Monday, July 30, 2012


By Pamela

Ben, the early soccer years
Two weeks from tomorrow my baby boy leaves the roost and embarks on the next phase of his life. During his junior year of high school he spent months researching colleges, writing to coaches and asking for their attendance at his soccer games. In the end, it paid off. He had offers from several schools and the privilege of getting to choose his favorite.

Now we've started the arduous chore of cleaning out his room, deciding what to take to school, what to donate, what to store. Treasures for the attic have included his former team jerseys, T-shirts and medals from tournaments. Those will be added to the tote that holds the size youth small turquoise T-shirt pictured here.

Friends have asked if I'm sad about his leaving and, of course, I will miss him dearly. But it's hard to associate negative feelings with watching someone you love set a goal and achieve it.

Ben as a high school senior.
--photo by Rick Mora
Writers have similar aspirations. We watch our favorite authors sell tens of thousands--even millions--of copies of their books, set off on world-wide tours, secure movie deals and more! But it all begins with setting goals and taking the necessary steps to get there.

Saturday morning Joan and I sequestered ourselves in a coffee shop for a few stolen hours and talked shop. She has her goals, I have mine. And since we've shared the unique experience of having written a manuscript together, I'd like to think we know each other's writing styles nearly as well as we know our own. So, when it comes to advice, I listen closely when she offers it.

I shared with her my current writing goal, and she said, "You need to set up a countdown. Figure up how many words it will take to complete your story and count backward from your date, figuring how many words you have to write each week, each day in order to get there." Wise words. And ones I will follow.

Joan has an accounting brain and I don't but I know she's right. If I don't commit to a set goal, on paper, word count and all, my self-imposed deadline will come and go and I'll wonder how the time passed so quickly. Much like the feelings I get when looking at the photo of my little boy in his baggy shorts and determined scowl.

Two more weeks until college. Fourteen days. Too few hours of having my boy ask me to fix him something to eat or help him find something in the laundry room.  Where did the time go? Tick-tock.  

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Appalachian Writers Workshop

By Susan

     Last July I began researching writers' workshops. I even submitted a very late and frantic application to the Appalachian Writers Workshop at the Hindman Settlement School in Kentucky, my home state, with the hopes of a last second  and miraculous acceptance. One year ago today, the executive director, Mike Mullins, replied with a very kind note that he appreciated my enthusiasm, yet the workshop was completely filled and that he had a waiting list. He took my address and added my name to their mailing list for the following year.
     In February of this year, right around the time I was completing my application for this year's workshop, Mike Mullins, 63, died unexpectedly of a heart attack. For a brief moment, I worried whether I should still apply. I'd never met him, yet remember the kindness of his reply. From my research over the previous months, it seems that the workshop revolved around his influence and leadership. I soon received a letter regarding the upcoming workshop and I decided to send my submission, not sure at all that I would be accepted. I crossed my fingers and waited.
     On Sunday, I will cross the mountains from my hometown of Mt. Sterling to Hindman, Kentucky for my first "real" writing workshop. I've driven over a thousand miles to return to this place, and finally feel adequately prepped for the week long retreat. More and more, I am starting to feel like a real writer.

     I'm hoping to make some friends and enjoy the mountains. Because even though I'm from Kentucky, I'll admit that I've never been to Hindman, the small town nestled in the hollows of coal country where the workshop is held. I grew up in the Bluegrass region, which is quite a bit different from the eastern hills. I'm not sure what to expect. I haven't lived in Kentucky for over twelve years, and I'm a little nervous about how I'll be received. (My daughters, who have made this trip with me, assure me that my accent has returned full-force and I have no reason to worry that I may appear as a Kentucky impostor.)
     More than anything, I hope to renew my love of the words and atmosphere of Kentucky. I'd like to start the next manuscript, dream about new characters, and be able to call my time in the mountains "productive." Then again, maybe I just need to hear the accents of my home, hear the Bluegrass music each evening on the porch, and appreciate the legacy of Mike Mullins, deep in the Kentucky hills.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Calling Me Home has a cover!

By Julie

Certain days in an author's life are a little more special than others. Obviously, there is the day you get "the call" from your dream agent. Then there is the day you make your first sale (and every sale thereafter!). The day you see your manuscript typeset in first pass pages is pretty thrilling, too.

