Ooh baby, baby!!

Well, that big project that I mentioned a few back is here...our beautiful baby! He is amazing and my hands are full, leaving very little time for anything else. Alas, I am putting up my "Gone Fishing", or rather "Gone Mothering", sign and saying see ya later alligators for the next little while, until we have found our rhythm.

I'll still post from time to time, but if you want any new updates, I think it's best to subscribe, so that you don't have to check back and see if I have made it out from under a pile of diapers!

Ciao for now!!


The wait continues...into the New Year

Sigh. More time is needed with my latest revision. More distance, more space, more opportunity to discover new things and see familiar words with new perspective and clarity. I am being forced to recognize that everyone works at their own pace. And that my pace may need some reconsidering too. Some people I know take 4 years to write a book, others a year. A screenwriter friend of mine makes huge changes in his drafts in 48 hours getting them into the production team that wouldn't accept them a minute later. A successful namer I know can name a company with the first name that comes to mind, but will still do due diligence and submit an additional 150 names, spending a week or two stewing over choices, only to routinely have the first name be the winner.

Me? I write slowly. Very slowly. I wander in the dark and doubt myself and don't map until much later and think and rethink and wait, and try and listen to my novel whispering to me and telling me where it wants to go and what it wants to be. But when it comes to revising, I am fast! Once I know what I want to say, I say it. I see problems and changes and remedies very easily. I am able to come up with alternatives and chuck pages without sentiment or attachment. It is a skill that has been used to great advantage on numerous writer collaborations. When it comes to revising I am an idea girl-full of them!

Some people like to take weeks, months off of their revisions. They like to go away for long enough that the writing seems new and like someone else's when they return, they need to do that in order for the words to seem fresh once more.

As I have a very big project coming up that will take me out of the loop and off of the web for a few months in a week or so anyway, I have been asked to try a little experiment. To not revise, but to just think and let my manuscript turn itself over and over in my brain, speaking to my sub conscious, whispering to me late at night and telling me what it would like its final self to be. It will certainly be a big change, and I am curious as to what it will be like and yield.

I'll keep you posted!


The wait is almost over...

Tomorrow I have a much anticipated meeting with my beloved literary agency about the latest draft of my manuscript. I can't wait! I am so excited to hear what they thought of the extensive changes. This latest version was the one where I restructured the novel, changing the order of some scenes, grounding flashbacks back in the present when they were over and adding new scenes for characters whose motives needed to be more clearly fleshed out. It was a big revision and I did it at break neck speed, as I have a lot going on in my personal life, all good, but demanding none the less.

Apparently I wasn't the only person who tried to get my novel in before the summer, as it turns out that my agent's right hand gal, had 15 manuscripts that arrived at the same time, all ready to be read. Wow!

Now that it is September and all the publishing world is back, things are busy once more, and the race against the clock continues. Soon things will go quiet for the Jewish holidays, then we have just October and November before American Thanksgiving, before everyone goes on holiday again. Of course I am hoping that these latest changes are the last, and that my debut novel can go out into the world soon in its quest to find a home...but we will see. I'm looking forward to the next round of waiting, the kind where I wait for editors at publishing houses to read my book...and then decide they have to BUY it!

Fingers and toes and eyes are crossed!


Amazing Author: Carey Wallace

Another Amazing Author Interview, courtesy of Amazing Author Caroline Leavitt!

Carey Wallace talks about singing, inspiration and The Blind Contessa

I first heard Carey Wallace at the fabulous Word bookstore in Brooklyn, where we were doing a group reading. Not only did she read from her exquisite new book, The Blind Contessa's New Machine, but she sat in front of a keyboard and she sang. I was so gripped, I forgot my own stage nerves. I could have listened to her read and sing forever. I'm thrilled to have Carrie here.

I had the rare pleasure of hearing you sing at Word in Brooklyn and I came up and told you afterwards how haunted I felt listening. So tell me about crafting songs. How is it different for you than writing a novel?

Songs and books come to me in almost completely opposite ways. In both cases, I have a strong sense that I’m discovering something, rather than building it – that the process is one of searching for something that’s already there, rather than gathering pieces, laying plans, and hammering it all together. But because books take such extended concentration, I’ve followed a practice of discipline in writing for all of my adult life: I write for two hours every working day, whether I have any desire to or not. Songs, on the other hand, tend to arrive unbidden. I don’t go looking for them, I just take them as they come, and when they do, I write them anywhere I happen to be, over the course of several days, mostly by singing the pieces I’ve got over and over in my head until the missing lines or sections emerge. Once the writing process is finished, the reaction you get to songs or books is also really different: even people who’ve loved you for years tend to blanch when you mention you’ve got a novel they might like to read, but total strangers want to hear your new song.

Each song in your gorgeous CD refers to a literary work. What made you choose the books you chose?

Since my songwriting process is so mystical, the books actually seemed to choose me. When I wrote them, last summer, I was living in Michigan, caring for my mother in the small town I grew up in, as my first novel came out. The songs, and the books, that emerged from that time were about family, especially mothers, about hope for a world beyond this one, and about how the worlds we’ve left behind haunt us. The books all in some way intersected with these themes, and I mined them for images as I explored those themes in my own life.

The Blind Contessa, your novel, is this achingly beautiful novel about love and imagination. What sparked the idea for this novel?

Carbon paper. I was actually writing an early draft of a noir novel set in Detroit, and wanted to make sure that the carbon paper I planned to use in it wasn’t an anachronism. When I looked up the advent of carbon paper, I discovered the story of the invention of the typewriter, which was invented at the same time by the same man (carbon paper was used in the original machine to make the image of a letter on the page). The elements of the story: a blind woman, an eccentric inventor, the hint of love triangles, and the typewriter itself seemed clearly the foundation of a novel.

