Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Five Books I Highly Recommend

It’s time for me to list five books I loved in 2015. As always, I leave off the bestsellers—those ten titles you’ve read about ten times in the last ten weeks of top ten books lists. (After all, no one needs to hear anymore about Girl on the Train or Purity—though I thought they were brilliant!) I tried to keep it to works published in 2015, but made exceptions for The End of the Sherry and Good Sam as they were published within the last two years.

I am also, as always, not including on this list the books I edited in 2015, but I cannot help but mention some of the excellent books I help to bring to the world—like Fourteen: A Daughter's Memoir of Adventure, Sailing, and Survival, by Leslie Johansen Nack. I found Nack’s memoir an absolute pleasure to dive into, again and again. I am pleased that the book has garnered excellent reviews and that Leslie enjoyed the process of working with me—she actually wrote about the editing process here, in a short piece in Writer's Digest.

Another book I edited is Soil-Man by Oz Monroe. This book is much harder to describe than it is to recommend. When I was done with the final editing on the book, I told Oz, “Soil-Man is ready for the world, but is the world ready for it?” The dark fantasy is not for the faint of heart—or stomach—but, if you are not afraid to question your own faith, you’ll definitely enjoy this gritty, black-comic tale of an average man beset by avenging angels. The book is comes out in January, but it’s available now for pre-order.

Here’s my "top five" list, in no particular order:

1. A great choice to gift to others (you can get one, too!) is Embraceable: Empowering Facts and True Stories About Women’s Sexuality by August McLaughlin. There’s more than eighteen reasons to recommend it, one for each of the authors, including “Girl Boner” founder and radio host August McLaughlin herself. The pieces deal with body image, self-love, female empowerment, and sexuality in diverse and inclusive ways. You must know a young woman (of any age) who could benefit from reading this book.

2. Everyone who knows me knows I love visiting Mexico, and this year I went “south of the border” in a superior and eclectic new anthology Mexico: Sunlight & Shadows: Short Stories & Essays by Mexico Writers (the list is long and you’d probably recognize some of the names). There’s definitely something for everyone in this collection of short pieces, which include fiction and non-fiction, set in Mexican locations far and wide. (It’s available on Kindle for $2.99 right now.)

3. Good Sam by Dete Meserve, is a novel about our media culture and television reporting that avoids all the tired cliches while still fulfilling every expectation. And you don’t think the world is such a terrible place after reading this book —unlike the aftereffect of reading most novels that deal with crime and criminals—and those who hunt them down. And, the ebook is currently only 99 cents! 

4. The Black Velvet Coat by Jill G. Hall is a debut novel that feels so assured you just fall right into the story. The author skillfully weaves together two women's lives: one, a young artist in contemporary times, the other, a young heiress in the 1960s. The book is not easy to define, as there are elements of mystery and suspense, but most importantly, The Black Velvet Coat is what literary fiction (and all fiction) should be, and often is not—entertaining. 

5. Those lucky enough to be familiar with Bruce Berger’s writing (Almost an Island, The Telling Distance, There Was a River) won’t be surprised to hear that his memoir The End of the Sherry is a compelling, gorgeously written book. Those who believe they don’t like memoir should give this a try. The character of Berger’s twenty-something self—untethered to job or family, who finds himself in Franco’s Spain in the mid-sixties—felt as familiar as a long-lost friend. His down-to-earth story transported me, thrilled me, and made me laugh.

Now, get thee to a bookseller. Or a library. Or click the links to purchase the books on Amazon. Enjoy your end-of-the-year reading and the holidays...
hasta pronto!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Some "Ballpark" Humor

And now for something completely different. 
I've been listening to baseball lately—first, the Divisional Series, then the Championship Series, and now the World Series. Since we don't have cable television on board, we listen to ball games on the radio. Last night I was wondering what life would be like with color commentary...
And so, today's post:

Bob: Welcome listeners, it’s a beautiful day here in Frank’s office and we’ll be broadcasting live here all day, so we hope you’ll stay tuned in to our live, on the spot coverage of Frank versus The Manuscript.

Mike: And here comes Frank out for some warm-ups right now…He’s looking confident in his home colors—the traditional blue sweatpants and concert T-shirt—strolling out to the bookshelves to shag a few early ideas and try to build inspiration.

