.

At every stage of novel building it's important to use quality goods. For a writer, the raw materials are words. This time I'm finding it even easier to lay down the structure with care, partly because the more I write the more I fall in love with words. Though in truth, I'm confident, because I trust that even when a house is done, there is nothing wrong with moving a little furniture or hanging new curtains. Even brothers and sisters have been known to change rooms, and parents know when it's time to add a room over the garage.

Perhaps the single most valuable lesson I learned from Stace during that weekend in April relates to setting. I will be forever grateful to him for opening my eyes to the idea that setting can be compelling, not merely a backdrop "where characters do their thing". Whether you imagine the places in your novel as pleasing, forbidding or somewhere in between, setting embodies all the places that influence the way your characters see the world and how they respond to it.

Andre Dubus once said, "We enter the fictional world through memory". During my weekend course, Stace urged me to take every opportunity to pry, eavesdrop, stare, and otherwise gather the material I'd need to build a story. Little did he know that the perspectives he offered, I would remember, serving me well in my building projects down the road.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Math and the Artist's Career

by Hannah Roveto

I was reading Rolling Stone yesterday, not because I am cool but because I was waiting for back-to-school haircuts to be completed. The current issue has an interview with Robert Downey Junior, who is, as far as I'm concerned, an artistic genius.

He was talking about his career and what a single choice can mean. People used to say to him, "Hey, I remember you in Weird Science; loved Less than Zero." By that latter movie he'd been in a dozen films, plus a season on Saturday Night Live. His achievements, he said, were like an algorithm -- a moveable, complicated process. Now, he says, people point to him: "Iron Man!" With that choice, Downey said, he has a fixed point from which to build.

The last time I took a math class was in high school. Calculus, actually, and that was pretty much the point when I switched with a happy heart to the humanities. But algorithms and fixed points -- the process of a career and its successes -- got me thinking.

As writers, we hope -- try -- for fixed points, one after the other. In part for ourselves, but in part for business reasons, truth be told. We want our stories to resonate and stay with the audience, to create a deep connection. The annoying thing is that -- as with other kinds of artists -- we don't get those starry successes every single time. This career is two-faced, the art and the business, and we can never forget it. And we worry.

What I like about Downey's math analogy is that it provides a long-term rationale for pushing forward, for not letting one moment make or break your determination. Yes, you can have a career and go along for a bit without a fixed point. If you keep at it, if you are smart about it, you will create one. Why am I so certain? Because what must be done comes not from the outside world, but from inside of us. We keep going, we keep creating. It is in our souls. Not to say we shouldn't be strategic. Many writers take pseudonyms to restart careers, extend careers. Or consider John Irving. His first three books didn't get the reception he thought they should have (career as algorithm), so he took his fourth book to a new publisher. That book, of course, was The World According to Garp (seriously fixed point!).

I have had relatives, neighbors and friends in this business; I have been lucky enough to absorb their experiences in preparation for my own. I know there will be times when my career might be more of a process; I also believe that with hard work, belief and determination, there will be points of achievement to stand upon over time, as well.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Etiquette of Book Signing

FYI: I'm over at Jungle Red today. Check it out!

By Amy MacKinnon

So I went into Boston over the weekend with a friend to visit area bookstores. Yes, of course I went to see if Tethered was out and if I could possibly, maybe, sign what was in stock. If you're like me -- and you're writers so I can safely assume you are -- it's a bit awkward to present yourself to the manager of a bookstore and say hi, I wrote this book, mind if I sign it? Luckily, for us, they're used to this sort thing, it happens on a fairly regular basis. In fact, it was happening while I stood in line at the customer service desk at the Downtown Crossing Borders.

To my left was an unassuming man in t-shirt and shorts, a backpack slung over his shoulder, stacks of books in front of him and he's waiting patiently, calmly. To my right, being helped by Dave the manager, was an older gentleman. Now while I should have been paying attention to the man on my left, I was in fact futzing with my outfit, smoothing my wayward hair, and standing there holding tight to my book, grinning like a game show contestant, angling it so anyone walking by might see the lovely cover. Waiting, waiting, fidget, futz, wait. It is lovely, though.

