Tuesday, December 14, 2010

From my beautiful sisters...

Look what I found in the mail yesterday!

Ode to Joan, with apologies to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Listen my sisters and you shall hear
Of the 50th birthday of a sister dear
On the fourteenth of December, a long time ago
Driven to the hospital through ice and through snow
Went Sylvia in December that year.

It was nearly ten by the kitchen clock
When they sped away into the night
The sisters listened to the quiet tick-tock
And sat and waited as time passed.
And the living room lights, few and dim
Blinked off and on as if by whim
And the two girls wondered how long it would last
Until their father returned and things seemed right.

About half past six by the delivery room clock
The baby emerged into the world.
They heard her voice and took stock
Of black hair, tiny hands and blue eyes
A lovely girl of a pleasing size.
Around Dad’s finger her little hand curled
They saw the beauty in form and in face
And the crying in her soft, sweet tones
They brought her home to her own little place.

For, borne on the night-wind of the past
Through all our history, to the last
We still remember how happy we were
To behold the sweet baby, lovely and new
We loved and adored and cherished her
And realize today that this is still true.

(author, Ellen Korb)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hard-won praise

Today Julie wrote about our retreat critique sessions over at What Women Write. (Who knew I was the quiet one?!) She shared a hilarious and honest take on our critique and, like her, I value this special group we’ve found.

At one of our sessions, I learned that one of my characters is not fully drawn. It’s hard to hear criticism, especially from five writers I admire greatly, whose opinions I not only appreciate, but also seek as validation of my talents (such as they are).

My WIP is told from four main characters’ perspectives, one of which is a young architect in bid competition with the great-great grandson of his own ancestors’ rival. At an earlier session, I had already shared two other characters’ sections and received mostly good feedback on the story’s opening hook and level of intrigue in the first pages.

When I readied for my session, I was excited (shouldn’t I have known better!), thinking they would connect with this new character’s humble nature, love his big-hearted dog, and sympathize with his obvious pain at losing his wife so young. But they wondered where this storyline was going and why exactly the reader would continue with it. (And pointed out my over-fondness for simile!)

After we'd finished our critiques and glasses of wine, I wrapped myself in my now MIA snuggy (if anyone finds it, there’s a reward!), retreated to a comfy chair, and buried my nose in Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth (a sure impetus for any writer to attempt Julie’s self-inflicted fork to the head!). After sulking for a bit, I realized they were right. I was mostly disappointed in myself. Why couldn’t I see the flaws in my chapter? I felt duly discouraged and wondered if I should continue.

I’ve invested two years on this manuscript (in between “real” work), including hours and hours of research and plot development. I love the story, the setting and the characters. I knew I could not give up.

Yesterday, armed with Donald MaassWriting the Breakout Novel workbook, I set off to apply several of his exercises to my not-fully-drawn character. After several hours of work and reflection, I had not only dug deep into my character's psyche, but I'd also heightened the stakes for all my characters.

Some purists might wonder if studying how-to fiction isn’t teaching writers to create formulaic blueprints instead of growing organic tales. Perhaps the answer lies with the old argument of nature vs. nurture: Is one born with the gift or can it be learned?

I wasn’t born with inherent talent, but aided by honest critique, Donald Maass and a lot of hard work, I will create a story I hope not only readers will appreciate, but one worthy of my fellow What Women Writers' hard-won praise.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Waiting to launch...


Monday, September 6, 2010

Update! Q&A with Sarah Blake

Sarah Blake was so kind to stop by What Women Write! Check it out here.

By the way, I just started her earlier novel, Grange House. Enjoying the eerie story very much!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Postmistress - Loved it!

I finished The Postmistress by Sarah Blake several weeks ago and I've had the beautiful book on my desk to remind me to tell you all about it.

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Weaving together the stories of three very different women loosely tied to each other, debut novelist Blake takes readers back and forth between small town America and war-torn Europe in 1940. Single, 40-year-old postmistress Iris James and young newlywed Emma Trask are both new arrivals to Franklin, Mass., on Cape Cod. While Iris and Emma go about their daily lives, they follow American reporter Frankie Bard on the radio as she delivers powerful and personal accounts from the London Blitz and elsewhere in Europe. While Trask waits for the return of her husband—a volunteer doctor stationed in England—James comes across a letter with valuable information that she chooses to hide. Blake captures two different worlds—a na├»ve nation in denial and, across the ocean, a continent wracked with terror—with a deft sense of character and plot, and a perfect willingness to take on big, complex questions, such as the merits of truth and truth-telling in wartime.

