Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Soup and Salad: Dark Times of the Writer's Soul, A Visit From the Goon Squad, Emerging Writers, World Book Night, Maisie Dobbs Read-Along, Book Flash Mobs, One-Sentence Books, J. A. Konrath's e-Success, Amazon Planning World Domination, Books Coming in 2011, Other Lit-Bloggers Crunch Their Numbers

On today's menu:

1.  I've been pretty busy lately (doing a little thing called "finishing a novel and sending it off to an agent"), so I've been remiss in serving you a Soup and Salad.  This is by way of explanation for the age of some of these links.  I do try to stay current with book chatter around the 'net, but sometimes life (and the holidays and pooping out draft revisions of a novel) get in the way.

2.  Way back in the middle of December, Alaskan writer Andromeda Romano-Lax was contemplating the winter solstice and thinking about the dark times we writers go through.  Her post at the 49 Writers blog is revealing and pretty spot-on.  Without saying too much at this point, I'm going through a period of anxious drift in my writing life right now, feeling like a rowboat on the ocean.  I have oars, but they're no match for the waves.  That's why I found myself nodding in recognition at several points in Romano-Lax's confession:
I think my darkest time came not when I had to set aside a novel (which I've done twice now) but when I effectively lost the attention and confidence of my first agent.   Losing my trusted professional reader, my advocate--and having no idea how to fill the gap, no faith that I'd ever find an agent or editor again--felt like exile to Siberia.  I was back to square one.  And it's not something you realize at first, in this writing life: that you may be set back to square one again, and again, and again.   What was my "solstice" moment--the darkest time before the turn?  Not when I got a new agent (that would come later) but when I officially finalized the de facto break with agent number one, in the form of an amicable letter that I hoped would communicate what had gone wrong, and why we were better apart, and all that other awful divorce stuff that hurt to say.  By complete coincidence, it was the month of December, one year ago, when I wrote that letter.  I'd wanted a clean break for the new year.  And I got it.  Freedom granted, I could hear the whistling sound of my career ending, quietly, peacefully, as the snow fell, blanketing everything....What helped was realizing that commercial success is so beyond our control anyway, and all we can do is write what we want to write, and even if no one is available to read it professionally (much less publish it), that's really OK.  I've come to that realization more than once, but then I get amnesia, and I have to learn it all over again, usually when things aren't going well.  But when I truly believe it, it feels good every time: liberating, and bracing.  A shock of cold, clean air on the skin.  Or a snowball suddenly hitting the tender back of your neck. You can get mad or just turn around and start playing.

2.  Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad has been getting so many love notes from critics lately, it's like she's the pretty girl in 3rd Period English with a classroom of heartstruck boys all staring with lust-eyes at the back of her head.  A review written by Jason Rice at Three Guys One Book is pretty typical:
Egan’s narrative voice and style is so damn brilliant, and with a symphony of characters that you instantly care about, this story is an intricate tapestry of the highest order.  There is this chapter that is all power point slide show, and at first seems like bullshit, but it’s not, read it carefully, there is so much beauty and sorrow in it.  I love the chapter with Sasha in Italy, it’s like you’re actually there with her, (wow, this is so smarmy!).  I’m gushing like a school girl with a first crush.  Just read this book.
Okay, okay, I will.  You can read the rest of the review HERE (warning: Rice drops lots of f-bombs).

3.  At The Huffington Post, three emerging writers talk about the writing process and how they arrived at that most magical moment: holding a bound copy of their first book in their hands.  Rebecca Rasmussen (The Bird Sisters), Valerie Laken (Separate Kingdoms), and Alan Heathcock (Volt) all have some pretty interesting stories to tell.  Here's a video of Heathcock, explaining the story behind the story, then reading an excerpt:

4.  If you're one of my UK readers (I know there are a couple of you out there) and you haven't already heard about World Book Night and want to get in on the action of giving away one million books on March 5, you can join the "army of passionate readers" by going to the World Book Night website.

5.  "Passionate readers" anywhere around the globe can get in on a Maisie Dobbs read-along which is being organized by the Book Club Girl blog.  I've written elsewhere about how the books featuring Jacqueline Winspear's female sleuth are inconsistently good.  But if you're "Mad For Maisie," you can join the read-along by clicking HERE.

6.  Though we'll never see a reality show called Reading With the Stars, Martha Randolph Carr suggests that in these troubled economic times book flash mobs might be a fun way to put the "ding" back in reading.  "We’ll call them First Line Flash Mobs and they can be all thriller with everyone in trench coats or all romance and participants can wear feather boas or tween novels with a crowd in prom attire," Carr writes.

7.  Those First Line Flash Mobs probably wouldn't want to read the opening lines of the novels Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age or The Gates of Paradise.  That's because the first line is the only line in those one-sentence novels (The Gates of Paradise actually consists of two sentences, but the final one is only five words long).  Ed Park has more on mega-sentences in this New York Times article.

8.  J. A. Konrath, the poster child for successful self-published authors, tells a happy-ending bedtime story over at his blog A Newbie's Guide to Publishing.  The Kindle Review blog gives us the basics on Konrath's true fairy tale about breaking the shackles of traditional publishing:
1.  It took him 12 years to get a novel published. He earned a $33,000 advance.
2.  Then he got dropped, and published a novel under a pen name, with a $20,000 advance.
3.  He got dropped a second time, this time because he wouldn’t do changes his Publisher wanted, and published a novel under a newer pen name with a $6,000 advance.
4.  Then he started self-publishing.
5.  He started selling in the Kindle Store when his readers asked him to.  He started making $1,000 a month.
6.  He went up to $3,000 a month, then $6,000, and then $16,000.
7.  In December 2010 he hit $22,000.
Eventually, Konrath (aka "Joe) writes, he came to this realization about the gatekeeping publishing industry:
       Joe was very happy.  He no longer had to worry about appeasing the Gatekeeper in order to get another contract.  He no longer got paid only twice a year.  He no longer had to cut things out of his books he didn't want to cut, or change his titles, or have zero say in cover art.
       Joe was selling more books, making more money, and reaching more people than he ever had in the past, and he didn't have to go on any crazy two-month-long book tours, or mail out 7000 letters to libraries.
       Best of all, Joe never worried about getting rejected ever again.  Joe realized he was the brand, not the Gatekeeper.  His fans would follow him, and retailers like Amazon and Smashwords and Barnes and Noble and Apple and Sony and Kobo and Borders and Android would allow Joe to find even more fans.

9.  Meanwhile, this Los Angeles Times article talks about how Amazon has big plans for the Kindle.  Big, big plans.  As in Dr. Evil World Domination Plans.  Russ Grandinetti, president of Kindle content:  "Our vision is [to make] every book ever written, in any language, in print or out of print, all available within 60 seconds."

10.  I've previously mentioned some of the books I'm looking forward to reading in 2011.  Eric Forbes, however, gives us a bigger list of what to expect in this post from his blog, A Book Addict's Guide to Good Books.  "Calling all cars, calling all cars....Be on the lookout for blue-eye Caucasian Male, male-pattern baldness, ink stains around his fingertips, goes by the name Richard Ford."

11.  Remember my post about "Crunching the Numbers"?  It turns out that I'm not the only blogger obsessed with how many books I've read in any given year.  In fact, it seems to be some sort of annual rite among lit-bloggers.  Here are the stats from Kim over at Sophisticated Dorkiness and Nicki at Fyrefly's Book Blog.

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