Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Good, the Bad, and the Indifferent

This is what I love about my new Kindle e-reader:

1)The coverage map was wrong! I am in a Whispernet coverage area after all, it seems, which means I can have any book or periodical I order delivered to my Kindle within a minute. I know! I couldn't believe it, either! So I kept ordering, and ordering...
2)The price. Much has been said, of course, about the 9.99 best seller, but I am only moderately impressed by this. After all, Amazon.com has been selling 27.95 hardcover bestsellers for $13-$15 for years. What I love are the $2.00-$3.00 mysteries and suspense/thrillers, the $1.49 per month magazine subscriptions, the 75-cent Sunday New York Times. Moreover, many authors are giving away their back list titles for $00.00, presumably to generate interest in their new releases- a terrific promotional idea that I just might try myself!
3)Portability. The Kindle slips into my purse as easily as a day planner and takes up a lot less room, so if I have a few minutes to spare while waiting to meet a friend or sitting in the dentist's office, I always have something to read.
4)Audio books. I listen to an awful lot of audio books. Books on CD are expensive and bulky to store, and trying to change a CD while jogging or driving is, well, inconvenient to say the least. I've recently begun downloading audio books to my Ipod, which has worked out fine, but, now that I have a choice, it's much more convenient to have all my books stored on one device.
5) Speaking of audio, I love the text-to-speech feature. Admittedly, text-to-speech is rarely enabled for new titles, and the voice is a close relative of the one that narrates your GPS, but you can slow down or speed up the voice for clarity, and talk about convenience! Now you can continue reading your book without actually reading it.
6)Free samples. You can read the first chapter of a book or try a periodical for fourteen days at no charge. Brilliant.
7) Adjustable font sizes. This is huge for eyes as tired (and as old) as mine.
8) The bookmark feature. I know this is not particularly clever or inventive, but every time I
click on a book, I am taken back to the last page I read, even if I have two or three books going at once. That's nice.

What I don't like about my new toy:

1) No color! I know the greyscale/electronic ink is easier on the eyes than reading a computer screen (or, so they say, actual print on paper) , but I find reading black on grey depressing, and wonder if it will eventually shadow my enjoyment of the reading experience--especially when I can't flip to the color cover to give my brain a break.
2) Speaking of flipping, I can't get used to not being able to flip forward to see how many pages I have left in a chapter-- or in the book. There is a small counter at the bottom of the screen that marks your progress, but it's not the same. This makes for a very different reading experience.
3) I found holding the reader to be uncomfortable and unintuitive--books have two sides, right? So I actually made a cover for my Kindle (they sell much nicer ones) so that I can hold it in two hands like a real book.
4) The Biggie: Too much information! I spent all day Sunday reading newspapers from around the country. Why? Because I could. I downloaded more books than I would ever purchase if I went into a bookstore and had to physically carry them to the check-out counter (my one rule of thumb having always been: if you can't carry your purchases, you've probably spent too much) . Who has time to read that much? I know I don't. But there is great comfort in knowing that if I ever do get time, books are waiting.

In summation:

Will my e-reader replace print books for me? Not a chance. Audio books did not replace print books, either, but I enjoy them both. The e-reader is a supplement, not a substitute; a convenience, not a necessity. Do I absolutely, positively desperately need one? Well, no. I didn't actually need an Ipod either, but every time I get on the treadmill and crank up the music, I sure am glad I have it. I suspect the Kindle will be the same, once the novelty wears off. It will have its uses, even if they're limited. It won't change my life, but I think I'll always be glad I have it.

Monday, December 28, 2009

And the E-Winner is...

pages written since last post: 2

Over the last few days before Christmas, the debate changed from whether or not I would get an e-reader to a much simpler choice: which one. Yes, the nook is too cool for words (it has color! At least of the book covers) , and Barnes and Noble has posted a terrific comparison chart between the nook and the Kindle. The nook claims to have over one million titles (although a cursory search revealed several titles that were available on Kindle were not available on nook), and the pricing between nook and Kindle is pretty much the same for the device and books to read on it. The size, weight and features of both devices are virtually the same (but the nook has color!). My choice: The Amazon Kindle. Here is why, in order of importance:
1)Speedy delivery. I wanted it over the holidays, while I had a little bit of time to play with it. Amazon.com promised 2-day delivery, and by George, I got it. The nook, on the other hand, would be delivered on or about Feb. 1.
2)Trust. See above about promises.
3) Customer Service. As soon as my order was processed, Amazon.com sent me an e-mail inquiring whether I would like to purchase books for my new reader, and promising they would be delivered to my Kindle en route. Did I order books? You bet! And I just loved thinking about the technology that could track down my little Kindle on some FedEx truck somewhere and send to it the books that I had personally chosen, so that I would have something to read when it arrived. Maybe I'm easily impressed, but that's what I call service.
4)Convenience. Everything I needed to know about my purchase was available right there at my fingertips. I did not have get in my car and drive anywhere to receive the benefits of my Kindle (the nook implies that some of its most desirable features are only activated when you walk into a B&N store).
5)Free shipping. Okay, on a $259 purchase, free shipping does seem like the least they could do, but it was a nice touch.
6) One-click shopping. They just make it too easy.

