Friday, August 28, 2009

Habla Engles? No? (Or It's Friday, It's A Good Thing Puerto Rico Edition)

1. People who speak English

2. People who try to speak English to help me, even if it's hard for them

3. People who don't laugh when I try to speak Spanish (and mangle it)

4. Polite drivers who wave us across the road when traffic is a bear and we are walking

5. People who strike up conversations no matter where you are (in a pool, in a waterfall, in a lagoon, on the beach...). "Where are you from?" must be the universal greeting here! And I've had some awesome conversations with some really nice people - even if I am in a bathing suit.

6. Shorts that are still comfortable, even after a week of all-you-can-eat breakfast buffets.

7. Sunscreen. Sunglasses. The guy who invented these should get an award. Perhaps alongside the person who figured out how to get hair up in ponytails!

8. My own bed. Ahhhh... I've missed it.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Just Sit Right Back and You'll Hear a Tale...

a tale of a fateful trip, that started from this tropic port...

aboard this tiny ship.

the mate was a mighty sailing man (I don't have a photo of him, but his name was Manuel)

the skipper brave and sure (I don't have a photo of him either, but his name was Richard)

Five passengers set sail that day for a three hour tour. (a three hour tour)

(there actually are five of us in our family, and guess how long we stayed on the island?? THREE hours!!)

The weather started getting rough, the tiny ship was tossed (well, we did get wet on the way over, but it was a small boat so I suppose that wasn't unusual. The weather was great, though)

If not for the courage of the fearless crew the Minnow would be lost. (everyone now: the Minnow would be lost.)

The ship set down on the shore of this uncharted dessert isle:

With Gilligan, the Skipper too (again - really Manuel and Richard)

The Millionaire and his wife (d0n't laugh too hard... we're a long way from millionaires!):

the movie star:

the professor ...

and Mary Ann....

Here, on Gilligan's Isle.

(It actually is called Gilligan's Island! We heard about it from some Puerto Rican local who told us to just go down this highway to the beach and catch the ferry. It turns out it really is uncharted, most locals don't even know about it, there is no highway that goes there, and if you ask enough people you end up on a one lane gravel road at someone's house who will ferry you across in a small wooden rowboat to the island, which is completely isolated and unknown, and has the clearest water I've ever seen in my life. We saw tons of fishes, soaked up the rays, floated on our backs and in general ignored the world for a few short hours. And made a radio out of coconuts. 'Cause that's just the way we hang.)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Lost In El Yunque

**Writing Update: before I begin the rest of the post, let me update you on my editing process. I just received my first email from my editor since she's read my entire manuscript and this is what I can report: I think she liked it.

I know, it's vague, but as one of those self-doubting writers who understands all too well the ambiguity of language, I keep reading into her email in ways that makes my husband want to ring my neck.

What she really says is that my main character has a strong and unique voice, and that I keep it consistent through the entire book. Yay!

Also, I managed to accomplish first person, present tense. I think she thinks I did that well.

And lastly, she wanted to know if I worked in medicine because the book seemed that authentic.
Yeah. I told her I'm not a doctor, but I play one in my novels. :)

So on to real life.

This week our family went on an adventure of sorts. We went hiking in the rainforest. For my kids, it was a first. They'd seen postcards with this huge waterfall you could swim in the bottom of, and they wanted to do that.

In typical fashion, we managed to get just enough information to make us think we could conquer this small feat, and yet not enough to actually do it gracefully (and with ease).

We headed into the mountains in the morning, wearing bathing suits and carrying beach towels, and driving as far as we could. Hey - it's 9 km up the mountain to get to the trail.... we weren't going to walk all of that!!

So up we went. We were told, "Just drive as far as you can, then park the car at the end of the road and hike the rest. The waterfall is at the top."

So we drove. and drove. Until this is what we could see:

Then we parked, and started hiking in.

To hike is an understatement. The path is more than 2 miles long, (I know I just switched from km to miles... my brain just works that way). It rises in an approximate 30 degree incline. For those readers mathematically challenged, that's REALLY steep!!

It was about eighty-five degrees. With about 250 percent humidity. (I may be off a little on that last number, but by the sweat pouring down all of us, probably not by much!).

This is part of the path. It looks remarkably flat. I don't remember any of it being this flat...

There were really cool trees along the way. I loved this one. It's roots are totally out of the ground, holding it up like magic! And that moss??? Awesome!

We kept looking for water, but there wasn't any. Not a drop. I realized a good way in, this is not a good sign. Waterfalls don't come from nowhere.