Design by my now-favorite book cover designer,
Olga Grlic
But it's possible one of the most exciting days after you have your book contract in hand is the day you see your cover. I experienced this once before when I received the file of my German cover art, and that was pretty mind-boggling! I loved it so much I plastered it all over the place. It still reigns on my Facebook author page for now. The book releases there August 20 and my German publishers have been SO enthusiastic, I feel it's appropriate to let it keep the place of honor a while longer!

I was on vacation the last few weeks. We spent several days in Illinois for my husband's grandmother's 100th birthday celebration. She is an amazing woman, as sharp and funny as any younger woman I know. I also had the pleasure of meeting author Amy Sue Nathan (The Glass Wives, debuting spring or summer 2013) en route from Chicago to Peoria.

In the midst of driving here and there, switching hotel rooms every night or so, I received an email from Hilary Teeman, my St. Martin's Press editor, requesting an address where they could overnight something--something NOT work. I knew immediately what it would be! Lydia Netzer, another St. Martin's author and friend who shares the same fantastic editor, had this experience months earlier when she received her cover for SHINE SHINE SHINE (which debuted last week and you MUST read!!!). It would be several days before I could get an overnight delivery without the risk we'd have already moved on. I gave Hilary our upcoming address in the gorgeous Outer Banks of North Carolina. I knew I'd go a little crazy in the four or five days before I'd receive the delivery.

We checked in on Sunday. The office promised to call when they received my package. Monday, around 4 p.m. (a day or so sooner than expected!), I got a call. Everyone had just settled in for a late sandwich or nap after our first fun day at the beach. We were sunburned, sandy, unshowered, and exhausted. And yet, my husband, the official driver on the rental car contract, graciously dragged himself up from his comfy spot in front of the television and chauffeured me the ten miles to the office. We arrived with about 15 minutes to spare before they closed.

I carried the book-shaped package to the car, handling it as though I carried an incendiary device. I knew its contents had the potential to create any number of emotions in me. Would I cry when I saw it? From joy? From disappointment? From devastation? Would I clap my hands and scream because I loved it so much? Or would I be angry and disgusted because the designer and my editor had so utterly ruined the vision my story had conjured in my mind for so many years?

I will tell you this: It was one of the most loaded moments along my journey to publication.

But I also knew this: My editor is in love with my story. I knew, from previous conversations, she had turned down several other covers she wasn't happy with. Somehow I just knew she would recognize the right one when it came along, and I trusted her.

So I opened the package. First, I peeked in, just for the littlest glance. Then I read the note she'd included with some of her thoughts on why this one worked so well and how in love the staff at St. Martin's was with it. How they literally gasped when they saw it the first time. Then I pulled the cover, which Hilary had carefully wrapped and taped around another hardcover book so I could get the full effect, from the envelope.

Strangely, my reaction was not unlike my reaction 15, 18, and 23 years ago, each time I saw one of my beautiful children for the first time. I am not a screamer. I am not a clapper. I am not one to cry at expected times. When I held and studied each of my children the very first time, I felt strangely awed. Reverent. Quiet. I simply stared at their faces, then studied each limb, each tiny fingernail, so surprised to see how different they looked than I'd ever imaged, yet somehow so perfect. On an intellectual level, I knew I already loved them more than I ever dreamed I was capable of doing, but on a human level, I wasn't quite able to grasp that just yet. With each child, it was hours before the emotions really began to flow, before I was finally able to wrap my brain around their arrivals, their surprising perfection, their little bits of me and their characteristics I never, ever, imagined. And then, I was carrying them around, showing them off, placing them here and there for photos--which light, which background, which setting could possibly show the world what I was seeing through my eyes?

And last Monday, before long, I was carrying my "book" around my vacation home, placing it on the hammock in the ocean breeze for a shot here, propping it in the port hole window with a view of the Outer Banks there, stacking it with a book about the Outer Banks so I'd never forget where I saw it the first time.

And I loved it.

EDIT: I guess I should also add that Calling Me Home is available for pre-order now! It's at Amazon and! Pre-orders are really important in the lead-up to publication, so I appreciate each and every one of you who takes the time to do so! You are guaranteed the lowest price up to the shipping date once you place your order. More info about the story is available at my website.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Even More Summer Reads

by Joan 

Continuing with Susan's and Kim’s summer book suggestions, it’s my turn to share a few great summer reads. I might be the last person without an iPad, Kindle or Nook, but I am a huge customer (why limit yourself to one credit a month!). I still love turning pages, but on a driving trip, nothing beats an engaging story to pass the miles. So here are two physical books and three audio books for your summer travels.

