Friday, August 31, 2012

Friday Freebie: 4 for Sept. 4: Hemingway's Girl by Erika Robuck, Love Slave by Jennifer Spiegel, The Three-Day Affair by Michael Kardos, On a Farther Shore by William Souder

Congratulations to Rhonda Lomazow, winner of last week's Friday Freebie: The Age of Desire by Jennie Fields.

This week's book giveaway is a very special one in honor of Books-Other-Than-Fobbit which will be published on September 4.  The day after Labor Day is a red-letter day for many writers whose books officially launch like rockets, arcing across the sky into the hands of readers.  This week's Friday Freebie celebrates the accomplishments of my fellow authors who--if they're like me--will be standing in front of a bookstore on Tuesday, marveling at the miraculous sight of their book on display in the front window.  I'll have more to say in a later blog post regarding my feelings about Fobbit's “Pub Day,” but for now I want to let you know about at least four other books which deserve your attention: Love Slave by Jennifer Spiegel, The Three-Day Affair by Michael Kardos, Hemingway's Girl by Erika Robuck, and On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson by William Souder.  The publishers and authors of these fine books have generously donated a copy of each book for one lucky winner of this week's contest.

Love Slave (from Unbridled Books) will tickle the fancy of anyone (like me!) who's been sitting around waiting for a modern Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West.  Here's the jacket copy on Spiegel's debut novel:  It's 1995.  When she can, Sybil Weatherfield works as an office temp.  But in her jobless hours she may be her generation’s Dorothy Parker, writing a confessional column for the alternative weekly, New York Shock, a chatty rag in which she writes a column called “Abscess”—a wound that never heals.  “I can write the pants off any man,” Sybil declaresLove Slave follows Weatherfield and her strange friends as they frustrate chick-lit expectations (though they’re unaware that they’re doing so) in this uproarious, genre-breaking spree.  Her friends include a paper-pusher for a human rights organization, and the lead singer of a local rock band called Glass Half Empty.  Together, they try to find a path from their own wry inactivity to something real and lasting that can matter to them.  Richly funny and wincingly specific, this cunning debut novel is a bittersweet and ironic look at what it means to be enthralled by an idea—by even the most ragged possibility of love.  Publishers Weekly praised it thusly: “Spiegel’s novel evokes the psychic angst of Manhattanites presumptuous enough to describe themselves as struggling artistes, yet entitled enough to melt down when they can’t order breakfast in a diner after 11 am...the writing is fresh and witty, and Sybil is a sympathetic character worthy of rooting for as she searches for something to believe in.”

The Three-Day Affair (from The Mysterious Press, an imprint at my own beloved Grove/Atlantic) is a thriller in the tradition of Scott Smith’s classic A Simple Plan.  Here's the jacket copy:  Will, Jeffrey, and Nolan are lifelong friends.  Each have gone their separate ways as adults, living their own lives while forging their own careers.  They have no reason to believe anything extraordinary will befall them.  Until one shocking moment changes everything…Will is a part-time drummer who spends the rest of his time in recording studios.  He has lived a sheltered existence.  Then one night Jeffrey attempts to rob a convenience store, drags a young woman into Will’s car, and shouts a single word: “Drive!”  Shaken and confused, Will obeys.  Suddenly three ordinary men find themselves completely out of their element, holding a young girl hostage without the slightest idea of what to do next.  They are already guilty of kidnapping and robbery; it is only a matter of time before they find out just what else they’re capable of.  For these four people, three days will decide their fate—between freedom and prison, innocence and guilt…and life and death.  Michael Koryta, author of The Prophet, raved: “A wonderful piece of literary suspense craftsmanship.  Line by line, Michael Kardos dazzles with prose strength and style, and the bad-day-gone-worse story does not let up... A fascinating character study and engaging thriller.”

Erika Robuck breathes fresh life into one of the past century's greatest writers in Hemingway's Girl (from New American Library).  Here's what the publisher had to say about the novel which re-imagines Ernest Hemingway's Key West years:  In Depression-era Key West, Mariella Bennet, the daughter of an American fisherman and a Cuban woman, knows hunger.  Her struggle to support her family following her father’s death leads her to a bar and bordello, where she bets on a risky boxing match...and attracts the interest of two men: world-famous writer, Ernest Hemingway, and Gavin Murray, one of the WWI veterans who are laboring to build the Overseas Highway.  When Mariella is hired as a maid by Hemingway’s second wife, Pauline, she enters a rarefied world of lavish, celebrity-filled dinner parties and elaborate off-island excursions.  As she becomes caught up in the tensions and excesses of the Hemingway household, the attentions of the larger-than-life writer become a dangerous temptation...even as straightforward Gavin Murray draws her back to what matters most.   Will she cross an invisible line with the volatile Hemingway, or find a way to claim her own dreams?  As a massive hurricane bears down on Key West, Mariella faces some harsh truths...and the possibility of losing everything she loves.  Ann Napolitano, author of A Good Hard Look, praised the novel by saying, “I fell in love with Robuck's Hemingway and with the fiery Mariella Bennet, but what I loved most was the novel's message: that we can inspire each other to be better human beings.”

A biography of famed environmentalist Rachel Carson, On a Farther Shore (from Crown) will be published on the 50th anniversary of Carson's landmark Silent Spring.  Here's the publisher's blurb for Souder's new biography:  Rachel Carson loved the ocean and wrote three books about its mysteries, including the international bestseller The Sea Around Us.  But it was with her fourth book, Silent Spring, that this unassuming biologist transformed our relationship with the natural world.  Rachel Carson began work on Silent Spring in the late 1950s, when a dizzying array of synthetic pesticides had come into use.  Leading this chemical onslaught was the insecticide DDT, whose inventor had won a Nobel Prize for its discovery.  Effective against crop pests as well as insects that transmitted human diseases such as typhus and malaria, DDT had at first appeared safe.  But as its use expanded, alarming reports surfaced of collateral damage to fish, birds, and other wildlife.  Silent Spring was a chilling indictment of DDT and its effects, which were lasting, widespread, and lethal.  Published in 1962, Silent Spring shocked the public and forced the government to take action-despite a withering attack on Carson from the chemicals industry.  Elegantly written and meticulously researched, On a Farther Shore reveals a shy yet passionate woman more at home in the natural world than in the literary one that embraced her.  William Souder also writes sensitively of Carson's romantic friendship with Dorothy Freeman, and of her death from cancer in 1964.  And here's what Publishers Weekly said about the book: “In this expansive, nuanced biography, Souder portrays Carson as a woman passionate in friendship, poetic and innovative in her books about the sea, gentle but ambitious, assiduously keeping tabs on her publisher's promotion of her work.... [and explores] cold war anxiety about nuclear annihilation, the chemistry of pesticides like DDT and their flagrant postwar use, and an emerging understanding of ecology.  Carson, under severe stress and exhaustion from a cancer that took her life, synthesized these issues in Silent Spring, a meticulously researched, policy-changing picture of an earth poisoned by humanity.  Fifty years later, her insights are surprisingly relevant.”

