I’m a Debutante! (I’m Serious. Really. I Am.)

pink-tilted-tiara-mdI’m in high-octane brain power mode this week. Practically twitchy, I’d say. I’m having a hard time focusing on one task for long, so let’s hope I finish this post before twitchy little authorial tasks such as plastering my new author photo everywhere or joining Google+ veer me away again. (Yeah, I know I poked fun at Google+ last week. Call me changeable.)

Why am I twitchy? I’m a debutante, donning my metaphorical tiara and pearls in honor of all debut authors everywhere! I was accepted at a debut author group blog called THE DEBUTANTE BALL with four other fabulous and feisty debut authors. We’re shaking things up! A new website design, new and interesting weekly topics, the works. We’re a mighty team, and we’ve virtually known each other only since Sunday. My brain is on overdrive with ideas.

The five us will be sharing our rollercoaster ride to publication with you, and we’ll also be helping each other out behind the scenes. Lots of moral support as we no doubt succumb to Author Overwhelmed Syndrome. (I stole this term from another great debut author group blog called BOOK PREGNANT. Thank you, Jessica Keener!)

So here we are, the debuting author debutantes of 2014 as introduced last weekend on The Debutante Ball. We start blogging in September.

13H-Heather-134x150HEATHER WEBB: Author of BECOMING JOSEPHINE (Plume/Penguin, December 2013)

Heather grew up a military brat and naturally became obsessed with travel, culture, and languages. She put her degrees to good use teaching high school French for nearly a decade before turning to full time writing and editing.

As a freelance editor, Heather spends oodles of time helping writers find their voice and hone their skills–something she adores. She may often be found Twittering helpful links, sharing writing advice and author interviews on her blog Between the Sheets, or teaching novel writing in her community. Other favorite haunts are RomanceUniversity.org, where she contributes to the Editor’s Posts and Writer Unboxed where she poses as Twitter mistress.

Lisa_new_edit_color_optLISA ALBER, Author of KILMOON, A COUNTY CLARE MYSTERY (Muskrat Press, March 2014)

Lisa received an Elizabeth George Foundation writing grant based on Kilmoon, in addition to a Walden Fellowship. Her short story “Paddy O’Grady’s Thigh” appeared in Two of the Deadliest (HarperCollins), an anthology edited by New York Times bestseller Elizabeth George. In addition, Lisa was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for the story “Eileen and the Rock.”

A Californian with a penchant for travel, animal advocacy, and photography, Lisa worked in international finance and book publishing before exchanging the corporate ladder (no more business suits!) for storytelling. She currently lives in the Pacific Northwest with a one-eyed rescue spaniel and an accident-prone cat.

13H-Susan-Gloss-128x150SUSAN GLOSS, Author of VINTAGE (William Morrow/HarperCollins, March 2014)

Susan Gloss is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, where she majored in English and Spanish, and the University of Wisconsin Law School. She lives on Lake Monona in Madison, Wisconsin, with her husband, young son, and a neurotic hound dog. She balances–-or attempts to, anyway–-writing and family time with working as an attorney, curating an online vintage shop at Etsy.com, and writing about food for Edible Madison magazine.

13H-Natalia-Sylvester-143x150NATALIA SYLVESTER: Author of CHASING THE SUN (New Harvest/Amazon Publishing, May 2014)

Born in Lima, Peru, Natalia Sylvester came to the U.S. at age four and grew up in South Florida, where she received a B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Miami. A former magazine editor, she now works as a freelance journalist and copywriter. Her articles have appeared in Latina, Writer’s Digest, and The Writer magazines. Chasing the Sun is partially inspired by a family member’s kidnapping. Natalia lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and two rescue dogs, Maggie and Pita.

13H-Lori-Rader-Day-150x150LORI RADER DAY: Author of THE BLACK HOUR (Seventh Street Books, July 2014)

Lori Rader Day won Good Housekeeping’s first short story contest, chosen by bestselling author Jodi Picoult, and the Chris O’Malley Prize in Fiction from The Madison Review. Lori muses on Twitter at @LoriRaderDay.

