Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Five Muse Moments

1. Listening to Ann Patchett give the keynote speech in which she lamented the fact that her husband doesn't care for her work, that it takes him a really long time to read one of her novels, and that she should staple a $20 bill to the text every three or four pages just to help him along. (As S would say, "Is he for real?") And that he defends himself by saying that this proves that he loves her for who she is, not for what she does. And that this sentiment inspired a sentiment expressed by a character in Bel Canto

Also, the room erupted when she said, "The muse is a bunch of BS. It's not happening. Just let it go. Writing is a job."

2. Listening to Tess Gerritsen talk about writing. This would be what I'd call the opposite end of the spectrum from Ann Patchett in a way. Well, in every way, from style to content to output. This is someone who publishes a book every year and has done so for more than 20 years. (I'll bet she views writing as a job, too.) I'd never read one of her books, but I will now. Why not? She went into a long discussion about where great ideas come from and how she does her research. The discussion about prose she distilled down to two main points. First, action is boring. Second, gross stuff is really cool. For example, she discovered that people bleed differently in space. Instead of spattering, the blood pools in zero gravity, like some giant blood bubble. She said: "I knew right then that I had to have a character bleed to death in space. 

Inspiration comes from every corner.

3. Listening to Dinty Moore read an essay about teenagers and evolution and molars. You had to be there. I thought it was from his new collection, the one that one the Grub Street nonfiction award this year, which is why I ran to the bookstore to buy it. But it's not in there. Luckily, what is in there is pretty good, too. He did a great job with the reading. It's not easy to entertain 400 people in a ballroom while they have lunch right in front of them, you know a plateful of food as distraction, but he did.

4. Hanging out with writers. I didn't go to Amy MacKinnon's talk about writing, but I bought her book, anyway. I may have taken the last one. On Saturday she and I found ourselves lounging on a couch alongside an editor, all of us talking about editing and being edited, and handling and being handled by agents and general gossip. Amy traced her novel's progress over several Muse conferences. One year, she went to the Manuscript Mart to get feedback on a few chapters.  The next year she had an agent but was stuck in the writing. That year she attended a talk that inspired her to break through. Of course, at last year's conference, she had just sold her book.  At this one, it was out at the table. Who wouldn't be inspired by that?

5. Coming home on Sunday night to the kids (who were already asleep) and to Larry (who was watching a game) and curling up with this book, which is astonishing.

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Musing Weekend

It's that time of year again. Famous and aspiring writers converge this weekend at the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston for the annual Grub Street conference.

I'm hosting a panel called "Agents on the Hot Seat," in which four agents will describe the best ways to find, attract, hire and work with an agent.I did this last year and there wasn't one single crazy person in the audience to stand up and carry out an angry, paranoid rant about the state of the world, which is shocking in a way. A good way.

I'll also be manning the kiss and cry area of the Manuscript Mart. That's where writers meet with agents and editors who have read their work and prepared feedback. It's tense and scary in that room, but people love it, and every year several someones get an agent from it. Last year a top editor met with one Grub writer and liked her work so much, she turned to the agent at the next table and said to him, "You should represent her. Now." I'm sure he did. There are also talks and workshops on every type of writing, and there are parties, parties, parties. More on Sunday night when it's all over.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Talk Talk

Last Friday, G tested for his orange belt. On the way to the "dojo" (which is really a rented storefront in our tiny downtown area) S sat in the back seat talking to her left hand. She held it in a fist up to one cheek and did a passable imitation of a teenager in a chat-a-thon with a good friend, named Honey. She had the sarcastic overemphasis on all the right words. She kept her free hand going in lots of gestures. It was hilarious.
"Honey, what are you talking about?" she asked with great incredulity.
"Eating your pajamas! Honey, that's disgusting!" 
"Well, I know. But still, you shouldn't eat them. They're not food, you know."
"Yeah, but I've told you and told you not to do that." 
This went on and on all the way to downtown, which is just a mile away from our house, but she continued as we parked, walked to the little dojo, all the way up to the door. She and honey discussed which stuffed animals were mad at each other and why, and what they like and don't like on TV. Finally, I told her to hang up at which point she said to her hand, "Okay, Honey, gotta go. Bye."

The end near. She's 5, and all I can think is: What's going to happen when she gets her hands on a real phone? 

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Possible Cover

I don't know if I'm allowed to do this, but this is the cover design that will go on the bound galleys to be sent out this month. I like it.

I know it's hard to see here (I don't have a larger version) but the subtitle is "Raising Healthy Boys in a Challenging and Complex World." You can also go here to see the catalog copy for the book and to see a video clip of my co-author, who is so authoritative on this subject.

This is starting to feel real... 

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Images of Fear

I'm reading this right now, which is an interesting meditation on early horror stories and how they shaped popular culture in the 19th century. So far, I'm most interested in how certain authors have come up with their material. One section postulates how Mary Shelley came up with the story for Frankenstein. It started as a dream image during the cold summer of 1816. She was holed up indoors, listening to her husband in his long discussions with Lord Byron on matters of politics, technology and philosophy, including the nature of life itself.

In an introduction to the 1831 edition of her novel, she writes, "Invention...does not consist in creating out of a void, but out of chaos; the materials must, in the first place, be afforded."

I love that. A story must be created out of a chaos of impulses and influences. In her case, the primary influence was the contemporary belief, or perhaps the fear, that science would be able to create life. And that's what she did. She gave life to a character that will never die. 

The book discusses such characters as Dr. Jeckyl and what he has to do with Jack the Ripper, specifically, how the story informed the public's views of what sort of person could be a serial killer. In fact, an actor playing the notorious Dr. Jeckyl had to cut his run short because people in the audience kept fingering him to authorities as Jack the Ripper. How annoying. In another chapter the book details the relationship between the Dracula story and the attempted liberation of women. Can't wait.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Drifting Along

We turned in the first pass galleys last week on the boy book, and now we're truly in the lull before publication. Well, I am. My co-author has no lull. He's working with publicists and getting geared up to promote the book, while I sit around thinking about finding some new work. 

I've been interviewing with doctors who are in need of a co-author, which depresses me a bit. In the past couple of weeks, I've heard from one doctor who had wanted to work on a book and now wants some time off, not much, just a year or so to think things through. I had a lovely conversation with another doctor who seemed really excited about writing a book on the phone and then sent out an email later saying he doesn't like the idea any more. A third doctor has three writers vying for the position of co-author. We each bid on the project and attend a series of meetings, because it has been explained to me that this doctor wants to feel "truly connected" to the writer. I can understand that, and yet I want a job, not a date.

Meanwhile, I've been reading and writing a lot, trying to catch up on the books I bought in Ireland, but somehow not getting there. Instead, I read Brock Clarke's The Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England, which I heartily recommend. And I'm starting to read Arthur Phillips' The Egyptologist on someone else's recommendation. So far, so good.