Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Fool's Gambit

By Amy MacKinnon
Don't mess with success. Write what you know. Stay within your genre. Focus on one project at a time.

I am a fool. I'm a scared fool. A bit of a wreck even. I'm doing everything wrong, I know this, and yet I keep doing it.

Right now, I'm writing two books. One is so dark, I'm not sure there's a market for it, though Jon Clinch assures me there is, right there alongside him and Cormac McCarthy. Have you read Finn, Blood Meridian? Brilliant books written by brilliant writers. Already I'm being warned not to go too dark, to be careful.

The other I have no business writing at all. None. It is an homage to a classic, one I've read countless times over the years, a story I know in my bones because I've lived it firsthand. But the author of the classic is a literary titan. When I told a close friend what I was attempting, he was aghast. Be careful, he said.

But it's not my job to be careful, to play it safe and write the same book over and over again. It's my duty to myself and my writing to reach beyond whatever skillset I have today, to stretch, and then follow my instincts.

Last week at Writers Read for Twain, I was talking to one of my favorites, Stewart O'Nan. He's the author of many, many books including the little gem Last Night at the Lobster. I say little, not because of the story, it's bigger than the jacket can contain, but because I doubt it's more than 40,000 words. I asked if his publisher worried that it was too short, if people along the way urged him to flesh it out. He nodded vigorously.

But you refused, I said.

Yes, he said (and I'm paraphrasing here), I believed in it.

He was right to do so. Lobster represents a return to simple elegance in storytelling. Stewart O'Nan broke all the rules and won; his book was both a commercial and literary success. He took a magnificent risk.

I hope I'll be able to say the same some day.

Monday, September 29, 2008

One Week

Posted by Lisa Marnell

In one week, I will hit send. My writers' group will, thankfully, critique my full WIP. I have a handful of details to sift through, but by next Monday, it will be in their inbox.

This makes me feel:

But it also makes me:

One thing I can promise is I won't be like this (at all):
Most of all, I'll feel:
because I am so lucky to have Amy, Hannah, and Lynne to help me produce my strongest work!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Crime Bake Blog

By Amy MacKinnon

I'm blogging over at Crime Bake. Will you be there?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Making a Literary Life Friday: Best Sentence of the Week

The sentence can be your own, that one that was too perfect and you stopped and stared at it before moving on. The sentence might be from one of the many books littering your home. It made you laugh, cry, shake your head in appreciation. It was:

Lisa Marnell
Lisa is away today and will weigh in next time.

Amy MacKinnon
"The distant irregular trills of Angelica's uncertain fingers stumbling across the piano keys downstairs, the floury aroma of the first loaves rising from the kitchen: from within this thick foliage of domestic safety his coiled rage found her unprepared." Angelica, Arthur Phillips

I met Arthur at Writers Read for Twain (you've got to see this photo!) this week and he was the consummate gentleman. Tasha Alexander raved about his books, so naturally I bought one. He is as brilliant as he is kind. But I'll tell you all about it on Tuesday!

Hannah Roveto
"He was heading into memory number two, I might as well tell you that straight up, because how I'm supposed to get him in and out of all these memories in a smooth way so nobody notices all the coming and going I don't know." Jennifer Egan, The Keep.

I love that as the moment the reader is promised intertwined narratives.

Lynne Griffin
"My childhood grudges, my righteous indignation, and my master's degree didn't count for squat. My Phi Beta Kappa key unlocked nothing. I was my failings and my actions period."

Okay, that's more than a sentence from Wally Lamb's soon-to-be released novel, The Hour I First Believed. He is a master, breaking rules effortlessly, while managing with grace to tell a powerful story. Wow! I'm reading it like a writer and learning so much.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Trade Shows

Posted by Lynne Griffin

I had the privilege of attending the New England Independent Booksellers Association trade show last week. My publisher sent me there to sign advance copies of Life Without Summer. The event, held in Boston's Hynes Convention Center, buzzed with publishers, booksellers, authors, and other vendors all passionate about books.

Sales representatives, who cover the region, man booths showcasing the next season's books. Galleys and finished books are everywhere. Author receptions, signings, educational programming, and general schmoozing make up the agenda.

My expectations were to go and do my best to represent my novel to booksellers. I had my two minute pitch down, along with my backstory on how I came to write it. Armed with gorgeous new book/business cards, I'd expected to go there and be generous with my energy. I ended up walking away with so much more than I offered.

