Sunday, February 16, 2014

Write Right! (The Business of Books' upcoming workshops)

Hi, folks! My friends Jen and Kerry, the brilliant minds behind the Business of Books, have great workshops coming up in Seattle this spring. You'll learn a lot, plus I guarantee you'll have fun. I also suspect you'll meet some other inspiring aspiring authors. 

Check out the details, courtesy of Jen: 

Write a Successful Query LetterMarch 20, 6:30-8:30pmHotel 1000, Seattle, WA
We’ll walk you through creating an attention-grabbing and business savvy query letter for your book project, no matter the genre. During the two-hour workshop, you’ll learn how to:
  • Compose a compelling opening that will knock anyone’s socks off
  • Write a query that matches the tone and voice of your manuscript
  • Detail all the ways you and your book project are a good business bet
  • Distill everything an editor or agent needs to know into succinct letter form
  • Use examples of other successful query letters to your advantage
  • Research and compile a targeted submission list
By the end of this hands-on workshop, you’ll have a running start on your query letter and a clear plan for capturing the attention of the right agents and editors. A query letter serves as your stand-in, your pitch, your first shot across the publishing bow. We’ll show you how to make every word count. $99.Register:

Craft a Winning Book ProposalApril 10, 6:30-9:30pmHotel 1000, Seattle, WA
You may have a terrific book or book idea ready to dazzle the world. Alas, without a spot-on book proposal, it may never see the light of day. Don’t let this happen to you! In this three-hour workshop, learn how to create a savvy and professional proposal that will make publishers and agents sit up and take notice. Two industry insiders will walk you through the key elements of any successful proposal–including title/subtitle, opening pitch, author bio, and marketing ideas–and help you polish each one with hands-on exercises. By crafting a winning proposal, you’ll get your book idea out of the slush pile–and onto the shelves. $149.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Encouraging the young writer

I recently had a request from a parent for reading recommendations for her nine-year-old who is a very advanced reader and writer. I thought I would share what I came up with...

For writing guides, I would recommend a pairing of the sublime and the ridiculous. In my opinion, every serious writer, no matter what age, should have a copy of Strunk & White's The Elements of Style. I think the illustrated version, with Maira Kalman's zany visuals, would be perfect.  That's the sublime...

For kicks, I also think your daughter should take a look at Dan Gutman's My Weird Writing Tips. Much of his information will be old hat to her, and some of his assumptions are for the writing-averse reader, but I think his chatty tone is fun and his lessons about revision, character, plot, and perseverance are good reminders to all writers. It will also help her feel super-confident because she will recognize topics and good practices.

Another book I just got in with writers like your daughter in mind is Thrice Told Tales: Three Mice Full of Writing Advice. The author uses the familiar nursery rhyme to illustrate literary devices and analysis. It's unique, clever, and easy to understand without talking down.

As for novels, I'm a big believer in letting readers follow their bliss, but I also think it's great to provide books that are challenging without being emotionally inappropriate. (I have to confess that I read way outside most parents' comfort zones when I was growing up... I realize now that I glossed over things I wasn't ready to confront, and reading beyond my level helped sate my curiosity so I stayed home reading throughout my adolescence rather than experimenting like some of my friends!) 

For advanced readers, I always recommend classics. The Swallows and Amazons series, the Anne of Green Gables series, books by Frances Hodgson BurnettLittle Women are all great. Anne's love of literature and Jo's writing might be particularly appealing! (Montgomery also did a fantastic series about Emily, a girl who grows up to be a writer, but it's just a little darker and gets into romantic plot points earlier than Anne.) 

So many families read the classics aloud early to children with great listening comprehension, and sometimes that means the classics get overlooked when the readers are at the right age to read them alone. I never underestimate the power of rereading! Especially for writers, familiarity with a text is not a bad thing. 

Another fun idea would be read-together pairings of classics and recent books inspired by them. Among these: the Narnia books paired with The Twistrose KeyA Wrinkle in Time with When You Reach MeThe Adventures of Robin Hood with Will in Scarlet. These are books I love on their own, but I think a young writer can benefit from comparing to closely observe how stories can be retold.

