Monthly Archives: January 2009

Check out: The Frugal Editor

Today’s review: Carolyn Howard-Johnson’s The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success. Howard-Johnson, also author of The Frugal Book Promoter: How to Do What Your Publisher Won’t, which is next on my reading list, as well as many other books, provides great web content for writers here. The Frugal Editor itself is a great, “down and dirty,” guide to learning how the editorial pros do their jobs, leading you step by step through the process of ensuring that your work is ready to go out into the world with its best face forward. She does a great job of showing authors how they can get their computers to help them with some of the work. A real must read for anyone who’s in the dark about how editing really works.

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Announcing. . .The Gold Baguette Award

So, I’ve decided I need some sort of award to give out when I stumble across something or someone meritorious I want to call to my readers’ attention. In keeping with the theme of the blog, I tried out the golden cafe au lait bowl award, the silver madelaine award, the golden croissant–but none of them came close except the golden croissant. Problem is, I don’t really eat croissants, especially in the US, where just looking at a croissant makes my arteries harden and my hips expand by two inches. I do, however, eat baguettes, I even bake them myself on a regular basis (recipe coming up in a future post). Hence, the debut of wordamour’s Gold Baguette award.

And who will be receiving this first award? None other than Writer-Mama Christina Katz, whose various books and websites are a boon to struggling writers everywhere. Check out Writer-Mama and Get Known Before the Book Deal for tons of great content about writing that’s fun to read! Word has it that Ms. Katz will even accept your offer of friendship on Facebook if it’s made in the spirit of writerly comraderie.

But here I want to highlight her books. First, there’s Writer-Mama: How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids, a lively guide to making a writing life even if the road is littered with just as many sippy cups as coffee cups. Sure, Writer-Mama is witty and fun but it’s also exceedingly wise and practical. I’ve already recommended it to several friends. And it makes a great gift.

But wait–there’s more. When I saw Get Known Before the Book Deal on the shelf at the bookstore with Katz’s name on it, I knew I had to have it. GKBTBD came home with me that day and I read it straight through. A “writer’s reference” kind of gal, just like Katz herself, I knew a book on “grow[ing] an author’s platform” might be kind of a yawn, just like the laundry list of books I’ve read on subjects like guerilla publicity and the proper care and feeding of agents. Somehow, though, in Katz’ hands, the subject roars to life and you find yourself enjoying learning to create your own professional niche. Heck the chapter exercises are so much fun to do, they hardly seem like work. Yet each one helps you move closer to your goal–writing success, however you define it.

So Christina Katz gets the first Gold Baguette–because she’s a true friend to writers everywhere!

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A John Updike Story

A great American author died today. John Updike. And while I’m sure the web is abuzz with tributes, I feel I must add my own tidbit about the man, what made him a “great” man to me.

In the early 90’s, Updike came to read at George Mason University, when I was an MFA student. He was our headliner that year, getting paid a lot of money to come. All he was required to do was read to a large crowd, answer a few questions, and then leave. But, we learned, just before his visit, that he wanted to do more. He wanted to meet with “some students, some budding writers, perhaps.” He liked meeting with students, our program director said.

So about a dozen or so of us, perhaps more, gathered in a classroom on the Mason campus to sit in uncomfortable molded chairdesks in the glow of this famous American man of letters, to ask him questions and listen to his kind, patrician wisdom, because he had requested it.

Even then, we knew his request was special. Now, twenty years and countless writers’ visits later (all good people, most of them) I have never known it to happen again. For a writer, of his stature especially, to ask, “could I meet with the students as well?”

After his meeting, a small group of my friends took him to the metro so he could catch the train back to New York. At his request, they stopped at a Dunkin Donuts for coffee and returned later, to the TA bullpen with John Updike’s coffee cup, a modest paper cup which they promptly attached to the wall with a thumbtack.

I’m told it’s still there.

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Knowing Pains Hitting the Today Show!

