What is "Doom Eager"?

Lorrie Moore, from "Better and Sicker"
"Martha Graham speaks of the Icelandic term "doom eager" to denote that ordeal of isolation, restlessness, caughtness and artistic experiences when he or she is sick with an idea. When a writer is doom eager, the writing won't be sludge on the page; it will give readers -- and the writer, of course, is the very first reader -- an experience they've never had before, or perhaps a little and at last the words for an experience they have."

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Hope for the Beginning Writer

I believe in the new year, we beginning writers need all the inspiration we can find. Today's writer's quotation is for the beginning writer worried about the current trends and what agent and publishers want and don't want.

Be persistent. Editors change; tastes change; editorial markets change. Too many beginning writers give up too easily.
-John Jakes

In 2010, let your motto be "Persist. Persist. Persist."

For an inspirational story on sticking with it, check out this article from writersdigest.com by Jordan E. Rosenfeld, "The Power of Persistence."

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Best Reads of 2009

Slate.com has come out with their Best Reads of 2009, as recommended by the site's writers.

Slate.com's Best Reads of 2009

Slate's range of suggestions, from the highbrow (Blake Bailey's Cheever: A Life) to the unconventional (Bank Notes, a compilation of notes employed in bank heists), provides something for everyone.

Personally, I was glad to see Alice Munro's short story collection Too Much Happiness make the list. Munro is commonly called a writer's writer.

After I saw her work on this list, I pulled out my copy of Writers & Company (1993), a wonderful collection of interviews conducted by Eleanor Wachtel, to reread her interview with Munro. In the interview, Munro speaks of happiness, how it is "muddled up" in life with sadness, depression, elation. She speaks of how she would never set out to write a story that was depressing, but how so many stories she loves have been described by others as depressing.

Much of the interview I didn't remember reading. It had been ten years since I read it, afterall. Remarkably, I do remember how intrigued I was by one line of the interview. Munro is speaking of the nature of happiness and remarks, "As I said, the constant happiness is curiosity." I've been studying brain chemistry lately and the brain's role in happiness (for anyone interested, I recommend The Science of Happiness by Stefan Klein, PhD) and find it telling how accurate, when it comes to the chemistry of our brain, Munro's statement is.

I think one of my New Year's resolutions this year should be to exercise my curiosity more. I may begin with Munro's newest collection. Maybe later, I'll check out Bank Notes. You never know, with as hard as it is to make a living as a writer, it might do me good to brush up on my note-writing skills if I need to knock over a bank or two.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Top 100 Children's Books of All Time

My favorite gift to receive has always been a book. This holiday season, I'd like to encourage everyone to give books as gifts, especially to children. What other gift can transport one through time and space to distant lands, where adventure awaits with every suspense-laden turn of the page, where we can exist in the mind of compelling, provocative, even dangerous characters, where we can lose ourselves or petty problems for a brief time, all for under $25?

If you're still looking for a gift for the special child of any age in your life, check out this Top 100 Children's Books of All Time list at childrensbookguide.com.

At the top of the list is my favorite children's book, Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. I remember being about seven or eight and reading Sendak's classic, wishing I could travel from my small room in Cleveland, Oklahoma to a wild fantasy land where I could be the Queen and romp through the forest. I wanted to be Max on an adventure.

Also, making the list are two more of my favorites, The Lorax

and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.

Here's hoping this Christmas, children eagerly unwrap the latest toy, the sweater from Grandma, and, also, the book they'll look back fondly on as an adult and say that was the best gift ever. In the spirit of giving, please shop your independent, local bookstores. For a list of your local independent bookstore and to find out more about the need for shopping locally, check out indiebound.org.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Amazon's 'Predatory' Pricing Practices

I've got to stand up and applaud Bob LiVolsi's comments at the recent MediaBistro E-Book Summit, accusing Amazon of "predatory pricing."

LiVolsi Calls Amazon Pricing 'Predatory'
By Calvin Reid -- Publishers Weekly, 12/17/2009 6:50:00 AM

The comments came in regard to Amazon's decision to charge $9.99 for many frontlist e-books. I'm not in the publishing industry and have yet to finish the first draft of my novel; however, as a former bookstore owner, predatory pricing is a practice of which I am painfully aware.

