January 31, 2010

Sara Backer on readers helping writers

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 12:36 pm

In a recent post on her blog, Sara Backer–who has appeared here before in a Made It Moment–reflects on how readers can help writers. It’s not a question usually asked–and I have to admit I never really thought about it besides, “Well, if I ever have a book for you to buy, please buy it! Please. Please?!” But Sara has a lot to say and I hope you’ll find it interesting. Maybe even direct it to an author or two whom you really like.

January 27, 2010


Filed under: Kids and Life — jenny @ 6:19 pm

This post stirred up a lot of mombast (you know…like bombast; sue me, I watched Motherhood with Uma Thurman yesterday and it made me think of all the cute ways “mom” can be worked into otherwise adult vocabulary). Anyway, for examples thereof, read the comments.

It’s funny because what the piece made me think more than anything is not that Jennifer is wrong for wanting Lily to have the Best Party Ever at the Little Gym (or egads, American Girl). Still less that Lulu is wrong for depriving Prince of goody bags, which after all probably account for at least a fractional amount of our excess carbon footprint.

But that *everyone* is wrong for seeing either choice as wrong or right. It’s something unique to our generation that keeps couching things in these terms. Good and bad. Which really translates into good for the kids, or bad for the kids, of course.

Either we’re congratulating ourselves on throwing the best party–or teaching Moomba the right values–or else we’re guilting ourselves into thinking that whatever choice we make, it will be wrong and our kids (who else?) will suffer for it.

Well, maybe someone will suffer. But it won’t be the kids, sick, happy and stuffed full.

It will be the moms and dads who totter beneath a stack of pizzas higher than a small building. Or scrambling to fill the goody bags, clean up the wilted leftovers of balloons, and scrape cake gunk off carpet, shoes, and teeth.

I say, throw a party if you enjoy doing so. If this is a yearly rite you’d like to give your kids. And, secondarily, if the kid in question enjoys it. If you or he would prefer something different, that’s good, too.

More importantly, let’s stop worrying if what we did was the exact right thing.

Birthdays will come every year. Party or no, we’re all getting older. That will go down a little easier if we give each other a break.

January 21, 2010

I pledge allegiance…to the book

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 10:16 pm

What do we think about this?

On the one hand, I’m all, Yay! I love books. The beauty of the cover, the smell, the blah blah blah, you’ve seen this list before, except right now I want to go back and delete the blah blah part because something in me shrinks from being even passingly irreverent about the great thing that is Book.

Not for me is or will ever be an e reader, although I have dear friends and voracious readers (writers, too) who now swear by theirs.

So you’d think I’d be all over a planned, concerted effort to keep books alive.

But another part of me thinks, isn’t such a thing the last gasp of the dying? If you have to tell people to do something–worse, make them promise to do it–isn’t the battle over before it’s even begun?

Buy American didn’t work.

Prevailing upon people’s consciouses, or values, or even their ideals doesn’t work. Efficiency, economics, and convenience will usually trump.

Won’t they?

Parents who plead with their kids to stay away from that super cool guy because he isn’t good for them turn super cool into a totally must have.

(That one may not be related. Feels like it is. But maybe not.)

In a real capitalistic world, it’s the best thing that wins out. Best can be defined in a lot of ways, according to many dimensions, economics being one.

But I don’t think it’s the only one. And I also think that books have a lot going for them that no other medium has now, and possibly never will.

Maybe we should let print media stand on its own inherent value instead of asking people to do the right thing and make a big show of doing it.

Flipping through a food column in a magazine while you eat a sandwich is not the same as scrolling through a review on your Blackberry.

Laying a book on your bed spine up and always remembering what you were doing at the exact moment you made that book open to page 201 forevermore can’t happen with digital.

But I don’t know.

You’re reading my words on a screen now, after all.

January 19, 2010

It’s been a hard year

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 5:41 pm

Today I learned that mystery author Robert Parker died. He was relatively young–ahh, the ages that come to seem young as we or our parents approach them–which makes this especially sad. All the great books that would’ve come to be. In fact, he was at his desk when he died, in the act of creation.

It’s been a tough year for losing writers. Donald E. Westlake. Michael Crichton. For a while there it seemed we heard of the loss of another great every month or so.

I have this image of these venerable not-old writers sitting around somewhere, fingers clacking over silvery keys, goblets of nectar there for the taking when the day’s words are in.

Doing what they still love and will always need to do. Producing stories.

If only we could read them.

January 14, 2010

Who needs mirrors, I have books

Filed under: Great Reads,Kids and Life,The Writing Life — jenny @ 8:58 pm

Have you ever read a book and seen parts of yourself?

I mean, really. Who hasn’t?

But right now I’m reading one, and whether it’s because of my particular life stage–very memorable and identifiable: that of Parenting Young Children–or because of the talent of this author, or some combination of the two, I keep half-smiling, half-grimacing as I read.

I should rush in with the inevitable (and also true) caveat that I really don’t see much of myself in this quad of unhappy characters. I feel lucky to be passionately in love with my husband of fifteen years. And my children delight me way more than the ones two of these characters are raising do.

Still, the author gets some moments just. so. right.

Like when the mother, who’s also scrabbling to maintain a freelance career, is trying to finish up a piece while her children clamor for attention. Her voice takes on “a shrill edge of panic when three year old Noah pound[s] his small fists on the door.” How I have worked to keep sheer panic from streaking my own voice.  I’m not dangling off a cliff edge–quite–but there’s something about needing desperately to work– wanting to really, which in some way makes things worse–while at the same knowing that your kids need you. Something about being torn almost in two. We’re meant to live our lives in one piece.

