Monday, December 10, 2012

Another Shopping Update

While still frustrating, finding American-made Christmas presents gets slightly easier when I branch out from children's clothes to children's toys. Slightly.

Turns out classic toys like the Slinky and Silly Putty are still made in America. America still makes your basic deck of cards. Certain I Spy and Doctor Suess books were produced here. And organic Play Clay and assorted activity kits can be found here.

For a list that includes wooden blocks, plastic trucks, fairy costumes, stuffed toys etc, check this out: http://toysmadeinamerica.com/

I can afford to spend weeks searching for a single gift for a child that was produced in America. Somehow, I doubt that many middle/working class parents have the time, energy, or extra cash. I suppose that's why the Walmart parking lot is always full.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Shopping Update

My made-in-America Christmas shopping is half over. I just ordered two children's outfits at CWDKids. Not all of their products are American made; there's a specific searchable section.

I am finding it so difficult to find children's clothes that I may stray to other sorts of gifts for the rest of my list. It's disappointing that it could be this hard to find Christmas presents that are made in America.

My search continues. Suggestions are welcome.

A suggestion to share: http://www.toysmadeinamerica.com/clothes.html

Friday, December 7, 2012

Politically Correct Christmas Shopping

Well, I have painted myself into a corner this year. Having slept through the first two weeks of the shopping season following some minor surgery and major painkillers (I'm doing fine now), I am behind in my Christmas shopping.

As of last year, I've been committed to buying American. As I only shop for children, this generally means kids clothing which is nearly impossible to find. America seems to make socks, underwear, scarves and t-shirts. Last year, I was rescued by Etsy.com, a site where you can find hand made gifts by artisans in this country.

I am not sure I have time to sort through the site's inventory or to make a purchase with enough lead time for it to be hand-made and ship by Christmas. I do still recommend the site - but I am looking elsewhere.

And in some of my searches for American-made products, I have found sites that brag of an incarcerated work force, right here on our shores! Even if I was okay with getting cheap labor from prison inmates, this is definitely a bad trend for the American worker. Forcing them to compete with cheap labor from American prisons is no better than forcing them to compete with cheap labor overseas.

So. I found this website that rates companies based on, in part, it's treatment of workers. I'm hoping to find what I'm looking for here. Until I do, I thought I'd share: http://www.free2work.org/

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Book Review: The Condition

I took this book with me to Hawaii even though the hard cover version took up most of my carry-on space. Luckily, I was not disappointed. This is the best book I've read all year.

Jennifer Haigh's novel is a family saga that reads like a post-mortem. With alternating narration, each of the five family members give their perspective on what led to the family's demise and current state. The novel's title, The Condition, seems to refer specifically to one child in the family who has been diagnosed with a rare medical condition called Turner's Syndrome. But throughout the book, it becomes clear that each family member has developed their own "condition" or way of existing that is just as much a part of their identity.

One of the most remarkable things about this book is how completely I fell in love with each character. In fact, while reading a chapter from the daughter's perspective, I could see her mother as a villain and still fall in love with the mother in the following chapter from her perspective. Somehow, I was able to see both sides without feeling inconsistent.

This was exactly the kind of book I like to read and it managed to be very easy to relate to in spite of what may seem like a too-specific story-line. The weird thing is that I sometimes felt like I was reading about my own family, even though absolutely none of the external details are the same. It's the feeling she captures so brilliantly.

I am especially excited that I found a new (to me) author whose books I can now devour!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's that time of year again. Hard to believe I've been doing this  blog for over a year now. Last Thanksgiving, I was camped out at my parents' place, waiting for the sale to close on my house in Tucson. This year, the parents are at my house for turkey dinner!

For me, Thanksgiving marks the beginning of Christmas shopping season, but I do not participate in Black Friday and I am definitely not a fan of stores open today that deprive workers of a holiday to satisfy America's ever-growing consumerism.


So I will be trying to buy American again this year. If you remember from last year, I found this to be a much bigger challenge than I expected. I still only do gifts for children (well, if the boyfriend is lucky, maybe I'll branch out.) And I expect to find myself back at etsy.com, where you can buy handmade gifts from artists around the country.

I will share my finds and I'd love any suggestions you have.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Book Review: A Friend of the Family

As Lauren Grodstein's novel opens, the narrator is lost. Pete is living in the studio above his garage while his wife contemplates divorce and his estranged son appears to be finished with him. His medical practice has disowned him as a malpractice case looms. He's being harrassed by the family of a former patient and he's avoiding phone calls from his best friend.

It takes the majority of the book to get to the root of this mystery and the quantity of back story does seem tedious at times. But on the whole, the narrative is rich and complex and I was willing to lose myself in it. None of the characters is wholly likeable, especially the narrator who is controlling of his adult son Alec and admits that he'd rather have grandchildren than a happy child. The least likeable character is Laura, the troubled daughter of Pete's friend who woos Alec, to Pete's horror. Laura is an excellent villain and as flawed as Pete is, he's the only one who recognizes the real danger she poses.

A Friend of the Family is morally complicated. The simplicity of Pete's "right is right, wrong is wrong" mentality is challenged and it challenges the reader. The conclusion is not neat and happy- and it shouldn't be.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Vacation!


We timed our trip north just right. While we were in Flagstaff, we had mornings in the 40s and sunny days in the 70s. At the Grand Canyon, it was low 90s and beautiful. We went the first week of October, right before the cold snap.
It was my first time seeing the Grand Canyon and it lived up to my expectations.
The prettiest thing we saw was Spider Rock at Canyon de Chelly.


