Friday, January 26, 2007

THE ONE LINE OBITS OF THE WEEK: Regular Programming resumes?

sixth ave., originally uploaded by patryfrancis.

I did not know these people. Aside from Art Buchwald, I never heard of them in their lifetimes. But like the others I've written about before in the one-line obits, they spoke to me in the final summary of their lives.

Robert Anton Wilson, Writer: "To Bob, everything was interesting."

Richard Boston: "The seven ages of Richard boston encompassed being a journalist, marathon runner, biographer, artist, movie extra, peacenik, and all round eccentric."

Peter Pendergrast, Artist: "He painted with an exuberance that was breathtaking, as if he was determined to reveal how the very planet was born.

Gracie Cole, Cornetist, Trumpeter and Bandleader: "She continued to play music in the nursing home until a few weeks before her death."

Art Buchwald: "Whether it's the best of times or the worst of times, it's the only time you've got."

Now can I just say how happy I'll be to open my blog tomorrow and see something other than that dismal kitchen scene?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

FIRST, CLEAN YOUR SINK: One Thing I Learned from Flylady

Kitchen sink drama, originally uploaded by stevacek.

A few years ago, I read about Flylady, a woman who had developed a unique home organization system. Since organization of any kind has been my lifelong quest, I was immediately intrigued. Now in case you get the wrong idea--let me defend my womanly honor here. My house is not dirty. It is, however, messy. Ditto the state of my writing files, my daily schedule, and well, my life. When Flylady promised that if you learned to organize the space around you, it would spill over into every area of your life, I was hooked.

The first thing you do as an official member (a Flybaby) is to clean your sink as you've never done before. You soak it in bleach, then move on to a greasy elbow scrub, and end with a Windex polish. I had no idea how this excessive sink cleaning routine could lead to order in the home--or my true goal, a life that worked better in every way, but I was willing to give it a try.

Intrigue quickly led to obsession, and the kind of fervor frequently seen in cult members. At work, people said I talked about nothing but Flylady for months. Someone would bring up a problem with their boyfriend, and I would soon be quoting Flylady: First, clean your sink. Credit card bills that were out of hand? You start with a bottle of bleach, and then...

After a month or two, I was forbidden to use the words "Flylady says..." in polite company. Like all my runaway enthusiasms, my Flylady phase finally exhausted itself. But some of her principles are still with me, and they really have improved my life and work.

When I started this post, I intended to write it as "Ten Things..." But my life is pretty hectic right now, and every time I thought about compiling it, I decided to wait till "tomorrow".

In the end, I realized my procrastination was the very thing that Flylady counsels against. Her method emphasizes baby steps. You don't try to transform your house in a day. In my translation, you don't try to write a novel in two weeks, or untangle the strands of a twisted relationship in one discussion.

What you do is one thing. You write a solitary page. You make tea, sit down with that person in your life, and talk. Or maybe you just clean your sink. With bleach and Windex. And slowly, you learn that one positive action slyly, magically, inexorably leads to another.

Sunday, January 14, 2007


Okay, I know I'm a couple days late, but here it is: my very own BIG IDEA. My own bit of marketing madness. The thing I'm most looking forward to as my pub date approaches.

How about if an author went out and introduced her novel through old-fashioned Tupperware-style houseparties?

How about if the author devised a fun format and starting with her own friends, got together in little gatherings to talk about books, writing, creativity and whatever else friends talk about?

Bookstore readings are great, but people are busy, and unless the writer is Orhan Pamuk or Stephen King, it's hard to get us off our couches to come out for a reading. And frequently, when we do, there's little chance to talk directly to the author we came to see--or for her to talk to us.

How would it be the author came to them? How would it be if she got together with a bunch of friends in someone's living room, sipped a little wine or tea together and chatted?

Her book (though of course, it would work for hims as well) would be availabe for sale and signing, but no one would be pressured to buy. The emphasis would be on talking about books and writing and the various ways we live the creative life.

That was the idea I presented to the fantastic publicity department at Dutton; and they responded with an amazing show of openness and enthusiasm. They also had the kind of marketing expertise and experience to turn my "big idea" into something that could really work. We now have brochures describing the parties, and printed invitations--just like Tupperware!


In addition, Dutton has offered to give anyone who hosts a party five free books as a gift, two hardcovers selected from the catalogue and three Advance Review Copies of new work that is not yet available.
where people.

Then my friends got involved. My daughter set up an e-mail address to deal specifically with the parties ( and my friend, Laura, has been brainstorming with me as well as working hard to get me focussed and organized (not an easy task.) Already, eight friends and family members have offered to host their own Liars Parties.

And yes, I do know that a book is different than a set of plastic mixing bowls. When I look at my author copies, which arrived a few days ago, I see not only years of work, but a piece of my own mind and heart bound and wrapped up in a stunning blue cover.

author copies

But though the products are different, the human need to get together and share ideas and laughter in an intimate setting remains the same.

So coaches, what do you think?

Thursday, January 11, 2007


grassroots man, originally uploaded by chillhiro.

