Sunday, November 28, 2010

How to Talk to a Debut Novelist

First-time novelists tend to be a sensitive sort. Getting published is often a lifetime dream come true, realized after years of solitary work and spirit-sapping rejection. This is why, once the book has finally been accepted, published, and released, any event even remotely related to the recently published (if yet unrecognized) work of art tends to bring out some of our more subtle personality quirks. A good review, for example, will send us on a fist-pumping, chest-thumping, air-kiss-throwing dance around the house as we begin composing the Nobel acceptance speech in our heads. On the other hand, anything less than five stars may send us into a self-doubting, self-loathing funk from which we may never emerge without the help of supportive family, friends, and several gallons of Ben & Jerry’s Triple Chocolate Brownie Fudge Supreme.

God help you if you live with one of these volatile souls. But even talking with one can be a tricky proposition. In the spirit of greater understanding and personal safety, please allow me to offer the following tips on surviving a conversation with a debut novelist:

DO fawn. You know that commercial for an anti-flatulent where a young, bespeckled woman touches the wrist of the product spokeswoman and says, adoringly, “I love your work”? Go for that. And don’t stop when the first-time novelist pretends to humbly brush off your admiration. That dismissive wave is actually a signal for more. Word helper: insightful, delightful, compelling, unique, brilliant.

DON’T ask about Oprah. It’s not enough to finally get a book published? You have to remind the writer of the incredible odds against reaching Ultimate Oz? Sheesh. Besides, most writers hate to self-promote—it’s too close to begging. (Note to Ms. Winfrey: Please oh please oh please?! I promise not to jump up and down on your couch.)

Read the rest here: The Divining Wand

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Thursday, November 4, 2010

KFAI Minneapolis: Write On Radio

Excerpt and Interview. If you'd like to skip the excerpt (recommended), the interview begins at 5:12 

video

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Kindness of Strangers

After the book reading and signing in Columbus a few weeks ago, my friend Murph and I were doing an in-depth quality control check of his Irish whiskey (good, by the way... very good) when he asked me what the best thing about (finally) getting published has been. It was a tough question to answer because so many wonderful things have happened--from positive reviews to print, television, and radio interviews to seeing people I haven't seen in years show up at readings.

Near the top of the list, however, has to be the emails--and in some cases, actual snail-mail letters--from readers I don't know. These are strangers who have taken the time to write and tell me that they enjoyed my book, that it made them laugh or cry or touched their heart in some way. One of my favorite lines so far: "I don't remember you being in the house I grew up in, but it's apparent you were there." In another, a woman wrote, "I don't usually read novels, but I read yours. And now, I'll read your next one, too."

Those kinds of comments motivate me to keep writing. What about you? If you're a writer, what keeps you going? If you do something else, what drives you to do what you do?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Reading Reflections

I'm nearing the end of a series of thirteen readings and book signing events, covering cities in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Illinois, and Minnesota.

The experience has been beyond fun, far exceeding my expectations. One of my favorite moments was meeting an older gentleman who happened to sit down in the reading area to rest while his son browsed elsewhere. He was too polite to get up and leave once the reading started. And at the end, he bought a book and asked me to sign. Turned out to be a former marine, like the title character. Semper Fi, my friend! Other highlights included:
  • Stonington, CT: First reading. Learned that briefer is better.
  • Minneapolis and Cleveland: Thanks to brother Bob, great crowds of enthusiastic book buyers. In Cleveland, saw relatives and friends I haven't seen in decades--including my high school sweetheart. (Much as my ego would like to think otherwise, she was in town for other reasons.)
  • Wilton: A great crowd was kind enough to show up and support this neighbor. My editor, the great Liz Van Hoose of Viking, came and didn't disavow knowing me or my work. Bookseller sold out of stock!
  • Cincinnati: A reader and now friend, along with his beautiful wife and daughter, drove two hours to attend. Incredible. If that were me, I would have asked for gas money.
  • Chicago: Mini-reunion with several college buddies. At the reading, arranged by my generous friend Sheila, I met and talked with Christopher Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy's youngest son. He looks and talks just like his father. Could not have been nicer or more down-to-earth. Also met Peter Lawford's grandson, who spent more time checking out his uncle's book (Arnold Schwarzenegger) than mine. I'm pretty sure I outsold Arnold that night, though.
  • Columbus: A total of four canceled flights, but I made it! And thanks to lifelong friend Murph, a great crowd of friendly, enthusiastic book buyers.
Still ahead: Readings in Ridgefield (CT), Nanuet (Sleepy Hollow country), and Huntington, NY. All within driving distance, so I'll be able to enjoy the fall foliage. 

