Friday, December 19, 2014

I Shall Live An Urgent Living

In the middle of the busiest street in downtown Asheville, North Carolina, a long and tall blackboard is erected for visitors and locals, anyone, to write down their Before I Die ... wishes. A quick net search and I find that there are other walls of its kind around the world.

This makes me sad.

I believe it affects me this way because of the recent death of my husband. He did not want to die; I did not want him to die; I do not want to die nor think of dying. I want to live.

Maybe it's just semantics. Dying gives a body urgency. "The end is imminent, so baby, you better get to the living and in a big way." Why do we have to have doom hanging over our heads to declare that, yes, we shall take advantage of this precious time we have here and now? I want to live.
My favorite tree in Portland, Ore.

I agree dying strikes fear. Dying focuses our priorities. When someone you love dies, many realizations dawn. Life is fragile. Life is short. Life is filled with unnecessary complexities. Life is the people you love and the love you receive and give. Life begets life. Death, I believe, does not beget life. Before I Die wishes do not inspire life. I want to live.

A lifespan opens a window of infinite choices and opportunities. We are limited by ourselves, by our fears. For some less fortunate, the immorality of others limits life's potential. It is easy to write these words. It easy to comprehend them and say we will live fully and embrace the passionate ways and reject the heaviness that can accompany living. It is entirely something else to practice urgent living. I want to live.

Urgent living requires a vivid, unshakable faith that everything shall be okay. There is phrase in one religious practice: All will be well, all will be well, all manner of things will be well. Most of us do not believe or embrace this concept. Because, many times, the path is cluttered. My path is cluttered. I have bills to pay and burdensome tasks to undertake and sacred obligations of parenthood to live up to. I want to live.

So I shall. It will be an imperfect urgent living. I shall not write in chalk on public blackboards those things that death inspires me to do. I will live needful of filling myself and others with beauty and potential, anything that inspires my motion-filled body to love in the doing. I shall live.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Publishing Trends from the Trenches

Regarding publishing, here are my thoughts as we near the end of 2014. Mine is not expert testimony. My ideas/opinions are collected by absorption rather than concentrated research. But I want to share my notes from the Asheville Bookfest this weekend, where I participated in a panel alongside several in-the-know writer-types.
AVL Bookfest 2014

Good News for Writers:

There are more ways than ever for a writer to get published.

Bad News for Writers:

The “old” way is harder than ever and demands as much work on the part of the writer as self-publishing.

Your work is creative content and should be considered marketable on many different levels – screenplays, video games, merchandise, graphic novels, TV series, YouTube, anywhere a good story and characters can be plugged in.

Let’s talk about the good news…

Writers have a wide range of options for publishing their work. This includes …

  • Writing a blog (my blog is hosted free on Google’s platform,
  • Being creative and going rogue, like Homestuck, which my kids are obsessed with (
  • Building a website to start an online (literary) journal/magazine for your own work or the work of others (several ways to do it free, such as
  • Joining forums for fanfiction (, tagline is “unleash your imagination" and includes a category for anime)
  • Joining social platforms for writers (the largest of which is, which has a database of 35 million registered user and 75 million free stories)
  • And writers have a wide range of options for self-publishing a book (what used to be called vanity press); the list is long of service provider

Big Self-Publishing Service Providers

          CreateSpace, Amazon’s self-publishing arm, and its ebook platform Kindle Direct, both of which are free, for right now (major caveat) 
, which published both print and ebooks; it has a link to Indie Books on its homepage
 and, two of the most established due to longevity
, which also is associated with CDbaby if you want to produce music or the audio version of the book
, which is launching a new site that won the Innovation Award from the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) at the 2014 BookExpo America (BEA)
          …and right in middle America, out of Bloomington, IN, is, which may be the only one of the self-publishing entities that allows writers the option of earning 100% royalties. (Recently merged with Book Country.)

Because of the tremendous choices writers have now to publish on their own and because ebook readership is going up, this has put intense pressure on the traditional publishing house (and some boutique/small presses) to become even pickier about taking risks on new or unproven talent.

1.    The market is saturated with more books (some not so good; in fact, dare I say, very bad, poorly edited and written)
2.    Big names writers are opting to go it alone -- they fight for their digital rights or self-publish
3.    This makes it difficult for traditional publishers to find books they think will sell -- like picking a grain of sand from a beach

One way traditional houses are finding new talent is from self-published best-sellers. Agents and editors are trolling the lists of popular self-published books and going after those authors with contracts and promises of broader readership.

For the writer, the mantra is becoming: A well-received self-published book is the new query letter. 

Why Trends in Publishing Put a Greater Burden on the Writer

If you happen to enjoy being discovered or building a relationship with a traditional publishing house, you will likely end up doing your own marketing or be expected to by the publisher. This means, in many cases, developing your own brand (the hated B word), which may require significant investments in: 
  • graphics, art, photography
  • creating newsletters and building email lists
  • developing avenues for exposure, such as teaching, workshops, manuscript editing and tutoring, book reviewing, how-to articles and books about writing, guest blogging, public speaking, youth tutoring, and volunteering for writers groups
  • building a web presence: having a blog and website and as many social media outlets as possible (the list keeps growing, ever heard of Ello or Vine?)
  • being your own PR machine – white pages, press release, radio and TV interviews, road tours
  • finding and cultivating reviews of your work, which can easily consume hour upon hour of research
And the ever popular ...
  • become a fab-u-loso blogger
  • or just be smart and follow Jane Friedman
Catch you later. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

NaNoWriMo Winners, Congratulations on Self-Discipline

In my part of the country tonight, there's still time to finish the 50K-word novel and win the NaNoWriMo honor. National Novel Writing Month ends in about two hours on the East Coast, and certainly there are legions of chests bursting with appropriate pride for writing a novel in thirty days. Congratulations. I mean that sincerely though I didn't participate this year.

Despite it being a whipping boy for naysayers who call it a crap-fest, I believe the bones of the NaNoWriMo concept are good. It's an exercise in self-discipline, a necessary requirement for writers, one that usually is under-emphasized. Writers have to produce. In order to produce, they have to set goals and write on a regular basis. They should write every day. This is a stumbling point for many wannabe writers because it is so damn hard to do.

