Category Archives: Guest Posts

Guest Review: SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED by Anne Lamott

You know how when some bloggers go on vacation or maternity leave, they line up guest posts so that their blog won’t go dark during that whole time? Well, I’m neither on leave nor on vacation, but this blog has been darker than I’d like these last few weeks. Thank you to Nancy Shohet West for sending me a guest review for EDIWTB to help brighten things up!

Here is Nancy’s review of Some Assembly Required by Anne Lamott:

Back when my friends and I were in that typical early-30’s phase of either trying to conceive, going through pregnancy, or at the very least contemplating our proximity to one of the aforementioned categories, Anne Lamott’s newly published memoir of single parenting, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year, was all the rage. Many of us were already big fans of her novels and essays, and we devoured her poignant, brutally honest, sometimes painful and often humorous account of deciding to become a first-time mother at the age of 36.

So I imagine I’m not the only reader who did a double take last year when I glimpsed the headline of the book review stating that Anne Lamott had just published a memoir of grandparenting. Sure, Baby Sam Lamott has made recurring appearances in his mother’s published essays throughout the years as he progressed through the adventures and phases of boyhood and adolescence. But fatherhood? Has time really passed so quickly that the infant from Operating Instructions is old enough to be a father?

Well, yes…. and no. And therein lies the hook of Lamott’s newest memoir, Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son (the title itself deserves a prize for cleverness, in my opinion). Indeed, not so very many years have gone by at all since the first book: Sam became a father at age 19; his sort-of girlfriend Amy was 20 at the time. He was an art student living on his mother’s dime in a San Francisco studio apartment; she was a cosmetologist receiving support from her own parents; their relationship pre-baby was mercurial. And as just about everyone likely to pick up this memoir knows, new babies are not known for making tempestuous relationships get easier.

But the elder Lamott tells the story of her grandson’s infancy and first year with the same admirable candor that marked her own memoir of parenthood. Back then, those who liked the book — not everyone did — celebrated her rough-edged honesty about both the magical and the abhorrent aspects of coping under difficult circumstances with a new life; the good news is that Lamott hasn’t changed much. She still worries about the health, well-being, and financial viability of a new infant — while also adoring him for his beauty, innocence, and perfection; and she still draws heavily upon a network of friends and faith community to help her through the hard times, only this time it’s with her grandson rather than her son.

Yes, she’s still the same funny, anxiety-prone, insecure, mystical Anne Lamott that she was twenty years ago, and this is both the good news and the bad news. Those of us who savor her blend of casual, profane and profound insights into life will find her unchanged… and yet once in a while I was tempted to implore, “You’re a 56-year-old best-selling internationally renowned author! Can’t you shed just a little of the insecurity and self-doubt?”

But she can’t, because that’s who she is and who she has always been. She’s been willing to share that with us for the past three decades, and now, with the new challenge of being a good grandmother, mother-to-an-adult-child, and pseudo-mother-in-law (the status of Amy and Sam’s relationship remains tenuous throughout the book; for the curious, Google makes it easy enough to find out what has happened with them in the two years since the book ended), she’s still sharing. She dotes; she frets; she loves; she questions; she prays. Yes, Anne Lamott is a flawed, imperfect work-in-progress… as we all are, and as she would be the first to tell us about herself.

Guest Post: Kim Wright, Author of LOVE IN MID-AIR

Wright Last year, I read and reviewed Love in Mid-Air, by Kim Wright. (The book is newly out in paperback.) Kim graciously agreed to write a blog post for EDIWTB about how to write a second novel after you've had a successful debut. I find the process of writing one book incredibly daunting, and am in awe of anyone who can write one, not to mention successive novels, so I found this very interesting. Thanks, Kim, for an excellent post!

 

The Curse of the Second Novel
By Kim Wright

There are lots of myths about the publication process… and one of them is that once you’ve published your first book, you’ve got it made. 

After all, at this point you’ve cleared some of the toughest hurdles – you have an agent and an editor and presumably you’ve started the task of building a readership. You have, at least once in your lifetime, figured out the structure and pace of a full-length book and you’ve managed to control your nerves, your time, and your imagination long enough to get that puzzle on paper.  It would logically seem that the process of bringing out the second book would be, if not exactly easy, at least a little easier. 

