Five Things on Friday

Sunflower-remind-flower-81168-lIt's summertime, in case you hadn't noticed, and my brain is feeling lazy.  So, inspired by Tim Ferriss, who sent out a 5-Bullet Friday to subscribers (I'm one, though I have a little bit of a love-hate relationship with him), I thought I'd write a lazy blog post.  Besides, today is a holiday, or sort of one (for those of you not in the states, tomorrow is our Independence Day, more often known as the Fourth).  So here goes:

Book I'm Reading: Little Night by Luanne Rice.  Jury is still out on this one, a women's fiction novel to be sure.  I've read a ton of her books so I'm sure I'll end up liking this, too.  (By the way, she's got a nice piece on writing novels on her blog.)  And, since I'm feeling lazy, I'll add a couple more books I've read lately rather than write a whole post on this topic.  I finally got The Girl on the Train from the library, and read it in a couple of days.  The first couple hundred pages were fantastic, and then I got a bit weary of it all.  But read it as a primer on adding conflict--lots of it--to your novels.  Also read A is For Alibi by Sue Grafton (duh) for purposes of a structure discussion. This is the first book in the series that is currently at X, coming this summer, and it held up well.  I loved these books when I first discovered them and got to about F or G, before I got bored with the same set-up over and over.  But this series was groundbreaking in presenting a female private detective, and its fun to read a book set before the internet and cellphones changed the world.

What I'm Writing: My next novel.  It involves crystals and female correspondents of the journalist type and that is all I will say.  (The macaron novel is currently being shopped.)  Oh, and I'm managing to pen the occasional blog post.

What I'm Listening To: I don't listen to music when I write and I always feel a bit inferior when I read the elaborate play lists that other novelists compile for each book.  But I do love music, and in our kitchen the radio is always on (weird old-school habit I got from my mother) and it is always tuned to our local station, KINK-FM, which plays a fantastic variety of tunes.  Go to the website and stream it and you'll see what I mean.

What I'm Complaining About: The heat.  It was 97 degrees here yesterday, and that's after a couple of weeks of temps in the 90s, with more to come.  Bear in mind that I live in Portland, where the joke is that summer starts on July 5th, the day after Independence Day, which is always rainy. Not this year.  We've had a crazy warm and dry winter and spring and now a hot, hot summer.  Ugh.

What I'm Loving:  Getting up every morning by 5:30 and sitting outside on the deck writing.  It's my favorite time of day.

So, what's up with you this summer Friday?  Please share.  You can use one of my "whats" above or create your own. I'd truly love to hear what's going on with you!

Photo by remind.

Books I Read In May

Nightingale_hc_lgI can't figure out what's going on.  I know I read a ton last month, but I can't seem to bring any of the titles into my mind.  (As soon as I press publish on this post they will flood into my brain.)  So here's a quick list of the books I remember:

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.  This is on the best-seller lists and is getting a lot of buzz, and deservedly so.  It's quite good.  I learned history from it, too, such as the fact that gazillions of people evacuated Paris when the Nazis first occupied it.  And I was reminded of the hardships that Europeans faced during World War II.

That's the only novel I can think of that I read recently, and I usually inhale novels like crazy.  But, I have been dipping in and out of a lot of writing books.  I don't so much read them cover to cover, because they have inspiration and exercises in them that lead me to the page.

Wild Women, Wild Voices by Judy Reeves.  I wrote a whole review of this book here.  I'm still working with it for journaling ideas and I like it a lot.  Its not so much a book that's going to help you with plotting or characterization, but more the basic writing stuff, like expressing yourself on the page.

The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson.  This is a book that will help you with your plotting (and there's some info on characterization as well).  I bought it on a trip to Seattle and wrote more about it here.

Naming the World, edited by Bret Anthony Johnston.  This is most definitely not a book you sit down and read cover to cover, because it is a book of writing exercises.  (Although each exercise is preceded by an essay from the author who submitted it.)  Good stuff in here.

Into the Woods by John Yorke.  This is a book on structure and I am loving it.  I ordered it from a bookseller in England (through Amazon) and it took forever to get here and then my husband set the envelope aside under a pile of mail so it took even longer for me to actually find it, but it was worth the wait.  An amazing, excellent book on structure, and its readable, too.  I embedded a video below of him relating "how all storytelling has worked since the beginning of time" at Google UK.

All this reading on story structure has led me to another activity: going to movies.  More on that in my next post.  In the meantime, what have you been reading?

Previous months posts are (which I offer in case you need recommendations):

Books I Read in April (and Part of May)

Books I've Been Reading

Books I Read in January

Books I Read in April (And Part of May)

WhatremainsHerewith, my semi-regular list of books I've been reading.  Why? Because I love and adore reading posts what others have been reading (so write more of them, y'all).  And I figure you might get a few ideas from my list.  

Here goes:


Crossing on the Paris by Dana Gynther. (See bonus author video at the end of this post.) I enjoyed this novel about three women of different classes crossing from Europe to New York on an ocean liner.  Parts of it were a bit contrived, but it kept me turning pages.

The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson.  This is the story of a single woman who owns a bookstore in Denver.  Nothing so rare about that, right?  Well, this was set in the sixties, so it was unusual.  But every night she goes to bed and dreams that she has a whole other life, complete with adorable husband and children.  I thought this one was really well done.

The Shortest Way Home by Juliette Fay.  She's a wonderful women's fiction writer, and I think I've now read all her books.  This one is about Sean, a male nurse who comes home after spending much of the last 20 years working in war-torn countries.   Right in my wheelhouse. Loved it.

Secrets of the Lighthouse by Santa Montefiore.  Whoops.  Didn't finish this one.  Slow in starting and I lost interest.

My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante.  I started this one in April, and finished it in May.  Ha.  I actually read it on the plane to and fro Nashville.  As I've been telling people this one is brilliant.  It is dense and gritty and claustrophobic and sometimes difficult to keep track of all the characters (buy a hardcopy because you'll continually flip back to the cast of characters in the front), but brilliant.  It is the first of four in the series called the Neapolitan Novels.  They are set in the city of Naples and follow the intense friendship of Elena and Lila from childhood on.  Oh, and I love this--the author's name is a pseudonym and nobody knows who she really is.  I've got the second one in the series and have to sit on my hands not to rip through it.

Besides the novels, I read (more like perused) a couple of beautiful books on embroidery. (But have I yet picked up needle and thread? Um, no.) I also leafed through a title on homesteading, hoping to glean inspiration for you own little back forty and read part of a book on how to plot your novel. (I'm still working on that one so don't feel I can list it yet).

I've already finished a couple of really great titles in May, but they will have to wait until next month's post.  And, up next....ta dum....

My friend Helene Dunbar's book, What Remains.  When I was in Nashville last week, I was so honored to receive one of her first two copies of the book.  Years ago, at a now-defunct writing retreat called Room to Write, Helene and I brainstormed ways to end her novel.  Mostly what I did was sit and listen to her talk, but she credits that conversation with saving the book.  I am SO excited to read it!