We crammed a whole lot in, swinging past the Petrified Forest before we went home.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Kitchen Renovation

For the past six months I've been living with a partially demolished kitchen while I waited for the funds and the motivation to finish the renovations. It was the last project after doing the bathroom, flooring, paint, stucco, etc for the rest of the house.
old cabinets, old ceiling light, new paint on left wall: azores

day one: lower cabinet frames built

day two: upper cabinets in, ceiling light out

day three: counters and range

finished!

new ceiling light!

Big thanks to my mom and my boyfriend for all their help. Couldn't have done it without them (well, I could have, but it would have taken my amazing contractor twice as long and cost twice as much!) Today I got to be domestic, doing dishes and settling in. I love that everything has a place now and when I reach for something, it's right where it should be.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Book Review: The Widower's Tale

Julia Glass is one of my favorite authors. It's always with a bit of trepidation that I read new books from old favorites. The mysterious combination of my too-high hopes and the lower standard known authors must meet to be published often ends with disappointment.

But not this time. I wouldn't say The Widower's Tale was Glass' best novel - she'll be hard pressed to outdo The Whole World Over, in my eyes - but I enjoyed every minute of this read.

The plot is not something that I would have thought would appeal to me and I was surprised to find myself so interested when the four POV characters were all men, none of whom I have much in common with (the old widower, the Harvard boy, the gay teacher, the undocumented day laborer). But Glass' strength is in creating characters that are so three-dimensional with complicated, unique histories that make them come alive and make you root for them.

The plot doesn't matter. This is character-driven fiction about family dynamics and community inter-connection. If, like me, you like being lost in the believable lives of imaginary people, you'll enjoy this book.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Monsoon Season: Process

In case you missed Claire's blog, here's the Q&A I did when Monsoon Season was first released in July:


I caught up with Katie - sadly not over coffee, since distance prevented that - and asked her a little about life as one of that rare and venerated breed, a Published Writer.
In three words, can you describe...

Yourself? introspective, quirky, optimistic
Your book? connection, growth, strength
Writing, as an experience? personal, satisfying, vulnerable

You say you've been writing "seriously" for about a decade. What does "seriously" look like to you? 

 For me, ‘seriously’ means with an eye toward publication, a concept of an audience. I’ve always written, but when I was younger, I kept my writing private. Writing ‘seriously’ means getting comfortable being read, throwing yourself into the critique process and developing a thick skin.

How does it feel to finally be published? 

It doesn’t feel real yet. I don’t know when it will. I had a little book party to celebrate with friends and I did a reading. I’m loving that people are finally reading it and I’m getting feedback. I check my amazon reviews daily. And also, my extended family is reading it and I’m getting responses trickling in. That’s really rewarding.

Are you able to give us any sneak peaks into the other two novels that are to be published? 
 
The next one is about cousins who reunite as adults after a long separation during childhood. They were close as children but have lived very different lives after the divorce of one set of parents and the ramifications of that. It’s another book that alternates narration and it includes the perspective of their grandmother. It deals with the repetition of family history and issues of identity. Like, how much of who we are is already determined when we’re ten years old? What can a decade of separation do to change who we are?
The third book has a single narrator. Jenna is a people-pleaser dealing with the death of a parent when she unearths a family secret.

Are there recurring themes in your fiction - dysfunctional relationships, families, longing for home, something else?

Absolutely. For me, family dynamics are fascinating. Patterns that get repeated through generations, often unconsciously. I also like strong female characters who are more interested in finding their path in life than finding Mr. Right.

What advice would you have for people who are just beginning to write?

 
Get comfortable being read. It can take years to figure out which feedback to take on and when to go with your gut. It’s a tricky balance. To a certain extent we write for ourselves, but there comes a point when you have to concern yourself with your reader. 

And how about for writers who are discouraged because they can't find a publisher? 
 
I think it’s really hard. I think there is no shortage of writing talent, which makes the competition fierce. Plenty of crap gets published, promoted and purchased. And good writing that doesn’t get into the right hands will never see the light of day. It’s discouraging. I think you have to be really persistent.
The other thing is that you should really examine your motivations. Do you want the credibility of getting published? Fame and fortune? Readers? These are actually different things and there are different routes to get there.

Do you have a writing "routine", a favourite time and place?
 
I tend to write in the evening with music playing.

What are you working on now? 

I have a trio of characters percolating in my head. They’re unlikely friends- like two of them only know each other because of the third person. I think we all have people like that in our life- people we might not be friends with if it weren’t for the fact that they’re family or they married in or they helped us through a really tough time in life and we’re loyal to that. It broadens our world view. I haven’t figured out what their story is yet. I’m still getting to know them.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

I got mail!

The internet is weird and wonderful. I have made several friends through the website Authonomy, writers whose work I admire and whose advice I trust. I have never met them in person, but many are good for a pep talk or a last minute critique.

One such friend is Dave Ocelot, the author of Baggage Carousel, my favorite book on Authonomy. It is currently ranked number 50 (higher than I ever got) and I look forward to the day he gets published and I can say I knew him when.

Until then, we've made a little trade. I sent him a signed copy of Monsoon Season and he sent me God's Own Country by Ross Raisin. The blurb on the back says it's "brilliantly comic and deeply unsettling" which would be an apt description of Ocelot's writing as well.

