Monday, July 14, 2014

How to Tell Toledo From the Night Sky Launch Week

The Norfolk launch party for How to Tell Toledo From the Night Sky was celebrated by a lot of wonderful people at Smartmouth Brewery in Norfolk, hosted by Prince Books. Who could fail to be ecstatically happy when launching a second novel in a cool brewery with a ton of friends?

And then, two days later, I headed to Richmond to read and sign at Fountain Bookstore. Amazingly, Robert Goolrick, bestselling author of A Reliable Wife and Heading Out to Wonderful, joined me for the evening, and read from his brand new novel, Fall of Princes.

Proof of my joy: I'm so blinded by love that I just blogged a photo of me wearing an inflatable robot head. Yes, I'm glad this new novel is out in the world. And I loved launching it in Virginia. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Pet Black Holes and Book Events

Watch this:

I made these toys.

Some I have already given away. I gave them to bookstores who supported Shine Shine Shine, to bloggers and blurbers, to author friends and others. Some I have yet to give away. How to Tell Toledo From the Night Sky will be launched in an avalanche of small knitted black holes, relentlessly attempting to draw in their companion planets, or your refrigerators, or anything else... ferromagnetic.

One reason I find it hilarious to knit them is because my main character, Irene, would find them so maddening. She's against anthropomorphism of science in any way. Black holes don't "sing" -- that's periodic oscillation. Atoms don't "want" to share electrons. Asteroids don't "lie in wait." She would roll her eyes and snarl at these cute little black holes with eyes. But her love interest, George, would probably hang them from his rear view mirror. So I like that.

How can you get one for yourself?

1. If you live in Western PA, come to Neverending Stories in Franklin on June 25, when I'll be giving away several black holes and planets at this awesome indie bookstore's anniversary party! The other exciting thing about this event is that my publisher has released some early copies of How to Tell Toledo From the Night Sky, which will be available for sale at this event only, one week before its official release.

2. If you live in Norfolk, come to my launch event at Smartmouth Brewery on July 1, hosted by Prince Books. I'll have some to give away there.

3. If you don't live in either of these places, or you don't like to gamble with chance, you can pre-order my novel from Fountain Bookstore in Richmond. Use this link to pre-order. The first 25 customers who pre-order from this independent bookstore will get a black hole and planet along with a signed book.

If you happen to live in Richmond, I am going to be at Fountain Bookstore in Richmond on July 3, reading and signing my new novel, with special guest Robert Goolrick (#1 NYT best-selling author of A Reliable Wife), who will also be reading a sneak peek from his latest book.

There you have it! One new novel, one science concept, three upcoming events with three awesome indie bookstores, and many, many, many small knitted balls. For you.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

How to Buy an e-Book from your Local Indie Bookstore

You may have heard the theory, currently being batted about on the internet, that buying books from Amazon will give you fleas, cause your hair to become dull and listless, send nuclear warships to Narnia, and cause the ghost of Charles Dickens to moan and twist on a spit of hot iron.

Or perhaps you just want to support your local indie bookstore because you like living in a town with lively, colorful storefronts and bustling foot traffic. Maybe you are trying to avoid trudging down silent dusty streets past yawning empty windows as a dry cash register receipt rolls tumbleweed-style past your feet.


Sure you can buy books in paper from bookstores, but maybe you really just want to read on an e-reader, because gadgets are cool, and because you're going to Fiji and you need Thomas Hardy's entire oeuvre (obviously), and luggage is expensive and heavy. And because some books are only available on e-readers! You can't even get them in print if you beg.

Take, for example, my e-novella, Everybody's Baby, which by strange coincidence launched this week! It is only available in e-book. Does this mean that you have to abandon your support of indie bookstores to read it? NO.

Here's the word if you haven't heard: YOU CAN BUY E-BOOKS FROM INDIE BOOKSTORES. You really can. All those sanctimonious asshats in your life who have told you, "You can't have your cake and eat it too," are going to have to put their arched eyebrows on that iron spit with the ghost of Charles Dickens, because you can. You can read e-books every day, and twice on Sunday, and still support your favorite indie store.

Look at this site, for example. It belongs to RiverRun Bookstore in New Hampshire. You can buy e-books from RiverRun that will work on any device except a Kindle. You can get the Blio app and buy Blio books, or you can buy books in an .epub or .pdf format and read them on anything. Confused? They explain it all on their site.

Another way that many bookstores sell e-books is via Kobo. Here's how to navigate that purchase:

Step 1:

If you have a Kobo e-reader, you're all ready for step 2. If you don't, you can get the Kobo app for your iPad or iPhone, Android phone, desktop, laptop, or the digital display on the handle of your light saber. This page from Kobo will help you get that all set up and installed. Don't quit if you don't have a Kobo device -- you don't need one!

