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!)