Monday, February 28, 2011

Hmmm. If I Could Pick A Publisher . . .

I did some interesting reading over at Publisher's Weekly, and it got me to thinking. If I could choose a publisher, who would it be? This is akin to selecting the names for your future book's dedication or acknowledgment page. Not entirely germane to the situation at hand.

Just a bit of fun before I slip back into ninja mode and return to the Revision Zone. (Twilight Zone theme fades into background.)

Please keep in mind that these are the top 10 American publishers, and there are many more successful publishing houses in the world beyond these. Share some of your favorites if you don't see them listed here.

So, friends, who would you choose?

Top 10 Trade Publishers 2010
1. Random House
2. HarperCollins
3. Simon and Schuster
4. Penguin
5. Hachette
6. Thomas Nelson
7. St. Martin's
8. Tyndale
9. John Wiley and Sons
10. Scholastic

I love those top four. It makes me happy just to say their names! But where are Bloomsbury? And Little, Brown, & Company?

Friday, February 25, 2011

And Then The Glass Shattered . . .

My day began innocently enough. In fact, I thought things were going well. My new ballet flats had finally stopped pinching at the heel, there was one last spray of my favorite perfume left in an otherwise empty bottle, and all the children were healthy and at school.

I didn't suspect anything ominous when the Milgard techs knocked on my door. We had waited 3 weeks for two new windows, and I was happily surprised to see the men in red. They were young, clean-cut and friendly. I talked with them for a few moments, put our dog Matilda in a bedroom, and went back to my office. I was Googling Amazon, seeking out books so obscure they can be purchased for mere cents. All was good, and then the glass shattered.

Amazed, I covered my mouth with my hand as nervous laughter bubbled in my throat. I remember thinking, "You have got to be kidding me. My window just broke."

I stepped into the living room, and the techs were frozen in place with a cockeyed vinyl window frame still in their hands. "Are you alright?" I asked. They nodded in the affirmative. One of them was doing some deep breathing exercises and the other was murmuring "Let it go. Just let it go." I'm guessing the first guy was trying really hard to be calm. I have to give credit to these men. Very professional behavior. No cursing at all. Had I been in their place, the air would still be a soft shade of blue.

I felt really bad for the techs. One of their enormous glass suction cups lost its grip, causing the 8 foot by 5 foot picture window to fall and once the corner of the glass hit the tile, the whole thing exploded. Exploding glass can't be a good way to start your work day. The three of us vacuumed and swept for an hour at least to pick up the worst of the mess. We were comrades in an epic battle against hidden sharpness.

Being part raccoon, I enjoy sparkly things, and there was sparkle in the extreme that day. I had cleaning ADHD! The glass fragments reflected the sunlight coming through the open window, showering my ceiling with fiery brilliance. I kept looking up and trying to sweep at the same time. My floor was one big prism! I felt like I was in the movie Pollyanna when she brings crystals to cheer up the mean old lady. It was awesome! Awesome! A mid-winter Fourth of July!

I would have sat there all day entranced by my ceiling only there was no place to sit. Glass fragments covered my entire main floor: from the mudroom to the front door and everywhere in between. Eventually, the techs left for another job, and there began a five hour cleaning spree, with me, my bucket of water and a cloth in the thick of the action. Word to the wise . . . do not brush glass dust with your finger. Ouchie!!!

Never fear, all is well at our home now, but for one afternoon, I had the shiniest floor in town.

Isn't this just like life? You think you know what to expect and then--wham!-- something happens to mess up your plans. Oh, well, planning is sometimes overrated, and the unexpected often leaves you with a good tale to tell.

Everyone out there okay? Is your stress level low, medium, or high?

Happy, catastrophe-free, weekend!!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

An Email From Mr. Hemingway

To R-- Face it, your first book isn't good, and no one wants it. Yet.
Sit down and work and then who knows? Look at words with innocence. See them as new things. Write what you feel, and use simple language, but most of all, make it true. There is no master of this craft, and if you're looking for easy, go someplace else. Critics can tear your writing apart or worse, politely ignore it. They can break you, nearly destroy your hope if you let them. Never mind. It doesn't matter a damn. You can't be defeated, not completely. Remember Santiago? 84 days is nothing to the whole of life. Today is the 85th, and there are many big fish in the sea. Fight the good fight. Let your blood sing, listen, and then write it's song . . .