But we continued to trudge. Until we made it to the top of El Yunque. Here we are acting all triumphant and everything.

We are really trying not to dissolve in a puddle of very, very exhausted sweat.

There was an incredible view from here. It looked like this:

It was then we realized there was no waterfall here. Views, yes. Waterfalls with refreshing water to swim in, no.

Back down we went. Ninety minutes later we were back at the car, determined to find the one true trail that leads to refreshment.

We found another trail. Headed down it.

Water. This is a good sign. Not a big falls, mind you, but something.

The trail got steeper. More slippery. Louder. And the people going the opposite direction looked distinctly wet. And not from sweat. They carried towels. They wore swim suits. This was a very good sign, we thought.

Finally, we rounded the curve and there it was....

This photo can't possibly do justice. Sweet relief!!

We tore off our sandals, peeled off our sticky clothes. And jumped in.

Into the glacier-like water.

Where we nearly froze to death.


(and if you though I would post a photo of me in a bathing suit swimming beneath the falls, God bless your optimism!!)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Book Review for Scenarios For Girls

It feels like I've done a lot of book reviews here lately. It's not because I've been writing less and reading more (although that is probably the case), but mostly because I've read some good books lately and I wanted to tell someone about them.

The two books today, though, were actually the first books written by someone I "knew" (online) who asked me to read them for the blog. They are MG/YA books, and hoping they'd be just about the right age for my daughter, I eagerly agreed.

It was about half-way through the first one that I realize I may have gotten myself in over my head. Not that the books weren't good, or I couldn't finish them, but I realized how little MG/YA I read anymore - even with a 9 year old and 11 year old in the house - and how badly qualified I am to evaluate them.

So if I totally screw this up, miss the point, or otherwise show my adult-ness (and by that I mean, un-coolness), I hope you won't take it out on the books!

The books are two of a proposed eight book series called Scenarios for Girls, written by author Nicole O'Dell. They are a modified version of a pick you own adventure story, except in these books, the main characters face very difficult moral dilemmas and then you get to choose which choice she will make and read that ending.

Can I say how cool that idea is? As soon as I heard it, I was jumping all over these books. With a daughter on the cusp of tweendom, I thought what a great idea it is to have a place for her to experience real life-like decisions and see possible outcomes through the eyes of someone her age.

So here are the books, and their descriptions:

Lindsay Martin and her three best friends are embarking on their eight
grade year. As the year takes off, they quickly institute a tradition of weekly sleep-over parties. Popcorn popping, game playing, and movie watching are standard least until the parents are in bed. Then they play Truth or Dare. It starts off innocently and builds in excitement and danger over the weeks, until they face big trouble that requires one girl to decide between right and wrong in a huge way. Whatever she decides, nothing will ever be the same.

All that Glitters is about how young girls grow up too fast. Hair, makeup, clothes and boys have such appeal that the things that really matter pale in comparison. Drew and Danielle (Dani) Daniels are ninth grade, identical-twin girls from a Christian family, whose parents try to shelter them from the troubles and concerns of the world. They, especially Drew, rebel in small ways throughout the book, until it becomes too much for Dani. Their relationship suffers when Drew is faced with a choice of ultimate rebellion. And, their relationship isn't the only thing at stake.

First of all, both books address issues I think most teens face. I remember slumber parties and truth or dare; I remember the peer pressure to look a certain way, dress a certain way, join a certain activity. Even Christian teens are faced with these pressures. And both Lindsay and Drew are easy to relate to because they face these problems with difficulty, knowing the difference between right and wrong, and yet tempted by the power of them. They felt very real in their mistakes.

I loved the idea of getting to read two endings, too. I always wonder when I read about what would have happened if someone had done something differently, and here the author has given me that ending. Getting to see how the girls' choices turn out was really fun, but also thought-provoking. My only problem with them was that the secondary characters were not consistent in the endings. For example, in All that Glitters, Drew's boyfriend ends up to be a scoundrel and morally corrupt guy when she chooses the bad decision, but when she chooses the right decision, he just ends up being a kid who made a bad choice as well, and is sorry about it: an overall good guy. Who he is in his heart should be the same, no matter which decision she chooses.

The voice was also a bit inconsistent. I had a hard time knowing if the story was being filtered through the eyes of the main character, or through an adult narrator. Sometimes the language was spot-on teen, but often it was much more mature than a teen. I'm not sure if this is something a teen reader would notice, but it stood out to me.

