Friday, April 30, 2010
The list of contributors is an amazing who's who, including Vivian Gornick, Carolyn See, Claire Bloom, Gail Godwin, Jane Alexander, Ntozake Shange, and Erica Jong
Welcome, Emily. Was there a moment, an event in your life, when the seed for this book was planted?
EMILY: Absolutely. The person who had been central to my life for forty years was dying, and at the same time my career as a performing pianist was over because of multiple back surgeries. I had the Internal Empty Nest syndrome. And then I suddenly realized that much of this is age appropriate--all of my generation, the Boomers, were beginning to deal with major loss.
HALLIE: Do you think growing old is inevitably about sadness and loss?
EMILY: I think a PART of growing old is inevitably about sadness and loss. I think we can't choose not to be struck down by inevitable losses, but we CAN choose how we react to these losses. The point of this book was for me to focus my inner camera differently and to look at these universal events differently.
HALLIE: What is it about 50?
EMILY: I think that at 50 most women are dealing with menopause, their children are leaving home, their parents are failing, many of their needs and ambitions have been realized or laid to rest. You begin to realize that time does in fact run out.
HALLIE: Were there surprises as these essays came in?
EMILY: We have a range of writers from 55 to 101, as well as four non-writers. The essays were very diverse in subject and mood and some outstanding authors had a very difficult time with this subject. They are full of wisdom, courage and honesty.
A couple of pieces that are so funny you will laugh out loud. Jenny Allen writes about losing our looks and Martha Fay talks about losing a tooth.
Claire Bloom commented that she was the exact age that Ann Frank would have been, and that she realizes that she is living for all the people who were not given a chance to live.
HALLIE: Thanks, Emily.
Here's an excerpt from "The Fullness" - this is from Abigail Thomas’s essay, “My Narrow Escape.” No stranger to dark humor, Ms. Thomas published the wonderful memoir “A Three Dog Life” about how her life changed the day her husband went out to walk their dog on Riverside Drive. The dog came home alone; her husband had been hit by a car and suffered traumatic brain damage.
“My Narrow Escape” – Abigail Thomas
I like living alone. I like not having to make male conversation. I like that I can take as many naps as I feel like taking and nobody knows. I like that if I’m painting trees and the telephone receiver gets sticky with hunter green and there’s a long drool of blue sky running down the front of the dishwasher, nobody complains.
I’m seldom lonely. I have three dogs, twelve grandchildren and four grown kids. I have a good friend who now and then drives down with his dog. We’ve known each other so long that we don’t have to talk and when we do we don’t have to say anything. When he asks me if I’d like to take a trip around the world, I can say yes, knowing that I’ll never have to go.
Inertia is a driving force in both our lives.
Sometimes I feel sorry for my friends who are looking around for a mate. I don’t want one, and I don’t want to want one. It has taken me the better part of 60 years to enjoy the inside of my own head and I do that best when I’m by myself.
I am smug. I am probably insufferable.
Meet Emily and Linda Gravenson and contributors Nzotake Shange, Erica Jong, Tina Howe & Carolyn See at the 92nd Street Y, Tribeca, on June 16, 2010, 12 - 2pm
Or chat with Emily here on Jungle Red Writers -- are you looking down the barrel of 50 or are you like me and it's in your rear-view mirror? How is loss changing you?
Thursday, April 29, 2010
The happy ending is that today that story is part of her new book “Scent of the Missing.” (Go to the link to see some amazing trailers.)
Susannah, do you remember that reading?
SUSANNAH: The casual decision to read that was lucky. Several authors, including Tony Broadbent and Cornelia Read (also a student attendee that year) were very supportive about the piece, and in a quiet moment, Lee Child told me that this was a direction I should pursue, appreciating, he said, that the work he'd heard was considered, articulate and moving. I will always be grateful to the authors at that conference for the time they took with me.
I put the fiction on hold and began to concentrate on developing a series of canine SAR radio pieces into the longer narrative required for a book. It wasn't easy, especially as some searches are bound by Nondisclosure Agreements (I still can't write about them), and real life has a way of not conforming to the arc of suspense readers have come to look for -- particularly in books involving crime investigation.
HALLIE: How often are you called on, and you and Puzzle set out to find someone missing?
SUSANNAH: It varies. Callouts after tornadoes and flash flooding, of course, but summer drought provokes calls, too. Lakes are low, and more swimmers come to grief on rubble beneath the surface. When the economy is bad, we have more calls for despondents. Beautiful weather in December can create Alzheimer's walkaway calls, because families forget and leave screen doors unlatched during the holiday season, and elderly relatives push through the door and ...go.
HALLIE: How often do you find them...alive?
SUSANNAH: Much canine SAR is about recovery rather than rescue, but we are sent out for potential live finds, and they are wonderful when they happen! We are all reborn a little when that child comes home to his frightened parents.
HALLIE: Is it hard for you and for Puzzle when there's no happy ending?
SUSANNAH: Yes. I think *Scent of the Missing* reflects how long these searches stay with us when the ending is unhappy, or as is sometimes the case, when there's no ending at all.
HALLIE: Where are you going on tour, and how is Puzzle responding to all the attention? Is it spoiling her?