If you'd like a chance at winning a copy of all four books, all you have to do is email your name and mailing address to

Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line.  One entry per person, please.  Despite its name, the Friday Freebie runs all week long and remains open to entries until midnight on Sept. 6at which time I'll draw the winning name.  I'll announce the lucky reader on Sept. 7.  If you'd like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week Quivering Pen newsletter, simply add the words "Sign me up for the newsletter" in the body of your email.  Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning?  Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter.  Once you've done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying "I've shared" and I'll put your name in the hat twice.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Gazing Into the Mirror: The News From Fobbit Headquarters

I'd hoped to write about someone other than me today.  For instance, I've got a blog post spotlighting Alexis Smith's excellent novel Glaciers which is just itching to be written; or I could have raved about the gorgeous covers for The Age of Desire and Cascade; then there's a guest review of Jonathan Evison's great new road-trip novel The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving which I'm dying to share with you.  And I will post all those things, eventually.  But not today.

Today, I'm in a rush to get things done--answer emails, eat breakfast, and dash off to the Day Job (there's a wildfire just over the ridge east of town, and that's keeping me busy with phone calls and press releases).  So, in the interest of time, I'm just going to bombard you with a series of self-centered links to recent interviews with me and reviews of Fobbit.  If you're already sick of hearing about the book, turn away now while there's still time.

1.  An interview with Bill Tipper at The Barnes and Noble Review:
For me, the sun rises and sets on Dickens. When it comes to pace, style, and structure of the novel, he's probably my greatest influence. His choice of names, in particular, is genius. He telegraphs a lot of information about his characters in the way he christens them. He affixes these name-labels to his characters so we're already forming an opinion about them before they even open their mouths. Noddy Boffin, Jerry Cruncher, Uriah Heep, Charity Pecksniff, Gradgrind, Pumblechook, Dedlock, Fezziwig -- I could go on and on. Dickens was a phonetic comedian, and I guess some of that rubbed off on me in my writing -- not just in Fobbit but in all of my fiction. Why waste words calling someone Smith when he could be a Harkleroad?

2.  Post-40 Bloomer at The Millions ("Taking As Long As It Takes"):
Once in a while it’s refreshing to hear from a writer — one who’s still writing, and not yet the stuff of legend — that sometimes those extra ten or twenty years are just how long it takes. There doesn’t always need to be a dramatic story to later-life publication — sometimes a writer may just be spending a couple of decades reading, writing, working, and living enough to know what it is he’s writing about. Often those intervening years are simply about showing up. David Abrams is one of the guys who kept showing up.

3.  All this week, the good folks at the We Wanted To Be Writers blog have been running excerpts from Chapter 1 of Fobbit:

4.  Diane Prokop gave the book a very generous review at her blog:
I can recommend Fobbit as an outrageously funny book that will give you an insider’s look into the day-to-day routine of the military machine. But, I can assure you that beneath the laughter lies a darker reality. Comedy is comfortably in bed with tragedy in this one. Fobbit will stick with you, and perhaps bubble up the next time you watch a news account of yet another soldier killed.

5.  At Tantor Audio, you can hear a short sample from the audiobook version of Fobbit, narrated by David Drummond.  It's from the pool scene with Captain Abe Shrinkle:
As he walked to the pool for the first time a week ago, he’d decided to adopt a new identity, start over with a clean slate, as it were.  Walking the dusty road with his suit rolled up on one hand, he practiced with a few phrases like “blimey!” and “pip-pip cheerio!” He told them his name was Richard Belmouth, a London contractor who was there to advise the U.S. on historical preservation.

6.  Here in Butte, reporter John Grant Emeigh splashed me on the front page of The Montana Standard on Monday:
With masterful wit and satire, Abrams describes this life of alphabet-soup acronyms, handwringing junior officers and the frustrating bureaucracy of orchestrating a war from a desk. The way novelist Richard Hooker introduced “M.A.S.H.” to the American culture four decades ago, Abrams is likely to make the fobbit part of the American consciousness.

Painting: Vanity by Auguste Toulmouche

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Every Morning a Different Universe: Charles Yu’s Sorry Please Thank You

Sorry Please Thank You
by Charles Yu
Guest review by Will Kaufman

Charles Yu’s wit, inventiveness, and raw, emotional openness are all on good display in his new collection of stories, Sorry Please Thank You, but the book isn’t without its shortcomings. With his last book book, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, which deservingly landed on a number of awards lists, Yu created something unique by blending a sort of non-fiction confessionalism with science fiction, and philosophical meandering with involving narrative and character development. His new collection uses the same stylistic tools, sometimes succeeding fantastically, but suffers when it bogs down in the meandering to the exclusion of all else.

The collection is broken into sections: “Sorry,” “Please,” “Thank You,” and, “All of the Above.” “Sorry” starts the book off on a high note. Yu begins with “Standard Loneliness Package,” a story about a wage-slave whose job is to suffer other people’s unpleasant moments for them. He goes to work and experiences root-canals, funerals, break-ups and broken legs so that his company’s wealthy clients won’t have to. It’s a heart-breaking story that also does a lot of solid world-building. Next we get “First Person Shooter,” about a mega-mart clerk dealing with a zombie woman who has come in to shop for makeup and clothes for a date. The story works well, and is funny-sad in a way that’s hard to pull off, but Yu makes it look easy.