Then the man to my left says to the manager, "Are there more in back?" At which point I look to the stacks of books on the counter, look to the man, who is already heading in the direction the manager is pointing, and then I grab Dave the manager's hand (yes, I did) and say, "Is that Richard Russo?"

"Can you believe it? He just walked in!" I ran after him. No, this isn't the dorky part yet, close, but it gets worse. You may need to stop reading now because it's too painful, but imagine how excruciating it is to write. Here goes:

"Mr. Russo?"


"I'm a big fan, I love your work, like..." At this point, I'm so excited, I can't remember a single title. Not Bridge of Sighs or Empire Falls, not Ship of Fools or The Whore's Child. Not one. His smile is beginning to wane. "I loved that article you wrote for that Maine magazine, I can't remember the name of it, on Alzheimer's, it meant so much to me..."

He starts to back away, his smile waning. "Oh, I'm sorry. Thank you."

There was more, luckily I can't remember it all. Then I really did it. "Could you sign my book?"

You see I'm still holding my copy of Tethered I'd hoped Dave the manager would want me to sign so he could slap that shiny sticker on it: autographed. But I was waiting my turn and hadn't asked yet and it was the only book I had on hand. It didn't occur to me that we were standing in the Richard Russo Aisle (can you imagine having your own section in a bookstore?) and I should have plucked one of his off the shelf.

Now Richard Russo's smile truly falters. He gestures to Tethered. "You want me to sign this book?"

"Yes, it's mine, I wrote it." I'm beaming, from nerves not pride. Even I can see how this is going, but I can't stop the train wreck.

"Oh, congratulations." He's so very nice. "But I don't think I should..." He's shaking his head, looking from me to the book.

"Of course, that would be silly." I may have stopped beaming here. I may have even gulped and developed a nervous tic.

"Hey," he said, angling my book so he could see it better. "Tethered, huh? And you're Amy MacKinnon?"

I nod. Futz, twitch, tic.

"I'll have to get that. The cover is really great."

I thank him, I leave, and Dave the kind manager, leads me over to my own -- much smaller -- stack of books on the front table and I begin to them. A man passes, he stops and turns to regard me. It's him, Richard Russo. He calls out across the floor.

"Is this your first one?" He's walking backward, toward the exit, that face I know so well smiling, for me.

"Yes." I'm beaming again.

"Good luck with it. I'll be looking out for it!"

And then he was gone and in an instant, he made me feel like I wasn't quite the big dork I knew myself to be.

Monday, August 18, 2008


Posted by Lisa Marnell

I'm happy today.

Late last night I finished a first draft of Frozen Rose, my YA novel. Hurrah! I woke feeling a sense of relief.

Over the past six months, I've changed the plot at least five times. I had figured out characters. I had established a setting that was magical to me. Though it should be hard to delve into mid-winter New Hampshire as I write mid-summer in sunny California, I managed. I'll admit to closing the blinds in my study and turning on the air conditioning a few hot afternoons. Being surrounded in my many photographs of New Hampshire mountains certainly helped as well. No, getting into my novel, wasn't ever a challenge, but knowing what my characters were going to do was hard for me.

Choices. Commitment.

Deciding that a character will follow one route and not another is something I haven't read much about in writing books on craft. But making choices about the direction for my novel has weighed me down for a long time now. I discovered something. It's easier to have a main character kind of lie, kind of cheat, kind of steal, than to decide on one course of action such as, My main character is a compulsive liar, or My protagonist, when challenged will cheat every time.

In Tethered, Amy's recently released novel - I'm still amazed and blown-away proud - she made choices. Some of them were difficult. But those choices were believable, realistic, and, from a writerly point of view, raised the stakes. Her choices made her novel the gripping and emotional story that it is.

