Behind the Curtain Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Working on the next book, believe it or not. Busy with that! And so busy with Impact Bay Area, with which I've been assisting, so for the last couple of weeks I've been super busy during my time off watching women learn how to be SO incredibly awesome. So here I'm stealing from an email (let's call it recycling!) that I sent to a couple of writer friends recently. There's writing info here that might be helpful to the writers among you,  and perhaps interesting to readers, too. A peek behind the curtain: 
I have to chime in about entering the "real" world -- When I was in undergrad, I was super stressed. There was a reentry student in one of my English seminars who was about 60 or so. I mentioned I was worried about the real world, and she just pulled her glasses down and looked at me: "Oh, honey. The real world is SO much easier than this is." 
I took such heart from that, and it's true! Even with writing deadlines making your whole life feel like a homework assignment, it's nothing like school. School is false, created stress (meaningful, etc blah etc). In real life, when you have stress, you can work on managing, changing things. In school, if you're behind, you're just fucked, you know? 
I absolutely love what you say about getting comfortable with rejection by continued submission. When I was submitting to agents, I checked my email every seven seconds for about six months, and every time I was rejected, I wanted to cry (and sometimes did). But every single damn time, it got easier, and I would just submit to five more (is five the magic answer? just enough to feel like you're really working? I like it). 
How I handle rejection: With a very stiff upper lip. When Harper Collins fired me after my first three books, I told everyone it was fine. Totally understandable, I said. Borders died the week my second book came out while we were in negotiations for a new contract, thereby halving the sales of the first, and there was no recovering from that blow. <--this is true, but it is also a convenient excuse for Why My Career Stumbled Like a Benadryled 5 Year Old in Heels. And then I would sit at my desk and feel pathetic. Yep. I would never write again. I wrote sad letters full of self-pity to good writer friends who all told me what I needed to hear -- you'll make it, you'll come back from this, just keep writing, this happens to everyone -- and I never believed them, even though they were right. You're right, it's so easy to cheerlead everyone else, and so HARD to cheer ourselves. 
Do you keep a file of positive things? Can I encourage you to do that right now? I call it my mash note file (does anyone else still use that term?), and I have a physical one (that I just went through while going through papers; I found a bunch of nice notes from writers I knew in school reacting to my stories) and an email file. I put the best, most cheering letters in there, saving them for the rainy day when Kirkus pans me and Franzen says something terrible about my womanly morals and I know for certain that my career is over. The most recent one I added was from my dad saying he'd read Splinters of Light and how much he loved it -- and from what he said, he GOT it. He totally got the book. That made my whole life, and in it went to the mash file. 
Thus the mash file of notes, hedged against the Very Worst Days. Just knowing it's there is all I need. Did I mention I've never gone into it? Not once. Well, I tried to read some once, but honestly, the notes embarrassed me and I ducked back out like I'd accidentally wandered into the wrong hotel room. 
It comes down to self-care, I think. You need to know what you need (I need saved mash notes, days off to not write at all, wonderful books written in any genre but the one I happen to be writing in, and writing friends). And then you need to be willing to give yourself those things. Also, wallowing is allowed. Know how much time you want to give yourself. I give myself about 30 minutes, usually. I like to get back up on the horse. I have a friend who gives herself a day of wallowing when she gets a bad review because that's what she needs. My first major revision letter sent me to a coastal hostel for a weekend. 
Personally, I have a couple of friends who pass our 1-star reviews back and forth, trying to best each other with the most shocking and/or poorly written ones, and this amuses the HELL out of us, and takes all the sting out. Oh! Here's a good one from my second book: "Rachael rlghts an interesting story = It is to bad she feels like she has to keep us interested withso much foolish sex."  <-- what is not to love about this??? *falls sideways in joy* 
and to your question, writing about real people: When I wrote my essay collection, that was a huge challenge for me. I did this: If I loved the person, I let them read the essay before publication. They had the right to insist on a change in verbiage if necessary. There was only one essay in the book that was even slightly critical of someone else (all criticism directed toward self!), but I changed his name and location and called that good. 
Re: fiction, that's harder. Characters are never based on anything but facets of myself, as all my characters are. Sometimes, though, people insist on believing I'm writing about them. And dude, there's nothing I can do about that belief. I just keep being truthful with them, gently, insistently. I've found this over and over again (and other writer friends have, too -- I think it's a universal): if you do happen to base something on real life or real people, no one will ever notice, I promise you. One of my friends based an awful character on someone we both know, and that person LOVED the book, just gushed over it. If you write a difficult scene/story/character pulled right from your brain, nowhere else, and labor over it to make it really REAL? Everyone will think you wrote it about them. A compliment, really, isn't it? 
Success really is, most of the time, just time spent in the chair. Even on my worst day, even when I just move a paragraph out and then back in again, the work has lived in my brain and breathed long enough to continue breathing when I close the window. (Oooh, I like this image. I might not be actively looking into the window, but the characters keep growing while I'm doing other things -- it only works if you give them fresh air every day... feels true.... too much?) 
I've promised myself 3 hours in the chair with the internet off today. So right now doesn't count. I've already done one agonizing hour, and the next two won't (can't!) be that uncomfortable, so huzzah. My new best practice is to wake up, get coffee, meditate for ten minutes at the desk before I open the computer, then go to work IMMEDIATELY for 45 minutes before looking at the bigger world. Then I go back in and work some more in 45 minutes chunks. It's been working like a charm, which perhaps, it is. I know it's woo-woo! But it's kind of life changing. I never knew how to meditate, never knew that I could LEARN to still my crazy brain till last year when I took Headspace's free 10 day course. Highly recommended. I actually stuck it in Splinters of Light -- one of my characters is an homage to Andy Puddicombe, the Brit who teaches meditation so beautifully over there... But as I said, based on my experience, he won't think it's him. ;) 

Stitches and What it Meant Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Darling KnittedWit and my favorite wee thing, F. 

The thing about Stitches West is that, like all  yarn conventions, it's HUGE. The first time I ever went to one was back when it was still hosted in Oakland. My sister happened to mention she thought there was a "yarn thing" happening downtown. I thought I'd swing through and poke my head into the seven or eight booths that I'd find. 

Instead, I found hundreds of booths. Tens of thousands of skeins of yarn (I know this because I bought most of them). I learned to spin at that first Stitches, on a drop spindle made from a dowel and a CD (I was terrible at it). 

I had no idea there was so much yarn in all the world, and there it was, in my town, in a convention center. 


Knitmores! I haz them! 

Fast forward to 2010. My first book was coming out TWO DAYS AFTER Stitches. I'd been heartbroken about the timing, but I made flyers to pass out. Due to illness, one of my friends couldn't use her booth, and with her permission, I totally hijacked it. I had nothing but flyers, so I laid them on every inch of table. I passed them out to everyone I saw. 

 From my blog post, I'm reminded I got a lot of differing reactions, including this one: 

Knitter, looking at the back of the excerpt, where my picture is: "Oh, I know her. She's from LA."

Me: "I'm from Oakland."

Knitter (suspiciously): "Hmm." 

But people took them, and people bought the book that Tuesday in March, 2010. 

I know this because I saw them all last weekend, four years later. I can't tell you how many people said to me, "Oh! I love your books!" Or "I met you when you didn't even HAVE a book, just those flyers!" 

There is nothing as gratifying as hearing "I love your books." Nothing. I daresay the words "What a gorgeous child" don't compare. It's possible that the phrase "Your child is a genius" pales next to "When are you going to write another book like that one?" 

I came home all three nights completely exhausted, worn out to the bone. I perched for the weekend at the Verb booth (next to the amazing Romi) and seriously, while I wasn't tied to the booth in any way, I spent most of my time there. I was desperately scared I wouldn't be there if a reader wanted to say hello. 

A READER. That's the thing, dude. I have readers. Of my books

Pinch me. Hard. Four years and six books later, it's still not real. 

The most interesting interaction I had this weekend:

A woman approached me at a high rate of speed. She dropped into a crouch next to me. "You write books." 

"I do, yes." 

"So how do I finish the two novels I've started?" 

"You write, and keep writing till the end. It's not easy to finish, but I know you can--" 

"How do I make them good enough to publish?" 

