Monday Miscellany

2012 Stamp Preview: A Stamp a Day

The United States Postal Service will be issuing some new literature-related stamps in 2012. Click on the numbers to see more information about these:

  • #2 Edgar Rice Burroughs
  • #11 O. Henry
  • #31 Twentieth-Century Poets: Elizabeth Bishop, Joseph Brodsky, Gwendolyn Brooks, E. E. Cummings, Robert Hayden, Denise Levertov, Sylvia Plath, Theodore Roethke, Wallace Stevens, and William Carlos Williams

One in Six Americans Now Use e-Reader with One in Six Likely to Purchase in Next Six Months

Yet more evidence of the rapidly growing popularity of e-readers. This release announces the results of a Harris Poll of 2,183 adults surveyed online between July 11 and 18, 2011:

While some may lament the introduction of the e-Reader as a death knell for books, the opposite is probably true. First, those who have e-Readers do, in fact, read more. Overall, 16% of Americans read between 11 and 20 books a year with one in five reading 21 or more books in a year (20%). But, among those who have an e-Reader, one-third read 11-20 books a year (32%) and over one-quarter read 21 or more books in an average year (27%).

Overall, e-readers do not seem to be contributing to the downfall of reading, but they are a fact that publishers will have to adapt to in order to survive.

9 Things That Happen When You Read

Susan K. Perry, Ph. D., writes about creativity in her “Creating in Flow” blog for Psychology Today. In this entry she discusses The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist by Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk. Here is her own paraphrased and adapted list, based on Pamuk’s book, of 9 things that happen when we read:

1. We observe the general scene and follow the narrative. Whether action-filled or more literary, we read all novels, Pamuk says, the same way: seeking out the meaning and main idea.

2. We transform words into images in our mind, completing the novel as our imaginations picture what the words are telling us.

3. Part of our mind wonders how much is real experience and how much is imagination. “A third dimension of reality slowly begins to emerge within us: the dimension of the complex world of the novel.”

4. We wonder if the novel depicts reality as we know it. Is this scene realistic, could this actually happen?

5. We enjoy the precision of analogies, the power of narrative, the way sentences build upon one another, the music of the prose.

6. We make moral judgments about the characters’ behavior, and about the novelist for his own moral judgments by way of the characters’ actions and their consequences.

7. We feel successful when we understand the text, and we come to feel as though it was written just for us.

8. Our memory works hard to keep track of all the details, and in a well-constructed novel, everything connects to everything.

9. We search for the secret center of the novel, convinced that there is one. We hunt for it like a hunter searches for meaningful signs in the forest.

Describing what happens when we read is difficult because, once we begin to think about what’s happening, whatever it is stops happening. However, these 9 points seem to describe what I later remember as going on during a period of intense, prolonged reading.

How about you?

Prize-Winning Female Authors Respond To Questions About Gender Gap

Merritt Tierce and Apricot Irving, two winners of the Rona Jaffee awards given to female writers who display both promise and excellence early in their careers, answer questions about how women writers fare in relation to their male counterparts.

5 Free College-Level Writing & Lit Videos

Recommendations of five videos relating to writing, reading, and publishing from YouTube’s education channel. Here’s your chance to learn for free from masters such as Ray Bradbury, Clive Cussler, Maxine Hong Kingston, Penelope Lively, and David McCullough.

Harlan Coben in St. Louis: Part II

Part I (in case you missed it)

The first question people always ask an author is “Where do you get your ideas?” Coben said that anything, such as a tabloid headline, can stimulate an idea. Then he just keeps asking “What if?” For example, the idea for Promise Me came when he overheard a couple of teenagers talking about their friends drinking and driving. He pulled them aside, gave them his card with his cell phone number, and said, “Call me any time. Just promise me you won’t get into the car with someone who’s been drinking.” In real life nothing else happened. But he thought “What if a teenaged girl called the hero at 3:00 A.M. He picks her up in the city and drops her at the house she points out to him. The next morning she’s missing and no one at that house even knows who she is.”

The idea for Hold Tight came when he was having dinner with some friends who told him that their 15-year-old son was giving them some trouble, so they decided to put spyware on his computer. At first, Coben said, he was a little put off by their action, but then he thought that it’s not that simple a question. Imagine if they found something on the computer that indicated their kid was in a lot deeper trouble than they ever imagined.

