keep on breathing

June 16, 2009 | 2 Comments

Well, Just Breathe had a spectacular run on the bestseller lists. Thank you readers for many weeks! You are the best.

Please accept this song as a small token of my gratitude. I just love this singer/songwriter. She is completely dreamy. Plus she wants us all to be okay.


[“Keep Breathing” by Ingrid Michaelson]

so you think you can write…write…write…

June 13, 2009 | 10 Comments

Sorry about that title. I have Jonathan, Ade, Kupono, Vitolio, etc. on my mind and I know you don’t blame me.

At first glance, this post has nothing to do with lithe, athletic dancers and in fact is about something at the opposite end of the spectrum–dumpy, sedentary, supremely klutzy writers. Yet it’s shocking how much we have in common.

(Plus I just stuck that in to get more traffic on the blog. My bad.)

painting by Degas
painting by Degas

Here’s an excerpt from your next purchase. Oh, did I neglect to tell you this post is about making you buy a book that will set a torch to your sleeping little brain? (My bad, again.) I happened to be reading The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass the other night while watching “So You Think You Can Dance.” A really compelling dance tells a story, and it’s all about detail and tension. You can’t look away because you have to know what’s coming next. An excerpt:

Holding a reader’s attention every word of the way is a function not of the type of novel you’re writing, a good premise, tight writing, quick pace, showing not telling or any of the other conventionally understood and frequently taught principles of storytelling.

Keeping readers constantly in your grip comes from the steady application of something else altogether: Micro-tension. That is the tension that constantly keeps your reader wondering what will happen-not in the story, but in the next few seconds.

Yes, I think you should buy this book. I’m a writing-craft-book junkie but like most authors, I only have a few favorites. Donald Maass has written several of my favorites. He understands the way fiction works, and the way a writer thinks.

get fired up
get fired up

I don’t usually recommend books on writing craft to readers. That’s kind of like telling sausage eaters to watch sausage being made. But like Stephen King’s On Writing, this one is interesting to anyone who loves fiction. It’ll have you heading to the library to check out some of the many fine works cited as examples. I think you’ll like this one.

What are some of your favorite books on writing?

training treats

June 10, 2009 | 4 Comments

Would you please check out this training treat pouch? My friend Liz knitted it. Yes. KNITTED it. In a seed stitch pattern. She writes as well as she knits, too. I adore writers who knit. So does Barkis.

Sit. Stay. Good dog.
Sit. Stay. Good dog.

It looks much too cute to be filled with chopped up hot dogs, but hey. I didn’t make the rules.

(If you look carefully at the background, you’ll see a few of the ways we spoil Barkis. Double-mattress bed, check. Garden view accommodations, check. Reading material–including The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime–check. Plaid fleece blanket, check…)

Port Townsend, Washington

June 09, 2009 | 1 Comment

We took the bride and groom-to-be to a beautiful seaside town with a farmer’s market, good food, lovely shops and a store just for writers–

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When bad covers happen to good books

June 05, 2009 | 8 Comments

wonderful book, awful cover
wonderful book, awful cover

[Synchronicity–CNN is talking about book covers today, too! ] As we all know, I am endlessly fascinated by book cover art. I’ve talked about it here, and here, too.  A story in Publishers Weekly illustrates the power of a great package. Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosney was one of my favorite books of 2008. The novel garnered rave reviews, incredible word-of-mouth, excellent foreign sales…and a disappointing sale of 6000 copies in the US. Guess why?
Need I say more? Where do I begin? With the pale re-use of an iconic image from a previous bestseller?,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_.jpg With the undistinguished font? The murky colors? The ambiguous imagery and mixed message? No wonder readers overlooked this poor book.
But this is why I love book people. When their passion for a project kicks in, there’s no stopping them. According to Publishers Weekly, the book’s publisher stepped in and had the book repackaged in trade paperback format, with a thoughtful and intriguing new cover: featuring an irresistible blurb from Augustin Burroughs. Oh, and a new price point, don’t forget that. The result? Sales leaped up to 185,000–making this book a legitimate bestseller and giving the author the happy ending she deserves. 

Need I say more? Where do I begin? With the pale re-use of an iconic image from a previous bestseller?

wonderful book, cover that did it justice
wonderful book, cover that did it justice

 With the undistinguished font? The murky colors? The ambiguous imagery and mixed message? No wonder readers overlooked this poor book. A wonderful novel deserves better, don’t you think?