I loved a lot of things about the movie, Akeelah and the Bee, but one thing that stayed in my mind was the concept of 5000 coaches. When Akeelah's spelling coach quits on her just before the National Spelling Bee, he tells her to go home and look in her own family, her own neighborhood, her own school. There, he says, she will find 5000 coaches. And in them, she will find her victory.

Akeelah's school doesn't have the most rudimentary educational supplies; and her family is too distracted by their struggle to survive the hazards of their vibrant, but blighted neighborhood to pay much attentions to Akeelah's aspirations.

But what her coach teaches her is that sometimes all you have to do is be clear and strong about your dream--and then ask for help. The 5000 coaches, like the proverbial zen teacher, will appear. And they do.

In a lot of ways, the blogosphere has been for a lot of us, the land of 5000 coaches. Whether we're dropping in daily to support a blog friend whose son was recently in a devastating car accident, or sharing stimulus with the marvelous Melba who recently invited C.Delia Scarpitti to interview me for Create a Connection, or taking time to contemplate our magnificent planet, the energy of the ideas and passion shared in the sphere is a force to be reckoned with.

These days, book promotion has become not just the business of publishing companies or highly paid outside publicists. These days authors get to join in the fun, too. After all, who cares more about the success of our books than we do? At first, I was a little intimidated. What did I know about marketing? And did it mean I'd have to leave my little writing room?

Then I went out and looked for my 5000 coaches. The first one was MJ Rose, and her class Buzz Your Book. In that class, MJ taught that you need at least one signature idea to market your book. Like a good zen master, she couldn't tell us what it was; she could only teach us how to search for it.

Almost by accident, I stumbled upon a group of dynamic debut novelists known as Killer Year. The knowledge and encouragement, not to mention, the laugh out loud humor, they share in daily emails, has taught me more than I can say.

Since then, the coaches have proliferated. One example? This week my incredible literary agent and her family will be digging into their own rolodexes, then addressing and sending out 1,000 postcards--all to get the word out about The Liar's Diary. Needless to say, no agent contract in the world covers that kind of grassroots effort.

If I began to name my own band of 5000 coaches, I would quickly run out of space: Tess Gerritsen, Tish Cohen, Karen DeGroot Carter, Dan Wickett, Susan Henderson, Amy MacKinnon, Jacquelyn Mitchcard, Susan Messer, Jordan Rosenfeld, Myfanwy Collins, Laini Taylor name a very few. Then there are the many of YOU who pre-ordered the novel even before my mother did, or wrote about it on your blogs. Do you have any idea how great and wide my gratitude is?

More about my new way of selling books, my big, revolutionary idea tomorrow. Right now it's one a.m., and this marketing maven is going to bed.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Wonder and Amazement

long beach, originally uploaded by patryfrancis.

(Photo by Ted)

Yesterday, I did something I probably don't do often enough: I went to church!

Though it was a restrained Catholic Mass, I sang as loud as I could, and I even swayed a little to the music. I figure if you're going to do church, you should do it to the max.

A few people looked at me strangely, but a few others smiled and sang louder, too.

I also heard an awe-inspiring homily--about the subject of well, awe. The priest began by suggesting that everyone go out and look at the stars at least once a day.

When he said there wasn't nearly enough awe in today's world, I had to restrain myself from shouting "Amen!"

"If people don't have Wonder and Amazement in their lives, the world becomes increasingly violent," he said. I found that pretty profound.

On the way out of church, I told him I was going to quote him on my blog. Not sure he knew what a blog was, but he smiled like a man who was very familiar with the stars.

Friday, January 05, 2007


3 red peppers in winter, originally uploaded by patryfrancis.

Okay, you know me by now. In fact, you know me so well that when Amy King recently tagged me for the "Five things you don't know about me" meme, I was stumped. All I could come up with was two boring tidbits. Then when I tried to blog them, I realized, damn, I already told you those, too.

So, as I say, you know me. You know I like to hang out in my pajamas till noon and talk to my imaginary friends (aka "my characters").

I drink too much coffee in the morning, and too much tea in the afternoon. I eat a piece of dark chocolate every day, and I swear it's the reason I never get colds.

I ruminate on the existential questions, but not too seriously.

I read the obits and wonder what the distilled life means.

On spacious afternoons, I might write a poem, or take the dogs to the beach and pick up shells, or hang out at the health club, and talk to my glamourous seventy-five year old friend, Lina.

I'm neither organized, nor efficient; and in spite of owning the world's most complete collection of sweetly hokey self-help books, I remain utterly unhelped and probably unhelpable.

I love blogs, and I love the people who write them.

But now it seems, my life is changing, and I have no choice but to change with it.

It seems I have a book coming out in less than four weeks, and there's some things I need to do to make it a success.

Things that don't involve pajamas or picking up shells or passing an afternoon listening to Lina talk about all the men who were once in love with her.

I'm also in the dead middle of major revisions on the new novel, a fairly daunting task that needs to be done before February first.

And the thing is, I love this stuff. Every bit of it. I love the writing and the marketing, the networking and the planning. It's the life I've dreamed of and waited for, chased after madly and worked toward with quiet diligence--and damn, I mean to enjoy every blasted minute of it!

But just now. Just today. I'm a little overwhelmed.