What was it like writing a first novel? How is it different from your writing life now?

There are a number of candidates for my first novel: a fifty-page tome, heavily influenced by Dumas and full of flounces and French names, that I produced in the fifth grade; a full-length novel about a kid who sells his parents house, and takes the money and four of his friends to Disneyland that I wrote in college; and Choose, a forking paths novel about predestination and free will that was printed in an extremely limited run by a now-defunct press in Detroit in 2006. By almost no definition but the commercial one is The Blind Contessa’s New Machine really my first novel. Interestingly, in the golden age of American publishing, publishers generally recognized that it took three full-length novels for a writer to come into their own, and, because those publishers didn’t face the same financial constraints as publishers today, they were committed to nurturing their authors through that process. It’s stunning to see how many significant novels are the third book of an author who was nurtured through this process, among them The Great Gatsby and A Farewell To Arms – and how little resemblance these mature books bear to the first novels that preceded them (This Side of Paradise and Torrents of Spring). I get quite sad about what great books we may be losing today because writers are now expected to accomplish their apprenticeships on their own. In some cases, the fight sharpens us and makes us stronger. But I believe many of the literary treasures that emerged from previous generations might never have seen the light, or perhaps never have been written at all, in our current climate.

What's obsessing you now?

Hydroelectricity in Paraguay. A good friend of mine is about to defend her brilliant dissertation, which I’m now editing, on the topic, and it’s actually incredibly fascinating: Paraguay shares the world’s most productive hydroelectric dam with Brazil, which is something along the lines of New York state damming Niagara Falls and then trying to split the electricity equally with Rhode Island. The story has all kinds of other amazing details—a priest who becomes president, hidden caches of torture records—but also wide implications for the pressing question of what it means to be a state in today’s shifting global world, and the future of negotiations around borders, energy, and the economy throughout Latin America.

What question didn't I ask that I should have?

How can your readers get a copy of Songs About Books for themselves?

First of all, Songs About Books isn’t for sale – it’s a gift, part of the celebration surrounding the paperback release of The Blind Contessa’s New Machine. Anyone who wants to can download all the tracks for free athttp://www.careywallace.com/songsaboutbooks/songsaboutbooks.html. And if they’d like a super-beautiful actual CD, which is full of antique photographs of people holding books, they can send me something in trade. So far I’ve traded CDs for everything from translations of Italian poetry, to a box of pasta and homemade marinara sauce, to a single perfect rose from my favorite flower-shop owner. (Trade directions can also be found at the address above.) In September, I’m going to begin posting the trades in a gallery on my website, to share all the beautiful things, but also to create connections between the people who made them – so if you’re an artist yourself of any kind, be sure to include your website with whatever you send, and I’ll make sure to link to it.


Amazing Publisher!

This amazing article brought to you by Amazing Author Caroline Leavitt!

Lou Aronica Talks about The Fiction Imprint

I've already run a piece about two writers who are now going to publish with the Fiction Studio Imprint, but now I have the man behind the The Fiction Studio Imprint, New York Times bestselling author, former publisher of Avon Books and Berkley Books, Lou Aronica. An invitation only imprint, The Fiction Studio publishes books in paperback and e-book format and it represents a revolutionary new way of publishing. Aronica,created this new frontier, a gathering of “ambitious wildly creative writers.” To read the whole story, look here.

I'm thrilled to have Lou here.

You have a fascinating background, coming from the world of traditional publishing. Why don’t you think this model works anymore? And can you tell readers something about the way Fiction Studio Imprint changes the rules?

I'm not saying that the traditional publishing model doesn't work anymore. What I'm saying is that it doesn't work for enough people any longer. I'm going to sound like an old codger with this, but back in the day, when I was a publisher at a big house, we offered writers a decent up-front income, careful editorial attention, and appropriately scaled marketing support (after having walked six miles uphill in the snow to get to work). When a traditional house is still willing to do this, it works very well for a writer. However, that combination of financial, editorial, and marketing is increasingly rare.

Meanwhile, the market has shifted in the writer's direction. Manufacturing and distribution – huge barriers to entry in the past – aren't an impediment as long as you can accept the online bookselling world as your marketplace. Many writers have visions of their books in bookstores all over the country. That's a very appealing vision, but you need to be willing to accept the baggage that comes with it in the form of heavy returns, pigeonholing, and publishers turning down your next book because the previous one didn't sell enough to keep the booksellers interested.

When I started Fiction Studio Books, I established a relationship with our distributor, National Book Network, that allows for bookstore distribution. I knew I was going to hold that in reserve, though. Because the focus of the program is on developing audiences for writers, I felt that the development had to happen on the digital side. Having the ability to distribute into the physical retail market means that if a book takes off to the point where we would feel comfortable with a physical distribution, we can do it, but we've had some very successful books already and I still haven't hit that point. By focusing on the digital side, Fiction Studio can publish a much wider range of fiction and take the time necessary to build an audience for a book.

The most significant way in which Fiction Studio changes the rules is that it is essentially a writer's collective. I'm the curator – I need to love every book we publish – and I make my thirty-plus years of publishing experience available to every writer on the list, but the writer remains in control of the publication and keeps the overwhelming share of the publishing income. I set it up this way because I wanted Fiction Studio to be a community of writers working together and sharing ideas. We've already gotten some nice results from that.

You published your novel Blue yourself—and made it a bestseller. I speak for every writer out there: how, how, how, did you do this???