If a blurb from Kathryn Stockett graces the cover of a book, (and a gorgeous cover, at that!) there’s pretty much no chance it won’t live up to her praise. The Postmistress more than delivers. I first learned of the book when Pamela interviewed publisher Amy Einhorn.

I picked up the book in my local bookstore, the late Legacy Books, while on a field trip with some of my fellow WWW women. I’m a huge fan of stories that weave multiple narratives, whether in different time periods or locations, so the description of this one caught my attention.

With spot-on historical details, the story’s charm originates with its characters. Frankie is a tough woman with heart, wanting only to bring the hard truths of the war home to America. She records first-hand accounts from Jewish refugees and finds herself in the middle of a fateful train ride. Iris values rules and order, and above all views her role as an uninformed messenger of secrets. Both women are faced with difficult decisions, forcing them to go against everything they believe. The dialogue is snappy, the plot twists unexpected, and the prose efficient and honest.

Here are a few of my favorite passages:

“One could stand on a corner and see a long row of untouched houses, their white fronts perfectly sharp against the autumn sky—all England in a block—then turn the next corner to find nothing but flat waste and fire, the exhausted faces of the women carrying cheap cardboard suitcases and handing their children up into the refugee buses waiting at the square. Each night of the Blitz, the war passed over London like the Old Testament angel, block by block: touching here, turning from there, and Frankie followed, wanting to get it down, wanting to get at the heart of it.” p. 29

“This is how a war knocks down the regular, steady life we set up against the wolf at the door. Because the wolf is not hunger, it is accident—the horrid, fatal mistake of turning left to go to the nearer tube station, rather than right to take the long way around. There is the sense one gets walking around London at night, of a God grown sleepy, tired of holding the whole vast world in His gaze, tired of making sense—so that shards of glass dagger babies in their beds, boys come home to empty houses, and the woman and the man who had just lain down to sleep are crushed.” p. 67

If you’ve read this one, let me know if you loved it as much as I did. If you haven’t, head to the bookstore!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Tanya Egan Gibson at What Women Write

A few years ago, I contacted Tanya Egan Gibson, (How To Buy a Love of Reading), through Absolute Write Water Cooler to ask about her agent. I’d received a full request and was anxious to know more about her, especially since Tanya was a debut author. Tanya praised her agent and encouraged me. I was very grateful, (even though her agent passed on my manuscript!), and over at What Women Write, we're featuring Tanya and chatting about her book in time for the paperback release.
Have you read this one?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Last year Therese Walsh's debut, THE LAST WILL OF MOIRA LEAHY, came out to big fanfare and a contest.

In celebration of the paperback release, Therese Walsh is at it again, with a contest for free books. Check it out!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Victorian Pincushion

Many a writer has been sidetracked by research. Dani Shapiro mentioned recently it was just another form of procrastination. She’s right, of course.

But sometimes you just have to go looking for those marvelous details that will pull the reader into your fictional world. In my mind, historical fiction would be flat on the page without them. Like the Italian mantle clock I found early on and which will play its own part in my story. (I wish I could show you a picture, but I’m pretty sure it’s copyrighted. Check it out here, though.)

I was looking for an antique tool, something a metal shop owner would have used. I found the iron rod fairly quickly, but soon became enamored by the other lovely objects on this site. I found a gold velvet pincushion, set in a brass bucket and topped with a brass poodle holding a thimble: just the thing my Jewish lady's maid would use while sewing my character's maternity clothes. Perfect, right? It gets better, and I swear I’m not making this up. As I looked at the various images of the pincushion, a closeup of the bottom of the thimble revealed a Star of David.

I'm happy with my little sidetrack for the morning...now back to writing!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Writers Write

This one by JC Hutchins at Writer Unboxed spoke to me today. Enough on that, back to writing...

Monday, July 19, 2010

Over at What Women Write, find out why your characters should go to the zoo.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Boxes of Stories

I'm blogging about boxes of stories over at What Women Write today. Here are a few more pictures.

These are my maternal grandparents, Harry and Jenny Zimberg.

I think the lady with flowers adorning her hat is my father's aunt, Mary Levinson. The woman who chose a feathered hat? Who knows?!

My father and his father, Paul Levinson, owned Monroe Pharmacy from the early 50s through sometime in the 70s in Washington, D.C. Pauline worked for them for about 30 years.

Maybe my grandfather and a brother owned a confectionery before Grandpa Paul became a pharmacist, or maybe they just walked in for a piece of chocolate.