In deciding which direction to take with my YA novel, there was one bit of advice, some wise words I copied and taped above my laptop. My mini-poster reads:

Fiction isn't written to make readers happy.

Its purpose is to jangle their nerves,

Make their hearts race,

Give them goosebumps,

and disturb their sleep.

Words to live by, writers!

Oh, I'm pleased.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Making a Literary Life:Friday: Three Little Words

This week overflowed with emotions like Christmas-morning excitement, heart-bursting pride. How amazing the literary life can be! Quick: what are the three words that best describe it for you, whether it be the process of writing, the high wire trek of the business of writing, or moments like this week?

Lisa Marnell
Dreamy. Frightening. All-encompassing.

Amy MacKinnon
Defining. Heart-breaking. Everything.

Hannah Roveto
Spiritual. Consuming. Energizing.

Lynne Griffin
Gratifying. Invigorating. Intense.

Words to Mouth
Notes From the Handbasket

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Posted by Lynne Griffin

Tethered is in bookstores, you can order it online. Amy's words are dressed in their Sunday best, her flap jacket stunning in gold, green, and black. Advertisements are appearing in papers, announcing its arrival. Interviews are posted on blogs. Readers are beginning to weigh in on her creation.

Over the last few days I've felt a bit like a sister watching her sibling show off her new baby. I've held back a few tears when family members openly gushed about her accomplishment with genuine love. When she opened her copy of Tethered and eloquently read those haunting first lines to a crowd leaning in to savor her prose, I felt proud. And when the crowd jockeyed for a turn at congratulating her as she began to sign personalized copies, I smiled.

Amy's baby is out in the world. She's the one that endured the labor pains of writing a first draft, submitting pages to three virtual strangers three years ago, and then revising it until she was certain it was her best work. She tackled the agent search like no one I've ever known and she didn't quit when she was asked to edit once more. So why am I so over the moon?

Because Amy is an inspiration, and her novel a testament to the power of commitment. She does not have a published novel because she is lucky or because she spent her time wishing it were so. She believes in the beauty and sway of language. She set her sights on a big dream and then did whatever she could to make it a reality. She's still dedicated to doing whatever it takes to get her book to readers.

The word sister is defined as a woman who is closely allied to another, as in the same faith, society, or community. How lucky I am to have added not one, but three very talented and generous sisters to my family. It's Amy's time now, and I know I speak for all of us at the writers' group when I say we wish Amy the best on her journey. Lisa's and Hannah's time will come soon.

Your time will come too, if you embrace our philosophy.

Learn craft.


Think positively.

Support others.

And dream.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

All for One

By Hannah Roveto

Amy MacKinnon spoke last night at her release party/first appearance/first reading of Tethered at Buttonwood Books. Friends from different points in her life were present: family, childhood, high school, college, neighborhood, and yes, from her literary career; many more who weren't able to be there in person were there in spirit. All the communities that have supported Amy through the years -- and that she has supported in turn -- were one as she stood alone, facing us.

Amy notes in her acknowledgments that writing is a solitary life, but that there are people who support a writer along the way without whom the final product would not exist. In her case, I don't believe that to be true, not completely.

Amy MacKinnon is fierce. She is gracious and intelligent and modest and devoted. And a force with which to be reckoned. Amy decides to do something and it happens. Not only that, but it happens the right way, because she will not not accept anything less. She asks questions, she involves people and makes them care, she finds out what is needed and pushes each venture forward. She makes people believe. Ask any of the people who were there last night.

Betsey Detwiler, owner of Buttonwood Books, told the crowd what a friend Amy has been to the bookstore -- a wonderful, welcoming, independent bookstore -- as did the store's events magician Totsie McGonagle. Authors -- teachers, cheerleaders, friends -- Hallie Ephron and Hank Phillippi Ryan of Jungle Red Writers drove down from Boston to share in the celebration. And as the crowd mingled later, a college friend spoke about how the roommmates in their house knew one of them would be famous some day -- and looking at Amy, she said not only is one on the way, but maybe more of them would still. Inspired, no doubt, by Amy.