The reason I wanted to publish Blue myself was that I knew it wasn't a novel that publishers could easily position. It's a father-daughter novel, but it's also a fantasy novel. One viewpoint character is a man in his early forties, another is his fourteen-year-old, largely estranged daughter, and the third is the twenty-year-old queen from the bedtime story world they created when the daughter was much younger. It's about the affect of divorce, but it's also about the value of imagination. I'd spent six years writing it, and I could imagine every publisher saying, "Yes, it's a nice story, but where do we put it in the store?" I knew there was an audience for it, though, and I felt that I needed to try to find it for myself.

Because I wasn't concerned about physical distribution, I didn't have to worry about the book selling in the first two weeks, and I didn't have to worry about where the book was going to be placed. That allowed me to be more patient with the publication and to cast a wider net in trying to draw attention to it. The first step was getting blog reviewers to take it under their wings. I pitched three different markets – the general fiction readership, the sf/fantasy readership, and the teen fantasy readership, and I got very encouraging review attention from bloggers in all three areas. I received about seventy reviews for the book and only a couple of them suggested that I consider a career in the fast food industry.

Once I'd established the novel's credibility, I decided to drop the e-book price dramatically. I couldn't do anything about the print price because those books had to be printed, but I realized that I'd already spent all the money on e-book production that I needed to spend (copyediting, proofreading, cover design, conversion, etc.). If I looked at that expense as a "sunk cost," everything I made thereafter was profit. That's the thing about the e-book business: it doesn't cost you any more to sell twenty thousand than it does to sell twenty. If I could take price out of the buying decision for the reader, maybe I could sell many, many more at $2.99 than I was selling at $9.99. That's when the book took off. I think the combination of the great reviews and the low price made it easy for readers to download. I don't think either by itself would have done the job.

Essentially, I used a very old technique. I saw the first life of the e-book as the "hardcover" to gather reviews. I then used the cred those reviews offered to sell the lower-priced edition, the "paperback reprint" if you will.

One thing you said, which I loved, was that writers are now getting second and even 10th chances to get their work out there in front of the public, which means there are a lot of sharks out there. Do you have any caveats for writers who want to go a non-traditional route?

While the barriers to entry are much lower than they've ever been, publishing is still a foreign experience for most writers. Many of them will seek help, and some people will try to take advantage of them. My feeling is that a writer should never pay a fee for publication. There are genuine costs involved in getting a book into the market. You might need a professional editor. You will definitely need a professional copyeditor. You will need a professional proofreader. You will need a professional cover designer (notice the repeated use of the word "professional" here; this isn't a cute literary device – there's an enormous difference in working with experienced professionals). You will need pages designed and composed for the print edition, and you will need a conversion house to create the e-book file. You will need to print copies for marketing purposes and spend the money to mail those copies out. You may need a marketing professional to help you promote the book. All of those are legitimate expenses and there are many excellent freelancers out there providing these services. However, any publisher charging a fee beyond the cost paid to the freelancer isn't, in my opinion, a real publisher. If a publisher is making money on a publication before the author sells a single copy, it's difficult to believe that this publisher is working in the writer's best interests.

Your imprint is by invitation only. How are you finding your writers? And what should a writer who wants to be noticed by you do?

The reason the imprint is invitation-only is that I don't make any money on a publication unless the books sell. Therefore, I need to believe that the author is going to be an extremely active partner in the publication. This isn't something I can identify simply by reading a manuscript. Therefore, I look for recommendations from people in the industry, writers who strike up a correspondence with me, tips from the guy at the farmer's market, that sort of thing. I'm going to go over my title target for the first year, so this method seems to be working (and thank you, Caroline, for sending two fabulous writers in my direction).

If someone wants to get my attention outside of these methods (I've heard that the guy at the farmer's market isn't above taking a little "seed money," if you know what I mean), they need to show a real interest in the process. I want to work with writers who are interested in writing and publishing. You can't really be a valuable member of the collective if you don't care about how things work in this industry. Then, of course, you need to get my attention with the writing itself. I'm far more interested in characters and character evolution than I am in plot or setting.

What’s next on the horizon for the Fiction Studio? In other words, what’s obsessing you about the book business?
I'm hugely optimistic about the business right now, more than I have been in a very long time. Digital publishing is liberating in so many ways. Still, the publishing world is changing daily, and what's working right now will seem quaint in a few months. My real obsession at the moment is sustainability. How does a writer find an audience and keep that audience? Much of the energy in the business right now is coming from pricing and the growth of the user base (all those people getting their first Kindles, Nooks, iPads, Sony Readers, etc.). That allows for a certain level of success to come simply from seizing opportunities. However, sustainable success is going to come from staying in readers' minds. How do you capture the moment while working for the long-term. That's what gets me up very early in the morning.

What question didn't I ask that I should have?

I think you nailed it.


What publishers and critics and editors really mean...

This hilarious post comes courtesy of One Minute Book Reviews. I first encountered it on Twitter, and just had to share it! A hilarious, terrifying and not to be taken too seriously, decoding of what the publishing industry really means.

Enjoy!! And Click the link to see more from this blog!

