Saturday, February 27, 2010

need some book recs, please

So I'm almost done reading Jack Weatherford's biography of Genghis Khan (called Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World).

That guy's life was so freakin' cool. Plus, the Mongols' "invasion" of (or excursion into) the rest of Asia, the Middle East, and Europe is really interesting in the way it connected worlds and empires for the first time, and offered a kind of mirror of violence for the European Crusades.

Now I want to read more (and more, and more, and more) on a variety of topics this book awakened for me. So does anyone have any recommendations (fiction or nonfiction, or even movies, for that matter) on any of the following topics?

-the Huns
-Central Asia (Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Bukhara)
-the Silk Road
-medieval Armenia/Georgia
-the Crusades (I've read a bunch, and am always looking for more)
-the medieval Middle East, like the Khwarazem/Persian empire or the Abbasid/Iraqi empire
-medieval Eastern Europe (Hungary, Bulgaria, Czech, Poland)

I like any and all ideas. Thanks!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

some of your questions!

Thanks, everyone who sent in a question! Some of them are longer, and since I'm feeling lazy this week, I'm procrastinating with them. Your answer will probably be coming, eventually, though.

But here are some questions I wasn't too lazy for!

Jamie asks:
Sun or snow?

Sun! No question. I'm practically heliotropic.

Erin McGuire
How often do you get to work with illustrators and designers?

Never with illustrators! Sad. I've done illustrated books, but only with photographs or already created art, never with original art. Maybe someday.

Designers, however, are another story. There's one of those involved in every single original book. I've come to believe that they are, in general, an unusual jovial people. My principle designer and I are bestest friends. He takes me to the theater, and I take him out for Thai food.

Whirlochre asks:
What's inside your dream pie?

A fork. Although I am willing to go without if necessary.

Stephanie McGee asks:
Have you ever gotten food poisoning from sushi?

Nope. I'll keep trying, though. ;)

And, what is the best gift the Rally Monkey ever gave you?

The RM is an extremely utilitarian gift-giver. He knows I hate (HATE!) to shop, and never buy new clothes or shoes for myself. Generally he'll try to fill a wardrobe gap (one HE perceives, that is--I never think I have wardrobe gaps). For Christmas, for example, he bought me a beautiful pair of black Puma sneakers. The birthday before that, he bought me a beautiful pair of brown Puma sneakers. The Valentine's Day before that, he bought me a beautiful pair of black Puma sneakers (the ones the Christmas pair was supposed to replace).

Isn't he sweet?

Well, you know how they say women seek out men who remind them of their fathers? I remember when I was 8 years old trekking with my father into the "city" to J.C. Penny to buy my mother's Christmas gift (at 5 pm on Christmas Eve, of course). We ventured into the Ladies' Intimates area, where my father located the perfect gift--a warm, woolly nightgown with a cow in a dressing gown appliqued on the front. When the wearer turned around, it would be revealed that the tail was also appliqued on the back. Cute. My father selected the blue version of this nightgown for my mother, who appeared moderately delighted by it.

The year I was 9 years old, we snuck out again for Christmas gifts. This year, my father selected the red version of the above nightgown. So you can imagine I wasn't surprised when, the year I was 10, he selected the black version. I remember quite vividly on Christmas morning when we sat down to open presents, my mother said, "I swear to God, [name redacted], if you bought me another cow nightgown I'm going to scream." I don't, however, remember how the incident concluded.

Just... food for thought.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I love when authors become friends

and think of you to send you important relevant news articles when they come across them, such as this Salon piece on the ultimate Chinatown hand-pulled noodle tour. My personal stand-by is #4, Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodle (I'm a literalist, what can I say) on Doyers.

Aaand I'm hungry.

I got scooped!

A couple months ago, a dear friend of ours who hangs around these parts (I'm not mentioning any names, but I don't need to, since I'm sure this has happened to more than one of us) read a deal description in Publishers Marketplace that was so close to his/her WIP that s/he went into a tailspin. What was the point of writing anymore? Were two/three/ten years of hard work down the drain?

Naturally, this scenario is stressful. But Aprilynne Pike post this very excellent take on why we shouldn't care quite as much (she also found a really superb illustrative video, which even the Rally Monkey, who has zero interest in writing or publishing books, thought was da bomb).

