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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Just a Thought: The Big Wow 
Janice Lane Palko 

As you probably already know, Steve Jobs, the founder of the Apple empire died on October 5. I knew who Jobs was, but unlike many others, I didn’t idolize the man. I appreciate what he achieved, and I love my iPhone, which I sometimes call my second brain as it carries so much information that I don’t have to remember. As much as I liked his technology, I didn’t give much thought to its developer on a day-to-day basis. However, with Job’s passing, it has been almost unavoidable not see and hear about the details of his life. With the release of his biography on October 24, entitled Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, even more details will most like will make news during the coming weeks. The book has already received rave reviews, and many describe Jobs as a “bundle of contradictions,” “strangely fascinating,” and “brilliant/flawed/brutal and creative.”

While that will probably compel me to read the book, there is something else about Jobs that intrigues me more. After his death, his sister, writer Mona Simpson, composed a beautiful eulogy for the brother she did not meet until she was 25. If you are not familiar with their story, Jobs was given up for adoption. His biological parents, Syrian student Abdulfattah Jandali and coed Joanne Schieble, were unmarried when he was conceived, and they gave Jobs up for adoption. Jandali and Schieble later married and had his sister, Mona. The New York Times published the eulogy on October 30, and if you missed it, you should read it in its entirety. In it, Simpson speaks of their relationship:  

Even as a feminist, my whole life I’d been waiting for a man to love, who could love me. For decades, I’d thought that man would be my father. When I was 25, I met that man and he was my brother.

She concluded her eulogy with how Jobs died:  

Death didn’t happen to Steve, he achieved it. He told me, when he was saying goodbye and telling me he was sorry, so sorry we wouldn’t be able to be old together as we’d always planned, that he was going to a better place. Dr. Fischer gave him a 50/50 chance of making it through the night. He made it through the night, Laurene next to him on the bed sometimes jerked up when there was a longer pause between his breaths. She and I looked at each other, then he would heave a deep breath and begin again. This had to be done. Even now, he had a stern, still handsome profile, the profile of an absolutist, a romantic. His breath indicated an arduous journey, some steep path, altitude. He seemed to be climbing. But with that will, that work ethic, that strength, there was also sweet Steve’s capacity for wonderment, the artist’s belief in the ideal, the still more beautiful later. Steve’s final words, hours earlier, were monosyllables, repeated three times. Before embarking, he’d looked at his sister Patty, then for a long time at his children, then at his life’s partner, Laurene, and then over their shoulders past them. Steve’s final words were: OH WOW. OH WOW. OH WOW.

Steve Jobs, who some have called the Edison of our age, who consistently dazzled the world with each technological advancement, who was a visionary, was wowed on his deathbed. There have been some reports by Isaacon that Jobs, who was a Buddhist began to seek God: "I remember sitting in his backyard in his garden one day and he started talking about God," recalled Isaacson. "He said, 'Sometimes I believe in God, sometimes I don't. I think it's 50-50 maybe. But ever since I've had cancer, I've been thinking about it more. And I find myself believing a bit more. I kind of – maybe it's cause I want to believe in an afterlife. That when you die, it doesn't just all disappear. The wisdom you've accumulated. Somehow it lives on.'" Isaacson continued, "Then he paused for a second and he said, 'Yeah, but sometimes I think it's just like an on-off switch. Click and you're gone.' He paused again, and he said, 'And that's why I don't like putting on-off switches on Apple devices.'"

I don’t know the state of Jobs soul when he passed away or whether he ultimately came to believe in God, but I believe his final words offer us all great hope. Upon his transition from this life, his last words were not: OH NO. OH NO. OH NO. They were WOW--three times. The man who wowed the world was wowed at the time of his death.

When I read this, I immediately thought of the Bible verse from 1 Corinthians: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him."

Like Jobs, more than 2,000 years ago, shepherds gazed off into the distance and were wowed. As we celebrate this Christmas, my prayer for us is that we may once again be wowed by the wonderment of Christmas and again be greeted with THE BIG WOW at the end of our lives.

Published originally in the December 2011 issue of Northern Connection magazine.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Size Does Matter—At Least, When It Comes to Writing 

As I was making pancakes over the weekend, I remembered something from when I was a kid. Many years ago, while my mom was making me pancakes, a drop of batter fell into the skillet, making a teeny pancake the size of a fingernail. My mom put it on my plate as a joke. I thought that miniscule flapjack was adorable. (OK I admit I’m weird, but I remember playing with the pancake all day.) We really weren’t too poor for toys that I had to play with food, but the size of the pancake entranced me!

Who says size doesn't matter?