“Troubleshooting” comes next. A story without a real story, it considers a man presented with a device that would allow him to make whatever he desires happen. “Troubleshooting” relies on a confessional voice to build a character who is ultimately sympathetic – a man who simply desires to be better than he is, but doesn’t know what that means. Even though there’s no real description or action, the story succeeded for me on the strength of its emotion.

At this point the collection turns into a bit of a mixed bag. “Hero Takes Major Damage” is a fine story about characters in a role-playing video game. The idea is one that’s been explored by a number of writers, and it was a little disappointing to see Yu, who has proven himself so capable of doing entirely original work, walk such a well-trodden path. Still, Yu makes full use of his talent for creating emotionally satisfying characters to populate “Hero,” and manages some genuinely funny and touching moments.

In these later sections, we also get “Inventory” and “Note to Self,” both of which follow the trend “Troubleshooting” establishes of largely avoiding scene.

In both stories, I felt ungrounded. “Inventory” strives for that same emotional power, but since the character knows neither himself nor his love interest, it falls short. It’s hard to get invested in a person whose primary trait is emptiness. “Note to Self” gets all twisted up with rhetorical questions and a sort of science-fictional philosophical inquiry into multiple dimensions. Again, the story occurs in a sort of void, the action being a man writing to his alternate selves, the setting being the piece of paper on which he’s writing.

This sort of speculative thought experiment won’t be unfamiliar to fans of Yu, but in How to Survive it worked because it was part of the larger whole. The character, the world, the story, the stakes – all of that groundwork had either been laid earlier, or was interspersed with the more abstract moments.

There are some real highs in the rest of Sorry Please Thank You.

“Open,” a story reminiscent of Donald Barthelme’s “Balloon,” projects metaphor into reality with great success as it explores a failing relationship by dropping a huge, floating word “door” into the couple’s living room. It just gets stranger from there. Some of Yu’s best traits as a writer are on display in this short piece – one of my favorites from the collection.

“Human for Beginners” and “Designer Emotion 67,” are genuinely funny and human, and “Yeoman” might be my favorite spoof on the Star Trek universe since I was twelve and got my hands on the Star Wreck books. Yes, Star Trek has been spoofed to death, but to the best of my knowledge no one has made a Kirk-analog quite so nuanced in his creepiness. “Yeoman,” of course, also has those darn human and involving characters that Yu seems to be able to summon so effortlessly when he wants to.

Sorry Please Thank You also gives us “The Book of Categories,” a story that exists somewhere on the same philosophical spectrum as Borges’ The Library of Babel and Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves. The story describes a book, passed from person to person, that comes with a tool allowing any page to be sheared in half, creating a new page. The book defies Zeno, its pages proving infinitely divisible, leading to an endless tome that is still only a few inches thick. It’s a genuine experiment on Yu’s part in terms of both content and style, and it also hints at tremendous hidden depths, suggesting a story that could be revealed endlessly if one could only split the pages and read what lies between. While some of the stories in this book have stuck with me for their content, this is the story that has kept me wondering about what more it might contain, and I think that’s a wonderful gift to give a reader.

Overall Sorry Please Thank You is certainly worth the price of admission. When he’s on his game, Yu occupies a space similar to George Saunders, but with the added frisson of Yu’s ability to make his work feel like deeply personal confession. His blend of inventiveness and emotional accessibility allows his stories to take up residence in your head and heart, and continue to unfold and glow for days.

Will Kaufman's stories have appeared in both science fiction and literary journals, with more coming soon from SmokeLong and Litro.  He also contributed the text for UFOs and Their Spiritual Mission from Social Malpractice Press.  He has an MA in Creative Writing from UC Davis, and an MFA from the University of Utah.  You can find him online at, or follow him on Twitter @specwill.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Trailer Park Tuesday: Hemingway's Girl by Erika Robuck

Welcome to Trailer Park Tuesday, a showcase of new book trailers and, in a few cases, previews of book-related movies.  Unless their last name is Grisham or King, authors will probably never see their trailers on the big screen at the local cineplex.  And that's a shame because a lot of hard work goes into producing these short marriages between book and video.  So, if you like what you see, please spread the word and help these videos go viral.

Ernest Hemingway, that larger-than-life character, is also a character who spills across the pages of a new novel by Erika Robuck.  Hemingway's Girl is about an 18-year-old Cuban-American girl who goes to work as a maid for Papa H. in Depression-era Key West.  The novel has been favorably compared to The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, but it more than holds its own as a robust story of a love triangle with volatile characters in an evocative place and time.  A hurricane is also thrown into the mix, just to add a little more narrative tension. In the book's trailer, Robuck says, "I knew I had to write about this place and I knew I had to bring others there....I chose to write about Hemingway in 1935 when he lived in Key West with his second wife Pauline because it feels to me like the golden age of Hemingway, when he was at the height of his physical power, [and] his writing power."  She notes that the inspiration for the novel was a photo she came across of a young Cuban girl standing on a dock in Havana staring at Hemingway as he boastfully stood beside a huge fish he'd just landed.  "It made me start thinking about the difference between the rich and the poor and what this girl must have been thinking about him."  That girl eventually turned into Mariella, the titular character in Robuck's book.  I've felt a special bond with Hemingway's Girl from the start--not only because of its subject matter, but also because Erika and I share a publication date.  Her novel will be released on the same day as Fobbit--next Tuesday--and I couldn't be more excited to share the date with a novelist you'll be hearing a lot more about in the future (her next novel is about Zelda Fitzgerald).  I'll leave you with the first paragraph of Chapter 2:
The first time Mariella saw Hemingway at his house, he was sitting on a dining room chair on the lawn while his wife, Pauline, cut his curling brown hair. He was big and the chair was small, and he regarded Mariella with the kind of mocking smile that usually runs between old friends. It occured to Mariella that Pauline was trying to tame that great animal of a man, and the absurdity of it made Mariella smile back at him.

