OMGWHATHAVEIDONE! Okay, I really do have some trepidation, mostly because I really don’t have an idea for the next novel, but idea or no, I begin tomorrow! Eeek! I figured it was a good way to start and to ratchet up the commitment, I’m raising money besides! (Note: my mentor,¬† Rob Roberge, would never support the number of exclamation points included in this post…!) Anyway, to donate, please go here: It all goes to The Office of Letters and Light. From their website:

The Office of Letters and Light organizes events where children and adults find the inspiration, encouragement, and structure they need to achieve their creative potential. Our programs are web-enabled challenges with vibrant real-world components, designed to foster self-expression while building community on local and global levels.

If you want to donate to me personally to support this blog or my writing time, go to the Donate button at the Feed The Author notice on the right side —-> It is greatly appreciated!

Portrait of a Bookstore

One of my favorite places – and most meaningful – is closing. Portrait of a Bookstore is the first place I gave a reading for my first novel, DEAD WEIGHT. They said at the time that it was one of their most successful events ūüėČ

I love Portrait of a Bookstore – loved it before I ever thought it possible to read there – and Imagewill miss it. Our community will miss it. I am so incredibly grateful to Lucia Silva who gave me that opportunity to “go public.” The staff is the best. And so goodbye to another independent bookstore…

From their blog:

After 26 glorious years, 14 of them spent happily inside Aroma Caf√©, Portrait of a Bookstore is gracefully retiring. How could we say goodbye after 26¬†years of such success? In the words of Orson Welles, ‚ÄúIf you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.‚ÄĚ This is our happy ending. Our official closing date is May 17, 2012.

On May 17, 1986, Julie and Frank von Zerneck, along with their children Danielle and Frank, Jr., ¬†gave birth to this bookstore, which grew to be a haven, a home-away-from-home, for so many members of this community. One of the smallest bookstores in the world, ‚Äúsmall but mighty,‚ÄĚ as we‚Äôve always been called, our selection of books was impeccably curated, worthy of the praise of any astute bibliophile.

Their last day is May 17, 2012 and everything in the store is 50% off.

Pinterest & Daniel Craig

I’m having a lot of fun procrastinating creating boards for my novels and one for a short story, MegaCool, that scissors and spackle just published. My European publisher has one for our book covers.¬† I can’t draw well (think stick figures), so it’s an outlet to display images that I had in my head while writing.

Do you use Pinterest for your writing or at all? Have you ever created an image board before or while you’re writing for inspiration?

Just as sensory details enrich your writing, they can also enhance your writing experience, so light candles, put on some music, maybe have some fragrant flowers or incense in the room and enjoy. Keep writing!

and then we came to the end


…but not of the blog! No, the end of your novel. How do you know when you’re finished? Last night, I had dinner with a group of writers and one reminded me I’d said I knew I’d finished my novel when I was so sick of the thing, I couldn’t go over it one more time. Well, there is that. But there’s also experience and feedback from your readers.

If you’ve gone over your manuscript 10-20 times, corrected the grammar, polished on multiple levels (sentences, paragraphs, chapters, sections, plus imagery and sensory details) checked for your personal writing tics (phrases, adverbs or adjectives that you lean on too heavily – do a word check for “just,” “really,” “suddenly” and so on; as my friend said, those are the “ums” of the literary world) and read the entire manuscript out loud, you might be finished or close to it. If your readers light up, saying you have something, that you’re close, and you trust them to tell you the truth and not what you want to hear, you can send excerpts to literary journals and see what kind of response you get. If you can afford it, hire a professional editor, preferably someone who’s taught literature and composition. Do your best to assemble a team who will inspire you to bring your A game, who will push you to do better and do it with kindness and generosity. Do the same for them if you’re exchanging writing/reading favors.

The final test comes from Rob Roberge – does your story reach a point where it could open up in a new way? That is where you want to stop. That will protect you from the “tie it all up with a bow” pat ending. You certainly don’t want a sentence – much less a paragraph – that sums up the book or the plot or the theme. Trust your reader.

By the way, the novel, And Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris is a fun read.

Writing as triathlon

The main thing I try to do is write as clearly as I can. I rewrite a good deal to make it clear.          ~E.B. White, The New York Times, August 3, 1942

Writing a novel has three parts to it and was thinking how they’re each a marathon unto themselves and then I remembered helping a friend train for a triathlon. Aha, better metaphor. Point of reference – the Ironman consists of a 2.4 mile ocean swim, a 112 mile bike ride, then running 26.2 miles.

