Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Cat's Eye

I just finished my first Margaret Atwood book. I know, years after I should have.

From Random House:
Considered to be her most autobiographical work, Cat's Eye, Margaret Atwood's critically acclaimed seventh novel, is the story of Elaine Risley, the daughter of a forest entomologist and controversial artist in her fifties who returns to Toronto for a retrospective of her work. In her moment of professional glory, she becomes consumed by vivid images of her past, especially those of Cordelia, her best friend and emotional counterpart who waged lavish cruelties on her as a girl. Atwood employs her wry humor, rich irony, and keen eye for detail in a brilliant exploration of the treacherous terrain of girlhood and the historical geography of Toronto from the 1940s to the 1980s.

"An eye for an eye only leads to more blindness." The novel is filled with gems like this, strong themes and imagery. It's a novel about the past, about time and space, about the evil and sly behavior of young girls. The child's perception of life is altered and spun as she grows to adulthood. I'm still deciphering the nuances, flipping back through the book for other insightful passages. Wow.

Which Atwood novel should I tackle next?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Book Heaven

I'd like to go to Hay-on-Wye like Oxford's Stuck in a Book. Wouldn't you?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I'm writing about cemeteries again. Which means one thing to those who know me: I'm spending way too much time on my favorite diversion,

Both my solo WIPs feature cemeteries, one is set near Highgate Cemetery in London, and the other along Route 40 from Arizona to South Carolina. Highgate's characters are set, and I've done most of my research. But my other WIP, currently titled "Greer," was formulated during NaNo and is truly a work in process. The plot is developing as Aunt Greer and her niece drive across the country and run into oddball characters as they go. Some of the cemeteries I've invented, but I'd like to include some actual gravesites of historical figures.

The problem with research is that when you find one interesting fact, you find ten others that draw you to places both exciting and time consuming. Did you know that D.H. Lawrence was buried at Koiwa Ranch in Taos, New Mexico? His body was cremated and his ashes were mixed in cement and used in construction of his memorial altar. As of yet, I don't see how this nugget would fit into Greer's story, but you never know. He died before Aunt Greer was born, but his wife Frieda, also buried in New Mexico, died in 1956.

When I wrote THE CEMETERY GARDEN, I got sidetracked many times locating the burial sites of Jewish mobsters. I even wrote a short story about Grandpa Izzie visiting the graves of New York. It never won any of the contests I entered, but it's a fun bit of nostalgia.

Enough sidetracking for one day, I'm off to write. What's your favorite research diversion?

Saturday, December 5, 2009


For our What Women Write retreat, Pamela gave all of us personalized charm-bookmarks she’d devoted precious time to making. From mine dangles a pretty marbled stone, a silver and black heart, a Hope charm, and a 2009 marker, a little indication that this was the first of many retreats.

It got me thinking about bookmarks and the little things that, for me, make reading a book more special.

I’ve picked up bookmarks from libraries, conferences, bookstores, even from colleges my son hopes to attend. I’ve received bookmarks for gifts, whether alone or nestled inside one of my soon to be favorites. The ones I like best are from unique places or remind me of good friends.

I’ve got several from Politics and Prose, the Washington, D.C. bookstore one of my sisters frequents. I've collected treasures from other independents as well, such as the fantabulous Powell’s in Portland, where my husband had to drag me away from eight floors of books. From both the Poisoned Pen and Pages in Scottsdale, recent excursions with my cousin Gail. From Four Seasons Books in Shepherdstown, WV, where my friend Devon and I met to browse and reminisce about our time at Oxford. Some remind me that getting published is for real people too, like the publicity bookmarks I’ve accumulated over the years from writers I know, such as my friend and mentor Sophia Nash, award-winning author of seven historical novels; my critique partner Bill Lee, author of The Boys in Blue White Dress and who was recently featured in the Dallas Morning News; fellow board member Rachel DeFriez, author of The Rath Haven Chronicles; and writing acquaintances Candace Havens and Rosemary Clement Moore.

Truthfully, any slip of paper will do and often has. I’ve used an airline boarding pass, a grocery receipt, the empty lines on the bottom of a to-do list. Anything to avoid dog-earing pages, which for me is truly taboo for any true writer or reader.

How about you? What are your favorite and most memorable bookmarks?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Last week my husband, son and I set out in a loaded-up car for Scottsdale. We’re no amateurs when it comes to long driving trips, having successfully maneuvered roundtrip tours such as Maryland to Texas, Maryland to Toronto--circling back via Missouri, and Baltimore to northwest Massachusetts. We each have a different perspective on what makes a driving trip successful—photo ops (husband), paper and pen (me), and iTunes (son).

Originally we had planned on taking the fastest route, but as the trip got closer, it seemed a shame to miss out on the more scenic, albeit longer, drive. On the way there, we took the northern route up through Oklahoma City and across Route 40 (Historic Route 66). Several pit stops had us lunching in a real Texas landmark, The Big Texan steakhouse, and hiking (yes, me!) through the Badlands of the Petrified Forest.

It just so happens that my current WIP follows Aunt Greer, a vivacious has-been actress on the run from the law, and her recently widowed niece, also named Greer, on a cross-country cemetery trek along Route 40 as well. Pamela recently blogged about the importance of setting. Before I’d seen Route 40, I had only Google Maps to lead the way. Young Greer was getting bored with the view and asked her aunt to detour through Colorado. I’d seen the Garden of the Gods, a stunning backdrop for any novel. But now that I’ve seen the far-from-boring cakey mesas and painted deserts of New Mexico and Arizona, I have fuel to write the scenes in the Greer ladies’ driving trip.

As we left Scottsdale at 5 a.m. and traveled south on Route 10, a glorious view appeared over the Mexican border. Craggy mountains under a rose and turquoise swirl of sky had me trying to write the scene in my head. I was driving, so I couldn’t reach for paper and pen, but I was doing my best to remember it. (I haven’t done it justice.) The photographer in my husband reached for his camera (not perfect, but hey, we were in a moving car) and that’s when it hit me: we’re just artists trying to capture the world in our own way.