But the woods are full of novelists whose first books were well-received and sold reasonably well… and whose second books fell to the ground with a great big thud.  Or, even worse, novelists who never managed to write the second book at all. Why is it so difficult to transfer the lessons learned in the first book to the second? And why do so many good writers fall victim to the sophomore slump?

I think there are several possible explanations.

In many cases the first book is the story you’re compelled to tell.  My friend Alison wrote her memoir as a tribute to her brother Roy, who died in a traffic accident as a teenager.  Without the memory of Roy whispering in her ear, she had to come up with a whole new set of motivations to write her second book. Writers often throw everything they have into the first book – the color of the sky that morning their granddaddy took them quail hunting, secret sexual fantasies, political opinions about offshore fishing rights.  No wonder there’s nothing left for the second one.

And then second novels are sometimes under a type of time pressure that first novels just don’t face. When you write your first book, you probably don’t have an agent or an editor. Absolutely no one is waiting for the book. So it’s not uncommon to hear of people who spent five, ten, or fifteen years getting it right. But the second time around, your agent may be saying “So what else do you have?” If you scored a multi-book deal, you even have a deadline. Which is all great, but some writers freeze under the pressure. It’s hard to produce book two in a year if book one took you ten.

And finally – and this may be the big one – the second time around you’re gun shy. You know all too well what can happen and even writers with successful first books have had moments of profound disappointment mixed in with the joy.  I’ve never met a writer, no matter how acclaimed, who can’t quote lines from his bad reviews verbatim or who doesn’t have a rueful story about the time he drove five hours to read to two people or the day his editor started to introduce him and completely blanked on his name. No one gets to be a virgin twice, and sophomore novelists rarely managed to muster up the same degree of rosy-cheeked optimism they brought to the publication of their first book.

This transition between the first book and the second is a tricky time, but if you can pull it off – or even just manage to get through it – it’s a significant watershed in your career.  Because this is the point where you move from “someone who wrote a book” to “a writer.”

Authors who are much farther down this path than I am have assured me that each book brings its own set of challenges and that it never really gets easier, only different. The blank page is the great equalizer. Writers must return to it time after time and when you’re facing that blank page, no degree of past accolades or fat royalty checks will help you.   A writing teacher I know, a grizzled veteran of the publication wars, was once asked which book was the hardest to write.  He said “Whichever one I’m working on at the time.”  There are no cheats.  There are no short cuts.  We reinvent ourselves with each new story.

And, in a weird way, that may be why we love this job so much.

Guest Post: EVERY LAST ONE by Anna Quindlen

First, a few random bits…

I noticed that there are some Trader Joe's fans reading the blog (based on the comments on Tuesday's review of The I Love Trader Joe's Cookbook). You might also enjoy this Fortune article about Trader Joe's. TJ's is apparently a mysterious, tight-lipped company who doesn't talk freely to the press – an attitude that seems incongruous with its happy-go-lucky image.

Second, if any of you are registered on SXSW (or wouldn't mind registering), I'd be forever grateful if you could vote "yes" for four panels that Discovery has submitted for next spring's SXSW interactive conference. The PanelPicker process accounts for 30% of the overall score given to proposed sessions. I am really hoping to be in Austin next spring and would love your support! Here are the panels:

  • Creating Multi-Platform Experiences TV Fans Can Cheer About
  • Grab Your Glasses: 3D Hits the Small Screen
  • HowStuffWorks Works: Using Smart Content to Build Brands
  • Stuff to Know About Stuff You Should Know
  • Finally, thank you to EDIWTB reader Nancy West, who submitted another guest review for the blog, this time of Anna Quindlen's Every Last One.

    Quindlen I know this sounds ridiculous, but as I read the first few chapters of Anna Quindlen’s new novel, “Every Last One,” I kept feeling as if she had read the review I posted on Amazon.com of her last novel, “Rise and Shine.” In that review – and yes, I do understand that even though authors often browse through their Amazon reviews, it’s ridiculous to think she picked out mine from the hundreds posted – I took Quindlen to task for her utter lack of subtlety and, in effect, treating her readers like morons by subjecting them to ham-fisted explanations and high-volume analyses of every last detail.