SUSANNAH: The tour is crazy widespread: Toronto, NYC, DC, Philadelphia, Birmingham, Fairhope, Seattle, San Francisco, LA, Boston, Denver, Chicago, Madison WI, Okemos MI, Houston, Austin, Dallas, San Francisco again and then Minneapolis. Puzzle's used to travel but finds the attention a little bewildering. Normally, when she's in her work vest, she's supposed to sit quietly and be "invisible" while on standby; we don't want search dogs tripping search personnel at the command post while we're waiting to go out. So now she's in her vest, and after six years of being polite and "invisible," can't quite understand the sudden interest in her and why she isn't going out to search!
Folks along the tour have offered to hide for Puz in various places, and that helps. I watch the tension roll off her when she's doing what she loves and understands.
HALLIE: Now for a treat! Susannah has given Jungle Red and excerpt from Chapter 1, “Gone”:
Saturday night in a strange town five hundred miles from home. I am sitting in a bar clearly tacked on to our motel as an afterthought. The clientele here are jammed against one another in the gloom, all elbows and ball caps bent down to their drinks—more tired than social. . . .
A half-hour ago, when I walked in with a handful of teammates, every head in the bar briefly turned to regard us, then turned away in perfect synchronization, their eyes meeting and their heads bobbing a nod. We are strangers and out of uniform, but they know who we are and why we are here, and besides, they’ve seen a lot of strangers lately. Now, at the end of the second week of search for a missing local girl, they leave us alone. We find a table, plop down without discussion, and a waitress comes out to take our orders. She calls several of us “honey” and presses a hand to the shoulder of one of us as she turns away.
Either the town hasn’t passed a smoking ordinance, or here at the city limits this place has conveniently ignored the law. We sit beneath a stratus layer of cigarette smoke that curls above us like an atmosphere of drowsy snakes, tinged blue and red and green by the neon signs over the bar. Beside the door, I see a flyer for the missing girl. Her face hovers beneath the smoke. She appears uneasy even in this photograph taken years ago, her smile tentative and her blond, feathered bangs sprayed close as a helmet, her dark eyes tight at the edges, like this picture was something to be survived.
I have looked at her face all day. On telephone poles, in the hands of local volunteers, over the shoulder of a big-city newscaster at noon, six, and ten o’clock. She is the ongoing local headline. She’s the girl no one really knew before her disappearance, and now she’s the girl eager eyewitnesses claim to have known all their lives. It’s hard to tell what’s real and what isn’t, but for the most part that’s not our job. We go where law enforcement directs us. We run behind search dogs who will tell us their own truths in any given area: *never here, was here, hers, not hers, blood, hair, bone, here, here, here*.
-- SCENT OF THE MISSING by Susannah Charleson
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
One year they moved into my attic. Just climbed right up the chimney and squeezed behind the bricks. Every morning we could hear them--it sounded like they were playing field hockey with acorns overhead. Every spring they behead my tulips. They don't even eat the blossoms, they just nip the stem and I come out to find the stem snapped the petals on the ground.
We used to have a peach tree by our front porch, and every year a particularly fearless squirrel would come down and take the peaches before they were ripe. Me screeching and throwing shoes at it barely gave this squirrel pause.
That same year a friend left a bag of groceries for me on my front steps, and when I got home to bring it inside, a french bread was missing. A few hours later, we had friends to dinner and as I was explaining why there wasn't any bread, I looked out the window and there was that damned squirrel that was stealing our peaches, racing up the trunk of a maple tree across the street with half loaf of french bread in his mouth.
Do you get along with your critters, or is it a constant battle?
HANK: Are you kidding me? GRRR. I am filled with rage. Our back yard is full of tulips, and they're gorgeous. Mostly white, but also some icy pink and apricot.
So I go outside to admire them--and some stupid squirrel has bitten off the flowers! You have to see it. Or not, because it's too awful. They apparently are looking for some tiny bit of nectar that's between the flower and the stem, so they bite off the flower with their little razor teeth, and then just LEAVE the flower on the ground next to the decapitated stem. Oh, it's terrible.
I had a big Facebook discussion about it, and someone suggested scattering hair clippings and eggshells around the plants before the flowers bloom, and that would keep the squirrels away. Gosh, that would keep anyone away!But next year, I'm doing it.
(Eddie Izzard does a hilarious squirrel imitation, though! Have you seen it?)
JAN: We have squirrels in the attic, too. Last year we hired the special "Squirrel" guy, who traps them and brings them somewhere and releases them. So humane. So kind to animals. The squirrels were back in about twenty minutes.
I don't think its a "green" issue, I think its a ASPCA issue. I can tell you for sure, I'm not signing up or donating funds to the ASPCA on behalf of squirrels, but I don't hold it against the squirrels in the yard. Especially since its the deer who are destroying my Rhodies.
RHYS: Until this year we had no squirrels in the neighborhood, but I've started to see them so I guess we're part of the invasion. However I live in deer country--I mean DEER country. I'm up on a hill, backing onto open space and all summer long my garden is full of deer. They are rather cute, as they bring their babies but they are so destructive.Our compromise has been to fence in a patio with high trellises and leave the rest of the property to them--junipers oleanders pyrocantha etc.