Mrs. O'Dell did a great job of capturing the energy and emotional roller-coaster of being a teen. Some people will no doubt find the sections in church and youth group too preachy, but I actually liked those the best. I remember reading many books like this as a teen, and loving the identification with another Christian kid with my own struggles as well as beliefs. Now there are very few books in print for youth of faith, and I'm sure there will be many kids who find a welcome identification in these books.

Since they do contain some "preaching," though, I recommend parents read the books as well and discuss them with their girls. There may be places where you strongly agree or disagree with what is said about the morals in these books, or how the parents chose to react to the girls, or what the preacher or youth leaders say, and as such these books are a great avenue to discussion.

I know this series will continue to develop and get stronger the longer Mrs. O'Dell writes them, and I look forward to seeing what new and complicated issues she deals with next, and what spunky and creative characters she throws in the middle of them!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Social Media: To Embrace or Fear?

As I wrestled with the marketing aspect of publishing this week, I found this fascinating video.

I found it through Twitter, so the likelihood is that you've seen it as well.

But if you haven't, you should. It's fascinating, scary, exciting, bewildering, astonishing.

Watch it and tell me: does this scare you even a little, or is it breathtakingly exciting? Or somewhere in between?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


I remember clearly the day two seniors walked into Columbine High School in Colorado and opened fire. I was sitting on the floor of my living room, my six-month old son crawling over my legs, as the program I was watching changed into breaking news and the screen was filled with a post-apocalyptic scene of helicopters and police tape and kids running with their hands over their head while others lay dying on the sidewalk.

It was one of those moments in which the world - if not dramatically changed – at least shifted into something new and frightening and uncertain.

So when Dave Cullen’s book Columbine hit the shelves ten years later (and to be truthful, before it hit the shelves), I was immediately drawn to it.

Why this book over others that have come out about that tragedy? I think part of it for me is that Dave was there from the beginning. Part of it is that he let it take ten years to write: ten years gives a lot of perspective.

But the greatest part was what Dave had to say about his book himself:

I spent ten years covering Columbine, and was struck by how complex and consuming it was. So many fascinating people, such rich stories, all knotted together. I was compelled by two questions: what drove these killers, and what did they do to this town? That's what I set out to tell.

And tell it he did.

Last week Dave graciously agreed to talk with me, and we spent almost an hour talking on the phone about the book, about his experiences writing it, and the traffic between his house and the airport. ☺

He’s given many great interviews to other people about the content of the book, and I tried not to ask all the same questions he’s answered dozens of times already. If you are interested in more information, I’ve included some of my favorites at the bottom of this post.

Here, though, is part of the conversation I had with Dave:

I read in another interview that you wanted to be a novelist when you were in college. Did you ever consider writing about the Columbine tragedy as a fictional account?

I still want to be a novelist, but no. I didn’t. There have been several people that have tried that. There’s a place for it. But if you’re going to research it you might as well tell the story. I did want to use the techniques of the novel though. I don’t want to use the word non-fiction novel, but I wanted to employ the techniques of new journalism, like In Cold Blood, the kind Tom Wolfe and Sebastian Junger wrote: a non fiction account that reads like a novel. People would read it because they get sucked in and want to know what happens next. I didn’t want people to read it because it was like eating their vegetables: something you have to do because it’s good for you. Who wants to read that? It’s not that hard to do both. Well, it is, but you can do them both.

When did you first know this could be something much more than a few articles about a school shooting?

Well, I went the first day. I saw it on the news and I wasn’t very far away, so I went out just in case. I got in my car about noon and thought, “I’ll be out there in case it turns out to be something.” But I didn’t take a phone with me or anything, so I wasn’t in touch with anyone while I was there. About 4 in the afternoon, I got a hold of someone’s cell phone and called the editor I worked with at Salon and asked, “Are you going to want something today?” I didn’t even know if she’d want a story that soon but she said, “I’ve got a cover blocked out for you.” So I did that article. It was such a big thing, I knew in the morning that it was going to be more than just that one article.

Joan Walsh was the editor and told me a day or two into it, “You can do a story or two a day if you want to.” I did one story a day for about a week, then did one for about a month, going more in depth. I got involved in some of the churches there, going to Bible studies and such, because that was such a big part of the community and of the story. I did that for a while and then I thought I was done. I thought, “I’m done with this kind of thing. I don’t want to do anything about mass murders again.”

But by the end of the summer, I was frustrated we didn’t have any answers. We didn’t know anything about the killers or why it had happened. In September, I wrote another article. [In this article Dave exposes many of the myths the media had perpetrated about the killers.] I thought I was done again, but about a month after that story I felt dissatisfied.