Spending two days with the sales representatives who will bring my book all over New England was invaluable. They had the chance to ask me questions about the novel, thankfully because they'd already read it. Each wanted to know more about my background, including my connections with my writers' group and to Grub Street. On my second day there, they set me up to sign advance copies in the booth, in addition to my formal signing to take place later that afternoon. This gave them a chance to see my ability to speak to my story and to demonstrate the way I would represent my work and our publisher.

Another unforeseen benefit of attending the trade show was that I got to see first hand how booksellers and avid readers would respond to my title, my cover, my blurbs, and my pitch. All of this was reassuring, and all of this provided valuable information for fine-tuning my press materials and talking points.

I'm grateful to have attended NEIBA, and urge other writers to discuss attending regional trade shows with their editor and/or publicist. Getting out there early builds buzz and allows an author the chance to add the personal touch. Two things debut authors very much need to do.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Hurrah for... the Day Job?

by Hannah Roveto

"It's fine for writing teachers to talk in self-help jargon about how their lives require 'balance' and 'shifting gears' between teaching and writing, but below that civil language lurks the uncomfortable fact that the creation of literature requires a degree of monomania...It's hard throw your whole self into something when that self has another job." -- David Gessner, "Those Who Write, Teach," The New York Times Magazine, September 21, 2008

Mon-o-ma-ni-a: an excessive interest in or enthusiasm for some one thing. (Definition two: a mental disorder characterized by irrational preoccupation with one subject.)

How many of you are independently wealthy? How many of you have no families or friends, no homes save the hotel with staff who serve up each meal and deliver your laundry neatly folded? If only we could make our entire living by writing. How simple and glorious life would become. Hallie Ephron once announced in a class I took with her that she'd recently realized her entire income came from the literary life, at last. She taught, wrote bylined articles, wrote her wonderful mysteries. No more "other job." Those of us around the table sighed happily on her behalf and dreamed the whole way home of reaching that goal.

Into this comes Mr. Gessner's article in the New York Times, asking whether "an artist can survive success in the academy." I saved his article for dead last this week, hesitant to read it. Turned out, for good reason. He quotes Mike Magnuson as saying, "What teaching has done for me is make me not want to read anything, written by anybody, for the rest of my life." Holy cow. Now what am I supposed to do when I grow up?

I thought of my own day job in public relations. I can't count the moments when I grind my teeth against the compulsion to get back to my fiction. At least once a week I finish my PR checklist and pull up my work-in-progress and the phone rings and I gaze longingly at the screen before admitting defeat, because it will be a good hour before I can attend to it. Of course, at that time the kids will come home, and crazy me pulls up the WIP again as though that will make them instantly dive into homework without a fuss or cross word to each other. (The faint laughter you hear from my corner of the world at that point is, well, monomaniacal...)

Gessner's article made me think of my mother, who is an artist, who went back to school when I was young to get her master's degree in library science. She chose a job that had nothing to do with her art, on purpose. The work was satisfying, concrete and produced a paycheck. Most important, she would say, was the fact that she literally left her job behind her when she'd put in her time and could focus on her weaving or jewelry with every ounce of her creative soul intact.

Gessner also is making me rethink my day job to some degree. Have I given up my glowing vision of a fully writerly life, whatever that may be? Not a chance. However, I appreciate what I do have a little more, thanks to him. I am paid to write, first and foremost, and to think strategically and creatively in a way that does not fill my head with fiction other than my own or what I choose to read. Between us, I even love the rush when a television producer or newspaper editor agrees to interview my client.

Maybe the writerly life doesn't have to be fiction 24/7. Maybe there are day jobs that make writing possible on a financial level, and help keep it fresh on the artistic level. The answers, therefore, have to come from proportion and determination when it comes to the writing itself. Maybe someday a little less PR, a little more fiction could be a personal ideal in my particular case; who knows? After all, if we're really being honest, everything interferes with writing at one point or another. Showers and meals, everything and everyone. Which may be bad news for our WIPs, but it's not bad news for us. We are writers. We are monomaniacal. Which is what it takes to get the job done.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Writers Read for Twain

By Amy MacKinnon

I had a sleep over last night. It's true. Deb Founder and author of Catching Genius and Matters of Faith Kristy Kiernan is right here (sorry, Gail, wish you could have been here).

Why you ask, did Kristy fly to the frigid north? In just a few hours, we're heading out to the Mark Twain House to do a fundraiser, Writers Read for Twain, and guess who'll be there: Jon Clinch, Tom Perrotta, Tasha Alexander, Stewart O'Nan, Phillip Lopate, Robert Hicks, Philip Beard, David Gates, Andy Carroll, and Arthur Philips. And little, ole me.

