The Divining Wand

Discovering authors beyond their pages…

Best Writing Exercises, Part V

November 18, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Authors' Favorites, Q&A

In The Divining Wand’s seemingly never-ending pursuit to discover how our favorite authors/friends perfect their natural skills, they were asked: What have been some of the best writing exercises you’ve used in your writing process?

This week’s responses suggest that less is best. Also please welcome another new author, Meg Mitchell Moore!

Beth Hoffman (Saving CeeCee Honeycutt):

“None, really.”

Karen McQuestion (A Scattered Life, Easily Amused, and Celia and the Fairies for ages 7 – 11):

“I tend to be anti-writing exercises, not on principle, just for me personally. I never understood the benefit of doing “‘Morning Pages'” or “‘Character Work,'” or whatever. I just write and write and then write some more. I add things in and take things out, and somehow it all takes shape and becomes a novel. That’s the only way I know how to do it.”

Meg Mitchell Moore (The Arrivals coming May 25, 2011):

“I haven’t used a lot of writing exercises, though I’m always wondering if I should. The best piece of advice I heard recently was to set a timer and commit to sitting and writing for a certain amount of time without getting up, checking email, checking twitter, snacking, etc. It’s amazing how many words you can get down in just 30 or 40 minutes if you commit to absolute concentration. I use that trick when I can feel my attention wandering.”

Ivy Pochoda (The Art of Disappearing):

“I don’t really use exercises, but I tend to write and write and write excess background, excess scenes, stuff that I know will fall on the cutting room floor. This helps me know my characters better. I also try to rewrite scenes from another character’s perspective if something doesn’t feel right.”

Kristina Riggle (Real Life & Liars and The Life You’ve Imagined):

“I don’t have a good answer for this one, I’m afraid! I’m not one to use prompts and exercises. Nothing wrong with them, I just tend not to use them. I tend to just put my head down and plow through the current manuscript.”

Kim Stagliano (All I Can Handle: I’m No Mother Teresa: A Life Raising Three Daughters with Autism):

“Ignore the clock. Ignore the Internet. Move to a quiet room. And just keep typing.”

Emily Winslow (The Whole World):

“I have a confession: I don’t like exercises. I only get excited about writing words that are part of a larger project.”

To be continued…..

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Announcement: The winner of The Thieves of Darkness by Richard Doetsch is Jody. Congratulations!

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

Fan Mail: An Author’s
Most Memorable Reward, II

September 23, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Authors' Favorites, Q&A

Last month’s post on how much fan mail meant to authors surprised some visitors, while inspiring others to finally write their own personal messages. The written word is powerful in expressing heartfelt gratitude and here are more author responses to memorably touching fan mail:

~Tanya Egan Gibson (How to Buy a Love of Reading):

“A man wrote to say that my depiction of alcohol and drug addiction (in a teenage character, Hunter Cay) felt very real. He’d finished my novel between classes and had been crying when his sixth grade students came in. He wrote, “Thanks for touching my heart.” Which, in turn, touched mine. It is so wonderful and kind for people to take the time to write and share like that.”

~Kate Ledger (Remedies):

“One tremendously moving piece of fan mail came from a woman who wrote that REMEDIES had resonated with her own personal tragedy. I got teary at my computer when I read her note. Like the characters in REMEDIES, she and her husband had lost a child. She wrote that the effects of that loss have continued to ripple through her marriage. She wrote that the novel had been difficult to read, and also, ultimately, comforting, and that even though her own outcome was still in progress, the book had come along at exactly the right time.”

~Meredith Cole (Posed for Murder, Dead in the Water):

“These days you receive more emails than mail, I’m afraid. I did get a request from a girl to sign my photo and send it to her for her scrapbook. It made me feel like a teen rock star, so of course I did it. I’ve really enjoyed hearing from people. It means a lot when someone tells me that they stayed up half the night, or were late because they simply had to finish my book. It makes me feel like I’ve done my job right.”

~Melanie Benjamin (Alice I Have Been):

“They’re all memorable, because I’m touched every time a reader takes the time to let me know how much they loved my book.”

~CJ Lyons (Lifelines, Warning Signs, Urgent Care, and Critical Condition coming November 30, 2010):

“I’ve gotten several letters from fans facing painful medical crises, including one woman whose cancer pain kept her up at nights, unable to sleep or get comfortable. They have written thanking me for providing them with escape from the pain of their lives as they read my books.

The fact that my stories have been able to help these people facing their diseases with dignity and courage brought me to tears…truly better than any award my books could ever win!”

