Friday, September 30, 2011


By Kim

When I was in graduate school, a little book called The Bridges of Madison County was huge, and trashing it was one of the most popular sports in the English department. Professors and creative writing students alike could not find a single thing to like about the plot, the writing, the characters, or even the setting which, seeing that the school was located less than an hour away from those famed ‘bridges,’ seemed odd.

As fifty million copies of this “pretentious fluff” (as professors repeatedly called it) sold, the nastiness escalated, and I began to dread going to class. I had picked up the novel the previous summer because it looked like an entertaining love story– something I was certain not to have time to read once I started school. I got exactly what I paid for–two hours of entertainment.

Kim and her mom at one of the "bridges" in 1994
I enjoyed the book. I even visited Madison County because I happen to like covered bridges. Clearly there was something wrong with me. Maybe I didn’t recognize good writing. Maybe I wasn’t smart enough to make it in academia. I sunk lower into my seat and kept my mouth shut, not wanting to announce my ignorance to the brilliant masses.

And then I realized something. The most vocal of my professors was an author, too. An author whose book didn’t sell so well. In fact, the only place it could be found ( days) was at a local bookstore. I read it. I could not have named a single character or plot point a week later.

Those students who bashed Waller the most violently were the same ones who had nothing good to say about anyone else’s work in critique sessions. They read their own work aloud with a smirk, laughed at their own jokes and paused at key areas to make sure everyone listening had time to appreciate their clever turns of phrase. They ignored all feedback, so I never offered any.

I lacked the courage at twenty-one to speak up and say I thought the bashing stemmed from jealousy or insecurity, but I made up my mind not fall victim to that poison. I don’t bash. Not even among friends. Not even in my own mind.

The way I look at it, if a book has become a runaway bestseller, there must be a reason behind it. It may not be the writing. How many non-writers focus on that? The plot may have been done thousands of times before, but the formula clearly worked. Maybe there’s something in the story that hits an emotional chord with millions in 2001 but would mean little in 2011. I read those books writers love to hate, looking for that element that sets those stories apart from the crowd. Is it something that I can identify? Can I use it to make my own work more compelling?

Tearing another author down won’t make anyone a better writer. Learning from the mistakes and successes of others will. Envying another writer’s dream book deal (Julie Kibler!) won’t help anyone secure one of their own. Viewing that book deal as evidence that dreams can come true, even for debut authors? I call that motivation.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Where two or more gather, let there be cake!

By Julie

Look at us! Quite the fangirls as we converged upon Richardson High School for the Richardson Reads One Book event featuring the recipient of our first honorary tiara, Jamie Ford, New York Times Bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.

We'll use almost any excuse to gather and gab and eat as a group. The six of us are spread to the far corners of DFW (Dallas/Ft. Worth!), and it doesn't happen every week.

It's even more gratifying when we get to experience a writer's event together. And this is a HUGE event--1500 to 2000 in attendance each year with big names like Jodi Picoult, Khaled Hosseini, Garth Stein, Chris Bohjalian, Jeanette Walls, Catherine Ryan Hyde, and David Oliver Relin/Greg Mortensen in previous years.

One of our earliest gatherings as a group was at Jamie's booksigning event at the Crow Collection of Asian Art in Dallas way back in 2009--the very day Jamie learned he was on the New York Times Bestseller List! It was exciting to see him again last night and learn how far he's come in his publishing journey.

I've known Jamie on Backspace and Facebook for a few years, but still, imagine my surprise and slight faint feeling when Jamie snuck in a congratulations about my book deal near the end of his talk. My fellow What Women Write'ers took up all my slack by making lots of noise and pointing while I sat there stunned. (This book deal thing has been a pretty surreal experience. I pinch myself daily at least a few times!)

I recovered, and we waited until the book signing line wound down to chat with Jamie for a bit, where he graciously posed for the above photo with the six of us.

At one point in the Q&A, someone asked what Jamie's favorite part of the publication process has been. He said it was meeting other authors--not just the multipublished, big deal authors like his writer idol, Pat Conroy, but the hopeful, aspiring ones, too.

I quite agree. For me, that's been one of the best parts of this journey so far. I mean, look at these five amazing women I wouldn't know otherwise: Elizabeth, Kim, Joan, Pamela, and Susan.

And speaking of amazing ... this next part could look like a brag on me, but it's not. It's a brag on Pamela and on every one of these women.

We made another stop after the talk at the newly opened In-N-Out Burger in ... I don't know where, somewhere near Richardson, ostensibly to eat dinner and chat a while longer. We always run into this problem after events that last past 9 p.m. or so in DFW--everything closes by 10! So we're always having to be creative. Sometimes we just end with hugs all around and promises to plan ahead better the next time.

We were almost to that point last night when someone remembered In-N-Out stays open late. I said, "Let's try it and if it's closed, let's just go on."

Now, I'm usually all for staying up past bedtimes. I'm a night owl, and I'm proud of it. But last night, everyone got kind of sqirmy when I said that--not that I really noticed.

Turns out Pamela had made this cake. This incredible, unbelievable, unquestionably coolest cake I've ever seen--a prototype of my future book cover, complete with the tiny little car holding driver and passenger pegs representing my beloved Dorrie and Isabelle and words Pamela pulled from the humbling notes I've received from editors who bought the book. (Seriously, I loved my wedding cake, but gosh!!!)

And NOBODY was going home until we found a place to eat it. I laughed and choked up all at once when Pamela emerged from her vehicle carrying this masterpiece, finally clued in to why everyone was desperate to find a place last night of all nights.

We did eat cake, though I very neurotically cut pieces from the edge and from the corners so I could take all the words and decorations home intact to show my family. And we've been eating cake all day.

But Jamie's right. So much of the time, in writing and in life, it's about the relationships.

These are my girls. I love them.

Monday, September 26, 2011

What I Learned From Picture-a-Day

by Joan

Every morning of my son’s senior year, I downed enough coffee to perk me up to take a decent picture before he ran out the door. Occasionally I'd review them, but at that point the experience of the moment outweighed the end product.

Here we are a month after the last hug I’ll have for a while and sometimes I revisit those images when I’m missing Austin the most. What I wouldn’t give to see his nose in a magazine or newspaper next to a bowl of sugary milk, to welcome him down the stairs, willing to pose yet again, to see his proud smile showing off the place he will call home for the next four years.

Scrolling through the images now, I notice subtle differences over time: increasingly tired eyes from late nights studying, overdue haircuts, and as the year progresses, diminishing stress levels as college acceptances arrive, relief when a final choice is made and finally, celebration after the last test and graduation ceremonies.

Yesterday I had a brilliant idea. It would make much more sense to get a daily picture now, while he’s half way across the country! So I texted him:

“Can you text me a picture?”

