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Posts from the ‘books’ Category

May Round Up – On My/In My

It’s always fun to take a glimpse into the minds (and lives) of others.  So here are the things that were On My… and In My… for the month of May.  I found this idea over at In the Warm Hold of Your Loving Mind.

On the Nightstand:

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

where-things-come-back

and

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

wonder

On the Shelf:

Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s by John Elder Robison (The book I was supposed to read for my May book club meeting.  I didn’t read it because I’ve been busy with editing 100 pages for submittal to an agent.  See more below.)

lookme

and

Moloka’i by Alan Brennert (The book I’m supposed to read for my June book club meeting.  I’m hopeful I can carve out some time for it.)

molokai

At the Theater (or from the couch):  I watched this from my couch.  I’m a sucker for fairy tale remakes.  This one had some visually stunning scenes.  Overall, I can’t say that I was blown away by the characterization or story.  I did love the filmmaker’s take on the seven dwarves.

Snow White and the Huntsman

snowwhite2

On the Small Screen:

Shameless – More on this in its own post.  All I can say is I love this show.  I just finished watching the first and second seasons on Showtime.  The show is crass and tough and has gratuitous sex and nudity, if you ask me.  But I still love it.  The characters are three dimensional and the situations are hilarious and heartbreaking all at the same time.  This isn’t typically my type of show, but something keeps me coming back.  I think the writing is brilliant and I love William H. Macy’s acting in the show.  I can’t wait until January, 2014 for season three.

shameless

In My Ears:

“Hands Held High” by Linkin Park.  This song came on during my run the other day.  It’s been stuck in my head ever since:


Around the House:

Building a dog fence.  We adopted a puppy from an animal rescue.  Monty, our 10-week old mutt joins our 15-year old Brittany Spaniel, Bailey.  Bailey isn’t sure what hit her with this new puppy begging for her attention.  In order to adopt from the animal rescue organization, we needed to build a fence.  It was a new adventure pitting my 5’3″ frame against a post-hole digger.  Thank goodness it was a team effort with my husband or that sucker would have bounced me all over the yard.

Monty

In the Kitchen:

Smoked Salmon – I bought my husband an electric smoker last Father’s Day, and we’ve been making this killer salmon recipe at least once a week.

This is more like a brine recipe, meaning you will keep your salmon marinating in the mixture overnight.

1/3 cup soy sauce

1/3 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup water

1/4 cup veg. oil

Mix above ingredients all together in a bowl.  Place the salmon skin side up in bowl and refrigerate overnight.  If you have a large slice of salmon, you may need to cut it in half.  Both pieces of salmon should fit on your grill when smoking (use the top grill when smoking this).  When you are ready to smoke the fish the next morning, pull it out of the fridge and let it sit on the smoker rack over your sink, to drip dry, about 10- 15 minutes.  When the salmon appears to be drying off, lightly sprinkle the salmon with lemon pepper and garlic powder.  Place the fish top rack of your smoker and cook for 1-1/2 hours. (Cooking times may vary depending on your smoker.)  We use a mix of apple and hickory chips.  Yum!

In My Closet:

Nothing new here except a mess and ridiculous amounts of laundry to which I need to tend.

In My Mailbox:

Three prints from Spain.  I ordered these from this Etsy.com shop.  They have a Buy 2-Get 1 Free deal right now.  The print quality is excellent and they arrived without a rip or bend in the package.  Can’t wait to frame them for my office.

balloonlines copy

In My Cart:

My friend invented these Benbini watches.  They were originally designed for new mothers, but with kids aged 8 and 5, I’m definitely not a new mother, and I love my Benbinis.  I have the white and the melon colors.  I’ve had the Grey/Raspberry one in my cart for a month now.  I’m sure I’ll break down and add it to my collection soon enough.

Benbini watch
On My Heart:

Thoughts of the victims of all of the Oklahoma tornadoes.  Every time I pull up Google News it seems like I’m reading about another weather-related incident: wildfires in California, tornadoes in Oklahoma, flooding in Central Europe.  I’m thankful that Colorado had some decent rain and snowfall in May and hopeful that we continue to get the much needed moisture to delay our own wildfire season.

On the Calendar:

Sending two sets of requested pages to a literary agent.  This request was the result of a pitch session at this year’s Pikes Peak Writers’ Conference.  More on this once the edits are finished and I’ve hit the “Send” key.

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Writing and Memorial Day

Memorial Day Flags

Memorial Day for many means a day off of work or school, backyard barbeques with friends and summer just around the corner.  It is all of those things, but this annual federal holiday means so much more, too.

Memorial Day is a day of remembering.  A day to remember the men and women who died while serving in the US Armed Forces. It was formerly known as Decoration Day, which originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. By the 20th century, Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died while in the military service.