 Here's that video I promised:

What, pray tell, have you been reading?

Books I've Been Reading

Books_Olympus_ompc_79830_hI started this series of posts at the end of January with a blog post titled, Books I Read in January. And I fully intended to do one post a month.

But then my life blew up, I got an agent, and I needed to turn my attention to rewriting my book.  So my blog posts suffered.  So did my reading--at least a little bit.  I haven't been reading quite as much as usual, but I've still been reading a lot.  And, let me tell you, reading novels helped me with the rewrite.

I'll explain in a minute, but first, let's discuss: do you read similar books to yours while you are in the process of writing or rewriting?  I do.  Let me explain.  I likely would not read another novel set in a macaron bakery (and I'm hoping to God there isn't another one) but I do read women's fiction, and lots of it.  I know some writers fear that if they read novels that are too similar to their's, they will be unduly influenced.  But I'm the opposite.  I often feel like I need to inhale words in order to spit them back out on the page.  And while I'm inhaling those words, I'm continuing the lifelong process of learning how to put a decent novel together.

While I was rewriting, for instance, I read How to Knit a Heart Back Home.  (See below.)  Rachael Herron, the author, did some things with description that were active and engaging, not just dead on the page.  And since my agent and her reader both felt I needed to work on my descriptions of characters (and ironically, macarons), I studied what Rachael did and copied her a little.  Of course, it came out completely different because I'm writing a completely different book with different characters.  What I copied was her approach to craft. 

And that, my friends, is why we writers read.  Because it teaches us about writing.  So here's what I've been reading since January.


How to Knit a Heart Back Home, by Rachael Herron.  I love this series of books set in Cypress Hollow, a fictional small town in California.  All the characters are knitters in one way or another, and she has a knack for creating characters you love.  She's recently branched out into stand-alone books, and her latest book, just released, is Splinters of Light.  I also recommend Pack Up the Moon.

At Home in Mitford, by Jan Karon.  I read the most recent book in the series after I got it for Christmas, and have now gone back and started at the beginning of the series.  The books are gentle, sweet, and yet have a depth to them based on the protagonist, Father Tim, who is and Episcopal priest.  Plus, my Mom loved them.  She'd be thrilled I'm finally reading them.

The Lanvin Murders, by Angela Sanders.  Angie is a local author, and a friend.  She is doing very well with this series set in a vintage clothing shop.  (This novel is the first in the series; there are two more already.) Subscribe to her monthly newsletter for all kinds of cool info!

The Financial Lives of the Poets, by Jess Walter.  A fun book, but I wasn't as impressed with it as I was with his novel, Beautiful Ruins (which we used as our teaching book the first year in France).  Not sure why this one didn't hit with me.


Gotta Read It, by Libbie Hawker.  A quick read (and inexpensive--its a $.99 ebook) on how to write a synopsis.  It's really about how to write a pitch for a completed book, but I found it helpful in thinking through my next novel as well.  (And I just bought her book on how to outline a story, called Take Off Your Pants).

The Bible.  I took a class in February and March called Jesus as a Wisdom Teacher, in which we examined the actual words of the man, as opposed to the religions which grew up around him. Woo-ee, I learned some interesting things.  And a whole new respect for the guy.  There were a couple other books I was supposed to read for this class, but, um, I really didn't, fascinated as I was. I needed to focus on my rewrite, and there was limited bandwidth in the old brain.

In Process

How the Brain Heals Itself, by Norman Doidge.  This is a wonderful book, full of amazing research about what the brain can do.   There's a lot of medical and technical stuff in it, but the author is adept at using stories to carry the serious stuff.  Even so, I'm a bit stalled on it.  Will continue to beat away at the pages.

Start with Why, by Simon Sinek.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, I was reading this last time around.  It is a great book, I just got stuck in the middle when I suddenly had to put everything aside and focus on the novel rewrite.  I'm determined to finish it.

The Bookseller, by Cynthia Swanson.  By day, Kitty, our heroine runs a book store in Denver in the 60s. But at night, her dreams lead her to a different life--one with a handsome husband and two adorable kids.  Slowly, the nighttime dreams become more and more real...I'm enjoying this debut novel a lot.

Books on Embroidery and Knitting.  For research.  Really.  I swear I don't just look at them for the pretty pictures.

Up Next

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr.  I think I have the time to start this one now.  (I've been told not to open it until I have time to sink into it.)

Younger, by Suzanne Munshower, which was free as an Amazon preview for Prime subscribers.  I know her from Twitter and this book was published by and Amazon imprint which shot to the number one spot of all Kindle ebooks.  So, why not?  Plus, it looks entertaining.

So that's it for now.  Do tell: what are you reading?

Photo by Brian B.

Books I Read in January

(Yes, I know--I promised Part Two of the Care and Tending of Writers.  It is all written in my journal, I just need to get it up on the computer.  That will happen next week. Promise, and my fingers aren't crossed behind my back, either.)

Today I'm starting a new series on the books I've read each month.  Why? Well, first of all because if you are a writer or you want to be a writer, you should be inhaling books.  I find that the more words I put on the page, the more words I need in ingest.  Really.  And second of all, because I love reading lists of what other people are reading.  I get all kinds of ideas that way, so maybe you will from mine.

Here goes: Annabench-shakespeare-paris-1147326-h


The Garden of Happy Endings by Barbara O'Neal.  I found one of her books at the library and read it cuz it looked interesting. Turns out she writes the kind of books I love--women's fiction extraordinaire.  (The first one of hers I read was The All You Can Dream Buffet, about bloggers and Airstream trailers--what's not to love?) This one got a little draggy in the middle but I stuck with it and I'm glad I did.  It helped that the main character was a Unity minister, and I attend the Unity church here in Portland.  

The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel.  This one was a bit of a disappointment.  I love, love, loved, and even adored her novel form 2014, Station Eleven. Lola is an earlier effort and I found it a bit dry and distant.  But she does really interesting things with structure and for that it was worth reading.

Circle of Wives by Alice LaPlante.   A man is murdered at the Westin Hotel in Palo Alto and it quickly comes out that he had three wives.  Slightly unbelievable but a page turner for sure.  The problem for me was that I didn't like any of the viewpoint characters much and the ending was a great, thudding, dud.

Somewhere Safe, With Somebody Good by Jan Karon.  This one is still in progress--I'm about half done.  It is the most recent in the Mitford series of novels--stories set in a charming small town in North Carolina.  There are quite a number of these books, and they are very popular.  I am reading it because I'm interested in how series are put together.  What I find fascinating is that, at least in the first 100 pages of this novel (I'm still reading it), not all that much happens.  And yet--I can't put this book down.  I surmise it is because the conflict is of the day to day sort that we all face--dealing with a chronic health problem that is under control but needs to be paid heed to; annoying friends; befuddling neighbors; spouses we love but whose brains remain a mystery to us. 


