Friday, December 14, 2012

My Favorite Books of 2012

I hate "Best Books" lists. After all, one woman's "trash" is another woman's "best," and those lists always make me want to ask "best for what?"
Best for keep you up at night, or best for keeping the porch door wedged open?
Best for making you feel that the world is an okay place after all, or best for making you feel that life is completely stupid and pointless? (It seems like many books I find on "Best Books" lists fit the latter definition.)
Anyway, my list is simply this: The seven books published this year that I most enjoyed reading.  Not sure why seven, but there it is. Lucky number seven.
I won't be adding mini-reviews here, as most of these books have been reviewed here in the past 12 months and I don't want to repeat myself (the others have been reviewed extensively elsewhere and I don't want to repeat them, either).
Suffice to say, they're all well written and have "something to say" rather than simply being "entertaining reads" (though most of them are that, too).

Here they are, in alphabetical order:

Black and White by Wes Albers

Little Girl Gone by Drusilla Campbell

Redshirts by John Scalzi

So L.A.  by Bridget Hoida

Tincture of Time by John Rosenberg

When the Killing's Done by T.C. Boyle

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

While I wasn't trying to focus on books written by lesser-known authors, or those from smaller publishing houses, it worked out that many of the seven are one or the other. I wasn't trying to focus on fiction, either, but six out of the seven are novels (though Ms Strayed herself likely refers to her memoir as novelistic).
I'm not going to write a Worst Books list for 2012, but I will say that I finally broke down and read "Fifty Shades of Grey" and I have no desire to read the two others.  I wasn't expecting much and I got just that.  The fact that these books are out there is hardly surprising--the fact that they have sold so many millions of copies is shocking and depressing.
My biggest disappointment this year: Junot Diaz's This is How You Lose Her. This might have been a case of too-great expectations; Diaz wrote one of my favorite books of the previous decade, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and the new book seems a warmed-over collection of notes for that book, passed off as something new. 
Just FYI, the book I just started reading, Pancho Land by Raul Ramos y Sanchez, is the third of a trilogy I've enjoyed tremendously, and will probably be my eighth favorite book of 2012.
hasta pronto!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Premature e-publication

Yes, it's a real problem...Though not everyone wants to talk about this delicate subject, the "disease" is something many writers suffer from...Premature e-publication!
I moderated a panel on this subject at SCWC recently, with two top agents and two fine publisher/editors, and there was one thing we all agreed on: too many writers get so excited about being able to publish easily/cheaply that they don't worry enough about publishing a well-edited and designed book.
All too often new e-books, on Kindle and other ebook formats, have been rushed to "press" with no obvious effort having been given to what we in the biz call give the initials EDP--Editorial, Design and Production.
Not only do they suffer from terrible, uninteresting covers--which can be the death of a book marketed solely through online networking--but the editing is either amateurish or is a step which appears to have been left out altogether.
Yes, it's exciting to have a book published--but wouldn't you rather have a book with your name on it be well-received and well-respected for years? Publishing a book too fast is liking rushing into a marriage...I like to say that a book "never happens fast enough for an author, or slow enough for a publisher."
I advise every author who aspires to publication to think of themselves as a one-book publisher--whether they plan to self-publish or not--and to think of the time/money they spend on research and refining as an investment in their career and the future of their work.
Do your homework, take time to edit and polish your book, and to learn about and truly know your audience. If you do self-publish, you'll be ready to take the world (meaning your specific niche) by storm; if you find an agent or editor is interested in your manuscript, they will be impressed with all your preparations. Put together an imaginative, workable, and inexpensive marketing plan, and your publisher will be forever in your debt!
My friend Marla Miller recently blogged on the subject of premature publication--and yes, it also happens with physical books, not just e-books. Her post is well worth reading, and her blog is one I check out frequently. Check out her recent post here.
hasta pronto!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Catching up with Conferences

Had a great time at the SCWC in Newport last weekend...Other bloggers have reported on the conference, so I'll be lazy and just link and let them report.
One, by Doug Bornemann, a first time SCWC attendee, is here.
The second post, by my friend, the witty and tireless columnist-writer Gayle Carline (long-time SCWC attendee) is here and actually deals with more than one conference she attended last week...You go Gayle!
The third, a short wrap up from the fearless leader himself, Michael Steven Gregory, can be found on the SCWC site.
I'm planning on resting up and writing this weekend but I'm planning for my next event--which will come the following weekend at the first annual SD Writers, Ink, Fall for Writing Conference. I'll be doing a panel and a workshop (Sunday afternoon the 14th from 10-12). The panels are only $5 each, or you can do all the events and classes for three days for only $75!
All of you San Diego writers--and visiting writers--can read more about it and register here
Hope to see you there--hasta pronto!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Bridget Hoida's "So L.A." is so cool!

