Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailFive memorable moments as a writer:

1) When I received a letter from an anthology advising me that they were publishing my short story.

2) When I wrote the last sentence of my first novel, Mama, and knew it was the last sentence. My chest sunk and I believe I lost quite a few ounces of tears.

3) When Waiting To Exhale debuted on the New York Times Bestseller’s list. I didn’t believe it. Not even after I saw it.

4) When I have written the first sentence of each novel, and I never change them. It’s how I open the door to the story.

5) When I realize what my next novel is going to be. And then am plagued by how in the world I’m going to tell it.


latino_americansWhen a publication date arrives, the time when you start to get feedback about the work you’ve done begins. It’s also when you start to hear the questions on readers and interviewers minds.

Latino Americans is my third book, and as with the other two, I’m finding what catches the eye of people who have read or are reading a new work is not what I would have expected.

One question almost everyone who is not Latino asks is “But are they really one people? Can you talk about these 50 million people as if they’re one kind of people?” One of the things that make this a good question is that there’s no easy answer. For example, a generational divide exists over the identification of Hispanic or Latino. Among older people, the primary identifier is national origin, as in, “I’m Mexican…I’m Dominican…I’m Cuban.” Back in the 60s and 70s, Mexicans were largely in the Southwest and Chicago, Puerto Ricans in the New York metropolitan area, and Cubans mostly in South Florida. A growing population, a changing America, millions more native born, and more Hispanic people from more countries living in more parts of the country has spurred the creation of something new, and very much of the United States.

More and more young people tell me they’re very comfortable calling themselves Latina or Latino, and in mixed circles of friends…Mexican, Central and South American, Caribbean, the national origins are more a detail than a determinant of anything.

For those making policy, making ads, or just trying to get their arms around what it means that one out of every six Americans now traces their family back to the Spanish-speaking nations of our hemisphere, a period of adjustment may be required. It need not be feared. You just have to live your way into it.

A struggling school filled with American-born Salvadoran kindergartners in Los Angeles, a Chicago high school trying to hold on to teenage immigrants from Mexico, a middle school in the Bronx trying to convince Dominican and Puerto Rican kids they can go to college have differing and similar challenges. However, the stakes are much higher than they were 50 years ago when America could, and did, write off too many Latino kids as destined for failure.

If America is going to remain a rich and powerful nation, she cannot continue to put up the kinds of numbers in reading and math, high school graduation, and college degrees that she has so far. A generation from now one out of three teenagers in America will be Latino. Instead of 16% of the population, the numbers are projected to be more like 30-32%. If only one of ten are completing four-year degrees in that browner American future, there simply won’t be enough skilled and well-educated people to keep the country affluent.

That’s a message my book carries for the Latinos hungry for an American history that includes them, and for everyone else who is trying to understand where their country has been, and where it’s going.

Watch the Latino Americans series on PBS


you_knew_me_whenLast month, I was very fortunate to have a beautiful book preview party thrown for me by Serena & Lily at their gorgeous flagship store in The Hamptons. As I signed bookplates for my new novel, You Knew Me When, which people were pre-ordering, one woman sat down next to me and said, “I’ve always wanted to be an author. It seems like such a relaxing career.” I was surprised to hear this, as I’ve never experienced that particular feeling about my job, nor has anyone ever remarked similarly. Still, I was curious as to her rationale. “What makes you think that?” I asked.

She went on to explain that the idea of staying in bed all day with her laptop and making up characters and plots is such an appealing idea, as opposed to going to an office and sitting in a cubicle from 9-5. Um, okay. I’m pretty sure I’ve never written a word from the comfort of my bed, nor have I ever worked 9-5. In turn, I told her that there’s way more to being an author than writing, and she was quite intrigued by all that can go into it.

For one, publicity is just as important as writing. Sure, you have to have a good “product” to sell. But, and this is big but, if no one knows about your phenomenal book, then no one will buy it, and your career as an author will be over pretty damn fast.

With this knowledge in hand, I decided to get creative with my marketing plan for You Knew Me When. After all, you can’t rely on your publicist to do everything—they have other books to promote too.

