Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Read, they said

Ok, so tomorrow I'm reading at the AWP which fills me with a mix of excitement, honor at the invitation, and, oh okay, a little terror. One on one I'm gregarious and happy, but put me in a big crowd and my heart starts to stutter. I love giving readings when I'm lost in the story and then I can use all my 9th grade drama club skills. I love making eye contact with people who are listening. LOVE hearing laughter (bliss!) or intakes of breath (double bliss!) and of course I am a slave to applause because who is more insecure than I am on this planet? To my surprise, I'm told I'm a great reader, too, and unless that is just people being lovely to me, (and thank you, if it is), that's really wonderful to know. But before I get up there, I am a quivering mass of stage fright? What if no one shows up? What if 600 people show up?

I should be better by now. I've done zillions of readings, some wonderful, and my all time worse, on a bright sunny Sunday afternoon where NO ONE showed up. No one! The staff was very kind and three of them, wearing bookstore nametags sat in the audience for my reading (I went ahead and read because I was too mortified not to), and they told me that the day before a local celeb had had a reading and no one came, but they were probably just being nice.

But truely, writers are a solitary bunch, yes? I mean, I used to tell the people at the horrible video club corp. where I once worked a thousand years ago, when they asked why I never went to the company picnics or parties or after work drinkifests, that if I had wanted to be a social butterfly, I wouldn't have been a writer. But getting out there and charming the pants off the world is now part of the writer's job description, and so, get out there I do, with radio, TV, print, and yup, readings.

All this leads to my favorite reading story of all time. Michael Dorris, who usually got 500 people at his standing room only readings all the time, told me that once (actually it was after the three person reading I gave on that sunny Sunday) that he gave a reading and only 4 people were there. He loved to read so he figured, well why not? But halfway through the reading, cops arrived and to his shock, arrested three of the audience members. Turns out they were bank robbers on the lam and they figured no one would look for them in a reading!

So tomorrow, armed with my mantra (thanks JL), and my favorite black velvet dress (it's lucky) and my lucky earrings, I'm going to read.

Hey. Wish me luck. And if anyone has any great tips, well here I am....

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

In Praise of Patry: Liar's Diary Blog

Writers are a solitary bunch. We live in our heads and in our work, and come out to do readings. But when one of our own is in trouble, we all band together as a community and help out. Case in point: Patry Francis.

Patry’s Francis’s debut THE LIAR’S DIARY came out in hardcover from Dutton last spring. The trade paper release is set for January 29th, but a few weeks ago, Patry was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. She’s had several surgeries, and her prognosis is good, but given that she won’t have much energy for promoting, ITW Debut Author members Laura Benedict and Karen Dionne, along with Susan Henderson and Jessica Keener, have banded together to do it for her with THE LIAR'S DIARY BLOG DAY.Brilliance Audio has also put together a special audio clip with excerpts from Patry’s novel, and Circle of Seven Productions is producing a promotional video.This is no ordinary blog day. Rallied by ITW members Laura Benedict and Karen Dionne, along with Susan Henderson and Jessica Keener, over 300 people from the publishing community have agreed to mention her book online on release day.

Liar's Diary has an irresistible premise. Suburban school secretary Jeanne Cross has a loveless marriage with a slickly creepy husband, and a secretive son. But when new teacher Ali Mather comes to the school, the two women begin to bond. But what are the secrets in Ali's diary and who is breaking into her house? and stalking her? And what secrets of her own is Jeanne harboring that could shatter them both?

Patry's book makes me want to use all the best adjectives: seductive, dark, thorny, mesmerizing. What I also loved was the way the novel twists, turns and comes to a razor sharp finale. Patry's psychological portraits of these two women are tense, acute and unforgettable. Nothing is what it seems (oh, how I love that) and the last chapter is truly shattering. So Patry, you wrote a gorgeous book that gets under your skin and stays there and I urge everyone to go on out and snap it up. Read Patry's blog. And when you're up at three in the morning because you can't stop reading the book, feel free to email me because I know the feeling.

Now get well fast, Patry, because we need you to write more books. And more importantly, because we need you.

Monday, January 28, 2008

More AWP news

OK, I am officially getting excited and nervous about reading at the AWP. They have so many writers there, and parties and all sorts of wonderful things, and that means I have to get out of my jeans and into some sort of dress! The good thing about the conference is that it's right here in NYC so I don't have to take a plane or a train and I can still get my work done (I'm starting writing a new novel ...) but the bad thing is that it's right here in NYC which means I still need to attend to the needs of my son, my students, my clients, my work so I won't get to see as much as I would really like to. (So everyone please forgive me if I whisk in and whisk out.)