But this is why I love book people. When their passion for a project kicks in, they’re willing to regroup and try again. According to Publishers Weekly,  the book’s publisher stepped in and had the book repackaged in trade paperback format, with a well thought-out and intriguing new cover and an irresistible blurb from Augustin Burroughs. Oh, and a new price point, don’t forget that. The result? Sales leaped up to 185,000 (and counting)–making this book a legitimate bestseller and giving the author the happy ending she deserves.

Soooo…I will try to post my summer reading here, but I’m very lazy about broadcasting what I’m reading, because I read so much! 

But this is a novel you won’t want to miss. Heartbreak and redemption and a little-known (to Americans) bit of WWII horror. A must for book clubs!

Ah! Success!
Ah! Success!




















obnoxious groundhog

June 04, 2009 | 4 Comments

I’m so sorry to have to share this, but I can’t help myself: 


[thanks to Suzanne for the tip]

“I don’t care”

June 03, 2009 | 1 Comment

“I don’t care what you think, as long as it’s about me.” This is exactly how I feel when I get a raspberry from a reviewer. This is a very nice danceable tune. By the time you get done rocking out in your living room, you’ve forgotten about the bad review:


Do it for your mental health!

porn for writers

June 03, 2009 | 7 Comments

This is one of my most-read posts. I can only conclude it’s because we writers fantasize about stuff like this. It originally ran several months back. And the link that gets the highest clicks? Irfanview

I Want an Intern

[With apologies to Judy Brady and her seminal “I Want a Wife” essay.]

I want an intern. Just a little, easy-to-work-with helper who will support my writing enterprise. I want an intern to take care of all the business-y stuff so I can focus on the book. It makes perfect sense for a busy writer to have an intern, because so much of publishing has little to do with the actual writing–the putting down of stories on paper.

You know you want them.
You know you want them.

Other professionals have interns to see to their needs–doctors, executives, literary agents, even the Authors Guild. So why can’t a writer have an intern, too? Aren’t I a professional? Don’t I have needs? Lawyers have paralegals. I hereby declare that writers deserve to have parawriters.

I want an intern to type up my handwritten manuscripts, never stumbling over an ambiguous squiggle in my penmanship. I want an intern with a double PhD in English Composition and Computer Science, who is a software engineer, a computer technician and a strict grammarian.

Who wears a loin cloth. Who actually looks good in that loin cloth.

It wouldn’t break my heart if this intern just happened to be mute from birth.

Another qualification my intern needs is the ability to organize my workspace according to the principles of feng shui. He will be on intimate terms with productivity websites like and

I want him (of course it’s a him; this is my fantasy after all) to make all the airline reservations for all the trips on my schedule. I want him to use my miles to get upgrades and to schedule the flights so I don’t have to catch the 4:45am ferry. He will also search the Internet to find the most exciting, luxurious boutique hotels in the world, at the best possible rates. He will have and bookmarked in his browser. He’ll win double air miles for me with every single transaction he makes on my behalf.

My intern will catalogue my research library, clean my gutters and file my tax return. He will schedule my social luncheons, my teeth-cleaning appointments and my weekly massage. He will find Jay’s flannel shirt and trim Barkis’s toenails. My office supplies will be ordered with regularity and stocked neatly and in abundance, even the stupid inkjet cartridges that cost the same as truffle oil.

My intern will get all my mailing done, even if it means standing in line at the post office for forty-five minutes.

He will actually know how to print postage online. (

He is going to be a master of databases, my intern, and a god of the laser printer. If I need a set of labels for a mailing to readers in Portland or Terre Haute or Maple Grove, Minnesota, he will produce them in seconds. With a click of the mouse, he can format a beautiful letter, flyer or postcard. He will create flawless PowerPoint presentations highlighting me at my best. He’ll write gracious thank-you notes on cream stock and send them out in a timely manner. He’ll order imprinted tchotchkes to give out at the BEA; he’ll create a lovely gift mailing for my publisher’s sales reps over the holidays.

I want him to answer my e-mail, explaining to that yes, even though I realize the Almighty Himself gave me my writing talent, my characters are still going to swear, so she can just put her fucking Sharpie marker where the sun don’t shine because I’ll never change. He might put in the subject line, “Greetings from Hell.”

I want an intern who will answer the phone, politely declining offers of aluminum siding, copy machines and magazine subscriptions. He’ll know which friends, family members and colleagues I’ll drop everything to talk to, and which ones to take messages from.

