Friday, December 23, 2011

Onward, 2012

I'm still tergiversating about what to write, blogwise. You'll find me at Project Mayhem on Boxing Day, and there is an exciting blog tour, featuring a middle grade historical, scheduled on Middle Grade Mafioso for mid January. So even as I eat, drink, and make merry, the writing wheels are turning.

Thank you all for reading this blog, and the two afore-mentioned, this year. It is always nice to read your comments and to have your comradeship on this grand adventure. If you have any movie recommendations for the holidays, or know of a great literary quiz, let me know.

Otherwise, have a happy end of 2011, and a happy New Year. See you in 2012!!

Friday, December 16, 2011

What's Your "Word of the Year?"

From my beloved Shelf Awareness:'s Word of the Year: 'Tergiversate'

"Tergiversate" ("to change repeatedly one's attitude or opinions with respect to a cause, subject, etc.; equivocate") was named's 2011 word of the year, the Huffington Post reported, observing: "So we could say that, in 2011, the stock market tergiversated; or that the public tergiversated about Occupy Wall Street."

Jay Schwartz,'s head of content said, "We're taking a stand on this choice. We think that it's immensely rewarding to find existing words that capture a precise experience, and this year, tumult has been the norm rather than the exception. There are contested public spaces around the world, where people are demonstrating in one direction or another. Opinions and circumstances have been oscillating so much."

This year's verbal shortlist included "occupy," "austerity," "jobs" (both the noun and the person), "zugzwang" and "insidious."

Don't know when I'll next be using tergiversate in conversation. Or "zugzwang," for that matter. I have just googled it and found it means "compulsion to move" and is often used in chess. Perhaps I'll tell my Christmas dinner companions that I'm "tergiversating about my zugzwanging."

After which, I'll probably have to dine alone.

Any wonderful words you'd like to share from 2011? What's YOUR word of the year?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Bakers' Dozen Agent Auction Update

To recap: My MG novel, Shakespeare on the Lam, was one of the entries in Authoress's Bakers' Dozen Agent Auction. Which meant my logline and first 250 words got a whole bunch of amazing and helpful critiques. And then on Tuesday, starting at 11 EST, the agents started bidding.

Was I glued to the action on screen? Well, I would have been--except that Tuesday was the day for my annual adventure with my father-in-law to snag the cheapest Christmas tree in the tri-county area. Last year I blogged about my trophy, the $10 tree that fell off a helicoptor on its way to Mexico. This year, we took a much more leisurely tack and bought $20 Groupons for Christmas trees and a half pound of organic coffee out at Boring Bark. (The Boring bit is the name of the town, not too far from Portland.) My father-in-law's 9 foot Noble is a nice-lookin' tree--and without the Groupon it would have cost $60. So we were chuffed little happy campers.

I got home around noon PST, to an excited voice mail from my wife. She'd been snooping over at the auction and called to let me know that several agents had been bidding, and that the full manuscript of Shakespeare had gone to Victoria Marini, an agent at the Gelfman Schneider agency (the agency that represents one of our favorite writers, Chris Bohjalian.)

I followed Authoress's instructions and e-mailed the full to Ms. Marini. She has a week's exclusive. After that, other bidding agents can make requests.

It was great fun, and I have to thank Authoress for the auction and for the sense of community she fosters on her blog. If you haven't found Miss Snark's First Victim, do yourself a favor and check it out. As one commenter once wrote, it's like for agents and authors.

A couple of the other entries I liked did well also: Karen Akins's LOOP and Tara Dairman's GLADYS GATSBY TAKES THE CAKE.  Read them if you have a moment. They're great.

So there you have it. I'd worry and fixate, but I still have a ton of Cybils books to read and a Christmas tree to decorate. Have a great weekend.

Friday, December 2, 2011

I'm Being Auctioned Off

Ever wondered what sort of stuff I write when I'm not entertaining the world with my blogging and tweeting skills?

Well, you have the chance to view--and even critique--the opening of my middle grade novel, SHAKESPEARE ON THE LAM (Lucky Number 52). It was one of 35 YA/MG entries (out of 350) to be chosen to take part in Authoress's Bakers' Dozen Auction over at Miss Snark's First Victim. Come Monday, 15 agents will be doing the agent equivalent of the Black Friday dash into the Mall of America, nudging each other aside as they bid on the number of pages they want to read from the entrants they most covet.

Till then, the rest of us get to comment and critique. I would love to see you there--and I promise that if you have any constructive criticisms I will be delighted. I want this piece to be the strongest it can be.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Writer's Thanksgiving Dinner: Jane Austen's Bringing the Madeira

Jane Austen, waiting for me to pass the wine

The other day, while driving and listening to NPR, I had the good fortune to come across the following story. Miles Hoffman, the music commentator, was answering the question about which famous composers he'd like to have around his Thankgiving table. (The only stipulation was that they had to be playing piano in the afterlife.)