"You revise. I have a blog post that might be helpful…" 

"No, no. I don't have time for that." 

"I hear you. I work 60 hours a week at my day job…" 

A raised eyebrow. "What do you do?" 


A flap of the hands. "Oh, well, yeah. My problem is that I have an INTELLECTUAL job. That's why I can't finish my books." 

What I didn't say was that after I got my MFA and found out that I sucked at teaching, I sat my ass down (literally, at a burger joint) and flipped through a trade journal looking for a job that wouldn't tax my creative brain. The writer friends of mine who were teaching or tech-writing weren't doing their own writing anymore. I picked 911 (not knowing then how creative you have to be on a second-to-second basis) in order to have a job I could leave behind when I took off the headset. 

Maybe this woman couldn't leave her intellectual work behind her when she got home. I could give her that with a smile. 

But the interaction made me realize something: I'd chosen the right path. I'd made a really long-range goal (get a day job that will pay for the writing habit) and I'd pulled it off. Fifteen years after that decision, I was at a convention, talking to my readers. MY READERS. That woman, as much as I laughed when she walked away, did me a huge favor by reminding me of that. 

 I haven't "made it." In my mind, I won't have made it until I'm making enough money writing that I can give up the day job (but giving up the chance to save lives? How does a person really give that up?). And if that someday happens, I'm sure I'll have a new goal that will equal "making it." I hope so, anyway. 

Because a girl has to have a dream. And I have so many.

Bonus for reading this far: Lucky and Clara video! 

I love how absolutely delighted Clara looks. LOOK! This chihuahua plays with ME! (You can see Miss Idaho looking on in disgust in the background.) Lucky goes back to his forever home tomorrow, and I'm going to MISS that little bugger. He's an absolute delight.  

*And yes, I bought some yarn this year, though I managed not to for most of the three days. Right at the last minute, 25 minutes before the closing bell, I fell down and swiped my debit card on my way to the floor which was padded with cashmere so I didn't really hurt anything but my budget. I have no pictures of the evidence, but I'm telling you: the find of the year was Sweet Fiber. I can't tell you how awesome this is. People. Go buy this stuff. Right now. So soft. The colors, so saturated. Damn. AMAZING. 

** Also, I hired an author's assistant to pick up the pieces I tend to drop. She's a knitter, and has been a friend for years. I'd tell you who she is, but then you might take her from me. DON'T DO THAT. Oh, okay, I'll tell you. It's FishWithSticks. She's already shining up my life, for reals. I feel so FANCY. 

*** T-minus-6 days till Pack Up the Moon. *eep*

Who Cares? Tuesday, January 28, 2014

I just realized something big about my writing process. 

This is why I hate a first draft: It's the Who Cares? draft. 

When I'm about 50,000 words into a 100,000 novel, you know what I start hearing in my head? WHO CARES? Who cares about these people? Do I? Not really, not that much. I've invested enough in them now (because by this point I've written 80k and thrown out 30k) that I do care a little. But I don't know the end of their story yet. That's the whole problem. 

Until I know what breaks--and then fixes--my characters, I can't care all the way. They aren't totally alive. At the midpoint of a first draft, each and every one of the characters could turn around on the page, flip me off, and walk out of the book and my life. 

When I write The End, though, I care so much it hurts. That's why, to me, revision is divine. I get to go in and play God, moving parts around and upping the stakes so that they really matter. So that the reader really cares. When I make myself cry at the computer (never during a first draft!) I know I'm getting closer. 

It strikes me that maybe that's why it took me so long to actually finish a whole novel. I had three incomplete novels under the bed that I gave up on when I couldn't silence the Who Cares? I had no idea that was normal for me.

Maybe it's normal for you. Keep pushing, keep writing your way all the way through it, even if, for a large part of that time, you just don't care. 

I bet you will. 

My Favorite Writing Quotes Sunday, October 27, 2013

Google, in all their wisdom, has decided to shut down iGoogle, saying it's not used for much. All I do on my page is store my favorite writing quotes, so I guess they might have something there. I was casting about in my mind: WHERE WILL I KEEP THE QUOTES? when I realized I have a place! Right here! 

At the moment of commitment, the  universe conspires to assist you. GOETHE
(This is my favorite quote of all. The week I dedicated myself to writing every day, to really doing it even on the days I had to get up at 3:30am to get the work done, I got my agent. Coincidence? Probably. I'd already written the book, after all. But this quote was large in my mind. The universe does  conspire to help you, and it knows when you're finally truly serious.) 

Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don't feel I should be doing something else. GLORIA STEINEM
For most of my life I felt like this. Now I write so much that now when I'm hanging out with loved ones, or watching Scandal and knitting, I feel just fine, thanks.

Write about it by day, and dream about it by night. E.B. WHITE

I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult. E. B. WHITE
I think me and ole Elwyn would have gotten along well. 

I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have. THOMAS EDISON

In fiction, veracity is nice...but believability is all that you're really required to provide and all that your audience has a right to expect. ROBERT MASELLO - Robert's Rules of Writing

 Anybody who shifts gears when he writes for children is likely to wind up stripping his gears. E.B. WHITE 

Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on. LOUIS L'AMOUR

I’m like a big old hen. I can’t cluck too long about the egg I’ve just laid because I’ve got five more inside me pushing to get out. LOUIS L'AMOUR
Don't you just love this man?

Don’t get it right, just get it written. JAMES THURBER

I have so little control over the act of writing that it's all I can do to remain conscious. DAVID RAKOFF
I die over this line. 

No one ever said it would be easy. ANNIE DILLARD

I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil. TRUMAN CAPOTE

When you have a great and difficult task, something perhaps almost impossible, if you only work a little at a time, every day a little, suddenly the work will finish itself. ISAK DINESEN
Like knitting!

Writing is when we make the words. Editing is when we make the words not shitty. CHUCK WENDIG

How much a character cares about his/her goals is in direct proportion to how much the reader will care.  LAURA DEVRIES

Inspiration usually comes during work, rather than before it. MADELEINE L’ENGLE

You need a certain amount of nerve to be a writer, an almost physical nerve, the kind you need to walk a log across a river.  MARGARET ATWOOD
I saw her speak recently. She remains my hero. A smarter, classier, funnier woman I think there never was.

As for discipline—it's important, but sort of overrated. The more important virtue for a writer, I believe, is self-forgiveness. Because your writing will always disappoint you. Your laziness will always disappoint you.  ELIZABETH GILBERT

Nulla dies sine linea. Let that be their motto. And let their work be to them as is his common work to the common labourer. No gigantic efforts will then be necessary. He need tie no wet towels round his brow, nor sit for thirty hours at his desk without moving,—as men have sat, or said that they have sat. More than nine-tenths of my literary work has been done in the last twenty years, and during twelve of those years I followed another profession. I have never been a slave to this work, giving due time, if not more than due time, to the amusements I have loved. But I have been constant,—and constancy in labour will conquer all difficulties. Gutta cavat lapidem non vi, sed saepe cadendo. - Trollope
Someday, the first line of this will be a tattoo. 

If I waited until I felt like writing, I'd never write at all. ANNE TYLER 

Talent is cheap. What matters is discipline. ANDRÉ DUBUS
My first writing teacher, Al Landwehr, told me this many, many years ago. He told me I had the first, wasn't sure if I had the second. I was SO MAD, mostly because I knew he was right. So I went about proving him wrong about the latter. (Not about the former.)

I write pieces and move them around. The fun of it is watching the truthful parts slide together. What is false won't fit. ELIZABETH STROUT

Never be ashamed of your subject, and of your passion for your subject. JOYCE CAROL OATES

 The tradition I was born into was essentially nomadic, a herdsmen tradition, following animals across the earth. The bookshops are a form of ranching; instead of herding cattle, I herd books. Writing is a form of herding, too; I herd words into little paragraphlike clusters.  LARRY McMURTRY
I am the border collie of active verbs!

Easy reading is damned hard writing. NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE
This is why I am pleased instead of insulted every time anyone says my books are easy to read.