~Therese Fowler (Souvenir, Reunion):

“I’ve had so many amazing letters from readers world-wide; one that I loved came from the mother of seven-year-old twin girls who, after reading SOUVENIR, was inspired to create a journal for their future benefit, and to buy each of them a copy of SOUVENIR, which she was storing away in their “hope chests” to be read when they’re teens. A recent letter of praise from a woman who is a Medical Social Worker and who deals every day with patients in heartbreaking situations was also very rewarding.”

~Stacey Ballis (Good Enough to Eat, The Spinster Sisters, Room for Improvement, the rest in Bibliography):

“The young woman who wrote to say that she was able to finally extricate herself from both her dysfunctional marriage and her ongoing affair with her also-married boss because she read “Inappropriate Men”. She wrote from her fabulous new job, where she had met her fabulous (and single!) new boyfriend who worked in the same building. She said that she had felt completely trapped and that the book helped her find her spine. That e-mail gave me goosebumps.”

~Leah Stewart (Husband and Wife, The Myth of You and Me, Body of a Girl):

“My most memorable wasn’t my best, but a long letter quoting all the passages from my first book that had anything to do with sex and suggesting that I and the letter writer would really understand one another. (Oh, dear.) I also remember one I got after my second book, which was about female friendship, from a woman who’d lost her best friend in Iraq. That one was lovely and very sad.”

~ Beth Hoffman (Saving CeeCee Honeycutt releasing in Trade Paperback October 26, 2010):

“I received a letter from a 93 year-old woman who said that she loved my book and was so glad it was available in large print. She went on to say that she read it twice because, at her age, she was running out of time and didn’t know if she’d be around if/when the movie came out. It was so touching.”

~Robin Antalek (The Summer We Fell Apart):

“I think it would have to be after I published a short story in a literary journal that was put out by a university in Florida years ago. It was handwritten – a page and a half long – from a young woman who claimed to have read the story so many times she felt like the characters were people she knew. She went on to tell me she had written a paper on the story for her English seminar class. It was a pretty cool ego boost for a struggling writer who wrote late at night after work.”

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

“I love every bit of fan mail I get. From the adorable one-line emails just telling me how much they enjoyed the book to the detailed breakdowns of all of the elements they liked (and why). I get a lot of emails saying I’ve inspired them to write (very flattering), a lot saying that they can relate to Alexis and her sense of outsiderness (very touching), and a lot with interpretations of the book that reflect a cinematic mind at work (very interesting). I am convinced that I have the brightest and funniest fans of any book, ever! I must say, I especially love getting snailmail (as TDW might be aware).”

~Kristina Riggle (Real Life & Liars and The Life You’ve Imagined):

“One of my favorite notes was from a reader who enjoyed my debut with a stiff drink and added, “Only wished I had a joint to join Mira” who is, as constant TDW readers will know, the flower child grandmother protagonist. I think my favorite fan interaction was in person, at my book launch event. A woman I didn’t know told me she went out and scheduled her mammogram after reading about how my protagonist delayed her own, with severe consequences. I was so touched and honored that my book prompted her to take such an important step, and that she felt moved to share that with me.”

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Announcement: The winners of Jenny Nelson’s debut novel Georgia’s Kitchen are Keetha and Maria M.. Congratulations!

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

Kristina Riggle and The Life You’ve Imagined

August 16, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

In the follow up to her successful debut of Real Life & Liars, Kristina Riggle presents us with another thoughtful, touching, bittersweet read — The Life You’ve Imagined, releasing tomorrow, August 17, 2010. This second book also proves that the author’s natural gift is her talent to write a quiet little novel that whispers, nudges, and reminds how much of life is filled with hope.

However the irony is that the idea for this storyline came out of Kristina’s seemingly lack of hope, as she explains:

“Really the story was inspired by my eroding naivete about how the world works. I used to believe — as I think many young National Honor Society types do — that the world is a meritocracy and if I just work hard enough, rewards and happiness will automatically come to me. This is definitely true for the Anna character, who can’t quite believe that she’s at the cusp of achieving everything she’s ever wanted, yet the envisioned happiness is not there.”

As for the title, it’s a line taken from the following quote:

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the live you’ve imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler. __Henry David Thoreau

Yet, according to the author, “the quote was almost an afterthought, just a piece of scenery. As the novel evolved, the notion of an imagined life being sharply different from reality came into focus and I realized that was the perfect title.”

The quote and its dream for future happiness also provides the link to three childhood friends unexpectedly reunited one summer, all still searching for their dream of happiness.

Here’s the novel’s Synopsis:

Are you living the life you imagined? Is there anything you’d have done differently if you could? Those are the questions asked in Kristina Riggle’s unforgettable new novel.