Monday, August 27, 2012

My First Time: Laura Maylene Walter

My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands. Today’s guest is Laura Maylene Walter.  Her debut short story collection, Living Arrangements (BkMk Press, 2011) received a National Gold 2012 Independent Publisher Book Award and a silver ForeWord Book of the Year award.  Laura’s writing has appeared in Poets & Writers, The Writer, Inkwell, American Literary Review, Ohioana Quarterly, Flyway, Crab Creek Review, South Dakota Review, Cat Fancy (yes, Cat Fancy) and elsewhere.  She was nominated for a 2011 Pushcart Prize and her novel-in-progress was named a runner-up in the 2010 James Jones First Novel Fellowship.  Laura lives in Cleveland with her husband and their two cats.  She works as a senior editor of a trade magazine and blogs about truth, fiction, and the writing life at

My First Great Expectations

There it was, in the back of the Writer's Digest magazine: a call for submissions for short stories with “religious themes” for teenage readers.  It just so happened that I had recently written a story that fit those requirements.  Granted, the religious part revolved around the teenage protagonist doubting her own faith instead of celebrating it, and the story featured a melodramatic abortion plotline and a climax involving a broken compact mirror, but still.  It seemed like a fit for this particular publication, so why not submit?

The fact that I was only sixteen years old or that I’d never submitted my writing anywhere save student writing contests didn’t discourage me.  With some help from the writing-advice books and magazines my mother kept around the house, I put together a cover letter, filled out an SASE, and dropped my story in the mail.

Several weeks later, I received a congratulatory letter and a check for ninety dollars.  I was delighted.  The story I had originally reeled off for my tenth-grade English class had been accepted by a real, paying publication.  I’d been told for years that I had talent, but here was proof in the form of money and a byline.  And while I’d heard time and time again that rejection was a big part of the writing life, this acceptance seemed to suggest otherwise.  Maybe, I thought, I was the exception to the rejection rule.

I wasted no time in flipping through the trusty Writer's Digest again, where I found a call for stories geared toward young horse lovers.  I’d ridden horses my entire life and had probably read every horse-related children’s book out there.  How hard could this be?  All I had to do was write a new short story and send it off.  I wouldn’t say I was expecting an acceptance, but it also would not have shocked me.

What came at last, of course, was a rejection.  In addition to pointing out that the voice of my story was “much too adult” for their readership, the editor also dropped the dreaded “please read our publication to see what we publish” line.  Just like that, my grand plans to rocket through a writing career without experiencing rejection fell apart.  I felt embarrassed that I’d ever thought I was immune to rejection, or that my writing was automatically worthy of being published.  Clearly, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I never repeated that first whirlwind acceptance.  In fact, I stopped submitting my fiction to non-student publications entirely and instead focused on something more important: becoming a better writer.

But even if it happened too fast and gave me a surge of overconfidence, I’m still grateful for that early acceptance.  It taught me not to be afraid to send my work to editors, and that some of them just might connect with it.  It taught me to submit professionally, to follow guidelines, and to actually read the publications I wanted to break into.  Above all, it showed me that I could become a published writer – even if it didn’t always happen on my own timeline.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Confessions of an Anxious Novelist

I stood in the wings of the theater stage, hidden in the folds of the heavy gold curtains, and stared at the set bathed in a brilliant explosion of light.  There was an archway—a metal trellis topped with fancy curlicues by the set designer—and beyond that there was a doorway which led to a drawing room with a fainting couch, a desk, and a wingback chair.  In less than a minute, I would hear my cue and walk boldly out from the folds of the curtains, pass through the arch, knock on the door, then enter the drawing room where, if my tongue didn’t fail me, I would speak my first lines.

I was 18 years old, a sophomore majoring in theater at the University of Wyoming, and this was my first starring role in a play—Captain Jack Absolute in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 18th-century comedy of manners The Rivals (a play which is now famous for giving us the word “malapropism”).  I was dressed in a cherry-red frock coat, a sword was strapped to my side, and my face was coated with Tan No. 1 pancake makeup.  Little creeks of sweat had eroded lines down my face.  I could feel my heart thudding somewhere in the neighborhood of my esophagus.  My head was filled with air and seemed to float above my body, tethered only by the tendons of my neck.

I couldn’t see the audience beyond the blinding corona of lights, but I knew they were out there. I could hear them rustling their programs, whispering to each other, fidgeting with their evening clothes.  They were waiting for me.  They breathed like foxes outside a rabbit’s hole.

At that moment, I wanted to die.  I prayed for the proverbial trap door to open beneath my feet and plummet me down to insignificance.  I wanted to turn and walk away from the brightly-lit stage, strip off my frock coat, dash out into the frigid night air, rewind my life and pretend I wasn’t living the very dream for which I’d been waiting.

But that was crazy-thinking.

For God’s sake, this was my big break: a starring role in the Theater Department’s major production of the season.  I’d auditioned for the role, beat out several other theater students, grabbed the brass ring.  I’d gotten what I wanted.  Why would I not want to step out onto the stage and walk through that door into the drawing room?  Why would I not revel in this dream fulfilled?
En garde!  That's me on the left, battling my rival and my anxieties.
*      *     *

Last week, I got an email from a Facebook friend: “Look what just arrived in the mail!!!”  Attached to the email was a photo of my exclamatory friend holding up a copy of Fobbit, freshly unboxed from Amazon.  I wanted to die.

It’s not like I didn’t know this moment was coming—this day when my first novel would be gripped in the hand of a Real Reader®.  Of course I saw its approach, starting with the day last September when I opened the email from my agent and it was like a rainbow shot out of my computer screen and a marching band started playing in the background: “Grove/Atlantic has made an offer…”  From that champagne-in-the-bloodstream moment until now, I’ve been preparing to officially step out from the curtains onto the stage as a Published Novelist.

I just thought I had an extra week to prepare for this moment.  The official publication date for Fobbit has always been September 4, but here we were three weeks before Labor Day and my Facebook page was suddenly populated with photos of happy readers unboxing their copies of my book.  Surprise!  Surprise!  Amazon decided to start shipping copies early.  I blew air kisses at all of my Facebook friends and expressed my thanks in the comments below those pictures, but what I was really thinking was, “OhMyGod, OhMyGod, I’m not ready!”