Since You Knew Me When is based around the cosmetics industry and the characters are all stylish in their own ways, my first idea was to approach nail polish companies to see if they’d be willing to partner to create a polish named after the book. I reached out to at least a dozen different brands and ended up joining forces with my top choice, Zoya. Through the brainstorming process, their brilliant team came up with an even better concept: to manufacture the “You Knew Me When” collection of polishes—three stunning shades named after the three main female characters in the novel—Katherine Hill, Laney Marten, and Luella Hancock.

Once this brainchild was on its way to inception, I met the fabulously talented clothing designer, Alessandra Meskita, and we knew we had to work together. I told her about the nail polish set and, immediately, she said, “I have to do a ‘You Knew Me When’ dress collection named for the characters.” I mean, seriously, who am I to deny her that? And here I am a few months later with three amazing dresses: “Katherine,” “Laney,” and “Luella,” which will be sold in stores nationwide and in Alessandra’s brand new Meskita boutique which opens in Beverly Hills in October! Did I mention that she also made “Emily” and “Brooke” dresses (Brooke is my middle name).

So, now I had nail polish and clothing. What else? Why stop there? How about jewelry? Enter Dodo by Pomellato and their spectacular 18kt gold charms, each with a special message. I had the unique opportunity to select the charms that best reflect the personalities of my novel’s characters: the butterfly with the message “I love my freedom” for high powered cosmetics executive Katherine Hill who does everything on her own and never takes no for an answer; the starfish “Handle with care” for the spirited and ever loyal Laney Marten who always says what’s on her mind whether you like it or not; and the angelfish whose message “You work miracles” echoes the relentlessly generous but also painstakingly private personality of Luella Hancock.

I’m well aware that this may not be every author’s approach to marketing their book, but it’s been working wonders for me! And I don’t plan to stop with this novel. Stay tuned for brand new collections to complement my next release: The Love That Lies Ahead, which comes out in September 2014!

 Visit Emily Liebert’s website to check out You Knew Me When nail polish colors and more.

 


who_asked_youWe asked Terry McMillan, what’s your favorite…

Book you’ve written: Mama

Book written by someone else: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

Reading place: Airplanes

Quote: “Man will become better only once you make him see what he is like.” (Anton Chekov)

Vacation spot: Paris

Fast food restaurant: In & Out Burger ;-(  (Shameful)

Ice cream flavor: Vanilla

Pizza topping: Tomatoes

Snack: Potato chips (Shameful)

Workout: The kind where I don’t move but get results as if I did.

TV show: Judge Judy!

Movie: Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight

Male performer: Bruno Mars

Female performer: Adele

Clothing brand: None (Am not a label whore)

Sneaker brand: Vans! (Slip-ons)

Gadget: None! I hate them all!

Color: Orange (Summer); Purple (Winter); Yellow (Spring); Red (Fall)

Number: 11

Time of day: 5 a.m.


all_good_thingsThere are places in the world that need no introduction – the mere sound of their names automatically triggers postcard images. Paris happens to be one; Tahiti is another. Both destinations make people dream, one for its man-made beauty, the glorious monuments and handsome buildings, the other for its natural splendour and lush landscape. Everyone from Bougainville to Brando has raved about Tahiti, calling it the new Utopia, Garden of Eden, Isle of Love, among other superlatives. So the reaction when we announced our move to the celebrated Pacific island was perhaps unsurprising. ‘From Paris to Paradise’ exclaimed one friend enviously.

The setting for our new life truly was idyllic. We chose to live not on Tahiti but on neighbouring Mo’orea, only thirty minutes by fast ferry from Pape’ete and less developed and congested than the main island. From our front door we could gaze at the spectacular spires of mountains, surging up from the interior. Round the back, just metres from the porch where we mostly lived, the turquoise lagoon spread out from the shoreline like a silk petticoat. I could go on and on about this wondrous womb of water, where I began each day with an early swim. City girl that I was, the submarine world was foreign and thrilling to me: the wiggling webs of refracted light; the euphoric greens and blues of the lagoon; the spotted eagle rays that glided by, shy and graceful.

