Guest Post: A Room of My Own by Meg Waite Clayton

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Please welcome Meg Waite Clayton, author of the national bestseller The Wednesday Sisters,  to Books on the Brain!  In this essay she writes about her workspace and the special things she keeps there to inspire her.  

Virginia Woolf famously said in “A Room of One’s Own” that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” My room is a bedroom which has in place of the requisite bed and dresser: a desk, a couch, two small round tables suitable for setting manuscripts on, and lots of books.

imageDBI occasionally think I should replace my bookshelves—a walnut bookcase and a china cabinet, both originally my mother-in-law’s—with more practical floor-to-ceiling built-ins that would hold the books now overflowing my shelves. But it’s hard to imagine parting with the history and beauty they bring to my space, so my books spill over to my closet and, I admit it, my floor, my desk, even my couch. I turn to them sometimes when I’m writing. (Whenever I write a party scene, I pull out The Great Gatsby to remind me how it’s done.) But for the most part, I keep books near to inspire me. One glance at the Austens and Eliots, McDermotts and McEwans, among others—many signed by the author—reminds me what I’m shooting for.

The center of my room of my own is my desk. It’s a holdover from my days as a lawyer, when I could afford to buy swanky hand-crafted reproduction Queen Anne. I fell in love with it at first sight, and even when I was still marking up corporate contracts in my lawyering days, I imagined I might someday work up the courage to pursue my childhood dream of writing a novel here on its lovely cherry-wood surface.

webarmadillo-150x98I’m a superstitious old soul, and so I keep on my desktop a number of talismans to bring good juju to my writing: a psychedelic armadillo my sons gave me in celebration of my first publication credit (an essay in Runner’s World, and your guess is as good as mine what a psychedelic armadillo has to do with that!); a Japanese doll my Uncle brought me from one of his many adventures, which wears a string of pearls given me by the Vice-Mayor of Wuxi, China during one of mine; a card, the cover of which is a lovely photo by my friend Adreinne Defendi; a “Follow Your Dream” candle made for me by my friend Mark Holmes; a cheesy “You will always be my Best Friend. You know too much” plaque my best friend, Jennifer DuChene, sent me; a pen holder given to me many, many years ago by the best storyteller in my family, my Uncle Jim—which now holds a pencil (for practical and symbolic reasons) and has taped to it a fortune cookie message: “The great pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do”; my favorite honeymoon photo of Mac and me, now 21 years old; one of my children at 5 and 3, taken 14 years ago; and a digital frame that rotates a myriad of family and friends; and the medal from the one marathon I’ve run (also years old).

webbrendaangel-107x150Like my books, my talismans spill over. Elsewhere in my office are the dried rose petals from the bouquet my parents sent me when I sold my first novel; a collection of champagne corks each marked with a date and event that was cause for celebration; a bullet shell from my turn at a machine gun near some war tunnels in Vietnam, where I was traveling when The Wednesday Sisters sold to Ballantine Books; a writing angel send by my dear friend and fellow novelist, Brenda Rickman Vantrease, to watch over me. Why these particular things? The marathon medal reminds me that if I can run 26.2miles, I can do anything. But I think the other talismans simply make me feel loved, and that love frees me to be myself, to trust myself as I write.

marathonmedalforweb-150x145The desktop photo above is repeated on my website, on my Writers’ page. There, you can scroll over my talismans—as well as marked up manuscript pages, outlines, my journal and the “research bible” I put together for The Wednesday Sisters—for a glimpse at how I write. Some of the items listed above are pictured, but others have been added since I took the photo: my talismans multiply almost as fast as my books do. The roses? I have a wonderful husband, who gently nudged me toward my dream years ago by telling me he believed I could do what I feared I could not.

To be honest, my desktop rarely looks as neat as it does in this photo. It’s usually covered with post-it notes to remind me of things I want to do or revisions I mean to make. Dirty coffee cups, yes, and chocolate wrappers, newspaper clippings, and books. But that’s one of the nicest things about having a room of my own: I can close my door. It allows me what Woolf writes so eloquently of in her essay: room—psychological room—to live in whatever place I choose, free to imagine my own, unlimited world.

megMeg Waite Clayton’s bestselling novel, The Wednesday Sisters, has been selected by major book club programs including the Target Stores Bookmarked program, and the Borders Book Club program. Her first novel, The Language of Light, was a Bellwether Prize finalist, and her third, The Ms Bradwells, is forthcoming from Ballantine Books. Her short stories and essays have been read on public radio and have appeared in commercial and literary magazines including Runner’s World, Writer’s Digest, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and theLiterary Review. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan and Michigan Law School, and lives with her family in Palo Alto, California.

Guest Post and Giveaway: Sheri from A Novel Menagerie says, “Yeah, I’d Praise Book Clubs!”