And we also have raccoons--their snarling at each other kept me awake last night. Oh, and coyotes. They "sing" so loudly, especially on moonlit nights, that I'm sure they're under my windows. Oh, and mountain lions, snakes, foxes, bobcats.... when my mother stayed once she complained, "It's like living in a bloody zoo!"
ROBERTA: This is very timely as we seem to have an entire squirrel neighborhood that has moved into our chimney. They wake up the dog and the cat in the morning by pounding across the roof so none of us can sleep in. We've had three guys come out to look the situation over so far: the carpenter, the roofer, and the ultra-expensive special duty wildlife man who charged us $125 just to tell us he couldn't handle the problem. Now we're trying to get a chimney sweep to call us back--the flue is apparently jammed with forsythia branches and squirrel babies.
This is our first squirrel invasion though. Our nemesis has been Mr. Groundhog. He barrels over our garden fence and mows down anything that's up. Twice he ate our new raspberry bush to the ground--can you imagine chewing all those brambles?
RO: In a national park, I love them. In my garden it's war. Squirrels, raccoons, deer and their smaller brethren - moles, voles and chipmunks. Walt Disney and Chuck Jones have done us a great disservice by making these critters appear cute. They're MONSTERS. I actually bought a slingshot a few years back - not that I ever connected with anything other than a tree trunk - but it made me feel good to be able to fight back in a non-chemical way.
I love the snakes though. They're cool and they eat or discourage some of the others. I keep an inflatable one in my garden for those days when the real ones don't show up.
HALLIE: So is your garden a peaceable kingdom or a war zone? Any great ideas on getting rid of squirrels, moles, and groundhogs? Recipes perhaps??
Monday, April 26, 2010
"Please be advised that any student who has the letters 'meep' on their clothing or uses the words verbally will face suspension from school...the police are monitoring this situation as well."
HALLIE: Meep. Meep meep meep. Just seeing the ban makes me want to say it, shout it, sing it out!
Did you all see this in a news story from November: Meep banned in high school? The story was picked up all across the country and in Europe as well.
Apparently the Danvers (MA) High School principal called every student's home to let parents know that,from then on, any student uttering it at school would be... suspended.
Pretty drastic. I would so love to know, as Paul Harvey would say: The rest of the story... Come on mystery writers, what could have been behind it?
As I read the article, I remembered the assorted 'pranks' we used to pull on our teachers. Everyone in class yawning when the clock struck 2:34. Or leaving a tack on the teacher's chair. Or the old pepper in her tea. Or a dead frog in her drawer. Pretty harmless stuff, in retrospect. But those were kinder and gentler times, before the Internet could harness hundreds, nay thousands of annoying kids.
Do you have memories, fond or otherwise, of what you got up to with your high school friends that fortunately (I'm assuming) didn't get you suspended?
HANK: Oh, yes, absolutely. We thought we were HILARIOUS. I guess my favorite was hat day. We all made hats out of newspaper, you know the ones that look like admiral hats?
And we wore them to Mr. Miller's math class. And he was kind of--out of it. (Although in retrospect, he probably wisely decided that he could get back at us by pretending nothing was unusual.) Anyway, he said nothing, so we all paraded into Miss Godfrey's English class wearing the hats.
Harold Rothkopf was always the leader of these things, so young Miss Godfrey -to prove how in control she was--sashayed up to Harold and in one upward swoop, plucked the hat from his head.
And he had another one on underneath it! It was fantastic.
RHYS: I was at an all girls high school where one girl got expelled for keeping mice in the belfry (ah, kinder and gentler times). Our best stunt was when two classes changed homerooms on April Fool's Day and one teacher who was, to say the least, not with it, called the roll not knowing that not one of her real students was in the room. Vaseline on the chalk board was not so kind and gentle.
I almost got suspended for wearing-----Long white knee socks. I was hauled into the principal's office and lectured that as a prefect, everyone looked up to me and this current transgression was letting the side down. You'd have thought that long white knee socks were a bustier and red garters from the way she looked at me.
JAN: I have to say, I grew kinder by the time I got to high school, but I had a tendency to torture the teachers of non-academic classes. The home-ec teacher in middle school wore a hearing aid, and I hate to admit we used to swallow the ends of the words and make crackling sounds -- I think that one will come back to haunt me as I age. I stopped in high school when the health teacher I was taunting informed me that we were cousins. I didn't believe her and went home to find out, she was my father's cousin's wife and we were in fact related. I was much nicer after that.
ROBERTA: Sigh, I was such a boring, good girl up through high school, that it's hard to come up with any pranks! I do remember dropping out of the window from the music room, intending for the first time ever to cut out of school early. The vice principal was standing right there as I landed. That's the best I can do:)
RO: Roberta and I would have hung out in school - although she seems wilder than I was. I never thought of myself as a goody- goody but I guess I was. I smoked in the girls room...does that count?
HALLIE: Of COURSE it counts! I did cut school a few times ... I remember doing it on my 16th birthday and going to get my driver's license. I was dating a college boy who rode around on a motorcycle and I thought we were super cool. He was so sweet. Sigh.
So come on, what were your high school pranks and misdeeds? We're dying to hear!