I hadn’t figured out what drives these killers. And I went back and talked to psychiatrists, and the investigators brought in world famous shrinks and my next objective was to talk to them.

The next summer Jonathon Karp, who was an editor at Random House with a new imprint there, liked my work at Salon and talked with me and asked if I would be one of the original authors of AtRandom. He asked if I had anything I’d like to write a short ebook on and I suggested I do something about Columbine, and he said great. That’s the first time I started thinking of it as a book. That book didn’t work out; it was really too soon and I didn’t feel like I had a great feel for the killers. 5 years later the idea sold to Dutton and then I never looked back. In the end, I went through three publishers before the book was finally finished.

You spent the better part of ten years being immersed in Columbine, not just as someone writing about it, but as someone who was there. How did you deal with the emotional overload that comes with this kind of subject?

Well, there’s the Dart Center. It really helps. I went through the training and got with this group of journalists and that helped. It helps to have advice from other people that have gone through this kind of trauma.

I had to identify first that I had this problem. There were signs, slipping into depression, but I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t really know about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and I didn’t know there was a secondary PTSD - a rampant PTSD – experienced by cops, ambulance workers, people who work with rape, murders - a lot of people who didn’t personally experience it but work with all these people that were in the middle of it and they absorb the trauma from those people.

I didn’t know what was happening to me. Like any kind of disease the first way to recover is naming it.

There were other things then, things I learned to do, like taking breaks, talking to people when it got too much. Putting limits on how much I experienced or did at once. Knowing when to stop.

7 years after the fact there was a second wave [of PTSD]. There was a string of copycat school shootings, and one happened close to my home. I watched it as it played out on TV and one of the girls was shot in the head and I was watching and praying for her for the whole afternoon, and when I talked to my shrink the first thing she said - gave me this dirty look and said – “Don’t you think four hours is a little excessive?” I told her, “I do this for work.” And she asked, “But for 4 hours?”

I realized she was right. So now I don’t. When the Virginia Tech shootings happened, I could not spend hours and hours on this.

Also, for me, learning about the killers didn’t bother me so much. It’s like studying a disease. It’s the victims that get to me. When they did the victim profiles, I turned off the TV. It seemed cold, but I knew that was my limit. That’s dangerous. I can cover the story if I can cover the killers, but it doesn’t arouse the same pain and grief as covering the victims.

The biggest way for me to solve the problem is to finish. The only way it ever stops eating me up is when I turn the final page. There’s no real healing until I finish.

There’s been time when I felt a weight lifted from me – I could feel it getting lighter as I’d finish a section of writing. But it was a gradual thing with this book. About a month after finishing I realized it had been that long since I’d had a crying episode. For so long I’d cried a lot, sometimes everyday, working on the book. And I realized I’m actually a normal person again. The weight of just wanting to get it right lifted. Once it was done, it was out of my hands.

You really have ten main characters in this book. Besides covering the background of the killers and the lives of the victims and survivors, you also cover the planning and execution of the intended bombing, the media aspect, the legal aspect, and the emotional impact. Was the hardest part about writing this: the intensity of the subject or figuring out how to structure the book to include so many story lines?

I underestimated how many characters there would be in this book. There’s more a lot more than ten characters; there are really ten plot lines. Then each of those plots lines had many, many characters. Once I started writing I realized each story line has about three main characters. I thought, “I have 30 main characters to juggle!” But then with supporting characters, I have about 100 characters, and 100s of bit parts.

It was hard for me, and hard for the readers. There was one point about a year before the last edit when I went through and culled the people who are only mentioned once, and it was about 150 characters. Anywhere you see “there was a woman who said…” or “a student who did this…”, those initially all had names.

The problem is, every time you hear a name as a reader you are thinking, “do I need to remember their name?” Wiping them out makes it easier on the reader to focus on the story.

Juggling the story lines, it was hard to juggle that. I was juggling violence, intensity, drama, tragedy. I didn’t want to have too much murder or mayhem. That gets really heavy. I’d say I tried to lighten it, but you can’t really do that. You can’t add humor to this, but I did try to balance darkness and light, pain and joy.

You have to be aware of what the reader is going through and keep them on the edge of their seat just enough - be suspenseful - but not too long. You can wear that out. It’s hard to keep the pacing just right. I had these big charts on the wall with a row of post-its for each of the story lines and I kept moving things around. If in an edit I took something out, I could see there was too much time between when a story line stopped and started again, I’d have to shuffle stuff around.

