Thursday, March 9, 2023

Two Book Reviews and a Bit More News from Me

Years ago, at SCWC, I met agent Jennifer Herrera and gave her some very positive feedback about her writing. We definitely clicked and have remained friends since then, and the main reason I remember about the feedback I gave her is because she told me recently. She credits me as being one of the first professionals to give her encouragement as a writer. All I can say is that was very perceptive of me!

Her book The Hunter came out in January, and it is a absolute winner. It grabbed me on page one and never let my interest flag to the very end. And the book's main character proved a point I made recently on this blog about contradictory characters. I didn't use the title when I posted some of these comments before, as I didn't yet have a link to the book to share; now my review is here in its entirety.

Reading about a detective who wants to solve a crime but also understands that the person she is interviewing has a deep need to keep secrets—a need the detective shares—means I am hooked. If this same detective considers fidelity to her husband to be the most important promise she has made in her life, but she finds herself attracted to another man, almost against her will, then you will keep turning pages, even late into the night.

The author skillfully weaves place and plot, along with the above contradictions, in a way that feels real and grounded. The small town in this book came alive through its inhabitant's words and actions in a way that Stephan King's small towns do. The book kept me on the edge of my seat throughout, and in places it actually scared me, without ever being exploitative or gruesome.

Another great read that you can pre-order here is Hula by Jasmine Iolani Hakes, who I also "discovered" at SCWC. And yes, I meant discovered to be tongue-in-cheek since she didn't need me to point out or validate her talent. Anyway, I just read an advance digital review copy from Net Galley, and agreed to review the book, but just so you know, I would definitely have reviewed it anyway.

Brilliant, captivating, immersive and illuminating, Hula is the novel we have all been waiting for about Hawai'i, whether we knew it or not. Members of my haole family spent many years living on the islands, so I knew a little about the history and culture. Most of what I thought I knew was way more fictional than this steeped-in-history novel about a matriarchal family based in Hilo.

Weaving her plot together with myths, stories, and recent history, the author gave me a comprehensive education but it never felt like homework because I cared so much about these women. I cannot recommended this book highly enough. Just jump in, the water's fine.

You can preorder Hula now on Amazon, and buy The Hunter anywhere fine books are sold.

As to my own news, I've signed a contract to publish my memoir of the first year Russel and I spent in Baja on our little sailboat, Honeymoon at Sea. More on that, including a pub date, very soon.

hasta pronto!

Thursday, February 9, 2023

It's Almost Conference Time—and Almost Time for Some Big News!

The Southern California Writers Conference begins in San Diego on Friday, Feb 17.  I love this conference and always look forward to it with "anticipatory glee" as Russel would say, and that is even more true this time. I am anxious to be with my tribe as as I celebrate a big milestone in my life—I have big news which I will be sharing very soon, but not today. Sorry to tease but I have a very good (legal) reason not to share too soon...I can give you a big hint, though, and say that I am waiting to have a contract in my hand before I give you all any more info.

I am also excited to teach a new workshop on spotting and eliminating sexist and racist writing, and my new favorite 3-part workshop on on writing compelling nonfiction. In fact, this year's conference is going to be full of new workshops, from our amazing industry leaders. And we are going to be back at the Marriott Mission Valley which was so nice last year and will no doubt be again. 

I am super busy with all of my advance submissions, plus the rest of my writing life (more on that soon as I said before!). So, I hope you'll pardon me if I repeat something I feel quite strongly about...

Here are my top reasons to attend SCWC:

1. To find your “tribe.” This is the key way in which this conference changed my writing life—we all need people in our life that "get" us and our writing...You will have plenty of opportunities to find those folks who resonate with you, and vice-versa, at SCWC.

2. To meet industry professionals. Where else can you chat with agents and editors and successful authors in an informal setting like after workshop and panel discussions, small read-and-critique groups, plus meeting over coffee or drinks? At too many conferences all the pros and workshop leaders hang out together and you never actually meet anyone except other first-timers.

3. To get eyes on your work. Your manuscript isn’t done just because you are tired of working on it. Whether you take pages to read and critique meetings or go to late night “rogues” (or early ones like the one at 7am on Sunday) you'll learn what works—and what doesn't.

4. To learn more about craft and story in hands-on workshops like my new classes, and to learn what's new in the industry. From workshops on craft and creation, to marketing, & promotion for your published book—all from great speakers who have a wealth of experience to share with you.