So it is with characters. Aunt Greer the actress drags her niece to theaters she’d performed in, while young Greer, grieving mother, is focused on the ages of the cemetery inhabitants. Not only do we need to capture the setting, but we need to show it from the character's perspective.

Side note: Sarah Laurence combines two talents, writer and photographer. You should check out her work.

What's your perspective?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Neil Gaiman's Pep Talk, Sort Of

This week I'm blogging over at What Women Write about NaNo
and Neil Gaiman. He's posted a great Pep Talk at NaNoWriMo's Web site.

It turns out, keeping up with this blog as well as the other is taking a toll on my blog writing. Don't give up on me, though, I hope to be back to blogging regularly soon. In the meantime, enjoy Neil's inspiring message for writers.

Monday, November 9, 2009


This essay by John Dalton inspired me today. It reminded me that there's no shame in being a struggling writer, or a writer struggling to get the words right. He wrote and rewrote his first novel, Heaven Lake, over eight years and received starred reviews when it debuted. He's now writing his second.

Monday, November 2, 2009


I'm doing a version of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) with my writing partners at What Women Write. We've all committed to various output (or not) and we've renamed it accordingly. NaNo participants write a 50,000 word draft novel.

I know that figure is unrealistic for the November I have planned this year. And I also don't want to start a new novel since I'm 30,000 words into my WIP. I'm not actually going to officially sign up, but I'll say it here so I can be accountable: My goal is 30,000 words on my WIP. So, that will get me to 60,000, I'll write the rest (about 20,000) in December and then take January, February and March to revise. That's my plan.

It's November 2 and I've written 1,276 words. 724 to go for tonight to be on track. Wish me luck.

Any of you also doing NaNo? Or joining our WWW group for WOAO?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Ghost Reader

The following is an excerpt from my manuscript The Cemetery Garden, my first brush with a ghost. One day, I plan on revising and sending it out on submission, because for some reason, the story won't let me go. Ghosts are like that.

I huddled between my mother and sister on a cold metal folding chair lining the grave’s edge. A billowy and familiar form drifted toward the mound of earth that would soon blanket my father's casket. Aunt Florence was draped in a flowery, tent-like shift she’d typically reserved for Friday night dinners. Certain I’d imagined her, I blinked, hoping the puffy shape was a circle of leaves blown up from the ground. But her red curls gave her away. She caught my eye and tapped two fingers to her heart, our private signal of affection.

My dead aunt.

I gulped and covered my shock with a cough. Then I inhaled cool air and slowly blinked again. Still there. Aunt Florence had been dead for over twenty years and, until that moment, had never appeared.

She showed up frequently after that. But why? Oh, I asked, but she never answered. Sometimes when I tossed questions at her, she’d fade away, as though my words were a strong wind and she, a pile of leaves.

Aunt Florence had a heart attack and died the summer I was at sleep-away camp. When I returned, tanned and over-s'mored, I stared at my father as he cautiously told me. I ignored his words, and ran to the cemetery near our house. They'd buried her at a cemetery across town, but I didn’t want to ask him to drive me there. So I pretended St. Patrick’s was her cemetery and zigzagged through the myriad tombstones searching for a lady named Florence. I found Florence Fitzgerald, picked up some dirt, and spread it across the last name. Now she was my Florence.

When I do revise, I'll likely use my new favorite self-editing tool, GhostReader. Read more about a ghost reader named Rachel on What Women Write.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Monday, October 12, 2009

Mass Blog--WOW and Family Relationships

Today I’m participating in a mass blogging! WOW! Women on Writing has gathered a group of blogging buddies to write about family relationships. Why family relationships? We’re celebrating the release of Therese Walsh’s debut novel today. The Last Will of Moira Leahy (Random House, October 13, 2009) is about a mysterious journey that helps a woman learn more about herself and her twin, whom she lost they were teenagers. Visit the Muffin (on the 13th) to read what Therese has to say about family relationships and view the list of all my blogging buddies. And make sure you visit to find out more about the author.

I can’t wait to read Therese's novel. Mostly because my favorite books evoke haunting feelings, narratives in which characters unravel family secrets, where the present is woven inextricably from the past, where adversity is mirrored through generations of women. Novels don’t need happy endings or big fat bows, in fact, I prefer tragic family tales with unrequited or forbidden love stories and endings that satisfy but are never expected. Not only do I like to read about these themes, but also they inhabit my writing.

I grew up in a middle-class household with middle-class values, which translated to me as unremarkable. I often imagined I’d find out I was adopted or that my mother was descended from royalty, like the Russian duchess Anastasia. Or, perhaps my father had a Swiss bank account hidden away. But sadly, no, just four girls going to public school in a suburb of Washington, D.C.

We’re all so different, yet I connect with each one in a different way. My oldest sister is a book-a-holic and, while we don’t always share the same favorites, we have a few elements on which we’ll always agree: Anglophilia, nuns, and anything written by Adriana Trigiani or Maeve Binchy. While those two authors write very different books, they have some similar qualities: humor, charm, and family relationships. We also share an aversion to butter and mayonnaise (ick, she’d say) and both adore coffee and chocolate.

My next sister is a bit of a rebel, needs a GPS to navigate a city in which she’s lived all her life, but she never misses a birthday or anniversary, and thoughtfully sends me author readings from Politics and Prose. She makes the best pizza south of New York and would happily live in that big city to give them some competition.

My younger sister is a travel goddess, knows all the best hotels and restaurants in the United States. She tells it like it is (remind you of someone?) and has a caustic wit. Her house and kitchen are always open, and we delivered our only children the same year, ensuring we'd always have plenty of experiences to share.

