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Go-to Writing Books, III

April 07, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Authors' Favorites, Profiles, Q&A

Before, during and after a work-in-progress, a published/debut author has likely read more than a few books on the art and craft of writing. Yet not all motivation or inspiration comes from books on writing, in fact favorite novels are just as likely to be kept close at hand. With this in mind, The Divining Wand asked its authors:

What books do you keep nearby or go back to as you’re working?

And this week the following authors — including Laura Dave, the most recent addition to TDW — replied:

~Claire Cook (Seven Year Switch, Must Love Dogs, Life’s A Beach, and the rest in Bibliography, and Best Staged Plans coming May 31, 2011):

“I think of it as self-medicating with writing books. I keep a pile of them beside me as I write a novel, and flip through them as needed, not really for specific info but for their calming properties. The two I pick up again and again are Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and Carolyn See’s Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and other Dreamers.”

~Laura Dave (The Divorce Party, London Is the Best City in America, and The First Husband coming May 12, 2011):

“Slouching Toward Bethlehem, The Great Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice, The Feast of Love, The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing, Everything Changes, Something Borrowed, The Lost Legends of New Jersey and On Writing.”

~ Shana Mahaffey (Sounds Like Crazy):

“I keep books of poetry by W.B. Yeats, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Mathew Arnold to read when I need beautiful words to inspire me. I always have my online dictionary and reference website open. I consult both, but especially the latter, often throughout the process. For regular reading, I try to keep a good mystery by my side, and if there are none, I will always go back to The Chronicles of Amber* by Roger Zelazny.”

~Rebecca Rasmussen (The Bird Sisters coming April 12, 2011):

“I always keep Mary Oliver’s poems close to me when I’m writing. Sometimes I read a poem or two before I get started on my own work to remind myself to be mindful of my word choice and to enjoy the process even when it is frustrating me. Mary Oliver often celebrates life in her writing, from birds and trees to people and great loves, sometimes losses, which is what I am trying to do in mine.”

~Lori Roy (Bent Road):

“I have a well worn copy of Janet Burroway’s WRITING FICTION A GUIDE TO NARRATIVE CRAFT. The pages are highlighted, paperclipped and flagged with sticky notes. I also have several novels from favorite writers that I will open at random and read from whenever I find myself stuck.”

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

“It depends on the book I’m writing. For my last, because it was first person and relationship-driven, I kept looking at Nick Hornby’s HIGH FIDELITY, Curtis Sittenfeld’s PREP, and Richard Ford’s THE SPORTSWRITER.”

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Announcement: The winner of Friendship Bread by Darien Gee is Janel. Congratulations!

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

Writing Rituals, Secrets, and Superstitions, V

February 10, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles, Q&A

Yes or no? 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 take a look at 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?

This week provides the final responses, including one from new TDW author Catherine McKenzie:

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

“Never underestimate the power of a nap, particularly with the television on. The weird midday dreams that sneak in can be very inspiring. And if nothing comes, at least you are well rested.”

~Dee DeTarsio (The Scent of Jade [Kindle Edition]):

It’s “show and tell” on video.

~Tawna Fenske (Making Waves debuting August 2011, Believe It or Not in January 2012, and Let It Breathe August 2012):

“Chianti. Sangiovese. Sometimes Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay.”

~Beth Hoffman (Saving CeeCee Honeycutt):

“I go for a walk in the woods.”

~ Shana Mahaffey (Sounds Like Crazy):

“I have all three. First, because I am inspired by my grandfather, Joseph McGrath, especially since on his deathbed I promised if he’d help me from the “’other side,’” I would dedicate everything I write to him. He was a writer and a coach. At the start of each day, I touch his old IBM Selectric for good writing when I begin. When I begin, I always close my eyes, imagine him there, and then start. For when I am really stuck, I keep his old sweater in my office. I will wrap it around my neck on those occasions where slogging through mud in cement shoes is easier than writing.”

~Catherine McKenzie (Arranged, Spin):

“Nope. I use many things depending on the day. A certain song. A certain place. And to crib from James Frey: When all else fails, I turn to Dylan. And when Dylan fails, I call it a day.”