Writing is driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make whole trip that way. E.L. DOCTOROW

Writing makes no noise, except groans, and it can be done everywhere, and it is done alone.  URSULA K. LEGUIN 

Every time I hear writers talk about “the muse,” I just want to bitch-slap them. It’s a job. Do your job. NORA ROBERTS
"Sister Mary Responsibility kicks the Muse's ass every single day." Nora Roberts, great video HERE.

All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath. F. SCOTT FITZGERALD

Don't be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand. HENRY MILLER 

I love being a writer. What I can’t stand is the paperwork. PETER DE VRIES 

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives… ANNIE DILLARD
I had a postcard with this phrase on my refrigerator. I looked at it daily during the ten years I wasn't really writing. It didn't feel good to think about. Then I started Really Writing, and this is true: I lost the postcard. I know how I'm spending my life. 

Humor is what happens when we're told the truth quicker and more directly than we're used to. ANN PATCHETT 

Getting the first draft finished is like pushing a peanut with your nose across a very dirty floor. JOYCE CAROL OATES

The first 8 drafts are terrible. MALCOLM GLADWELL

Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving. NEIL GAIMAN 

Take the time to write. You can do your life's work in half an hour a day. ROBERT HASS 

You run it through your mind until your tuning fork is still. MARTIN AMIS

If you’re going to tell people the truth, be funny or they’ll kill you. BILLY WILDER 

An overflow of creative urges is the reward for indulging in the new. JULIA CAMERON

I think the hardest part about writing is writing. NORA EPHRON 

All I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world. E. B. WHITE 

Be obscure clearly. E.B. WHITE

Scenery is fine, but human nature is finer. JOHN KEATS

A word after a word after a word is power. MARGARET ATWOOD

The only way to become a better writer is to become a better person. BRENDA UELAND 

The writer must wade into life as into the sea, but only up to the navel. GUSTAVE FLAUBERT

There are techniques and skills to be learned for writing as in any profession or trade. All the stories fall into certain patterns of behavior that we call plots. Plots are nothing but a constantly recurring human situation, patterns of behavior. It’s my belief that 90% of all fiction is based on just 12 to 18 plots, and you can find them in any metropolitan newspaper in any given week. The same plots used by the ancient Greek dramatists were also used by Chaucer, Shakespeare and Dickens. Nobody “invents” a plot.  LOUIS L’AMOUR

Writing is the hardest work in the world not involving heavy lifting. PETE HAMILL

Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine. MARGARET ATWOOD
No whiners. This rule can be broken if you're talking to your writing partners. Then whine with élan.

I don’t grasp it very readily at all, the “it” being whatever I’m trying to do. ALICE MUNRO

If I’m going slow I’m in trouble. It means I’m pushing the words instead of being pulled by them. RAYMOND CHANDLER
This is my biggest sign that I'm going the wrong direction--the words just don't come. It feels like block, but it's only that I haven't found the right door yet. If I feel around the room blindly, I eventually find the handle.

We have to accept ourselves in order to write. Now none of us does that fully: few of us do it even halfway. Don’t wait for one hundred percent acceptance of yourself before you write, or even eight percent acceptance. Just write. The process of writing is an activity that teaches us about acceptance.  NATALIE GOLDBERG

I know I was writing stories when I was five. I don't know what I did before that. Just loafed, I suppose. P.G. Wodehouse

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader. Robert Frost 

Once you’re into a story everything seems to apply ... Wherever you go, you meet part of your story. Eudora Welty

What keeps me writing is that I can only know through writing—my major sense organ is apparently a pencil.

The whole process of writing a novel is having this great, beautiful idea and then spoiling it.

I never think when I write; nobody can do two things at the same time and do them well.

How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live!

One of the things I had to learn as a writer was to trust the act of writing. —E. L. Doctorow

I write because I want more than one life; I insist on a wider selection. It’s greed, plain and simple. -- ANNE TYLER

There are only two things to write about: life and death. -- EDWARD ALBEE

I write pieces, and move them around. And the fun of it is watching the truthful parts slide together. What is false won't fit. -- ELIZ. STROUT

I have always kept notebooks and I go back to them over and over. They are my compost pile of ideas.—Louise Erdrich

I always begin with a character, or characters, and then try to think up as much action for them as possible.  -- JOHN IRVING

The imagination needs moodling—long, inefficient happy idling, dawdling and puttering. --BRENDA UELAND

When I finish a 1st draft, it's always just as much of a mess as it's always been. I still make the same mistakes every time. - MICHAEL CHABON

The process of rewriting is enjoyable, because you’re not in that existential panic when you don’t have a novel at all. - ROSE TREMAIN

Writing is the action of thinking, just as drawing is the action of seeing and composing music is the action of hearing. - BRENDA UELAND

Go looking for an idea and it'll show up. Begin now. Be a fucking soldier about it and be tough. - IRA GLASS

It just requires so much of you, and most of the time you feel dumb.- SALMAN RUSHDIE


You start at the stupid end of the book, and if you’re lucky you finish at the smart end. —SALMAN RUSHDIE


Teaching Tuesday, September 25, 2012

I went to the Central Coast Writers' Conference over the weekend to teach. I was hired not only to speak, but for the first time in this thrilled writer's life, I was put up at a HOTEL. On the BEACH, yo. 


Okay, it wasn't on the beach. But it was close to Morro Bay, so close that at night I could slide the door of the hotel room open and listen to the seals barking.

Originally, Lala had been slated to go with me, but she had to go to Idaho to see her mom after a routine surgery (and incidentally, had breakfast with Neko Case one morning, as they do in Boise, apparently) so I went alone. 

I drove down through the heat of Steinbeck country in the SmartCar (oh, beloved little car) into Morro Bay, dropped my bags in my room, and headed for San Luis Obispo to have dinner with Emily Post-Punk (her Rav handle). You know those people you meet who make you think: I need this person as a friend? What can I do to entrap her? That's EPP. I finally finagled my way into friendship with her. Go, me! 

But before I met up with her, I wandered for a little while through the crowded street. Every Thursday night, San Luis Obispo--an idyllic little coast-proximate community--shuts down the main drag and has an enormous farmer's market. Less market than it is social gathering, it's the closest thing to la passeggiata, the nightly Italian stroll, that I've ever seen in America. This last week was the first Farmer's Market since the kids came back to Cal Poly, and the excitement was at a fever pitch. 

Being home, in the area where I grew up, where I went to undergrad, was both lovely and melancholy. I mean, I remember a time before the creekside area of SLO was so fancified--my sister and I would play in that creek, looking for crawdads (which we never found, but we were sure they were in there somewhere), throwing rocks to make the biggest splash, getting so muddy Mom would make us wash our feet in the fountain in front of the Mission before we got back in the VW. 

When I was twenty or twenty-one, I went through a bout of serious depression. I remember leaving my counseling sessions, which coincidentally were on Thursday nights on Garden Street. I would force myself to walk one block--just one block--through the milling, laughing crowds of students and families. I can't remember why it was so hard for me to do this (something about thinking people were looking at me and laughing--I hadn't figured out yet that really, no one cares) but I remember how difficult it was. 

Now, literally twenty years later, I was walking down the same street, through the same crowd, living a life that the twenty-year-old me never could have imagined. A good life. A happy one, full of love. A writerly one. I was simultaneously elated and at the same time, sad for that twenty-year-old me who never thought she'd ever get anything right. 

I met the lovely Emily (who went to my high school in the same small town just down the coast and I'd never known her!) at a great used bookstore, and we ate dinner (tapas) on the patio of a restaurant that was literally right next to the crawdad-seeking area of thirty years ago. We laughed under the hanging lights, the night sky low above. 

It was so circular, and just right. 

The next night I had the teens in a "How to Be a Writer" class. Now, lemme tell you something. I was nervous. I don't know teens. I love young adult fiction, so I read a lot about them, but I hadn't hung out with one since I was one, perhaps. But when the coordinator had asked me to take the class, I'd said yes in a momentary I CAN DO ANYTHING bit of craziness. 

I prepped for "what you can do  to be a writer after high school." I was full of quips and wisdom and witticisms. We would talk about going to college, what that was like, and what came afterward.

And then I opened the door to a room full of kids, aged 11 through 19. My talk to older teens was suddenly not broad enough. 

So I asked them what they wanted to learn.