Step 2: 

Go to your local indie's web page. Let's choose my local indie, Prince Books, as a demonstration.

In the left margin, you'll see the Kobo logo. Looks like this:

or like this:

It might not be in the left margin -- Quail Ridge has it down on the bottom of the page. But under or near that logo is a search bar. Type in my name, and you'll get a list of my books available on Kobo. Notice you can get Shine Shine Shine in Hungarian, if you need it. If you really need it. 

Locate Everybody's Baby (oh my gosh, it's only $2.99?) and click on the link to Buy Ebook Now. Your cursor will not turn into a hand, but it is still a link! Click it, and you'll see. Amazon doesn't even know you're doing it. Amazon is totally uninvolved with this whole process. Amazon is probably washing its socks right now, completely oblivious.

Step 3:

When you get to the Kobo website, you'll see a banner across the top that says something "Welcome Prince Books Customers" or "Welcome Mysterious Galaxy Customers" or whatever, with the red "i" that is the IndieBound logo. See? It's working. Now when you buy this book, it will automatically sync to your reader, or your device with the app installed, or your desktop, or wherever you've stashed your Kobo app.

DONE! Read on.

Monday, June 2, 2014

My Stop on the Writing Process Blog Tour

Last stop, Abrams. This stop, Netzer. Everybody out.
If the writing process blog tour were an actual tour bus, then you would have just visited author David Abrams' blog, The Quivering Pen, to read about the writing process that brought us his first novel, NYT Notable Book, nominee for the LA Times Book prize, and one of my favorite books of 2012, Fobbit. You'd get off the bus here at my blog, and a small, hopeless red-headed child would hand you a map of the area, including the Slough of Neverdoingthisagain, the Mountains of Insurmountable Incongruity, and the Forest of Dithering Confusion. You'd be able to sign up for the Long Car Trip of Sudden Illumination and the Weekend Retreat of Urgent Sex Scene Production. And you'd be issued a black cardigan, cargo pants eight sizes too big for you, and a hair clippy to keep you from going crazy on your tour.

Lucky for you, it's just me answering some questions, meme-style. Everyone's got to answer the same questions, so here we go:

1. What are you working on?

I just finished writing my e-novella Everybody's Baby, which is about 50K words, and took six months to write from start to finish. This was a balls-to-the-wall effort in terms of daily production. After that was turned in, I spent some time trying to locate my children and force-march them through the remainder of the year's homeschooling for their respective grades (4th and 8th), and locate my floors, my hampers, my cabinets, the mulch in the flower beds. Still working on my sanity. It's sent a postcard. I have hopes.

Now that the systems are somewhat restored to balance, I've turned to my actual work-in-progress, which is another novel. It's about incorrigible firesetters, roller coasters (actual ones), and Melville's lost novel. Honestly it's about that moment of irrevocable change -- that second you hang before tipping over the top of a roller coaster, that second before a match flares, that moment when you change the course of your life forever. I'm interested in what that is -- resolve? fate? chance? will? -- and I'm hoping the novel will help me figure that out.

2. How does your work differ from others of its genre? 

I don't know what my genre is actually called, but I'm pretty sure that it's full to the brim with love stories about science, motherhood, sex, and death. And I'm very proud to be completely typical in that literary realm.

3. Why do you write what you do?

I write to make happy endings for my characters, to fix their terrible lives. I layer stuff around them - plot, science, surrealism, voices - until the book says what I want it to say. But the central motivation for writing is to find the way through, for these people, and get them out the other side. This is why I return to old half-finished novels. I feel like I need to resolve things for the characters. There's a book I've been working on for ten years now, and in the last draft I wrote, I stopped when these two main characters, sisters, were out in the woods experiencing something absolutely horrible. I stopped, and left them there, because I had to go work on something else. But I know I will get them out of that situation eventually. That's why I have to go back to that novel.

4. What is your writing process like?

The first draft of a novel comes out in fits and restarts. I often write 20K or 30K words of a novel, abandon it for a year, come back to it and start over, sometimes with major changes. When I feel like I'm writing the book correctly, I can work my way through to a full draft, but it might take years to get that kind of traction. And even then, after the draft has cooled off and I come back to it, I may need to start over. While I am writing a book this way, I keep a notebook of ideas, character quotes, concepts for scenes, etc. so I don't lose track of my thoughts if I go for years between drafts. With Shine Shine Shine, it took 10 years to get to a point where I could show it to an agent and feel done.

