Monday, June 30, 2014

House project 358 - The Ceiling

While I was house-hunting, I saw another house in my neighborhood with a wooden beam on the ceiling. I loved it and thought I could easily fix mine. Turns out, it's much more expensive than I imagined and I couldn't justify dropping four figures on a totally cosmetic change to, of all things, the ceiling.

But. I couldn't let it go. Every time I looked up, I saw this:

I knew it could be better. And I was right:

Thank you to Joey Mayer who painted the beam and installed my pretty new fan (with a remote!) He's the same guy who painted the living room. He does great work and his prices are reasonable.

Now, this is what you see when you come in the front door:

The Mantle - Final Draft

I've been fussing with this particular house project since I moved in. Here's the finished version:

Monday, June 16, 2014

Book Review - Nineteen Minutes

I heard about Jodi Picoult's Nineteen Minutes back in May when a NH parent complained his 14 year old daughter had to read it for school and he hadn't been notified despite some sexual content he found objectionable. I pretty much never agree with parents wanting to protect their teenagers from information contained in books - especially when that reading is taking place under adult supervision.

I still don't agree with this parent but, to be fair, the scene he objected to is a quite graphic description of teens having sex. I was never given anything remotely like this when I was in school. Nobody had sex in the classics I was assigned.

I mostly read this book to see why it's being assigned to high school students. The premise is that there has been a school shooting committed by a student who'd been bullied. I do think this book could open up conversation about bullying, gun control, and sexual consent - all issues kids should be thinking about.

The structure of the book is very clever. With multiple narrators, it shifts back in time before these particular children were even born, showing the events that shaped them. Of particular interest is the midwife and mother of the future shooter who delivers at least one future victim, befriending her mother. This structure allows Picoult to give several different perspectives without telling the reader what to think.

I don't know if Picoult typically writes from the perspective of teenagers, but it didn't work for me here. It seemed like a caricature of how adults think teens talk. Also, her use of metaphors and similes were universally awful. (No, the smile was not "as wide as the summer sun", the cop's new girlfriend doesn't remind him of "that first crocus you found in the snow." ) Her editor should have cut them all.

The book drags toward the end but I kept reading to find out what the hinted at plot twist would be. Actually, I had an idea what it could be, but thought "oh no, that's way too stupid." But, that's what it was. I won't give it away other than to tell you to imagine the worst plot twist possible. That's it.

I probably wouldn't recommend this book to a literature class. For the benefit of conversations it could inspire, it might work for health class or even politics. And that's coming from someone who wants high school students reading more books by women that have greater relevance to contemporary life.

But not this one.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Writing Process Blog Tour

I was invited take part in this blog tour by Mary Vensel White. She’s the author of HarperColllins’ Qualities of Wood, which has just been released in paperback. After reading her blog entry, I was reminded how similar we are in terms of writing process. I’ll try not to copy her answers!

1)      What are you working on?
    Right now, I’m more than halfway through my fourth novel, Finding Charlie. This is another book with alternating narrative and fans of my first novel, Monsoon Season, will rediscover a familiar character. (Though it is not a sequel.) In Finding Charlie, Olivia is searching for her younger sister. It opens on that mystery, but the journey becomes much broader than just figuring out what happened to her. It’s a family drama, at it’s core, like most of my stories are.

2)      How does your work differ from others of its genre?
    What makes this question hard is my love/hate relationship with the term “genre”. I write fiction- but that’s pretty broad, so I throw tags on it like “contemporary”, “commercial”, “literary”, “women’s” and even “book club fiction” to make it more specific. But in doing that, you risk narrowing your audience. For instance, men might be alienated by “women’s fiction” while some readers find the term “literary fiction” a little snooty.
    My work is different from other works of fiction in that it’s mine. You’ll find me in it. If you know me well, you might find yourself. Hopefully, I’ve disguised us so we won’t be immediately recognized, but it’s all deeply true. The fact that the stories are fiction can’t change that.

3)      Why do you write what you do?
    I’ve always written. It’s part of who I am and how I exist. When I sit down to write, I don’t usually know where the story is going. I just have a sense for my characters. I’m not a tortured artist. Figuring out where the story goes is fun for me. Selfishly, I write because I enjoy it. But I also love the connection I'm able to make with a reader.

4)      How does your writing process work?
    It has changed since getting published. I wrote my first three books without a clear idea that they would be read by anyone besides my mother and a couple of my best friends. The book I’m writing now is moving much more quickly. I have given myself permission to consider it legitimate work so I make time for writing in a new way. I set goals. This month I’m part of a group of writers trying to finish twenty thousand words in a month. That’s like twenty pages a week. It’s hard, but so far I’m on track. (I wish this blog post counted toward my word count!)

These are the writers I’ve persuaded to join the blog tour:

Alice Adams is the author of a beautiful, as yet unpublished novel. I discovered this book on and can’t wait to gift hard copies to everyone I know. You can read about her writing process here. You can also find a fascinating interview with her cat about the real estate market. (She funny.)

Naomi Ortiz is a nonfiction writer working on a book about self-care for social justice activists. We met a few years ago at a writers’ conference, making her one of my few writer friends from real life. Naomi will post about her writing process next week on her blog, Think Freestyle, which is wonderfully introspective and provides creative "food for thought" for all kinds of artists.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Pima Writers' Workshop

This is the fourth workshop I have attended in Tucson. The last one I went to had many more speakers who were published authors, talking about their process. I wrote about it here. This year, there seemed to be an emphasis on literary agents discussing how to write a good query letter and how to choose the right agent for you.

What I found the most interesting about the agent speeches was their discomfort with the idea that they were "gatekeepers", although they obviously are. They admitted they're more likely to get their writers from referrals and urged people to include any personal connection at the very beginning of a query letter, perhaps even the subject line of the email.

"We're really more like matchmakers," one agent insisted, ignoring that she is in the position to choose who gets matched (and who doesn't) based on criteria that's meaningful to her. I don't begrudge her this position, but that's what it means to be a gatekeeper. It seems silly to pretend otherwise.

The consensus seemed to be that a literary agent gets hundreds of queries a week, makes dozens of manuscript requests and may take on two new clients in a year.

Two. In a year.

As sobering as that was, I did not get the impression that I got from speakers at the Tucson Book Festival that publishing is dead. None of these agents suggested a writer should hire their own editors or PR firms in order to secure representation.

Maybe the most useful aspect of this conference is the chance to have your work evaluated by one of the professionals speaking at the event. I'd recommend submitting work for a consultation if you think you're ready to start the query process.

The reiteration of how few writers agents take on each year makes it easy to understand why so many writers are self-publishing.