Alex George’s A Good American (Amy Einhorn Books - hardback)
As a transplant from England to Missouri, Alex George knows a thing or two about immigration. In this tale of immigrant hope and naïveté, I was instantly drawn into the Meisenheimers’ new world in the midwest with its quirky and believable characters. At the start of the multi-generational story, the narrator’s grandparents meet in a garden in Germany and fall instantly in love. Against her family’s wishes, the large and prickly Jette runs off with the ever-optimistic Frederick and they begin their legacy in America. From their children, the son whose musical aspirations were dashed and his odd heartbroken sister, to their three grandsons vying for attention as musicians, pranksters and dreamers, Alex George has written an engaging debut. 

At times hilarious, poignant and introspective, these characters have one thing in common: They long to know who they are and where they are meant to be in this ever-changing world.

Sally Gunning’s The Widow’s War (Harper trade paperback) 

Thanks Elizabeth for introducing me to this fabulous author! Reading this stunning novel is like visiting eighteenth-century Puritan New England. With the first sentence, I was transported to a sorrowful whaling town where the landscape, language, prejudice and rules stifle recently widowed Lyddie Berry’s every move. Outcast by not only the town, but also her only daughter and greedy son-in-law, Lyddie finds hope in the most unhopeful circumstances. Each sentence of this book is perfect. Fans of Geraldine Brooks’ masterpiece Caleb’s Crossing will love this book. 

The Persimmon Tree is a sweeping drama about a young Australian butterfly collector in Batavia (Jakarta) who falls in love with an exotic beauty. Separated by circumstances in the Pacific at the onset of World War II, he sails to Australia, but their plans to meet there fail and he spends the next several years searching for her. It was a stunningly written story made even more so by Humphrey Bower's gorgeous narrating.

Reminiscent of The Persimmon Tree, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet transported me back several generations and further north to a fictional island off the coast of Japan in 1799. Jacob de Zoet (pronounced Yacob by the pitch-perfect reader) is a clerk for the Dutch East Indies Company, trying to earn enough money to return for his fiancé in Holland. He soon learns that honesty and fortitude have no place in the politically charged and corrupt island. He meets a shy Japanese woman whose scarred face has caused her much ridicule, but her skills as a midwife have earned her the respect she deserves. Jacob is drawn to her in ways he can’t explain, until one day, she is forced to use her skills in the most tragic circumstances and she is taken from him without a goodbye. Set in a backdrop of mountains, Buddhist monastery and secretive shrine, this powerful novel is filled with intrigue, deceit, love, betrayal and cruelty. This is the most exquisitely written novel I’ve read in a long time. It is a master class in novel writing, from the dialogue, to the flawlessly woven research, to the tension in every sentence. David Mitchell, I bow to you.

Okay, I saw the movie first several years ago with Julianne Moore, Ralph Fiennes and Stephen Rea, but when I saw Colin Firth was the reader, I had to buy it.

The tragic story is told from the perspective of a jaded novelist who, just after the end of World War II, falls into an engrossing love affair with the wife of an acquaintance. She inexplicably breaks off their affair and he is left wondering why. Later, the husband confides in the novelist that he suspects her of seeing another man and plants the idea of hiring a private investigator to follow her. The story follows three insecure adults through a search for love, faith and self-knowledge. I’ve said it before, Colin Firth could read the phone book and I’d listen, but here he portrays Graham Greene's knife-sharp prose with equal parts emotion and brilliant restraint.

What are you reading this summer?

Friday, July 20, 2012

More Summer Reads

By Kim

A couple of weeks ago Susan posted about some of her favorite reads this summer. Since it is vacation season and none of her choices overlapped what I’ve been reading, I thought I’d offer up a few more recommendations.

The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. by Nichole Bernier 
Crown/Random House, 2012 

This is the only recently-released book I’ve picked up so far this summer, and I bought it after having read a blog post by Nichole in which she discussed the inspiration for the novel. The story is about a woman's reading through her late friend’s journals and discovering that she had not really known her at all. It left me wondering how well I know any of my friends, and if any of them really know me. I would call the overall tone of the book unsettled, which is fitting for a story taking place shortly after the September 11th attacks.