    Monday, October 4, 2010

    NPR Cincinnati

    While in Cincinnati last month for a reading, I was a guest on NPR's "Around Cincinnati" show. It aired last evening. You can listen to it here:
    video

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    Friday, September 3, 2010

    Book Reviewing in the Age of YouTube

    I love this review of Franzen's "Freedom" by Ron Charles of the Washington Post. But is video the future of book reviewing? 

    Wednesday, August 25, 2010

    Fun Interview on WMJI- FM, Cleveland.

    I used to listen to John Lanigan as a kid growing up in Lakewood, Ohio. A thrill to be on the radio this morning with him and Jimmy Malone on the Lanigan and Malone Morning Show.

    video

    Tuesday, August 24, 2010

    My Interview on NPR - Cleveland

    I was privileged to be a guest on Dee Perry's "Around Noon" show today.

    video

    Monday, August 16, 2010

    What a Week!

    It's been an incredible first full week since my book was released. Highlights included newspaper and magazine reviews, interviews, and a television segment filmed right here in my office. Best of all, I received wonderfully enthusiastic emails from complete strangers kind enough to take the time and tell me why they liked the book. 

    I want to thank everyone who has been so enthusiastic in their comments and support.

    I've also been fortunate to get some excellent attention... most recently from People magazine, which named Bill Warrington's Last Chance to its "Good Read" section in the August 23 section. If you're interested in reading what others have to say about the book, you can find recent reviews here.

     This week looks to be just as exciting. I'm pleased to be featured on Mia Starr's unique and inspirational blogs, Four Days a Week. Check out "Monday Musings" for a conversation with... moi. Thank you, Mia!
    Speaking of blogs, I'm also honored to be a guest blogger this week at "The Author's Desk" on the Penguin USA site. Today's post: "Thanks, Not for Us."

    Sunday, August 1, 2010

    Finally August...

    ... and after more than a year since I learned that Viking would be publishing it, Bill Warrington's Last Chance will finally be released. I don't mind saying that this has been one of the longest years of my life, but also one of the most rewarding.

    There's no way to describe my feelings, which range from elated to terrified, so I'll just focus on what's ahead this month.
    1. Release of the book. If you haven't ordered it online from your favorite bookstore, it will hit the bookshelves later this week or early next.
    2. Television interview on August 21, New Haven, Connecticut. (News 8/WCTX MY TV9 -- 7:30 a.m. Yep, that's 'a.m.' )
    3. First "official" book reading on August 22 at the LaGrua Center in Stonington, Connecticut.
    4. Readings/signings at the Barnes and Noble, Minneapolis and at the Borders-Westlake, near my hometown of Lakewood, Ohio.
    And away we go...

    Sunday, July 25, 2010

    We Interrupt this Book Release (Two Weeks!) Countdown...

    ... to bring you this guest post.

    Apparently I'm not the only one thinking about ways to leverage the online world for book promotion. The following observations come from a writer who noticed an interesting fact here. My guest wishes to remain anonymous, but has agreed to let me share what I thought were some interesting projections on the look-and-feel of publishing in the future:

    The absolute favorite pastime of the 400 million or so Facebook users is: gaming. Not fan pages. Zynga, creators of FarmVille, Mafia Wars, and other highly popular and profitable Facebook games just received between $100-200 million from Google -- an investment designated to help Google develop their own games.