And as I glance at the above list, I realize that those are, for the most part, the reasons I've always chosen Amazon.com over a brick-and-mortar bookstore. Almost since its inception, bookstores (and publishers, oddly enough) have felt threatened by Amazon.com. Speaking strictly as a consumer, maybe they should be.

So now I am sitting on top of a mountain where high speed internet only became available three years ago and where the waiting list for best sellers at the local library is still six-plus months, the proud new owner of a Kindle e-book reader. How do I like it?

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

On the Other Hand...

Pages written since last post: 7

I'm still struggling with Kindle lust, but as promised, I am examining both sides of the electronic books issue (from a purely self-centered point of view, of course). Having searched high and low, here are the downsides to e-readers that I've come up with:

For authors and publishers:
1)For most titles, you can download the first chapter free. Here are the books that I purchased in hardcover that I would not have not have bought at all if I could have read the first chapter before purchasing:

South of Broad
by Pat Conroy
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larson
How I Became A Famous Novelist by Greg Hely
That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo

This is not to say that these might not turn out to be wonderful books, but so far I have not been able to get past the first chapter in any of them. And with ten or more absolutely delicious titles waiting on my nightstand at any given time (think how many more titles I would be tempted by if I weren't limited by the space available on my night stand!), one chapter is pretty much all you get before I move on to something more interesting. Bad news for those literary types who think the tried-but-true rule of writing "Open with a hook" doesn 't apply to them (and for those very un-literary types who never took the trouble to learn that rule).

2) E-books are cheaper. Well, DUH! screams the publishing industry, because this simple fact is, of course, at the center of the entire controversy (in case you haven't been keeping up, the truth of the matter is that publishers are not at present losing money on the cheap e-versions of their books, but they seem to be worried that they might somehow do so in the future). Because here's the truth, a dedicated reader like myself will in fact buy books (like those mentioned above) sight unseen, in hardcover, at full price if given no other choice. Books I wish I had ordered electronically:

The Lost Symbol
by Dan Brown. I definitely paid too much for this one.

Under the Dome by Stephen King. In fact I only paid 9.00 for this, but at 1123 pages it's too heavy to hold! I definitely wish I had this one nicely tucked away in a lightweight e-reader.

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Neffenegger

For Readers

Here I am limited because I don't, you'll recall, actually own an e-reader yet. I hear the page-turn function can be slow, which would make me crazy. I put a good deal of value on the interior design of a book-- how it's formatted, the type that's used, the design of chapter headings, etc.-- which would be missing in most electronic editions. And yes of course I would miss paper books, and when I do, I will buy one. What really bothers me is the cover art. Can someone assure me that when I download a book I will also be able to download a full-color, full-size version of its original cover?

2) Not every title is available electronically and publishers are now joining forces to make certain that top titles are not released electronically until close to the time the paperback edition comes out.

3) Here is the bottom line for readers: Price, and convenience. If, like me, you buy most of your hardcover bestsellers from Amazon.com (where I live, I really have no choice), and you always order in quantity and get free shipping, you'll end up saving only a dollar or two on Amazon.com's already heavily discounted hardcover price if you buy the electronic version. Last year about this time I added up the amount I had spent on books all year and compared that to the cost of the electronic editions of the same books. Over the course of a year (and a LOT of books) I would have saved less than $70, hardly enough to pay for a pricey e-reader. So what you're mostly paying for with an e-reader is convenience.

$259 is a lot of convenience.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Kindle Envy

Pages written since last post: 145

If you’re not in The Industry, you may not be aware of the firestorm of controversy regarding the evil e-reader which is destined to destroy publishing as we know it forever (speaking strictly from the point of view of a writer, this may not be a bad thing). It has taken me a really long time to comprehend the significance of this, because I am pretty much at the bottom of the technological curve. I’ve never sent a text message in my life. Totally don‘t get Twitter. My big-city friends are shocked and appalled when they dial my cell phone and, like, no one answers (don’t they know the only use for cell phones is when your car breaks down on the side of the highway at midnight in an ice storm?) I don’t know anyone– yes, this is God’s honest truth– who owns a Kindle. I live in one of the 3% or so of America that is not covered by Whispernet.


Every time I open up the Amazon.com page that $259 Kindle flashes in my face like some kind of subliminal siren’s song. First I am intrigued. Then I’m hooked. Now I am obsessed.

Here are the books I would download today, immediately, right now, if I had a Kindle:

Super Freakonomics by Levitt & Dubner (okay, this one I would probably buy in hardcover anyway)

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

Knit The Season by Kate Jacobs

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton

Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

Ford County by John Grisham

The Christmas List by Richard Paul Evans

Angel Time by Anne Rice

The Lost City of Z by David Mann

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Mann

And that’s not even to mention the dozens of less expensive (2.99-3.60) books I would download simply to glance over– because I need to know what the competition is writing, why these books are selling and who is buying them; in other words, for business.

Publishers and authors take note. With the exception of one or two titles, these are books I would not otherwise buy at all. Here’s why:

Michael Crichton, John Grisham, Barbara Kingsolver, Anne Rice : I usually buy these authors in hardcover, but each of the titles seems to be a diversion from what I usually expect from them. I’m not sure I’d actually finish any of these books, and these titles, together, amount to over $100. I could buy half a Kindle for that.