Friday, April 23, 2010
Sarah Burningham Little Bird917.546.6866 firstname.lastname@example.org://www.littlebirdpublicity.com/Twitter: @SarahBurningham
Thursday, April 22, 2010
With all the talking I do at events you'd think that I'd want to be quiet when I'm alone.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Experts say your titles should be unique to your work. Can't argue with that. A title has a purpose; it's tied to the story. So, right.
These experts also advise: If you're pulling your hair to tack a title onto your work, start with, of all debated things, the theme. To me a theme is something that becomes apparent after the story ends and you're thinking about heady things like themes. Like me, though, most writers want a title to anchor the story, or what's called a working title.
I can relate here. Well, not exactly. I don't want anyone else titling my work, but darn, it's hard to come up with something that exactly fits the story and catches a readers attention. I've titled and re-titled so many manuscripts, Microsoft Word won't confer a title until the fifth try.
My soon-to-be-released mystery novel, THE END GAME, started out as Child Trace – not a zippy title to be sure, but it is the name of my heroine's company. When you think about it, Child Trace could be the name of a game with crayons. Because it did nothing for the story, even as a working title, it disappeared, although it hangs around early versions of the manuscript.
Next, I settled on The Rose Girls. It fits since the novel centers on two little girls who go missing after their foster parents' house burns down. Jessie and Dottie Rose are the focus of the hunt, and heroine Moriah Dru leads the pack, literally, of cops and dogs to reach her goal: finding the Rose girls alive. But a reader checking out the book cover wouldn't have a clue who the Rose girls are.
Then, when I named my fictional international ring of slavers after chess pieces, it clicked. The End Game. For non-chess players, the end game is the last few moves before either the black or white king falls. Checkmate.
In my slave ring scenario, the Bishop is the head of the ring. He matches buyer to seller. The Knight is the local guy. He secures the Pawns, those abducted for the trade (the Rose girls in this case). The Rooks are the transporters of the Pawns. The King is the buyer. If all goes according to plan, that ends the operation. The End Game in my novel also has a more terrible meaning.
I wrote the book a couple of years ago and I didn't hear the phrase, the end game, used much as currently from sports to commerce. A business exec says, "Our end game is to buy that company as cheaply as we can." My title now has a generic quality that I would have tried to avoid. But, here's the kicker, the title fits the book like the jacket.
Titles must be unique to the work, and to that end a book can title itself. I wrote an historic romance recently, set in the 1920s. I researched romance titles and concluded I needed "hot" in the title, although it's not erotica. It's set on a Georgia barrier island (Cumberland), so I came up with One Hot Island Night. How's that for generic? But about 10,ooo words into the story, I had an epiphany. The couple falls in love while dancing to "Whispering" – the Paul Whiteman song that sounds like the roaring twenties with its gramophones and tenor falsettos. I don't know if publishers will like the title, but it fits my story perfectly.
And, if publishers don't like it, they will change it. But that's another discussion.
Thank you Jungle Red for having me. It's been and honor and pleasure.
Monday, April 19, 2010
Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune, Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing, Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms, Strong and content I travel the open road.
What I've learned from the road:
Friday, April 16, 2010
ROBERTA: My reading's been a little slow since January--I blame that on burnout from serving on the MWA Edgar best novel committee. But I just finished CAUCASIA by Danzy Senna--a novel about two sisters, one who takes after their white mother, and the other who resembles their black father. After the parents split up, each takes the daughter most similar in appearance. The story is told from the perspective of Birdie, the girl passing for all white, as her mother drags them around the east coast. Fascinating!
And on my to-be-read pile: Steve Hamilton's THE LOCK ARTIST, Jhumpa Lahiri's UNACCUSTOMED EARTH, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, and Barbara Kingsolver's THE LACUNA.
What have you loved lately?
HALLIE: I just read a manuscript that I loved -- THE SCENT OF THE MISSING by Susannah Charleson. She writes about raising and training her search-and-rescue dog, a lovely golden retriever named Puzzle. It's a knockout, and it comes out next month.
I am looking longingly at the pile of books on my floor. I haven't had a minute to read for pleasure in the longest. But when I do, I'm going to read GILEAD, and OLIVE KITTERIDGE, and LIFE OF PI, and THE YIDDISH POLICEMEN'S UNION, and at long last THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO.
HANK: AH, Roberta, I, too, have judging burnout! But now I am back in the reading groove, such as it is ...sometimes, it seems as if I get through thre pages, and then I have to sleep. Anyway. I'm in the midst of 212 by Alafair Burke, and enjoying that quite a bit! I'm also trying to read The LOCK ARTIST by Steve Hamilton, but Jonathan keeps taking it away. Harlan Coben's new CAUGHT is waving its arms at me, but I need to read Mary Jane Clark's fast-paced DYING FOR MERCY before I interview her Saturday at Murder 203. I'm eager to read UNDER THE DOME by Stephen King, but that'll have to be this summer. And hey, Jungle Reds...I guess my ARCS of DEADHEAD and THE LAST ILLUSION must have blown off my front porch. Sigh.