I might not know the facts, but each picture is a story waiting to be told.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Friday, June 18, 2010

Don't Give Up, says Anna Elliott

I'm a big fan of Writer Unboxed. They have many bloggers, but each one offers valuable insight and generally the right amount of push! (I mean, they've got the amazing agent and fiction how-to author Donald Maass over there!)

Here's today's gem from Anna Elliott on not giving up. Or, as Alicia Keys says, "There's Nothing You Can't Do."

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Dara Horn’s spectacular book, All Other Nights, is rich with love, betrayal, loyalty and sorrow. I enjoyed her first two books, In the Image and The World to Come, which both weave historical fiction with present day narrative. But All Other Nights is strictly historical, a literary mystery set during the Civil War and reminiscent of Cold Mountain and March. After reading until 1:30am last night, I woke at 6:30am to finish it.

The cover reads:

How is tonight different from all other nights? For Jacob Rappaport, a Jewish soldier in the Union army during the Civil War, it is a question his commanders have already answered for him -- on Passover, 1862, he is ordered to murder his own uncle in New Orleans, who is plotting to assassinate President Lincoln. After this harrowing mission, Jacob is recruited to pursue another enemy agent, the daughter of a Virginia family friend. But this time, his assignment isn’t to murder the spy, but to marry her. Their marriage, with its riveting and horrifying consequences, reveals the deep divisions that still haunt American life today.

Based on real personalities like Judah Benjamin, the Confederacy’s Jewish Secretary of State and spymaster, and on historical facts and events ranging from an African-American spy network to the dramatic self-destruction of the city of Richmond,
All Other Nights is a gripping and suspenseful story of men and women driven to the extreme limits of loyalty and betrayal. It is also a brilliant parable of the rift in America that lingers a century and a half later: between those who value family and tradition first, and those dedicated, at any cost, to social and racial justice for all.

In this eagerly-awaited third novel, award-winning author Dara Horn brings us page-turning storytelling at its best. Layered with meaning, All Other Nights presents the most American of subjects with originality and insight -- and the possibility of reconciliation that might yet await us.

I was most intrigued with her characterization of four sisters, each with their own unique quirks which not only brought them to life, but aided each in times of trouble. Her writing is intelligent and thoroughly researched, and although the plot was intricate, I never once felt it was contrived. The story, and characters, surprised me at every turn.

One of my favorites this year! Anyone else read it? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, June 11, 2010

It's Complicated

I've long been a fan of novels spanning more than one time period. I love it when an author writes a character both from their adult and younger selves. One such novel is Days of Grace, which I'm really looking forward to reading. (You can see Kim's interview of Catherine Hall over at What Women Write.)

I've written in multiple time periods before, but for some reason, I'm struggling with my WIP, THE ARCHITECT AT HIGHGATE. Although I've researched heavily, I still find my self stopping mid-sentence to learn what Italian immigrants ate during the Victorian era or the name of a famous architect.

My HIGHTGATE computer folder is filled with word docs and spreadsheets to keep track of my plot and characters. I'm thinking of working in some historical figures, like Giuseppe Mazzini or even a famous author or two. I've set up a family tree, a detailed outline, lists of details about architecture and churches, nuns, music halls, restorations. Some of my charts are more complicated and haphazard (and blurry!) than my desk.

Most of you know my obsession with Kate Morton's novels, House of Riverton and The Forgotten Garden. Ms. Morton is a master of weaving a complicated plot, then tugging the reader along a journey where it all comes together seamlessly. How does she do that?! Does she use spreadsheets and timelines and family trees?

My current diversion is locating an historically accurate map. Many of the street names have changed and while I use the internet as much as I can, interactive maps of the past are not always available and most are not very legible. (I've previously blogged about VictorianLondon.org, which is the most complete website on the era I've found, created entirely by author Lee Jackson .)

I picked a street off Red Lion Square for the home of one of my characters. In the 1850s, the street was named Prince's Street, and was later renamed Princeton Street. But were there were single family homes on the street? If so, do they still stand? Are any still inhabited by families or have they converted to businesses and charities as did those on Red Lion Square? I want so much to get it right. I am pining away for a book called The History of London in Maps, but it's $75 and in light of my recent splurge on research books, I just can't justify buying it right now and the library doesn't have it. (Anyone in Dallas have a copy I can borrow?)

In my obsession with detail, am I somehow making this manuscript too complicated? For some reason, I'm struggling more than ever before. Advice anyone?