I am in the middle of another book, but this one's next up. I can't wait.

mail from England!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Top 100 on Amazon.uk

Monsoon Season has a British publisher so a lot of the marketing is happening across the pond. For the last week, my amaon.uk rank has been phenomenal. I broke into the top 100 last weekend and I'm currently #36 in fiction!

I've been following my rank all week, watching the arrow go from green to red (ack!) and back to green. It's been very reminiscent of my time on Authonomy when the quality of my day was often dependent on the color of the arrow there. (My friends on Authonomy will relate to this, I'm sure.)

It isn't quite ruling my mood, though I do check it obsessively. Even a red arrow is good when the rank is in the thirties or forties! My book is up there with Fifty Shades of Grey and The Great Gatsby! I have no idea how long this can last, but I'm enjoying every minute!

If you'd like to help my US rank do as well, you can purchase it here. So far, I have ten 5-star reviews and it's only been out for one month.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Monsoon Season: Publication

My first novel was published last month and I did the following blog interview, "Recently In Print", for the Out of Print Writing blog. I wanted to share it here for anyone who missed it the first time.



Today is publication day of Katie O’Rourke’s first novel Monsoon Season. Happy publication day, Katie! A few weeks ago, I approached Katie with a series of questions about how she became a published author. Here is what she had to say…
Was Monsoon Season the first book you wrote and how long did it take you to complete?
Monsoon Season is my first book. I started writing it ten years ago and I think I spent the first year walking around thinking about the characters and who they were and what their story would be. I ‘finished’ it and submitted to some agents unsuccessfully. I remember getting a couple responses of ‘we'd love to see your next book’ and I was sort of overwhelmed by that because I didn't have a ‘next book’. So I took a break from it and wrote two other books and then I went back to it with fresh eyes and was able to rewrite it.
How many publishers/agents had you sent your book to before you found one that wanted to publish it?
I mostly focused on agents and I submitted it in various forms over many years. I've lost count, but I'd ballpark it at 50.
Please describe how your relationship started with your eventual publisher Canvas (imprint of Constable & Robinson).
I posted Monsoon Season online at authonomy.com. An editor found me there and expressed interest in reading the full manuscript and then the other two manuscripts I had completed at the time. I was actually a bit skeptical because a lot of the people who approach you online are after you to pay them. I don't think I completely relaxed until I had a signed contract and the advance was in my bank account! That probably took about six months. I don't remember exactly how long I was active on authonomy, but my book was ranked in the sixties when I had to take it down because I had a publishing contract.
Who was the first person you told that you were getting your book published and how was this moment?
I think it was probably my mother and we were on the phone. I was also in the middle of purchasing my first home which was a roller coaster of a process. In my memory, the two things are all mixed together and I felt an extreme gratitude of everything falling into place at once. I was wrong though – the house actually fell through. Luckily the book didn't!
How have you found the publishing process and working with an editor on your book?
That was harder than I expected. I've developed a pretty thick skin when it comes to critique and an ability to filter out advice that doesn't resonate with my vision. I'm the writer. But there's a different balance you have to negotiate when the advice you're getting comes with the weight of being the reason you're getting published at all. Suddenly their opinion counts for more and I found myself struggling with whether I could trust their edits. I ran some advice by trusted writer friends and found it really comforting when they agreed with my editor.
How has becoming an 'in print' writer changed you and where to from here?
I'm still figuring that out. Publication is July 19th and I have two more books coming out after that. It's so exciting. For the last six months, I've been doing more editing than writing and I expect more of that for the next books. I'm looking forward to having time to focus on the writing again soon.

More from this blogger can be found here.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Partial Book Review: A Short History of Women

A Short History of Women is a multi-generational family saga that focuses on women's lives and how their struggles have changed (or not) over time. I loved the concept, but I read three chapters and I'm bored. I can't connect to any of the narrators. The family tree at the beginning doesn't help keep the characters straight because they all have the same names. There are four Dorothy's and nearly as many James's.

Normally, I will suffer through a rotten book, but I am reminded of some advice I gave recently: Your time is valuable. There are so many great books; don't waste time on stinker.

So I'm moving on. I already have another book lined up. And next time I pick a book, I will pay more attention to the Amazon reviews. If I had read them first, I never would have purchased this book.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Book Review: The Lover's Dictionary

I really enjoyed the clever format of this book by David Levithan. Each entry is a word and the scene that follows relates the word to the relationship. At first, it seems disorganized since it isn't sequential in terms of time; it's in alphabetical order. But after the first few pages, it begins to solidify.

There are two threads that run through the entries which create the plot that makes this a novel rather then a list of words and random anecdotes. These two threads are alcoholism and infidelity, which lend some seriousness to an otherwise lighthearted picture of a couple falling in love.

It's a quick read and makes for a good gift for a lover. (At least, I think so. You'd have to ask my boyfriend if he agrees.)

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Not a Book Review: Fifty Shades of Grey

I can't review this book because I didn't read it. I heard about it, read some hilarious bad reviews and some less convincing (but even more numerous) good ones, skimmed through it in a book store and found nothing in it that appealed to me.

End of.

What drives me crazy is the number of readers who did the same thing, found nothing personally appealing about the book, but BOUGHT IT ANYWAY. Why? I hear two main reasons:

"To see what the fuss is about" which translates, as far as I can tell, into peer pressure. Wanting to fit in with the rest of the crowd.

To write a review about how bad this book is and to write it with the authority of someone who read it cover to cover.

Blech. I don't know which of these appeals to me less- the idea of being a sheep or being an arrogant know-it-all. (Although some of the hater reviews really are funny, like this one from The Guardian, suggesting the real appeal of this book isn't the sex but the hero's frequent demand that the heroine EAT- confronting what is a much more titillating taboo in this day and age than sex is.)

