Tag: novels


Reading on a Jet Plane

Alexia Gordon I just had time to unpack from Crime Bake before I hit the road again, this time traveling for my day job. Between waiting to board the plane, waiting for the plane to take off (I think I spent more time taxiing on the runway than I spent airborne), and the actual flight (which I spent crammed into an “upgraded” seat so cramped if I’d puffed out my cheeks I’d have hit my seatmates) I had plenty of time to get some reading and writing done.Pen and paper are my go-to travel writing tools—much easier than a laptop to whip out at a moment’s notice, no danger of equipment failure (I suppose my pen could run out of ink but I can fit a dozen pens into less space than a power cord), no need to search out a power outlet, and no need to stow for take-off and landing. My travel reading varies. It’s almost always paperback, lighter weight than hardback, and no need to power it on or plug it in or put it away when the flight attendant passes down the aisle checking seatbelts and seatback uprightness. Size matters—it has to fit in my personal item. […]

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This past weekend I was a workshop leader at the New York Pitch Conference. I’m in charge of the women’s fiction/literary fiction/memoir group, so I get to hear many wonderful stories. Many that I hope to read in book form at some point or another. I am continually awed by the diversity of stories out there. Just in my group there were people from India and Ghana and Lebanon and England. Professors and Ph.Ds. People who’ve survived some terrible things and others who’ve survived Hollywood. People who seem very polished and people who are scribbling notes on bits of paper. Mothers and daughters and some really odd people. It’s also fascinating to me how individual this publishing business is. Every editor reacts to each pitch in a different way. The very same pitch will be met with enthusiasm from one editor and blank indifference from another. They like for you to have a large social media presence. They like to know you’ve worked hard on your story–whether by studying writing or having pieces workshopped by beta readers. They like for you to have good comps. They like all these things unless they don’t really care because they like your story so much. […]

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Learning From Imaginary People

At its best, a novel can be a masterclass on life. My favorite books have taught me about myself. More importantly, they’ve allowed me to see myself in others and recognize others in me. They’ve exposed my limited experience and asinine assumptions, and have challenged me to learn more, listen more, and become better.  Most writers I’ve met feel similarly. Often, such feelings are the source of our deep love for story telling. So, my question this week to the MissDemeanors is What Life Lessons Have You Learned From Fiction? Here are our answers.  Cate: At around age eight, Harriet The Spy helped clarify my then budding ambition to become a writer. I pretty much thought Harriet was me with a less well-guarded notebook. Catcher In The Rye’s Holden Caulfield reflected my own teenage angst and frustration with the adult world, and it made me realize that getting through life requires acceptance and change. You can’t fight everything without going nuts. Thanks J.D. Salinger. Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Beloved, and Song of Solomon (all of which I read in high school) helped me develop a broader sense of empathy and gave me a sensitivity to other female experiences in America. This was particularly important for me at the time […]

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B.O.A.T.S. (Based on a True Story)

 I heard information today at work that made me say to myself, “That would make a great movie.” (No details here–it’s an active project.) It got me thinking about other true stories that would make gripping fiction. The art world provides a plethora of material suitable for a ripped-from-the-headlines thriller. Art isn’t nearly as sedate as those 6th grade field trips to dim, musty museums led you to believe. A search of Artsy turned up an article about an agoraphobic photographer who uses Google Street View to take screenshots of the people and landscapes she encounters in her virtual world travels. What if she grabbed a screenshot of a crime committed thousands of miles away? What would this homebound woman do? A deeper dip into Artsy’s archives turns up several articles on the hunt for, recovery of, and restoration of Nazi-looted art. What’s been described as the world’s greatest art theft has already inspired novels, movies, and TV shows: Portrait of a Woman in White, Girl in Hyacinth Blue, The Woman in Gold, and episodes of Law and Order: Criminal Intent, Father Brown, and Agatha Christie’s Marple, to name a few. Newspapers and magazines often feature stranger-than-fiction stories. The Telegraph and Business Insider report […]

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Why does it take so long?

I’ve been working on my current novel for five years. Thinking about it for ten, or even more. I remember that when the idea first hit me,  I was out to dinner with my husband and we had to go home because we had a babysitter. My daughter is now planning her wedding. So that gives me some orientation.  Of course, I haven’t been working on it non-stop for all these years. During the time I’ve been working on this one, I wrote another book, about India, and then my two Maggie Dove books. Still, the story for this one has been running like an undercurrent through everything I’ve done, and when I run into old friends they always ask, How’s that book? I know I’m not alone. Several of the students in my novel writing class have been working on the same manuscript for years. They’re working hard, thinking, revising. It’s great to be with them because we’re a sort of support group for each other.  But why is it taking so long? Partly because I chose a subject that I didn’t know much about, but wanted to, and in order to feel qualified to write about it I had to study and learn. […]

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How Much Rejection Is Too Much

We’ve all heard the stories of writers who had their debut novels rejected dozens of times before they ultimately became best sellers. Or, more often these days, novels that were rejected only to achieve rousing success after being self-published. I love these stories! But a downside to them is that they often urge writers–and have encouraged me–to keep spending money shopping work that should be put in a drawer.  Every writer has trunk junk, those novels that served as course work in our own, free, MFA programs. If you have a book, you know what I’m talking about. That coming-of-age book filled with exposition or stilted dialogue. The thriller where, maybe, there was a giant backstory dump for the first five chapters before the action started. The mystery where we couldn’t get the plot right or kept forcing characters into situations that didn’t grow naturally from their personality profiles and back stories. The “great story” that had, basically, no real genre and didn’t qualify as literary.  Sometimes, trunk junk is resurrected. But, more often than not, it stays in a drawer, an embarrassment to the writer who has since learned better. In the worst cases, it never goes into the trunk and the writer keeps […]

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POV In Setting A Scene

Clouds loomed over the ocean, a gathering black mass in the darkening evening that gradually assumed the shape of a ghostly pirate ship moored to the horizon. Light crackled in the dense fog like the flash of light before cannon fire. The expected blasts never sounded. The squall, visible as day over the dark, still water, was still too far away for thunder. Lightening can be seen for fifty miles or more, though. The storm was silent. But it was coming.  If I were writing a new thriller, this is how I might describe the electrical storm my husband and I witnessed last night in the North Fork of Long Island. The tone is foreboding. The clouds are likened to a pirate ship; the lightening flashes to cannons. Pirates and war are never welcome. The POV character describing the storm is not an optimist. She or he is anticipating something bad happening. Perhaps there’s something in his or her past that explains this sense of dread. Perhaps he or she just senses something about to go awry in the future. Either way, the person seeing this storm is not in a romantic comedy. In real life, I’m in the midst of a family vacation. The worst I am expecting is a […]

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