Answer: Everything.

We narrowed it down with some difficulty to what they wanted to know the most: how to keep your Butt in the Chair, Hands on Keyboard (BICHOK). See? Writers of all ages struggle with this, the hardest part of writing (or any kind of creativity): actually doing it.

I explained the magic formula of Freedom (takes you off internet) and Write or Die (erases your words if you don't write fast enough) and the excitement in the air was ELECTRIC. I swear, these kids inspired the hell out of me. (I only swore once, by the way, and I was talking about our inner editor, who IS a bitch.) The other two classes I taught to adults on Saturday were great. I actually knew what I was talking about for the most part. I felt like I helped a few people. And that felt amazing. 

But doing these kinds of things is not the best part of a writer's life, believe it or not. For me, the best part is just after I write every day: that feeling of satisfaction that no matter what, the day is good because I got the most important thing done. After that: writing The End is the best. 

But after that? The times when writers get together--that's the best part. All of us doing this crazy thing to make a dream come true. It doesn't get much better than that. 


Oh. And I might have gone to NordicMart. 

Editing Genius Wednesday, December 02, 2009

I had to share an idea that I've completely stolen from my friend Theresa Stevens, an editor at Red Sage and co-writer of one of my favorite writing blogs, Edittorrent.

It's one of those obvious, light bulb-over-the-head ideas, and every writer probably already does this, but I certainly don't, so if I can suggest it to just one other... Oh, I'll get to the point.

Everyone has words they overuse. My particular favorite is "just." I can use it four times in a paragraph and never notice. It's ugly. But when writing, I let myself write any old way and edit later. On final drafts, I have a long list of my overused words, and I go through entire manuscripts, using the Find function, searching out each usage and deciding whether or not it's necessary at that point (it usually isn't).

Theresa, in this post, talks about software that can help with this, and then, in that light bulb moment, points out that WE ALREADY OWN IT. In Word, use Find and Replace All to turn that danger-word a different, eye-catching color, so when you're reading along, there it is, waiting for you to notice, to make that decision. You can do that with the suffix -ly, if you're trying to snuff out adverbs. You can do it with "just" and "rather" and all the other energy-sucking words that plague you most as a writer. 

I love it. This is awesome. I can't wait to try it.

(But while we're thinking about this kind of thing, anyone have anything to say about Story Mill? I like how it flags your overused words FOR you, but I'm not sure about anything else. I'm a big Scrivener fan and use it for plotting, myself, although I compose in Word.)

RWA 2009 Sunday, July 19, 2009

I want to tell you EVERYTHING. But there are so many high points of this year's national Romance Writers of America conference, that I'll just enumerate a few of them and let you finish your coffee in peace.


* Figuring out the true motivation for Book Two with my agent Susanna Einstein after we attended a mind-blowing workshop by Jenny Crusie on turning points. I admit, I entered that workshop with a level of I-Have-An-MFA-itis. Craft... Surely I know craft, right? But I left the workshop with oh-shit-I-have-so-much-to-do-itis. It's going to require another major rewrite, but dude, I love that. I'll eat that with a spoon and then have some more.

* Learning again that I have the greatest agent in the entire world. She is no less than totally awesome, and a kick-ass brain-stormer. I love it when she gives this half-grin and looks up to her left and says, "What if..." And ninety-nine percent of the time she's right, especially when she prefaces it with "This might be totally off the mark. Feel free to throw this right out." Then she's ALWAYS right.

* Having a push-up contest with Sophie Littlefield while singing "I am Woman, Hear me Roar." I can't explain it, but it was one of the best things that happened all weekend. (She won, by the way, but only by three. I got 16, she got 19. And yes, they were "boy" push-ups.) Wine might have had something to do with the contest, but I'll never admit it.

* Hanging out with Bella Andre, whose levels of joy and excitement, I swear to God, are completely infectious. She's also SO willing to share what she knows (and that, my friends, is a lot), and she's so much damn fun that I just love her.

* Seeing the cover of my book up on the screen at the Avon Spotlight:


What, you want to see it better? I know, but all I have is the prototype, and I don't want to wing it at you without checking with my editor. But I will. You have got to see it. I love it so much. (Admission: I squeaked and might have clapped a little when I saw it. May Chen, my editor, didn't even know I was in the room until I did that. Ahem. I am so cool.)

* Singing "Don't Cry For Me Argentina," off the balcony with Kristan Higgins. (Really. Wow.)

* Spending time in the suite my fabulous pensfatales and more were sharing. That felt like home base, and it felt like just the beginning of something much bigger.

* Having breakfast with Barbara Freethy while at the same time discovering her latest release was in the swag bag given to all conference attendees (along with Kristan's).

* Seeing Sophie Littlefield SIGN HER FIRST BOOK, A Bad Day For Sorry. (Hi, crime fiction, hardcover, St. Martin's. Nice.)

I say first book because not only do I mean debut, but this was also the first time Sophie had seen her book at all. Can you imagine?

We are so proud of her. Isn't she radiant? (That's half of Martha Flynn, by the way. I almost got her in there.)

Best embarrassing moments:

* Realizing that the invite to the HarperCollins cocktail party might actually be invite-only. Asking my editor about this. Misunderstanding her answer. And the subsequent super-cool UNINVITING I did of my agent. Hey, Susanna, new plan, the party is for authors only, can we meet another time?  I waited nervously for her return text. Her response, It'll be fine. I was invited. AUGH! Classy me, yeah. But at least I cleaned up all right for the party:

You can't tell by the crappy camera phone picture (sorry, Lala has the real camera in Korea, something about a new nephew), but that dress also sports black fringe. I love that one.

* Kristan Higgins meeting a friend of mine who was wearing NO PANTS. Or a bra. But the no pants part gets me every time. She shook hands and everything. HAHAHAHA. (It is not my best-ever embarrassing story to tell, even though I told it so much at the conference to anyone who would listen that I'm still a little hoarse. If the owner of that story tells it, I'll link to it for DAMN sure.)


* Reaffirming to myself again that romance is the bomb. Romance is where it's at. Romance sells more than science fiction and mystery combined. Nora Roberts sells more than Stephen King and John Grisham. And as Sarah Wendell said when asked why feminists should read romance: 

It’s a 50-plus-year-old industry comprised mostly of women writers operating their own businesses and producing a genre about women’s self-actualization, pursuit of autonomy, and acquisition of sexual agency for an audience made mostly of women, who buy over $1.4 billion dollars worth of books a year. No, no, nothing feminist or even subversive about that.

I flipping love that. I keep intending to memorize in order to be able to lay it on the next person who mentions any bosom, heaving or otherwise.

And I have a strong theory that this might have been the very best conference I will ever attend. I am completely willing and happy to be proved wrong, but this year, I got to wear the ribbon that proclaimed to all that I had sold, the ribbon that made people grin at me in the elevator. I was allowed to freely wander the book signings where, next year, I'll be behind the tables, signing my little hand off. This year, I have all of the joy and none of the angst.

I savored every single teeny-tiny moment of it. Especially the weensy little pigs-in-blankets at the HarperCollins party. I was networking, yes. But I was also dunking wieners in mustard, and that made me very happy.

(Good grief, I was wondering why I felt so tired when it's only 9:30pm. I just realized it's because I've been awake since 1am Pacific Time, with only a couple hours of sleep! To bed! Yay! And tomorrow is nephew-getting day! Like Christmas only with a baby and no tree!)

A Novel Attempt Thursday, March 26, 2009

Today I found what I think might be my second attempt at writing a novel. The first is lost, but I wrote and illustrated it in first grade, and it was about a brownie (the fairy kind, not the chocolate kind, although I may have conflated the two: the protagonist had a suspiciously dessert-like shape).

What might be my second attempt is in a journal I found today when I was cleaning out my closet. I have an old rattan suitcase which houses all my old journals, and this was in it:


Yep. corduroy and flowers, acquired in 1981, when I was nine. The very first thing written in it is a poem that my sister Christy copied onto the first page (How do you like to go up in the air, up in the air so blue?). Then Dad added a poem, as did my best friend Evelyn Bailey, and Mrs. Ross (oh, how I loved my pretty teacher Mrs. Ross). Mom wrote, "Happiness was born a twin" (Byron, "All who joy would win must share it").