    Not so in Every Last One. Perhaps it’s just that she’s changed her setting from the celebrity TV world in Manhattan to domestic life with a nuclear family in New England and assumes her readers don’t need quite as much over-explaining for that environment, but I found this newest novel to be graceful and engaging. I really liked it. And whether or not the author actually had me – or my review – in mind when she wrote it, which I say tongue-in-cheek because I know she didn’t, as far as I’m concerned she’s redeemed herself.

    Other readers have found the pace of Every Last One to be a little trudge-y, but to me, it made sense for Quindlen to walk us very, very slowly through the everyday life of landscape designer Mary Beth Latham, setting up the background of this happily married suburban soccer mom before slamming with one of the most horrific tragedies that could possibly befall a family of this sort. Perhaps it was just that having read reviews before I read the book, I knew something awful would happen (although I didn’t know what – reviewers have been careful to avoid spoilers, and I will try hard to follow their example), I was happy to stretch out the peaceful interlude before the catastrophe as long as possible, but I liked the simple narrative about Mary Beth, her husband, her extended family, and most importantly her three children. I was happy following them through their daily lives, just as Mary Beth was. And then all that bucolic domesticity blew up in their faces, and in mine.

    When the worst imaginable thing happens to a family in a domestic novel, the author faces a nearly insurmountable challenge: how to take the narrator through to any kind of plausible ending. The contract the author makes with her readers in a work of contemporary fiction such as this is that the protagonist will neither find out the whole thing was a dream nor commit suicide, so what’s left to say? Therein lies the challenge of the second half of the book, and although Quindlen did not manage to do anything surprising here, which would have been extremely difficult – though I would point to Lionel Shriver and We Need to Talk About Kevin as an example of how it can in fact be done – I still found the conclusion to this horrifying story satisfying enough. Kudos to her as well for avoiding the Jodi Picoult escape hatch of a dramatic legal narrative. No, neither Quindlen nor Mary Beth Latham – nor, for that matter, we readers – have the easy out of a courtroom drama. Mary Beth simply has to live with what happened to her.

    And so do we readers. And we hang in there to the end. Out of sympathy? Out of curiosity? Out of Schadenfreude? Bad things happen to good people; a skillful writer finds a way to make us care how they get through it. This time, Quindlen has pulled it off beautifully.

    Guest Review: PROSPECT PARK WEST by Amy Sohn

    Thank you to EDIWTB reader Nancy West for this guest review of Prospect Park West by Amy Sohn.

    ProspectParkWest Once in a while, back when “Friends” was still on TV, I would sneakily entertain a guilty and subversive thought: Why can’t reading be this much fun? Lots of the time it is, of course, and when it’s not pure fun, it has other advantages: it’s multi-textured, thought-provoking, enlightening, in a way that “Friends” admittedly was not.

    Prospect Park West by Amy Sohn is kind of what “Friends” might be like if it were a novel and if all the female characters were new moms. In a way, it offers the best of two mediums (media?): the color and three-dimensionality of TV with the depth and insight of fiction. And although neither aspect rates an A+, it’s still a lot of fun to read, and a large order of magnitude better than most novels that try to offer a slice of contemporary life in a very specific milieu.

    In this case, the milieu is the Park Slope section of Brooklyn. Prospect Park West alternates between the viewpoints of four main characters, with short segments representing bit players thrown in once in a while for good measure. Rebecca, the protagonist to whom the narrative is most heavily weighted (but only by a little bit), is a freelance magazine writer whose marriage has notably taken a turn for the worse since her one-and-a-half year old daughter was born, though for a reason I think some women would envy: Rebecca’s husband Theo is too enraptured by fatherhood to pay as much attention to his wife as he does to his daughter. Since Rebecca likes attention, this is a big problem, but not surprisingly, she eventually finds attention both in terms of another man and a new BFF, Lizzie, who is another of the four narrators. Lizzie also has a toddler and, like Rebecca, spends a lot of time at Park Slope coffee shops, kiddie singalongs and playgrounds; also like Rebecca, she’s a little discombobulated, though for different reasons. Narrator #3 is Karen Bryan Shapiro, a prototype of SAHM neurosis who puts kneepads on her son at the playground, washes his hands constantly with Purell, bases every move she makes on advice she found in the latest book on parenting or marriage, and bids way too high on a condo so that her son can go to a public school with fewer minorities than that in the school district in which they have been living. Karen has a crush on a celebrity who lives in Park Slope, superstar Melora Leigh, whose filmography Karen knows as well as she knows her son’s nap schedule. But Melora’s inner life is a lot different from the account Karen reads in People magazine, and we readers know this because Melora is the fourth narrator.