Can you guess which famous musical dudes Hoffman chose? If you answered Bach, Mendelssohn, Berlioz, and Bloch you need to zoom on over to the Hoffman homestead to hobnob and help yourself to some cranberry sauce. (You can listen to the broadcast here.)

Got me to thinking. Which writers (at their heavenly desks) would I like to have around my Thanksgiving table? I love Jane Austen, and figure she'd be a lot of snarky fun. Robert Burns would be a good sport, especially if he brought along a bottle or two of Scotch. Everybody who knows me also knows I have a thing for Shakespeare. He'd be on for a sonnet or several.

Who else do you think should join the fun?
(I'm light on Americans, and it IS their holiday. Any recommendations?

[Thanks, everyone, for kind comments on my previous post. To all my faithful readers and commenters: I will be raising a glass to you this Thanksgiving, grateful that you are all a part of my life.]

Friday, November 11, 2011

What Do You Do When The Blogging Well Runs Dry?

There is a tide in the affairs of, well, everything. Shakespeare knew it; the writer of Ecclesiastes knew it. (What would he write now? "A time to tweet and a time to stay silent?") And now I know it. To run a good blog takes time, energy, and creativity. God only knows how the post-a-day bloggers do it!!

These days, I'm pretty much running on empty--at least with ideas on what to blog about. It doesn't help that I am spending every waking moment driving my son to theater rehearsals, reading 145 middle grade novels, and trying to finish the first draft of my WIP. The middle grade novels get reviewed on Middle Grade Mafioso, other ideas get lined up for Project Mayhem, and The Year of Writing Dangerously thrashes/faffs about looking for direction.

This may be how it's supposed to be at this stage of my writing life. I have no "I have an agent" stories to make a hullabaloo about; no tales to tell of the road to publication. And other writers do a much better job writing about the craft of writing (Janice Hardy, anyone?)

So I'm pulling up the drawbridge for a while, hoping that if I don't HAVE TO write something, inspiration will arrive. I'll still be a Mafioso--so pop on over there if you miss me.

Have you ever felt your blogging well run dry? What did you do: walk away or retool?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Win a Scrumptilicious Copy of The Cookiepedia!

I must be one of the luckiest writers alive. Remember my post about Stacy Adimando's book signing, where attendees got beer, books, and cookies? Well, the good folks at Quirk Books came upon this, and now I have my very own copy of The Cookiepedia:Mixing, Baking, and Reinventing the Classics.

O joy! O gustatory rapture! I am spending a happy afternoon drooling over Stacie's recipes for Cardamon Cookies and Snickerdoodles, along with photographer Tara Striano's mouthwatering portraits of Thin Mints and Poppy Seed Squares. Every writer should have The Cookiepedia to hand, because even a Muse gets a bit peckish at times.

Here's where one good turn deserves another: Comment or Tweet to @MGMafioso, introducing me to your favorite cookie (or "biscuit") and I'll enter you in a drawing for your very own copy of The Cookiepedia. Commenting AND Tweeting wins you extra sprinkles!! (International commenters and tweeters welcome--there's a nifty conversion chart at the back!)

I love this quote at the beginning of The Cookiepedia:
"Think what a better world it would be if we all, the whole world, had cookies and milk about three o'clock every afternoon and then lay down on our blankets for a nap."
                                                                                     - Robert Fulghum

Friday, November 4, 2011

I'm Talking About Guy Fawkes...

Tomorrow is Guy Fawkes' Day in England... and I'm using poor old Guy as my lead-in to a discussion about historical middle grade novels over at PROJECT MAYHEM. Come, set off a couple of firecrackers, and join in!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Rediscovering A Great Writer: Beth Kephart

My oldest son was born in 1996 at 24 weeks' gestation, weighing only 1 pound and six ounces. (He is truly a miracle, which I have to remind myself whenever I'm yelling at him to clean his room.) My wife and I wrote a book about his birth and his first couple of years, a book which is still on our computer drive. I remember going to a writing conference and being told by an editor that books about kids/babies having a hard time or with "problems" just didn't sell. (Which, of course, is rubbish--but I wasn't as confident of my opinions in those days.)

As a result, I set out to find non-fiction books about non-typical children, and one of the books I found and loved was called A Slant of Sun by a writer named Beth Kephart. Here's what it says on Amazon about this book:

Named a Best Book of the Year by Salon magazine and The Philadelphia Inquirer, A Slant of Sun was praised for its incandescent prose about the experience of loving a child who brings tremendous frustration and incalculable rewards and for its extraordinary resonance. Like Operating Instructions and The Liars' Club, A Slant of Sun is a contemporary classic.

Nearly one in five children grow up facing a developmental or behavioral challenge, and like them, Beth Kephart's son, Jeremy, showed early signs of being different: language eluded him, he preferred playing alone to an afternoon on the jungle gym. Doctors diagnosed Jeremy with a mild form of autism called Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. A Slant of Sun is a passionate memoir about how Kephart, guided by the twin tools of intuition and imagination, helped lead her son toward wholeness. Pulsing with the questions, "Is normal possible? Definable?" A Slant of Sun speaks to everyone not just parents of the redemptive power of love.
"Incandescent prose." When I read this book, I remember knowing I was in the hands of a great writer.