Delancey by Molly Witzenberg.  Another one I plucked off the shelf at the library.  Its a memoir by the writer of the blog Orangette, about the process of she and her husband opening a restaurant. Apparently the pizza place is quite famous as I asked my friend Linda, who lives in Seattle about it, and she said of course she'd heard of it.  I skimmed through parts of this book, but overall I enjoyed it--because I always enjoy stories about people who are doing things, especially when they are creative things.  Oh, and there are recipes--and if you are as obsessed with dates as I am, find this book for the date recipe (short version: saute them in olive oil until the skins turn crispy and sprinkle with salt).

Start With Why by Simon Sinek.  I'm loving this one.  It is business-y, but also of great interest to anyone doing creative work.  Sinek writes about the value of starting from the inside, with your why, instead of your what or how.  He uses Apple as an example of a business that always keeps their why (challenging the status quo to empower the individual), as opposed to their what (selling computers, at least initially) front and center.  His insights into this are brilliant, and I found myself applying them to character motivation and plot in my stories.

Make Your Own Rules Diet by Tara Stiles.  I've not gotten very far in this one, but she emphasizes healthy foods, yoga and meditation, so what's not to like?

Up Next (We'll see if they make the list of books read next month)

Macdeath by Cindy Brown.  This is by a friend of mine.  I attended her book release party last week, which was standing room only as a troupe of local actors did scenes from the book.  Quite entertaining!  This is the first in a series of mysteries set in the world of the theater, and I'm looking forward to reading this one.

Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter.  We used his book Beautiful Ruins as our book-in-common at our first France retreat, and I hear this book is really fun. I think its safe to say that some of us have a bit of a writer's crush on him.  He's speaking in town next month and I'm excited to hear him.  I promise I'll behave.

All the Light You Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.  This one is getting rave reviews, and from people whose opinion I trust, not just the critics, so I'm going to bite.  

So that's what's on my nightstand.  What have you been reading this month?

Photo by austinevan. 

Wednesday Within: The Tension of Reading

Book-books-page-35496-lLike so many other writers, I came to writing through reading.  From the time I first learned to recognize words on the page, I was fascinated with those words.  And from the time I figured out that somebody actually put those words there, that's what I wanted to be--a writer.  I remember back when I was a freshman in college, discovering that I could major in journalism, and more to the point, that there was actually a practical application for my love of writing.

But, as I said, before my love of writing came my love of reading.

For something that has had such a big impact on my life, you'd think I'd remember the moment when it all came together and I started to read.  But I don't.  I don't remember if someone taught me, or if I figured it out myself.  What I do remember is my excitement about it, and proudly sharing this accomplishment with a fellow first-grader.  (We were a bit slower in those days--nowadays kids learn to read long before they hit elementary school, it seems.) The other student--all I remember was that she was female--sneered and said, "You can't read!  You're lying!" (I'm pretty sure this scarred me for life, in subtle ways like sometimes being unwilling to step into the limelight for fear someone will shout the adult equivalent of "You can't read! You're lying!")

I thought about all this recently because I read a really good book.  Now, I read a lot, as all writers should, everything from magazines and newspapers to blogs and books.  But even with all that reading, it has been a long time since I read a book that transported me as much as this novel did.  It is called Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel, and you should go buy it or get it from the library NOW.  Don't let the subject matter turn you off.  On the surface, it is about the world 15 years after a flu pandemic has wiped out most of the world's population, and all of the infrastructure we take for granted, too, like electricity and the internet and cell phones.  But really, it is about the importance of art to our lives, the strange and wonderful connections between people, and hope.  (It was also a National Book Award finalist this year, one of the first science fiction novels to have been so nominated.  Though I would not really call it science fiction.)

And it reminded me of the tension of reading. 

What do I mean by the tension of reading?  To me, it occurs in two ways:

1. Between wanting to find out what happens and not wanting the book to end.  I have this thing I do when I'm reading: I get so curious about what's going to ensue that the tension becomes unbearable.  So I open the book further ahead and peek--just a quick glimpse--at a page. Yeah, sometimes this backfires and gives away big spoilers, but often it gives just enough of a hint to defuse the tension and let me keep going.  And sometimes it makes me think one thing is going to happen and then something completely different does! (Serves me right.)

2. Between wanting to start a new book to have the same transporting experience again--but not wanting to leave the world of the book you just finished.  When I finished Station Eleven, I wanted to start another book immediately because I wanted to duplicate the reading experience I just had.  I'd just been to the library and brought home a stack of books--a particularly good haul, I'd thought.  But when I went to peruse my pile and choose what to read next, none of them appealed.  Much as I wanted to enter a new reading world, the old one of Station Eleven still lingered. 

This was really the first time I've identified these tensions in such a direct way.  I've felt each of them for years, of course, but never really fully named them.  And, as a writer, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that tension is the most important element of any work of fiction (and I daresay non-fiction, too). I'm quite sure the tensions of reading and writing are related.

So those are my Wednesday thoughts this week.  Please leave a comment--do you have a weird reading habit?  I know one of my loyal readers, who shall remain nameless, reads the end of the book first!  So c'mon, fess up--what are your reading habits?

Photo by pontuse.

Why Give a Book Away?

Blue Sky WEBSITE USEI sent out a notice to my mailing list that my short story, Blue Sky, is available free on Amazon this weekend.  (And now I'm telling you.  You can download it here.   For free.  And please tell your family and friends.  And enemies. Or the mailman and all your coworkers, and everyone else you know.)

But a client/friend emailed and asked me, essentially, why I was doing this.  And that made me realize that not everyone has studied the theory of indie publishing with Amazon as I have.  (Why would you? I never thought twice about it until I started hearing other author's success stories.)

So, why would you give away a book for free?

Let me be the first to say that I'm not an expert on this whole thing, so all I can offer is why I decided to do it.  Here's the deal.  When you publish a book exclusively with Amazon in their program called KDP Select, they offer you several sales tools.  One of the most-used is the freebie.  For every 90-day period you are exclusive with them, you get up to 5 days where you can offer your book for free.  

And--this is its own little mini-industry.   There are numerous sites that will list your freebie for free, or a small fee.  Some of them list it for free but then say they can't guarantee your book will show up unless you pay them that small fee (anywhere from $5-$50, at least on the sites I saw).   If you're interested, I found a page on Author Marketing Club that listed a bunch of such sites.

All this being said, why do it?

For me, its a matter of exposure.  I hope that people will read my short story, like it, and decide to buy my novel.  I also hope they will come visit this site (hello to you if this is your first time here) and keep an eye out for future releases.  And maybe keep coming back for more scintillating posts on writing and the writing life.  One of the great things about formatting a book for Amazon is that you can put anything you want to at the end of the book.  So, of course, I put a link to this page.  

I'm not sure how effective a free promotion would be if you had only one book or story up.  There's a whole school of thought that indie publishing is a numbers game and that the more books you have up, the better you'll do.  Hugh Howey, the poster child for indie publishing, said at a panel at AWP that he didn't do any promotion until he had five or six titles published.