5. Because it's so dang fun! We all need to get out and meet other writers and socialize once in a while. And who doesn't want to hang out with a talented, inspiring, upbeat group of creative souls? So, show yourself some love and take yourself to SCWC—your work is worth it and so are you!

Don’t wait to register, though you can do it as late as Friday; I hope to see you there next week—hasta pronto!

Saturday, December 3, 2022

My One Book Recommendation for the Year: "Cradles of the Reich"

I like to do a wrap-up of my "Top 5" books each year, but this year I struggled to find enough books I was passionate about. I kept making lists and deleting them, then starting over— only one book kept making the list, and I never got to five. So I am going to devote this final blog post of 2022 to the one novel that I read this year that I think you (all of you!) really should read.

As usual, I am not going to choose any of the books I edited this year, though you just might want to check out Gayle Carline's new historical-romantic-fantasy-with-dragons- and-pirates trilogy that starts with Blood Dragon Rising.

I am not going to choose a book that you've already seen over and over in every 2022 Top Ten Books List, nor any book from the Big Five Publishers. I am all about supporting indie publishers, such as Sourcebooks, and their Landmark imprint.

The one book I am recommending that you read is Cradles of the Reich by Jennifer Coburn.

Some literary works are blessed to be brought into the world at exactly the right
Cradles of the Reich is one such work. This is a novel that completely captures the zeitgeist of a crucial time in human history, by focusing on a very specific slice of life. The lives of three very different women, in this case, who are all are caught up within the machinery of a fascist regime.

The historical era is World War II, and the setting is Heim Hochland maternity home in Bavaria, the headquarters of the Lebensborn project—a Nazi "breeding program" that was designed to create a so-called master race. The echoes of A Handmaid's Tale are plentiful, but this project was truly stranger than fiction, and our ignorance of it is both shocking and dangerous.

Though Cradles of the Reich is not the first book written by Jennifer Coburn, I believe that it is the novel she was born to write. Not only because few authors would have done such excellent research, or cared so deeply about bringing this horrific story to light, but because few people could have crafted such a compelling story, allowing us three all-too human windows into this repellant reality.

What makes this book particularly impressive to this editor/reader is the author's sure hand with expository. For example, when introducing the character of Gundi, a stunningly beautiful young woman, she writes:

"People seemed to know all they needed to when they took in Gundi’s angelic face. Even her one imperfection, the sliver of a gap between her two front teeth, seemed disarmingly appealing. Gundi had enjoyed the attention when she first started to blossom into a woman, but now, by the age of twenty, she was starting to realize that her beauty didn’t give her any actual power but rather the illusion of it. Fewer and fewer people seemed interested in what she had to say these days; they smiled and nodded as she spoke while creating their own version of who they wanted this beautiful girl to be."

This not only captures the backstory of Gundi, but perfectly encapsulates the society in which she's grown up—one where appearances are far more important than actions, where the collective regards banal superficialities as superior to deeper meanings, and where insistently repeated promises can supersede truth (sound familiar to anyone?).

I'd already chosen this book as my 2022 recommendation when the latest spate of highly promoted hate and bigotry hit the morning news. Naturally, that only made me want to rush to get this blog post out sooner.

Ask for Cradles of the Reich at your favorite bookstore and at your local library. If they don't have it, recommend that they get it! Meanwhile, buy it for you and for someone else—maybe as a Hanukkah, Xmas, or solstice gift.

I wish you all the best for the rest of this year, during whatever holidays you celebrate. I hope we all keep writing and reading and celebrating the incredible richness of humanity and the beauty of our world.

Hasta pronto!

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Sunrise, Sunset, Sunbelt Books

As most of you may know, I started writing professionally by writing plays and acting in them, which took me from San Diego, to Los Angeles, and then to New York City. In 1989, I re-connected with Russel Redmond, who quickly became my life partner and co-conspirator in all things. For our honeymoon we sailed south to Baja California’s Sea of Cortez. Eventually, we sailed on to Florida and back to San Diego, but we returned on our boat to the Sea in 1996. There we founded the Sea of Cortez Review—an eclectic literary journal of writing about Baja, which I edited and Russel illustrated.  

    That labor of love led me to Sunbelt Publications, where I spent over a decade happily editing, packaging, and marketing their books about Mexico and California. That was fun and challenging, but when I became Editor-in-Chief I started spending more time with grant proposals, P&L statements, and budgets, which meant less time with books and authors. 

