Category Archives: book ideas

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Stranger than life, larger than fiction

So, having spent close to a month as a sitting juror on a federal trial, I’m slowly recovering from the Stockholm Syndrome my fellow jurors and I experienced while cooped up in a courtroom every day, listening to lawyers drone on interminably, seemingly engaged in a contest to see who could make the most repetitive and tedious presentation of their case.

Sitting there day after day, trying to actively listen, even as my eyelids often felt like tiny weights were dangling from my lashes, gave me a new appreciation for legal dramas from To Kill a Mockingbird to The Firm to The Good Wife.  The fact that book and screen writers have been making trial proceedings as compelling and engrossing as they are (or can be in the right hands) is a testament to imagination and the ability to transform dull reality into if not art then entertainment.

A couple of days after the trial ended (with an acquittal in case you’re interested), Jane and I had dinner with David Morrell, who was shooting ideas for his new novel by us.  What struck me anew that night was that it is an alchemical process that transforms a snippet of a real story—whether historical or present-day—into the basis for a full-blooded work of fiction.  The mind of a gifted author takes that reality and spins a fantastic yarn out of it by picking and choosing elements  that are, in actuality, dramatic and entertaining, goosing action and motivation in the process.  The conclusion I draw is that real-life legal proceedings would benefit greatly from talented writers and skillful editors.  (I’m thinking that my trial would have been done in a week, tops, if it had been properly scripted.)

And, perhaps because I feel my lack of imagination would make for a sad fiction writing career, I always wonder how writers choose elements of real life and translate them into successful fiction.  Look at the current headlines in your local paper and tell me what novel you would write if you could rip one off for your fiction debut.   What are the nuggets that you would mine for a book that is more scintillating than my trial?

 

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Good sports

Baseball seasonMy life these days revolves around two things: work and baseball.  You guys know all about the work part but I bet you had no idea that when I’m not in the office baseball consumes every other aspect of my waking day.  That’s because I have an eight-year-old who’s obsessed with America’s pastime and who is currently playing for a little league and a travel team.  That’s a lot of sitting on bleachers during an unusually cold, damp spring watching little boys drop routine fly balls, have meltdowns on the pitcher’s mound, and swagger like miniature Reggie Jacksons when they finally get a hit.

So, of course, this baseball immersion has me thinking about sports books.  I can reel off a dozen great baseball titles off the top of my head, from Roger Kahn’s classic The Boys of Summer to Doris Kearns Goodwin’s wistful Wait Till Next Year to Chad Harbach’s acclaimed The Art of Fielding, but I have a harder time with other sports.  Sure, every once in a while there’s a great book about football (Friday Night Lights) or soccer (Fever Pitch) or basketball (Hoop Dreams) or mountain climbing (Into Thin Air), but the conventional wisdom among publishing people is that baseball is the sport that sells books.

Is this a case of publishers not knowing how to reach other sports fans and making the backward assumption that those fans just don’t read, or is it that fans of other sports aren’t as interested in reading about their favorite sport?  Is it that baseball sparks writers’ imagination to a greater degree than, say, tennis (the pace of baseball, soporific as it can be, does allows for a lot of contemplation and rumination)?  Is it that women buy more books than men and there are more female baseball fans (given how many women friends I have who are rabid about football and basketball, I doubt this)?

We like sports books around here and we’d like to do more of them.  But, help us out.  What sports do you like to read about and why?  What are your favorite titles and what do you wish there was more of in this category?

Read this piece (aka more on Stephen King)!

I am really not obsessed with Stephen King. I do think he’s amazing and a genius, and I’d like to spend a day living inside his brain, but I really don’t follow his every move. Which is why it’s kind of funny that I’m doing another post about him.

I recently shared a link with what I thought was some great advice from Stephen King, and now I want to share with our readers an article I came upon this week while cleaning out my bathroom (I store much of my best reading material there!). It’s from an August, 2013 issue of the New York Times Magazine, and it goes into some detail about the immediate King family, all of whom have storytelling in their blood. I find it beyond fascinating that this entire clan lives and breathes books and writing, stories and ideas. Not to mention they genuinely seem to have a strong affection for one another, despite some very rough and rocky times.

One of my favorite anecdotes is about how when King’s kids were little and he needed books to listen to while driving, he’d have them record the books he was interested in hearing. It’s brilliant! I’m going to get my kids to start recording books immediately. I can’t think of a better family activity.

I also loved reading about King’s daughter in-law, Kelly Braffet’s, entrée into the family. Can you imagine being an aspiring writer (she met King’s son at the Columbia MFA writing program in 2001) and meeting your future in-laws named Stephen and Tabitha King for the first time?

And yet another great anecdote comes from King’s son, Joe, who struggled as a writer for years unwilling to use his dad’s name to sell books. He went beyond using a pseudonym, Joe Hill, refusing to even admit who he was to his literary agent for 8 years (a time during which he did not sell a book)!

The stories go on. Anyone interested in writing should read this article. To me, it illustrates how important it is that the environment we create for ourselves and our families be one that allows for thoughtful and creative thinking. If you surround yourself with smart people who have similar interests and ideas, you will naturally find yourself gravitating in that direction.

I hope you enjoy learning more about the King family, and that they inspire you to be better writers, readers, and storytellers.

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Writing your way to a better idea

One of the hardest things for writers is the process of coming up with an idea. And understandably so. Finding a topic doesn’t just happen, and so when I had to write creative papers for my college courses, each one started the same way: with a brainstorming session.

The mind is a funny thing. Our brains are capable of making some astounding—not to mention bizarre–associations, and when you let your thoughts run wild, that random stream of consciousness is likely to result in some pretty interesting ideas. There are a million and one different brainstorming techniques out there. In fact, brainstorming has evolved to become a bit of a science—seriously just type the word into Wikipedia and see—but I usually find the simplest methods to be the most effective.

