Open House at Random House – Going!

Going to this on Friday. I’m so excited I can’t stand myself. You see there’s publishers then there’s publishers. And then there’s (cue chorus of sopranos) Random House!

Open House is a unique semi-annual event that brings together the biggest names in publishing (Anna Quindlen, Debbie Macomber, and more!) for a full day of interactive author panels and book signings at Random House’s New York offices. Readers get a behind-the-books look at what’s new at this all-inclusive day, which includes breakfast, snacks, lunch, a cocktail reception, and a canvas tote bag full of books and goodies!

 

  • Questlove

    Questlove

    Author, Something To Food About

  • Melanie Benjamin

    Melanie Benjamin

    Author, THE SWANS OF FIFTH AVENUE

  • Pierce Brown

    Pierce Brown

    Author, MORNING STAR

  • Justin Cronin

    Justin Cronin

    Author, THE CITY OF MIRRORS

  • Debbie Macomber

    Debbie Macomber

    Author, A GIRL’S GUIDE TO MOVING ON

  • Anna Quindlen

    Anna Quindlen

    Author, MILLER’S VALLEY

  • Helen Simonson

    Helen Simonson

    Author, THE SUMMER BEFORE THE WAR

  • Dawn Tripp

    Dawn Tripp

    Author, GEORGIA

  • Lee Woodruff

    Lee Woodruff

    Author, PERFECTLY IMPERFECT

Have questions about Open House at Random House – April 29? Contact Random House
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Kicking it off the cliff

the-endOne of the most depressing days in a writer’s life is when they finish their work-in-progress. You’d think it’d be a James Caan break-out-the-bubbly moment like in Stephen King’s Misery, but truly, it’s more like Kathleen Turner in Romancing the Stone, crying like a baby as she types The End. The latter’s an apt analogy, because there ‘s definitely some postpartum issues going on, and although you feel a sense of release, it’s also pretty scary. Mainly because although the creative part is finished the business end kicks in, and suddenly the kind of terror you’re facing makes that Scary First Page look like all kitty and bunny cuteness. You start going all agoraphobia, freaked at the idea of sending Baby out into the cruel, cruel world, completely certain everyone  will discover you for the hack — or even worse — the fraud, the imposter you are. “Take THAT bitch!” you imagine as another rejection skids into your inbox, “who ever told you you can write?” (actually, a “mentor” once did say that to me, an Iowa Workshop graduate who I now can only remember as Dick.) You start doubting yourself, convinced everything you ever wrote is shit and trash-worthy, and you end up with your ass still in pajamas at 4:00 PM eating Tater Tots and binge-watching old episodes of Family Ties. Pathetic.

Of course, this is the most extreme scenario, and not completely reflective of my reality. I’m fortunate enough to have an agent who believes in my work, and a couple good leads on this new thing. But that doesn’t mean everything I described above hasn’t gone through my head, and it’s certainly nothing I haven’t faced before. (Okay, no Family Ties, but I did recently binge five episodes of Outlander and nearly the whole season of Girls.) The thing is no matter what stage you are in your writing career, you’re not immune to self-doubt and imposter syndrome and the fact that you’re only as good as your latest success. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t let go. I did, and as proof–oh what the hell, here’s the first chapter of my latest book to prove it. Go ahead and read it and let me know what you think. Just don’t make me call you Dick.

Almost there

Blindfolded Typing Competition in Paris, ca. 1940Normally I’d be posting some kind of inspiring message to all those fledglings and fans today, but I’m thisclose to finishing up my latest epic, so I’m going to have to bail. Plus I have a bajillion assignments to grade, and then TCM is hosting a night of German Expressionism with one of the scariest movies out there Nosferatu, which never failed to scare the crap out of me. Oy, who needs this many things to do! I’d better get back to work.

All systems stop

Brick wallRight now I’m in the process of editing my latest book, and for the most part, it’s rolling along superbly. I have a terrific premise, stellar characters, lots of quirkiness and some great dialogue. I always keep in mind the big picture–the one thing I want to accomplish and how it all will eventually end up. For one reason or the other I can always visualize the last scene, where the characters will be and the affecting bon mots that’ll roll off their tongue which will hopefully, linger in my readers’ minds. And then three-quarters of the way in, I turned around and just like that! I ran face-first into a brick wall.

Stopped. Not stalled–I’m talking dead motor. I couldn’t move an inch and worse than that, I didn’t know why. I thought at first I was stymied by the research, as there’s some technical devices I’m using that needed to be clarified. But that wasn’t it either, and it wasn’t the pacing, because it was going along at such a rapid clip I made a conscious effort to slow it down. Then it hit me (metaphorically): I couldn’t go on because I didn’t know one of  my characters well enough. And when you don’t, how could you possibly know what they’ll do next?

According to Nancy Lamb in The Art and Craft of Storytelling, “how your characters act and react–how they think and feel; how they handle obstacles and respond to people, places and things is story.” Agreed. I have some great characters. They’re colorful and full of nuance, they have interesting backstories and deliver some killers lines. Yet…and this took me a bit of thinking to figure out–they’re still one-dimensional. I’m working with them, but I don’t really know them. I’m hitting that wall of what-to-do-next because this far into the book I can no longer write them observationally, or how the opposing characters see them. I have to write them motivationally or how their unique combination of nurture, nature, inclination and quirkiness force them to do the things they do.  So I stopped and thought about the plot situation my character was in, and that’s where I found my moment of clarity. I couldn’t predict what he’d do next because I’d yet to give him justification. Oh sure, I knew his present because I had observed it through the eyes of the other characters. But I wasn’t well-enough acquainted with his personal history to give him a motivation to react the way that would advance the story. So to help that along, I devised a little checklist to run him through.

Personality  – Is he aggressive or passive? Confident or shy? Is he willing to take chances, or does he like to play it safe? Cheerful or moody?

Defining Traits – Is he a geek or a loner? A leader or a follower? Fun or a bit of a wet blanket? Is he cold? Is he liked or feared, and how much does that matter to him?

Family – Is he close to them or estranged? Married or does he want to be? Any children? Youngest, middle or oldest? Pets?

Interests – What is he passionate about? Any hobbies? Political? A patron of the arts? What does he really dislike? And how does this conflict with the other main character?

Clothes – Does he dress nattily? Or like a slob? And what does he observe in others?

Body Language – How is his handshake? Does he always make eye contact? Does he walk confidently or does he cower?  Does he listen?

This is just a short list as you can go on and on, but by the end you will end up knowing your character a bit better. And when you do you can finally sit back and relax. They’ll take it from there.