Monthly Archives: May 2012

Novelists now expected to write two books per year—and then some.

Publishers now expect novelists to churn out not one novel per year, but two. And in between, some digital short stories or other ditties to keep the audience’s appetites whetted.

Last Sunday, the cover of The New York Times quoted best-selling author Lisa Cottoline: “…today the culture is a great big hungry maw, and you have to feed it.” The article’s headline: “In E-Book Era, Rule for Writers is Type Faster!”

Faster is the coin of the digital realm, yet writers ought to be judged more for quality than quantity, at least in my book. Words should be weighed, not measured, I read somewhere along the line.

Yet every writer and journalist I know is doing more in the digital age. The Internet keeps us connected, wired, and frantic. We’re not only making deadline, we’re blogging, Tweeting, Pinning. We’re chatting live and Linked In. We’re Google Plus and then some.

The culture moves fast. Furiously. As the Times article pointed out, “Television shows are rushed online only hours after they are originally broadcast, and some movies are offered on demand at home before they have left theaters. In this environment, publishers say producing one book a year and nothing else, is just not enough.”

My old process clearly will not work. I labored over my first novel, “Glass Halo,” for about 27 years. I’m finishing my second novel, “Only Wild Plums,” after beginning it in 1983, or thereabouts.

Could I write two novels in a year? I like to think I could do it now that I’ve written two novels and a gift book: “Laid-Back Skier.” I give myself the benefit of the doubt, but only if I did not also have my magazine and newspaper articles, my page, my art direction jobs, my ghostwriting and copywriting and assorted other writer duties.

Two books per year every year? I’m an idea junkie, but that sounds like a lot of material, even for a gear head like myself.

And the novelists are not off the hook from other writing. Publishers expect them to do more than ever. “Everybody’s doing a little more. It seems like we’re all running faster to stay in the same place,” said British thriller writer Lee Child, published by Delacorte Press, a branch of Random House.

“I almost feel sorry for authors these days with how much publishers are asking of them,” said Jennifer Enderlin, associate publisher of St. Martin’s Press.

The Times article by Julie Bosman also mentioned one of my favorite writers: J.D. Salinger. I’ve long admired Salinger’s literary and personal style as an off-stage writer.  His sort won’t do in the digital age:  “Publishers also believe that Salinger-like reclusiveness, which once created an aura of intrigue around an author, is not a viable option in the age of interconnectivity,” Bosman reported.

The publisher of HarperCollins’ William Morrow, Avon, and Voyager imprints, Liate Stehrow said, “Now it seems to make more sense to have your author out in the media consciousness as much as you can.”

As for my part, I post regularly on Friday Jones Publishing’s Facebook page. I Tweet. I maintain a number of Pinterest boards. I blog, as evidenced here. I publish regularly on my page. And I do my best to keep all the other plates spinning, too, as a novelist, author, journalist, copywriter, and any other job that crosses my desk.

It’s never been easy eeking out a living as a freelance writer, but I think it’s now harder than ever.

Excuse, me, I’ve got to get back to work now.

Wag your tale. Doubletime.

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Reading Novels: “The Cat’s Table” and “The Paris Wife”

Reading novels, actual books in three dimensions, remains one of the great joys of my life. Thanks goodness for my book club, which holds me somewhat accountable for a book a month, and often picks fiction. I read lots and lots and lots and lots of nonfiction in my line of work as a writer and a journalist.

I’m a novelist, too—the author of Glass Halo, an acclaimed finalist for the 2010 Santa Fe Literary Prize—and so novels can feel like work, too.

But there’s something different about novels, something more magical, more true.

Recently, I finished “The Paris Wife” by Paula McLain and the month before that “The Cat’s Table” by Michael Ondaatje. Both books enthralled me, and I found myself making time to turn pages again.

These two novels came back-to-back after a period during which I’d struggled with reading. Even fiction. Books seemed so dense to me, my mind wandering, distracted by Tweets and Pins and Likes and the like.