One Minute Book Reviews

40 Publishing Buzzwords, Clich├ęs and Euphemisms Decoded

Ever wonder what editors, publishers and critics mean when they describe books as “lyrical,” “provocative” or “ripped from the headlines”? Let industry veterans explain it to you. I asked experts on Twitter to decode common publishing terms and attach the hashtag #pubcode. Here are some of their answers:

“absorbing”: “makes a great coaster” @DonLinn Don Linn, publishing consultant

“accessible”: “not too many big words” @MarkKohut Mark Kohut, writer and consultant

“acclaimed”: “poorly selling” @BloomsburyPress Peter Ginna, publisher, Bloomsbury Press

breakout book”: “Hail Mary pass” @BookFlack Larry Hughes, associate director of publicity, the Free Press at Simon & Schuster

brilliantly defies categorization”: “even the author has no clue what he’s turned in” @james_meader James Meader, publicity director of Picador USA

“captures the times we live in”: “captures the times we were living in two years ago” @mathitak Mark Athitakis, critic

“classroom-friendly”: “kids won’t read it unless they have to” @LindaWonder, Linda White, book promoter at Wonder Communications

“continues in the proud tradition of J.R.R. Tolkien”: “this book has a dwarf in it” @jasonpinter Jason Pinter, author of the Zeke Bartholomew series for young readers

“definitive”: “could have used an editor” @kalenski, “Book Babe Extraordinaire”

“an eBook original”: “still no proofreading and bad formatting” @mikecane Mike Cane, writer and digital book advocate

“edgy”: “contains no adult voices of reason” @wmpreston William Preston, English teacher

“epic”: “very long” @sheilaoflanagan Sheila O’Flanagan, novelist (Stand by Me)

“erotic”: “porn” @BloomsburyPress Peter Ginna, publisher, Bloomsbury Press

“ethnic literature”: “stuff written by nonwhite people” @elprofe316 Rich Villar, executive director of Acentos

“frothy romp”: “funny book by lady” “Funny = funny book by a man” @jenniferweiner Jennifer Weiner, novelist (Then Came You) and television producer (State of Georgia)

“gripping”: “I turned the pages fast but didn’t read them” @sarahw Sarah Weinman, news editor of Publishers Marketplace

“gritty street tale”: “Black author from the hood. Run.” @DuchessCadbury, graduate student in literature

“I’ve been a fan of Author X for a long time”: “I slept with them regrettably, in MFA school.” @Weegee Kevin Smokler, vice-president of marketing for Byliner.

“lapidary prose”: “I did not know what half of these words meant” @jenniferweiner Jennifer Weiner, novelist (Then Came You) and television producer (State of Georgia)

“literary”: “plotless” @MarkKohut Mark Kohut, writer and consultant

“long-awaited”: “late” @janiceharayda Jan Harayda, novelist and editor of One-Minute Book Reviews

“luminous” or “lyrical”: “not much happens” @BloomsburyPress Peter Ginna, publisher, Bloomsbury Press

“magisterial”: “long” @BloomsburyPress Peter Ginna, publisher, Bloomsbury Press

“meticulously researched”: “overloaded with footnotes” @BookFlack Larry Hughes, associate director of publicity, the Free Press at Simon & Schuster

“memoir”: “nonfiction until proven otherwise” @BookFlack Larry Hughes, associate director of publicity, the Free Press at Simon & Schuster

“the next Elmore Leonard”: “This books has criminals or Detroit or maybe Florida in it” @bryonq Bryon Quertermous, fiction writer

novella”: “short story with large font” @BookFlack Larry Hughes, associate director of publicity, the Free Press at Simon & Schuster

“a real tear-jerker”: “writing so bad it makes you cry” @DrewSGoodman Drew Goodman, writer and social media analyst

“ripped from the headlines”: “no original plot line” @jdeval Jacqueline Deval, author (Publicize Your Book!) and book publicist

“rollicking”: “chaotic” @BloomsburyPress Peter Ginna, publisher, Bloomsbury Press

“sensual”: “soft porn” @BloomsburyPress Peter Ginna, publisher, Bloomsbury Press

“stunning”: “major character dies” @mathitak Mark Athitakis, critic

“provocative”: “about race/religion” @mathitak Mark Athitakis, critic

“promising debut”: “many flaws, but not unforgivably bad” @mathitak Mark Athitakis, critic

“unflinching”: “has a lot of bad words” @isabelkaplan Isabel Kaplan, novelist (Hancock Park)

“visionary”: “can’t be proved wrong yet” @IsabelAnders Isabel Anders, author (Blessings and Prayers for Married Couples)

voice of a generation”: “instantly dated” @MarkKohut Mark Kohut, writer and consultant

“weighty”: “I had to lug this dense historical monster all over town and I still can’t bring myself to finish it” @emilynussbaum Emily Nussbaum, writer for New York magazine and other publicatons

“wildly imaginative”: “wrote book high on mescaline” @simonm223 Simon McNeil, novelist

“a writer to watch”: “as opposed to one you are actually going to want to read” @janiceharayda Jan Harayda, novelist and editor of One-Minute Book Reviews

The tongue-in-cheek explanations of common publishing terms are still pouring in at #pubcode on Twitter, and I’ll update this list if warranted.

You can follow Jan on Twitter at www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.


Amazing Author: Melanie Benjamin

I am still doing the waiting game...and it looks like I won't get any feedback until September. Egads! I am terrible at waiting. Good thing I have these great interviews, courtesy of Amazing Author Caroline Leavitt!

Melanie Benjamin talks about Mrs. Tom Thumb

I first interviewed Melanie Benjamin for her exquisite novel Alice, I Have Been, about the real Alice in Wonderland. When I was on my book tour, and in the middle of the worst blizzard in Chicago, not only did Melanie come out to hear me read, she drove me back to my bed and breakfast AND she waited until I got in, which was a good thing, because the door would not open with my key. That's an amazing person! I couldn't wait to read Mrs. Tom Thumb, because I had loved Alice, I have Been so much, and I was completely knocked out by the story. (It's already an August Indie Pick.) Lush, beautifully written, filled with drama and one one of the most vividly interesting women around, Mrs. Tom Thumb is just spectacular.

I'm honored to have Melanie here--she's just a wonderful writer, and a terrific friend.

Where did the idea for Mrs. Tom Thumb come from?