For years we all agreed on one thing: we led a vanilla life. It wasn’t until later that we learned of a well-buried family secret, a great uncle who was found in his bathtub murdered, rumored to be by a business associate in the Jewish mafia. But since most of the people who might have known the story are either dead or unknown to me, and my mother’s memory is slipping fast, it’s not likely I’ll ever find out. (Truthfully, there are one or two people I could ask, but I’m a little afraid of the repercussions.)

This is the seed I used for my first manuscript, The Cemetery Garden, in which a woman learns her grandfather had mafia connections, affecting her mother irrevocably in a fate worthy of a Greek tragedy. My second manuscript has similar themes, a woman haunted by her grandmother's past in the Bodleian Library.

Where families dwell, secrets follow, and plenty of people to read about them. Here's hoping Therese has a spectacular debut.

What Women Write

I am a loner. Or was, before I joined my own little writing village at What Women Write.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Query Letter Perfection

This is how you write a query letter.

As you know from my interview, Jamie Ford is as nice as he is talented.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Global Faces

Inspired by a jaunt around the world.

Where do your characters come from?

Thursday, September 24, 2009


As Pamela mentioned, watching movies is part of our job. There are plenty of movies I return to, like comfort food, whether for plot or character, but now I will look at them with a new eye.

In addition, part of my job is reading. My TBR list is ever-expanding and I find myself lately poring over blog posts, jotting down names of books I desperately want to read, buying or borrowing them, and then longingly staring at them on my shelf or counter or nightstand, as though they are chocolate bars; I always want to devour another, no matter how many I've just eaten.

I just finished The Sister, by Poppy Adams (psychological and haunting, reminiscent of Sarah Waters) and I'm currently reading: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (I'm not getting it, but I don't think I'm his reader), The Underpainter, by Jane Urquhart (I'm definitely her reader, thanks Kim!), and Noah Lukeman's The Plot Thickens (taking notes on this one).

I thought it would be fun to list a few of the books on my TBR list. Many I don't remember from who or why they were referred. Thanks to Stuck-in-a-Book, I've now got all the Bloomsbury books on my list (as one category: Bloomsbury).

I'd love to hear from you all (especially if I've got a title or name wrong!): Which ones should I tackle next, safely drop (in a nice way), read only when I want a good cry, read for a side-splitting laugh, study for craft, you get the idea. Some books haven't made it to my list yet and are still floating around on my desk or in my purse on slips of paper.

Here they are (over 100!), in no particular order, and unfortunately, not politely linked, because I've just run out of time.

Miss Hargraeves, Frank Baker
The Mathematics of Love, Emma Darwin
Saint Rimberg (The Miracle Letters of T. Rimberg), Geoff Herbach
Ghostwritten, David Mitchell
Forever, Pete Hamill
Midnight at the Dragon Café, Judy Fong Bates
Shadow of the Wind, Ramoz
The Blood of Flowers, Amirrezvani
Away: A Novel, Amy Bloom
Open Me, Sunshine O'Donnell
Julia's Chocolates, Cathy Lamb
A Good Distance, Sarah Willis
Things Unspoken, Anitra Sheen
Shadow Baby, Alison McGhee
Mina Samuer, Sara Miller
Tarts & Sinners, Carrie Kabak
The Kommandant's Daughter, Bronte Villette
Goodbye I love you, Carol Lynn Pearson
The Long Walk Home, Will North
Out of Sheer Rage, Geoff Dyer
Achilles, Elizabeth Cook
Oh Pure & Radiant Heart, Lydia Millet
The Accidental, Ali Smith
On the Way to my father's funeral, Jonathan Baumsach
Last Night, James Salter
Unless, Carol Shields
The Welsh Girl, Peter Ho Davies
At War with Wind, David Sears
The Oracles of Delphi, V.A. Laurie
A Certain Slant of Light, Margaret Bonanno
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Lisa See
A Saffron Kitchen, Yasmin Crowther
Number to Count, Chris Reich
The Light Ages, Ian MacLeod
Literacy and Longing in L.A., Jennifer Kaufman/Karen Mack
Reduced Shakespeare, Read Martin/Austin Tichemor
Away, Jane Urquhart
Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton
The Ghost at the Table, Suzanne Berne
Athena, John Banville
Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl
In the Country of Men, Hisham Matar
The Secret River, Kate Grenville
Carry Me Down, M.J. Hyland
Mother's Milk, Edward St. Aubyn
Seminary Boy, John Corwell
My Enemy the Queen, Victoria Holt
Tin Box, Holly Kennedy
Pastries, Bharti Kirchner
My Mother's Island, Marnie Mueller
Sister Mine, Tawni O'Dell
Candy, Jodi Thomas
Red Leather Diary, Lily Koppel
Those Who Save Us, Jenna Blum
The Rule of Four, Ian Caldwell
Anatomy of a deception Lawrence Goldstone
The Lace Reader, Brunonia Barry
Housekeeping, Marilyn Robinson
Gilead, Marilyn Robinson
The Bronte Project, Jennifer Vandever
A Pidgeon and a Boy, Meir Shalev
Overture, Yael Goldstein
Matrimony, Joshua Henkin
Inheritance, Natalie Danford
The Septembers of Shiraz, Dalia Safer
All Whom I Have Loved, Aharon Appelfield
Perfect Happiness, Penelope Lively
Passing On, Penelope Lively
Cheating at Canasta, William Trevor
Lessons in Heartbreak, Cathy Kelly
Love Lies Bleeding, Kate Thompson
The Likeness, Tara French
Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourbain
Dresden Files, Jim Butcher
Eye of the World, Robert Jordan
Charlotte Sometimes, Penelope Farmer
Blind Assasin, Atwood
The Chatham School Affair, Thomas Cook
A Dark Adapted Eye, Barbara Vine
A Manuscript of Ashes, Antonio Munoz Molina
The Clothes on Their Backs, Linda Grant
The Northern Clemency, Philip Hensher
Dear Stephanie, Dear Paul Stephanie and Paul Duke
Machine Dreams, Jayne Ann Philips
London Nights, Stephen Graham
Tom Jones, Fielding
The Sealed Letter, Emma Donohue
The September Society, Charles Finch
The Middle Place, Kelly Corrigan
The Aviary Gate, Katie Hickman
A Man of No Moon, Jenny McPhee
The Morville Hours, Katherine Swift
This Secret Garden, Cartwright
Shanghai Girls, Lisa See
Something by: Bryce Courtenay
The Forgotten Garden, Kate Morton
War on the Margins, Libby Cone
Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffeneger
The Fiction Class, Susan Breen
The Echo Maker, Richard Powers
The Rose of Sebastopol, ????
The Pursuit of Love, Nancy Mitford
Love in a Cold Climate, Nancy Mitford
The Sea Between Us, Amos Oz
The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, Carhart
Dreams of My Russian Summer, Adnrei Makine
The Keeper of Absalom's Island, Tom Nestor
The Secret River, Kate Grenville
Beyond Black, Hilary Mantel
How to Buy a Love of Reading, Tanya Egan Gibson
Lake in the Clouds, Sara Donati
Maiden Bride, Linda Needham
The Day the Falls Stood Still, Cathy Marie Buchanon
The Sugar Queen, Sarah Addison Allen
Garden Spells, Sarah Addison Allen
Julia’s Chocolates, Cathy Lamb
Everything else from Sarah Waters
Clarity of Night, Jason Evans
Kisses from a Postcard, Terence Frisby
The Laws of ??, Judith Ryan Hendricks
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larrson
?? Susan Henderson
The Ghost Writer, John Harwood
The Bolter, Frances Osborne
The Last September – Elizabeth Bowen Elizabeth Bowen
Miss Brill, Catherine Mansfield
The Crying of Lot 49
, Thomas Pynchon