When an author gets details like these so right you want to cry and grin and scream all the same time, and you happen to be a writer, you can’t help but compare your own work. Are there moments in mine that will make readers feel such a bolt of connection? In another piece I’m working on about the genre of psychological suspense, I refer to empathy as the essence of reading.

This author did better than make me empathize with her characters. She made me feel like they’d empathize with me.

January 12, 2010

Declaration of independents

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 5:19 pm

Today I was lucky enough to guest blog at this delightful new addition to the ‘Sphere. It’s called Buried Under Books and is written by a bookseller who recently left behind bricks and mortar for…a new life.

Her stories are fascinating and to my mind say a lot about the future of independent bookselling, which I see as revolutionizing, as in soon-to-be-revolutionized. I mean that in the best sense of the word: exploding unto change, becoming even a greater force in the future.

But change I suspect it will.

In a new column on this blog–another of my resolutions for ’10–I hope to feature indie booksellers (see the title of this post) every few months, discussing what their day-to-day is like, how they are surviving, ways they see the future, and what keeps them in the game now.

For now let me just link to Lelia’s new blog and hope that many of you visit it and get inspired!

January 8, 2010

The most important resolution

Filed under: Kids and Life,The Writing Life — jenny @ 11:21 am

The emerging writer Peg Brantley writes a wonderful blog that I’ve mentioned on this site before. Her post today is about occasions and what level of joy we bring both to them and to more “ordinary” days.

For some reason she got me thinking that many of the New Year’s resolutions we make probably just aren’t that important. It’s my dear friend’s birthday today and when I was selecting her ecard (“when you care enough to click the send button”, quips my husband) there was one that went something like:

“And this year I promise to exercise every day…and lose weight…and, oh, fudge it, let’s have some cake.”

So I think a lot of resolutions go by the wayside because there are more important (or pleasurable) things to focus on.

I posted the below comment on Peg’s site. Some of it may not make perfect sense–Peg and I have a running joke about how a Perfect First Draft is like Bigfoot, ie, a mythical being–but I wanted to copy it here.

So I always remember the important things.

I am parenting young children right now (mine are six and about to turn four) and I gotta say, they make every day exciting. From seeing my kindergartener figure out how to use a card to keep the dense lines of text in chapter books straight so she can read, to hearing my son begin to say “car” instead of “tar” or call his teacher Caroline instead of, yes, Taroline…Each day brings something new, precious, and that I know I won’t get to experience for very long. And doing this along with my own LOML is a miracle, too, one for which I give thanks every night.

Writing a new novel is always excitement of a fever pitch. A (non-perfect) first draft takes me about five months to write, which is lucky–I couldn’t stay at that level of excitement continually.

And then there’s snow, and food, and my siblings and parents–all excitement producing in their own ways.

I guess there are the mean times too–when I get a rejection or told to revise something I thought was Perfect (you know I am prone to this, Peg :) or hear that people still want to take down planes or see my kids bicker instead of appreciating that these are about the only years they can say with a straight face, We’re going to marry each other and drive a tanker (that’s my son’s contribution) when we grow up…

I don’t mean to say it’s all excitement all the time. But the days I don’t pause with tears of joy on my eyes, at least for a moment, are few, and for that I’m deeply thankful.

What kinds of things bring joy to your everyday?

January 7, 2010

Made It Moment: Kit Sloane

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 6:38 pm

Kit Sloane -- The Fat Lady Sings

I am new to Kit Sloane’s mysteries, which take place in the mysterious (even baffling) world of film. Start with Final Cut if you are the type who likes to follow a series from its fledgling roots, or delve into Kit’s latest, which deals with music, stars and starlets, and the potentially lethal results whenever egos are on the line. Below, Kit shares with us how she was able to give a chance to many aspiring writers–and how the favor was returned!

My writing “career” developed along with and, I truly believe, mainly thanks to, the Internet. When I began writing in the 90s we writers were on our own. No Internet. No networking. After I finished my first manuscript, I checked out books from the library with forbidding titles such as, “Getting an Agent,” and “How to Get Published.” Later, a few writers’ organizations popped up like Sisters in Crime. And then came the Internet. We writers weren’t alone at all! Gradually we were able to network with other aspiring writers working toward the ever amorphous goal of getting published. We could share news and facts and opinions…and gossip!

I became fiction editor of a short story magazine called Futures. Futures encouraged first stories by brand new authors. Even today, people come up and tell me I was the first person who ever accepted them for publication! From editing, I networked with a publisher who had a mystery magazine. She accepted my short story and then encouraged me to send her a manuscript when she decided to give Independent publishing a try. Finally, I was published, at last!

Through this time, I had five agents (none sold a word) and am now with my 3rd Indie publisher. (It’s a tough business and few survive, and most Indies don’t like working with agents, either!) She is a careful editor and, as with most Indies, is very supportive of her authors. So, no, I’m not rich and famous and I still know NO authors who support themselves solely with their writing. But I’ve attracted devoted fans and the 7th in my Margot and Max Mystery series has just been released. And it’s still a thrill, after all this work and time, to hold that book with your name on it!

A graduate in Art History from Mills College, Oakland, California, Kit Sloane has published short stories and many articles on the art of writing and the writing business. She served as first fiction editor for Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine. She especially enjoys lecturing about the writing world and mentoring new writers. She is a long time member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and Mystery Women of the UK and was named one of Mills College’s Literary Women for 2007.

Kit and her professor husband live on a small hilltop horse ranch in Northern California’s sublime wine country.

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