Okay, here's a late summer read you won't want to miss: Bridget Hoida's So L.A.  This hard-to-put-down book proves my oft-stated point that intelligent, witty writing doesn't have to be a drag...Nor must said writing be pretentious, dull, or just plain depress the poor reader to death.
Hoida has told her tale with great attention to detail in place and setting--and I know, since I was born/raised in L.A. and spent many years there as an adult. She's used super smart pacing, written believable characters, and included plenty of devastatingly witty insights into the current state of American culture. AND she's done all this while striking an enviable balance between lively humor and realistic, heart-felt human tragedy.
On a purely practical note, I loved the way So L.A. was broken into short bite-sized chunks and how the  ironic "chapter headers" were employed. Like I said, it was hard to put down, and I don't recommend starting the book as before-sleep reading...Unless you feel like getting to sleep early the next morning!
Check out an excerpt from the book here. 
You can meet Hoida at the Newport Beach meeting of the Southern California Writer's Conference in September. She's gonna be speaking there, and I can't wait to hear what she's got to say about publishing right now. I'll be there doing the ever-popular "Pitch Witches" workshop with my friend and colleague Marla Miller among other things.
You can also meet me at my "How to Craft a Query Letter" class for San Diego Writers Ink, at the downtown San Diego Ink Spot. It's from 1-4 on Sat Sept 8th...More info on that class can be found right here. We'll talk pitches and queries and proposals and get you writing (or rewriting yours) in the class-- to make it a better tool to sell your work.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

What I'm reading--and doing--this summer

I'm not finding much time to blog...Having taken on the job of producing our first film, Russel and I (and our director-producer partner David) have really learned a lot--it is like a film school education in bits and pieces. But not usually the piece you need when you need it.
I am still editing books, and have been busy planning for upcoming classes. The first class this fall will be at San Diego Writers, Ink on Sat Sept 8th from 1-4 pm.  Check out the class info here -- and, while you are there, check out the rest of SDWI's great website.
And of course later in September, there's the annual SCWC in Newport Beach...Another one is held in San Diego in February.
What I've been read lately--actually re-read--is John Rosenberg's great book on film editing, The Healthy Edit. So much great stuff to learn, for writers of film and TV scripts and, of course, for filmmakers, too. (It is NOT just for film editors)
Also been re-reading some Elizabeth Berg. Including a recent fave referred to me by Diane Shea, Berg's book on writing, Escaping into the Open: the Art of Writing True. Great stuff there...I'm going to bring it to my next writer's group meeting.

Big News: We're going to be filming a short version of our screenplay "El Camino" here in San Diego in mid-September...We have a great director, a superior camerawoman, and the crew just keeps getting better...More on that soon!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Lazy Bloggers Blog Post

Yes, I know, it's been more than two weeks and I haven't posted, but I am sorry to say that tonight is not the night to make up for it.
I do have a good excuse though: I have been writing! I am not only working on my novel, "Dog Beach" but also reworking the short version of our script for "El Camino" which we'll be shooting this summer sometime--the short version, that is.
Just wanted to post this link to a cool short article about lesser-known new books that was just on NPR. No, I have not read any of these--except the Hemingway book, which I of course liked...But did not love, which is par for the course for me and Poppa H.
Other than that, life is good, our new mooring has a great view--even when fireworks are not going off over the city--and we are well and happy aboard.
Hasta pronto!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