Our “ocean swim” is the sometimes grueling task of finishing the first draft. Initially refreshing, the challenge of the great middle, then you finally finish. Great, it’s done! And you think you’ve finished The Best Book Ever Written. Especially with the first novel. Then comes the rewriting and here’s what separates the novices from the seasoned, the dilettantes from the serious. The second leg is the rewriting and I’ve come to believe this stage is even more rigorous that the first draft. It takes a lot of discipline and patience to stick with it. How many times do you have to go through the darned thing? As many as it takes and at least three as Bernard Malamud wrote:
I would write a book, or a short story, at least three times–once to understand it,the¬†second time to improve the prose, and a third to compel it to say what it still must say.Somewhere I put it this way: first drafts are for learning what one’s fiction wants him to say. Revision works with that knowledge to enlarge and enhance an idea, to reform it. Revision is one of the exquisite pleasures of writing.
¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ~ “Long Work, Short Life,” quoted in¬†The Magic Worlds of Bernard Malamud, by Evelyn Gross Avery, SUNY Press, 2001.
I’m here to tell you that there are days when it does not feel like exquisite pleasure – it might feel like biking 112 miles under the hot sun! But I have learned to enjoy the process of revision. Tips? Get a few trusted readers and two of them need to have a thorough knowledge of craft. After you’ve done that and been through it at least three times, preferably six, hire a professional editor, but only after you cannot face going through it one more time.
You’ve survived two long rigorous events. Now you can rest, right? Oh no, my friend. Now comes the marathon of getting an agent, getting it to print, and promoting it. You may get lucky regarding an agent or publisher – once you’ve honed your craft, it’s about matching up with someone else’s tastes and needs. Again, this is when it’s invaluable to have “training buddies.” Get to know other writers at all stages of their careers who you can call on for advice or guidance. And give back. Don’t make any of your relationships a one way street. You don’t like it – news flash: neither do they. Offer to read and critique other writer’s work. Be kind – you know how hard it is.
So that’s our triathlon. Get partners so you can train properly and finish the race. Then, guess what? You get to do it all again and you will know why people sign up for the Ironman with one significant difference. People have many reasons for triathlons and for writing, but unless they are raising money for a cause, triathlons are more about personal goals. Writing fiction is about communication. You have an audience. Now go find it.

how do you do it?

Are you stuck in the doldrums and cannot finish your book? Welcome to the club.¬†I don’t know a novelist who doesn’t get bored, fed up, finds the energy is gone, etc. in the middle of a novel, not to mention sick to death of the thing after going over it repeatedly in the rewrite process. In a way, I never “finished” any of mine, no artist finishes a work, you just have to stop when you cannot stand it another second and it’s as good as you can make it for now – which is just another way of saying it cannot be perfect because there’s no such thing.

I keep going by keeping going and sometimes I fail and other artists (often painters, sculptors, not to mention fellow writers in weekly check-ins) get me going again either through inspiration or pep talks … and sometimes I have to go for a drive by myself and scream at the top of my lungs. Another thing that helps is word or page count races with other writers or some other kind of accountability. Make a contract for yourself, sign it and give it to someone who will hold you to it.

Exercise helps too. I don’t ask about why I write or whether makes me happy because what makes me happy is having done the work, which is not that different from exercise. If I thought about how I feel about exercising in the morning, I’d never do it. I just start and feel better after. Take good care of yourself, but don’t fall into self indulgence. I’d argue you cannot be creative and sleep-deprived. Get some rest, but don’t get lazy.

Writing, painting, sculpting, music, etc – it’s all about communication. There are ways to get your work out even if you do it yourself. That’s what Smashwords is for. You have an audience. Someone is waiting for your book. Hopefully many someones. You may never know about it, but you owe it to them to get that book done and out into the world because somewhere – and maybe not even in your lifetime – there is someone who will read something you wrote and it will have an effect on their life. Maybe it will make them angry or happy or inspired or less alone or feel understood or maybe they will swear they can do it better and get of their butt to write their own damn book. Who knows?

Do your part. Finish your novel.

is fiction a lie?

Pet peeve – being introduced as a novelist and promptly called a liar. I don’t know who thought this was cute to begin with (I’m lookin’ at you, Albert Camus), but I’m taking issue with it. Merriam-Webster defines a lie as¬†1. A false statement deliberately presented as being true; a falsehood. ¬†2. Something meant to deceive or give a wrong impression.

When someone has a novel in their hands, they know it’s just a story (unless it’s by James Frey – then they don’t know what to make of it). I don’t write a novel with the intent to deceive. It’s a story. I know it and the reader knows it. When someone reads my story, they know it’s not some newspaper account of an event that has put on fancy clothes and a colorful mask in order to pose as a novel. It’s just a piece of hopefully entertaining prose and if I’ve done a really good job, it might just point at truths that are difficult to approach in other ways. I’ll give Camus that much.
(if you don’t know the quote by Albert Camus: “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.”
By the way, click on Pinocchio above – it takes you to the site of a woman who makes wonderful masks.
I leave you with the master, Shakespeare (where lie means both ‘sleep with’ and falsehood) in Sonnet 138:
When my love swears that she is made of truth
I do believe her, though I know she lies,
That she might think me some untutor’d youth,
Unlearned in the world’s false subtleties.
Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young,
Although she knows my days are past the best,
Simply I credit her false speaking tongue:
On both sides thus is simple truth suppress’d.
But wherefore says she not she is unjust?
And wherefore say not I that I am old?
O, love’s best habit is in seeming trust,
And age in love loves not to have years told:
Therefore I lie with her and she with me,
And in our faults by lies we flatter’d be.

