The Divining Wand

Discovering authors beyond their pages…

Writing, Rituals, Secrets, and Superstitions, IV

February 03, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles, Q&A

True or False? For every writer there are intangible elements — personal habits — that allow the mind to roam and find its comfort zone when the words aren’t flowing. To discover the truth, as well as what some of these practices include, The Divining Wand asked its authors:

Do you have any unusual writing rituals, secrets or superstitions that always work when all else fails?

And this week among the authors who replied are returning TDW favorite Therese Fowler and new member Cari Kamm:

~Therese Fowler (Souvenir, Reunion, and Exposure coming May 3, 2011):

“Thankfully, I’ve never reached a point with my writing when “all else fails,” maybe because the strategies I adopted when I began are sure-fire ways to keep getting the words onto the page. Those strategies: create a word-count goal and stick to it; edit the previous day’s writing before moving forward into new scenes; make copious use of a writing journal–this is where I write, long-hand, all my questions, notes, and thoughts about the work-in-progress.”

~Jessica Barksdale Inclan (Being With Him, Intimate Beings, The Beautiful Being):

“I just sit my ass down and write every morning, for better or worse. I guess that “is” my superstition? I don’t walk around the room three times and incant a prayer or read Rumi. I just write.”

~Cari Kamm (Fake Perfect Me):

“No secrets or superstitions, just tons of yellow post-it notes! I only use yellow post-its and a bright orange sharpie to create the outline, Acts, and characters of Fake Perfect Me. I’m currently “‘wallpapering'” my office now for my 2nd book. Not sure why these colors, but I find comfort in them. Also, complete silence. I can be in a cafe or at home listening to music when creating themes or characters, but to actually write I need complete silence. ”

~Judy Merrill Larsen (All the Numbers):

“When I’m stuck, I let my characters start talking. They can almost always talk me out of being blocked. Usually by saying something I never expected or by starting an argument. Or, I jump ahead to a scene I’m dying to write and then go back and fill in the gap. Coffee and chocolate help too!”

~Karen McQuestion (A Scattered Life, Easily Amused coming September 21, 2010, and Celia and the Fairies for ages 7 – 11, and Favorite YA coming April 1, 2011):

“The library is my secret weapon. When all else fails, I go to my local library and settle into a comfortable chair with a spiral notebook and pen. Even if I’m really stuck, something always comes to me. It’s magic, my library.”

~Randy Susan Meyers (The Murderer’s Daughters):

“I wish I had a no-fail secret! The only ritual I use when I am feeling unmotivated is this lecture: Write! It’s your job. Does your doctor get to say she’s not feeling particularly medically creative on the day of your appointment? I wish I could say that this always works, but it does on most days. I try very hard to remember that it’s getting in the chair and putting my hands on the keyboard that’s the trick and that writing may be creative, but it’s still a job and I have to show up to succeed.”

To be continued….

* * * * *

Announcement: The winners of Caroline Leavitt’s Pictures of You are Colleen Turner and Carmela Francisco. Congratulations!

Please email diviningwand (at) gmail (dot) com with your mailing address and your book will be sent out promptly.

Guest Jessica Barksdale Inclan on
Being a Mature Bride

September 02, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[ Among the many books she’s written, Jessica Barksdale Inclan (Intimate Beings, The Beautiful Being) has most recently focused on The Being Trilogy with Being With Him releasing in mass market edition on September 7, 2010. According to the author, “This is a story of two people who have felt different and “other” all their lives, who manage to find each other. And then the fun begins!”

Soulmates united in writing….and in life? For Jessica is getting married on September 25th and she’ll be a real bride this time, despite her initial reservations. In today’s special guest post, the author shares the wisdom and joy of being a mature bride.]

There is the bride-to-be, standing on the platform in the bridal salon dressing room. She’s nervous, being yanked into a bridal gown. The attendant uses various clips and hard tugs to get the floor sample to fit. The bride’s mother sits in the corner of the room, beaming. She’s overjoyed, thrilled for her daughter.

The daughter turns, faces the mirror, the dress looks lovely, but what is wrong with this picture? If only she didn’t have all those wrinkles. And what about that bra? Will it hold up everything? Her seventy-two-year old mother nods, so glad to finally be able to take on the supportive mother role. It’s a bit late, of course, but at least it’s finally happening.

Five months ago, that bride-to-be was me. Though I am a “mature” bride at 48, I decided to give a bridal shop a go. I was just going to look around, and then I would head over to Nordstrom and get a regular dress.