The simple pleasure of curling up with a book won me over again.  I read on the front porch and in the back yard. I carried the novels in my purse for stolen moments standing in lines here or there.

Literary fiction can sound intimidating, but the genre essentially favors characters over plot. I missed the characters once the books drew to the ends. Therein lies the magic of fiction: Characters who seem as real to us, as true to us, as those inhabiting our daily lives.

Curiously, both “The Paris Wife” and “The Cat’s Table” included elements of truth. “The Paris Wife” included historical figures: Ernest Hemingway and his first and second wives, Gertrude Stein, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald and others. Michael Ondaatje did indeed board a ship to make passage while a young boy, and ocean liners named Oransay were noted in actual shipping logs.

But in the end, in my mind, fiction rings more true than fact. And is, of course,  less strange.

Don’t be a stranger to books. The entertainment and educational value of reading—whether fiction or nonfiction, whether a book or an e-reader—is tough to beat.

If you’re looking for a steamy summer read, try Glass Halo, available through, bookstores everywhere,, or as an e-book. 

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Seeing Owls and Angels

All my life, I’ve enjoyed birds and wished I could fly. Growing up in Iowa, I learned my basic birds: robins, sparrows, barn swallows, red-headed woodpeckers, and the state bird, the goldfinch.

One of my earliest memories involves a bird of prey, an owl. When I was a kid, my grandparents’ farm was one of my favorite places on earth. I loved my family, of course, my grandparents, great-grandmother, great-uncles and great-aunts, aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, third cousins and all along the family tree.

I especially loved the farm animals: the horses, the Black Angus cattle, the dogs, even the tadpoles in the culvert.

I loved the big brick house and the enormous white barn with the smell of straw and tack.

One day when I was a pre-school child, I went to the farm with my dad. As he busied himself around the yard, I wandered into the barn. I liked to go to the look at the saddles and bridles and pretend I could ride a horse on my own.

What I remember is a blaze of white, feathered wings and a beautiful face with glowing eyes and a heart shape flying straight at me in a white whoosh. And then it was gone.

Breathless, I ran to tell my dad I’d seen an angel.

When he explained I’d seen the barn owl, I was not disappointed. Owls and angels, to my young mind, seemed equally wonderful. Heaven-sent, both.

Fast forward to my young adulthood when I wrote a bi-weekly page for The Denver Post Sunday paper. Back in the days of the big broadsheets, I had a whole page: a long feature plus a sidebar. Titled “The Nature of…” my features included plants, animals, minerals, weather—anything to do with nature.  One weekend, I reported on owls. As I researched the birds, I hoped to see one. I stalked my Denver neighborhood, but I did not see any owls. I asked my hunter friend, but he did not think I would see any owls. That did not stop me from looking. I did not find any owls before I filed my story.

But years later, my sweetheart and I were walking with my dogs in a field near his home in metro Denver. An owl sailed by silently. I froze. We watched the bird glide toward a fence, pull up its wings, and land on the wooden post. We were close enough to hear the owl’s talons dig into the dry wood. We watched the bird watch my dogs.  My leashed dogs watched the owl, too, which sat on the fence looking much like a cat.

The owl suddenly swept off the fence post and flew low to the ground, then attacked. We stood still. I imagined life draining out of a rabbit, a snake, a mouse or a meadow vole. But then the owl took off again, empty-taloned.

I chided my boyfriend to go see what the bird had killed, but he did not want to investigate. My curiosity got the best of me, and I walked over to see. What I found was not a small mammal, not a reptile, but a plastic bag. The thick plastic must have moved in the wind. Now it lay tattered with deep talon marks slicing plastic.

We saw that great horned owl again and again in that field over a couple of years until my boyfriend relocated. We respected the owl.

Yesterday, with the help of one of my sweetheart’s long-time patients, we saw two adult great horned owls and five owlets on three different nests.  Seeing the adorable, fuzzy babies, not yet fledged, delighted me. We watched and watched, and I even collected half a dozen owlet feathers before we hiked out of the forest.

I still love birds, and I still long to fly.

I have seen owls, if not angels.

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