Great News! Remember the book, Knowing Pains, I told you about last fall, that published my essay, “The Imaginary Nursery,” among many others. Well we just found out it’s going to be featured in a segment on the TODAY SHOW on January 23 in the 9:00 hour.

This is so exciting. The book has been selling reasonably well but this is going to take it to a whole new level, a national level. And all of the proceeds from the book are going straight to breast cancer research. This is a true labor of love for all the contributors and especially Molly Rosen, who invested her own money in this project and who was been working tirelessly to publicize it. Way to go, Molly!!

So tune in between 9 and 10 a week from today and hear more about Knowing Pains. Woot!!!

In other news, my posting has been seriously handicapped by the fact that both my work computer and my home computer are in computer hospital ICU’s being brought back to life from serious viruses. In fact, I’m writing this on my husband’s mac, which is much harder to post links and images on. Moral of the story: do not let your children near your computers, no way no how, no matter how much begging goes on. Especially when the reason their computer is down is because it’s also recovering from a virus. Obviously, some lessons in “safe” computing are in order.

As soon as I get my laptops back, I have lots of posts I want to put up. Till then,

Bye y’all,
SV

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Another Shelter Mag Bites the Dust

After bidding farewell to Mary Englebreit’s Home Companion, I just received a postcard telling me I can kiss my Cottage Living goodbye too. You can read about the shuttering of this relatively successful shelter mag and the struggles of the rest of them here.

According to the postcard, the rest of my subscription is going to be replaced with Southern Accents. Sigh. I’m not terribly fond of Southern Accents, which is kind of like Southern Living (which I do like) on steriods. Think Coastal Living or Traditional Home, magazines I ditched a long time ago because the homes they featured were just too fancy for real people. Too much pink satin and lime green taffeta and not a flea marketing or junking feature to be found. No, I’m a Country Home, Country Living, Southern Living kind of gal–magazines that are also struggling for ad revenue (yes, the recent issues have been a little thin). Hang on guys, you can make it through this recession. I know you can!

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Girls After Our Own Hearts

Statue Outside Library, Nebraska City, NE

Making the rounds of the blogosphere; read it and sigh, “Those were the days.”
January 1, 2009
Wife/MotherWorker/Spy
I Wish I Could Read Like a Girl
By MICHELLE SLATALLA
FOR weeks now, I have been watching my children endure life in the
fishbowl of the holiday season. On hiatus from school, they swim
patient laps around one another in the cramped space of a family.

I don’t envy this. I know from personal experience that the last
thing you want, in that awkward decade when you are trying to figure
out who you are and where you are headed, is the pressure of being
under the constant observation of cranky grown-ups who wonder why you
aren’t unloading the dishwasher for them more often.

My daughters cope with having to live around me in much the same way
that I remember dealing with my mother. They sleep in. They stay up
very late. They put gasoline in the car just often enough to
neutralize criticism.

Watching these delicate negotiations makes me glad to be past that
stage of life. Most of the time. But there is one thing I notice my
daughters doing when they hang around the house that makes me ache,
with a terrible yearning, to be young again. They read.

Or more precisely, they read like I did when I was a girl. They drape
themselves across chairs and sofas and beds — any available
horizontal surface will do, in a pinch — and they allow a novel to
carry them so effortlessly from one place to another that for a time
they truly don’t care about anything else.

I miss the days when I felt that way, curled up in a corner and able
to get lost in pretty much any plot. I loved stories
indiscriminately, because each revealed the world in a way I had
never considered before. The effect was so profound that I can still
remember vividly the experiences of reading “Little Women” (in my
bedroom, by flashlight) and “Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris” (in a
Reader’s Digest condensed version at my grandmother’s) and “The
Diamond in the Window” (sitting cross-legged on the linoleum amid the
stacks at the public library). And a thousand others. After each, I
would emerge a changed person.