When my husband and I opened our bookstore, we were seven miles or so from the nearest big box bookstore, a Books A Million, so I figured that local folks in the beach town area in which we lived would come out to support an independent bookseller. If nothing else, we'd get area residents that didn't want to drive out to the somewhat rundown BAM or over the intercoastal and into town to Borders and Barnes & Noble. For the most part, I was partially correct. What I underestimated were the number of folks that were happy to walk into our store to browse for books and then go home to buy them cheaper on Amazon, often telling us how much they loved our cute, up-scale bookstore/gallery and how much we added to the community but how they could say a few dollars online.

So, when LiVolsi, founder of the independent e-book retailer Books on Board, says that customers will change their minds about the $9.99 price once they understand the consequences of the pricing strategy on authors and, we presume he hopes, small, independent retailers, I say don't hold your breath, Brother. Walmart has conditioned shoppers to expect low prices. I could rant all day about the effect that BJ's, Costco, Walmart, Target, Amazon and the like have had on independent retailers but I'd be wasting my time. Better to get another cup of coffee and try to pound out some pages of my book draft. I've given up on focusing on "literary" fiction, opting for "contemporary" (commercial) fiction instead. With all the predatory pricing in the book business, I'll be lucky if I make enough money as a novelist to pay for the printer ink to send off query letters and manuscripts.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Defining "In Book Form" and E-books

Tensions are building between Random House and the Authors Guild with Markus Dohle's recent letter to agents, concerning the rights to reprinting backlist books in e-book form.

Authors Guild Calls Dohle Letter "Regrettable and Unhelpful"
By Jim Milliot -- Publishers Weekly, 12/15/2009 7:50:00 AM

Random House chairman Markus Dohle may have sent this letter to agents in the spirit of collaboration, but that isn’t how the Authors Guild is seeing it. In a message sent to its members this morning, the Guild said it was “regrettable and unhelpful that Random House has chosen to try to intimidate authors and agents over these old book contracts.” The Guild rejected RH’s argument that its older contracts that grant rights to publish “in book form” or “in all editions” is a grant of electronic rights. (The Guild has no problem with RH’s interpretation of more recent backlist contracts since over the last 10 years electronic rights have been licensed with print rights).

Read the entire article at the link above.

I'm not sure I can blame publishers for trying to claim rights to publish a book in any form they can, existing or not-yet existing, in perpetuity under the guise of the "in book form" clause. If I were them, I'd probably try it, too. However, I take exception to the notion that e-books can be considered a printing "in book form." A book is words printed on paper and held in one's hands. I don't understand their logic for e-books, bits and bytes transmitted electronically into a computer, even if the hardware is flat and shaped to resemble a book. An e-book isn't a book, anymore than an e-zine is a magazine, the picture of an apple is an apple, or paying an escort for "the girlfriend" experience makes her your girlfriend.

Even if Random House could win the "in book form" argument, it's sort of prickish for a publishing house to hold onto rights for technology not-yet invented or specifically named in past contracts. What if they decide not to publish a backlisted book in e-book form? The author and agent can't sell the rights to anyone else. Does that mean that in the future the the rights to any non-existent, non-imagined form of publishing exclusively belongs to the publisher? I would suggest in light of Random House's letter, authors and agents tighten the language of book contracts. Though, I guess this is good news for the lawyers. They're needed now more than ever.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Less is More

I've started packing the house today. We'll be moving soon, and I am facing the terrifying fact that all our stuff has to go somewhere. Moving from a 2,400 square-foot house to a 1,600 square-foot apartment, we certainly cannot take it all. I keep thinking, how did we get all this junk?

Today's topic: Less is More

With my rambling ways, I'm not the person to give writing advice on scaling down the verbage. This article comes from the helpful folks at writetodone.com: The Elegant Art of Writing Less.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Happy Birthday, Voltaire!

Happy Birthday, Voltaire

Born November 21, 1694

Writer, Philosopher, Enlightened Thinker

Originality is nothing but judicious imitation. The most original writers borrowed one from another.

And on that note ...
A short article on when plagiarism became a crime.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Is Sarah Palin Going Rogue Against Non-Fiction?

Oh, Sarah, what have you done now?

Our little Alaskan rogue is making headlines with her new book. Top McCain advisers and staffers are claiming Palin's new memoir is "based on fabrications." Memoirs based on fabrications are more accurately referred to as fiction. Is Sarah going rogue against non-fiction? Is non-fiction associating with domestic terrorists?