Monday, May 24, 2010

What does your book cover say about you?

Today over at What Women Write, I'm blogging about book covers, crutches, and happy endings.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

What's at Stake?

A few weeks ago, Elizabeth blogged about coincidence over at What Women Write. Kim often has information fall into her lap at precisely the right time.

Coincidence or not, I came across Donald Maass' Writer Unboxed blog post on point of view (POV) at exactly the right time. My current WIP is told in multiple POV--three in present day and two in the past. I've been struggling with whether or not to continue one of the present day character's POV. Maass suggests you figure out what's at stake for your POV character and how to make it worse. (If you haven't read his books on writing--you should!)

Maass also writes: "Three points of view aren’t that many. Three storylines—how hard is that? What’s hard is making those extra storylines compelling, whole and connected."

Not so easy to do! But I'm up for the task. Good thing I love the story!

What do you think? Do you like reading novels with multiple POV? What makes those stories work or not for you?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Literary Agent Mollie Glick

Mollie Glick from Foundry Literary & Media visits What Women Write today. She's one of the sharpest agents out there. Find out what she wants to feel when she reads your manuscript.

Monday, May 3, 2010


Countdown to literary agent Mollie Glick's guest blog post over at What Women Write! Make sure to check your blog reader on Monday, May 10.

Mollie Glick is an agent at Foundry Literary + Media. She represents literary fiction, young adult fiction, narrative nonfiction and memoir. She can be reached via email at mglick@foundrymedia.com.

Monday, April 26, 2010

There's Nothing You Can't Do

The other day, a song on the radio inspired me. I wrote about it here.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Caspian Rain

I just read one of those books. You know the kind—one that stays with you and inspires you to read many lines more than once, just to savor the prose. One that forces you to question your writing ability. It’s Gina B. Nahai’s Caspian Rain, a novel which will haunt me forever.

From her Web site:
A young Iranian Jewish girl, faced with her own impending deafness, must also struggle to prevent the breakup of her family.
In the decade before the Islamic Revolution, Iran is a country at the brink of explosion. Twelve-year-old Yaas is born into an already divided family: Her father is the son of wealthy Iranian Jews who are integrated into the country’s upper-class, mostly Muslim, elite; her mother was raised in the slums of South Tehran, one street away from the old Jewish ghetto.
Yaas spends her childhood navigating the many layers of Iranian society. Her task, already difficult, becomes all the more critical when her father falls in love with a beautiful woman from a noble Muslim family. As her parents’ marriage begins to crumble and the country moves ever closer to revolution, Yaas is plagued by a terrifying genetic illness that is slowly robbing her of her hearing. Facing the prospect of complete deafness, Yaas learns that her father is about to abandon her and her mother, and so she undertakes a desperate, last-ditch effort to save herself and her family.

Chitra Divakaruni, author of Mistress of Spices and one of my other favorites, Sister of My Heart, has this to say:

“Gina Nahai’s beautifully written novel Caspian Rain is evocative and poetic, with striking images that remain in the mind long after they are read. It is also a heart-wrenching examination of the tragedies of women caught in the net of gender, history, family secrets and the unbending laws of high society. But ultimately it is a celebration of the human spirit — the moments of joy and courage and risk-taking that make all our lives worth living.”

Caspian Rain is filled with many brilliant, memorable lines, but the following words capture both Yaas’ desolate situation and her fierce spirit.

"It is true that I have tiny bones—thin ankles and wrists, a face and body that look more like a pencil sketch of a child than a complete picture—but I’m a girl, and this alone makes me indestructible: every woman I know, even the ones who refer to themselves as 'thinking people,' which means they understand more than most women but not as much as men, believes that girls are like weeds; they grow anywhere, survive any illness and misfortune, even if you don’t want them to."

“It’s strange, how a person carries around the shadow of those that matter most to her. You can always see it—that presence, or its absence—in the eyes, in the movements of the hands, in a person’s laugh. You can see it—if an old woman had a father who loved her when she was a child; if a middle-aged man lost his first love; if a teenage girl has a best friend she knows she can run to. You see it in the way people move and speak, in the subjects they choose and the things they avoid, in the way they appear solid or hollow, certain or plagued with doubt.”

I've often thought I'd one day go for an MFA in Creative Writing. Maybe even at USC where I can learn from Ms. Nahai. Meantime, I'll be reading her backlist of three books! No doubt I will find those equally memorable.