    Does this affect publishing and book promotion? It could. If gaming is already supplanting Fan pages as an activity of choice for Facebookers, perhaps publishers and book promoters of all stripes -- even authors -- will need to create online games that lead their readers to the books. For novels of action, suspense, sci-fi, or horror, this is easy enough to imagine; for delicate character studies and finely-observed literary explorations, it could take considerably more imagination. And yet this may be the new way to go. For example:
    • Play "The Passage." Fight the bio-vampire monsters of Justin Cronin's blockbuster debut by night, grow your community by day. Win "power batteries" for night lights. Collect points to buy better weaponry.
    • Enter "Wolf Hall." Become a great historic figure, such as Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas Cromwell, or Thomas More as the conflicts between church and state play out in 16th-century England, a la Hilary Mantel's Booker Prize winner.
    • Navigate through the "Flying Insect Kingdom." Various game paths could take you to Sue Monk Kidd's "The Secret Life of Bees" or "Stieg Larsson's "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" or even William Golding's "The Lord of the Flies." Add a John Updike novel to represent the "WASP" element if the game creators want to show how smarty-pants literary they can be.
    Talk about interactivity! This could be the next promotion wave linking bookseller and reader.

    Monday, July 19, 2010

    Everyone Sells

    My father was a salesman. He loved being a salesman, was good at it, and considered it to be a noble profession. In fact, he believed that any successful person was, in essence, a good salesperson. "Everyone sells," he used to tell me. "Doesn't matter if you're a doctor, a teacher, or a ditch-digger. If you're any good at what you do, you're always selling: a new idea, a better way of doing something, or maybe even just a reason for listening and learning."

    Not me, I thought as I listened to his stories of victory over buyers. From my all-knowing teen-aged perspective, sales was about as unsavory a career as one could choose. I'm not going into sales. I'm going to be a writer.

    And now that my novel is about to be released, what's on my mind? Figuring out how to get people to buy it. Getting it reviewed, getting it mentioned on blogs, getting others to talk about it... whatever it takes to persuade people that it's worth plunking down their hard-earned money for a copy.

    In other words, I'm selling.

    Too bad my father isn't around to see all this happen. He would have enjoyed seeing my dream come true. And he probably would have sold a helluva lot of books.
     

    Friday, July 9, 2010

    Book Release Countdown: One Month!

    Is it just me, or is this summer going by really, really, slowly?




    Really slowly.

    Wednesday, June 30, 2010

    Book Release Countdown: Here But Not Yet There

     On Monday I made a joint presentation at Manhattanville College with my editor, Liz Van Hoose. Turned out to be a red-letter day for a couple of reasons. First, the presentation went really well. Second, Liz had that day received a much-deserved promotion. And third... let's see... I know there was a third thing...Oh yeah: Liz brought along two copies of the book!!!! Now being prepared for shipment and ready for release on August 9.

    Friday, June 18, 2010

    Book Release Countdown: The Book Jacket

    Hot off the press: The Book Jacket!

    Just received several of them from my editor. "Printed jackets mean finished books are imminent," she wrote.

    Not a bad way to end the work week...

    Wednesday, June 9, 2010

    Book Release Countdown Update

    Bill Warrington's Last Chance will be released two months from today. (And yes, pre-orders are still being accepted.) Two exciting recent developments to report:

    Viking has selected the book for its Flights of Fiction program. You can visit the site to learn more about the book, read an excerpt, and download a podcast of an interview with--and reading by--yours truly.

    Penguin has released a Book Club Reader's Guide for the novel. It includes a "conversation with the author" interview. The interview and book club questions can be found here.

    Did I mention pre-orders are still being accepted? Just checking...