Yesterday, while driving past a cemetery packed with people placing flags into the ground near headstones, I explained to my two boys (aged 8 and 5) the meaning of Memorial Day.  We talked about their relatives and friends (some distant and some immediate) who served or serve in the armed forces. We talked about war—and the shades of grey which color our government’s decisions regarding our freedom and our country’s role in the world.

As my little guys processed this complicated information, I was reminded of a conversation with my oldest.  His elementary school annually participates in the One School One Book program. The book for 2012 was Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo.  This book is beautifully written and deals with complicated subjects like divorce, alcoholism and war.  It was a mature book for my first grader to process, but it provided excellent fodder for family conversations about our world.

In the book, the main character, Opal, befriends the town’s librarian who shares great stories about her past, including a tale about her great-grandfather, whose family members died while he fought for the South in the Civil War. Grief-stricken after his return from battle, he decided he wanted to live the remainder of his life filled with sweetness. Thus, he invented Littmus Lozenge candies that tasted like a combination of root beer and strawberry with a secret ingredient mixed in—sorrow—which makes anyone who tastes it taste sorrow.

I will never forget my seven-year old staring up at me with big eyes and saying, “That’s how I feel, Mommy.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“When you explained war to us. And when you were talking about the hard decisions that the President has to make. I felt like I was eating those lozenges.  I tasted sorrow when you talked about that.”

Wow!  From the mouths of babes, right?  This, my friends, is the power of literature.  It is why I read and why I write.

Saturday’s post contained a quote by English playwright and screenwriter, Alan Bennett.

The best moments in reading are when you come across something—a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things—which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is.  Set down by someone else. A person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.

This was the case for my son.  Across miles and pages, Kate DiCamillo had taken his hand.  Yesterday as he sat with his face pushed against the car window watching those people adorn the cemetery with flags, he was sucking on one of those Littmus Lozenges again.  He didn’t say anything, just nodded and listened.  But I could tell that Memorial Day was a palpable concept for him. Thanks to Kate DiCamillo, my son could taste the sweet and the sorrow.  Thanks to great writing, he could put words to his complicated emotions.

So while I’m cranking out my own words this morning and then enjoying some laughs at our neighborhood cookout, I’ll be sucking on one of those lozenges too.  And I’ll have Kate DiCamillo and thousands of other writers to thank for helping me find the words to describe life’s complicated emotions.  Happy Memorial Day to you.  I hope you taste the sweet and the sorrow.

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The Best Moments (as a Reader and a Writer)

This happens to me all the time. It gives meaning to reading, writing and life…

The Best Moments

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Debut Novels on my list for September

It’s that time again.  Time for the list of September debut novels about which I’m excited.  This month we have four stories about war, families and even Hollywood ingenues.  Hopefully you’ll discover something new to add to your reading list this month.  Happy reading and happy writing!

The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets by Kathleen Alcott

Ida grew up with Jackson and James—where there was “I” there was a “J.” She can’t recall a time when she didn’t have them around, whether in their early days camping out in the boys’ room decorated with circus scenes or later drinking on rooftops as teenagers. While the world outside saw them as neighbors and friends, to each other the three formed a family unit—two brothers and a sister—not drawn from blood, but drawn from a deep need to fill a void in their single parent households. Theirs was a relationship of communication without speaking, of understanding without judgment, of intimacy without rules and limits.

But as the three of them mature and emotions become more complex, Ida and Jackson find themselves more than just siblings. When Jackson’s somnambulism produces violent outbursts and James is hospitalized, Ida is paralyzed by the events that threaten to shatter her family and put it beyond her reach. Kathleen Alcott’s striking debut, The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets, is an emotional, deeply layered love story that explores the dynamics of family when it defies bloodlines and societal conventions.

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

“The war tried to kill us in the spring.” So begins this powerful account of friendship and loss. In Al Tafar, Iraq, twenty-one-year old Private Bartle and eighteen-year-old Private Murphy cling to life as their platoon launches a bloody battle for the city. Bound together since basic training when Bartle makes a promise to bring Murphy safely home, the two have been dropped into a war neither is prepared for.

In the endless days that follow, the two young soldiers do everything to protect each other from the forces that press in on every side: the insurgents, physical fatigue, and the mental stress that comes from constant danger. As reality begins to blur into a hazy nightmare, Murphy becomes increasingly unmoored from the world around him and Bartle takes actions he could never have imagined.

With profound emotional insight, especially into the effects of a hidden war on mothers and families at home, The Yellow Birds is a groundbreaking novel that is destined to become a classic.