On the other hand, if I read and enjoy these titles, I will buy them in hardcover to keep, particularly the Michael Crichton book, which I know is his last. That’s a promise.

The Christmas List, Knit The Season: Fluff. Enjoyable, but not worth $25.00 each. Sorry.

Super Freakonomics: Because I want to read it right now. I’m in the mood. I live 60 miles from the nearest bookstore. I want something to read.

All Others : These have been recommended to me by the Literary Elite who, in my opinion, have only about a 40% success rate (much like movie critics). I will occasionally take a chance on their recommendations, but not to the tune of $27.95

So there you go, the honest truth from a real reader, and this is a factor that I think might be too often brushed aside in the e-book wars. These are potential sales of books that would otherwise be borrowed from the library, loaned by friends, or not read at all. The author, and the publisher, make money from these sales. Words are read. Stories are told. This is a good thing.

Of course there are down sides to the $9.99 e-book, and I will endeavor to uncover them in the coming days. There is more and more controversy, as everyone tries to get in on the act. And, bottom line, $259 is still a lot of money to pay for a device that does only one thing, and that one thing is something you can do by yourself: read.

On the other hand... Christmas is just around the corner. Santa Baby, I’ve been an awful good girl this year.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Happy Release Day to Me!

pages written since last post:
oops! Been a little busy, here.

Today the second book in the Ladybug Farm series, At Home on Ladybug Farm, hits book store shelves everywhere. Yay! If you haven't yet purchased yours, run, don't walk, to the nearest bookstore, or simply click the link above. And that concludes this brief commercial announcement.

Since this is the second book in a series, today seems as good a time as any to address a question that comes up over and over again: Why does a series get canceled? Or, "What ever happened to... (insert the name of your favorite author or series here)?" There are lots of reasons, of course, but the most common reason a series disappears is really quite simple: the first books in the series did not sell enough copies to justify the publisher's continuing it. An unfortunate corollary is that most series--especially mystery series-- are canceled before they have a chance to gain a following. The reason? Because they are passed around from friend to friend, or purchased from used book stores, and in the world of publishing only new book sales are recorded.

I still receive e-mail asking when I'm going to write the next book in series that have been out of print for five years or more. In fact, some of my books gained their most enthusiastic following after they were out of print! How can this be? you might wonder. The answer is, once again, simple: the books were passed from friend to friend, borrowed from the library, purchased at used book stores. The problem is that the only way a publisher can track a book's popularity is by how many new copies are sold. The author gets no credit for books bought at used bookstores. A book that is shared between 10 people or checked out of the library by 100 people still only counts as one sale. The bottom line is if you really love a series (or an author!) by her books new, and tell your friends. Otherwise, you too may be wondering Whatever happened to...

Happily, however, that will not be the case with the Ladybug Farm series, which has another book scheduled for next fall. In the meantime, you're invited to celebrate with me by entering the contest for a drawing that will be held November 1. The prize is a hand-bound ladybug themed journal, and all you have to do to enter is post a comment on the "Notes from the Real Ladybug Farm" blog, or write a review of At Home on Ladybug Farm on Amazon. com and let me know that you've done it, either by posting here, on the Ladybug blog or by contacting me through my web site.

And Happy Reading!

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Good Book Year Part Two

Pages written since last post:

Every year I am given the weighty responsibility of choosing the last book of the year-- the Christmas book--for our reading group. The reason this is such a difficult choice is because, traditionally, all the good books are released in the fall/winter. Just look at what we have to choose from this year:

John Krakauer: Where Men Win Glory
Krakauer, author of the unforgettable Into the Wild and Into Thin Air takes on the tale of NFL hero Pat Tillman, who abandoned a promising career to die a hero in the war against the Taliban. Whenever Krakauer undertakes to tell a story, it promises to be rivetting. For this and no other reason, this book makes my list for consideration.

Audrey Niffenegger: Her Fearful Symmetry. Did we love The TimeTraveler's Wife? Well, yes, actually-- it was my book cluib selection two (or three) Christmases ago! We're all wondering whether she can possibly follow it up with something as tame as a story of sibling rivalry... although I must say it does sound as though it has some intriguing twists. I love the setting of Highgate Cemetery, and the promise of Elspeth-from-the-Other-Side. This will have to be done well, but it's definitely worth looking into.

Margaret Atwood: The Year of The Flood Ah, now. The author of A Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake... this one I am sure of. If the earmark of a good book club selection is a book with potential for controversy, this one definitely makes the list.

And last but not least, coming September 15.... Wait! That's now!

Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol
Okay, welcome back from your trip to Mars if you haven't heard the news. Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated book since the last Harry Potter installment, the manuscript was only three years overdue (care to guess what would have happened to me if I'd tried that??). All I can say is, it had better be good! And yes, my copy has been on order for two months now, and no, when it arrives I will not put aside all else, turn off the phones, close the curtains, order take-out and settle down to read it straight through... until the weekend.

The problem, of course, with having such a luxury of choices is that some of the lesser known writers risk getting trampled in the stampede... and by lesser known writers, I mean anyone not on this list who has the misfortune to have a book out in the fall. That would be me.