I am quite capable of explaining in agonizing detail the infinite (no exaggeration) ways in which things/life/distractions/people/natural disasters get in the way of my writing on a regular basis. Oh, hmm, how about, let's start with the easy stuff:

Housework (I cannot let my cat lick the dirty cereal bowls while I write, now can I?)
Mail (It may only come once a day and not on Sunday, but there's at least an hour of figuring out what to do with it.)
Repairs (My computer is flypaper to viruses; I must purge.)
Clutter (The very definition of my desk.)
Hairballs (See reference to cat in Housework.)
Blogging (I must write about why I'm not writing.)

Then there are the less obvious things that eat away at a writer's productivity. For me, something on the scale of small tragedy. Look away if you must, for these are not funny.

Death. (My husband died March 15.)
Loss of identity. (We were married for 20 years and together for 26. I spent more of my life with him than alone.)
Relocation. (By my choice, but nonetheless infused with hopes that didn't immediately materialize.)
Anxiety. (How do I become what I want to become, fashion a new life?)
Grace. (The state I am in, according to the grief counselor, therefore nothing else matters, including the writing.)

Please, do not feel sad for me. Feel encouraged tonight that scores of new stories were written this month by promising minds and that someday these books may find a way onto book shelves. I have hope my work will blossom again, too.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Writers Are Closet Narcissists

Give already. Write and you suffer your ego. Write and you long for attention. Write and you long to be on the New York Times bestsellers list. You ego-driven bastard, you.

The Mayo Clinic defines narcissism as a defined disorder: Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. Shall I raise my hand for all of us in the crowd? 

I've got to make a little room to accommodate my self-absorbed self (is that possible, two selves?). Without it, I am a lump of clay who wouldn't write a damn word. Because the flipside of the writerhood coin is the inferiority complex. Who is good enough here? Who, I demand to know? None of us. 

And all of us. 
Ego balm

Words are simple tools to deliver good, evil, and truth. Any person on the street can express an opinion or tell a story. It's a short trip to actually writing those verbalized ideas or thoughts down. Writers do -- in story form. We tell the tale, and by God, try to do it while entertaining the rest of you who never'll lift a pen.

Pens? Who uses those?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

How to Be a Writer, Part Two

Have I mentioned my love of words here before? Okay, since that's been established, let's get serious. How do you take that love and manifest it? Countless friends and acquaintances have shared with me that they, too, want to write a book. I may be one of the few writers who doesn't yawn, roll their eyes, or excuse themselves from the conversation when this unsolicited confession is proffered.

Of course, you want to write a book! Who wouldn't want to be an author? Authors are sexy, mystery, intellectual, filled with wanderlust. (Let me delude myself at least for a sentence.) How often do I hear the name Hemingway tossed about in literary conversations with non-writers? We all go through our Hemingway phase (if just in our heads, and I'm due), and then we realize, okay, that doesn't work.

Let me tell you, the grand idea for your book will take you a long, long way. It will cuddle you at night. It will occupy your thoughts through dinners, holidays, sex, walks, snowstorms. I say, let it. If you have an idea germinating, who am I to tell you with a large flourish of my hands and a dismissive toss of the head, you're delusional.

Follow your delusion for a while, because it might get your project started -- that big grand idea of a novel that sweeps readers from epic corners of the globe and back again with characters no less wonderful than a James Bond or Natty Bumppo or Holly Golightly. You won't know unless you try.

If you do start, the most important part is to reach the end. The hardest part of any writing project is, as you would suspect, the writing. If you can't write through to an ending, then you'll never have something to work with, throw in the drawer, stab with the butcher knife. Really, you won't have something to revise. You won't have a draft to obsess over for two, five, ten years and wonder if you've lost your sanity. (That's a major theme on my blog, if you're just now joining me.)

That book in your head? It's all in your head unless you write it. So why are you here reading what I've written when you have work to do? Good luck.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

How to Be a Writer

You've come here with hopes of learning how to be a writer. Isn't that my unspoken promise to you, as a writer and a blogger? Show you the wisdom? There are plenty of blogs saved on microprocessors at remote servers, housed in large manufacturing facilities, sucking up the AC and the electricity that will tell you: Here's How. You do this, then you do this, then you try this, and suddenly, you hold the brass ring and you are making money and you are happy and fulfilled.

Sorry. Wrong place.

Here's a funny story. I've recently acquired a cat. He is now half of my animal holdings. My dog and my cat have come to terms with each other. They are, despite their species, very much alike. We have negotiated a routine. I sit at my computer every morning, trying to work on something productive, and they watch me. There's no delusion on my part that they watch because I often eat my breakfast at the screen. Yogurt. Cereal. Today, a bagel. They are rapt because of my bagel. The aroma of toasted wheat and melted butter, who doesn't have a little chubby for bagels? I wave it over their heads and they follow this potential treat like a god-head. They follow it with their instinct, eyeing it as it circles in their sky (hey, I can tease, I feed them), and they flick their tongues, purr and wag, and believe the bagel will drop from on high and life will crack open into nirvana.
Worshiping at the Bagel Goddess

You think the same thing about reading blogs about writing.

Here's what I know. No bagel will do it. Bagels are too easy. You think like an artist. You are. But writing for commercial gain is a business. At some point, you'll find yourself making decisions based on forces that are counter to what brought you to the writing table in the first place. You will recognize creativity is good; the commercialism, at best, is annoying. Maybe you'll find nirvana by not thinking about either; you just write to write; or, alternately, you just write to make money. Very few do both.

My best advice? I have none. Maybe it is one of the reasons I blog, because I come here and try to figure out this path. Here is the dumping ground for my head junk -- on the page (more accurately, remote server) rather than the un-air-conditioned manufacturing plant of my brain. Lately, I've been focusing on reducing distractions: the chatter of world news, the infinite worries of parenthood, the price of bagels. Distractions suck the life out of writing.