  At Sunbelt, I was lucky enough to work with the witty and brilliant short-story writer Daniel Reveles and the esteemed historian Harry W. Crosby, plus Baja buffs Judy Goldstein Botello and Greg Niemann, dry-land plant guru Maureen Gilmer, San Diego historian Richard Carrico, and many more, for over a decade. Not to mention meeting co-workers with whom I became fast friends.

On my own as a freelance editor since 2011, I work directly with authors on their books which continues to be a joy to me. 

    Recently, my old friends, Lisa Gulick and Maria Groschup-Black opted to take over Sunbelt from the retiring Lindsays who founded the company in 1984. With Maria's wife Nichole, and long-time publications manager Debi Young, they are trying to keep this regional publisher and distributor not just afloat, but expanding.

    I can't resist such "quixotic adventures" as my old friend Harry Crosby would say, so I pitched in to help. I am going to be editing a new Baja book, and I am going to be helping their new marketing and promotions intern, Emily, with some crowdfunding for new books, plus doing a bit of social media promotion and marketing when I have the time.

    All this to say that while I am still working with authors and teaching and writing my editing book, I am also returning to something I love—helping new books get published and celebrating their emergence into the world. Stay tuned for more on all this.         Hasta pronto!

Sunday, August 14, 2022

So I'm Writing a Book, Among Other Things...

 The non-fiction book is about writing and editing, since I have been doing one since I was five and the other for over twenty-five years. I hope to finish it this year, and publish it next year. I'm thinking it will be short, like 100 pages. I'm pondering quirky titles, like Tips and Tricks from the Editrix. Stand by for more on all that. In the meantime, here's an excerpt, which may or may not be Chapter 1.

First Off, Forget all the Noise and Write

The more we know about writing—what some famous author or writing teacher said or wrote, what the critics seem to like, what our writer's group liked when we shared last month—the harder it becomes to simply write. And I didn’t choose the word simply at random. Most of the time, our first drafts are very simple and clear, lacking subtlety, intriguing plot twists, and sparkling dialogue. We simply get down the gist of the story. The germ of the idea that’s been bugging us when our mind wanders from our open book or screen, and waking us up at night. And that is fine. 

There is time enough to weave more layers into the plot, flesh out the character’s movements and motivations, and make the book’s settings come to life. One day, your characters will begin to talk to each other—if they were not already doing so while you are writing the first draft. When that happens, you'll gain insights that help you to envision and enliven their conversations. 

    Each time we re-read our first draft, we have the opportunity to add elements that clarify the structure or deepen the impact of the text. No first draft I have read (or heard of) ever arrived with all of the compelling complexity of the author’s final draft. And once again, that is perfectly fine.

As far as revising, there is also a time and a place to put on the editor’s visor, to judge and reject words and phrases, to attempt to “omit useless words” as a great editor once said. There is time to employ our computer’s search and replace tools, to carefully count our use (and overuse) of our favorite words, phrases and imagery, along with the mostly unnecessary thought verbs and filter words (more on those later). All of that judgment and consideration has a time, a season as it were, and can take as long as you have the patience for it. 

What I do suggest, and I am far from alone in this opinion, is that you don’t concern yourself with any of the above when writing your first draft. This is because the very act of thinking about the book’s eventual structure, story and character arcs—not to mention grammar, spelling, and punctuation—is usually the kiss of death to creativity. When I write a 500 word essay for publication, I write a slew of words, maybe 1500, trying to get to the heart of what I am “arguing.” Sometimes, when I reread that first draft, I find I have repeated myself a few times, but one of those times (usually the last) is stronger and clearer than the previous iterations. If I tried to just write a “perfect” 500 words, I would spend twice as much time and effort, all to get nowhere new, with the result being 500 words that lie lifelessly on the page, sounding either trite and hackneyed, or stilted and forced.

Here’s my suggestion: When you are writing the first draft, simply write. Save all the thoughts of revision and judgement for a later date. Just “keep your hand moving” as Natalie Goldberg would say; if you do your first drafts by hand, you’ll know what she means. I type my first drafts, so both of my hands keep moving, but you get the point. Keep writing, stop thinking. Just let the words flow. Let characters say and do things you hadn’t yet imagined; let events take place that you never pictured occurring. 

    Refuse to allow your intellectual, know-it-all, left brain, self-doubting, linear, critical mind to interfere in your creative time. See what your unconscious, right brain, big picture, confident, trusting, accepting, and curious mind has to say. See what happens on the page. 

Your characters may surprise you. 

You may surprise yourself.