In high school, Cami and Anna were as close as they could be…now, years later, both have returned to their hometown to face the people they had once left behind. Anna must confront her mother, still distraught over the abandonment of her husband, and come to terms with choices she had made years before. While Cami returns home to stay with her alcoholic father, she uncovers a secret he sought to keep which could change her life and salvage her future. They reconnect with their classmate, Amy, who can’t understand why achieving the thin body and handsome man of her dreams hasn’t given her the happily-ever-after she desired. This is a novel that digs deep and touches the heart of the issues so many women face-the quest for perfection, the hope of love, the value of family and importance of always striving for your dream.

Selected by independent booksellers as an IndieNext “Notable” Pick for September 2010 The Life You’ve Imagined has also earned Praise from the author’s notable peers.

And HarperCollins offers a special bonus to those readers who Browse Inside the book. There are 54 pages available for your reading pleasure….certainly much more than one would imagine!

Kristina writes in the same format she used in Real Life & Liars, rotating first person narrators to place the reader into the mindset and physical space of her four main characters. Bound by their small town background of growing up in fictional Haven, Michigan, the personal issues that each must resolve in order to achieve her dreams are universal problems for anyone, anywhere.

These women have dreams that they’ve tried to achieve, but their efforts have not necessarily lead to happiness. Instead such personal control has created more stress and disappointment, blurring the truth of what they really desire. After all wishes made during adolescence usually change with maturity, opportunity, and the confidence to let go, allowing life to happen.

Perhaps it’s that confidence these characters seek from their hometown reunion. The author’s description/depiction of fictional Haven, Michigan is truly stunning. And the Nee Nance Store, the dying family business that connects them all (see Guest Kristina Riggle on All in the Family), could not be a better example of the confidence needed to know when to let go of a dying dream and then move on.

But what about the author, is she living the life she imagined?

Kristina says, “No! And I’m glad. I imagined myself by this point sailing along in my career as a newspaper reporter, well on my way to becoming editor of a large urban daily. Novel writing was a vague aspiration for some undefined “‘someday.'” I always envisioned myself a hardcore career woman who would “‘do it all.'” I’m still a career woman, but the career is different, and my definition of success more fluid and flexible. I no longer try to predict my life many years ahead, and when I do imagine the future, it’s more in terms of family and home rather than jobs and money. Also, the older I get the more aware I am that it’s all so fragile. I’m happy that my family and I are healthy right now, today. And I’m awfully glad that my “‘someday novel'” came sooner rather than later, because who knows what later will bring?”

Readers/fans of Kristina Riggle are also glad her life didn’t turn out as imagined since The Life You’ve Imagined — the second “someday novel” — is available now, tomorrow, rather than later. Enjoy!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Kristina Riggle’s The Life You’ve Imagined in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, August 18, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to possibly claim your book.

Guest Kristina Riggle on All in the Family

August 10, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[As she did with her debut novel, Real Life & Liars, Kristina Riggle writes with soul about family and friends coming to terms with change in The Life You’ve Imagined, being released August 17, 2010. And, in today’s guest post, she shares the personal inspiration for the book.]

This is what I remember most about my dad starting his own business: him sitting in a basement office space with a city directory open in front of him, cold-calling strangers to sell his lawn care service.

Since you don’t know my dad, this is probably unremarkable. But my dad is shy.

And if you’re shy, too, you know how hard it is to talk to strangers about the weather. And here he was, calling up strangers in their homes to sell them something. And the stakes were high. If he failed, there went our family’s livelihood.

Meanwhile, my mother – raising two children and already working full time to support us – would spend her evenings doing the accounting for the family business.

I wasn’t consciously thinking of this as I sat down to write The Life You’ve Imagined, but it must have been lurking in the back of my mind. The story revolves around four women connected by a dying family business, in this case a convenience store called the Nee Nance Store.

No matter how much you love your job, if it’s not your company, it just isn’t the same. You can’t have that ownership and pride, nor is the fear of failure ever quite as great. And the odds are stacked against small businesses, certainly. As a reporter I’d done many a story about a new business venture. The owners would show off their shiny new spaces and equipment, bubbling over about how their store was unique and special. And more often than not, I’d drive by later only to see an empty, dark storefront.

My dad’s business beat those odds. He just retired in January after twenty-one years. And it was my dad’s company – plus the support of my mom, without whom he never would have made it — that finally pushed us firmly into middle class instead of hovering over the poverty line.

