Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Another Successful Project—What a Year!

This year has been amazing. Not only have some of my favorite authors published new books in 2013, but some of them have been my clients, too.  You've heard me talk about Gayle Carline's wonderful From the Horse's Mouth: One Lucky Memoir which was such fun for me to work on—being a grown-up "horse girl." Her next mystery (with horses this time!) is coming out early next year so stand by for more on that. Gayle's blog, "On the Edge of the Chair of Literature" is also great—witty, well-written, and often painfully candid—you can find a link to it on this page, since I follow it.
One of my other blogger-writer friends, Loraine Paige, continues to amaze me with her ongoing heartfelt "Dear Rita Mae Brown" series of letters (you can find her blog, "From Paige to Page" here). Loraine must be up late every night, and early each morning, writing her second novel as she does rewrites on the previous one (which I'm also editing), America. More on that series in future posts.
Another writer whose work I got to read before publication this year is Claudia Whitsett. Her latest contribution to the "Samantha Series" is called Intimacy Issues and it's every bit as funny and hard to put down as the previous book, Indentity Issues, was.
Now, to cap off this spectacular year, my inspiring "Pitch Witch" partner Marla Miller has gone the indie publisher route, too! Her e-novel Deadly Little Secrets officially came out on Dec 1, World AIDS Day, which was perfect in a number of ways.
First, the book is set in 1985, when AIDS was still something that the average person could largely ignore (sad but true) and which our own government was still ignoring (even sadder, but still true). Second, that health crisis turned out to be one of the most fatal epidemics in recorded history; we owe it to ourselves to know more about AIDS, and to not begin ignoring it, or simply "indicting" those affected by it, yet again. Lastly, the world lost a great playwright and I lost a dear friend, James Lee Hansen, two decades ago on World AIDS day, so this book coming out that day was serendipitous.
I'm also working with another writer who is starting his own online publishing business--Social Publishing House. I met Brian Gilb at SCWC in Newport and was struck by his enthusiasm and sincerity. The start-up business has already gained focus and support in 2013, and promises to develop in exciting ways in the new year, too.
My life is made so rich by knowing these amazing writers, who care so much about the world and their place in it, who give their time, daily—as writers, teachers, and entrepreneurs—to help illuminate the way for others coming up the path behind.
So glad I can be part of their projects and help them share them with the world.
hasta pronto!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Gratitude, Acknowledgements and Thanks

Are these three things—gratitude, acknowledgements and thanks—all the same? Not exactly. I think of gratitude as, you guessed it, an attitude; a daily stance, if you will, or angle, a way of looking at the world. Not just thinking, "Gee, I'm so lucky to be alive" (which we should all be!) but looking around at all we have been given. I am happy, healthy, and gifted with some helpful skills. Now it's time for me to give back.
Acknowledgements are the shout-outs, the spotlight we can shine on someone else's good works, good policies, or all-around goodness. Also, acknowledgements can overlap with thanks, when they are there to acknowledge particular favors given or assistance rendered. I'd like to acknowledge Michael Steven Gregory and the entire staff of the Southern California Writers Conference. I've received so much from being a part of your multi-talented "family"—from the many friends I've made, to the myriad connections I have forged, both at the conferences and in the online Facebook SCWC "salon." I'll continue trying to return the favors.
Last but not least:
Thanks are more focused—of course you can say "thanks mom!" in your Oscars speech or your Superbowl moment—but "thank you"s are generally said, or sent (remember thank-you cards?), to a person or persons to mark a specific favor or good deed…

So, this Thanksgiving, I'd like to say a big thank you to: My wonderful husband/collaborator/partner, Russel; our business partner David McClendon; my whole wonderful, funny, and fabulous family; my great circle of long-time friends, the amazing women of my writer's group; Judy Reeves and the other gurus of SDWriters, Ink; and my newest writing friends, like Gayle Carline, Drusilla Campbell, Brian Gilb of Social Publishing House, and the always-inspiring and ever-encouraging "Pitch Witch" partner Marla Miller.
gracias y hasta pronto!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Schmoozin' and Improvin'