“Sure, why?” (attaches image, though his back is to the light and it’s not a great shot)

“Cause I’m blogging about how we should have done a college picture-a-day project since now I can’t see the real thing every day. And by the way, Dad says the picture will come out better if you face the window instead.”

“I’ll agree for the picture, but let’s not make this a habitual thing.”

“I wouldn’t ask you to do that!” Dang, I guess he won’t go for it.

“Haha, okay, here you go.”

It won’t surprise you to know I hope my husband and I have done a good job. I get a kick out of revisiting the past year and miss Austin's face every day.

If I’ve done my job with my manuscript, readers will want to revisit the images of The Architects at Highgate. (Yes, beta readers, I realize adding an “s” does not adequately change the title!) They will fall in love with my characters as the story unfolds, yearn to know what those characters are doing long after they close the book.

As I add the finishing touches I need to ask myself: After living with Gabriel, Luca, Janey and Aidan over the course of the book, have I left my readers wanting more?

I won’t have more pictures-a-day of Austin this year, but most days we text and we talk to him via FaceTime once a week. Yesterday he said he bought some cereal and, in my mind’s eye, each morning he reads the school newspaper next to his bowl of sugary milk. And next month I’ll get a real hug.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Let's Get It Started

By Susan

As some of you may know, my husband is a fantastic cook. He plans a meal by spending hours kicked back, scanning Cook's Illustrated, his fingers delicately flipping pages until he smiles, "Ah ha. Yes. This is it." He starts with someone else's recipe, then sets the book aside and makes it his own.

He begins his biggest productions with appetizers: goat cheese and sun dried tomatoes with garlic oil on crustinis paired with the perfect wine. Or maybe an opening course of French onion soup, salty and earthy in a crock full of bread and covered in Gruyere. (To the left is a shot of his sauteed risotto cakes with marinara from scratch.) The beginning, he tells me, prepares the guest for the food to come. It sets the palate. It gives you a taste for the flavor of the meal. It takes research, attention to detail, and flavor.

In my quest for the best possible beginning for my manuscript, I held a mini-workshop for myself last night, and I thought I would share it with you. In many ways, your opening scene is your appetizer to your meal. As I set the tone for my story, I can't help but think about the way my husband plans a meal. If this is helpful, let me know!

Here were my self-imposed assignments:
Read The First Ten Pages of My Favorite Novels (Read the recipes)Here are some opening lines: (Can you match them with the author and title? See the end of the post for answers)

“My wound is geography. It is my anchorage, my port of call.”
“You better not never tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy.”
“When he was thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.”
“I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975.”
“At night I would lie in bed and watch the show, how bees squeezed through the cracks of my bedroom wall and flew circles around the room, making that propeller sound, a high—pitched zzzzzz that hummed along my skin.”
“Alice Della Rocca hated ski school.”

What can I learn from these writers and their opening scenes? What is the pace? What tone do these opening pages set for the entire work?

Decide What I Want to Say (What are my ingredients?)
1) Who do I want to introduce?
2) What theme do I want to share?
3) Is my goal to paint a picture of setting, character, plot or all three?

Determine My Audience (Prepare the Palate)
Am I writing to impress someone or writing to tell a story? (To tell a story). What is the story I am attempting to tell? Is that story succinct or fractured? What is the strongest possible scene that can create interest and get that message across? Is it a scene I’ve already written or do I need to start again?

Clean It Up (Attention to detail)Is my formatting correct? Do I have consistent errors, typos, and mistakes that I can’t see?

There's more to an opening scene than just clean grammar and the introduction of characters. I want to make sure I am true to the work, true to the tone, and true to the theme from the first page forward. Just like a fine dinner, I want my novel to be an experience. And I want to prepare the reader, just as my husband prepares dinner guests, for a fantastic meal.

In your own work, revisit your beginning. Does it showcase your story and make the reader want more? The answer is one you may never know. Just don't allow self-doubt to cripple your voice. Write what you love, and write it because you love it. Hopefully, others will love it too.

Answers to opening lines:

Pat Conroy, The Prince of Tides

Alice Walker, The Color Purple

Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird

Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees

Paolo Giordano, The Solitude of Prime Numbers

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wanna Hear Jamie Ford Speak?

by Elizabeth

Living in greater Dallas, we sometimes feel like we have an embarrassment of wonderful author opportunities. In various groupings, the six of us have seen terrific writers speak, and those author events are among my favorite meetings our group undertakes.

One of the best opportunities, in my opinion, is an annual celebration of a writer sponsored by the Richardson Library. That library is not only home to The Writer's Guild of Texas, where the six of us had our first taste of professional presentation as writers early this year, but just a great place to go, hang out, relax on couches, and read. I'm lucky enough that I often swing by while my son takes Tae Kwan Do two freeway exits south, though it's not quite as close for some of the others.

The writer event the library sponsors is Richardson Reads One Book. To give you an idea of the caliber of this annual event, take a look at the writers featured in past years:

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein (2010)
Three Cups of Tea by David Oliver Relin and Greg Mortenson (2009)
Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian (2008)
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (2007)
My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult (2006)
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (2005)
Pay it Forward by Catherine Ryan Hyde (2004)

Hardly a shabby list.

Jamie Ford
When the 2011 selection was announced, we here at WWW felt a special jubilation, as Joan had bestowed an honorary tiara on Jamie Ford here at the blog. Way back in 2009 we knew he was something special!

Next Tuesday, most of us will convene at Richardson High School, a mere three miles or so from the Richardson Library, and join some two thousand other happy readers to listen to Jamie talk about his book. Tickets are long gone, but there's still a chance to join us (and the rest of the crowds) if you live close or close enough to make the drive. The Richardson Library has kindly allotted us two pairs of tickets to hand out to our readers, and the first two commenters who want 'em, get 'em. Post a comment asking for the tickets, include an email, and I'll get in touch with you and pop your pair into the mail.

And while you're at it, share your favorite author encounter if you feel inclined. Mine? Well, did you read the blog Monday? I'd have to say that right now, it will be Tuesday, when I get to see my new favorite author in person for the first time since she signed a deal.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Julie's Big News

By Pamela

Kim, Julie, Pamela, Elizabeth, Joan and Susan

Last November at our writing retreat five of us sat at the long wooden dining room table and listened as Julie read to us the unfolding love story of Isabelle and Robert. Back then she called it All the Things You Are, inspired by the popular song of that era when the story takes place.

Over the next few months, her story would grow and change, new titles would be batted around for us to test drive, and we hungrily waited for the first-final draft to show up in our inboxes. I remember the night I finished her story, with tears streaming down my cheeks, I texted Julie even though it was well past midnight. (She's a night owl and I knew she'd be up.) I can't remember what I wrote exactly, but I'm pretty sure it was something along the lines of: You've done it! This is the one! I knew it. We all knew it.