As my husband said over the breakfast table the other day, "Imagine? You're going to Mark Twain's house -- one of the greatest American writers -- as an author, to help Mark Twain."


Look what I just received:

I just finished "Tethered"...Dark, disturbing and I couldn't put it down! Great writing, great story and it will be on our recommends shelf at Fig Garden Bookstore in Fresno, California.

Thank you, Fig Garden!

Double gosh.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Trash-Talking Tournament

Posted by Lisa Marnell

There's a buzz at my tennis club in Westlake Village, California. Enough play-by-the-rules games, where players win a game, a set, a match. It gives all of us too much of a predictable, been there, done that feeling. It time for a change. A breath of fresh air. There's a buzz because we might have a trash-talking tournament.


Nothing's definite yet, but it seems it would go something like this: players need to keep the ball in play for at least a couple trips over the net, but the idea is that a good trash-talking player will think of something appropriately rude, distracting to the other player, insulting, such that said player would mess up and lose the point. Sounds like fun, doesn't it?

So, it got me thinking. Wouldn't it be great, great fun to take part in a Wimpy-Writing contest? Just think, when a person enters a traditional writing contest the competition is fierce, preparing one's work is very labor intensive. In a Woosy Writing contest (the name hasn't been finalized yet) there could be many categories for judging: Too many Adjectives, Too many Adverbs, Sorry Dialogue, Flat Narrative, the list goes on. If you're too good at dialogue to win a prize, maybe you can't paint a scene to save your life. See! There's hope for all of us.

I know this idea may never catch on. It could die right here on this page in my sad blog entry. But how fun it would be to win a writing contest. I can barely imagine!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Making a Literary Life: Improving Craft

We all have strengths and weaknesses when it comes to craft. Some of us write polished prose in that first draft, but the pacing is a little ho-hum. Others nail characters so well, it's as if they are flesh, blood, and snarling comebacks, but, wait, ground me, where's the setting? This week, at our writers' group meeting, we turned to the subject of writing workshops and reflected on what needs attention with our own writing.

Lisa Marnell
I've been reading Pretties by Scott Westerfeld. He's a master of voice, plain and simple. Pretties, you see, are teens who have had parts of their brains altered (as well as their faces) so they see only happiness in the world. They're the valley-people of this decade, if you will. Their speech reflects their thinking. "Oh, that snow outside is so cold-making!" He's nailed them.

I need to work on revealing internal thought in clever, unobtrusive, non-hitting-the-reader-over-the-head ways.

Amy Mackinnon
Gosh, I don't know -- everything! I want to improve everything. This interview with Ann Patchett is what I keep turning to for guidance as I work on my next book, especially that part about narrative structure. It's all so humbling.

Hannah Roveto
Like Amy, I want to learn more about everything. I've learned a lot from the first MS, of course, and as I look to the second, much of what I want to reach for is in details -- touches of characterization, delicate hints as to threads that build intrigue without bashing the reader over the head or are missed entirely, a reining in of the world I create, a refinement of phrasing. We were talking this week about Karl Iagnemma's class on editing at the Muse and the Marketplace, how he spoke of revision as sandpaper, starting with a rough pass on form and plot, then moving to chapters, paragraphs, sentences, words. I want to have more of that knowledge so that the first draft is more of what it will be than what it could be.

Lynne Griffin
Lynne's at the New England Independent Booksellers Association trade show today. I'll bet next week, she'll be happy to weigh in on the aspects of craft she still wants to learn more about.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Posted by Lynne Griffin

If you're in the market for an agent, check out the interview series in Poets & Writers, or the article on agents looking for your work in Writer's Digest.

Want ten tips for curing the mid-book blues? Then read next month's article in The Writer.

Love Hallie Ephron's Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel? Then you'll love her article in the September issue of The Writer.

There are plenty of magazines to peruse aimed at helping you refine your writing while staying tuned into the marketplace side of writing. Whether you subscribe, buy a copy now and again, or visit each magazine's on line equivalent, writer's magazines are a useful tool.

Do you have any magazine recommendations for our readers? If so, please share them in the comments section. And do check out the article featuring friend of our blog, Gail Konop Baker's memoir. It's in Writer's Digest, on stands now. It's terrific. Congrats, Gail.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Forget the Numbers

by Hannah Roveto

There are approximately 6.7 billion people in the world, with somewhat more than 4.7 billion of us over the age of 15. The world literacy rate, defined as anyone over the age of 15 who can read and write is estimated at 82%. Allowing for my rough math skills, this gets us some 3.76 billion people who, in theory, could or do read books.