The People of Forever are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu

Yael, Avishag, and Lea grow up together in a tiny, dusty Israeli village, attending a high school made up of caravan classrooms, passing notes to each other to alleviate the universal boredom of teenage life. When they are conscripted into the army, their lives change in unpredictable ways, influencing the women they become and the friendship that they struggle to sustain. Yael trains marksmen and flirts with boys. Avishag stands guard, watching refugees throw themselves at barbed-wire fences. Lea, posted at a checkpoint, imagines the stories behind the familiar faces that pass by her day after day. They gossip about boys and whisper of an ever more violent world just beyond view. They drill, constantly, for a moment that may never come. They live inside that single, intense second just before danger erupts.

In a relentlessly energetic voice marked by caustic humor and fierce intelligence, Shani Boianjiu creates a heightened reality that recalls our most celebrated chroniclers of war and the military, while capturing that unique time in a young woman’s life when a single moment can change everything.

Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub

In 1920, Elsa Emerson, the youngest and blondest of three sisters, is born in idyllic Door County, Wisconsin. Her family owns the Cherry County Playhouse, and more than anything, Elsa relishes appearing onstage, where she soaks up the approval of her father and the embrace of the audience. But when tragedy strikes her family, her acting becomes more than a child¹s game of pretend.

While still in her teens, Elsa marries and flees to Los Angeles. There she is discovered by Irving Green, one of the most powerful executives in Hollywood, who refashions her as a serious, exotic brunette and renames her Laura Lamont. Irving becomes Laura’s great love; she becomes an Academy Award­-winning actress—and a genuine movie star. Laura experiences all the glamour and extravagance of the heady pinnacle of stardom in the studio-system era, but ultimately her story is a timeless one of a woman trying to balance career, family, and personal happiness, all while remaining true to herself.

Ambitious and richly imagined, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures is as intimate—and as bigger-than-life—as the great films of the golden age of Hollywood. Written with warmth and verve, it confirms Emma Straub’s reputation as one of the most exciting new talents in fiction.
What about you?  Do you know of any September debuts I should add to my list?

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20 Best Gifts for Writers

It’s that time of year again.  The time of year you start giving gifts to the writer in your life.  Gift giving? What? Shouldn’t this post have been back in November before the holidays?  Well, yes.  But think about all those gift giving opportunities on the horizon.  Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, June birthdays (I don’t know about you, but I know so many people with birthdays in June.  Maybe people just get frisky when back-to-school rolls around.), and teacher appreciation gifts.  Then there are summer vacations.  I’m always looking for great hostess gifts for the multiple friends who house us on our annual summer road trips.  See, anytime is a good gift giving time!

If you’re anything like me, you’re always looking for the perfect gift to put a smile on your favorite writer’s face.  I’ve compiled a list of my Top 20 Best Gifts for Writers.  Enjoy and be sure to let me know if you’ve received any writer’s gifts that have knocked your socks off.  I’ll add them to my list.  If you use Pinterest, you can check out my post on Pinterest for Writers here and you can check out all of these gift ideas on my Pinterest board “Gifts for Writers.”

1. 

Bamboo Custom Carved Keyboard and Mouse Combo – $89.98  I can just feel my fingers gliding over this sleek looking keyboard.  It’s an earth-friendly keyboard which connects to your computer via USB.

2.  USA Literary Map – $19.94  An original hand-lettered poster which features 226 geographically connected authors.

3.  Conceal Bookshelf – $16.09  Make books float on your wall with this gravity defying bookshelf.  I can picture my office covered with stacks of books hovering from the walls.

4. 

“Writing is Rewriting” Cuff Ring – $13.95  Etsy.com is one of my favorite places to find one-of-a-kind gifts.  This ring is hand stamped with the phrase “writing is rewriting.”  It will serve as a daily reminder that the hard work doesn’t end the first time you write “The End.”

5.  Gift certificate to Moo.com for 50 Mini-Moo Business Cards – $19.99  These cards can be custom designed with multiple images.  They would be great to feature quotations or images from that new novel your writer friend has coming out.

6.  Hand-Painted Business Card Holder – $48.00  Speaking of business cards and speaking of Etsy.com, this San Francisco-based Etsy artist creates beautiful works of art on metal business card holders.  Your favorite writer friend will feel proud to pull out this holder when networking at the next writer’s conference.

7.  “Shut up and write.” Canvas Totebag – $25.15  We all need a reminder now and then.  Filled with groceries or library books, this tote will serve as a constant reminder to the procrastinating writer.

8.  Writer’s Flask – $20.00  We all need a little liquid courage sometimes.  Regardless of what it’s filled with, this flask will give your favorite writer a laugh (and maybe the courage to fight back that inner editor) every time they sip from it.

9.  Pop Art Edgar Allen Poe T-shirt in Pink or Black – $26.99  The image of Edgar Allen Poe on this t-shirt is created out of the words of his famous poem, “The Raven.”  If you follow me on Facebook or Pinterest, you know I love fun t-shirts.  This one will definitely find its way into my closet.