    Thursday, June 3, 2010

    Revisions: The Phoenix Effect

    I recently finished reading the second chapter of the vomit draft of my work-in-progress. I hadn't read it in several months, which helped me gain the perspective needed to admit that "vomit" is a charitable modifier for this particular draft. What a disaster! I wondered how I:
    • Created such an unlikable character
    • Crammed so many useless details into 5,000 words
    • Might chuck the whole thing and not, consequently, be driven to slash my wrists
    And yet... once I stewed for awhile... considered a different approach... slashed out the passages that I found particularly annoying and/or humiliating (we're talking pages here)... fiddled with an opening sentence for a couple hours... I grew hopeful that I might squeeze a paragraph or two out of the mess. Hopeful, but not yet entirely convinced.

    What's your first reaction when you re-read your work?

    Thursday, May 27, 2010

    A Day at BEA

    Attended the Book Expo America yesterday. Some random observations:

    Manhattan sizzled. Literally. Temps in the 90s. My strategy of walking from subway to expo center slowly didn't work. Still needed a shower and dry shirt when I arrived.

    Book people are crazy. There was a huge line waiting to get into the exhibition area a full hour before it opened. We're talking books, not the Rolling Stones (although Keith Richards stared down on all of us via a a huge banner promoting his new book).

    The E-Sky is Falling. The hot topic everywhere was, of course, e-books and how they affect publishers, authors, consumers, and the written word itself. Conclusion: Nobody knows.

    We apparently aren't distracted enough. During one of the presentations I attended, people could tweet their observations and questions, which were then projected onto a large screen at the front of the room, while the panelists were talking.

    I love Viking. I saw my publicist, spent some time with my editor, and spoke with several other Viking/Penguin execs. What a great company. Also had lunch with my agent. She's great, too. When it comes down to it, no technology is more powerful than "face time."

    Reports on the death of publishing are greatly exaggerated. The energy of the place, and the love for and commitment to books (e or otherwise) was incredible... and inspiring.

    Sunday, May 23, 2010

    Countdown to Book Release

    It's now less than 90 days until the release of Bill Warrington's Last Chance. While I don't want summer to fade too quickly, I wouldn't mind skipping directly over June and July to August 9.

    In the meantime, I've been getting some exciting and flattering invitations to speak and sign. I put a gadget over there in the right-hand column that lists the events, but here's what's booked so far:
    • Monday, June 28. Summer Writer's Week at Manhattanville College, Purchase, New York. I'll be co-presenting with my editor par excellence, Liz Van Hoose of Viking Penguin. Topic: The Author-Editor Relationship. 1:45 p.m.
    • Sunday, August 22. LaGrua Center, Stonington, Connecticut. Reading and Signing. 7:00 p.m.
    • Friday, August 27. Borders, Westlake, Ohio. Reading and Signing. 7:00 p.m.
    • Tuesday, September 7. Wilton Library, Wilton, Connecticut. Reading, Discussion, Signing. Time TBD.
    • Tuesday, September 14. R.J. Julia Bookseller, Madison, Connecticut. Reading and Signing. 7:00 p.m.

    Monday, May 10, 2010

    Proofread... and proofread again

    At a writing conference this weekend, a woman handed me her business card and urged me to keep her in mind if I needed an editor for my next manuscript. I looked at her card. Her title read, "Writer and Edtior."

    I thought the mistake inexcusable. And then I noticed that one of my handouts featured a glaring typo of its own.

    I know it's difficult to proofread your own work, but does anyone out there have an idea on how to do a better job of it? Sugestions apreciatd.

    Friday, April 30, 2010

    State of (Writing) Grace

    Following up on yesterday's post, the following is from "About France," the excellent book by friend, fellow alum, and Paris resident Joseph Harriss, about the incredibly prolific crime writer, Georges Simenon. Simenon wrote over 500 novels. (Not bad, as the author points out, for someone who never graduated high school.)

    "Simenon uses an artisan's methods when writing. He constructs his books solidly around a few characters. From a few initial traits, he builds them up, giving each a complete family, often down to an address and phone number--he keeps a stock of telephone books as a source of names--even if these details are never used in the book itself. Then he draws a diagram of the apartment, office or house where the action takes place carefully noting which way doors open, which windows admit the sun in morning or evening.