In every bookstore he enters, he will re-shelve the books so that “W” is now in the middle of the alphabet, at eye level instead of toe level.

Prior to any author appearance, he’ll call ahead to make sure all the details are taken care of, so I don’t schlep myself all the way to Puyallup Mall only to find they haven’t ordered enough books. I will no longer worry about booksignings because he will work hand-in-glove with my publisher’s PR firm. He’ll post each event on and send out invitations to everyone on my mailing list within a fifty-mile radius. He’ll negotiate my speaking fees and take care of the paperwork. He’ll use Irfanview (free download at to convert my photos to the requested 300dpi format. He’ll update my bio and send in any and all requested speaker forms. He will also format and e-mail my workshop handouts for upcoming conferences. He will keep my profiles and posts up to date on Facebook, Shelfari, Gather, MySpace and Amazon blog, vetting the “friend” requests so I will be a dynamic presence in cyberspace. Conversely, he’ll make certain my personal information has been removed from by following the procedure given here:;read=73180 .

He’ll take flattering digital photos of my events and send them in to Publishers Weekly for “Picture of the Day.” He’ll also post them with witty captions on my website. Regarding that web site, he’ll keep it scrupulously up to date. And speaking of photos, my intern will pick out the most flattering clothes for the photo shoot, and he’ll hire a stylist who will transform my author photo into a great work of fiction.

He will bring me Lady Grey tea in the “Perky” mug, with one level teaspoon of lavender honey stirred in.

He knows when and how to use the subjunctive voice. He understands the usage of aphetic forms and apostrophe placement. He has the ability to retrieve lost e-mails; he can uncorrupt files that have been corrupted, clean out my cache, defrag my disk, leap tall buildings and rectify past wrongs. He spits contemptuously upon spyware and removes it with ease. When a dreaded “cannot open the file” message creeps up, he will open it with TextMaker Viewer (free download here: and save it as a Word document and I’ll be home free. If someone dares to send me something with the hated .docx suffix, he will convert it without complaint, probably using a tool like this:

He will respect and honor my insistence on working in WordPerfect, come hell or high water. His research will be impeccable, his fact-checking skills without peer. He’ll create playlists for my iPod, and he’ll organize and label my digital photos so anyone can easily locate the shot of Barkis chasing the coyote on my beach.

My intern will read my page proofs with a ruler under every line, determined to ferret out everything from an apostrophe turned the wrong way to the exact location of the Pax River Naval Station. When he discovers a clueless query from a copy-editor, he will hide the page from me so I don’t waste two hours steaming about it, and when there is any question, he will e-mail Bill at to settle all disputes. If he spots a snarky review online, he’ll bury it under five stars of praise from at least a half-dozen fake online personas. Just because it seems like a good thing to do, he will track my books’ appearances on bestseller lists, big and small, occasionally presenting me with the information displayed on meaningful graphs and charts.

My intern is happy to deal with the PR firm that asks me to take “just a few minutes” to brainstorm a PR campaign for my next book, including a search for the perfect lakeside resort with easy airport access. (My intern knows I would happily spend days in this pursuit, so he doesn’t even tell me about it.)

With unruffled efficiency, he will write that blurb a book club requested, along with reading-group questions. He’ll make sure I’m prepared to do the Amazon podcast, and a mini-interview for a book chain’s newsletter. He’ll create flashcards with “glaikit” and “blimbing” so I’ll dominate at the next charity spelling bee. He’s always on hand to brainstorm cover art, flap copy or ways to intensify the conflict in my novel. He’ll renew my subscriptions at the proper time, at the discounted group rate. He’ll take care of expense reports, contest entries and membership dues. He’ll find my late mother-in-law’s recipe for tamale pie.

My intern will crunch my numbers, reconcile my modifiers, stroke my ego and rub my neck. He’ll make sure all my pronouns agree with their antecedents. He will boost my creativity, flatter my vanity and pick up my drycleaning.

Wait. If the intern’s doing all that, then I’m stuck writing my novel. What a concept.

[Originally published in NINK, the newsletter of Novelists, Inc.]

big news for little Wiggs

June 01, 2009 | Leave a comment

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big news for little Wiggs

June 01, 2009 | 11 Comments

It’s in today’s edition of Publishers Weekly. And here’s a slide show of Elizabeth hearing her big big news (in addition to getting married and getting into the MBA program of her dreams). I think she should buy a lottery ticket this week.

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