1,331 Times

That’s approximately how often I’ve thought about a character in Margaret Atwood’s 1989 novel, Cat’s Eye. It was not one of her best books, and the theme – that the friendship between girls often glints with cruelty – was actually repellent to me.

Yet I think about it almost every time I do the laundry.

Why? Because one of the characters in the novel was a fiber artist, and Atwood’s description of how she created works of beauty from the soft, multi-colored dryer lint that everyone else discards has never left me.

In a book I didn’t love and barely remember, Atwood created a character who springs to life whenever I do a routine and recurring chore. That’s powerful writing.

What about you? Do you have any characters who haunt you?

Let’s Talk Blurbs

One of the things a writer and publisher must do is collect blurbs – those brief bursts of praise from other writers that you see on book covers.

A blurb may be only a sentence or two long, but when you ask a writer to provide one, you’re asking for a pretty big favor.

First, she has to read your manuscript. As anyone who has ever gone to book group unprepared can tell you, this is quite a time commitment.

Second, she has to like it. If not, she’ll decline to write the blurb.


I am thrilled to say I already have three great blurbs from writers I admire. But over the next few days, Rosalie and I will be asking a few other writers as well. I’ll keep you posted.

What’s your take?

What’s your take on blurbs? Do you notice them? Do they influence whether you pick up a book? If so, what persuades you – what the blurb says, or who said it?

Let me know what you think. Maybe I’ll ask you to blurb my book!

Hope springs eternal.

Hope springs eternal.

Where Are the Women?

My novel will be published by Shade Mountain Press, a new feminist press dedicated to publishing literary fiction by women. Wait – it’s 2014. Do we still need feminist presses?

Alas, yes.

Although women buy more books than men (58% of books purchased in 2012, according to the latest research), women writers are published and reviewed at much lower rates than men. In 2012, the percentage of women authors published barely reached 30% at most  publishing houses, from the big commercial houses like Knopf (23%) to the smaller, literary publishers like Graywolf (25%). 

As for reviews, in 2012 The New Yorker published 583 reviews of books written by men, and only 218 books by women authors. The record is equally dismal at most other major review outlets. (These publishing stats, and many more, can be found at Vida.)

Good News, Bad News

Good news: In 2012, 63% of the best-selling books in the U.S. were written by women. Bad news: Women writers received only 40% of the industry’s earnings. (Read more here.)

Math was never my strong suit, but even I can see there’s something wrong with those numbers. That’s why I’m excited to be part of a bold new publishing venture that will raise women’s voices.

What Do You Think?

Do the statistics about the disparity of women in print surprise you? Or do they confirm what you already knew or suspected?

Photo by Kate Ter Haar

Photo by Kate Ter Haar

She’s leaving home

It’s official. I have sent the manuscript of Her Own Vietnam to my editor who, conveniently, is also my publisher, Rosalie Morales Kearns. An editor by profession, Rosalie is also a fantastic writer, author of the short story collection Virgins and Tricksters.

Sending her the book is the first step – and the first test – in the process of letting go. For a long time, I was the only one who obsessed about this novel. Now there will be two of us.

Three sharp red pencils.

My editor gets down to business. (Photo by Horia Varlan.)

(Please help me by singing in your head the Beatles song about “She’s leaving home after living alone for so many years.” You know the one.)

This begins a period of waiting to see what Rosalie thinks. But there’s plenty for a writer to do while the editor ponders her manuscript.

More on that soon.