Let me add my own two cents example. When I first started at Tiny Publishing House, I bought the Most Excellent Book in the World. I knew it was not only going to be a great read, it was going to change the world. I KNEW IT! Four months later, Huge Giant Publishing House bought from Extremely Fancy Agent a much more expensive version of the exact same book. I was infuriated and heartbroken at the same time. I cried and screamed and waved my fists. Then I did everything in my human power to make my book as perfect as possible, because that was really the only element of this scenario I could control. The take-home? Three years later, my book is still in print and getting constantly reviewed on the internet; the author has placed her second book; and most importantly, the reviews of my book were much better. Despite the odds, I win. (Well, my author does. But you know what I mean.)

At the end of the day, no idea is unique. There are too many people in the world. So hold the bar high in terms of the execution you expect from yourself. And may the best book win.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

just finished reading

Herzog, by Saul Bellow. My review here. Anyone else read it? Any thoughts?

book club reminder: Sons & Other Flammable Objects 3/1

There's still time to join me and Undomestic Goddess for our book club on March 1! We're reading Porochista Khakpour's Sons and Other Flammable Objects.

If you're planning reading even farther out, I'll be hosting a discussion of E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime on April 1.

Monday, February 22, 2010


Hi there,

You may have noticed (eek) posting has been light lately. There are two key reasons:

1) I am so freakin' busy I don't know where I left my head (I spent EIGHT HOURS yesterday, Sunday, finishing a manuscript).

2) I'm a little out of creative juice for new posts.

But I'm bummed to not be blogging as regularly, since, as you know, I'm an addict. Here's where you come in.

I'm stealing a "page" from the delightful blog of Kiersten White, who opens up the floor to questions periodically. So any question that's been nagging you--what my favorite sushi restaurant is, for example, or where I buy my cupcakes--now's your chance. If you'd like, you can also ask publishing questions, if you're not bored of reading about publishing.

As long as your question isn't mean, X-rated, dangerous, or anything to do with which clubs I belonged to in high school (trust me, you don't want to know; it would only make the world a worse place), I will strive to answer them over the course of the next month.

Missing you,


Sunday, February 21, 2010

for your Sunday evening viewing pleasure

Sins of the Mother, the Lifetime movie based on our own Carleen Brice's Orange Mint and Honey, premiers tonight Sunday 2/21) at 8 pm EST. I can't wait to watch. Carleen, I hope you know I wouldn't turn off the Olympics for anything else!

(Thanks, Rejectionist, for reminding me!)

Friday, February 19, 2010

so far

it is a 2 slices of pie day.

There's still time, however.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I desperately needed to do more work tonight.

I was supposed to get through another 70 pages today (erm, including carryover from yesterday) to be on track for my deadline.

Instead I'm horizontal-vegging in front of the tv. My eyes hurt from staring at Word documents.

Maybe hot chocolate and one more episode of Law & Order will make me feel fit.

Monday, February 15, 2010

hopeful words for fiction debuts in this time of trouble

Paging through my blog feed this morning, I came across Marie Mockett's essay about her experience as a debut novelist last fall (during the a terrible hardcover fiction sales period, and against tons of big names the big houses were dropping in in a last-ditch effort to make some cash). Marie talks about how all the traditional approaches she tried and hoped for went wrong and disappointed her, since the system was crumbling around her. But she doesn't care--her book was successful despite falling short against the traditional markers, and she accomplished her goals without them.

I was touched by the essay, which is full of hope for what fiction publishing is becoming and for what we (bloggers, moms, writers, readers, knitters, dog-walkers, whoever "we" is in your case) can accomplish together.

Yes, times are tricky. But they're not hopeless. Yes, things are changing. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

how are you spending your Valentine's Day?

I'm spending mine (alone, as I'm dog-sitting for my parents in yonder far-removed countryside) hand-crafting a multi-colored schedule for the next two weeks to hang on my wall. I need to know that I'm going to be able to fit in my Olympics watching with my editing and my social engagements. (And yes, I'm afraid that's the order of the priorities at present. Notice how "noodle-eating" didn't even make the list! Crazy times we live in, these.).

In case you, too, are making a schedule, I highly recommend using several different colored pens. The multi-colored component is very important. For absolutely no other reason than it makes the schedule extra pretty on your wall. I also used a ruler. And graph paper.

