Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Its been a sort of funny year, 2010. Lots of stark raving good and some pretty serious lousy too. Our family tradition is to make "Thankfulness pictures" to share before dinner, but this year they seemed too... much. We needed a new tradition, one that would sum it all up without the obligation to gush. (Gushing, by the way, is fully appropriate at Thanksgiving. I can do it. I love doing it. But for extended family, gushing just didn't cut it this year)

And so, the Thankfulness Pinata was born. We stuffed it with anonymous notes of thanks. And then bashed it with a baseball bat.
The kids thought this was a lot more fun than obligatory art. And the grown-ups too. And when the bag finally cracked open, all our THANKS spilled out onto the damp fall dirt and the kids rushed them as if they were candy.

All fun aside, here are some things I am truly thankful for:

My husband, the calm in my storm and the true heart of this crazy lifelong enterprise.

The kids, each so much who he/she is it makes me cry sometimes

The extended family and friends that bless our days

Work. Hard, meaningful, often joyous work.

My other work, writing. I am thankful I've been able to carve out the space for my inner space.

The everyday comfort of our hilltown home

Dogs, sheep, chickens etc etc

The luck and hardships that led me here to all of this

Happy (slightly belated) Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Newsweek has an interesting article about Mark Twain, an author I never gave much credit to when I was yawning my way through Huck Finn back in 10th grade, but one I think I ought to revisit now.

Here's what he had to say about word choice:

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

I just love that.

Thanks to Edittorent for mentioning the Twain article.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I Did Something Today!

I mean really did something.

I sent out my first full and two queries. The process was a long one; I revised the full manuscript then agonized about my overwritten beginning until my eyes bled. Then I scooted down to the ending, returned to the beginning (more bleeding eyes) and finally, once all perspective had been lost, I took a deep breath, wrote an official-looking "the End" and sent the darn thing out.

All in all I cut about 6,000 words. Family, Genius, Species is now a svelte 86,010 words. Woohoo!... or Whew! anyway.

I plan to send snail mail copies to the other two agents who were near-misses the last time around.

I have hurried up. I am waiting.

They say the best thing to do during this tension-filled wait-and-see-and-send phase is to start on the next thing ("They" being sensible non-emotive people, highly competent people) and yes, I have been thinking through some new ideas...

But really, what else can I think of now that the gibbon is out in the world?

Here's my infant tally:

Queries sent-- 3
Fulls requested-- 1 (This from the conference I attended)
Rejections-- 0 (Well, the search is a few hours old)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Nick Lowe: Cruel to Be Kind

Yes, this is a one-hit-wonder. But Nick Lowe IS actually sort of cool. Anyway, one of my chapter titles is taken from this song, so I thought I'd post it.

Odd video, eh? It baffles me.

But the hair, the hair is classic.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Your Novel's Soundtrack?

This may sound sort of funny, but there's a soundtrack that goes with my novel.

I don't mean that I expect there to be a soundtrack for the (not even imaginary) movie or sold along with the book. No big dreams here, world. I just want to write the best durn book I can. Rather, I find myself sort of obsessed with particular songs, songs that connect in one way or another to "Family Genius Species"... or at least to my idea of it.

This happened with my last novel too, but that one was almost totally country alternative, Gillian Welch and Lucinda Williams, etc.

Some of the tracks on my Family, Genius, Species playlist are obvious-- One hit wonders abound. Most of the ones I've posted here, in fact. "Brandi" by Looking Glass, "Magnet and Steel" by Walter Egan, "96 Tears" by ? and the Mysterians. But then there's "I Wanna Be Sedated" by the Ramones (Which is actually a good song) and most perplexing and persistent of all.... "Missed the Boat" by Modest Mouse.

I love "Missed the Boat" although it has nothing at all to do with the 70's or one-hit-wonders or anything directly related to my novel, it captures a certain something, a mood and Zorro-esque outlook that is totally spot-on. I am not ashamed to admit that I have listened to this track (the whole album in fact) hundreds of times while driving to work mulling over plot twists and characters.

Does your novel have a soundtrack?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Random Book Review: Atonement by Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan's Atonement is Literary Fiction (Capital L, Capital F). Serious, ambitious, about something waaaayy beyond entertainment.

But is it any good?

The first third of the book reminded me of all the the reasons lit fic is an endangered species in the publishing jungle. McEwan starts us off with a little girl writing a play. The details about the play and family and the house drag on and on and I couldn't figure what was important in the endless-seeming decription. Don't get me wrong, the writing is beautiful. McEwan is a master at grounding abstractions with such precision you want to go "Oh... aha! Of course!"

There is a passage when the girl, Briony, is sitting at a window looking at her hand and considering the moment of volition between her thought of moving it and the actual muscle movement. After quite a bit of abstract and beautiful prose, she likens this to the act of writing itself.

This sort of thing fits the worst stereotype of lit fic. If not actual navel-gazing, it is indeed hand-gazing ala Wittgenstein (Yes, my husband is a philosopher).

The first section of the novel moves on and on like this (I started to get that snarky "Okay already" attitude when several pages were devoted to the fall of sunlight in a room) but stick with it. All those seemingly excessive and incidental details have significance. By the end of the first section, Briony's cousin has been assaulted and Briony's mistakenly accused her older sister's lover, Robbie, of the deed. He is arrested and sentenced to prison.

The plot, as they say, has thickened.

The second section follows Robbie after his release from a three year prison term. His future much diminished, he is a member of the British infantry retreating to Dunkirk. This section, also beautifully written, moves at a totally different pace. It is a war story, more or less, and totally engrossing.

Then we are again with Briony. Now an adult, she realizes that her false testimony (the result of her youth and imagination) sent an innocent man to prison. She enters nursing school, seeking a way to atone for her sin. She has sent a novella about the day she accused Robbie to a magazine. The manuscript, as the reader comes to understand, is more or less the first section of Atonement (The long drawn out one with all the details). The critique she receives from the magazine is that the manuscript lacks narrative drive and is heavy on the navel-gazing (!) So clever! The reader is left hoping Briony will have a chance to atone, that Robbie and older sister Cecelia will be reunited, all standard happy ending fare.

The last section is a surprise (Spoiler alert!) Briony is now in her 80's, a well-known writer. We discover that Atonement is the novel Briony wrote in response to the critical moment in her life and that much of it-- the whole section about Robbie in the war-- was invented by Briony. She invents a happy ending as well. (I am not going to go into much detail here, in case you choose to read atonement). But, Man! It's a pretty amazing ending, especially when she also hints at a less-happy truer ending and we are devastated at the thought.

Also, this last section plants us right back at the play and the house and what it means to be a writer.

This is all to say that Atonement is exquisitely-- exquisitely!-- plotted, beautifully written, about big subjects near and dear to any writer's heart... and totally engaging once you get past the first section.

Thanks, Mr. McEwan. My faith in the power of literature is restored.