How did the business affect my sister and me? From middle school on I was also a receptionist when I got home from school. I’d have to answer, “Riggle Professional Lawn Care” or at least, “Riggles” when I answered the phone, and then professionally and courteously take down the message, even if someone was honked off about too much crabgrass. (My dad used to joke that I should answer, “Riggle Towers, how may I direct your call?” as if we were in some shiny office complex, as opposed to our little brown house.) I also had to begin processing the incoming checks every day, to make it easier for my mom to enter them into our books every night when she got home from a long day working at the bank.

But my small contributions to the family business were nothing compared to my characters in The Life You’ve Imagined. Maeve and her daughter Anna lived out their lives behind the front counter of their store; the operating hours of a convenience store meant that they were almost always working, and had scant privacy.

For Maeve, who was stuck with the store after her husband took off, the Nee Nance was a necessary evil: it was income and support for her daughter, and the only job skill she thought she had. For Anna, it symbolized everything she never wanted, so she took off for the big city as soon as she could. But as the story opens, she finds herself back home again.

This isn’t the only family business in the story. Anna’s childhood sweetheart, Beck, is heir to the Becker Development fortune. The contrast between their two lives growing up was something else which imprinted Anna with a desire for something better than what she had. She’s going to have a new relationship with Becker Dev, now, as it turns out that the other son, Paul Becker, has just purchased the Nee Nance Store’s building….

I’m lucky in that my family’s business story wasn’t so dramatic. But I know now, with adult perspective and as a parent myself, how terrifying those first years must have been, and how every economic downturn must have left my parents wondering: Is this the year we fail?

Labor Day is approaching, a time when we applaud the everyday working Joe and Jane. I’d like to take a moment to cheer for the family business, for the proprietors who have the guts to chase a dream. In fact, do more than just cheer, give them your business. Like Anna and Maeve, they might just be hanging on by their fingernails…

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Book Giveaway: This week Julie Buxbaum has graciously offered two “signed” copies of After You to the winners of a random drawing from comments left on this specific post, Julie Buxbaum and After You. A comment on any other post during this week will not be eligible. The deadline for this contest is Wednesday, August 11, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT and the winners will be announced here in Thursday’s post. IF you do enter, please return Thursday to possibly claim your book.

The Revealing of Kristina Riggle

August 04, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles

In her moving and compelling debut, Real Life & Liars, Kristina Riggle focused on a family coming to terms with change, and change remains the theme in her second novel, The Life You’ve Imagined, being released on August 17, 2010.

However this storyline revolves around friends who either need or desire change. Consider the book’s description:

Is the life you’re living all you imagined? Have you ever asked yourself, “What if??” Here, four women face the decisions of their lifetimes in this stirring and unforgettable novel of love, loss, friendship, and family.

Anna Geneva, a Chicago attorney coping with the death of a cherished friend, returns to her “speck on the map” hometown of Haven to finally come to terms with her mother, the man she left behind, and the road she did not take.

Cami Drayton, Anna’s dearest friend from high school, is coming home too, forced by circumstance to move in with her alcoholic father . . . and to confront a dark family secret.

Maeve, Anna’s mother, never left Haven, firmly rooted there by her sadness over her abandonment by the husband she desperately loved and the hope that someday he will return to her.

And Amy Rickart—thin, beautiful, and striving for perfection—faces a future with the perfect man . . . but is haunted by the memory of what she used to be.

Kristina Riggle’s The Life You’ve Imagined takes a provocative look at the choices we make—and the courage we must have to change.

Selected by independent booksellers as an IndieNext “Notable” Pick for September 2010, The Life You’ve Imagined is scheduled to be presented/reviewed by The Divining Wand on Monday, August 16, 2010. In the meantime, let’s meet the author through her “official” flap jacket bio: 

Kristina Riggle is a freelance journalist, a published short story writer, and coeditor for fiction at the e-zine Literary Mama. She lives and writes in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with her husband, two kids, and dog.

And now it’s time to reveal more about the real Kristina:

Q: How would you describe your life in 8 words?
A: I write and take care of my kids.

Oh, did you mean a list of words? Well, this eight-word sentence sums it up. Though I sometimes also do laundry.

Q: What is your motto or maxim?
A: “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” Groucho Marx

Q: How would you describe perfect happiness?
A: Contentment in my children’s health and happiness. There’s no simpler joy, and therefore nothing so fine.

Q: What’s your greatest fear?
A: See above. Any threat to my children. The actual fears are too scary to type out.

Q: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A: In Charlevoix, Michigan, on a beach. Or maybe Venice, Siena, or Rome. I visited Italy in 2000 and I sometimes feel homesick for it. Is that possible, to be homesick for someplace I visited for ten days, ten years ago?