Freewriting is one such method. Even if you can’t think of anything to write at first, the simple act of putting pen to paper can get those creative juices flowing. Clear your mind. Let go. Write. It may take a while to get going, and you may only end up writing “I have no idea what to write” for the first ten minutes of your freewriting session. But that’s encouraged. The ideas will come if you let them, if you keep churning out sentence after sentence.

If you’re having trouble, try doing some more in-depth research on freewriting and other brainstorming techniques. I find instructive tips such as this one to be very helpful. Not every thought you have during a brainstorming session will be gold. In fact, most will be absurd or downright nonsensical. Just remember, it only takes one good idea for the whole brainstorming session to be worth it. Be patient and have fun. It works. How do you think I came up with the idea for this post?

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Holiday gift ideas

Today it snowed in Manhattan for the first time this season. You know what that means? The holidays are here.

It may not officially be holiday season until Black Friday hits stores, transforming shoppers across the country into characters straight out of Lord of the Flies, but it’s never a bad idea to get a head start. In fact, rather than wait in an endless line for the new iPad, try giving a book as a gift. I always enjoy unwrapping a good story, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

The key is to choose the right book. That’s why I’m coming to you. I need suggestions. And don’t be afraid to get creative. In fact, it’s encouraged. Nothing says “I didn’t really try” like buying someone a bestseller they’ve already read (although I suppose that asking for ideas over the internet comes close).

What you need to know

Dad: likes legal thrillers, sports books, military history

Mom: likes any controversial nonfiction (especially something health-related), thrillers, romance

Sister: likes everything from YA to literary fiction to books on psychology, no science fiction or fantasy though

So get in the Christmas spirit! Share your suggestions!

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Let the storm(writing) begin

The idea of brainstorming is one we talk about all the time. For everything, not just in books. But certainly, if you are trying to come up with a book idea or developing a concept for an author, brainstorming is a critical part of the process. Just this morning, I had a brainstorming session with an author and his editor to try to think of ideas for the next book, which will be his fifth.

But sometimes the brainstorm isn’t enough and you’d be better served by digging deeper and finding ideas that come from your “heartbrain”. That’s what guest author on writersdigest.com Elizabeth Sims talks about in this piece adapted from her book You’ve Got a Book in You.

Sims describes your heartbrain as your whole, deepest self. When you bring this to your brainstorming, it takes on a new life. Thinking about it from a more personal and heartfelt place gives you an ability to reach deeper for your big ideas. She compares it to improv for actors: “In practically any stage of writing, when you’re brainstorming, trying to create new material, it’s like doing improv. And just like improv, it requires more than your head. It requires your heartbrain.”

By starting with a couple of key phrases that work as activators for your heartbrain – “Yes, and…” and “What if?” you are setting yourself up to have a successful stormwriting session.

Take a look and hopefully this idea will help you better develop new work that comes from your heartbrain and through the process of stormwriting rather than just relying on the rather dated and  overused notion of more general brainstorming. Good luck, and let us know if you come up with anything great!

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Where do you keep your ideas?

This past weekend, I came across the only journal I have ever possessed. I penned the first entry at the tail end of the summer of 2009, when this journal was freshly purchased on a Glasgow high street. Now it had resurfaced all dog-eared and dusty in a Brooklyn apartment. Having mostly lived in boxes during apartment moves in New York, I had not written anything down for quite a while, nor leafed through past entries. So I delved in, to be reacquainted with my past self.

A thoroughly underwhelming experience. From what I could make out from the barely legible passages, I had not done much but make endless grocery lists and write down school timetables. Coincidentally, I came across this piece on Flavorwire on authors who kept journals and used them as a reservoir of observations that they felt might inspire them in the future.

It got me thinking about where author’s ideas come from. Is it necessary to record these things in the moment? Or leave them to your memory to recall them at the time of writing? Some of the authors in the article contend that they use a diary or journal as a means of having a second life or opening up.

Do you, as writers, have a similar vehicle to expend your creative energies? Or do you have highly tailored or ingenious ways of coming up with great new ideas for your writing?

 

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Women take note and start reading

Late one night, I was online and came across a link to a Huffington Post piece someone had tweeted about. I followed the link and it took me to this amazing compilation of articles written by, about, and for women in 2012. It’s an eclectic list, covering a broad range of topics (although weight issues and body image seem to be an overly recurring theme). I had read some, heard about others, and a few were introduced for the first time. It struck me while checking out these pieces how many had direct connections to books. Some of them are written by published authors, and others are the basis for upcoming books.

Many are compelling, most well done (some very well done) and worth your time. I really enjoyed Emily Rapp’s piece, as well as the clever review of Tiny Beautiful Things by Anna Holmes, and Jessica Valenti’s piece about women’s desire to be liked. She also links to an upcoming book by Facebook senior exec Sheryl Sandberg, someone I’m so happy to see writing a book for women in the workplace – I talked about how great it would be for her to write a book years ago. And as a mom of daughters, I thought Jennifer Weiner’s piece addressed some important cultural issues about body image that are worth further exploration.

After you’ve taken a look, do you think there there articles here that you feel you’d like to see broadened to book length? I often look to articles for book inspiration, and this list makes me glad to do so. I read some of these articles into the night, and there were a couple that had a real emotional impact.

Good writing is infectious and makes you want to find more of it. These articles exemplify that. I love reading about women’s issues, our struggles, and our hopes for a better world. It makes me want to work harder to find important books that will change lives and inspire. Enjoy these pieces and let us know which ones affected you.