My first wedding in 1985 was a too-late-for-a-shotgun affair, my boyfriend and I driving up to South Lake Tahoe for a “Church of the Many Delights” quickie wedding, while my mother babysat our nine-month-old son. I’d worn something I’d found on-the-rack, and there had been no bridal shop, no invitations, no shower, no gifts, no nothing. We got married, stayed at some Nordic-themed roadside motel for the night, and drove home and into the next twenty-three years.

Everything about this second go round is different. My fiancé Michael actually proposed. He put my engagement ring in my stocking on Christmas Eve, and then in front of all our four children and my mother, popped the question when I found the small blue box. He was down on his knee, asking for my hand. And I said yes because this time, I’m ready. This time, I know I’m right. This man is the man I will spend the rest of my life with.

For the first time in my life, I have a bone fide engagement ring. My first husband and I had been broke beyond broke back when we were 23, and we bought our wedding rings at a discount department store. Now, I have an actual diamond.

Proposed to, engagement ring, and then a wedding dress.

So I found myself standing on the dressing room platform, feeling sheepish as the lace went over my head. How stupid is this? I thought. This is ridiculous and wasteful. What would my college students think if they saw their English professor up here on this silly platform?

But then as I turned to face the mirror, I saw myself as a bride for the first time in my life. The white flowing dress meant that the day would be special. My mother smiled, I laughed, and I knew that I didn’t want to go to Nordstrom. Maybe I’m mature, maybe I’m slightly pruned from time, maybe I will never be a featured bride on Say Yes to the Dress, but I wanted a wedding gown. This wedding gown. So I bought it.

Even though a wedding seems an event for younger couples, my fiancé and I have invited 50 people to ours this September. We have registered at Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn, making lists of things that we should and could buy on our own. After all, what do we really need? Michael is fifty-five, and both of us have been around the block a few times. We are not setting up a house. We’ve already had two households and merged them into one when we bought our house in Oakland, California last year. We don’t need to prepare for children—the children have flown the coop, all of them in their twenties.

But because that is what’s done, we did it, walking around the stores with that fabulous little scanning gun. We’ve ordered invitations. We’ve hired a wedding planner, a caterer, a cellist. We ordered a cake. My friends have organized a small shower.

Well meaning friends tell us we should find a charity to have guests donate to in our name. “That’s what mature couples do,” I’ve been told.

Miss Manners would be appalled by other suggestions. One of my friends told me we should ask for donations toward our Barcelona honeymoon in lieu of gifts.

We will just keep our lists. I really do want that baking set from Crate and Barrel.

Aside from my fiancé’s actual proposal, the image I will remember most is being on that dressing room platform, looking at myself in all my maturity but finding myself lovely nonetheless. I’m making a bold leap, getting married again. I’m giving it a go, and doing it in a way that seems final, permanent, full of hope. I’m dressing up toward that hope, wanting all the good things that all brides want, no matter what age. It’s my turn now. I can have a happy ending.

Best Wishes and Congratulations to Jessica and Michael!

* * * * *

Announcement: The winners of Katharine Davis’s A Slender Thread are Ruthie and Sarah Pekkanen. Congratulations!

Please email diviningwand (at) gmail (dot) com with your mailing address and Kate will send out your book as soon as possible.

What If….Allie Larkin and Jessica Barksdale Inclan?

July 08, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Authors' Favorites

What a day — or more — for a daydream in the summer heat of July. In fact it feels like the perfect time to wonder “what if” The Divining Wand possessed magical powers and could grant authors, who create their own magic with “what if,” the following two questions:

Based only on their writing, what author would you want to be?


If given the opportunity to have written ONE book in your lifetime, what would that title be?

~ Allie Larkin (Stay):

“I have a fascination with Willa Cather. She had an amazing life, and I have so much respect for her as a woman who made a career of her writing in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s. But based just on writing, it’s obvious that Willa Cather loved her characters, and had an intense appreciation for the landscapes she placed them in. I think her writing process must have been a celebration of the elements of life that she loved and admired most.

“Just one? Can I cheat and say the title of that book would be MY ANTONIA PLANTS THE BEAN TREES THAT GROW IN BROOKLYN WHILE LISTENING TO THE SONG OF THE LARK, AND TRIES NOT TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD OR PROVOKE THE LORDS OF DISCIPLINE? (I tried to fit OF MICE AND MEN in there too, but it was just ridiculous.)”

~ Jessica Barksdale Inclan (Being With Him, Intimate Beings, The Beautiful Being):

“I think I’d have to stay with being myself. It’s all I can do in this lifetime.”

“Okay, this I can do. Pride and Prejudice, no question.

* * * * *

The Facts and Factors of A Novel’s Word Count, I

April 22, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Q&A

A recent question posted on The Divining Wand’s Q & A page sounded simple enough and an overwhelming number of authors responded to answer:

Here’s another question for your authors: What is the word count of most of their novels?