Then I wrote a poem about drought which I won't share here. You're welcome.

THEN: My novel.

PARALIZED [sic]: 3 Mile Marathon

There is an acknowledgment page and a table of contents. And then the story starts!

"Hurry up, we'll be late!" Sarah called to Tony. Tony was a well built young man who helped Sarah run.

Note how I'm already a sucker for the leading man in a romance novel?

Sarah ran for half-an-hour every day so she could be in the 3 mile marathon in one month. It would be what she had been going for since she was 7. She was 14 now.

WTF? I was writing about running? A freaking marathon? I was the most unathletic kid in my school, no lie. However, if one is going to write about running and knows nothing about it, I suppose three miles sounds like a good long way to go. Then I had to go and run a real marathon when I grew up.

Back to our story. They get to the beach. Tony is her timer. Heh. She has a timing-boy.

She jogged in place for 20 minutes and THEN she did 20 push-ups and only THEN could she start jogging down the beach.

The emphasis is all nine-year-old mine. And I love my method of working my character out. Running in place for twenty minutes on the beach? I'm dying here.

But moving on. Sarah runs. I think I imagined some Chariots of Fire action here. But when she goes home, she finds a note that her mother is in the hospital. She calls Tony (natch) and meets him there.

"Hello. What room is Laurie Redenbaum in?" Sarah asked.
"Little girl, I would tell you, but your mother -- I think that's who she is -- is not fit to be seen right now," said a nurse.
"Well then could you tell me what kind of accident she's been in?"
"Yes. She walked out in front of a car and was hit."
"Well, was she hurt?" Sarah demanded.

Dude! You're at the hospital! Your mom walked in front of a car! She's hurt!

"Yes. She has a fractured skull, a broken leg, and a broken arm."
"How much will it cost to get her back to normal?"

That's Sarah's first thought? Poor worried little thing.

"With all the expenses, I'd say about $20,000."

Where did I get that? I have no idea.

"Oh, no! The only place I can think of that gives that kind of money would be the marathon! Hmmm. The marathon...."

Yeah. Because mini-marathons give out forty grand (she is stoked about that, because if she wins the race, she'll have twenty grand left over). Again, whiskey tango foxtrot?

And then the accident happened. I know, another one? Chapter Four is titled, surprisingly, The Accident.

Sarah was riding her bike with Tony when a car going very fast came around the corner. It didn't look alarming but then they saw that the driver was unconscience [sic]! It was coming straight at Sarah. Tony yelled at her but she just sat there on her bike, staring at the oncoming car. Right when the car was about to hit her, she jumped, but it was too late.

OKAY, HOLD IT RIGHT THERE, PAL. YOU'RE FREAKING ME OUT. Insert what my thirty-six-year-old self wrote YESTERDAY:

   From behind her, a car approached, its motor revving. Lucy was in the bike lane already, but she moved in closer to the curb. Stupid tourist going too fast.
   She looked over her shoulder. The car was too close. Way too close. Jerking the bicycle to the right, Lucy rode off the asphalt. 
   But the car kept coming, turning to follow her, its tires spitting dirt. With a shout, Lucy hurled herself off the bicycle. She landed hard in the sand of a low dune. She watched in horror as the vehicle smashed her bike, running over it without pausing, then kept going. Part of a handlebar dangled from the rear bumper of the car as it caroomed away.

So at age nine, I wrote about girls throwing themselves off bikes out of the paths of moving vehicles, and twenty-seven years later I ain't got nothing better than that?

I mock myself, but the find was rather delightful, I have to admit. Tragically, as soon as the doctor pronounces her paralyzed, the book ends with a ripped out page. What on earth was on that page? Why did I rip it out? Why didn't I finish it? I had goal, motivation, conflict. I was good to GO. (Also, maybe if I knew the ending, I could plagiarize myself some more.)

And another nice thing found in this journal is the page titled LOVE. Apparently, at age nine, I loved: Dad, Mom, Christy, Beth, Reading, Knitting, Romeo (my rat), Darby (our horse), Piano and Clarinet.

That's a nice LOVE page.

But the best part is the page titled HATE is blank.

Yep. But oh, god. Please don't ever make me read again through the journals kept during my teens and early twenties. I was a mess, yo. All jangled angst and bargain basement worn-out self-confidence. Looking back, I don't feel it was that bad. But my journals beg to differ. I hope it's just that I only really journal when I'm working shit out, because otherwise, I really was a mess back then. 

Which makes the chair I'm sitting in right now a really lovely place to be.


Early Galley Friday, March 20, 2009

I don't feel that great, impending migraine and tummy issues to boot.  No fun, since I had big plans for today. I was gonna get up and write my little fingers off. Then yoga. Then I was going to go out and do something fun, go out into either wilderness or San Francisco. Same thing, whatever.

Instead, I slept in until 8:30am. No yoga. Futzed time away online (o hai!). I still have a yen to go to the City, taking my new Acer Aspire (LOVE) with me in my purse to work, but I have to admit, the only thing really luring me there is I've decided that while I'm still doing the no sugar thing, I'll occasionally allow myself the salted caramel ice cream from Bi-Rite, and TODAY WOULD BE A GOOD DAY FOR THAT. I would seriously brave the hour trek there just for ice cream. With a headache and all. That's kind of pathetic, but true.


You know what's really flipping exciting? I'm working on getting author blurbs for the book, and my incredible editor just up and sent me pre-copy-edit galleys for me to mail off. So two days ago, I came home to find Mrs. UPS had thrown a VERY exciting envelope into the bushes for me (I *have* to remember to check those bushes more often).

I found a bottle of almost empty prosecco in the refrigerator. I went and changed my shirt, in preparation (okay, I was home from work and was getting out of my uniform. But I chose the shirt specifically. Sometimes I can't believe at age 36 I'm still changing into my play clothes when I get home).

Check it OUT! Book! (Okay, galley, which is basically 8.5x11 paper cut in half and bound, but, dude, I didn't print it. Someone else was paid to do so. That's crazy.) OMG! (No cover art, no title yet. Believe me, you'll be the second to know).

Schematic of the pattern-with-book! Mine! Woot!

Then I had a sip. Yes, from the bottle. (Then I poured it out, because prosecco with no bubbles, well, where's the fun in that? But symbolically, it was good.)

My shirt? Oh? You want to know? "My literary agent can beat up your literary agent." HA! It's actually from a cafepress store of Lara Zielin, another client of my agent, Susanna Einstein. I love this shirt.

So. Excitement.


Also, for the animal lovers (THANK YOU for the comments on the last post. Harriet is sleeping at my feet right now, as usual. She loves you back), here is a Kitten Status Report:

Remember when Waylon and Willie were small? Earring-sized, as seen here:


They are bigger now:

Photo 336
This felt (and was) dangerous.

A better view of the size, here's Wilile:

Photo 338
Not to be all weird or anything, but when I just took this, Willie's belly smelled like talcum powder, sweet and flowery. Isn't that odd? And nice?

That is all. Bed now, I think. Until this headache abates, at least.

Contract! Friday, December 19, 2008

Know what I did last night? Before going out? I went over MY CONTRACT.


I was stupidly thrilled that it had come FedEx overnight delivery. That just smacks of Important, right?

I read every sentence, and flagged every question I had to go over with my agent Susanna, which I did this morning. Have I mentioned recently she's the best agent ever? No? She is.

It. Is. So Exciting.

Also, you have to buy it, okay? I'm freaked out that it won't earn out (earn the advance) and then they'll never want another book from me, and then I'll have to, oh, I don't know, get a job at the fire department or something. Ack!

You know what's soooo cool, though? Next year? When the book is out? I will "have" to go to all the knit-events to promote it. Oh, no! I have to go to Maryland! Oh, no! Rhinebeck! All the Stitches events! (And they're tax write-offs, too. Pinch me.)

Also in big news:

Lala knows how to hold Digit like a baby.

Held likeababy

Do you have any idea how INSANE that is? I rarely pick him up, and when I do, he squirms out of my arms. He always has. He'll get on me, and lie on me, and cuddle with me, but it has to be on his terms. He's never enjoyed being held.

