9 in ’09 with Mary Doria Russell and book giveaway, part 2

To read the first part of this interview, click here.

I will be giving one lucky commenter his or her choice of one Mary Doria Russell title.  After reading part one of the interview leave a comment and you will be entered.  Read Part Two and comment  and earn a second entry.  Those who have gotten a correct answer in my Green Title Quiz have earned an extra entry and those who are winners in my upcoming quiz on Monday will also earn extra entries.  I will draw the winners on March 31st at noon.  I will ship anywhere.

And now for the rest of the interview…

5. I’ve read that you became a novelist because you were out of work.  Is that true?

Yep.  There was this big recession at the end of the Bush administration…Wait!  I’m having deja vu…

Anyway, I lost my job and I had an idea for a short story about Jesuits in space.  That turned into The Sparrow and Children of God.

Would you recommend the writer’s life for the rising number of unemployed Americans?

Um.  Only if you’re married to an engineer with a secure job and medical benefits.  Seriously.  Publishing is under severe stress as an industry, and it was brutally competitive even before the latest economic pooh hit the national fan last fall.  The odds of an unknown getting a first novel published were approximately 4 million to one back in 1995 when I got my first contract.  Today, you’ve got a better chance of fame and fortune if you buy lottery tickets.

On the other hand, if you can’t help yourself, and you live to write, and you are talented and have something interesting to say, the blogoshere is an amazing new outlet.  Making money that way is a different thing.  Occasionally a blog will take off, and be parlayed into paying work, but it’s a lot like standing in a field during a thunderstorm hoping to get hit by lightning.

6. I love quotes.  Do you have a favorite?

You probably mean quotes from famous authors or something, but in our household, about 64% of the conversation consists of quotes from movies.  We use any of a hundred lines from the Princess Bride on a regular basis, but we just watched Moonstruck again a couple of nights ago, and I particularly like “Yeah, well, someday you will die, and I’ll come to your funeral in a red dress!”

My husband and I also use “You’re still gonna die, Cosmo!” whenever we see some middle-aged idiot trying to pretend he’s a young stud.

7. What are you currently reading?

At the moment?  Two non-fiction studies of the Kansas temperance movement in the 1870’s – that’s background research.  Also “Born Fighting,” by Jim Webb, about the history of the Scots-Irish, which explains a huge amount about contemporary American politics.  I’m also reading The Last Judgement by James Connor, which is a wonderful art history book that clarifies the swirl of politics, science, art and war that was the Renaissance.  And recently, I loved a book about death called  Nothing to be Frightened of” by Julian Barnes.  Exquisitely written and funny as hell.

I also read stacks of magazines: current affairs, economics, decorating.  And I watch a lot of TV.  I’m not a snob.  Baseball, HGTV, the History Channel.  Just discovered Dead Like Me, on DVD.  Getting into The Dollhouse, by Joss Whedon.  LOVED Firefly!

8. If you were stuck in the life of one of your fictional characters, who would you choose?

Interesting question…I guess I’d choose Agnes Shanklin, in Dreamers of the Day.  Yes.  Definitely.  Agnes.

I like the way she questions everything and slowly takes charge of her life and handles adversity.  I also like that she stays true to her sensible Midwestern self, no matter who she finds herself among.

9. What are you currently working on?

This time, I’m taking on two iconic figures of the American frontier.  Eight to Five, Against is a murder mystery set in Dodge City in 1878, the summer when the unlikely by enduring friendship between Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday began.

The novel takes place almost 4 years before the famous gunfight at the OK Corral, but there’s a direct line from the summer in Dodge City to the gunfight in Tombstone that made the Earps and Doc Holliday notorious.

I’m about 8 chapters from having a complete first draft.  Usually Wyatt is the focus of these stories, but I am totally in love with Doc.  That boy just breaks my heart…

He’s often portrayed as a coldblooded psychopathic killer, but he wasn’t like that at all.  At the time of the novel, he was a frail, proud, beautifully educated 26-year-old dentist living on the rawest edge of the American frontier, still hoping to recover from tuberculosis in the warm dry climate of western Kansas.  That summer in Dodge was the last time Doc was well enough to attempt to practice his profession.  He still believed that he was going to get better and go back home to Atlanta someday, but it never happened.