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Little Stranger

Have you read The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters?

Just shortlisted for the 2009 Man Booker Prize, it's a cross between two of my favorites, House at Riverton and The Thirteenth Tale. The Little Stranger started a bit slow, but soon I was caught in its grips, and I realized, that was the point. The story creeps slowly, luring the reader into a crumbling house and introducing an equally crumbling family. At the end, my unanswered questions drew me back to the beginning, and I tried to piece it together. Were my conclusions right? I won't spoil it here, but if anyone wants a good chat about it, let me know!

I'm not sure why I haven't read Sarah Waters before, but now I'm on a mission to catch up with her previous titles. Just started The Night Watch.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Q&A with Author Sarah Stonich

Sarah Stonich’s first novel, These Granite Islands, became a Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” selection, a Book Sense 76 Top Ten Pick, and a “2001 Friends of American Writers” Best Novel. Her second book, The Ice Chorus, is one of my favorites. Maybe it’s the alternating backdrop of a scorching Mexican beach and the cool, stony cliffs of Ireland. Perhaps it’s the tragic love story shot through a lens shrouded in misinterpretation and family secrets. More likely it’s the tightly-woven plot and multi-layered characters.

Head over to my other blog, What Women Write, to read the Q&A. Thanks!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Living on the Lake

This past weekend, we enjoyed Labor Day at a friend’s lake house in northeast Texas. I’ve been accused of not being an outdoorsy type, but for three days under a sky puffy with animal clouds, I swam, boated, tubed, jetskiid, sunned myself, watched others play volleyball (let’s not go crazy, after all), read on a porch swing, cheered great friends over wine on an evening cruise, devoured s’mores over a crackling fire, and screamed while bouncing through the woods on an ATV (outdoorsy okay, woodsy definitely not.)

Soaring across the water, my hands clutched to the tube's grips, I didn’t have time to think about writing, blogging, querying, or focusing on the piles of revision notes on my desk at home. Instead I saw smiling faces egging me on from the boat, smelled fresh lake and a hint of fuel exhaust, felt sprays of water and the rush of the breeze over my face. So afraid of spring boarding off the tube, it took gallons of nerve to pry my hand for a thumbs down signal. Slow down.

Afterward, as I floated on a giant water trampoline and the sun toasted me like the marshmallows we stuffed in our s’mores, I watched my son tubing and wanted to give the thumbs down to slow his life’s pace a bit. In two years, he’ll go away to college. He’ll start his own tubing adventure, fraught with bumps and fears, tugging him ever so quickly into his future. I’m excited to see in which direction he’ll go—writer, philosopher, artist, entrepreneur—but do not want to wish away his now. I got such joy from watching him and his friends tube, ride jet skis, take on the adults in a volleyball tournament, and play chess and Catch Phrase. Living is the now.

And just as in life, as I navigate the road to publication, I can’t forget, writing is the now. It’s spending time with my family and friends, each one a different character with charming qualities. It’s floating on the raft, weaving in whatever direction the story will take me, getting lost in the flow of the words, toasting the plot to golden perfection.

At day’s end, dusky light dappled the water with glittery silhouettes, little ghosts of all who’d enjoyed their time on the lake, of those who slowed down to enjoy the now.

Photos courtesy of my talented husband, Rick.

Monday, August 31, 2009


Recently I've noticed that when I see a word or concept that I haven't thought about in a while (or ever), suddenly the word or concept appears everywhere I look. A few months ago, I read Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott. She used the word palimpsest (of course I had to look it up: writing material that has been scraped clean and used again or something with aspects beneath the surface).

This morning I blogged about perseverance at What Women Write, and now I read a Boston Globe article, (thanks to author Karen MacInerney for the link) about grit. Wish I'd thought to use the word--it's a great one.

Now to take the odd a bit further, the Globe article mentions Isaac Newton and his apple and, yes, you guessed it (or maybe not) Ghostwalk is a story about a woman who digs into a Cambridge professor's murder and learns the victim, while writing a controversial biography of Isaac Newton, uncovered some 17th century ghosts.