JAN: I'm reading Loving Frank, about Frank Lloyd Wright, by Nancy Horan. And Boston Against Busing, race, class in Ethnicity in Boston in the 1960s and 1970s, which is actually fascinating. And I just reread Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which was better the second time around, which makes me believe that how I feel about a book has a lot to do with the hype beforehand. Someone told me Midnight in the Garden of Good Evil was the best book ever written before I read it the first time, so I felt slightly disappointed. This time, when I was reading it just for structure, with no hype, I was delighted.
RO: Maybe that means I should read Girl with the Dragon Tattoo again. I recently reread Unsuitable Job for a Woman and loved it all over again, so I will probably reread another PD James next. It's almost like taking a writing class.
ROBERTA: Jan, I read Loving Frank last summer in preparation for visiting Wright's Falling Waters. Fascinating look into his (fictional?) character. I found the ending shocking!
And I thought of two other for my pile--both Anna Quinlan and Anne Lamott have new books out--got to run down to the bookstore and snatch those up too.
RHYS: I must be the only person in the world not to have read THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. I feel so badly for him--I should be furious if I died before I became a bestseller! I currently reading THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY. It's a children's book, along the lines of Harry Potter, I suppose, but not nearly as fun to me. More like an old fashioned adult telling the tale,rather than living the action with the kids in the present. I'm reading it because my daughter and I are just finishing up the first book in a children's series (we need an agent for her... any suggestions?) and someone mentioned this book.
Next I have an AS Byatt book to read STILL LIFE. POSSESSION was one of my favorite books ever so I'm looking forward to this one.
ROBERTA: You are right Rhys--what a disappointment to be a big sensation after you've gone and died too soon. And so exciting about the children's bok with your daughter--keep us posted on that! And Susannah--woo-hoo--absolutely can't wait for yours! How about you JR readers--any recommendations to add to our piles?
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
ROBERTA: Who's in charge of the dirty business mysteries--you or Rosemary?
PAULA: Aaahh – Rosemary thinks she is, but it’s really all me. There are just so many dead bodies you can unearth in the garden before you get arrested for digging in the cemetery! I like to get out, hang out with my friends and these days I’ve got some time on my hands so I keep getting involved in their, um, problems.
ROBERTA: If you found yourself in the office of a psychologist (say Dr. Rebecca Butterman of the advice column mysteries,) what deep dark secrets would you discuss?
PAULA: My life’s an open book. Three of them so far. (Pushing Up Daisies, The Big Dirt Nap and Dead Head) Okay some people say I have commitment issues, but seriously, what guy would let me run around and do some of the crazy things I do? I need to stay single, at least for the next two books.
HALLIE: Did it shake you up when you discovered that one of your neighbors was a fugitive mom?
PAULA: You coulda knocked me over. I know everyone has secrets, but this was a doozy. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt though. She was very young when - as they say – she fell in with a bad crowd. A lot of people were ready to cut her loose, but I’m loyal. And what I discovered was that we all have secrets – hers were just a little deadlier.
HANK: Ah—Paula, you used to be in the garden all the time. Is your interest in gardening, um, growing? Or are you branching (eesh) out into other things?
PAULA: Punny you should ask. Most gardeners have second or third jobs, it is, of course, a seasonal business. But I don’t see myself going into snowplowing. Lucy always tells me there’s a job waiting for me in New York, but I like the ‘burbs. I guess I have to really investigate what else I’m good at.
JAN: Paula, Any gardening tips for New Englanders deluged with rain???
PAULA: Stay inside and read a good book until things dry out! Walking on wet soil will only compact it and ruin your soil structure. Then hire Paula Holliday.
JRW: Paula, thanks for stopping in--we better let you go before Rosemary notices you're gone! Meanwhile, you can visit Ro's website for more on Dead Head! Congratulations Paula--and Ro!
ps check out the cool, animated trailer for Dead Head right here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
ROBERTA: Today JRW is delighted to welcome literary agent Christine Witthohn of Book Cents Literary Agency. Before entering the world of publishing, Christine studied biology, chemistry and nursing. Now she's trained her sights on becoming a super literary agent and queen of networking! Welcome Christine! We're all hearing horror stories about the state of publishing these days. How does the industry in general look from your perspective?
Wow. You really like to start with a bang!
Yes, publishing is in a state of flux. The business model publishers have always operated under is broken and doesn’t work any longer for a variety of reasons. Add in advances in technology, the cost benefits/availability of that technology to consumers, and the state of the economy, and it’s no wonder publishers are scrambling to change the way they do business.
Many NY pubs are tightening their belts and experimenting with different business models to see what works. We are already seeing significant changes. In the last few years acquisitions at most NY houses have been cut, imprints have closed, staff has been downsized, advances have dropped, terms of publishing contracts are ever changing, etc.
Is publishing the only industry this has ever happened to? NO. Are consumers going to stop reading? NO. Are publishers still buying books? YES.
I’m a glass-half-full kinda gal. No one ever said this job would be easy. This is very much a team sport kind of business. My clients are my teammates and we really have to work closely in order to get the results we want. Each person has to do their part well.
Can a writer be successful in this market? YES!
This biz is not for the weak of heart, because the road can get bumpy at times.
ROBERTA: Like all agents, I suspect you get deluged with query letters every week. Out of the onslaught, what makes a letter stand out? And then what about a manuscript makes you want to represent the writer?
To me, what makes a query stand out is someone who knows what they write (the hook) and knows their competition. Simply put: someone who does their homework.
