Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Old Man and the Sex

Let's play a game called Change One Letter. Take the title of a book (fairly well known) and alter it by changing one letter, removing one letter, or adding one letter. Then give a brief synopsis of the "new" book. I got this from David Giltinan's blog, Mainly on the Plain. David is a fellow ex-Genentecher who left to follow a different path. He's really good at this game, as you can see from his recent post. My favorite one of David's is: "A Thousand Splendid Subs: Jared's Story."
I, on the other hand, struggled to come up with these:

The Old Man and the Sex

A senior experiments with taking three different erectile dysfunction drugs in the same weekend.

All the Pretty Houses

The rise and fall of California's housing industry.

The Sound and the Furry

Hannah, a furry feline, lies still all day. But she's not sleeping... she's waiting.

Cystic River

The world's most polluted river: how it got that way, and what you can do about it.

Angels and Lemons

The heartbreaking story of the auto industry's forgotton familys -- and the crappy cars that got them in their current situation.

Readers, show me what you got.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Interview with Brian Crawford

Today the Leaf Blower would like to welcome... Brian Crawford. The LB sat down with the fledgling author to ask him a few random questions:

The Leaf Blower: Now that you're back at your day job, has it been tough to keep up with your writing?
Brian Crawford: Yes. Very tough. After I finish writing my blog and reviewing other people's work for my writing group, I have little time and energy left for my book. I'm still trying to find a writing schedule that works. I've tried writing after work, but often I'm too tired to be very productive. My latest schedule is I'll get up in the morning and work on my book for one hour, no matter what. I started that yesterday, but I overslept. Then I had to work on my blog this morning. There's always tomorrow.

The Leaf Blower: A lot of people write books while working full time.
Brian Crawford: I know. While working on his first book, John Grisham used to wake up at 5 a.m. and write for a few hours, then go to work -- 60 to 80 hours a week -- as a State Representative. Some people can get by on little sleep. I'm not one of those people.

The Leaf Blower: When I Google "Brian Crawford writer," this Facebook page comes up. Is it yours? If so, it's pretty lame.
Brian Crawford: No. Shit no. Do you think I'd write "I am the greatest writer in the world" on my own page? Still, he must have done something right to make him pop up in the first few hits of Google -- I could learn a thing or two from him. And then there's this guy. He always comes up first. And he's a writer, too. Damn you, Brian A. Crawford.

The Leaf Blower: Is it hard to keep a low profile when you bear such a striking resemblance to Christian Bale?
Brian Crawford: Yes. I had to grow a beard for camouflage.

The Leaf Blower: What's the name of your book?
Brian Crawford: It's tentatively called Double-blind. My book is about clinical trials, and double-blind is a type of trial design -- where neither the patient nor the doctor know which treatment the patient is on. It also has a double meaning, since the main character is blind to some real bad stuff that's been going on.

The Leaf Blower: Oh, I get it. It's very clever.
Brian Crawford: Thank you.
The Leaf Blower: How's that working out for you?
Brian Crawford: What?
The Leaf Blower: Being clever.
Brian Crawford: Great.
The Leaf Blower: Keep it up, then... right up.

(Last bit of dialogue courtesy of Tyler Durden)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Jersey Girl

I have a new writing partner. After our beloved Hannah died, we were reluctant to get a new cat; we just didn't think we'd find again that magical combination of beauty and personality. But after months of combing the animal shelter ads, we had an instant connection with a two-year-old female named Jersey, and we brought her home. She has ash-colored fur and marbled blue eyes that seem to transcend her tiny body. The name stuck, although we sometimes call her Jersey girl, Jurisdiction, Jurisprudence, Dickey, or Eloise.

Jersey is markedly different from her predecessor. She's agile and energetic, with a wicked vertical leap. She can't prop herself up on her own fat like a feline Jabba the Hutt, and she never meows at 4:00 a.m.

But she's not without her quirks. She drinks water slowly, methodically, constantly throughout the day, and she uses her litter box at least once an hour. She might be diabetic. And she's obsessed with toilets. She doesn't just drink the water, she licks the bowl. Fervently. We think the animal shelter didn't tell us everything.

Jersey hates being picked up, but she loves being petted -- in a weird way. When you pet her, she raises her backside up and sticks her tail straight into the air. The whole thing is so immediate, so taut and erect, it borders on obscene. I mean, I just want to relax on the couch and languidly pet my cat, and there's that pink butthole in my face.

Chester, of course, couldn't be more afraid of Jersey if she were a lumbering T-Rex. If he gets anywhere near her, she emits a low growl that sounds like it's coming from the apartment below, and Chester backs up slowly, not sure what to do with his eyes.

Jersey's growing on us, though. I have to remind Amy that even Hannah took about a year to warm up to her. So, in the warm and fuzzy department, Jersey is light-years ahead. She's already sleeping on our bed. But much to Amy's (and my) chagrin, she'll only sleep on my side.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Five Questions with Shawna Yang Ryan

I’d like to welcome Bay Area author Shawna Yang Ryan to The Leaf Blower. Her book, Water Ghosts, a finalist for the 2008 Northern California Book Award, will be released in April by Penguin Press. Shawna was nice enough to sit down with me (over email) and answer a few questions:

-You’ve had a very successful debut. How did you get your break?