But time intervened, and I lost track of Beth Kephart. Recently, however, I was doing something on this great internet of ours when her name popped up. Was this the same writer? What had she been up to the past 12 years?

It turns out that Beth Kephart has written several YA novels, including one called You Are My Only.

She has a blog where her rich writing and photography shine. It's on my sidebar now, and I urge you to check her out. I promise you will not be disappointed.

Friday, October 28, 2011

That's My Kind of Book Signing!

From my beloved Shelf Awareness:

Last Saturday, Stacy Adimando was the star of a cookie tasting, demo and book signing at the Brooklyn Kitchen, Brooklyn, N.Y., to promote her book, The Cookiepedia: Mixing, Baking, and Reinventing the Classics (Quirk Books). She demonstrated how to make Pistachio Butter Cookies and Chocolate-Dipped Espresso Shortbread. Brooklyn Brewery provided beer for the event. Lucky attendees got to sample cookies, drink beer and have the author sign their copies of the book.

[Since I write middle grade, my book signing will have to be milk and cookies...]

What is the most fun book signing you've attended? Were there giveaways? Do tell!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Changing My Name In These Good News Times

A post to honor the following AMAZING WRITERS:

Shannon Messenger
Lydia Kang
Shannon O'Donnell

Have you ever changed your name? I have. I came into this world as Michael Gilmartin, but just before our second child was born we went to the courthouse and merged into the Gettel-Gilmartins. 'Course, we had to pay some bucks for the privilege, and the judge wanted to know why we were doing it. The answer: to bring on the apocalypse by causing computers to flip out over a hyphen.

I'm thinking of changing my name again, to honor three amazing writers I've gotten to know during my brief blogging life. It seems as if I've known the Shannons forever--and I met Lydia during the Pay-It-Forward blogfest. These three stars have turned October into a month-long good news fiesta.

First there was:

October 12, 2011
Shannon Messenger's debut middle-grade series KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES, about a girl who discovers there are secrets buried in her memory that others would kill for, and has to figure out why she is the key to her brand-new world before the wrong person finds the answer first, to Liesa Abrams at Aladdin, in a six-figure deal, in a pre-empt, in a three-book deal, for publication starting in Fall 2012, by Laura Rennert at Andrea Brown Literary Agency (North America).

Then, on October 15 there was:

The announcement by Shannon O'Donnell


For three weeks I have been sitting on a secret . . . THE secret. It's been hard. This morning, I signed the contract.

And that means I can finally say

I HAVE AN AGENT!!!!!!!!!
(Just to be clear: this is Shannon's announcement, not mine)

Terrie Wolf, of AKA Literary LLC

Finally, there was this:

October 20, 2011
Young Adult
Lydia Kang's THE FOUNTAIN, about a 17-year-old, who must rescue her kidnapped sister with the help of a band of outcasts with mutated genes, set in 2150 when genetic manipulation has been outlawed, to Kathy Dawson at Dial, in a good deal, in a pre-empt, for publication in 2013, by Eric Myers at The Spieler Agency (World).

Wouldn't it be great if some of their good fortune rubbed off on me?
From now on, please address me as

Shannon Lydia O'Gettel-Gilmartin

Thursday, October 20, 2011

What The Boys Are Reading

The G-G Boys Book Club:

Kieran (8): The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan
Nick (5): Scooby Doo and The Bowling Boogeyman by James Gelsey
Dad (as old as Methuselah): Shine by Lauren Myracle (plus 145 Middle Grade novels for the Cybils)
Chris (15): Rules to Rock By by Josh Farrar

What's on YOUR shelves today?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

My New Novel's Gonna Be A Bestseller!!!

Yup. Man Booker Prize here I come!! (Oh, and congrats to Julian Barnes. I'll be in his shoes next year.)

Here's the query for my new novel. It contains such scenes as could never happen in real life, surely.

Maren Wonder is a talented novelist. When the book she's written--Radiant--is chosen as a finalist for a prestigious book award, Maren is over the moon. But as she's uncorking the champagne, word comes that Dulles Deafman, a geriatric telephonist who has always hated Maren and her work, claims he has written down the wrong title. The real nominee should be Gradiant, a gritty novel about cleaning the sewers of New York.

The head of the awards' panel, the well-meaning but ineffective Titus Dimvit the IVth, initially claims that this year six novels were considered worthy of inclusion. But Deafman takes his claim to the media and soon Dimvit is calling for Maren to withdraw Radiant "for the honor and integrity of the award." Deafman can hardly believe his luck: Maren has been humiliated in the eyes of the literary world. But Maren conducts herself with grace and professionalism in withdrawing her book for consideration. What will Deafman do next to turn what should have been a moment of joy and celebration into a complete fustercluck?

