Category: books

What Would You Ask a Panel about Paths to Publication?

GetLit14I’m reaching out to the esteemed readers of Bark for much needed help. During this year’s world famous Get Lit! festival, I’m moderating a panel on the many publication options today’s market offers.

A Brave New World: Finding Your Path to Publication in Today’s Market with Rebecca Zanetti, Danica Winters, and Shoshanna Evers. 

Never before have authors had as many options to get their prose into the hands of readers as they do in today’s market. But how do you know which publishing model is right for you and your writing? Join authors Rebecca ZanettiDanica Winters, and Shoshanna Evers for a frank and honest discussion of the benefits and disadvantages of current publishing options. Together, these three successful and multi-published writers bring expertise on just about every path to publication you can imagine, including small presses, digital firsts, traditional big 5 houses, self-publishing, and hybrid models. Bring your questions! Moderated by Åsa Maria Bradley. 

Time:  12:00-1:30 p.m.
Venue: Spokane Convention Center
Room: 205

If you were to go this panel, what would be the questions you’d like answered?

It would be great to see you at the panel, so you could get your questions answered. However, if you can’t make it, I’ll see if the authors would visit Bark for an extended discussion.


Dave Eggers’s The Circle: A Mirror and a Crystal Ball

the-circleHave you ever read a book that left you feeling a little hollow, a little less safe, and yet it was a story that you felt completely in control of most of the time? That was my experience reading The Circle by Dave Eggers. The Circle is a story of a twenty-something woman named Mae (short for Maebelline, a sure nod to the makeup brand, leaving readers to wonder if Mae’s parents had actually named her after a beauty product in this dystopian society) who has just landed a job at a futuristic version of a Google/Facebook/Twitter-like company called The Circle, making her a “newbie” Circler.

In her first week or two there, she learns just how much this job will become an overbearing part of her life. She’s required to “smile” at all sorts of meaningless chatter online (The Circle’s equivalent to “Likes” on Facebook.) and every few days it seems that a new screen is being added to her desk, requiring her to pay attention to multiple social and business arenas at once.

At first, I was as enamored by The Circle as Mae was. What’s there not to like? The campus is beautifully manicured, all amenities are free to employees — even a stock of merchandise brought into the campus’s overnight apartments for employees who don’t want to drive home after a long day at work — and creativity seems to be bursting out of every room.

This, coupled by the fact that Mae is able to include her parents (her father suffers from MS) on her super amazing health insurance, makes The Circle seem like a dream job, which is the point.

Eggers sets us up to fall in love with the place, but all the time, we’re watching Mae being bombarded with more and more media, technology, and social obligation, and it all starts to feel like a burden not worth carrying. Mae is even chastised for not attending enough after-work festivities when she first arrives on campus. Like a good employee who wants to please her superiors, she acquiesces and starts to fill up her time with extra-curricular activities that keep her on The Circle campus overnight more often than not.

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money & beats & art

this past tuesday, beats music debuted.  if you haven’t heard of it, it’s a new streaming service being offered by a collective of pretty d*mn impressive people, including dr. dre, trent reznor, and jimmy iovine.  i did some searching around the internets and, near as i can tell, most of the media coverage around this launch was focused on that music dream team & how their product is different from pandora, rdio, spotify, rhapsody, itunes radio, youtube, etc. (the main talking point being that beats is an actual service, one curated by real humans instead of robots or algorithms or whatever).

but rather than a summary of beats’ product model, what i hoped to find was some music journalist who had broken down beats’ business model.  on none of the articles i found (even with click-bait titles such as “7 things you should know about beats music“) was the topic of artists’ revenue ever seriously covered.  i was most disappointed to not find any mention of that from pitchfork or sound opinions—until i learned that pitchfork & sound opinions were both “curators” on beats.  it was especially disappointing to not hear from the sound opinions co-hosts, not least because i’m a huge fan of greg kot, but also because jim derogatis tried to take pitchfork founder ryan schreiber to the woodshed over journalistic ethics for curating an online music tv channel.

the closest i found to any reporting on the issue was a throwaway graf at the end of a rollingstone piece:

Beats Music is also focused on creating a service that is fair to the artists whose music it streams, and will pay the same royalty rate to all content owners. “Beats Music is based on the belief that all music has value and this concept was instilled in every step of its development. We want it to be just as meaningful for artists as it is for fans,” Reznor said in a statement. “We’re committed to providing revenue to artists, while helping to strengthen the connection with their fans.”

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Five (Kinds Of) Fiction Books I’m Not Reading

When we entered 2014, I didn’t make any resolutions — at least not out loud. I did strengthened my resolve regarding healthy living and work/life balance, but who doesn’t reevaluate those things when they’re shoved in your face at the beginning of each year. It turns out the biggest decision I made was not what I would call a resolution, but a declaration. And it was about books. I told myself that I would be more intentional about the books I read, that if a book wasn’t holding my attention I would not waste my time. Avid readers know that there will always be another book to read, and the list will never get any shorter. So off I went on my quest, happy to rid myself of the books I felt like I should read but wasn’t really into. But then it came to me — there are books that I am just straight up avoiding, and they all fall into certain categories. I don’t know what these categories say about me, but I don’t mind sharing.