But Lala believes in holding cats like babies WHICH IS WRONG. She maintains, however, that this is the correct method, so both the kittens like to be held on their backs, since it's been happening to them since they were young.

Last night, a few beers in, Lala tried it with Digit. I got out my cell phone so I could call the paramedics.

And he loved it. It was the weirdest thing I'd ever seen. He started purring instantly. HE DOES NOT PURR WHEN HELD. He tends to bite or scratch. No, he purred. He batted my hands playfully with the claws retracted, and then rubbed his head against me while she held him. Finally, after maybe five minutes, Lala put him down. I tried it, and he turned into a spitting, fighting machine, which is his normal M.O.

She is the cat whisperer.


Siena, Violet, Germany Monday, December 15, 2008

Bear with me.

Six or seven years ago, I went with my little Mama to Italy. In Siena, we stayed at Alma Domus, an old convent converted into a hotel. It's still run by the nuns there, and down below the rooms is the cell where St. Catherine (patron saint of Italy) received her stigmata. (In the church you can still view her head and her finger. Deliciously grotesque.)

It was the most wonderful place to stay, maybe one of my favorite hotels ever, and I believe it was something ridiculous like $30 a night.

It was a small, narrow room, and dark. I opened the shutters to the french doors while Mom used the facilities. The view that was on the other side of the doors was completely unexpected, better than anything I could have imagined. I waited for Mom to exit the bathroom. I demanded that she shut her eyes and cover them with her hands. I led her by the shoulders out onto the narrow balcony.

I told her to open her eyes.


All of Siena, with the Duomo front and center, at our feet.

That's not even where I was originally headed. Well, then. I promise I'm rambling slowly to a point today; forgive me if it takes a while to get there. But I love that memory. Her excitement at that view was like when a kid finds a bike under the Christmas tree. Only better. Damn. 

So, in Siena, while wandering around, somehow we ended up (as people do) in a pharmacy, sniffing things. We found a package of violet soap. (I love violet because my mother's mother had a little pot of solid violet perfume. When I was little, there was no more perfume left in the tiny pot, but Mom kept it because of the gorgeous smell. I loved to stick my little snout in it.)

Now, this violet soap in Siena was like NO other violet I've ever smelled -- it was the distillation of violet's very essence, amplified to capital letters: VIOLET! I AM SO VIOLET! We bought a package each. The hotel room was between the pharmacy and the town square, so we dropped our goodies in the room and went on tromping around the city in the light rain. 

When we got back to the hotel that night, we both thought we could smell a hint of violet in the elevator. We wondered aloud about it. But oh my god, when the elevator doors opened on our floor, the smell of violet hit us like a punch. Our room was at least ten doors away from the elevator, and the doors to the room were closed. We looked at each other. It couldn't possibly be from our soap.

But it was. The rest of the trip was marked by that trailing violet smell. It was on our clothes, in our suitcases, in our hair, in every room we slept in for the rest of the trip. I've never been able to find that particular scent since until recently I smelled a candle called, moronically, "Living Room." It's a lighter version of that smell, so I bought it.

I burned it this morning while I wrote. I usually burn a candle when I write in the morning before dark -- something about the ritual of it draws me into the words or at least reminds me of my smoking days, which is a happy memory -- but I haven't been able to burn that candle. Until today.

Because this morning I woke from a dream about my mother. I was at some kind of graduation, my own I think, although I couldn't tell what I was graduating from. Everyone was around me, all my loved ones. I thought, "Mom's not here." Then I felt, really felt, a tap on my shoulder from behind me. Mom's cute little voice said, "Mom made it." I turned, and she was there. I swear to god, she was really there. She looked strong and healthy, probably about sixty years old, so about the age she was when we went to Italy. I got to grin at her for long seconds, and she grinned back. I got to hug her in the dream, and it was so very, very real. I could feel her body in my arms.

Then I woke up. I stayed in one spot, memorizing every part of the dream. I struggled for so long after she died with dreams that were clinical and corporeal, dreams that had everything to do with disease and nothing with who my mother was. 

Then I got up and burned that violet candle.

And guess what? Today I'm accepting an offer from a German publisher (Goldmann) for my book. It will be translated into German, a language my mother spoke fluently (she taught English in Wurzburg for several years in her twenties). Coincidence? Sure, it's highly likely that's all it is.

But I like the shape of this coincidence.

New York, the Recap Monday, December 08, 2008

I don't know where to start, so I'll just jump in.


Janine, Stephanie, and I went to New York. They are coworkers of mine, but more than that, they're friends. We had such a great time that my stomach muscles still ache from laughing. We laughed almost constantly. If you were in New York last week and heard screams of laughter, it was us, I can guarantee it. We were ridiculous, wonderfully so. 

We were originally slated to stay at the Chelsea, which had been the only room we could get within our price range. But at $331 a night, it was still mighty pricey for our three nights, so at the last minute we Pricelined and got THE BEST HOTEL for only $191 a night (taxes and charges drove it to $227, still a savings of a hundred a night!). We stayed at Murray Hill East Suites, which was right under this beauty:


Could there be a better view in the world? Comparable, sure. But better, I don't think so. The room was good, quiet, and BIG, with its own kitchenette. Highly recommended.


Brooklyn Bridge! It was cold, but perfect. Just like every other part of the trip. You know how everything goes just right? When everywhere you go, it seems like you were meant to be there? Everything falls into place? The whole trip was like that, to the point that I worried that the plane would crash on the way home, because it had just been TOO perfect.


After walking the bridge with the girls, I left them to hit the Statue without me: I had a date with my agent.

I was nervous. I was excited.

She was SO GREAT.


Seriously, I have lucked out in every possible way. We went to Ringo for lunch. We had reservations. Susanna is soooo awesome, even better than I could have possibly imagined. She's the kind of person that I'd pick as a friend if I met her at the bookstore, you know? We had Veuve Clicquot! Seared tuna! Straight-up class, yo! I believe I might have spoken in too many capital letters and I stole two tissue packs (so cute! instead of matches!) and my excited state might be given away by my flaming cheeks above (pre-wine, even!), but it was great. So great. 

Then I went and met my editor. I know, right? She was also awesome, so sweet and charming. I was overcome with a Very Large Afternoon. It did not disappoint.

(Confession: When I was in the elevator at HarperCollins, I grabbed my cell phone out of my purse to take a quick pic of myself. You know how I am. Yep. Dropped it, and it broke into all the pieces a phone can possibly break into. So I stuffed the phone, back, battery and assorted bits into my purse and attempted to be cool as the doors opened. Then when I hit the lobby on my way out, I asked the doorman to take my picture. He hesitated. I said, "Oh, is that not allowed?" He said, "Nah, but I'll do it anyway." So here's the coolest picture EVER:)


Oh. Yeah.

With my business taken care of, I had a whole day free with my friends in which to see/do/eat everything.


In St. Patrick's. I loved the way they greeted each other, with kisses and promises to see each other soon.


A parochial theme emerges. I loved this nun, skating at Bryant Park. She was the only nun on the ice, and she moved smoothly, around and around.


Still some color.


These two were so cute. Both were bundled up, wandering through Central Park with their two friends. They threw off their outer clothing and she squeaked, "Quick! Pick me up!"


Aren't those lines gorgeous?


The Gretel hat did come in very handy.


Janine and I could pass for sisters, couldn't we?


Confession number two: Some of my writing money, someday, when I can, will be spent on a diamond ring for me at Tiffany & Co. In New York. No other Tiffany is like the New York Tiffany. That will be such a good day.

And I will buy it from Melissa, who was so sweet to us. She took the time to show us all the beautiful smaller rings that we still couldn't afford, and she had EXACTLY the same level of classiness that John McGiver did when he played the Tiffany salesman in Breakfast at Tiffany's. She had that quiet seriousness, the confidence that the three silly girls in front of her might really be serious about diamonds. Which we were. Melissa, you made us feel as important as the woman I saw holding out her light blue Tiffany store charge card. Did you know they had CARDS? Wowie.