The With the holidays in full swing, that little pancake got me to thinking about how just the size of something can make it appealing. (Cue the off-color jokes.) Ever been to Las Vegas during the holidays or seen the decorations in Rockefeller Center? They decorate with enormous ornaments. They take common Christmas objects and explode them in size. How about a life-size Nativity scene?

Another technique for enchanting is to take an item and shrink it. My kids, when they were little, loved playing with Micro-Machines and Quints (teeny quintuplet baby dolls). You may remember Liddle Kiddles if you grew up in the 60s and 70s—another set of micro dolls.

Honey, I shrunk the focus

Shrinking or enlarging something can also aid your writing. One effective technique is to dramatize a large, pivotal scene by focusing on a small part. In my writing classes, I often cited Wally Lamb’s hit novel of the 90s, She’s Come Undone. In the book, there is a rape scene of the main character, Dolores Price, which is a key turning point in the book. Instead of relating every gory detail, Lamb drives home Dolores’s distress by describing how she just keeps digging her nails into the dirt while being assaulted.

Anybody see my strawberries?

Enlarging something very small is also a great device—especially for revealing a character’s nature. Who can ever forget Captain Queeg’s outsized concern for the quart of strawberries in the classic The Caine Mutiny?

So if you have a scene which seems a bit sickly or weak perhaps, a dose of Viagra or that Miracle Reducing Pill might just be the prescription for what ails your writing.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hey, I Know that Person! 

In my novel that I’m working diligently on to indie publish in the coming year entitled, St. Anne’s Day, one of the main characters featured is Peg McMaster. Peg is an elderly woman, who, to put it mildly, is a crackerjack. All writers draw from their personal experience, and I’ve realized that Peg is an amalgam of my maternal and paternal grandmothers—Gertrude and Agnes.

While my grandmothers got along well and enjoyed each other’s company, they were very different in so many ways. Grandma Gert smoked, swore (nothing obscene but vulgar), loved to read and watch movies. She was very lax with regards to rules and regulations. Although Catholic, she rarely went to Mass, but she donated lots of money to various Catholic charities from the Indian Missions--who sent her lovely tokens of appreciation like a thermometer that was imbedded into the white plastic skeleton of a fish--to the Shrine of Sainte Anne de Beaupre.

Grandma Aggie on the other hand never swore, never smoked and used to smash the empty beer bottles from the beer her sons had drunk with a hammer so the garbage man wouldn’t know they had liquor in the house. We once caught her in her bare feet, and you would have thought we had found her streaking she was so embarrassed. She attended daily Mass and ate fish every Friday even when you didn’t have to anymore.

Somehow when I was creating Peg’s character, I managed to meld their personalities into one wise-cracking, devoutly religious old woman named Peg, who sometimes steals the show from the main characters, Anne Lyons and Gerry McMaster.

 Do I Know You?

If you are a writer, has there been a family member or friend who has influenced the development of one or more of your characters?

If you are a reader, has there ever been a character in a book that closely resembled someone you actually knew?

And if you tell me Edward from Twilight or Hannibal Lecter, from Silence of the Lambs, I’m going to freak!

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Fiction Unicorn: Catholic Contemporary Novels 

Did you ever see The Simpsons episode entitled “The Father, Son and Holy Guest Star”? In the episode, Bart is expelled from public school and enrolls in St. Jerome’s Catholic School, where Fr. Sean (voiced by Liam Neeson) leads Bart to convert to Catholicism. It is one of my favorite episodes of all time. The scene I like the most is when Marge wonders what will happen when they die, and she envisions Bart and Homer going to heaven, which is partitioned into Protestant Heaven and Catholic Heaven. In Protestant Heaven, the people are dressed in tennis togs and have names like “Biff.” Catholic Heaven is a rambunctious place, with the Irish fighting, Mexicans doing the hat dance, and Italians singing, eating, and drinking.

While not exclusively, for years I’ve read Christian fiction, but as a Catholic, I’ve noticed cultural differences. Christian fiction, like Protestant Heaven, is more reserved and restrictive. Unfortunately, I haven’t read any contemporary Catholic fiction, because I don’t know of any. It is the unicorn of the publishing world. I’ve tried to write to the guidelines of the Christian publishing houses, but as a Catholic my cultural background is more freewheeling. I can read a book with dancing and drinking and invectives stronger than “Oh my!” and not be scandalized. If the message is the same, can those who read Christian fiction cross over and read contemporary Christian fiction with a Catholic flair?

While I don’t write graphic sex scenes and use a profusion of profanity, I try to write how real people behave and speak, which does not conform to the guidelines. Sometimes I wonder if the Bible would pass muster with some of the more restrictive publishing houses.