My book club met on Sunday and we had the great pleasure to welcome a new member, Sheri from A Novel Menagerie!  She and I met through our children last summer, who by sheer coincidence were not only in the same unit at Girl Scout camp, but in the same cabin 2 years in a row.  The chances of that are so slim- one year they went in August, the next year June, one year they were in a sampler unit, the next year a horse unit- all with hundreds of other kids.  It almost seemed that fate was pushing us together.

At first Sheri was kind of stunned that we hit it off, because she says she “never gets along with other women”.   We bonded over our children (we each have two wild preteen girls- hers are twins, mine are “Irish twins”), we both have one brother named Bill (who, by yet another coincidence, attends our church), complicated relationships with our sisters, experience with insomnia (hers, and my husbands), our OCD tendencies, and of course, BOOKS!   I showed her my blog and told her about the book blogging community.  Sheri asked a million questions.  I sent her on her way with a few extra books I had hanging around.  She went home and started her amazing new blog, A Novel Menagerie, that very day.  If you haven’t seen it, you must go check it out.  She hosts memes, challenges, contests, and reads about 5 books a week (and I’m not even exaggerating!)  She also started an online business called BookCharming.com and makes these adorable floss book marks.  She has so much drive and energy and honestly, I don’t know how she does it all!

So when she asked me about my book club, I sadly told her that it was “full”.  We had what seemed the right amount of people (12) and the club had agreed that we wouldn’t be inviting any more.  But then, in January, someone dropped out.  I mentioned it to Sheri and before the words were out of my mouth, she was saying YES!  So here she is, with impressions of her first book club meeting.  Welcome, Sheri!

Yeah, I’d Praise Book Clubs!

My constant whining about not being in a book club was more than Lisa could bear.  Month after month, the nagging became like nails scratching on a chalkboard.  She had no choice.  Find a spot for me or listen to 11 more months of “poor me.”  I think she chose wisely…yes, she is indeed a smart girl!

So, after finagling me into the book club, I immediately purchased every book on our reading list.  I was bound and determined to know each book inside and out, be ready for any question, and be worthy of the book club.  The books arrived:

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Sarah’s Key

The Invisible Wall

A Thousand Splendid Suns

Our first meeting:  Oscar Wao.  Now, this book is a Pulitzer Prize winner.  Of course, then it must be good.  And, it was.  But, the book was somewhat of a grueling read.  It was not an easy book to get through.  As I spewed out of my mouth in the book club meeting:  

It’s like childbirth; you are not really enjoying it when you’re going through it.  But, once it’s over with you’re glad you did it.  

That’s it.  They’re giving me das boot.  No.  Wait.  Ellen agreed.  Whew!  Let me go back in time to explain.  

So, like a little Nervous Nelly, I walked down the street with Lisa to the book club meeting.  They aren’t going to like me.  I won’t fit in.  I didn’t read the Reader’s Guide questions thoroughly enough.  I wasn’t even sure how I completely felt about the book.  I walk into Ellen’s home.  Immaculate.  Oh, I am such a sub-standard mother.  Ellen would never even sit on my couches.  I’m going to have to host my meeting at Lisa’s house.  There were a few people to meet and… (can you hear the angels singing?) WINE!  I thank God Jesus was into wine!  It’s a goodie that God makes sure is around for me!  Everything looked great.  There was food, wine, the immaculate house.  I was making conversation with whoever would talk with me.  Let’s see if I can remember all of their names (whoever I forget, please forgive me):

bc-bluebirdEllen

Diane

Elaine

Sara

Lisa

Sheri (that’s me)

Orchid

Maggie

Valerie

Tammy

So, Lisa thankfully sat by me during dinner and helped me to remember who’s who, names, etc.  The meeting soon started and Orchid (and her amazingly cool hair) led the meeting.  She read aloud.  But, she read a passage that was written in partial Spanish.  When she said the passage aloud, she said it entirely in English.  <Enter my big mouth> 

bc-sunset“Do you speak Spanish?  I mean, I can read it, but not speak it.  And, well…” (God, Sheri shut up!)

Yes, she did.  And, my inappropriate outburst led into a discussion about the foreign language in the book.  (Thank God!)  The conversation continued and it seemed like we all had something to say. 

My SELF observations:

1. I am the only dumbass who didn’t know that the splotch on the cover was the face of Oscar with a wing coming out of the back of his head.

2. I am the only idiot who thought that Oscar shouldn’t have quit on Yunior when Yunior was trying to help him lose weight.  

3. I’m the only deranged person who didn’t feel sorry for Oscar.  

4. I talk too much.

5. I don’t know enough.

6. Maybe I’m the only one who thinks my thoughts are “spot-on.”  No, that’s not a maybe.  It’s a for sure!

9780312370848My GROUP observations:

1. They were lovely women who really enjoyed this opportunity to get together and discuss their love for books. 

2. These were some INTELLIGENT chicks!

3. There is a common, invisible thread that ties them together.  They appreciate this book club and each other.

4. If I bribe them with my AWESOME Key Lime Martinis, they may let me come back again.  I hope so because I’m almost done with Sarah’s Key.