This has nothing to do with the way I “read” these days, with piles
of books sitting forlornly on the night table, skimmed and dog-eared
and dusty as they wait listlessly for me to feel a compelling urge to
return to them, to finish “Beginner’s Greek” or “The Girl With the
Dragon Tattoo” or even, God help me, “Midnight’s Children.”

That I can be sitting here now in another room two floors away from
those half-digested stories and be engaged, without longing for them,
in an entirely different activity is not something I would have
believed possible when I was young.

I am not sure when or exactly how I started merely reading books
instead of living in them. I could make the usual excuses about how I
no longer have the luxury of time to give in to my imagination; when
I sit down with a book, I feel the pressure — of unfinished work,
unfolded laundry, unpaid bills. But I suppose the true reason is
sadder. It’s an inevitable byproduct of growing up that I formed too
many opinions of my own to be able to give in wholeheartedly to the
prospect of living inside someone else’s universe.

Unfortunately there is only a narrow window of time, after one learns
to read but before one gets old enough to read critically, to fully
appreciate the sweet sadness of “Mick Harte Was Here” or the orphan’s
longing in “Taash and the Jesters” — I read that one eight times the
summer I was 10 — or the trapped restlessness of being the
teenaged “Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones.”

Among my three daughters, whose ages are 19, 17 and 11, I see signs
of an inevitable progression toward being skeptical readers.

I fear Zoe, the oldest, has completely lost the childhood gift of
being able to suspend disbelief. Last week, in an attempt to delay
the transition, I dug out for her one of my favorite frothy romances —
an Elinor Lipman novel called “The Inn at Lake Devine.”

But results of that experiment were mixed.

“How was it?” I asked a few days later.

“I couldn’t stop reading it,” she said, before adding, with
regret, “but I knew from the beginning how it would turn out.”

Ella, my middle daughter, has been taught in high school to be an
analytical reader. I have mixed feelings about this: good preparation
for taking standardized tests, but bad for someone who is trying to
revel without reservation in the absurd plot twists of “The Time
Traveler’s Wife.” It took me hours to persuade her it was O.K. to
turn her back on everything she had learned in science class about
the time-space continuum.

Clementine, who is 11, is the luckiest. She’s still young, so she was
able to leave the rest of us behind for whole days this year when she
was off somewhere else, inhabiting the world of a sign-language-
knowing chimp in “Hurt Go Happy.”

Currently, she totes around the house one or another of the
doorstopper-heavy volumes in Stephanie Meyer’s vampire-loves-mortal-
girl series. She comes to the dinner table wearing the hollow-eyed,
devotional expression of someone who has just glimpsed something
wonderful in a distant land.

Although there is much about the vampire books to make an adult
reader roll her eyes — Edward is too controlling and Bella has the
sort of low self-esteem mothers hope will never plague their own
daughters — I understand the appeal. At Clementine’s age, I too would
have been able to smell Edward and feel the delicious iciness of his
breath on the back of my neck. And at several hundred pages apiece,
the series of four easily would have carried me through winter break.

E-mail: Slatalla@nytimes.com

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Wordamour Goes to Oxford MS!

And has committed the cardinal sin of blogging, going for a few weeks without posting.  To make up for it, here is a virtual tour of Faulkner’s stomping grounds, Oxford MS.  A great place to visit!

The courthouse on the Square.


The infamous Square Books, one of the leading independent bookstores in the US, with a mouthwatering selection divided up over 3 locations on the square.


Faulkner’s House, Rowan Oak

Faulkner's Glasses

Faulkner's Typewriter and Worktable

Faulkner’s Desk/Worktable.


My husband, John, on the staircase to the second floor.

Foofy-delicious hot cocoa from Bottle Tree Bakery.

Delicious hot cocoa from Bottletree Bakery.

 

Feeble excuse for lack of posts: I was having trouble with Photobucket (you’ll notice all the pictures were postage-stamp size–not good) and kept putting off contacting PB about it. So I finally just switched to Flickr, which I like MUCH better anyway.

More posts to come, including the Books of 2008.

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