When will it be out?

Sometime in 2010 is my guess.

BONUS QUESTION   What’s next for you?

I’m starting to get interested in Benedict Arnold now, and there might be a book in that.  I seem to be drawn to characters who are unjustly condemned by people who don’t know anything about them, and I do think Arnold got a raw deal from Washington and the Continental Congress.

I like the idea that Arnold could draw me into the Enlightenment and Baroque music, and early American history.  Not sure what the story would be, though.  When Eight to Five is done, I’ll start reading biographies of Arnold and his wife, and Washington, and so forth.  Maybe a plot will emerge.  Maybe not.

On the other hand, and this is a scoop for you: I may go back to paleoanthropology.  I’ve been thinking about the Dark Ages in Europe, and how everybody – including pregnant and nursing mothers – drank beer and wine almost exclusively for long stretches of European history.  The Dark Ages have been described as a thousand years when each generation knew less than the one before it.  It was a great melting away of high culture, and I wonder if endemic fetal alcohol syndrome had something to do with it.  So I have and idea for how to test that idea using skull measurements from cemeteries.

Have to think some more about this, but it would be fun to get back into the bone biz.


I want to thank Mary for taking the time to participate.  I appreciate it and I’m sure all of you did too!

Noble’s Book of Writing Blunders, by William Noble

Noble's Book of Writing Blunders: And How to Avoid ThemFinished 2-10-09, rating 4, writing reference, pub. 2006

But if your confidence is bursting and you are sure your new approach will work, then go for it.  Never, ever, assume that you must march to the same beat as everyone else.

Think bravely!

Act honestly!

Write imaginatively!

And make your own rules.

Last lines of the book

When you read interviews with published authors the advice that is most often given is to write.  So, I have always viewed writing instruction books with a skeptical eye.  But, Writer’s Digest has all of these writing books on clearance and I decided to pick some up cheap.  This is the second one I’ve read and it was a good read. 

Each of the 29 blunders was covered in a chapter of 4-7 pages, which was long enough to address the issue and not too long as to make me close the book and not pick it back up.  These blunders were basic, but the way he wrote about each one took it one step further.  He didn’t only address point of view, slang, cliques, but also how each was perceived  by the reader.  Many of the blunders in this book he blames on laziness by the writer, but I also think a beginning writer faces the challenges he lays out.  Some of the chapters overlapped in content, but, for the most part, it was good. 

This book is written for the fiction writer.  He differentiates between the fiction narrative and journalism and how the rules for one are not the same as for the other.  These blunders are all about building tension in your story and keeping the reader invested in your book.

There are so many blunders that it is somewhat overwhelming.  If I was trying to remember everything in this book I wouldn’t be able to write a word!  That is why I quoted what I did at the top, because it was a great way to end the book.  I think my writing will be better off for having read this book.

Craft & Technique, by Paul Raymond Martin

Finished 2-2-09, rating 3/5, writing instruction, pub. 2005

High tension dialogue calls for fewer beats (less stage business).  More beats will elongate a scene, as when characters get to know each other  over dinner.

Never resolve one conflict before presenting another.

The first idea that occurs to you for resolving a plot problem will be the first to occur to the reader as well.  So think again.

In fiction, as in real life, what is suggested is far more powerful than what is revealed.

This is just a sampling of the tips you will receive in this small book.  It looks and reads like the gift book Life”e Little Instruction Book, but is chock full of advice for writers, most specifically fiction writers.  There are more than 300 thoughtful reasons to buy this book.  It covers characterization, dialogue, plot, fiction techniques, style and voice.

There was no groundbreaking insight here, but I did enjoy it and think it worthwhile.  The suggestions were good and forced you to look at your own work and possibly find weak spots.  Some of what was covered I’ve read other places, but in this format it worked to jump start my thoughts and ideas, instead of making me want to take notes.