Along those lines, there are many retellings of fairy tales and myths that could be interesting to study. One of my favorites recently was Rump, the story of Rumpelstiltskin told from Rumplestiltskin's point of view. Very clever and entertaining! 

As you might have guessed, I might be able to go on for hours... but I'll stop here. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

"Teardrop" by Lauren Kate

I've polishing off tons of digital advance copies from publishers, and there's so much great stuff, I've take to jotting notes on mini index cards I stick in my e-reader cover so I don't get overwhelmed by trying to write down EVERYTHING.

So here's the mini take on Teardrop, Lauren Kate's exciting entry in a genre I don't want to state because I'm afraid it may be a spoiler...  but go to the jump if you want to see anyway.

Teardrop is the first in a trilogy and goes on sale October 22, 2013. You can preorder a copy with the bookstore where I work (yippee!) or your local independent bookstore. (Sure, you can order other places, too, but I think they don't need the plug on my little blog.)

This is a romantic, exciting, and mystical story set in contemporary Louisiana.

Eureka was saved from the rogue wave that killed her mom as they drove over a bridge together. Survivor's guilt and grief for her mother change Eureka, but despite her depression, she doesn't cry. She hasn't cried since she was a very little girl and her mother told her never, ever to cry again. Time for therapy, right? Yes, but there's more to it than bottled up emotions...

With her friends Cat and Brooks, Eureka starts to piece together clues her mother left behind-- about Eureka's powers, about her mother's work, and about mysteries that could change the world.

I really enjoyed this! The pacing, the characters, and the specifics of the mysterious magic were all very well done. I'll definitely put #2 on my reading pile when it comes out.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Summer Prince

I used to be a die-hard read-to-the-end reader. Maybe it was Puritan work ethic from growing up in New England; maybe it was optimism; maybe I had too much time on my hands? Over the years as a bookseller, my willingness to put a book down developed to what I imagine as near the decisiveness editors and agents must have. Unless someone I know and trust has recommended something, if a book doesn't grab me right away, I often put it down and move right on the the next in my overflowing to-read pile.
When I picked up The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson and read the first page, for some reason I wasn't hooked. Carnivale and an execution? Nah. I pushed it aside. But the next morning, the book called to me from my discard pile. I tried again. After several chapters, I came up for air--briefly-- then dove right back in.
This unique and fascinating teen novel is like Margaret Atwood with a samba beat. Once I let the language and the future-foreignness absorb me, I was completely hooked.
Wakas are the young people and grandes are the mature ruling class of Palmares Tres, a tenuous paradise city built of interconnected glass bubbles, floating on the ocean and ruled by a matriarchy of Aunties and the Queen-- a government that is cyclically blood-thirsty, requiring the sacrifice of a chosen Summer King every five years to sanctify the reign of the Queen.
June is an aspiring artist and the stepdaughter of one of the Aunties. June and her best friend, Gil, a dancer, are prone to large gestures and devotion to Art. When Enki, a dancer who came up from the lower class in the verde, the bottom level of the pyramid and society, is chosen as the Summer King, both June and Gil are attracted to Enki's charisma, elegance, power, and message. What could have been a traditional love triangle (albeit with one couple a same-sex couple) becomes a much more complicated dance when not just sex but art causes passions to flame.
Over the whole book lies the knowledge of Enki's impending sacrifice.
Suspense, drama, love, steamy sensuality, justice, art-- to think I might have missed all that on a snap judgment! I'm so glad I picked this back up. Let me be the one to tell you--give The Summer Prince at least a chapter. And if you're not into it by then, just set it aside and wait for a day you're feeling adventurous and willing to go out on a reading limb. It's strange and satisfying, fresh and fascinating.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Love Water Memory by Jennie Shortridge