5 Things I Learned at the Willamette Writers Conference

In the pitch practice room. Nerves galore.
In the pitch practice room. Nerves galore.

Last weekend I volunteered at the Willamette Writers Conference. I attended as an author rather than as a writer trying to snag the attention of a literary agent. Off the hook! But man, did I feel the miasma of desperation that hung over the place. I just looked up “miasma” … “a heavy vaporous emanation or atmosphere” and “a contagious power that has an independent life of its own.” Yep. That was about it.

I waded through the miasma into the pitch-practice room, where the vaporous contagion thickened with dreams upon dreams upon dreams colliding into each other as twitchy writers readied themselves to meet their makers literary agents.

What a relief to be on the other side of the pitch-practice table, helping the twitchy-eyed!

What I learned on the other side of the table:

1. Despite the fact that I don’t know much of anything, come to find out that I do. I don’t retain facts. You ask me to talk in bullet points about the three basic elements of a pitch, and my mind will go blank. Yet, when I sat with the amped-up budding authors, I entered into a state of recognition. As they talked, I recognized what felt wrong about their pitches and what felt right. I’d put up a hand, interrupt them, “Right there! That’s your hook! Start with that. The rest is backstory, and the agent won’t care.” I surprised myself. I do know stuff, and I can help people out, and that felt great.

2. Forget Twitter and Facebook, apparently Google+ will endow us with super-duper powers of self-promotion. Yeah, didn’t get this…In fact, my head spun during sessions about nifty topics such as platform-building, tactical social engagement, and advanced keyword searches. The self-proclaimed web warrior guy (he knew his stuff…but oh. my. god) told us that to do it right we needed to spend hours a day online. SO WHEN ARE WE SUPPOSED TO WRITE, BUDDY?

3. So the thing about Google+? We’re supposed to be over there because when we’re using it, our posts automatically rise to the top of Google searches. Something like that anyhow. I think. See Martin Shervington on YouTube for more information. <shrug> I’m still getting the hang of Twitter.

4. Use a book landing page. One of the presenters discussed an experiment he performed. He had an Amazon book page, and he also had a dedicated book page on his website with a link to the Amazon page. He found that when he sent people to his dedicated page (say from Twitter, Facebook, a blog post, or a Facebook ad) rather than directly to the Amazon page, he was twice as likely to sell a copy of his book. Interesting, right? His theory was that Amazon is dedicated to selling anything–it doesn’t care whether it’s a “Dance the Macarena” VHS tape or your book–but your book landing page is you and only you, baby.

I'll remember this next year.
I’ll remember this next year.

5. Last but not least, never leave home without your cajun spices. No one expects five-star food at a conference, but come on, Airport Sheraton, you could have done better than that! The food was–ready for another great word?–inexecrable (“deserving of being cursed”). Evan Lewis, an old-hand in the pitch-practice room (not to mention a fab short story writer) brought his cajun spice with him. Bland, runny scrambled eggs made from an egg-like liquid product? Cajun spice! Vegetables drowning in a suspicious-looking “cream” sauce? Cajun spice!

I had fun. Just that. It’s grand being on the other side of the table–and with KILMOON debut novel postcards too!

BOUCHERCON 2010 | Books and Booze by the Bay

Free books. Paradise!

If you haven’t heard of Bouchercon, it’s the annual trade show for mystery writers and their fans. This year it was held in San Francisco, the land of noir.

How could I not love riding the elevator with Laurie R. King and receiving a kind word in response to my desperate attempt at chit-chat? As I recall, I mentioned that I knew her long-time editor way back when.

Or Hank Phillippi Ryan. For a long while I’d only known of her through the Jungle Red group blog. In real life, she was gorgeous, and she was gracious with everyone, famous or not. I almost followed her around in true stalker fashion. I’m not kidding.