A few months back, I received one of the best queries I have ever read. The writer gave me the genre, word count, and the hook in the first two sentences.
This was the breakdown of her query:
Paragraph 1: gives the vitals (genre, word count, hook); Paragraph 2: gives the bones (the foundation of plot); Paragraph 3: shows extended life (part of a series); Paragraph 4: author background/platform; Paragraph 5: organization affiliations; Paragraph 6: thanks me. The entire query was less than a page in length.
A query should be short and simple. Most writers make the mistake of going on and on in a query and end up talking (or writing) the agent/editor out of asking for more. Give us the bones - that’s all we need. If your story sounds interesting... we’ll ask to see the meat/fleshy part.
BTW - Within 60 days of receiving that query, I signed that author and sold the series (it took longer to sign her than sell her!). I had to fight off other agents with a bat!
What makes a manuscript stand out? The writing. Always the writing.
ROBERTA: I know I made mistakes when I was hunting for an agent. Can you give our readers some advice on how not to approach an agent?
Before you even query an agent, you should know: what their sales are, who their clients are, what they represent, their organization affiliations, and info about them from their websites. Do your homework! Why would you ever send your story to someone you haven’t checked out?
I can’t tell you how many queries I get in genres I don’t rep; the word count is either 2k or 200k; or the author says their story is a wholesome romance and it’s about an alien who is a serial killer (no joke); or addresses me as – Dear Agent, Dear Mr. Witthohn, Dear [insert another agent’s name here.] Silly things that make the writer look foolish or unprofessional.
My advice to all new writers: Do your homework! It will help make you stand out.
Insider tip #1: If you really want to know what an agent is like to work with… ask their clients! Most writers are happy to share this kind of info, especially if they have any dirt J
Insider tip #2: If you are at a conference but were unable to get an appt with your dream agent/editor… using good manners and good judgment, approach said industry pro and say hello or introduce yourself. Explain you were unable to get an appt, but ask for a few moments of their time to quickly tell them about your story or get a business card. Most will be kind and accommodating if they have time.
ROBERTA: You and Book Cents are proud sponsors of the International Women's Fiction Festival. Tell us about the festival and how you're involved.
Yes, Book Cents is one of the main sponsors of the IWFF. I was so impressed after the first year I attended, I became a sponsor! This is my fourth year. The conference is in Matera, Italy (which is a UNESCO World Heritage site) and held in a beautifully restored 16th century convent – complete with arched and vaulted ceilings, private gardens, and a terrace which gives you breathtaking, panoramic views of the Sassi.
It’s the only international writer’s conference in the world, and the only conference that puts you squarely in the international marketplace. It’s kind of like being at the UN, with an interpreter’s booth in the back - ready to translate workshops, panels, and various presentations into German, French, English, Spanish, and Italian.
For all you mystery and thriller writers out there, the IWFF organizes an amazing series of seminars with speakers brought in from around the world to discuss international crime syndicates, organized crime, cyber crimes, covert/international undercover work - just to name a few.
Where else can you sit out on a terrace with breathtaking views, a glass of vino, and chat up a foreign editor about YOUR book? Splurge on a sinful hot chocolate (with a splash of liquor of course) or an espresso while overlooking the Sassi or piazza while discussing what you’re currently working on with a group of agents and editors? Enjoy a mouth watering pizza or sample all the local flavors before you’re off to the IWFF Gala (the Italian equivalent of the Academy Awards – for books!)?
You will never get this kind of one-on-one time with industry pros anywhere else!
If you are a published author and want to increase your sales and get name recognition in the foreign market… this is the conference for you.
Thank you for having me, Roberta.
I’m a huge fan of all the gals at Jungle Red and hope you ladies have KILLER sales!
ROBERTA: Thank you Christine and thank you so much for your time today! Questions anyone?
Monday, April 12, 2010
ROBERTA: Ever since I read the article in last Wednesday's New York Times about folks who photograph everything they eat and post pictures on the web, my mouth has been watering. I thought it would be fun to see and hear what the Jungle Red gang has been eating--hope you think so too.
I had the happy problem of half a leftover roast chicken. And then I thought about chicken divan--we can always stand to eat more broccoli. The main recipe on Epicurious called for whipped cream and lots of butter--I cut that out and made a white sauce using chicken broth and the leeks still in the garden from last fall. Add rice, steamed broccoli, Swiss cheese and here's the result. And the biscuits are from Jane Brody's Good Food Cookbook--not hard to make, full of healthy stuff like cottage cheese and oats, and completely addictive!
HALLIE: I often buy plantains in the supermarket. They're SO cheap (4/$1) and SO good - but I like them cooked ripe ("maduros") and that means holding onto them for a week or as long as it takes for the skin to turn black (yes completely). Then peel, slice, sautee in olive oil and butter until they turn golden brown. They taste sweet and delicious, like a banana only better.
We had these as a side dish with tilapia filets. Yum
JAN: My new tennis/health club makes me drive in a different direction, right past the fresh fish market. How could I just drive by? So tonight it's steamers with lemon and a little butter. I usually don't like cod, but I found some fileted thin like sole so I'm making Filet of Sole Rene, which is with a mixture of breadcrumbs, chives from my garden, butter, olive oil, parmesan cheese, topped with Cocktail sauce made with fresh lemon and horse radish. Roast red potatoes and steamed broccoli and a very nice Pinot Grigio.
