This just in from the good news bureau. Yesterday, I learned that my wonderful audiobook narrator, Nicola Fordwood, has been nominated for a Voice Arts award for her performance of my debut YA novel, Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze. Bringing the audiobook to life was a true labor of love. Since my publisher doesn’t do much audio just yet, I knew that if I wanted an audiobook of my novel, I would need to do most of the up-front work. That meant finding a narrator, creating a schedule, fronting all the advance costs, and seeing the process through to the finish without any prior experience. But I couldn’t do it alone, of course. Someone had to read the damn thing.
Luckily, I found a home run collaborator in Nicola Fordwood, a Bay Area based voice actor who, lucky for me, fell in love with Rainey Cobb and Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze. I knew going in that Nicola was a pro and that, once contracts were signed, would do a great job, submit her work on time, and all the rest. What I didn’t expect was the level of passion and dedication she would bring to the role, which went way beyond the paycheck. In her performance of Rainey Cobb, and all the book’s characters, Nicola went deep, getting to know the characters inside and out and putting every ounce of her talent into bringing them to life so that the listener could truly disappear into the world of the story. Audiobook narration is difficult, painstaking work that takes a powerful brew of artistry and stamina to pull off, and as I listened back to the final recording, I found myself so immersed that I almost forgot I was listening to a book that I wrote. I’m gushing, but Nicola is that good. And I’m so proud of her for this well-deserved nomination. The winners are announced in December, so keep your fingers crossed.
If you haven’t heard the audiobook yet, what are you waiting for? Click here to add it to your listening list. And if you’d like a teaser, click here to listen to the first chapter for free.
For the past two and a half days, I’ve been in the Northeast Kingdom, in the northernmost tip of Vermont, only a stone’s throw away from the Canadian border, on a writing retreat. As usual, I’ve been quite productive, accomplishing in only a few days what normally takes me weeks, or even months, to work through at home. None of it would be possible without the support of my wife, who 2-3 times a year, lets me leave home and completely unplug so I can get truly myopic and immerse myself in my writing with no boundaries or limitations. She’s pretty much my hero. I think she lets me go because she knows I’d be sort of miserable if I couldn’t, and because she loves me. And because we both know that, life, and also marriage, are at times like an airplane emergency. You should put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. Caring properly for yourself makes you a better carer for others.
For creators, it’s hard to overestimate the value of creative retreat, which truly must happen away from home. It must happen away from work. Away from spouses. Away from children. Away from responsibility. Away from reality, really. For me, it must be done with a willingness to completely unplug and give myself over to and elevate the part of myself that is always a bit player in my normal life. That sidekick who wishes he had more stage time, but will always be seventh or eighth on the call sheet. If you’re a writer, musician, or any other kind of creative person, you know exactly what I’m talking about. At home, there’s never enough time. On retreat, there’s nothing but time.
What you come to realize, when you stop doing everything but writing is how much you actually DO in your day to day life. You realize that most days you spend in a blind frenzy, going from one thing to the other, deluding yourself into thinking you’re focused and present, when most of the time the sheer volume of tasks and requirements that each day hurls at your face has you in perpetual survival mode. This is especially true for people like me with school age children. When you strip everything away, when you stop measuring your minutes by how they connect to the next thing you have to do, your mind is freed to wander and dream in a way that’s hard to quantify, and truly rare. And it’s why I am always astounded by how much work I can get done in only a few days when there’s nothing else to do but put one word in front of the next.
For many years, I retreated alone. I’d book an AirBnB in the woods somewhere, or on the back part of somebody’s farm, and barely leave the house for three days on end. I’d be like a strange sort of word hermit, unshowered and talking to myself, delighted by my own strange company. But for the past couple years, I’ve been going on retreat with my writing group. At first, I worried that the distraction of others would compromise the purity of my retreat goals. I worried I wouldn’t be as productive. Amazingly this has not proven true. If you find the right company, people who want the same thing out of retreat as you do, which is mostly to be left the hell alone and wring the lemon out all the way, it can be wonderful. A lovely routine develops. We rise on the early side, meet up in the kitchen as we brew our coffee and tea, exchange a few morning greetings, then disappear to our individual hovels, mine always messy and strewn with books and piles of paper. Throughout the day, conversations might occasionally spring up, or we might have lunch together, but there’s an unspoken understanding that there’s no obligation to socialize or hang out. The work is everything, and not having to explain that to anyone, not having to justify your needs, is fabulously freeing. Then, in the evenings, there’s usually a shared meal and some beverages. Some retreats, when there’s 4-5 of us, we might play some music or read from what we’re working on and talk about it. Sometimes there’s none of that, and that’s fine too.