People are so eager to convince others that this book is good or bad. I'd suggest neither is provable because it is completely relative. It isn't about whether it's good or bad - it's about whether it's to your taste. I have never read (or watched) Harry Potter or Twilight and I have no desire to convince you that they're crap. Are you a fan? Cool. I didn't find them appealing so I spent my time reading other stuff. Was my stuff better? Impossible to say. But it was more to my taste.

The good vs bad argument is not worth having. Plenty of people liked this book. Just check out the THOUSANDS of reviews, mostly positive, on Goodreads.

Is something good if enough people agree that it's good? If a publisher gets behind it with an intense marketing plan? If it receives critical acclaim?

I tend to think it's more personal than that. It's good if you liked it.

And if you don't like it, don't read it! Simple. And for heaven's sake, don't buy it! There are so many amazing books out there. Never suffer through hundreds of pages to prove something you knew when you skimmed it in the book in the store. Instead, spend your hard earned money on something you might actually enjoy.

Consider one of these:
A Visit from the Goon Squad, which I reviewed here.
The Bluest Eye or The Poisonwood Bible, my all-time favorite books.
Monsoon Season, my own humble offering.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Book Review: By Nightfall

I love Michael Cunningham. I thought The Hours was genius, even enjoyed his rough first stab at writing with A Home at the End of the World, but my all-time favorite was Flesh and Blood.

Unfortunately, By Nightfall was missing the essential connection to the characters that made those books so great. Peter is vapid and self-obsessed. He’s a wealthy, white man living in New York City and finding his pampered life just slightly underwhelming. I found myself hoping some huge catastrophe would befall him - not because I need fiction to be dramatic, but because he is so extremely privileged it would take an enormous tragedy to bring him down to earth, make him relatable.

The book is narrated by Peter- sometimes in third person, sometimes in second or first. The reader is in his head as he talks to himself about every mundane and superficial thing under the sun. He’s an art dealer, frustrated because he has yet to find an artist with real genius, someone that truly moves him and gives meaning to his life. When his wife’s much younger brother comes to stay with them, Peter views him as a mixture of his wife when she was in her twenties and his brother who died in his twenties. This leads Peter to question his sexuality and consider running away from his marriage, his job, and his life in New York.

Of course, Peter isn’t really in love with his brother-in-law; he just wants to break free of his life.

The little twist at the end was almost redeeming. Almost. This might have worked as a short story, trimming out the three-page description of an urn, the play-by-play of a dull work day, his constant self-conscious musings. And maybe we could have gotten a single description of his brother-in-law’s profile instead of - I don’t know - twenty?

There were good things here. His description of his long marriage, the intense love coupled with a desire for escape from it, the depiction of their lovemaking toward the beginning of the book, the honesty with which he recognizes his wife getting older. For me, this relationship was the most interesting part of the book. There was just so much else to slog through.

I wonder about the advice they give to writers to “write what you know.” Has Cunningham reached such a high level of success that all he knows are rich people, living in New York City, discussing art and whining about their not quite fulfilling lives? I’m getting really tired of literary fiction that is a slight variation on this same theme.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Monsoon Season: Inspiration

My first novel was published last week and I wrote the following for a guest blog, Confessions of a Bookaholic. I wanted to share it here for anyone who missed it the first time.
The inspiration for this book, and for any of my books, is the characters. Monsoon Season is my first book and I probably spent a good year walking around thinking about it before I sat down and started really writing.
Before this book, I had written mostly short stories and it was quite daunting to imagine having enough to say to sustain a book-length project. The first part of that was feeling like I had a main character that was compelling enough to make a reader want to follow her for 200-some-odd pages. So I spent a lot of time thinking about Riley. Who is she? What makes her special? What’s her story?
Which brought me to the second part: the plot. For me, the story isn’t really about abuse. It’s about Riley and that’s just one of the obstacles in her path. She’s also negotiating her relationship with her parents- separating from them while finding a way to stay close. I think that’s a really tricky balance to strike when you’re in your early twenties, becoming your own person. She’s figuring that out with all the relationships in her life- how much to lean on people without being needy. I find that broader struggle in my own life, in this culture generally. Needing people is part of what makes us human and yet we so often fight it.
There is a feminist undercurrent in my writing and as much as I try not to hit readers over the head with THE MORAL OF THE STORY, I think the scene that best explains my intention in using an abuse element in Monsoon Season is the phone conversation between Riley and Jack. Riley’s suffering from a broken heart and trying to let Ben off the hook because what she’s experiencing doesn’t feel like what she’s been taught to look out for. And I think that’s the danger in those made-for-tv-movie/after-school-special depictions of abuse. It’s such a black-and-white stereotype that it seems different from real life. Real life is so much more complicated and filled with grey areas.
Ben is not evil. It would be so much easier to dismiss him that way and move on. But I want my reader to have compassion for him, to understand why Riley is still in love with him. If the reader is also hoping Riley will break free of him, that’s okay. I think those two ideas can exist simultaneously. That’s how life is and, hopefully, what makes the book resonate with readers.
More book reviews can be found here.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Monsoon Season: now in paperback!

So it has been a week since the e-book was published and I have received six 5-star reviews on my Amazon page.

I just got permission from my publisher to give out the link for the print copies I had made up. Now those of you who are still resistant to the technological advances that bring us e-readers have no excuse for not reading my book.

