Friday, December 23, 2016

Five Books I Read in 2016—and Highly Recommend.

It’s time for me to list five books I loved in 2016. 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. (I'd love to talk about The Underground Railroad but I haven't read it yet!). I tried to keep it to works published in 2016, but made exceptions for two recent works I discovered this year.
I am also, as always, not including on this list the books I edited in 2015, but I can't help mentioning two of the excellent books I help to bring to the world—they'd make great gifts.
Gayle Carline’s latest, A More Deadly Union (Peri Minneopa Mysteries Book 4) is a good mystery and a whole lot more. Gayle is taking on some key social issues here, but she doesn’t allow any of it to get in the way of the fast-paced story. I enjoy working with her—she works so hard on her manuscripts, I get to really dig in, as I'm not distracted by superficial errors. And there's a dog in it!
Another book I edited this year is The Dining Car by Eric Peterson. Eric and I go way back, and it has been a pleasure to see his writing mature and evolve. I had such fun with all the food and drink references, and probably gained a few pounds doing "research"! So far, the critical reception has been phenomenal, which makes me happy and proud. Bottom line: Private railcars, haute cuisine, and finely crafted cocktails. Who wouldn’t love that combo?

So...On to my "top five" list for 2016, in no particular order:

1. Dete Meserve shows up on my Top Five Books List two years running with Perfectly Good Crime. Like her debut novel, Good Sam, this novel explores our society’s fascination with both crime stories and heart-warming human interest stories. Set in Los Angeles, Perfectly Good Crime has a protagonist you can believe in, even though most of us have never worked in television news. And, in spite of its timely insights into wealth, politics, and the media, the book is a fun read, with breathtaking descriptions of outrageously over-the-top mansions that rival anything from “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous.”

2. The best title on this list goes to The Awful Mess: A Love Story by Sandra Hutchison, and the book lives up to its name and then some. As much as I liked Mary Bellamy and related to her—she is an editor, like me, and a young woman, which I remember being—she is only the main ingredient of this book’s delectable stew of characters. Wait until you meet Arthur, an Episcopal rector with great charm and serious secrets, and Winslow, a small-town cop who's a part-time farmer, and full-time heartthrob. And then there’s Winslow’s dad, Bert, and…You see what I mean. Check it out if you like thoughtful romance!

3. Everyone who knows me knows I love theater, and one of my favorite reads this year was Follies of God: Tennessee Williams and the Women of the Fog by James Grissom. I had heard a lot about it on social media and I tried a sample of the ebook and was hooked. I’d shelve this rambling tome under “biography as memoir," since I learned almost as much about Mr. Grissom as I did about Mr. Williams. That might sound odd, but it worked perfectly. After all, Tennessee Williams was probably a very different person to everyone that knew him—he was, quite obviously, a theatrical character in his "real" life, as well as the second-best creator of living, breathing, believable theatrical characters, ever (Shakespeare, duh!).

4. The Popcorn Girl by Michael J Vaughn was a lovely surprise. The chapters are told by alternating first-person narrators Paul and Jasmina, and I never had that feeling such a novel usually produces: “Dang, it’s another Bob chapter, I can’t wait to get back to a Mary chapter” or vice-versa. It’s not often that a writer can make a character both lovable and an atheist, but Vaughn has done it; Paul is not only a person I would want to know, he's definitely a guy I would have fallen for, had I been Jasmina. I won’t tell you if she eventually does or not—that's part of the fun of this book—but I can say that these two characters (and the whole "cast") are so compelling I didn’t want the book to end.

5. The Wide Night Sky by Matt Dean is another winner. Dean is a former finalist for the LAMBDA Literary Awards and it shows, both in the assured way he deals with an eclectic array of sexualities and in his artful prose. His previous novel, The River in Winter, is also fine, and much more “political," if that's the right word, but I love the family dynamic here. I’m a sucker for dysfunctional families as long as there’s also plenty of love and this book maintains that balance perfectly. And...the ebook is currently FREE!



Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Expository Tips—Your Book is Not a Script!