So minimize them. Go write. Wallow in your creativity. Butter your bagel, snarf it down, and get back to me about how it went.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Earnest Aside: An Incomparably Beautfiul Line

Strands of thought today. My desk, I deny, is a reflection of inward misalignment. It is never clean. Papers stay unattended for too long. When I clear a space, within days another pile replaces the swept-away. My folders are reused, first labeled a month or a year or a decade ago, and re-labeled with a black marker, recycled but not renewed. It should be a sign of progress, new labels with new projects, and this is good. It feels instead like abandonment and a grasping for territory. Neat alignment. No neat alignment. Make sure the rows are even; the contents are not.

Writers write for different reasons. I wish I could say I've made peace with my motivation. Who wishes to be forgotten? Who wishes to be unloved? Remember me. Love me. Honorable motivation or sorry self-esteem? Eyes of the beholder.
See my desk unclean here. See the mind's folders stacked competitively side-by-side. Here is a streak of loveliness, a word next to a word next to a word, and together we proclaim them beautiful.

A beautiful line of prose is an elusive creature. I chase it. Can elusive be snared? I think I shall write an incomparably beautiful line sometime in my lifetime. End up in the Book of Quotations. Under the heading, incomparably beautiful lines. When I think of this, my thoughts go onto the body. Translation, beauty has a physical quality. Words have a physical quality. Read, and feel the affect they have on your pulse and temperature and erogenous zones. This includes the area behind your eyes, arguably the origination place. This is the experience of being alive. Words seep under the skin. They embed there.

Part of me wishes I did this writing thing for money. Maybe more for money than for admiration. A friend pleaded with me this week: Forget admiration. Get your books out. I want to agree with her. Want them out of my head and my body and into/onto someone else's. I reach for the folder that is labeled Grief. In it, I put my regrets, my misunderstoodness, my ego, my longing. Foremost, my indecision. I think this conflict has merit. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Take Stock, Moby Dick Lovers

This post has nothing to do with Moby Dick, other than I embrace the fact that I'll never finish reading it. On the other hand, here are few things in life I do embrace, not in any particular order:


the delete key

the malleable mind

My favorite cuff courtesy of Jerry Van Amburg.



a well-placed kiss

leather on skin

true love




the power of words

my voice as a woman


the constancy of change

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Blood, Love and Steel Toasted with Champagne, Friends

Without friends, family, and support, a book is a pile of paper covered in ink. It needs a community to succeed. Last night, my North Carolina community came out to celebrate my book's first months in the light. The evening brightened a few of the dark spots in the past six months and recharged me for continued challenges. Thanks to my dear friend Amy Monroe for taking the lead. The party wouldn't have happened without her.
A selfie with Amy.
We sold a few!

We toasted and nibbled.
Smiling because of great friends Kricket (L) and Michele.

Camera caught more than it should have.

Battery Park Book Exchange, excellent venue.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

No One Ever Told Me I Could

No one ever told me: You could be a novelist someday. No one ever told me I couldn't, either. The prospect never presented itself in my formative years.

What the hell are formative years? I'm still forming, and I understand less now than back then. I know more, but understand less.

Did anyone ever say to you: You'd make a good helicopter pilot. Which, truth out, happened to be one of my dreams. Helicopter pilot or coast guard.

No one ever told me I could be a helicopter pilot. I decided the academy sounded too rough for a girl.

It's rough for a girl who never considered writer to be a career choice. Not that I didn't have good, caring English teachers. I heard from one of them this week and thanked her for making an impression on me. All of them made an impression on me, but it wasn't the kind of impression that would lead me to consider writing as a career.

Writing for a living is hard, hard work. You must have discipline. You must love it. You must love it in a way that you get nothing more from it than the writing itself. The writing itself must be the end-all. Forget money. Forget fame. Forget fans. Forget recognition. Forget making minimum wage, because you won't make it wanting money and fame and recognition. Some writers earn those prizes. Some are marketing phenoms. Some make money writing books about how to successfully market books to those of us who never will.

Then, there are the writers who are so damn good, you read their books and fall in love with them. Their love of writing shines through laser-true.

Yes, I suppose I want people to fall in love with me. With my writing. That's all I want. Too much to ask?
If nothing else, I shall be awarded the Messy Desk Prize.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Children's Author H. Joseph Hopkins of Portland

About three years ago, I pitched a book at a practice session of the Willamette Writers' annual conference in Portland. I stood in a roomful of other aspiring authors and gave my three-minute elevator speech for a panel of four agents. I succeeded because I finished without fainting, and one of the agents thought the idea sounded sexy. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), no agents at the conference took me as a client.

During that same session, I heard another fellow give a pitch, and later we ran into each other on the way out of the hotel lobby. He was H. Joseph Hopkins, and he already had a publisher for a children's picture book. I forget what he had been pitching; he didn't leave the conference with an agent either. But Joe and I hit it off from there, though we didn't run into each other again until several months later (maybe a year). We related and had good conversations.

One reason we get along is because Joe is excellent at telling stories. He has a deep curiosity about people and historical events, the off-beat kind. That's how his picture book got published. It took him 10 years! One trial after another delayed the release. But a year ago this month, Simon and Schuster published his book, The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever. It chronicles the notable life of Kate Sessions, who was chiefly responsible for making San Diego green.

JEN: How did Kate Sessions do so much?

JOE: Kate Sessions is one of the “visionary captains” of early San Diego, one of a small circle of people—mostly businessmen—who set the cultural and economic directions that San Diego has followed. You might wonder what made Kate Sessions a visionary captain. She had longevity, for one. She worked at planting in San Diego for 55-plus years. Very few people get to plant a tree and watch it grow for 50 years. She also had the stamina to work outdoors in the Southern California sun and heat seven days a week, year after year. She attributed her good health to working outdoors in fresh air, wearing loose-fitting clothing, comfortable shoes, and always a hat. She also never married, so her time was not divided between family, home, children, and work.

JEN: What kind of person was Kate Sessions?

JOE: She was extroverted, gregarious, high energy, impulsive, made decisions on the spur of the moment, always on the go, and most of the time late. There was only one-way to do things: Kate’s way. She often grabbed the shovel or pick from a workman and demonstrated the proper way to use the tool: her way. She was not money-oriented: she gave away flowers to children, donated nursery plants to civic projects, and provided more plants than the customer ordered. Thought frugal, she was always short of money. Neither was she domestic. Kate did not spend time cooking, cleaning, or keeping house. She hired a housekeeper. She wrote that women would be healthier if they worked outdoors. She once told a judge that women could not expect justice in a court of law.