Well, friends. Mr. Hemingway is an intimidating muse, isn't he? As a teenager, I read The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway's last story, and loved it. My grandfather gave a copy to my mother and years later, she passed it on to me. I don't remember anything about my grandpa since he died when I was a baby, but I do know he had excellent taste in books.

Ernest Hemingway had a big, often cantankerous, heart and an even greater talent. I've wanted to write an email from him for a long time, but I knew I would never get his voice exactly right. Perhaps, it's a credit to him that I even tried.

Mr. Hemingway once said he loved the world and that he would be sorry to leave it. Surely the world was sorry to see him leave so abruptly. If you haven't read Hemingway's work, you need to soon. You're doing yourself an injustice by putting it off. Look for his short stories as well, they show a different side of this remarkable writer.

Do you have any goals you're working on? I'd love to hear what they are. You have my complete support and encouragement. My ambition is to finish the rewrite of my novel The Second Life in the next month, send it off to my favorite editing company, fix my mistakes, and begin querying agents in time for my birthday in May. This accomplished, I'd like to think I had done something worthwhile in my 44th year. Of course, there are always the revisions to be done on my first novel Charm Bracelet. Rejected a whopping 79 times, there is still a lot to revise.

But that can keep until I'm 45.

Cheers to all writers and readers of words! May we stand on the shoulders of giants and be worthy of the view.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

84 Charing Cross Road, London, WC2

84 Charing Cross Road, London, WC2

This was the address of the famous, antiquarian booksellers Marks and Co. It isn't in business anymore. It is now an All Bar One. The plaque below commemorates this book shops former location.

There is a place where Marks and Co. still exists however. In the autobiographical tale by Helene Hanff, 84 Charing Cross Road. This story was made into a play, and later, a movie.

I watched the film yesterday. It had haunted me since my teens when I swooned over Sir Anthony Hopkins, all soulful eyes and poignant delivery, as he quoted Yeats' He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven.

"Had I the heaven's embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
tread softly because you tread on my dreams."

Friends, you know I am a fool for words like these. People don't write this way anymore, however much I wish they did. Helene Hanff felt the same. In 1949, she sent an inquiry to Marks and Co. and it caught the eye of Frank Doel. Ms. Hanff wanted books she couldn't find in America. She wanted old books that were out of fashion even then, and Mr. Doyle searched these treasures out for her. Platonic soul-mates, Hanff and Doyle corresponded for nearly 20 years until Frank's death in 1968 from peritonitis. Their letters are the heart of 84 Charing Cross Road. This story is for the romantic who has a passion for literature, history, England, star-crossed friendship, and old book shops.

It's also about putting ink to fine, stiff paper and mailing your words across the world to a person you care about. Helene and Frank shared one another's lives without ever having met. Their relationship was a true meeting of the minds. As a poor New York writer, Helene could not afford to travel to London, though it was her fondest dream. A bookman of the highest order, Frank Doel brought England to Helene by sending her some of its best literature.

Emails would not suffice in this story. They are too immediate and sterile. They cannot be long-anticipated, received and pored over, wrapped in a silk ribbon, and put away in a special box. They cannot be cherished and touched while being re-read.

What do you think, friends? Do you still enjoy receiving letters or writing them? Are you sad that hundred-year-old book shops are being crowded out these days? Have you ever been to Charing Cross Road?

Choose any question you like or invent another, I'd just love to hear from you.

Happy writing!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Loving Dead Poets

With two English-Lit Major brothers and an aunt who taught English at a local high school, is it any wonder I grew up loving dead poets?

No. No wonder at all.

When I was ten, my oldest brother recited a few lines by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. I felt sympathetic toward the main character in this poem, and I loved the way he expressed himself. The words sunk deep into my girlish heart and I worked for days to memorize them.

"Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.

O, well for the fisherman's boy,
That he shouts with his sister at play!
O, well for the sailor lad
That he sings in his boat on the bay!

And the stately ships go on
To their haven under the hill;
But O for the touch of a vanished hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still!

Break, break, break
At the foot of thy crags, O Sea.
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
Will never come back to me."

These words sounded so compellingly romantic! Break, Break, Break led me on to further discovery. The Lady of Shalott. Morte D' Arthur. Ulysses.