So, I'll keep you posted on all this.  I'm approaching my foray into indie publishing as a grand experiment.  Why not try offering a book for free?  Of course, it helps that what I have to give is a short story, not a novel I slaved over for years.  (Though I did write the first draft of this story when I was doing my MFA back in 2002.)

Here are a couple of posts about publishing with Amazon:

So You Want to be a Kindle Author

Amazon for Authors, Part One

Amazon for Authors, Part Two 

Would you consider giving a book away for free?

Q and A With Eric Maisel

Last week, I posted my initial thoughts on Eric Maisel's latest book on creativity, Making Your Creative Mark, and promised more to come.  Then his publicist sent me this interview, which I thought delved into more of the book very nicely.  So here you go!

An Interview with Eric Maisel

Author of Making Your Creative Mark

Eric Maisel is the author of Making Your Creative Mark and twenty other creativity titles including Mastering Creative Anxiety, Brainstorm, Creativity for Life, and Coaching the Artist Within. America’s foremost creativity coach, he is widely known as a creativity expert who coaches individuals and trains creativity coaches through workshops and keynotes nationally and internationally. He has blogs on the Huffington Post and Psychology Today and writes a column for Professional Artist Magazine. Visit him online at his website.

You’ve organized the book around nine keys. Can you highlight one or two of them for us?

I start with the “mind key” because I believe that getting a grip on our thoughts and doing a better job of thinking thoughts that actually serve us are supremely important skills to master. Most people do a poor job of “minding their mind” and choosing to think in ways that serve them. It is a completely common practice for people to present themselves with thoughts that amount to self-sabotage and to refuse to dispute those thoughts once they arise. If people did a better job of “minding their mind” by noticing what they were thinking and by making an effort to replace defensive and unproductive thoughts with less defensive and more productive thoughts, they would live in less pain and they would give themselves a much better chance of living the life they dream of living. This is doubly true for artists who can doubt their talent, take criticism too seriously, find a hundred ways to avoid the hard working of creating, and more. There’s really nothing more important than getting a grip on your own thoughts!

Why do you think someone would want to gamble everything on a life in the arts when it’s so hard to make it as an artist?

Human beings crave the psychological experience of meaning. We want that almost more than we want anything else. There are maybe a score of ways that human beings regularly generate that psychological experience: through service, through relationships, by excelling, by seizing new experiences – and by creating. Creating is one of our prime meaning opportunities and for many people the most important. Therefore folks who decide to devote themselves to an art discipline aren’t making some sort of calculation about risk versus reward. What they are doing is honoring their need to make their own meaning. If you look at a life in the arts as a smart career choice it doesn’t make that much sense; if you look at it as a tremendous meaning opportunity, it makes perfect sense.

You present what you call “the stress key.” What are some of your top tips for reducing the stress that a life in the arts produces?

Life produces stress, the artistic personality produces additional stress, creating produces even more stress, and living the artist’s life is the topper! An artist must learn how to deal with all of these stressors—and how to deal with them effectively. There are many tactics an artist can try—the key is actually trying some! You might try “writing your stress away.” Research reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that writing about stressful situations and experiences can reduce your stress levels – and can actually lead to improvements in immune functioning, fewer visits to the doctor, and an increased sense of well-being. You can reframe a given demand as an opportunity, turning your “stressful” upcoming gallery show into a golden opportunity. You can have a fruitful conversation with yourself and answer the following four questions: 1. What are my current stressors? 2. What unhealthy strategies am I currently employing to deal with these stressors? 3. What healthy strategies am I currently employing to deal with these stressors? 4. What new stress management strategies would I like to learn? An artist needs to honor the reality of stress and make plans for dealing with it!

Is there one habit or practice that really makes a difference between getting your creative work done and not getting it done?

Yes. The most important practice an artist can institute is a morning creativity practice where she carves out some time bright and early every day, five, six or seven days a week, to work on her novel, practice her instrument, or get right to her painting studio. There are three important reasons to institute a morning creativity practice. The first reason is the most obvious one—you’ll be getting a lot of creative work done! Even if only a percentage of what you do pleases you, by virtue of working regularly you’ll start to create a body of work. That’ll feel good! A second reason is that you get to make use of your “sleep thinking”—you get to make use of whatever your brain has been thinking about all night. Create first thing and capture those thoughts that have been percolating all night! The third reason is that, by creating first thing, you’ll have the experience of making some meaning on that day and the rest of the day can pass in a half-meaningless way and you won’t get depressed! Getting right to your creative work first thing each day provides you with a daily shot of meaningfulness. That’s a lot of goodness to get from one practice.

I’d like you to chat a bit about what you call the “freedom key.” What sort of freedom are you talking about?

Many different sorts—let’s look at just one, the freedom not be perfect; or, to put it slightly differently, the freedom to make big mistakes and messes. Not so long ago I got an email from a painter in Rhode Island.  She wrote, “I'm a perfectionist and I want my artwork to be perfect. Sometimes this prevents me from getting started on a new project or from finishing the one I’m currently working on. I think to myself: If it's not going to be the best, why bother to do it? How do I move past these feelings?” One way to get out of this trap is to move from a purely intellectual understanding that messes are part of the creative process to a genuine visceral understanding of that truth.  You need to feel that freedom in your body. As an intellectual matter, every artist knows that some percentage of her work will prove less than stellar, especially if she is taking risks with subject matter or technique.  But accepting that obvious truth on a feeling level eludes far too many creative and would-be creative people. They want to “perfect” things in their head before turning to the canvas or the computer screen and a result they stay in their head and never get started. You have to feel free to show up and make a big mess—only then will good things start happening!

Another key that interested me is what you call the “relationship key.” What sorts of relationships did you have in mind and what can an artist do to improve his relationship skills?

All sorts of relationships! And relationships in the arts are frequently very complicated. You may be very friendly with a fellow painter and also quite envious of her. You may actively dislike a gallery owner or a collector but decide that he is too valuable to cast aside, maybe because he is your only advocate or your only customer. You may respect your editor’s opinions but despise the rudeness with which she delivers them. There may be no such thing as a genuinely straightforward relationship anywhere in life but relationships in the arts are that much more complicated and shadowy. The main improvement an artist can make is to actually think about the matter! You can decide how you want to be in relationships but only if you actively decide. You get to decide if you want to be honest and straightforward even if others aren’t, if you want to be polite and diplomatic even if others aren’t, if you want to be quiet and calm even if others are stirring the pot and making dramas. It may not prove easy to be the person you want to be at all times and in all situations, especially since the marketplace has a way of throwing us off our game, but you can nevertheless hold the intention to try your darnedest to be the “you” you would most like to be. This takes thought and preparation!

So that's it for the interview.  Do you have a favorite book on the creative process?

The Benefits of Reading

Now, I know you read a lot.  Because, you're a writer.  And writers not only write, they read.  It's the way of the world.  Reading is why most of us got into this game in the first place. 

