Monday, August 22, 2016

Where Do I Belong? A Common Theme...

The theme of finding one's place in the world is a common one with writers. Whether our protagonist is a young person just out of school, or an adult at a crossroads, the "Who am I?" theme often strikes a chord with readers.
The trick is in the expository—how to tell enough backstory early on so that readers can understand where the protagonist is "coming from," and yet not give so much information that it's odd and awkward, and feels like an "info dump."
Two excellent recent examples in two different genres are Sweetbitter a novel by Stephanie Danler, and Perfectly Good Crime by Dete Meserve.
Sweetbitter is literary fiction that reads like a memoir; it could well be a Roman à clef but I haven't read enough about the writer to know that. It's the story of a young woman coming to the Big City (in this case, NYC) to escape a life that has stifled her, and to find out what moves her. She gets a job as a server in a swanky Manhattan restaurant and the rest, well, you'll have to read it yourself. Having waited tables in a couple of Manhattan hotspots myself, this book rings very true to the experience of serving—though my years "in service" (yes, sometimes it felt like indentured servitude) were in the 1980s and Sweetbitter is set in 2006.
Perfectly Good Crime is a mystery/crime novel, but Meserve transcends the genre by weaving in a subtle discourse on the current media, a complicated knot of politics and economics, and a love story. Set in Los Angeles, a city I know very well, it's about a young journalist who works for a local TV news show, and her attempt to figure out who is behind a unique series of crimes, while also figuring out her next career move and going though a profound life change. Meserve's previous novel is definitely worth reading, but you don't have to have read Good Sam to enjoy Perfectly Good Crime; you can read the two books in any order.
The beginning of both books gets us right into the action, with only a few oblique references to the events of each heroine's past. Some may find Sweetbitter to be a little too obscure when it comes to the protagonist's past, but for me it was perfect. The story begins when our main character arrives in NYC, the rest is background. Danler clues us in on expository as it is needed, not before. Perfectly Good Crime is the second in a series, but even so, there is not a huge "dump" of background information in the early chapters—rather, the backstory we need to know is skillfully seeded here and there, during the action of the book.
I highly recommend both books. If you only read genre novels, you might find that Sweetbitter is an intriguing and poetic change of pace that reminds you of being young and confused about exactly what kind of person you want to be. And if you only read "serious" literary fiction, perhaps you'd enjoy a fun, well-written mystery that deals with important issues but is uplifting as well as entertaining.
If you're lucky, Perfectly Good Crime will still be available on Kindle for 99 cents, as it is today...
hasta pronto!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Round up the Usual Subjects

Life has kept me busy lately, which is why my last post was over a month ago. Editing work and requests for manuscript evaluations are pouring in quite steadily, and my schedule of teaching/speaking gigs is filling up.
And then there's the boatyard saga. Suffice to say, the new engine is installed (though not hooked up or operable), the new thru-hulls are in, the new rigging's up, and the newly painted mast looks great. However, we have yet to tackle the usual boatyard subjects—painting and repairing the old girl's bottom and sides.
Today, though, I'm back at my desk, editing and sighing (repeatedly). I certainly get tired of correcting the same old errors, day in and day out. I won't bore you with clever tirades about missing commas (though you can find a good one here), or go on about obscure punctuation rules, because today I am talking about basics. Spelling.
There are certain words that almost every author I've ever worked with has misspelled once or twice in their manuscripts; these misused and abused words crop up in the work of the aspiring and the (nearly) expiring author. And there's a very good reason why: they are homophones—words that sound just like the word you meant to type‚ so they won't be corrected by spellchecker software, or easily caught by reading your work aloud.
Wikipedia has a long list of these commonly misspelled homophones here.
For today, I'm going to limit myself to three sets of misspelled words:
Peak, peek, and pique
Poor, pore, and pour
Teem and team
These seem to occur in my clients' work more than any others—perhaps because they sound so darn good, whether they are spelled correctly or not!
I suggest you search for these in your manuscript and see whether you've used them correctly. Peek means to look furtively; a peak is a mountaintop or metaphorical height; and pique is a feeling. You don't "pour" over documents, you pore over them, poor pour yourself a drink! And there's no "i" in team, but there is an "a," though the teeming masses in the stadium might not know how to spell either one correctly.
That's my rant for the day—now, back to work...
hasta pronto!

Friday, May 27, 2016

Some award-winning books to brag about

Being an editor, I often prefer to let other people's words—and their written works—speak for themselves. However, with three of my clients' books recently winning awards, I figured it was about time for me to brag a teensy bit.

Here's the scoop:
Claudia Whitsett 's middle-grade book, Between the Lines, was a medalist for the 2016 Independent Publisher Book Award (the “IPPYs” as they’re known), nabbing Silver in Multicultural Juvenile-YA Fiction. You've all heard me go on about the charming Between the Lines, which is the first in her Kids Like You series. Her website is

Leslie Johansen Nack's memoir Fourteen: A Daughter’s Memoir of Adventure, Sailing, and Survival, won in the Young-Adult Non-Fiction category at the 2016 National Indie Excellence Awards and was a Finalist in the Memoir (Overcoming Adversity/Tragedy/Challenges) category in the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. I don't think of it as YA, specifically, but it would certainly be appropriate for mature, adventurous teens. See the trailer at

Last, but certainly not least:
Oz Monroe's debut novel, Soil-Man was named a 2016 IPPY Gold Medal Winner in the category of Horror (I consider it dark fantasy, but there you are) and was awarded the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Winner for Best First Novelas well as a Readers' Favorite Five Star Rating. Read more about the author and and his book at

What do these three authors have in common? The courage to pursue their dreams, even when the hard work of being a writer goes on for years, unrewarded. The tenacity to do "one more rewrite" when everything screams, "I'm done!" The dedication to keep working on the manuscript, because it's not quite perfect, yet.