Next, let's look at worldwide book sales. The Bible comes in at about six billion copies, followed closely by quotations from Mao Zedong. Mao was a big seller, folks, followed by the Qur'an and then, interestingly, Charles Dickens, with A Tale of Two Cities at 200 million copies, followed by Lord Baden-Powell with Scouting for Boys. The entire Harry Potter series has sold a mere 400 million books total. Clearly, JK has a lot of sales left to go before every reader out there owns a complete set.

The fact that this is a numbers business is never far from a serious writer's thoughts. Every query explains to a potential agent not simply how wonderful a story is, but how it can be championed in the marketplace. Every agent paints a picture for publishers of the prospects for a particular title, and so on, and so on.

This makes it far too easy to ask when a particular project appears in a writer's head whether to even bother to write it. The subject matter is difficult. A protagonist character is unlikeable. Where is the audience, and will anyone care? We are told to up the stakes on one hand, to add mayhem and fear and create tension, and yet other stories are "untellable," and the ultimate damper, that nobody will buy them.

Garbage. How would you feel about a dwarfish boy who kills his best friend's mother by accident, in a story that delivers commentary on American foreign policy? (John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany). How can there possibly be subjects that are untouchable when there are so many authors already exploring them? Try Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson. Here is a man who feels "most alive while in the presence of another's loss," according to one review. Pick up the lyrical Bel Canto by Ann Patchett or the action adventure bestsellers of Tom Clancy, and between the pages of each you find people compelled by politics, love and honor to do their worst as well as their best. Death, murder, fear, passion, insincerity, longing, hope, honor, familial strife, redemption. It doesn't matter what we write as long as we are true not only to ourselves, but to our craft, to the art of the storytelling as well as the story.

Readers read and will do so as long as writers write well. If you can write a story in a way that carries a reader through, that is conscientious of the reader's needs and pushes at boundaries in such a such a way that the reader is willing to follow, do it. Pull out everything you know, learn what you need to and make that story come alive.

Don't worry about sales, not while you write. Consider only craft and the story. If you start to worry about numbers, then turn them on their pointy little heads. There are more than 3.3 billion people out there who -- in most cases -- have chosen not to own a single copy of Harry Potter, and still they read. Who knows: perhaps they are waiting for a book more like yours.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Right or Wrong

By Amy MacKinnon

I saw him standing toward the back. It was Saturday afternoon and I was doing my first reading of the day at Barnes & Noble in Hingham. He shifted his weight from left foot to right, and then back again. One hand was on his hip and his expression was unfathomable. He never faltered when I stared back at him, though I did. He didn't smile, he didn't glower, he didn't appear pleased or displeased. But that fidgeting had me worried.

To be honest I wasn't certain it was him. I'd met him only once, about two years ago when it was clear my novel would be set in Brockton, Massachusetts, featuring Brockton cops. I called the police department to see if I could have a tour, I needed to know the layout of the building, smell it, feel the grit that coated every surface, and have a sense of the people who inhabited the place. I was patched through to Officer Al Gazerro.

He gave me hours of his time, showing me every nook and cranny, introducing me around to everyone from the dispatchers to the detectives to the chief. I took notes, I inhaled the place as best I could, and then went home to try to convey it all on the page.

Details matter. They matter to your readers, to the authenticity of your story, they should matter a great deal to you. I wanted desperately get it right. And there, toward the back, was Officer Gazerro who was about to tell me if I got it wrong.

He was last in line to have his book signed. As he got closer, I knew it was him.

"Do you remember me?" he asked.

"Al Gazerro," I said, waiting.

"I love your book." Finally he smiled.

He said his daughter got him a copy, that they now had three at home. He told me I got it exactly right, even the woman detective's shoes, the detective's unit, the homes he so often goes to while on duty. I got it right.

I hugged him, I had to. I so badly wanted to please him, to honor his vocation, and repay the faith he had in me. So far, it's been the highlight of my booktour.

All along there've been two people I've feared disappointing with this book: Al Gazerro and my uncle, the funeral director. I've waited on tenterhooks for their feedback, knowing I'd hear about it if I got it wrong. It's the sort of thing that gets under people's skin, isn't it? The relief is huge, knowing Officer Gazerro is pleased. Now I just need to hear from my uncle...