What novel remains in your mind?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Conquering Fear

It’s no secret I’m not exactly the outdoorsy type. In fact, I’ve admitted it here and here.

We push our kids—stretch yourself, try new things, be brave, don't be afraid of change! There are things about me I’d like to change: I’d like to be more active, to connect with old friends. I’d like to be less judgmental, more charitable with my time, less frightened about potential intruders. But one thing I never thought I’d say is this: I’d like to be more outdoorsy.

This weekend, a dear friend invited me and another friend to an outdoor adventure in the woods, where we each had our own cabin, a view of the lake, and morning caffeine delivered by the coffee fairy.

I didn’t know what to expect, even when I followed the gravel driveway deep into the private woods. Our host warmly greeted us and made me feel instantly welcome. He mentioned no electricity, and I thought it was a joke, like the jackalope head mounted on the wall of one of the cabins. But no, the candles in my room weren’t decorative, nor were the neck flashlights he issued us later in the evening, with a warning to remember their precise location when removed.

Upon our arrival, our gracious host toured us around the property in an open jeep, past fields of blue bonnets and Indian paintbrush, with tales of armadillos, pigs, coyotes, and snakes. We climbed a three-story lookout and found a vulture feather I initially thought was fake, until one of the creatures soared overhead hoping to land on one of the dirty white wood posts where he’d obviously stood before.

We hunkered down from an evening storm under a wooden canopy and ate al fresco guacamole, campfire-cooked salmon and baked potatoes. I branded a coaster with a red-hot iron as the rain played tunes on metal tubs and the cows crept ever nearer, threatening to join us under cover.

Earlier we’d chosen our cabins, the others indulging my fears by offering the “Martha Stewart” cabin, centrally located and outfitted with the cushiest of rustic accommodations. Our gracious host even offered Lexi the guard dog as protection.

Later in the dark room, with Lexi sleeping on the floorboards by the unlocked door and a cool breeze wafting through the window screens, I marveled at my lack of fear. Even at 2 a.m. when I saw a little girl appear at the top of my stairs, only to be gone a moment later, I closed my eyes and fell asleep, wondering if anyone would really believe I’d seen a ghost.

In the morning, while we ate tortilla-wrapped salmon, potatoes, and egg, I told them about my night. Our host, noticing me shivering, place a skillet with coals from the fire under my metal chair, a rustic version of heated seats, which was engineered after at a previous guest’s suggestion. If I’d been staying at Martha’s house, I wouldn’t have felt more welcome.

Earlier in the day, one of the other women chose the cabin over the garage away from the immediate cabin area. While I thought, glad it’s her and not me !, I had no idea I’d later escort her home, navigating by neck-light with the threat of killer cows and snakes at my heels.

I can’t lie and say I wasn’t frightened at all, like when I was certain a snake leered from a nearby branch over our hot tub, but I’m so thankful for the opportunity to stretch myself. In the morning I saw that the snake in the trees was really an outdoor shower head, but I’m not convinced our host wasn’t a figment of my imagination or a hospitable ghost, sent to help me conquer my fears.

(Blue bonnet picture provided by Barbara Johnson.)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Victorian London

Last Monday on What Women Write, I blogged about taking a break to research. Over the last week, I’ve pored over numerous books, including some quirky long-out-of-print titles I nabbed at Half Price Books. In searching for an 1850s map, I came across this wonderful site: victorianlondon.org offering details of the period’s housing, clothing, slang, transportation, money, you name it.

On the site, I noticed an advertisement for a book, The Diary of a Murder by Lee Jackson and a note to click to read for free. Well, why not? I felt sure I’d learn more about the period and I love a dark murder mystery, particularly a Victorian one. Mr. Jackson had published six novels and two non-fiction titles before deciding to publish this online. All he asks is that if you feel compelled, as I have now, either buy another of his books or send a payment via PayPal for the pleasure of reading his book. Fair stipulations, to be sure. Especially since I later realized the very useful site is his own creation, clearly his passion and the work of many years.

For the second time in one week, I devoured a book in one day. The first, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, was decidedly shorter. (Diary is 497 pages!) But I reminded myself that I was also researching and pushed my guilt at taking a day where I could have written on my WIP.

Mr. Jackson cleverly weaves a tale by alternating diary entries and chapters in which a murder is being investigated. He finesses the Victorian details into the story, not by dumping information as in many historicals, but by painting a vast canvas of London during the period, its smells and sounds, its divergent classes and neighborhoods. He also leaves you never quite sure if the narrator is reliable or not. The ending twist unravels perfectly, completely unexpected yet totally believable. I highly recommend you check it out.

