Experienced Writer Erica Jong Tells It Like It Is

Enlivening me this morning is this talk by Erica Jong in February at the PEN World Voices Festival. Jong presents five rules for writing that she has learned during the course of her life. It makes for enjoyable and instructive listening. You won’t sit idly by and daydream during it, not if you’re a reader or writer.

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A Writing Idol: Anne Tyler

baby foot Kookkai_nak freedigThere are many writers I find amazing, but none surpasses Anne Tyler for (seeming to) speak directly to me. I’ve come up with the simile “like receiving a new mother’s caress” to describe how I feel while reading Anne Tyler’s books. All her books zero in on some aspect of being human in the gentlest sense.

I just read a terrific article based on a rare interview with this author. If you’re a fan, you’ll want to read the whole thing. But excerpted below is the part that was of immediate interest to me because it describes my own approach.

Little … cultural tension finds its way into Tyler’s books, leading to the criticism that her work can sometimes be overly cosy.

‘I know the word “sentimental” has been used,’ she says. ‘I’m aware I’m not confronting things. That might be one of the make-believes in my novels, that people always mean well, no matter what their flaws are, and try to be optimistic. It’s an escape, an attempt to create a little world away from’ – she sighs – ‘all this.’

Of course, I’m no Anne Tyler, and my work-in-progress bows more to the god of suspense. But the idea of creating a space of escape – yes, absolutely.

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Post-holidays Greeting

Ferris wheel 12-31-2014Happy New Year 2015! So here it is, ten days into 2015, and I just noticed that my last blog post was in October 2014. Wha? Guess I’ve been caught up in the lure of speed with the Yours In Books page on Facebook (yours.in.books) and its quick link to Twitter (@yours_in_books). If you have subscribed only to this blogsite, you’re not seeing a host of communications from me. At the same time, I understand if you refuse to get on Facebook or Twitter. Super tools for staying in touch, they are also, indeed, insidious time grabbers. The trick is an iron-willed ability to say no in support of conscious time management. You really don’t have to click on every single video and article link being offered. Just say no. But sometimes say yes. (I’m giving myself a headache.)

New year’s resolution #1 – Avoid headaches.

On New Year’s Eve 2014 (ten days ago), my husband, brother, sister-in-law, and I ventured downtown for an early dinner at Barnacle Bill’s on Main Street. “Early dinner” means incredibly early – just before 5:00 pm. It was our best shot at getting an unreserved table on New Year’s Eve. We landed the booth, drinks, and meals of our choice and were back out on the street before seven. A cacophony of street hawkers, deejays, music, and children greeted us. Kids screeched as they swung light sabers or flew apart on mini-rides. Other kids were eerily silent as, harnessed, they climbed the rock wall or dared to bounce higher and higher on the trampoline. We looked up and saw the sparkling pineapple that would drop at midnight.

New year’s resolution #2 – Avoid falling pineapples.

This year, we knew, we’d be sound asleep; we’re finally admitting that being something between ages 68 and 77 means you can go to bed whenever you like and no one will make fun of you. After sighting the pineapple hanging over Main Street, we walked around the block to State Street, where my goal for the evening awaited. One of my bucket list items is riding on a Ferris wheel, and the little carnival offered one. When I announced to a friend earlier in the week that this was my plan, she shivered. “Meredith! Those aren’t safe!” But I look at it the same way I look at riding in an airplane – when you have no choice (which I think is the case with bucket-list items) you just have to play the odds. Luckily, my brother had the $4 in cash on him that neither my husband nor I carried.

New year’s resolution #3 – Carry a bit of cash if you’re going to a traveling carnival.

I enjoyed the ride, but it wasn’t scary in the slightest. So a Ferris wheel stays on my list, but it must be a bigger wheel. I think I’ll stretch that to an analogy for this blog post: Reading novels will also stay on my list, but they must be amazing. Either amazing or somehow “competitive” to the one(s) I’m writing myself, so that I’m constantly challenged to rise to the level of published authors. My goal is to give my readers a few hours of healthy escapism.

New year’s resolution #4 – Read and write, better than ever.

Needless to say, #4 is the only real resolution I’m making. Did you make any for 2015? How’s that going for you so far?

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Can’t We Please Play Nice?

speech balloons by Salvatore Vuono - freedigIs it okay for reviewers to use pseudonyms as authors do? Prior to a recent upset making book news, I’d have said no, thinking reviewers should be willing to stand behind their comments or not make them at all. But now that I know that authors might “go after” reviewers who speak negatively about their books, I’m rethinking my opinion. Social media, of which I’m a big fan, does have its dark side.

If the topic intrigues you, learn more via this essay from the founder of the website Dear Author, and this commentary from an author-reader at the same website. Alert: These are somewhat lengthy, brain-engaging articles; arm yourself with a good seat and your favorite liquid refreshment.