In truth, I will never be ready.  I will never be prepared for the waves of attention to crash over me, for the spotlight to swivel and burn bright on my face, for the audience to rise to its feet and start applauding (with, I anticipate, a few “Boo!”s peppered throughout).  For you see, I am an anxiety-riddled creature with a complex problem.  I crave the attention, but I don’t know what to do with it once it’s given to me.

I can hear the chorus of unpublished authors right now: “What the hell’s his problem?  Doesn’t he know how good he’s got it?  I would run over my grandmother four times—up-and-back-and-up-and-back—just to have one iota of his good luck.”  You’re right.  This is a good problem to have and I am eternally grateful to my agent, to Grove/Atlantic, and to all the readers out there who have made it their mission to foist Fobbit on friends and family.  I’m ever mindful that just a year ago, I was one of those unpublished authors grumbling about someone like me who complained about these kind of “problems.”

But the truth is, I’m still that shy 18-year-old who knows he must boldly walk out and deliver his lines to a waiting audience.  Somewhere along the way, I turned my stage fright into page fright.  I don’t think I’m alone in this.  I’m pretty sure I’m joined by a sizeable brethren and sisteren of anxious artists who simultaneously relish the spotlight and duck its penetrating beam.  These are our words on the page, the words we joined together, sentence by sentence, in holy matrimony. After all our hard work, we worry about their reception.  Will those words be loved by others?  Will they be misunderstood?  Will there be applause or catcalls?  And, most importantly, why am I spending so much time and energy agonizing over these questions?  After all, I’m published!  Hooray for that!  End of discussion.

But it’s not.  For every character we bring to life on the page, we fret he’ll be pierced by arrows from critics; for every sentence we compose, an equal amount of anxiety decomposes our self-confidence.  We feel our books deeply.  If you prick us, do we not bleed ink?  Maybe it’s just debut authors—or maybe it’s just me—but in the weeks leading up to publication it feels like there’s a Kitchenaid blender planted in our chests, gathering speed with each passing day, until everything inside us is a whirling, churning mess of ego, apprehension, joy, and second-guessing.  I’ve pretty much been useless to anyone else in my life for the past few weeks.  I’m self-consumed, tunnel-visioned, rigid with a paralysis of nerves.  I’ll be glad when the future is behind me.  I can’t wait to look back on this very essay and see it for what it is: the needlessly neurotic natterings of a novelist “living the dream.”  For now, though, there’s a writhing ball of snakes in my stomach.

I'm aware that all this bloggy gnashing of teeth and rending of ink-stained garments is the height and depth of self-involved egotism.  As one commenter wisely pointed out when I originally posted this at the Book Pregnant blog, "Get over your self-consciousness.  It's the only way to truly engage with your creative self, in the years and books to come.  Lose your innocence.  Know who you are NOW."  All this pre-pub navel-gazing has me just as anxious and irritated at myself.  In truth, the only way to get over a case of shredded nerves is to stop staring at the nerves themselves.

In a month, I’ll head out on a cross-country tour to promote Fobbit and I’m sure it will all be fine.  By then, maybe I’ll have swallowed this knot in my throat and swatted all the butterflies in my stomach; maybe I’ll be bold as Captain Jack Absolute swaggering across the stage in his red frock coat; maybe I’ll hide the shake in my voice, the tremor in my hand as I sign copies of Fobbit.  But if you see me eyeing the exits, looking like I’m ready to bolt, I hope you’ll understand why.  And I also hope you’ll jump up to block those exits, barring me from leaving the room.  Because now there’s no turning back.  I’m stepping through that door, the one dividing Unpublished from Published.  For better or worse, I’m heading into the spotlight.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Friday Freebie: The Age of Desire by Jennie Fields

Congratulations to Rhonda Lomazow, winner of last week's Friday Freebie prize package: Triburbia by Karl Taro Greenfeld and The Bird Saviors by William J. Cobb.

This week's book giveaway is The Age of Desire by Jennie Fields.  The novel is a definite must-read for all you Edith Wharton lovers out there.  Fans of The Paris Wife should also sit up and take notice.  The Age of Desire paints a fictional portrait of a middle-aged Wharton falling in love with a young journalist named Morton Fullerton (which she actually did).  This year marks the 150th birthday of the greatest chronicler of America's Gilded Age.  Suddenly, it seems, Edith Wharton is everywhere we look--did you happen to see the big photo spread in Vogue this month?  I could think of no better way to celebrate than by reading The Age of Desire.  Here's the plot synopsis from the publisher:
They say behind every great man is a woman. Behind Edith Wharton, there was Anna Bahlmann—her governess turned literary secretary, and her mothering, nurturing friend. When at the age of forty-five, Edith falls passionately in love with a dashing younger journalist, Morton Fullerton, and is at last opened to the world of the sensual, it threatens everything certain in her life but especially her abiding friendship with Anna. As Edith’s marriage crumbles and Anna’s disapproval threatens to shatter their lifelong bond, the women must face the fragility at the heart of all friendships. Told through the points of view of both women, The Age of Desire takes us on a vivid journey through Wharton’s early Gilded Age world: Paris with its glamorous literary salons and dark secret cafés, the Whartons’ elegant house in Lenox, Massachusetts, and Henry James’s manse in Rye, England. Edith’s real letters and intimate diary entries are woven throughout the book. The Age of Desire brings to life one of literature’s most beloved writers, whose own story was as complex and nuanced as that of any of the heroines she created.
The Boston Globe had this to say about Fields' novel: “Somewhere between the repressiveness of Edith Wharton’s early-20th-century Age of Innocence and our own libertine Shades of Grey era lies the absorbingly sensuous world of Jennie Fields’s The Age of Desire....along with the overheated romance and the middle-age passion it so accurately describes, The Age of Desire also offers something simpler and quieter: a tribute to the enduring power of female friendship.”  To further whet your appetite, here are the novel's opening lines in which Fields pairs Wharton and Fullerton right from the get-go:
He stands at the edge of the salon, and Edith has the uncomfortable feeling he’s staring. A dark-haired man. Formal. Self-certain. There are ten roués like him in every café in Paris. But his sapphire eyes glimmer with a discernible intelligence. His coal black lashes are as long as a giraffe’s. Men should not be allowed to have lashes so seductive. He leans on one leg, observing the room, calculating. How hard he seems to work at doing nothing!