5. Lisa is my friend!

If I could only talk to intelligent women about the books I read ALL DAY LONG.  It would be like Heaven.  I wonder if I should try to find a job in the book industry.  I’m turning into a one-dimensional person… BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS.  Maybe I need to be in 4 book clubs… one for every Sunday.  Yes, that might cure my itch!

Thank you to Lisa for letting me smuggle my way into the group and share my neurosis with her readers.  

Sheri is donating 2 beautiful BookCharming.com Book Marks to my 100K celebration.  The first one is the Bluebird design, and the 2nd one is Sunset.  Gorgeous, right?  She’s so flippin’ talented!  This chick has skills!!  I’m going to throw in our book club’s next selection, Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay to go along with the beautiful book marks.  Leave a comment by Friday, February 20th for a chance to win.

To read Sheri’s review of Sarah’s Key, click HERE.  I had to skim it because I haven’t read the book yet.  Hope I finish it before next month’s meeting!!

Guest Post: Author Erica Bauermeister offers a Recipe and a Giveaway!

51be1lrnnnl_sl500_aa240_Erica Bauermeister is the author of The School of Essential Ingredients, one of my favorite books so far this year! In my review I stated that my only complaint about this delectable book was the lack of recipes. Erica, taking me seriously, wrote a guest post for me and included a recipe for Tom’s Pasta Sauce. Thank you, Erica, for the guest post and the wonderful recipe.. I can’t wait to try it!! Maybe I’ll make it for the hub on Valentine’s Day.. hmmmm.

The idea for The School of Essential Ingredients came from a cooking class I took in Seattle, but the approach that Lillian, the chef/teacher in the novel, has toward food came from my experience of living in Italy for two years. While I was there I learned to see food as a conversation between ingredients rather than a lock-step set of rules I needed to follow. At first, that dialogue between ingredients felt as if it, too, was in a foreign language along with the Italian, but over time I learned to relax, to immerse myself in the flavors and textures of the ingredients, to worry less about using recipes. In short, I learned to play with my food.

droppedimageAnd what I learned is that cooking is a very forgiving activity. Switching out one ingredient for another is a creative act, not a destructive one. Coming out from behind the protective wall of a recipe allows us to come into closer contact with the food itself. Thinking of a recipe as an ice-breaker, a conversation starter, opens up endless possibilities.

So here’s a recipe to get you started, because in her review Lisa asked for one so very nicely. A bit of background: Tom is a bit of a mystery to the other characters in The School of Essential Ingredients, who know only that he carries with him a deep and personal sorrow. It is Lillian, the cooking teacher, who instinctively knows that participating in the creation of a pasta sauce from scratch will be one way to help him heal.

I offer this recipe with the hope that you will feel invited/directed/inspired to experiment. What would happen, for example, if you grated some orange peel into your sauce? Or used chicken sausage, or ground lamb with a bit of fresh rosemary? How might those bursts of creativity affect the life of someone you love?

Tom’s Pasta Sauce

Note: For best results, use Knorr’s extra-large soft chicken bouillon cubes.
Crush the whole tomatoes in a food processor, or chop them finely by hand.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 extra-large soft chicken bouillon cube (see note)
1 cup onion, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 pound ground Italian sausage
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup red wine
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained and crushed (see note)
1 cup tomato sauce (more if you want)
Salt and pepper
1 pound penne pasta
Grated parmesan cheese (optional)

1. In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil on medium-low heat until bubbles form. Crush the half bouillon cube into the oil and mix thoroughly. Add onion and sauté for 2 minutes. Add garlic and sauté until translucent.

2. Add ground sausage, increase heat to medium, and cook until meat is no longer pink. Add milk and simmer until absorbed. (Don’t worry if it looks strange at first; the milk will mellow the wine and make for a wonderful, lush sauce.) Add wine, reduce heat to low, and simmer until wine is absorbed. Add crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil over high heat.

3. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 1-3 hours, covered if you want a rich, but slightly thinner sauce, uncovered if you want a thicker sauce and the smell to roam through your house.

4. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook penne pasta according to package directions, until al dente. Drain pasta and place in a large serving bowl. Ladle sauce over pasta; top with grated parmesan cheese if desired, and serve immediately.

Yield: 6-8 servings

Do you play with your food? Erica would like to hear about it! She has generously offered three copies of The School of Essential Ingredients to help me celebrate my big 100K hit milestone! If you’d like a chance to win a copy of this wonderful book, all you need to do is send an email by Wednesday, Feb. 18th, to Erica at bookgiveaway@ericabauermeister.com telling her about your favorite dish. She will choose 3 winners from those entries. Please be sure to state in your email that you came from Books on the Brain. Good Luck!