1. The Round House by  Louise Erdrich

I’ve checked this book out of the library, brought it home, placed it on the kitchen counter, and walked by it for weeks before taking it back, unread. I have purchased a copy for my Kindle. I have recommended it to other people. I cannot read past the first three pages. Melissa and Karen have both spoken expressed my fears better than I can.

2.  The Known World by Edward P. Jones

Having read EPJ’s Lost in the City and being so moved by it, that I gave my copy to my brother, I felt honor-bound to read one of his other works. It didn’t take long before I was walking in a wide berth around the chair where I’d set down the book. I don’t mind admitting that if I sit, and think about the American Slave Trade my emotions vacillate between anger and humiliation — not what I’d like to feel for an extended period of time. Avoidance? Hell yes. Read more »

Salinger, To Choose the World or Not


Salinger chose writing over all else. But maybe that was the only choice he could make.

Dylan and I watched the documentary Salinger a couple days ago, and I’m a bit perplexed by the message my husband came away with: if you want to be a real writer, you have to hole yourself up in a bunker and reject the world. Do I believe this? No way! But Dylan is the kind of writer who needs long stretches of quiet solitude to feel like he can produce, so he related more to Salinger’s proclivities than I did. He feels resigned to the notion that, because he’s chosen a life of moderation, a life that includes a job, a wife, and maybe children, he has sacrificed his writer’s life. In other words, my husband is a man of extremes, and his natural writing process is a lot more tedious than mine. He tells me that this makes it no fun at all, a real burden sometimes.

I’m also made of extremes, but of a different kind. I write in frantic bursts or not at all with all sorts of chaos going on around and inside me. I thrive on it. If I feel the energy and the idea, I put it on the page. If I don’t, I go about my life doing other things. This is no way to produce writing on a regular basis, but I feel alive when I am writing, and it’s never felt like a burden.

At one point in the Salinger documentary, his ex-lover, Joyce Maynard, recounted that Salinger had told her this about why she would never amount to anything: “Your problem is that you’re in love with the world.” For some reason that statement made me very sad. It told me something very personal about J.D. Salinger, and maybe something important about myself. Salinger was at war with the world, and after (and during) WWII, he fought that war on the page. He felt that the world was out to get him, and maybe it was, seeing that he was living in the sick, capitalist, sell-out culture that Holden Caulfield railed against in The Catcher in the Rye, the culture that cares more about making money than making art.

I think I’m like Joyce. I’m in love with the world, and maybe that’s my downfall, but I don’t think so. The world is part of me, and me of it. And no amount of holing oneself away will change that.

What version of the writer’s life have you found to work for you? Maybe I can compile a bunch of ideas for new ways of thinking about this dilemma and share them with my husband so his process doesn’t feel like such a burden anymore.

(un) Necessary Errors

As 2013 winds to an end, magazines and media compile their annual “Best of” issues and articles on all topics of interest to readers and consumers. Books are no exception. The first such lists I read came from Slate, pitched as “Best books of 2013: Slate Staff Picks.”  

This list came out on Monday and is not to be confused with Tuesday: The overlooked books of 2013. or Wednesday: The best lines of 2013, and the best poetry of 2013. or Thursday: Dan Kois’ 15 favorite books. All capped off with Friday: The Slate Book Review Top 10.

I like finding out about great books I’d missed in a given calendar year and it’s fun finding out which books  writers I admire enjoyed this year. Perusing the list, I’d only heard of a few. Egger’s new novel about social media domination was familiar and one I’d been considering picking up. “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves,” by Karen Joy Fowler about a child raised alongside a chimp as part of a psychology experiment sounded intriguing.

131202_SBR_NecessaryErrors_COVER.jpg.CROP.original-originalAnd then I was very surprised to see a book I’d read and which I’d found thoroughly unimpressive. David Haglund wrote in praise of “Necessary Errors,” a novel by  Caleb Crain and I was curious what he liked about a novel I’d found so mediocre.

Having moved to Prague in 2003, two months after graduation to teach English, I was the target demographic for this coming-of-age story set in post revolution Prague, and following the mild adventures of a recent college grad who moves to Prague in 1989 to teach English.

And at first, I dug the book.  Crain perfectly captures the feeling of living in Prague months removed from college.  The sense that you are truly experiencing life, that you’ve taken a significant and worthwhile risk by moving so far from home, but combined with a dreading feeling that you are spinning your wheels, while peers back home move on with graduate school and careers.  There is the magic of seeing a city with centuries of history become your home; and the loneliness of knowing you’ll always be a foreigner to the Czechs. Read more »

Some Cats are Allergic to Humans (or, Why Can’t I Title Anything?)