Everyone there to see Amy at last in the full spotlight savored the moment when she stood alone before us. She believed she had a story to tell and found a way to tell it. She fought her way through a first chapter for six months. She found time in a crazy-busy life to get it all down, finish it, find an agent, revise it, work with a publisher, and now, to launch it into the world. The hard work is the part that is solitary, and Amy makes that happen. She has, she does, she will. Period. Everyone who knows Amy knows this moment, and every moment that is going to follow, is richly deserved.

Amy MacKinnon is fierce. She is many things to many people, and now she is a published author with a career ahead of her that will be long and sweet.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

First Amazon Review


Launch Day

By Amy MacKinnon





















So very, very grateful to each of you, most especially, Lynne Griffin, Lisa Marnell, and Hannah Roveto, my rocks. Thank you, all.

Hope to see some of you at Buttonwood Books in Cohasset at 7:00 pm tonight for the launch!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Tomorrow ...

Posted by Lisa Marnell

It's a Christmas Eve feeling today. Though tomorrow is August 12, not December 25th, I'm excited, a little nervous. Tomorrow Tethered will be in bookstores.

Tethered will be in bookstores! I read chapters from Amy's WIP so long ago. When I read the ending I sat on the bottom step of my old house in Massachusetts, cuddling with my dog, Maggie. I was en route to going to bed, but I had to read ONE MORE CHAPTER. Reading one more chapter turned into finishing the book. I loved the ending!

It's an Empty Nest feeling today. My friend's novel will be out in the world tomorrow. I'm melancholic, definitely. Times are changing for Amy, for our group. Though we are still determined to be writers, the stakes have changed and our own characters have developed in different ways. We aren't the wide-eyed wannabes we were three years ago; the writing world has its ups and downs.

Someday, I will walk into the Barnes & Noble near me, here in California, and I will see someone thumbing through the pages of Tethered. A part of me will be proud, no doubt. Yay, Amy! But is it odd that I will want to shut the book and tell them this is my friend's story? Is it insane I should want to whisper that a good, dear person I know struggled to write this gripping and touching tale and that looking at Amy's words is really none of her business? I know publishing is the goal in this business, but on some not altogether sane level, I want to buy every copy of Tethered, and keep it safe with me, I'll pile them in my study, if only for a few more days. I know readers will love this book; how could they not? The story promises such hope .

Friday, August 08, 2008

Making a Literary Life Friday: Kindness

Believe in Karma? There just might be something to it. It's a wonderful thing to cast goodness into the world -- whether karma exists or not. We know just how wonderful our readers are, we hear from you all the time and trust you're doing your share to make this world a more gracious place -- but we'd love to hear what kindness someone has bestowed on your literary life.

Lisa Marnell
Almost two years ago, author Elin Hilderbrand (currently number four on the NYT bestselling paperbacks list with her novel, Barefoot, and also listed on the NYT hardcover books with A Summer Affair), offered to help me in my agent search for my first YA. Elin lives on Nantucket; her husband and my husband are best friends. Elin was busy with three kids, busy writing, having construction done on her house, but she graciously gave me her time. More than that, she gave me unbelievable positive encouragement. It meant the world to me!

Amy MacKinnon
Where to start? How about a lovely kindness from one Michael Kindness. He's a sales rep for Random House and yesterday, of his own free will, he toured me around area bookstores, introducing me to the staff. Now I'm a stay-at-home mom who seldom leaves the house, who gets lost driving to the next block, so to finally see these stores I've only heard of was magical. Porter Square Books, Brookline Booksmith, Newtonville Books among them. A lovely dream come true. At the end of it, he told me he would be discussing Tethered later today on his podcast today over at Books on the Nightstand. Thanks, Michael!

