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
Writing

Other subjects that tickle my fancy (may include book items)
Animals (you’ll see lots of cats, dogs, and horses here; okay, mostly cats)
Artistry
Architecture
Articles
Thrills
No Comment
Nature
Food
Personalities

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

Bridge w-cumulusJust over a month ago I posted what I thought was the new title of my novel in progress. I was wrong. I also posted what I thought was my new opening scene. I was wrong. Will I ever learn? Apparently not, since I’m posting an even newer title and opening scene. Ah, the power of a blog. I considered not saying anything, but then there’d be a form of lie in the ether, and it feels better to admit it than to ignore it.

The first title GREAT WHARF didn’t say enough. It helped to keep me focused while I was still inventing the place, the people, the events, but it wasn’t a title to intrigue a readership beyond my personal circle. The second and short-lived title TOWN OF SECRETS said more but was still too general. Worse, the opening scene to Town of Secrets misled the reader to assume s/he was about to read a thriller or murder mystery. In fact, my novel is best characterized as women’s fiction. It has elements of mystery and romance, for instance, but it’s not bound by the formulas for those genres.

Thanks to reader feedback from a variety of sources, I’ve junked both earlier titles and I think “she’s finally got it” (apologies to Professor Higgins) with the new one, which is WHEN MRS. COOK GOT OUT MORE. This title does something the others didn’t. It creates a specific question in the browser’s mind that will be answered by this book and only by this book. The intrigued browser will not be disappointed.

I’ve deleted the misleading material from my earlier (Town of Secrets) post, which had a “hater” and a “victim” and cloaked events in a way the rest of the novel never does. Below I offer you an opening scene much closer to my ideal reader’s expectations and more reflective of how it will feel to read the book currently titled When Mrs. Cook Got Out More.

What do you think?

Latest Draft… [since posting this originally, I’ve updated the draft being shown as of 6/19/2014; basically the same but fine-tuned]

Chapter 1 [start of it]

Being alone, Mallory and Dwight Cook claimed a smaller section of bench than necessary at the picnic-style table. Their shoulders kissed while their eyes and ears attended to the swivel television on the counter between the dining and kitchen areas. As usual during dinner, they watched the regional TV news broadcast out of Portland, Maine. Like a one-celled amoeba, their small town of Great Wharf squeezed a pseudopod, or “false foot,” into a portion of the southern Maine coastline between Ogunquit and Kennebunkport.

Five minutes into tonight’s broadcast Mallory said, “Dare we hope? It looks like no new bad news tonight. I mean, just updates on old bad news. How refreshing!”

Dwight murmured his agreement, but Mallory knew he was just biding time until he finished eating. He’d been wanting to say something ever since he got home. But she had hurried him into washing his hands and sitting down to catch the start of the news. She had, as usual, looked forward all day to seeing him. He was her anchor, always had been.

At the first commercial break, Mallory picked up her empty plate and flatware, swiveled, and swung her legs over the bench. She laid the dish and utensils on the counter by the dishwasher. Then she turned and asked, “Ready for more wine?”

“Not yet, still nursing this one. Why’d you jump from the table so fast?”

“I didn’t jump, just got out normally.”

“Yeah, normal like a scared jackrabbit.”

“What would I have to be afraid of?”

“Mal, you telegraph your emotions in all sorts of ways, not that I’m going to give away my secret store of knowledge. But thirty-six years and three grown kids later, I’ve learned how to read you.”

Mallory harrumphed and refilled her wine glass. Turning to face Dwight again, she waved it slowly in an arc from left to right in front of her. “Did you notice the amazing cleaning job I did on this room today?”

“It always looks clean in here. Sorry. Tell me what you did.”

“I washed under the counter edges, and I dusted everything including the leaves on the fern. I even risked life and limb on the stepladder to dust the overhead light. Little did you know while you were chatting with tourists at the trolley museum that your wife was this close to a fatal fall.” She held her arms out from her sides and swayed (careful not to spill the wine).

Dwight shook his head. “You really need to get out more, Mal. I’m starting to think you’re hiding out in here, like someone in the witness protection program. Or an actual hermit.” He chanced a grin over his nearly empty plate, but a question hung in the air. Mallory gave him a lopsided smile.