This summer, finally satisfied that her revisions were complete, Julie sent out query letters to a few agents and received a request for the full and from her 'dream agent' Elisabeth Weed and later signed with Weed Literary to represent her story, now titled: Calling Me Home.

For the past two weeks, Julie has been sharing news with us regarding the overwhelming response to her story from people outside our circle of six who have echoed our sentiments. I've seen Julie vacillate between disbelief and shock and finally joy with a healthy dose of gratitude.

Today we're able to share with you what we've been dying to shout from the rooftops across north Texas.

Julie has a book deal!

From today's Publisher's Marketplace, the Deal of the Day:

Fiction: Debut: Julie Kibler's CALLING ME HOME, in which an 89-year-old recounts the story of her forbidden relationship with the black son of her family's housekeeper and its tragic consequences in 1930s Kentucky, as she travels cross-country to a funeral with her dear friend, a young black hairstylist with family troubles of her own, to Hilary Rubin Teeman at St. Martin's, at auction, for publication in 2013, by Elisabeth Weed at Weed Literary (US/CAN/OM).

Foreign rights: to Jenny Geras at Pan Macmillan in a pre-empt, to Piper in Germany, to Belfond in France, to Aschehoug in Norway, to Artemis in Holland, to Novo Conceito in Brazil by Jenny Meyer at Jenny Meyer Literary Agency on behalf of Elisabeth Weed.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Keeping it real

By Julie

I’ve been losing weight slowly over the last 18 months or so, figuring that’s the best way to do it and keep it off. It’s working so far, but I got into a slump over the summer and that number just kept going up and down two or three pounds, over and over. I finally climbed back on the wagon a few weeks ago with the help of an iPhone app called Lose It! recommended by my wonderful foster daughter, who is grown now with kids of her own and baby weight she’s trying to lose.

The weight is now steadily coming off again, just like it’s supposed to. And who knew? It really is about calories. Counting fat grams and exercising like a madwoman can’t hurt, and are certainly good for my heart and health in general, but the weight loss is all about the calories in the end.

This morning, I got on the scale, and as usual, the number was one thing the first time, and another the second—the second being higher. Of course, I got on and off several times, hoping it would be the lower number again, but it stuck. Lose It! lets you enter your daily weight whenever you want to, and I thought about putting the lower number. After all, it came up first, right? But in the interest of keeping it real, I’m entering the number that stuck—even if the first one sounded good.

We try hard here at What Women Write to keep it real, too. We do our best to approach authors we feel confident about when considering interviews—ones we believe we’ll enjoy reading and want to recommend to our readers. Ever so rarely, it gets awkward, but 99.99% of the time, when we do our homework, it turns out well. I believe we’ve compiled a pretty remarkable archive of helpful, interesting interviews about authors and their books.

On a similar note, we were going to run a contest on the blog today, as we have in the past, for a prize pack offered in conjunction with a new movie release. Several of us attended a screening of the movie and decided in the end, it really wasn’t for our audience given much gratuitous violence, most especially one particular act of violence to a woman.

So, in the interest of keeping it real and being faithful to our audience and our personal convictions, we’re not going to offer the giveaway.

I worried a bit about the reaction of the promoter, as we really do enjoy these screenings that often relate to writing in some vein. I sent a note with my honest reaction and said we hoped the promoter would keep us in mind for future screenings and giveaways regardless. I was so pleased to receive a reply thanking me for my honesty and assuring no offense was taken.

Doesn’t it seem like life often works like that? Not always, but as a rule, if you keep it real, things work out well in the long run.

If I don’t fool myself about my weight, I’m going to slowly and steadily get to that number I want to see before I go get those official author photos I hope to need one day soon!

And if we don’t fool ourselves about what we like just for the sake of giving away a prize, our readers here will keep trusting us to deliver information about the stories we believe in.

Happy weekend, readers. Keep it real!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Things We Don't Get Done

by Elizabeth

One of the biggest challenges for many writers, this one in particular, is actually sitting down to write. There are probably few writing books or articles that don't stress that to be a writer, one needs to write. Butt-in-chair--I'm not even sure who that line originated with, but it's advice with which I often chide myself. Whether the book's advice is a number of words a day, or a routine, or a place, or whatever, the sentiment is largely the same: a writer writes. Which means spending time writing, which means doing the hardest task many a procrastinating writer undertakes: sitting down in front of a blank screen or empty notebook and scrawling down word after word until the chore becomes a habit, or better still, an addiction. Write.

So this is something I struggle with and, with the fresh binders and clean new backpacks of the new school year, combined with the excitement of Julie's accomplishments, something that's been on my mind a lot. To a good extent, I've stepped up to the challenge. My composition is usually done in those spiral notebooks that go on sale for a penny each right after the back-to-school rush, and I've half-filled a yellow one with a new story since my kids went back to class. A few chapters in, a new idea, it's not bad but it's still not as much B-i-C time as it could have been. No one is more aware of this than I.

Oh, sure, there have been trees to get trimmed and plumbing issues that have been put off all summer long, a cracked stovetop to deal with, the usual mounds of laundry, carpool anew. Stuff, life, and I've been dealing with that, but of course I could spend more time writing than I do. Of course I could. Butt-in-chair.

The routine I followed when I wrote my first, and to some extent, second, novel, really isn't working so well anymore. I'd decamp to a coffee shop, ponder until the muse struck (I suspect my muse is quieter than some other folk's muses, maybe because I am so dang loud myself it's hard to hear her), and then pound out words until they stopped. Clearly stopped, and like with eating the right amount and not too much, it ended with a sigh. Satisfaction, completion; it was nearly always clear I'd come to a good stopping place, a good session completed, and real accomplishment achieved. Lately, though, I struggle harder than ever to hear the muse, and when I do stop, it's with more of a grunt of lost steam than a sigh of satiation, and it's just not as much fun. Before, I'd finish up and get on with my day knowing I'd done what needed to be done. More often than not now, when I finish I do so with the hope that there will be another round of B-i-C later. There rarely is.

But it feels like time, it is a-wasting. Like I've spent too much time making excuses, doing other things that might need doing, but that will still be there to do and do again whether I write or not. So rather than doing those things, I should write. Find the satisfying sigh. Finish the multiple projects that have stalled a quarter or halfway through.