When you boil it down, the Bible is a very racy book. For example, we’ve got the rape of Dinah and her brother’s who seek revenge by duping the rapist and his tribe, the Hittites, into being circumcised. While they are all lying around with ice packs on their groins (did they have ice back then?), the brothers murder them all. We’ve got King David playing peeping Tom and watching Bathsheba bathing naked and then bumping off her husband, Uriah, so he can have her. We’ve got a financial scandal befitting the Madoff family when Jacob swindles Esau out of a fortune. The Bible is filled with people who drink, dance, lie, cheat, curse, kill—you name it and they’ve done it.

My grand experiment in going indie is to satisfy this question: Is there a market for contemporary fiction with a Catholic flair? My stories are not sermons disguised as stories, but I feel many of today’s writers fail to take into consideration that readers as well as story characters have hearts, minds, and souls. I’m hoping to attract Catholics who feel deprived of good books that are realistic and yet have a message, and I’m inviting Christian fiction readers to take a gamble on me. If we, who have cultural differences, can meet over the message, that would be heaven—and one that’s not partitioned!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

I Guess I'm Not the Only 1 1 1 1

For decades, I have been seeing the numbers 11:11 all the time.  It seems that every time I look at the clock those numbers appear.  I don't really believe in numerology, but it has happened so often, I thought I'd Google those numbers on the Internet to see if it has any significance. Boy, have I been asleep at the wheel here.  It seems I'm not alone in seeing these numbers.  In fact, there are numerous websites devoted to the meaning of this number, and according to the 11:11 Facebook page--yes it has a page--that I'm one of more than 1 million receiving messages from celestial guides.  Look out Miss Cleo!  

One other time I was told I had a direct line to great beyond.  I went to a festival at LaRoche College with my friend, who was a student there.  They had a palm reader who picked up my hand, and then looked up at me and said, "You have the occult X."  Apparently, the lines in the center of my palm form a perfect X, which unbeknownst to me must be the USB port for making contact with the higher realm. 

I like getting the 11:11 messages although I don't know what they are trying to say.  But if I start making sculptures out of my mashed potatoes and take off for Devils Tower, then you know I've gotten the message. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Writing a Novel is a Bit Like Stripping

Hi Readers,

I've written before how I've become a Maddict--someone addicted to the TV show Mad Men.  As a latecomer to the program, I've been trying to catch up on the back episodes before the new season, the fifth one, commences.  I'm about half way through the fourth season and something that happened in the last episode I watched struck me as to why this show is so acclaimed.  It illustrated something that all aspiring writers need to keep in mind.  And that is how to handle back story.

Most fledgling writers fall into the trap of using the "information dump," when in the first chapter they give us everything they know about the character, leaving nothing for the reader to wonder about and compel them to continue reading the book.

For example, the Mad Men episode I watched showed how two of the show's major characters, Don and Roger, initially met and how Don came to work for the advertising firm.  We only learned this bit of back story in the fourth season.  A novice writer, had he or she been writing the the program, might have told us this part of the story at the beginning, when it would have been more effective to reveal it later.

I love John Truby's book Anatomy of Story, where Trudy discusses how key revealing information is to plotting and pacing.  The biggest reveals are saved for last.  You don't find out Darth Vader is Luke's father in the beginning of Star Wars.  (Sorry if you were living under a rock and I spoiled that for you.)  You don't find out that Dorothy has been knocked unconscious until the end of The Wizard of Oz.  You don't find out the meaning of "rosebud" until the end of Citizen Kane.

Whether consciously or subconsciously, when a reader picks up your novel, hopefully questions are raised in your reader's mind--questions that will spur the reader to continue on with your book to get an answer. (Don't forget to answer them.)

Writing a novel is a bit like being a stripper.  What stripper takes to the stage already naked?  No, she peels off the layers, seductively, one at a time--until THE BIG REVEAL.

As writers we must do the same to generate interest and money (hopefully more than a wad of $1 bills stuffed in your G-string!).

Thursday, November 3, 2011

You'll Shoot Your Eye Out

Hi Readers of my blog and of Northern Connection magazine (where I am the Executive Editor),

As I promised in my column, here is another prompt for those of you looking for more ideas to spur conversation during the holidays.  Since the Christmas season will soon be upon us, how about a question about presents.  In the Christmas Story, Ralphie wants a Red Rider BB Gun.  His wish came true.  Was there ever something you really wanted for Christmas?  Did you get it?   If not, were you very disappointed?

My brother always asked for Rockem Sockem Robots, but never got them.  It became a running joke in our family.  When we were in our thirties, I got his name in the family grab bag, and I bought him Rockem Sockem Robots.  We all laughed and had a good time battling to see who could be the first to "knock his block off."

Monday, October 31, 2011

Escape from the Island of Misfit Books

Branded, libeled, I write words that are found in the Bible 

I’ve been reading a lot about branding these days.