10.   Stick-Up Weekly Calendar – $10.00  What better way to remind yourself of those weekly wordcount goals than with a self-adhesive calendar stuck to your computer monitor.  Remember appointments with your doctor, your friends or your keyboard with these handy little Post-It note calendars.

11.  Bracelet made from Vintage Typewriter Keys – $85.00  Many writers love the nostalgia of the good old days.  This bracelet harkens back to a time when writers were hunched over their Remington keyboard clacking away.  Made from real typewriter kays, this bracelet is a must-have for the writer’s jewelry box.

12.  Virginia Woolf A Room of One’s Own Teatowel – $14.67  The Literary Company has a wide selection of teatowels, posters and mugs imprinted with original book covers by the world’s favorite authors.  I also love The Great Gatsby poster and the Slaughterhouse Five mug.

13.  Magnetic Poetry Writer’s Remedy – $13.60  The gentle relief of Writer’s Remedy helps with all writers block.  The bottle has over 200 magnetic tiles with words like “beauty,” “pickle,” and “confess.”

14.   “Please don’t make me mock you in my novel” T-shirt – $18.95  This shirt comes in men’s and women’s sizes with all different colors to choose from.

15.  “If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.” Necklace – $22.50  This wooden pendant hangs from a sterling silver chain.  The quote by Lord Byron perfectly captures the feeling that many of us have that if we don’t capture all of those thoughts on paper, our minds might explode or go mad.

16.  Virginia Woolf “Orlando” Totebag – $15.78  You can never have enough totebags, and the Virginia Woolf quote on this one is particularly fitting.   Not only does it capture the frantic life of many writers, but it hits a chord for me on days when I’m juggling family, work, friends and writing.  This jumbled mass of humanity (with or without the gin and the birthing in the next room) is sometimes the perfect (and only) atmosphere for my writing.

17.  Edgar Allen Poe T-shirt – $27.00  You can’t go wrong with Edgar Allen Poe gifts for writers.  This t-shirt is printed with one of Poe’s most ominous, albeit true (in his case) quotes.  “I became insane with long intervals of horrible sanity.”  Some days just feel like that, don’t they?

18.  Ampersand Earrings – $8.00  I, like many writers, am a sucker for typography.  These simple acrylic earrings make me happy every time I see them. Not only is the ampersand a beautiful piece of typographic art, but I love the possibilities that a lone ampersand (or a pair of them) provides for life.  And… and…  and…

19.  “We are such stuff as dreams are made on” Sterling Silver Cuff – $97.00  This adjustable wrist cuff is stamped with a quote from William Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  And what better way to sum up the world of writing than with this wise and poetic sentiment?  Writers truly are such stuff as dreams are made on.  How else could we keep plugging away at it everyday?

20.  F-Bomb Paperweight – $45.00  Sometimes, there is nothing better than an appropriately shouted (or stifled) f-bomb.  This paperweight makes me giggle everytime I see it. Yes, it’s crass.  Yes, it’s irreverent.  Yes, that’s what I love about it.  Aren’t we all just the tiniest bit crass and irreverent sometimes?  That’s why we’re writers, right?

How about you? Have you received any perfect writer’s gifts?  I’d love to have this list up to 50 ideas by November, 2012 – just in time for the next round of holidays!

Debut Novels on My List for March

It’s that time again.  Time for my list of top five debut novels coming out in March.  This month we have a diverse group of books ranging from commercial fiction about an art heist, to new fiction by CNN’s chief medical correspondent, to two YA novels and finally, a literary novel about the power and complexity of faith.  Hopefully you’ll discover something new to add to your reading list this month.  Happy reading and happy writing!

The Icon Thief by Alec Nevala-Lee

A controversial masterpiece resurfaces in Budapest. A headless ballerina is found beneath the boardwalk at Brighton Beach. And New York’s Russian mafia is about to collide with the equally ruthless art world….

Maddy Blume, an ambitious young art buyer for a Manhattan hedge fund, is desperate to track down a priceless painting by Marcel Duchamp, the most influential artist of the twentieth century.

The discovery of a woman’s decapitated body thrusts criminal investigator Alan Powell into a search for the same painting, with its enigmatic image of a headless nude.

And a Russian thief and assassin known as the Scythian must steal the painting to save his reputation–and his life.

The murderous race is on. And in the lead is an insidious secret society intent on reclaiming the painting for reasons of its own–and by any means necessary….

Monday Mornings: A Novel by Dr. Sanjay Gupta

Every time surgeons operate, they’re betting their skills are better than the brain tumor, the faulty heart valve, the fractured femur. Sometimes, they’re wrong. At Chelsea General, surgeons answer for bad outcomes at the Morbidity and Mortality conference, known as M & M. This extraordinary peek behind the curtain into what is considered the most secretive meeting in all of medicine is the back drop for the entire book.