JEN: Why did her story fascinate you so?

JOE: Thinking back, one thing that attracted me to Kate Sessions was my positive bias toward green plant color. I was familiar with a lush, green landscape after having grown up in Missouri’s Ozark Mountains and then in Washington State’s Puget Sound. When I saw the green lawns, palms, and trees of Balboa Park, on one side of the road, and the earth tones of the Southern California desert on the other side of the highway, I think something automatic in me took over: I was drawn to the greenery in the park. When I first heard of Kate Sessions, I was spending my working days helping middle school students remember what teachers talked about. Most of these students had experienced years of defeat in school, and they were discouraged. I thought Kate might serve as a hero, a person who had persevered and overcome, a person to emulate. I began telling stories about Kate as a means of practicing listening and remembering.

JEN: You always have such great ideas for books and papers when we speak. What do you want to work on next?

JOE: Do you recall the name "Althea Gibson?" Gibson was the first black woman tennis champion during the middle 1950s. I'm working on a picture book about Gibson and an English player, Angela Buxton. Among elite tennis players Gibson (a black) and Buxton (a Jew) were outsiders. The elite ladies tennis stars were like a Protestant upper class sorority that moved from town to town living off the wealthy who supported amateur tennis. Gibson and Buxton, united in their status as outsiders, formed a lasting friendship that carried on for decades after tennis. Gibson was one who overwhelmed opponents with her intimidating physical skills; Buxton had the verbal and schmoozing skills of a skilled problem solver. Gibson was ahead of her time, playing like Billie Jean King and those who would come later when ladies tennis became a major money maker. She played a masculine game during an overly feminine era. Buxton played with a similar determination to win. So I'm taking vignettes from their tennis careers to point out how they played the roles of a friend.
Signing books at Powell's City of Books, Portland, Ore.

Thanks, Joe. Always great to hear from you. Find a link to his book and learn more about Joe on

Monday, August 25, 2014

Don't Judge a Draft

The time spent writing a draft of a new project is not the time to edit. Or judge. Or critique. Or in any way disturb the creative flow. Got it?

Yeah, right.

Maybe because I've started writing again after a too-long-to-mention dry spell, I'm telling myself, willing myself, begging myself, screaming back at my inner editor to shut the shit up.

Ollie, whose attitude I like.
So far, it's working. I want to write two hours a day for 50 consecutive days. I haven't quite lived up to my goal (I've written every day but not for two hours each time). I'm not letting the downers creep in. The single thing propelling me is my determination not to self-edit as I go. I'm just laying down the tracks. Playing around. Slapping down some ideas and not looking too critically at what's come before or what might come after.

Kinda the way I blog.

The time to judge is every second AFTER the draft is finished. How many of us start a project and never finish it? I see you nodding back at me. We become wrapped up in the outcome or overwhelmed by the enormity of the project or think the idea isn't worth finishing.

There's plenty of time for doubt later. Push it aside. When the draft is done, then I'll have plenty of readers, reviewers, crabby old <insert relative's name>, and hopefully, sales, to judge whether what I've done was worth doing.

It's Day Six. Time to get railroading.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Hachette Vs. Amazon Vs. Who?

This street fight fascinates me, and not just because I'm a writer. Because I'm also a reader and person with an interest in art and culture and the evolution of the two. If you haven't been following the arm wrestling between Hachette, a traditional New York publishing house, and Amazon, the world's largest online retailer, here are the crib notes:

The two are in a contract dispute about how much Amazon will pay Hachette in book royalties (you guessed it; the big A wants to pay less, which other big publishers have agreed to). Because they aren't seeing eye-to-eye, Amazon has interfered with Hachette's book sales on the website. With me so far?

Here's where the gumball gets hairy. Every author and aspiring writer on the planet is weighing in on the fight. Many, many readers and consumers of books are, too. So, here I go. My weights, please.

I'm conflicted. There are so many tentacles to this gangly beast, it defies definition as the Kraken. Both Amazon and Hachette are successful, cash-rich companies going fist-to-cuffs over more profits. That's the way of capitalism, eh? To compete, get richer, make stockholders happy, the system is set up to fight dirty. Because I have a book for sale and an author's account, Amazon dropped me an email last night (Amazon posted it online here) that points out Hachette has been slapped for price fixing. Are anyone's hands clean in this fight? Far from it.

Groups of writers on both sides of the argument are circulating letters why they are opposed to the actions of one or the other company. A new generation of indie writers, some of whom make money self-publishing, are obviously on the side of Amazon. Right now, Amazon doesn't charge anyone to upload a book and sell it electronically or in print. More traditional authors, in lesser numbers, are rallying, arguing that Amazon is unfairly squeezing their product out. In both cases, money is an important crux. (A Horcrux, perhaps?)

Which gets me to my point. Book publishing, for all its cache, mystique, glamour (ha), is a business. For most, not for all. These companies are arguing over money; writers are arguing over money and access. The art of the matter -- the quality of our literature and entertainment and knowledge -- is given second-hand attention. Does the quality of our literature and knowledge base deteriorate when price is the bottom line? I can't answer that confidently. I think it does, but I also believe that readers have the right to buy affordable books. I want affordable books. I also want bookstores (the places we browse in person) to thrive. At the same time, I want convenience and a wide selection.

But better books just don't write and edit themselves. They take time; they take money, or in my case and the case of many other writers, personal investment. The investment a writer makes in a book is incalculable, IF the writer truly cares. I've written about this before (here and here and here). I continue to delude myself that my words are enough. That my passion for my subject matter or project is enough for it to succeed. If my work doesn't sell (and the jury is still out on that one), if it doesn't pass the reader sniff-test, guess what? My prospects for keeping my traditional publisher and a wider audience diminish. With Amazon (and a whole slew of other self-publishing outfits), I still have access to an easy way to publish.

I've enjoyed working with a traditional publisher for my debut novel. What an experience! But, don't kid yourself that this means I'm set for life. My book must appeal to readers and sell sell sell if I'm to continue a business relationship with my publisher. Did I say business relationship? Shit, yes. It's not an artist's cocktail party. Is it an ideal situation? No. We both want to make a few coins; me, a little less so than the publisher. I just want my book to find wonderful readers who identify with it. Then, we share a secret. (PS-If you want to chat endlessly after you've read my book about plot points, Musketeer trivia, etc., feel free to email me directly.)