Must go now. I have a LOT to do (obviously).

Friday, February 12, 2010

does every kiss actually begin with Kay? or do more kisses begin with Miller Lite?

My brother's girlfriend sent me the below list of 20 points. It's one of those internet chains, albeit one I've never seen before. There was no provenance attached, so I figure it's ok to post here.

ETA: Beth found the provenance here, at, which seems to have other funny sayings, too. Thank you!

Happy Weekend!

1. I think part of a best friend's job should be to immediately clear your computer history if you die.

2. Nothing sucks more than that moment during an argument when you realize you're wrong.

3. I totally take back all those times I didn't want to nap when I was younger.

4. There is great need for a sarcasm font.

5. How the heck are you supposed to fold a fitted sheet?

6. Was learning cursive really necessary?

7. Map Quest really needs to start their directions on #5. I'm pretty sure I know how to get out of my neighborhood.

8. Obituaries would be a lot more interesting if they told you how the person died.

9. I can't remember the last time I wasn't at least kind of tired.

10... Bad decisions make good stories.

11. You never know when it will strike, but there comes a moment at work when you know that you just aren't going to do anything productive for the rest of the day.

12. Can we all just agree to ignore whatever comes after Blue Ray? I don't want to have to restart my collection...again.

13. I'm always slightly terrified when I exit out of Word and it asks me if I want to save any changes to my ten-page research paper that I swear I did not make any changes to.

14. "Do not machine wash or tumble dry" means I will never wash this -- ever.

15. I hate when I just miss a call by the last ring (Hello? Hello? Damn it!), but when I immediately call back, it rings nine times and goes to voicemail. What'd you do after I didn't answer? Drop the phone and run away?

16. I hate leaving my house confident and looking good and then not seeing anyone of importance the entire day. What a waste.

17. I keep some people's phone numbers in my phone just so I know not to answer when they call...

18. My 4-year old son asked me in the car the other day "Dad/Mom what would happen if you ran over a ninja?" How the do I respond to that?

19. I think the freezer deserves a light as well..

20. I disagree with Kay Jewelers. I would bet on any given Friday or Saturday night more kisses begin with Miller Lites than Kay

Thursday, February 11, 2010

lessons on query letters from Dadrat, the engineer

Query letter: art or science?

So a writer friend who is about to submit to agents asked me to check out her query letter for her today. While I was looking at the query letter, my dad called and asked me what I was up to. "I'm helping a friend with a query letter," I told him.

"Why does she need help?" he wanted to know.

"It's harder than it sounds, Dad."

"I don't know. I think I could write one."

"You're an engineer, Dad," I said sadly. "Real writers struggle with this."

"Well," said my dad, who is a practitioner of the religion of Spreadsheet, "I think all you have to do is put the most important stuff at the beginning."

"Huhn." Huhn.

"I'm not sure I ever told you," he went on, "but back when I was in college, they made all us engineers take a writing class."


"I don't know. I guess they didn't want us to not get jobs because we couldn't communicate enough to fill out the job application."

"Fair enough."

"Well, in this writing class, they taught us that you have to always be able to chop off the end of whatever you've written, and still have it stand on its own. If you're writing a newspaper article, you never know if they're going to decide to shorten a column after you've written it. If you're writing an essay or a business proposal or a letter, you never know when someone's going to lose interest or stop reading, so you need to say all the important things in the beginning."

"Huhn." Huhn.

I really, really didn't want him to be right or knowledgeable about this, but I couldn't in good faith argue with him.

"So," he concluded, "that's what I do if I were writing a query letter for a book. I'd just start with what was most important right off the bat, and then go to the second most important stuff, etc."

"Well, Dad, maybe you should write a book so you can write a query letter for it."

"No, I don't think so. I think the rules for writing a book are different."

So what do you think, agents? Would you take an engineer-style query letter?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

book club reminder: Sons & Other Flammable Objects 3/1

Here's your friendly re-invitation to join me and the Undomestic Goddess for our book club on March 1 with Porochista Khakpour, author of Sons & Other Flammable Objects. You still have 17 days to read if you want to join (and if you're like me, you'll end up tearing through the darn thing in two days).