If you'd like a chance at winning a copy of The Age of Desire, all you have to do is email your name and mailing address to

Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line.  One entry per person, please.  Despite its name, the Friday Freebie runs all week long and remains open to entries until midnight on Aug. 30at which time I'll draw the winning name.  I'll announce the lucky reader on Aug. 31.  If you'd like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week Quivering Pen newsletter, simply add the words "Sign me up for the newsletter" in the body of your email.  Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning?  Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter.  Once you've done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying "I've shared" and I'll put your name in the hat twice.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

My First Book: The Tick-Tock Clock

Early this morning, I was leafing through an old scrapbook in search of a photo for another blog post when I stumbled across one of my early attempts at literary stardom.  As I turned the pages--the ancient yellowed glue releasing its hold on grade school report cards, class photos, and love letters to my dog--what should drop into my lap but My First Book.  I've mentioned elsewhere that my "first" book was a story called "The Lady and the Clock," written when I was 6 years old.  To my surprise, I've discovered an even earlier work, pre-dating "The Lady and the Clock" by a full year.  It, too, centers around the tragedy of a broken timepiece (this seems to be an childhood theme of mine--the loss of time and worry over the rapid advance of days).  I know I'm a little biased, but I think this book has its fair share of drama and suspense.  If nothing else, it's a scathing satire of economics and serves as a warning to those customers who put too much trust in the people who repair our clocks.

And so, from the archives of 1968, I give you....

The Tick-Tock Clock
written and illustrated by David Abrams

The Author
At age 5, Mr. Abrams enjoys reading Dr. Seuss, eating ice cream studded with pretzel sticks, and climbing trees. Currently enrolled in Mrs. Thompson's kindergarten class, he has seen several of his stories read aloud in class. He's received praise from his toughest critic--the cute girl in the second row who turned and gave him a smile upon the first public presentation of "The Tick-Tock Clock." Mr. Abrams lives with his mother, father and baby brother in Kittanning, Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Trailer Park Tuesday: The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

Welcome to Trailer Park Tuesday, a showcase of new book trailers and, in a few cases, previews of book-related movies.  Unless their last name is Grisham or King, authors will probably never see their trailers on the big screen at the local cineplex.  And that's a shame because a lot of hard work goes into producing these short marriages between book and video.  So, if you like what you see, please spread the word and help these videos go viral.

I was intrigued by Ben H. Winters' new novel The Last Policeman long before I saw this video.  Maybe I'm just a sucker for doomsday fiction (Apoca-lit?), but the premise behind The Last Policeman sure does tickle my fancy: as a meteor hurtles toward Earth and residents resignedly prepare to die, a policeman named Hank Palace continues to pound the pavement in his gumshoes.  The novel and its trailer ask, "What’s the point in solving murders if we’re all going to die soon, anyway?"  As the publisher's plot synopsis tells us, Hank is "investigating a death by hanging in a city that sees a dozen suicides every week—except this one feels suspicious, and Palace is the only cop who cares."  I first heard about Winters when he published those literary classic mashups Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and Android Karenina.  While still smooshing up a couple of different genres, The Last Policeman appears to be a more straightforward offering.  Even though it's a little light on describing plot, the book trailer does a good job of creating atmosphere.  While I'm not a huge fan of "sentences recited by a succession of talking heads," I think the multi-tongue element works okay here.  It shows that we're all in this together and WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE WHEN THE METEOR HITS.

Monday, August 20, 2012

My First Time: Patricia Ann McNair

My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands.  Today’s guest is Patricia Ann McNair, author of a collection of short stories, The Temple of Air, which was called “a beautiful book, intense and original,” by Audrey Niffenegger, and was selected as the winner of Southern Illinois University’s Devil’s Kitchen Reading Award and the Society of Midland Authors Finalist Award. Patricia Ann McNair has lived 98 percent of her life in the Midwestern United States. She’s managed a gas station, sold pots and pans door to door, tended bar and breaded mushrooms, worked on the trading floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and taught aerobics. Today she is an Associate Professor in the Fiction Writing Department of Columbia College Chicago, where she received a nomination for the Carnegie Foundation’s US Professor of the Year.  Visit her website here and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