Bob: Frank was warming up in the field a while ago, before we went live, and let me tell you, his defense was looking spectacular. He had some snappy rationalizations, a few reasonable excuses, and a quick, spirited line of attack—you know what they say about the best defense being a good offense!

Mike: And speaking of offense, Bob, he’s stepping up to the computer right now…He settles into the writer’s seat with his trademark wiggle, and immediately goes into his stance. You wouldn’t think he had that long weekend off, the way his fingers hover over the keys.

Bob: He takes the first idea all the way. Never flinches.

Mike: Yeah, he’s obviously waiting for just the right—

Bob: And he hits that first line deep—that’s definitely deep, and with today’s conditions, it could lead to something very profound. Oh, yeah, that paragraph's easily profound, if not quite philosophical. What a start to the day!

Mike: A quick adjustment of his flannels and a tug of his cap and he’s back into his stance, fingers hovering, eyes on the page, once again waiting for that perfect—and he types! It looked good, but by the second sentence it’s starting to drop down into prosaic…Yeah, that has a definite whiff of cliche.

Bob: Whiff? Mike, that reeks cliche. But—as you know from the stats—his second paragraphs have always been a bit hackneyed.

Mike: Yeah, Bob, especially when revising, his first paragraphs have always scored much higher than his second.

Bob: And historically, his on-base percentage falls off as soon as he starts feeling the pressure from having produced some tired prose. He just loses concentration.

Mike: I wouldn’t be surprised if he reaches for the coffee now, Bob.

Bob: That’s his go-to move in this position, Mike.

Mike: Not that it’ll help him, according to our numbers.

Bob: And there he goes—he’s out of his seat and heading for the kitchen.

Mike: Time for us to take a moment for station identification…

I hope you enjoyed my take on sports radio commentary. 
Keep writing, and...
hasta pronto!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

It's Conference Time, Everybody!

Just finished my last editing project of September, and I'll soon be diving into my HUGE stack of advance submissions for the Southern California Writers Conference—and I'm filled with anticipatory glee.
Why? Because this weekend is fun!
I always have a great time at this conference—I get to both learn and teach, which I love. This weekend, I'm teaching a new workshop called “Backstory: Employing Expository like a Screenwriter,” plus doing "Pitch Witches" and much more. SCWC inspires me to be at the top of my game, because everyone else there is!
If you haven't been to a writers conference before, you're probably wondering, "Why should I go to SCWC?"
The biggest/best reason is to connect with a community of writers—and readers (because all writers are readers, no?). Writing is often solitary so we need to meet and talk to others in our "tribe"—to hear people talk about going through the same things we go through; to learn from their mistakes, and to gain insight from their successes.
Of course, you'll also meet and get to chat with agents, editors, and publishers—not to mention people who are successful author-publishers.
The world of publishing is evolving fast, and it's important for aspiring (and published) authors to keep evolving, to keep their strategies always shifting, in order to compensate. Going to SCWC gives you the cutting-edge tools to do that. The panels and workshops include subjects that span the world of today's publishing. Check out the schedule here.
Hope to see you there...
hasta pronto!

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Pros and Cons of Freelancing

 I am updating and re-posting this piece from a couple of years ago, since a new acquaintance recently mentioned how "fun" it must be to work for myself.

When I tell people that I'm a freelance editor, people always say "How cool—that must be fun!" and of course, it is—but, like most everything in life, there are good and not-so-good points about working for yourself...
Most all authors are freelancers, even if they have a "day job" because they are not usually getting paid to write (not as they write, that is—hopefully, they do get paid, but usually months or even years later).

Here are just a few of the Pros and Cons of Freelancing:

Pro: You make your own schedule (plenty of time to read).
Con: You can easily feel guilty if you are not working (never enough time to read for FUN).
Pro: You're your own boss (no one to tell you what to do).
Con: You have to motivate yourself—and on some (sunny) days that is really difficult to do.
Pro: You set your own rates and can ask for what you feel your skills are truly worth.
Con: You don't get a weekly paycheck. (Sometimes more than a few weeks go by!)
Pro: You can work from home (in your pajamas, even; I don't because I feel better when I am "dressed for work")
Con: Your home is your office and your job never really stops.
Pro: Your job is your life and it's fun!

Feel free to add to the list—I'd love to hear from you.
hasta pronto!