Oh, and they also have in common their proud Congratulations, all of you—you truly deserve all the praise your work is getting!

Naturally, many of my clients are writers whose books have won readers' hearts and minds but not won awards (yet). No matter, as their readership looks forward eagerly to each new installment of the world(s) and characters they have created. Write on!

And, of course, I want to give a shout-out to my clients whose work has yet to win acclaim—and in some cases, even see the light of day, yet, because they are doing "one more rewrite"!—hang in there. Your readers await you, and they will be glad you took the time to make your book(s) exceptional. Let's keep working...

hasta pronto!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Beauty, and Other Powerful Words

Today's blog is part of the Beauty of a Woman Blogfest 2016. The blogfest is a fun, inspiring, and empowering event and I hope all my readers will stop by today or sometime this week to participate—there are valuable prizes galore, including a free manuscript evaluation from Jenny Redbug! Here is a link to the fest page: BOAW 2016

Last year, I posted a piece about the Language of Beauty, and I don’t think I’ve ever gotten so many comments on a blog post. I wrote about how much our society focuses on the external beauty of women, and how there’s so much more than appearance to every female human out there. Everyone applauded the idea of using words besides “beautiful,” “pretty,” and “lovely” to describe other women, and especially young girls.

Well, I’ve been working on it—trying to find other ways to express my love and support for my women friends, rather than buying into praising their “surface” appeal. On social media, I try to find more meaningful words to applaud their newest profile pic (“this photo of you really sparkles”), or the post about their weight loss (“you’re looking strong and healthy!”) or a new hairdo (“you’re so bold!”).

It’s been more than a social experiment for me—it has been a wonderful shift in my whole outlook on life. Words are powerful, and how we label what we see every day, people included, has a profound impact on how we think and feel about the world and ourselves.

Like most women my age (I’ll be 55 this month), I have spent my life defining men as strong, smart, and brave—women tend to get labeled as beautiful, or nowadays “hot” (or not). In trying to be aware of my words, and their real meaning, I find I’m much less likely to judge another’s looks, style, or body.

Now, when I watch TV or scroll through social media posts, I try to look beyond a woman’s (or man’s) obvious appeal, and see what I can find out about them as a human being. Are they upbeat or low—could they use a boost? Are they involved in causes I can help shed light on? Are they creating any kind of art they’d like to hear my feedback on? Are they working on their physical strength in any way, like walking or doing yoga? Praise for action speaks louder than praise for something you were born with, like good genes.

Naturally, this has affected my own “self-talk,” too. When I’m assessing my reflection in the mirror, I find myself thinking words like “strong,” “cheery,” and “energized,” rather than using all those tired comparisons to past reflections that cause me to focus on “imperfections” like wrinkles, sags, and bulges. After all, I don’t want others to see me as simply my physical body, so why should I focus my energy on it?

True beauty is so much more than smooth clear skin or shapely curves—it is attitude, courage, intelligence, and compassion. It is not just loveliness, but loving kindness. Inner beauty comes from a willingness to engage with the world; the generosity to reach out a hand to those in need, and to help those we interact with to see and achieve their best potential; and the ability to get back up when the world knocks us down. Using this criteria, rather than a bogus BMI, or a scale of 1 to 10, every one of the amazing women in my life is a real beauty.

I hope you enjoy the blogfest...and that you celebrate your beauty today and every day...

hasta pronto!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Three Quick Book Reviews

This year is flying by, and work is keeping me far too busy to read for pleasure as much as I'd like... However, I have read a few excellent books already in 2016.
The top three so far:

 Casualties by Elizabeth Marro. I had the pleasure of hearing this author speak at SCWC and, intrigued by her intelligence and wit, picked the book up immediately; I devoured it in a couple of days and would have finished it sooner, if I could have rearranged life so that I could sit and read all day. Marro is as brilliant on the page as she is in person, and I found myself highlighting passages in the book, purely for their beauty. Don't get me wrong, this novel is as hard-hitting and painful as the effect of war on human souls must be, and will make you weep unless you're made of stone. But gorgeous writing, real-as-life characters, and even moments of dark humor—yeah, it's all in there.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. The author of this dual narrative YA novel breaks some rules, all to excellent effect. I'm sure I am not the first person to think "How did she know that about me?" while reading it. The publisher says this 2013 book "is the first young adult novel written by Rainbow Rowell." Trust me, most people would be happy to have written one book this good... Now I want to read her other books, too.  The book was briefly banned—for being too realistic about sex, I think. Sigh. Now there's a movie in the works.

The Wave by Susan Casey. The subtitle pretty much says it all: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean. This non-fiction book is as gripping as any thriller, and just as hard to put down. My husband Russel and I seldom love the same book, since his taste runs to hardcore non-fiction, but this book kept us both up nights. The globe-trotting Casey is a genius at distilling pertinent facts, and various expert's knowledge into digestible nuggets, all wrapped in colorful, compelling prose. I also recommend her book about dolphins, Voices in the Ocean.