LAST MINUTE REVISION: I didn't have breadcrumbs, so substituted a mix of crushed oysterettes, saltines and pecans. Since the crackers were salty, I didn't add the parmesan cheese. Actually, I liked this version better -- the pecans were key.
Dark chocolate for dessert.
HANK: Ah, we'e moving fast these days...Jonathan has a trial and I'm working on some big stories..so we're relying on my default dinner--pasta primavera. Or a version thereof---I forget where I learned this, but its so easy and so versatile and so delicious!
First you see what kind of vegetables you have..broccoli is perfect, or asparagus, peas, spinach.. Anyway--put the pasta water on to boil and as it's getting hotter, make the vegetables.
Wash and chop the broccoli or asparagus or spinach.
When the pasta water comes to boil, add the pasta (we use whole wheat pasta), and cook until it's almost done.
About a minute before it's done, add the vegetables to the boiling water.
Meanwhile, heat about a quarter cup olive oil, some garlic and some red pepper flakes in the microwave.
The vegetables will be cooked in that minute..then dump the pasta and vegetables into a colander, drain,and then put them back into the pan.
Dump on the hot garlic oil, stir, add parmesan, salt and pepper and there you are!
ROBERTA: It all sounds--and looks-delicious! And Hank, you guys are always moving fast! But Rosemary and Rhys must be moving even faster--too fast to eat...Which reminds me that Ro's book hits the shelves tomorrow! Come back to hear Paula (her protagonist) talk about gardening, DEAD HEAD, and Rosemary herself. Can't wait for that...
And then Wednesday, stop in to chat with literary agent Christine Witthohn on the state of publishing today.
And meanwhile, tell us about what you're eating!
Friday, April 9, 2010
Ever since the book came out I have received daily emails saying "don't let her marry him."
This is because he wants her to give up her career as an investigator, move into a better neighborhood and disance herself from her bohemian friends. I can see that this would upset many readers but I really want Molly's situation to echo that of real young women of the time. Do I want to give up my freedom for the safety of marriage, even though marriage means being subjugated to the will of my husband? Daniel is not a bad man--he is a typical man of his time. He won't beat her, which husbands could do then. He will give her more freedom than many men would, but he expects to be the lord and master--ruler of the housebhold.
This attitude was true until the 50s. Look at the old I love Lucys--Lucy, your job is to get my dinner, now where is it? Sorry Ricky, it's coming right up. Lucy scared to tell Ricky she has bought a new hat. And Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver. The theme of all is that the man of the house is the wise judge in charge of life.
I suppose in Molly's case one has to consider the alternatives. She has no private money. She can just about afford to rent a house and eat when she has enough work. Life is not kind to single women of the time.
My great aunt was a business woman in the 30s. She wanted to buy her own house and was turned down everywhere she applied for a mortgage. Although she had a good job the reason was that she might possibly marry and her husband would squander her money.
So we can't judge Molly and Daniel by our modern standards. If you look at it from Daniel's point of view, he'd not only be the laughing stock of the NYPD detectives if his wife was a detective, but it would compromise the integrity of his career. So does this really mean the end of Molly's career? Will she sneak behind his back, thus jeopardizing the trust of her husband? We'll just have to see, won't we?
I think there is always a problem in making characters true to their time and place. We want the romantic hero, but heroes were not always so nice back then.
ROBERTA: That's a delightful series conundrum Rhys! It's real conflict, true to your historical period, that can be spread out over a number of books. I liked Daniel too so I'm hoping for the marriage:).
I had a funny email a couple of weeks ago from a new fan of the advice column series. This woman was begging me to allow Rebecca Butterman to fall for the very nice man she meets in PREACHING TO THE CORPSE. (Rebecca and her best friend call him GOB behind his back, Good Old Bob.) But what kind of story would that be???
RO: True to their time is an issue whether the time is the 19th century or the 1960's (think Mad Men.) I'm with Roberta - I think the single versus attached issue is even bigger. How can our heroines keep going out there to foil the bad guys if they're home with the husband and kiddies? Or arranging for sexy candlelight dinners with the men of their dreams? True - some writers may make that part of the story, but dang, if Paula Holliday had to do all the personal grooming that a single woman in her thirties really has to do, she'd never catch any criminals!
(Roberta...am I the only one who thinks that a man referred to as Good Old Bob is NEVER going to get any?)
RHYS: If he were in England he'd wear a stag on his hand-knitted sweater (with a couple of egg stains down the front)
So it's going to be interesting to see if Molly goes through with the wedding, if she can carry on with some kind of career after she's married, when she's pregnant, when she has babies to look after.
Ending with a small note of BSP.
Hank and I are both nominated for Best Novel at the upcoming Malice Domestic conference at the end of April. We're prepared to wrestle in mud for the teapot and are planning fiendishly clever ways of disposing of the other nominees.
I'm also toastmaster at this year's convention and Hank will be my interviewer (luckily after voting has ended or she could have asked me questions like "do you see your characters as Jungian archetypes?" and reduced me to silence!