I know that we here all sorts of estimates of what a novel should be, 70,000 to 100,000 words. But what is the actual count for the novels featured here, and do your authors think about word count as they’re writing?

Jessica Barksdale Inclan (Being With Him, Intimate Beings, The Beautiful Being):

“Great question (I can’t wait to see all the answers). My latest manuscript Swimming Lessons is 75,656. But some of mine go up 10 109,000. the shortest was 65,000 or so.”

Emily Winslow (The Whole World coming May 25, 2010):

“THE WHOLE WORLD was about 80k when I submitted it, and about 90k after editing. (I know for most writers, editing involves taking away. I write sparely, and am more likely to add scenes in editing.) I’m very conscious of word count as I write. I generally break it down to a certain number of words for each chapter, and sometimes even scene. I don’t force conforming to that goal, but it helps me keep a sense of proportion as I craft the whole.”

Jenny Gardiner (Sleeping with Ward Cleaver, Winging It: Twenty Years of Caring for a Vengeful Bird Determined to Kill Me):

“I’d say for commercial fiction around 90K words is good. Used to be they wanted lots of words but with publication costs, etc, over the past few years it’s been downsized–in fact something w/ 100K words or more would definitely give an editor/agent pause.

“I’m not sure about YA fiction but I’m thinking 45 – 60K (I’m sure YA authors can tell you more precisely).”

Eileen Cook (Unpredictable, What Would Emma Do? YA and Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood YA ):

“My biggest advice for word count is to write your book and then when it is done figure out where you are in terms of word count. My two YA novels (What Would Emma Do? and Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood) have been around 65k words. My adult title, Unpredictable was just under 80k words and the middle grade I am writing now will come in at about 27k words.

“The only thought I give to word count when I’m writing is measuring my progress. I have set weekly word count goals based on a rough idea of the estimated length of the book, otherwise I ignore word count until I’m done.”

Therese Fowler (Souvenir, Reunion):

“Word count “requirements” (I use the term loosely because there are always exceptions) vary by genre. I write mainstream/women’s fiction, aiming, as I write, for about 100k-115k words–which, if I’ve done my job, means I’ll have produced a layered, complex story with subplots in place. My first drafts tend to be pretty complete, but not every writer works that way. Some like to put down a fast “sketch” and then go back in to fill things out. I’m not saying that my first drafts don’t need a fair amount of revision, just that the word count doesn’t change dramatically from one draft to the next.”

Alicia Bessettte (Simply from Scratch coming August 5, 2010):

“I’m very word-count oriented, thanks to my magazine/newspaper background. Whenever I get a freelance assignment, my first question is, How many words?

“As I wrote Simply From Scratch, I stayed conscious of my goal of 80,000 words, give or take 5,000. My agent later told me 80,000 words is the perfect length for upmarket women’s fiction.

“A previous, unpublished fantasy novel I wrote was less than 60,000 words, and several agents told me that was far too short for the adult fantasy genre. Each genre seems to have what is generally considered an ideal length. But then again, there are notable exceptions. The Harry Potter books are often singled out as exceptions, because they’re longer than average children’s books.

“I’m curious to know whether other novelists keep word count in mind as they write, or if it’s more of an editing goal.”

Carleen Brice (Orange Mint and Honey, Children of the Waters):

“My word count for Orange Mint and Honey was something like 76,000 and for Children of the Water 81,000. I absolutely think about word count as I’m writing. It’s definitely helpful. One way it’s helpful is if parts of the book that should carry a lot of weight are much briefer than other parts. Or if you have more than one POV character that should have equal weight in the story, are their word counts about the same? ”

Robert Gregory Browne (Kill Her Again, etc. and Down Among the Dead Men coming May 25, 2010):

“My typical word count is about 100,000 to 125,000 words. And yes, I do think about word count because I’m contractually obligated to turn in a book at that length. Word count differs, however, depending on the editor and how he or she actually counts the words. Some still use the old method of 250 words a page, while others rely on computer count, which seems to be the trend these days. I consider this less accurate because it doesn’t take into consideration the space on each page, the way old method does.”

Meg Waite Clayton (The Wednesday Sisters):

“The Wednesday Sisters is about 93,000 words. And yes, it’s something I keep an eye on. When I was writing the first draft of my new one, The Four Ms. Bradwells (Ballantine, March 2011), I celebrated the halfway point at 40,000 words. At 80,000 I began to panic as the end was nowhere in site. At 120,000… And the complete first draft was 140,000 – yikes! My contract with Random House contemplates a novel of approximately 100,000 words. The final version – just put into production last week – is a bit longer than that, but closer far closer to it than to 140,000. I like to think I shoot for 80,000 words, although obviously I miss the mark on a regular basis.”