No, I haven’t been watching reruns of Bonanza or haven’t purchased a herd of steer.

Branding is a marketing buzzword, which, according to the American Marketing Association, means to establish “a name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers.”

In order to successfully publish and sell my novels, I have learned it is necessary to “brand” myself. I don't even want a tattoo, so why would I want a brand?  This goes against all that society has been harping on us about for the last few decades—that it isn’t nice to categorize or stereotype people. Branding oneself is not an easy or painless task.  It requires really knowing who you are as writer and what you feel passionate enough about to put into words.

But I guess I’m not really not branding myself; it is my books--their subjects and my style of writing--that I’m trying to fix in the reader’s mind. But another marketing source states that I must also be the brand and says that if you write, oh let's say, sassy, sizzling Westerns, you may want to wear red cowboy boots with your bustier! Glad I’m not writing Westerns! (Believe me, you should be glad too.)

I Want to Be a Dentist!

I’m slowly coming around to defining what I write, and I think for now I’d term it romance--whether comedic or suspenseful--that appeals to the mind, heart and soul. One of the reasons, I’ve decided to go indie is that my books don’t really fit in anywhere. Like Hermey the Elf in Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, who wanted to be a dentist, I don’t fit in with the major publishers. I’ve been marooned on the island of misfit books!

I’ve tried marketing them to the inspirational publishers, and I've come very close to getting picked up by one of them.  But most of those are evangelical Christian houses, and I’m Catholic.  My books are filled with Catholic influences so that wasn’t quite a perfect fit.  Also, I’ve found the writing guidelines for the inspirational publishers to be very restrictive. By no means are my books filled with obscenities and graphic sex, but some of those publishers even frown on the characters dancing, having a drink or saying the words: gosh, darn and cripes because they are derivatives of God, damn, and Christ. Unfortunately, there seems to be a dearth of Catholic publishing houses that feature fiction.  But from the feedback I've received from women who have stumbled upon my sample chapter of St. Anne's Day, which I'm in the process of publishing, I believe there's an market for what I write.  Do you think there is?  (Warning--Even if you say no, I'm still going to publish.  The genie is out of the bottle!)

That Didn't Hurt a Bit!

I believe there's a market out there for contemporary fiction that is witty, warm, and wise.  Witty?  Warm?  Wise?  Wait! I think I just branded myself.  Wow, and it didn't hurt a bit!  (Still not getting a tattoo, though.)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

WWJD--What Would Janice Do?

You probably remember the WWJD trend a few years ago, which begged the question:  What would Jesus do?  We all know he'd do the right thing, but sometimes figuring just exactly what that is when faced with a moral or ethical dilemma is not easy--especially when your baser instincts start asserting themselves.

I faced my own WWJD moment yesterday while at the gym.  As I bent to adjust the weights on the ab machine, I noticed something shiny near the weights.  I picked it up and lo and behold it was a Tiffany bracelet.  Do you remember I Dream of Jeannie, when Jeannie's evil brunette cousin would show up?  Now I'm dark haired so my evil alter-ego must be a blonde vixen because as soon as I examined the bracelet, her golden tongue whispered in my brain:  Finder's Keepers . . . Tiffany bracelets are expensive.  Keep it.  It's your lucky day.  

Then that other little voice whispered:  Do unto others.  What if you lost the bracelet?  Can your integrity be bought with a mere piece of jewelry?  

I knew what Jesus would do, but what would Janice do?

I looked at the bracelet and it had a charm affixed to it--a ring.  Then my writer's imagination took over.  What if it belonged to a girl whose boyfriend gave it to her before leaving for Afghanistan?  What if it was a gift to a daughter from a dying father?  What if it was a remembrance from a special birthday?

I decided I would turn it into the desk with the hope that they would have a lost and found department and someone would claim it.  A second later, a young girl came near looking pale and worried, scouring the ground around the weight machine.  "Are you looking for this?" I asked.  "I just found it."

She looked so relieved and thanked me profusely.

Now, I'm not telling you this to toot my own virtuous nature, but it got me to thinking about my favorite kind of stories to write (and read for that matter).  I like to present moral and ethical challenges to the characters.  Most of my characters want to do the right thing, but for whatever reason sometimes they don't--that is where the conflict begins.   

Jodi Picoult does that in her novels; she puts her characters in a moral bind, which prompts the reader to the question:  What would I do? 

Can you recall any other novels that pose moral conundrums for the characters? And for you?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Readers Are Like Drug Pushers

It's a dreary rainy October night, which means it's a great night for reading!  My latest "find" is Silver Girl by Elin Hilderbrand.  Actually, I shouldn't call it a find since I didn't find the book--it found me.  It would be more appropriate to call it a "referral" as my daughter recently read it and recommended it to me.  I'm only 100 pages into it, but the premise is a woman who is married to the biggest Ponzi schemer in history (think Bernie Madoff) must go into hiding with her estranged best friend on Nantucket to avoid the public's scorn.  The only regret I have about this book is that I didn't find it during the summer.  This would have been a great beach read, but the ocean shore setting still seems appealing on this fall evening.