~Keetha DePriest Mosley [formerly Reed] (Culinary Kudzu: Recollections & Recipes from Growing Up Southern, More Culinary Kudzu: Recollections & Recipes from Growing Up Southern:

“At one time I would have found this infuriating advice but the one thing that always, no matter what, always works, is writing. Sometimes I take a break from the project I’m working on to do something different, such as write a letter to a favorite teacher or an ode to caramel. I remind myself that playing with words is fun, that writing is fun. Writing something – anything! – helps jolt anything loose that has me hung up: doubts, that evil internal editor, or just a thorny plot snafu.”

~Ivy Pochoda (The Art of Disappearing):

“I stare at my bookshelves.”

~Kristina Riggle (Real Life & Liars and The Life You’ve Imagined, and The Things We Didn’t Say coming June 28, 2011):

“I’m not the least bit superstitious about my writing, but I have been known to switch from the keyboard to writing longhand on paper when I’m really stuck. Not so much a secret or a ritual, but it’s a little trick that jumpstarts a sluggish brain somehow.”

~Lori Roy (Bent Road coming March 31, 2011):

“I have no secrets or superstitions, but I do drink green tea whenever I write, and I generally write with my feet propped up on my desk.”

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

“I prefer to write on an old laptop while propped up on pillows on my bed.”

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

“I change my surroundings–go from my office to a coffee shop, say–and switch from the computer to pen and paper.”

~Therese Walsh (The Last Will of Moira Leahy):

“Yes, to never, ever talk about my secret rituals. Just kidding. I don’t really have any—unless lucky pencils count. For The Last Will of Moira Leahy, I used a whole box of natural pencils by Focus (#2s, of course). For my current project, I’ve been using angular soft-to-the-touch pencils by Dixon . When I feel stuck in my manuscript, I almost always transition to pencil and paper to work through the problem.”

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Announcement: The winners of Lauren Baratz-Logsted’s The Twin’s Daughter are EJ Knapp and Heather. And the winner of the Sisters 8 Series, including Petal’s Problems is Megan. Congratulations!

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

Best Writing Exercises, Part IV

November 11, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Authors' Favorites, Q&A

As promised, The Divining Wand delivers yet another installment of what inspires or motivates our favorite authors/friends to perfect their natural skills, by asking the question: What have been some of the best writing exercises you’ve used in your writing process?

Also this post welcomes and introduces another new author, Ann Werrtz Garvin!

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

“I wish I could remember what book I read it in, but I once advised to try drawing your story as a way to come at it from a new angle. I was stuck in my story trying to figure out why certain plot points hadn’t jelled. I wrote Lydia McKenzie’s name (my main character) in the middle of a giant piece of paper and then drew lines to all the minor characters names like some kind of flow chart. I then wrote a few words above the line about their relationship. I realized that I wanted her to have multifaceted relationships with the other people in the story, and drawing it out like that helped me see where I could make my story and relationships stronger and more complex.”

Claire Cook (Seven Year Switch, Must Love Dogs, Life’s A Beach, and the rest in Bibliography, and Best Staged Plans coming May 31, 2011):

“I’m not a big writing exercise person. I just pour all my energy into the book I’m working on. But once, I just couldn’t get the ending of a novel right, so I sat on the floor of my office and just kept pulling books of the shelves. I read the last page of book after book, thinking, “‘Okay, this is what a good ending feels like. And this. And this. And this.’” And finally my ending popped into my head! It was nothing like any of the endings I’d just read, but they definitely led me to it!”

Ann Wertz Garvin (On Maggie’s Watch):

“I like to take a phrase that strikes me as interesting or funny–something I’ve seen on a bumper sticker or heard in conversation–and figure out what is funny about it and what it relates to. Often, I can’t put my finger on it right away. So I do a stream of consciousness kind of thing. I’ll work on it like I’m whittling a log or playing cats cradle. I take a bit here, move it over there, make associations, until I figure out what I like about it. I find my subconscious is so much smarter than my conscious mind. Like it’s playing with my awareness, seeing if I can figure out the puzzle. When I do, I get a little cerebral pat and everything shuts down for an afternoon nap.”

Shana Mahaffey (Sounds Like Crazy):

“The best exercises, hands down, have been working with all the plot tools outlined in BlockBuster Plots by Martha Alderson. I used her tools for my first novel, this included plotting the book, discovering all facets of my characters, and tracking the scene progressions. I am using the tools again for my second novel, which is in progress. I highly recommend her process. It not only helps you focus your plot, but it also helps for when you get stuck.”

