Thursday, December 14, 2017

Five Books I Read in 2017—and Recommend

It’s time for me to list five books I loved in 2017. As always, I leave off the bestsellers—the ten titles you’ve read about ten times in the last ten weeks of top ten books lists. I tried to keep it to works published in 2017, but I included a couple from 2016 that I discovered this year.

I am also, as always, not listing the books I edited in 2017, but I will tell you that the key author name to remember is Clay Savage…He’s got a half-dozen excellent manuscripts written in a variety of genres—it sounds unbelievable, but he’s crazy talented and prolific. Don’t worry, I'll let you know when his books are being published.

I will mention one collection that includes a story of mine: The Insider’s Guide to the Best of Mexico: 42 experts tell you where to sun, swim, eat, stay, and celebrate the real Mexico (2017) edited by Carmen Amato. This little ebook is a treasure—filled with short pieces by some well-known Mexico writers, like Jinx Schwartz, author of the always-enjoyable Hetta Coffey Series. Not a typical travel guide, this includes unique tidbits, offbeat adventures, and actual insider insights—and best of all, it is currently free on Kindle!

So...On to my "top five" list for 2017:

What Remains True by Janis Thomas (2017) isn’t just my favorite book this year, it’s already one of my favorites of the decade. One sign of a great book is that I want to read it again, and I wanted to reread this one as soon as I finished it. A true literary artist has the ability to step inside other people’s heads and inhabit them, and Thomas has done that here, in spades. Oddly enough, I had just finished reading Stars in The Grass, which deals with a similar situation—a family dealing with the loss of a young child— and as good as Ann Marie Stewart is, her book paled in comparison to the raw power of What Remains True. I don’t want to spoil anything by telling you more, just read it!


The Book of Moon by George Crowder (2016) This book reminded me of a California take on The Dirty Parts of the Bible, but I enjoyed it much more. Moon Landing may be only fifteen but he’s no kid; this coming-of-age story is told from the point of view of a very adult young man. Moon is concerned with the disintegration of his family due to his parents divorce, but he’s also worried about sex, death, global problems, world religions, and his own spirituality.

The Leavers by Lisa Ko (2017) I try not to hype any books that showed up on national “best of the year” lists, but I had to include The Leavers, because I this book is a must-read for anyone interested in issues of migration, immigration, and assimilation, as I am (and if you are not interested in these subjects, why not?). The story builds slowly, and was tough to get into, so be patient; I almost gave up on it, and I am so glad I didn’t. It might change the way you look at life in these United States.

The Eagle Tree by Ned Hayes (2016) This quirky book is a winner, and could be read by nature lovers of almost any age—the protagonist is a 14-year-old autistic boy who is in love with trees, and one tree in particular. If you enjoy reading about the outdoors, the Pacific Northwest, or stories told by unusual narrators, you’ll love The Eagle Tree. And if you loved The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, you will adore this book. The Kindle edition is on sale right now.

Still I Rise: The Persistence of Phenomenal Women by Marlene Wagman-Geller, with a foreword by Laurel Corona. The book highlights the struggles and accomplishments of important women of our era, like Betty Shabazz, Nellie Sachs, Selma Lagerlof, Fannie Lou Hamer, Bessie Coleman, and Lois Wilson (if you don’t recognize their names, you obviously need this book). In spite of the spotty editing, I definitely recommend this addictively-readable resource. It's important to all of us, and future generations, that our written histories tell the other half of history.







Friday, October 27, 2017

It All Worked Out in the End

One of the best things that can happen to an editor is seeing their clients' books win over readers and get great reviews. That matters as much as book awards—though those are awfully nice, too. One of the finest memoirs that I've worked on is "Fourteen" by





 KIRKUS REVIEW
A debut memoir reveals a turbulent adolescence.
At first glance, the voyage of Bjorn Johansen and his three daughters from San Diego to the islands of Tahiti in 1975 aboard the Aegir (Norwegian for “lord of the stormy seas”) has all the makings of a standard adventure story. But there is much more beneath the surface that sets this stirring book apart from other renderings of the challenges of adolescence. Nack is the middle daughter, who turned 14 years old right before they set sail, and she cleverly provides a definition of “navigation” in the opening pages because it serves as one of the text’s central metaphors. Her mother, often absent from the action here, struggled with mental illness and substance abuse. The author’s early characterization of her father as “volatile and demanding” is an understatement, as he turns out to be physically, emotionally, and sexually abusive. Thus the inclusion of “Survival” in the subtitle acquires another layer of meaning. In a breathtaking scene, Nack bravely defies her father’s orders and confronts him about the sexual abuse. She writes: “We’d been at sea seventeen days. He was like a lion crouching low, studying his prey. The gazelles eventually get worn down. They cannot be on high alert every moment of the day. Nobody can. I was tired of being scared.” After a series of cultural encounters and harrowing events once they reach their destination, the return voyage involves a different boat and crew. Although the riveting book ends before they make landfall, it is an appropriate moment to reflect on what has happened up to this point. The exhausted crew has just emerged intact from a ferocious two-day storm, which required lots of concerted effort and skilled maneuvering. They’re not there yet, but they are getting close. In keeping with the tone of the project as a whole, this ending, while somewhat abrupt, is powerful and inspiring. Perhaps the only quibble is that Nack leaves readers wanting more.
An engaging account, gripping from start to finish, that should appeal to a wide audience, including sailing enthusiasts.



Wednesday, September 20, 2017

"Up and Autumn," Everyone!