As someone who is in the process of publishing a novel independently, I have learned that marketing is key to getting a book before the public.  Although marketing is essential, all the experts agree (and I concur) that the best PR is word-of-mouth recommendations.  Many of my favorite books have been recommended by friends and family.  Have yours?

Readers are a bit like drug pushers.  When I was a girl, I fell in love with Louisa May Alcott's Little Women.  It's the first book I ever read that made me cry.  (And I'm still not over Laurie's marrying Amy instead of Jo.) I couldn't wait until my daughter was old enough to read it.  In fact, I "turned her on" to it when she was in the fourth grade.  From there she was hooked on reading.  She'd read a chapter and like addicts comparing highs I'd ask her, "how was it?" 

Some of the books others have recommended to me that I've enjoyed are:

The Help (my sister)
The Devil in the White City (a student in my memoir writing class)
The Education of Little Tree (woman whose children I watched)
Light a Penny Candle (my mom)
Where Are the Children? (my grandmother)
Mark of the Lion (a neighbor)
Hello Darkness (a fellow writer)

When you read a good book, do you spread the word?  Is there a book you always recommend? I'm always on the prowl for a good read, so feel free to suggest some of your faves.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Hi, My Name is Janice, and I'm an Addict

I admit it.  I'm addicted to Mad Men.  It appears I'm not alone in my addiction since a word has been coined to describe those who have gotten swept up into the advertising world of the 1960s--Maddicts.  My son Chris got me hooked on the AMC show when he was home for the holidays.  I tuned in during the fourth season, and this summer I signed up for Netflix, which we have set up to stream past episodes through our Wii.  I've been catching up on the previous seasons. I just finished season two, and it got me to wondering why I'm enjoying this show so much.  OK, Jon Hamm, who plays Don Draper, and John Slattery, who plays Roger Sterling, are pretty nice to look at, but there are many things about the show that also appeal to me. 

One is setting.  As I mentioned before, it is set in the early 60s. I was born in 1960 and spent my childhood during that decade.  In 50 short years, we have changed so much.  The last episode I watched  showed Betty Draper, boiling pots of water and putting them inside her refrigerator to defrost it.  I remember my mom doing that.  The clothing has also changed so much.  Of course, there are sex scenes, and with the girdles, garters, long-line bras, that these actors have to wade through, it's a wonder there ever was a baby boom!  Discussing how we have changed socially would take too long to highlight now so we'll save that for another day.

Another aspect I like about the show is that it weaves historical events into the episodes.  This second season showed the reaction of the office staff at the death of Marilyn Monroe, and the last episode I watched took place during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  I knew that was a tense time as my Uncle Tom, who had been discharged from the army after fulfilling his duty, was called up for another year of service because of the crisis. But I had no idea that people really thought this was the end of the world and made provisions like moving away from NYC.  I think I've learned more history from novels and shows like Mad Men than any history book. 

Is there any story that has helped you to understand history better?  Off the top of my head, the John Jakes Revolutionary America series, the mini-series Holocaust, and  The Idiot by Dostoyevsky brought history to life for me.

The final reason I love the show is the characters.  I simultaneously hate and love Don and Roger.  Most mobster movies feature these complex types of characters.  While they do repulsive things, we are nevertheless fascinated by them.  Henry Hill in Goodfellas is one such character.  

Is there any shows or stories that you have followed that featured characters that you loved and hated at the same time?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Buying My Own Set of Clippers

Hi Faithful Readers!

Herman Cain, the GOP presidential candidate, has been in the headlines a lot lately.  He's surging in the polls and recently won the Florida straw poll.  I'm not here to discuss the presidential race, but something I learned from Herman Cain that writers and anyone, really, can use.

Herman Cain has a biography coming out, and although I haven't read it, I did read one review.  The reviewer related one episode in the bio about how Cain, when he was a young man, went into a barber shop for a haircut.  The barber refused to cut his hair because he was black.  So what did Cain do?  Did he call the NAACP?  Did he call for a boycott of that barber shop?  Did he call the media?  No, Cain bought a pair of hair clippers and learned how to cut his own hair--something he still does.

Now, I don't care what your political persuasion is, you have to admire someone who encounters an obstacle and devises a way to surmount it.  Cain didn't become a victim but a victor.