Too overwhelmed to think about reading Middlesex, though I've been wanting to for a long time, and will hopefully get to it when my life goes back to normal, whatever that might be.

In fact, I'm too overwhelmed to read anything too demanding. Thus, for The Third Day Book Club, I'm going to do something unprecedented. I'm going to choose a book by an author I've never read--simply because it looks entertaining.

Nicci French, a husband and wife team write psychological suspense novels that are apparently quite popular in England, and the one I chose Secret Smile, was made into a mini-series on the BBC.

This is the review from Publishers' Weekly:

"Nobody does the dark underside of sex in the city better than the British couple who write as Nicci French, and their latest (after 2003's Land of the Living) is one of their most sustained and believable studies in terror against women. Miranda Cotton has an ideal life in London, doing work she loves (building and contracting; she always seems to have a spot of paint in her hair), with no current love interest but lots of dating opportunities. Then a short, nasty liaison with a man who calls himself Brendan Block rips her comfortable world apart. A charming and dangerous psychopath, Block worms his way into the Cotton family claiming that he dumped Miranda (when in fact it was she who tossed him out when she caught him reading her diaries); he immediately wins the trust of her flustered parents and does serious damage to her older sister, Kerry, and her mentally fragile younger brother, Troy. The trouble is that nobody believes the rather rough-edged Miranda when she tries desperately to stop Block's rampage. Studded with sharp insights into the strange compromises involved in modern relationships, this novel could be the horror version of Bridget Jones's Diary. And the authors are so subtle at bringing Brendan and Miranda to life that readers might even begin to doubt that what she's telling us is the whole truth until the stunning climax."

I hope a few of you will read along with me--just for the fun of it! (And meanwhile, if anyone has a cure for the overwhelmed flu, I'm listening.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

WRITING AGAINST TIME: The Third Day Book Club Blogs Suite Francaise

Irene Nemirovsky

"All the time we were in that village, I just remember mother writing, writing, writing. It was as if she knew she was writing against time. Indeed, reading between the lines, her notes show she knew full well that if ever her final work was published, it would be posthumously."

Nemirovsky's daughter, Denise Epstein, describing how Suite Francaise was written

I'm not usually fond of novels with large casts of characters. Usually I prefer the intimate view of a clear and strong protagonist. But even though the first half of Nemirovsky's epic leaped from family to family and house to house much as sinuously as the sound of the siren that cuts through the night changing everything for the city of Paris and its occupants, the story itself never loses focus or cohesion.

In many ways, the central character of the novel is disruption. The particular disruption that war causes. The images of families and individuals, suddenly detached from security and safety, fleeing with their pets and possessions, not certain where they would sleep that night or what they would eat was, in many ways, chillingly familiar. It called up images as close as Hurricane Katrina, and as far away as Darfur or Iraq. Or maybe none of it feels too far away now--which may be why reading Suite Francaise was such a disquieting experience.

A brilliant observer of human nature, Nemirovsky captures the wide range of humanity in crisis. Her characters are foolish, noble, petty, selfish, brave and exceedingly real. The novel reads like the instant classic, which I believe it is destined to become. Don't miss it.

For further reflections on Suite Francaise:





Paris Parfait

Jordan Rosenfeld


Monday, January 01, 2007


Wellfleet, December 26

I recently wrote a scene that took place on Four Mile Beach in Wellfleet. In my novel, it was a November day, grey and desolate, but my character found a kind of solace there anyway.

I thought of her when the family walked that beach the day after Christmas. I thought of the way I had described the layers of grey that sky and water and sand make on a day like that.

It was a great walk, but no one enjoyed it more than Gabe and Nicola's dog, Bubba. He raced up and down the beach. He chased sticks into the frigid waters, and dove beneath the waves. He unearthed a weathered cinder block, and apparently mistaking it for the bone of some giant beast, tried to take it home.

But when I downloaded the photo, I saw more than a happy day that ended with a great oyster roll and a bowl of scallop stew at the Land Ho in Orleans. I saw a new year. An unwritten page. An untrammeled beach. And Wellfleet's notoriously fierce and exhilarating, absolutely unpredictable waves.

May we all be as adventurous, and playful and alive as Bubba in 2007!


One new thing I started today was "The Daily Writing Quote" on my page at Publisher's Marketplace. I hope the writers among you--which is, of course, all of you in one way or another--will check it out.

One thing I read today was this piece by Paul Theroux about living in an overcrowded world. Actually, I read it yesterday. Then I read it aloud to Ted later. And I thought about it some more today--especially the final paragraph. If you were here, I'd undoubtedly corner you and read it aloud one more time, then ask you what you thought of it. Somehow it reminded me of the journey I took through the Northeast the other day and all the sights you shared with me.

One thing I thought about today was The Third Day Book Club. We're due to blog Suite Francaise in just two days, and I still have 200 pages left to read. It's not the book that's caused me to delay, because actually I'm enjoying it very much. It's--well, you know what it is. It's December! The whole merry, stressful, celebrating month.

At this point, I'm planning to read as much as I can in the next two days, and blog on my initial reflections, then add my reflections as I finish it. How about everyone else? Has anyone had time to read this month?