By the way, I heard from Mr. Jackson that a small publisher plans to publish his book in the fall. Good news!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Jim McCarthy Told Me What to Read

So the other day I scrolled through my Google blog reader and opened agent Jim McCarthy’s post. Jim (of Dystel & Goderich) offered a book suggestion to those who commented with a list of their five most recent reads. Now, I know Jim is a nice guy, from my correspondence with him when he read three of my manuscripts. (So close!) So, I jumped right in.

Thanks to Elizabeth, who reads more than any of us, I have been on a mission to keep track of my reading. I’ve done this over the past few years, but I’d guess some titles never made the list—maybe they were forgettable books or maybe they truly slipped my mind. Anyway, I’ve read a lot so far this year and the last five books actually showed a good representation of my interests.

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
Paula Spencer by Roddy Doyle
Shannon by Frank Delaney
Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin
Angelology by Danielle Trussoni

Jim wrote: “Taking a cue from the wonderful spookiness of two of your books, Joan, might I suggest an oldie but a goodie: Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle.”

A few days later after reading it in one night, here's what I wrote to him:
I loved it from the first page: “Everyone else in my family is dead.” And the magic continued throughout the book where she’d drop in little bombs like that... To me it felt like a mix of two of my favorites, Diane Setterfield’s Thirteenth Tale and Sarah Waters’ Little Stranger. I’m sure you’ve read them, but if not, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. (I never miss an opportunity to tell others about those two titles!)

Jim gave me a mention in his blog today which was very exciting! (Here’s the post)

I told him I’d pulled out four more of his suggested titles I’m sure I’ll enjoy and others will likely do the same. He probably didn’t count on that one post taking his whole day! I think he was still responding with recommendations long after the end of the work day. It was a big hit though. Let's hope he does it again sometime!

Jim wrote on his blog today, “For me, reading is a great individual pleasure, and there’s something exceedingly exciting about finding a novel on your own that you just tumble head over heels for. But there is something equally invigorating about finding yourself in a community of readers.” I agree!

If anyone has any recommendations, feel free to send them in. And I’ll offer a title back to you.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Congrats Moonrat

Moonrat, my favorite anonymous editorial ass, is celebrating her 500,000th hit. Congrats! And check out her fabulous blog...

Monday, March 29, 2010

I Want to Know

Over at What Women Write, I'm looking for some advice on writing in accented dialogue. Resources for research? Ideas anyone?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Bodleian Renovation

News on the Bodleian renovation. Time to pull THE BODLEY GIRL and all her ghosts out of the drawer...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Monday night I went to an author reading. I showed up early because there's been lots of buzz about this book. Sometimes I wait until after the reading to buy the book, but the cover was so gorgeous and the reviews so positive, I bought the book and started it while I waited. I was slightly annoyed when the man announced the program was starting because I didn't want to put the book down. Until I remembered that the author, Danielle Trussoni, was about to speak!

Angelology is a fantastical thriller, not my normal genre of reading, but I was immediately drawn in. It's infused with historical fiction, a convent and a young nun (research for my Highgate/St. Peter's manuscript!), ancient secrets, the art world, World War II and elegant writing. From what I've read so far, it's the perfect combination of commercial and literary. Seven publishing houses fought over it. And Will Smith bought the film rights. This is going to be big.

I'll be back in a few days with a review. And watch over at What Women Write. You never know who might show up for an interview...

Monday, March 8, 2010

Multiple Narrators? Tame the Beast

Writing from more than one POV? Here's some great advice from Kathy Crowley on STET!.

I spent the weekend with my WIP manuscript, a literary mystery told by many narrators in different eras. Timely...and an omen to keep going!

Thursday, March 4, 2010


A dear friend sent this to me today. Isn't it lovely?

From George Eliot's Middlemarch.

"Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs."

George Eliot is buried at Highgate Cemetery, the setting for my work in progress, The Architect at Highgate. The DFWWW Conference is coming up next month. I signed up for an agent pitch session. Incentive to finish!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Erin Foxworthy - Guest author

The following is a poem written by my incredibly talented niece, Erin Foxworthy. I loved this. Hope you do, too.


I am from eagerly shredding wrapping paper and exclaiming “wow!”
From smacking Austin with a spoon, “bonk-a-head!”
From drenched Barbies and Kens and “snug as a bug in a rug!”
And from pretending to like soda.

