Category Archives: inspiration

4

The book made me do it!

I walked out at lunch time on this scorching, humid day in New York City, and immediately felt like I was in a tropical jungle—only this was the concrete kind.  As I tried to get my errands done quickly so I could scurry back to the relative coolness of my portable air conditioner (my office windows are of a vintage that makes standard units impossible to install)Air Conditioner, I found myself thinking of literary jungle settings—Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Lily King’s Euphoria, Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things, etc.  In part, this had to do with the sliced mango stand I ran across on the corner of Broadway and 14th Street…but I digress.

Back in the office, while eating my chilled pea and mint soup, I happened upon this piece in Galleycat about Riverhead soliciting essays for a collection about “how Elizabeth Gilbert’s famous memoir [Eat Pray Love] served as inspiration for readers to go on life-changing adventures” and, having just been thinking about her recent novel, I had one of those moments where I felt the universe was trying to tell me something.

I decided that what it was telling me was not to pack up my bags and head for the Amazon (where Jane will be in a month or so, btw), but that I should do a blog post about what books have inspired us to do things.  For instance, reading Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak in high school made me want to learn Russian in the worst way.  And, so I took three years of this beautiful, complicated language while in college (I remember nothing, in case you’re wondering).

It’s a great exercise, in my opinion, to consider how books have influenced our actions.  For those of us who are obsessed with literary works, it’s an exercise that can turn up some fascinating (and maybe disturbing) insights into our psyches.  So, have books influenced actions for you?  If so, what books…and what actions?

0

Fall fiction, and a few debut author stories

Not that I want to rush summer, which is my favorite time of year, but I did get a little excited when I saw this roundup of big fall fiction in Publisher’s Weekly, which really is right around the corner. Fall is always the time when big books are released, in both the nonfiction and fiction categories.

The list is pretty eclectic but the one common factor is that all the books are debuts. Someone took a chance and felt that these books could stand out in a very crowded and difficult marketplace. I’m always eager to get a sense of what publishers are excited about in terms of not only plots, but also writer backgrounds and pedigrees. Has their short fiction been previously published? Do they have an MFA from a prestigious program?

In the case of this list, it’s a mixed bag. There’s a lawyer from Reno, an MFA from NYU, and a former magazine book editor. But my favorite story is about an author who had been rejected by 60 agents (and that’s after getting her MFA from Columbia, people!) before sending her novel to a few independent publishing houses. Eight months later, a fellow student from Columbia was working as an editor at Soho Press and asked her if the manuscript was still available. INTO THE VALLEY by Ruth Gahm will be published this fall.

Check out all of these stories. They are interesting and fun, and look for the books this fall. If PW is profiling them, there’s a good chance at least a couple of them will do really well. Which ones do you want to read? Any other books you’re excited about for fall?

Unexpected authors

You know how I love to inspire our blog readers with success stories. After all these years, I still enjoy learning about how writers began their publishing careers because unlike doctors and lawyers and the like which require an advance degree and extensive training, writers can pursue their craft from anywhere at any time.

I was reminded of this from reading a few relevant stories recently. Publisher’s Weekly has a series called Flying Starts where they interview various (published) writers who share their stories of getting started.

So, speaking of doctors, this Flying Start looks at the debut of Pennsylvania surgeon Ilene Wong (pen name I.W. Gregorio). She fit her writing into her schedule in blocks while she worked full-time and her first novel about an intersex teen was recently published by Balzer + Bray, a division of HarperCollins. A dream come true for her!

MOSQUITOLAND is a recent YA novel by David Arnold that got a ton of great reviews and attention, and the author talks about how he was a freelance musician and stay-at-home dad before he wrote this book. How cool is that?

My own client, A.J. Hartley, is a renowned Shakespeare professor in his day job who in his other life writes highly commercial fiction across a myriad of categories. And Deborah Lytton was an actress and musician turned lawyer before she became a children’s author.

These stories give me hope that if you are destined to become a published author, you can achieve your goals no matter what else you are doing in your life. So, soldier on, keep writing and persevering and you will find your way. If you have any great publishing stories to share here, please do so in the comments.

The art of storytelling

The story matters. But so does the way you tell it. Just learn from this 23-year-old who has been writing a memoir on Instagram.

There are so many great things to love about this story. Sure, I appreciate the beautiful photos and well-written captions, but I admire the sheer ingenuity most of all. Fact: a new memoir is published every 38 minutes. Don’t fact-check me on that, just trust me. There are a lot of memoirs out there. Another fact: not many of them are written using the medium of a photograph social media platform, with carefully curated shots posted a year later, a completely different practice than the usual immediacy and spontaneity of picture posting.

Short stories and even entire novels have been written on Twitter too, but what technology gives, technology also takes away. Algorithms generate news stories and a scary amount of written content that you would never suspect. Don’t believe me? Then take this test.

The point is this: technology has changed everything and will continue to change everything, for better or worse. There are an unimaginable number of ways to spread stories now. Get creative and find a way that is uniquely you. Otherwise computer algorithms may as well write your story for you.