THE SCREWUP OF THE CENTURY, a literary thriller, is complete at 60,000 words. I am a member of Fabricators Anonymous and Titus Dimvit IV is my father.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Titus Dimvit V

I should probably have Matt MacNish and his sharp-eyed minions take a stab at improving this. After they're done with their minor tinkering, I plan to write the screenplay, for which I'm going all high-concept: Mommy Dearest meets Mr. Holland's Opus, in which my father is reduced to a blithering idiot, Dulles Deafman is stabbed with the Pen of Justice, and all the other nominees tell a packed auditorium that they're withdrawing in solidarity with Maren. Pass the kleenex!!

And now, off to buy me a copy of Lauren Myracle's SHINE. Truth is stranger than Fiction.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Thoughts on the Pay-It-Forward Blogfest

Friday dawned dark and drear in the Pacific Northwest. But what was outside my window was not mirrored on my computer screen. On-screen, it was fireworks, mariachi music, a veritable fiesta. Yes, friends, it was the Pay-It-Forward Blogfest, the brainchild of Alex Cavanaugh and Matt MacNish. Over 250 blogs did the linky-link thing (which actually caused me to take a big GULP! I mean, that's a heckuva lot of bloghopping.)

I will shamefully admit that I have yet to hop to all the linky-linked blogs. In fact, I've been to but a fraction of them, such is the craziness of my life at the moment. (Can anyone say, The Cybils?) But a goodly number of people came my way even before I'd set foot through their own portal.

Here's what happened: I started the day with 93 followers, a number I'd been stuck on for months. By the end of the weekend, I had 27 new members in my stupendous posse, for a total of 120. I also had 24 comments. What was even nicer is that Shannon O'Donnell had put my Middle Grade Mafioso blog forward as one of her three blogs to visit. So Don Vito woke to a wealth of new followers too.

But the best thing of all is not the number of followers, the comments, and all the razzamatazz. The best thing is getting to meet so many new bloggers. And in doing so, having the potential of making some new friends. I mean, 20 months ago, when I began blogging, I never imagined I'd be doing all the things I'm doing with so many supportive, funny, interesting, and just plain wonderful people by my side.

It takes a blogosphere, people.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Welcome, Pay It Forward Blog Hoppers!

Wow!! This is like a flashmob on the web!
(Late breaking news: the day has just started and I'm already almost at my goal of 100 followers!!!!
@2p.m.:Thanks guys: Goal well and truly busted!!)

Howdy, and all that. I'm excited to be part of Matt and Alex's Pay It Forward Blogfest/hop. As of yesterday, there were 201 of us. We are a MOTORCADE, people.

Here's a quick bit about me. I'm a writer in Portland, Oregon. I started blogging about a year and a half ago. Now I have three blogs: this one, Middle Grade Mafioso, and the group blog, PROJECT MAYHEM.

Of course, I would list Matt MacNish's QQQE as the greatest blog in the history of the known universe, but since you already know that, here are a trio of other blogs I love that you really should visit when you have a spare millisecond:

Sarah Fine's The Strangest Situation: "Where psychology and YA literature/media meet. Collide. Meld. Fight to the Death. Snuggle." Sarah's "a practicing child psychologist with an unapologetically empirical orientation. (She's) also an author who writes unapologetically fantastical YA fiction."

Lisa Ricard Claro's Writing in the Buff: "The naked truth about, well, pretty much everything." Lisa "excels as a laundress," but also is busy "working on my YA novel, editing my women’s fiction novel, plotting a short story, writing an essay, or researching new markets."

Barbara Ann Watson: "Middle grade book reader. Middle grade book writer. Juggling those while balancing my other roles as a wife, mom, teacher, professional lover of chocolate, and walker of my big dog everyday no matter the weather."

I hope you'll pay these three great bloggers a visit.

(And if you leave a comment here, I'll love you to pieces. If you just dip in and dash, please take the time to click the follow button. I'd love to make it past the 100 follower mark.)

And believe me, I will visit and follow in return.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Why Libraries Must Never Close

The wonderful Tigard library, near Portland, Oregon
As a first round panelist for the Cybils (and have you made your nominations yet?!) I need to read dozens of books. And the only way I can afford that, unless I want to suddenly start busking at street corners with a sign reading "Will Sing for Books," is to make friends with my local librarians.
I went into the Tigard library on Monday, armed with a list of Cybils nominees. An hour later, I'd pulled over 50 books from their well-stocked shelves. Thank God for libraries!!
This particular library has it all. Not just books, but programs for teens and space for book clubs. It even has a donut shop on the premises!!

Books and baked goods--what could be better?

I wonder what the future holds for libraries, though. Will they still be around when printed books have gone the way of the dinosaur and we all have e-readers embedded in our craniums?
Tell me about your local library. Does it have funding pressures? Donuts? What do you think the future will bring for these wonderful institutions?

Friday, October 7, 2011

She's a Rooster Writer, I'm a Rabbit. What are you?

My wife, whose birthday was yesterday--happy birthday, sweetheart!--thinks very highly of Daphne Gray-Grant, a.k.a. The Publication Coach. Daphne's articles are always illuminating and entertaining, and so I'm cribbing one this week. She's very kind and allows us to do this as long as we add the following attribution: Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of the popular book 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a brief and free weekly newsletter on her website. Subscribe by going to the Publication Coach.