Melissa Senate (The Love Goddess’ Cooking School, The Mosts YA, The Secret of Joy, the rest in Bibliography):

“One of my favorite inspirational books says that if you seek clarity about something, some burning question, you should sleep on it for three nights and you’ll wake up on the fourth day with the answer. I know this isn’t really a writing exercise, but it’s my best way of working through plot and characterization problems, rough spots, and corners I’ve backed myself into. My other favorite is to just ask my character what she really wants more than anything else, heart, mind and soul–and what she’s most afraid of.”

To be continued…..

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Announcement: The winner of Chosen by Chandra Hofffman is Mavis. Congratulations!

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

Current and Coming Attractions

September 16, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Advance News, Book Trailers, News

Although The Divining Wand authors have been busy writing, publishing, and keeping TBR books piled high, it’s only natural to wonder what’s next for our favorite writers. And what follows is a tasty sampling to whet your reading appetite.

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As of today, Thursday, September 16, 2010, Eileen Cook (Unpredictable, What Would Emma Do? YA, Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood YA, releasing in paperback September 21, 2010, The Education of Hailey Kendrick YA coming January 4, 2011, and Fourth Grade Fairy ages 9 – 11 coming April 19, 2011) celebrates the paperback release of Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood with the first video in a series of six.

As Eileen explains:

“The idea behind the videos is that the snotty Lauren Wood has her own video blog where she offers popularity tips. You can probably imagine what great advice Lauren has! I am going to have videos come out every couple days until all six are up. Please visit Lauren’s new website and click on the You Tube icon.

And now for the future:

~Robin Antalek (The Summer We Fell Apart):

“I’m currently working on a book set on a private island off the west coast of Florida about a woman who has experienced the premature death of her mother and sets out to find the family she never knew while her mother was alive. Tentative title: The Blooms of Ella Island.”

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

“Working on a new book that is a real departure for me, much more mainstream fiction. It is a questing story of a young woman who may or may not be dying, and how it explodes her quiet life.”

~Melanie Benjamin (Alice I Have Been):

“I’ll be appearing at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, TN, October 8-10. The paperback release of ALICE I HAVE BEEN is December 28th and I’ll be touring for that in January, dates & locations TBA. I’ve been blogging for the Huffington Post, and just joined a new group blog called the Girlfriends’ Book Club. My next historical fiction will be released by Random House in August of 2011; I’ll be announcing the title of the book very shortly!”

~Meg Waite Clayton’s The Wednesday Sisters, The Four Ms. Bradwells coming March 22, 2011):

“The Four Ms. Bradwells, coming March 22 from Ballantine. And my first novel, The Language of Light, will be reissued in paperback in the summer.”

The flap copy:

Meg Waite Clayton’s national bestseller The Wednesday Sisters was a word-of-mouth sensation and book club favorite. Now the beloved author is back with a page-turning novel that explores the secrets we keep, even from those closest to us, and celebrates the enduring power of friendship.

Mia, Laney, Betts, and Ginger, best friends since law school, have reunited for a long weekend as Betts awaits Senate confirmation of her appointment to the Supreme Court. Nicknamed “the Ms. Bradwells” during their first class at the University of Michigan Law School in 1979—when only three women had ever served full Senate terms and none had been appointed to the Court—the four have supported one another through life’s challenges: marriages and divorces, births and deaths, career setbacks and triumphs large and small. Betts was, and still is, the Funny One. Ginger, the Rebel. Laney, the Good Girl. And Mia, the Savant.

But when the Senate hearings uncover a deeply buried skeleton in the friends’ collective closet, the Ms. Bradwells retreat to a summer house on the Chesapeake Bay, where they find themselves reliving a much darker period in their past—one that stirs up secrets they’ve kept for, and from, one another, and could change their lives forever.

Once again, Meg Waite Clayton writes inspiringly about the complex circumstances facing women and the heartfelt friendships that hold them together. Insightful and affecting, The Four Ms. Bradwells is also a captivating tale of how far people will go to protect the ones they love.

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

“I’ve just finished up the third Lydia McKenzie mystery, tentatively called “‘An Artful Death.’” Lydia is hired by a real estate company to help catch illegal tenants. She finds an elderly Russian woman murdered in her apartment and suspects that the landlord got impatient. In the midst of her investigation, her parents arrive with another mystery to solve.”