I have a few friends who write the best Christmas letters. One of them was a college friend, a woman who's wedding I went to, who was having her first child the year I got engaged, who went on to have four daughters and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and still wrote the most wonderful Christmas-and-other letters until they stopped coming. My own kids had arrived by then, life was a locomotive, the towers fell down, and I never did connect with her again. It's been I guess over ten years now since I heard from her, and though I did make a few cursory attempts at Googling her, I somehow lost her around the time she moved into a new house and I moved halfway across the country, and I never did find her again.

Until today. It occurred to me to Google her hometown paper, not even knowing if it was still in print, and there it was. An obituary, from August 2002. She's been gone nine years and I never really knew it.

One of the last letters I got from her talked about writing, how she hoped to pen a bedtime book some day. She knew I harbored the dream of a career as a novelist as well, and though I haven't rifled through my box of old letters today, I'm pretty sure if I did I would find words of encouragement from her in them, urging me to use my gift, urging me to go for it.

If she'd ever managed that bedtime book, Google would have found her on Amazon. I'd like to think she wrote one just for her girls, and I believe that's likely. But for publication, the dream we all dream, for her, it's too late. But not for me. B-i-C.

Rest in peace, Angela.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Lynda Rutledge stops by to talk about the craft and her new book: Faith Bass Darling's Last Garage Sale

By Pamela Hammonds

Lynda Rutledge
I first learned about Lynda Rutledge when I opened an email promoting a Writers’ League of Texas workshop she’s teaching. Curiosity led me to her website where I discovered she has a new book coming out this spring via Amy Einhorn Books: Faith Bass Darling’s Last Garage Sale. Here’s the book’s blurb from the publisher:
ON THE LAST DAY of the millennium, sassy chain-smoking, 70-year-old Faith Bass Darling is selling all her valuable worldly possessions at a garage sale on the lawn of her historic Bass, Texas, mansion. Why? God told her to.

Because she knows what this is about. It's about dying, and about killing her long-gone husband, Claude. As the townspeople grab up the family's heirlooms, the antiques of five generations of Faith's founding family—a Civil War dragoon, a wedding ring, a French-relic clock, a family Bible, a roll top desk, an entire room of Tiffany lamps–reveal their own secret roles in the family saga, inspiring life's most imponderable questions:

Do our possessions possess us?
What are we without our memories?
Is there life after death?
Or second chances here on earth?

And is Faith Darling REALLY selling that 1917 Louis Comfort Tiffany lamp for $1...?

Intrigued and eager to learn more about this debut author, I asked her to join us here today at What Women Write.

Welcome to What Women Write! I love the premise of your novel, but you have to dish with us here … how many others did you write and put under the proverbial bed before this story grabbed you and wouldn’t let go?

Oh, no-no-no! I'm one of those mythical writers who sold her debut novel on her very first try—in fact, her very first uncorrected draft! Aren't we all? You know, I once heard Charles Johnson, a National Book Award winner, admit he wrote six unpublished novels before he sold his first. My own story is not that extreme, but there were several, shall we say, "practice novels" before this one as I kept playing with the genre—writing for love while writing for money as a freelance journalist and professional writer. The trick is to KNOW they are practice novels, which, of course, is utterly impossible at the time. So part of the trick is not to bail out before reaching the one that is publishable. Everything in life is a journey, isn't it? So is creative writing. If you keep on keeping on, and stay in love with the creative process itself, good things often happen as you get smarter, wiser and defter with the form when the right idea finally comes along. And that really is my story, I think, as well as yours and lots of your readers. Right?

Completely. I tell my kids that famous artists never sold their first paintings, so therefore, I plug away! By the way, I love southern fiction, especially humorous stories that are larger than life. Where did the inspiration for Faith Bass Darling and her story come from?

Would you believe me if I say, I have no idea? That's the wonder of the creative muse. On the face of it, Faith Bass Darling's Last Garage Sale is humorous and southern, but there's a lot happening under the surface that's universal about the human condition to do with what we can't take with us and what we truly want to leave behind. Humor is in service to the truths, just as in life. So the real inspiration comes from just living long enough to see the absurd in everything as well as its serious layered meaning for how to move forward with hope.  But if there's a specific answer inside that general one, this'd be it:  My mom, who had a rambling old two-story house full to busting with stuff that five kids left behind, started having garage sales a few years after I finished college. I found this out, living thousands of miles away by that time, when she called to tell me she'd sold my long-forgotten stash of comic books yellowing in the back of one of the house's old closets (my dad owned a drugstore so I had hundreds) for a dime apiece. It was an inexplicably sad moment. Then I remember laughing at myself, surprised by my hurt feelings. Why was I so attached to those old things? But I was. Then, back a few years ago, I began watching Antiques Roadshow like everyone else in the known world, and after hearing dozens of spotlight stories of garage sale-found treasures, the ah-ha bolt of lightning struck. And I was off.

My mom had a tendency to give away everything we had outgrown and stopped playing with. Now I'm a borderline hoarder!  I can't bear to part with my kids' things, especially toys they loved playing with. But then I read you’ve sold foreign rights in Italy and France. How exciting! I wonder what those readers will think about Faith’s garage sale. And, you asked it first: Do they even have garage sales?

And moreover, do they even have garages? Don't you love it? I'm told selling such major rights of an unknown writer such as moi, long before publication, is a huge vote of confidence for possible success. Boy, I sure hope so! I chuckled, though, contemplating Faith and the gang's small-town comments being translated into French and Italian, and shook my head at how they'd ever explain the "garage sale" concept to European readers. Even the title will have to change, probably. "Garage Sale" is such an American term. But isn't it wonderful that they'll try? The French have what they call flea markets, I think, and the Italians have something similar as well. But the love of antiques and the hunt to find such treasures in other people's "trash" is universal, isn't it? 

Absolutely! My husband wonders how I can spend hours coming through “used stuff” but for me, it’s a treasure hunt. On your blog you advise other writers to read, read, read. I agree whole-heartedly. It’s akin to a person who wants to be a famous singer but never listens to music. I think all good writers must read and read outside the genre they write as well. What authors inspire your writing?

As an adjunct professor in Chicago, teaching in a department devoted exclusively to creative writing, I started each course with this very question. After all, the students were there to learn how to write fiction, so surely they read a lot of it. I kept being shocked that many couldn't list writers they read beyond ones they were required to read in school. So the topic became a very important first day discussion: Why is reading as a writer important?  Beyond knowing what's being published in order to be published yourself, you, the writer-in-training, should feel a sense of joy in stumbling on a good book by a new voice, right? After all, you want to be a voice that others discover yourself. But beyond that, it's a fundamental writing life dynamic:  Just like the way a song can stick on your mind, words stick—cadences and images and thoughts stick—and you're always a better writer and thinker because of it. 