Having just taught my second workshop in as many months on how to make expository more exciting, I’ve come to the conclusion that authors who write books, as opposed to screenplays, don’t realize how good they have it.
In writing a screenplay, writers only get to include two things—what can be seen or heard onscreen.
Screenwriters can write what a beach looks like, but they can’t mention how the sea spray feels, or the odor of sun-warmed kelp, or that the taste of salt on her lips reminds a character of summer vacations sailing on Lake Michigan. They can’t have a character reminisce or feel nauseated or hungry unless the character says exactly what they are feeling or thinking out loud—which often feels too “on the nose” or clunky.
Screenwriters can describe a character’s clothes and hairstyle, and how they walk or sit or gesture, and of course, they have dialogue to fall back on, in case it's needed to explain something particular or convoluted.
Screenwriters only go into character’s heads to the extent of trying to figure out what a character will do (what action they’ll take) to reveal what they are thinking or how they are feeling. Writing a script means being unable to write what characters are thinking or feeling, unless you want to write narration, which is considered dated and very much out of style (of course, some screenwriter does it right every now and then, but narration is almost universally viewed as something to avoid in screenwriting).
Now, just because you can go into character’s heads, don’t get carried away and start “head-hopping” from character to character in your book. Why not? Check out this post on the evils of head-hopping from Jami Gold.
And yes, you novelists and creative nonfiction authors can write "stage directions" in your books as well as screenwriters can, but remember not to go overboard with them—like explaining, in great detail, exactly how a character turned on a bedside lamp, down to which hand he used to twist the switch. Here's a timely post about stage directions from Nat Russo.
Bottom Line: Compared with writing scripts, writing a book is so freeing. You are not confined by such tough strictures, so celebrate your freedom and explore the sounds and scents and tastes of your scenes. Let your characters touch, smell, and taste—have fun exploring the world through all their senses!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

It's Almost Conference Time! Will I See You There?

Yes, indeed, it is almost that time. I’m about to dive into my stack of advance submissions for the Southern California Writers Conference (Sept 23-25, in Irvine) and I'm excited about the upcoming conference. Why? Because this weekend is fun!
I always have a great time at the SCWC—I meet new authors, which is always a kick, and I get to teach, which I love. This time around I'm teaching a workshop called “Backstory: Employing Expository like a Screenwriter,” plus doing two "Pitch Witches."
I also get to sit in on other workshops, which is always enlightening, because the people who run them are professionals... in other words, 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 oftentimes 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 gain insight from their successes.
Of course, you'll also meet and get to chat with agents, editors, and publishers—not to mention interacting with and learning from quite a few knowledgeable people who are successful, award-winning author-publishers.
The world of publishing is evolving fast, and it's important for authors to keep evolving, to keep their strategies always shifting, in order to stay on top of things. 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.
And don't worry—there's still time to register, in fact, you can still save money if you do it before Sept 18th.
Hope to see you there...
hasta pronto!

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 you...so 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 claudiawhitsitt.com

And:
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 lesliejohansennack.com

 
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 ozmonroe.com


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 editor...me. 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.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Seven Ways Sailing is like Writing

I've been sailing, and living aboard a sailboat, for most of the last 27 years. I'm also a writer, and have worked at some combination of writing, editing, publishing, and teaching writing for the last 18 years. So, I know a little bit about both pursuits. And I think that...

Sailing is like writing because:

You need a destination, but often the best part of the voyage happens when you get off course—assuming you don't end up on the rocks. 

Getting there is not just half the fun, it's all the fun; sailing is about enjoying the moment, here and now, not rushing toward some arbitrary goal (if you were in a rush, you'd have a power boat).

It's something people all over the world have been doing for thousands of years, in order to explore, learn, and reach out—and it's still fun!

Most people think it's easy, even if they've never done it (Wish I had a dollar for every time someone said, "Gosh, that must be such a fun life, traveling and living on a boat").

Those who don't sail don't "get" it—and that's okay. It's impossible to explain what's so darn great about it, if you don't experience it yourself, in just the right way.

It's enviable, but somehow people still think they could easily do it, too, if they just had the time...

Lastly, sailing, like writing, uses your body and mind for an activity that often taxes them, but combines and unites them in ways that can sometimes be transcendent—allowing us to glimpse what is eternal and true.  

hasta pronto!