Monday Mornings, by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, follows the lives of five surgeons at Chelsea General as they push the limits of their abilities and confront their personal and professional failings, often in front of their peers at M & M. It is on Monday mornings that reflection and introspection occurs, usually in private. It is Monday Mornings that provides a unique look at the real method in which surgeons learn – through their mistakes. It is Monday Mornings when, if you’re lucky, you have a chance at redemption.

Starters by Lissa Price

In the future, teens rent their bodies to seniors who want to be young again. One girl discovers her renter plans to do more than party–her body will commit murder, if her mind can’t stop it. Sixteen-year-old Callie lost her parents when the genocide spore wiped out everyone except those who were vaccinated first–the very young and very old. With no grandparents to claim Callie and her little brother, they go on the run, living as squatters, and fighting off unclaimed renegades who would kill for a cookie. Hope comes via Prime Destinations, run by a mysterious figure known only as The Old Man. He hires teens to rent their bodies to seniors, known as enders, who get to be young again. Callie’s neurochip malfunctions and she wakes up in the life of her rich renter, living in her mansion, driving her cars, even dating Blake, the grandson of a senator. It’s a fairy-tale new life . . . until she uncovers the Body Bank’s horrible plan. . . .

The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen

In Grace McCleen’s harrowing, powerful debut, she introduces an unforgettable heroine in ten-year-old Judith McPherson, a young believer who sees the world with the clear Eyes of Faith. Persecuted at school for her beliefs and struggling with her distant, devout father at home, young Judith finds solace and connection in a model in miniature of the Promised Land that she has constructed in her room from collected discarded scraps—the Land of Decoration. Where others might see rubbish, Judith sees possibility and divinity in even the strangest traces left behind. As ominous forces disrupt the peace in her and Father’s modest lives—a strike threatens her father’s factory job, and the taunting at school slips into dangerous territory—Judith makes a miracle in the Land of Decoration that solidifies her blossoming convictions. She is God’s chosen instrument. But the heady consequences of her newfound power are difficult to control and may threaten the very foundations of her world.

With its intensely taut storytelling and crystalline prose, The Land of Decoration is a gripping, psychologically complex story of good and evil, belonging and isolation, which casts new and startling light on how far we’ll go to protect the things we love most.

Where it Began by Ann Redisch Stampler

Gabby Gardiner wakes up in a hospital bed looking like a cautionary ad for drunk driving—and without a single memory of the accident that landed her there. But what she can recall, in frank and sardonic detail, is the year leading up to the crash.

As Gabby describes her transformation from Invisible Girl to Trendy Girl Who Dates Billy Nash (aka Most Desirable Boy Ever), she is left wondering: Why is Billy suddenly distancing himself from her? What do her classmates know that Gabby does not? Who exactly was in the car that night? And why has Gabby been left to take the fall?

As she peels back the layers of her life, Gabby begins to realize that her climb up the status ladder has been as intoxicating as it has been morally complex…and that nothing about her life is what she has imagined it to be.

What are you reading? January Books

Reading was my first love. Growing up, I spent hours holed up in my bedroom. I squeezed my tush into an old wooden rocking chair, planted my feet on the radiator and lost myself in books. On family vacations, the hours spent in the car passed quickly because I always had a book in hand.

When I’ve been writing non-stop (like November and December) I feel depleted. My brain gets tired and I feel like I can’t put together a coherent thought. When it’s all over, I just want to lose myself in mindless television… for a week or so. And then I start to get antsy. I want to be inspired. I want the words of other people to make me laugh and to make me think. I turn to books to fill me up – a grab-you-by-the-throat story that sucks me in or a brilliant turn of phrase that has me audibly saying “Huh!” is exactly what I need to fill up the well of writing inspiration.

January was a joyful reading month. I wrote just enough to squeak by on my writing commitments and I spent the remainder of my free time (usually an hour or two after my kids go to bed) reading. Here are the books I finished in January:

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

Night Swim by Jessica Keener

The Illustrated Mum by Jacqueline Wilson (Don’t let the cover art fool you. This book is a tender and mature look at mental illness told from the point of view of a 10-year-old girl.)

Cracked by K.M. Walton

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (It’s was a John Green month for me!)

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff by Christopher Moore

I’ve gotten some great suggestions from all of you in the comments for books to add to my February list. I’ve added The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson thanks to Lorna’s suggestion. Check her out at Gin and Lemonade. I’m also adding The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco thanks to LoveofWords52.

What makes you buy a book?