A page from my How to Tell Toledo From the Night Sky notebook.

With How to Tell Toledo From the Night Sky, my new novel that's launching July 1, it took a little less time. I wrote it for the first time in 2004 as a horrible little hyper-controlled manuscript with no dialogue. I came back to it in 2007 and wrote it as a screenplay -- all dialogue. Then I revisited the story and characters a third time in 2012, this time writing a full draft of the actual novel that became the published final draft. There are elements, in the published book, of both those earlier attempts, but most of those things have been wiped away.

I do not recommend my process.

Your next stop on the tour might be one of these wonderful writers I'm tagging now:

Susan Woodring is the author of Goliath and Springtime on Mars.

Michele Young-Stone is the author of The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors and Above Us Only Sky.

Joshilyn Jackson is the author of gods in Alabama, The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, and her most recent, Someone Else's Love Story.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Write Your Rock 'N' Roll While You Are Young: An Old-Testament-Style Exhortation

O my daughter, write all your rock ‘n’ roll while you are young.

My kid. This exhortation is for her in 10 years.
Rage, scream, pierce, sulk, defy. I give my blessing for your worst tattoos. I want you to grab the microphone and screech into it. Wear pants that are too tight. Stomp around. Growl at people.

You will never be so safe and free as you are right now. And it is only from this wealth of safety that you can so blithely growl. It is only from the peace of your perfect, unspoiled life that you can stand there, razor-sharp. You can criticize me and everything I stand for. I’m so glad you are that safe.

Change the world. Why not? Defy me to change the world. Get in my face. Write a manifesto.

I remember standing on the basement stairs in the house where I grew up, and my mother was unloading the washing machine. I was challenging her about the morality of the death penalty, not because she disagreed with me, but because she agreed, and that maddened me the more. “If you believe in change, then why don’t you do something about it?” I raged at her. And she stood there, with my clean underwear in her hand. I was so disgusted by her complacency.

Kid, hate me hard while you can. As long as you hate me, you can’t miss me. As long as you are repulsed by my life choices, you can not imagine what it will be like to lose me. I want to be here for you, stupidly steadfast, boring you to death for all your life. I dread the moment when you look at me and realize I will die. Because I know in that moment you will become a little bit quiet and a little bit afraid. Why should you be afraid now? You are so young, no one you need can ever die. It is unthinkable.

So now, write all that brave material that only you can write, sing the songs that that only you can sing, tear down the edifices that only you can muster the sufficient angst to bring yourself to hate. Now while you have not seen sorrow or felt pain, while you are still self-righteous enough to muster indignation. Do it for me, your mother who has been scared stiff.

Me, when I was 19. I knew everything, so it was a good time to be loud.

I remember writing political songs and singing them loudly in public spaces. I said a lot of brazen things. I used the word “America” in songs with a “message.” I stuck my head up high, as high as I could get it, and yelled about indignities and injustice. I hope you do that. I will listen.

O my children, I used to have balls. Balls no more. And the saddest thing is -- it didn’t even take that much to stomp it out of me. I went down hard with a few deaths, some sadness, a little madness. Used to be, the threat of consequences made me laugh. Now, consequences terrify me -- imagined, real, inevitable, yours, mine. I am rigid with it. Put a guitar in my hand, and it cracks.

Because I’m afraid now, I’m quiet. A microphone? Outrage? The stage? It takes everything I have to say anything at all, even in a small voice. It takes everything I have to crawl out from under the bed and say “I’m still here.”

But I want to listen to all your songs, especially the loud ones, the angry ones, the ones that stand outside of memory, that pay no attention to history or the inevitable repetition thereof. I’ll clap. I’ll yell. I’ll be like “That’s my kid! The ignorant one! Look at her! She’s so amazing!”

I am not saying this in scorn and I’m not scoffing at you. I really would love for you to stay like this forever. Just as hot. Just as ignorant. To be able to write that rock ‘n’ roll all your life. To speak for 20-year-olds and to 20-year-olds. Stay so perfect and unassailable and so convinced of your own idea and so untroubled by the weight and the stickiness of reality.

I earnestly hope for you that you will never be able to write anything that is at all relevant to an adult audience. But the world is probably not going to treat us that way.

Me at 40. Acquainted with fear.
I write this to you because I know that time is short. While my hope for you is that you never outgrow your ragged edge, I know you will. You will not be one of those people who still jingle and rage and thrash around when you’re my age. Your heart will break and shatter, and the things that charm you now will not be interesting. You will no longer be able to fit yourself into a mob. You will not be able to be reckless.

I know this because of myself, but also because of you.