Words are you; you are words; be awash in them, am I right? As for me, I have such eclectic tastes and been influenced so broadly, my own inspiring writers’ list would be ridiculously long and crazy. But there's method in my reading-as-a-writer madness: Once you decide what genre will be your home, at least for a certain project, another grand side effect of broad reading tastes across genres is how everything is fodder for your creative cauldron—newspaper headlines, narrative nonfiction, memoirs, cereal boxes, even old love letters (as seen in Faith Bass Darling's Last Garage Sale.) Ideas are everywhere, waiting to be thrown into your simmering stew. It's so much fun to be reading as a writer, antenna subconsciously up, and be suddenly compelled to put down the book or article and go jot down an idea it gave you out of the blue.  

But back to your specific question:  My inspiring author list, depending on how what year I was inspired, would include the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boy mysteries devoured as a 10-year-old, along with a current bookcase-full of fiction and nonfiction writers—famous and not-so-famous, living and dead, and all for different reasons worthy of an entire discussion itself­—such as Harper Lee, Kurt Vonnegut, Marilynne Robinson, Flannery O'Connor, Bill Bryson, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, John Krakauer, Yann Martel, Annie Dillard, Randall Kenan, and the next one I happily discover. 

Your background is very impressive: past winner of the WLT's Narrative Nonfiction Manuscript Competition and an adjunct professor for Columbia College's Fiction Writing Department as well as having national and international publishing credits as a freelance writer. But I had to laugh when I read your blog as you detail one morning where you committed to getting up early to write. I have the same issues about early-morning writing. What advice can you give about finding the time to write?

So fun you read that. Who said that half the secret to success is showing up? The times I've tried to show up in the morning, though, the hallowed time most authors seem to prefer, that little timeline diary shows what happens. I love late night—late-late-late night—no distractions, nothing but quiet. But I always pay for it the next day, of course. Still, it works for me. And being a nervous-energy writer, I love my laptop; I use it here, there, everywhere. However, the truth? I write all day in the sense of nurturing a sense of creativity "as I go." 

You can imagine how many napkins I've scrawled on and pens I've borrowed. I've even called myself at home and left messages of thoughts I didn't want to forget. I hate texting—who wants to use thumbs to hunt/peck when you've spent 20 years perfecting the perfect Qwerty typing speed? But I bet that's what I do next. Or not. We'll see. All that to say the real writer is always writing—even when she isn't. I recall the moment in my late 20s that I realized I could actually stand in waiting lines without grumbling because I always had something to work on in my mind. That moment I knew I was a writer. And that would be my advice—make all your time writing time, because writing is much more than typing words on a page.

My worst habit is scribbling notes for a story on the church bulletin. Surely God will forgive me? Lynda, I’m so awed when writers find success and then pay it forward by helping fellow writers realize their publishing dreams. You’ve adapted the popular course you taught at Chicago's Columbia College into a three-hour workshop to help writers develop the skills needed to guide their manuscripts toward publication by sharing what you know about the publishing world. (Or, as you put it, by comprehending the Why, Where, How and "Oww" of Submission.) What did you learn when sending out: Faith Bass Darling’s Last Garage Sale and what do you hope people learn most by attending your class?

I learned that Hemingway was right when he said he never finished a novel, he "abandoned" it. But what he didn't mention, being Hemingway, is that before that moment, you will be revising and revising and revising AFTER you "finish" it and WHILE you are beginning its submission journey.  

And what I'm about to tell you and your readers will make you heave a weary sigh after all your hard work if you don't already know: Writing really is a process. So is publishing. And the agent submission process, which is the real hurdle for first time authors, is part of the creative process. I'm sure most of your readers have heard agents say, during panels at conferences, that the first mistake writers make is to submit work too early, long before it's publishing-ready. Since we all do it, and will continue to do it, why not make it work for us? Making a researched potential agent list, carefully submitting, and pausing after every handful of rejections to rethink and input changes is crucial. I know that sounds weird, but agents now serve as gatekeepers. And in that role, they can be an incredible tool for manuscript development once you accept that your finished book isn't really finished. 

That's what I learned while submitting Faith Bass Darling's Last Garage Sale more than any other thing. With such feedback on my first submissions, I made changes needed to make it work for others as much as it did for me—but only after more than one top agent took the time to say so. And that hones a writer's own editorial and critical skills as well. Then the right top agent said yes, talked me into changing my title from The Last Garage Sale, to Faith Bass Darling's Garage Sale, a very good revision itself, before she sold it to a top editor renowned for her own editorial skills. 

Oh, sure we'd all love the first agent to fall in love with our manuscript, not change a word, and sell for big bucks. That's probably not going to happen. Why? Not because you aren't brilliant, but because there is so much at stake for everyone concerned.  Being professional is embracing the revision process, trusting it will improve the outcome without ruining your vision or voice. Writing really is rewriting, up to the very last minute. 

Of course, we need to use common sense, too, since agents are human and can also go overboard, as well as just be flat-wrong for you: After winning the WLT Narrative Nonfiction Manuscript Competition (which by the way is one of the best feedback resources out there and well worth the money. Here's an article about my experience Writers League of Texas asked me to write for Scribe, FYI.  

I remember an agent I met as part of winning asked me, without ever having read a word, whether I'd have trouble with revising because that was her modus operandi.  My first thought was: "Perhaps you'd like to read it first before you decide you want to revise it?" Her zeal was a bit over-the-top, even for an agent. And it was a nice, big red flag. I knew I'd be doing revisions, but the way she broached it was all wrong for me.

So what is your job after you've put that last period on your last sentence? Being very careful with your baby. You now need to switch hats to sell it, and you can, even if the thought makes you apoplectic. Nobody cares as much as you do and nobody ever will.  That's what we'll be discussing in my WLT half-day course: an overview of the skills you'll need to find publication once you and your idea are ready. And you don't have to have a finished manuscript to gain from this short course; in fact, it could help you as you finish it. 

Beyond talking about how to create letters that will actually be read, we'll hone in on the right and wrong ways to do your homework to find the agents who are good matches for your work, including a little workshop effort, and then how to use those rejection letters to your advantage. A grasp of the ways of the publishing world will put you years ahead of other aspiring writers in seeing your manuscript in print. And we'll have a lot of fun, too, just chewing the fat about the whole experience, as I've done in this long answer, actually; that's a promise.

Can you give us an idea on what you’re working on next?

Two ideas are percolating, actually, one to do with 1964 and Corvairs, the other to do with 1940 and giraffes. Where either of them go, if they go at all or replaced by something juicier, is the mystery and the fun of this writing life, isn't it?  

My dad had a Corvair! Probably one about that time. I remember a picture of it—and Ralph Nader calling it ‘unsafe at any speed.’ Made me glad my dad installed his own seatbelts in it! And of course, giraffes are always fun to read about. 