Yet All Good Things is not, I’m afraid, a tale of paradise found. If in places it might seem to fan the myth of Tahiti, other parts of the book might be said to debunk it – though in fact I didn’t set out to do either. As in Almost French, my memoir about life in Paris, my aim was to look beyond the fantasy. Real life is never postcard-perfect. I wanted to celebrate all that I loved about our new home while also being honest about the particular challenges I faced there – challenges that stemmed as much from the private dreams and hopes I’d brought with me as the reality of living on a small, remote island.

There’s an element of escape in every big move and ours to Tahiti – the ultimate escapists’ destination, after all – was no different. The opportunity arrived out of the blue in the form of a job offer for my husband, Frédéric. At a different point of our lives we might not even have considered it. But an unwelcome poignancy had cast a shadow over our carefree Paris existence. Years of infertility treatment had produced nothing but a string of failures and we were beginning to despair of ever having a child. Tahiti offered us a fresh start – a new professional challenge for Frédéric, a chance for me to write the novel I’d been researching in an environment with few distractions. And perhaps, we dared hope but not say aloud, a beautiful, unpolluted, fertile island would be an ideal place to fall pregnant naturally.

It’s as old as the hills, this idea of islands as earthly paradise, and it helps explain why Tahiti was hailed as a dream come true the moment the first Europeans set eyes on it. Yet once we were settled on Mo’orea another enduring perception of islands sprang to mind. From my writing desk I’d stare at the sparkling lagoon and the inky ocean beyond the reef, uplifted by the sight even as I felt trapped by it. From that tiny coin of land amid Earth’s grandest ocean, the rest of the world seemed like another planet. ‘Every island is a potential Alcatraz’, writes Thurston Clarke in Searching for Paradise.

This paradise-prison dichotomy heightened my daily experience on Mo’orea, adding drama and meaning to aspects of ordinary life. The full moons that rolled runners of gold light across the lagoon were the hugest, most marvellous moons I’d ever seen; the kind generosity of our Polynesian neighbours seemed boundless. I’d never known time to be as elastic as during those long hours between my early morning swim and Frédéric’s return from work. My own sense of inner emptiness expanded too.

When people comment how lucky I am to have lived in exotic places, I can only agree, though not for the reasons they might imagine. I didn’t find paradise on the island, I didn’t find serenity among the coconut palms. Yet perhaps the exuberant glare of the lagoon did throw light on some essential truths. Tu te retrouves face à toi-même sur un île, people warned me when we first arrived. You come face to face with yourself on an island. It’s true, you do. I’m grateful now for the way things came to a head. Unexpectedly, indirectly, the island helped my dream come true.


Lisa Gardner Conway Shelter CampaignNew York Times bestselling author Lisa Gardner recently hit 30,000 fans on Facebook (and she’s still going, visit her page). To celebrate she donated $10,000 to the Conway Area Humane Society. She shared with us her thoughts on the special bond between writers and animals:

I think authors even more so than most value the human-animal bond.  It’s hard to picture a writer out there who doesn’t have a dog at her feet or a cat on her lap.  Certainly, all my novels have been penned with a great deal of furry support and tail-wagging encouragement.  The love and companionship of my pets is the one thing that keeps the writing process from being totally isolating.  Let’s face it, caring for animals makes us and them happy, and the world a better place.  And there is something magical about going to a shelter and meeting an animal you realize instantly is the One.  Your perfect friend.  Your four-legged soul mate.  The new member of your family.  Shelters make all sorts of happily ever afters come true.

Lisa Gardner’s next book is out in January 2014. Learn more about Fear Nothing.


gallery_of_vanished_husbandsI’ve now written three novels (that’s three if you don’t count the awful one lurking in a box beneath the bed—we don’t have monsters living in our house, we have failed novels). I suppose that means I should have some confidence as I know, if nothing else, how to write and finish a book. I should know what the process is like. But I’ve found writing each book to be a very different experience.