    Many of the details of these women’s lives will be familiar to women who live in up-and-coming parts of various cities: the competition for the best condo in the right public school district; the list-serves by which they keep track of their parenting peers; the impenetrable playground cliques (of moms, not kids); the food co-op shifts. As one summer progresses in their lives, the characters connect with each other or pass in the night, make friends with each other or have reasons to avoid each other, and it’s fun for the reader to keep track of the degrees of separation between each of the women.

    As I said at the beginning, it’s a little like watching TV, but any mother can relate to the anxieties, the boredom, and the need for friends that these women routinely experience as they configure their lives around their children and question their own decisions. Each character is distinct and never does Sohn cave in to stereotype, although one plot twist is ridiculous and a few others are questionable in an otherwise plausible narrative. The ending deserves respect as well. Maybe beach read is a good term for this novel. You wouldn’t want it to be the only thing you read this summer, but it’s a lot of fun.

    BEA Is Here!! Miriam Gershow Celebrates With A Guest Post

    I am excited to say that I am on my way to Book Expo America/Book Blogger Con!! I will be in NY the next few days for all the book festivities and I am very excited. I will report back on what I hear, who I meet, and, most importantly, any books I pick up while I am there.

    In honor of BEA and Book Blogger Con, Miriam Gershow (author of The Local News and friend to EDIWTB) has written a piece about the importance of book bloggers. I am honored to be posting it here on EDIWTB – thanks, Miriam!

    ********

    Why Authors Need Book Bloggers – by Miriam Gershow

    On May 28, in conjunction with BookExpo America’s (BEA) annual convention in New York City, some of the blogosphere’s most prolific book readers and reviewers are hosting an inaugural Book Blogger convention.  A couple years ago, this idea probably would’ve flummoxed me. Book bloggers, in my mind, seemed superfluous.  Weren’t there already more than enough book reviewers shouting in the online wilderness via Amazon and Goodreads and Shelfari and LibraryThing?  At what point did all the voices simply become noise? 

    This, however, was before my debut novel, The Local News, was published.  Having now gone through paperback and hardcover publication, having watched the marketing and publicity wheels spin–or screech to a halt–I’ve done a one-eighty.  Book bloggers, I believe, are indispensable to authors, especially first-time authors. 

    Why such a radical flip-flop?

    When The Local News was released, I was lucky enough to have it reviewed in the holy grail of print publications: The New York Times.  My luck (and the hard work of my publicist) continued, as reviews appeared in Marie Claire and Ladies Home Journal and BUST magazine and The Portland Oregonian among others. 

    And then…nothing.  The big quiet. 

    One of the most surprising things about publishing a book is that after the initial fanfare and reviews and book readings are over–all told, about a month in my case–there is almost a deafening silence. 

    My editor once told me that the only two things that sell a book are word of mouth and access.  Access was taken care of–my book was stocked in all the big bookstores and many of the little ones.  But suddenly it was my responsibility to keep the buzz going. 

    I turned for the first time to book bloggers.  For my hardcover edition, not being all that familiar with the blogosphere, I hired TLC Book Tours to coordinate a 10-blog tour, which included book reviews, book giveaways, a handful of guest posts and a couple author interviews.  Here, I discovered the first benefit of going the blog route:

    Book bloggers extend the publicity cycle of your book.  Via traditional media, it’s nearly impossible–especially as a first-time author–to land a print review after the first few weeks of publication.  Book stores can be reticent to schedule a reading if you’re too far past publication date.  But book bloggers aren’t bound by the same timeline. My blog tour was scheduled for four months after publication, stirring up new interest when other trails had gone cold.

    Still, I went into the tour with some skepticism. The Local News is the story of Lydia Pasternak, whose older brother Danny goes missing when she is 15-years-old.  While critically praised, it is admittedly dark and supplies no easy answers.  I wondered who these bloggers were, what they really had to offer in terms of reaction or insight. Once the tour began, though, I came to see bloggers as a welcome complement to the traditional book critic. 