Here's the PW review/synopsis:
Khakpour builds her luminously intelligent debut around the travails of an Iranian-American family caught in the feverish and paranoid currents immediately after 9/11. Darius Adam and his wife, Laleh (who, much to Darius's disgust, Americanizes her name to Lala), flee revolutionary Iran for the alien territory of Southern California, settling in an apartment complex with the allegorically enticing name of Eden Gardens. Son Xerxes grows up with psychological dual citizenship: regular American outside of Eden Gardens, but the son of bitter Darius and clueless Lala inside. Xerxes finds true paradise in watching Barbara Eden, the star of I Dream of Jeannie. For the brilliantly rendered Lala, America is not so bad—it's a good place to ''lose your mind, which is how Lala translates into English her forgetting her unhappy Tehran childhood. Against this background of a parody paradise, Khakpour plays out the events following 9/11, which will, grotesquely, unite the Adam family. By then Xerxes, 26, is an unemployed college grad in a New York airshaft-view apartment, as far from Eden Gardens as possible. Khakpour is an elegant writer, and she imparts a perfect sense of the ironies of being Persian in America, where the blurry collective image of the Middle East alternates between blonde genies in bottles and furrow-browed terrorists in cockpits.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

WYAOD Hall of Fame

[Sorry this is late--it took me HOURS to put together because so many people participated!]

Thanks and congratulations to everyone who participated!

Here's my story (and sorry in advance for the overshare). I put in 6 hours on Sunday, 2 hours on Monday night (which I know isn't the point, but I figure this is about flexibility). I'm really grateful for the pressure (albeit self-generated; it was still group-enforced). I'm working on a very personal project, not really for fun or profit, and possibly never to show anyone in the world except my mother. My very beloved grandfather died over Christmas, and it made me really sad that I had never put together the family coming-to-America story I've been taking notes on for the last four years. I find that in my schedule of running around like a chicken, it's easy to prioritize other things. But this weekend, I didn't. So thanks for that.

Of course, it will take me about 10 such other weekends to finish... We could always talk about setting up another one for, say, next month, if people have the stamina...

So bureaucratic consideration quickly, before getting to the Hall of Fame. New York Writers Coalition, who actually have an official annual Write Your @ss Off Day (in June), were nice enough to give us permission to use that slogan. But I maybe we should come up with our own, if it will be a repeat event. This seems like an excellent opportunity to make a poll to me (you know how I do love a poll). Any suggestions what we might call a global write-in like the one we did this weekend? Leave in comments, and I'll make a poll widget (yum, poll widget).

Onto the victors, in no particular order! I'm just putting up exactly what people told me.

WYAOD Hall of Fame
Charles Gramlich

Kelly Harmon


Sandra Gail Lambert

Doug Mack

Robert Kent

Jenna Wallace

Chloe Neill



Matilda McCloud





Sarah Laurenson

SM Schmidt

Your Friendly Neighborhood Palindrome


Heather Wardell

Pamala Knight

Exploring Eliza

Ashley Atkins

Soph K

Simon Hay


Wendy C



Phoenix Sullivan

Crystal Posey




Laurie Lamb




Callie James


Katiek Patrianoceu




Miriam Forster

Eva Sylwester

K.M. Smith

Jemi Fraser


Bernita Harris


Tricia Simpson


Stephanie McGee








Jaleh D

Dawn Simon

Laura Elliot

whitewashing The Last Airbender

You guys know by now that racism in media is a really, really angry sawhorse of mine... Thanks Ello for writing this illuminating piece on the new movie The Last Airbender. Not having any kids, I might have missed the story on my own.

How sad, though, that this opportunity for celebratory media was blown.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Write Your @$$ Off Weekend--Commencing!

I know some people are already writing today--others (YT included) will be writing tomorrow, others Sunday, others Monday.

I won't be logging in again this weekend--I have very, very busy writing plans!--but leave me progress reports with a link to your blog (if you have one) either here in the comments or emailed to and I'll catalog all the "winners" on Tuesday. Consider it charity to me if you leave a comment--I'll be much happier if I know other people benefited from our crazy project :)

Happy writing!

if this doesn't kick you in the butt to spend the weekend writing and getting your query package into shape...