"Spring" Cleaning and Summer Reads

Finally got some "Spring" cleaning done on this site--by which I mean I just got around to updating the other pages you see here on JennyRedbug; I even added a page of Testimonials by some of the authors I have worked with over the last few years. Even though it's already officially become summer--a couple days ago--this seemed like a good time to arrange and update these pages. Maybe it is just to avoid actually doing any writing!
As to Summer Reading:
Drusilla Campbell's newest novel Little Girl Gone...gripping and set in such a real, evocative place that you will feel you have lived this story, rather than read it. Read an excerpt of Little Girl Gone on Campbell's site and you'll get hooked.
I also highly recommend Wildwood, an earlier novel by Campbell. This is a perfect summer read...not only because it is set in California during a drought, but because the author's vivid characters and their intertwined lives will entertain you and keep you turning pages, which is what summer reading is all about, no?
Another author I love that has a new--out last year but new to me--novel out is Marisa de los Santos. Her debut work, Love Walked In is one of my all-time favorite books--just try reading the first few pages and see if you can refrain from reading it aloud to someone. Funny and so true. Her new title is Falling Together and it is a gem. So nice to read about love and grownup life...Even if not all the characters are adults.
The last recommendation is an audiobook, and I urge you to listen rather than read it...The book is called Agent to the Stars and the author is the witty and amazing John Scalzi. (His blog is also witty and amazing--check it out here.)
BUT, I have to say that the real star of this audiobook is the narrator--though that word seems so tepid a word to describe his work here--Wil Wheaton...Yeah, the kid from Star Trek: Next Generation is all grown up and he is THE BEST narrator of an audiobook I have heard yet. Those there are many I love and admire, his reading of Agent to the Stars is genius. Get it on Audible or rent it, or borrow it somewhere. Listen. Laugh. Enjoy.
hasta pronto!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Lucky Me--A Writer's Life

Okay, I'm sitting at Lestat's Coffehouse, writing away on this as part of "Blazing Laptops" the 9-hour writing marathon, to benefit San Diego Writers, Ink.
Lucky me, I sat down at an empty table this morning at about 8:45 and who should sit beside me but Judy Reeves, one of my favorite people (and writers) in the world. Then someone sat on the other side of me and it turned out to be Drusilla Campbell, who I have "known" for years but never met--and who is a new "must-read" author I am telling everyone about.
Both women have great websites, full of interest and excerpts. Look them both up--I'm busy writing here...Actually, I am doing a writing prompt for the group in a minute or two, so I'd better prepare.
hasta pronto!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Jenny Redbug at Blazing Laptops June 10th

I'll be at the annual "Blazing Laptops" event on Sunday, June 10th. Blazing Laptops is a nine-hour writing marathon to benefit San Diego Writers, Ink. You can contribute as little as $5, and every penny goes to support their great writing programs.
San Diego Writers, Ink, or SDWI, is one of the great local resources (along with SCWC) that is helping to make San Diego into the world-class writing/reading city we know it can be; this kind of event helps to make everyone aware of how many great writers--published and not yet published--we have here in San Diego.
You can sign up yourself--the venue is Lestat's in Normal Heights--but you need to get at least $100 in pledges to attend. It is a benefit event, after all. The marathon starts at 9am (great coffee is handy for those who need it) and goes until 6pm. There will be writing tips and cues given throughout the day--I'll be doing one midday.
Or, if you have plans already that day, you can help support SDWI--and my own efforts at supporting them-- just click to pledge on my page.
Lately, I've not only been working on editing projects, but I've started working on a novel of my own--tentatively titled: "Dog Beach: A Love Story." So I can really use the day of just writing!
hasta pronto!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Three New Books for Spring