I get a huge kick out of reading advance reader copies from publishers before a book is published, but there's something even more exciting: reading a manuscript from an author I love before the publisher even puts the galleys out.
In 2012, I had the honor and privilege of reading the manuscript for Love Water Memory by Jennie Shortridge. The novel comes out April 2, 2013 from Gallery Books in a beautiful hardcover edition. I can't wait for others to catch on to this delight!
This is the rare novel that is thoroughly loving and romantic, sweet without being sappy.
Lucie is discovered knee-deep in San Francisco Bay. Just weeks before her wedding and her 40th birthday, something traumatic happened, and she lost her memory. Now her fiance Grady reclaims her, but their relationship is full of tension as they try to protect each other, putting their deep love at risk with their cautiousness.
Truths in the story tease out beautifully-- with suspense, care, and insight. The reader's gentle discovery and characters' revelations make this a book that lingers in the heart.
This is my favorite novel by Jennie Shortridge yet-- a bold statement from me, not only because I've loved her others so but also because I usually have a hard time picking favorites. But the uplift of hope and emotional suspense filling this novel make it a stand-out even among well-loved titles.

Music that I would recommend with this novel: soulful, romantic, atmospheric female vocalists like Etta James, Carla Bruni, Jolie Holland.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Double Game by Dan Fesperman

Here's another fantastic read that I pulled from my pile!
In itself, it is a fun and satisfying middle-aged-man Cloak & Dagger story, but the layers of spy fiction fan geekiness push it over the top into the CAN'T MISS THIS category for fans who just can't get enough of Le Carre, Furst, Fleming et al.
Bill Cage, a 53-year-old former international journalist, current reluctant PR hack, divorce, disappointing dad, and beloved only son of former State Department employee Warfield Cage, gets the chance to live out the plots of his favorite spy novels. But when real danger strikes and he realizes how much he has to lose, is playing the game still worth it?
A mysterious note referencing favorites in the spy genre kicks it all off. Soon Bill is leaving Georgetown to revisit Cold War sites from his childhood. There are book codes, clues leading through deliciously old-world bookshops, microfilms from the KGB, and tons of references to spycraft's golden era.
Great drama, great character, and also great that even though there are some very thrilling scenes, some of the major cruxes of the story have wonderful psychological depth.
Watch for Litzi, a competent, smart femme who doesn't necessarily need to be fatale to be completely magnetic.
Perhaps best of all is the full bibliography at the end. I made a two-page wish list in my reading journal just from that.
The drink of this book: whiskey, neat. But also vodka, slivovitz, red wine...

I think readers who enjoy this might also try Pavel & I by Dan Vyleta (a spy thriller set in post-WWII Berlin, with loads of twists and turns), Restless by William Boyd (a 1970s mother-daughter story in London intertwined with mom's shenanigans as a spy in WWII) and-- a bit more of a stretch, but there's something about the deep reading, the family ties, and the layers of fiction-- The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips (a contemporary drama about a son, his conman father, and the undiscovered Shakespearean play that won't let them go). 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Snowdrops by A. D. Miller

I finally got around to reading this Man Booker 2011 shortlist title, and I'm so glad I did. I usually like Man Booker shortlisters, I often like a book set in Russia, several customers had read and recommended it, so I was a little worried about it living up to expectations. Phew-- what a relief that it completely sucked me in with its sharp writing, suspenseful storytelling, and completely evocative and atmospheric style.
This contemporary novel is told as Nick/Kolya's confession to his fiancee before their wedding. It chronicles a London lawyer's fourth and final expat year in the depraved but beautiful, captivating yet horrifying Wild Wild East of Moscow, where bribes are necessary for everything, who you know could make or break you, and people really might do the unthinkable.
Miller doles out pithy and clever descriptions as well as heartbreaking statements about midlife, ambition, and love. The emotion is powerful and fascinating.
From the beginning, we know that a corpse has been uncovered near Kolya's flat. ("Snowdrops" are, in addition to flowers, corpses that are discovered after the snow melts in Russia.) This lends a sense of suspense and lurking danger throughout the story.
But the story is not a murder mystery; it is a love story, a story of intrigue and manipulation, and a business cautionary tale.
I found this well-written and gripping, if rather bleak. Bundle up, pour yourself some cocoa with a shot of vodka, and hunker down for a read-in-one-sitting winter's indulgence.
For more about Snowdrops (and to find it at an indie bookstore near you), click here