This type of can-do attitude is what has brought me to the decision to independently publishing my novel, Not Every Girl.  The obstacle has always been getting an agent to represent my book. Several months ago, I revamped my website and posted the first chapter to the novel in hopes that one of the agents would stumble upon it and bestow their favors on me.  I also linked it to Facebook.  

Well, something better happened.  I went to a neighborhood function and several of my neighbors (thanks Peggy & Patti) asked where they could buy my book? I also had a relative message me as to where they could get my book.  I told them it wasn't published, that I was still shopping it around to agents.  They all thought my book would be something they would like to read.  Their comments sparked a revelation--I had found my market.   Without the help of an agent!  Most of the agents I queried were young NYC professionals, and I doubt any of the "Sex and the City Crowd" would relate to what I write, but others do.  That's another reason why I'm going indie.

So I'm buying my own set of clippers, so to speak.  If you are thinking about it too, here are two great websites:

A Newbie's Guide to Publishing  Joe Konrath pens this blog, and he has convinced me that going indie is the wave of the future.


The Writer's Guide to E-Publishing   The site has many resources


Enjoy whatever remains of September!



Thursday, September 22, 2011

Eating My Words

Well, I'm going to do it.  I'm going indie. For those of you who don't know what that means, I'm not starting an indie rock band.  No, I've decided to join the revolution and independently publish my novels.  Until recently, I would have never gone this way as I believed the acquire-an-agent-who-secures-a-publisher route was the gold standard for publication.  In fact, when I received a press release from someone promoting a self-published book at the magazine a few years ago, I dismissed it. When my coworkers, who have very little interest in the world of publishing, asked why I didn't think highly of self-published books, I explained it to them this way:  It's like paying for sex.  If a guy was really hot, he could probably hook up with any babe he wants because of his attractiveness.  But if he wasn't so hot, he'd probably have to pay for the favors.  If a book was really good, publishers would be fighting over it, but if it wasn't, the writer would have to pay to get it into print. 

But things have changed.  And I must eat my words.  Due to a very busy few years, I've not really paid attention to what was happening in the publishing industry, but with the advent of technology like the Kindle, the way we write, sell, distribute, buy, and read books is changing.  Presently, I'm trying to learn as much as possible about this exciting new opportunity.  As I progress through this process, I hope you'll join me.   I think my first release will be "Not Every Girl."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Help

I saw The Help recently, and I thought they did a very good job of adapting the book.  I think this story is the best look at racial issues since To Kill a Mockingbird.  The theater was filled with white woman.  I don't know any African American women who have read The Help.  I'm curious as to whether black women have embraced this book as their white counterparts have. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

I'm a bit behind the curve on this, but I recently finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and I have some thoughts.  In my opinion, the financial story was a drag on the rest of the Harriet Vanger mystery thread.  I know several people who never got past the first 50 pages because of the deep financial ramblings.

For some reason, I'm an eternal optimist when it comes to books and other media.  I don't think I've ever walked out of a flick or abandoned a book once I've started it.  Maybe it's a carry over of the clean-your-plate club mentality ingrained at meals.  Maybe it's because I do a lot of reconnaissance before selecting a movie or book.  Although, the media scouting doesn't always work.  I remember going to see Mr. Mike's Mondo Video in the late 70s or early 80s, and it was awful.  I should have walked out, but like some rosy-glassed Pollyanna, I kept thinking it might get better.  It never did. 

At times, Larsson seemed to drop one plot thread for too long, luckily Lisbeth's character was so intriguing, learning more about her kept me reading.  Her payback to her court-appointed advocate proves that "Revenge is a dish best served cold."  I couldn't help but take visceral pleasure in how she turns the tables on him.

I also learned from this book, how little I know about Sweden.  When Larsson described towns, I had trouble visualizing anything but snow, and the food in the book struck me as cold and unappealing--no comfort food there.  No mac & cheese.  Pickled herring just doesn't cut it for me.  Even when the scenes in the novel were set in warm weather, I still felt chilly reading it.  The characters seemed cold to me too, very detached in their relationships.  Blomkvist has no problem sharing his lover with her husband, and he seems removed in his relationship with his daughter.  He doesn't even seem too concerned when heading off to prison.  Lisbeth is alienated from almost everyone.  I hope their budding romance is pursued in the next book as I saw glimpses of  a heart and emotion there.  Seeing her and Blomkvist evolve into people with emotions would be an appealing storyline. 

I have not seen the movie, but it will be interesting to see how the story fares on the big screen and how much of it is devoted to the financial story--my guess it not very much.

What do you think was the greatest appeal of this novel? 

Friday, July 15, 2011

I've Been a Bad Blogger

Well, it's been a while since I last blogged.  I've promised myself to be a more faithful poster in the future, but being a writer has certainly become more complicated the past few years.  In addition to putting pen to paper, you must now stay visible by blogging, tweeting, Facebooking and perusing LinkedIn.  I like social media, but it does cut into actual writing time. 