Monday, September 15, 2008

What it's all about

Posted by Lisa Marnell

As a writers' group we have broken bread together, or more specifically, we've shared many meals; bagels for breakfast and lunches at Grub Street's Muse, dinner at restaurants, dinner at Lynne's. We've dug into tarts, cakes, pies and cookies. We've drunk multiple cups of tea and we've sipped sparkling cider as we've toasted to each other's successes and accomplishiments.

We all managed to get a decent night's sleep when shared a (tiny) hotel room.

When we've car-pooled together, we've managed to find a parking spot for our car in almost-full parking garages in Boston, and we've been able to find said car in said parking spot hours after attending a literary event.

Each of us have shared dreams and disappointments. We've talked about aging parents, loss, and regret.

Over the past four years, we've seen each other's children grow older.

We've problem solved parenting issues; I've benefitted from Lynne's expertise and Amy and Hannah's insights. Yes, we've talked about men and our preferences regarding that subect: big or small, blond or brown-haired, hairy-backed or Olympic-swimmer smooth (we never claimed to be sophisticated).

But of all the experiences we've shared, what I think I love most is reading fresh work from Amy, Hannah, and Lynne, new pages that surprise and entice me. Pages that are e-mailed as attachments are presents wrapped in colorful paper, waiting under a Christmas tree. The creativity of these three women, the places they go, the people they discover (or create) never fail to draw me in.

Friday, September 12, 2008

NYT's Review of Tethered

Read all about it...

Making a Literary Life: Memorable Characters

Memorable characters leap off the page and stay with a reader long after a book is closed and returned to the shelf. Reading like writers, we study our favorite characters in fiction, frequently making recommendations to each other. Whether the ones you've come to love are from novels you've read years ago or just last week, we'd love to know your favorites.

Lisa Marnell
I loved Maddelena in A Kiss From Maddelena by Christopher Castellani. Was she the victim of circumstances, meeting the wrong man at the wrong time, or did she simply make a foolish choice that changed her life?

Amy MacKinnon
Inman from Cold Mountain rattles my bones. It's as if Camille Preaker of Sharp Objects lies huddled in one of my upstairs bedrooms. Deenie is a dear, dear friend, someone I spent a lot of time with when we were children. Meursault from Camus' The Stranger still haunts me. Pauline Chen's 83rd organ procurement from Final Exam will leave you gasping for air (did you see Dr. Chen's new column debut in the New York Times?). And then the cast of characters I reunite with every so often because they are so dear to me: Stu Redman, Nick, Frannie, Trashcan Man, Larry Underwood, the Walking Dude aka Randal Flagg, and darling Tom. Don't you know this book?

Hannah Roveto
I love Pat Wood's Perry L.-for Lucky- Crandall in Lottery. Love him, love him, and his Gram and Keith. I know them, had lunch with them: microwaved burritos and a soda. Joe Kavalier and Sammy Clay, of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay are complex, unwinding as each page turns. Quoyle in E. Annie Proulx's The Shipping News is so solid I couldn't see the movie, for fear those images would remove the ones I hold so clearly. Christopher Boone, the autistic boy in Curious Incident by Mark Haddon... Celie in Alice Walker's Color Purple... oh, how the list goes on!

Lynne Griffin
Oh, there are so many! The unnamed, second Mrs. DeWinter in Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier is a wonderful example of a multi-layered, complicated character whose inner motivations make her physical attributes almost unnecessary. Leo Gursky in Nicole Krauss's, The History of Love is so fully drawn, I feel like he's a relative or friend. And Jennie in Portrait of Jennie, by Robert Nathan exemplifies how to craft characters across the stages in human development.


Look for Marilyn Stasio's review of Tethered in this weekend's New York Times Review of Books!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Advance Review Copies

Posted by Lynne Griffin

I knew they were coming, still the feelings were intense when I opened the package. Cotton candy kind of feelings that leave you not knowing what to do. Should I read it. Should I go show it to someone. I was over the moon, yet nothing about my life changed when I opened my mail at ten in the morning on a Monday.

So I wrote a note, thanking my editor for all she did to secure great quotes and lobby for my marvelous cover. And I parked it on my desk so I could admire it.