The Unbreakable Child by Kim Michele Richardson 
Behler Publications, 2010 

I picked up this book when I had a week of feeling a little sorry for myself with my insanely hectic summer schedule. The gritty memoir of Kim’s childhood in a Catholic orphanage in 1960’s Kentucky knocked me out of that rut in a hurry. It also made me hug my kids and be thankful they will never have to live through the horrific abuse that Kim suffered at the hands of the nuns and priests. That she survived her experience is amazing. That she thrived as an adult and had the courage to fight back against the Catholic Church (and win) says a lot about the strength of her spirit. There were times this was very hard to read, but The Unbreakable Child is ultimately a story of survival and hope. Pick it up when you need a new perspective on life.

An Inconvenient Wife by Megan Chance 
Grand Central Publishing, 2005 

If Kate Chopin could rewrite The Awakening today, setting it in 1880’s New York City instead of New Orleans, it would probably be a bit like An Inconvenient Wife. Lucy Carelton lives a privileged, yet caged life with a husband whose only real passion is the ambition to rise above his humble birth and be accepted by the upper crust society he married into. Lucy’s passions have been crushed, first by a controlling father, and then by her husband; it’s really no surprise she finds herself going mad. Her husband’s idea of a “cure” is not what her hypnotist doctor provides. This book is engrossing, sometimes (tastefully) naughty, and has a far more satisfying ending than the protagonist “waking” only to drown herself.

Do you have any summer recommendations to make? Leave a comment and share them with our readers.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Gift of Imagination

by Elizabeth

My daughter arrived at the park with a plan: she wanted to have a caricature made. "I'm not sure what I want to be in it," she said, but she'd made sure her stash of cash was enough to cover the price of the picture. We said we'd spring for the frame, a gift to her.

We waited until our second day at Sea World to scope out the artists. By then she'd settled on being immortalized as a mermaid. "Because they live in the water, and I used to be obsessed with Ariel, remember?"

The first booth had two people drawing, and none of us felt they really caught the essence of the model before them. Back to the booth nearer the front gate, and there we found the guy who we all believed would do the job well. The ponytail holder was yanked out, a quick brush through the windblown hair, and she was ready. Fifteen minutes later, the guy turned the drawing around for her and she couldn't stop grinning. In fact, both kids were so pleased with the picture that my son stepped up and asked to be drawn, too. No mermaid nonsense for him, though.

Both my kids are big readers, and lately most of my son's book dollars have gone toward art books. He's taken up drawing with a vengeance, and he's gotten really good. He concerns himself with details of shading and shadow, with light and its sources. "Could you draw in the sword from the stone?" he said. "With the light source from the bottom." Not something that would have occurred to me, but the Sea World guy seemed pleased and double checked when it was time to pick up the colors.

Side by side, the pictures looked pretty good. One is all whimsy, just like my girl, and the other is myth carried over into history. King Arthur might really have been. Ariel, not so much. But both are informed by stories, and while the mermaid might have started with a movie, that spurred the collection of books about fairies and mermaids and other fey creatures that she's now outgrown, but revisits in her imagination. My son's reading includes heavy doses of fantasy, both classic and fresh off the presses, and I'm pretty sure that includes The Once and Future King as well as Eragon and plenty written in between.

I don't know if my reading, my husband's reading, is why our kids read. It's a joke in our family, trying to decide who is the biggest bookworm. But it really doesn't matter: I'm just glad they do. Not because, as people are wont to say when it comes up that we are big readers, "Oh, that's so good!" in a tone suggesting we possess some special virtue that they often go on to confess they lack.  While I agree, it's good that we read, it's not because the act is a virtue unto itself. It's good because it spurs the imagination. Because it helps my kids travel into a place in their minds where being a mermaid or an inevitable king is possible. Because with reading, anything becomes possible. And that is the real gift, any way you frame it.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Better to write ...

By Pamela

One of my favorite television shows is Criminal Minds. Great ensemble cast, amazing writing, and anything that involves the mindset of the deranged tends to fascinate me. What I particularly like is at the open and close of each episode, one of the characters voices over a quote--some familar; others new to me. Just the other day, the show closed with:

"Better to write for yourself and have no public than to write for the public and have no self." --Cyril Connolly

It's similar to the advice we've all probably heard at one point: Don't write to be published; write what you know and love and, with any luck, others will also love it enough to publish it. 