Lynda, thanks so much for being with us today on What Women Write. Be sure to alert us when Faith Bass Darling’s Last Garage Sale hits booksellers and we’ll remind our readers to get a copy. Plus, if you tour north Texas to promote it, we’ll be there!

Lynda’s class will be held October 8 from 1-4 p.m. at St. Edwards University, Trustee Hall 104, in Austin. There are currently spots still available for you to attend. Click here to register. You need not be a member of WLT to attend.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Simplify, Simplify

By Susan

My twelve-year-old and I spent early August in Northern California on a mother-daughter getaway. We visited family in the Bay area, took an Amtrak train up the coast, hiked in the Sierras. On our second day in the city, we made a quick detour with my husband's Aunt Elizabeth to visit Sausalito. To our delight, we stumbled across an artist we dubbed rock-stacking-man, a fellow who, with Zen-like mastery, stacks rocks on the shore. You must see it to believe it, and my girl and I were mesmerized. (Do you see his masterpieces in the background of this photo she snapped of me?) Four rocks, a little gravity, and a keen sense of balance made his art and his task appear so simple. It was anything but.

It reminded me that one of the best pieces of advice my mother ever gave me was that the key to life, family, work and happiness was one word: simplify. I have to admit: in our culture, we seem to add rather than subtract, to buy more rather than reuse, and to hoard rather than purge. How do you take your four rocks and balance them so precariously in our mad, mad world?

I'm shuffling these ideas as I attempt to craft a perfect query letter this morning. It got me thinking about rock-stacking-man. What are the key themes and plot points that I want a potential agent to know? How do I balance the boulder on top of the pebble; can I keep the stack from collapsing? Was my mother right after all, that when in doubt, simplify?

I think yes. I'm taking my mountain of a manuscript and reducing it down to the four primary rocks that hold it together. I'm stacking them on top of each other in a delicate balance between the earth and the sky, confident that they will not tumble, even with an audience cheering for me, even with my own self-doubt chattering in my head.

Simplify, simplify and get rid of the clutter. Good advice in a home, a stack of rocks, and a query letter. I should introduce my mother to rock-stacking-man. I think they're on to something big.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

An honorary tiara for Keith Cronin, debut author of Me Again

By Julie

Today, we're bestowing an honorary tiara upon Keith Cronin. His debut novel Me Again releases today! I had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of this delightful story.

About Me Again / September 2011 by Five Star/Gale:
Two young stroke victims meet in a hospital ... Jonathan's memory is gone, wiped clean by a six-year coma. Since nobody had expected him to recover, his sudden awakening becomes an awkward intrusion on his family and friends.Rebecca's personality has changed, making her a stranger to her husband. Gone is the vivacious trophy wife, replaced by a shy, awkward woman with a knack for saying exactly the wrong thing.They don't fit in. And they'll never be the same. But now they've got to decide what matters most: who they were, or who they can become?A steadily accelerating story exploring the irony, humor, and opportunity that can accompany personal calamity, ME AGAIN follows the intertwined paths of two people forced to start over in life: one looking for his place in a world that has moved on without him, the other struggling to navigate a relationship with a man who wishes she were someone else.

Keith is a corporate speechwriter and professional rock drummer who has performed and recorded with artists including Bruce Springsteen, Clarence Clemons, and Pat Travers. Keith's fiction has appeared in Carve Magazine, Amarillo Bay, The Scruffy Dog Review, Zinos, and a University of Phoenix management course, and he is a regular contributor at the literary blog Writer Unboxed. A native of South Florida, Keith spends his free time serenading local ducks and squirrels with his ukulele. Visit him online at or

Julie: Keith is a fellow member of Backspace, and I've so looked forward to conducting this interview! Tell us, how does it feel to know your first novel is about to debut? (Obviously, we talked before release day!)

Keith: It feels like somebody pressed the Fast Forward button! The book's launch seems to be hurtling towards me, and I often wake up in the middle of the night, wondering if there's some important thing I've forgotten to do to support it. As we all know, an increasing amount of the responsibility for promoting a book is falling on the author, so I'm trying to find that balance between doing everything I can realistically do, and not making myself crazy. The promotion that really matters is done by readers telling other readers about books they enjoyed, so I'm trying to get my book on as many people's radar as possible, and then just hoping for the best.

Julie: Many of our readers and all six of us here at What Women Write are dreaming of that day. It's great to hear some of what goes through your mind. Me Again is being marketed as women's fiction, which is, of course, one of several reasons we're bestowing the second honorary What Women Write tiara upon your head. (Jamie Ford received honorary tiara number one.) Many if not most male authors explore interpersonal relationships at some point in their thrillers, mysteries, horror stories, etc., but I can only name a few who write relationship-driven novels similar to yours: Nick Hornby, Nick Sparks, and James Patterson. Your voices are all quite different, but it's definitely an interesting niche market. I'd love to see more male authors classified this way. I think it brings a new perspective to the field. As a male breaking into the women's fiction market, how has the pre-marketing phase gone for you?

Keith: It's been going really well, I can say with both some surprise and some relief. I find female readers tend to be more open-minded. By contrast, many men won't even read a book by a female author, which baffles and disappoints me. In general I think women are more interested in exploring the kind of emotional questions a book like mine raises. And I've seen this same kind of open-mindedness professionally. I joined the RWA (Romance Writers of America), and found an incredibly supportive and energetic organization where I've already made some wonderful friends. In May, I led a women's fiction panel at the annual Backspace Writers Conference in Manhattan, and was well received by the audience (made up of women and men) and my fellow panelists (all female). I think that's because women's fiction is such a wide and diverse category, united by the way it explores the journey and personal transformation of female characters, which is definitely something my novel does. All in all, it has made a believer out of me, and I plan to continue to write for this audience.

Julie: I'm happy to hear we won't have to take your tiara away any time soon. It frustrates me, too, that many men are less willing to take a chance on a novel written by a woman than the other way around. Me Again is about a man who wakes up after being in a coma for six years following a stroke. What did your research in learning about stroke victims look like? Unfortunately and coincidentally (or maybe not coincidentally), you've have some very personal ties to stroke victims since or while writing your novel. How have the events in your own life impacted how you'll market your story or speak about it publicly when opportunities come your way?

Keith: I'll answer the easy part first. I did a lot of research, but the reality is that we still know relatively little about the brain. Stroke can affect people in countless and unpredictable ways, and I took advantage of that fact, essentially using brain damage as my own artistic license.
That sounds like a rather detached approach, and I'll admit, it was. I found the whole scenario of brain damage as a potential to explore "the path untaken" a fascinating theme, but as the book neared completion, my whole perspective changed. For one thing, I began to really empathize with my main female character, and saw that her challenges and emotional transformation were really key to what the book was about, and that my main character was to some extent a vehicle for helping to facilitate that transformation.