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

August McLaughlin and her "Embraceable" New Book: My Q&A with August

This month's blog post is a Q&A with author August McLaughlin, as part of a blog tour for her book, Embraceable. August McLaughlin is an award-winning, nationally recognized health and sexuality writer and host and creator of Girl Boner®. August is a public speaker, radio host, and journalist who uses her artistry to inspire other women to embrace their bodies and selves, making way for fuller, more authentic lives.
   The new book, Embraceable: Empowering Facts and True Stories About Women’s Sexuality, is a celebration of women’s sensuality, and deals with body image, among other diverse topics. August and I hit it off right away, since I grew up with serious body image issues—my mom's constant fight with weight affected my own budding self image, then I went into acting and got dangerously "brainwashed" into body dysmorphia by the "industry" before becoming a happy, healthy, curvy writer-editor. By the way, Body dysmorphia means you can't stop thinking about a minor (or imagined) flaw in your appearance.

 
    
I admire August's activism, enthusiasm, and passion, so I invited her to JennyRedbug to chat a bit. Here are my questions and her answers:

1.  The contributors to your new book, "Embraceable" are all ages, and I'll bet that they are every size and shape, too. Why are we so eager to limit the "acceptable size" that women should be?

The pressure on women to appear a certain way is an age-old problem, fueled by the sexism that's engrained in our culture—women being perceived as subservient trophies, versus capable equals —and perpetuated by big business. The diet, fashion, and entertainment industries are some of the largest and most influential in the world. Sadly, too many companies profit from women's insecurities.
    I’m really grateful for the body-positive movement that’s happening, but there’s a long way to go. We need to see more people of all ages, shapes, sizes and races in fashion and film, for example.

2. I know you have a history of dealing with body-image issues and body dysmorphia, in yourself and others...Do you still find yourself struggling with society's idea of what you should be/wear/look like?

I was very dysmorphic from very early on, around age five, well into my twenties. One major benefit of moving fully past a severe eating disorder, and all the hard work it required, is that I no longer place excess value on aesthetics—my own or others'. (Eating disorders typically aren’t about weight or looks, at their root, but they end up shifting your values in hugely damaging ways.) I wish more women reached the emotional place such recovery provides, without the hellishness of the illness.
    While I'd say the body image struggles are behind me, I still have occasional moments of self-criticism. When they arise, I remind myself that accepting myself as I am—“flaws” and all—sends a positive message to others. The world needs every good example. I look to women I admire, who don’t prize looks, for inspiration. Then I intentionally focus elsewhere, on what matters.

3. You love the word "authenticity"...what does that word mean to you, as far as women and their bodies?

Authenticity from a body image perspective means not attempting to fulfill someone else’s idea of what you should look like. It means loving, respecting, and accepting your body as it is, rather than fighting it—even (or especially) when doing so is hard.

4. I struggled so long with learning to love my (curvy) body, as an actress and performer. I wish I'd known then how good it feels to live in a body you're not trying to change/hide/erase. What do you wish you could tell your teenage self about her body?

I’d tell her that she’s wrong about her body, more than her body, and that she's 100-percent lovable and embraceable—no changes required. And because I know she’d roll her eyes and tune me out (ha), I’d also tell her that the road ahead isn’t going to be easy, but she’s going to make it through. Oh, and diet pills? Not a good idea.

5. What have you heard from readers of "Embraceable" about the chapters where you describe your struggles with anorexia? I would think that young women would respond to reading about that.

I’m just beginning to hear from readers, which has been moving. Women who’ve written me about my struggles with anorexia have been of a range of ages. I think it’s a struggle many can relate to on some level. Anorexia encompasses near universal issues: feeling unworthy, fighting yourself and your body, feeling broken and alone, food and weight challenges, addiction.

6. What would you like to say to young people, who are learning from the media, their peers—and perhaps their parents—to judge others by how they look?

Don’t listen. Live with curiosity and passion and wonder. Seek and pursue ventures that bring you joy and a sense of purpose. Cultivate your talents and surround yourself with people who love you for who you are, not your jeans' size. Spend time in nature. Remind yourself that you’re an extraordinary being who can choose to put her energy into bettering herself and the world.





Read more about August's new book on her site; you may purchase a copy of Embraceable at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.com
hasta pronto!