Q; With whom in history do you most identify?
A: I’m bad at this. Most of my history education has been lousy. All boring crap about dates and the names of generals. However, I will say I recently read THE LOST SUMMER OF LOUISA MAY ALCOTT by Kelly O’Connor McNees, and I adored it. I also remember reading a kid-friendly biography of Louisa when I was little – already wanting to be an author someday – so I’ll go with Louisa May Alcott. I wanted to be Jo in Little Women. Who didn’t?

Q: Which living person do you most admire?
A: I’m terrible with these questions. Real people are so flawed and complex, and I’ve never been one to hold up an individual as a beacon. I really admire my parents. They’re both so strong in different ways.

Q: What are your most overused words or phrases?
A: Had to ask my husband this. He said I have a fondness for fancy words in casual conversation, but we couldn’t pick out a certain one. Maybe “draconian” is a good example. I think he’s poked fun at me for using that one. But it’s a great word!

Q; If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
A: Oh, I’d love to be a talented dancer! I love dancing, and it’s the perfect exercise: a tough workout and most excellent fun. I have danced, once in amateur theater, but I wouldn’t say I’m a natural dancer, far from it. I have to work so hard on the simplest steps.

Q: What is your greatest achievement?
A: My kids and my books. That’s the boring-but-true answer.

Q: What’s your greatest flaw?
A: I talk too much. And I try too hard to be liked by everyone.

Q: What’s your best quality?
A: I’m a great communicator. And I’m nice. (Ha.)

Q: What do you regret most?
A: I remember one woman unloading with a really racist remark in my presence. I gaped at her, horrified, and she back-pedaled (poorly). But I still wish I’d been forceful and really called her out. I shudder to think that she’d assumed she was safe to say that kind of thing around me.

Q: If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A: I don’t want to be any other person, I like who I am just fine. A thing, eh? That’s fanciful. Ummm….a cello because it’s curvy with a pretty voice.

Q: What trait is most noticeable about you?
A: That I talk too much, see above. According to my husband, it’s my cute butt, but that’s what I get for asking him.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional hero?
A: Frodo Baggins in Lord of the Rings. You don’t have to be big and strong to save the world.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional villain?
A: Ever see Christopher Walken in “Balls of Fury”? He takes an already funny movie and sends it into giddy spasms of hilarity.
Runner up: Mr. Burns from The Simpsons.

Q: If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A: Billie Jean King, and I’d say thanks for winning the Battle of the Sexes. A generation of female athletes owes her a debt. Not that I’m an athlete. But I could have been. And my sister is. (She played a sport in every season in high school.)

Q: What is your biggest pet peeve?
A: Rudeness. Courtesy costs so little and makes life better for everyone.

Q: What is your favorite occupation, when you’re not writing?
A: I love to sing! And like I said above, I wish I could dance. I’ve done a teensy bit of community theater and I’d love to do more someday.

Q: What’s your fantasy profession?
A: Psychologist. Or anthropologist. I love science, just not so much the math. And all that…precision. My high school chemistry labs never once came out right.
Or maybe Broadway star, as long as we’re talking fantasy, here. (See above).

Q: What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?
A: Compassion, determination and a sense of humor.

Q: If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A: Gosh, I’d get sick of anything after like, a day. But I’m being too literal. So, sushi. Mmmm, wasabi.

Q: What are your 5 favorite songs?
A: Here are five of my favorite songs. I have lots of favorites, and these shift depending on the day.
Cabaret, from the show (Liza Minelli, especially)
Sweet Child O’Mine, Guns-n-Roses
Ghost in the House, Allison Krauss
That’s Not My Name, Ting Tings
Haven’t Met You Yet, Michael Buble

Q: What are your 5 favorite books of all time?
A: Catch-22, Joseph Heller
Breathing Lessons, Anne Tyler
How I Became a Famous Novelist, Steve Hely
Notes on a Scandal, Zoe Heller
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

Whether serious or funny, Kristina Riggle has a charming way of being any and every women. Enjoy her company by following along on Twitter and becoming a friend/fan on Facebook.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Alicia Bessette’s Simply from Scratch in a random drawing to anyone who comments only on this specific post, Presenting Debutante Alicia Bessette and Simply from Scratch. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is tonight at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winner to be announced here in tomorrow’s post. If you enter, please return tomorrow to possibly claim your book.

What If….Kristina Riggle and Sarah Pekkanen?

July 13, 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?

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

“There are many authors whose talent I admire — Anita Shreve, Anne Tyler, Elizabeth Berg and Jennifer Weiner leap to mind — but I want to be distinctly and only me. I want to have a writing voice so unique that people can read my words without looking at the cover and be able to say: “‘That sounds like a Kristina Riggle book.'” I’m working on that.”