Here's the piece that Daphne wrote a couple of days ago. If you want to know which animal of the Chinese Zodiac you are, here's how to find out.

Singing your own song

Join in the battle hymn of the rooster writer!

I’m a writer who’s more than ready to sing a battle hymn –- just not one like bestselling author Amy Chua.
Much in the news in recent months, the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, irritated me. I’d read the comments in the New York Times,
the Guardian, and the Daily Beast.
Frankly, the author sounded unhinged. Yet because I live in Vancouver, where a very large percent of the population is Asian, I knew she exemplified a certain kind of Chinese mother. You know, the one who requires endless music practicing, who deems a B+ a “failing” grade and who insists on weekend tutoring in Mandarin and math. I wanted to read the book but must confess I was churlish enough to refuse to concede even a tiny royalty payment to its author Amy Chua. So, instead of buying it in a bookstore, I checked it out from the library.

I radically disagree with Chua’s parenting style but I found her book slightly more sympathetic than I expected. But in the final chapter she made a confession I think every writer should find revealing. Here is the quote from page 223:

“Even though I usually have writer’s block, this time the words streamed out of me. The first two-thirds of the book took me just eight weeks to write. (The last third was agonizing.)”

This comment is so intriguing on a number of levels:
The book is extraordinarily short. My estimate puts it at only 56,000 words, when a typical book is usually closer to 80,000.

• If, as Chua says, the wrote the first two-thirds of the book (or about 37,000 words) in eight weeks that means she wrote about 900 words per day, taking weekends off. I don’t know about you, but I don’t consider 900 words per day as writing that is “streaming” out of anybody –- especially not someone who has written two books before. And, remember, she also describes writing the last third of the book as “agonizing.”

Chua’s admission that she “usually” has writer’s block is telling because to me it suggests that her raging perfectionism -- instead of helping her -- is making her a slow, troubled writer.
Chua, who was born in 1962, is a tiger according to the Chinese zodiac. Well, that same system makes me, born in 1957, a rooster. And just as Chua began her book with a list of things she wouldn’t let her daughters do (watch TV, be in a school play, get any grade less than an A) here are the things I don’t want writers I to do.
Let’s call this the Battle Hymn of the Rooster Writer:

1) Don’t edit while you write. This is like trying to wash the dishes while you are still eating dinner. Keep your writing and your editing separate. Hang a towel over your computer (or turn off the screen) if you’re temped to edit while you write.

2) Do NOT judge yourself in any way while you are writing. Instead, focus only on WHAT you are writing. Don’t try to be the best. Don’t compare yourself to other writers. Don’t be the least bit critical. Just write.

3) Don’t think you’re a better writer because you write slowly. Instead, write as fast as you humanly can. Use timers to challenge yourself to put out as many words as quickly as possible. Go for QUANTITY rather than quality and work on quality later, when you are editing.

4) Don’t write too soon. Give yourself plenty of time to THINK before you sit down in front of a blank computer screen.

5) Do not obsess on facts. Instead, look for the anecdotes or stories in what you are writing. (This is likely why Chua perceived this book to be easier to write than her others -- it is filled with stories about her children.)

6) Don’t limit yourself to work. Have fun: Read other writers. Watch TV and movies. Listen to music. Go for walks. All of these “entertainments” will feed your writing life.

7) Don’t see publication as the only worthy goal
and anything less a failure. No writing is ever wasted.

I feel sorry for Amy Chua. She is a very bright and driven woman who thinks that discipline is what makes life work.

The rooster writer’s point of view is that writing demands far more than mere discipline. Instead, it asks you to take the judging, perfectionistic part of your personality, and put it on hold while you write.

If you want to learn to write like a rooster, check out my book or my Extreme Writing Makeover.
Photo courtesy Raymond Gobis, Flickr Creative Commons
To receive a short article like this one each week, get on the Power Writing email list. It's free.

I love Daphne's Battle Hymn. Any other stanzas you'd like to add?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Oklahoma and Adele

Music has been on my mind these past couple of days. Yesterday, my wife and I went to see Portland Center Stages's production of Oklahoma!, which has been making waves with its all-black cast. (For a review and pictures, see her blog!)
The show starts with Curly coming onstage, pouring out a bootful of dust, and singing "O what a beautiful morning, o what a beautiful day."

Kinda Pollyanna, I know. But that's sometimes what happens when everything's zinging with writing--words are pouring out, pages are being requested, and all seems right with the world.

Then there are the dark times, the times of doubt. I was listening this afternoon to Adele, whose 21 has been a resounding international success. (However, so behind the times am I, it was her debut 19 I was actually listening to.)

One song stood out, a song called Chasing Pavements. The chorus goes:

Should I give up,
Or should I just keep chasin' pavements?
Even if it leads nowhere
Or would it be a waste
Even if I knew my place
Should I leave it there
Should I give up,
Or should I just keep chasin' pavements
Even if it leads nowhere

I'm sure most artists have had that feeling of "chasing pavements" at some point in their careers. This song, with its minor key and Adele's smokey vocals, really brought home to me how tough the artistic life can be.