7 reasons annotating will improve your writing – UPDATED

The novel I just finished writing is a dark comedy about a group of siblings prematurely vying for their inheritance. I read a  number of comic novels that dealt with crazy families, estates and wills, fights over money, etc. All of the authors taught me something useful and I found the process of annotating (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) valuable. And fun.

So, at the risk of the shameless plug for Annotation Nation (which will soon be accepting creative non-fiction), consider annotating a few books in preparation for writing and as a helpful tool as you work on your novel. Why go to all that trouble? Funny you should ask….

  • Closely examining a novel enables you to focus in on a particular issue that you may be having trouble with or help you make one of the many decisions that make up a book, such as which point of view you want to use for your narrative. Is your book better served by a first person narrator, multiple POVs or an omniscient narrator? ROOM by Emma Donoghue shows the power of confining a book to one point of view (and mostly one setting). Limitations can be freeing. That kind of approach won’t work for every book, but it could help with a single scene.
  • Determine what doesn’t work and why, then avoid the same pitfall(s). If you’re put off by the tone of the fiction, figure out why. I’ve found one common case is that the author has contempt for the characters and/or the audience. The best and lasting works of fiction come out of a deep love for people and trying to figure out why we do the things we do.
  • Examining a novel on both the macro and micro level is the best writing teacher there is. You can learn from people who haven’t drawn breath for the last hundred years as well as those who are walking around today. Tastes change, but Tolstoy and Twain remain treasure troves.
  • You may learn more from unsuccessful novels or those you dislike in part because you don’t get caught up in the narrative. Not loving a book allows clarity to look at the individual elements.
  • Then again, inspiration is a great positive force to motivate your writing. We can get lots of energy from negative emotions, but why not let yourself be carried upwards by a book you absolutely love? The deep love of books is what led us to write in the first place. Rediscover that, get carried away and use your enthusiasm to awaken your creativity and have fun. Creating should be fun, at least some of the time!
  • The key to annotating is to look closely at the nuts and bolts of writing, then to apply it to your own writing. If you love a writer’s imagery, how can you achieve your own version of that element? If you are blown away by the sentence structure, what is that writer doing? No one creates in a vacuum. Think of this as your apprentice system.
  • Often agents will want to know that you understand the book market. You will be prepared to discuss what books are out there, whether they’ve been successful and how yours is different. A number of online query forms now require that information.

If you put in the extra time to annotate, to write down what you learned from a book, it can only improve your writing. If you don’t already know it, you will discover writing by the seat of your pants wastes far more time than giving deep thought to the decisions that go into fiction. Going the extra mile will enrich your own experience as both a reader and a writer.

And yes, please submit them to Annotation Nation!

UPDATE: Melissa Chadburn on lessons learned from WORKING BACKWARDS FROM THE WORST MOMENT OF MY LIFE by the wonderful Rob Roberge.

a word about agents

Thanks to C Hope Clark, I found a helpful blog by an agent. There are a number of them out there and they are helpful, so take some time and Google around. If you’re looking for an agent, take the time to read these few posts and be prepared.

A day in the life of an agent (and you thought writing was hard!) Get some perspective and maybe even a bit of sympathy for the other side

Her take on how to write a query letter (hint: it takes time to craft a good one no matter whose advice you follow)

What to do when you get The Call

What to ask an agent when you do get The Call

Good luck!

Happy New Year, new you, new writing

Do you make resolutions? There’s a lot of snark (enough with the snark already) out there especially about how resolutions are useless and meaningless, but I say they are a sign of hope and hope is a good thing. I don’t know how you have perseverance as a writer without hope. Hope that you will finish a book, write a lot of books, be published, have a bestseller, or write a book that will deeply touch even one other person – it doesn’t matter so much what your particular hope is, so much as it keeps you going, keeps you coming back to the page. So yes, heck yeah! make resolutions, realistic ones. You can’t resolve to write a bestseller (well, you can, but recognize that there are a host of factors out of your control) but you can resolve to write a page a day or finish your book or start your book (!) but break it down into modest steps that are achievable.

In addition to hope, there is preparation and once again, Steven Pressfield has an excellent post in his “When It Crashes” series. Prepare now, today, for when your writing doesn’t go well in order to soften the impact. You don’t want to be waylaid for weeks, months or years. One of his commenters noted that when things don’t go well, our focus shifts to ourselves and the task is to get that focus off ourselves and back to the page (good advice for most crises). Whenever ¬†unpleasant things happen, we tend to think it’s all about us – keep that in mind for character development – but it’s not always the case. Maturity is about discerning the difference when we’ve really caused a problem (then taking responsibility for it) and when it’s about forces out of our control. People tend to think mostly about themselves (again, note for character development: it’s a big key for conflict). As writers, we spend a lot of ¬†time thinking about why people do things and about our characters. We explore motivation, expectation and rationalization. All of those things are part of resolutions so you may as well use the process to benefit your life as well.

Today, take a little time to hope and dream. Let’s all resolve to be a little better.