Here it is on paperback.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Monsoon Season: Book Party!

The last few days have been a whirlwind of excitement.

On Wednesday, the shipment of print books for Monsoon Season arrived:
On Thursday, one of my best friends from home flew to Tucson from the East Coast. On Friday, we had a little book party to celebrate Monsoon Season's digital publication. There were snacks and games and my lovely friends even bullied me into doing a reading. On Saturday, I acted as tour guide, navigating the drive up Mt Lemmon and to other notable sites in Tucson, like the mall and the casino. On Sunday, we took Debbie to the airport in Phoenix (after some authentic Mexican for lunch) and I tortured the boyfriend with a trip to Ikea.

Busy, busy. The really good kind.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Monsoon Season: Some links

With publication of Monsoon Season days away, there have already been a few advance reviews.

Here's the review by Qualities of Wood author Mary Vensel White.

Here are reviews by book bloggers:
Lookatmybooks
Mamajheart 
Lucybirdbooks 
Literaryinklings

Here's a guest blog about my inspiration for Monsoon Season.

A guest blog about my journey to publication.

Order your copy here:
http://www.amazon.com/Monsoon-Season-ebook/dp/B0070TREUS

Monday, July 16, 2012

Truth vs. Fiction: Monsoon Season

Since my interview yesterday with Patrick Blackburn, I've thought a lot about my own use of the real world in the stories I write. Like he said, people often make assumptions about the author even when what they write claims to be fiction. Especially when the author admits some of it is true.

But there are different kinds of truth. Patrick gave an example of a situation that had happened, but at another time. I'd like to give an example of something that happened that had a different meaning for me than for the character I attribute it to.

This is an interaction that happened between my dad and me. Nearly exactly. But it didn't mean for us what I use it to mean for Riley- which is to illuminate her strained relationship with her father. When it happened in my life, I thought two things:
  1. That was hilarious
  2. That would be a great scene in the book I'm writing
Here it is:

  At Applebee’s the silence was unavoidable. My father looked past me at a muted basketball game. He had a gash across his right eyebrow; the blood had dried thick and almost black. A bruise disappeared beneath his navy blue crew neck, presumably where the seatbelt had caught him at the shoulder, keeping him in one piece.
  He looked at me across the table. It occurred to me it might have been the first time he’d looked right at me the entire day. And then I realized he wasn’t looking at me at all. I’d thought he was making eye contact when really he was peering at a spot somewhere between my eyes. He was squinting, frowning.
  ‘You’ve got a little something . . .’ he said, his voice trailing off. He touched the bridge of his nose to indicate where.
  ‘Oh,’ I said, startled, sitting up straighter. I dipped the corner of a paper napkin into my ice water. I dabbed at my nose where he had suggested.
  He shook his head. It hadn’t worked. I held up the silver napkin dispenser to look at my reflection. It took me a moment to see what he saw.
  It was a freckle. It had been there my whole life.
  I looked up at him. He was reading the menu.
                                                                -Monsoon Season

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Interview: Patrick Blackburn

Patrick Blackburn, author of Cupid Missed, was nice enough to agree to do a little blog interview. This is my first interview and his response was so interesting that I'm not going to edit it and splice it in with my questions. I'll just give you the whole chunk.

My questions:
OK, So I promise not to do the annoying thing where I ask which things in the book are fiction and which are from your actual life (ie: did you really have sex with a french girl on a train?) Nope, don't give me specifics. That's part of the beauty of it- not knowing.
But can you ballpark the percent? 50/50, 80/20? Is that an annoying question too? Are you fielding this kind of question a lot?
Can you speak to negotiating your relationship with the woman who serves as inspiration for Kate? How did she react? And what are your thoughts generally about the ethics of using real people in fiction?
Did you wrestle with the idea of becoming vulnerable by revealing so much of yourself in the book? Yes, it's fiction, but I imagine the people who know you really well can recognize you in it. And readers may make assumptions about you as if they know you. Does this make you uncomfortable?
 His answers:
Your questions are funny. You sound like, “Tell me. Wait! Don’t tell me! No Tell Me. No…” I’m often asked about what’s true, and my basic rule is that if you want to know, I’ll tell you. I’ve had a ton of people ask me about the sex scene on the train. It’s the second most asked-about scene (#1 is far and away the oxycontin scene). Since you have expressed an interest in not knowing, I will refrain from going further on this subject.

Having said that, it’s kind of difficult to ballpark the percent without some explanation, but that very explanation may tell you more than you want to hear. I’ll answer it this way: About 80% of “Cupid Missed” is true and happened to me. However, a portion of that 80% is a little misleading—some things happened to me at another time in my life and they were injected into the book to fit the timeline. I’ll give you an example that I don’t think violates your request of not knowing. The scene in Amsterdam when Matthew wanders into the sex show absolutely happened exactly as written—only ten years ago when I traveled to Holland with a friend of mine. And the friend was with me—I wasn’t alone.

I struggled with how to categorize “Cupid Missed” for a long time. I really wanted it to be a memoir, but I knew I wouldn’t be truthful if I did that. We all saw what happened to James Frey when he got caught, uh, stretching the truth. He taught every non-fiction writer a valuable lesson—either it is ALL true, or it’s fiction. Judges tell jurors that if a witness is caught in a lie, then it is acceptable (even expected) to consider all the testimony a lie. I feel the same way with a memoir. I thought about calling it a “fictionalized memoir,” but found myself explaining the term more than I wanted. Finally, I came to grips with the fact that I had a novel on my hands, It just had a lot of true stuff in it.