But there can be only one answer to "Should I give up?" And that is NO!!

Are you in a "Beautiful morning" phase of your artistic life, or are you "chasing pavements?"

Here's Adele to sing you through it:

Friday, September 30, 2011

What A Week!!

Not only have I joined the great folks over at Project Mayhem,

BUT... I'm also a first round judge for Middle Grade fiction for the 2011 Cybils Awards!

This blogging life is FUN.

(P.s. The Don had words about all this over at Middle Grade Mafioso...)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Writing the Wartime Experience

Driving in my car without my kids is when I get to listen to National Public Radio. (The kids are less fans of talk and usually request music.)

On September 22, Talk of the Nation did a program about the Missouri Warrior Writers Project. "The project has developed a series of workshops and a competition to give veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq the chance to tell their stories. At the conclusion, their poetry, fiction and nonfiction will be considered for publication in an anthology, and three winners will be chosen from an open call for submissions among active duty and veteran military personnel."

I am not a veteran, and I don't know if any veterans read this blog. (But if they do, they should go ahead and enter the contest!)

Neal Conan, the host of the programe, interviewed Mark Bowden, the author of Black Hawk Down, and one of the judges for the contest. During an interchange, Bowden said something that really stuck with me: "I always tell my students that to learn to write is - ought to be an ambition in and of itself. Some people may manage to make a career writing. Most of my students probably won't, but I want them to take something away from the class that they can use that will help them throughout their lives."

It's taken me a good many years to understand that learning to write is an ambition in and of itself. And that learning to write involves writing many words, reading many books, and practicing till your fingers bleed (okay, I'm nothing if not melodramatic!).

Here's the information about the Missouri Warrior Writers Project. And a question: How have YOU learned to write?

Friday, September 23, 2011


I have been sadly neglectful of this blog, the Mothership--as the Don over at Middle Grade Mafioso has been working me to the bone and forcing me to go on Twitter etc.

A Day in The Don's Office

(In fact, Don Vito now spends his days glued to the Twitter feed, giving it the same attention he normally gives to his antipasti.)

As a result of all this hard work, I will have a couple of exciting blog-related announcements next week. (Hope that whets your interest!)

In the meantime, I highly enjoyed this piece "How to Find Your Story and Craft a Pitch in 10 Easy Steps (and You Can Even Do It Drunk!)" over at Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents blog. You can also enter to win a copy of the author's novel!

Have a good weekend. TGIF!

Friday, September 16, 2011

I'm With the Mafiosi This Morning...

Yup. Just to be wild and wilfully different, Friday's regular post is actually on Middle Grade Mafioso.

The mafiosi are pondering what makes a bestseller. Please do the triple jump over to join us...

Phillips Idowu winning the gold medal in the men's triple jump
European Championships in Barcelona. (Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

How do I LOVE "The Shark?" Let me count the ways...

The Shark. A.k.a. agent extraordinaire, Janet Reid of Fine Print Literary. She slices through the perilous waters of publishing and, if you aren't reading her blogs--Janet Reid, Literary Agent and Query Shark--you should be. They're mandatory.

I love her on a number of fronts, beyond the query advice. She represents amazing writers like Bill Cameron, Gary Corby, Sean Ferrell, and Patrick Lee. She runs frequent "100 word story contests." (In her latest, I got the accolade of Coffee. Nose. Keyboard. Yes these guys cracked me up. If I can't win, then I shall at least strive for funny.) She drinks Scotch and stalks Jack Reacher. And she ain't short of an opinion or twenty.

Now, those of you out there querying know that increasing numbers of agents are adopting a "no response means no" policy. For writers, it's a royal pain in the arse. I'd much rather have a polite "not for me" than have to wonder if the query ever reached its intended recipient.

Well, recently Janet put the record straight. Huge all round.

(The bad karma excuse is a doozie. Because of it, I've decided that if I want to be a more successful parent I'm just going to stop saying no to my kids. I mean, no is soooo negative. And the karma it brings with it is so hellish. So there, kids. Go fer broke! I'll be seeing you in Nirvana!)

Friday, September 9, 2011

Give me your best writing joke!

One of my favorite quotes about being a writer comes from the illustrious Margaret Atwood:

It takes a certain amount of nerve to be a writer.

It also helps to have a healthy sense of humor. Here's my writing joke for the day. (Feel free to e-mail me something funny related to writing/publishing/books, and I'll add it to the post as the day progresses. We could all do with a good laugh!)

A screenwriter comes home to a burned down house. His sobbing and slightly-singed wife is standing outside. “What happened, honey?”the screenwriter asks.

“Oh, John, it was terrible,” she weeps. “I was cooking, the phone rang. It was your agent. Because I was on the phone, I didn’t notice the stove was on fire. It went up in second. Everything is gone. I nearly didn’t make it out of the house. Poor Fluffy is--”

“Wait, wait. Back up a minute,” the screenwriter says. “My agent called?”