Or Heather Graham. Not quite knowing who she was, I babbled something inane (much alcohol consumed, very little sleep…you get it). She was perfectly nice in response. But why oh why was I going on about that old Prince song “Let’s Go Crazy”?

Or sitting with Bryan Gruley in the bar and thinking, This dude is such a cool dude. Anyone could comfortably put back a beer with him without realizing he’s a fabulous writer. (And he’s good-looking too.)

Or running into Gayle Lynds in the bathroom while she was primping. I asked her if I should know who she was — faux pas anyone? She responded with a twinkly little squint so I pretended to recognize her name when she said it. Here’s the thing: Now that I know Lynd’s name, I’ll look for her books.

Or chatting with nice-as-pie Harley Jane Kozak about her agent, whom I also used to know back in the day. Or introducing myself to Dana Stabenow because we were in that Elizabeth George anthology together…

Here’s the only “however”: I participated as an agent-less novelist, with no published novels under my belt. I noticed that a few attendees ceased to be interested in me when they discovered my lowly publishing status. Sad to see the networking gleam fade from their eyes.

BUT, here’s the “however” to the “however”: Librarians and other fans are the best! I don’t know how many nonwriters I met who were enthused to hear about my novel, who wanted to see me in print, who asked for my business card.

As an exercise in extroversion and schmooze-practice, I give myself a 3.2 out of 5.0, and most of that is for effort rather than execution. It’s all good, and I made a bunch of new friends, discovered dozens of new authors, and lookee here: I’m so enthused, have I started blogging again?

What Literary Novelist David Guterson Had to Say

On Monday night I was eager to hear what David Guterson had to say because I’d gladly include his first novel, Snow Falling on Cedars, on my Top 100 All-Time Favorites list — if I had such a list.

I found myself noting what NOT to do while on my imagined book tour.

Amiable and better looking than his author photos suggest, Guterson launched into a bit of a rant that had me puzzled: What was all this about his luxurious hotel room, the absurd bounty that comes with being born an American, and our “world system predicated on the exploitation of….” I found myself reading the jacket copy of his latest novel, The Other. Others were looking a little dazed.

I didn’t disagree with his politics, but I was there to listen to a writer talk about his craft, his latest novel, his inspirations.

Lesson #1: Don’t get too political out of the chute, and keep politics to a minimum in any case.

It was only after he’d gone on for a bit that he mentioned that he’d actually been describing the worldview of one of his main characters. Character development: now that interested me.

Lesson #2: Mention the connection to the novel before diving into deep topics; keep deep topics on point with novel.

After the reading, he was asked how he “overcame” the phenomonal success of Snow Falling on Cedars. Guterson began his answer with, “All human beings are always changing….” and rambled for awhile.

Lesson #3: Answer questions directly. Keep high-level mumbo-jumbo to a minimum.

Lest I sound too negative, let me hereby admit that I enjoyed glancing at Guterson’s pretty face while noting down these cool tidbits:  

  • On using significant others as readers: He noted that in the early days, his wife read too much into the writing — as a negative indicator of their marriage, for example — and that her sensitivity caused him anxious moments while writing.
  • On this, his most autobiographical novel: The idealistic character mentioned above represents one aspect of Guterson, which conflicts with the part of him that enjoys luxurious hotel rooms. The novel is a fictional exploration of this “schism.”
  • On his bad reviews: He has plenty of positive reviews, but also bad ones. How refreshing to hear a novelist cop to bad reviews — he didn’t seem to care too much either. Still, that’s gotta be hard. A thick skin is always good.
  • On his ideas: His novel ideas often stem from things that cause him the most pain. (Jodi Picoult said much the same thing at her reading.)


And get this: He first got published by sending a set of 10 stories to three publishers (no agent!) with a letter that said something like, Dear editor, here are my stories if you want to publish them. Don’t we wish it was still that easy?