What happened to August? I seem to have missed a month, somewhere. Family issues and losses abounded, none of them easy to handle. So, that's my excuse.
Luckily, September follows August and is one of my favorite months.
If I lived somewhere besides San Diego, I'd say the leaves were starting to turn, or the nights were getting cold, but as it is, I can at least sense the coming of autumn in the air. Time for us to get "up and autumn"! Of course, I'm so very thankful I'm not dealing with a flooded/destroyed home and I don't have a hurricane poised to strike me.
So... now it's time for one of my favorite weekends of the year—the Southern California Writers Conference. If you don't know about SCWC yet, click here. The schedule is up and the workshops and speakers are listed. So much to look forward to! Not just Pitch Witches at a new "rogue" time (9pm), but a Pitch Witch query class, my expository class, and an early morning read and critique on Sunday. I'm even teaching a new workshop on marketing literary fiction and memoir.


My "Pitch Witch" Partner, Marla Miller with Yours Truly

Aspiring writers ask me all the time why they should go to a writers conference and I always say you shouldn't go to just any conference, but there are some very good reasons to go to SCWC.
1. You'll learn a lot about writing & publishing, from professional writers, editors, and agents.
2. You'll get feedback on your work-in-progress or that manuscript you think is finished (is it?)
3. You'll make contacts in the world of publishing that will help you to succeed in this biz.
4. You'll make friends who will like, understand, and support you (I certainly have!)
5. You'll get out of your lonely writing room.
6. You'll have a blast!
I hope you can make it to Irvine this year—there's still time to register in advance, or you can simply show up on Friday...
hasta pronto!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Vacation Brain Strikes Back, and Some Tips on Transitions.

Yes, I've been on vacation—actually two mini vacations, separated by a stressful week dealing with a family member in crisis. Now I'm back home and my "hard earned" calm from a couple of day's relaxation—poof! It's gone!
I'm getting back to work, and I'm stuck with Vacation Brain. V.B. is the fuzzy, vague, can't-quite-concentrate feeling that you strive for on vacation, but that you have to shuck like an oyster shell once you return to the real world.

So, here's what I have been thinking about: transitions. Both in life and in writing. Transitions don't get enough love, and they certainly don't get much respect. In life we tend to gloss over other people's life transitions with phrases like "It's just a phase," "this too shall pass," "you'll get over it," and even "get over it!"
In judging an author's writing, editors and agents often say "the transitions were weak" but what exactly does that mean? In my experience, it means that either you took too long to get from plot point A to plot point B, thereby boring the reader, or that it happened too fast and left us wondering, so make sure you know which problem your text suffered from.
Sometimes transitions surprise us unintentionally, and then it isn't really the transition itself that is to blame, but all that came before it. (A surprise can be a good thing in some genres, but not a surprising surprise, if you know what I mean. We've all read those, where we say, "WTF? That character would never have done that!")
In order to improve your transitions, you must first find them. You can spot them by highlighting what they are not. Most transitions are not whole scenes, they are the connective tissue between scenes. There is action/reaction in a scene (a "beat," if you will) and then the scene ends and, at some point, another scene begins. That connecting section is your transition.
Of course, rules are meant to be broken, and sometimes a whole chapter—usually, a very short one—works as a transition in a book. A great example, in a book by Ray Bradbury, was a one-sentence chapter which I'll try to recall here: "Nothing else happened the rest of the night."
Great transition, but it won't work in too many books. Sometimes a transition has to do some heavy lifting, like jumping through space and time, and, unless you're Zane Grey you don't want to use the cliched "Meanwhile, back at the ranch..."
So, how do you make those leaps, from breakfast to break-up, or from colonial Bangaladesh to modern-day Bermuda?
The best answer I can give is to read. Read the greats, and see how they do what they do. When you find a great transition, jot it down or highlight it (easy on a Kindle or most other e-reader apps). Go back and re-read them and see which one moves you. Keep a list of them for inspiration. Next time you are stuck, refer to that list. You won't use the transitions word for word, of course, but they can certainly act as a jumping off place.
That's the best I can do with Vacation Brain. Hope it was a little bit helpful...Now for a nap...
hasta pronto!


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Recap of the SDBAA Awards (with winners and links)

Last week, the San Diego Book Awards Association presented their awards at the Sheraton in La Jolla. There were no SDBAA awards given out last year, due to the passing of Chet Cunningham, so this year books were accepted from 2016 and 2017, and needless to say, the competition for top honors was very fierce...
I was there, breath held and fingers crossed for Eric Peterson's The Dining Car to win the top award in the Contemporary Fiction category, which it did! Congratulations, Eric, on your second gold medal for this delectable, rollicking book.



Two of my other clients had books nominated in the category of Published Young Adult Fiction— Dragon Camp by Cate Shepherd, and Paco Jones by Dominic Carrillo. I applauded loudly for both of them, but Paco Jones won!
But even before that, it was a very fun night, with plenty to applaud as we celebrated literary excellence in San Diego.
The General Fiction category was way too close to tell with Where I Lost Her by T. Greenwood, Casualties by Elizabeth Marro, and Gifts Unexpected by T.C. Grant. The winner was Where I Lost Her by T. Greenwood.
Judy Reeves was nominated for her newest book, Wild Women, Wild Voices and I saw that inspiring "Wild Woman" herself at the awards.
Her books' competition was a beautiful, photo-rich book by my friend Nicholas Clapp published by my long-time pals at Sunbelt Publications. Nick's beautiful book won, which was nice, but comparing the two books is like comparing apples to oranges.
Friends John Van Roekel and Indy Quillen were both nominated for their most recent works and it was nice to see them there.
The winner of the "Best of the Best" for the night, aka, the Theodor S. Geisel Award was Take a Hike by Priscilla Lister. Lots of photos of the big night are here.
There are many categories in the SDBAA awards, from local interest to military/politicalthere's always something for everyone from our local authors.
Click here to see the full list of winners.