(Brief aside: you'd be surprised how many wannabe writers I've run into who don't read.  When someone comes to me and says, "I've always wanted to be a writer," I say, "What do you like to read?" And then, ahem, when they say "Oh, I don't read, I like to watch TV and movies," I know they are not going to make it as a writer--unless they want to write scripts.)

But there's reading and there's reading, as in reading as a writer.  Once you start doing that, reading is never the same, by the way.   Because, you're constantly looking at how the author handled plot, character, setting, dialogue, theme, style--all the things we strive to add to our stories.  (I've heard some writers complain about this, saying reading is no longer the light, relaxing activity it once was for them, but I like it--I think this way of reading adds a depth that contributes to my enjoyment.)

My approach to reading got rejuvenated when I was in Louisville for the Spalding MFA residency, because that's part of what you do in workshop--pull apart stories and see how they were put together, studying each element.  I was re-inspired to approach reading this way, which happened to coincide with my own work on a couple of short stories. 

I am here to report that my recent reading has had a real, direct impact on my writing, and I want to share that in order to explain how it happens.  (You no doubt already know this.  But being reminded of it, as I was in Louisville, can be a helpful thing.)

Example #1

Before I left Louisville, I downloaded the Best American Short Stories of 2012 and then read it on the plane on the way home.  (I liked having it on my Kindle, because it forced me to read the stories straight through, whereas my usual style would be to pick and choose.  But in picking and choosing, I would miss some gems.) One of the stories was called M&M World.  (That link takes you right to the story--cool.)

I'm not going to ruin the story for you by deconstructing it, but there's a part of the story that looks to an incident in the protagonist's marriage that happened long ago.  And as I read that, I had an epiphany: this is what my story needs, too.  I needed to go briefly (for one paragraph) into the past to show an aspect of my character's marriage.  I added this and presented the rewrite to my writing group--and they loved it.  Said it added a depth and insight that had previously been lacking. Which was my intention.  So, yay.

Example #2

I recently started reading Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter.  Wonderful novel, I recommend it.  Love the story line and I adore his style of writing--the way he puts words together.  He's one of those writers who pulls you into the character's head with the use of the telliing detail, actually, lots of them.  And this got me to thinking--perhaps this was what was missing from my story?  I liked so much of what I had written, but overall, it seemed a bit flat to me.  And so I've been going back through and looking for places I can add more details and it is making a huge difference.  (I have a whole post on this planned for later this week.)

Both of these epiphanies have added a lot to my story (which I'm just about read to send out, by the way). And I never would have gotten them without reading.

So, what about you?  What are you currently reading?  How is it affecting your writing?

Oh, Amazon, You Trickster, You

Book-books-collection-415-lIf you enter the title of my novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior, into the Amazon search engine, up my book will pop, despite the fact that its pub date is not until February 12th.  And no, there's nothing about pre-ordering it mentioned on the page.  It's just there.  For sale.

I found this out thanks to the alert eyes of my reader and online buddy Zan Marie.  Now, I'd be happy to have my book available for sale, except for a couple of things:

--This isn't the final copy.  I worked on final proofing all the way to Nashville and back.  Caught a few small errors.  No big deal, you say?  Uh-uh.  Not for me.  I'm a printer's daughter and pride myself on being able to catch typos.  (Now, of course, you'll find one or more.  That's alright.  I can take it.  Let me know, I won't be hurt.) I also tinkered with the acknowledgments (the hardest part of writing the book, I swear) a bit.  And I wanted my readers to get this corrected copy, the final, final copy.  The perfect one.

--We set the pub date for February 12th and I wanted to have the requisite hoopla around it on that date.  Not some vague earlier time.  I wanted it to be a specific date, an event.  (I'm working on ideas for how I can share this event with you, so stay tuned.)  Silly, maybe, but so be it.

So I emailed my ever-patient editor and she promptly contacted Amazon to have them take it down, at the very least until the final final copy gets to them.  (You'll still see it listed for sale if you search for it or click here.  I actually don't know what happens if you click on it to buy it.)

But here's what cracks me up: Just as Emma Jean does in the novel, I started checking my Amazon sales rank.  At one point, it was down to #717,876 or something like that.  Wow!  I was feeling pretty good about that.  I mean, it wasn't even officially on sale yet and already I was ranked below a million.  Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh. 

And then my editor emailed me back yet again and said that as far as the publishers could tell only one copy of that version of the book had been sold. (Thanks, Jenni--you've got a one-of-a-kind edition.)  So, as my daughter-in-law said, thus selling one book=#717,876 rank.  Does this mean if I sell two I get put right up to #1?   Um, probably not.  Apparently the Amazon algorithm is mysterious and unknown, just like the Google's.

Thus, note to self: do NOT fuss and obsess over the Amazon sales ranking when the book comes out.  Because it doesn't mean anything.  Does it?

Do you have experience with Amazon?  I'd love to hear it.  Barring that, what do you obsess over?  That's an even better topic.  Please share in the comments.

**There's only a couple more days of early-bird pricing for my Get Your Novel Written Now class.  Check out more info here.


Book Review: You Have No Idea

This is a paid review for the BlogHer Book Club, but the opinions expressed are mine and mine alone!

The book I'm reviewing today is a bit of a departure for me, or at least these pages, where we focus on literary and creative writing topics.  But in a part of my life I don't publicize, for obvious reasons, I'm sort of a fiend for celebrity gossip.

I'm not proud of this.  But there it is.

But it is also why I leaped at the chance to review You Have No Idea: A Famous Daughter, Her No-Nonsense Mother, and How They Survived Pageants, Hollywood, Love, Loss (and Each Other), by Vanessa Williams, and her mother Helen Williams.

It is mostly the story of the life of Vanessa Williams, she of Miss America, Ugly Betty, and Desperate Housewives fame.  But throughout the book, direct and forthright Helen, Vanessa's mother, speaks up, adding her point of view to the proceedings.

I've always liked Vanessa Williams, because to me she comes across as an intelligent non-diva, and that's exactly the impression I still have of her after reading this book.  Helen's part in the narrative really helps this.  Both women are good company.  I often get bored reading books like this, but I finished this one with interest.  And I loved all the photos that are interspersed throughout.  Vanessa Williams really is a stunningly beautiful woman who manages to look good no matter what.  Sigh. 

One of the things I kept thinking about as I wrote was ghostwriting.  As most of you know, one of the writer's hats I wear is ghostwriter.  In this case, the ghostwriter got a credit.  Irene Zutell is listed as a "with" on the cover.  I think she did a good job on this book, as the narrative of each woman comes across as the distinct personalities they are.  From a note at the back, I presume there was lots of meeting for interviews in locations across the country.

Sounds easy, right? Meet a celebrity in some glamorous location, interview her, transcribe the pages and clean it up a bit.  And voila! You've got yourself a memoir.  But it doesn't work like that, because the spoken word doesn't necessarily translate to a unique written voice.  Weird phenomenon, but there it is. The ghostwriter has to really work to get the voice of the subject on the page.