Of course, she's in good company, along with other fake memoir writers who got sensational media coverage, to be outed as fictionalizers later. Remember James Frey's #1 bestseller A Million Little Pieces. Will Oprah chew Sarah out on national television later for lying? Will Oprah even get the chance? The word out today is that Oprah is leaving her show.

Oh, Sarah, you ruin everything!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Making Money as a Writing Mentor

Still suffering with a burned hand today and plagued with a bout of procrastinitis, it seems like a good day for a writer's quotation about the difficulties of writing. This one's from Thomas Mann:
A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.

If writing comes easy for you and you'd like to mentor others in the craft, check out this EHow article, How to Be A Paid Writing Mentor.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Junot Diaz on Becoming a Writer

Last year, during the brief, wondrous year I got to own a bookstore, I fell in love with Junot Diaz's writing. I had never heard of him before his 2007 novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I had not found a writer I could love since reading Yan Martel's 2001 debut novel Life of Pi. Alas, I do not fall in love easily, but when I do, I fall hard and it's forever.

Writing coach Jessica Page Morrell posted this link to Diaz's article in O Magazine online on becoming a writer. I thought I'd pass it along. I was pleased to read Diaz speaking to the concept of "doom-eager" in the last paragraph.

Enjoy, and if you haven't read his work, give it a shot. I don't think it's for everyone, but what is? Fans of geek culture, Tolkien, Dungeons and Dragons, and comic books will relate to the character of Oscar right away. Those who appreciate the craft of writing will fall in love. I know I did.

Monday, November 16, 2009

I did a foolish thing last night, and it has left me feeling like a doofus. In my rush to clean up the kitchen and get ready to watch The Amazing Race, Dexter, and Californication (the reason I spend much of the weekend looking forward to Sunday evening), I caused first and second degree burns on my left hand. I thought the cooking oil had cooled down. I was going to pour it into a mason jar over the sink and then take the oil outside to pour out. I once clogged my sink with grease and had to take the pipes apart to clean the gobbed-up mess, so now I find a place in a corner farthest from the house to dump it. It turns the grass brown in that spot but at least my pipes are clear.

Well, it wasn't cool. I bumbled the frying pan and ended up in the ER at 9:30 instead of watching Dexter Morgan hunt and kill Trinity, and where RN Jason, who, like myself, seemed miffed to be there slathered my red, swelling hand with antibiotic goo and wrapped it tightly in gauze and an ace bandage, so tightly I can barely wiggle my fingers. Luckily, my middle fingers are free enough to peck at the keyboard. My pinkie and thumb, however, stick out like popsicle sticks.

Having limited use of my hand made me think of my artist friends and how they would feel with a bandaged hand. They're a great bunch of guys into comic art. Today I thought I'd post a link to the Amazon's best graphic novels released in 2009. Stitches, by David Small, also made Publisher Weekly's the top 10 books released in 2009. When I had a bookstore, we specialized in comics and graphic novels. It's nice to see a graphic novel (besides Watchmen) getting its deserved respect.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Thought for the Day and a Question

I usually need a can of beer to prime me.

Norman Mailer

I had a literature professor who once suggested to the class that the best conditions for writing were to be a little sleepy and on your second glass of wine.

I find I often write my best work between 1am and 3am (with or without wine).

Question: What primes you best for writing?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Thought for the Day

An incurable itch for scribbling takes possession of many and grows inveterate in their insane hearts.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Our Obsession with Interesting Characters: Why America Can't Get Enough of Sarah Palin

This morning on MSNBC's Morning Meeting, host Dylan Ratigan posed the question: Why is America obsessed with Sarah Palin?

Among Ratigan's top ten reasons were: She's hot, she's not Bush, she can wink, smile, and cut an opponent down at the same time, and the drama in her life makes you feel better about your own. I love this last point, which is primarily why I watch shows like Intervention and Hoarders on A&E. My problems end up seeming small and manageable by the time the show has ended. I do feel better when, at the end of the show, the subject has gone to rehab and is in recovery or cleaned up their home and is no longer in threat of being evicted.

But I digress . . . America is obsessed with Sarah Palin because she is an interesting character. Not a flat, one-trick pony like Joe the Plumber (where is he now?) but a rounded character complete with conflict, emotional, sexual, and (dare I say it) intellectual appeal. As a character, Palin embodies the myth of small-town America. She is "Mrs. Palin goes to Washington," which some read as wholesome and couragous, while some (myself included) read as naive and dangerous. Either way, the character taps into our collective imagination. She is a character wrought with conflict and complications. Hero-maverick or temptress-villain, we want to know what happens to this character.