Then, a book I've longed to read appeared in my mailbox! Debutante Danielle Younge-Ullman sent me her amazing debut, Falling Under. It was clear from the first sentence that this is a powerful book. I can't wait to finish it. Thanks, Danielle!

Finally, a friend emailed to say an ad for Tethered is up at USA Today. Surreal. Thanks, Shawn!

Hannah Roveto
The greatest kindnesses on this literary journey thus far are from Amy, Lisa and Lynne. While I have been blessed with support from my parents, family and friends, they are the ones who assured me I could write a novel when journalism instead of fiction came out of my fingers, and then it seemed, the next time I sat down, I could indeed. And as we all know, the more we do it, the better it gets.

Lynne Griffin
The kindness and generosity extended to me by my husband and children tops my list. They ceaselessly give me time to write, believing my stories need to find their readers. Random acts of kindness have come to me in the form of feedback from my wonderful writers' group, in editorial guidance from my fantastic agent and editor, and most recently in the form of comments from authors and booksellers. Thank you, Jeanne Ray, Martha Moody, Pat Wood, Margot Livesay, Beth Simpson of Cornerstone Books, and Jess Foley of Barnes and Noble, Hingham. The fact that you took the time to read Life Without Summer and then comment so thoughtfully is deeply appreciated.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

My Gorgeous Cover

Posted by Lynne Griffin

My thanks go out to Executive Art Director, Michael Storrings for creating the perfect cover for Life Without Summer. And to my team at St. Martin's, please accept my gratitude for taking the time to get the cover just right.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

A Group Grows Up

by Hannah Roveto

What does a writers' group offer to writers who are not just starting out? How is someone who has a full WIP or even experience in the wild world of publishing supposed to use a writers' group?

A friend of mine with two books on shelves recently formed a group with two other published authors and even among the three of them, the questions arose: What do we need from each other? What are the rules and boundaries? One of the writers has a full manuscript and her first need is for a reading and critique, while my friend is in the development stages, turning a script she wrote into a novel. She asked for my thoughts, which was hugely flattering.

I outlined our group's process as established early on, noting that as we evolved, the rules have become somewhat flexible. We meet regularly, not necessarily every two weeks. We don't turn out pages "just because," and still keep the pressure on ourselves to push forward. We do read full manuscripts and here is our process for that:

* Readers follow a piece's progress in chunks. However, as we near the end (Amy or Lynne's brilliant idea) the author holds back the last three or so chapters and rewrites/completes the entire manuscript. The work is delivered as a fresh story with an ending the readers have never seen.

* A complete manuscript is usually the sole work reviewed in a meeting. Pages are delivered in advance, packaged in gray copy center boxes that to us signify excitement and accomplishment. We read and comment on the entire book, from threads to plausibility to line edits.

The value of those comments is in their service to the author, which is more significant than it sounds. As Lynne once wrote, honesty is in the details, but those details can only be processed by the author, something we all recognize fully. The author can feel free to use readers outside the group. And while the author considers any reader's critique as a flag marking something worth review, critique is recognized by the writer -- and the readers -- as opinion. Our role is to point out details that work and don't work, where the strengths are and where challenges might lie. We hope to help make the foundation strong; what the author does with our thoughts is her prerogative. We trust each other enough to know the advice is good, and we take what is needed as a gift, with deep appreciation.

In fact, The Writers Group members have never seen the final manuscripts delivered by our sisters-in-writing to an agent. (A draft once, but no finals.) We have seen only predecessors. What stayed and what went, what was deleted or added by the author -- and in turn, the agent and editor -- is a surprise. Really. And on that note, is everyone ready for a fabulous book being released on the twelfth called Tethered? I'm dying to read it!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Five Remembrances

By Amy MacKinnon

I've written in this space before about the Five Remembrances of Buddha:

The Five Remembrances
1. I am of the nature to grow old. I cannot escape growing old.
2. I am of the nature to have ill-health. I cannot escape having ill-health.
3. I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.
4. All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.
5. I inherit the results of my actions in body, speech and mind. My actions are the ground on which I stand.