It turns out that those furry felines who can wreak havoc on the allergy systems of some people can themselves be allergic to humans. I’m a dog person myself, so while I was mildly interested in the ins and outs of cats with human allergies, I was more drawn to the syntax and word choice of the statement. “Some Caworst-book-covers-titles-12ts are Allergic to Humans” sounds like it should be the title of a poem. It would probably work as the title of a short story or essay, too, but those six words, in that particular order, strike me as inherently titular.

Like many writers, I collect groups of words from various sources — snippets of conversations I’ve overheard or participated in, interesting phrasing in news stories or craigslist ads, the remaining words left from a flyer pasted to a post and only partially removed. A good number of these fragments are jumping off places for me, meant to trigger a memory or mood, and not phrases I intend to use verbatim. But some of those scraps just beg to be titles.

Yet, I’m not very good at titling my fiction. In fact, I’m very bad at it. Of my (admittedly small) body of work, there is exactly one title that I’m satisfied with. Read more »

‘How the Barren Cling to the Fertile’

6878937100_a74e91d513_cI got really excited about this library book my dad handed me a week or so ago. First, because the cover was really pretty and dreamy, and then because I liked the title, and after that because it claimed to be all about ghost towns and deserts and Nevada brothels and then something to do with the author’s father being connected to Charles Manson?

This book must have been written for me as a Welcome Back to the States present, I thought.

And I’m still thinking that. Because now that I’ve read Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins, I feel like I’m in good company as a writer. And also like I want to take a long, long drive through the desert and see what kinds of empty spaces come to meet me.

Watkins plays with time in a musical, imagistic way. She renders desert-worlds from the 1850s to the 1960s til now, sometimes all in the same story. She keeps the reader afloat in a strong net of place and neighborhood and memory. In the first story, “Ghosts, Cowboys,” the passing detail of a cat that ran away when the owner moved, returns later as “a tiny bleached skull in the hills above his cabin…’picked clean by  coyotes.’”

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The Uniqueness of a Character’s Voice

bad-day-for-pretty-240hVery early in my writing life, I shared a story with some local writers during an event at the library where I lived in California. My prose told of an adventure involving pirates, pick-pocketing urchins, and buxom wenches. The writers read my tale and after a long moment of silence, one of them politely stated that she had problems distinguishing between my characters.

I had worked hard to create a unique quirk for each of them. My hero often cursed and my heroine had a certain way of flipping her hair. When I asked for clarification, the writer said, in a crisp English accent, “They all have a bit of a potty mouth, you see, at times a little too much.” She pointed to a page where she’d circled each swear word. Two males and one female were speaking. None of them uttered a sentence that didn’t contain the word “fuck.” If I hadn’t included a dialogue tag here and there, it would have read as one long manic rant. It still kind of did.

I revised and proudly showed up for a second evening of sharing at the library. Now, only the hero’s sidekick dropped the f-bomb. The hero instead used “shit,” while the heroine preferred milder profanities such as “crap.” The writer’s facial twitches made me snatch the pages out of her hand. Before leaving, I checked out a few books on the craft of writing.

As writers, we know that it’s not only what our characters say that is important, but also how they say it. The challenge is to make sure that each character has a unique way of speaking, moving, and thinking—and then stay consistent through the story

I new favorite author I recently started reading is Sophie Littlefield. I love her books because she is a master of close third person point of view. My favorite books of hers are a series of crime novels rich with humor and quirky characters. Told entirely from the main character’s POV, her sarcastic witty voice colors the story in ways that make it impossible not to laugh out loud. Read more »

Spoiler Alert!

I don’t understand people who read spoilers. I don’t understand, really, why spoilers exist. Is it just because we all have this innate need to know something before other people do or is it because we’re too lazy or busy to actually experience something?

I think people are lazy (hey, I’m not judging – I can be lazy as hell sometimes, especially when laundry is involved). But we also all have a million things to do, which doesn’t help. We’re lazy and busy at the same time. We don’t have time to do math in our heads anymore. We don’t want to try to access our memory banks for the name of that 90s song that we recognize and used to love. We want to hold up our phones and have it tell us the answer, and then we want to say out loud, “Oh yeah, I knew that.” Because we did know that. We just didn’t want to work to retrieve the information.

Instant gratification, I guess, is what I’m getting at. But it’s more complicated than that. I can still remember the people who found it so satisfying to shout in the halls or to post on facebook, “SNAPE KILLS DUMBLEDORE!” There are 652 pages in that book, and I’m fairly certain that most of the people who engaged in this spoiler attack hadn’t read a damn one of them. Information is power, and there’s the type of spoiler who wields information (that they didn’t earn) in order to feel powerful. And that type of spoiler sucks. Read more »

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