Subsequent Note: I’ve corrected the name of the website referred to above. (Original post called it Dear Reader, but it’s Dear Author.)
Artwork: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Grace and Poise on a Book Tour

Author Lily King

Author Lily King

Margaret Mead circa 1933 as inspiration for Nell in Lily King's #Euphoria

Margaret Mead circa 1933 as inspiration for Nell in Lily King’s #Euphoria

It’s the rare author who gets sent on cross-country book tours these days. But when your book hits the front page of The New York Times Book Review, well, that’s a different story (or kettle of fish or ball of wax). I don’t know exactly when Lily King’s publisher, Grove Atlantic, decided to send her on the road to sign copies of Euphoria, but she’s been traveling each week now since June 11. The Times review was published June 7, and I assume the publisher was given some advance notice. If Grove Atlantic didn’t already have a tour in the planning, that would have forced the issue for sure. But the tour idea probably started several months earlier, when the publisher learned there would be starred reviews (extremely high praise) in Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Kirkus, for example. Maybe Grove Atlantic already knew what it had and budgeted the tour from the get-go.

Lily King taught a week-long class I took in 2011 at the Stonecoast Writers Conference offered by the University of Southern Maine. (I blogged about it here and here.) Her students loved her. She shared personal pieces of herself alongside the professional, such that we could understand this important concept: Neither writing nor a life of writing is easy for anyone, but if it’s what you want to do, it’s yours to make happen.

Lily’s ability and willingness to share her experiences shone through in a talk I heard her give in Damariscotta last Thursday (June 10). She expanded on the snippets provided in her author video, embedded below. Two of the memorable moments experienced on Thursday, however, couldn’t have been planned. One was a parent in the audience asking how a talented 16-year-old could be encouraged in his/her writing. Lily asked for the gender of the person in question, which led to learning he/she was sitting next to the parent. I couldn’t get a sighting myself (to learn gender), but Lily was able to speak directly to the budding writer. Her advice was to make time to write something, any bit of something, each day. She didn’t say just that; she expounded on it and gave caring time to the teen.

In a second memorable moment Lily effectively silenced an audience member who asked a couple questions and then arrogantly pronounced “Shame on you” because Lily hadn’t researched a particular book by a particular writer while creating Euphoria. In fact, she had read at least one of that writer’s works, but when it came to the book in question, she explained, it would have taken her to a different time and place, one that might have forced a future-pacing or variant story thread onto the fictional story she was writing. Her response (worded better than I have paraphrased) was masterful, and the audience member accepted her answer.

Grace and poise. If I’m ever fortunate enough to hit the road to promote a book, I’m calling Lily for some pointers. (Also my friend Johanna Moran, author of The Wives of Henry Oades, and soon to be acclaimed author of her new masterpiece. You heard it here first.)

Here’s Lily King. By the way, the jacketed hardcover is beautifully designed, inside and out, and I keep touching the cover and pages. Sensuous packaging to go with a sensuous title. Can you say gift book?

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New Trailer Now Out for “Gone Girl”

Scene clapper FrameAngel at FreeDPnetBeing one of those who really enjoyed the book, I’m looking forward to Gone Girl the movie (trailer embedded farther below). Word is they’ve changed the ending, which pleases me because I didn’t care for the ending in the book.

Usually I’m a stickler for a movie representing the book, especially when it carries the same title. I was not pleased when the film The Shining changed what happened somewhere in the middle; it put me on the edge of my seat the rest of the time, since it didn’t follow what author Stephen King had written on some key point. I guess that’s why they changed it, so I’d still be scared. And it worked. And I know King has been okay with changes made to The Dome so it works as a TV series. I saw the first episode last year, but it didn’t grab me enough to watch further (especially knowing it wasn’t going to be faithful to the book). That’s okay, I’m busy binge-watching Breaking Bad and House of Cards.

Have you read Gone Girl? People loved it or hated it. Your opinion? (No spoilers, please!)

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My Pinterest Boards

This photo is one of my "No Comment" pins

This photo is one of my “No Comment” pins

What I love about Pinterest is its hit-or-miss attitude. There’s no pressure to pin on any schedule or with any intention of finding closure. It’s an option that accommodates spur-of-the-moment captures as well as planned collections. The latter are sometimes secret boards; for instance I’ve got a hidden board going called Great Wharf that puts me in mind of the setting of my novel When Mrs. Cook Got Out More.

If you haven’t yet visited my Pinterest collection and would like to take a look at the boards open to the public, click here.

My currently visible book-related categories
Books Worth Reading (totally incomplete display at this time)
Book Covers That Work (ditto)
Flow Charts
Author Obits (just started feeding into this one recently, so only two so far)
Literary Inspiration

Other subjects that tickle my fancy (may include book items)
Animals (you’ll see lots of cats, dogs, and horses here; okay, mostly cats)
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Do you have a Pinterest account, and if so, do you use it for work as well as pleasure?

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New Day, New Title, New Opening Scene

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Change in Title of Novel, New Beginning

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A Little Levity, Please

On the heels of receiving a rejection from a major agent who loved my query and synopsis (“very intriguing,” she wrote) but then didn’t get hooked after all, I’m in need of some levity today. The following tweet and picture from author Melissa Harrison in my Twitter feed helped. When I first learned to proofread, my mentor told me not to forget to check titles and headings. Good advice.

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