(I found this on this blog. Enjoy!)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Need Pitch Practice? Check out this great blog I found

Yes folks, I am now officially a blogosphere bottom feeder, spending my days trawling about searching for tasty morsels excellent blogs.

What a yummy blog!

Check out this blog I recently found. If you are skipping off to a conference with every intention to pitch, you need to read this first.

Friday, September 2, 2011

September: Submission Stories

September. The waning days of summer. (Usually very nice in Oregon, as we await the start of our winter rains.) Plus, the one word which brings joy to every parents' heart: SCHOOL.

What was that you say you heard? A champagne cork popping? You imaginative soul, you.

Anyway, I would like to greet this new month with a brief rundown of what has turned out to be a very exciting month of August. There was, of course, the Willamette Writers conference and all its good energy, followed by the heady days of WriteOnCon. Which spilled over into Queryland, where I now have four agents reading my complete manuscript.

Yes, you read that right. Four, quatre, quattro, fier, and whatever the number four is in all other languages. (Shi or yon in Japanese.)

I don't usually blog about the ups and downs of querying. Rejections are shared only with my wife and my good Scottish friend, Glen Livet. But now I have increasing confidence in the fact that four industry veterans see some promise in my story. I am trying to settle in to that period of waiting (and trying not to check my e-mail every four seconds.) Now that the manuscript's in a queue on someone's e-reader there's really not much else I can do except focus on my WIP, which is about 2/3s complete. It's all very strange and discombobulating.

I must say one other thing, and that's to give a huge shout-out to my very good friend, Matthew MacNish. My fortunes have risen ever since Matt featured my query on his blog and perused it with his eagle eye. Almost two dozen of his followers chimed in, and the current query incarnation is vastly improved because of all their input.

So, as September slides along, please cross your fingers for me. I totally believe in the power of positive thinking and the collective energy of the blogging community. (And as soon as I have any good news, y'all will be the first to know. I promise.)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Anyone for Tennis?

If there's one sport for which I have a passion, it's tennis. And right now, the tennis world is focused on New York City and the U.S. Open. I will have to steel myself from sneaking away from my writing to watch magnificent forehands, backhands, and boom-boom serves.

(My fave player is Roger Federer. I'm afraid his glory days are past, as he is a 30-year-old dinosaur, but he is still good for some flashes of brilliance.)

A "Roger Roar"
Hope to see a few of these during the Open

Here, courtesy of Entertainment Weekly (via Shelf Awareness), is an article about five books for tennis lovers. Shamefully, I haven't read any of them.

What sport draws YOU to play hookey from your writing desk?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Brilliant English majors

Seat-of-the pants post, courtesy of my beloved Shelf Awareness:

The prototypical English major

Question: What literary quality do Jon Hamm, Alan Alda, Maureen Dowd, Jodie Foster, Tommy Lee Jones, Stephen King, Paul Newman, Mike and Marie Gettel-Gilmartin, Joan Rivers, Sting, Helen Thomas, Barbara Walters, Sigourney Weaver, Tom Wolfe, Bob Woodward and Renée Zellweger have in common?

Answer: They were all once college English majors.

(Add yourself to the list, if applicable.)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Unbroken: Brilliant

I read way more fiction than nonfiction. But I also belong to an all-men's book group that encourages me to read things I never usually would if left to my own devices. For example, I'm the least likely person to ever climb a mountain, but I loved Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air. I get seasick just by looking at a body of water, but I found my sea legs reading Patrick O' Brian's Master and Commander. And stories of war make me queasy--but I was captivated utterly by Laura Hillenbrand's storytelling in Unbroken.

Unbroken tells the story of Louie Zamperini, a young miscreant who discovered his gift of running and ran well enough to compete in the 1936 Olympics in Hitler's Berlin. His sights were set on the 1940 games in Tokyo, but of course those games were not to be.

Instead, Zamperini became a gunner on a B-24 bomber. So many airmen died in those "flying coffins," and Louie was nearly one of them. On a search-and-rescue mission, his own plane ditched into the Pacific, killing all but three of those on board.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Lucky Number 61

The other day, I read a story about Kathryn Stockett, author of the best-seller, The Help (coming soon to a theater near you..)

Now, I haven't read The Help (although my wife's book group did, and there was apparently discussion aplenty.) But what interested me in the piece was that Stockett soldiered on through three and a half years of years of rejections--60 in total--before hitting lucky number 61.

Here's what Stockett wrote in a piece for Yahoo!

By rejection number 45, I was truly neurotic. It was all I could think about—revising the book, making it better, getting an agent, getting it published. I insisted on rewriting the last chapter an hour before I was due at the hospital to give birth to my daughter. I would not go to the hospital until I’d typed The End. I was still poring over my research in my hospital room when the nurse looked at me like I wasn’t human and said in a New Jersey accent, “Put the book down, you nut job—you’re crowning.”