    "That done, be becomes the main character himself and enters what he calls a 'state of grace' in which he thinks as little as possible, letting his subconscious have its head. He sustains this for up to two weeks, writing a chapter a day and reserving three or four days a the end for revisions. His concentration is so intense that if he misses a couple of days writing due to illness or other interruption, he usually is unable to continue the book and gives up on it. He seldom has the whole plot in mind when beginning. He puts his characters in a situation and watches, a spectator, as the action develops."

    ("About France," by Joseph Harriss, p. 225.)

    Thursday, April 29, 2010

    Getting Started

    Had dinner last night with a journalist friend. We were talking about the writing process and how to get started with a story or an article. His method is to give himself no more than 15 minutes to stare at a blank screen. After his 15-minute grace period, he forces himself to start typing and not stop for a paragraph or two.

    He doesn't expect anything he types to make sense yet, but it's important to get something on the screen. He then revises or, more often, replaces those paragraphs over and over until he's satisfied that he has his lead (in journalistic circles, the opening of the article). At that point, he's off and running.

    Different story with me. If I had to feel good about the first paragraph before moving on to the second, I'd never be able to complete a story.

    You?

    Monday, April 26, 2010

    Park Your Favorite Book Here

    Forget where I downloaded this from... but had to risk legal action to share this picture of Kansas City's library parking garage.

    Agree with all the selections ("Truman" allowed because it's his home state; also happens to be an outstanding biography) except "Lord of the Rings." I'd replace it with something by Melville, Faulkner, or Twain.

    The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Yep.

    What about you? Keep "Lord of the Rings" or replace it? With what?

    Thursday, April 22, 2010

    Dang Them!

    Been a while since I've done a grammar posting, but I'll let the New York Times do all the work.

    A quick and often amusing lesson in the dangers of dangling.

    Click here.

    Tuesday, April 20, 2010

    Vomit Draft Update

    You've no doubt been on the edge of your seat since the April 12 post, wondering if I decided to write the final chapter of my vomit draft.

    The good news: I did.

    The bad news: When I finished the chapter, I realized the story wasn't close to being resolved. One of the characters stared out at me from the screen and asked, "What the hell are you doing? You can't end it here. I haven't had my say yet. Get back to work."

    But I couldn't bear to continue to write in vomit mode. So I have begun writing the official first draft. The ending will just have to wait until the characters determine the denouement.

    The question: Do you argue with your characters about what they're saying or doing, or simply let them have their way?

    Tuesday, April 13, 2010

    Mysterious Writer's Ways

    A few hours after yesterday's post, I came across this interesting article about Agatha Christie's writing method--or lack thereof.

    No vomit draft for her, apparently, except in her notebooks. And no idea who would eventually be nabbed for the shooting, stabbing, poisoning, or garroting.

    Monday, April 12, 2010

    Writing With the End in Mind... or Not

    In several previous posts, I've mentioned my "vomit" draft -- a draft so jumbled and stream-of-conscious that it doesn't deserved to be called a first draft. Today, I reached the point where I think there's just one chapter to go, after which I'll be able to start writing a real first draft.

    But I'm having trouble pulling the trigger. I'm not  sure I want to write this last chapter. I'm not at all certain I want to know, just yet, how the story will end.

    I had no idea how Bill Warrington's Last Chance was going to end until the very... (my editor will not like the repeat here) end. I wonder if that was part of the fun in writing it, and part of the motivation to keep going with it.

    Yes, yes, I know that the ending will likely change--most likely with each future draft. And yet... not finishing this chapter seems disloyal to the vomit draft, which has waited patiently for me to get to this point since last October. It has put up with my blogging, my Facebooking, my Internet surfing, my sudden need to clean the desk and straighten the shelves while it remains open on the screen, waiting.

    So do I bring this vomit draft to its conclusion, offer it a sort of closure, or do I leave the ending for the first official draft?