I've been very lucky. And by lucky, I mean, I've been lucky to have had great support during the long road to publishing this book. I began sending it out in 2002--7 years ago! It was first published in 2007 as Locke 1928 by an independent press called El Leon Literary Arts. My editor and publishers lived just a few blocks away and were generously transparent about the whole publishing process. It was a great learning experience for me. Then, somehow, a reviewer for the site Shelf Awareness got ahold of a copy and reviewed it favorably. An agent saw it and contacted me. The initial printing was nearly sold out and the rights were about to revert back to me, so the agent ended up selling it to Penguin Press. Working with my editor there, too, has been a very positive experience. I can't take credit for my "break," but one good move I did make was not giving up, even as my rejection binder was filling up.

-Name one writing book you would recommend to all new writers.

William Zinsser's On Writing Well. The title says it's for writing nonfiction, but his advice applies to any kind of creative writing.

-You’re obviously interested in history. Other than Locke in 1928, which time period and place do you wish you could visit?

I wish I could just be Orlando and live through all the ages, but if I could choose only one, it'd be the US in the 1960s! The world was in flux--there was a global shift in culture and politics, and a sense of possibility and hope amid the violence. The "Flower Power" thing has become such a stereotype--I would have liked to have seen it when the ideals were genuine, not spoof-worthy. And I'd love to have kicked around Haight-Ashbury in a fringed vest and beads. Groovy.

-Your prose has an almost musical quality to it. If you were forced to give up reading, or listening to music, for the rest of your life, which would you choose?

This is funny, because I'm pretty tone-deaf and I don't think of myself as musical in anyway. Yet, I just recently realized how inextricable I find writing and music--I make playlists for my books, and have to listen to certain songs during certain scenes. I'd love to embed some audio player in my book. Alas, my true love is words, so the books would definitely have to stay.

-What’s next for Shawna Yang Ryan?

Short term, I'm staring at a stack of bluebooks. Long term, I'm working on a couple of writing projects, and gearing up for the Penguin release of Water Ghosts in April. Hopefully, whatever I can do to sustain the writing life is what's next.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Rejection, Konrath Style

I'd like to welcome guest blogger J.A. Konrath to The Leaf Blower. Konrath's blog, A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 Best Websites for Writers. I asked Joe to share some of his most humiliating rejections, and here's what he had to say:

My name is Joe Konrath. I've published over sixty short stories and articles, sold nine novels and an anthology, and make my living as a full time fiction writer.

I've also gotten over six hundred rejections.

Rejection is part of the publishing business. This is because publishing is mostly based on luck. Getting the right story, in front of the right editor, at the right time, and you'll make a sale. But the stars pretty much have to align for this to happen.

I still get rejected all the time. Even with a few hundred thousand books in print around the world, I still have trouble getting published. It's just how the business works. Those with thin skins need not apply.

Way back in the 90s, before email offered authors the thrill of instant humiliation, rejections came via the US postal service. Looking through my massive collection, I've noticed the majority of them are Xeroxed form letters. But I've found a few choice ones to share here.

"Dear Mr. Konrath. Thank you for writing, but the agent you addressed your query to died two years ago, so he won't be reviewing your manuscript."

A shame. It was a ghost story, too.

"We passed your proposal around the office with great amusement and much laughter. Unfortunately, we don't believe you intended this to be funny."

Glad to cheer you up. Even gladder that you're now out of business.

"I didn't like anything about your book. But someone else may prove me wrong."

They did, and the book won a few awards.

"There's a lot to like about your writing, but a dying protagonist is a tough sell in these days of "continuing" sleuths."

So far, my dying protagonist has starred in six novels and four short stories.

"There is an awful lot of swearing, and if you read a lot of mysteries you will note that swearing is held to a minimum."

You obviously haven't been reading the same shit I have.

"Please find the enclosed brochure for Writing the Blockbuster Novel, a book which provides guidelines for writers seeking to create commercially successful work for today's highly competitive fiction market."

While I enjoy How-To books, I'm a bit put-off by an agent trying to sell me his. Especially since he's never written a blockbuster novel. That his book is now out of print and self-published makes me even leerier.

"I found the premise extremely imaginative and original, and you do a remarkable job balancing the brisk pacing with humor."

This is a rejection?

"Save ten dollars off the evaluation of your manuscript with this coupon."

Run away. Run away as fast as you can.

"To me, this works better as a movie."

Damn it! Why can't I write something less cinematic?

"I have just taken on a thriller with comparable qualities."

I watched. And no you didn't. A few years later, however, you did take on Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.

The list goes on, but frankly, leafing through all of my rejections began to depress me, so I stopped and grabbed a beer.

That said, even now, after an illustrious mid-list career, I still get rejected.

It isn't personal. It's business.

Remember, there's a word for a writer who never gives up: Published.

Persistence is the key. Rejections are proof you're making an effort.

The only writers who fail are those who never submit.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to get back to work.

Here are some pics of Joe's Rejection Book, one of them comparing the thickness to the Chicago Yellow Pages.

JA Konrath is the author of the Jack Daniels thrillers, and writes the blog A Newbie's Guide to Publishing at http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/. His latest novel, AFRAID, was written under the pen name Jack Kilborn. It was also rejected a dozen times before finding a publisher. Read an excerpt on his website, JAKonrath.com.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Guest Blogger on The Leaf Blower

I'm mixing things up this week. I've invited a guest blogger named J.A. Konrath to write about some of his most humiliating experiences with rejection. Konrath's blog, A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 Best Websites for Writers. And he will be posting tomorrow on The Leaf Blower -- so please check back tomorrow!