Then it hit me. It was two years from the time the first word landed on the page to the date of its sale to St. Martin's. A full eighteen months in production, six more months until it sits on book store shelves. I needed to get back to work. I have a manuscript that needs revision.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

And Again

by Hannah Roveto

There is something in the air this week. The mysteries behind what drives some people to not simply put thoughts on paper, but to stretch them like taffy, fill in about them like soil around a seedling, spend hours and days and years listening to voices and cutting beautiful phrases in search of a way to communicate something... somehow... have been uppermost in my mind as well. Amy said most poignantly yesterday that her work is driven by a need to "give people comfort in a world of my making," which is the most perfect description indeed for the outcome of her labors.

Why and how we write is how we make sense of the world. I see absurdity everywhere, and the sharp edge intrigues me. The devoted mother known for lobbying on expensive school programs, who drives around town in her SUV, on her cellphone, at speeds in excess of posted signs along roads where other children walk. The new resident who talks loudly about how excited he is at moving to a small town, yet he puts up a fence and hedge that walls him away from the community he seeks. There are layers to these people I find compelling, in whom I find elements of the humor I so love.

Tragedy informs my writing, in a different way. Private conversations around the most horrific of experiences make me wonder at the human capacity for strength, at how people get up and live their lives the day after, and the day after that. Yet they do. The spirit is an incredible thing, bruised and torn and damaged and yet loving and laughing and hopeful. I may not write about sorrows -- some I simply cannot -- but the idea of this force of life hovers over me.

In the end, I process the world best through humor. It may seem Pollyanna-ish to some, but I would argue that humor is a protective weapon. I admire writers who take the most vital emotions and experiences and create those moments in which we see a bit of ourselves, and that prompt a smile against all that is rational. Mark Haddon's father in A Spot of Bother thinks he has cancer, has an adulterous wife, and is but one of the characters brought together in the slow progress toward a wedding that creates much discomfort. Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down has those four strangers who decide, independently, to end their lives. How can these stories be funny? They are about unbearable things, written with great sympathy, yet it is how they are written that takes us by surprise, against our will, and -- whether or not the character does -- makes us see possibilities.

This is why I write and how I hope and try to write. Capturing moments in which the odd quirk becomes not only a possible downfall, but also the thing that drives us forward. Naming the fears we hide that show themselves despite our best efforts in ways strangers then cannot possibly undertand. Revealing moments of recognition and against all odds, creating a smile of understanding as to where the hope lies.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


By Amy MacKinnon

We each write for different reasons, though last week I couldn't possibly tell you mine. I've been wondering about this a lot lately, why it is we writers are eager to rip away the cloak that shields us from public scrutiny and misinterpretation. Most would tell you it isn't for the money (how many published authors earn a living wage from writing?); it's not for the glory (try facing down an empty bookstore or sitting next to a New York Times bestselling author at a signing); it's not for any sense of immortality (I'm still hoping this one might be true among my descendents).

Last Friday, Patry Francis, Lynne, and I wondered at this conundrum over tea and cakes (for those of you wondering, Patry's doing well and gorgeous to boot). When each of us started writing, we hoped against all reason that we would eventually sell our books, that they would be read by people who connected with them, and maybe one of us hoped for more beyond that-- a scenario too magnificent to lay down black-and-white. Haven't you done the same? And we've been lucky, we know it and are grateful. But this isn't a business for the faint of heart. As Gail Konop Baker once wrote to me as consolation after a particularly awful day, "This can be a tear your heart out kind of business." Some days I've truly feel that wrenching in my chest.

But I think I finally figured out why I write: I don't understand a world in which there is unfathomable pain.

I wrote about the real Precious Doe, Erica Michelle Marie Green who was killed by her parents; about my friends' four-year-old daughter, Mary Katherine, who died of a brain tumor; about the unbearable weight some cops have to bear when dealing with the seediest aspects of our society. Why is the world like it is? Why?

I don't write to entertain readers for vanity or fame. I write because, at least on the page, I can give each of these people some measure of comfort in a world of my making. It's all I can do.

Monday, September 08, 2008

The Voices

Posted by Lisa Marnell

There are many voices that speak to me. They don't come from little creatures, sitting on my shoulders, helping me decide between good from evil. Besides, I don't have enough room on my shoulders to carry about the number of voices that speak to me. Perhaps I should explain.

One voice is gruff and deep like a rumble of thunder. It always says the same old thing: "Hey! Lisa! The stakes in your story aren't high enough." You, again? I complain, But I upped the stakes already! "More stakes! More!" It shouts to me day after day after day.