But then my world got rocked. First my mother died from complications during heart surgery - in the very hospital where I had set Me Again. I got to know that setting in a completely unexpected way, during a 40-hour stretch of surreal and sleep-deprived agony that etched itself forever into my psyche. And within six month of losing my mother, my brother was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and I once again found myself in the waiting room of an ICU, while my only remaining blood relative's life hung in the balance. That pair of experiences changed me, and left me with no appetite for using a catastrophic health problem like stroke as the basis for a novel whose only goal was to entertain.

So I decided that if I ever managed to sell this book, I would find a way to give something back. And I found it: starting with my advance for Me Again, 25% of everything the book earns me is being donated to the
American Stroke Association, a division of the American Heart Association that focuses on reducing risk, disability and death from stroke through research, education, fund raising and advocacy.

I wish that was the end of my answer to this question, but it isn't. In June of this year I was contacted by Clarence Clemons's musical director and informed that Clarence had suffered a massive stroke, and that things didn't look good. For a week the Big Man fought to stay with us. But on June 18 Clarence passed away, another of the 137,000 victims that stroke will kill this year. I played drums for Clarence for a decade and a half, and the void created by his absence is something I'm still learning to cope with. So now more than ever, I'm glad that my book will be doing its small part to fight against this awful affliction that is the third leading cause of death, and the leading cause of adult disability. But I don't know if I'll ever write another book focusing on a fatal health problem. It's just too hard to take when the thing you're writing about suddenly decides to "get real" on you.

Julie: I am really sorry for your losses. Thanks for allowing me ask that question and for your candid response. Your commitment to share the proceeds with this cause is commendable and should be an example to us all. I'd imagine it's also a good feeling for you to honor the memory of your loved ones this way.

I ask another question in nearly every author interview I conduct because I believe it speaks to that elusive thing aspiring writers are always trying to nail down and agents and editors are always trying to find—voice. One of your co-bloggers on Writer Unboxed, Barbara O'Neal, teaches that much of what we call voice comes from our personal experiences. What about where you've lived, grown up, worked, etc., has affected your writing voice?

Keith: It's funny that you mention Barbara O'Neal. I got to hear her speak at the RWA Women's Fiction Conference this year, and she said something that really struck me: "We're all stuck with our own stories." Barbara's point was that we should accept and embrace the elements of our personalities and experiences that drive our stories, because that will inherently make them more resonant with readers, particularly those who've had similar experiences. But she wasn't saying we need to base our plots on our own lives; rather, that we should focus on the ideas and feelings that mean the most to us, and imbue our stories with a corresponding level of emotional conviction and intensity.

Once I understood what she meant, I became an instant believer, by simply looking back at my own publishing history. Historically the fiction I've written that has resonated most with readers - i.e., getting published rather than rejected - has been stuff that was both funny and emotionally sensitive.

The key word in that previous sentence is "both." My first novel was funny, but I can't claim it contained any real emotional revelations - either for the reader or for myself. And it never sold. Me Again, on the other hand, caused me to dig deeper than I ever have as a writer. Despite the fact that I look - as one person put it - like "either a Harley mechanic or a prison guard," I am at my core a sensitive person (often inconveniently so), who strives to smooth over life's rough edges through the use of humor. I tried to funnel that sensitivity and humor into this novel, and I suspect that the much higher amount of emotional "skin in the game" that I have invested in Me Again is likely the reason it sold, and my previous novel did not.

I'm thankful to Barbara for codifying this concept so succinctly, and I advocate the same advice to any writer. Let your writing reflect your world view, your passion, your issues and your sore spots - whatever they may be. The result will carry an emotional truth and gravitas that will be undeniable.

Julie: And having been lucky enough to read an advance copy, I can attest that your novel is both funny and emotionally sensitive. I am delighted you discovered that about yourself and shared it with your readers through Me Again. As you mentioned, you're also a professional musician. How do music and writing mix and mingle in your life?

Keith: There are many parallels, and some key differences. Although music has always given me an outlet to express my emotions, for years I thought writing simply gave me an outlet to express my intellect or wit. But as I develop as a writer, I'm really discovering the opportunity to explore the things I care about most.

Both music and writing require discipline. In either case, you get good at it through deeply focused practice, and by doing it a lot. And just as I became a better drummer by specifically studying the playing of my favorite drummers, I spend a lot of time studying my favorite writers, both in print and on the screen. For example, Aaron Sorkin is a huge influence on my writing, particularly my dialog. I can watch my West Wing DVDs over and over, and I always learn something from his brilliant and incisive writing.

Being a professional musician who worked his way up to a national level also gave me an awareness of how crazy the business side of the arts can be, which in turn prepared me for the wild and wacky world of the publishing industry. I also think that being a musician has made me a much better listener, and I put a great deal of effort into the rhythm of my own writing.

The key difference between writing and music for me is that music is a team sport, in which I as the drummer play a supporting role. Fiction is usually a solo endeavor, at least when laying the initial foundation of the story. I relish the freedom - and accompanying responsibility - of being accountable for every word that goes on the page, and enjoy knowing that good or bad, the stuff in that first draft is mine. As you get further into the publication cycle, you need to become more flexible and collaborative, but that first draft is a rare moment where you're in control - something that in ensemble-oriented music is rarely if ever the case.

Julie: I happen to know you can make another claim to fame. This, in regard to one bestseller almost everyone has heard of. Care to enlighten our audience so they can ooh and aah and be duly impressed and jealous? How the heck did THAT happen?

Keith: It's true - the whale in Moby Dick was inspired by me. Wait - that's not what you mean? Oh, the Water for Elephants thing. Yes, I am the person who came up with the title for that book. And really this story is a testament to the power of "virtual" friendships. Sara Gruen and I became acquainted through the Backspace community - an online writers forum that has played a huge role in my career. She had written two successful horse-oriented romantic novels, but she was working on a "labor of love" novel that had her publishers scratching their heads, because it was nothing like her previous two books. She sent me a draft in a Word document, and asked if I'd take a look. She added that she had not yet found a title she was in love with, and would be open to any suggestions I could come up with.

I had read her debut, Riding Lessons, and knew she wrote strong, engaging fiction. But this book took things to a whole different level. I was on an airplane when I read the last half of the book, and I still remember reaching the scene where she pulls the story back around to the opening flashback - a move that I never saw coming. I arched forward in my seat, bowing to the manuscript in the "we're not worthy" pose, because it was simply some of the most stunning storytelling I'd seen in years. When we landed, I wrote her a gushing email, with a list of about a dozen title ideas, with "Water for Elephants" at the top of the list. The phrase came from a minor scene in the book, but those three words had a power and mystique to them that I found compelling.