Tish Cohen (Town House, Inside Out Girl, Little Black Lies YA, The Truth About Delilah Blue coming June 8, 2010):

“I never think about word count. Nor have I had a single editor bring it up. The Truth About Delilah Blue likely runs about 90,000 words or about 450 book pages– the longest of my books so far.”

Katie Alender (Bad Girls Don’t Die YA):

“I write YA, and my first book was about 68,000, which seems to put me just on the longer side. My next book will be a few thousand words more. Some authors don’t think about wordcount at all, but I use it to gauge my progress and make sure I’m getting enough work done–typically on a first draft, I shoot for 2,000 words a day (and come out at about 1200-1600 most days).”

Robin Antalek (The Summer We Fell Apart):

“Word count is one of those things that is in the back of my mind — but not something I’m aware of until the manuscript is finished and my computer gives me the number. The Summer We Fell Apart comes in at 115,103 words give or take and that final word count was based upon when I thought the novel was done — not some magic number I thought I needed to reach. When I was writing more short stories and submitting them — I was more aware of not exceeding a certain number since some journal requirements are fairly specific — and I have a tendency to cram a novel’s worth of information into a short story. Writing novels gave me the luxury of writing long and I suppose, given my word count on Summer, you could say I embraced it.”

To be continued…

More Authors, More of their Best Writing Advice

April 15, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles

Two weeks ago, several of our authors/friends shared words of wisdom that help guide them through the writing process. And, in today’s post, those who have yet to be heard from, respond to:

What is the best advice about writing that you’ve received/read AND put to use?

Emily Winslow (The Whole World coming May 25, 2010):

“Things have to HAPPEN.

“My natural inclinations are toward character, premise and theme. I resisted plot. I hated limiting everything that could possibly happen to one measly thing that does happen.

“But it must be so. Things have to happen. Once I got that through my head, things started to work out for me.”

Kristina Riggle (Real Life & Liars, The Life You’ve Imagined coming August 17, 2010):

“My critique partner and friend, the talented British writer Eliza Graham (PLAYING WITH THE MOON, RESTITUTION, upcoming JUBILEE), advised me to sometimes hold off on a revelation and increase the tension by making the reader wait for the whole truth. I used to have a tendency to raise a question but then immediately answer it. Much more dramatic — and realistic — to let the answer emerge gradually.”

Lauren Baratz-Logsted (most recent Crazy Beautiful YA, Sisters 8 series with Book 5: Marcia’s Madness coming May 3, 2010):

“Nora Roberts says something like, ‘”I can edit a lousy page but I can’t edit a blank one.”‘ Even before I heard it, I was living it. Putting one foot in front of the other, or one word after another – it’s what being an author is all about.”

Jessica Barksdale Inclan (Being With Him, Intimate Beings, The Beautiful Being):

“I took a couple of classes from Anne Lamott, who wrote Bird by Bird, one of the best writing books ever. She told both classes, ‘”300 words a day, and in a year, you have a novel.”‘

“That’s it. 300 words a day, and maybe it’s a draft, but it’s done. And 300 words are completely do-able, and I most often find myself writing more.

“Simple and it works.”

Eileen Cook (Unpredictable, What Would Emma Do? YA and Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood YA):

“Before I was published I took a writing course. I was worried about sending my writing out into the world because I was worried about rejection. The teacher sat me down and said. ‘”What do you have to lose? You’re already not published- the worst that will happen is that you still won’t be published.”‘ It was then I realized that I had more to lose by not trying than I did by giving it a shot.”

Carleen Brice (Orange Mint and Honey, Children of the Waters):

“The best advice I received was: ‘”Stop writing. It’s time to send the book out into the world and let it take it’s lumps.”‘ That was the best advice because I would probably still be “polishing”‘ my first manuscript otherwise!”

Robin Antalek (The Summer We Fell Apart):

“Write beyond the closed door.

“I think for every one of us who sits down to write – there is a little voice that says: what if my mother/father/boyfriend/grandmother/husband reads this? What will they think about me? When we do that the scene stops. It’s like we reached the closed door at the end of the hallway and said, okay. It’s locked. I give up.

“To really write honestly we have to open the door and write the scene that makes us squirm even if it doesn’t end up in the final draft – you still have to allow yourself to go there. I think I did that in The Summer We Fell Apart and that’s what made the difference. I opened myself up fully to those characters knowing that in some ways they would be very controversial. The best thing about that? I’ve received wonderful letters from people who share their stories with me because they’ve experienced something similar to what the characters in the book have experienced. That is an AMAZING feeling.”