Honestly, though, we didn't really shop much. A few tchockes, a mug and a pen, and THIS fabulous friviolity:


A fascinator! It's from a hat-maker in Ontario (can't remember the name now). She had a booth in the Holiday Fair at Grand Central, and I couldn't live without this. Sure, I'm in my pj's in the hotel in the above shot, and I have no makeup on, but imagine: makeup, hair done, and simple black dress? Divine, no?


The Cartier window was like an advent calendar: the boxes moved in and out, displaying increasingly wonderful and elaborate jewelry. (Not as pretty as Tiffany's, to my mind.) You can see Janine in the bottom of the reflection. When one of the large rings came out on display, she started saying, "Yes. I do. I will. Yes, I sure do."

And we ate. Oh, yes. Thank you for all of your suggestions! I think, overall, my favorite meal was the arugula/feta pierogies at Veselka. Hey, you think this might be the owner's car? (Parked a block from the restaurant.)


And of course, the pastrami at Katz's.


We had so. much. fun.


Suddenly out of steam.
The End.

PS - I heart NY.


50,005 Friday, November 21, 2008

I won Nanowrimo! 50,005 words done. Yay!

Photo 246
(PS - my hair is red now. Willie says hi.)

However, it ain't even close to being done. Feels more like half-way done. I don't hate it, even though it's a first draft. There are some funny bits, parts that I like thinking about (although I don't let myself go back and read them, not at this stage). But I know that yes, it's really awful. That is why I am so glad I've found I'm a decent re-writer. Thank god. Someday I'll make this into something other than the mess it is.

My original goal for November was to write 75,000 words. I've revisited that goal. It feels arbitrary, and I know that won't be enough words to finish the novel, anyway. So I'm taking it a little easier on myself. I'll write everyday until the end of November. (You know I haven't missed a day of writing since July? Proud of that.)  I'll be happy with whatever word count I end up with.

December is for revising Eliza's Cottage (formerly Love Spun). It's due in its "final" form to my editor in January. Chronic overachiever that I am, I asked her what would happen if I got it to her early. (Also, I was thinking that if she liked that idea, then I wouldn't have to do Nanowrimo; I'd get to edit again the already complete novel, something that sounded pretty darn good to me.) But she said that no, she wouldn't be able to do anything with it until January, because of her schedule. This left me back on the hook for Nano. I'm glad of that now. I think.

Then, come January, with Cottage off my plate for a little while (until it comes back again), I'll finish this one tentatively titled Eliza's Story. And then I'll start editing. God, I love to edit. Admittedly, there's nothing like the rush of writing fast and well, galloping down a road of fabulous words. Only most days it's more like slogging through a pond of stagnant, smelly, overused words. That's not as much fun. That's what kind of day I had today, so I'M DONE for today.

Now, as a reward, I'm casting on for Gretel. Yet another hat that will probably look like ass on me. I'm not a good hat-wearer. I made the Amanda hat yesterday, and I hate it. (No, I won't show you -- I'm too embarrassed -- why can't I wear hats?) But Gretel looks forgiving. Going stash-diving now.

And tomorrow, if you'd care to join me, I'm having International Pajama Day one day early (here in East Oakland we are on the other side of the international dateline, didn'tcha know?). I have to work on Sunday, so that leaves me right out of it, but Saturday will do just as well. I'm shopping for the week today, and Lala tells me Netflix on demand will work on my computer, so I'm going to be all set up.

I Got The Call! Thursday, November 13, 2008

I've always wanted to type that title.

In writer-speak, getting The Call is not God urging you to become a priest. It’s when your agent calls you to tell you that an editor wants to buy your book.

I've been DYING to tell you.

Let me start at the beginning. My incredible agent, Susanna Einstein, sent off my manuscript on Monday, October 27th, to seven  or eight publishers. I tried really hard not to think about it. Tried to push it out of my mind. This, by the way, is like sharing a desk with a plate of fresh fudge and trying to ignore it for hours, days, on end.

On Halloween morning, four days later, I woke up at seven o’clock. I’d been having a wonderful dream, one of those that you don’t want to leave. But I needed to get up.

I started the coffee. I blearily rubbed my eyes. I sat at the computer to work.

Now, my normal M.O. is to sit and write for about an hour or so before I allow myself to check email or anything online. I don’t turn my airport connection off, though, because I like to write with Pandora playing in the background, so I need to be online. So I don’t check email, but my email notifier still comes through, because I’m too lazy to disable it.

I opened the document I had last been working on. I stared at it. My eyes might have crossed in sleepiness, I’m not sure.

My computer bing-ed and I saw a message come in. My gmail notifier lets me see who sent it and displays the first sentence.

The email was from Susanna. It said, “Call me as soon as you wake up.”

Yeah. Yeah!

My heart started to race. Literally. As I dialed her number, my hands were shaking. With delight in her voice, she told me that Avon (a division of HarperCollins) wanted my book! Wanted to BUY it!

Not only that, but they wanted a THREE-BOOK DEAL.

I looked up, out the window, while she was talking. Was I still dreaming? The dream I’d had right before waking up had been so good, so vivid. Was this just an extension of the dream? Was I still in bed? I remember seeing the pigeons that I hate perched up on the eave outside my window. I didn’t think I’d see the pigeons if it was just a good dream. I loved those pigeons at that moment. I think I asked Susanna that, who assured me, no, I wasn’t dreaming.

This was on Friday. She used the day to call the other editors who had the manuscript – she told them there was an offer on the table. We’d wait to hear back from them before accepting.

I still wrote. Isn’t that weird? I spent about an hour, calling every person I could think of, telling them I got the call. Then I sat down and wrote. I wrote crap, I’m sure. I’m positive it was nothing but drivel. But I wanted to honor that belief that the New York publishing world had in me, in my own silly way. I wanted to write.

I spent that weekend walking on clouds. Early last week, a week ago Monday, my book got into a little bidding war. A bidding war! My book! By last Friday, though, Avon had successfully maintained its grasp on it. I was glad: They were the first to believe in it, and in my naïve-to-publishing mind, I wanted them to win.

Right now, as I type this, I’m waiting for an introductory phone call from my new-to-me editor, May Chen. I’m as nervous as Miss Idaho in the same room as a man with a hat. If I still smoked (six years smoke-free), I would be chaining.

While I wait, let me copy and paste what was in the November 11th Publisher’s Marketplace:


Rachael Herron's debut ELIZA'S COTTAGE, in which a rancher's way of life is threatened by a woman trying to escape her past; the first book in the KNIT TWO TOGETHER series, to May Chen at Avon, in a good deal, at auction, in a three-book deal, for publication in Spring 2010, by Susanna Einstein at LJK Literary Management (NA).

(I know, it feels like forever away: Spring 2010. But I’m told by everyone who knows publishing that the time will fly by.)

Of all things, I think Mom would have been most excited by this. Remember when PM was in paper? For sale? (Is it still, or is it just online now? I’m not sure.) She loved that magazine – she’d read it cover to cover. She always knew the news, knew the book buzz. She’d be really, really happy to see my name in it.

An hour later - I’m back! My editor called! (I have an editor! Of my own!) She is awesome. I am now convinced that I have the best agent and the best editor in the world.

I am SO glad I got to tell you. I couldn’t wait.

I’m so happy. Thank YOU all, for believing in me. I also have the best readers in the world. How lucky I am.

(PS - leave a comment or drop me an email if you want to be added to my writing email list -- I won't spam you, but I'll let you know when the book is coming out so you don't miss it!)

Locals! Reading! Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Don't forget, I'll be reading this Saturday night. I hope you can come. I really do -- I'm pretty darn nervous about it. It won't be long, just 15 minutes each for the three of us, and I've heard a rumor that there will be wine and cheese afterward.

What if I fall over? What if I spit into the mike and short it out and then there's a fire in the wall and the fire department has to come and then someone tells them that I'm a fire dispatcher so then they want to talk shop and then I'll be at the reading thinking about work and then I'll turn red.

No, really, I know I'll turn red no matter what. I have times in my life where I'm more red-prone than others. This has been a red-prone couple of months. If someone else blushes, I blush. I'm not to the needing-medical-help kind of blush, but I do hate how often I do it. I'm blushing now, as I write this. I will definitely blush while I'm reading.