The Gallery of Vanished Husbands has been the most emotional book to write. Shortly after I started writing, I discovered that I was pregnant, and then, as often happens, I miscarried. For the first time in my life I was too sad to write. I’ve read Keats and I know that melancholy is supposed to be literary rocket fuel, but it didn’t work like that for me. Or perhaps it only works with melancholy—that beautiful sadness—but simple, dragging unhappiness and grief left me empty and quiet inside and for a while, unable to write.

After a couple of months, I picked up the novel, re-read it like a stranger and started to slowly write myself out of unhappiness and back into the book. Then, a few months in, I found I was pregnant again. This time everything was fine and my excitement and anxiety about impending motherhood worked its way into my novel. The children in the story had voices that very much wanted to be heard. I had to get out of the way and let them speak.

The novel grew in time with my belly. I’d intended it to be on the short side (I always do, it’s not happened yet) but by the summer, it was quite clear that it would be touch-and-go as to whether manuscript or baby was delivered first. In the end, I finished the novel first, but only by a matter of days and only because our son, Luke, had the generosity to be late.

After the baby came the edit. Much like children, novels don’t arrive fully formed and ready to go off into the world, but take a good deal of nurturing. I worked while Luke slept—sometimes in a Moses basket at my feet, sometimes on my shoulder as I typed with one hand. Those days are merged with my memories of new motherhood, when time feels like it’s on fast-forward and each moment is so precious and fleeting, I found myself growing nostalgic for the present. It was an odd experience to re-read passages about my protagonist, Juliet Montague’s views and experiences of motherhood, which I’d written before becoming a mother myself. Sometimes I was tempted to change details but in the end I realized that her experiences were simply different from mine. I might have created her, but we didn’t need to agree on all things.

I’m now starting to write something new. For the first time in a few years, I don’t have all day to procrastinate and think about writing. There’s no time for rituals—when I have a moment to myself, I’m at my desk. I’m not sure how the process of writing will turn out. All I know is that much like a child it will be unique and quite different from the others.