Thursday, April 8, 2010
This particular word was RECURESS. It was the sort of word that cries out for a definition. Mine is Recuress: female who shows up at all functions hoping to be noticed.
Then I started collecting more of these nonsense words (or are they nonsense? Are we perhaps being brainwashed into learning a new language? The language of blogs?)
In the last week I've found:
UNCESSI: neverending, like elevator music
MINIZ: Not maxiz
BILYBA: As in the Monkey's song-- I saw her face, now I'm a bilyba
NARKYA: Seriously annoying
PATIC: The sort of ache one gets from playing with small children: as in patic ache
baker's man. (sorry, couldn't resist that one)
MODER: Hello Moder, Hello Fader
So how about checking next time you want to post a comment and also post the definition of your special word? And one day we'll all be speaking the language, I'm sure.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
RHYS: Today Jungle Red Writers is pleased to welcome one of my favorite guys--fellow Bay Area writer David Corbett. In a world of few characters these days, David stands out. He's loud, passionate about life, and writes books that will rip your soul apart. His last book was nominated for the Edgar Award. David and I did a lot of books signings a couple of years ago when his last Central American thriller, Blood of Paradise came out. We had great fun, especially at the nudist resort, but that's another story.
So welcome David.Tell us about your new book, Do they Know I'm Running?:
DAVID: DO THEY KNOW I'M RUNNING? is the story of a Salvadoran-American family facing two crises at once: the return of a son badly wounded from the Iraq War, and the arrest and deportation of the family breadwinner. The young men of the family decide to retrieve their deported uncle from El Salvador, and the task of going to down to get him and ensure he returns safely falls on the youngest male, Roque, who is something of a golden son: he is a gifted guitarist, referred to by some as the next Carlos Santana. His brothers, who are a bit rougher around he edges, tell him it's time to "man up" and show the family he's willing to sacrifice for the good of the whole. The story then tracks Roque's journey, not just from America to El Salvador through Guatemala and Mexico back to the US border, but from a young man to an old
soul. He learns a great deal about his family, his heritage, America, and
his own heart.
He also learns, once he gets to El Salvador, that bringing his uncle home requires a pact with the devil: organized crime and the gangs now control all the smuggling routes for all illicit contraband -- including people --through the region to the US. And Roque is told by the gang members who control his fate that he will not have just his uncle on board as he journeys north. He will also be transporting a Palestinian Iraqi hoping for asylum in the US (or that's his story), and a young singer who has been promised to a Mexican crime lord. If she isn't delivered as agreed upon, no one else gets across the border. Roque realizes this is essentially a death sentence, and must decide what to do.
RHYS: Wow, powerful stuff, David. You began to explore Central American themes in Blood of Paradise. Why this fascination with Hispanic/border stories? Do you have Hispanic background or connections?
DAVID: A little over a year after my wife died, I met a Salvadoran woman and we began a two year relationship that remains a very close friendship. I became very close to her friends and family, and visited her mother, aunts, uncles and brothers, as well as her wider circle of friends, both in El Salvador and here. I came to know and love them;more importantly, I came to understand the tenuous status of the so-called illegal immigrant, came to understand how hard they work, how deeply they hope for a better future for their children, and how frightened they are that that hope can be stolen away with one stroke of bad luck.
RHYS: Do you go south of the border to do your research? Any great stories you
DAVID: I've gone to both El Salvador and Guatemala, but relied on knowledgeable friends for Mexico. (I hope to visit there this year.) The best story from Guatemala involved my misunderstanding the border process between Guatemala and Mexico. I wanted to stroll across the bridge spanning the river that divides the two countries, only to learn that, once I was in Mexico, I had to go all the way to Tapachula and take the bus back. This stranded my driver back in Guatemala, and would take at least a day to accomplish. It turned out there was a "helper" working on the bridge, a Mayan young man who'd worked construction in the bay area where I live. (He's been deported after running a stop sign, and couldn't apply for a visa to return for ten years.We hit it off, and he told me who to bribe and what to pay.
RHYS: In real life you're an ex P.I. Has this helped you in the writing of
DAVID:What PI worked taught me is how to read between the lines of media stories.
I worked a number of headline cases -- the DeLorean trial, the first Michael Jackson molestation case, the People's Temple Trial, the Cotton Club Murder Case, the Lincoln Savings & Loan Scandal, among others -- and I quickly learned how much of a case never reached the general public. This taught me an instinct for what to imagine when I did my research, filling in the blank spaces, as it were. I could envision the witnesses who remained nameless or undiscovered, the information one side or the other -- or both -- never wanted brought to light. It's sometimes said: Don't write what you know, but what you don't know about what you know. PI work gave me the confidence to do this with authority.
RHYS:So what's next for you?
DAVID: I'm working on a few film treatments, a graphic novel, a collaboration with
Luis Alberto Urrea, a new novel about a town much like my own -- bankrupt, with a diminishing police department and rising crime -- and a couple of stories about real PI work, not the kind you find in PI novels. I'm also writing a text book based on the courses on character I've taught at UCLA and Book Passage.
RHYS: Oh, so you're goofing off as usual, huh? Seriously we wish you every success with the new book and with all your other projects. You can visit David at his website www.davidcorbett.com