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The Creative Juices

 

A couple of posts ago I wrote about different authors’ processes; what works for some, but not for others. This intriguing interview with Patrick Ryan that recently appeared on the Electric Literature  blog  gives another perspective.

The advice writers most often hear is that they should ideally be the vessel through which their work passes. In her invaluable 1934 book BECOMING A WRITER, Dorothea Brande described the “creative coma” that we now refer to as being “in the zone”:  when the writing is flowing freely, with no self-editing angel looking over your shoulder. It’s AFTER that time that writers should go back over their work with a full editorial eye.  That makes a lot of sense, IF you have the ability to write that way. Not all authors do.

About the writing of his short story “The Way She Handles,” part of his new collection THE DREAM LIFE OF ASTRONAUTS, Patrick Ryan says:

 

The end of “The Way She Handles,” that wasn’t planned. I decided to pull back in order to look at the narrator’s life from a later vantage, and it was thrilling. It was like running on a decline — you realize that the decline is giving you a momentum, and that you’re not entirely in control anymore. I’d never had that experience before. Normally, I’m so controlling. I write so slowly. I rewrite constantly while I write. That’s not a brag — it’s a problem. I write ten words, I take five back. Nearly every writer I know says the point of a first draft is to knock it out, but I can’t. I write a paragraph, and I can’t write the second paragraph until I feel like the first one is in okay shape. It’s not a great way to work. If I have a rare, three-hour session, say, and I write three pages? That’s Olympic. So this was a rare instance where the whole last part of the story came to me in a rush. I looked back on it and thought, how did I get so lucky?

 

By the time he finished the story, he realized, in fact, that the entire emphasis of it had shifted to another character, and it had found its true heart.

 

I’ve always admired writers who are able to focus their creative forces, and to bring their inner editor back only when necessary. Often, it’s much easier said than done. If you’re a writer, please feel free to chime in and let me know if you’re one of those lucky ones who can make this system work.

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Goals

Each quarter, Jane Dystel asks all of the employees of DGLM to outline their goals for the coming months, then look back at the previous quarter and see how our projections matched with reality.  It is an exercise that I find a bit wrenching; goals are always due at some moment when I’ m deep in the trenches of an edit, dashing between meetings, or returning phone calls. Taking time to step away from the computer/Kindle/phone and study the big picture—my performance and the “portfolio” of projects I represent— is always a little jarring.

But inasmuch as I find this difficult or sobering,  it is nevertheless tremendously useful to look at my efforts holistically, to stratagize about stewarding my time more wisely, whether it’s tackling my e-mail inbox in designated periods (because I could spend all day, every day, answering e-mails and never do another thing) or the distribution of the conferences I attend (I should avoid doing three in the same quarter; to that end, I apologize to all those patient writers who pitched me in Atlanta, Boston and Austin and are still waiting to  hear back—I am working my way through. )  I’m not much of a subscriber to The Secret-style philosophy that writing something down will magically make it so, but writing down goals helps force me to clarify them, and looking backward over the previous quarter helps me note what’s working (or not) and adjust course accordingly.

I adore my clients and their projects—there’s a multitude of reasons I signed each one—but the exercise in goal-setting also calls attention to the deficits in my list, the genres and projects I don’t often do. For example, I’d like to take on more love stories.  It need not be a romance novel  (I represent a work of narrative history, Bill Lascher’s EVE OF A HUNDRED MIDNIGHTS, that captures the whirlwind romance and perilous honeymoon of two WWII correspondents.)  I’d also like to do more literary mystery in the vein of books I already represent—Beth Hahn’s THE SINGING BONE or Christopher Yates’ BLACK CHALK—but also a proper detective novel,  think Tana French.  I’d also like to see more humor/pop-culture like Therese Oneill’s UNMENTIONABLE: A VICTORIAN LADY’S GUIDE TO SEX, MARRIAGE AND MANNERS.  My appetite for science, history, women’s issues and big-think economics is constant, but I’d like to expand my palate with outdoor adventure narrative, graphic or comic novels or grounded fantasy….in short, I look forward to hearing from you!

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The Rise of Iceland In All Things – Even Publishing

For the past year or so, every time I open my Facebook home page, I’m barraged with another set of glorious vacation pictures from Iceland. I’m pretty sure fifty percent of the people I know have been to Iceland now—even Miriam went there. I’m jealous. It looks gorgeous, but mostly I’m fascinated with the way a tiny country has become popular in so many ways. And now, thanks to the amazing performance of their soccer team in the 2016 UEFA European Championship, there’s an even bigger acceleration of interest. And according to this article, their book trade has seen a boost from it.

It stands to reason that people would want to get to know the people of this amazing country that has become so popular, and what better way than through literature?