new_york_storiesThe 1939 short story “Bread Alone” by John O’Hara, one of his most insightful and most moving, is a great favorite of mine, not least because it is largely set at a major league baseball game, specifically in Yankee Stadium.  If I have spent months of my life reading O’Hara’s work, and writing about it (and I have), then I estimate my time mulling over baseball statistics to be measurable in years—how many, I do not care to estimate. But it’s a lot of years.
In reconsidering the story recently, I realized that I had the tools, thanks to baseballreference.com, a website responsible for enabling baseball freaks like me to fritter away their lives, to answer a question about this story, and indirectly about the writing habits of John O’Hara: I could tell whether the baseball game O’Hara describes actually took place or if it is a purely fictional creation of his.
O’Hara enjoyed baseball, though he only rarely wrote about it, and his writing career was built on the no-nonsense training he absorbed as a young reporter, so it seemed entirely possible that O’Hara based the story on an actual game, possibly one that he had seen himself at Yankee Stadium. All I had to do to verify this would be to review every single game the Yankees ever played, and see if one conformed to O’Hara’s description of the game in his story.
Or that’s what I would have had to do without the baseballreference.com website, anyway, which is why I never thought of researching this question. (I may be baseball-crazy, and O’Hara-crazy, but I’m not crazy-crazy.)  In the game O’Hara describes, Joe DiMaggio hits a late-inning home run into the grandstand near his protagonist’s seat, and the story’s climax concerns the search for the souvenir baseball. Furthermore, O’Hara gives other specific details about the game: the Yankees won it easily, they scored five runs in the fifth inning, DiMaggio’s home run came in the eighth inning, and the unnamed opposing team went down quickly in the top of the ninth inning. Since the game took place at Yankee Stadium, I can naturally disregard all their away games, and O’Hara specifies that this game took place late in the season. Perhaps the biggest help is the publication date:  it appeared in the September 23, 1939 issue of The New Yorker.  For O’Hara to have described an actual historical game, it must have taken place no later than Labor Day of that year, give or take a week.  Joe DiMaggio first played in Yankee Stadium in 1936, leaving me a little fewer than four seasons of home games to peruse in search of “Bread Alone”’s setting.
This is where the website came in very handy: it has catalogued every home run DiMaggio (and thousands of other players) ever hit, and it provides details about the opposing team and pitcher, the score at the time, the box score of the game, and about thirty other bits of data.  So I searched for all the home runs DiMaggio hit at Yankee Stadium in the bottom of the eighth inning in games the Yankees won after scoring five runs in the bottom of the fifth from 1936 through 1939.
My conclusion? John O’Hara wrote fiction.
But there were a few games that came very close to satisfying O’Hara’s fictional conditions. The closest (I will spare you my spreadsheet ranking the ten closest games) took place on August 3rd, 1939 against the Detroit Tigers. Exactly as O’Hara described, the Yankees won the game comfortably by a score of 12 to 3, they scored the bulk of their runs in the bottom of the fifth inning, and most significantly Joe DiMaggio hit a home run in the bottom of the eighth inning. (It differed from O’Hara’s description in that the Yankees scored 6 runs, not 5, in the bottom of the fifth, and that the Tigers had their strongest inning, not their weakest, in the top of the ninth.) And, not that this is textual, but I always imagined that the game in the story took place on a Sunday, since the point of it is that the protagonist is a working man who cannot just choose to take a day off work to go to a ballgame.  August 3rd, 1939, however, was a Thursday.
So O’Hara, not too surprisingly, created a plausible scenario that we have every reason to believe could be historical but which turns out to be lovingly embellished. This conforms closely to his stated method of spinning stories, in which he would actually witness some event, typically a conversation between two people unknown to him, and then imagine the backstory and the result of the snippet of overheard conversation.  I’m sure O’Hara’s imagination made for a livelier narrative than the true backstory and the actual result, as it did here—it’s hard for me to read “Bread Alone” without misting up a bit.
The boxscore to the game I reference above can be found here.


in_falling_snowHandwriting is a skill we no longer need in a texting, emailing, wordprocessed world, so it’s hard to argue why we keep teaching it to children. And yet we do teach it to them, sort of. What’s worse, I find myself hoping we won’t stop any time soon, we might even rediscover handwriting, we might see a “slow page” movement like slow food, leading us to enjoy the moment of writing itself.

The teaching of cursive writing, the writing we each develop into a unique handwriting style, is already being phased out in elementary schools in the US, replaced by keyboarding proficiency. In Australia too, increasingly handwriting is being dropped from curricula under pressure from other learning areas. And even when it is taught, in Australia at least handwriting is now more likely to be printed letters joined together. It’s not handwriting at all as most of us know it.

We called it running writing when I was at school. You learned it after printing, like a new language. We practised it a lot as I recall. I was never any good at it but I love it still, the capital D that looks like it was made for words like “Delight” and “Delicate”, the beautiful S with its supreme loopiness and potential for curlicues, those hills of small ns and ms that could just keep going. Oh God, I am starting to sound nostalgic. Quick, put on Radiohead and get out the iPad.

I confess I have a conflict of interest when it comes to handwriting; I write novels by hand. Not in a beautiful script, mind. I look at anything written by my grandfather, who was taught in an English public school, or my son, who’s taught himself various styles of writing, and it’s art. My writing is not art; it remains cramped, small, illegible even to me at times. I could have been a doctor with writing like mine. And I didn’t always write by hand. I typed my first novel on an Apple Classic II. Quite the techo, I didn’t even print it until I had a finished manuscript. But I soon found a computer file too linear for the way I work.