But if you're anything like me, while writing the book you love, a little voice niggles at your brain, saying: This is crap. No one will ever appreciate such drivel. Call yourself a writer? Ha! When friends, family and critique partners read our works and heap on praise, we know they're telling us what we long to hear: That we're not wasting a copious amount of time on something that will never have public consumption. 

My day job is spent writing for a lifestyle magazine. Some of the articles are commissioned by the editor; others are assigned to me after being purchased by a client. Advertorials, if you will--paid editorial used to promote their company/practice but written to read as editorial. When I write for the editor, she alone approves and edits my work; when I write advertorials, the clients review the articles and I make whatever changes they'd like prior to printing. The other day a client reviewed his article and had some pretty harsh things to say about my writing. Because I'm a professional (and I'd like to keep my job), I refrained from responding with anything other than an offer to rewrite it.

Twisted Worlds
flickr image by Jeff Kubina
His negative comments undid about fifty other clients' positive remarks. As writers, we can say to others that we've developed a thick skin and that the opinion of one doesn't really matter, but rejection hurts. It really stings, whether it's from an agent, an editor, another writer, a client or even a friend (who truly thinks she's being helpful).

So how do you keep going when you'd rather do anything but waste more time as a writer? You have to love the craft. You have to appreciate that the world looks different through your eyes than anyone else's. That the story within you can be told only by you. And if the rejections continue, you have to decide if you are ready to stop submitting or if you need to further your craft with instruction from professionals.

I'm committed to the manuscript currently on my PC and have set a goal for completion that I believe to be reachable. Once it's finished, then I'll share it with the writers in this group and listen to their feedback. Then, after taking their suggestions, I'll edit and then submit. I'm sure I'll get frustrated at times and hurt when I get negative comments, but I'd like to think Connolly could also have said:

"Better still to write for yourself AND the public while staying true to yourself."

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Loneliest Art

By Susan

I'm a student of writing— I repeat it like a mantra every time something surprises me. Every time I get kicked in the pants by my own mistakes, or stumbles, or humbling moments. I am a neophyte, a sophomore, a virgin; I am traipsing through a publishing field of wolves dressed like little red riding hood. Call me what you will as I skip through the forest, I'll just keep skipping. In ways, my naivete has been my friend—cradling me blissfully across a chasm I should probably fear. Yet at other times, my ignorance humbles me. I pray for an epiphany that never comes. I stop skipping and look around me, realizing that I am a fool.
It's not the words that kick me in the pants— even though I struggle with the prose like any other writer. It's not what others say, their acceptance or rejection, not necessarily. The biggest thing that gets me is that I am alone. The only product I am selling is me, and I don't always trust myself. Is this any good? Am I okay? I ask myself.  Am I wasting my time? Am I a failure? The wolves look at me and shrug their hunched shoulders as the sky darkens around us. We don't know, they answer. Are you?
Wednesday night, my daughter and I went to a collaborative painting class. Twelve of us sat in a circle, each with a blank canvas.  For two minutes, we made our first marks—bright splashes of paint, wide swaths of color. Then we shifted the canvas to our left and added to the painting resting in front of us. At the end of two hours, we'd passed the paintings around the circle three times, and we each had a mini-Monet in front of us—a community splash of color, movement and dance.
There was no intention. The paintings were wild explosions of blooms, vines, rainbows. As we painted, we talked about things like community, and sharing, and intention. We touched on ideas of how art brings people together, and how working alone isn't the only way to create something.
I thought about my writing, of course, and how lonely I've felt lately, standing in that field, encircled by the wolves. I thought about my writing community: my writing group and critique partners, my agent and her assistant, my mother and sisters, my husband, and my new editor: all the people who are with me in my little journey to write. Even though the words are my own, I wouldn't have gotten this far without the support from my community of writers, friends, and family. I've passed my manuscript around the table to other writers I admire, asking for their feedback, desperate for their approval. Some gave sweeping advice, others just suggested adding a little yellow here or a little blue there. Yet with every tweak from anyone who touched the pages, I made the final call.
I'm toughening up, perhaps. Maybe I'm graduating to a different level of writer—I'm still green, but maybe less so than before. Writing is a lonely business, but it is also a collaboration. A mix of my perspective, focus and creation, brushed by the people who love me and love what I am doing.
After the painting class, I had a flash of epiphany—the one I'd been hoping for. I wrote a two page summary and sent it off to my agent, feeling buoyant, lifted by the idea that I wasn't as alone as I thought. "I've gotten side-tracked over the course of my edits," I wrote. "Here's what this book is about, after all." And although I am still the only one writing this manuscript, the wolves retreat at the scent of my community. They are the ones holding me up.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