One voice is soothing, low-pitched female. She's less persistent. She doesn't talk to me as often and when she does, I tend to listen. "Excuse me," she whispers with the trace of a British accent. "What do you say to adding a more poignant detail in this description? And perhaps you should paint this setting more clearly." Her suggestions are fun; I could Word Paint until the cows come home.

The third voice is probably the most annoying. She speaks in a flat tone and only says five words, time and time again: "I don't get this story," she complains. What don't you get? I ask. The character's actions? The plot turns? "I don't get this story," she repeats ad nauseum. Oh, she's annoying, and she's the one that fills me with self-doubt. She's right, I tell myself. I need to change everything, absolutely everything. I must never pay attention to her.

Another voice I love. "Fantastic," it calls out to me in celebration. If this voice were a person, he'd look like Rafael Nadal. Strong. Confident. Awfully cute and definitely either Spanish like Rafael, or maybe Italian. He sings to me that it's time to celebrate! My novel is on track! It's working!

Every day, I hear these voices. Every day I must choose which voices to listen to, which to ignore. I will stay on track, tie my threads, get ready to send it to my writers' group in a few weeks time. In a way, I've won already.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Making a Literary Life: Happy Birthday, Google!

This month is Google's tenth anniversary and, being avid Google Gals, we're thrilled to wish the folks in Mountain View, CA a very happy birthday. Not only do they provide us with this *free* venue, blogspot, but access to a king's ransom worth of information: maps, images, videos. And do you know Google's motto? Do no evil.

In that vein, we'd like to know what your motto is to keep you going through the dark days and what goodness you've put out into the world this week. Now let's eat cake.

Lisa Marnell

I picked mine up from the days I rode horses, from the British riding instructor who lived across the street in Quebec: Gallop on the Middle!

Amy MacKinnon
I have three idioms when I'm digging deep: Just do it (I had it before that shoe company, btw); keep moving forward; and persevere.

Hannah Roveto
Elvis Costello gets me going. When you need a lift, start to hum "Everyday I Write the Book!"

Lynne Griffin
I try to live and breathe one word. Believe.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Choose to Write

Posted by Lynne Griffin

I love September. It's time for a fresh start. Positive outlooks and enthusiasm abound. Even my teenagers like being set up for success with clean rooms and tidy desks, new notebooks and a handful of good pens.

As a writer intent on revising my second novel, I deserve a new set of goals and an optimistic plan for achieving them, too.

Here's my four point plan for getting back to basics.

Schedule writing time
I write my appointments with writing directly on my calendar, just like every other important meeting I make time for.

Write down specific tasks I want to accomplish this month

I assign realistic target dates for completing chapters or polishing parts of my manuscript.

Feed my brain

My best writing happens when I exercise, eat right, and get seven hours of sleep a night. A sharp mind is critical to my ability to concentrate and work through challenging sections of my novel.

Feed my muse

When I read a short story, some poetry, or excerpts of a favorite novel before writing, it's as if I'm putting out an invitation for inspiration to find me.

So many writers lament there isn't time to write. Truth is, if you buy into that kind of thinking, there won't be. I'm of the mindset that we all have the same twenty-four hours a day to do with what we will. I choose to write.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Essence of Us

by Hannah Roveto

I didn't know it was Wednesday this morning. Between the holiday weekend and the trips to Staples and Target and signing my name to a thousand papers, between a store grand opening and some national media outreach for my client, and between the pages of the revisions I have been doing between it all, I lost track of the days, as we all do.

Funny, but the post forming in my mind even over the weekend was about rushing, about looking ahead so often that you forget to look around at where you are and what you are doing. Living the moment.

The reason for this kernel of an idea was an article written by the wonderful Kathleen McKenna in a local magazine on some writers' group that has been churning out pages of material for quite a long time, the result of which are books like Tethered, Life Without Summer, and... yes, more to come, we are sure!

To Amy's post last week, many people have approached me to comment on the story, offered their support and best wishes, which has been lovely. Over the weekend we were at the beach, kids swimming to and from the float, when a neighbor with whom I have one of those nice wave-in-passing relationships made it a point to come over specifically to say she'd seen the story. So used to looking ahead am I that I said yes, the group is wonderful, and in a rush of words, explained that I am finishing my revisions (last inning!) and expect to send agent queries this month. (Didn't I once swear I would never make excuses?)

A slow smile came across her face as she said, "You're doing something that is all yours, something just for you all the time. I think that's wonderful."

All my forward-motion, rush-to-what's-next line of thinking came to an abrupt halt. The bustle of the beach, the shouts of the divers off the raft sharpened. I thanked her, and inside thought, hey, it IS cool! The smile didn't come off my face for hours.