With the launch of her new book, which is already #1 on Amazon.com, Sarah's PR people would do her well to continue to shape her into a fully-realized character for the America public. Too much emphasis on limited aspects of her as a person or political figure will relegate her into a stock character role: the dippy pageant queen, the small-town soccer mom. In a political party that wants to kick out moderates and narrow the views of the party, Sarah needs to broaden her image/character, or risk us becoming bored with her before 2012. Maybe her book will help; though, I hear it's only five chapters, so excuse me if I'm skeptical.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Complications vs. Situations

Fall has come to my sunny Florida, and it looks like it's here to stay, after a few false starts this year. The sky is overcast and gray. I am fighting letting its gloominess drag me down. I've been thinking about the change in the weather all day today and realized, after much grumbling, I am reacting to a situation (a perfectly normal one for mid-November) and not a complication. The chill in the air and the sky's dreariness is not keeping me from doing anything I want, after all. I still went out and ran errands, enjoyed a quick lunch at a favorite diner, got my hair colored (bonfire red). In fact, the cooler weather made my hot coffee even more of a treat.

Thinking about the weather has made me consider complications versus situations in plot development. I am reading Monica Wood's essay "The Plot Thickens" in The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing, which contains a thought-provoking section on the subject. Wood writes,
Remember this: A complication must either illuminate, thwart, or alter what the character wants. A good complication puts emotional pressure on a character, prompting that character not only to act, but to act with purpose. If the circumstance does none of these things, then it's not a complicaton at all - it's a situation.
Reading Wood's essay makes me question to what extent I have complicated the lives of my characters versus just creating interesting situations to place them in. As writing coach Jessica Page Morrell insists, writing good fiction is about saying "no" to your characters. Am I saying "no" enough? How can I complicated their lives in order to stir them to act with purpose, rather than merely react to a situation as any one else would.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Getting Published and Publishing "Deal Breakers"

When I'm feeling particularly blocked creatively, I like to go to the bookstore and scan through the books on writing and publishing. Most of the time I find advice books that appear to be written to the complete novice with lots of time-soaking exercises that, although I'm sure have some merit, seem mostly included to beef up the page count and rather skimpy advice.

On my last visit, I found Jessics Page Morrell's Thanks, But This Isn't For Us: A (Sort of) Compassionate Guide to Why Your Writing is Being Rejected. Written in a genuine and frank voice, Morrell has produced not only a useful guide to writing the best novel one can but, also, a practical handbook to understanding the mind of the publisher and what he or she is expecting, including what Morrell referrs to as "Deal Breakers," those absolute no-no's that will cause your manuscript to be rejected.

After reading through it, I saw many mistakes I needed to fix in my first draft and wanted to start revising right away. However, I was happy I read to chapter 13 first, "The Final Edit: Fixing Your Manuscript Without Losing It." With Morrell's helpful advice, I realized that if I didn't finish the first draft before going back for a major revision, I might trip myself up and lose momentum. In this chapter, Morrell lays out step-by-step the process for revision, from the larger issues of structure and plot to the more detailed, fine revision work of language clarity, cohesion, and resonance.

Check out Morrell's blog: The Writing Life Too and her website at www.writing-life.com.

Monday, November 9, 2009

"Doom-Eager" and Why I am Writing this Blog

I'm not sure where I even read the term "doom-eager," perhaps in The Best Writing on Writing edited by Jack Heffron (1994), but I cannot push it from my mind, as of late.  I decided to write this blog partly because it would give me another writing project to focus on besides the novel draft I'm currently working on, but also because I fell in love with this term, "doom-eager." What better, more concise, way to express that feeling, so often decribed by writers, that heavy blend of trepidation and anticipation we face when we sit down to write.

I believe for some our own doom-eager fuels us. We cannot imagine a life without writing. Even when we try to push it away, images, words, characters impress themselves upon us.

Personally, I left a teaching career after seventeen years to devote myself full time to writing. When I sit down to write, I am doom-eager and embrace the struggle and the joy, realizing more and more each day that putting myself in front of the page is my greatest battle. So far, I am winning that battle.

With this blog, I hope to connect to other involved with the writing life, share ideas, and work on the craft. Please comment and share your thoughts and feelings on any aspect of writing.