The question about vulnerability is a good one. I really struggled with that—both for me and for the “ex” in question. First, me: I’ve always been pretty open, but still had to give it some serious thought. Do I want the “true” events really known by everyone? Do I want the fictional scenes to be attributed to me? The latter is actually what I struggled with the most (Hmm…is that revealing too much?).

Readers are going to make assumptions about every writer who publishes a book. I’ll give you an example: Gillian Flynn’s new #1 bestseller, “Gone Girl,” is an extremely harsh and unsettling story of a marriage gone bad. The sex is graphic and brutal, the language biting and raw. I found myself looking at the author pic several times while reading and thinking, “This cute, innocent-looking, professional woman is writing this?” My first book (unpublished) is a mystery about someone who preys on children. I did a lot of research and uncovered a lot of dark stuff (some stuff I wish I hadn’t found). I worried a ton more about what people thought about me with that book than with “Cupid Missed,” which is kind of funny considering how much truth is my current book. I’m not sure what that says about me, but I think any time an author puts his or her work out there, they have to deal with the knowledge that people are going to make some assumptions about you that they may not have made had they not read your book.
 About the ex: Three years ago, she read an early draft and really hated it. I mean, she was pissed. She claimed she stopped reading after Chapter 10 (which to this day I find hard to believe. Come on, if someone wrote a story about you, could you stop reading?) Granted, it was a different book three years ago. I didn’t have the benefit of time, so some of the scenes were raw and, well, pretty mean. Only a handful of people know who the real Kate is, and they aren’t going to “out” her.
About a month before “Cupid Missed” was published, I contacted her and let her know it was coming out. She was fine with it and offered her congratulations. Time heals all. And I really think readers will see a little of themselves in both the main characters. We aren’t all victim, and we aren’t all antagonist, either. My goal was for the reader to understand what happened and why it impacted me the way that it did, but not to totally hate Kate. Sure, she made some mistakes in the relationships, but come on, who hasn’t?

The real “Kate” even joked that she would come to one of the book signings, which would make for a really interesting Q&A. I’m sure she won’t be there, but I think the comment shows that time has given her the space she needs to be okay with our story being out there.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Book Review: Cupid Missed

Cupid Missed 

Patrick Blackburn’s debut novel is clearly a work of semi-autobiographical fiction. It’s impossible to say how much of it is true- is this a memoir with the names changed? I am quite sure Blackburn had his heart broken in a very similar style. I’m not just intuiting this; I have actually spoken to the author. Maybe he’ll do an interview on this blog and we can explore the subject further. That blurry line between truth and fiction is endlessly fascinating to me and one that I play with in my own writing.

Cupid Missed is advertised as a story of a break-up told from the male perspective. The claim is that he didn’t see it coming. Actually, though, he did see it coming – but that doesn’t keep him from falling apart.

The book opens with Matthew trying to get anxiety medication from his doctor. It’s post-break-up and he’s a mess. The voice here is the best part of the story. It’s brutally honest and he speaks directly to the reader. You’re immediately on his side and feeling for him even with his sometimes irrational behavior. (He pretty much cyber stalks the new boyfriend.) You find yourself shaking your head at many of the things he does, but at the same time, you understand.

The first half is fast-paced and hilarious- in a dark humor kind of way. The second half is a bit slower. He goes traveling through Europe to clear his head and the focus is much more on traveling and almost reads as a guide-book, reviews of airlines, restaurants, books and bands included. This does mimic a shift in the narrator’s mind. His confessional, self-conscious style reminded me of Dave Egger’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.

The final chapter written one year later seems to provide the kind of distance required for Matthew to make those important discoveries that can only come with time. Closure. Anyone who has gone through a difficult break-up can relate to this journey.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Print cover!

These are the print covers I made up on CreateSpace. Like the rest of the process, it wasn't exactly easy. I tried to just use the cover image from my publisher, but the site wouldn't accept it because the text was too close to the edges. So I got my publisher to send me an image without text and I added the text myself. The font on this is actually a little different from the e-book. I think it looks gorgeous. What do you think?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

CreateSpace: It Takes a Village

To format some paper copies of my book, I needed all kinds of help. I needed to use my boyfriend's laptop with a current version of Word. He also figured out how to do the page numbering. Patrick Blackburn was nice enough to convert my PDF file into Word, saving me hours of editing. I accessed Jason Mathew's facebook group to help me figure out the line spacing issue that had to do with switching off the orphan/widow option. Or switching it on? I already forget. And then there was google to help with things like embedding font, which I never got right- I just switched to a more common font.

So, the bottom line is that CreateSpace is not easy to figure out for your average, non-computer-geek, but it can be done. With help. And the upside is that it's a lot cheaper than other sites (I got five copies with shipping for under $25.) And the slowest shipping option took much less time than it said.

For me, it was worth the extra time and head-ache and I'm happy with the final product. I want to thank everyone who helped me!

(The above is a limited edition cover. I'll be posting the final cover when I get them in the mail.)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

In the publisher's catalog!

I got the Constable & Robinson catalog in the mail!
The best part is that I'm on page 43:



Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Computer savvy

That is not a word that would ever be used to describe me. So this idea I had to create some print copies of my book that is set to be digitally published in July... well, it is kicking my ass.

I checked out Lulu and Createspace, the two names I recognized. On first glance, it seemed Lulu was easier, but more expensive. A few steps in, Lulu became just as complicated so I'm opting for the cheaper route. This way I can afford to make up a few dozen books to display and sign at my book party in July. Plus, there are those members of my family who refuse to get with the times and start reading digitally. I understand. I still don't own a Kindle.