I was half-way through the 2nd book of my contract when I knew it was a dead end; I couldn't finish it. Yet I had a deadline mere months away! Before I told my editor, and gave her a heart attack, I knew I'd better come up with another idea and maybe a chapter or two. So I started Googling like mad, paging through lists and lists of historical events, figures, women - I did know the time period that I wanted to write, as well as the setting. Since ALICE was set in England, I wanted my next one to be an American story. On one of those lists I saw the name "Lavinia Warren Stratton - aka Mrs. Tom Thumb." It rang a bell and I remembered that she was in a small scene in one of my favorite books, E. L. Doctorow's RAGTIME. She was feisty, even in his book. So I started researching her and was immediately enchanted by her story and her voice.

As far as what she has to teach us - it's both an uplifting, and cautionary, story. Uplifting in that she truly never saw any limits, any obstacles - but cautionary in that she started to believe her own hype, in a way. She very willingly traded on her stature in order to see the world, but then somehow deluded herself into thinking others didn't see her, first and foremost, as a dwarf.

Can you talk about your writing process?

When I write, I really try to "become" the protagonist; it's the only way I can capture the voice. So Vinnie's voice was entirely different from Alice's, and thus, the book has an entirely different quality. ALICE was more lyrical, more dreamy - befitting the ALICE IN WONDERLAND books. MRS. TOM THUMB has a verve, a pulse - I think it's a uniquely American story, written in a uniquely American style. As Vinnie herself would have told you, she was a proud patriot, and I truly tried to capture something of that in the book. As far as what surprised me - her relationship with Barnum. That became the driving point of the book; I began to understand he was the only person in her life with a personality as big as her own. And I'm never consciously aware of "deciding" on a structure - I just let the book appear to me as it wants to.

As someone who was drowning in research this year, I have to ask you, how do you do it?

Research is fun! I love immersing myself in history books, finding amazing websites (and there are so many, as this book takes place against a rich panoply of American history). The only pitfall of research is spending too much time in it, and forgetting to tell the story! The characters and their relationships have always to be the main focus of the book; the historical details are important and rich, but they can't overwhelm the characters and their stories.

Come on, tell us about your writing life!

My writing life, now that I have one book out (ALICE I HAVE BEEN), one just out (THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MRS. TOM THUMB), and one I just turned into my editor (for publication next year), is much more difficult than it used to be! I have to be much more disciplined, giving a certain amount of time over to paperwork, busy work - work, in other words! Which means I have to carve out my writing time, whereas before, my entire day was devoted only to writing. So in the mornings I usually do the busy work; in the afternoons, I write. Many of my evenings are now taken up with calling or SKYPING with book clubs, which is a joy.

What's up next for you?

Right now, I'm drawn to a couple of eras; one is pre-Civil War America, the other is the early days of Hollywood. I'm going back and forth, but keeping an eye open for anything else that might inspire me. I have a bit of time before I have to start the next book - the one that will be out in 2 years.

What question didn't I ask that I should have?

You should have asked me what my favorite part of being an author is - because I would have answered, "Meeting fellow authors like you!"


Pretty paperless stationary!

Recently I got an invitation to a bridal shower on this gorgeous stationary that arrived via email. Now, I love stationary, always have. I adore pretty paper and journals and printed notebooks, but I am aware of the environmental cost of all this paper, and so I try to buy paper that is at least partially recycled and send internet cards whenever possible. The problem is that up until now, those internet cards have been a sorry substitute for gorgeous stationary, and the experience one gets of opening a letter. Enter Paperless Post, a beautiful online stationary service that allows you to put together lovely notes, invites and letters and arrives in your email box in an envelope, that opens. I just sent a thank you card to a friend and she LOVED it! It is free to start and then offers a really reasonable 'stamp' purchase price. Writing emails, just got a whole lot prettier!

Check it out!


Keith Scribner talks about professional noses and The Oregon Experiment

It's Tuesday and I am waiting impatiently for feedback on my latest novel revision! In the meantime, freelance work awaits as does another Amazing Author interview from Amazing Author, Caroline Leavitt. Enjoy!

Keith Scribner’s third novel The Oregon Experiment is irresistible. Trust me. His two previous novels include The GoodLife and Miracle Girl. The GoodLife appears in translation, was selected for the Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers series, and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. I loved The Oregon Experiment and am thrilled Keith agreed to let me pepper him with questions. Thank you, Keith!
I love the fact that you have a professional "nose" in the book. That brilliant element did what the best works of literature do--it made me see and feel and experience the world differently. So tell me about the research you did for this. What did you find that surprised you?"

I read at least 8 or 10 books about the nose and how we smell, about perfume making, and about anosmia. Then I was very lucky to be introduced to a perfume maker in San Francisco, Yosh Han. She invited me to her studio and I spent the day making (with her help) the perfume that Naomi is trying to make in the book. It was really fun, intoxicating, fascinating. She lined up all her nastiest smelling Northwest essences to make the frog juice. I told her about the frog and the auto body putty. As I describe in the novel, it's a process of selecting then editing. Although many perfumiers use dipsticks (as Naomi does in the novel), Yosh lines the vials up on her worktable and sniffs them in order from base notes to top, then back down. In one long breath, you try to take in the full essence. Just this week I wrote a blog on this subject for Powell's Books.

I think what surprised me most was to learn how many people never think about smells and claim they can't smell at all, AND that people for whom smell is important (like Naomi) who lose it are so completely devastated. Also, that the relationship between smells and tastes is even closer than I'd thought, and that certain things, like basil and mint, are actually more smell than taste although we perceive them as tastes.

I also adored the whole secessionist movement in the novel. It seemed both divinely inspired and highly plausible at the same time. Where did this come from?