That became such a bigger problem in the later editing process. I finished the book with 875 pages and immediately we knocked out 75. My editor and I then knocked that in half so that we were left with about 400 pages. Every time we went through it and cut a scene, then I had to re-juggle everything else around it.

Emotionally, there were other challenges. But writing wise, the structure was the biggest challenge. I didn’t start with the structure in place, though. It took a lot of time. I didn’t completely work out the structure until I was well into the process.

What is the best compliment you’ve gotten from writing this book?

I think of all the things, the best part is that most of the people very close to the tragedy, people who were involved in it and several of the people in the book said it helped them in different ways. All of them said they didn’t know about the killers and about what had happened and it put things together for them. It helped them with the healing, and it was good for them to see how the other people dealt with it, how the community got through this. It took about 7 or 8 years for the community to start to heal. It’s never over completely, of course, but you get to a place where you approach closure. That happened about the time of dedicating the final memorial, eight years after the attacks, they were getting closer to closure, and it helped solidify it. People said that the book helped them to see how it played out for everyone else. I didn’t know if the book would help or hurt people, or neither, but it was good to know that for most of them, it helped the healing process.

Many, many thanks to Dave for taking time out of his busy schedule to talk to me. If you are interested in learning more about the behind-the-scenes of the book, take a look at some of these links.

And go buy this book. It doesn't disappoint.

Dave Cullen's Website (This also has great links to information on PTSD as well as copies of the killer's journals, photos, police reports, and links to information about the victims)

Dave answers questions from readers like you at Goodreads

What You Never Knew About Columbine: an interview with Dave at Salon

How To Write A Tragedy: Interview on the Hastings Report

The New Yorker interviews Dave Cullen

Interview with The Dreamin' Demon

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Bit of Randomness

I got into several interesting conversations yesterday regarding my post on Twitter. Shelli was good to point out the benefits of TweetDeck, that might make Twitter more useful, to which I say AMEN! Point taken! And yet, I admit this slightly sobbing over my letterless keyboard, my operating system is too old to handle TweetDeck. This could account for my overwhelming overwhelmedness when faced with 2,000 tweets since noon.

After my little rant yesterday about Twitter (by which I actually didn't mean it was useless so much as I just hadn't figured out how to use it to any real benefit other than finding writers and stealing away to their blogs to meet them), I read author Nicole O'Dell's blog where, coincidentally, she posted a tip on finding publishing tips on Twitter.

Agent Chip MacGregor had a great and uplifting post on the future of book publishing, and some really great tips on marketing your book, which is becoming my new full-time job (well, researching it anyway).

Speaking of marketing, I've been contemplating cover blurbs lately. As in, how do I get one? I would be lying if I said I wasn't constantly writing lists of people I might ask to read my book and blurb me. New blog reader Christy Pinheiro, in a recent blog post, pointed me towards this post over at Murderati on how to obtain a blurb from an established author. Great information!

So if all that positivity is just way too much, feel free to wander over to Pimp My Novel's post on literary fiction. Downright depressing. Seriously. Hold on a sec while I go get something strong to drink. In summation: Literary fiction is not selling well. 4,000 books sold is considered a good, solid number. And if you aren't Michael Chabon, you might want to reconsider writing literary fiction.

Crud. I wish a few less agents had told me my book was literary fiction and a few more had agreed that it was commercial fiction.

BUT never to leave the blog on a negative note, I do have some good news.

I spent an incredibly enjoyable hour last week chatting with Dave Cullen, author of Columbine, and tomorrow that interview will appear here, on this very blog. You won't want to miss that. :)

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Problem With Twitter

I have to admit, I don't really get Twitter. It's not for lack of trying. Nor for lack of gratitude. After all, Twitter essentially got me a publisher.

But do I need to know that everyone is chugging coffee every morning as if their mental health depends on it, is addicted to reality TV stars (and their pointless Twitter updates), or is taking their cat to the vet?

I know there are beneficial twitter folks to follow. I have my local newspaper on my home page so I can be updated about traffic jams I most certainly will want to avoid, as well as updates on trials I am interested in. (Yes, I know this sounds weird, but honestly it is the only way I'm getting any information these days about the trial of the boy who murdered my friend). I know there are airlines who update flight statuses (can't you find that out via internet, also?) and coffee shops that offer coupons (what is it with the obsession to tweet coffee?) and whole plots to overthrow governments by organized protests that can only be organized via Twitter (hello, brave Iranians).

I know there are uses for it.