I don't mind that many, many writers use Amazon to self-publish. I'm actually happy that this avenue exists. I personally know writers who self-publish, and they are GOOD writers. Not for lack of trying, they haven't found agents or publishing houses to champion their words. I want their work to be available to someone other than their aunts. Curious readers will find them. Maybe a good agent or small publisher will, too, because those folks are spending more time these days cruising the best indie sellers on Amazon to find clients (not many admit it). A good-selling indie book is now better than an excellent query letter.

As for readers, who doesn't love a good book? I read all over the map. I buy books at full price; I pick them out of free boxes. I buy my friends' self-published work; I loan out anything from my library. I don't expect books to be returned. My favorite authors are both well-known and obscure. I've had coffee with writers who have pushed me to the next level. I'm lucky. I have options. I want options to continue; I want writers to have options to publish and to make money. I want readers to have options. I dislike that Amazon has chosen to smite Hachette by limiting access to its authors. Poor, poor form. But Amazon isn't the only place where we can buy books. If you feel strongly about how they've behaved, don't patronize them.

Except for my book. You might want to buy my book first. Or not. Your choice.

Maybe the answer is: Facebook should publish books.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

That Damn Little Thing

I confess. My book snubs the Oxford comma. I turned my back on the buggar early and didn't redeem myself in the final edits, except for a few places where I asked my publisher for the "extra" comma to be placed. I wish now I had included it everywhere. It's an old journalist's habit to leave it out. Blame my years in radio (where, hell, no punctuation is okay as long as the voiceover is coherent.)

Thank God the book is out. Thank God, and thank everyone who cared to share a kind word with me in this process. Thank God, everyone with a kind word, and all of you who will read my novel. Thank God, everyone with a kind word, all you readers, and the enthusiasts (good or bad) who will write me a review. (Even bad reviews are reviews. Don't go getting any ideas.) Thank God, everyone kind, all readers, all reviewers, and anyone who bothers to buy fiction nowadays at retail prices. Thank Amazon. Thank God for independent bookstores. Thank God for this cranky computer I put up with to continue to be a half-assed writer bent on following a dream. Thank God for dreams. Thank God, she, he, it, with a magic wand full of surprises, for I still surprise myself when I write, and it's been too long since I wrote.

Death sucks.

Death is the only permanent thing there is. Or maybe, the only other permanent thing besides death is the transference of hope. For that, thank humanity. Thank yourself.
On my doorstep. A real, live book.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Asterik to My Book Release

My book is being printed and released this week by a traditional publisher after five years of writing, editing, querying, and patience. This should be a champagne moment. I drank champagne over the weekend. At a friend's wedding. I celebrated his moment and remembered my own wedding 21 years ago. The recent death of my husband makes the book release a little hollow.

I am happy about the book, that it will live outside my own imagination now. I am also sad. Sad because he should be here. He lived through my obsession over the book. He came up with the title. He read all the sex scenes and cat-called. He will not realize its success. He will not benefit from the fruits.

I did not dedicate the book to him. He was a little pissed about that.

He loved me. I loved him. Some of the realities of love fill the pages. Not literally about my life with him, but broader, involving the spectrum of human emotion. Some of it encompasses pain. How can we love another person without a little pain? Read it. You'll understand.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Portland Women Writers, and me

Hello. I have everything to say, and nothing.

From this time forward, I will misuse commas. Because writing allows you freedom. Once you learn it, you can break the rules. I find some comfort, in the rule-breaking.

In Portland, Oregon, my home for three years, many good women are writing and rule-breaking. They live in this field dominated by men. I should look up whether women writers also earn less on average than men. Or, on second thought, I shouldn't. I should keep writing.

These local and accomplished writers -- Ursula K. Le Guin, Cheryl Strayed, and Lidia Yuknavitch -- live in Portland and write. They came together this month to promote the new release of a selected, favorite, out-of-print book. They each picked a book that had touched them and wrote a foreward, then a publishing house bought the rights and reissued the works. (Pharos Editions: The Lists of the Past, a collection of stories by Julie Hayden, chosen by Strayed; The Tattooed Heart & My Name is Rose, two literary novels by Theodora  Keogh, chosen by Yuknavitch; and Crazy Weather, a classic coming-of- age tale set in the American Southwest, the selection of Le Guin.) 
From left: Yuknavitch,Strayed, and le Guin.
Bottom right: Cute blonde, my friend, Fufkin.
At Powell's in Beaverton, May 15.

At the event, each writer spoke about the books, their authors, the publishing business, and why readers are so important (buy from independents!). If I could tap every hour into their strength as true artists, my cup of inspiration would be overflowing.

But my cup is close to empty. If I were a tell-all blogger, you'd understand every nuance of why. When does a writer start thinking her innermost story is the one everyone is interested in reading? Certainly, Cheryl Strayed didn't hold much back in Wild. Lidia laid it all out in Chronology of Water. I'm not them.

I have many plans unfolding. A long road-trip, a relocation, a resettling. More writing, I'm sure. Close time with good people. In the next few weeks, I say my good-byes to Portland. I release my book. I re-assess.

I have everything to say, and nothing.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

To Live Deliberately, By Henry David Thoreau

Why should we live in such a hurry and waste of life?
We are determined to be starved before we are hungry.
I wish to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life.
I want to learn what life has to teach, and not, when I come to die, discover that I have not lived.
I do not wish to live what is not life, living is so dear.
Nor do I wish to practice resignation, unless it is quite necessary.
I want to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life,
I want to cut a broad swath, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.
If it proves to be mean, then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world;
Or if it is sublime, to know it by experience, and to be able to give a true account of it.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Marathon That Never Ends

Pick up the closest book. Lift it. Feel the pages (or the electronic ereader weight). Those words there? All beautiful on the pages you're reading? The labor behind them is unknowable. Writing a novel is a trek up Mount Everest. Twice. Then you run a marathon. Afterwards, a triathlon. And the Olympics? You're almost ready to go for gold when your book finally comes out.