So, my Christmas Book Club selection this year? At Home on Ladybug Farm by Donna Ball.

Hey, these days a girl has got to look after herself.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Seventh Deadly Sin for Writers

Today we come to the last, and most powerful, of the seven deadly sins for writers:


Fear is the most dangerous vice of all. Fear stops nine of ten writers dead in their tracks before the first word is written. Fear will cause a writer to put away her manuscript the first time she runs into a plot problem she can’t solve or a character who seems wooden. Fear will rob a writer of her dream the first time someone confirms– or appears to confirm– what she has always secretly believed to be true: that her book is no good.

The problem is that you can’t be a writer without fear. Writers live in a constant state of fear. Those who make friends with fear will win the race. Those who do not will never even leave the start line.

Fear of failure keeps you going back to that manuscript until you get it right; fear of rejection keeps you sending it to agent after agent, publisher after publisher in the desperate hope that someone, somewhere will give you a chance; fear of losing– your time, your faith in your story, your belief in yourself and even your train of thought!– is what keeps you sitting in front of your monitor every day until you get it right, and then coming back the next day to face that same fear again. The fear of dying with his song yet unsung is the motivating force behind most writers. Fear is your strongest ally, and your deadliest enemy. The difference can be found in whether you use the fear, or let the fear use you.

So if the definition of courage is to be afraid, and do it anyway... Do it anyway.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Sixth Deadly Sin for Writers


Or, "It’s good enough."

Laziness, believe it or not, is more closely akin to defeat than it is to arrogance, singularity or ignorance. Laziness is usually justified by "Oh, what the hell? No one is ever going to read it anyway."

Laziness refuses to tweak that one scene that just doesn’t make sense, to rewrite Chapter Five even though it clearly has nothing to do with the rest of the book as it stands, to do the final read-through, to rewrite the last sentence one more time. Laziness won’t waste time or paper printing out a draft for proof-reading, or run the spell checker more than once. Laziness doesn’t show, but tells, resolves plot dilemmas with thinly-disguised twists from last week’s CSI: Miami, sets his stories in his home town so he doesn’t have to research other locations, writes cartoon sketches of characters because he can’t be bothered to delve into what really makes people interesting .

Laziness doesn’t read– his own genre, other people’s genres, the best seller list, the trades, or even blogs posted by experts in his profession. Laziness says, "He got away with it, why can’t I?"

Laziness stops writing when the book is "good enough."

Laziness is deadly.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Deadly Sin for Writers #5


Otherwise known as "He got a 2 million dollar advance for that?"

Make no mistake about it, friends: envy will slap you down, immobilize you, eat you alive. Envy is everywhere. Envy says, "I don’t know why I have to do three different rewrites when everything Famous Writer X publishes reads like it was written by a third grader with a learning disability." Envy says, "I guess the reason Writer Y gets all the great covers is because she’s sleeping with the Art Director." And, "My books are so much better than X’s, Y’s and Z’s, but they get all the attention and I can’t even get paid!" The truth is, publishing is a capricious business and readers are oftentimes a fickle lot. Maybe everything your envious little heart tells you is nothing more or less than the truth. So? And what does that get you?

Write better.

Write more.

Move on.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Deadly Sin for Writers #4

We are on Day Four of my list of the Seven Deadly Sins for Writers, and this is one of my favorites. I could have written volumes on this particular subject, but, you know, brevity is a virtue.

As hard as it may be to believe, ignorance is a vice that afflicts our industry more often than you might imagine. It may have to do with the proliferation of mass media, particularly the Internet, and the belief that if you can post a comment to a blog, send a Tweet, or set up a Facebook page, you can write a book. What truly amazes me is that with such an abundance of legitimate information out there on the subject of writing and publishing-- the numerous agent, publisher and writer blogs, the hundreds of books written on the subject, not to mention the online writing courses offered-- so few people actually bother to research and/or educate themselves in the profession they want to join. I recently scanned through a thread on the "literature" section of a social networking site in which a young man was asking for help in finding a publisher for the book he was "thinking of writing"– in all lower case letters, with three words misspelled. The true tragedy of this post was that in the 46 replies I read , no one pointed out the obvious to him. 1)Learn to spell 2)Learn to write 3)Learn your craft.

And before you look for a publisher, you might, ahem, actually want to write a book.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Seven Deadly Sins For Writers: #3

Today's deadly sin for writers is:

Sometimes known as stubbornness, inflexibility, or self-importance

This writer is easy to spot. He has a Vision that he refuses to compromise (never mind that no one else is at all interested in reading about that vision). He has a Style that is all his own (and completely incomprehensible). His words are a pure and unmitigated expression of Himself (which is, unfortunately, painfully obvious). This writer never takes a class because he has nothing to learn. He refuses to hire an outside editor or coach for fear his words will be tampered with. He never bothers to read the query or submission instructions on agents’ or publishers’ web sites because those kinds of mundanities do not apply to him. He will never take a suggestion for revision because of the afore-mentioned Vision. And he will never be published.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Second Deadly Sin for Writers

Welcome back to my series on The 7 Deadly Sins of Writers. Yesterday we talked about Arrogance. Here is today's topic:

a.k.a. "I deserve more than this!"