Though I'm not a person of faith, these aphorisms appeal to my sense of perspective on the world. To some, they may appear bleak. To me, they are a way of coping with the inevitable. Acceptance is a powerful thing.

How does it all apply to this writing life of ours? When we dream of the possibilites of having our words appear in print, we may include buckets of money, best-seller status, glowing reviews in the New York Times, scads of charming notes from readers, and, if we are so bold, a place on a certain talk show host's nightstand and then her bookclub.

And so you should dream. Dream beyond all reason, but be prepared to balance out the glory with the guts of this business. Prepare yourself so you don't succumb to either the glory or the guts of this business. Seek balance. Know that you're never as good as the sycophants claim, nor are you ever as dim as the critics proclaim.

As many wonderful experiences as I've had over the past ten months, and I know just how blessed I am, I am prepared for the downside of putting myself out there. One week before publication and already people are wondering about the details of my personal life, how they measure up to the trauma of my protagonist Clara Marsh. Others will criticize the writing, the subject matter, the overall quality. I am now fair game. For someone who's spent most of her life hiding among the shadows, I expect some days the naysayers will engulf me. This is the price we pay.

So here are my Five Remembrances for Publication

1) I am of the nature to become irrelevant. I cannot escape being irrelevant.
2) I am in the business of being harshly critiqued. I will be cruelly critiqued.
3) I am of the nature to fail miserably. There will be times when I will fail.
4) My words are of the nature to be misinterpreted by those who cannot understand their intent. There is no way to prevent this.
5) I inherit the results of my actions in body, speech and mind. My actions are the ground on which I stand.

You'll notice I didn't change a word of the fifth one. No need. From this point forth, that's all I can control.


A big thank you to blog friend and dear, dear reader Larramie. Your post on Tethered is the most magnificent review a writer could ever dream of. I count it among the dearest gifts I've yet received.

Happy launch day, Kristy Kiernan! You know her as the author of Catching Genius, but her second novel, Matters of Faith, is out today and you will love it. It's already an IndieBound pick for September. If you haven't pre-ordered it, I urge you to run out to your local indepedent bookstore today and grab one for yourself and another for your best friend.

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Hot Seat

Posted by Lisa Marnell

According to Donald Maas …

“If there is one single principal that is central to making any story more powerful, it is simply this: Raise the stakes.”

Donald Maas is a literary agent, president of Donald Maas Literary in NYC. In his book, Writing a Breakout Novel, he goes on to suggest that many writers cannot answer that question of what will happen to the protagonist if he doesn’t reach his goal. Too often, he reports, writers sit dumbfounded; we love our characters and we simply HATE to see bad things happen to them. Not good. Stakes aren’t high enough.

Look at Harry Potter. (Oh, how I loved that series). And think about the stakes, the personal stakes to Harry. Voldemort killed his parents, brutally, and tried to kill Harry as well; he was just a baby! Now, Harry has discovered he is a wizard – how cool is that – and he has this wonderful new life in front of him, away from those dreadful Dursleys. Harry has so much more to fight for now. He has friends now, a muggle-friend no less, Hermione would be first on Voldemort’s list. The stakes are high. Back comes Voldemort into Harry's life.

In his chapter on plot, Donald Maas holds that we, as writers …”must be willing to push characters into situations that you would never go near in your own life.”

I’m afraid I’m too nice, and frankly, I don’t like where I’ve put my protagonist. Chapter 18 gives me a downright icky feeling. But, I tell you, she's staying put! One of our writer’s group members once said something wise. In fact, she’s said many wise things, but one sticks with me and gives me comfort. I paraphrase her words but the gist was this: “It shouldn’t bother us when our characters find themselves in an awful situation because we, as writers, are the ones to help them out of said situation.”

I do love a book with high stakes. So, I’ll keep putting my fiction friends into that mess. I must; I want to write fiction.