I am from constructing a dog food trail for Penny and attempting to climb into Lala’s bed.
From an overflowing beanie-baby crib and green, striped wallpaper.
From flying the rocket, rowing the canoe and the Chocolate Vanilla and Strawberry Pharmacy.
And from sitting through too many bar mitzvahs.

I am from Sugarloaf Mountain and kissing captured fish.
From too many clementines and homemade matzo ball soup.
From illuminating menorahs and discarding Santa’s surplus milk.
And from being ravenous on the bus with Miranda after morning kindergarten.

I am from pinched cheeks, bitten hands and “shaineh maideleh”.
From singing solos and cradling Aunt Berta’s space shuttle tile.
From a kosher Thanksgiving and ham at Christmas.
And from fancying to walk Caity’s beagle, Daisy, and endeavoring for my own dog.

I am from horror movies with Victoria and the “octapedes”,
From “fishy crackers” and baking the “next batch”.
From feigning a run away from home.
And from the frigid shower in the cabin, snow tubing with some friends.

I am from “Erin turns” and “Emily stops” and plummeting off my horse.
From big, yellow safety glasses, “pull”, and bruises from the recoil.
From long-winded biking face-offs and neighborhood rivalry cook-offs.
And from recalling lines from movies, word for word.

I am from the summer block party and the winter progressive dinner.
From the convoy dog walks and adventures to Hershey Park.
From driving dad’s big, white pick-up and stalling mom’s manual Audi.
And from antiquing in downtown shops.

I am from an unorganized tea cabinet; sipping hot tea on the front porch.
From portraying a big sister for Ali and Andrew, striving to learn some Thai from Ann.
From strolling with Oliver, my white Westie, and cooking more than my parents.
And from a family of friends that I hope to always possess.

I am from these memories, and they are from me.
I am a time capsule, a documentary.
I am from the past, present and future
And from the ever repetitive rhythm of history.

Joan here. Thanks for reading. I'm sure we'll be seeing a lot more in the future from Erin. By the way, the Austin she refers to is my son.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Even though this is my personal blog (as opposed to the blog I share with five writing partners: What Women Write), I typically stick to literary topics and the occasional personal experience that I relate to my writing journey. In other words, I don’t discuss politics or religion. It’s a good rule to live by in general, especially when in unknown circles (or families with mixed beliefs, like mine!).

In early October when I invited Dani Shapiro to share some thoughts in conjunction with her upcoming memoir, Devotion, I knew nothing about the book’s subject. As the date got closer and I read the blurb, I realized it was a book about her search for an understanding of faith. She was on The Today Show recently and has been named one of "O" The Oprah Magazine's must-read picks for February.
From her publisher:

In her mid-forties and settled into the responsibilities and routines of adulthood, Dani Shapiro found herself with more questions than answers. Was this all life was-a hodgepodge of errands, dinner dates, e-mails, meetings, to-do lists? What did it all mean?

Having grown up in a deeply religious and traditional family, Shapiro had no personal sense of faith, despite repeated attempts to create a connection to something greater. Feeling as if she was plunging headlong into what Carl Jung termed "the afternoon of life," she wrestled with self-doubt and a searing disquietude that would awaken her in the middle of the night. Set adrift by loss-her father's early death; the life-threatening illness of her infant son; her troubled relationship with her mother-she had become edgy and uncertain. At the heart of this anxiety, she realized, was a challenge: What did she believe? Spurred on by the big questions her young son began to raise, Shapiro embarked upon a surprisingly joyful quest to find meaning in a constantly changing world. The result is Devotion: a literary excavation to the core of a life.

In this spiritual detective story, Shapiro explores the varieties of experience she has pursued-from the rituals of her black hat Orthodox Jewish relatives to yoga shalas and meditation retreats. A reckoning of the choices she has made and the knowledge she has gained, Devotion is the story of a woman whose search for meaning ultimately leads her home. Her journey is at once poignant and funny, intensely personal-and completely universal.

I have always struggled with my (lack of) faith, so I was really looking forward to reading this one. I savored Devotion over the course of a few days. As I normally do when reading Dani’s essays, I felt an immediate connection to her words. She and her husband have one boy, she wakes up nights worrying about potential catastrophes, she felt like an outsider in her own religion, she remembered tossing dirt on her father’s casket. And she hates scrapbooking!