“Interesting question! I have titles floating around in my head I love, but I hope to write a book that will match up with them someday, therefore I don’t want to spill them publicly. Wish I’d thought of THE HOUR I FIRST BELIEVED before Wally Lamb. What a great title. How about: THE BEST BOOK KRISTINA RIGGLE COULD EVER POSSIBLY WRITE.”

~ Sarah Pekkanen (The Opposite of Me):

“I’d want to be Jane Austin – and have written Pride and Prejudice!”

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Blogs Favored by Our Authors

May 06, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles

Enlightening or entertaining, what type of blogs would our authors favor on a daily basis? Of course it’s a bit of both and you might enjoy following along with:

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

~ Unclutterer –

~ Post Secret –

~ Sew, Mama, Sew! –

~ Sew at Sea, by my hilarious friend Laura –

~ Pub Rants –

Trish Ryan (He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not: A Memoir of Finding Faith, Love, and Happily Ever After, A Maze of Grace: A Memoir of Second Chances coming June 22, 2010):

~ Gretchen Rubin offers a great mix of practical and personal tips that guarantee me a smile, every time I click on her blog.

~ Brilliant writing advice from a wide array of authors.

~ It’s like People Magazine with a focus on the spiritual adventures of celebs.

~ A bunch of Borders employees are trying various resolutions found in books. The one I like best is the guy going for the adult version of the President’s Physical Fitness Challenge. I didn’t know that was an option, but I want my badge!

~ One of the first blogs I followed, and still one of the funniest. I’ve met “Swishy” and she’s every bit as great in person as she is online.

~ I met Amy Julia at a writer’s conference. Her perspective on faith, family & life makes me think…and feel.

(Catching Genius, Matters of Faith and Between Friends):

~ GalleyCat (industry news)

~ Backspace (writers’ discussion board $40/year)
~ The Divining Wand (no, really!)

~ A Good Blog Is Hard To Find (southern authors rotate blogging)

~ Toastiest (personal blog of David Seidman that I used in my research for BETWEEN FRIENDS and came to care about)

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

~ Obviously, the Debutante Ball!

~ Literary Mama, where I’m co-editor for fiction, which features really exciting, fresh work by mother-writers.

~ My agent’s blog, Pub Rants.

~ GalleyCat, an industry blog which combines great information with a biting wit

And a non-writing blog, Generation Xpert, by my friend Suzanne Kart. Speaking of biting wit, she uses hers to blog about Generation X.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted (most recent Crazy Beautiful YA, Sisters 8 series Book 5: Marcia’s Madness, and The Education of Bet YA coming July 12, 2010) :

~ Backspace:

~ Book Balloon:

~ BiblioBuffet:

~ Teen Fiction Cafe:

~ Read Short Fiction:

Wendy Tokunaga (Midori By Moonlight, Love in Translation):

~ The Book Deal: An Inside View to Publishing by editor Alan Rinzler – this guy really knows his stuff.

~ Internet Movie Database (whenever I see a film, I look it up here afterwards to get the scoop on the actors, trivia, awards, etc.)

~ Nathan Bransford – Literary Agent – Nathan works for Curtis Brown and always offers useful and cutting edge info on getting an agent, the publishing industry, the editorial process, etc.

~ Yahoo News – I find this site the easiest as far as layout and content to quickly keep up with the news of the day as it changes by the minute.

~ Perez Hilton – Yes, it’s cheesy gossip, but I admire how Mario Lavendeira (aka as Perez Hilton) built a highly successful website from humble beginnings with only a laptop and an “office” at the local Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf Cafe. He’s also an amusing writer.

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Announcement: The winner of The Sisters 8 Series is Susan. Congratulations! Please email with your mailing address and the books will be sent out promptly. This is definitely an occasion where I wish everyone could have won but thank you ALL for entering!

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

April 29, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Q&A

Today’s post is the continuation of how authors responded to a recent question posted on The Divining Wand’s Q & A page:

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?

Also please welcome The Divining Wand’s latest about-to-become author, Allie Larkin, who leads off with:

Allie Larkin (STAY coming June 10, 2010):

“The final version of STAY is around 100,000 words. The first draft was just short of 70,000, and then grew through the revising process, as the story became more layered and I developed the characters further. I don’t think word count should be a concern in the first few drafts of a book. Those drafts are about creating the framework of the story and getting to know the characters. Obviously, there are ideal lengths for books, but I think reaching an ideal word count should be more of an organic process than a goal to meet. You never want to add words just for the sake of adding them. So, even if it’s necessary to add 10-20,000 words to make the book a marketable length, I think the focus should be more about figuring out a way to grow the story and grow the characters, than trying to hit a certain number.”