If I tried to estimate the number of hours I'd put into my first manuscript, I'd stop writing this instant. I can't even begin to wrap my mind around a proper calculation. Sure, I can tell you it took me 14 months -- from August one year to November the next -- to write the draft. But, I was still wearing my naive goggles, the rosy tinted ones that blurred my vision to the life of a writer. It couldn't be that much more effort to go the next step? Publication? A piece of cake.

Ah, those goggles have been thrown under the tire of a Chevy long ago.

I'm aware that I'm one of the fortunate few. I wrote a book; revised it; queried it; got rejected (to the tune of 80 no's, give or take); revised; edited; revised; sought critique. Then, someone saw my book's merits, which happened almost four years from the day I started the draft. In the scheme of things, I'm probably an anomaly. Most writers who care to mention how they first got published mention frightening timeframes like 7 to 10 years. Many, many more never reach the goal.

In about a month, my book will be out. I'm awestruck and exhausted. But, I'm still writing. Here. There. Everywhere. (Dr. Seuss was a writer, too.) I've got a few marathons in these old legs. Pardon the whine over my sore feet.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

My Portland Writer Friend, Sally Lehman

Sally Lehman was one of the first writers I met when I moved to Portland. We shared a lunch table at the Willamette Writers Conference, held here each summer. I'm sure I had an air of desperation as I introduced myself to her, because I was new to Portland, new to serious fiction writing and needed to find an editor ASAP. My first book was in the hands of an agent, who wanted me to work with a professional editor. I wanted to sell it, and Sally was kind and showed me the ropes of how to do a face-to-face pitch at the conference with an agent. (The first time was terrifying; now, I could pitch a book in two minutes without breaking a sweat.) She was signed up for about nine pitches that weekend. I had signed up for one. Since then, we've become crit partners and literary discussers at Stumptown Coffee. She has self-published several books, and she's on the verge, I think, of finding the right house to publish her work, which is edgy, close-in, dark-themed and impeccably written. Here's a glimpse into her writing life:

Why did you start writing novels?

I started writing novels to see if I could do it. I’ve written poetry since I was 8-years-old, and, at about 38, had started sending poems out to literary magazines and getting acceptances, so I wondered if I could write a book.

I had the idea to write a novel following a soul through the process of reincarnation, going into several different lives and deaths, until I got to the twentieth century and my current life. When I finished writing that novel (which will likely never be published) I saw there was a class for short story writing at my local community college, so I took the class and started writing short stories as well. My first teacher was a lovely man named C. Marcus Parr, and I credit him with being the first person to give me the courage to start sending out stories.

Now, it’s about 10 years later and I’ve completed five novels (including that first one) and had several poems and short stories published. I’m currently trying to sell a novel called The Last Last Fight.

Are you a pantser or a plotter? My impression is that you let the story take you where it goes.

It’s funny, because that first novel was totally planned out and researched. The names given my poor little soul were looked up to indicate special meanings, the living conditions were studied, it was very outline intensive.

My second novel came from my second writing teacher, Tom Spanbauer, who read a short story I’d written and pointing out a two word sentence – “Mom’s depressed.” – and told me to write from that. The story sort of flooded my brain, unfolded all over the place throughout a ten week write-a-palooza which got me to the first draft. I’ve been a committed seat-of-your-pantser ever since. I mockingly balk at all outlining now, although I do use index cards taped to the walls around my desk at times to organize events.

You have some dark, violent streaks in your books. What's up with that? Because you are a very gentle person, from what I can tell!

LOL, I suppose I am an gentle person, although I could hold my own against my three older sisters when I was younger.

I have a violent imagination. Then I put myself into the bodies of my characters and I make myself go through what they go through – especially my narrators, since I tend to write in first person. When I go through the stuff my characters go through, it’s like living those moments myself, and it teaches me stuff I wouldn’t have a chance to experience otherwise. I mean, my narrator kills someone, and I can’t really go out there and do that (I suppose I could but it would make my life a lot less cheerful). Living vicariously through the people we invent is one of the perks of being a writer.

Do you set writing goals for yourself? How do you keep track of your output? Do you?

I have critique group goals that keep me sending out pages on a schedule. There are also the deadlines for submissions if I have a piece that I want to submit. For my novel length works, I tend to focus on getting the story out of my head and onto the page, because once that story is found it drives me crazy until it comes out.

For novels, I don’t tend to set goals until I’m near the end. Right now I have a Daruma doll for The Last Last Fight – Daruma is a Japanese god with no eyes, so you fill in one eye and make the god a promise that you will reach a goal, then fill in the other eye when the goal is reached. I’ve got Daruma watching me to make sure I get that novel published.

When you write, you also have a second screen open. Tell me about your method (or madness).

I tend to write in chunks, so I end up with multiple documents with different pieces of the story in each. Add to that the different revisions that are created when my critique groups have input, and I have to have as many as 10+ documents opened at one time. By using two screens – my laptop screen and an extra monitor – I can grab a paragraph from one screen and paste it into where I’m working on another screen. It really saves time.

The second screen also comes in handy when I’m blocked and want to play solitaire for a while.

Who are your first readers?

My first reader is my husband, Bob, unless I think it’s a novel he simply won’t enjoy reading (he would read it anyway because he’s a really good guy, but why torture him). My sister, Audrey, because she’s good at being honest, even if she hates it (the first time she read my novel she was relieved that it didn’t suck). And my writer friend and first editor, Debbie Wingate, who is the only person other than my husband to have read that first novel about reincarnation. I got to return the favor with Debbie since she’s recently published a children/YA novel called Truthfinder, which I got to be a first reader of.

You've had some specific influences on your style, so which has been the most important?

Originally, my influences were primarily based on the teachers I was working with. I was in Tom Spanbauer’s Dangerous Writers Workshop for four years, and a lot of what I wrote then had a distinct Spanbauer vibe to it. Leaving his class, I started to look at other influences in my life for the voice I needed.