    Some writers know exactly how their stories will end before they begin writing. What's your approach? Do you already know the ending while you're writing that first/vomit draft?

    Monday, April 5, 2010

    Writing While Distracted

    More than ever, writers are expected to promote their work through blogs, websites, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Plaxo, email, Twitter, Skype... the list grows faster than (wish I could think of a clever way to end this sentence).

    The challenge, of course, is managing the time needed to keep up with all that and still get the writing done. Compounding the problem is... it's fun! More fun, for example, than diving into the first draft of that next scene or wrestling down a particularly slippery sentence. And the ease with which we can click on an icon and check email or the latest postings from Facebook can test the resolve of even the most disciplined writer.

    I have to make a conscious effort to divide my day up. First, the creative writing. Then, check email and social networks. Then, the "paying" (i.e., nonfiction) writing. Then, more creative writing. Finally, a last check of email and social networks. That's my strategy. Execution so far: dismal.

    What's your approach?

    Monday, March 29, 2010

    The Trailer (Click the symbol next to "vimeo" for full screen)


    Bill Warrington realizes he has Alzheimer's and his lucid days are numbered. Determined to repair a lifetime of damage with his estranged adult children, Bill takes off with his fifteen-year-old granddaughter, April, on a cross-country drive, bound for San Francisco, where she dreams of becoming a rock star. As the unlikely pair head west, Bill leaves clues intended to force his three children--including April's frantic mother--to overcome their mutual distrust and long-held grievances to work together to find them.

    In this dazzling road trip of a novel, James King explores themes of aging, sibling rivalry, family dysfunction, and coming of age, against a backdrop of the American heartland. Unflinching, funny, and poignant, Bill Warrington's Last Chance speaks to the universal longing for familial reconciliation, love, and forgiveness.

    Sunday, March 28, 2010

    Will Someone Please Make One of These For Me?

    This is the perfect solution to balancing my Kindle while eating. My kindergarten teacher warned me to stay away from anything related to crafts. So... someone... please make this for me. Thanks. Instructions here:

    http://www.chicaandjo.com/2009/09/03/make-a-custom-kindle-cover-case/

    P.S. A more manly cover design, please.

    Saturday, March 20, 2010

    A Time to Write, a Time to Revise

    As I am in the middle of the "vomit draft" for my next novel, I found this article on the Four Fails of Trying to Write the Last Draft First, by Mary W. Walters, particularly helpful... as I hope you will, too.

    Monday, March 15, 2010

    Trail(er) of Clichés

    Came across this, courtesy of Pub Rants, while I was putting the finishing touches of a trailer for Bill Warrington's Last Chance. A bit long, but fun.

    Sunday, March 7, 2010

    Eternity Defined

    The sense of time experienced by a writer during the months between acceptance of all revisions by publisher and the actual release of the book.

    Monday, March 1, 2010

    The Write Place

    Sometimes when I finish shoveling snow, I announce to my wife that we should rent a place somewhere warm for a few months. And why not? I'm a writer. I can work anywhere, right? Why not punch away at my keyboard on a beach or by a pool?

    Just returned from someplace warm. Beautiful beach. Nice pool. Loads of time on my hands when I wasn't trying to re-book canceled flights. And how much writing did I get done?

    Well, see, I kind of missed my desk, where I can spread out all my notes if I happen to have any. And my big computer monitor really helps me see more of the page I haven't yet completed. And my regular keyboard seems so much more tactile than the cramped laptop keys. And the mouse at home works so much better than that super sensitive touch pad on my laptop. And the chair that is so exquisitely contoured to the shape of my ever-expanding posterior...

    How about you? Can you write anywhere? Or do you need that place of one's own?

    Monday, February 15, 2010

    Yeah? So what do YOU think about while writing?