Life is difficult. Life is tiring. Life takes everything you have. It’s easy to fall into the habit of being a martyr. Of believing that always sublimating your own needs for whatever greater good (work, family, society) is akin to nobility and grace. And, of course, it’s important to be a good citizen, family member, etc. But I think that our society undervalues tending to one’s own garden. To nurturing one’s own health and spirit, which is strange because your own happiness literally depends on it. So, get out there and retreat in whatever form you can find it. Turn off your phone. Ignore social media. Sink gleefully and gluttonously and un-guiltily into whatever thing fills up your cup, and give yourself permission to stay there for a while.
You’ll come back better for it. At least, I always do.
As a back-to-school treat, I’m giving away THREE signed copies of Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze. Just a fun way to help you celebrate a book loving TEEN, TEACHER, LIBRARIAN, or FRIEND in your life. I’ll inscribe it however you want and send it off to them. Everybody loves getting books as presents, and now you don’t have to do the hard work!
There are two easy ways to enter:
Enter right here by sharing your favorite book read from this summer in the comments below. A comment = an entry. Easy.
Go to the giveaway post on my Instagram page, and follow the instructions.
The giveaway ends Sept. 7th at midnight so enter now. Winners will be chosen at random. If you win, I’ll reach out directly with details.
This is going to be awesome. Ready…go!
**Must be willing to share your address with me **U.S. residentws only
With my debut novel set to come out on July 22nd, it’s time to start telling you a little bit about it. I thought I’d start with the back cover blurb/teaser that I recently wrote. Have you ever tried to write one of these? I don’t recommend it. It’s really hard. When you write an entire book and then you sit down to try to summarize that book in a compelling way that piques someone’s interest, but in a way that doesn’t oversell or tell them too much, but also somewhat fits the tone and feel of the book inside, but without seeming too casual or annoying, it feels like someone has just asked you to juggle some flaming unicycles.
And yet, I’m proud of this blurb, and of the way it introduces my main character, Rainey Cobb, the girl on the cover. Readers, after all, will experience the blurb in conjunction with the cover art, and I wanted the teaser to establish Rainey as a person and bring her world and dilemmas to life in harmony with the cover. I love this character so much, and I hope readers love her too.
Fifteen-year-old Rainey Cobb never thought meeting someone could actually change her life. But, then again, she’s never met anyone like Juliet.
It’s 1995 and The Cobb Family Band, led by Rainey’s rock star parents, has arrived for a week-long gig at the Midwestern resort owned by Juliet’s family. Dazzled by Juliet’s carpe diem attitude, DIY tattoos, and passion for grunge, Rainey falls hard. And when Juliet gives Rainey a mixtape that unlocks her heart’s secret yearnings, Rainey starts seeing herself—and her vagabond, show-biz life—through new eyes.
If Rainey quits the band, her parents’ fading career might never recover. But if she doesn’t leap now, she might be stuck forever in a life she didn’t choose… and always wonder who she could have been.
Does that make you want to buy the book? Damn, I hope so. Pre-order links coming SOON!
I’ve been furiously editing my debut novel for publication this summer, and let me tell you, it’s a journey. Fraught with peaks and valleys, confirmations and surprises, tears and (near) laughter.
It’s also a supreme brain challenge, applying the editing skills you know you have to the words that you created, trying to erase the proximal distance between your analytical and creative brains so you can edit with clear-eyed clarity and polish your scenes and sentences to a spit shine.
I long ago developed a stomach for editing. They say to “kill your darlings” when you edit. No problem. What weapon shall I use? The machete? The butter knife? The rocket launcher? I’ve got them all and I’m not afraid to use them. Years ago, I wrote a very long (still unpublished) novel about a tennis player, and after a long walk during which I came to the conclusion that one of my sub-plots was totally not working, I sat back down at my desk and casually cut 200 pages from an 800 page manuscript.