So far, I've uploaded the cover art and just have to format the interior. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Sexist Reading Habits

I was having a conversation recently about how the majority of readers are women and then I wondered what the numbers are. So I looked it up. This article puts it at an 80/20 split, meaning that women make up 80% of book-buyers. And despite their clear domination over the market, it is still geared toward men.

The article above mentions how the vast majority of books are reviewed by men and they're reading male authors. This is crazy-making as a female writer who is hesitant to embrace the women's fiction label. There's a reason this genre does so well- most readers are women!- but this tag alienates a male audience.

When I had my work posted on authonomy, there was no women's fiction tag and half of the readers supporting my book were men. I am a woman and my main character is a woman, but I don't understand why that means only women should read my book. I read books written by men with male protagonists and I never think: "Wow. That was such a guy story. Can't relate."

I can't decide whether women should be insulted that men won't read our work or if men should be insulted that the people advertising books don't think they're capable of reading outside their gender.

I'm pretty sure it's insulting though, one way or the other.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Pima Writer's Workshop - A Look Back

So I said I'd talk more about this and then I got distracted. It has been a week since the workshop and I thought it was worth sharing the big take-away from the weekend.

The speakers, most of them published authors, had some differing advice on many of the issues that came up repeatedly. Some described their writing as something they were driven to do; others as something they more or less fell into as adults. When one speaker was asked what to do when you're characters begin to misbehave, he seemed perplexed. His advice was to remember that as the writer, you are in charge. Another speaker gave a whole talk that focused on the concept of allowing the protagonist to take control of the story. There was also a mixed perspective on whether the main character needs to change in order to have a successful story.

What seemed to be the only point these writers agreed on was that there are no hard and fast rules for writing a great story. Each speaker would give their way of doing it, followed quickly with a "but that's me" disclaimer. It was reassuring to me. I didn't feel like any of them were experts, exactly, and I worried a bit for people in the audience scribbling down their words as if they were definitive.

Each speaker represented another facet of the writing prism and I think that was actually much more helpful than if they'd all had a unified message.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Monsoon Season: Book Review

I just got a review for Monsoon Season from Mary Vensel White, author of HarperCollins' The Qualities of Wood:

Monsoon Season is the story of Riley and Ben, two young adults who meet and fall in love. Author Katie O’Rourke handles the burgeoning relationship with deft hands, showing in moments and gestures how the two become acquainted and enamored. Here, Riley’s hand meets Ben’s amidst sparks and spasms; there, he reaches down and readjusts the blankets to cover her cold feet. Facets of their personalities emerge as we follow their movements. They spend hours playing board games and staying in, and days exploring the surrounds of Tucson, where Riley has moved from the east coast after graduating college. The terrain is foreign and new, as is the landscape of the relationship.

And yet Monsoon Season begins with Riley on a bus, en route to her childhood home and separating from Ben. From the intimacy of their fledgling love, the novel’s lens widens to include a supporting cast. Donna, Riley’s roommate who has stood by as one friend after another abandons her for romantic pursuits. Laura, Riley’s childhood friend who got married young, after an unexpected pregnancy. Ben’s mother, Teresa, still dealing with the repercussions from her own marriage. And Riley’s parents, Mark and Carol, a seemingly normal middle-aged couple who may have more problems than they let on. As the young couple’s circle widens, as the past and present come together to illuminate how they have found themselves in their current state, we begin to understand the complexity of their relationship (of all relationships), and the influences they’ve absorbed. And like the cracked Arizona earth unable to withstand the torrent of a monsoon, Riley finds herself at the center of a storm, life launching an onslaught from all sides. In the end, she must either drown or dry herself off.

Monsoon Season is touching and feels honest; at times, the prose is lyrical and knowingly observant. Part coming-of-age, part love story, part family drama, it is peopled with vivid characters and tells a story that pulls at the heart and engages the mind. This is what it’s like to love someone, to make a mistake, to start over. These universalities and their nuanced delivery are the strength of Katie O’Rourke’s debut novel.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Pima Writer's Workshop - Day Three

Today's most helpful speech was Joshua Mohr's Character-driven Plotting: Why Our Characters are in Charge. As a writer who considers my characters the whole point of the story - I've often said plot is just something I have to include in order to spend time with the people I make up - I was really interested in what he had to say.

Mohr explained that our main characters need to WANT something, that they should face an internal and external conflict and we need to create impediments to them achieving their goals. He suggests writers allow their protagonists to decide what's meaningful, even if that means that the writer has to "tussle" with their main character.

At the close of his speech, Mohr urged us all to have fun in our writing process and to "enjoy playing with your imaginary friends." This feels much more connected to the kind of writer I am than the tortured writers that seem to be considered the norm. The diversity of writers at the workshop was something refreshing and noticeable. More on that in my next post.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Pima Writer's Workshop - Day Two

Today I ran into some of my old writer friends. It was nice to reconnect and it makes Tucson feel even more like home.

The first speaker of the day was Kevin Canty, an author of several novels and short story collections. His speech was How to Steal: Reading as a Writer. He spoke of the blurry line that exists because "we're all derivative, working within the tradition we've inherited". This session was very interactive, with the audience deliberating over what is acceptable to "steal" from another writer. Metaphor? Cadence? A clever turn of phrase?