Dani’s writing is, as usual, elegant. She concisely captures the essence of a particular issue and every word has a purpose. But what I loved most about this book was that, in the end, she didn’t stand on a mountain and shout down her beliefs, didn’t pronounce those beliefs as truth. She quotes Yogi Stephen Pope, Buddhist Sylvia Boorstein and Catholic monk Thomas Merton, among others, stresses that action replace worry and inaction, suggests we become mindful of the present moment, of rituals, of the truth that we are what we surround ourselves with, things and ideas. But mostly that the not knowing is enough. “Each of us human, full of longing, reaching out with our whole selves for something impossible to touch. Still we are reaching, reaching.”

Writers' Guild of Texas


with Charlotte Lanham, multi published Chicken Soup author

If you're in the Dallas area, check out this workshop put on by the Writers' Guild of Texas:

• Saturday, March 27
• North Dallas Chamber of Commerce, 10707 Preston Road, Dallas
• 10:00 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
• $25.00 for non-members; $20.00 for members

Workshop attendees may send Charlotte a Current Needs Chicken Soup story within two weeks following the workshop. Charlotte will judge the stories, select a winner, critique the winning story for free and help the author get the story ready for submission. (She has helped more than one winner publish in CSS)

Topics covered during the workshop will include:
• Top 10 Reasons to Write for Chicken Soup
• The Recipe for a Good Story
• Current Needs
• Hot Tips from the Editor
• Hands on writing exercises throughout the day.

There will be a short lunch break, so you are advised to bring a brown bag lunch.

*Whether you write first person true stories and want to learn more about being published with Chicken Soup or wish to record true family stories for the next generation, you won’t want to miss this invaluable workshop.
Seating is limited. To reserve a place, please send your name, address, and contact number or email address, along with a check to: Writers' Guild of Texas, 6009 W. Parker Road, Suite 149-175, Plano, TX 75093.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Dani Shapiro stops in at What Women Write

Dani Shapiro was kind enough to share some thoughts over at my other blog What Women Write.

Check out the interview and then the book trailer here.

I'll be back soon with my thoughts on her new book, Devotion. Can't wait to read it!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Amy Einhorn Stops by WWW

Did you love The Help by NY Times bestselling author Kathryn Stockett? Pamela chats with Ms. Stockett's publisher, Amy Einhorn, at What Women Write today!

Thursday, January 14, 2010


I am hooked on BBC productions. Movies, television, you name it. I’ve been through many mini-series', period pieces like The Forsyte Saga, Berkeley Square and Cranford. I recently found a contemporary show on Netflix: William and Mary, starring Martin Clunes and Julie Graham. It aired for three seasons and when I finished the last episode, I went into mourning.

An undertaker and a midwife, both single parents to teenagers, meet through a dating service—a beautiful juxtaposition, especially since in olden times, as William later points out to Mary, midwives served both functions. From the first scene, conflict and misunderstanding are center stage.

At Mary’s first set up—not with William—her date’s wife shows up. Mary charges into the dating service’s office and demands her money back, but they convince her to go on one more date with William, who wanted to meet only her. Meanwhile, the owner has instructed William to say he’s in community service rather than divulge he’s an undertaker. After an intimate second date, Mary’s called to the home where her cancer-ridden postpartum client has died. Who comes to the house while Mary is with the grieving father? William. She’s furious at what she considers a lie, especially since it’s the second time she’s been deceived. William mails an apology, but her busybody live-in mother confiscates the letter. Just as one conflict is resolved, another appears.

I’ve read about upping the stakes for characters. When things seem as bad as they can get, heap some more on them. That’s what agent Donald Maass writes in both The Fire in Fiction and Writing the Breakout Novel and it’s done brilliantly here.

Since I loved William and Mary so much, I thought I’d try another with the excellent Martin Clunes. In Doc Martin, Clunes plays former London surgeon Martin Ellingham who leaves the big city to be local G.P. for Portwenn, a small fishing town on the gorgeous Cornwall coast, a place I’ve wanted to visit since reading about it in one of my favorite books, The Shell Seekers by Rosamund Pilcher. He’s cranky and arrogant, but he has a secret: The sight of blood makes him ill. The town’s quirky and endearing residents suffer more medical (physical and mental) problems than in any big city. He’s intrigued by the beautiful head teacher at the town’s school, but his arrogance and candid behavior (after an all night vigil at the hospital for one of the residents, they share a kiss and he asks her, "Are you aware you have halitosis?") infuriates her. The writing is spectacular, real and gritty. Conflict and dark humor, double check. Luckily, they’re still filming this one. The next season comes out on DVD at the beginning of February.

I don’t know what it is about BBC television, but I’m on the search for more. Anyone have suggestions?