For those who need third-party pressure to get them going, here's a third party for you. Colleen Lindsay pointed out to me the Backspace Writers Conference scholarship contest. Seems like a cool way to me to get your submission materials in order.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

a change in opinion about self-publishing

When I was 11 years old, I illegally discovered a book in the grown-up fiction section at the local library. The book was called SILK ROAD, the author Jeanne Larsen, and the story a multi-mythic fable of Tang Dynasty China, starring a plucky courtesan who fetishized foreign language. I read this book... I don't know. 25 times? 30 times? It got to the point that I didn't need to read it anymore, because I remembered it too well.

Sadly, the book went out of print. For years, I'd buy used copies on Amazon and give them to friends for Christmas, etc. But now, it seems, the author has taken it upon herself to bring it back into print--via that oft-defamed method known as "Self Publishing"--in this new edition.

I admit, despite having worked with the model in various capacities in the past, I have had my doubts about self-publishing. I'm still not advocating it as a means of "getting published," particularly for the first time, unless your circumstances meet very specific criteria (I can share those criteria of my Humble Opinion another time, if you're not bored of talking about self-publishing). But is this what it's going to be used for in the future? To bring favorite, little-known books of mine back into print so I can quit buying friends battered used copies off Amazon? I've bought at least 15 such copies of SILK ROAD for people in my day. Granted, I assume (from the iUniverse publisher label) that Jeanne Larsen, that beloved author of mine, has had to dig into her own pocket to publish copies. Perhaps not the ideal dreamed-of author scenario. But Henry Holt, who published her the first time, weren't willing to keep her in print--often with big publishers, a certain threshold of annual sales must be maintained, or it doesn't make fiscal sense for them to keep you in their list. Sad, in my opinion, if that means no one can read SILK ROAD at all.

Of course, Larsen will surely be assuming either only modest sales (via whatever internet traffic happens upon her on Amazon) or is planning on spending her own money to market. Again, not an ideal author situation, and since I love her so much that makes me sad that she has to work so hard, again, for her book. But on the other hand, if you're an author and you create a "baby" you're proud of, wouldn't you be willing to expend a little effort to keep it in print? I know I probably would.

I've long wondered why some small press didn't scoop SILK ROAD up and try to republish it. Of course, working at a small press, I knew (intellectually) exactly why it is difficult to bring a book back into print, etc etc. But (emotionally) I always hoped someone would laugh off the obstacles. I guess Larsen has done so herself. I hope it goes well for her.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

saying hi, update

Hi guys,

I can't believe how swamped I've been lately--I know posting is lighter than usual. Sorry for the lack of updates on my amateur baking, pictures of baby animals, or links to cheesy jpop songs. I hope you have found a way to fill the void.

In the meantime, I wanted to tell you about upcoming Editorial Ass E-Vents (get it? E because they're online? I just made it up, and I haven't had coffee yet, so it might just seem funny to me).

Write Your @ss Off Day

First, I know the ball is rolling already, but Write Your @ss Off Weekend is coming up! Pick a day, Friday 2/5, Saturday 2/6, Sunday 2/7, Monday 2/8. Here's JES's superawesome map showing where all over the world people are writing from (yes, I'm clicking back every couple of hours just to look at the pretty colors; humor me).

If you do a WYAOD, send me (in comment or in email, whichever you're more comfortable with) your progress report (writing, researching, meditating, whatever your personal progress might be) at the end of the day and a link to your blog--I'll post everyone who wants to be posted on Tuesday to commemorate forever our accomplishments.

Book Club 3/1: Porochista Khakpour's SONS AND OTHER FLAMMABLE OBJECTS

The Undomestic Goddess and I have put our heads together and come up with an awesome Book Club E-Vent for 3/1. It will be interactive and multi-dimensional (impressive, right?) and will definitely include awesome prizes and activities. You should plan to drop by even if you haven't read the book yet.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Book Club! Isabel Allende's THE HOUSE OF THE SPIRITS

Welcome to Book Club!

This month, we read Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits, first published in 1982 (amazing to me, since according to Wikipedia, she only started writing the book on January 8, 1981); Magda Bogin is the Spanish-to-English translator.

Please feel free to comment on any aspect of the book you like. For those who'd like to follow comments easily, I'd suggest to subscribing to the comments when you leave yours (that's how I cheat and follow without checking back).