Well, don’t we all? Avarice, when used in reference to a writer, has a slightly different meaning that it might for the average person. While a greedy person is commonly assumed to be seeking more than his share, a greedy writer usually spends his career just trying to get enough. Enough money, enough attention, enough promotion, enough marketing, enough books printed to actually earn out his advance. The problem with this affliction is that it, too, is self-destructive, and after a time it becomes such a way of life that even the writer doesn’t know how much is enough.

Here’s the thing: if you think you deserve more, get better at what you do. And if you still think you deserve more, you’re probably right. And you’re in the wrong business.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Seven Deadly Sins for Writers

Pages written since last post: 5

This week is Graduation Day for my summer writing class (an extraordinarily talented group of people if I do say so myself) and as always I’ ve been searching for a inspirational speech, some weighty last words with which to send them off into the cold harsh world of publishing. I finally decided that in these uncertain times what is needed is a call to the Straight and Narrow Path, and devised this warning against falling prey to the seven deadly sins for writers (I was going to call it The Seven Deadly Sins of Beginning Writers, but then realized how many of them I’ve been guilty of, myself!). Over the next week I’ll be blogging about a different writer’s vice. Do any of them sound familiar to you writers out there?

Here is Deadly Sin Number One:


Also known as the you-won’t-believe- what- I-can-do or the I’m-the-best-that’s-ever-been syndrome, arrogance is often considered more of a survival tool for writers than it is a sin. Anyone who has actually written (much less had accepted for publication) a book is already one in several thousand, and he has a right to be proud. He also runs the risk of seeming very much like the new mother who believes she is the only one to have ever given birth. A quiet walk around a medium-sized bookstore is the generally accepted cure for a writer afflicted with arrogance, but for those die-hards who refuse to believe that their masterpiece is not the most extraordinary accomplishment ever to grace mankind, we may all rest assured: the arrogant writer rarely writes more than one book. Publishers find his demands outrageous, editors refuse to work with him, agents erase his e-mail from their address books. Because he is far too important to promote his book to anyone other than the major broadcast networks(who, for some reason, never got the memo that The Best Book Ever Written was about to be published) his sales plummet and his contract is not renewed.

Arrogance is, indeed, its own reward .

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Good Book Year

Pages written since last post: Are you freakin' kidding me?

I’m not sure if everyone has heard, but this country is experiencing an economic downturn. The publishing industry is experiencing a full-on melt down. Fortunately for readers, the great, cumbersome, archaic beast that is publishing moves exceedingly slowly (think: Ice Age), so the effects of today’s economy may be felt in, oh, 2012 or beyond. Meanwhile, we are having a PAAAAR....TY! I say again, Woooooo!

Look at what just arrived on my doorstep:

Pat Conroy’s SOUTH OF BROAD . His first book in– can it be??– fourteen years. It had better be good.
, his first since Pulitzer Prize winning EMPIRE FALLS . Again, no pressure there.

. This is one of the few authors that I collect. She doesn’t publish every year, but I’ve never met a Kingsolver book I didn’t love.

Margaret Maron’s SAND SHARK. What can I say? I love the Judge Knott mysteries, which are set just up the road from me in North Carolina. Thank you for publishing this year!

And, already making my hit list:

THE RELIABLE WIFE by Robert Goolrick.
The opening scene of this book has to be the quintessential example of building dramatic tension: The train is late. Why? Because our hero ordered a mail-order bride. Why? Because he wanted sex. Dark, hot,writhing-in-the-night sex. Now the whole town is staring at him. Because the train is late. Because his bride is traveling by private car, which made the train late. He has an image to uphold. But the train is late. And it’s all his fault. Because he wanted sex. Meanwhile, his mail-order bride is tossing her prostitute-garments out the window and assuming the demeanor of a Reliable Wife. And if you think that’s the only twist, boy are you in for a surprise or two! Well done, well done.

by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. This may be my favorite book of the year, perhaps the decade. But it does inspire me to give a seminar on choosing titles. I have never once recommended this book to anyone by its correct title– hint, hint to the author/publisher for future projects. Otherwise, I was utterly and completely enchanted, from opening sentence to last. I simply loved this book.

THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett. I grew up in the South in the 1960s. My mother did not have Help, but my grandmothers did. I thought I knew both sides of the story. I didn’t have a clue. THE HELP was deeply disturbing, heartwarming, enlightening, brave. I was changed, having read it.

HANDLE WITH CARE by Jodi Picoult. What can I say? Every time I read Jodi Picoult I say that this book will be my last. Her books are formulaic, predictable, and absolutely irresistible. Jodi Picoult has the courage to ask the hard questions: What if the only way you could get the money you needed to care for your special-needs child was to swear in court that you wished she had never been born? I say, You go, girl!

I have only skimmed the surface of my extraordinary book year (so far) but want to close with an homage to Blake Snyder, who passed away far too young this year. His book SAVE THE CAT is a guide to dramatic form that was the result of his outrageously successful career as a screenwriter and, in my opinion, will never be surpassed. If you have ever cast a wistful eye toward a career as a story teller, this is the book you need to start with.