Whether or not it's writing, it is important to do something that speaks to your soul, to follow that desire to do... something... to be someone beyond how you are defined in relation to other people. Every stolen minute or every stolen hour (or couple of hours!) with a story is a bit of Being Hannah, and that makes it all the more pleasurable. When I returned to my revisions the next day, I enjoyed them more than I had for weeks. And today is Wednesday, and I am writing now, working some, and writing some more before the door bangs open this afternoon. In the moment. Doing what we love, all for ourselves. What is better than that?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

New England Crime Bake 2008

By Amy MacKinnon

Yes, I'll be there, as a panelist no less. Imagine? What a difference a year makes. The organizers have asked me to help spread the word and so without further ado, here are your Top Ten reasons for attending Crime Bake 2008:

Top Ten Reasons To Register For Crime Bake Today

10. Early bird members who sign up soon (before October 1st) get a $30.00 discount. Put that in your gas tank for the drive to the commodious Dedham Hilton where Crime Bake will be held November 14-16.

9. After arriving at the Dedham Hilton, feast on pizza and conversation at the Free pizza party where you can meet and greet mystery readers, writers, agents and editors.

8. Following the Free pizza party, you get to choose to attend one of two fabulous and Free Friday night workshops: Practicing Your Pitch with Lynne Heitman, a huge hit at previous Crime Bake conferences or Creating Your Wave with publicist Susan Schwartzman about how to effectively market your mystery in today’s tough market.

7. Yes, another Freebie! Crime Bake conference attendees are entitled to sign up for a Free 5-minute one-on-one session to pitch their work to a literary agent. This year, attendees will have the opportunity to list their top three agent choices. Don’t wait to take advantage of this fabulous opportunity.

6. The agents are coming, the agents are coming and they include some of the finest, including Janet Reid, Donna Bagdasarian, Susan Gleason, Christine Witthohn, Ann Collette, Esmond Harmsworth, Sorche Fairbank and Gina Panettieri.

5. Great Master Classes are offered again. Choose two from Planning The Plays: Painless Research with Kathy Lynn Emerson; Who's On First: Point of View with Hallie Ephron; Hitting It Out Of The Park: Ten Key Ingredients For a Successful Thriller with Gary Braver; and Peewee League: Writing for Young Audience with Peter Abrahams.

4. Manuscript Critiques are available. Attendees may submit a 15-page writing sample (novel or short story) in advance and receive a one-on-one critique with a published mystery author during the conference.

3. A fountain of forensic experts, including the popular Poison Lady, will hold panels where you can fill your writing well with ideas on how to commit those dastardly deeds.

2. You can dine elbow to elbow with agents, authors, editors and forensic experts at the Saturday Night Banquet where the menu includes delicious food and maybe even a book deal. Your fabulous Saturday night will be topped by “Mystery Bingo” hosted by our own prime-time Hank Phillippi Ryan.

1. The number one reason to register for Crime Bake today is the Number One New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and London Times author and our Guest of Honor, Harlan Coben.

Monday, September 01, 2008


Posted by Lisa Marnell

Last Friday we, at the writers' group, posted our thoughts on what we've learned over the summer as September arrives today. I am in a very happy place these days as I have finished my first second draft of my YA - long story. I'm loving working to pull threads tight, word paint settings, work on dialogue (Hannah, you'll help me there, right?) As I reflect over the last year of scrapping and changing this WIP, there are many, many things that have helped me. Here is another strategy that works for me:

Make up a mantra about your writing to keep you focused and energized. Even when I am losing in a tennis match (and I'm not so good at tennis), I repeat these words in my mind: "I am fast, I am strong, I am getting better every day. " (I really do say that to myself - I can't believe I just admitted that). When it comes to my writing, I made up a mantra a month ago. It's very simple. It's this: "My story is beautiful." Whether or not my story is beautiful is something that readers will decide. What's important is that I remind myself that I care about this story and I care about these characters.

Did I just give out writing advice? Who am I to give out writing advice? My novel needs work. It will be ready for our group to read in September and there will be changes, perhaps many changes to make. Though I may not yet be published (time will tell), I am in a place where I have been successful with writing this WIP. I wrote a story I love and I am proud of. That's cool. I can't say I've been here before.

To go into the dark with a light is to know the light
To know the dark, go dark, go without sight
And find that the dark, too, blooms and sings
And is travelled by dark feet and dark ways.

Wendel Berry