Another conference coming up for San Diegans! Check out the upcoming weekend conference from San Diego Writers, Ink at their new digs in Liberty Station. Fall for Writing is a 3-day event with up to 10 classes for only $100! Plus there are drop in events for those who can't make the other days. I'm teaching an editing class on Sunday night the 27th at 6pm until 7:45. My class is preceded by a novel-writing class by the amazing Drusilla Campbell, and will be followed by the final reading and closing ceremony.
If you haven't been to the new Ink Spot in the bountiful Liberty Station, then here's your opportunity... Come on down...Hope to see you there.
Meanwhile, I've just finished editing a book that I'm so excited about. The memoir has everything I know that publishers look for--epic settings, exciting adventure, and life-changing events--not to mention darn good writing...The author recently sent her manuscript to a prestigious literary agency, so my fingers are crossed. I won't jinx it by mentioning names, yet.
Another of my writer friends is the hard-working and witty Gayle Carline (readers may remember that I edited her last book, the wonderful From the Horses' Mouth: One Lucky Memoir). Recently Gayle wrote an excellent post about what a writer needs to do to make sure her manuscript is CLEAN and ready for an Editor and her Beta readers--not necessarily in that order. Her process is invaluable...Here's her post on editing. And no, editing is NOT for wimps.
hasta pronto!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Why Go to a Writers Conference?

Aspiring authors often ask me whether they should go to a writers conference--after all, it is an investment of time and money. I have many reasons that writers should attend conferences, but for the purposes of this post, I'm limiting the list to five.
I could write about going to conferences in general, but instead I'm going to write about going to the Southern California Writers Conference (SCWC), coming up Sept 20-22 in Newport Beach, California (and San Diego, Feb 2014). 
Partly this is because I know this conference the best (I've been teaching workshops there for years), but also because I like the way it's run--the casual, fun vibe of it--and because I've seen it actually work for people, year after year, in so many different ways.
Here's 5 Reasons you should go to SCWC:
#1. Great Workshops/Excellent Teachers
The weekend is full of great workshops--on everything from writing and editing your manuscript, to pitching, selling, & marketing your book. All the workshop leaders are either published authors, working editors or agents, or publishers (some are even all three!). They ALL have something to teach you. Soak it all up!
#2. To Get Feedback
No matter how wonderful your writers group and Beta readers are, it's good to get some more eyes (usually ears, actually) on your project. Go to Read and Critiques and read--and listen... Find out what works, and what doesn't. You might find some Beta readers, too.
#3. To Network with Other Writers
Writing is a solitary sport--it's good to meet others who sit in rooms and type for days on end…You will meet others who share your interests, and some who will introduce you to new ways of writing, thinking, and thinking about writing. After all, these people are your TRIBE. 
#4. To Meet Industry Experts
Even if you don't have Advance Submission slots set up, SCWC gives you plenty of opportunities to meet literary agents, editors, and publishers, not to mention successful published authors. Have a glass of wine at happy hour or dinner or sit down and visit over coffee or lunch. Take time to talk--not just pitch your project--and listen!
#5. To Hang Out in a Cool Place
I probably don't need to explain this one...Come on, it's Southern California. Perfect weather, fabulous setting. You are allowed to have FUN in life, after all--even before you finish your book or get published. Invest in yourself!
I think I've said it all...Hope to see you there.
hasta pronto!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

