Virginia is for (book) Lovers: October 7-9

I’m on my way to Virginia to participate in two really cool events.
The first is the James River Writers Conference in Richmond.  At JWR I’ll give a reading at Virginia Commonwealth that’s free and open to the public. (Friday night at 7:00 pm), but I am also doing two panels at the conference.

  • One panel asks: How does a writer face criticism, anger, outrage, or even speculation when writing about topics sure to invite emotion–race, religion,politics, sex, gender, transgender . . . and did we say sex?
  • The other panel is more craft-oriented: Build tension into your writing and your readers will always have to read “one more page.” Tight pacing isn’t just for thrillers; you want everything you write to leave them wanting . Come join the conversation.

On Sunday, I am headed to Charlottesville for a literary salon at Writer House.  We’ll talk story, craft, business, everything to do with getting the novel from idea to book.  I hope to see you there at 2pm.

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What I’m Reading on the Plane: THE FAMILY FANG

I just finished reading THE FAMILY FANG by Kevin Wilson.  I scored a free copy at ALA this summer but I was too busy moving and touring to settle down to read it.  About a month ago, I heard Kevin give a delightful reading at Harvard Bookstore so I scooted it up my to-read list.  I am so glad I did.

If you are a person who enjoyed The Royal Tannenbaums, this is a book for you.  It has all the idiosyncrasy of that film, but the richness that makes a novel really satisfying.

I started off reading it just for the quirkiness.  Here’s the plot– two kids have grown up in a most bizarre family. The parents are performance artists and use the kids as part of the act.  Sometimes, the children don’t even know there is a act.  Now Buster and Annie, grown up and messed up, are forced to move back home.  (I could go on, but I don’t want to spoil.)  I chuckled my way through the first third of the story– what wacky parents! But somewhere around page 150, the narrative snuck up on me and got deep.

This is a novel that made me re-examine my own childhood and childhood as a concept–  To what extent are kids bit players is all of our parents’ performances?  Can you ever really grow up? And while we’re at it, what is art, anyway? What is love? What is sacrifice?

All of this, and it’s damn funny, too.

Bravo, Mr. Wilson. I am so proud of you!

and it’s not just me:
NPR loves it
and so does the NYT

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Silver Sparrow Flies Back to DC

Busboys & Poets

Tuesday Night!

So, DC is one of my favorite cities.  I lived there for a couple years and I enjoyed every second of it.  I am thrilled to be going back next week for three appearances.  If you are in the area, come on out.  It will be fun. I promise

  • Monday, September 19, 12:00pm and 4:30pm– Fairfax, Virginia
    Fall for the Book at George Mason University
    Workshop, Reading, and Signing
  • Tuesday, September 20, 6:30pm– Washington, DC
    Busboys and Poets, 14th and V
    Reading and Conversation with Martha Southgate
  • Thursday, September 22, 4:00pm– Washington, DC
    Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Annual Legislative Conference
    Panel Discussion with Booker Matison, Kwame Alexander, Tananarive Due, and Karl Evanzz
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    Shall We Wear Silver And Be Festive?

    There is a little autumn crisp in the air, so that means it is time for the fall book festivals.  I am going to be appearing at quite a few feastivals in the next couple months and I would love to see you there.  Here’s the line up–

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    Cool Links I Found Mostly on Twitter

    Read This

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    Is Fear Keeping You From Doing What You Love? The Typewriter Doctor can Help You With That.

    Last week I blogged about my plan to write my new novel on a sixty-year Smith Corona.  I bought the machine on Etsy and the ad promised that it “works.”  Well, it did work, a little bit.  It worked enough to type my name, but it wasn’t in true working order.  The seller thought I just sort of wanted the typewriter as a conversation piece.  She didn’t understand that I was actually going to use the thing.

    Luckily, there is a typewriter hospital here in Cambridge.  My trusty assistant, Sarah, gave me a ride to the storefront shop which was crammed with typewriters of varying vintage.  The Typewriter Doctor looked very tanned and rested, having just returned from vacation. He opened the case and looked at my machine.  “This is a beautiful Pinky,” he said.  “One of the best ones I’ve seen.”  I beamed like a proud mama and no longer felt silly for talking to the thing in baby talk on the ride over.  (My assistant is very indulgent.)

    When I left the Typewriter Hospital, I realized that the Typewriter Doctor did not mention one time that typewriters are dying out.  When asking me if I wanted a two-tone ribbon, he mentioned that mostly teenagers like those.  When I was looking at a 1980s IBM Selectric he said, “It’s a real workhorse.  If you are going to be pounding out a lot of documents, that’s what you need.”

    I had expected him to be like that Maytag Repairman on those old commercials.  (Remember, he was depressed and had no customers because Maytag washers never broke down?) Instead he was a jovial and optimistic as the “Geek Squad” computer repair team at Best Buy. If I didn’t know better, I would have no idea that the vast majority of printed writing is generated by computers.  Further, he didn’t charge me a fortune to tune up the machine, as though I was asking for some arcane service.  His store isn’t a museum.

    I couldn’t help but wonder if writers have something to learn from him.

    I have noticed that writers are always asked about the death of the book, the death of the bookstore.  We are told that the Kindle is going to drown us in our bathtubs.  How do we feel about the fact that we are all going to starve to death?  When I go to a poetry reading, there is often a sense of self- satisfied martyrdom—no one reads poetry, but we write it anyway! And in the literary fiction word, it is often the same vibe—everyone wants to read “street lit”  or _________ (fill in the blank with your anxiety of choice). Woe is us.  All this genius and nobody cares.  Frankly, it’s a drag and I don’t think it helps anyone get her work done and it certainly does not improve anybody’s quality of life.  And I can’t imagine that it revs up readers.

