Sunday, July 20, 2014

When Five Years Doesn't Seem So Very Long After All

In the past five years, I've written four books. I've had some low periods (really low periods) when I thought this day would never come. But as this dream unfolds, I am grateful for the many family members and friends who always maintained that it wasn't "if," it was "when."

So, here it is... One very persistent story idea that refused to leave me in peace. One agent and her assistant who took a chance on a dark, yet hopeful, story. One enthusiastic editor who convinced her editorial board that the book needed to be published. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Score: Universe 1, Mandy 0

Over the last several months, I struggled with two health issues in addition to, you know, LIFE. All along I had a conversation with the Universe that went something like this:

UNIVERSE:  Slow down.
ME: Too busy.
UNIVERSE: I mean it. Slow down.
ME: Uh-uh. Too much work and stuff…you know, important stuff.
UNIVERSE: You’ll regret it later.
ME: Whatever! Shut up and leave me alone!

So, I continued with work and more work. Found an agent and signed with her. Finished up edits to the YA book that hooked said agent. Started writing next book. Struggled with (ignored) health issues while working, working, working.

Finally, my bum shoulder (health issue #1) screamed out to be heard. After physical therapy, etc., the surgeon suggested ‘minor’ surgery to shave off a bit of acromion bone to stop the impingement. Minor surgery ended up being anything but. I woke up in recovery to find they’d clipped off part of my bicep and reattached the bicep to bone. Arm has been in sling for five weeks now, and was almost completely immobile the first four of those weeks.  I still have weeks of physical therapy to regain function.

In fact, most of this post is being typed with my left hand (non-dominant) only.

These past few weeks have been some of the hardest in my life. The Universe told me to slow down.  I’m not only slowed down, I’m at a standstill. And it’s uncomfortable. But probably the biggest blessing in my life. I have had unprecedented amounts of time to re-prioritize, to think through what I really want from life and work. One thing has really stood out: because I haven’t been able to type, I haven’t been able to work on my book. And I miss writing. A lot. And I regret all those months I whined about writer’s block and not having time, etc. I had time. I just didn’t take advantage of it.

Thank you, Dr. Furry… for removing part of my bicep and replacing it with perspective.


Friday, March 21, 2014

Starving for Details in a Novel or Movie

I’m a foodie – I love to cook, bake and eat; I collect cookbooks and leaf through them for fun; I visit more often than most websites.

As a reader and a writer, I find it fascinating when food is central to the plot. Is food plentiful or not, and why? Do meals reflect the state or region? Do the foods featured give us an idea of the character’s upbringing? Are meals used as a device to bring characters together?

I just finished reading “The Dinner” by Herman Koch. The entire book takes place at a restaurant over the course of a meal. Two brothers and their wives are the diners. The restaurant is quite posh and this provides tension, as one brother is wealthy and the other is not. I love how the book is segmented by courses, from aperitif to digestif. Of course, this is all background to a truly horrific story involving the couples’ sons but food is a central character in my mind.

Food plays a major role in every book I write. In FACING FIRE, the 16-year-old protagonist loses her sense of taste and smell because of a traumatic event in childhood. For her, food is about texture and temperature only. Eating is a chore instead of a delight. It affects her health and her relationships.

In the book I’m writing now, THE LAST SUPPER, the protagonist is a cook in a Louisiana prison in the 1950s. She’s obsessed with creating the perfect last meals for death row inmates. The planning and preparation of these meals helps her avoid the trauma of her father’s death and the execution of his murderer.  This same character is also worried that she relies too much on her senses of taste and smell, and that her other senses will suffer if she doesn’t exercise them more.

When there is no mention of food (or meals or hunger) in a book or movie, I find it quite odd. Food is such an important part of the human experience.

Do you have a favorite book or movie where food is a leading character or where food is noticeably absent?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Sharing the Big News -- and a Dose of Reality

I recently signed with literary agent JL Stermer of the N.S. Bienstock agency. (Cue the confetti and cheers and champagne!)  Writers understand exactly what this milestone means — that it often takes years of writing, and sometimes writing more than one book, to land an agent. They also understand being represented by an agent is just the beginning.

It’s a little harder to explain to non-writers. In sharing my news, I’ve stirred up a mess of confusion that I feel obligated to clear up.

Signing with an agent does not mean I have a book deal.
In today’s publishing world, authors do not pitch their manuscripts directly to publishing houses. Literary agents serve as a writer’s advocate, selling the story idea, and ultimately negotiating the deal. They serve as a mentor and partner, helping shape a writer’s overall career. One book may have attracted an agent, but the agent/author relationship goes on for years.