I just can't, for the life of me, figure out how it works.

This is my problem: if you want to effect some kind of change, or market yourself in some way (let's be real - I'm not trying to overthrow a government any time soon - I'd just like to meet other writers and get the word out about my book when the times comes to do so), you have to have a lot of followers. And if those followers have a lot of followers, what is the likelihood that they're reading your tweet anyway?

I can't possibly keep up with 2,000 people's tweets. And let's be honest. Some of you tweeters tweet A LOT!

And it isn't as if I'm not interested in your lives. I am. Really. I just can't keep up with all of you. And still keep a life of my own. Let's even say I stop vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms, folding laundry and doing dishes ( gee, what heaven that would be!!), I still have to feed and clothe my kids, find time to write and edit, and squeeze in sleep in there. I could literally be at the computer all day reading tweets and replying to them and get NOTHING done - and be no closer to marketing my book better....

because, and let's be honest, how many of those people are reading and engaging in my tweeted life?

The catch-22 of Twitter is this: to make it useful you have to have a lot of followers, and if you have a lot of followers, you can't build the relationships with those people to make them interested in having a relationship with you - or even notice your tweets among their thousands.

So what do I do? I use Twitter to find people I might not otherwise know about. Writers. With blogs and website. Blogs and websites where I can actually get to know them and interact with them in something deeper than 140 characters.

Sure, I may still check in on Twitter to make sure they've had their cuppa joe and their cat is back to health, but mostly I find them in the real world: The blogging world.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Letter In The Mail

Today I got a letter in the mail.

It came in an envelope with my handwriting on the front. An SASE. No return address.

I stared at it for a minute, trying to figure out whom I had sent a letter to that required an SASE. I figured it was a query, but goodness! The last queries I sent out to agents were in February!

I'd actually thought I'd gotten them all back. After all, there weren't very many I'd sent snail mail. And even though I have a publishing contract now, I still got that little flip in my stomach when I realized what it was. Without opening it I knew. It had to be a rejection. Does anyone - even an agent that requires you to snail mail a query - reply positively via SASE?

But even as I held it, it seemed a bit thick for a single sheet of form rejection. It was like college applications all over: if the envelope comes back thin, it's a rejection; if it doesn't, it's an acceptance with a wad of financial papers.

And when I opened it, I still expected a form rejection. Even though it was three pages. I expected, with every line I read, for it to be a form rejection. We loved it but...

I have gotten so many of those I can recite it by heart.

But this one...

It was most definitely personal. There was nothing at all form about it. They apologized for taking so long. They explained they've had an exceptionally busy season. They said I did an amazing job with my sample writing.

I looked at the agency name. Oh. My. Gosh. It was one of the big guys. A major player I'd thought I'd never have a shot with. Someone I'd obviously written off as soon as the envelope was in the mail, and never wondered why I didn't hear back.

I went back to the letter. They want the whole manuscript.

Yada yada... it ends with this: We get so many proposals each month it is overwhelming, but once in a while we find one that is refreshing and engaging. And yours is one of them.

Me. My book. I'm one of them. I'm one of the ones they want.

I have to be honest. It isn't until I write this right now - a full six hours after the mail came - that I finally realize this could be something big.

But you know what? I didn't - and don't - feel like I made a mistake signing with a small press. I've been down that road before. I've had agents say glowing things, then reject me with so much as a I love this but I have no idea who to sell this to.

And you know what? I do. I know who will buy this. And I think I can sell it. I believe in my book, and the story, and I believe there is an audience for it. And I don't wish I hadn't signed a contract so I could go through one more round of printing and mailing and pinning my hopes on someone else. Because in a month, or two, or six, the SASE in the mailbox might say something not so nice to hear. Because I don't want to wait around waiting for something that may never come and overlook the opportunity staring me in the face.

I could spend all my time waiting around for something better to come along, when the perfect thing is right in front of me.

Still, at the end of the day... it is nice to be wanted. And to be the one that gets to say, Thanks for thinking of me, but I've gone with someone else.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Book Review: Belong To Me

I have a friend I like to call my book soulmate. She is more than that of course: She is one of those once in a lifetime friends who, no matter time and distance, will always be the one I can talk to about anything.

But she is also the one who reads more than anyone I know, and who gives me books that fit my soul like a sigh. Books that, when I open them and start to read, bathe me in words and stories that make me lose all sense of time and space.

It's a bonus that my birthday is in the summer, and that she always sends the best books as gifts, which I hold on to until I am somewhere warm, toes in the sand, waves lapping at my feet, the sound of gulls swooping down and a husband who has taken kid duty - at least for a little while.