From the articles I've read on effective blogging, the cardinal sin most often committed by bloggers is failing to post.  I confess, I'm guilty.  I hope to go and sin no more.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Kindle Has Been a Godsend

Hi Readers,

If you follow this blog or the one I do for Northern Connection magazine or read my column in the magazine, you know I often wondered whether I would like a Kindle.  As I mentioned, I bought one in January, and let me tell you it has been a godsend.  I injured my knee in a freak treadmill accident and pretty much spent a week resting my injured leg.  The great thing about the Kindle was that when I needed another book to keep myself occupied, I wasn't at the mercy of my caregivers.  I just browsed the Kindle Store and downloaded the next book I wanted to read.  For anyone who likes to read and who can't get to a bookstore the Kindle is a lifesaver. 

I'm also thinking that the Kindle would be great for senior citizens who can't get out to their local bookstore or who can't wait until the delivery person brings your next selection.  It is also great for seniors because you can adjust the text size.  Too bad my late Grandmother Gert passed away before the Kindle came on the scene.  She spent her last years on earth home bound and was an avid reader.  She ordered all her books from a book-of-the-month club.

I don't think the Kindle will totally replace traditional books, but it sure is a great device for those who love to read. 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

There's a Word for Everything

They say there is a word for everything.  Now I believe it.  Writers know that the most precious commodity they can possess, is persistence.  In fact, one of my favorite quotes that I used in the creative writing classes I taught was this:


Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.
Talent will not.  
Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.  
Genius will not.  
Unrewarded  genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not.  
The world is full of educated derelicts. 
Persistence and determination alone will bring success. 
                                                - Calvin Coolidge 

In Stephen King's book On Writing, he says that for writers to be successful they need to apply liberal amounts of "bum glue."  In other words, a writer needs the discipline to stick his or her bum to a chair and write.  Write when you don't feel like it.  Write when you have nothing to say.  Write when you are not getting paid for it.  Write when you are not inspired.  Write when you have other things to do.  Write when crummy celebrities achieve bestseller status by trading on their names instead of craft. Write when no one likes your work. Write when you are tired.  Write when the publishing industry is morphing into who knows what.   Just sit down and write. Regularly.

I receive the A Word a Day e-mail from Anu Garg's site, Wordsmith.org.  Here is the link in case you'd like to receive them too:   http://wordsmith.org/awad/about.html

This week we had a great word:  sitzfleisch.  It is a German word derived from sitzen, meaning to sit (I wonder if that is where sitz bath came from?) and fleisch, meaning flesh.  It means the ability the ability to sit through something boring or to persist in a task.  Leave it to German engineering to come up with a word for "bum glue"!

Whether you call it persistence, bum glue or sitzfleisch or whether you are a writer or not, everyone can use some sitzfleisch in their lives.   So let's all break out a tube of sitzfleisch and apply liberally so you can achieve your dreams, whatever they may be.  I just hope Andrew Sullivan doesn't get hold of it--infomercials for Sitzfleisch would be too far over the edge.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Hitting You Where You Live

Since it's Oscar's week, I started to think about movies or books that have resonated with me.  There are  stories that come along at certain times in your life that you can really relate to.  The movie Breaking Away came out in 1979 and was about a group of boys who were about my age at that time, and they were trying to find their place in the world.  It was funny, charming and inspirational, and if you've never seen it, check it out.  It features a very young and cute Dennis Quaid.

A few years later The Big Chill hit home with me.  When it came out in 1983, I was 23 and married and hanging out with my hubby's fraternity brothers and their wives, who were a few years older than me.  Already a cold wind was blowing through some of their marriages and would eventually experience their big chill of divorce.  It was sad to see those relationships crumble.

Parenthood came out in 1989 and by then I had already been a mom for two years.  My favorite line from that movie sums up what it is like to be a parent.  Grandma says it to Gil (Steve Martin) in the film:

You know, when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster.  Up, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride! I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn't like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it. 

Parenthood is not for the faint of heart!   

Perhaps my all-time favorite movie that hit home with me was Forrest Gump.  Although Forrest was a bit older than me, I remember many of the things Forrest experienced.  It think that was why so many people loved that movie; they could remember where they were when the events Forrest experienced in the move happened. 

There have been other stories that were acclaimed but fell flat with me at the time.  When I was in high school the movie Smile was released.  It was about a a teen beauty pageant.  I thought it was a dud.  A few years later I was a contestant in the Junior Miss pageant (I lost), but when I saw that movie again, I thought it was hilarious. 