Anyway, if you're a fan and you get the chance to read this book, do it.  You'll enjoy it.  And it would make a great Mother's Day gift.  Also, you can read tons more about it on the BlogHer Book Club page.

Review: The Book of Jonas

This is a paid book review for the BlogHer book club, but the opinions expressed are mine and mine alone!

Any book I read (and I try to read a lot, because that's what writers do) I read through the eyes of a writer.  Once you being writing, reading is a whole different experience, because you're studying how the author uses craft as you read.  In The Book of Jonas, I not only enjoyed pondering the way author Stephen Dau wielded craft, I also loved his overall theme, which is of huge interest to writers.

But before I go into that, let me tell you a bit about the book.  The book's main protagonist, Jonas, is just a teenager when his family is killed during a U.S. military operation in an unnamed war.  He escapes to the United States, where he struggles, not only with fitting in, but with the weight of a terrible secret.  This secret concerns the story's secondary protagonist, Christopher Henderson, the U.S. soldier who saved Jonas's life.  Written in dream-like prose, the book builds to quite the emotional ending, though you'll probably have guessed it before the end.

It is quite a tour-de-force of a book and I suspect it will land in the annals of classic war literature.  Extremely well written and nearly hypnotic in its ability to keep you reading, The Book of Jonas is a stunning achievement.  And all that is saying a lot from me because it is not the kind of book I usually read--I shy away from books about war.

As I mentioned, Dau uses the writer's craft in a mesmerizing way.  Part of that is his use of a fractured chronology.  The story leaps from Jonas's current day life in America to his former life in his unnamed homeland, and neither of those chronologies is linear, so the reader is jumping all over the place, yet the story remains clear.  If you're writing a fractured chronology, you should study this book.  And by study, I mean read it over and over again, underline it, and take notes.  It is extremely well done.

Finally, the book offers up a theme that every writer can embrace: the power of story.  It is only through telling the story, in Jonas's case, and writing it down, in Christopher's, that we achieve healing, and ultimately, freedom.

For comment: what book or books have you read lately that inspired you?


Why Write a Book Proposal?

Paper_papers_letter_237662_l I attended a party over the weekend, where I was introduced to a couple of other writers (we already have plans to do Happy Hour together, we had so much fun).  But one of them asked me, "You mean people still have dreams of getting their books published?  Are any books even being published these days?"

Yes, ma'am, they are.

When I looked up statistics on how many books are being published a year, I came up with this statistic: in 2009, 1,02,803 books were published, according to Bowker, an industry analyst.

Um, in my world, that's still a lot of books.

And if one of those books is a work of non-fiction, the way you sell it is through a book proposal.  Odds are really good that even if you have your entire non-fiction book finished, an agent or editor will ask for a proposal.  I know this because it has happened to friends and clients of mine.

Which is why I'm all about writing a book proposal.  Because why not do what agents want in the first place?  And besides, the really cool thing about a book proposal is that its like a plan for your book.  So when you've finished the proposal, you know everything about the book: its structure, its content (down to chapter by chapter synopses), its flow.  And, guess what else?  You also know everything about where the book fits in the market and how you are going to position it.  So on the off-chance that the publishing world doesn't see the brilliance of your book idea and you decide to publish it yourself, you're all set.

Either way, its a win-win.  So what are you waiting for?

Oh, you don't know how to write a book proposal.  Well, the good news is that I do, and I'm once again offering my class on it.  Not only that, I'm offering crazy fast-action bonuses if you act now: a whopping $170 off the price and a one-hour coaching session to the first five who sign up. 

But.  (You knew there was a but.)

These enticements expire soon.  The crazy $170 off the price of the class expires at midnight, August 17th.  That's this Wednesday.  And your chance to nab a coaching session ends at midnight on August 24th. 

The other cool thing is that the class begins at the end of September.  Because I know we're all still in summer mode and don't really want to think about learning and writing and doing--that is September back-to-school energy, for sure.  But if you buy now, you get all the bonuses and the great price break.

So, check it out here.  You know you want to.  Oh, and by the way, if you have any questions about book proposals, ask them in the comments and I'll answer.


Photo by mordoc.

A Messiness of Mind

I'm enduring a messiness of mind this week. Estock_commonswiki_303408_l

It feels like I've been on a full-out run since mid-December. There's the mad Christmas rush, of course, followed by New Year's and my daughter's birthday.  And then I had to get organized for my trip to Nashville last week, which was more complicated than usual because I was also presenting a workshop.

On the two plane flights home, I had terrible problems with the air pressure changes (that'll happen when the pilot descends from 20,000 feet when you're only 60 miles out) and so ever since I've been struggling with a head as congested as a stuffed sausage.  That's what it feels like, actually.  I keep thinking that there's no room for any extra thoughts between the usual synapses in my brain.

And to top it all off, I arrived home Monday night and stepped right into a full schedule on Tuesday, with appointments during the day and every evening booked.

I realized this morning while writing morning pages that I've simply not had time to clear the gunk out of my brain (and the damn congestion doesn't help). But here's the deal.  My surroundings echo my mental state. My office is a mess, with piles of journals and notebooks here, books I've pulled off shelves there, and papers everywhere.  And after reading a blog post from my student and friend Leisa Hammett, I've realized how big of a problem this is for me.  I looked around this morning and decided I need to get myself organized, pronto.

But a messy office is just the physical manifestation of my messy mind.  Here are some of the things I haven't been doing that usually contribute to a better mental state:

My morning ritual.  I am managing to write morning pages, but usually I spend time in meditation and prayer, contemplating life, and doing a bit of inspiring reading also.  That's all out the window.

Meditation.  See above.

Exercise.  I'm a lifelong walker and usually it takes barely anything to get me out the door.  Not lately.  Its too cold, or its too wet, or its just too too.  Basically, I'm just too lazy.  This must change.  My body is complaining to me, loudly.

But here's something I have been doing a lot lately that I believe has an enormous impact on my well-being:

Reading.  I'm always reading something (usually about 5 somethings) but lately I've been on a run of reading especially good books (The Hunger Games, The Help, a couple of non-fiction titles).  There's no better way to spend downtime as a writer than reading.  It informs, encourages and teaches us about our craft in every single aspect.

So, with luck, with any luck at all, I'll get my office organized this weekend.  Right after I finish the last 100 pages of The Help.

8 Essential Tools For Book Writing (Just in Time for Nanowrimo)

The thing about writing is that you can accomplish it without much in the way of tools.  Really, all you need to finish a book is something to write on and something to write with. Of course, a computer is also helpful, but strictly speaking, it is not a requirement.  Theoretically, you could write your entire book in pencil on legal pads and find someone to type it up for you.

But that would be theoretically.  In the real world, it is good to have some niceties.  And this lack of a need for tools is one reason I got excited the other morning when I realized I had some things to recommend to have on hand when writing a book.  Though, in truth, I guess they would more accurately be called supplies than tools.  But work with me, just for the sake of it, would you?