The idea for Just One Look came to him one day when he was looking through family photographs. For a split second he thought there was a photo in there that he didn’t take. It turns out that the picture was just upside down. But he started thinking, “What if there was a picture here that I didn’t take? What if that picture changed my whole life? What if the picture showed that everything I thought I knew about my loved ones was a lie?” Then the next question the writer asks is “Who’s going to tell that story?” Coben said that for that book he wanted to portray a female lead for the first time because he was tired of those “bad woman in jeopardy” novels and movies, in which the heroine is naïve to the extreme and goes out of her way to put herself in danger so that the male character can rescue her.

Coben then said that these examples make coming up with the idea for a book sound like an easy process that takes about 15 minutes, but in reality it’s a messy process that represents about three months of work. The idea for Tell No One first came to him when he was watching a romance movie on television about a man whose wife dies. He asked himself, “What about the man who has truly lost his soul mate?” The second part of the idea came to him because he lost my parents at a young age. He has four kids now, and he thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if my parents could have met their grandchildren?” At the time he was sitting in front of the computer screen with a webcam, and he wondered, “What if I suddenly saw my parents right now on the computer screen?” He put those two ideas together and came up with the beginning of the book: a man whose wife has been dead for eight years receives an email; he clicks on a link in the email and goes to a video in which he sees his dead wife walk by.

The next thing he’s often asked about is where characters come from. He said this is the hardest question for him to answer, “because I really don’t know where character comes from.” He said that every once in a while a character is based on a real person, but rarely.

And then there’s the question of how much research he does in preparing to write a book. He said he’s of the “hum a few bars and fake it” school of research. The main reason is that research is an excuse not to write. The second reason is that it’s tempting to show off all one’s research when writing, but the inclusion of too many facts can clog up a story and slow it down too much.

Finally, Coben addressed the question of what he would be if he weren’t a writer. His answer was that he wouldn’t be much of anything. The fear that if he weren’t a writer he’d have to get a real job drives him. There are three things that make a writer:

  • inspiration
  • perspiration
  • desperation

He said he feels guilty when he’s doing just about anything other than writing. “The muse isn’t some angelic voice; it’s a nag. The muse isn’t hard to find; it’s hard to like,” he said. “Amateurs wait for the muse to arrive. The rest of us just get to work.”

It’s always interesting to hear an author talk about his writing, and Harlan Coben is a particularly entertaining speaker. So let me repeat: If you ever have the opportunity to hear him in person, take advantage of it.

Harlan Coben in St. Louis: Part I

If you ever get a chance to see Harlan Coben in person, go for it. He was in St. Louis last weekend for Boucheron 2011.  As part of the book tour promoting his new book, Shelter, the introductory volume for his YA series featuring Mickey Bolitar, Coben spoke at St. Louis County Library.

He began by saying that the first question people always ask when they see him is, “How tall are you?” Answer: 6’ 4”.

With that issue out of the way, Coben turned to discussing his writing. He calls the kind of books he writes novels of immersion: the book you take on vacation, then stay in your hotel room to read; the book that you cannot put down. He doesn’t outline, but when he begins writing a book he knows the beginning and the end. He has two favorite quotations about writing:

  1. Elmore Leonard: I try to cut out all the parts you’d normally skip.
  2. E. L. Doctorow: Writing is like driving at night in the fog with your headlights on. You can only see a little bit ahead of you, but you can make the whole journey that way.

His writing process involves a lot of rewriting. “I don’t know any writer who gets it right the first time,” he said. When he sits down to write, he goes over everything he wrote the day before and polishes it. Then, when he has about 50 pages done, he prints out those pages and revises them. He estimates that, by the time he’s finished the first draft of the whole book, he’s probably rewritten the first chapter 10 times. During his revisions he focuses on Elmore Leonard’s notion of cutting out all the parts a reader might skip. “Every page, every paragraph, every sentence, every word, I ask myself, ‘Is this compelling? Is this gripping? Is this moving the story forward?’ And if it’s not, I have to get rid of it. I write as if there’s a knife at my throat and, if I bore you, I’m dead.”

Asked what writers he admires, he hesitated to answer for fear of leaving somebody’s name off the list. But he said that, on the Today show, he was recently asked to name four books or authors he likes that most people wouldn’t know about. He named these four:

  • Jeff Abbott’s Adrenaline
  • Steve Hamilton’s Alex McKnight series
  • Tana French, especially Faithful Place
  • Ann Packer, whose new book [Swim Back to Me] is a series of inter-connected stories and novellas

Coben concluded his talk with his philosophy of writing. Writing is about communication. A writer without a reader is like a man who claps with one hand. “Shelter was not  a book when I finished it. It’s a book when you read it. When one of you reads this book, a whole new universe comes to life—different from everybody else’s.”