<—–Oh! And please check out my left sidebar for other great 100K Celebration Giveaways!

Guest Post: Do Book Trailers Sell Books? by Cheryl Kaye Tardif

Do Book Trailers Sell Books? by Cheryl Kaye Tardif

There’s been a lot of discussion about book trailers on this blog and elsewhere on the ‘Net, and the question is: Do book trailers sell books? As an author who has no access to knowing where book buyers come from or whether they bought because of a trailer, I am very interested in the answer to this question. 

Personally, some trailers have led to me buying a book. I bought Mothering Mother by Carol D. O’Dell based on her book trailer and info. The info drew me in, the trailer sold me. I’ve seen awesome trailers and some that are just not that well done. 

Derek Armstrong and Kam Wai Yu, of Persona Corp fame and now Kunati Books, were the original creators of the book trailer. That was years ago. Technology has changed and trailers have become more complex, more attractive to readers and far more acceptable. 

Book trailers vary in style. Some are text only with dramatic music. Those can definitely be appealing, since nothing else distracts the viewer. Other trailers are live video—and showcase actors. Unfortunately, many look like amateur videos and the acting can be…well, let’s say, uninspired. 

Recently I watched Dean Koontz’s Odd Passenger “webisodes” (or Internet movie chapters) on YouTube. It is basically four short book trailers that, combined, tell a creepy story. The acting won’t win any Academy Awards; however, it’s solid enough and the camera shots are professional enough that I was hooked. Reel me in, Odd! I’ve ordered the latest Odd book because of these webisodes. 

So now, I’ll be brave and share with you the book trailer that Kunati Books made for my latest novel…Whale Song. I hope you enjoy, and please leave a comment and tell me what you think. Does this video intrigue you, tease you, leave you wanting more? Does it make you want to order Whale Song? Have you ever bought a book because of the book trailer? Enquiring minds (mine!) wanna know. 

 

Buy Whale Song on Amazon.com.

 ~Cheryl Kaye Tardif, author of Whale Song, The River, and Divine Intervention

http://www.whalesongbook.com

http://www.cherylktardif.com 

Guest Post: Judging a Book by its…. Trailer?

It was nice to learn that I was not the last human on the planet to discover book trailers! Yesterday’s Janeology post and trailer sparked a lot of discussion in the comments, so Karen Harrington, author of Janeology, offered to share a piece she wrote for her blog a while back about book trailers.  Thanks, Karen!

Judging a book by its…trailer?                       by Karen Harrington

Do you recall that great line from Sunset Boulevard where fading silent movie actress Norma Desmond defends her role in the movies? She cites her looks, her expressions and says, “You can’t write that down.”

It’s true. There are feelings one can convey through a look that the best writers would find hard to describe. So it’s only natural that the trend towards using cinematic features is now in vogue for bookselling. Book trailers arguably have the ability to convey dramatic elements of a story in ways a book jacket cannot.

Author Brenda Coulter disagrees that this is a good method for books however saying that most trailers are simple slideshows with a soundtrack. She also dislikes that so many of the trailers cannot be viewed by a huge percentage of Americans due to dial-up connection. Now, to be fair, Ms. Coulter wrote her opinion two years ago. The method has come a long way, baby!

The trailer for Ann Patchett’s latest novel Run shows an aqueous blue background with bubbles continuously floating over images of people, houses on the rich/poor ends of the spectrum and selected descriptive passages from the novel. The singular piano accompaniment to this trailer creates an inviting, if not subtle, undercurrent of mystery and secrets. You could probably view this trailer in a library.

By contrast author Caro Ramsey’s novel trailer for Absolution comes at the viewer full stop, with ominous images of knives and crosses bouncing across the screen in a shaky hand-held camera style, all set to an eerie single violin Silence of the Lambs-esque piece that would likely get you summarily shushed by a librarian.

I am intrigued by the very way images, music and ideas come together in less than five minutes to give a potential reader a sense of the book. And this new view into book trailers made me wonder: would we choose books the same way we choose movies – from a two-minute glimpse? Would you rather go into Barnes & Noble and scan several short videos to make your selection? Or do you prefer to scan the New Release table and thumb through the pages in hand?

Much like the current political environment where the key slogan of the day is “You Decide,” you can decide for yourself by viewing the trailers above, or even the one created for Janeology which is filled with haunting scenes of water imagery and dark family secrets, scored with music that will make your neck hairs stand at attention. (Fortunate author that I am, this trailer was created by one of THE inventors of the novel trailer art form, Kam Wai Yu, who has been developing this art since the 1980s.) 

Karen Harrington is the author of JANEOLOGY, the story of one man’s attempt to understand his wife’s sudden descent into madness and murder.