Above: a few of the resources on my bookshelf.
I’m knee-deep in revising my first draft of the Next Novel, which is at the point where I’m starting to share chapters with beta readers. (Hooray? Yikes?) While I’ve been in the midst of this, someone asked me to recommend resources for someone who wants to write a novel, but doesn’t know to begin. Which is a great question—hence, this blog post.
My first answer was obvious: National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo. After all, if it wasn’t for the miracle that is NaNoWriMo, I seriously doubt I would have jumped off the high board into the manuscript that became A Gathering of Shadows. Beyond this, I was surprised to find myself flummoxed for answers. I mean, I have my favorite books on the craft, but I’ve been writing for as long I could set words to paper. Some of my earliest memories are taking out “how to get published books” from the adult section of my local library while my mother assured the librarian, that yes, I could read them, please let the kid borrow them already.
So, if in doubt, crowdsource! What follows is an edited list of books and other advice generously shared by writers who know their stuff.
Anca Szilagyi: ”Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer and Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. One is all about close reading fiction, and reading for courage to do your own writing. The other encourages writing in a more general/zen sense and has a “keep going” shtick that is helpful.”
Shelley Schanfield: ”A good craft book that has lots of practical instruction on character development and story arc is Janet Burroway Writing Fiction.”
Ellen Seltz: ”The Snowflake Method. Even if you don’t wind up using it exactly, it helps to have concrete tasks to keep the manuscript moving forward, so you don’t get so abstract and woo-woo that nothing gets accomplished. It’s a good tool. If you don’t already have a process, it’s a starting point to help you build one.”
Susanne Dunlap: ”I like Story by Robert McKee. And I love Janet Burroway’s book as well.”
Diane Brandt Wilkes: ”Here are the ones that help/ed me the most, in no real order. These are off the top of the head of someone who would much rather read books about writing than actually write.
”Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
If You Want to Write by Brenda Euland
Writing the Novel by Lawrence Block
The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner (My favorite.)
The Art of Fiction by Ayn Rand (She helped me finally understand what plot meant.)
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
Becoming a Writer by Dorothy Brande
Making a Literary Life by Carolyn See
Thunder and Lightning: Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft by Natalie Goldberg
Telling Lies for Fun and Profit by Lawrence Block (He’s the best at the nitty gritty.)”
Melinda Belle Harrison: “For genre fiction, I recommend The Marshall Plan Workbook : Writing Your Novel from Start to Finish. If more beginning writers used it, they would leap years ahead in work.”
Melodie Rose Winawer: ”The Business of Writing, edited by Jennifer Lyons. Given to me as a gift by my editor. Great stuff.”
Libby Sternberg: “I recommend joining Romance Writers of America and one of their chapters, even if you don’t write romance. The romance community is the most supportive and encouraging writing community I’ve encountered, willing to share information and cheer you on. And some chapters — such as New Jersey’s — have terrific conferences.”
Claude Rothman: ”There are four books I consult permanently: How Fiction Works by James Wood, Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and Naming the World by Bret Anthony Johnston. The last one includes very smart exercises for the creative writers to which I come back when I have a problem.”
Stephanie Renee Dos Santos: “The Art of Fiction by John Gardner, The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler, Stein on Writing & How to Grow a Novel by Sol Stein, The Writer’s Portable Mentor by Priscilla Long, and Between the Lines by Jessica Morrell.”
I hope this list helps and inspires! And many thanks to all who shared their wisdom.
Photographed at Coffee Mob cafe in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn. Message on a steamy window from Hunger Games-obsessed Thea.
So new year, new you? How are those New Year’s resolutions going thus far? For myself, as I mentioned last week, one of my intentions for 2014 was to offer more author and artist interviews on this blog. I’m delighted to introduce Lisa Alber, author of KILMOON: A County Clare Mystery. Lisa will be generously sharing about creating a positive moments jar, one of her favorite tools for keeping herself encouraged and inspired.
You might be wondering what a positive moments jar is. It’s exactly as described: a jar to collect scraps of paper upon which you write positive moments. What I especially like about this simple concept is that it makes happiness visually tangible. And what could be better than that?
Without further ado, here is our interview. And thanks, Lisa, for helping me keep my resolution!
Kris Waldherr: My pleasure! What inspired you to create your positive moments jar?
LA: I have Facebook to thank! Last year someone mentioned it on a post. I wish I remembered who because I’d thank her. I thought it was the perfect idea. I was completely swamped and stressed because KILMOON, my debut novel, was jetting its way toward publication in March — so much to do! — and I knew that if I didn’t take one little concrete step to memorialize all the good things, they’d slip past me in a blur.
And? I’m prone to depression, which means I tend to linger on the negative. So, a happy jar felt like just the thing. The act of taking that extra minute to savor a good feeling was helpful. And, of course, reliving the moments at the end of 2014 was a blast.
KW: How long have you been doing it? How often do you add to it?
LA: Last year, 2014, was my first year. I’m proud of myself for filling the jar because I’m not always consistent with rituals and routines. That said, I wasn’t consistent through the year, and I forgot a bunch of great things too. (Some of my book launch week festivities, for example.) But that was OK — making any part of the practice mandatory would have soured the experience.
So, I added to the jar as I remembered. There were times when I was more aware of my happiness than other times. For example, I didn’t write any notes in July and August. Zero. This seemed odd until I remembered that I was practically psychotic from lack of sleep around then. I was miserable, barely functioning, and working a lot with my doctor. I’m sure I had happy moments during that time, of course, but I wasn’t on the happy jar wavelength.
I also had a period of about two months, April through June, when I didn’t drop notes in the jar. This corresponds to post-partum book launch depression (which I’ve since heard is pretty common!) and putting my beloved dog, Luna, to sleep.