There's a long and continuing tradition of secessionism in Oregon and the Northwest generally. And as you say, its plausibility--the fact that the arguments for it are so sensible--yet the fact that it's so unlikely made it appealing to me. All my characters are idealists--or at least are struggling between their ideals and the realities of the world--so a very unlikely yet plausible movement seemed like an enterprise they should be involved in. Secession also acts metaphorically throughout the book--Scanlon and Naomi separating themselves from the east coast, Sequoia separating herself from her father and her past; the secessionist movement for her is both deeply personal and political. The rejection of the patriarchy for all the characters is alive in both the personal and political.

In general, secession, or moving from a state of union to separateness, is all over the book. I'm sure you know the experience of latching on to an idea like this and then seeing it in everything.

The writing is so dazzling, and the plotting so assured. What's your writing process like?

When I started the novel--for about the first two years of writing--it was all in Scanlon's point of view. As the characters of Naomi, Sequioa, and Clay came to life for me, I was too constrained just staying with Scanlon. As the story opened out, the points of view had to, too. One thing that helps me with plotting is that I note each scene on a card after I've written it and stick it up on a bulletin board. I usually start the board going when I hit about page 100 of a novel, which is the point at which I begin to have trouble keeping the whole thing in my head. With the note cards, I can see in a glance what follows what; I can move scenes around; I can pull something out and see all the implications. I'm not sure I could write a novel without this big visual representation of the structure, especially when I'm nearing the end and it's so hard to hold the entire thing in my head at once.

As for dazzling writing--thank you. All I can say is it's hundreds of passes over every sentence, many of those reading aloud so I can hear the language. And my phenomenal editor Gary Fisketjon deserves a nod, too--from big picture elements of plot and theme to his line-level genius, he's as good as they get.

What's obsessing you now?

My new novel is set partly in Oregon but mostly in Connecticut. As you might know, Connecticut shade and broadleaf tobacco are the best cigar wrappers in the world. When I was a kid, growing up in East Granby, Conn, lots of my friends worked tobacco. (I didn't; there was a truck farm near my house where I worked.) Shade tobacco is grown under cheesecloth nets (now synthetic). Local kids and migrant workers have worked the fields since the late nineteenth century. For now, the novel is set in the 1970s as well as the present, and I've become obsessed with researching the delicate process of growing, picking, and drying the very valuable leaves. I think tobacco will be for this novel what perfume and scents are for THE OREGON EXPERIMENT. I've made contact with a tobacco buyer who's going to get me under the nets this summer or next. And I aim to enjoy a cigar before I'm done writing the book. So far, I love the smell of cigar smoke from a distance, but smoking one makes me a little sick.

What question didn't I ask that I should have?

Let's see....Since smells can be the most direct path to memory, in a novel that's so much about how our pasts can define us and haunt us, the emphasis on smell worked to my advantage.

Related to this, I'm interested in how each character engages the world differently--Naomi's engagement is mostly sensuous, through her nose, and in this way she acts primally. Clay too acts primally, and instinctively. Sequoia engages the world through her body; Scanlon is motivated cerebrally and also by ego. Although I began with much neater ideas about each character in this regard (and they became complicated in the writing), they each do engage the world in different ways, which helps to define them, lead to conflict, misunderstanding, trouble in general and, I hope, the different perspectives that are one of the pleasures of a polyphonic novel.


Amazing Author: Elizabeth Searle

It's Tuesday! Time for another Amazing Author interview courtesy of Amazing Author Caroline Leavitt!!

Elizabeth Searle talks about life, art and Girl Held in Home

Elizabeth Searle is as warm and funny as she's talented. The author of four novels, including Celebrities in Disgrace, which was produced as a short film in 2010, as well as her forthcoming new novel, Girl Held in Home. Her novel, A Four-Sided Bed is being developed as a feature film. her theater works have drawn national media attention and her show, Tonya & Nancy, The Rock Opera, has had productions on both coasts. She teaches at Stonecoast in the MFA program. What really intrigued me is that she's been able to move from the world to fiction to the world of short film, so I asked her if she'd write about it.

Thanks to Caroline, a real star, for giving me this chance to talk about my ongoing adventure in the world of short film: an actual do-able 'way in' to movies for starstruck fiction writers.

Little did I know when my novella Celebrities in Disgrace was first 'optioned' back in 2005 that on a hot summer day in 2010, I would be gobbling M&Ms outside our 'closed set' while listening breathlessly to the heavy breaths of our film's talented stars Julian Brand and Patrice Bunch, as they brought a sex scene I'd written to passionate life. It was fascinating and a bit freaky to watch the scenes I'd imagined in my head so vividly performed.

The resulting film is CELEBRITIES IN DISGRACE, a fifteen minute glimpse of one aspiring actress's quest for her fifteen minutes of fame and of the troubled young man who gives it to her. It's produced by Bravo Sierra Pictures, an upstart film company whose motto is 'Micro Budget, Macro Attitude." The film premiered at the longrunning Woods Hole Film Festival on Cape Cod in August of 2010. Our 'short' was lucky to receive coverage on WBUR Boston and in the Boston Herald. The film was most recently accepted as an official selection of the Hoboken International Film Festival (with screenings in between in Las Vegas, Maine, Boston and Hollywood FirstGlance shorts competition, so far.