    This is not to say that the Kindle will not drown us in our bathtubs.  Maybe it will. Who knows.

    I am not saying go into see-no-evil mode. The Typerwriter Doctor is not burying his head in the sand.[video]  He has had to adapt with changing times. He used to rent typewriters, but now he repairs them. And he doesn’t hate computers– you can like him on facebook, and he keeps a blog— typing the entries and then scanning them.

    What I learned at the typewriter hospital is that we don’t have to carry that fear of obsolescence around with us, strapped to our backs and we certainly don’t have to make it part of our identity.  We don’t have to announce impending doom everytime we talk about our work.  When we create, we don’t have to multi task writing with fretting that these these are the endtimes for literature.

    Take a lesson from a  man who repairs typewriters for a living.  He’s good at it.  And he’s enjoying his life and his work.

    Posted in Cambridge Chronicles, The Writing Life, Writing | Tagged | 6 Comments

    We Were Girls Together

    My childhood friend, Carmen Nicole Clark, has passed away.  We went to the same elementary school, middle school, high school, and even college together.  She came to my birthday party when I was five.  She wore lace dresses sometimes.  I asked my mother if I could wear lace dresses and my mother would never let me dress so extravagantly.   Like me, she had an older brother and a baby brother.  She called me “T”. Her hair was really soft, so she couldn’t get a relaxer.  She wore it pressed or wavy, brushed smooth and fastened with a clip.  We both still rode the school bus when the cool kids had started driving.She taught me how to apply liquid eyeliner. I still remembr us blinking away the black dye clouding the whites of our eyes.  In the fifth grade, the boy that I had a crush on liked her instead and asked her to “go” with him.  Her aunt was the gifted teacher, and I thought that it was amazing to be related to someone as wonderful as Mrs. Elmore.   When I was twelve my parents decided to take the family to live in Nigeria for a year. I was miserable to leave my friends behind just because my parents wanted to have an “experience.”  I wrote letters to my friends almost every day and Carmen always wrote back.  I remember her pretty slanted handwriting on pale blue envelopes.  Once she sent a care package of M&Ms. Her daddy was a professor, so was mine. I cannot find a single picture with her in it.  She played piano and accompanyed me for my solo recital eventhough I was terrible on my flute.  Carmen was absent at our 20th college reunion this past May.  When I was in Atlanta last month I got in touch and she said she would be glad to see me and catch up. I was going to see her after my signing, but I got so frustrated trying to hawk my book at Costco, that I just got mad and went home.  I told her that I would see her next time and she said that she was looking forward to it.

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    Upon Which I Shall Compose My Fourth Novel

    Slowing It Down

    My mentor, Ron Carlson, once told me that there are two types of writers—gushers and ekers.  The gushers are the ones who write really quickly, producing a lot of words, but also producing a lot of crap writing.  On the other side are the ekers—they agonize over each word.  It takes forever, but they don’t write a lot of useless drafts.  If you can’t tell from my personality, I am a gusher.  On a good writing day I can maybe write five or six pages in about two hours.  (Compare this to my good friend MJ who writes a paragraph in a day!)  My gushing sometimes feels like automatic writing. I am going so fast that I don’t know what the heck I am writing sometimes.  Then, the next day, I read through what I have written and see if there is anything usable in there.  (Sometimes there is; sometimes there’s not.) 

    I wrote Leaving Atlanta and  Silver Sparrow pretty much  by hand.  This is because I feel the computer helps me write even faster.  In addition, in a fit of pique, I can hit two keys and delete a day’s work.  With handwriting, I may often get frustrated and then I just turn over a new page in my notebook.  The next day when I calm down, I read it over and something I find something there that I like.

    I am thinking to write my fourth novel on a manual typewriter.  A pink Smith Corona from the 1950s to be exact.  The idea is to sort of shock my system and make me more mindful of what I am doing on a word-by-word level.  The typewriter is a little rusty so I have to take it to be refurbished, but I am getting ready to clickety-clack my way through.

    (And the typewriter is not connected to the internet.  The twitter is my weakness.)

    Writers, I recommend that you try to break yourself out of your ordinary routine if you feel like you need a jump start.  Try writing with a new tool, a new location, or even just switch up the time of day that you are writing.  I think of it like exercise.  You can reach a plateau with your current routine and need to vary your workout and work some different muscles.  Try it and let me know how it works.

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    So Many Links, So Little Time

    Hunter S Thompson

    Hunter S. Thompson

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    Coping With Rejection: Keep Writing Anyway.

    Edan Lepuki has a great post up over at The Millions about a book she wrote that she hasn’t been able to publish. If you are in this situation, I definitely recommend that you read the article. Here is the line I like best: “Lastly, these months of rejection have taught me the difference between being tenacious and being stubborn — and being stubborn and being desperate..” In short you have to learn when to let go.

    I would like to add just a little extra piece of advice about coping with rejection.

    Just to establish my rejection bonafides: My first book Leaving Atlanta was rejected by 26 publishers. My new novel, Silver Sparrow, received about a dozen “passes”. And in my desk drawer is a healtfelt, but unpublished and unpublishable novel called Evangeline. So despite what is happening to me right now, I know what I’m talking about when I talk about rejection and disappointment.

    The best way to cope with rejection is to write something else. Afterall, you would have to do that anyway. If your book is snapped up by your dream publisher and you sell foreign rights all over the world, what would you have to do next? Write the next book. No matter what happens, the next step is the next book.

    So go do that.

    And maybe one of those books in the drawer will be something you will be able to publish later. As for me, I am so happy that Evangeline is safely tucked in a drawer, although I worked so hard on it when I wrote it. But maybe you novel that isn’t connecting with publishers today, will connect with them later. You’ll still have it. And you still have to write something new.

    Good luck.

    Posted in Writing | 2 Comments