And, guys– you won’t BELIEVE what’s coming this fall!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Writing Fever

Pages written since last post: 297

I have just written an entire book (yes!with words and everything!) in 62 days. Do you know that wonderful scene in Romancing the Stone in which Kathleen Turner finishes her latest masterpiece, blubbering like a baby (and searches all over the apartment for tissue, paper towels, toilet paper, anything on which to blow her nose but of course there is nothing because she hasn’t left her desk in weeks, perhaps months)? The average movie-viewer thinks that she’s crying because she’s so caught up in the beauty of her work. The average writer knows she’s crying because she is undergoing a complete meltdown due to a) sleep deprivation b)starvation and/or dehydration c)she knows (or believes) she’ll never have a high like this again.

This is what I call Writing Fever. It is a rare degenerative disorder that affects only the most talented, the most brilliant, and the most dedicated of our kind. It happens when the writer gets so caught up in the passion for his book that he is writing pages almost faster than he can read them. It is not a sustainable state, and it has absolutely no relationship to how good (or sellable) his opus might be. There is no cure. There is only management. But, oh my, when it strikes you, there really is no choice but to hold on tight and ride it through.

Here are my guidelines for surviving a bout of writing fever:

1) Don’t fight it. It may never happen again.
2) Lay in a stash of bottled water. Yes, I know that walking all the way to the kitchen will disrupt the flow, so keep it by your desk. People have died from less,
3)Try, at least once a week, to have a dinner more nutritious than Chex mix and wine spritzers. I know it’s hard to swallow with all that adrenaline surging through your veins. Try protein drinks. If you can manage it, a 250-calorie Lean Cuisine meal or a microwaved veggie burger will keep you going till midnight.
4)Every two hours, stand up. This is not optional. You may recall one of our vice-presidents suffered an embolism that was directly attributed to his remaining immobile on a long flight– and he didn’t even have the stress of writing a book! So stand up, walk around the room– and then succumb once again to the magnet- pull of the keyboard.
5)Don’t neglect your friends and family. Of course they have no place in your universe right now, of course they haven’t the faintest inkling of what you’re going through, but, as hard as it may be to believe at the moment, one day you’re going to need them again. So the next time you open up your browser to Google “everyday life in a Tibetan monastery” or “flight times from Amsterdam to New York”, send them an e-mail. “I love you. Please be patient.” are time-honored classics.
6)Exercise. Oh, what the hell– plenty of time for that when you finish the book.
7) Don’t lose perspective. Just because you are so caught up in the magnificence of this story that you can’t sleep, eat, drink or breathe anything else doesn’t necessarily mean it will translate to your agent, editor or reader (although, I have to admit, it’s a pretty good sign). Take a few days after you write “the end” to step away. Go back to it with a clear eye. See what you’ve written. It’s absolutely fantastic, isn’t it? Yes, yes, yes, the best book ever, destined to be a bestseller, to change the world of literature forever, never will this degree of excellence be achieved again... but I digress.
8) Give yourself time to grieve. It’s over. You’ve been to Jupiter and back, but now you must live again in the world of mortals. They have no clue what you have accomplished; they can’t begin to relate to your struggles. Pity them. Because they also will never know your joy.

And... wait for it. The idea. The speeding heartbeat. The burst of inspiration. Could it be...

The fever has struck again?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

On Hope

Pages written since last post: 4 (most of them e-mails to my agent)

In a recent television special based on Michael J. Fox’s bestseller Always Looking Up, the question was posed: How can it be that, in the midst of the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression, the majority of Americans polled report that they are more hopeful now than ever? And later, Fox observes that in his own industry, acting, 99% of participants fail to make a living– yet almost every actor describes himself as an optimist. Is there something about the arts that attracts only optimists? Not if Chopin (manic-depressive), Van Gogh (there was that little cutting-off-of-the ear thing) or Hemingway (alcoholic) are examples.

I think the answer may lie in the fact that the view from the bottom is, well, always up. The reason Americans feel hopeful now is because most people realize there’s no place to go but up. The reason those who try to make their living in the arts describe themselves as optimists is because, if they were not, they quite simply could not stay in the business.

Today I start work on my seventeenth book this year alone. Some of those "books" were one-paragraph long and never made it past my agent’s hard drive. Some were developed into 100-page proposals so that they could be officially rejected by every publisher in New York. One is even now rolling off the presses all bright and shiny, where it will decorate bookstores everywhere this fall... And disappear before Christmas.

But you just never know. This could be the one. Things could turn around any day now. After all, it’s happened before. And isn’t doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results the very definition of hope?

Or wait. Maybe that’s the definition of insanity:)

Monday, May 25, 2009

What I Learned From Idol

Pages written since last post: ABSOLUTELY ZERO (but I had lots of great ideas!)

Okay, I’m busted. For the past four years I have been a closet American Idol fan. I resisted as long as I could, but really, as a writer, isn’t it irresponsible to ignore a cultural phenomenon? I can’t help noticing that over the years the competition has gone from an amateur talent show to a battle of the professionals, and that’s what made this season to interesting to me. When the top ten contenders are all outstanding, what is it about that one that defines star power– in a singer, a dancer, an actor or a writer? If Idol is emblematic of success in the entertainment industry– and, take my word for it, if you are a writer, you are in the entertainment industry--what can we learn from this past season?