Authors do not pay literary agents.
Legitimate literary agents do not charge writers for the opportunity to represent them. Agents make their living purely off commission — a percentage of what the author makes on any given deal.

Literary agents are not obligated to try to sell everything an author writes, especially previously written books.
The relationship is a partnership but an author trusts that the agent knows what will sell based on a lot of complex and competing factors.  Sometimes those earlier books are just great practice leading up the one that captures an agent’s interest.

Authors don’t (and shouldn’t) share all the gritty details of the publication process.
What JL does now is magic…not really, but kind of. She’s the professional. The book is in her hands; the process is in her hands. My job, as a writer, is to be patient and to write the next book.

Authors don’t get rich overnight, land movie deals and go on nationwide book tours.
Well, maybe about .0001 percent of authors do and they are ones with blockbuster hits, and their names are usually in a larger font size on the book cover than the actual title of the book. Most writers want to have steady, solid careers in writing and that’s a worthwhile goal. Don’t be sad if your friend or family member is not the next J.K. Rowling.

Thanks to everyone who’s offered congratulations! And I honestly don’t mind the questions. And for you writers who have recently landed an agent, feel free to use this Q&A with your circle of people.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Hello, Universe! It's me, Mandy

A work colleague of mine from years ago used to write a wish (dream, goal, intention) on a piece of paper and tuck it away in the back of a drawer. It was a mindful and purposeful way of telling the Universe what she wanted.

It’s not a new concept. Visualization, meditation, lists, journal entries, vision boards, intention boards all help us clarify what we want from life (in a career, in a partner, in friends).  My sister faithfully creates vision boards each new moon. Now before you react to the woo-woo-ness of that, let’s look at what such boards accomplish.

Thoughts usually run willy-nilly through our addled brains. In the busyness of daily life, we rarely take the time to think about what we want…what we really want. But when we start looking at pictures (from magazines or catalogues or Pinterest or Google images), we engage a different part of our brain. Pictures help us create a child-like sense of play without the judgments that often crop up in journaling (this happens to me!).

I thought about how this might work for authors. Even before I start outlining my next book, I’m exploring how to use a vision board to capture the feelings that bubble up when I think about the characters and the time period – the visuals that will lend themselves to words later on.

I stumbled across an author who uses a Pinterest board in that way. It’s cool that we can go as low-tech or high-tech as we want when setting our goals and intentions.

Have you done anything like this before?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Gravity of Inaccuracies in Fiction

“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn't.” – Mark Twain

My husband and I saw the movie “Gravity” recently because it received such great reviews (top critics rated it 100 percent fresh on  My husband is an aerospace engineer with a background in orbital mechanics (how things move in space).  After the movie, I asked him if there were any blatant errors in science and he said, “Pretty much everything.” Still, that didn’t completely ruin his movie-going experience because it was an interesting story 
We tend to give authors/storytellers some flexibility with fiction because it’s fiction! I think the problem is when inaccuracies pop a reader/viewer out of the story, asking “Can that really happen?”
I can suspend belief and logic far more easily when reading a book like The Hunger Games. The book is set in a dystopian future so we’re allowed to believe that technology has advanced to include force fields, hovercraft and fiery costumes that don't harm the wearers. We can imagine a future where 12 kids must fight to the death!
My writer friend, Micki, is a former police captain who writes crime fiction. She knows what details need to be factual to maintain credibility. And that's because readers/viewers are knowledgeable and savvy. I’m writing a book set in an infamous and horrific prison in the 1950s. I’m constantly researching what could happen and what’s too far-fetched, even if the story is compelling.
Do you have any examples of stories/movies that you found completely unbelievable? Did that lessen your enjoyment?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Telling the Untold Story

I just saw this Maya Angelou quote on Twitter: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

The concept of an untold story is nothing new to writers. It’s the germ not yet developed. It’s the illusive space before that moment of clarity when you finally say, “Yes, this is the story I need to tell.” I’ve known for a while it was time to start writing my next book. But no story gave me that “greater agony” to push me forward. I faced the same fear other writers have had before me: what if I don’t have another book in me?
Then something amazing happened. A dear friend from Mississippi visited and described a story idea she’d love to write one day. One morning a few weeks after our visit, when I was in a gigantic blue funk about my lack of motivation to write, I texted her:
“I need to steal your book idea. I don’t want to write anything else.”
That clarity came out of the blue. And it was so strong that it overrode any fear or guilt I might have about asking such a thing from her.
Because she loves me, she texted back immediately, “You may have it. You are much more likely to write it. I wouldn’t have told you if I didn’t think you could take it.”
Thanks to a generosity I can never repay, the voices in my head (the good kind) are real again. And once again, an untold story is ready to be told. (Katrina, I won't squander your gift.)