It got worse. I started lying to my husband. It was as if I were having an affair—with 10 black maids and a skinny white girl. After my daughter was born, I began sneaking off to hotels on the weekends to get in a few hours of writing. I’m off to the Poconos! Off on a girls’ weekend! I’d say. Meanwhile, I’d be at the Comfort Inn around the corner. It was an awful way to act, but—for God’s sake—I could not make myself give up.

In the end, I received 60 rejections forThe Help. But letter number 61 was the one that accepted me. After my five years of writing and three and a half years of rejection, an agent named Susan Ramer took pity on me. What if I had given up at 15? Or 40? Or even 60? Three weeks later, Susan sold The Help to Amy Einhorn Books.

The point is, I can’t tell you how to succeed. But I can tell you how not to: Give in to the shame of being rejected and put your manuscript—or painting, song, voice, dance moves, [insert passion here]—in the coffin that is your bedside drawer and close it for good. I guarantee you that it won’t take you anywhere. Or you could do what this writer did: Give in to your obsession instead.
All I can say is good for Kathryn Stockett. May those of you (us!) who are querying be blessed with a similar perseverance--or, at the very least, a Comfort Inn around the corner.

What do you think? Could you handle 60 rejections of your beloved novel?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Willamette Writers Conference Recap

On Friday I ventured forth from the comfort of my writing desk to the swirling vortexes of the Willamette Writers Conference. It was in 1994 when I first joined Willamette Writers, Oregon's largest writing organization, and I was even a volunteer at their conference that year. Since then, the conference has grown by leaps and bounds and has a steady stream of success stories to prove it.

Conference Brochure Cover

I started my day at the Children's/YA agents panel. It's always great to see agents in the flesh. They are all very human and approachable. The panel consisted of Taylor Martindale, Bree Ogden of Martin Literary, Stefanie Von Borstel of Full Circle Literary, and Caryn Wiseman of Andrea Brown. Quite a quartet. They handled every question (even the dumb ones) with respect and aplomb.

I then attended Laura Whitcomb's workshop It's So Crazy, It Just Might Work: Putting the Spark in Your Manuscript. Laura was funny and introduced us to a number of "brain tricking" exercises that could potential deepen our scenes and do away with being stuck.

I hung out with my friend and writing group partner, Rosanne Parry, at lunch and took in the first half hour of her workshop, Character and the Seven Deadly Sins. (I think my deadly may be Gluttony!) Then it was time to go pitch to agents. I was in two group pitches. Basically, we went round the table and had two minutes to pitch our books. Mercifully, no one rambled on--and it was eye-opening to see the many different stories people are writing. There wasn't a werewolf, vampire, or fairy in the bunch!

(Both agents asked to see more of my novel. But that's all I'm going to say, so as not to jinx myself.)

My final workshop was with Jane Friedman, who is a bit of a hero of mine. She talked about writing grants for writing projects (Kickstarter, anyone?!). Later, at the mix and mingle, I went up to her all starry-eyed and groupie like--and she was very gracious. (The guy she was with looked ready to shield her from a gibbering maniac.) I also had a chat with novelist Hallie Ephron, who was so nice that I am definitely going to search out her novels.

This post looks like a "Linky Gone Wild," so I should probably stop. Have you any conference stories to share? I'd love to hear them.

Friday, August 5, 2011


Yesterday, several very nice readers (DanPloy, Anita, and Chris Phillips) left comments on my blogs to the effect of wondering whether I was back and whether I needed a vacation after a vacation. (Thanks for missing me, guys!)

Yup, that's precisely how I feel. Even though I was really truly away from it all in the mountains of the high Cascades, with food aplenty and no need to scratch my head every evening, trying to figure out what to cook.

The place, in Washington State, is called Holden Village. It is inaccessible by road. (You have to take a boat up Lake Chelan and then a 40 minute bus ride up a series of switch backs to the village itself.)

"Our" boat: Lady of the Lake

There is no wireless internet, no cell phone service, no TV reception. The village is ringed by mountain peaks, many of them still snow-capped in late July.

Dining Hall, with one of the mountains behind

It's the sort of place where kids, unplugged, play card games into the night. We didn't see our 14-year-old pretty much all day long. The 8-year-old organized a kid's production of Hansel and Gretel. The 4-year-old spent the morning hours in the children's program called Narnia. Which meant that I had three hours every morning to write.

I wrote long-hand by the banks of the raging river. There's something about being near flowing water: ideas flow also. I have several new ideas; all I need is the time to pursue them. And something else about being away from "civilization": I was writing because I love to write, not getting twisted up inside wondering if I'll ever be published.

Re-entry is always difficult. Living for a week with 300 other people in an isolated mountain village, people smile and talk and don't incessantly check their smart phones. Back in the "real world" people frown and ignore and stare at screens. Cars move too quickly. Children disappear into their iDevices.

I guess I'll get used to it again before too long. But if any of you want to send me someone to cook all my daily meals, I'll be much obliged.

(I'm also attending the Willamette Writers' Conference today, pitching to a couple of agents. Positive thoughts would be much appreciated!)