Belong To Me was one of the gifts she sent this year, and it didn't disappoint.

In short, the story is about several women in a small town, all living in their own world of hurts and secrets and hopes, whose worlds collide in the most unexpected of ways.

The author, Marisa de los Santos, is also an award-winning poet, which is evident in the best of ways in the prose. Every sentence is like a poem of it's own; beautifully intricate and evocative. Do you remember that meme that was going around some time ago? The one where you had to grab the nearest book and turn to page 73 and find the third sentence? And you held your breath hoping it would be a good one, but it never was. Not once. Every sentence, taken out of context, bare and stripped on the page alone, was nearly ugly or convoluted or awkward by itself. This book is the opposite.

For example: pg 73 third sentence: He imagined he could hear himself snapping into place.

Any paragraph, any page. Beauty.

Many times he'd stood on a sidewalk or a patch of grass and felt his place in the universe: third planet from the sun, on the Orion arm of the milky Way galaxy, two-thirds of the way out from its center, in the Virgo super-cluster, in the continuum of time and space. He'd planted his feet and closed his eyes and tried to feel the motion of the earth.

and this:

It seemed impossible that you could stand in a kitchen making hot chocolate and grilled-cheese sandwiches with your best friend dying in the next room, the voices of her children tanged up with the voices of your own, that you could butter bread and watch, through the window, the trees relinquishing their leaves and hear the silvery tumble of water into a kettle, and be suddenly aware that what resided at the heart of every shape and sound was peace. A rightness hovering above all that was wrong, shimmering, like heat, rising from a street in summer.

and this one. Seriously, I just randomly opened the book and pointed:

Piper knew they were, as she watched them together, all four on the giant armchair listening to Danny Kaye tell the story of Tubby the Tuba, an album Elizabeth had loved as a kid, draped over each other with the gorgeous indifference of children who haven't yet learned that it matters where one body ends and the next begins.

There aren't a lot of books I read where I just want to stop at each sentence and marvel at the loveliness of it, but can't because I want to keep reading to find out what is coming next, because not just is the narrative expertly done, the plot is twisty and the relationships complex and the characters simply delicious.

It's not a perfect book, which is the case I think with many exquisite writings. Several similes or adjectives were so unique and captivating and breath-taking that I stopped to ponder them, to wonder why I don't even think in such a way to write like this. Only to have it repeated a hundred pages later. And then fifty pages after that.

And the point of belonging was a bit belabored. It repeated over and over, sometimes in ways that seemed almost contrived, like the title was created first and the author was trying to justify it a little too much.

But those tiny flaws did nothing to knock this book off it's perch as one of my new favorite books. It's one of those books I'll carry with me in my mind for a long time, and one to whom I'll return on those bad days, when I need to lose myself a bit in words that soothe the soul.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Count Me UnFrightened

I don't really know why I'm posting this, except this is my blog and this article got under my skin, and if I can't rant here, where do I rant??

So I am still perusing my last week's Entertainment Weekly, which I missed over vacation, and which came resplendent with vampires on the front cover. I am not a vampire girl. I have to say I don't think I've even read a vampire book before - not even Twilight. I'm not sure I've even seen a vampire movie, with the exception of Interview with a Vampire, which is just 2 hours of my life I've resolved I will never get back.

So that said, there is an interview with a vampire writer in the EW, a woman named Laurell K. Hamilton. I've never heard of her, but seeing as that isn't really my genre, that isn't surprising. What is surprising to me was her answer to a question about Stephanie Meyers.

I've gotten used to hearing a lot of flack about how Stephanie Meyers is a lousy writer, and the controversies over whether or not Bella makes a decent role model for girls, but this one actually made the hairs on my neck prickle.

The question asked is what she thinks of the Twilight phenomenon.

Stephanie Meyers has come and she's taken the genre that I sort of pioneered... She took out a lot of the sex and violence, especially for the first book. My readership is both male and female, but Twilight is very much a girls' book. I ask people, Why has this really captured you? What I heard from all ages is that it was very romantic that he was willing to wait for her and that there was no sex. They like the idea that [Bella] was like the fairy princess and [Edward] is the handsome prince that rides in and saves her. The fact that women are so attracted to that idea - that they want to wait for Prince Charming rather than taking control of their own life - I find that frightening.