The last few weeks have seen multiple articles in the blogosphere about publicity in the book world. The authors are addressing the ongoing question: What causes someone to buy a book?  J.A. Konrath published a tell-all article about The Value of Publicity (of lack thereof) regarding book sales. Konrath admits to being well known in the publishing world thanks to his foray into self-publishing after many years of working with a major publishing house.  But he also knows that the majority of the people following the news regarding e-publishing and self-publishing are writers – not readers.  And readers are the people who buy his books. He says:

The majority of my sales don’t come from people hearing about my self-pub exploits. Nor do they come from my midlist legacy titles, which sold modestly.

Yet, Konrath’s titles are selling extremely well. He made $140K in the last 30 days. If it isn’t Konrath’s infamous publishing choices that are causing the spike in his book sales, then what is it that is pushing readers to open up their wallets and fork over the cash for Konrath’s books?

In Jane Friedman’s interview with author and editor John Warner (Using Word of Mouth [Not Media Attention] to Sell Books), Warner has several poignant statements regarding book sales:

It’s impossible to know what mention or connection will lead to some kind of tipping point, so every single last one of them counts.

For most books like mine, to sell ‘well’, interest has to come from the ground up, rather than the top down, it’s driven by readers rather than by media attention….If any media attention does come from the book, it’s going to be because some reader with those connections made it happen.

Before I was a writer, I was a reader, and the sensation that comes with really connecting with a book simply can’t be duplicated by any other medium. It is true virtual reality, where your consciousness joins another in a deep and inexplicable way, and it is awesome.

After reading these articles, I’ve been thinking a lot about what motivates me to buy a book – what is my tipping point?  With so many books out there right now and so many phenomenal writers, what makes me part with my cold hard cash and become the proud owner of a book?

For me it comes down to multiple impressions.  Anyone who has ever worked in marketing knows that Marketing 101 is all about Multiple Impressions.  Hit them with an ad, hit them with a postcard mailing, hit them with a digital watermark.  According to Digimarc, “Repeated user education and use of the technology over time will generate results.”

However, in 2012, when we are all so connected by social media and the vast world of the interweb makes the real world that much smaller, it’s about more than multiple anonymous impressions.  For me to part with my hard-earned dollars, these multiple impressions need to snowball – each impression giving me a stronger picture of the novel and a stronger impression of the person behind the novel.

Let’s look at the most recent book purchase I made – The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.

  1. Impression #1 – Several weeks ago I heard Diffenbaugh interviewed on National Public Radio’s  Weekend Edition. This was the first I had heard of Diffenbaugh’s novel.  The passage that Diffenbaugh read during the interview struck me as the type of story and the type of writing that I would enjoy.
  2. Impression #2 – I also loved that Diffenbaugh founded the Camellia Network, whose mission is to activate networks of citizens in every community to provide the critical support young people need to transition from foster care to adulthood. An author with a vested interest in the subject of her book (outside of simply writing a good story) is always fascinating to me.  Her strong feelings about foster care and social issues surrounding those who age out of the system immediately made me love her.
  3. Impression #3 – Then The Langauge of Flowers popped up on three of my friends’ Goodreads accounts as either “To-Be Read” or “Read” with rave reviews.  These are friends whose literary tastes I respect, so I knew I was in for a good read (pardon the pun!)
  4. Impression #4 – Finally, I visited Diffenbaugh’s website and found a link to her Twitter account.  After several weeks of following, I began to see a trend in Diffenbaugh’s tweets.  She seems incredibly gracious – not only supporting other author friends but reaching out to her fans to thank each and every one of them for the feedback they provide after finishing her book.  That sealed the deal for me.  I could wait until the book came to my local library and read it for free, or I could plunk down the $12.99 to support an author who seems like a great writer and a nice person to boot.

Now don’t let this deceive you.  I don’t ONLY read books by authors I virtually know or virtually like.  I was a Literature major – I read everything.  I read because I love to read.  I read because I love good literature and good writing.  I read books by old dead guys.  I read books by authors who are tortured hermits and care nothing about their readers.

But reading books and buying books are two very different things in 2012.  I can wait until the books by the tortured hermit come to my local library and I can read them for free.  If I’m forking over $12.99 (or $24.99 or even $0.99), I want the whole package.  I want a great book.  I also want a book written by a person who cares about the world and cares about his/her readers.  I don’t just want multiple impressions.  I want multiple impressions that wow me.

What about you?  What makes you buy a book?  Jump into the conversation with the poll below or just leave me a comment.

 

5 Debut Novels on My List for February

It’s time to get your Goodreads accounts pulled up.  Here are five debut novels you’ll want to add to your February “to-read” list.  Enjoy!

A Good American by Alex George

An uplifting novel about the families we create and the places we call home.

It is 1904. When Frederick and Jette must flee her disapproving mother, where better to go than America, the land of the new? Originally set to board a boat to New York, at the last minute, they take one destined for New Orleans instead (“What’s the difference? They’re both new“), and later find themselves, more by chance than by design, in the small town of Beatrice, Missouri. Not speaking a word of English, they embark on their new life together.