Here they are:

1. A good spiral notebook or binder.  This will be used for brainstorming, free-writing, working out your ideas for characters, writing down descriptions, and so on. 

2. A seperate notebook for notes.  This can be a small notepad or a small binder or whatever strikes your fancy.  To my mind, it is necessary because brilliant ideas and directions for changes in your book get lost in the mad rush of writing that goes on in #1.

3. A vision board.  For the visually-minded, a book-writing vision board which collects images and words to inspire you is a wonderful boon. 

4. A story board.  Not to be confused with #3, a story board actually tells the story of your book, scene by scene, on individual index cards or post-it notes tacked up on a board. Its a great aid in seeing where you are going and keeping track.

5.  Post-It Notes.  I can't live without them.  My desk is littered with them, stuck on shelves, to-do lists, in notebooks, on journal pages, everywhere.

6. A binder.  Use this for putting printed book pages in.  Nothing is more inspiring than seeing the pages stack up!

7. A carry-along notebook.  You might want to make #2 do double-duty, but you might also want to choose something compact.  Just make sure you have something with you to make notes on when inspiration strikes--I often use my phone.

8. A box of pens.  Because you'll go through them.

And then, of course, there's that metal thing called a computer...

What are your must-have tools or supplies for writing a book?


Image by christgr, via Everystockphoto.

Inspiration Friday

I'm starting a new feature today.  It is "Inspiration Friday," and because I am a right-brained creature through and through and I will get bored if I allow myself only one thing to post about, it is going to be a mish-mash.  A mish-mash with a common theme--something that has inspired me the previous week.  This might be a photo, a quote, a link to another blog post, or a round-up of all of these.  Or it might be something completely different.*


This week it is a book called 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, by Laura Vanderkam.  I saw this book at the Hudson Booksellers in the Nashville airport last week, didn't buy it, then got to the gate and sat there thinking about it and wished I had.  So I walked all the way back up the concourse to grab it and I'm glad I did.

Vanderkam looks at time management in a new way.  This book is not just nuts-and-bolts strategies to gain more time and be more efficient, it goes further than that to look at a bigger picture.  For instance, she examines the common assumption that we're all stressed for time and realizes that part of this is an illusion.  People who self-report on how many hours they work a week often skew the numbers up, for example.  So though it is commonplace to hear that successful people work 60 hours a week, in truth, the numbers are actually lower.

The author urges us to look at our "core competencies" and find ways to spend most of our working day performing them.  For me, my core competency is writing.  And yet there are days when I spend the bulk of my time emailing or calling or doing other jobs related to writing but not actually writing.  

I'm only halfway through the book and it has already had a big impact on me.  I'm currently reading a section called "Anatomy of a Breakthrough," about what it takes to achieve those fabled "overnight" successes.  Good stuff.  This is a book that I think is going to continue to influence me, and I recommend you check it out. 

And stayed tuned to find out what inspired me next week.  In the meantime, what inspired you this week?  Please tell.

*I promise, though, no clown pictures.  Like the one here, in case you need a reminder.  Or here.  Honest, that's it.  Except for this one.  Or this one.  Okay, really, I'm done now.   This blog is now a clown-free zone.

I snitched the photo of the book cover from Laura Vanderkam's website, but since I am promoting her book, I hope she doesn't mind too much.

Friday Review: Female Nomad and Friends

Female Nomad and Friends: Cover

Tales of Breaking Free and Breaking Bread Around the World

by Rita Golden Gelman

I leaped at the chance to review this book because I was familiar with Gelman's first book, Tales of a Female Nomad and was happy to hear she'd written another one.  To understand the premise of the second book, you need to know a little about the first book (though you certainly don't have to read the first to appreciate the second).

At the age of 48, on the verge of a divorce, Gelman, who at the time led quite the privileged Hollywood-style life, decided to chuck it all and begin traveling.  Now, she lives all over the world, carrying what she needs with her, living serendipitously.  As she puts it, "In 1987 I opened my life to otherness; it became addictive.  I still have no fixed address and hardly any possessions."

And how does she manage to finance this lifestyle?  Through writing children's books.  Her first adult book, which detailed her adventures, also did well.  Well enough that readers clamored for more.  But Gelman didn't really want to write another book, she was too busy having fun.  Part of that fun included trying new and different things and she wanted no part of writing a sequel.  Still, readers clamored.

And thus Female Nomad and Friends was born.  Gelman hit on the idea of using the many stories that readers, inspired by her adventures, had emailed her.  Plus she decided to add recipes. So the resulting anthology has 41 stories and 32 recipes, all of an international bent.  Perhaps the best part of it all is that evey single penny of the proceeds from this book goes to Gelman's current pet project, which is funding vocational educations for high school graduates from the slums of New Delhi. 

For that reason alone you should buy this book.  But you'll also want to buy it for the stories and the recipes.  Its the kind of book that you can have on your bedside table and read one a night, in order if you are that type of person.  Or you can do what I did, which is to pick it up, close my eyes, and choose a story at random until I had read them all.  It is much more fun that way.

Here's a sampler of the stories you'll find in the book:

Breakfast in Malaca, by Wendy Lewis, about a delicious--and surprising--meal in Malaysia.

Chapati Love Remembered, by Jean Allen, probably my favorite story in the whole book, about making chaptis--and love.

Thanksgiving: A Different Perspective, by Ana Maria Bradley, in which a foreign exchange student comes to appreciate an American holiday.

And here's a taste of some of the recipes:

Latvian Piragi

Ginger-Cumin Roasted Chicken (I'm trying this one for sure)

Charred Sugar-Crusted Salmon

Vietnamese Soft Spring Rolls

Mousse au Chocolat Truffee

And many more...

Reading Gelman's story, and the many stories in the anthology, has made me ponder if I could do the same as her--live without a home base anywhere.  Now, I love to travel and actually wish I could do more of it.  But somehow I don't think I could live without a permanent address.  I love Gelman's lifestyle and appreciate that for her, it is all about being open to the other and making connections throughout the world.  But I want my own little house to come home to after I've been away--my pets, my art, my funny little things.

What about everyone else?  Could you travel the world without a permanent home?

While you ponder the answer to that question, here's a bit more information about Gelman and the book:

Rita Golden Gelman is the author of Tales of a Female Nomad and more than seventy children’s books, including More Spaghetti, I Say!, a staple in every first grade classroom. As a nomad, Rita has no permanent address.  She is currently involved in an initiative called Let’s Get Global, a project of US Servas, Inc, a national movement deigned to bring the gap year to the United States. Learn more at:

We invite you to join us on the Female Nomad and Friends virtual tour. The full schedule can be seen at You can learn much more about Rita Golden Gelman and her work on her website -

Why Did You Decide to Become a Writer?

I'm playing around with a new character, whose life is defined by the books she reads.  And this has made Everystockphoto_205924_m me ponder how intertwined my life is with the books I read.