    As I've mentioned in previous posts, I'm in the middle of my vomit draft (pre-first-rough-draft draft) of my next novel. Amazing what elbows its way into my mind when I should be thinking only of the storyline I'm wrangling with. (Or is it "with which I am wrangling"? And does that question mark go inside the quotation marks? Must add these questions to the list.) To wit:
    • That screen looks better blank than with what I've just written.
    • I need to update my to-do list. 
    • I need a better format for my to-do list.
    • Is to-do hyphenated?
    • This story stinks and everyone already knows it.
    • I wonder if I've gotten an email since the last time I checked three minutes ago.
    • Maybe I should Google "quick and easy ways to complete a first draft."
    • Hmmm. Missed a spot on my chin while shaving this morning.
    • I wonder what's going on in Facebook land.
    • I wonder if a goatee would make me look more writerly.
    •  Better check email again. Probably just missed one last time I checked.
    • Is this character even remotely believable? Likable? I think not.
    • The dog needs walking. It would be cruel to let her continue sleeping contentedly at my feet.
    • "First of all, I'd like to thank all the members of the Nobel Prize committee..."
    • That spot on my chin is driving me crazy. 
    • Should I make one of the characters a vampire? 
    • Pitchers and catchers report to training camp soon. Must find out the exact date. Right now.
    And you?

    Friday, February 12, 2010

    Love That Grammar Girl

    Where was she when I was diagramming sentences (incorrectly), splitting infinitives, and dangling participles?

    Worth visiting frequently.

    http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/

    Sunday, February 7, 2010

    Farewell to a Teacher

    I found out on Friday that my college writing teacher, Elizabeth Christman, passed away in her home town of St. Louis at the age of 95.

    Miss Christman (after I graduated she invited me to call her Liz, but I could never quite get used to it) was the first person to assure me that someday I would have a novel published. Her encouragement was no small ego-booster: She had been a literary agent with Harold Ober Associates in New York for 20 years. At the age of 55, she went back to school for her doctorate and eventually became a professor at the University of Notre Dame. For the next 20 years, she inspired students to keep writing, keep sending out manuscripts, keep collecting rejection slips, keep dreaming... but most of all keep writing!

    Generous with her time with both current and former students, Miss Christman was my writing coach during my first attempts at a novel more than 30 year ago. She even sent the manuscript off to some of her old contacts in New York. That novel didn't sell, but she wouldn't let me pout over the rejections. "Get used to it," she said. "And keep writing."

    I did. And when I found out last May that, at long last, one of my novels was going to be published, Liz was one of the first persons I thought of. I looked forward to the day that I would be able to hand her a copy. Sadly, we're going to miss that day by a few months. But I can almost see the smile and hear her saying, "Told you so. Enjoy it. And keep writing."

    Another of her many grateful students, renowned journalist Melinda Henneberger, has written a tribute that captures her life story beautifully. It's a story you should read, whether or not you're a writer. To read it, click here.

    Thank you, Miss Christman. Your life's work lives on.

    Monday, February 1, 2010

    Finding Love in All the Wrong Characters

    Interesting review of Amy Bloom's latest book, "Where the God of Love Hangs Out," exploring how to make unappealing characters appealing -- one of the most difficult challenges a fiction writer faces. Favorite sentence from the review: "It's a mysterious thing, the fact that a reader can fall in love with a nonexistent person."

    On this topic, I recently had an extensive email debate with a friend who read an advance copy of my novel. She wanted to pick a bone about a sentence of dialogue involving the least likable character in the book. We went back and forth on this for quite awhile. And it dawned on me: She was fighting for a non-existent, unappealing character. That's when I knew there was no way I was going to rewrite that sentence.

    What do you think? How do you make unappealing characters appealing?


    Saturday, January 30, 2010

    Advanced Shelving





















    The ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) are out and being sent to reviewers. Couldn't resist seeing what it might look like on the shelves... I admit to a certain bias, but I think Viking did an incredible job with these galleys.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010

    The Future of Reading?


    The publishing industry hasn't covered an event like this since... Kindle?
    Read all about it here.



    Photo: Ryan Anson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Image