Okay, I'll start by saying that none of these books is a particularly cheery read...So if you're reading this post because you wanted New Books For Spring to mean sunny bunny books, you can stop reading now. It was simply that three recent books--published just weeks or months ago--inspired me to put together a short list of "must reads" for Spring. In no particular order, here they are:
Little Girl Gone by Drusilla Campbell. The taut, concise read shows what a master of prose Campbell is--she gives us a young woman courageously questioning her life choices, an even younger boy embroiled but not paralyzed by grief, and a supporting cast of characters that run the gamut of motive and type. Amazingly, these people are all fully realized on the pages, as are her Southern California settings...if you live, or have lived in San Diego, you'll find it even more intriguing, but either way, you won't want to put it down. Check out her site here.
Black and White, by Wes Albers, is also set in San Diego, and also explores a modern exploration of the human condition, but there the resemblance ends. This book is a no-hold-barred tale of life and work (often the same thing) on the streets for a "regular cop" driving a black-and-white patrol car.  The title has at least one other meaning but I'll leave that to you to discover. Wes Albers, a veteran cop himself, writes like you know they talk--even if you don't know. The story of this man's inner life colliding with his hard-won persona really hit home for me. Black and White is available from booksellers, and on Amazon--and the Kindle edition is, at the time of this writing, available for only ninety-nine cents!
And, last but definitely not least, Tincture of Time, by John Rosenberg...This book will keep you up nights, if you are silly enough to start reading it in bed...But it would be equally compelling by the pool or at the beach. If you like stories with exotic settings, passionate and obsessed people, and wildly fantastic but somehow believable events, you'll love Tincture of Time.
In the interests of full disclosure, I have to say I was involved with this book from early on--I heard John give an superb pitch for this book (a medical thriller set in Brazil) in a pitch class I was giving at SCWC a few years ago, and immediately wanted to read it. I introduced him to an agent friend and the usual circuitous path to publication followed...The book is out now, though not yet available on Kindle, and I highly recommend it.
hasta pronto!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Even Editors Need Editing

 Authors I work with often say to me: "This manuscript is pretty clean, I've rewritten it a dozen times." Most often, after that, I come up with dozens of errors--sometimes the number is in the hundreds. An author might lay the blame elsewhere…"I've had it read by quite a few friends." Same result.
While traveling the last couple of weeks, I've been working on a manuscript that was co-written by a fine writer and editor; I've known her for years and her attention to detail is only equaled by her excellent research. This new manuscript was quite compelling, with a clear story arc, but I found many an error--both typographical and grammatical--in it.
For those authors who think software tools like Spellcheck are the answer, remember that such techno-tools can't make the correct choice between "he peeked through the curtain" and "he peaked through the curtain"… And though the second choice might be accurate in some erotic or pornographic writing, it definitely won't work in most books or stories.
And the problems are not limited to these kinds of errors--things that could easily be caught by copy-editors or bright-eyed English majors. Often it is the structure of the book that needs help, too. Opening chapters are usually the most flawed, but I've also found chapters deep into manuscripts that needed to be moved, heavily cut, or even completely eliminated.
The problem is, that all writers--even editors--need editors…We are all too close to our own writing to see its errors and flaws. I would definitely hire an editor to read anything I was publishing.
The bottom line: If you want your writing to shine, hire an editor. Trust me.
hasta pronto!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

"Ocotillo Dreams", an Appreciation

I recently read Melinda Palacio's wonderful "Ocotillo Dreams" and have been thinking about it quite a bit. If you don't know the versatile and talented Ms Palacio, check out her site here. She's probably best known as a poet, but she's also a blogger, speaker, and now, a novelist to be reckoned with.
Like Isola, the heroine of "Ocotillo Dreams," I grew up in a family that sometimes embraced and sometimes barely balanced between two cultures; I have found myself fascinated more and more by my own blended culture--and drawn to others' hybrid identities--as each year passes.
I also grew up with a mother who challenged stereotypes, and created her own persona--part hippy, part activist, part "earth mother", and always her own woman--so I could relate to Isola's mixture of embarrassment and pride in her own mom.
The novel's story is deceptively simple--Isola comes to Arizona to settle her late mom's "estate" and finds herself involved with some undocumented workers that have crossed and are crossing the border. But the story is not the whole story--the deeper tale is one of identity, self-awareness, and belonging. Isola must learn about herself in order to learn about her mother--and in order to find her life's deeper purpose.
For those of us who live on the border, and confront these challenges daily, the book's characters and locations will feel specific and familiar, but no less intriguing for all that. For those unfamiliar with the Southwest U.S. and our border issues, this book is a great way to explore the territory and the culture--but more than all that, readers will be drawn into the novel and soon care deeply about the people they meet in its pages.
This week I've switched literary gears a few times--I finished the Hunger Games series, am currently reading "Black and White" Wes Albers debut police novel, set in San Diego. And of course, I'm preparing for the YA fiction class I'm teaching on March 31st at San Diego Writer's Ink.
Meanwhile, the wind is gusting hard under a bright blue sky--blowing my little boat about at its mooring, reminding me who is boss. Nature, that is.
hasta pronto!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