You wanna come watch me go beet-red and stutter? Doesn't that sound great? (I'll be roaring into town from the start of the Night of Writing Dangerously, and I'll be prepped to head back to it after the reading, so I'll even be more heated up with pure speediness.)

Where: knit-one-one, 3360 Adeline St, Berkeley
When: Saturday, 7:30pm

Woot! (DETAILS HERE, scroll down)

25,222 Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I'm half-way through the Nano challenge, and it's only the eleventh. Yay! That's good stuff. Boy, am I writing the worst novel in the whole world. But it's so fun to go at breakneck speed -- the plot twists in such interesting ways. I can fix it later.

And I just had a ball writing for just a minute about a ghost who just showed up. I do NOT write about ghosts, and it totally creeped me out. I felt like I was reading a scary book, and I really don't do that ever, either. I got so that I could hardly look over my shoulder in my darkened office (I like to write with really low lighting when I write at 4am -- less painful to be up this early). Then I finally DID look over my shoulder and I saw a man standing there.

It was a pile of clothing draped over my bike handles.

Scared the CRAP outta me.

It was really fun.

Does anyone know of a cheap, adequate motel in Philadelphia? One of my good friends is travelling there tomorrow on the red-eye, and she hasn't been able to find anything for under $300, and she's freaking out. Any ideas would be helpful - Katy is a very nice, sweet person who is obsessed with coffee the way we are with yarn. She needs two nights, Thursday and Friday. Even Priceline couldn't help. Is there something fabulous happening in Philadelphia this weekend? Any ideas are welcome. MWAH!

Reading Monday, November 10, 2008

I've been LOVING my Kindle lately. Did you see Oprah tout hers the other day? I know she got criticized for pushing an expensive product, in these days of the slumping economy, but to be fair, she made it very clear that it wasn't for everyone, that it was only for those who wanted and could afford the luxury. She also got Amazon to knock $50 off each one.

I know how she feels, with her Kindle religion. I'm reading so much more lately. I can't really say why -- it's just easy. I don't have to decide what book to carry; I already have it with me.

Lately I've been reading a lot of romance, trying to catch up with what I've been missing.

Kristan Higgins, Just one of the Boys: I loved this. A six-foot newspaper editor who rows and runs -- it didn't seem like something that I'd totally love, but the reviews got me to pick this up. I'm so glad I did. Her writing is funny and sharp, and even though you know exactly where the book is going, it's satisfying. Actually, I liked that Higgins didn't waste time trying to throw me off the scent -- we know who the main character's going to end up with, and we are pleased that it's going that way. I can't wait to read another of hers, but I'm going to let a couple of books elapse between the last, lest my own writing voice start to sound exactly like hers.Which,come to think of it, wouldn't be bad.

Suzanne Brockmann, The Unsung Hero: Reading now. I'm starting here, with the first in the series, because people LOVE her. I mean, at RWA National, people freaked out when she walked by. Also, she's really cute and gave a great speech. I've been told that the first couple of books in this series aren't as great as her subsequent books, and it's not fantabulous yet, about two-thirds in, so it's living up to that. But it's good. I will read more of her books.

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
Annie Dillard, The Writing Life: I'm rereading the first, and reading for the first time the second. When I'm writing Nanowrimo-fast, I don't want my voice to be too colored by anyone else, so I restrict myself to reading books on writing before I sleep. Other books are fine during the day, but not at night, not just before I drift off thinking about what's going to happen on the page the next morning. Bird by Bird is still wonderful. Lamott has a voice that sometimes puts up my hackles, and I'm not sure why, but she's kind of like that aunt who comes around and needles you and says wise things and bugs you a little, but you remember really good things about her when she's not there.


Kate Perry, Project Date: She's in my RWA chapter! She's cool! Yay!
Susan Wiggs, Just Breathe: Have read good things about her. Looking forward to it.

Anything you're loving right now? Romance is good.

Nano Update Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Nano wordcount: 8,020 words. I am right on track so far. I love the feeling I'm getting with this whole WRITING thing. I've been editing so long that I'd forgotten how wild a rush it is, writing the first draft. I loe that whole OHMYGOD WHAT'SGOINGON thing that occurs. Hold on, it's going to be a bumpy, if exciting, ride.

I love the little surprises that happen when you're writing -- those pieces that fall onto the page with a satisfying clink, the sound of understanding. Oh! This is what's going to happen next, and that's why that happened in the last chapter! It's like certain things are meant to be written, and you don't know it until you get there, but when you DO get there, it just works. It feels good in the brain, like a mini-massage. I'm not even kidding; that's what it feels like.

It happens in bigger chunks in revision, where whole segments of writing suddenly beg to be moved forward, or back, or worse, erased. In the case for erasing, I like to control-X big segments like that out and paste them into another document which I figuratively clutch to my chest. I shall never lose these words! My darlings! And then, always, the next time I look at that document, a month later, those words are dumb and outdated and perfectly ready for the big delete.

Writing is good stuff, yo. Yep.

Happy Nano! Saturday, November 01, 2008

Dude, I couldn't sleep last night, thinking about Nanowrimo. That's not like me. But I knew how I wanted it to start, and I kept re-starting it, even in my dreams. I do NOT like writing in my dreams. It's frustrating, to see the words, and then to try to re-read them, and they've suddenly changed.

But I've got 5,011 words down. I have a schedule:

Workdays: 1,000 words a day, written in the morning. I will get up at the ungodly hour of 3:45am. I leave for work at five, and I only take about 15 minutes to get ready, so that gives me an hour. I can easily get a thousand words in an hour, even while half-asleep. At my top speed, I can get two thousand an hour, but that's when I'm ON.  And I know when I get home at 7pm that I am DEAD and completely unable to talk, let alone write, so:

Weekends: 5,000 words a day. From 8am-12pm, I'll write (like I did today). Four hours is good for 5,000 words (about twenty pages), including drinking coffee/eating/wandering/cleaning up the dog-vomit breaks. My weekends are always either three or four days long, so that's good for building the word count. My target word count is an arbitrary 76,000 words this month.

I don't know if I can pull it off. But I'm going to try.

Luckily, La's totally into doing NaSoAlMo again, so she's off recording in her room while I'm writing. It's nice.

Now: It's been POURING this morning and I'm loving it. I love rain, especially the very first good rain. I opened the window in front of my desk and Waylon and Willie and I sucked in that good smell of grass, rain, and asphalt.

But now we're tired. I might take a nap. Like this:


Willie and Harriet are lying right next to me, right NOW, doing that. It's even cuter in person. 


This was from our walk yesterday, but this is how I feel today. It's a good day. Nap. And then some cooking for the work week, which starts tomorrow.

Huzzah! Nano is here!

Rachael loves it when book clubs read her work! She's happy to attend book clubs that read her books either in person or via Skype. Contact her at to make arrangements.

PACK UP THE MOON by Rachael Herron
On sale March 4, 2014 from Penguin NAL


Three years after a horrible tragedy took her son and tore her family apart, artist Kate Monroe is beginning to pick up the pieces of her life and move on. At a gala showcasing her triumphant return to the art world, Kate's world is rocked again when the daughter she gave up for adoption twenty-two years ago introduces herself. 

Pree is the child Kate never knew and never forgot. But Pree has questions that Kate isn't sure she's ready to answer. For one thing, she never told Pree's father, her high school sweetheart and ex-husband, Nolan, that they had a daughter. For another, Kate hasn't spoken to Nolan for three years, not since the accident which took their nine-year-old son from them. But to keep Pree from leaving forever, Kate will have to confront the secrets that have haunted her since her son died and discover if the love of her family is strong enough to survive even the most heartbreaking of betrayals.

Conversation Guide Included

"A celebration of the power of love to heal even the most broken of hearts."
- NYT Bestselling Author Susan Wiggs

"A superlative architect of story, Herron never steers away from wrenching events, and yet even moments of deepest despair are laced with threads of hope."
- Sophie Littlefield, author of A Bad Day for Sorry

"Herron’s beautifully rendered novel boldly shows us people at their lowest and then makes us fall in love with them.”
–Cari Luna, author of The Revolution of Every Day

Rachael loves it when book clubs read her work! She's happy to attend book clubs that read her books either in person or via Skype. Contact her at to make arrangements.


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