My First Bully

When the name showed up in my queue of friend requests on Facebook, I actually shivered.  She found me.  She: my first bully.  With the upcoming launch of my debut story collection, The Temple of Air, I was doing what they tell you to do—reaching out on social media, making new friends, reuniting with old ones, connecting.  I’d been pimping my book, too, putting up posts about future readings, interviews, workshops, etc.  Friends I hadn’t seen in decades—girls, mostly (but not only), from high school—were confirming my friend invitations, and others were sending me theirs.  It was fun to see the pictures on those profiles.  Who had hair; who didn’t?  Who had gotten fat, beautiful, successful, married, remarried, and more or less interesting than I thought they were when we were seventeen?
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised when she found me, my first bully, but I was.  Her name is different now, a new last name with the maiden name in the middle; the first name more girly than what she went by when we were kids.  But the tight smile on her profile picture was the one I remembered from when we first met at a playground when I was what—five?  Six?  The time she made me sit absolutely still on one of those old swing sets with rubbery seats and metal chains while she twisted the swing in such a way that it caught my fingers in the links, pinching them, making them bleed.  I remember her telling me I’d better not say anything to anyone.  She knew how to find me.  She would really hurt me.
She became a mean teenager, getting into fights in the school parking lot, performing small acts of vandalism.  She was from a very screwed up home, I know that now; I think I knew that then.  A single mother.  Boyfriends passing through like potential buyers at an open house.  She was almost certainly abused.  She would make an interesting character in one of my stories; I could love her and hate her in the pages I write.  Mostly, though, I hated her.  She scared me.
So when I saw her name in the requests, I was tempted to hit “ignore.”  But I was already engaged in social media conversation with two or three of our common friends, and I figured what the hell.  Maybe she had changed.  I know that I have—but that’s another story.  So I confirmed the request, and almost immediately, she started to write slightly nasty posts on my wall.  One of the failures of social media particularly, and electronic communication in general, is that tone can so often be misinterpreted.  Perhaps she didn’t mean for it to sound bitchy when she answered my open call for workshop participants with something like “I don’t care what yur doing this summer.  Im spending it with my family.”  Maybe, when she sent me two or three questions in a single post and I didn’t answer all of them at once, and she quickly wrote back in all caps: “YOU DIDNT ANSER MY QUESTION!!!!” she meant it to be funny or something.  Do you think?
But I began to feel trapped, jittery.  And when she started to send me notes about my upcoming book that she had advance-ordered, telling me that I almost certainly had got our childhood wrong and she couldn’t wait to prove it (despite the fact that my book is not about my childhood at all, not even set in the suburbs where we grew up) I could practically smell her hot, tuna-fish-salad breath like I could that long ago day on the swings.
She made sure to tell me when the book had arrived—writing some sneering comment that made me very uneasy but now I can’t recall.  I worried and waited for her response to the stories, as though awaiting a long-anticipated review that might actually matter.  But here’s the thing. I never heard from her again.  I don’t know why.  I’ve resisted the urge to stalk her profile page and timeline to see if she is still out there, or if maybe, (forgive me, I almost wrote “mercifully” here,) she has died or something.  In my own little imagination, I picture her starting to read the book (she’d be fat now, in my imagination, and wrinkled and in need of hair color) and recognizing quickly that it is not what she had hoped: some sort of tell-all memoir that she wanted (or didn’t want) to have a role in.  She was not a good student.  For some reason, many of my friends were not.  They were interesting people with complicated families and homes who liked sex and drugs and good times and who mostly have grown up well and responsible in the suburbs.  I have heard from a number of them about my book, how they read it, how they liked it, how they have recommended it to others.  A part of me wants to imagine that my first bully wasn’t smart enough to read my book, to understand it, to know that despite the many sad stories in it, it is ultimately about hope, about love.  I imagine my first bully to be a reader of happy stories, easy stories, the stories with morals and messages—despite the possible absence of these things in her own life.
I can’t stop thinking about the weird anxiety that hit me when this woman showed up again.  Clearly it had to do with whatever childhood trauma I still felt on some level, but more than that, I think it has to do with the insecurity every writer must feel.  Once we put our work out there, it is (we are) vulnerable to whatever attacks may come, and I think, no matter how confident we are in the work, we fear the strikes and barbs of others.  Writing is not a safe business.  Our words on the page often leave us unprotected and perhaps even a little naked.  Is it unreasonable to worry about bullies?
I have a small scar on my ring finger knuckle from that day on the swing set a million years ago.  I can still see it.  It won’t go away.  Not entirely.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Soup and Salad: The Classics According to a 6-Year-Old, Jenna Blum Goes Hollywood, the Appeal of Book Covers, Time and Again--the Movie, Raymond Carver's Sprung Rhythm, Benjamin Percy Resists Dialogue Openings, Books and Bikinis, Carlos Ruiz Zafon on our Nation of Readers, George Singleton Gropes His Stories' Endings

On today's menu:

1.  A six-year-old guesses the plots of classic novels by their covers.  Here's one:
“I think it’s about baseball. A person who likes to play baseball but also takes care of a plane.”  Any idea what book she's talking about?  Hint: look to your right.

2.  Novelist Jenna Blum got this crazy notion in her head that she could write a screenplay adaptation of her novel Those Who Save Us.  At the Grub Street Daily blog, she reports on lessons learned:
      Here is how I did it. I spent several months of my deadline watching movies while eating twice my weight in popcorn per night, and then I spent another month dropping coy hints on social media that I was writing a screenplay, and then I spent much of Spring 2012 whining around the house, things like, “But I write BOOKS,” and “Maybe I’m just too FAR from having written that novel to go back and adapt it,” and “Why are we out of BUTTER?” Finally I grew so bored with myself that one night, while my partner was downstairs working, I sat fuming on the couch with my laptop. There was nothing good on Lifetime, nobody had posted anything new on Facebook or Twitter for two whole minutes, I had tweezed my eyebrows off. I opened the screenwriting software I’d bought and typed in a few sentences:
      I ran downstairs to my partner’s study with my laptop and showed him. “I’m a screenwriter!” I said, and we jumped around a little, and then we went back to work.

3.  Here's a great article on the science of book covers and their appeal to our eyes and, subsequently, brains. It's all about Face Theory, Textual Plasticity Theory, Ju Jitsu Theory, and Turd Theory.

4.  I don't know whether to be excited by this news or to scream "Nooooooo!" into a deep, echo-y canyon: one of my Favorite Novels EVER is being made into a movie.  Variety reports that Lionsgate has acquired feature film rights to Jack Finney's illustrated novel Time and Again with Doug Liman (Swingers, The Bourne Identity, etc.) on board to direct.  I first read Finney's novel years and years ago, shortly after another adolescent favorite of mine, Somewhere in Time, was released in theaters.  Time and Again was, I thought, a perfect time-travel narrative, richly-illustrated with period photos and advertisements.  There's no way Hollywood will be able to capture the innovative spirit of the book; it can only give us the basics of plot and character--which are pretty good in and of themselves.  For the uninitiated, here's Variety's description: "First published in 1970, the romantic time-travel tale follows Simon Morley, a Manhattan illustrator who enlists in a secret government experiment and is transported from the mid-20th century to 1882 New York, where he falls in love and finds himself forced to choose between his lives in the present and the past."  Yes, I know it sounds a lot like Superman Meets H. G. Wells--er, Somewhere in Time, but trust me when I say Time and Again has all the fun of that movie without all the mush.  I just hope Hollywood gets it right.

5.  Though he's primarily remembered as a short story writer, Raymond Carver was also a damned fine poet.  At The Story Prize blog, Lucia Perillo (Happiness Is a Chemical in the Brain: Stories) finds that “Carver’s sentences make use of a full metrical toolbox: inversion, repetition, and what Gerard Manley Hopkins called “sprung rhythm”—that is, the inclusion of more accented syllables than are naturally found in the language, in order to heighten the ordinary.”