Besides me, me, me, AWP is also host to my friend Susan Ito, so I'm putting her details here. She's a fantastic writer (and a fabulous person) so please go check out her reading, which looks fascinating.

Mercury Ballroom
Hilton, 3rd Floor
Friday, 10:30am, February 1st
F131. "Any Number of Old Ladies": Writers Revealing Family. (Joy Castro, Bich Minh Nguyen, Lorraine Lopez, Karen Salyer McElmurray, Susan Ito) Drawing on Faulkner's line about a real writer's being willing to rob his mother for good work ("the 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' is worth any number of old ladies"), our panel investigates the impact that writing about family members has had upon writers's relationships with their own. Where and how do we draw boundaries? When and why have we chosen to write about family--and when have we refrained? How have we negotiated ethical dilemmas? What fallout and benefits have we experienced as a result?
Susan's blog is
and her column at Literary Mama is:

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Best of Bellevue Literary Review

I am honored to announce that my story "Breathe", which won a literary prize, and which is also part of my just-finished novel Traveling Angels, is going to be part of The Best of Bellevue Literary Review, available now on Amazon.
I'm also honored, thrilled and exited to be reading from that piece at the AWP conference on Thursday, January 31. (Best of all, I get to read first, so I can relax sooner and enjoy the other readings instead of worrying.) So if anyone is going to be there, please come say hello to me. I'll be the one with the mop of hair wearing all black, except for my earrings which will probably be garish!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

You can't have enough story structure

Everyone who knows me or who takes my classes know that I harp about story structure. It's the backbone, the lifeline, the thing you turn to when you feel like hurling your computer out the window or giving up a project. A friend of mine, Jeff Lyons, whose helps pull me out of my screenwriting abyss (and on one occasion, I wept via email for him to just tell me in a sentence what my novel was about because after four years, I hadn't a clue--and guess what: HE DID.) has started this uber-fantastic blog that I think everyone on the planet should check out. It's funny, smart, and really helpful and it has the great name of Storygeeks. Go take a look.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Best Book you Haven't Read YET!

Being sick is no fun. I was up all last night and rather than feel sorry for myself, I picked up my friend Clea Simon's latest " just-completed-and-no-publishing-home-yet" manuscript, Shades of Grey.

I loved, loved loved the book. One of the things I always tell my UCLA students and clients is that in order for your novel to live, you've got to have great, living, breathing characters. Plot alone won't do it. So, with that in mind, let's talk about Dulcie.

Dulcie's the kind of character you want for your best friend. She's writing her literature thesis at Harvard and working at one of those corporate nightmare temp jobs we've all had (or at least, I've had. I reminded me so much of my stint at Columbia House that I was gleefully cringing. She wears overdyed black t-shirts and Indian skirts (we love her for that), yearns for her recently departed cat, and finds her roommate's body in the apartment. Who dun it and why? And why are subtly supernatural things going on, like possible warnings from her beloved cat, weird computer malfunctions, and in one of the most inspired moments, a very freaked-out fish? Is she going crazy?

What's so wonderful about this novel is that Clea gets ALL the details right--and rich. Cambridge is palpable. Office politics, school, and living on less money that you should have. All pitched perfectly. But the mystery, too, kept my flu at bay and kept me turning pages until four in the morning. Truly. I never had a clue who the culprit was and so I got that delicious intake of breath when I was surprised.

The book is funny and smart and so knowing about literature--really, really impressively wonderful. Wait for it to be snapped up. Then you'll see, too.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Flu and cranky politics

I have my son's stomach flu, and have already lost 3 pounds and all desire to eat chocolate but I am so cranky. The media seems to be running this election. Of course it's more interesting to pit the black man against the white woman, but Edwards is totally lost in the news--even though, to my mind, he has the best Democratic ideas, especially with the economy (Time is calling him today's version of the New Dealer). I admit I don't trust Hillary and I find Obama a thrilling speaker without any substance to back things up, plus I really am annoyed that he says he is going to solve the health crisis by "sitting down at the table with health care people." Uh huh. Even worse is his calling himself a Reagan Democrat.

I wish Gore would run.

I wish I felt better.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Victorious Girls! "Stepping out on What is Right!"