* * * * *

Announcement: The winners of Eve Brown Waite’s memoir, First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria, are Suzanne and Trish. Congratulations! Since you’ve both won in the past, your mailing addresses are on file and the books will be sent out promptly. Many thanks to everyone who entered.

Our Authors’ Go-To Writing Books, I

March 11, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Q&A

When the following thoughtful question was posted on The Divining Wand’s Q & A page — rather than select a few authors to answer this query –, it was sent out to everyone.

I wondered, what do your authors read in the way of writing books? Do they have favorites they refer to again and again? Do they read the classics like, Bird by Bird, or Writing Down the Bones, or do they favor books on craft like, Save the Cat?

Reading (and writing) minds want to know!

As might be expected there were duplicates mentioned, however the authors’ overall choices are impressive for any writer’s library:

Jessica Barksdale Inclan (Being With Him, Intimate Beings, The Beautiful Being):

“I am sure you will get a slew of the best book titles, but my true fav is the Scene Book by Sandra Scofield — wonderful for fiction and narrative writers of all kinds.”

Sarah Pekkanen (The Opposite of Me):

“I have my writing bibles up on my website under the “Writers I Love Link” and I also did a piece for NPR’s “All Things considered” on the 3 books that helped me learn to write a book – it’s on the main page of my website.”

Lauren Baratz-Logsted (most recent Crazy Beautiful YA, Sisters 8 series with Book 5: Marcia’s Madness coming May 3, 2010):

“My favorites over the Years: Forest from the Trees, Betsy Lerner; On Writing, Stephen King; The Mythic Journey, Christopher Vogler; The Art of Dramatic Writing, Lajos Egri.”

Ad Hudler (Man of the House, All This Belongs to Me, House Husband):

“I might be in the minority here, but I never read books about writing. Instead, I learn by critically reading other writers’ novels and essays and memoirs. If I like something I say, “‘Now … what makes this work so well?” And if I don’t like it I say, “Now … why didn’t this work? What’s wrong with it?'” But writing books per se? Nah.”

Joëlle Anthony (Restoring Harmony YA coming May 13, 2010):

“I’ve never been that big on books about writing, although I’ve read a few – Bird by Bird comes to mind. However, I like craft books. Ones that tell me what to do, like how to plot a mystery or write comedy or edit the first five pages. My favourite one, and the only one I really turn to over and over, is Donald Maas’ workbook that accompanies his book WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL. While I don’t have dreams of being the next Dan Brown, this book and workbook has taught me so much about the craft of writing. And I use some of his exercises when I teach writing too. It’s a must-have for every writer’s library, if you ask me. No matter what your genre or aspirations.”

Therese Fowler (Souvenir, Reunion)

“My personal go-to books are the following:

By John Gardner: On Becoming a Novelist and The Art of Fiction
Stephen King’s On Writing
Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction (the best instructional book I’ve found)
Robert Olen Butler & Janet Burroway’s From Where You Dream

Each fills a different need. Gardner’s books are a bit dated, but his clear-eyed assessments and advice have always spoken to me.”

Maud Carol Markson (When We Get Home, Looking After Pigeon)

“Stephen King has a wonderful book, On Writing. But for me — the best way to learn about writing is to read (over and over again) the books that I love. I try to absorb what these writers have done with characters, dialogue, plot, voice, etc. Then I write and write and write.”

Jenny Gardiner (Sleeping with Ward Cleaver, Winging It: Twenty Years of Caring for a Vengeful Bird Determined to Kill Me coming March 16, 2010)

“Loved Bird by Bird and Stephen King’s On Writing. I think Save the Cat is a fabulous book that anyone who is putting pen to paper to tell a story should
read. Blake Snyder was a wonderful, smart, and generous person who shared so much great
information for anyone and everyone. I was so sad that we lost him so young. And really bummed because he was to blurb my book and I know it would have been a lovely one.”

To be continued…

Announcement: The winners of Sarah Pekkanen’s debut novel, The Opposite of Me, are Janel and Kristen. Congratulations! Please send your mailing address to diviningwand (at) gmail (dot) com and I’ll get the books to you as soon as possible. Thank you for playing everyone.

Our Authors’ Favorite Love Stories, II

February 23, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Authors' Favorites

Although pre-empted by yesterday’s Olympic post, here is the continuation of our authors’ favorite love stories.

Katie Alender (Bad Girls Don’t Die YA):

“My favorite love story is ‘”Pride & Prejudice.”‘ Nobody can do it like Jane Austen! And one of the great things about loving that book is that there are umpteen movie versions to choose from when you need a girls’ day on the couch with some popcorn and a glass of wine! (The audiobook is also great for sewing along with.)”