Included are quotes from established and diverse authors such as Mark Twain, David Sedaris,Virginia Woolf, Elmore Leonard, Vladimir Nabokov, and James Michener.  There were also a few exercises sprinkled throughout and some solid suggestions for name choice and editing dialogue.

This is not an instruction book.  It is more of an inspiration book.  I read the whole thing in a hour or so and came away with a few new insights and ideas and a renewed excitement to start writing.

This is a wonderful gift for the writer in your life.  It is published by Writer’s Digest Books and is on sale -50% off- for $4.50 (link here), which is a good deal for a thoughtful gift.

9 in ’09 with Tish Cohen and Book Giveaway

This Friday Canadian writer, Tish Cohen, joins me for 9 questions.  I reviewed Inside Out Girl last year and it was a 2008 favorite.  Tish is a novelist, YA writer, and children’s book author.  Visit her website http://www.tishcohen.com/ for more information.  Thank you so much for answering my questions and for offering a free book, Tish!

Ms. Cohen is graciously offering a signed copy of Inside Out Girl to ONE lucky reader.  To enter please leave a comment on this post after reading the interview, one entry per person.  There are no shipping restrictions.  I’ll draw a winner next Friday, February 6th, at noon.

Cover Image

1. Your first book, Town House, is being made into a movie.  Can you tell us a little about the process and how involved you are?

I’m not involved in the process beyond getting to read the script and hearing which actors are being considered.  But I’ve learned a great deal nonetheless–most of all that Hollywood is a hurry up and wait industry.  I think it’s important to trust the people who are making your film adaptation – I feel pretty lucky with my studio, producer, screenwriter, and director.  They all want to produce a quality film and I couldn’t ask for more than that.

2. I loved your novel, Inside Out Girl, and it’s most compelling character, Olivia, who is stricken with NLD (nonverbal learning disorders).  What is the one thing you want people to know about this disorder?

My close friend is a family therapist and once told me her favorite clients are the children with non-verbal learning disorders, because of their loving dispositions–naivete’, and utter inability to connect with other children.  She loved that they talked too close, constantly knocked things over, said the wrong thing, and still got lost on the way to the restroom down the hall in an office they’d been coming to for five years.  Often they can’t walk up the stairs and talk at the same time, their clothes are inside out and their lack of motor skills means they can’t brush their own teeth.  If you tell them to jump in a lake, they probably will.  Frustrating, to say the least.

But they will hug you until you weep.  They not only wear their hearts on their sleeves, but on a neon sign above their heads.  They see nothing wrong with marching straight up to the meanest clique in middle grade or the bully everyone fears and wrapping themselves around them in a full-body hug.  And they cannot for the life of them see why they’re rejected.

I thought about what it would mean to have a child with NLDand the joy and pain that would entail.  Then I wondered what that parent would do if he found out he was dying and had to leave his daughter in a world that doesn’t understand her.  The reason I chose a father and daughter for this story was very deliberate.  Parents of girls with conditions such as NLD or Asperger’sface a very real threat, especially as their daughters reach adolescence.  Girls with social disorders can be so naive that they can be easily preyed upon by males.  And lacking a healthy level of skepticism or wariness, they can easily be lured into dangerous situations.

3. You have written two novels and a children’s book.  How is the process of writing the two different?

Honestly, all the same elements go into a children’s book: character development, plot development, subplots and layered storylines, etc.  It’s all there but the energy is amped up.  Kids’ books can be quite a bit of fun and it’s always interesting to mine your children’s school lives for funny happenings!

4. What is the best aspect of life as a writer?

Hmm…great question.  There are some things that are exciting–the film stuff and the TV stuff (Zoe Lama has been optioned for a television series), meeting other authors at literary events, forming close friendships with other writers who “get” what you’re going through.  But I think the best aspect would be making up lives and characters and worlds for a living.  I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  It gets to the point thinking about imaginary people keeps you sane!