Come on, admit it. Don't you hate the Bratz dolls? (I admit a nostalgic fondness for Barbies, but that's another story.) My son's elementary school swarms with young girls and they are all beautiful without makeup, fancy hair and dress. Who wants their young daughters playing with dolls with half shirts, belly button rings, high heels and full face makeup? What kind of role model is this for a six-year-old, let alone a ten-year-old? Well my friend Cindy Bokman (She runs hellodollface and Conversations with famous writers and the author of Thousand Dollars for a Kiss) and her friend Christalyn (the founder!) decided that girls needed dolls that carried a more positive message. And so was born.

The website is chock-a-block full of ideas for young girls-there are stories, music, workbooks, trading cards and more. Cindy's writing a book to go along with the dolls and even some uber-cool t-shirts are in the work. A soundtrack is being put together by Tamara Billen.

These five Victorious girls don't need boyfriends or sexy clothes or makeup to bolster their self worth. That comes from within. These are girls who are actually interested in and inspired by school work and sports and doing creative things like sewing clothes, writing stories, dancing, singing and being friends and being a kid!

The first book is finished and it can be ordered as a packet with the workbook and music. There are postcards and book marks and we are writing the feature film along with a complete soundtrack. The message is clear about making good choices, following your heart, doing your best and being happy with ones self. Both creators are out to ignite young girl's self confidence and any smart production company (after the writers' strike ends, of course) would be really smart to snap up these books and this concept for a series of films. Girl power is real power, so go and check out the website,

Thursday, January 10, 2008


Hey all, my birthdaybash weekend is still going on, but I just got this from Backspace, and I feel it's really important.

A Backspace member, Patry Francis, whose debut novel THE LIAR'S DIARY is due to come out in trade paper on January 29, was recently diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. She's had several surgeries and her prognosis is good, but since she's home recuperating, she won't be able to do anything with regard to promotion.

A few of her author friends are arranging a THE LIAR'S DIARY Blog Day for her on January 29, and the idea has REALLY taken off. In just one week, 120 authors have already agreed to blog about Patry's book on the 29th, including a couple with amazingly huge readerships, like Neil Gaiman and Jennifer Weiner, as well as a few who blog in conjunction with online magazines like Writers Digest and SMITH Magazine.

Most of the bloggers, though, are ordinary folks whose blogs haven't yet attained that reach, but still want to help. Susan Henderson is keeping the list on her website, LitPark. It's growing by the minute, and no wonder; Patry is a lovely person, who is dealing with her situation unsentimentally, and with courage and grace.

We're asking folks who'd like to join this project to email me, so I can add them to the bloggers' list. Brilliance Audio is making a special clip available, and Circle of Seven Productions is putting together a short video, and I'll email these materials along with a press release from Patry's publisher and appropriate links to bloggers a few days before the event.

It's our hope that as the number of bloggers continues to grow, this event might expand beyond the Internet to radio and print. Individually, there's not a lot any one of us can do, but collectively, the impact will be significant!

If you could help spread the word by forwarding this email to those you think might want to get involved, or by blogging about her book on the 29th, that'd be great!

Thanks very much on Patry's behalf for your support and help -

All best,

Karen Dionne, Administrator, Backspace LLC www.backspacewritersconference.comFREEZING POINT (coming October 2008 from Berkley)

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Happy birthday to me!

Psst, tomorrow is my birthday and it's the start of a blitz of activity! Opera at the Met! Music at Joe's Pub! The Pirates of Penzance! My sister coming to visit and play! What do I want? Well, I already have a lot of what's important (love, friends, family, work I adore, health and no dental work that I know of that needs to be done) but who says you can't have more? I would like a democratic president, affordable health care, a movie deal (after the strike is over, of course), a huge book sale, more love, peace, understanding, chocolate, happiness, joy, enough money to paint the inside of our house and get new windows (and new blinds!), and I would like to discover the theory of everything.

Monday, January 7, 2008


By the way, I urge everyone to go visit and sign the petition for every American to get decent (i.e. the same health care Cheney gets) health care.


Saturday, January 5, 2008

Why I hate health insurance companies, part twenty

I know, I know. My health insurance saga is not a pretty one.

My husband and I are both writers so we pay for our own health insurance. Because we live in NYC's unofficial 6th borough, Hoboken, we have to abide by NJ health insurance rules rather than NYC ones (even though all our doctors and our hospitals of choice are in NYC--best health care in the world.) From what I understand, and I could be absolutely wrong, so correct me if I am, NJ is so expensive because of medical underwriting. Get sick in a NY hospital and need a kidney transplant and insurance can deny it. Do it in a NJ hospital and they have to proceed. That's why it's so much more expensive.