Friday, August 14, 2015

My 10 Favorite Adventure/Travel Memoirs

As an editor (and as a writer) I've always been drawn to true stories, and especially to people writing about adventures they have had or about their travels and voyages. Whether harrowing or humorous, these exciting memoirs are always my favorite reads, year in and year out.

Like all my "top ten" booklists, this one is quite personal and highly subjective. I had to leave out some classics like Riding the Iron Rooster by Paul Theroux, because it's been so long since I read it, I couldn't remember what I loved about it, only that I loved it. And I left out Into The Wild because it's not a memoir, it's the story of Christopher McCandless, told by Jon Krakauer, an excellent writer.

Readers may notice a number of these titles are about Baja California and boats. Well, I lived on a sailboat for many years, much of that time spent on and around Baja's Sea of Cortez, so I'm partial to stories about the area, and about sailing, too.

Anyway, here's my current list of favorite memoirs that involve travel or adventure:

Adrift: Seventy Six Days Lost at Sea by Steven Callahan

Almost An Island by Bruce Berger

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert

Into A Desert Place by Graham Mackintosh

Miraculous Air: Journey of a Thousand Miles Through Baja California, the Other Mexico by C.M.Mayo

My Old Man and the Sea: A Father and Son Sail Around Cape Horn by David Hays

Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat

The Log from the Sea of Cortez by John Steinbeck

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

Let me know which of these books are on your top ten list—and which of your favorite memoirs I should check out.

hasta pronto!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Some Spring and Summer Must-Reads

I'm ready for Summer already, aren't you? I'm looking forward to some time on the sand, book in hand, with the sun in a blue sky and a cold blended drink nearby—hey that rhymes! I'm becoming a (really bad) poet.
I'm working today under cloudy skies, anticipating the much-needed rain that's been predicted, and thinking of things I'd rather be doing. (What is wrong with me? After all, I'm in one of the most beautiful cities on earth, I have plenty of work to do that I love, I'm my own boss, and I live on a sailboat—what's not to like?)
So, in order to distract myself from the work on my desk, I thought about some of the new books out for Summer that I'm looking forward to reading. Some are freshly published, and one comes out in July. Here they are, in order of release:
Wild Women, Wild Voices: Writing from Your Authentic Wildness by Judy Reeves (March, 2015).
I am a great admirer of Judy Reeves, not just as a great motivator, teacher, and mentor to writers, including myself, but as a master of the craft, herself. You always learn something (often about yourself) from her, and I always feel inspired to write after one of her classes or after dipping into one of her books. I can't wait to read this new one!
Orhan's Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian (April, 2015). This debut novel by a SCWC conference instructor (formerly a SCWC attendee) has had readers and booksellers buzzing for months. I'm fascinated by the history behind this story, set during 1915 in the Ottoman Empire. The book was recently chosen by the NYT for a piece in the Sunday Book Review.
Scents and Sensibility by Spencer Quinn (due July 14th). If you haven't read any of the "Chet and Bernie" series, you are in for a real treat. Narrated by a wordly yet innocent mixed breed dog named Chet, who works with his master Bernie, a P.I. solving crimes and catching "perps by the pant leg" this series is full of laugh-out-loud moments. Anyone who loves mysteries or dog stories will love them, and there are plenty of them to love. S & S will be number 8 in the series.
And last on the list, but surely not least, the final book on my "I've got to read it this summer" list is
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee (due July 14). I am so excited to see what this amazing author's original story was like, before she adapted the storytelling to suit her publisher. And because—for goodness sake, people—she's Harper Lee, that's why.
I hope you're as excited about your Summer "to read" list as I am, and I'd love to hear if you have any of the books I mentioned here on your list.
By the way, I had a great time last Sunday, writing all day at the "Blazing Laptops" fundraiser for San Diego Writers, Ink. My heartfelt thanks to all of you who contributed to helping me support this fine non-profit resource in our community. Between the silent auction, the raffles and the many generous pledges, SDWI raised almost $13,000 toward their goal of $15,000. It's not too late to contribute, on their secure fundraising site, right here. 
I loved being back at at the Ink Spot in Liberty Station, it's been too long. I'll be teaching at SDWI again this fall, and I'll keep you all posted as to those dates. Until then...
hasta pronto!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

JennyRedbug needs YOUR help!

May was a busy month for me. I've not only been busy with work (see below), and spending time with my mom and the rest of my family—we even got some boat work shoe-horned in there. Russel has been designing and installing new cupboards and storage areas on the mighty sailing vessel "Watchfire 2" and I have had to watch, and give advice. Exhausting. Add to that our anniversary and my birthday and you can see why the posts have not been proliferating here.