by Elizabeth

It's a total non-secret that my husband is a complete Diet Coke addict. His family knows it, his friends know it, his coworkers and boss and probably Bill Gates know it. I joke, but I mean it, that his liver is caramel colored. And really, he doesn't care. As addictions go, it's hopefully more or less benign. All rats die of cancer anyway, or so my mother posits.

He didn't just wake up one day addicted, of course. It happened over time, years perhaps, with a couple of notable events fueling the progress. The non-stop drive from New York to California in order to make it home for Father's Day, for instance. My father-in-law loves to recount opening the back door of the car and having dozens of cans spill out. Non-stop drive, did you not hear? No time for trash, just chuck it in the back! Another formative organ brownifier? Early in his career, he had a lot of overnight shifts. Ya gotta fuel that lack of sleep somehow, and what better than Diet Coke to get you through the night? And then there's parenthood. We all need a little something to get us through. We are both teetotalers, just 'cuz we hate the taste of likker, so Diet Coke played savior many a late night with the firstborn, also known as The Colic Kid.

Like I said, it could be worse. Not to be flip, but to be flip, think meth, coke (with a lower case c), copious quantities of Samuel Adams. Yeah, as addictions go, not too bad, really.

And it's not like I don't have addictions of my own. It's a known fact in the family that I cannot eat just one Skinny Cow. Eat one, eat two. And very occasionally, I must ask myself: if I eat three Skinny Cows in one sitting, does that make me skinny? Or does it make me a cow?

But I can go weeks without eating a single one of those delicious little babies. (I've given up ice cream for Lent for the past three or four years, and I'm not even a Catholic.) I like a little Diet Coke myself, too, for that matter, though these days Diet Cherry 7-Up is floating my boat. Yes, that was me with four bottles of it in my cart at the grocery store today, thanks for asking. And I've been known to go on a vegetable beef soup bender once or twice, come to think of it, eating it literally three meals a day for a week at a stretch. Yes, that includes breakfast. Don't judge.

Lately, and by "lately" I mean the past many, many (many) months, it's been Words With Friends. I realized tonight that I've been playing with one stranger for a full year. Another probably a good six months. Strangest of all, my mother-in-law. (I just put that in there to see if she's reading.) I think I have about eight games going at the moment, and when that isn't enough, I sometimes do a pass and play game by my lonesome. Just for the record, I murder myself every time we play.

So my addictions have the benefit of variety, if not dedicated passion. Which might be the problem sometimes.

I've made no secret of the fact that I sometimes struggle with a regular writing schedule. There are times I am at it every day, same Bat Time, same Bat Channel. Other times though? Let's just say my notebooks aren't littering the driveway every familial holiday.

The thing is, writing is a muscle for most of us, not an addiction. The difference is (and I have been a dedicated, if lazy, gym-goer for nearly ten years) that with a muscle, you work it, and it sometimes hurts, but it hurts more if you don't use it, so you keep it up. With an addiction, you kind of have no choice, you do it because you pretty much can't not do it, whether it hurts or not. That's the kind of addiction I'd like: one to writing. All the time, brainlessly at times, and hungry to get back to it when I am not like the biggest caffeine-starved headache seen this side of the Mississippi--or that side, come to think of it. A compulsion to write that colors my innards, that stains my skin with ink, that keeps me going long past reason would suggest it's time to pull over and rest.

For now, it's all about muscle, though. Trudging to the computer, to the notebook, because I know what I want, and what I have to do to get there. Working even harder if a Skinny Cow turns into three, if Words drains an hour. And if I need a little fuel? Good news: in this house, we never run out of caffeine.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Cool Movies

by Joan

Over the past week, the country has been in meltdown mode. A glance at the weather map on the back of the Metro section showed virtually an all-orange United States. My friends and family in Maryland boiled and broiled, some without power for days. In the top half of the country, it reached over 100. Many times over the past week I scrolled through my phone’s fantasy spots—London, Santorini, Kyoto, Santa Barbara—dreaming of blue skies and a soft breeze (or even a cool UK shower). 