I love when odd coincidences like this happen. Especially where ghosts are involved. Has this ever happened to you?

Further synchronicity! After I posted the above, I received an email from Borders; Rebecca Stott's new book, The Choral Thief, is available for preorder.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Wake Up Call

Often I wake around 4am and stumble into my office to catch up on blogs or write a few words before the rest of the house wakes up. As my blog reader list expands, so does my knowledge of publishing and the writing craft. I found this morning's gem at Edittorrent.

Now I'm off to question every sentence in my WIP. Again.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Q&A with Adriana Trigiani

Recently, I had the privilege of interviewing New York Times bestselling author Adriana Trigiani. She's not only a fabulous writer, she's a warm and charming person. See for yourself (and get a chance to win her new book) here: What Women Write

When fourteen-year-old Viola is sent from her beloved Brooklyn to boarding school in Indiana for ninth grade, she overcomes her initial reservations as she makes friends with her roommates, goes on a real date, and uses the unsettling ghost she keeps seeing as the subject of a short film—her first.

Monday, August 10, 2009

With Pain, My Gain

When I twisted my back into a spasm yesterday, I spent the day in the only chair not causing more pain and started reading Andrew Davidson's The Gargoyle. And reading. (Thanks to my cousin Carole for the recommendation!)

If someone would have told me I’d be so into a book about a drug-addict porn star who drives off a cliff and suffers burns on 90% of his body, I’d have told them to check my coffee for hallucinogens. I'm on page 285 (out of 465), so I'm still not sure where it's going, but that's the beauty. The writing is so good, I don't care.

It was not unlike the feeling I had while reading Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants. Why should I want to read about a Cornell vet school dropout joining the circus and meeting up with gritty nutjobs? So different from anything I normally read. But every word was incredible. And then, on the back of The Gargoyle, I found a blurb from Sara Gruen: "I was blown away by Andrew Davidson's The Gargoyle. It reminded me of Life of Pi, with its unanswered (and unanswerable) contradictions. A hypnotic, horrifying, astonishing novel that manages, against all odds, to be redemptive." Now that she mentions it--of course. Life of Pi was another of those deeply affecting, unforgettable stories. There you go, a trifecta of oddly wonderful novels.

The kind that has me wondering how on earth I can call myself a writer, while at the same time, making me work that much harder to hone my craft. I'd never have spent the whole day reading (well, never isn't entirely accurate) if I hadn't hurt my back, but I'm glad I did. My gain. And my chiropractor's.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Q&A with Jamie Ford

I had the good fortune of interviewing bestselling author, Jamie Ford.

Jamie's an engaging guy and his debut novel Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is one of the best books I've read this year.

Stop by What Women Write to win an autographed copy of his novel.

From his publisher:
In the opening pages of Jamie Ford’s stunning debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Henry Lee comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle’s Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of Japanese families, left when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II. As Henry looks on, the owner opens a Japanese parasol.

This simple act takes old Henry Lee back to the 1940s, at the height of the war, when young Henry’s world is a jumble of confusion and excitement, and to his father, who is obsessed with the war in China and having Henry grow up American. While “scholarshipping” at the exclusive Rainier Elementary, where the white kids ignore him, Henry meets Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese American student. Amid the chaos of blackouts, curfews, and FBI raids, Henry and Keiko forge a bond of friendship–and innocent love–that transcends the long-standing prejudices of their Old World ancestors. And after Keiko and her family are swept up in the evacuations to the internment camps, she and Henry are left only with the hope that the war will end, and that their promise to each other will be kept.

Forty years later, Henry Lee is certain that the parasol belonged to Keiko. In the hotel’s dark dusty basement he begins looking for signs of the Okabe family’s belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot begin to measure. Now a widower, Henry is still trying to find his voice–words that might explain the actions of his nationalistic father; words that might bridge the gap between him and his modern, Chinese American son; words that might help him confront the choices he made many years ago.

Set during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an extraordinary story of commitment and enduring hope. In Henry and Keiko, Jamie Ford has created an unforgettable duo whose story teaches us of the power of forgiveness and the human heart.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Falling In Love With Reading

Check out Pamela's blog about her daughter falling in love with reading. Beautiful!

What book did you fall in love with as a kid? Or an adult? I don't remember being a kid, so I'll just share the book that affected me most: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Frank McCourt

Sad news that Frank McCourt has died. Dani Shapiro's post today is a lovely tribute to the gifted author and his generosity of spirit.

Dani's a beautiful writer. Check out her books and her blog when you get a chance.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


We all complain about not having enough time. Time to write, time to read, time to sleep, time to slice the summer peaches, time to watch another BBC DVD. I wonder how much time I waste worrying about how much time I don't have.

Both manuscripts safely under submission, I realized it's about time to get back to my new projects. Five Days to Kill Bob is on hold until Pamela frees up her time, so I finally opened my other WIP file, working title The Architect at Highgate. After breaking from it, I was happy to find I still like the premise and the characters, although I did change a few names. And I was pleased to see I had already written 28,000 words, 1/3 of the way to a first draft. I've no excuse now--I will write 1,500 words a day, a goal I committed to earlier this year. It turns out, it won't take me as much time to finish as I thought.

A few years ago, when I was still writing The Cemetery Garden, I worried that I wouldn't have any further ideas to write about. Now, I worry about not having enough time to write the ideas I have. A much better place to be, if you ask me.

But instead of worrying about time, I'm going to manage and appreciate the time I have.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Meaning of Rejection

I finally had a few minutes to catch up on blog reading. Today I ran across two great posts on rejection. (No, I'm not gearing up--I'm actually feeling quite positive since submitting my full manuscript last night at 1:00am, despite my late change, but that's another post). The blog led me to Simon Haynes blog (a.k.a. Space Jock).