Now, I think the influences depend on the story. For my novel The Last Last Fight, I went back to my rural Oregon roots and the way we sort of drawled out words as kids; this worked for that book because it was set in rural Oregon in 1975. Currently, I’m writing from the perspective of a young teenager in the 21st century, so my daughters have influenced the language, which has led me to use phrases and words in everyday life which are totally not age appropriate. The next work of fiction I plan to work on will be from the perspective of a 10-year-old, so I have to find my inner child and become her voice.

What is your dream goal as a writer?

I’m almost afraid to say anything for fear of jinxing myself, but here it goes….

I want to be published by a big house and have my books in stores worldwide. I want Jennifer Aniston and Jennifer Lawrence to play the lead characters in The Last Last Fight. And I want to be able to write books full time and make a living at it. (Yikes!)

Ok, so realistically speaking, I would like to find an agent and/or a publisher who likes my book and wants to publish it. I want to have people read my stories and feel something (even if all they feel is scared). I want to read at Powell’s Book City someday.

What keeps you motivated?

It’s like when I wrote poetry as a kid – I don’t try to do it, the words just have to come out. When I find that little spot in my brain where a story lives, the events have to be told or I feel like I will simply go crazy. I don’t even know where these stories will go until about halfway through the first draft, but I know where they start and I know that they need me to go through them in order to feel like I’ve done that person inside my brain justice.

What three most influential books have you read in the last three years?

Dora – A Headcase, by Lidia Yuknavitch because it gave me permission to be the obnoxious teenager I wanted to be.

The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion because it taught me so much about how to encounter and survive writing about the death of a loved one.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman because it taught me that the ending of a story can be the very best part of it, even if it’s not what you were expecting it to be.

What would you like to see change about the publishing business?

I’d like to see some regulation or grading system set up for self-publishing, because I honestly feel like some people are putting really bad books out and are therefore giving the rest of us a bad name. I mean, I’ve self published a short story and two novels, and I don’t want to feel as though they’re crap just because they don’t have a “real” name behind them. And I know others who have put their heart and soul on the page, and they deserve to be taken seriously too.

I’d also like to see the book industry (and the movie industry, for that matter) at least try to look for something new and original. They are remaking old movies, they are recycling “classic” literature with fancy new covers and art work (how many copies of Alice in Wonderland does a person really need?), while there are some seriously interesting and unique books out in the world that Penguin wouldn’t touch. Too many wonderful books are being consigned to Amazon print-as-you-order and Small Press sections of bookstores. I think the big name publishers underestimate the reading public.

Thank you, Jennifer, for this opportunity. You’re amazing and I can’t wait to read your novel when it comes out.

Thanks, Sally, Love ya. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Black Book Intermission

Random Lines from My Black Book

I always have more to say than I should say.

First drafts are butt ugly.

Come to the table a whole package.

Take notes on EVERYTHING.

Writers write. Talkers talk.

Just keep asking the question.

Exist in the field of uncertainty.

The girl who looked like the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo smelled of smoke.

Make rational decisions.

Read out loud for best possible effect.

Friday, February 7, 2014

My Oregon Writer Friend, Marjorie Thelen

Everyone in my circle of writer friends approaches their work differently. I'm a sucker for insider info about writers' attitudes and practices, and this year, I want to share a few of their stories on my blog. This thread is as much for me as anyone. I need encouragement, and knowing about their writing lives helps me to stay the course.

I asked my friend Marjorie Thelen to go first. We latched onto each other a few years ago after meeting at a writers conference, because sometimes you just click with a person. She lives many miles away from me in ranch country near Burns, Ore. We email regularly, sometimes talk by Facetime, and try to keep up with each other's projects. I admire her seriousness and also her motivation. She's published five titles, some mystery, some cozy romance and one space opera! But I'll let her tell more.
Marjorie Thelen
Marjorie Thelen, Writer
Q: You've been writing fiction for more than 10 years. What on earth possessed you?

A desire to follow my creativity. Most of my career I worked in business in marketing and finance and had to follow the rules. Writing let me out of the box. I saw an artistic career in my retirement, something to keep me engaged.

Q: What was your reaction when you wrote THE END on your first novel? Terror? Elation? Relief?

Excitement. It was a romance novel set in Galveston, Texas in the 1840s, a novel that will remain forever buried in my file cabinet. But it was only my first draft. I was na├»ve. I didn’t understand about the endless re-writes.

Q: How do you manage your writing life? In other words, describe your process, from inspiration to book published. This obviously will take you more than 140 characters.

I am notorious for writing on a schedule with a goal. I write mornings, five days a week, and my present word goal has advanced to at least a thousand words a day. I don’t know how else to write a long work of fiction. I get an idea, maybe from a place I visited since I like to write mysteries and set them in exotic places, or from something I read or someone said. Like my next book will be based on a watercolor of a cowboy my friend Dona Townsend painted, entitled “My Heroes Have Always Been.” Then I plug along on my daily word count till I have the first draft. I don’t outline, I just write the story chronologically as it comes. I don’t edit much with the first draft, only reviewing and revising the previous day’s work before beginning on today’s. Inevitably about half way through a book, the little voice inside says, “No one is ever going to read this sh*t.” I get over it and tell myself, “Just write something, no matter how bad. Just write something.” Somehow in the end it comes together and doesn’t read as bad as I thought it would. Then I re-write until I have what I want. Then I give it to one or two readers who understand my work to see what they think. I try to write one new book a year. Since I have a backlog I also edit and publish at least one book a year. In the last two years I published two books a year.

Q: The top three reasons why you keep writing:

It entertains me, it entertains me, it entertains me. When it doesn’t anymore, I will give it up.

Q: The top three challenges of being a writer:

1. The lack of understanding on the part of the general public of how hard it is to write a novel or write, period. Everyone (I kid you not) seems to want to write a novel but only one percent ever do. At least, that’s what Jane Kirkpatrick told me.

2. Having to market one’s work after going to all the trouble to write and publish it. One never earns back all the time and effort it takes to write, publish and market a book. Unless you hit the big time.

3. Stamina: writing requires stamina, perseverance, and focus and sometimes it is hard to hang in there. Having an IPA with a writer buddy helps.
Q: Where do you seek inspiration to keep at it?

Myself, mainly. One has to develop a belief in oneself as a writer to keep going. I must admit I have been known to flounder. Then, too, I try to keep in touch with other writers through conferences and meet weekly with a local writer group, who cheer me on. A writer needs that sometimes. Jennifer Fulford is a pretty good cheerleader, too.