What do we do in Dallas when it’s over 100 degrees? Walking is out of the question and it’s too hot to swim until after the sun goes down. Normally, I’d plaster myself in front of the computer and write or revise, but I’m in that in-between phase. I’ve finished manuscript #4 and it’s parading in front of a few agents as I write this. I’ve started accumulating research materials for my next project, but its cast of characters has yet to introduce themselves. So until I commit to an idea, I’m getting caught up on lots of reading and movies, always looking for lessons to apply to my own writing.

In the past 48 hours, I've seen 6 movies (4 of 6 were at the incredible Angelika Theater in Plano). The last time I saw so many films in such a short time, I was about to deliver my now nineteen-year-old and knew that my free time would come to a screeching halt. (Is it any surprise he's a big movie fan, like his mom?) Once I dive head first into my next WIP, I’ll become obsessed with another new baby and will likely not dip out to the movies. 

Meantime, what did I learn in my latest movie extravaganza?

Moonrise Kingdom – Paint a perfect picture, then hit your audience with the unexpected. I don't think I've seen a movie quite like this one. It's campy (pardon the pun), quirky, surprising, endearing, and adventurous. 

The Intouchables – Set up an impossible situation and make your audience believe it won't work any other way. Devoid of all pity, this story is heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. Omar Sy gave an Oscar-worthy performance, as did Francois Cluzet. Julie liked it, too! This was my favorite of the bunch, until I saw #6. 

My Sister’s Sister – Keep it real. I read somewhere that the actors didn't follow a tightly written script. That must have been why the dialogue felt so honest.

This film is quirky, raw, and hilarious. Emily Blunt is fabulous as usual as she finds out her best friend (who she secretly loves) has slept with her sister. It started out slow and just as I thought it would be another predictable rom-com, it turned the corner and surprised me.  

Beasts of the SouthernWild – Everyone loves a character who hasn't an ounce of self-pity and refuses to quit.

This tragic story illustrates the strength of the human spirit. In the marshes of Louisiana, in an area called “The Bathtub,” a resilient 6-year-old deals with life as she knows it, scrounging for food, a dry night’s sleep and the memory of her mother. I found this one painful and depressing, but still worthy of all its praise.

The Amazing Spiderman Just like Peter Parker, we're all just searching for the truth. I avoided the 3-D version (as I always do) and sat back to enjoy this predictable, but fun new take. 

It’s always a treat to watch Emma Stone, and Rhys Ifans (Pirate Radio and Danny Deckchair) was an added bonus.

Through the charm and wit of Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy (one of his subtlest roles yet), and a cast of other fine actors, I learned a writer must draw from deep inside characters, to push them farther than they believed possible, to give them strengths they didn't know they had.

Some sage advice from Sonny (Dev Patel) and later, Evelyn (Judi Dench): "Everything will work out in the end. If it doesn't work out, then trust me, it's not the end."

Friday, July 6, 2012

Of Course, You Can Read My Manuscript, Dear. (Gulp.)

By Kim

Since finishing the manuscript for The Oak Lovers I’ve been through several rounds of critique and revision. I’d like to think I’ve developed a thick skin, that I can take most of what is thrown at me graciously, and consider comments carefully before deciding if I agree with them or not. I turned into a quivering mass of raw nerves, however, when I handed the novel over to a certain reader yesterday.

I sat at my desk pretending to work. Behind me I heard a lot of typing. This reader is not the type to give many “roses” and so he must be finding a lot of “thorns.” He likes science fiction, fantasy, espionage and high-octane stories with big body counts. The Oak Lovers has no alternate universes, car chases, gore, or doomsday scenarios. It’s a (gasp) love story, and the only political intrigue takes place within the Toronto art circles of the early 20th century.

I paint with words. My husband, Mr. PhD-in-physics, prefers to think in equation form.

Madonna Ahrens circa 1910
I knew he wouldn’t be familiar with a single historical figure in the book other than Carl and Madonna, and he only knows them because Carl’s art hangs on our walls and he sees their photographs on our walls. This artfully-posed nude photograph of Madonna playing a cello hangs within sight of his desk. When he encounters a sex scene, will he picture her a little too clearly and feel he must keep his eyes forever averted from that wall?