    Book bloggers respond to books as readers, though readers with brands to protect.  Book critics–if a generalization can be made–judge the quality of writing.  You can wow a critic with your sentences or your structure, as well as with your story.  This is not necessarily the case with bloggers.  Yes, there many bloggers who appreciate good writing. But many look for an enjoyable–though not necessarily light or happy–read.  Their reviews tend toward how the book made them feel, how much they liked the story or liked the narrator or liked the ending.  Some may scoff at this, but theirs is a perspective that’s of value, in that it mirrors the vast majority of the reading public. 

    And book bloggers cut through the noise of the internet simply by writing detailed, thoughtful, well-supported reviews.  The best of them lack any of the snark and mean-spiritedness that anonymous corners of the internet can breed.  They’ve cultivated their voices and their sensibilities, and have ready broadly and deeply.  They’ve amassed a readership of loyal followers.  They seem intent on maintaining the quality of their blogs, and this shows in the insightfulness of their reviews. In this sense, they’re not wildly different from the best of Amazon or Goodreads reviewers–those who write in-depth, deeply-felt, reasoned responses to books.    

    With all this in mind, when my paperback came out this past February, I returned to the blogosphere, familiar enough now not to need a middleman.  This is particularly important in today’s publishing climate because:

    Book bloggers offer a direct relationship with writers.  Writers today are expected to hustle.  You might be expected to foot the bill of your own tour (which I’ve done), or immerse yourself in the world of social networking (done), or contact booksellers directly (done), or snag every local speaking engagement you can (done). 

    But in terms of old versus new media, one welcomes a direct relationship to writers and one doesn’t.  As much as I knock on the door of People, it’s not going to increase their likelihood of including my book in their New in Paperback column.  But book bloggers, for the most part, invite and respond to author contact.  If you have to hustle, it makes sense to hustle with an eager audience.

    First, I contacted all the bloggers who’d favorably reviewed the hardcover edition, asking if they’d mention the paperback release.  My publisher supplied giveaway copies.  The response was nearly instantaneous and the vast majority agreed to help. Many were delighted I had read their blog and noticed the review.  The result: for a month after paperback publication, a dozen blogs took turns helping spread the word.

    Secondly, I contacted a dozen new bloggers and asked if they would review the paperback edition.  Again, this came during the big quiet after the paperback release.  And again, the vast majority enthusiastically agreed.  Reviews will be coming out in the next month or two, well past the time when traditional media has grown silent.

    Some might argue that such author/blogger contact will compromise the integrity of reviews.  To that I say, I paid to have blogs review my book via my blog tour, and even then opinions were mixed.

    Okay, this is all well and good, you might be thinking, but about the numbers?  My husband, an MBA and businessman, is only interested in the bottom line.  How much, he wants to know, does blog attention affect sales? To that, I honestly say, I’m not sure yet.  I don’t know if or by how much
    blog reviews increase book sales.  But I do know that when a book is talked about in the blogosphere–especially by the insatiable bloggers with their insatiable readership–it keeps that book alive in the public consciousness. And I also know this:

    Book bloggers are good for the writer’s soul.  It is very easy to believe–in the age of Avatar and Wiis and HDTV and YouTube and bookstore closures and book page shrinkage–that books are at best, a cultural afterthought, and at worst, on their deathbed.  To fight off feelings of hopelessness or irrelevance, I look to the blogs. I look to Everyday I Write the Book or Book Lady’s Blog or Hey Lady, Whatcha Readin’? among others, and I see people who are still passionate about books, people who consume them voraciously, people who moon over them and debate them and dissect them, people who day in, day out, devote their time to reading them and writing about them.  They remind me that what I’m doing means something, that what I’m doing matters.  And for that fact alone–even if they offered nothing else–they are worth their weight in books.

    Guest Post on Booking Mama

    I have a guest post up today on the excellent Booking Mama blog. Julie asked for people to write about book clubs for her regular Book Club Exchange feature, so I wrote about the EDIWTB online book club. Check it out!

    Another Flashlight Worthy Books List

    I am excited to have contributed to another Flashlight Worthy Books list. This one is about "Book Club Recommendations That Feature Women Of A Different Era", in honor of Women's History Month.

    I contributed #8 – Property, by Valerie Martin.

    It's a very interesting list – check it out! Maybe you'll find your next read.