"Hippie Homeschooling" Has More Spirit Than "American Spirit"; A Double Review

"American Spirit," the debut novel by Dan Kennedy, has gotten lots of press this year, plus plenty of air time on NPR; I assume this is because Dan is the host of the excellent "Moth" storytelling series and a popular radio host. I like his humor and his style so I thought I might like his writing. I bought the book (as a Kindle e-book, for those who care) and read it...
Oddly enough, though I did appreciate Kennedy's writing, I can't recommend his book. It's funny, but the story takes way too long to get going, I never cared about the protagonist, and the humor is so "dark" as to be, well, depressing.
Everyone over the age of 30 (probably even 20) has hit bottom emotionally at one time or another, and depressed people often turn to drink and drugs to "solve" their problems. The protagonist of "American Spirit" does this and we get to watch him wallow at the nadir of his young life--in a passive-aggressive stoned way--for much of the book.
Booklist called the novel "surprisingly beautiful at times..." I really hate this kind of review, since it sounds like one thing and turns out to be, instead, a book that is tedious (un-beautiful, if you will) with a few surprising moments of lovely word-smithing.
As I said, there are moments of humor in "American Spirit", but not as many as in the average Jon Stewart monologue. And the author often goes to lengths that seem quite fanciful to tie up events in the story. Seriously, if dark humor is what you want, and you feel drawn to yuppie angst, there are better books out there.
However, if you'd like to take a journey with a new writer who is not only funny but writes truthfully--and yes, often beautifully--about the times and places we contemporary Americans live in, I recommend the new novel, "Hippie Homeschooling" by Carlton Smith. (Here's a link to the book on Amazon). Set along a western road trip from San Francisco to (among other places) the Salton Sea, Lassen, and even the Four Corners, this novel delivers the goods.
Jerry is an alcoholic whose self-destructive tendencies have landed him in rehab. Once sober, he sets off searching for his runaway son, and soon finds himself traveling with a runaway teenage girl, Lily. Soon Lily's mother joins the misfit travelers on their journey, and the resulting "trip" (and it is trippy, in all senses of the word) is funny, poignant, and true.
Smith has a master's touch for describing locations, even those places we normally whiz on by without a second glance. He also spends time in getting to really know (and let us get to know) the kinds of people that most of us would similarly "whiz on by," dismissing them as "lost causes" and thereby letting ourselves off the hook.
The road trip novel has been done many times, but this author finds new ways to explore the territory--as well as finding actual geographic territory that has seldom been explored. All in all, it is well worth going along for the ride.
"Hippie Homeschooling" was published by Blue West Books, a small publisher I had never heard of before. I'm certainly going to look at their upcoming titles with interest, and I'm quite pleased to hear that Carlton Smith is already at work on a second novel.
There's still time and a few spaces left for those who want to register for SCWC Newport  (Sept 20-22) where I'll be teaching two new workshops and doing the ever-popular "Pitch Witches" workshop with Marla Miller.
hasta pronto!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Advance Submissions--Why and How

Okay, I'm back from my vacation.  Yes, I worked while we sailed up the gorgeous California coast this summer--and I did some writing--but my blogging was sparse. I was lucky enough to have two clients getting their books ready to publish in August, so I was kept quite busy editing! (More on those projects in a future post.)
Now I'm happily anticipating the Southern California Writers Conference in Newport Beach ("A Weekend for Words" September 20-22).  I'll be teaching two new workshops this time, as well as doing the popular "Pitch Witches" workshop with my fellow pitch/query guru Marla Miller.  And I'm sure I'll sit in on plenty of workshops and find myself in plenty of exciting improptu gab sessions during the weekend, as always.
One of the things I always look forward to at SCWC is meeting with writers who have sent in "advance writing submissions"; I get the chance to read some great new stuff, and I get to give direction to authors who have not yet found their way--or their voice.
Here's five ways that writers benefit from doing advance submissions:
1. A New Pair of Eyes--no matter how many people you've had read your new stuff, it's always helpful to have a fresh, objective take on it.
2. A Professional Point of View--It's nice if "everyone" has loved your book that has read it--but do any of these people really know good writing? Have they had experience in publishing? If so, good. If not, here's your chance to talk to a pro.
3. Knowledge of the Industry--there are a million "new" and "different" book ideas out there, that might sound fresh and marketable, but those of us that have been in the biz awhile know that many of them are just rehashes of old ideas, and that they just won't sell. This can save you a lot of time--and money!
4. A Focus On YOU--sometimes your first conference (or second or third) is so packed with exciting people, ideas, and workshops that you can feel overwhelmed and shy. With an advance submission you go into it knowing you've got time BOOKED with a pro who has read your work and is listening to you, and you only.
And finally…
5. By Making Connections--this business is about knowing people, and not just on Facebook and Twitter. Nothing replaces a face-to-face meeting with someone. Sometimes I just know immediately that I want to work with a talented writer--even if the project is not ready, or isn't a great fit. Often, we do end up working together, or I might recommend that writers work to other editors, agents, and even publishers.
Find out more about SCWC's advance submissions process.
I look forward to reading your work and meeting you at SCWC…