A book that missed the mark the first time around with me was Anne Morrow Lindberg's Gift from the Sea.  I read it when I was 19 on the bus to NYC during a girls' get-away with my friends from high school.  My friend Ginny, who is now a doctor and who was always had a more sophisticated taste in reading (she read U.S. News & World Report as a sophomore), recommended it.  I found it incredibly dull.  About 15 years later, I came across the book again and re-read it.  This time around I thought it was very good.  I think I needed to get a little life experience under my belt to appreciate it.

Is there any book or movie that has hit home with you at a particular time in your life?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

RunningWithCorgs: Heat Wave!

RunningWithCorgs: Heat Wave!: "Cute Corgi Picture of the Week : What a good little helper. The past two days have been unbelievably warm and spring-like. I never really ..."

Perhaps if I had a corgi typist, I'd have time to run a marathon.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Here's to Heroes

Did you see the recent story about the NYC subway slasher who went on a violent spree killing several people  He set out to create more carnage, but he ran into Joe Lozito, a regular commuter from Philly.  When the slasher threatened him, Lozito knew he would most likely die if he didn't do something.  Drawing on the moves he'd seen while watching mixed martial arts matches, Lozito fought back, saving his life and possibly the lives of others on the train.  Afterward, Lozito was very humble, brushing off any credit.

In 1996, a Penn State University student opened fire on her fellow classmates, killing one and wounding another.  As she stopped to reload, student Brendon Malovrh ran over and tackled her.  During the struggle, she pulled a knife on Malovrh, but she inadvertently slashed her own leg.  Malovrh used his belt as a tourniquet to save her life.  I remember watching Malovrh while reporters interviewed him.  He was very low-key, humble and seemed to shrink from the attention.

In this day when so many are clamoring for attention (i.e. Lady Gaga), it's refreshing and heartwarming to know that humble heroes still exist. 

Heroes have always been a staple of literature; readers can't resist them.  Perhaps we love them so much because they appeal to our higher nature.  We look upon them and hope that in the same circumstances we would perform as admirably. 

One of my favorite fictional heroes is Jamie Fraser from Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series.  Fraser is honorable, brave, and self-sacrificing.

Who are some of your favorite fiction heroes?  What makes them stand out in your mind?      

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A New Breed in Publishing

The American Kennel Club recently recognized three new breeds of dogs--The Entlebucher Mountain Dog, the Norwegian Lundehund, and the Xoloitzcuintli.  According to the AKC, the Entlebucher Mountain Dog is a high-energy breed, the Lundehund has six toes on each foot, and the Xoloitzcuintli, besides having an odd name, is hairless. Six toed and hairless?  High-energied?  What kind of strange pooches are these?

There are some other new breeds on the scene that have yet to be recognized by the authorities, but these aren't canine breeds.  They are new ways of publishing manuscripts.  With the advent of revolutionary technologies, the standard scenario of acquiring and agent who then procures a publisher to purchase and produce a book is being challenged.  Today, more people are sidestepping that traditional process and taking their manuscripts directly to the market via vanity presses and e-publishers. 

In many cases, these books are odd like a six-toed paw or even downright homely like a hairless dog.  But like the Entlebucher Mountain Dog, there is a lot of energy pouring into this new style of publishing.  As a writer, instructor and editor, I've been approached by several people, mostly former students, to edit their manuscripts, which they intended to self-publish, and honestly, the few times that I've agreed to do so, the experience has proven to be quite painful. 

There is no way to stop progress.  The new methods of publishing are here to stay, but without agents and publishing houses acting as gatekeepers to good writing, readers may be seeing many dogs when it comes to manuscripts. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Now you know what's on their mind

What serious writer hasn't wondered what agents and editors want or what are they thinking?  I can distinctly recall many times sitting with the members of my critique group and trying to read between the lines of the rejection letter in question, wondering just what the agent or editor meant by "while your writing has merit, I don't think I'm the one to best represent your work." or some similar phrase.  In such situations someone in the group sighs and ponders, "If I only knew what they were thinking when they wrote this rejection letter."

With the advent of social media and its embrace by agents and editors, writers now have more of an insight into what agents and editors are looking for.  I'm finding it very refreshing and helpful to read their blog postings and twitters.  Social media is more intimate and agents and editors are very candid in their postings.  If writers are wise, they will study these postings.  They are telling us how to approach them and what they want--it's up to us to listen.  

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Am I the Kind to Kindle?

A while ago I wrote an article in Northern Connection magazine, where I am the Executive Editor, wondering if I would like a Kindle.  Well, I recently purchased one and am reading my first book on it.  I love books and I have this feeling while I'm reading that I'm doing something evil like painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa.  The ability to publish and purchase books was such a leap for humanity, I feel as if I've turned my back on books.  Did those in previous decades experience such anxiety when they made the switch from hand-copied manuscripts to the printing press?