This means our insurance in extraordinarily expensive because we have to pay for it ourselves. It also means a high deductible and fighting the insurance company on just about every issue. I've gotten used to using the phrase, "well, my attorney says..." and I now am armed with this fantastic woman whose job is to fight these companies for the coverage they categorically deny.

This means that The Writers Union won't insure us because it's too expensive for them to insure anyone in NJ, plus they've had far too many insurance companies cancel coverage for their members in midyear, so now they are only insuring NY.

This means the Author's Guild won't insure us because it's too expensive--well they will if we want to pay $2550 a month for insurance. Isn't the Author's Guild job to HELP writers who are not exactly rich?

This means that TEIGIT (the entertainment industry insurance) will ensure us for a mere $1600 a month.

Our insurance now is only 80 percent hospitalization. Think that sounds good? Last year I had a high fever and went into the hospital for one day. The bill was ten thousand dollars, and it would have been more but most of the tests they did were done in the Er which was fully covered. Turned out the fever was nothing and I had to get a pay plan from the hospital.

But wait, there might be hope on the horizon, and I don't just mean a democratic president--though I am not overly impressed with any of them, to be really truthful. Working Today, the Freelancers Union is a fabulous organization. They offer health insurance where the rates for us, while not cheap, are at least doable. But we need to prove billable NYC client hours. I'm not sure if selling a novel counts and how can you prove how much time you spent reading books to review them for NY sources? It's confusing, but at least it is a glimmer of hope., another fabulous place also offers insurance, but I'm waiting to hear from their agent. Of course, as soon as I said New Jersey, there was that pause....

I hate doing this every year when the rates rise and rise and rise. I hate having to research plans because I don't really understand them. I hate having to learn to understand them. I hate having to pay exhorbitant sums for insurance and then have to still fight the company to get anything paid for.

If anyone knows cheap decent, non HMO (oh, the horror!) insurance, please contact me and I will knit you a silk scarf or mittens or bake you cookies or edit your novel. You can call me on the phone and I'll listen to your personal problems for three whole weeks!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Portrait of a great guy and a great cause

The photo of the handsome man over there is one of my oldest and best friends, Peter Salzano. I met Peter millions of years ago when we were both toiling away at Macy's. He was my boss! One day he made the mistake of going on vacation and because I was bored I made up twenty five phone messages for him (Peter, please call the doctor, that nasty rash can be treated!; Peter, Jo says to meet him at Spitty's and bring a lawyer). I wasn't sure how he'd react, but we soon became fast friends, embarrassing each other every chance we could get.

I adore him. Together we've braved dating, divorce, birth, death of loved ones, marriage and illness. Every time I moan that I should stop writing and get a real job he yells at me. He's bought all of my books, and not at The Strand either! He spoke at my wedding and I toasted him at his (to the extraordinary Doug). In May 2003, Doug called me to tell me that Peter had been diagnosed with a brain tumor, a stage four Glioblastomia.

Yes, we were all terrified. But Peter smashed the odds and here he is five years later. He used yoga, visualization and a whole lot of silliness and love. Though he has to get MRIs more times than he would care to, he's tumor free now--and only 2% of Stage FourBrain tumor patients make this milestone. And even better, he and Doug started The Salzano-Smith Foundation for Brain Tumor Research in 2004. He's raised over 50,000 and the next one is coming up May 1, 2008. For details, or just to say hi to a magnificent human being, email Peter at

And if you do write him, please nag him to write his book! And give him huge hug for me because I adore him and if I can help it, I want him to live to be 90, because I have lots more ways to embarrass him in elevators.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New 2008

Jeeze Louise. 2008. I'm incredibly grateful for what I have--an adoring and adorable husband, a fantastic and amazing son, a home I love in a city I love, great friends and work I love. And health! Great health! But I am making a few resolutions.

1. Give negativity the boot. I know it sounds new agey, but seeing the glass as overflowing is a lot more fun than seeing it cracked and empty. Oh, and this goes for shame, too.
2. Be grateful. I already bought thank-you notes and I know how to use them.
3. Be loving and adventurous and bold. Shy no longer exists if I can help it.
4. Stop knitting every sweater in the round and learn how to put the pieces together so it looks professional. (If anyone can offer advise, PLEASE DO.)
5. Write as if my life depended on it. It does.

For everyone who has read or commented here, my thanks are huge and my gratitude the size of China.