Q: What would you like to see change in the publishing industry?

Not so much emphasis of literary fiction in awards and contests. Literary fiction doesn’t usually sell a lot of books. More acceptance and recognition of indie publishers and reviews of their work without having to pay for it. Literary snobbery annoys me.

Q: Tell us about the project you're most proud of. 

The Forty Column Castle, my mystery set in Cyprus, is my favorite book. I’m not sure I ever think about pride when it comes to my work, but this book always puts a smile on my face. I like all my books, even though I’ve heard literary types say they are never satisfied with their work. I am.

Q: Name three writers, all living, who you wouldn't mind being stuck on an elevator with? We'll arrange for a conference later.

Jennifer Fulford who would be very funny about the whole experience and would figure out how to get us out. Jayne Ann Krentz, who writes romance and lives in Seattle, and who seems like a pretty savvy and successful writer. I want to know what she thinks about the industry today. Brian Greene, theoretical physicist, who writes cool books like Fabric of the Cosmos. I want him to explain in detail why we can’t go faster than the speed of light. Stuck in an elevator might be the time. Actually, I’d prefer the opportunity to sit one-on-one with any of them, have a beverage and talk over the writing life.

Find Marjorie's work on her website and on Amazon. Thanks, Marjorie. I owe you several IPAs.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Reconciling My Genre and My Politics

The world consists of contradictions. On one side of the planet, we diet. On the other side, we starve. I think about these incongruities. They rattle me on a regular basis. I absorb news about disasters, shootings and leaders who lack courage. And then, I think of myself. My small world is a study in contradictions, too.

Ever since I started writing my first novel, I've often felt that writing romance doesn't befit the needs of the planet. I wrote a romance novel while the world's financial systems were in global meltdown. What was I thinking? Then, I started another one, even more racy than the first. The financial house was an inferno (including my own). Again, what was I thinking? For some reason, I couldn't stop.

This says something about me, because I started this fiction-writing journey as an outlet. I discovered I could control everything I put on the page. At least, the first draft. This is comforting. More than comforting, it's regenerative. And I believe that if my writer friends were polled, they'd say they share this feeling.

But the world is still burning.

Chris Hedges (long-time reporter now activist) posted this week on a very long diatribe about the doom awaiting our species. His piece has clung to me for days now. I can't paraphrase well enough to provide the gist. For me, the ear worm that stuck was: the oceans are dying. And this idea is one of many, many realities strangling our planet. Most of the bad news is made worse by politics and rampant, unchecked capitalism.

He hung his hopes on, step back here, imagination. Human imagination. We, as an intelligent species, have the ability to overcome problems by using our brains. He didn't quite sell this idea 100 percent, because at the end of the piece, he admits he doesn't know if we'll survive. But this idea brings me back around to creativity. Why I write.
Someone wrote on this a long time ago.

I didn't write a novel to sex-up an old character from a wonderful French novel (although that happened in the process). I wrote about him because I wanted to redeem him, give him hope, give a reader hope, and along the way, it soothed my brain's creative-pleasure center. Many, many writers have changed the world with their words. I don't hope for such grand outcomes, but if I can touch one or two people, wow. Bring it on. I put some beauty back into this strange place where we live with each other, sometimes uneasily.

Thanks for reading my philosophical rant today. Now, I'm going to put together a survival kit. Probably filled with books.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Reality: I'm a Musketeer Groupie

Guess there are worse things to be? And, darn it, if I didn't miss the first episode of the new BBC TV series called The Musketeer, which aired for the first time on Sunday night. Now, I have to admit, I'm a little prejudiced about who the producers cast as Athos, my fav Dumas character of the bunch. I must reserve my judgment about whether Tom Burke is the right choice until I've seen him act. But I wanted him to be a hair more good-looking (not that his hair had anything to do with my opinion).

I'm a groupie. I'm coming to terms with this. On Google, if Musketeers is the search word, guess what? People find me. Yikes! And hurrah!

Recently, a woman in Canada contacted me because she's writing a stage play based on the book, and she couldn't find answers to questions about the novel (and history) that had been bugging her. Could I help her, she asked? Why, of course I could!

Her note:

I am currently adapting The Three Musketeers into a play for young actors. I've read the novel, another play adaptation, and the graphic novel (how great is that?!), but there are a few motivations that I don't understand. I'm hoping if you have the time you could share any insights that you might have with me.

1) Why does Richelieu want to expose the affair between the Queen and the Duke? Does he hope it will start a war?

2) Why does Richelieu want to start a war with England?

3) Why is Buckingham not safe in France when he sneaks over to visit the Queen? 

Thank you so much!

My response:

Glad you stumbled upon me. While I don't profess to be an expert, I can give you my take on your questions. Would love to know when and where your play will be performed. I also have a FB page, in which I post many tidbits about Musketeer-related news. There's a play that's making the rounds regularly in the U.S., but I haven't seen it yet. I picked up the Marvel comics graphic novel, but I couldn't persuade my kids to read it.

1. Why expose the affair? Political reasons, at least in terms of Dumas' rendition of history. Dumas doesn't get much more specific than that. Richelieu was a power-player and had eyes on influencing France's fortunes for personal gain. If he could gain the upper hand, he won. Plus, Queen Anne wasn't French. Probably in real history, this friction between them didn't exist. (Later, I read in the notes to the most-recent Richard Pevear translation of The Three Musketeers that Richelieu became bitter enemies with Marie de Medicis after a suspected tryst, and in 1630, on the so-called "day of the Dupes," Marie and Queen Anne, among others, tried unsuccessfully to get rid of him.)

2. War with England? The English were Protestants, and at the time, the French Catholics were struggling with their relationship to the Huguenots, the French Protestants, whom France tried to suppress (Siege at La Rochelle). In truth, Richelieu created peace with the Huguenots.

3. Buckingham unsafe? Because Buckingham is English and Dumas portrays the French as being disdainful of the English. And as everyone rightly suspects, because Buckingham's having, or trying to have, an affair with Anne. Ah, the struggle for love.

Hope this helps. Come back any time. This was fun.