Melanie Benjamin (Alice I Have Been):

“This is a good question. Before ALICE, I always aimed at 80,000; my earlier contract, for my 2 contemporary novels, stipulated that should be the approximate word count. When I moved to historical fiction, however, I found that there’s more leeway, and ALICE came in at around 100,000 words, and nobody blinked an eye. That’s the word count I have in mind for my next historical novel, too.

“However – word of advice. Let the story develop as it needs to and try not to obsess about the word count until it’s finished. Revisions always change things. If you finish and you find you’re way under the typical word count (which is, yes, anywhere from 70,000 to 100,000, depending on the genre as I said above), then you may have to decide whether or not the work would be better off as a short story. If you’re way over, you can edit and perhaps divide the work into 2 novels. So – try not to obsess while telling the story, but at the end of the day, word count does matter.”

Judy Merrill Larsen (All the Numbers):

“Ooh, I definitely think about word count as I’m writing . . . my novels tend to be in the 75,000 word range, which is a bit on the short side. And I NEVER get to that in my first draft. My goal in a first draft is to get to 65,000 words because I know that in revising (which to me means mostly adding and rearranging), I’ll get in that magical realm of 70,000-80,000 words.”

Holly LeCraw (The Swimming Pool):

“Mine is about 80,000 words. I didn’t think about word count as I was writing, but assumed I would come in at 300ish pages. As it turned out, mine is 307. I tend to like books that are tightly constructed and not overlong, although there are always exceptions.”

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

“Since I write for pretty much every age group imaginable, I’m all over the place on this. Each volume in The Sisters 8 series for young readers comes in at about 22K. My one middle grade was 35K. My adult novels range from 70-100K. Even within YA, I’m all over the place, with most coming in at 45-50K while The Twin’s Daughter (due out on Aug 31) is a whopping 96K! It all depends on what the individual book demands, how long it takes to tell the story right.”

Shana Mahaffey (Sounds Like Crazy):

“Sounds Like Crazy weighs in at just over 105,000 words. I wrote without regard to word count and was lucky enough to have my book published under an imprint that believes a book should be as long as it needs to be to tell the story.”

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

“I don’t have the exact number but I believe Looking After Pigeon was just around 80,000 words. The novel I’m working on now is about 85,000 words.”

Sarah Pekkanen (The Opposite of Me):

“The Opposite of Me is 105,000 words (give or take a few). My second novel is about 90,000 words. I do think a little about word count as I write, knowing it would be much harder to sell a book that came in at 60,000 or 200,000 words.”

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

“I had to look this information up. REAL LIFE & LIARS was 85,498 in the pre-copyedited version, and THE LIFE YOU’VE IMAGINED is a little longer at 91,171. My work-in-progress will end up about the same. Since I measure my daily progress in first drafts by word count I suppose I do think about it as I write, but only as a handy way to measure productivity. I do feel very pleased when I hit the big round numbers divisible by 10,000. It’s arbitrary, but it does feel like a milestone and since writing a first draft is so solitary it’s nice to congratulate myself on leaping those hurdles. No one else is going to throw me a party.”

Allison Winn Scotch (The Department of Lost and Found, Time of My Life and The One That I Want coming June 1, 2010):

“All of mine hover around the 85k mark. I do think about WC as I’m writing – I think about the book in a series of acts, and I know when to begin each one (generally), so I can time the action – and the necessary arc of that action – to the word count.”

Barrie Summy (I So Don’t Do Mysteries, I So Don’t Do Spooky and I So Don’t Do Makeup coming May 11, 2010, Ages 9 – 12):

“My novels (tween mysteries) are 52,000 to 55,000 words. Do I think about word count while I’m writing?

“Yes. Yes. Yes.

“I’m a HUGE plotter, and I know where I should be word-count wise for the major plot points, darkest moment, the resolution. This is how I keep the pace up.

“And also how I keep my sanity. I promise myself treats all the way through the first draft. For example, when I reach the first plot point, around 13,000 words, I get to have a package of licorice as a reward.”

Wendy Tokunaga (Midori By Moonlight, Love in Translation):

“I believe that my word counts come out to be around 85,000. I never think about this when I’m writing, though. I just write as much as I need to tell the story and it always seems to work out okay in the end.”

Therese Walsh (The Last Will of Moira Leahy):

“My publisher, Shaye Areheart, likes books to come in right at about 90,000 words, which is the word count for The Last Will of Moira Leahy.