If an agent hates my book, there are always other agents. If my husband does, I’ll be heartbroken.

Five chapters in, he called me over to his desk and went over his comments. As I suspected, literary references went over his head. There aren’t many, they aren’t obscure, and they make sense in context, but the unfamiliar names tripped him up. He called the story “enjoyable” though, and he’s neck deep in the courtship phase, which will be the least interesting to him.

Much of what he brought up won’t be a problem in my genre and tripped up none of my other readers. I don’t discourage him from marking up the book, though. The fact that he points things out and takes the time to comment on more than a stray typo proves he loves me enough to read carefully, even if it isn’t his type of book. It shows he’s taking an interest in my work and has a vested interest in my success.

To my writer friends: At what point do you show your work to your spouse? What has your experience been?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Fourth of July!

We're taking a break at What Women Write today! We hope you are, too!

Happy Fourth of July, and may your day be filled with fun and fireworks!

Photo credit: sharpandkeen's Flickr photostream

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Well-organized Office

By Pamela

My writing space could use a little help. Just the other day, I searched a good twenty minutes I could ill-afford to waste for a product ID number off a box of software that I knew was in my office but couldn't locate. In the process I spent five minutes organizing some paper products inside the cabinet under my built-in bookshelves. Even after I closed the doors on the neat stacks of paper, envelopes and magazines, I felt myself breathing a little easier. Clutter no more!

But before calling my friend Linda over for some professional help, I decided to look online at some organizational systems that might keep my writing space from becoming a nest of paper, notes, photos, clippings and everything else I surround myself with to stay inspired. Here are some few products you might find helpful, too.

The tangle of cords coming from my computer makes me yearn for the future when everything will be wireless. Right now my mouse is and that's awesome. Til then, these cord ID clips would sure make searching for the correct cord a lot easier. Available at In a pinch, I've also seen crafty folks use bread bag clips just as effectively.

Keeping up with my expenses for tax purposes tends to be a rather mad-dash-at-the-finish-line adventure. I make the appointment with my accountant and then spend the next week worrying about where I've put all my receipts and check stubs. This year I established a separate "tax" file within my email account and any email confirmations for purchases of books, magazines and professional subscriptions (like to Backspace) or receipts for writing conferences and classes, I immediately put there. The stack of papers needs to find a home in a pretty accordion file like this one by Martha.

My desk is an old antique monster that I bought because a) it's lovely, b) it had a great history (a doctor owned it and used it through med school--sometimes I lay my palms on it, close my eyes and will his intelligence to seep into my pores), and c) I try to never buy new furniture--unless it's upholstered. The drawers have some built-in dividers but I could likely use more to corral my odds and ends a little better. If I wanted to surrender some muffin pans, I could go this route, but I'm short on space as it is and they don't appear to be very space efficient. These by Bisley at The Container Store seem better suited for the job. I like how deep they are and they come in various sizes. I also like their one-piece design. I have some in my kitchen that expand--which is code for 'never stay together.'

In my office, my massive book collection keeps me inspired and entertained. I periodically cull through it and share my bounty with friends which leads to an attempt at some decorator-like arrangement--books stacked sideways with a piece of pottery on top, huge shells placed like bookends--and that lasts until my next Amazon shipment arrives. I do own a Kindle now but will always be a 'real book' gal--probably because I love lending out my library. Years ago I bought library pockets and cards in an attempt to keep up with who had my books, but I felt weird putting them into use. I didn't want to be 'that girl' who pulled out a date stamp before handing over a book, along with issuing a reprimand to return it within two weeks or face an overdue fine. I know some people keep up with their books via their computer, but I've never been that diligent. This handy journal might be a more feasible option for me. Not only can you record books you've read, books you want to read and more, but there's also a section for listing those you have lent out.

Lastly, my walls have framed pictures of my children on them, but I'm tempted to replace their smiling faces (or move them to another wall) and place a wall organizer near my desktop computer. I keep small notes stashed around my desk, photos of characters and places they might live, quotes and sayings handy. This Pottery Barn linen pinboard might be a beautiful way to keep it all together.

Time to get shopping! But, as my friend Linda would advise me, it's out with the clutter first.
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