Also, I just wanted to include a quick update on one of my earlier blog posts. In March 2015, I posted a blog about censorship and China being named the guest of honor at BEA 2015. Want to see what that all amounted to? This was the result.

2

The Tempest in a tempest

Last night I attended the Shakespeare in the Park production of The Tempest – well, part of it at least.

In case you aren’t familiar with Shakespeare in the Park, it’s one of the most amazing things about New York City. Every summer since 1954, The Public Theater presents two productions of Shakespeare in an open-air theater in the middle of Central Park, with tickets free by lottery or by waiting in line. I was lucky enough to get a pair of tickets in yesterday’s lottery – I’m guessing the entry pool was slim thanks to all-day rain and temps in the 50s. But I was not scared off! In fact, I thought it would be a lot of fun to see The Tempest in the midst of an actual tempest, and I was not wrong. Thanks to a hasty purchase of trusty emergency ponchos and a cozy blanket, my friend and I were ready to brave the elements and hoped the actors were as well.

tempest2

And they were! For at least the first act. And what a first act it was! The play opens with a fearsome shipwreck scene, and the scenery and special effects would no doubt have been impressive in any conditions; experiencing it with nature contributing her own genuine rain and blustery winds made Shakespeare’s gorgeous lines, and the fine work of the hardy actors, truly exceptional. It was a show to remember even though they decided to close the performance after the first act. (I was soaked and shivering, though intellectually elated, so it wasn’t a complete disappointment.)

tempest1

And it got me thinking about the way the weather influences fiction, for readers and maybe for writers as well! This weekend I was reading Neal Stephenson’s excellent Seveneves and thunder boomed outside just as I read an account of the moon exploding into pieces – quite a startling moment! On the other hand, fiction can be escapism – read a beachy book on a frigid winter day, or vice versa, to forget the miserable weather report.

I wonder if the same goes for writers as they create the fiction we love to readDo they have to work a little harder on a blizzard scene if they’re writing on a gorgeous spring day? Or can the creative imagination do its thing regardless of what’s going on outside the window?

What do you think? Do you match your book to the weather, or the opposite? Do you find the weather creeping onto the page when you write? 


0

Plausibility

As devoted DGLM readers know, we run an in-house book club here to broaden our horizons and keep abreast of categories we might not otherwise investigate. This month, we’re doing thrillers, and while I enjoyed my book—fast-paced, good characters, lots of practical information—ultimately it bugged me because the central premise was totally unbelievable. While there’s eventually a plot-twist that tries to explain away the implausibility of the concept, it doesn’t pass the smell test.

Yet without naming names, the book came from a Big Six house, edited by a top editor, and was the author’s tenth novel. It came armed with tons of blurbs from major authors, and I could find only one review that took issue with the premise. To which I say… really? But while I sit here feeling like I’m taking crazy pills with Mugatu from ZOOLANDER, the book did make me think about plausibility in general.

I’m sure plausibility is a question  for all writers, but especially ones who write in plot-heavy genres like thriller, sci-fi, fantasy, kids books, etc. It’s hard enough to come up with inventive plots, character and voice, yet do it in a way that readers will buy–even if your story is about, say, zombie kittens from Mars. So if you’re wrestling with plausibility issues, check out this essay from Steve Almond in Writer’s Digest, which ably dissects the various plausibility traps writers often fall into (I’d say the premise of my Book Club book falls under the Factual/Logistical umbrella). Or, for an elegant summation of how to think about plausibility, it’s hard to beat this letter from Ursula K. LeGuin.

How many of you have run into problems with plausibility? And how have you found your way out of the traps?

3

Weather or not…

This piece in Salon about how rain is often used in literature and film to create or punctuate a mood, advance the story, or simply provide an arresting backdrop to the goings-on, tickled me because it immediately led me to run a mental list of rain-filled books and movies.  And, sure enough, rain as metaphor and plot device is everywhere, in ways big and small.

Of course, I’ve been railing for years about weather.com writing, imploring authors not to open their work with long descriptions of weather or geographic conditions.  While I get how irresistible it is to set about capturing in words/images the awesome power of nature, very few authors can make non-catastrophic meteorological events compelling over a large span of narrative. 

That said, there’s no denying that weather is great for atmosphere (tautological pun intended).  From the foggy moors of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, to the feverish heat of Lily King’s Euphoria, skillful depictions of weather conditions help make literary works unforgettable.  Many years later, you may not remember other details of a story, but you probably recall the sense of humid discomfort in the bayous or the crispness of a spring day in southern France. 

What are your favorite weather sequences?  And, which authors do you feel use weather most effectively?

Lake

5

My small town wins big!

I live in a small town in New Jersey called Haworth (pronounced Haaworth). Like just over 3,000 people small. 1,100 households small. Most people have never heard of it, even people who grew up in NJ. I love my little town. Even more so because they recently raised almost $300,000 for a major library expansion that was facing a large funding deficit. Of course, I did my share. I donated money to buy a brick that will decorate a patio outside the entrance. And I offered to give a literary consultation to an aspiring author for a library fundraiser. But I was blown away when I saw this article about the fundraising efforts in a local paper, northjersey.com.