Now I know why blue is my favorite color. But that little yellow triangle at the top of the pyramid is looking pretty good!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What Women Write

I'm joining forces with five fabulous women writers for a new adventure in blogging. Beginning July 1, Pamela Hammonds, Elizabeth Lynd, Kim Bullock, Julie Kibler, Susan Ishmael-Poulos and I will be blogging at:, featuring topics such as our writing experiences, helpful information we want to pass on, and interviews with industry folks.

Check us out! If you're an author, editor, agent, bookseller, or librarian (hint to Steven F.) and would like to be interviewed, let me know!

I'll still blog here, too, as long as I have something noteworthy to pass on.

Saturday, May 30, 2009


The Book Expo America/Writer’s Digest conference and Pitch Slam was more than I’d hoped for, and less.

More laughs from the workshops. Janet Reid and Barbara Poelle shared tips on a panel of agents. If they ever give up agenting, I think Comedy Central would find a slot for them. Chuck Sambuchino snagged a surprise guest for his workshop: Janet Reid listened to pitches from brave souls in a room full of onlookers. She was as ruthless as she is in her Query Shark blog, but somehow she managed to dig out the nugget of a hook some writers didn’t know they had. There was an odd moment when a man pitched his memoir about starting a commune in the ’70s and the woman who later tried to kill him (story enough!) but it got odder still when he added that he’d once been part of a four-person marriage. Yikes! Ick. More information than I needed. But who doesn’t think this guy is getting a book deal? (If I’m breaking some code of ethics by repeating his story here, someone please tell me!)

Less attendance than prior years, which means I had the good fortune to meet with 10 agents instead of the 3-6 the conference folks estimated. Pamela was on my shoulder the whole time and as soon as I got weary, she yelled, “look alive” in my ear. That’s what good writing partners do.

More requests than I anticipated: 5 for Bodley and 4 for CCS = 9. No, the accountant in me has not checked out. The one remaining was a sit-down with the agent who’d suggested revisions on Bodley. It was so great to meet her in person and to talk about how my revisions are going. She’s still excited about seeing the manuscript.

More kindness from all. The agents happily listened to my pitch and my nervousness disappeared as I talked about my projects. I even met with an agent from another conference, who previously said he couldn’t get past my answer to “why now?” He was right; I didn’t have a good enough answer. I brainstormed and ran a few ideas past my brilliant critique partners and realized I had a solution. It was a fairly significant change to the beginning, but the story remained intact. When I told him my solution at BEA, he gave me an A for persistence and asked for a partial.

Throughout the day, I was fortified with emails from Pamela, Elizabeth, Julie, Susan and my fellow board members at Writers’ Guild of Texas. More support and good karma than one person deserves!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Agent Pitch Slam

As many of you know, (because I can't stop talking about it) on May 27 I'll be attending the Book Expo America/Writer's Digest writers' conference in New York. It's a one day event, just prior to the Book Expo America conference May 28-31. You should know this if you're going to register, so you don't end up registering as an exhibitor for the BEA event instead of the BEA/WD event and have to call technical support to clear up the confusion. Not that anyone I know would do such a thing.

My main reason to attend is the Agent Pitch Slam, or, speed dating with agents. Three minutes to pitch an agent, as many agents as you can visit in the 2-hour window. There are over sixty agents attending, but apparently because of long lines (think Janet Reid, Stephany Evans or Donald Maass), I should plan on pitching 3-6 only. I'm splitting my time between The Bodley Boys and Center Court Seats and a Pair of Jimmy Choos and researching the best choices for each. I wish I could pack Pamela in my suitcase to give me a boost of confidence (and to double up on the pitches). I hope they allow texting in the pitch slam room.

Two weeks ago before I met with an agent at the DFW Conference, I paced the lobby, reciting my pitch under my breath. More than one person asked if I needed any assistance. Like maybe a ride to the psych hospital. I'm trying to stay calm, agents are only people as they like to say.

Anyone been? Want to share some tips with me?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Conference Highlights

This weekend I attended the DFW Writers’ Conference put on by DFWWW. It’s their second year and I thought it was a success.

Bob Mayer delivered the keynote speech at Saturday’s lunch and then hung around to present five workshops. Five! He’s a master of a no-nonsense, sensible approach to writing and the publishing business. Know what you’re up against and conquer it.

I got to hang out with my writing partner, Pamela, and a few critique partners, (Elizabeth, if you had a blog, I’d link you!), meet some new writers and enjoy what I love most—learning more about the writing process and talking about books.

Two agents had unfortunate emergencies that kept them away, but the remaining agents did double duty trying to make sure everyone got a chance to pitch. And they did so pleasantly.

Even though the agent to whom I pitched The Bodley Boys didn’t ask to see it now, he asked thoughtful questions which have prompted me to spend the last few days slightly tweaking the plot. He said if I could figure it out, he’d like to take a look. His suggestions were in line with my current revisions, so even though it set me back a bit, the book will be better in the end.

Tidbits I learned at the conference (many from Bob Mayer—sign up for his Dallas workshop at the end of May if you missed seeing him this weekend), or tidbits I knew but just had to hear again:

1. Can you state the original idea for your book in 25 words or less? If your pitch is a mess, chances are your book is too.
2. You don’t have to write what you know—write what you are passionate about. I knew this, but it’s always nice to hear again.
3. Write complex characters. Every character thinks the story is about them.
4. Book dissection—study the books and movies that work. I recently pulled apart The Thirteenth Tale and Ghostwalk and refer to my notes often.
5. The plot has to be logical. Even in a ghost story.
6. Don’t get caught up in the query/submission process and forget to keep writing. Write the next book, and be thinking about the one after that.
7. Keep your blog current. ☺
8. Keep the boot you wore when you broke your toe. You never know when you're writing partner's dog might slash her foot and leave her with stitches and a sore foot.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Animal Magnetism

Three separate, but related incidents, have me wondering: Was there was a full moon last night?