Growing up is a trade. You trade in your rock ‘n’ roll but you will get your own spouse, your own children. You will trade in your white water rapids and get a riverbed so deep, a surface so flat, it reflects the sky. I see that in you already. Your time to scream and rage is going to be short. So don’t miss it. Life is a good trade, but you don’t have to make it yet.

When I say “Stop!” to you, understand that it’s what I have to say, and know that it’s your job not to listen. Press on. Do stupid things. Don’t tell me about them. It’s okay, you will live. Don’t worry about who’s listening, or what people will think, or what adults will say. Find friends that really get you and let them become very important. Drive around and do dangerous things and don’t tell me where you are. Tell me, “I’m fine!” and “Back soon!” and “I love you!” Don’t ask my permission, worry about my feelings, bow to my judgment. I’m only your mother. I love you, but I really don’t know anything.

Me at 18. Fearless. About to write a manifesto.

This is twenty year old me that was, writing to twenty year old you that will be: Write your rock ‘n’ roll this year. Set fires you don’t know whether you can put out. Forty year old me can’t tell ten year old you the things that I have done. The bottles smashed, the boys kissed, the cliffs hung from, the trains caught, the words screamed, the people hurt, the ropes cut. I can’t tell you about that because forty year old me is contractually obligated as your mother to hold up a stop sign and say “No more piercings. Home by ten. I want to meet his parents. Call me when you get there or your phone’s confiscated.” That’s my job. And that’s what means that you are safe enough to ignore every one of those restraints and write your rock ‘n’ roll and dangle yourself over those cliffs.

O my children, do the things that can’t be undone. Do the brave, stupid, wild things. Do everything that doesn’t make you die. Write your rock ‘n’ roll while you are young. Time is flying, don’t I know it? But no, this is not a suicide note. I’m happy! To my surprise, at this age it only takes a metal watering can covered in red enamel, with a big brass spout. And to make me whimper, it only takes a truck in an oncoming lane with overly bright lights. I’m not strong anymore. I’m not like you are. But I’m glad I was. Now I write books about it.

Where will you be when you sit down to write your books? When you settle into your deep riverbed? I hope you are panting, and tired, and worn, and I hope you come to your senses smiling and crying and barely holding yourself together. It’s one youth you have. Make much of it. With your warm blood, rock. With your new eyes, roll. When you tell your daughter how you put it all away, give her something to remember.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Everybody's Baby, an Original E-Novella about Love, Motherhood, and Kickstarter

Last fall, I had a crazy idea for a story.

What if a young, tech-forward couple funded their in vitro fertilization on Kickstarter, and then sold perks to donors -- perks like naming the baby and cutting the cord? Technology, love, parenthood -- in a weird way the idea was right in my literary lane. I got excited.

I was deep in another novel, but I decided to try writing this Kickstarter story, to see where it went. Twenty-thousand words later, I was in love with the characters, their heir love story, and the story of how they became parents. I brought it to my agent and then to my editor.

They thought it was a great idea! We came up with a title: Everybody's Baby. We worked in some plot twists, some new scenes, new characters, and started planning how we could best deliver this book to readers.

The most interesting thing about the project is that it is so very now, a snapshot of life on the internet the way it is right this very moment -- it's about Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Pinterest, even Get Off My Internets and Jezebel, and of course Kickstarter. Putting this book on the schedule for publication in 2016 or even 2015 meant that it would be less current, and possibly even completely irrelevant, by the time it came out -- a dilemma unique to our high tech world, and as it happens one that could be solved by technology as well. The wonderful people at St. Martin's Press came up with the idea to release this story as a novella, direct to e-readers, which would allow us to bring it out before my second book, which is due out in July.

I am thrilled to announce that my original e-novella, Everybody's Baby, will be published by St. Martin's Press on June 3, 2014 (in two months!) and that it will be available in every format imaginable! There are links below to pre-order. I hope you do!

Here is the catalog copy, to tell you a bit more about the plot:

Jenna and Billy are in love.  He's an app developer, a hyper-plugged-in citizen of the internet, with a big Scottish family and winning smile.  She is a yoga teacher, tuned in to the vibes of the spiritual universe, who was abandoned by her mother as an infant and orphaned by her father's recent death.  When they meet, it's electric, and it is no time before they are married and eager to start their own family.  But when they can't get pregnant, Billy devises a plan:  they would raise funds for their in vitro fertilization on Kickstarter, offering donor perks like cutting the cord, naming the baby, and catching the baby when it takes its first steps.