“I keep tabs of word count using Word, but I don’t stress about it much while drafting a story. I tend to trust that the word count will fall near the right mark in the end. Word count definitely becomes more important during editing, though. I find it easier to edit a “fat” story down to size rather than add new beef.”

And a final word on just the facts….

Randy Susan Meyers (The Murderer’s Daughters):

“According to, ‘”Most print publishers prefer a minimum word count of around 70,000 words for a first novel, and some even hesitate for any work shorter than 80,000. Yet any piece of fiction climbing over the 110,000 word mark also tends to give editors some pause. They need to be sure they can produce a product that won’t over-extend their budget, but still be enticing enough to readers to be saleable. Imagine paying good money for a book less than a quarter-inch thick?”‘

“That said, there is much back and forth on this issue. I think the topic is very well covered by agent Colleen Lindsay in her blog, the swivet.”

If you have a question for our authors feel free to post it on the Q & A page or email:

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ATTENTION: This site’s rather exclusive sidebar has a new addition under the category of Must See. ArounderTouch is an iPhone app from The virtual reality site — featuring gorgeous 360-degree panoramas of the world — is what I frequently used on Seize A Daisy’s “Friday Getaways.” It’s a first-class ticket for your travel plans or imaginary flights of fancy, please check it out.

Announcement: The winners of Quick’s debut YA novel, SORTA LIKE A ROCK STAR, are Keetha and Beth. Congratulations! Please send your mailing addresses to: diviningwand (at) gmail (dot) com, and I’ll have your copy sent out promptly. Many thanks to everyone who entered.

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.”

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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, II

March 18, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Q&A

Yes there are more of our favorite authors’ writing books for your consideration and, though duplications become more numerous, there are also thoughtful additions to this question:

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!

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

“Definitely Bird by Bird, also Story by Robert McFee and This Year You Write Your Novel by Walter Mosley”

Judy Merrill Larsen (All the Numbers):

“I love both of the books already mentioned, and I’ve also becoME a big fan of Donald Maass’ books: WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL and THE FIRE IN FICTION. And I also firmly believe my craft improves by reading lots and lots of fiction that’s already out there–both the classics and what’s new, which, of course, rocks because I can claim time spent reading is ‘”work!”‘

Ivy Pochoda (The Art of Disappearing):

‘”The Stuff of Fiction”‘ by Doug Bauer is essential.
I also like James Woods ‘”How Fiction Works”‘
‘”Bringing Down the House”‘ by Charles Baxter”

Randy Susan Meyers (The Murderer’s Daughters):

“If I MUST choose, my favorites would be:

On Writing by Stephen King for the most down-to-earth advice presently like a memoir.

Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner because she’s an instant shrink for writers.

Modern Library Writer’s Workshop by Stephen Koch because it’s an MFA in a book.”

Allison Winn Scotch (The Department of Lost and Found, Time of My Life and The One That I Want coming June 1, 2010)

“I wish I could help but I’ve honestly never read a book on writing! Instead I read what I enjoy.”

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

“BIRD BY BIRD is classic and amazing, as much for its practical advice as its humor and commiseration (operative root word being “misery” of course). Whenever I have a bad day I think of KFKD (you have to read the book to get the reference) and I have re-read the Jealousy chapter more than once when I’m chewing on my own spleen about something.

“I’m a big fan of Sol Stein’s books ON WRITING and HOW TO GROW A NOVEL. Also, I read the classic SCREENPLAY by Syd Field in preparation for writing a film treatment of an earlier book. I don’t plan to walk down the screenwriting road but there were lots of plot tips in that book which helped me focus on my novels.

“Really though, the best education is to write more. Writing is a ‘”learn by doing”‘ affair.

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

“Speaking for myself – I have a zillion craft books. Whenever I’m stuck I seem to buy a new one. I think I buy them in the hope it will help me figure out my problem! My favorites include:

On Writing by Stephen King
Save the Cat by Snyder
Writing the Breakout Novel by Maass
The Writer’s Journey by Vogler”

Kristy Kiernan (Catching Genius, Matters of Faith and Between Friends coming April 6, 2010):

“My top three: The Forest For The Trees by Betsy Lerner. On Writing by Stephen King. And yes, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.”

To be continued…


Announcement: The winner of Jenny Gardiner’s memoir, Winging It, is Cathy Carper and the winners of Ad Hudler’s novel, Househusband, are Dera and Katie Alender. Congratulations to all of you! Please send your mailing address to diviningwand (at) gmail (dot) com and the books will be sent out promptly.