So, he had raised the subject after all. She didn’t want this conversation. She grabbed the sponge and swiped it across the sparkling counter.

“Sorry, babe.” Dwight backed off. “I didn’t mean to stick a label on you. I’m just concerned.”

“Tell you what, I promise to do something out of the ordinary tomorrow.”

“Outside the house and away from the yard?”

“I promise.”

***

The next day Mallory left the house twenty minutes early for a doctor’s appointment Dwight knew nothing about. In the spirit of her promise, though, she was tacking on a detour to Byways Gift Shop. That would add ten minutes to the walking time. Another ten minutes in the store should be enough to form an impression of the proprietor, a woman named Angie Weller.

Mallory’s neighbor had been after her to do this. This neighbor watched the townspeople of Great Wharf the way some people watch soap operas—with a vengeance, Mallory thought. She hated the gossip mill that Doris Hillobenz ran. But she’d hate it more if Doris decided her immediate neighbors were the ones needing scrutiny. So Mallory had promised Doris she’d meet Ms. Weller and report back.

“Please do, Mallory,” Doris had implored. “I know you don’t like making unnecessary trips; you’ve always been careful where you put your time. I understand that. But this Angie Weller is quite the mystery woman. I can’t find a single person who’s ever seen her outside of her shop. I’ve heard she goes to Rotary sometimes, but I’m not in that crowd, being retired and all.”

“Why do you care, Doris?” Mallory knew it must be driving Doris crazy that she hadn’t dug up any dirt yet, not that Doris would admit that.

“I’ve been in her shop, of course,” Doris said. “I think things are overpriced, but I guess no more than anywhere else these days. But she watches every move I make, as though I’m going to steal something. Just see what you make of her. Humor me?”

“Okay, I’ll humor you. I won’t be running right over there, but I’ll let you know.”

That was two weeks ago.

On her way out, Mallory took a steak knife from the kitchen drawer and slid it to the bottom of her purse. A number of news stories recently attributed violence against innocent citizens to an increasing desperation in a down economy. Sure, these stories centered in towns nationwide more than Great Wharf. In fact, only a few burglaries had occurred this year in Great Wharf, but still more than last year.

Now that Mallory thought about it, she wanted a switchblade. What if she grabbed the wrong end of the steak knife while rummaging for her cell phone? The thought of bright red blood dripping into her purse, let alone coming from her own finger, gave her a shiver.

Blood was on a lengthening list of things that made Mallory queasy, including elevators and crowds and most recently driving her car. But blood headed the list because the sight of it actually made her faint once. Usually it just disabled her, like when Dwight cut himself last week and asked her to get a Band-Aid. Her gaze fixated, instead, on the crimson bubble and she couldn’t move from her chair.

Dwight got his own Band-Aid. Later he said, “You didn’t used to freak at the sight of blood, Mal. You used to handle the kids’ accidents just fine. What happened?”

“I don’t have a clue.” She avoided his gaze, but in fact she really didn’t have a clue.

Dwight, sweet man, had dropped the subject. Last night’s conversation, however, was a sign that Dwight wasn’t going to keep dropping subjects. She needed to get back in control of herself, if she only knew how.

***

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Change in Title of Novel, New Beginning

Clouds by Jennifer Ellison at freedigitalphotos.netYou haven’t heard much from me, but I’ve been working away. Today I’m pleased to share with you my new title for the novel formerly called GREAT WHARF. Going forward, the title will be TOWN OF SECRETS. People kept looking at me funny when I said the word “wharf,” and I finally got the point that it’s too odd a word in everyday life. The town named Great Wharf may evoke many emotions in me as the author of its existence, but it wasn’t doing anything for a potential reader.

And now, if you will, settle back and read the following new beginning to the novel TOWN OF SECRETS. I’m about to embark on a new round of agent-hunting.

[Note from author: I’ve deleted the manuscript sample originally provided here. See my April 25 posting for update.]

Image credit: Jennifer Ellison | freedigitalphotos.net

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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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Book Review — Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs

If you plan on reading Isaacson’s Steve Jobs, I’ve included a brief personal commentary in the “Book Reviews” tab (above). Take a peek. (Scroll down and click on the link in the alphabetical Contents list.) Tell me, have you read Isaacson’s book on either Einstein or Ben Franklin? Did you enjoy it? Wondering if I should put it on my list.

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