One by one I watched the front-runners fall. Lil Rounds. Allison. Danny?? They were all incredible performers; they had risen above the crowd and defeated thousands upon thousands of competitors to be among the best in the entire nation. They could all make records today (and some of them will). What I learned from Idol is that even if you stand head and shoulders above the crowd, just take a look around: you’re likely to find several hundred others sharing your view. When the entire playing field is composed of the best of the best, it takes more than talent and hard work to be a superstar.

Sometimes it’s completely random.

And that’s yet an other reason to be true to your own vision, to create the work you love, to sing your own song. In the end, if superstardom doesn’t tap you on the shoulder, at least you can be sure it wasn’t because you made the wrong song choice.

Oh, and what am I reading? The Shack by William Paul Young. There are three million copies in print, and I rest my case.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Back Again

Pages written since last post:273 (50 of which have been written over...and over..and over again)

It's the same old story:when you make your living as a writer, you sometimes have to actually write. Not to mention proofread, edit, revise, review the copy edit and promote the book you've written. I am in awe of those writers-- and agents, and editors-- who can do their jobs and still have time (and words!) left over for blogging. Who can possibly have that much to say?

However, acutely aware of my failings as a blogger, I hereby resolve to be more conscientious about expressing my opinions on a variety of topics online, whether or not those opinons have any merit at all, and whether or not anyone is interested. So stand by.

Meanwhile, what have I been reading? Most memorably, An Irish Country Doctor and An Irish Country Village by Patrick Taylor. These books are like comfort food for a cold rainy spring.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Current Favorite

I thought The Associate would top my list this month-- how can you not love John Grisham doing what he does best?--but I finally got around to Jeffery Archer's Prisoner of Birth and it's a hands-down favorite so far. This is the kind of brilliant story telling I most admire: clever, sophisticated, and unabashed. Books like this make me remember how much I love reading.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

On My Book Shelf

I have a tendency to buy books in stacks, whether shopping in a brick-and-mortar store or online. I can't eat just one potato chip; I can't buy just one book. I love spreading them all out around me, looking at the covers, reading the front flap, stacking them and rearranging them, anticipating starting each one. This week the results of my latest shopping spree arrived and it felt like Christmas. Now they are lovingly stacked on my night table, waiting for me to finish the last book (Executive Privilege by Phillip Margolin) on my winter reading list The books I'm looking forward to reading as spring slowly --ever so slowly!-- arrives are:

The Associate by John Grisham
Animals Make Us Human by Temple Grandin
How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer
An Irish Country Doctor by Patrick Taylor
From the Heart: Seven Rules to Live By by Robin Roberts
Knit Two by Kate Jacobs

And now, if you'll excuse me, I'd like to get started.

Monday, February 23, 2009

And the Pulitzer Goes To....

My friend Gisele is probably the most well-read person I know. She is one of those people that writers love– she’ll actually go into a bookstore, pick up a hardcover book by someone she has never read before, peruse the front matter, and if she likes it, she’ll buy it. Go, Gisele! She regularly orders the Amazon.com recommendations just because they sound interesting. Again, we love you, Gisele!

But recently, this wonderful, literate, adventuresome reader fell into the dark pit of Pulitzer Prize Winners, sucked in by a book club that reads only Pulitzers. I have to give her credit; she stayed with it longer than I would have. She stayed with it longer than I thought she would have, and I have great admiration for her determination. It began with tentative comments, “It’s hard to find a book I enjoy” and escalated to “These Pulitzer books are brutal!” and finally, “Why is it so hard to find a Pulitzer book I can actually read? Who chooses these things anyway? How can a book win a Pulitzer Prize when it’s unreadable?”

I think that's an excellent question. Shouldn't the first requirement for a book-- prize-winning or not-- be that it's, well, readable?

This is not to say that there have not been some wonderful reads among the Pulitzer Prize winners over the past half century or so: Gone With the Wind, Lonesome Dove, Grapes of Wrath, To Kill a Mockingbird, Tales of the South Pacific, The Color Purple to name just a few. These books prove that a novel can be engaging, evocative, tell an actual story and still be important. A book doesn’t have to be incomprehensible to win a prize. A book can, in fact, do what it’s supposed to do– inform, transform and entertain (yes, that dirty word–entertain!)the reader and do it so extraordinarily well that it is recognized for excellence by the literary community. So I guess the real question is, why can't more of them do that?

If you’d like to join Gisele in her Pulitzer struggles, here, in absolutely no particular order, are my personal top recommendations:

The Road
Lonesome Dove
The Color Purple
To Kill a Mockingbird
Advise and Consent
Tales of the South Pacific
Grapes of Wrath
Gone With the Wind
The Good Earth

For a more complete list, you can go to www.pulitzer.org

Friday, February 20, 2009

Ten Thousand Hours

Years ago I gave a speech to a writers’ group on the secrets of success in which the recurring theme was “And then you work really, really hard.” Know your material, and work really, really hard. Do your research, and then work really, really hard. Develop your skills, and then work really, really hard. Know your market– and work really, really hard. Seek out opportunity– and then work really, really hard.