Beatrice is populated with unforgettable characters: a jazz trumpeter from the Big Easy who cooks a mean gumbo, a teenage boy trapped in the body of a giant, a pretty schoolteacher who helps the young men in town learn about a lot more than just music, a minister who believes he has witnessed the Second Coming of Christ, and a malevolent, bicycle-riding dwarf.

A Good American is narrated by Frederick and Jette’s grandson, James, who, in telling his ancestors’ story, comes to realize he doesn’t know his own story at all. From bare-knuckle prizefighting and Prohibition to sweet barbershop harmonies, the Kennedy assassination, and beyond, James’s family is caught up in the sweep of history. Each new generation discovers afresh what it means to be an American. And, in the process, Frederick and Jette’s progeny sometimes discover more about themselves than they had bargained for.

Poignant, funny, and heartbreaking, A Good American is a novel about being an outsider-in your country, in your hometown, and sometimes even in your own family. It is a universal story about our search for home.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse. August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?
R. J. Palacio has written a spare, warm, uplifting story that will have readers laughing one minute and wiping away tears the next. With wonderfully realistic family interactions (flawed, but loving), lively school scenes, and short chapters, Wonder is accessible to readers of all levels. Age level = 8 and up.

The Golden Hour by Margaret Wurtele

In this stunning debut set in the summer of 1944 in Tuscany, Giovanna Bellini, the daughter of a wealthy aristocrat and vineyard owner, has just turned seventeen and is on the cusp of adulthood. War bears down on her peaceful little village after the Italians sign a separate peace with the Allies-transforming the Germans into an occupying army.

But when her brother joins the Resistance, he asks Giovanna to hide a badly wounded fighter who is Jewish. As she nurses him back to health, she falls helplessly in love with the brave and humble Marco, who comes from as ancient and noble an Italian family as she does. They pledge their love, and then must fight a real battle against the Nazis who become more desperate and cruel as the Allies close in on them…

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart–he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone–but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.

This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.

The Darlings by Cristina Alger

Now that he’s married to Merrill Darling, daughter of billionaire financier Carter Darling, attorney Paul Ross has grown accustomed to New York society and all of its luxuries: a Park Avenue apartment, weekends in the Hamptons, bespoke suits. When Paul loses his job, Carter offers him the chance to head the legal team at his hedge fund. Thrilled with his good fortune in the midst of the worst financial downturn since the Great Depression, Paul accepts the position.

But Paul’s luck is about to shift: a tragic event catapults the Darling family into the media spotlight, a regulatory investigation, and a red-hot scandal with enormous implications for everyone involved. Suddenly, Paul must decide where his loyalties lie-will he save himself while betraying his wife and in-laws or protect the family business at all costs?

Cristina Alger’s glittering debut novel interweaves the narratives of the Darling family, two eager SEC attorneys, and a team of journalists all racing to uncover-or cover up-the truth. With echoes of a fictional Too Big to Fail and the novels of Dominick Dunne, The Darlings offers an irresistible glimpse into the highest echelons of New York society-a world seldom seen by outsiders-and a fast-paced thriller of epic proportions.

Happy reading and happy writing!

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Setting Your Writing Goals for 2012

I mentioned last week that I spent an afternoon in late December setting a few writing goals for my 2012 writing career. As I looked back over the list, it turned out to be more than a few goals. I’ve seemingly created a complete strategic plan for the next 1-3 years of my writing life. Stick around for a while and you’ll find that this is my modus operandi. I dream big and bite off a lot more than I can chew. The dark side of this is that I’m constantly busy …juggling 8 million more things than are humanly possible. The silver lining is that I’m a prolific worker. Even if I don’t accomplish all 900 things on the list, I get a heck of a lot more accomplished than I ever thought possible.

So without further ado, the next 1-3 years of my writing life.  I’ve divided this up by focus area to keep it a little more organized:

NON-FICTION

  1. Plan editorial calendar for newspaper columns. (The worst feeling in the world for a columnist is to feel like you’re phoning it in and generating sub-par articles because you didn’t plan ahead. I always try to start off the year proactively. 2012 is looking good with articles planned consistently through the end of May. There are a few holes to fill, but those last-minute stories are always easier when I feel on top of my game with the rest of the articles.)
  2. Finish articles on Thursdays.  (My newspaper articles are technically due on Sunday evenings.  Sometimes I even push this deadline to Monday mornings.  In spite of all my planning in life, I’m a consummate procrastinator when it comes to deadlines.  I usually spend every weekend stressing about finishing [or starting and finishing] my article(s) for the week.  This makes family time less than fun.  A stressed mommy is an inattentive mommy.  In 2012, I’m committing to finishing my articles on Thursday.  I can submit on Friday mornings and have the weekends be dedicated family time.)
  3. Expand client base and publication list for non-fiction writing.  Including my regular newspaper gig, I have five clients for which I consistently write.  I’d like to expand this list to include at least two new outlets or clients this year.  How? See numbers 4-6.
  4. Focus expertise areas (My current areas of focus include performing arts, visual arts, mental health/suicide prevention, dogs and cats [scientific and human interest], Colorado history and architecture/engineering.  Pretty broad, eh?  I told you I’ve had quite the writing journey.  Jack of all trades and master of a few.  In 2012 I’d like to focus more closely on a few of these areas and expand my client base within my established markets.
  5. Research and pinpoint at least five targets for the three areas in which I’d like to focus my efforts.
  6. Query at least 10 publications/clients in each of these three markets
  7. Write proposal for next non-fiction book.  (I’ve been mulling over ideas for two non-fiction books.  There’s one in particular which seems realistic and in line with my goals of finding that balance between the writing life and the family life.)
  8. As part of the proposal, create a marketing plan for the book including a list of comparable/competitive books

BLOG AND SOCIAL MARKETING

  1. Blog 5 times/week for 50 weeks.  I started off strong on this blog and then faltered when the going got busy.  You can trust in the fact that posts are planned, and I’ll be cranking out the content and keeping you updated on the writing life more consistently in 2012.
  2. Continue to discover new writing blogs and let you, the reader, know about them.  Two months ago I started WWW(W) – Writing on the Web this Week about Writing.  I’d like this to become a weekly feature on Fridays.  Not only does it give you a great place to find out about people and places in the writing world, but it keeps me inspired and makes the writing world a little more like a community one week at time.
  3. Figure out my place on Twitter and Facebook.  I’ve experimented with Twitter and my Facebook fanpage, but I’d like to feel like those social outlets are useful to me rather than time sucks.

FICTION

  1. Write 1000 words/day on fiction manuscripts (This is always the daily word goal, but things falter over the holidays and when non-fiction work gets busy.)
  2. Finish SBU* Draft #1 by March 15. (SBU = The Spaces Between Us, the working title for my “failed” NaNoWriMo project. Failed, but certainly not forgotten. Ivy and her post-WWII family are too interesting to abandon now.)
  3. Edit and revise SBU Draft #1 by June 30. (This also includes time for my first readers to take a look and deliver initial feedback.  If this sounds fast to some of you, you can trust that I’ll be editing for months after, too.)
  4. Query at least 30 agents regarding SBU finished manuscript. (The second half of 2012 will be spent sending the manuscript out into the great big publishing world to see how it stands on its own two feet.)
  5. Finish revisions on Sliver of Souls* (This is the working title for my completed novel banished to the dark corners of my virtual drawer. The reason for resuscitating this previously abandoned project deserves a separate post of its own. For now, let’s just say that NaNoWriMo 2011 made me realize a few things about my first long fiction darling. More on this later in the week.)
  6. Start outlines, notes and binder for Book #3.  No working title for this book yet, but the story has been kicking around in my head for about a year.  Once the smoke clears on my writing and revising frenzy, I’d like to spend November/December throwing together the first round of notes for this book.
  7. I know that I said that the musical would be finished in 2012, but I never intended for Sliver of Souls to come back to life.  Given this development, the musical is getting pushed to 2013. November/December will be a great time to revamp the scene outline and get organized for completion in 2013.

CAREER DEVELOPMENT

  1. Attend 2 writing conferences.  Already signed up for the Pikes Peak Writers Conference in Colorado Springs in April.  Now I need to find another one that fits my budget and my family scheduling.  Any suggestions?
  2. Start writers group.  My “writers group” is a virtual group scattered across the country.  Much as I love the intermittent camaraderie that this far-flung group provides, I’ve been feeling the need for a local group that will challenge me and hold me accountable in the fiction world.  I’m reaching out to my local contacts to see if I can find the “right” group that will gel and have common goals.
  3. Re-print business cards.  Sounds simple, but there is so much thought that goes into the design and printing of business cards.  I’ve been putting it off because I suffer from analysis paralysis when it comes to designing my cards.  (What’s the right color?  What’s the right paper? You get the gist…)
  4. Compile print/digital clips.  My portfolio is very alive and very disorganized.  I’ve spent the last few years writing, but not collecting and compiling in a user-friendly portfolio that represents my best work.  With the above non-fiction goals, it’s time to get this marketing tool organized.

Let’s talk about you.  Have you set any writing goals for 2012?  Any great writers’ conferences you can recommend?  How do you juggle family time, writing time and “other” time?  Have you found Twitter and Facebook beneficial to your writing life?

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