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

“I’m working on a novel set in an underwater-themed amusement park. The main character is an eighteen-year-old former competitive figure skater whose now skates in the park’s ice show wearing a full-body jellyfish costume. One of the most fun parts of writing this so far is brainstorming ideas for amusement park rides! (My five-year-old daughter has been helping me.)”

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

“I’m working on my new novel, A THOUSAND CRANES.”

~Allie Larkin (Stay):

“I’m working on a piece for an anthology of dog-related essays that Wade Rouse is editing called I’M NOT THE BIGGEST BITCH IN THIS RELATIONSHIP. Published in 2011, proceeds will benefit The Humane Society and other animal causes.”

~Kate Ledger (Remedies):

“I’ve begun a new novel. If it were a pregnancy, I’m in that hesitant phase of the first trimester, and I’m not ready to discuss too much. I can tell this: The next novel also centers on family relationships and has medical themes because that’s what I’m interested in. Having finished a book, I feel I have a good sense of the arc of a novel, the overall shape it will take. I also know how long and hard the process is. My hope is that this gestation will be briefer than the last.”

~ Shana Mahaffey (Sounds Like Crazy):

“I am working on my second novel right now. I can tell you that the book is about a woman who has to correct a mistake she doesn’t know she made and guiding her through this process is her best friends dead brother.”

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

“I’m working on a book about adult siblings. It started out being about location and identity (I was going to call it ELSEWHERE) but it’s gotten further and further away from that theme to become about all the complex emotions of siblinghood. Which, alas, probably means I have to think of a new title.”

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

“I’m working on a non-fiction book called “‘Marriage in Translation: Interviews with Foreign Wives of Japanese Husbands,’” which takes an intimate and sometimes surprising look at the rewards and challenges of cross-cultural relationships. I’m also teaching an online class this Fall through Stanford University Extension called “‘Writing Novels About Women’s Lives.”‘

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Announcement: The winner of Leah Stewart’s Husband and Wife is Shannon. Congratulations!

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

And thank you all for entering. If my wand was truly magical, there would be a book for everyone.

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 fictionfactor.com, ‘”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: diviningwand@gmail.com

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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 Arounder.com. 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.

Our Authors’ Go-To Writing Books, III

March 25, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Q&A

Today’s post presents the third and final additions in response 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!

Shana Mahaffey (Sounds Like Crazy):

“The best investment I EVER made was Blockbuster Plots by Martha Alderson. The book is terrific, it is well written, full of examples and exercises. I also invested in getting my plots whispered out of me via consultation with Martha. You can’t go wrong with this book and/or her help.”

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

“I love Donald Maass’ books. He does a good job of inspiring without being too precise.

“I no longer read books on releasing one’s imagination and creativity. They’re invaluable when you need them, but I had enough “release your inner creativity” in acting school to last me a lifetime. (I’m also of a specific age and demographic that had touchy-feely public school. Remember trust falls? We used to do those in *gym class*.) I’m glad I learned it, but I don’t need to add to it any more.

“At this stage, I get most of my writing advice from industry blogs and discussion at Absolute Write and Backspace.”

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

“The only book you’ll ever need is TELLING LIES FOR FUN AND PROFIT by Lawrence Block.”

Danielle Younge-Ullman (Falling Under):

“I always come back to Steven King’s On Writing and there’s a book called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield that’s great. Both of these are particularly good for motivation, pushing through when you don’t feel like it. (And I guess I prefer writing books written by guys named Steven, lol.) For editing I like Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.”

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

“I enjoyed reading Bird by Bird and Stephen King’s book On Writing. I have a large collection of screenwriting books that I reread as well. Creating Unforgettable Characters by LInda Segar is worth a read, no matter what you’re writing.”

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

“The writing books I’ve found particularly helpful include Stephen King’s ON WRITING and YOUR FIRST NOVEL by Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb (the latter discusses both writing and publishing). And yes, I adore BIRD BY BIRD.”

Eve Brown-Waite (First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria: How A Peace Corps Poster Boy Won My Heart and A Third World Adventure Changed My Life):

“My very favorite writing book has always been, Bird by Bird. Also, when I read what I consider a really, really well-crafted book, I re-read it, trying to see how the author did that. Amy Tan’s THE HUNDRED SECRET SENSES and Margaret Atwood’s THE HANDMAID’S TALE. fall into that category for me.”