Seeing the larger pattern to my year comforted me — the two downer periods passed and they weren’t actually that bad even if in my memory they take up the whole year. Hardly!
KW: Has the jar influenced your creative process, especially as you published KILMOON? If so, how?
LA: I don’t think the happy jar influenced my creative process — not in a direct way anyhow. I can tell you this though: I’m starting 2015 in a positive frame of mind. I feel some energy around my writing, and I’ve already done some great work on my work-in-progress. I suspect that reminding myself about the good stuff in 2014 has helped me begin 2015 on an optimistic note, which is great for my creativity. The benefits of the happy jar will be in the long run, I think. I hope that the practice of happiness will become easier over time. There’s that saying about what we pay attention to flourishes. Sometimes these things take practice.
KW: How do you use the jar? Is it only for moments when you feel discouraged? Or is it to keep you going?
LA: I didn’t use it when I felt discouraged — just the opposite. I wrote notes when I was legitimately happy or proud of myself or elated or awed, not when I was trying to manufacture a happy feeling by, say, reminding myself to be grateful for the roof over my head. Gratitude lists are a different thing. (I do those too — in a journal.)
Seeing the jar fill through the year did buoy me up sometimes, but mainly it was an exercise in savoring the happy moments. If I was down, I didn’t put anything in the jar.
KW: Anything else you care to share?
LA: This year, I’m doing two things differently. One, I placed the jar in a central location where I see it all the time. Two, I have scraps of paper and a pen sitting right there. I seem to be forever scrabbling for pens or paper.
A few examples of my notes:
Jan: GOOD REVIEW FROM KIRKUS!!!! (I can tell how happy I was by the capitalization and exclamations points.)
March: Surprise and delight to see a lone viola blooming on my neglected deck.
April: LAUNCH PARTY. Owner of Annie Bloom’s said she’s reading KILMOON and loving it. Said their best launch party ever — set a new threshold. Woohoo!
June: FAWN!!!! (my new dog)
September: Such glorious sun and shadows and golden light.
September: Another authorial milestone to add to honorarium library talk and award nomination: XXX asked me to blurb his novel!
Thank you, Lisa, for an inspiring interview! I think I see a positive moments jar in my future.
More information about Lisa and her debut novel KILMOON: Lisa Alber’s County Clare mysteries feature Merrit Chase, a recent transplant from California, and Detective Sergeant Danny Ahern. KILMOON has been called “utterly poetic” and a “stirring debut” and received an Elizabeth George Foundation writing grant. Ever distractible, you may find Lisa staring out windows, dogwalking, fooling around online, or drinking red wine with her friends. Ireland, books, animals, photography, and blogging round out her distractions. Visit Lisa online at LisaAlber.com.
Top photograph: Lisa’s positive moments jar—I like that it has a big bow on it, like a gift.
Already 2015 is shaping up to be a better year than 2014 on the author travel front. Besides my upcoming residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, I’m delighted to announce that I’ll be traveling to Denver for the Historical Novel Society Conference this June, where I’m on a panel entitled “The Art of Book Cover Design for Historical Fiction.”
My co-panelists are Sourcebooks editor Anna Michels, Emily Victorson of Allium Press, HNS’s own Sarah Johnson, and book cover designer Jenny Quinlan. I guess you could say I’m the author representative who just also happens to be a designer. I plan to expand upon my presentation on the semiotics of book cover design, which was a hit at 2013′s conference.
The Historical Novel Society Conference is one of my favorite author events of the year. I’ve attended every one since 2011 save for last year’s in London—alas, the timing didn’t work because of family obligations. So glad that 2015 will be different!
Photos from HNS 2013: Me with my critique partner Teralyn Pilgrim dressed for the costume dinner—Teralyn’s pregnant vestal virgin brought down the house. Below, author friends Stephanie Lehmann (ASTOR PLACE VINTAGE), Mary Sharratt (ILLUMINATIONS), and Margaret George (who needs no introduction). Happy times!
For today’s Creativity Friday post, I’m featuring the work of one of the most creative people I know: my husband, Thomas Ross Miller. Tom is an anthropologist, artist, musician, curator, professor, world traveler, and oh-so-much more. Besides all this, he’s a member of Ethnographic Terminalia, a curatorial collective that exhibits anthropological research in collaboration with contemporary art practices.
For their 2014 exhibit, Ethnographic Terminalia is presenting The Bureau of Memories: Archives & Ephemera, December 3-7 at Hierarchy gallery, 1847 Columbia Road NW, Washington, DC. This immersive installation, held jointly with the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association, features works by some two dozen artists and anthropologists. Re-imagining and remixing 20th-century media including 16-mm film, short-wave radio, land-line telephones, photogravure and paper documents, the exhibition invites visitors to encounter voices and images from the past in a 21st-century technological space.
More from the press release:
In a time of virtual reality, history haunts the present through the incomplete digital reanimation of traces from the past. Many analog collections built to preserve knowledge are becoming lost in the digital age. The Bureau of Memories considers archives as sites of both official records and broken fragments. The installation draws out anthropology’s uncanny specters, reinterpreting archives not only as repositories of information, but as generators of absence and obscurity. The international array of works on display includes prints, sculpture, textiles, video, and sonic artifacts from wax-cylinder field recordings to classic African radio broadcasts to a 3D-rendered audio spectrogram of the famous 18½-minute gap in the Watergate tapes.
So if you’re in the DC area, I hope you’ll stop by to experience The Bureau of Memories! The exhibit is open to the public. Gallery hours are 12-8 pm Wednesday-Friday, 10 am-6 pm Saturday, 12-6 pm Sunday. Admission is free.
Above image: Craig Campbell, Ethnographic Terminalia