hasta pronto!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Five That Won't Disappoint

Forget Top Ten lists--here are five movies, albums, and books that I have seen, heard, or read many times and that are always as good as I remember them. They may not show up on any 10 BEST  lists compiled by academic snobs, but they are just plain enjoyable. They won't let you down. So say I.

Since I've recently been anointed as a screenwriter of a produced film ("El Camino Real"--yeah, check out IMDB, you know you want to), I'll start with the movies that always work for me:

1. "84 Charing Cross Road" starring Ann Bancroft. Book people will love this sweet and funny film, but so will history buffs and those who love New York (and London). Also stars Anthony Hopkins and Judy Dench, so there.
2. "Arthur" starring Dudley Moore--and forget what you know or think you know about Dudley Moore, this film is funny funny funny! From the first minutes to the final scene, you'll laugh, chuckle, giggle and smirk. Trust me.
3. "Umbrellas of Cherbourg" starring Catherine Deneuve, back when she was just a (stunningly lovely) teenager. The plot of this film is simple, but the acting is natural and the score is gorgeous. The operatic nature of it might surprise you at first--stick with it--This film will have you weeping, or you're a heartless bastard.
4. "The Natural" starring Robert Redford--and a cast of great character actors. This film really split the critics--they loved it or hated it, but it's a great adventure if you stop trying to "figure it out". It's a myth, people, so just watch it, and enjoy. (I'll sneak in another baseball movie here--"Field of Dreams" is also a winner.)
5. "Manhattan" is arguably Woody Allen's masterpiece. I saw "Annie Hall" again recently, and was disappointed; it doesn't hold up as well…This film is when Woody started taking himself seriously--in a funny way, of course--and so do we.

I've been spending time north of Los Angeles lately, so my music is leaning a bit north too--as you'll see:
1. "The Band" by The Band. I remember this album so well that I figured it would be a disappointment to dust it off and play it (courtesy of iTunes). Boy was I wrong--it rocks, and weeps, and carries you down the road just like it did in the 1970s.
2. "Crosby, Stills, and Nash" by CSN. Yeah…what I said about #1 applies here, too. It just doesn't get any better than this. "Deja Vu" runs a pretty close second, though...
3. "Harvest" by Neil Young. Some of the greatest melodies ever written. Seriously.
4."Court and Spark" by Joni Mitchell. Heartbreakingly beautiful (The same could be said for her album "Blue")
5."Born to Run" by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. The Boss. 'Nuff said.

I am consciously leaving out my "classic" favorites, found on college reading lists the world round--so no Austen, no Dickens, no Tolstoy.
1. "East of Eden" by John Steinbeck. Might contain the best-written first chapter of all time. And though I love "Cannery Row" and the like, THIS is Steinbok at his best.
2. "Skinny Legs and All" by Tom Robbins. I love many of his other books, "Still Life with Woodpecker" most of all, but this is his funniest and his most "important," too.
3. "Winter's Tale" by Mark Helprin. Set in a fantastical, but real-feeling New York that sort of but never really existed. Many people find it hard to get into. Try. Try harder. Go with it.
4. "The Lacuna" by Barbara Kingsolver (Also "Animal Dreams" for those that like a love story). I like the way she weaves history, art, love and death. Not to mention Mexico. And Trotsky.
5. "Death Comes to the Archbishop" by Willa Cather. I love "My Antonia" but this is so sweeping and so perfect--check it out, though anything by Willa Cather is great.