6.  “Writers should avoid opening stories with dialogue,” said Benjamin Percy in the Glimmer Train Bulletin.  I'm not sure I completely agree with him--I've started many a story with a scrap of talk--but he makes a good case for crafting a narrative that orients the reader from the get-go.  With one notable exception, which lovers of a certain book about a spider and a pig will recognize: “Where's Papa going with that axe?”

7.  This just in from the Department of Too Much Time on Our Hands: a website devoted to matching books with bikinis.  Because, you know, it's essential to coordinate your Catcher in the Rye with your swimwear.

8.  Diane Prokop reports on Carlos Ruiz Zafon's recent appearance at Powell's and it's one of those cases where I wish I was sitting in the audience absorbing all the great and funny things he had to say.  Diane's dispatch is the next best thing.  Here's Mr. Zafon on our Nation of Readers:
There’s a big difference between the United States and many other markets. Books here are not in the mainstream. They’re not in the media. You will never see novelists featured on the media. Essentially readers know about it, but it’s not like movies that you get at the end of the nightly news. They tell you what movies are opening this Friday. Nobody’s telling you what books are coming, even if it’s a huge bestseller. When you have books featured in the media, they tend to be books that are not really books, or books by TV celebrities. They’re something else. They’re made of paper, but I don’t know…it’s a different thing. But when it comes to books and readers, readers in India, the United States, in Sweden, in Italy, in Germany, in Holland, they are the same kind of people. People who read have intellectual curiosity, they keep an open mind, and are interested in things. Their reaction to things is the same. What I’ve learned over the years is that readers are a nation of their own. They are very similar people. They’re interested in the same things: in language, in ideas and trying to find new things, learning, and having fun reading. To readers, their passport is a good book in their hands.

9.  The Kenyon Review chats with George Singleton about his writing habits and the background to his story "Humans Being."  George is, as always, a delight:
Stages of my writing a story: 1.) I have a first line come to me out of nowhere and it’s like a bad itch that I have to keep scratching. My buddy Ron Rash says he has a vision or image. Sometimes I have an image of a bunch of dogs chasing Ron down to a crossroads in Mississippi where he meets up with Robert Johnson and some other guy I can’t quite figure out. But that’s another story. Anyway, a first line hits me. Then I get completely obsessed. I think about how Shannon Ravenel used to tell me “A good story’s ending kisses the story’s beginning, George, and too many of your stories’ endings are groping the beginnings.” And then I just write toward the end, and I watch, figuratively, as the end nears my beginning.
Did I mention George has a new story collection coming from Dzanc Books in a couple of months?  I did?  Good--now go and get it.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Friday Freebie: Triburbia by Karl Taro Greenfeld and The Bird Saviors by William J. Cobb

Congratulations to Michele Cofield, winner of last week's Friday Freebie: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter.

This week's book giveaway is another excellent two-fer deal with novels generously provided by publishers HarperCollins and Unbridled Books.  Up for grabs: Triburbia by Karl Taro Greenfeld and The Bird Saviors by William J. Cobb.

“Striking chords that range from haunting and heartbreaking to darkly funny and deeply poignant,” Greenfeld's novel is about a neighborhood in transition and a group of male friends who form unlikely friendships.  Here's how the publisher describes the plot of Triburbia:
Thrown together by circumstance, a group of fathers—a sound engineer, a sculptor, a film producer, a chef, a memoirist, a gangster—meets each morning at a local Tribeca coffee shop after walking their children to their exclusive school. The sound engineer looks uncomfortably like the guy on the sex offender posters strewn around the neighborhood; the memoirist is on the verge of being outed for fabricating his experiences; and the narcissistic chef puts his quest for the perfect quail-egg frittata before his children's well-being. Over the course of a single school year, we are privy to their secrets, passions, and hopes, and learn of their dreams deferred as they confront harsh realities about ambition, wealth, and sex. And we meet their wives and children, who together with these men are discovering the hard truths and welcome surprises that accompany family, marriage, and real estate at midlife.
Blurbaliciousness: “Triburbia is darkly humorous, occasionally lascivious, unsparing in its condemnations of the main characters and intrepid in its honest descriptions of the human conscience.... But it’s not a sad book.  It’s a candid one.  And a good one.  It is reassuring, cathartic even.”  (Downtown Magazine )

Cobb's novel is “a visionary story of defiance, anger, and compassion” which is set in “a time of economic turmoil, virus fears, climate change, fundamentalist cults and illegal immigrant hardship.”  Here's the publisher's jacket copy for The Bird Saviors to whet your appetite:
When a dust storm engulfs her Colorado town and pink snow blankets the streets, a heartbreaking decision faces Ruby Cole, a girl who counts birds. She must either abandon her baby or give in to her father, whom she nicknames Lord God, and marry a man more than twice her age who already has two wives. She chooses to run, which sets in motion an interlocking series of actions and reactions, upending the lives of an equestrian police officer, pawnshop riffraff, a disabled war vet, Nuisance Animal destroyers, and a grieving ornithologist who is studying the decline of bird populations.  All the while, a growing criminal enterprise moves from cattle rustling to kidnapping to hijacking fuel tankers and murder as events spin out of control in a world in which the social fabric and economic structures seem on the verge of falling apart.
Kent Haruf, author of Plainsong, had this to say about the book: “Bill Cobb's The Bird Saviors is a stark modern-day Old Testament story in which the evil that men do is barely balanced by the good that a few manage to achieve.  It's a gritty harrowing story set in a dust-blown Colorado town that seems filled with vivid characters.  Cobb's expert story-telling compels us forward scene by scene to a final satisfying redemption.”

If you'd like a chance at winning beautiful hardback copies of both Triburbia and The Bird Saviors, all you have to do is email your name and mailing address to

Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line.  One entry per person, please.  Despite its name, the Friday Freebie runs all week long and remains open to entries until midnight on Aug. 23at which time I'll draw the winning name.  I'll announce the lucky reader on Aug. 24.  If you'd like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week Quivering Pen newsletter, simply add the words "Sign me up for the newsletter" in the body of your email.  Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning?  Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter.  Once you've done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying "I've shared" and I'll put your name in the hat twice.