1. My husband went out the back door to the garage and a squirrel jumped from the fence and scratched his arm.

Here’s his account:

Day 1 at home - while opening the door to the backyard from garage, I am accosted by a rogue squirrel. My arm is scratched as the giant squirrel invades the garage. I leave the battlefield to apply medicine to my bloody arm (ok, maybe a couple of drops, there were at least two, I'm sure). I steel myself for the return to the scene of the surprise attack and to confront the mad invader. I bang and shake the masses of boxes and bags in the garage hoping to flush my foe from its hiding place. Finally! I spy the invader crouched in a dark corner waiting to spring. Approaching slowly, I seal off all but one of its escape routes, leaving only the door to the outside in its view. Thrusting into the corner with my trusty sword, um, broom handle, I prod the giant creature into the open! A mad scramble ensues! The beast is valiantly driven back into the Plano wilds. Peace and tranquility returns to the kingdom (and all before 9:00am).

Except that pesky part about the tetanus shot.

2. Pamela called me this morning to tell me she had a mishap with her dog’s nails and has a gash in her foot, possibly needing stitches.

3. Critique partner Elizabeth has a dead possum in her back yard.

Anyone else have an animal adventure today? I don’t know about you, but I’m looking out for wolverines. And lizards. (see previous lizard post!)

Friday, April 3, 2009


If you’ve been reading any agent blogs over the last few days, you’ll see that hundreds of writers came out to rant about their bad experiences with agents. After her agentfail post, Jessica at Bookends suggested we take a day to show appreciation for the positive experiences we’ve had.

Recently, after trading emails with one super agent, she asked me to call her for suggestions about revisions for The Bodley Boys. So excited by her offer, I’m sure I was hardly coherent on the phone. But I did take notes and am now reworking my manuscript. She might not agree to take me on when I’m done, but my manuscript is better because of her. (I’d mention her name, but I don’t want to jinx it.)

Sure, I’m frustrated because several agents never responded to partials and fulls (YES!), but I’ve received hand-written responses to queries and a personalized no-thank-you from an agent who was not even looking for clients. Class act.

Plenty of agents and editors blog (Janet Reid, Nathan Bransford, Moonrat to name a few). Sure they could spend more time reading our queries or partials, but with every one of their posts, I learn something new.

Kristin Nelson blogged today about Writer Beware and Preditors and Editors, both Websites that provide information on scam agents. Both sites are valuable research tools, and my final stop before sending a query.

I also visit Absolute Write, Newbie’s Guide to Publishing, Query Tracker, Writers Market and Agent Query (see sidebar for links helpful to writers searching for an agent or seeking general information about the publishing process).

So, a big thank you to the many industry people who spend their valuable time trying to help writers.

Have you had an especially positive writing experience you’d like to share?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


I've been revising The Bodley Boys to resubmit to an agent. Last night, fueled by ideas that wanted out, I worked from 1:30-5:30am. I felt possessed, as if I were just a go-between to get the words written.

Today, my son and I were going through my father's WWII letters for a school history project. We haven't gotten very far, but I just found this bit in one of his letters:

July 16, 1945

“I wrote a short story today. After I edit it I think I’ll send it to a magazine just for the hell of it. Most of the guys think it is pretty good—but it really isn’t too hot. Maybe I can rework it.”

How timely, as I'm doing my own revisions to find this gem from the past. And to see a bit of my father's personality as well.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Market Looks Good for Ghosts

Yesterday from Publishers Weekly:

“A weeklong, three-round auction culminated yesterday with Scribner editor-in-chief Nan Graham taking U.S. rights to Audrey Niffenegger’s second novel, Her Fearful Symmetry, for a figure reported to be just shy of $5 million…”

“Her Fearful Symmetry
, is described as a 21st-century ghost story and centers on two American teenagers, identical twins, whose lives change when an aunt whom they didn’t know dies and leaves them a flat overlooking Highgate Cemetery in London. Feeling that their lives can finally begin, the twins have no idea that they’ve been summoned into a tangle of fraying lives, including that of their dead aunt herself, who never got over her estrangement from the twins’ mother, and in fact can’t seem to leave the flat.”

I have so many thoughts on this. First, WOW. Publishing is not dead. Of course the advance has something to do with her brilliant writing and The Time Traveler’s Wife selling a bajillion copies. However, it means publisher’s still believe books sell.

I was both elated and crushed at the plot details of Her Fearful Symmetry. You see, in my WIP, one of the characters lives across from Highgate Cemetery. Another shares a flat with a ghost. Yes, I started writing it ages before I learned about her book. In THE ARCHITECT AT HIGHGATE CEMETERY, an art restoration specialist uncovers objects hidden by a wronged nineteenth century architect, including design plans and a letter incriminating the architect of record of stealing more than ideas.

Several books have taken place in Highgate, Tracy Chevalier’s Falling Angels to name one. Interesting tidbit: While researching her book, Niffenegger ran into Chevalier, who was volunteering at the cemetery. Visit the cemetery’s official website here to learn why it’s such an intriguing setting.

Thanks to agent Nathan Bransford's “Negativity Week (which is actually short for How To Remain Positive in the Face of Negativity But That's Too Long of a Blog Title Week, or HTRPITFONBTTLOABTW for short)” I choose to look at it positively.

Yesterday, I got another agent request to read THE BODLEY BOYS. Indeed, the market looks good for ghosts!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Dreaming of Oxford

If I seem depressed in April, it's because in addition to not attending the London Book Fair, I'm also missing the Oxford Literary Festival.

Thanks to Stuck in a Book, (Masters student at Oxford and former Bodleian employee!) I just read about the event on his blog. Since completing THE BODLEY BOYS, I haven't done as much research on Oxford. I've even stopped listening to the Oxford podcasts, because I've been trolling London's Clerkenwell, Hampstead, and the incredible Highgate Cemetery via internet, all places the characters of my next book will inhabit. But now I'm dreaming of Oxford again.