Both Sara and her agent loved the title, and the rest is history. It's been a thrill to see what happened with that book, which her original publishing house actually passed on. (Wow, how would you like to be the editor that made that decision?) And in a testament to the power of online relationships, I never actually met Sara face-to-face until years later, when the book was already a huge success. So folks, don't discount the relationships you can forge online. Sara has been a good friend and loyal champion of my own work, and even gave me a blurb for the cover for Me Again. You've got to believe that makes me proud every time I see it!

Julie: I love that story—that is, Water for Elephants and the story of how it found a name, too. Thanks for patiently telling it one more time! And I also love the tie-in about writers and the spirit of community, even when we don't often meet face to face.

So, what's next for Keith Cronin?

Keith: I'm working on a book about a guy who does some stuff with a thing. I know, it's a mind-blowing concept, and I don't know how I came up with it, but what can I say? The muse just smiled on me.

Julie: I am seriously blown away by it. It's so ... high concept! And to think, you allowed us to hear it here, before anyone else. Can someone toss Keith an extra tiara?

Keith: No, seriously, I'm in the brainstorming phase of a modern-day reimagining of a famous 19th-century novel, set in a rock n' roll context. This harkens back to that Barbara O'Neal observation about the stories we're stuck with. Countless people have told me, "You should write about your experiences in the music business." But frankly the last thing I'm interested in writing is a thinly veiled autobiography or some roman à clef exposé. So the idea of taking a story I love and viewing it through the lens of a lifestyle I know intimately is very appealing to me. That way, it's not a book about me, but about something I'm passionate about, colored by my experience in something else I'm passionate about. All that passion could add up to something powerful, if I can do it justice. We shall see...

Julie: I have to admit that sounds much cooler than a story about a guy who does some stuff with a thing. In fact, given that I love music, I can't wait to see what happens with the new story now that I've already devoured Me Again.

Readers, I sure hope you'll check out Me Again, which is available now through all your favorite online bookstores, including IndieBound, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, by special order in stores, and in many libraries, thanks to Keith's super cool publisher, Five Star. Authors appreciate your support through not only buying their books as often as you can, but by supporting libraries, which are customers, too. (Can you tell I have a master's degree in library science? I love libraries and librarians!)

And Keith, congratulations, once again, on the debut of Me Again. We wish you nothing but many, many sales and a multitude of happy readers.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Just Say No to Eye Rolling

by Joan

As a writer, I study authors’ words for style and phrasing and techniques to strengthen my own writing. Every book I read teaches me something about writing, or about life. Perhaps I learn a unique use of description to convey mood or read a sharp observation that feels so true, the author might actually live in my house.

But what happens when I pick up a title and find not honed skills and wry observations, but bad habits and sloppy writing? If I I don’t put down the book, I’m in danger of employing the same bad habits.

So the first time your eyes roll, you should say to yourself, “Do I strive to write like this?” If you’re still reading the second time your eyes roll, close the book.

We’ve all started books we’ve given up on, although I have known one or two avid readers who finish every book, no matter how much they dislike it. So much of our opinions depend on life circumstances—one novel might resonate deeply in our forties but ten years later be too painful to read. We might consider a storyline brilliant in our twenties, but might now find it banal.

On the flip side, have you ever tried to read a novel and decided you weren’t smart enough to appreciate it? (If I'm the only idiot, please don't burst my ignorant bubble.) I’ve given up on tomes I considered inaccessible or too much work to be enjoyable. If it’s a book I know I should read, I often turn to the audio version. (Should = Interesting theme, award-winning writing, numerous recommendations.)

When I first picked up the hard copy of Hilary Mantel's Man Booker Prize winning Wolf Hall (on the recommendation of many, including the smartest guy I know), I tried hard to like it. But something about Mantel’s confusing use of pronouns stopped me. Who was the “he” she referred to in this sentence? In that one? Two years later, I still felt badly about abandoning this book as I came across the title while scrolling through As a true anglophile, especially when it comes to audio books, I bought it immediately. The inaccessibility I’d felt earlier vanished as the voices came to life. Her book is blowing my socks off—the writing, the humor, the absolute brilliant dialogue. I can't imagine why I ever gave up on it.

I know I’m learning as I listen to Mantel. Chances are, I won't win the Man Booker, but perhaps my own dialogue might get a little snappier, my descriptions bolder, my stories less filled with the boring bits and eye-rolling moments.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Purgatory for the Technology Challenged

By Kim

As that magical first day of school approached, I tweaked the outline for the remainder of  The Oak Lovers. I had every intention of sitting down at my desk at 8:15 AM on August 22nd, 2011 and cranking out a good 1,500 words or more before my two bundles of joy returned home.

How many did I write? Zero.

How many have I written in the week since then? Zero.

Let me explain. The night before school started, while at Best Buy with my husband, I spied a shiny black Gateway and had visions of downloading the latest version of iTunes, graduating from Windows XP and Office 2003, and living happily ever after.

“Happy Birthday,” my husband said. I brought my new love home.

Our honeymoon period consisted of one blissful day when I successfully transferred all my documents, photos and iTunes library from Dinosaur Dell to Gateway. Our first lover’s quarrel started when I then tried to burn a playlist, and Gateway informed me that my CD burner couldn’t be ‘found.’

“Baloney,” I said. (Actually, it was another ‘B’ word.) “Where do you think the blank CD is now?”

After a bit of research, I learned that this is an iTunes program bug and not Gateway’s fault. We made up and I added the issue to the list of problems for my personal computer doctor (husband) to deal with when he got home from his business trip.

My genealogy program went in without a hitch, but it took considerable bickering before Gateway agreed to display the files in a readable format, an action it seemed reluctant to repeat on command. My rose colored glasses came off and I felt the first real twinge of resentment toward my new companion.

The flicker flared to a flame when Gateway refused to download the newest version of Web Easy (the program I use to edit my Carl Ahrens website). I’m not an ‘administrator,’ Gateway informed me, and only administrators can make that request. Dear Husband assured me I am indeed the administrator, but suggested that perhaps the old version of Web Easy would do. I inserted the circa 2000 disk and prayed Gateway would not turn up its Windows 2010 nose and spit it right back out. It didn’t, but it also claimed several items on my website could not be ‘found.’

You don't want to know what I had to say about that.

Dinosaur Dell may be old and slow, but at least he doesn’t behave like a five-year-old on a power trip. I long for the good old days when I knew which quirks to expect and which battles to pick. I long to escape the purgatory of being both technology-challenged and torn between two not-quite-working computers.

I long to get back to work.

Feel free to share your technology related horror stories. We can laugh/cry together!
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