I refer to characters from books I've read in my brain all the time, sometimes learning from their actions, or using what they do as a cautionary tale.  I remember incidents from memoirs and learn helpful nuggets for daily life from spiritual books. 

What makes books so amazing for me is the power they have to transport me to another world, to plop me down in a completely different setting and make me feel like I'm walking around in a new location.  Even good cookbooks can do this for me, like the latest one I'm using, which has me inhabiting a cattle ranch in Oklahoma.

What I've also been thinking about is how being an avid reader has made me who I am today, ie, a writer.  Because from the earliest time I can remember, I thought this ability of the written word to transport me to a new world was magical.  And I wanted me some of that magic for my own.  Since I was a teeny, tiny girl, I wanted to be a writer.  And that all stemmed from my love of reading.

Sometimes in my travels I run into people who want to be writers but never read.  Um, really?  C'mon.  You have to read in order to learn to write, to see how other people put words together on the page so they make sense.  To see how they compose a scene, to learn how to write dialogue.

But beyond all that, I can't even imagine a world in which reading and writing are not linked.  In which the desire to be a writer doesn't stem from an avid reading habit.  Can you? 

If you can, please tell me about it, I'm all ears.

No matter where your desire to write comes from, I'd love to hear about it.  What's your earliest memory of wanting to be a writer?  Of the magic of reading?

My Grandfather, the Author

My grandfather, who died before I was born, was an author.  GrandpaRains

I didn't know this until yesterday.

Not only that, he marketed his book himself, and wrote some pretty awesome direct mail copy to sell it. (You can see some of it in a brochure he wrote in the photo above.) If he were alive today, he'd be an internet information marketer, for sure.  He'd be harnessing the power of the interwebs with gusto!

Jesse Lewis Rains was a doctor, first in Grangeville, Idaho, then Oakley, Idaho, small towns which are still really, really small towns.  I know, I've been to both of them.  My grandfather was a doctor and a Presbyterian.  Nothing wrong with that, right?  Well, if you lived in small towns in Idaho there was.  Because in every small town across the west you'll notice one thing--a Mormon church.  In some of those small towns, the Mormon church is the only church in town.

Thus the problem with being a Presbyterian doctor.  Since my grandfather was not Mormon, nobody would use his services.  So off to Seattle they moved.  Specifically, a small town south of Seattle called Foster, currently the location of the sprawling Sea-Tac mall.  (When I was a child, they razed the houses in the area in order to build the mall and we combed through the ruins.  All I remember is my aunt finding quite a treasure trove of bottles, which she collected, in the detritus). 

But apparently, even being a doctor wasn't enough.  He wanted more.  This could be the mantra of the entire lineage of the Rains family, myself included: more!  And so he did what any self-respecting human desirous of more does.  He wrote a book.  His was called Profitable Practise: A Service Book For Physicians, and told doctors how to charge more for their services.  

Jesse's copy would probably convert fairly well today.  Here's a sample:

Yes, indeed! Profitable Practise tells you not only how to treat your patient and receive due renumeration for your services--it also tells you how to make your patients feel so grateful to you that they will "boost" for you and send you other patients.  And why not?  Why shouldn't you get a legitimate return from your practise?

This sounds remarkable similar to many of the internet marketing courses I study today, all of which sound the same theme--we deserve to get paid handsomely for what we do.  (And, for the record, I'm not mocking it, because I share this belief for all of us.)

I found my grandfather's book in a moldy old cardboard box I'd hauled out of my Mom's house last year, in the crazy months when my sister and I cleaned out 70 years of accumulated stuff before she died.  Yesterday I finally finished sorting through the papers I brought home from her house.  They are now at least safely confined to protective plastic tubs and stowed in our storage unit.

It was so amazing to me to learn that not only was my grandfather a published author, he was a inveterate writer.  In the box were piles of old torn files, which held several more handwritten manuscripts he apparently intended to publish.  I didn't have time to go through them all, but one of them caught my attention.  He was writing a manual on sex advice!  On one piece of paper was written the following, which I suspect he planned to use for his advertising copy:

You only go through life once!  Why not make the most of it?

I really wish I'd known my grandfather, but he died long before my father even met my mother.  However, having his books and papers allows me to get to know him through the medium I know and love the best--writing.

And what could be better than that?

Oh, and by the way, I've not even begun to delve into the writing from my Mom's side of the family.  My grandmother Hoho, who died when I was three, wrote in a journal every day of her life and I happen to have 50 years worth of her journals in my possession.  To say nothing of every letter anyone ever wrote my Mom, including the ones from her various suitors during World War II.

I love that I have this amazing legacy of writing from both sides of my family.  But my question is: what do I do with all this material?  It seems so vast and overwhelming to me.  Suggestions?  Have any of you ever dealt with written material from your family?  I'm all ears.

Your Book Is Your Business Card

Book_books_literature_261154_l When I wrote my post last week on Why You Need a Book, I gave a somewhat sketchy list of reasons (hey, I was low on time!) and promised to write more about each one if there was enough interest.  And, it turns out, there was.  So herewith are more information on the first three reasons you should write a book.

Your Book Is Your Business Card

As the title of this post implies, the book is the new business card.  Why is this?  For a couple of reasons.  Number one, a book tells a prospective client more about you in seconds than a business card does.  A book cover can communicate who you are and what the service or product is that you are selling.  And a book tells much more than that.  It tells that you have some oomph and stick-to-itness, that you have what it takes to sit down and put words on paper over and over again until a book emerges.

In our society of constant content, being able to put forth your message in a book is a valuable asset.  And if you're not a businessperson, but a writer who has always dreamed of writing a book, getting one published can be a huge boost to your career.  With a book under your belt, you can raise your fees.  You'll get the plumb job now, too.  Why?  That question leads to reason number two:

Instant credibility

Even in this age of the interwebs and immediate access to information, there's still something about a book that gives us heft and weight (and I do not mean body-wise, because that is not the kind of heft we are looking for).  A book communicates that you know whereof you speak, and that what you speak is not to be taken lightly.  Because, you know, you da bomb baby.  That's what people will think when you show them your book.  Books are magical in this way.  They make you into somebody: an author.  Which is even, to my ears, cooler than a writer.  And I think being a writer is about the coolest thing in the universe.

Source of Authority

Writing a book makes you a source of authority.  Suddenly, journalists and bloggers will call your for quotes.  Conference organizers will call you to speak.  Because, you know, you are the authority.  Don't tell them otherwise.  Kidding.  The truth is that you, yes little ole you, are the authority.  You wrote a book, didn't you?  And you spend hours and days and weeks and months researching it and learning in order to write it, didn't you? So you are the authority.

And this means that other people will want to learn from you.  Because authority sells.  It sells if you are writing an article, a blog post, a newsletter, or a brochure for your business.  But it especially sells if you write a book.  So be that authority and write the book.  The world needs your authority and it needs your voice.

I'll continue with the reasons why you should write a book later on this week.  But in the meantime, what about you?  Why do you want to write a book?  Or, if you've already done so, what kind of successes have you garnered from it?