Therese Walsh (The Last Will of Moira Leahy):

“I gravitate more toward craft books than inspirational ones, though I own both. My two favorites—the ones that will always be on my keeper shelf—are “Writing the Breakout Novel” by Donald Maass and “Save the Cat” by Blake Snyder, because they provide the tools for creating a standout novel.”

A major thank you to all our authors who contributed to this book list!

Our Authors’ Go-To Writing Books, I, Our Authors’ Go-To Writing Books, II

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.

Shana Mahaffey’s Sounds Like Crazy

February 01, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

SoundsLikeCra

From the Front Book Cover:

“Tender, fresh, and darkly comic.”
–Tish Cohen, Author of Inside Out Girl

Since Shana Mahaffey has always been fascinated by how the mind works, it should not be surprising that she chose this ambitious topic for the idea of her debut novel, Sounds Like Crazy. Or, at least, her own mind pondered the mental ability of creatively coping for survival when faced with the trauma of loss, guilt, and anguish.

Pondering is this author’s “what if?” process and, in pondering how someone — crushed by a painful childhood — unconsciously has allowed five distinct personalities to mentally cope for her, Holly Miller appeared. Rather than referring to Holly as the protagonist or even main character, Shana claims her as the flawed narrator of the novel for there are those five other bodies and voices rattling around in Holly’s head.

Does this sound much more like confusing than just plain crazy?

It’s true that when the reader first meets about-to-turn thirty year old Holly her own personality is elusive, if not simply beaten down by the other five, aka the Committee. However Holly is not Sybil who lost track of time and was unaware that multiple personas existed within her. Instead the narrator of Sounds Like Crazy lives with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and is well aware when another personality takes control, but lacks the ability (and often the desire) to stop them.

To understand and accurately create a character with DID, Shana read and researched the subject, discovering her most telling information written in online blogs and comments from individuals suffering from a splintered psyche. In fact the novelist admits that this is where she realized true compassion for Holly and for anyone suffering from DID.

Concerned that a crash course in psychiatry may be required to enjoy Sounds Like Crazy?

Discover there’s no need to worry by reading the synopsis:

Though she doesn’t remember the trauma that caused it, Holly Miller has Dissociative Identity Disorder. Her personality has fractured into five different identities, together known as The Committee. And as much as they make Holly’s life hell, she can’t live without them.



Then one of those identities, the flirtatious, southern Betty Jane, lands Holly a voiceover job. Betty Jane wants nothing more than to be in the spotlight. The rest of The Committee wants Betty Jane to shut up. Holly’s therapist wants to get to the bottom of her broken psyche. And Holly? She’s just along for the ride…

In this Book Trailer for Sounds Like Crazy, view “the darkly comic” side of the story.

An Interview with Holly Miller

You’ve just met Holly as well as her five other personalities. And now a word from the author who was interviewed on KPIX Channel 5 Bay Sunday.

Without question Sounds Like Crazy is complicated…in a good way. The many layers, challenges, and mysterious demons of Holly Miller chronicle the journey of a young woman in search — at times — for her true identity as well as purpose in life. Ah, then, does this novel fall into the genre of chick lit/women’s fiction? It certainly does, albeit with the inclusion of a serious mental health disorder.

Yes Holly — alone, scrambling for work, acceptance, and love in New York City — may have more obvious and serious challenges to conquer than other thirty year old characters recently encountered in fiction. However that’s what makes her story compelling. She yearns to be normal, free to be in control of her life and its choices…except that giving in and having a Committee of five be responsible for your actions can be welcome and much too easy. Besides, since they began moving into her head during childhood, they all have reasons for being there.

Those reasons, their real identities, and whether Holly is strong enough to live without them prove to be both fascinating and frustrating. Just as the author found compassion for Holly, so also does she pass it on to the reader. A well-written, well-told tale that turns out to be heartbreakingly plausible, Sounds Like Crazy also provides just enough real life humor to offer recognition of universal human nature. After all don’t we all hear at least one voice in our head?

To read more about what others are saying about Shana Mahaffey’s debut novel, please visit her website’s News page. To get to know Holly and share a uniquely insightful journey for her true identity, indulge in and enjoy Sounds Like Crazy!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Shana Mahaffey’s Sounds Like Crazy in a random drawing of comments left on this post. Everyone — readers and writers alike — is welcome to participate before the deadline of this Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 7:00 pm EST. The winners will be announced here in Thursday’s post.