Melanie Benjamin (Alice I Have Been):

“Pride and Prejudice; I just swoon over Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. I think the very end of that novel is the most romantic ending ever.”

Eileen Cook (Unpredictable, What Would Emma Do? YA and Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood YA ):

“I think it was the summer I was 13, my mom gave me her copy of Gone With the Wind to read when I complained about being bored. I was completely swept up in that story. I still re-read it from time to time.”

Tish Cohen (Town House, Inside Out Girl, Little Black Lies YA, The Truth About Delilah Blue coming June 8, 2010):

“Favorite love story is still Anne Tyler’s Breathing Lessons — a day in the life of a very real couple. No heaving bosoms, no chiseled jaws. Just a scatty, interfering wife and a gruff, fed-up husband who bicker and sweat and even hate each other at times. This book is a testament to the kind of love that matters–love that endures.”

Jessica Barksdale Inclan (Being With Him, Intimate Beings, The Beautiful Being):

“While most of the love is thwarted in this story, the longing in The Mists of Avalon always bowls me over. Love that they reach and reach for and never get who or what they want–but they still love. This same longing and imagery in The English Patient, at the end.

“The love of a father for his daughters in Animal Dreams. So heartrending. So amazing.”

Lauren Baratz-Logsted (most recent Crazy Beautiful YA, Sisters 8 series with Book 5: Marcia’s Madness coming May 3, 2010):

“Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez”

Shana Mahaffey (Sounds Like Crazy):

“I don’t remember the title, but I do remember the book quite well. It was one of those mass market bodice rippers where you have the eighteenth century Helen of Troy, whose somehow fallen on hard times and is enslaved to some purported evil, albeit devilishly handsome landowner with a the rakish cowboy who has nothing but is ready to whisk Mary off into the sunset on the back of his horse thrown in. I stole it off the pile of books next to my mother’s bed during the summer of my thirteenth year. What makes this book so memorable (forgotten title notwithstanding) is that it’s the first book I stayed up all night to finish. My cousins still talk about getting up around nine in the morning and finding me on the couch where they’d left me the night before, nose still buried in the book. Nothing against Judy Blume, but getting Forever after a Bodice Rippers is akin to my first opera experience: I saw the La Boheme dream team—Pavarotti and Freni—from row F center—nothing else will ever compare.”

Ivy Pochoda (The Art of Disappearing):

“God, who doesn’t love a juicy Jane Austen love story! They’re all fantastic.”

Kristina Riggle (Real Life & Liars):

“I feel like I bang on all the time about BREATHING LESSONS by Anne Tyler, but it is about love and is one of my favorite books. Not only did it influence me as a writer, but I think it was illuminating for me to read as a young woman, demonstrating that a married couple can bicker, chafe, get so infuriated they can barely look at each other, and still be fully in love.

“In order to vary my answer to these questions a bit, I adore THE GREAT GATSBY which I guess is not a love story in the “happy ending” sense, but it is a romantic story in the sense of romanticizing a person, and how dangerous that can be.

“In a more classic “love story” sense, I did very much enjoy DELICIOUS by Sherry Thomas! Yum.”

Therese Walsh (The Last Will of Moira Leahy):

“This is a tough question! Anyone who knows me knows my favorite novel is The Time Traveler’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger), but I don’t know that I’d call it my favorite love story. Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale might be my favorite. Kinsale is a masterful storyteller with great voice, and FftS offers unique but authentic characterizations, a riveting plot, and a pitch-perfect resolution. It’s a definite keeper.”

Emily Winslow (The Whole World coming May 25, 2010):

“My favorite couple is Sam Vimes and Lady Sybil in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, beginning with the book “Guards! Guards!” “She smiled at him. And then it arose and struck Vimes that, in her own special category, she was quite beautiful; this was the category of all the women, in his entire life, who had ever thought he was worth smiling at. She couldn’t do worse, but then, he couldn’t do better. So maybe it balanced out. She wasn’t getting any younger, but then, who was? And she had style and money and common-sense and self-assurance and all the things that he didn’t, and she had opened her heart, and if you let her she could engulf you; the woman was a city. And eventually, under siege, you did what Ankh-Morpork had always done–unbar the gates, let the conquerors in, and make them your own.”

Our Authors’ True Love of the Writing Process

February 17, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Authors' Favorites, Profiles

If, as often described, the road to publication is a journey, then the writing process must be a well-known path for every author. Yes, it’s a creative path but one that’s also paved with guidelines, outlines, eventual deadlines and everything in between. Sound arduous? Some parts of this path just are, however what about those places where a writer can literally coast? Since these are different for everyone — and in keeping with this site’s theme for the week — our authors were asked: What do you love most about the writing process?