Since that first novel, I have written three more, all by hand, initially on cards of different colours, which had the advantage that you could shuffle them when totally lost as to what to do, now in a particular kind of notebook that I love for its narrow lines and plain cardboard covers. I write with a fountain pen. My favourite is a Waterman in a burgundy lacquer covered in little gold squares, given to me when my first novel was published. It only has one drawback – it no longer writes. I had an efficient little Montblanc that came with a leather notebook case, but I left it on a plane and like everything left on planes, it immediately vapourised. My day-to-day pen now is a lovely big Visconti made with cellulose using a refound technique – given me when I was researching In Falling Snow. In my hand, it feels like a pen that will never let me down. I am also coveting a vintage Waterman, to replace the one that doesn’t work, although you really only need one pen to write and the more I focus on which pens I might buy, the less I focus on getting a novel written.

I can’t say why I handwrite, in an age where handwriting has all but disappeared from our lives. I can type faster than most people can talk, I was using email before anyone had heard of it except my computer room colleagues (one of my first jobs was as a computer operator), and I mess about on the internet in favour of just about any real job. But I can say that for my novels, handwriting feels about the right pace. Even Scrivener, which I love later in a project, is too structured early on. I write little sketches and scenes and eventually they coalesce into a novel.

Many things we don’t need in life fade from view. If handwriting is dying as an art, perhaps I shouldn’t mourn its passing. I imagine the rationale is that it’s hard enough to teach children one set of letters, let alone two. And since few of us end up with a hand that even vaguely approximates that beautiful script we were taught, why try to teach it at all? Joined up printing will do.

But before we altogether consign handwriting to the land of outdated technologies, we should take a moment to consider this small fact of history. The very first Macintosh computer, not the one I typed my novel on but the one that preceded it, was a winner, its creator Steve Jobs said later, because of its beautiful typography, which was unlike any other computer before it. Jobs had sat in on a calligraphy course on the way to dropping out of college and had seen the art of handwriting, the art in the science, he called it, which had inspired him.

So every time I type an email, thumb a text, or flick a page, I try to remember the technology I’m using, the technology with which we are fast ridding the world of writing by hand altogether, is only available because the person who dreamed it up was in love with handwriting.

 

Visit Mary-Rose MacColl’s website.

 


mortal_artsSometimes the plot of a story develops out of a character’s development. Sometimes it comes from a picture or an article or a real world event. Sometimes it arises from the setting itself. And sometimes it grows from one single, vivid scene that the author simply can’t get out of their head.

When I began working on the plot for the second novel in my Lady Darby Mystery Series, Mortal Arts, I already had several elements in place. I knew I would be continuing Kiera, Lady Darby’s journey, as well as that of the other characters, and I knew where I wanted their development to take them in the second book. I knew I wanted Kiera to travel to Edinburgh, and I knew I wanted her to team up again with gentleman inquiry agent—and romantic entanglement—Sebastian Gage. I had also decided I wanted art to play a major role in the second novel, as Kiera is a gifted portrait artist. But beyond that, I was stumped for ideas as to what I wanted the actual mystery to be.

I researched the history of the area at that time for interesting events, but nothing leaped out at me. It also seemed important not to rehash the same elements of the first novel in the series, so that restricted by natural temptation to delve into the aftermath of the Burke and Hare murders.

And then it came to me. This one emotionally intense scene I could see so clearly. I knew immediately I had to use it, but to do so I had to figure out what was going on. Where was this room that looked like a bedchamber? Who was the man in the corner, and why was he drawing on the walls? What was Kiera’s connection to him? And why was the scene filled with such sadness and despair?

As I began to answer these questions, my story developed. I learned of Kiera’s childhood friends, the Dalmays, and how the oldest son William acted as her art tutor one summer. I discovered how William had been damaged by the war with Napoleon, and how his own father had him locked up in a lunatic asylum. And I met the younger brother, Michael, who managed William’s release, but worries that perhaps his brother should not be out. That perhaps not everyone is safe with him allowed to roam free.

That is where Kiera and the estimable Mr. Gage step in—to find the missing girl everyone is so concerned about, and to prove William’s guilt or innocence, once and for all.

Whether it starts with the character development, or the setting, or a single scene—it is always the questions that drive the story, for the author and the reader. The who, what, when, why, how of our characters, and the crimes they may solve or commit.

Read an interview with Anna Lee Huber on the Penguin website.