And last, but not least--five writers conferences that never let you down and always lift you up--and never disappoint:
2. Southern California Writers Conference
3. Southern California Writers Conference
4. Southern California Writers Conference
5. Southern California Writers Conference

The next SCWC is in late September, in Newport Beach. Be there--I will. Hope to see you there. Can't wait to hear what you think of my choices, meantime.

hasta pronto!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Whatever Works is a Good Technique

A great teacher of mine once said "Whatever works is a good technique." He was talking about acting, but the same rule applies for writers.
Whatever helps you write more joyfully, or helps you write better, or just more often, is a good technique, for YOU.
Every writer I've known has had his or her rules, or techniques, for writing.  They begin as wild guesses, desperate attempts for creativity, then become habits, and soon gain the status of rules--the breaking of which, the writer often feels, will bring "bad mojo" or "chase away the muse."
Those aspiring writers who have yet to get into a groove of being working writers often have no idea how to begin the process of writing. The answer is, of course, quite simple--"Whatever works is a good technique"!
Loraine, a writer friend of mine, recently stumbled across the writings of the amazing Rita Mae Brown. Loraine was amazed to find that not everyone knew of this literary genius, and soon began writing letters to her. The "Dear Rita Mae Brown" letters began. Being in her writing group, I was one of the few people chosen to read them in rough form.
The letters soon evolved to be about a lot more than writing--like RMB's own books--and all of Loraine's friends have been caught up in following the story as it unfolds, daily or weekly.
The reason I'm sharing this is: simply reading RMB's writing (and reading books about her colorful life) inspired Loraine, and gave her the impetus to write--along with the almost-daily "Dear RMB" letters--page after page of her own previously stalled novel-in-progress.
Whatever works, right?
I've often told writers who feel "blocked" or "stalled" or whatever they call it, that they need (among other things) to read writing that inspires them. This is one of the best--and fastest--results I've seen, in action, but I think there's always some good result.
The Dear RMB letters are now posted on Loraine's blog, "From Paige to Page"which you can find here. Start with the letters posted in April, and written in February. The link should take you to the first letter, dated 2-24-13.
If you want to be a writer and you aren't writing, then write. If you feel you can't write, try reading (or watching or visiting) something to inspire yourself--if it works, good. If not, try something else. Remember, "Whatever works is a good technique."
hasta pronto!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Such an Exciting Time to Be a Writer

Yes, it's true! This present time is the most exciting time ever to be a writer--not only are there oodles of places for writers to put their writing and have it read (well, yes, mostly for free, but still...) but there are also a zillion ways to get published, and many more places to have your books appear. Not to mention more than a few formats--e-books and "tree books" to name just two. (Thanks Matt!)
Every week or so I hear from another writer who is e-pubbing a book, self-pubbing a book, or starting to think about doing some version of the two.
It is true that all too often people rush their "shitty first drafts" into e-publication (see my premature e-publication post last year) and most of those books never go very far...Which is only right. Readers want quality writing, too, not just reading material.
But for those authors who invest enough time--and money--on quality packaging and publishing, the rewards can be enormous--whether those rewards are monetary, or not.
Just today I heard from my friend Marla Miller who just started a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to indie publish her novel--how novel! I'm a backer, and I hope you will join me--here is the link...let's all support writers in what ever small ways we can.
hasta pronto!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Advice to Aspiring Writers

I am occasionally asked for advice from writers about how to get published.
Depending upon my mood, my advice is anything from a long list of books to read and websites to peruse, to simple comments like "just write today, and worry about the rest of it later."
I have often wished that "someone out there" would take the trouble to write a comprehensive answer to the question, and now someone has.
Today's blog post from Hugh Howey, "My Advice to Aspiring Authors" is so excellent and so jam-packed with current publishing-world insight that I'm just gonna link to it here. I don't agree with EVERY point he makes, but the bulk of it is so "write on" that I'm not going to quibble.
Okay. My work is done.
hasta pronto!