I was pleased to hear him articulate reader-response theory like this. (He’s such a down-to-earth guy that he’d probably laugh off the word theory, but that’s what it is.) And this philosophy about his work isn’t just something he says. He also acted on it in the book signing session that followed his talk. He greeted each person who presented a book for signing, shook hands, and then came out from behind his table to pose for a quick photo with everyone who had a camera. You gotta love a writer who genuinely appreciates his readers like this.

Stay tuned for Part II on more of his writing process.

Monday Miscellany

This post introduces a new feature, Monday Miscellany, a conglomeration of intriguing literary items that have found their way to my monitor.

Remembering Stieg Larsson

In The New York Times, David Carr reviews ‘There Are Things I Want You to Know’ About Stieg Larsson and Me, by Eva Gabrielsson. Gabrielsson is the woman who lived for 32 years with Swedish  Stieg Larsson, author of the enormously popular Millennium Trilogy: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.

Famous only in death, Larsson was a fervent feminist, an author of numerous books and articles about right-wing Swedish extremism, and a socialist to his core. As Gabrielsson explains, much of his life’s work was embodied in Expo, a small political magazine that struggled to stay afloat. The crime novels were “like therapy,” she writes. “He was describing Sweden the way it was and the way he saw the country: the scandals, the oppression of women, the friends he cherished and wished to honor.”

Related Post:

After 50 Years, Remembering Hemingway’s Farewell

On July 2 NPR marked the 50th anniversary of Ernest Hemingway’s death by suicide.

Ernest Hemingway was 61 years old. He was a boxer, a boozer, a philanderer and big-game hunter who wrote some of the most sublime prose of the English language: short, sharp, piercing sentences that told stories about soldiers, lovers, hunters, bravery, fear and death.

5 Must-Read Books on Words & Language

The Writer As Detective

Writer Roger Rosenblatt believes that “writing makes life occasionally beautiful, nearly tolerable.”

As a writer, you create characters who act differently than you ever supposed, circumstances that change shape and direction, sentences that seem to emerge from a trance. Ideas occur to you that you never knew you had, opinions you never knew you held. Only reluctantly do you concede that the mystery must eventually get hold of itself, and come to order.

And he says that writers are in cahoots with readers:

A nice conspiracy is afoot here, as readers, too, revel in mystery. Writers get better at the craft once we learn to assume that the reader will do much of the work for us, filling in the blanks with their own experiences and lives. Plant a few key pieces of evidence, and your reader will dream up the connections.

“All writers are mystery writers,” Rosenblatt declares.

There is an underlying purpose to a writer’s detective work, I believe, which has to do with catching bad guys. I know this may sound like an extravagant claim, corny too, but I think that we writers enjoy tromping around in the murky zones of good and evil, right and wrong, justice and injustice, so that in the long run, we may settle on the good, the right and the just. . . . we want to rescue our reader-clients, however surprised we may be to rediscover our innocent sense of honor every time we string words together.

And isn’t that exactly why we read?

How E.B. White Spun ‘Charlotte’s Web’

From NPR:

In a poll of librarians, teachers, publishers and authors, the trade magazine Publisher’s Weekly asked for a list of the best children’s books ever published in the United States. Hands down, the No. 1 book was E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. Now, a new book called The Story of Charlotte’s Web explores how White’s masterpiece came to be.


In this talk delivered during the 2010 Book Expo America conference, science fiction writer William Gibson muses that the best science fiction is always about the time when it was written. And here’s how he describes the relationship between authors, books, and readers:

A book exists at the intersection of the author’s subconscious and the reader’s response. An author’s career exists in the same way. A writer worries away at a jumble of thoughts, building them into a device that communicates, but the writer doesn’t know what’s been communicated until it’s possible to see it communicated.

The Writer Who Couldn’t Read : NPR

The Writer Who Couldn’t Read : NPR:

This fascinating story from NPR (National Public Radio) tells the story of Howard Engel, a Canadian mystery novelist who woke up one morning and discovered that he could no longer read. His brain damaged by a stroke, Engel couldn’t make sense of written words, which looked to him like random squiggles on a page.