Living in a Modern Day Tales of the City

January 28, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Q&A

Once again, from The Divining Wand’s Q&A page, a reader asks:

Larramie, in yesterday’s interview with Shana Mahaffey (Sounds Like Crazy), I was very intrigued by this line:

“Shana lives in San Francisco, California, in part of an Edwardian compound that she shares with an informal cooperative of family, friends, and five cats.”

What, pray tell, is an ‘Edwardian (cooperative) compound’ ???

Below, in a lovely post, is Shana’s explanation.

***********

The Pierce Street Compound

“Shana lives in San Francisco, California, in part of an Edwardian compound that she shares with an informal cooperative of family, friends, and five cats.” You bet this sentence gets the gamut of responses ranging from “what is it?” to mutters of “San Francisco” accompanied by knowing nods of the head from the informed.

The Pierce Street Edwardian compound is a “modern day Tales of the City,” the main differences being we’re located on a real street, and we have Mr. McGrath (he’s not transgendered) instead of Mrs. Madrigal. The inhabitants are aging hippies, dot-com dropouts, a couple of musicians, and a school teacher. Overseeing the whole operation is, of course, the five cats.

The compound itself consists of one large Edwardian style building with four apartments in the front and a smaller Edwardian style building with two apartments in the back. It was built around 1900 when this style of home was popular in San Francisco. The Edwardian style home generally has simpler trim than the Victorian homes typically associated with the city. Another fun fact about the Edwardian is the distinguishing feature of this style is the egg-and-dart cornice work; and these homes were constructed of wood, stucco, brick or a combination, while the Victorians built previously were all made of redwood. The two Edwardian style dwellings that make up the Pierce Street Compound are separated by an eclectic garden with a fir tree, a variety of bushes, catnip every five feet, and easily over 100 pots of plants, which are rotated by the season. In spring and summer our garden is a cacophony of color, and fall winter we have mostly green.

My second cousin, Mr. McGrath, who owns the Pierce Street Compound is a card carrying Republican complete with an NRA sticker on his car. Yet, he forged our community (in every sense of the word) by deciding to charge only what is needed to cover the bills—an act that is unheard of in modern rental markets. The result is a group of people who live in the middle of San Francisco with unlocked doors (granted our compound is protected by two very secure gates), who are a community of neighbors, friends, and family related by blood and/or time. And while do we have our own homes where we can close our doors, we’ve taken the time to keep them open enough that we know each other, we take care of each other, we basically coexist quite happily.

Another offshoot of living in a community like this is our militant social consciousness. Admittedly, this could also be considered a by-product of living in San Francisco, nevertheless, we are obsessed with green living. We religiously recycle and compost. We also share cars, ride bikes, and take public transportation as often as possible. In our homes and basement you’ll only find eco friendly products. And, even we know that we take our sharing and sense of fellowship to an extreme when it comes to parking (a perpetual problem in San Francisco). We have a three car garage that is held open for late night arrivals and guests. Keys remain in parked cars and spares are kept in the garage so that anyone vacating a parking spot can move the one in the garage if necessary to ensure availability just in case. You can often hear one of us say, “Should we move the car, or am I obsessing about parking again?” But, guests at our frequent garden parties know if they come early, they’ll get parking; and they’re also accustomed to checking if their discards are recyclable or compostable before haplessly tossing stuff in the garbage bin.

The most unique aspect of the Pierce Street Compound is our infamous Delmar Dinners, held every other month, in honor of the Pierce Street Diplocat whose ashes are scattered throughout our garden. Aside from the camaraderie, green living, frequent parties, and convivial coexistence, the glue that holds the entire compound together is our unwavering reverence for Cats (yes I mean to capitalize). You may laugh, but cats have been associated with humans for at least 9,500 years, and are currently the most popular pet in the world. And at the Pierce Street Compound, we don’t just coexist peacefully with the most popular pet in the world, we understand our role and take seriously our duty to act as staff to the five felines currently occupying the compound. Ancient Egypt has nothing on us.

Now that you’re among the informed, whether you say, “cool!” or shake your head while whispering “San Francisco,” you are always welcome at the Pierce Street Compound. Just remember if you do drop by, you might get parking, you’ll have to recycle and compost, and most important, if you see one of the cats, you must be ready to serve.

[Please remember that Shana's debut novel, Sounds Like Crazy, is scheduled to be presented here on Monday.]