On my desk, sitting close like a dear friend, there is a copy of The Poetical and Dramatic Works of Tennyson. It is old, though not as old as Lord Alfred himself, though close. The cover is a rich cobalt blue inscribed with gold, leafy filigree. The paper and vellum inside are no longer white but instead a yellowish-orange.

I open this book carefully, as I have done many times, as I will yet do. Like always, it creaks me a welcome, and I suddenly feel at home.

What books impressed you as a child? Do you love words, and if so, what are some of your favorites?

If you haven't visited Akseli Koskela at An English Teacher's Travelblog, you should. An excellent writer himself, he has a great post today about language.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Play It Again . . . Casablanca

I made this little homage to Casablanca over at the absolute best time-waster ever--Polyvore! I chose clothes that reminded me of Ingrid Bergman's wardrobe in the film. All gorgeous, just like her.

Casablanca was released in 1942, but it's characters still remain undated. The dialogue is smart, sad, and wry. Who could forget Rick Blaine? He said that he came to Casablanca for the waters, but I watch the movie for him. And Ingrid Bergman. She played her part to luminous perfection. Only Ilsa could knock Rick Blaine to his knees.

The one thing I'd change about Casablanca is the ending . . . I wish Rick and Ilsa didn't have to sacrifice so much for the greater good. Yet, maybe the reason this movie stays with us is because they did.

And so, I play it again. And again. And again.

Tell me, friends. Do you have a favorite classic movie?

In your opinion, does wardrobe contribute to character development in books and films?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Ahh, Love . . .

Ahh, Love . . .
Ahh, Love . . . by Roxy Haynie featuring boat neck sweaters

Look above. Can you see the fun to be had at Polyvore's fashion department? My daughter introduced me to this awesome website a few days ago, and it's a virtual shopping spree. Without the buyers remorse. Or poor credit score!

At last, I can almost, sort-of, maybe--at least in my computer file-- own Pucci, Valentino, and Chanel. Think endless shoes. Handbags galore! Excuse me a moment, I'm wiping a tear from my eye.

Instant gratification, here I come. Ahem. When I have time to spare, of course. Of course.

I loved paper dolls when I was young. Did you? I loved coloring them, cutting them out, and using the tabs to fasten the delicate "clothes" to the cardboard figures. Then the story telling began. I imagined I was that winsome girl in the cocktail dress who was swept off her feet by a dashing, handsome stranger.

We ruled a kingdom, joined a circus, became pirates, traveled back in time . . .

Imagination is a wonderful gift when you're a shy, bookish child.

What did you want to be as a kid? Did you have any adventures? Did you like to create even then?

My pal Karyn at Confessions of An Aspiring Novelist is new to Blogger. You should drop by and introduce yourselves. I know you'll be glad you did.

Happy Monday, Friends!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A River Runs Through It

I should have entitled this post Norman Maclean Appreciation Day because I recently re-read his novella A River Runs Through It, and I'm basking in the afterglow.

Maclean's tale of "an American family" resonated with me, bringing memories of my own fisherman father to the surface. I identify with so many of the elements within this story, such as: not understanding the people in your own family, being baffled by the choices they make and yet, trying to love them anyway, and strangely, often the simplest activities, like fly-fishing, develop our strongest bonds.

My dad was an excellent outdoorsmen. Think of James Fenimore Cooper's character Natty Bumppo, and you wouldn't be far off the mark. Anticipation crackling in the air, he and my two brothers would hastily pack their gear in the truck with artistic efficiency and set off for their adventures in the Oregon wilderness. Dad was a busy executive as well as a military man and his work called him to faraway countries for many months of the year. But when he was home, he made time to fish.

I was allowed to go on a few occasions, and it was magic. Wild horses, rattlesnakes, purplish-blue ravines, and fast-flowing water. Remembering those days, I see my father in his prime casting a line across the river to the sun-dappled depths of a rocky pool. Although he's been gone for some 30 years, I have only to think back, and I still see him there.

That shared, perhaps you can appreciate why I love this section of Maclean's writing . . .

"Now nearly all those I loved and did not understand when I was young are dead, but I still reach out to them.
Of course, now I am too old to be much of a fisherman, and now of course I usually fish the big waters alone, although some friends think I shouldn't. Like many fly fishermen in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.
Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. That river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
I am haunted by waters."