The good news is that they make their fundraising goal, get pregnant and have a baby! The bad news is that their marriage begins to fall apart when they have to deliver on all those perks. It’s hard enough to survive delivering a baby without a performance artist making a documentary of the cord cutting. It’s difficult enough to get baby to sit up and smile for a six month portrait without a local politician taking up half the lens. What does it mean to be owned by the internet? Everybody's Baby explores how relationships grow and fail in public and private life, the hazards of living “in the cloud,” and the nature of love online and off. 

I'm so excited about this story you might even convince me to come and tell it to you in interpretive dance, but for all of us it might be easier to if you pre-order it at one of the following retail links:

The great news is that due to the wonder of apps, you can buy this book for your Android, iPhone, or whatever, and even support local bookstores like Fountain Bookstore in Richmond or Prince Books in Norfolk by using their links to buy via Kobo. Got your own favorite indie? Use their and see what that does for you.

I hope you enjoy this new story. I can't wait for you to read it.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

10 Other Places Besides Amtrak That Should Give Writers Residencies

Inspired by Amtrak's round-trip writers residency on a train, and Sally Kilpatrick's recent adventure to Staples, where she wrote 1000 words while trying out office furniture, I present ten more places that should give residencies to writers:

1. That boxcar from Dexter. 

Photo: Håkan Dahlström -

People are turning shipping containers into all kinds of things -- energy-efficient office spaces, homes... sometimes they are even used to ship things. But I'm envisioning a residency experience where you sit in a boxcar, up to your ankles in the blood of your relatives, and the only way to get out is to finish your draft. Looking at the photo above, I'm envisioning a group writing retreat. I'll take the orange one.

2. The ISS.


Sorry, children, I can't get you that thing you need from the kitchen because I AM IN SPACE. Also, I accidentally left my phone on Earth, and I'm not going to the grocery store for 6 months. Bye.


Come and work in the best organized office/pantry/closet ever. Eat many meatballs. Toss plateware of sparse design at curious shoppers.

Photo: IKEA

4. Wonderland

Photo: Reuters/David Grey
Remember that weird abandoned-before-launch amusement park in China? I know I could write a kick-ass book here. But I'll need fog. Lots of fog. I think if writers took this place over, like a pack of feral cats, with laptops and gin, we could probably revolutionize literature. I mean, if I try to write a sentence explaining how this place is a metaphor for...

5. My Bathtub


I have an old, huge, claw-foot tub. This isn't it, because that would be weird. But believe me: it's grand. When my friend Veronica saw it, she said: "That's a suicide tub." I might have already put that in a novel, but that just shows how inspiring this tub is. When I'm stuck on a plot point, I go boil myself in this tub, read 19th century fiction, and the answer comes to me. It would be a great place for a writer's residency, if I weren't such an uncharitable, self-centered person.

6. The Pit Under Jiffy Lube, Where They Do the Oil Changes

Maybe I just want to go down there. I'm pretty convinced it's a whole other world, one I will someday descend into on a greasy rope, laptop under my arm, and write 5000 novels while goblins march by on whispering missions.

Photo: Youtube user j1300
7. The Dressing Pods at Bloomingdale's Concept Store

Here white, glowing pods descend on you and your laptop from the ceiling, and cannot be lifted until you are writing-satiated. They're meant to be retractable dressing rooms that turn into lanterns, but you can pretend you're inside the brain of an insect from the future, and use the privacy to change short stories instead of pants.

Photo: Grey Crawford

8. The One Stall with a Door in the Women's Prison on Orange is the New Black

The urgency. The laser focus. You are not going to dick around on Twitter when you should be writing, if there's an angry woman outside your door yelling "PINCH OFF THAT SCENE, BITCH."

Photo: Alison Wright

9. The Waiting Room at Someone Else's Therapist's Office

If you've ever taken someone else to their therapy appointment, you understand the sweet sanctuary of sitting in the waiting room, waiting for them to be done. You know exactly how long you have, you're responsible for absolutely nothing else during that time, and you forgot the wifi password, if there ever was one. There's a pleasant swirl of mild insanity infusing the room, giving you interesting ideas for your book. And there's also that confidence that comes with the satisfying knowledge that today you're not the crazy one, you're the driver. Fully capable of writing solid, reasonable novels that wise, sane people will find full of value and delight.

10. The Overlook Hotel

Photo: The Shining
Ok, screw being the driver. What I wouldn't give to sit down right now at that old typewriter, smoke one of those old cigarettes, and hurl my crumpled up manuscript pages at somebody's skinny wife and satanic kid. And of course the best thing about the Hotel Overlook as a gathering point for writers is not the demonic possession or the underage apparitions. It's the bar!