My own feeling is that anything that can be considered fair game - like a metaphor that has been used so much that it doesn't really belong to any one writer - is tired and not worth using. On the other hand, anything original enough to want to "steal" should be off limits.

Canty's advice was somewhat along those lines: decide what it is you like about the line and find your own way of saying it.
He made another comment about blurry lines - the one between fiction and non-fiction - and the public perception these days that "if you write fiction, they assume it's about real people and if you write non-fiction, they assume you made it up."

Friday, May 25, 2012

Pima Writers' Workshop - Day One

I just moved back to Tucson and one of the things I've been looking forward to is the ability to attend the annual Pima Writers' Workshop. I've attended previous years and missed it. It's a little different this time because I don't have to listen as closely to the speeches about how to get an agent.

My favorite speaker of the day was Justin Torres, author of the semi-autobiographical novel We The Animals. His speech, Writing from Personal Experience,  was about the dilemma many writers face when using material from their own lives in their fiction. While writing a story that so closely resembled his own difficult childhood, he found himself having to reconcile the value the book could have to a the world with the pain it could cause to his own family.

I can relate to this dilemma. While Monsoon Season is not strictly autobiographical, there are certainly bits of my life that my loved ones will find familiar. Torres spoke of the benefit of using the fiction label to mask autobiography - that his readers will never really know which parts of his book are from reality and which are from his imagination. In this way, he conveys "emotional truth without factual constraint."

Perhaps that is what all good fiction does.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The author site

I've been working on this for awhile, so I'm excited to unveil my new author's site. Here, I will keep you updated on all things directly related to my books - release dates, reviews, etc. I will still be blogging - mostly as a reader, but also with in depth stories about the publishing process through the eyes of an author.

I hope you like it!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Being braggy

I am working on my author's site right now. It isn't done yet, but I thought I'd share one of my favorite comments for Monsoon Season:
"Reading the first chapter immediately put me in mind of the likes of Margaret Atwood and Alice Sebold. This is literary fiction with real emotional strength. Moments of seemingly quiet devastation rise up to suddenly punch you in the gut - the scene where Riley's father thinks she has something on her face which turns out to be a freckle says more about a strained relationship in a couple of lines than I've seen entire novels take five chapters to do. Yet, in spite of the immediate tragedy in the novel's opening chapter, Katie O'Rourke manages to inject subtle moments of humour that give her protagonist both credibility and above all, humanity."
                                                   -Malcolm Richards, The Hiding House

Richards' book is one that I enjoyed from authonomy.com and it means so much more coming from a writer I respect.

Friday, May 18, 2012

One more time

I just got the final copy of Monsoon Season - the one that's being sent to the type setter. The layout is book shaped, not just another word processing document like the one I've been staring at and working on for the last several years.

It's beautiful.

I have to read through it and make sure there are no typos. One more read of Monsoon Season and it gets sent off. Out of my hands and into the world.

Off to read it for the 3,000,001st time.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Book Review: The Long Way Home

Karen McQuestion is the author of A Scattered Life, which I reviewed several months back. I think I'd have to say I didn't like this one quite as much- but that's less a criticism of this book and more a continued gushing for her first.

In The Long Way Home, four women become unlikely travel companions, drawn together by grief and a common need for change in their lives. Each woman is feeling stuck in her own way. Marnie's long time boyfriend has died suddenly, resulting in the even deeper loss of the boy she raised for the last decade. Rita is learning to cope with the death of her daughter and the injustice of her unsolved murder. Laverne is settling into her widowhood and becoming depressed and agoraphobic. Jazzy, the young free-spirit who feels compelled to help them, is also struggling to find her own path.

The story is told in alternating third person narratives and each woman's voice is distinct and powerful. As they drive from Wisconsin to Las Vegas, so Marnie can see her step-son, they face challenges that help them to become the women they need to be. Even though much of what they're dealing with seems like such dark territory, McQuestion manages to pull off a light-hearted romp.

The Long Way Home is about the bonds between women, the power of friendship, and the potential to grow as a person- at any age.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Using lyrics in fiction

Don't do it.

There may be some wiggle room if you're published with a big six or you're close personal friends with Bono, but if you're a first-time author, the copyright laws are such that it's impossible to get permission to use song lyrics in your work of fiction.

I know this. I'm quick to advise other writers of this. So imagine my surprise when my wonderful copy-editor caught me doing this.

Not once, but twice. Apparently, I imagined myself to be an exception.

So, this has been fixed in Monsoon Season and I just came across a great example of a writer who manages to get song lyrics in the reader's head without breaking any rules. Check out page 112 of The Long Way Home.

I'm reading this book now and will have a review up shortly.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Diversity in publishing



Read:
If you follow this blog closely, (as you should) you already know that I just finished Mary Vensel White's debut novel The Qualities of Wood. I started reading this when it was posted on Authonomy and I was bummed when it was taken down before I could finish. So I was happy to read it when it was published by HarperCollins and I'm thrilled to have my blurb added to her website.


Reading:
I just got my early copy of Karen McQuestion's new novel, The Long Way Home. The signed paperback was in my mailbox this morning! I loved her first book, A Scattered Life, which was self-published before being re-released through Amazon Publishing.  I reviewed it a few months ago and I'll be reviewing this one when I finish. It gets officially released May 1st.



To Read:
I'm looking forward to getting my hands on Patrick Blackburn's Cupid Missed, which comes out in hard copy and e-book format in May. It's the story of a break up, told from a man's perspective. The description on the website makes me want to read it. He's going the indy route for now, but he just got an agent, so I bet he gets picked up by a big publisher soon.