In my fantasy, one of the agents now reading THE BODLEY BOYS falls in love with it, sells it to a publisher, and next year I'm packing for a literary trip to the UK.

As Gigi Dottie says, "Got our dreams, haven’t we?"

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


I'm fortunate enough to have a core group of writer friends, a critique group, and Sophia Nash as a mentor. Her third book in The Widow's Club series, Love With the Perfect Scoundrel, just hit the shelves. Her books are intelligent, witty and sexy. I’m waiting for my copy to arrive in a brown box on my doorstep any day. Sophia’s clear focus on the business of writing inspires me and she’s always willing to share valuable insider tidbits. I know she’ll be thrilled when I’m published, she’s told me so.

Many of my writer friends are on the cusp of being published. When they are, I will push any jealous thoughts away (I’d be lying if I said I won’t have any) and celebrate their launch. I’m pretty sure they’ll do the same for me. After all, I’m a better writer because of every one of them.

Jennifer Jackson of the Donald Maass agency links to one of her clients blogs. Jay Lake mentions a situation of professional jealousy that ruined a friendship. He writes, “As a result, someone whose name should be in the dedications of all my books is instead someone I have not seen or spoken to in years, and probably never will again.” That's just sad.

He offers some wise words: “My friends are my friends, and their successes only magnify our friendships.”

I agree!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Jamie Ford

I met Jamie Ford last night. You might not know his name now, but you will. His novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, just made it to the NY Times Bestseller list. It’s about a man who is plunged into the past, yearning for a lost love, after meeting a hotel owner who’s just discovered the belongings of Japanese families, left when they were sent to internment camps during World War II. I haven’t read it yet (I just got it last night!) but I’m really looking forward to diving in. I’m putting it ahead of Maeve Binchy’s next, which is sitting on my desk. You know I must be intrigued!

The Crow Collection of Asian Art in Dallas hosted an author event for him. I’d just read about the novel in his agent’s blog. I read his query letter and understood why she offered him representation. When I heard he was coming to Dallas, I jumped at the chance to see him.

At first I thought it would be a large gathering (like the crowd for Jeannette Walls—yikes), but I was surprised and pleased to find less than 30 people there. He’s an unassuming guy, and spoke about his book, the writing process, and the research required to cover this complicated issue. He took the time to speak to us individually as he signed our books.

I was equally impressed with the publicity tour he’s on. Random House must be going all out. In this market! It’s encouraging for anyone trying to hire an agent (I’m waiting for THE call!) or sell a book.

I look forward to watching Jamie’s book climb the charts. I get to say I met him when…

Thursday, February 19, 2009


With Center Court Seats and a Pair of Jimmy Choos sitting on three agents' desks, Pamela and I are cautiously (eagerly!) optimistic about being offered representation. Knowing that the question, "What else ya got?" will be forthcoming, we've masterminded joint project #2. I'm psyched about the new book, it's chock full of dark humor, murder plots, betrayal, and sisterly love. There's even a sexy Brit. Pamela's come up with the fabulous working title: Five Days to Kill Bob. I've just finished writing the opening scene and can't wait to see what she's going to write.

May the cleverest murderer win!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Blogging Break

I'm taking a short breather from blogging while I concentrate on my WIP. Thanks for reading! Hope to be back soon.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Podcasts - My New Favorite Diversion, er, Research Tool

I'd heard of podcasts, even watched a few when forced (some lady tech guru on Sundays), but always decided they were a silly diversion and waste of writing/reading time. Not any more.

Lucky me, I’ve just discovered Maud Newton’s blog. I added it to my Google reader, and the last few months’ posts appeared. I scanned through the entries—so many fascinating topics!—and landed on gold. On November 17, there was a blurb on free Oxford Podcasts. Tolkien! Medieval English! Particle Physics! It also linked to a Bodleian video tour. My writing buddies (and family members) must be ready to lock me inside the Bodleian, I gab about it so much. But seeing a video, no matter how short, made my day. Heck, my year.

Bonus: the recent post links to an NPR story on Authors' voices. If you've ever wondered what Arthur Conan Doyle or Virginia Woolf sounded like, here's your chance.

Happy watching and listening!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

I'm Not All That

My name is Joan Mora. I am not a male sculptor from Spain. But if I were, I’d have an above average web presence.

Yesterday, J.A. Konrath blogged about becoming cyber-effective. Yes, I’ve still got to hire an agent and get a book deal, but when that happens, unless I’m featured on a talk show, selling lots of books will come down to publicity budget (hee hee) and word of mouth (or word of internet).

I’m slowly trying to build my presence, with my blog and Facebook. It’s fun reading others’ blogs and I learn all about publishing, writing, book deals, and cocktails. Sometimes I get the nerve to comment. And when my 2009 resolutions work (sending queries results in hiring an agent, entering contests results in snagging an editor’s attention, writing 1,500 words a day results in more books to sell), I’ll be ready for launch.

Konrath mentioned, a free site that allows you to check your search engine saturation, and how many other sites link to you. I already knew in a Google search, my name showed up 1st and 3rd. But I never suspected my search engine saturation would be 1,305 (whatever that means) and that in a link popularity check I’d have an above average presence (7,356).

I bragged to Pamela about it. When she did the test, her number was a lot lower than mine. But why? She’d been blogging longer and more frequently. I was feeling quite smug. Until she said, “When I put your name in, I only get 47.”
“Huh?” She must be doing it wrong, of course. After all, I’m an accountant. I know numbers.
“, right?”
“Uh.” That’s when I realized. That sculptor had stolen my web presence. I’m not all that.

But with hard work and perseverance, one day, I will be. That Konrath guy sure fuels me.