Katie Alender (Bad Girls Don’t Die YA):

“Like most writers, I have a totally bizarre relationship with the actual writing process–I love it enough to want to do it for a living, but I fear it and occasionally do everything in my power to avoid it! But I’ve recently discovered that what I really love is revising. I like taking something that almost works and making it clean and powerful.”

Joëlle Anthony (Restoring Harmony YA coming May 13, 2010):

“Revising – makes me an odd duck in the writing world, but I love editing and revision.”

Melanie Benjamin (Alice I Have Been):

“Losing myself in a different world, becoming different people. It’s really a very dreamy, sensual feeling.”

Meredith Cole (Posed for Murder, Dead in the Water coming May 11, 2010):

“I know people rave all the time about those moments when the story flows and you’re in some magical groove. The story seems almost to write itself. I love those moments, too, but I have to admit I have an overwhelming fondness for editing. I resist as long as I can, making myself get through the first draft before I get to revise. And then, when it’s time, I whip out a red pen and prepare to slash and burn, straighten and expand. It’s so wonderful to see something that’s a bit of a mess and know instantly how to fix it. Or even if it’s a challenge, getting it all polished is all the more satisfying.”

Jessica Barksdale Inclan (Being With Him, Intimate Beings, The Beautiful Being):

“My favorite part is the messy, early part where I am just writing and imagining and creating. It’s like mixing batter with too much flour, ideas and words everywhere. Later, of course, things have to calm down and recipe instructions must be followed. But before that! So much fun.”

Maria Garcia Kalb (101 Ways to Torture Your Husband):

“I am quite enamored with the “self-discovery” part of the writing process. You truly get to know yourself and there are many surprising things you learn along the way. I can say I never knew myself until I started writing. Its like meeting a stranger for the first time..but you’re not afraid to tell that stranger that they’ve got something in their teeth!”

Lauren Baratz-Logsted (most recent Crazy Beautiful YA, Sisters 8 series with Book 5: Marcia’s Madness coming May 3, 2010):

“The moment I’ve completed a first draft and I get that feeling of relief, knowing I’ve gone the distance and that the chance to improve it still lies ahead.”

Shana Mahaffey (Sounds Like Crazy):

“As a sufferer of a writer’s block more impenetrable than that Berlin Wall, when I become like Crush the Turtle surfing the tide of the Eastern Australian Current (Finding Nemo), I do want to stand up and yell, “Righteous! Righteous!” I feel possessed. I can’t type fast enough and propelled by my fear that I will lose the thread of whatever happens to be pouring out of me, I write as fast as I can, without judgment, not caring if the words are spelled right or if the sentences make sense; this is all stuff I can fix later. Experiencing this state is what I love most about the writing process. It doesn’t happen often, but I don’t mind because I know the frenzy that contains the best of me is like a cat—it comes and goes as it pleases. But like anyone who lives in thrall to a cat, I still show up and scale writer’s block wall, propelled by the hope that today will be the day.”

Ivy Pochoda (The Art of Disappearing):

“I love when I can hear a rhythm to my writing in my head as I type.”

Kristina Riggle (Real Life & Liars):

“It’s like playing Let’s Pretend! All my favorite games as a girl revolved around playacting and making up stories. I still get to do that, all the time.”

Therese Walsh (The Last Will of Moira Leahy):

“I love it best when my muse surprises me. I’m typing along, minding my own business, and then—wham. Who’s that character? Where did that line come from? The characters did what? These are the moments that make writing the most rewarding occupation in the world.”

Emily Winslow (The Whole World coming May 25, 2010):

“I love being ahead of deadline.”

To be continued…

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two signed copies of Judy Merrill Larsen’s debut novel, All the Numbers. Please leave a comment on this post by tonight at 7:00 p.m. EST to be entered into the random drawing. The winners will be announced in tomorrow’s post.

Needed: Professional Advice before the Query?

January 21, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Q&A

The Divining Wand’s Q&A page has been active again with another “writing” question. However please remember that all questions, including those about authors and their books, are welcome too.


I am in the middle of a novel in progress, which I put away for 12 months, and which I have dusted off and begun work on. My goal is to finish it by the end of this year (Dec. 2010).

My question: Would it be useful to hire a professional editor to provide editorial advice on my novel once it’s finished and before I begin to query agents?

This Fairy Godmother chose author, teacher, and former student of Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird), Jessica Barksdale Inclan (Being With Him, Intimate Beings, The Beautiful Being), to respond:

“There are few professions in life where we can do the work at home and spring it on the public and have it universally accepted. In my writing career, I’ve never sent a manuscript to an agent or editor without careful reads by my trusted readers, all of whom in my case are writers. Each manuscript goes through careful scrutiny, and then I spend a great deal of time making the thing right before sending it on to agent or editor. And in that way, I end up getting a lot done up front. With my first novel, Her Daughter’s Eyes, my editor commented on how very little there was to do (it was never that easy again).