Through trial and error, and a lot of effort, Engel taught himself to read and write again by tracing the shape of letters onto the backs of his teeth with his tongue:

Sacks describes Engel’s struggles in a forthcoming book, The Mind’s Eye, to be published later this year. The surprise here is that brains are more plastic than one would suppose; even if one part of a brain is compromised by a stroke, a person can sometimes improvise and get another still healthy part of the brain to substitute and help out.


March Madness reading list: 10 best books about college basketball

March Madness reading list: 10 best books about college basketball / The Christian Science Monitor –

If you’d rather read about basketball than spend hours watching in, Marjorie Kehe offers her list of the 10 best reads.

I can’t help but notice, though, that, although the title of this article is “10 Best Books about College Basketball,” what you really have here is a list of books about men’s college basketball. College women also play basketball–and very well, I might add. They also have an NCAA championship tournament, complete with brackets and a Final Four extravaganza (to be held this year in San Antonio, Texas, the same weekend–though on alternate nights–as the men’s championship showdown). Where are the books about their game? Any writers out there searching for the next big project?

Writers strike out on their own with a website

Writers strike out on their own with a website |

Striking writer Peter Hyoguchi was walking the picket line outside Disney’s ABC Studios in Burbank, Calif., in January when he had an epiphany. What if scriptwriters launched a website featuring their work, which they would own and control free of studio interference?

That hunch is about to be tested. After months of planning and delay, Mr. Hyoguchi and his colleagues have turned their seemingly quixotic idea into a reality. Two weeks ago, they launched an online ‘network’ for original programming named Strike.TV. It marks an ambitious effort to connect film and TV writers to the fledgling world of online video. The portal will run 45 original Web series with more than 200 episodes from such veteran writers as Lester Lewis, a producer on ‘The Office,’ and Ken LaZebnik, a ‘Star Trek: Enterprise’ scribe. Shows include actors Timothy Dalton and JoBeth Williams.

Movie and television writers try out the Internet in a way that allows them both creative freedom and a new outlet for making money. Offerings on StrikeTV include comedy, horror, science fiction, soap operas, and drama.

The Internet vs. books: Peaceful coexistence

The Internet vs. books: Peaceful coexistence – Los Angeles Times:

Books require a different sort of communion with one’s subject than the Internet. They foster a different sort of memory — more tactile, more participatory. . . . For literary works, books are still, and most likely always will be, indispensable.

In the Los Angeles Times Beau Friedlander, editor of, weighs in on the debate over whether the Internet is supplanting printed books. Tangentially, he also addresses the question of whether the Internet is making us dumber; his answer seems to be that books and the Internet provide us with different kinds of information that are useful in different situations.

Ultimately, Friedlander quotes Markos Moulitsas Zuñiga, founder of the political website the Daily Kos:

Google makes it possible to learn anything, near instantaneously. Like natural selection, there are species that adapt to the changing environment around them and thrive, and others die off.

Novel Journey: Author, Psychotherapist Dennis Palumbo ~ Interviewed

Novel Journey: Author, Psychotherapist Dennis Palumbo ~ Interviewed

Former Hollywood screenwriter Dennis Palumbo is now a psychotherapist, book reviewer, and author of both nonfiction books about writing and crime fiction. In his psychotherapy practice he specializes in working with creative people.

Here’s what he has to say about writer’s block:

Funny you should mention writer’s block, because I hold an unconventional view about it: namely, I think that writer’s block is good news for a writer! In my view, a ‘block’ is merely a stage in your growth in craft as a writer, similar to the developmental stages we all go through as we mature in life.

Just as a toddler needs to struggle—risking and failing over and over, as he or she learns to walk—so too does a writer experiencing a ‘block’ need to learn to navigate and master that particular developmental stage in his or her work. Perhaps the writer is trying to write a more complicated plot than usual, or is delving into difficult personal/sexual material for the first time. Whatever.

And I think the proof that a block is a necessary developmental step in a writer’s growth is that, in my experience, after writers have worked through a block, they report feeling that they’ve grown as writers, that they’re more confident about their craft, or that the work has become more personally relevant.

There’s much more of interest here, so jump on over and read the entire interview.

Amazon Tightens Noose on Print-On-Demand Publishers; Insists They Use Company’s Own Service

Amazon Tightens Noose on Print-On-Demand Publishers; Insists They Use Company’s Own Service –

Amazon is causing quite an uproar in the print-on-demand publishing world with its apparent attempt to create a monopoly for itself. Be sure to read the Writers Weekly article linked at the bottom of this piece.