After taking a course in grad school covering translated literature, I’ve made it a point to read more translated works. I learned through the class how little I know about other cultures, and that the bulk of the books I was reading focused on American culture. Books are supposed to broaden your horizon, and yet, I was being fed the same stories over and over again, learning very little in comparison to when I read about different cultures. I found that through these completely foreign books, I could travel to another country from the comfort of my own home (and without the ridiculous flight costs). I developed a broader love for foreign rituals and traditions, discovered wars and conflicts I never knew existed, experienced new landscapes following characters that know them best, and most importantly, I became a better writer. Maybe even a better person.

So knowing that more Icelandic books will be translated thrills me. Reading an Icelandic book will take me one step closer to my dream vacation! Or at the very least, I may finally understand why Iceland is so cherished.

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Another reason to visit Maine

It’s that time of year again—Maine is on the brain. Stacey took off for Ogunquit this week, and my wife and I started planning our annual August vacation in Damariscotta in earnest last night. Already, we’ve got our tickets on the Hardy Boat for a day trip to Monhegan Island, I’ve planned an overnight camping trip to Acadia with my son, Henry, and we’re heading back to the Chebeague Island Inn for our anniversary. Since we had kids, it seems like our precious vacation days fill up faster than ever. But on the plus side, both boys both tried lobster this past weekend… and liked it!

And as if Maine couldn’t get any better, big news today: a new independent bookstore is opening in Portland. Print: A Bookstore will join the three other independent booksellers in town, and the idea that a city of 100,000 can support four bookstores is sure to warm any booklovers heart. But the more I think about it, books are all around whenever we head up north. Damariscotta, a town of less than 3,000 residents not only has a thriving bookstore in the Maine Coast Book Shop, but the adjacent Skidompha Public Library is the cultural center of town (with possibly the best name ever).

Sadly, Print: A Bookstore won’t be open until October, so we’ll miss it this summer. But knowing that there will be a new place to browse on our way up (we often spend the night in Portland on the way to Damariscotta) is a good incentive to plan a fall trip…

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Animals & Reading

My heart was recently broken this week by this HuffPost article that announced that Browser, the resident library cat of White Settlement Public Library in Texas was being evicted by the city council. He’s lived in the library for over five years (first brought in to help with a mouse problem). Although Browser doesn’t serve an educational purpose, he’s clearly become a fixture in the community—a petition had over 600 signatures to keep Browser in the library—and it got me thinking about the ways that animals can be involved in our reading experiences. Whether it’s your cat obstinately sitting across your book or a dog draped across your feet as you read, many of us have had the company of our pets as we peruse a book. I was pleasantly surprised to find that animals are involved with reading all over the place, with positive benefits for all parties involved.

LOOK AT THAT FACE. And his BOWTIE.

Take, for instance, the Reading with Rover program, sponsored by Animal Friends in Pittsburgh. Shy or struggling readers in grades one through three practice their reading skills by reading out loud to dogs. ARF! is another program sponsored by All for Animals, with a similar idea, for kids grades K-6. On the flip side, one Humane Society in Missouri has started the Shelter Buddies Reading Program, where kids 6-15 can sign up to read to shy or fearful dogs in the shelter and undergo a 10 hour training program. The program director says it helps give the dogs social interaction (which can help them get adopted faster), without pushing physical interaction upon them; young readers simply sit outside their kennel and read aloud. The New Hampshire SPCA also has a similar program.

If there had been something like this in my neighborhood as a kid, I totally would have volunteered. I think it’s a lovely measure that has advantages for everyone involved and one that’s hopefully instilling pleasant and positive memories in young readers who participate! I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter!

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True romance

It’s the Wednesday before July 4th weekend and I was sitting at my desk thinking about what I should write about that’s not too heavy—you know you’re all just thinking burgers, beers, and lounging by a pool right now—when I came across this delightfully obvious article in the HuffPost.  Well, I mean, obvious to me….

I’ve been married for roughly 100 years and was more of a serial monogamist than dater back in the day so I’m not an authority on the subject, but I never had a romantic connection with anyone who didn’t read, didn’t love discussing books and plays, and wasn’t able to tell me in loving detail about the titles that had had the most impact on him.  That, of course, applies to most (all?) of my good friends as well, when I think about it.

Personally, I think the way to anyone’s heart is not through their stomach but through their book collection.  Do you have any stories of meeting cute through books you’d like to share?

Sense and Sensibility

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#AgentsDay

Yesterday was #AgentsDay, one of those fun faux festivals that spring up to give people a theme for their tweets. It made for an encouraging Monday here at the office as many of our amazing clients were inspired by the hashtag to share what they appreciate most about Team @DGLM.

Browse through the hashtag and watch for a familiar name…and don’t forget to follow all our agents on Twitter while you’re over there!

If you’re still querying, #AgentsDay is also a helpful resource for finding agents to follow – many happy authors tagged their agents in their tweets, so click on over to their Twitter profile to start getting to know their lists and personality.