SDLFF and Pitch Witches with new link

I'm having a great week at the San Diego Latino Film Festival--so far my favorites are "Mosquita Y Mari" and "Mamitas". Today it's the Frontera Films showcase--more than an hour of very short films, all about the border, or made by border filmmakers, or about the border experience.
Just saw that my friend Marla Miller has posted her video class of the "Pitch Witches" workshop we did at SCWC. Here is the link to her site--it is at the top of the page right now.
I am reading book two of the "Hunger Games" series...and I just finished the marvelous "Ocotillo Dreams" by Melinda Palacio--stay tuned for the book review...I'm off to get ready to see more films--hasta pronto!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Writing, Pitching, & Selling Young Adult Fiction

To those authors working on Young Adult fiction...I'm teaching a class this month at San Diego Writers' Ink, called Writing, Pitching and Selling Fiction for Young Adults (YA). The class will be held at the Ink Spot on Sat March 31st from 2:30 to 5:30.
I've worked with quite a few YA authors in the last few years--on everything from story arc and plot construction to book distribution--including marketing and social media. Most of them are now published or represented.
We'll talk about what makes successful YA books "tick", how to find and pitch to agents and publishers, and how to market and sell your books. Yes, I know that is a lot to cover in 3 hours, but we're gonna do it!
Bring your query letter or a short synopsis, or just a verbal "pitch" of what you're writing, or what you want to write. Don't forget to bring lots of questions...and pass this along to all those YA writers you know.
I hope to see you there,
hasta pronto!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Book query contest

Last weekend's SCWC conference was great--I met some talented people and made lots of good connections with others in the publishing world.
Today's post is just to help promote a query letter contest I've been invited to judge. The winner will get one of ten free three-day writing retreat/seminar (called "Write Your Book in a Week") with Tom Bird.
Here is the link to the webpage with info on the contest and the email to send your query letter to. Even for those writers who aren't able or interested in doing the retreat, it would be good to see if your query letter makes the cut.
For those who want answers about writing query letters, visit my friend Marla Miller's site here for info and a free book query critique.
The deadline is almost upon us, it's February 29th. So, no excuses, submit your query letter today.
hasta pronto!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

For the Love of Writers!

This week I'm reading my advance submission pieces for the Southern California Writer's Conference this weekend--lots of good stuff in the stack....which leads me to believe we will have another good group of writers attending this time.
I love meeting new and new-to-me writers and hearing about their projects--helping writers get together with editors, agents, or even other writers that can help them--and who they can network with...This biz is all about networking. That's a big reason that I like to do a workshop or two at SCWC each season (the SCWC meets twice a year at least, in SD and LA).
Speaking of the SCWC, here is Director Wes Albers speaking on Why Conference Matter, which was posted on my "pitch witch" partner (we work magic on your pitches) Marla Millers wonderful website, Marketing the Muse.
Do yourself a favor and check them both out. And I hope to see you at the SCWC!
hasta pronto...have a wonderful Valentine's Day...

Thursday, January 12, 2012

New Year's Post--The Joy of Books

Okay, it's been 2012 for over a week now--almost two...What have I been doing, anyway? Well, I've been reading, and writing, and working! Okay, I've also been dealing with a family health crisis--my mom had a stroke the day after Christmas, so that has taken a lot of time and energy to deal with. But she is recovering very well, and is back to reading some books herself--her first read was Flyaway by Helen Landalf and she loved it! What a relief; one of my big worries was that she wouldn't be able to read...as that is one of her life's joys.
Speaking of the joy of reading, check out this amazing (short) video on YouTube, the Joy of Books.
So what books have I been reading? I'm currently reading Madame Bovary--for the first time, oddly enough. I have been trying to get through Joyce's Ulysses but it is really difficult. I mean War and Peace is a lightweight romance novel compared to that! I love moments of Joyce's writing, but there's no thread to hang onto...Or there's a thread, then not, then there is, then there isn't.
I'm working on editing another excellent YA novel right now--the first in a series that is sort of a female Harry Potter, with Dragons--I'm really enjoying the project and I think the manuscript will be ready for the author to pitch it to agents and editors at the Southern California Writer's Conference in February.
hasta pronto!