Luckily my recent book-editing projects have not been exhausting—they've been challenging and exhilarating. I'm doing a line-edit on a timely and evocative Civil Rights Era novel by an author I met at San Diego Writers Conference. Also doing some content/structure edits on a travel memoir and evaluating a new genre novel by an excellent writer. The summer is booking up with new projects, too. I love my job!

You might have missed my last post—it was a guest blog on my friend Oz Monroe's excellent blog. Oz has a fun (scary) challenge for himself: He lets his Facebook friends pick a weekly topic, and the winning topic (by likes) is the subject he writes about. He calls the challenge, "Throw Oz Under the Bus." A couple of us have allowed ourselves to be "thrown under the bus" too, as guest bloggers—I was the latest. The winning blog topic for me was “A feminist perspective on masculinity in the 21st century.” (WTF?) Here's my post for Oz, based on that topic: Man up?

And now, my friends, it's that time of year again...won't you help me to support San Diego Writers, Ink (SDWI), an important non-profit resource in our writing community? Their yearly "Blazing Laptops" fundraising event raises a major portion of their annual operating funds, allowing them to offer great classes at low rates. I donate time to them every year, and I'll be donating a free book evaluation (value $500 to $1000) to the auction; I'll also be writing all day during "Blazing Laptops" at the SDWI Ink Spot in Liberty Station on June 7th.

Could you donate $5 or $10? We'd all appreciate it! My fundraising page is here.

Thanks for any help you can give SDWI, and...
hasta pronto!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Beauty of a Woman Blogfest 2015: The Language of Beauty

Today's blog is part of the Beauty of a Woman Blogfest 2015; here is a link to the fest page: This is a wonderful event and I hope all my readers will stop by today or sometime this week to participate—there are valuable prizes galore, including one from Yours Truly!

The Language of Beauty
Why is it that we always refer to fabulous women as "beautiful"? Isn't there a better word to honor true inner beauty? Why are words like "strong" and "healthy" and "intelligent" so often seen as a back-handed compliment—the equivalent of the famous blind-date compliment, "she has a great personality"?
I recently saw a Hollywood movie where the female star was introduced to a young girl who would become her adopted grand-daughter. The first thing she said to the girl—who was, of course, very cute—was "Aren't you beautiful? Do you know how beautiful you are?" as if that was the pinnacle of  achievement for a little girl.
We've all heard about the shameful treatment (in a newspaper I won't dignify by naming) of the late, and oh-so-talented author Colleen McCollough, when this line was printed in the first few sentences of her obituary: "Australia’s best selling author, was a charmer. Plain of feature, and certainly overweight, she was, nevertheless, a woman of wit and warmth."
Wait, what? Seriously?!
What in blazes does being "overweight" or "plain" have to do with this woman's real life—and the pleasure that she brought to millions of readers? Would that this episode had been the first of its kind—we can only hope it will be the last.
But, I admit, I have been too often guilty of referring to my many bright, talented, incredible women friends as "beautiful." Why do I say guilty? Because when I join the legions of people who see women as primarily (sometimes solely) physical packages, to be judged as meeting or not meeting someone's specifications of "beauty," then I'm part of the problem.
Yes, it's hard to see a woman friend's picture on Facebook and not want to say that they are beautiful or lovely to look at, but I'm going to try hard to think of other words to use. I'm going to try to look past their attractive surface and come up with other words—words that pay homage to the many facets of beauty that powerful bright women share. Assets like generosity, loving-kindness, caring, self-respect and respect for others, insight & intuition, and so many others...
Hmm...I may still use the word beautiful when I refer to women, especially those who may not seen by the surface-obsessed world as traditionally beautiful, though—if I feel moved to...Rules, after all, are made to be broken.
hasta pronto!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Why Go to a Writers Conference?

Authors often ask me whether they should go to a writers conference--after all, it is an investment of time and money.There are many reasons, but I think the five below are key. 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 here in San Diego, on Presidents’ Day Weekend, February 13-16th.
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 San Diego. 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. For those who live in San Diego, I'm also teaching at San Diego Writers Ink this coming weekend, both Saturday (editing workshop) and Sunday (pitch, query class). There's plenty of info on their home page.
hasta pronto!