Trimming excess fat, re-working scenes, saying goodbye to fluff. I can do that. It’s the blind spots that are starting to keep me up at night. The stuff I can’t see. The revelations that no amount of walks will unearth. Because I can only edit out the crap that I can identify as such. And before you bring it up, I’m not trying to do this alone. My publisher’s developmental editor has been through the manuscript, as have writing colleagues who know their stuff. Other eyes are deeply involved. But there are things that none of us can see with our bare eyes. I’m sure of it. And that knowledge is starting to make me a little crazy.
Luckily, our good friends who make word processing programs have invented tools to help uncover some of the crap you, and other knowledgeable, well-intentioned people can’t always find. I’m starting to believe that Control-F was invented for just such moments.
If you’re unfamiliar, which you probably aren’t, but just in case, Control-F is a word processing tool that allows you to search and find a word or phrase within a document without having to scroll through pages and pages trying to remember where it is. If you’ve never used it, I invite you to open up a document this very moment and try it out. Pick a word. A phrase. An image. Something you know is in there and type it into the Control-F box and watch your document magically race to that very spot. It’s truly amazing. It’s an especially helpful tool for those of us who write book length works where it can be very difficult to find what you’re looking for, no matter how well you think you know your book.
The other day, I was reading my book for the four hundredth time and I thought to myself, “man, is it me or is the word ‘like’ is in here a lot?” My book is 1st person YA, so on some level, it makes sense there would be an extra like or two, but still, I was feeling that from dialogue to similes, ‘like’ was everywhere. So, I typed “like” into the Control-F box. Then held my breath.
# of uses of the word “like” in my 70,000 word manuscript? 597. That’s less than 1% but still! The word was literally everywhere I looked. After my initial shock and terror subsided, I found myself incredibly grateful, wishing I could buy the creators of Control-F a drink or six. They’d helped me notice what was staring me in the face but I still couldn’t see.
I edited those pesky uses of “like” down to less than 400, and genuinely think I improved the manuscript in a very short amount of time.
Then, fearing I had a similar problem, I did Control-F for the word “just” and did the same thing.
As I was reading, I’d also noticed a proliferation of metaphors and similes involving birds in there so I did Control-F for “bird” and trimmed. Similarly, I’d noticed the same thing with puzzle-themed metaphors. Took care of that. Who’s next?
My teenage protagonist’s parents feature prominently, so there are approximately a billion instances of “mom” and “dad” in the book, but those words are either capitalized or not depending on the situation. Had I deployed the correct usage every time? I think you know what happened next.
I guess my point is that editing a manuscript takes you to some strange places, comes in a variety of forms, and that technology can occasionally be a useful friend along the way.
One of the best things about being friends with other writers is celebrating their successes, and I’m so here to celebrate. My good friend Amy Klinger recently published her debut novel In Light of Recent Events, and it’s such a likable, lovable book. I can’t wait for you to read it. Here’s what it’s about (from the back cover):
In the 1990s American workplace, survival of the fittest is sometimes less about clawing your way to the top than developing good camouflage. And Audrey Rohmer is doing her very best to blend in as an undistinguished middle manager. Uninspired by her job and uneasy about her father’s new marriage, Audrey coasts through the work week leaning on her “partner in apathy” – an admin assistant named Pooter – to keep her relationship with the married head of her department from becoming water cooler gossip.
But when an old family friend-turned-Hollywood-superstar crashes on her doorstep in the midst of a publicity crisis, Audrey’s under-the-radar status quo gets upended, and the writing may literally be on the bathroom wall that secrets will find a way out.
Sounds fun, doesn’t it? Like the kind of book you really want to read? It is.
Amy’s prose is airy, witty, and packed with observations so crystalline they make you want to read them again and again.
Did I mention this book is funny? Like, laugh out loud funny. Amy also is fantastic at set pieces and situational comedy making for some fantastically awkward moments.
Perhaps my favorite thing is the way Amy is willing to gently upend our expectations, making this book more surprising than you expect it will be.
It’s also quietly a book about grieving and loss, about the very blurry line drawn in our lives between childhood and adulthood, and about how hard it is to be a good person, even when it seems like it should be the easiest thing in the world.
This book has a huge heart and it will make you giggle. What’s not to love?
Friends, put this one on your to-read list. You can pre-oder it here and help support local bookstores.
Then register HERE for Amy’s virtual book launch on March 22nd at 7pm EST. I’ll be playing MC and helping facilitate some Q & A with the author.