There was a reason for my fixation on the subject of hard work. At the time of the speech, I was a working writer who had not been out of contract (in other words, I published steadily) for over ten years. I was tired of people telling me how lucky I was. I worked fourteen hours a day, without sick leave, holidays,vacation time or a pension plan, to be so lucky. In my experience, there was no such thing as luck. There was preparation (being good at your job) and then there was extraordinary hard work.

Imagine my surprise (and delight) to find my theory validated fifteen years later in Malcolm Gladwell’s The Outliers. Gladwell posits that the fluke of success we attribute to legends like Bill Gates and The Beatles is really just a matter of preparation/opportunity combined with hard work. According to Gladwell, the one difference between equally talented people who achieve success and those who don’t is not just that the successful ones work harder; they work much, much harder. In fact, the magic number across the board seems to be ten thousand hours.

Well, what do you know about that? Ten thousand hours of really, really hard work was exactly what I had under my belt at the time I gave my speech on the secrets of success.

It's nice to be right every now and then.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

What Writers Read

What do writers read? Well, if you’re me the answer is-- not nearly enough!

As I write this we are six weeks in to 2009 and so far this year I’ve read books on neuroscience and dog training, behavioral psychology and marketing-- and behavioral psychology as it pertains to marketing!--sociology and economics. I’ve read two memoirs, one futuristic fantasy, one horror, one speculative fiction, two mysteries, two suspense/thrillers and one book of poetry.

Before the year is out I will have read biographies, women’s fiction, a great deal of “literature” (thanks to a relentless book club that keeps trying to improve me), some Southern fiction, a travel book or two, adventure, a multitude of best sellers, self-help and (thanks again, book club!) at least one Pulitzer Prize winner. And I still will not have read all of the books I should have, certainly not as many as I want to.

I consider reading a part of my job. I have my favorites, of course, and I do listen to a lot of the commercial best-sellers on audio, but I need to know what other people are reading, and what other people are writing, in order to do my job as a writer well. In one of my recent beginner-writer workshops I read off a list of the year’s top twenty-five best sellers--hardcover and soft, fiction and non--and asked participants for a show of hands for each book they’d read. I was stunned at how few of them had read more than ten percent of the books on the list. How can you expect to write books if you don’t read them?

Reading is not only my job, it my joy. Every book I open is filled with promise and expectation. It could change my life. It could take me places I’ve never been before, or make me see the places I have been in a new light. It could make me a better person. How can you not read?

So today’s question is: What are you reading?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Books I Remember

Okay, I know. The average person would have published this list two months ago. However, the trouble with being a writer is that sometimes you have to, well, write. So even though I’m a little behind in looking back, here is my list, in order of preference, of the top five favorite books I loved in 2008.
1)The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
It’s been a long time since I read a book so exquisitely crafted. It did everything it promised to do and it did it flawlessly. There were times when I had to actually check the copyright date to make certain this wasn’t a reprint of a little-known classic, so well did this modern author master the Gothic genre. Now this is what I call a novel!
2) These is My Words: the Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine by Nancy Turner
I know the tale occasionally lapsed into melodrama, but that was part of its charm. I was absolutely captivated by the character of Sarah, and I wanted her story to be true. There were times, in fact, when I was almost convinced it was. Well done. Extremely well done.
3) Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult
This is a perfect example of why it pays to occasionally check out a book or a genre you wouldn’t ordinarily read. This was my first book by Jodi Picoult and I couldn’t put it down. I looked forward to getting back to it. I was involved with the characters and I enjoyed their worlds. I thought the religious subtext was cleverly done. Of course I figured out a few of the plot points before I should have, but who cares? I was thoroughly entertained. Who can ask for more?
4) My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor
By now everyone has heard about the neuroscientist who documented her own stroke. But this book is so much more than a handbook for stroke victims. It’s simply the most fascinating account of how the brain works that I’ve ever read. It made me question how much of what we call the ‘soul’ is, in fact, neurochemical. It astonished me with its account of how closely a state of transcendental meditation resembles a simple shut-down of a functional portion of the brain. And I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the fact that the author’s description of her perception of the world as the left side of her brain lost function was almost exactly now, to the best of our knowledge, animals see and conceptualize the world, too. Absolutely fascinating.
5) The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
Another book written by a dog? And the hero is a race car driver?? I almost didn’t fall for this one, until a friend– who never recommends books– e-mailed to say she had stayed up all night reading it and that it was the best book she had read all year. I did not stay up all night reading it, but I was sufficiently impressed to recommend this one to my book club. When Enzo (the dog) said, “what you manifest is before you”, I knew this was no ordinary dog book.

So there you have it! Having paid homage to the books I’ve loved in the past, I can now move on with a clear conscience to books I’m loving right now. One note about this list, though. In looking over it, I realize to my shock that three out of my top five favorite books from last year were actually selections from my book club. In my book club, I am known for whining and complaining about the selections (“Oh God, not another book about Afghanistan!” I have been heard to moan loudly at least once a year) so this is fairly remarkable. Surely this is a fluke. It couldn’t possibly happen again.
On the other hand, we haven’t gotten our reading list for 2009 yet...