My book group is coming over tomorrow. We are not discussing the book, MaddAddam, the final novel in a dystopian trilogy by Margaret Atwood, because in November we decided to reread The Year of the Flood (Book 2 in the trilogy), since we had read it several years before and wanted to be fresh for MaddAddam. I was the only one who got through The Year of the Flood. Not only did I get through it, I loved it all over again and couldn’t wait to read MaddAddam.

It is fine that the rest of the group is done with dystopia for now. We’ve read several. Several series, even. However, now I have nobody to discuss MaddAddam with…there are just a few things I keep thinking about. One, it’s fiction. Liking the story does not mean I like depressing future scenarios in which almost everyone on the planet dies. I find them fascinating, horrible, possible. But as a story, this novel works like any other. There are good guys and bad guys. Who will win? What’s at stake? How will it end?

To say that Atwood’s novel is “like any other” in a conventional story way is not to say it is ordinary. It’s told with great skill and humanity and cunning  humor and honest reckoning. I loved it all, the characters, the world, the premise. Isn’t every dystopian novel at its core a cautionary tale? Yet it can be read on several levels. How deep do you want to go? She’ll take you there.

This is a woman who has written over 40 works. A lifetime of words. I went back to my collection and looked at her first photos in the earliest books and there is Atwood, fair-skinned and red corkscrewed hippie hair. Young and beautiful. And now her cover photo shows the passage of time. Her hair is silvery white and while her skin has aged, it is still soft and she is still beautiful. For some, aging is a thing to be disguised, perhaps because aging brings death closer. For Atwood, aging is a triumph. I’m still here, she seems to say, and I’m still writing. Still inventing new ways to tell the human story. 

I like it that she is not afraid to show her age. I like it that she is not afraid to face what might be a possible future for feckless humanity. After the book ends, she writes this note “Although MaddAddam is a work of fiction, it does not include any technologies or biobeings that already do not exist, are not under construction, or are not possible in theory.” Atwood calls this genre not science fiction but speculative fiction. What if… I won’t spoil the end of the book. It is too good, and comes around wonderfully in a way I would not have imagined when I started on this journey with Oryx & Crake (first in the trilogy).


Reviews, Blurbs, Templates & Taglines

What a morning! Woke up to a 4 star review of Sister Issues from Rosie Amber. Thanks Rosie <3.  Another reviewer asked to read The Paris Notebook for possible review! Plus I final-edited the template for my new novel, coming soon, and sent it off to my fabulous editor. Now I’m working on the tagline and blurb. As a former professional book reviewer, those things are easy and fun for me to write.

Back in the day, I loved composing a perfect tagline or a pull quote for the authors I reviewed. I made it a point to put something in the review that praised the author’s work. Sometimes, back  when I still visited bookstores, I’d check a book I’d reviewed and sure enough, there was my tagline right on the cover. Some of the writers even used my name, although most times it was just “RT Book Reviews” or “Publishers Weekly.” Still, I knew whose words they were:)

So I’ve come full circle and quite looking forward to sitting with my pen and notebook today, coming up with the perfect tagline for my new book.


Give Me Everything You Have

For awhile now I’ve known I need to go back and finish out my teaching career if I want to receive my pension. I gave myself time to write all the books in my head, and I resolved to start teaching full time again for just the semester or two it will take to make my 10 years. I’ve been teaching, off and on, for 20 years, but most of it was part time, and that was my choice. I’ve been able to write and teach and it’s been a perfect combo for me. Most of the time.

I’ve had issues with students over the years, but nothing as serious as what James Lasdun encountered when he met a talented creative writing student he calls Nasreen. His memoir of being stalked by her over many years is every professor’s worst nightmare. And yet he mustered the creative spark to tell the deeply instructive tale.

My life is typical of many writing lives: teach part time for money, write part time for a lot less money. Lasdun set himself up in the same way, but on a much bigger scale than I’ve ever achieved. He’s taught at Princeton and other high brow institutions; his books are brought out by a New York publisher. I teach at a community college and have an e-Publisher. Lasdun’s life is big, mine is smallish. And, after reading all he’s been through, I like it that way.

Lasdun has a wife and children. He did a good job keeping his family safe and mostly out of Nasreen’s destructive path, but he took so many hits, I’m amazed he even wanted to write about it. And so grateful he did. I’ve heard for years about the harm people do on Amazon review pages. It hasn’t happened to me, but then I might have the lowest number of reviews ever. Nasreen did more than write bad reviews about Lasdun. She accused him of stealing her work, wrote to his publishers, and even sent out emails supposedly from him. She was an internet terror. And there was almost nothing anyone, not the police, not the FBI, could (or would) do.

This is a horror story. But it is also true and teachers of creative writing everywhere should read it today. When I decided to go back to finish out my teaching career, before I read Lasdun’s book, I decided I’d like a new direction. I have asked my dean for courses that teach the students who need to learn the basics of grammar and sentences and three paragraph essays. After reading Lasdun’s harrowing nightmare, I’m really glad I made that decision.



Why We Write

I’ve just read five stories from the new book Why We Write edited by Meredith Maran. Maran got 20 top selling authors to spill the beans on why they write and how their process works. It is always fun to read these types of books, because no matter how famous, no matter how rich, these writers all say the same things. “It’s hard.” They all have despair and fear their writing chops will desert them as they begin a new manuscript. Yes, they are just like us, except with more money, respect, and time to write. But they had to earn those perks. They didn’t always have money, respect, or time. And they do not take it for granted.

One of the things that makes me want to smack a writer is when they say “I can’t do anything else.” Well, if you had to, come on, be real, you could. Let’s say you have a kid and need to feed it. You’ll go work at Walmart and do just fine at the job (maybe not so well with the pay.) What they mean, I think, is “I don’t want to do anything else and thank stars I get to do this and nothing else.”

The most surprising thing I’ve learned so far is how accepting of e-Publishing they are. I’ve read five accounts and at least four if not all of them said “Hey, if you want to publish, go do it yourself.” Easier said than done but that’s another post.



Blog It! the author’s guide to building a successful online brand


Molly Greene

Ever wanted to start a blog? Already have one and can’t get excited about it? Molly Greene’s  power tool of a book is all you’ll ever need. Molly, an author I follow on Twitter, and have reviewed before, sent me an advance copy of Blog It! and I ate it up like brain candy. Which is weird because I’ve had a blog for ten years. Ten years sounds impressive, but after reading Molly’s guide,  it felt as if having a ten year old blog is similar to having a pair of ten year old blue jeans. You want an update every decade or so.

Molly’s book taught me so much. When I read it, I was pretty much blogged out. I’d said everything I had to say about the art and craft of writing and publishing. But Molly re-energized me with her concrete solutions for bloggers in need of new topics. I had to stop reading to jot down ideas for posts, that’s how fast this book works.

Blog It! is easy to follow and packed with pertinent information. Molly gives clear, concise instructions for beginning bloggers and those of us in need of a blog-lift. I’d recommend this book to any blogger, from seasoned pro to newbie to not quite there yet.

Having found (at least) twenty things I want to try,  I’m already implementing Molly’s suggestions, like using widgets to build a tag cloud, adding social media icons, and joining Google+. Don’t let these terms scare you off; if you follow Molly’s step-by-step instructions, their meanings will become crystal clear.

Blog It! teaches more than how to navigate a Word Press dashboard. There are sections on building readership, blogging a book, and how to shoot page views through the roof. But the biggest thing I learned is that you CAN teach an old blogger new tricks.