How did my little book, published by Graywolf Press, become a little film? While it took years to get the film made, I found that entering the world of film festivals is easier than my shy fellow scribes might think-- and can offer a chance to make fledgling film world connections. Festivals are open to the public, tickets are cheap and even the big-deal parties are crashable. (One tip on that is to hang out with members of the press, who might just let you tag along on their Press Passes!) At Nantucket Film Festival, I met producer Paul Boghosian of Harborside Films, who is now producing a theater work of mine. Through working on scripts for Harborside, I learned the basics of script writing. My Celebrities in Disgrace novella was first optioned by Seattle-based short-film maker Paul Ramsay, who I worked with in writing an initial version of the script. Unfortunately, the economy collapsed and his option lapsed.

Cut to 2009. As a teacher in the Stonecoast MFA program I was impressed by a scriptwriting seminar led by a student I had never worked with, Matthew Quinn Martin. Matthew already had a feature film to his credit: SLINGSHOT starring Julianna Margulies and David Arquette, released by the Weinstein Co. I told Matthew about Celebrities in Disgrace and he gamely took a look at the script.

Matthew helped me shape that initial script into a 15 minute version that focussed on the central sex scene from the novella which I'd often performed at readings, so I knew it had dramatic potential. In it, my aspiring actress character (who longs to play the role of Nancy Kerrigan, ice princess) 'acts out' the infamous Nancy knee-attack-- all while being filmed by a young 'fan' who has talked his way into her home. Mayhem and 'disgrace' ensue.

Once we had our script in hand, Matthew and his Bravo Sierra partner Mark McNutt raised funds and called in some favors to make a high quality film on a low budget, all at Mark's lovely home in Pennsylvania. I got to play the role of the 'bad mother' in blood-red lipstick, looking scary and coming across, Matthew told me, 'very David Lynch.' On the 'set,' I helped as best I could, mainly assisting in making lemonade for our sweaty hard-working stars and crew. Unlike many directors, Matthew-- as a writer himself-- welcomed me into the process. I felt I'd been magically thrown back to the days when my sister and I shot our own 'movies' on our family's ratchety Brownie camera.

I was teary-eyed weeks later at my first online viewing of the intense 2 minute Preview Matthew put together, which made me think in audience reflex: Hey I want to see that film. The filmmakers set me up on a Celebrities in Disgrace 'blog'. At our film festival premiere at Woods Hole, our film appeared with an especially well-matched set of shorts, including Alysia Reiner's accalimed Speed Grieving.

Now I am working with Matthew and Bravo Sierra to develop my novel A Four Sided Bed as feature film, and we're proud to have our short film getting our collective foot in the door and making its way around the festival circuit. I've noticed benefits to my fiction too. As I wrote my forthcoming novel, Girl Held In Home, my first book to be billed as a sort of 'literary thriller', I was mindful of what I'd learned about pacing and dialogue while writing scripts.

So fellow fiction writers, check out film festivals and indie film events near you. Withoutabox on Facebook makes submitting scripts or films easy. With luck and a bit of movie-mad moxxy, you will get to watch your own secret writerly vision come to life as a small film on the 'big screen.'


Just stop!

Sometimes, I just love Los Angeles, like when I was driving down the street with my husband and saw these great stop signs. They immediately made me smile. I actually have a big issue with stop signs, or rather with people not stopping but rolling through them. It makes me crazy. It doesn't take more than 2 seconds to stop and as a pedestrian, I really resent having to watch out for drivers, texting, talking, only looking one way, running stop signs, when I step off the curb alone, or with my sweet pups, not to mention someone gunning it past me, while I am still crossing. Come on folks, you're in a CAR, you can really do some damage, which on foot, I can not. I always joke with my husband that I'd like my own siren to wail whenever I witness one of these daily (ten times daily!) infractions.

But for now, I'm just glad that someone out there chose to make the STOP SIGNS, a little more interesting, so that who knows, people might just stop at them, and read them, and think. And if anyone can do a "Stop. Really.", sign, I'd be grateful for that too.


Amazing Author: Emma Straub

As I wait on feedback from my latest round of novel revisions, I have to say that I am finding inspiration and comfort in reading about other writer's process. I hope you do too! Here is another amazing author interview by Amazing Author: Caroline Leavitt!

Emma Straub is frankly amazing. Her first novel Flyover State was named one of the best books of the year by the Courier Journal and just try to find someone who isn't raving about Other People We Married, her extraordinary collection of stories about love, loss, and the ties that bind and sometime strangle. She's also a bookseller at BookCourt and she runs a graphic company M. & E. with her husband. I'm thrilled she's here--thank you, Emma!

So, when did you know you wanted to be a writer? Were you encouraged?

I have always been horribly unsuited for most real jobs. After college, I worked as publicity assistant for six months, and that was the last time I had an office job. It's the pirate's life for me! My parents always encouraged me to do what made me happy, and because my father is a writer, they both understood this wacky endeavor. I think what's nice about having parents who really understand the publishing industry is that they're extremely well-informed about the entire process. They certainly understand it better than I do. That also means that they know the drawbacks and pitfalls and potential disasters better than most parents, which I suppose could have made them like those Hollywood parents I always read about, the ones who swear they won't let their children follow in their footsteps, but they remain my biggest supporters.

What's your writing life like?
Oh, much like yours, I'm sure. I sit down, grunt at the computer screen, get up to find snacks, sit back down, grunt some more.

Some of the images in Other People We Married stopped me in my tracks, so much so that I had to underline them. The hair that was crashing like waves on a rocky shore, the pool that's like a giant eggplant. The stories are so funny and weird and filled with a uniquely quirky vision, and your characters very slowly unpeel like onions to reveal their deeper selves. So where do you think that vision came from? Why do you see the world the way you do?

You are so nice, Caroline. Thank you. I don't know why I see the world the way I do-- I'm sure it has to do with having parents who always told me stories, and found joy in making things up, and being a younger sister, and going to all the wonderful schools I went to, and having smart, funny friends, and finding the right husband, and all that. My voice on the page-- at least in these stories-- is very much me. I think if I wrote a book of essays, the voice would be much the same.