There are a lot of benefits to following a bunch of agents on Twitter! For one, it helps you jumpstart your agent research, which is an important part of the query process. Agents often tweet about new releases from their lists or genres they’re particularly eager to see, so you can narrow down the best match for your manuscript. Sending materials to an agent who doesn’t represent your category wastes your time and theirs! An agent’s Twitter feed is also a good sneak peek of what an agent’s personality is like; if you find someone who seems like the perfect fit for you, you can put extra time and energy into crafting the perfect personalized query to catch their attention, or even find out about opportunities to meet them in person at conferences or workshops. And a lot of agents tweet editing tips and query feedback, from general dos and don’ts to specific feedback on (anonymous) queries as they go through their inbox.

So get to following! We won’t even be mad if you follow agents other than #TeamDGLM. (Just remember: when it comes time to query an agent or follow-up with them, keep it professional and do it through email! )

 

Who are your favorite agents to follow on Twitter? What’s the best writing/querying tip you’ve gotten on Twitter?

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Critical Mass

 

I’m not quite sure why it took so long, but at last we have a literary equivalent to Rotten Tomatoes. Book Marks, which is part of the Literary Hub website, is now up and running.

Just as Rotten Tomatoes does for movies, Bookmarks will aggregate the reviews from professional critics, assigning each new book a grade from A to F according to the consensus of critical opinion. Thumbnail versions of the reviews will be posted, along with links to take you to the full text. There will be a space for average readers to weigh in, too, but the emphasis here is on the major mainstream reviews—ones we may disagree with, but which certainly carry plenty of weight for publishers, booksellers, and book buyers, not to mention the authors whose careers may ultimately be affected for better or worse.

In the age of the internet, received critical opinion has been devalued because anybody at all can now state an opinion and put it out there for the world.  And there’s something to be said for that, as a book’s popularity can often buck the critical tide. In recent years, we’ve seen self-published authors who have become phenomenons without the support of mainstream reviews.

But there’s still something to be said for a perceptive, insightful review by a professional critic who may bring a career’s worth of education and experience to his or her work. Lord knows we may not always agree with their findings. Still, what they have to say will always carry weight within the publishing industry, and Book Marks will make it easy to  find a book’s reviews gathered together at a single keystroke.  And who knows? Maybe it will return to book critics a bit of the respect they’ve missed lately.

I’d love to know from this blog’s readers whether they think they will use this new site or ignore it as just so much “book noise” that’s already out there.

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I believe the children are our future

coverRegular readers of the DGLM blog will already know that I dote on my nephews, and that reading is one of our strongest bonds. The two little goons had their first day of summer vacation this week and asked their mom if they could spend it reading, which pleases me to no end.

Luckily I got to spend this past weekend with them, where I planned to work with them on making a “book.” They’re already fascinated with the fact that their aunt makes books happen—the older one, who I call Fidge, refuses to leave a bookstore without looking for my name in some books, even proudly showing it off to strangers in the same aisle, and the little one, who I call Gus, thinks that my job is International Secret Agent.  Imagine my delight when I arrived at my mother’s this weekend to see that they had already taken it upon themselves to make their own books, without my ever suggesting it.  Fidge wasn’t done with his yet, so I’ll have to wait till next time.

back coverBut Gus?  Gus not only finished his book, he read it to me, then turned it over with a flourish to read the title page that he tells me says “By At Lauren.”  (Having the title page on the back cover is a really bold move. He’s going to really change things up in publishing, I think.) While I don’t actually recommend that new authors sign over their copyright to publishing professionals just to curry favor, I can’t help but be touched.

interiorFor those of you who don’t read Gus-ese, the book is about a turtle who is lonely because he doesn’t have any friends. Then a shark swims by and tells him that he wants to be the turtle’s friend. And then they are friends forever.  I couldn’t be prouder to have “written” it. Picture book editors, shoot me an email if you’re interested.

 

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Book Art

3c9a7c3c1011b71c029716359300f8f8One of my favorite  things to do is to go into a book store and judge book covers. “Gasp! No! This is something you should never do,” you may be thinking. But I think there’s actually merit in appreciating and critiquing the artworks that decorate books. That doesn’t mean I’m judging the writing, though.

The cover of a book is a work of art. There are artists involved in this process, and a lot of time and effort from many different people goes into making them just right. So if you’re not appreciating them or looking at them critically, you’re basically saying that all that effort is a waste of time. In my opinion, going into a bookstore is like going into a museum full of paintings. You may not love or understand every work of art, but you should appreciate its existence.

Here’s a blog that I love. It takes the covers of books and shows how absolutely beautiful they can be.

Bookbento

A photo posted by Book Bento Box (@bookbento) on


And here’s an article that shows some truly gorgeous book covers like this one:

8aaf07f0118381246684b291abef4c23http://drinkmicro.com/25-beautiful-book-covers/

These covers can enrich your home as much as they can your mind. Covers are just one more wonderful thing to love about books!

What are your favorite book covers?