5. How did you first get published?

I had certainly had much rejection before Town House sold.  I secured an agent withmy first manuscript, but the book didn’t sell.  And rightly so, as it was severely lacking in plot!  I probably would have given up at that point but the rejections were quite encouraging so I wrote another manuscript using what I’d learned from the rejections.  Also, I realized at that point I needed an agent who was more familiar with the fiction market (my first agent was primarily non-fiction) and parted ways withher, eventually landing the agent I have now.  He’s a dream agent and was willing to work with me as I got the next book ready for sale.  But that book didn’t sell.  Came close but no sale.  In the meantime, I wrote Town House, again, learning from my rejections.  Then when it came time for my agent to send Town House to editors, I made a decision.  If no one jumped on it right away, I would go fill out an application at The Gap.  The book went out on a Thursday and, unbeknownst to me, the editors slipped it to literary scouts who work for Hollywood and a week later we had a film offer from Fox.  It sold as a book one week later.  The film thing was a huge shock, totally unexpected.

6. I love quotes.  Do you have a favorite quote or motto?

One of my favorite quotes is from Steve Martin.  “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”

7.  What are you reading right now?

Meg Wolitzer’s The Ten-Year Nap.  Great book.

8. If you got stuck in the life of one fictional character, who would you choose?

Miss Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice.  Horses, long dresses, and Mr. Darcy.  Need I say more?

9. And finally, what are you working on right now?

My debut teen novel, Little Black Lies, is coming out in September, so I’m working on edits.  And my third novel for adults comes out in a year, so I’m writing the first draft and having a ball with it.

Books by Tish Cohen- Town House, Inside Out Girl, Zoe Lama children’s books.

Leave a comment to be entered in the free book drawing.




How Not To Write A Novel, by Mittelmark & Newman

How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them--A Misstep-by-Misstep GuideHow Not to Write a Novel. Finished 8-26-08, rating 4.5/5, how-to/writing, pub. 2008

“As a writer you have only one job:to make the reader turn the page.”    page 1

If there is one thing this How-Not-To book does it is to make you turn the page.  You won’t want to stop, really.  This hilarious book focuses on the 200 most common mistakes that unpublished authors make and offers solutions.  It provides examples of the bad writing that it is offering up for ridicule, followed by an explanation and how to fix it (if you want to be published).  Let me provide a couple of examples…

“While it is your job to know a great deal about your characters, it is seldom necessary to share it all with the reader, and by ‘seldom,’ we mean ‘never.’ ”      page 10

“…you should think twice before using an exclamation mark.  If you have thought twice and the exclamation mark is still there, think about it three times, or however many times it takes until you delete it.”      page 111

The book covers all points of your novel from plot and style to dealing with the publishing world.  This is a must have for anyone writing, or even just thinking about writing, a novel.  Every fiction writer will gain insight from this book and be completely entertained along the way.  I found myself laughing out loud more than once, shaking my head at the poor writer being scorned until I came to the next mistake and realized that the poor writer was me.  Highly recommended for all writers of fiction.

“However, if you have perversely refused to use the lessons offered in this book as we intended, and instead avoided each of the mistakes we describe, perhaps you now find yourself a published author.  In that case, our follow-up book, How Not to Make a Living Wage, will be indispensable.”    -the last page

The Author’s Toolkit, by Mary Embree

Finished 6-18-08, non-fiction, rating 1.5/5, pub. 2000

This is a slight book that claims it is “a step-by-step guide to writing a book”, however if that is what you are looking for then this is not the book for you.  This is a book for someone who have zero knowledge of how a book gets published.  This is not a book to help you through the process of writing a book.  The second chapter on Researching is full of obvious suggestions like; use the internet, libraries, encyclopedias, almanacs, magazines, dictionaries, etc.  So, if you do not realize that the internet is there to help you, this is the book for you.

I could go on about some of the nuggets of wisdom contained in this book (“write from the heart” “show don’t tell”  or on letters to publishers “the print should be sharp and dark enough to read easily”), but I won’t.  The only chapter I found of any interest was Chapter 6 about Copyrights.  Also, I see that there is a revised edition that has 60 more pages.  I cannot say that I have any hope these extra pages will be helpful, but it’s possible.  Since I have nothing else to add except more complaints I think I’ll stop here.  If you are serious about writing and publishing a book, read Stephen King’s On Writing or even Walter Mosely’s This Year You Write Your Novel.