What's the new novel that's coming out about? Is it a departure from Other People We Married?

Indeed it is! The novel I'm working on-- Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures, which Riverhead is publishing in 2012--is a novel about a movie star in the Hollywood studio system. It starts in the 1930s and follows an actress for several decades of her life. It could not be more different than my stories. I think I needed a break from things that were so close to myself-- even the stories that are the farthest from my personal life could have happened to me, in some way, shape or form. I wanted some distance, and boy, did I get it. Hollywood! Historical fiction! Who knew? It's been a lot of fun to work on the book.

How has working at a bookstore impacted your writing life?

I read more than I did before, and I'm more aware of the marketplace. Honestly, I think every writer should work in a bookstore, at least for a little while. Even though I grew up knowing writers and editors and publishers, I never understood the role of the bookstore in the scope of the publishing world. I will be grateful to BookCourt for the rest of my life for letting me be a spy. (I mean, I do actually work, and sell books, and open boxes, and all that good stuff.)

What's obsessing you now?

The idea of free time. I've been working non-stop for the past couple of years, on writing and at the store, and at a host of other jobs, and though I am extremely, monumentally grateful for all the work I have at the moment, I am very much obsessed with the idea of a proper vacation. I don't know when such a thing will happen. I'm not very good at taking breaks. Unless of course I need a snack, in which case, I don't mind if I do.

What question didn't I ask that I should have?

You might have asked about the wonderful teachers I've had (Dan Chaon, Lorrie Moore, Jesse Lee Kercheval, Judy Mitchell), or if I've always liked to bake (yes), or which yoga poses I find physically impossible (crow, handstand), or how many hours I day I spend on Twitter (a thousand). Other than that, I think you covered it all! Cheers!


Amazing Author: Jennifer Haigh

Another Amazing Author Interview from Amazing Author Caroline Leavitt!!

Jennifer Haigh talks about FAITH

Jennifer Haigh has long been one of my favorite writers--and I have the dog-eared, oft-reread copies of Mrs. Kimble, Baker Towers and The Condition to prove it. Mrs Kimble won the 2004 Pen/Hemingway Award for debut fiction; Baker towers was a New York Times bestseller and won the 2006 Pen/L.L. Winship Award for an outstanding book by a New England author. Faith is an astonishing novel about family, loyalty, and what we choose to believe and why--and there is also a fascinating book trailer that goes along with it. Thank you so much, Jennifer, for being here.

Let’s talk about the narrator in Faith. She’s not sure what to believe about her brother, or her church. Why did you decide to have her be the one to tell the story?

I found Sheila’s voice by accident. I’d never written a novel in the first person. I’d always considered it too limiting: in my experience, it’s rare for any one character to know all the interesting parts of a story. But when I began reading about priests suspected of abusing children, I was struck by how difficult it is to get to the bottom of the story. There are never any witnesses. The only people who know the truth of the story are the priest and the child, and often neither will talk about it. The rest of us can only speculate about what went on behind closed doors. That’s exactly what Sheila does in Faith. She’s neither a devout Catholic nor an atheist. Instead she is a seeker, a person who’s still figuring out what to believe.

On the surface, Faith is about sexual abuse and the priesthood, but it’s really about so many more deeper issues about the faith we have in our clergy, in each other and in ourselves. It’s also, to my mind, about connection and love. What’s the backstory behind the writing of this novel?

Like a lot of writers, I write to make sense of the world, which sometimes means writing about things that disturb me. I moved to Boston from Iowa in 2002, just as the city was reeling from revelations that Catholic priests had molested children, and that the Archdiocese had covered up the abuse. Like everybody else, I was horrified. I was raised in a Catholic family, spent twelve years in parochial schools and had extremely fond memories of my interactions with Catholic clergy. It’s no exaggeration to say that nuns and priests were the heroes of my childhood. As I read about what had happened in Boston, I found it impossible to square it with those tender memories of my Catholic childhood. Faith was my attempt to explain the inexplicable, to understand what I couldn’t make sense of in any other way.

Without giving anything away, what I loved was how often expectations were reversed. I thought I knew where the story was going, and it almost always veered in another direction. How carefully do you map out where you want to go? When you started writing this novel, did you know whether you wanted Art to be guilty or innocent?

I wanted Art to be innocent, but suspected he might be guilty. Like Sheila, I figured it out gradually. All of the surprising events in the story were surprises to me too. I never write with a fixed idea of how the story will end. The suspense is what keeps me going. Basically, I write novels for the same reason I read them: to find out what happens next.

What was the writing of Faith like? Your last novel, The Condition, was this wonderful expansive novel, but Faith seems leaner and tighter on some levels. Was this a deliberate choice?

Not deliberate – it came about organically, probably as a result of writing in the first person. The Condition is told from multiple points of view; and the same event is often seen through different characters’ eyes. The story lies in the contrast: how differently Paulette and her ex-husband remember their marriage, for example. In Faith everything is filtered through Sheila. There’s none of that interplay between perspectives, and the result is a tighter structure. We are limited by what she knows and what she understands.

What’s obsessing you now in your work?

I’m nearly finished with a collection of short stories I’ve been working on for seven years. They’re all set in Bakerton, the western Pennsylvania coal town where my second novel, Baker Towers, takes place. A few of the characters from Baker Towers actually reappear: Miss Peale, the schoolmistress; Joyce Novak and her mysterious younger brother Sandy, who runs off to California and is rarely seen again. Readers have been asking me for years what became of Sandy Novak. The story collection will finally answer that question.
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