I do get it - that feminism has made it acceptable for females to go after what they want. But what if what they want is a Prince Charming? Why is it no longer acceptable for a girl to decide she wants to wait for sex, or wants to wait for the perfect guy, or wants to be saved? Don't we all, in some way, want someone to save us, even as we are setting out boldly to blaze our own path?

I'm frustrated that as more options become viable, the acceptability of others close. We don't really have more acceptable choices now - we just have different ones.

It's not just that this author doesn't agree... she finds it frightening. As though to wait for something, to choose a different path, threatens her choices in life. It annoys me that she seems to claim ownership to this genre - though clearly vampires have been around much longer - and is angry that someone else might have a different take on it.

Isn't that the joy of books and reading... that there is something for everyone? Isn't it great that there are sexy, dark vampires for adults, and gentler, softer ones for younger readers? Isn't it great that women get to go after whatever career they want, or stay home with their kids? Isn't it awesome that women get to be strong and independent and powerful, and still be feminine and curl up under a man's arm at night, and let him empty the mouse trap and unclog the plumbing?

What, really, is so frightening about that?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The View From Here

This is pretty much what I've been looking at lately. It's a beach, in case you can't tell. A warm, sunny, quiet beach. Lots of sand and gentle waves. A slice of heaven in my otherwise hectic world.

Sunday my family was sitting in a fantastic little food dive called Crabby Bills, eating fried alligator and blackened Mahi Mahi, sipping iced tea, and feeling relaxed for the first time in I can't tell you how long.

There is something about the beach that does this to me. Sure, I went to New York not too long ago, which was an awesome trip, but not particularly relaxing. I thrived there on the tall buildings and packed subways and the hustle and bustle and the hopes that I would someday be part of the publishing world that resides there.

But the beach... the beach is like a drug.

Sitting at the long picnic table watching our waitress saunter from table to table, in no particular hurry, it suddenly occurred to me: I could do that.

So I said wistfully, "I think I want to sell everything and come down here to live. I'll be a waitress by night and a beach bum by day. Just lay around and swim in the ocean and do nothing."

(Did I mention it's been really hot? Perhaps the heat was getting to me...)

My son looks at me thoughtfully a minute before adding, "Yeah. You could write here."

And I actually said this: "No. I don't know that I'd write. That's a lot of hard work. I think I'll just be a beach bum."

And the sad thing was I really meant it. Not the beach bum part, or the waitress part, or even the selling everything part. Just the writing is hard work part. And I realized that for the first time in two years I'd actually allowed myself to leave the stress of writing and querying and editing and publishing behind. And while I enjoy writing tremendously - it's my passion, really, and there's nothing else I'd rather do for a living - I needed a break.

Not the kind of break where you stop writing because you have writer's block, or the break where you are overwhelmed by the rest of life and the book you wish you were writing struggles in your head day and night because you don't have time to work it out and write it.

I needed a break from just thinking about it all: the direction I want to go with my career, whether my query was good enough, what are agents and publishers looking for, which of the two books that I am writing should I stick with, can I make a career out of this, am I wasting my time and my family's time...

the list goes on and on. Things that weigh on me no matter where I go, no matter what I'm doing. Things that suddenly, somewhere between the sprawling strip malls of my suburban neighborhood and the sandy shores of my personal heaven, I let go of all those worries.

And then I worried that I wouldn't actually be the writer who says, I want to write from my beach house until I keel over dead.

And then, feet up looking at that sparkling water, I picked up a book and started reading.

An amazing, beautiful, stunningly written book.

And all I wanted to do was come back to the hotel and edit my own book.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Book Covers: A more humorous take on them

If you have children and you get the Disney channel, there's a good chance you've seen their cartoon, Phineas and Ferb. If you don't, well, you're going to have to use your imagination on this one.

This is a picture of the family:

The teenage girl is Candace. The 1950's stylin' gal is the mom. The photo is unimportant, really, but I always like a visual image. And it brightens up the blog.

So anyway, there was a new episode last week I happened to catch with my kids that had me rolling on the floor laughing, and screaming: I have to find that to blog!! Sadly, these things aren't all YouTubed yet, so you're going to have to deal with just the written dialog.

The scene was Candace sitting in the living room perusing a stack of books her mom had just bought for her. She shuffles through them one by one and the conversation goes something like this:

Candace: "boring, lame, predictable, overdone, cliche..."

(Enter Mom): "you haven't read any of those! how can you judge them by the covers?"

Candace: "gee mom, I don't know. What made you pick these out in the bookstore to buy?"

Mom: "Touche."

The moral of the dialog? Well... I think I'll let you figure that one out on your own.