“So yes. Finish your draft. Make it as best you can. And then hire someone who writes in your field to read it. You should expect to get back notes and textual comments. You should also ask for a follow up after you finish reading through both.

“The truth also is that might not be enough. But it usually is, and you will have the confidence that your work is going out in its party dress, ready for the party.”

But serendipity was in play as our messages crossed paths and Jessica’s OTHER email arrived in my Inbox announcing that;

“Due to unforeseen and universal tiltings, I’ve found myself with some time this quarter to work with folks privately. This could either be a quick hourly consult or a full manuscript read. As I’ve written around in genres, I’m able to work with contemporary, literary, and/or genre fiction–romance and young adult.

“I’ve had a crash course in the past few months on “How to Get an Agent,” and I did just do that, signing with a new agent only two weeks ago. In that time, I have sharpened my query writing skills and have learned a great deal about the process anew–synopsis writing, chapter outlines, and first 50 page edits. Personally, I’m hoping to never have to use these skills again, but I could help guide you through the morass.

“If you are interested in working on a full manuscript or something much smaller or know someone who is, please email me or forward this on and I’d be happy to talk further. Thank you.”

This is an open invitation to all those who might be seeking assistance. If interested, please contact:

Announcement: The winner of Randy Susan Meyers’ The Murderer’s Daughters is Erika. Congratulations to you! Now please email: diviningwand (at) gmail (dot) com with your mailing address and the book will be sent out promptly. Thank you to all who commented.

Happy Holidays from Jessica Barksdale Inclan

December 31, 2009 By: larramiefg Category: Authors' Holidays

Now is the time to look back on how we were and the changes life has “gifted” us. Here’s one author’s insight.


Time Warp Holiday Party

JessicatmbWhen I was little, I believed that adults did very certain things depending on their gender, not that I knew what gender meant at the time. Women–my mother–stayed at home and kept it clean. Sometimes, moms went out to work, but work outside the home was rare, sporadic, and not central to the family. Moms played bridge, made crafts, mopped the floors, and baked angel food cakes. On the holidays, they were responsible for hams, turkeys, and Christmas cookies.

Men left early in the morning and came home to sit in a chair, have a drink, eat dinner, and fall asleep on the couch. Who knew what they did during the day? It was all a mystery, even after the day my father took me with him to work. We sat in his trailer at a drug company in Palo Alto. There were all the little gadgets he used at home, too, like the slide rule. But he was actually doing? Who knows.

On the weekends, other adults came over, usually just as we were going to bed, and then the real fun commenced. I would hear the clinking of ice in glasses, laughter, the shuffling of cards. Smoke filled the house, cigarette smoke. My sister Sarah and I sat on the step in the hall trying to hear what was going on. But we never figured it out. Adult life was another country, and we had no passage.

Now, of course, I know what it was like to be a stay-at-home mom with not enough cash and a car that broke down often. I know what it was like to go to an engineering job day after day, a job my father disliked intensely. I know what adults do, too, at parties, the way that the every day life can lift and fall away. People let go of the responsibilities and the burdens, and the children are asleep. Can I please have another bourbon and soda?

Last year, Michael and I went to a holiday cocktail party, and I realized how so much has changed from the late 60’s to now. It was very late in the day, but children buzzed around the adults, eating what they wanted off the table. If the children wanted to know what the adults were talking about, all they would have had to do was stop running and look up and listen. But because their parents’ lives are likely not a mystery, they went to play Wii instead.

And as I looked around, listening to my hostess friend tell me who was who, I realized without surprise that these people all had careers and jobs and lives–and a home and family. Thank goodness in forty years something has changed for the better. Since the days when Sarah and I were sitting quietly on the stair trying to listen to the party, women have moved further into education and the work place. Men have been able to share in the birthing process and child rearing, much to their joy and likely dismay. Children are no longer seen and not heard, and maybe heard a little too often sometimes. Let’s put it this way–no children were anywhere but where they wanted to be last night.

Change is hard to see, though, as you are living through it. And for a moment, I closed my eyes and imagined my mother and father here, materialized through time, space, and death to appear at this holiday party, the sweet thirty-year-olds that they were. My father in his suit, my mother in–say–a trendy pants suit, maybe something red. She’s wearing her cat glasses. His tie is thin and black. They look around, smile, ask for a bourbon and soda.
Jessica Barksdale Inclan (Being With Him, Intimate Beings, The Beautiful Being)