Monday, August 27, 2012

Oaklandish!

The more things change...the more they change.

This has been a crazy couple of weeks. A few of my major recent life events include the purchase of a new car, the downsizing of my earthly possessions for the third time in three years, and a move to a new apartment in a neighborhood I've had my eye on for quite a while.

This wasn't the most convenient possible time for upheaval - I've got a book coming out in September, another in October, and yet another in November, and a new one to finish in the next couple of months. But you know what, if things in your life follow a predictable and convenient schedule, then I'd venture a guess that your life isn't all that interesting.

Here's an odd thing - the people I usually lean on most all happened to be otherwise engaged during my move: they're out of the country or pulling quadruple shifts or visiting family or having surgery or beginning a new semester or getting kids to college or changing jobs. (No, they weren't just making excuses - these are *my* friends, people, the finest to be had.)

But I think that might have been a good thing. Because I had to do a LOT of hard things on my own, things I would have certainly let other people do if I'd had a chance, but there just wasn't anyone. And I'm really, really f'ing proud of getting through all of this solo. Who knew I could hire contractors and movers and negotiate with an auto dealer and figure out how to make an office out of a closet and fix my credit and create a budget I can live with? I didn't - not until now. But damn, it feels good.

half moved in!


treasured Gigi Pandian originals already on the wall

why have kids? to help you move heavy furniture, that's why

view from my balcony - with city bus!

even our Whole Foods has civic pride



Friday, August 17, 2012

ESSENCE Gets It Right

Lots of women's magazines give lip service to decrying the use of unnaturally thin models for their fashion spreads. In particular, Glamour does a pretty good job of regularly including features with women "of all sizes" - I seem to remember articles where women appear in swimsuits, in lingerie, in jeans.

"big" models in a V Magazine feature...they look pretty thin to me
And the women are all different heights and range from rail thin to...biggish. But not really big. Because the NEW fashion message seems to be hey, there's room for everyone here, as long as you interpret "plus" size to be, well, on the not-very-plus-at-all end of plus.

There are fashion magazines serving large women: BBW - Big Beautiful Women - is one. These do feature clothes for women of size, but the entire magazine is sort of issue-oriented. And so my sense is there's a sort of schism:  women up to size 12 or 14 or so may read Glamour, the rest line up at door number two, where you aren't allowed to separate fashion from core size-ist identity.

But the other day I was paging through the new issue of Essence and I saw something different: an entire fashion layout featuring a model who is truly plus sized. And the title of the piece is "Modern Girl in a Retro World." "Rock your sexy silhouette," exhorts the text, without one bit of commentary on her size.

i couldn't find pix from the article i'm talking about, but essence routinely
features women of size - this is Amber Riley from Glee
I'm not really here to criticize - I think women's magazines have come a long, long way (and I routinely read Junior's Seventeen to see what issues they're tackling, and am generally impressed).  I just want to give Essence credit for a job well done.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Cover Juju & Moving Sale - er, Giveaway!


You guys! I just found out that Harlequin is going to reveal my new cover on Monday. GARDEN OF STONES is a new direction for me, a book that was shaped by many hands and nurtured, pummeled, coaxed and cursed into existence over the last year. I *love* this book. It love all my books, of course, but this one feels like a journey that we all undertook bravely, and now that the publication date is approaching, I'm getting pretty excited about it.

And the cover is nothing short of breathtaking. The art department at Mira has pulled off some real stunners in the past - covers which set trends you see being echoed everywhere. I always say that I have book cover juju, and it's true - I've never had a bad cover - but this one is nothing short of extraordinary.

FREE BOOKS
I was trying to think of some fancy giveaway around the reveal, but I'm a little short of clever (and time - I'm getting ready to move!) these days, so let's do it this way. Any reviewers out there who've been interested in the AFTERTIME series, please drop me a line (and I don't mean just big fancy ones, either; I love people who love books, period, and I've been proud to be reviewed on some small but zesty blogs) and I'll see if I can get you a copy. Or if you've reviewed me and want a copy to give away - that works too. I don't want to move all these books if I don't have to. I also have a few copies of BANISHED and A BAD DAY FOR MERCY. Email me at sophie@sophielittlefield.com.  If you want to give me an RT or something, I'd appreciate it.

Here are a few recent MIRA covers that I think reflect the talent of that art team:







speaking of contests, i never got back to you on the shoes - it was, in order, Margaret, Pam, me and Valerie. HinaBeena, if you see this, email me because I want to send you a book!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Damn, Sara

After yesterday's harsh indictment of over-zealous praisers, I thought I should put my money where my mouth is and give an example of a book that I truly adore.

This is a perfect example of the sort of praise I think is justified because:

  1. The author does not need my praise - she has plaudits from the likes of Grafton and Lippman as well as plenty of starred reviews
  2. Praise from any quarter is, unfortunately, not going to be enough to offset the very real challenge her book faces in the market (the slim audience for strong noir heroines)
  3. Praising this author does not help me in any way as we don't write the same type of book and we don't run in the same professional circles

Okay, now that we got that out of the way...

I probably shouldn't admit this, but it's pretty rare that I read a book and think that the author has accomplished anything I couldn't, given enough time and motivation.

But in CLAIRE DEWITT AND THE CITY OF THE DEAD, Sara Gran pulls off feats I haven't even thought to envy.

Everything about this book is hard to pin down - its mood, its protagonist's credibility, its relationship to the known world (it will not surprise Gran newcomers to discover she has written about the supernatural in the past), its aspirations - if any. That it may be the first in a series is, I suppose, a plan, but a vague one; one definitely gets the sense that the book pulled the author along, rather than the opposite.

I had a thousand different thoughts as I read; I bent back countless pages, then found that I couldn't remember why (sorry, person to whom I intend to give this book to next). Maybe the best way to express my reaction is to explain how, in my view, others got it wrong.

Laura Lippman says the book "reminds me why I fell in love with the genre," but the book - ostensibly an old-school detective novel - wanders from the well-trod path in important ways.

The NYTBR calls Claire a "charmer" - seriously? It is her utter lack of charm, her rawness, that makes her unlookawayfromable.

"Lots of fun," says Booklist. I don't recall a single moment of fun in the book. Fun would have poison, anathema, blistering ruin to a book that enveloped me with its bleakness.

Library Journal compared Gran to Charlie Huston. There might be something to that, actually. 

In the book, Claire says - quoting her mentor - "Be grateful for every scar life inflicts on you...Where we're unhurt is where we are false. Where we're wounded and healed is where our real self gets to show itself."  

That's what this book is - wounds revealing the people who bear them, told masterfully. More, more, please.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Screw the Epidemic of Niceness

I've been battling a particular stripe of unease for a while ago, trying to decide how committed I am to the stand I have taken, how defensible that stand is, and whether it matters. 

And then Jacob Silverman comes along and addresses the subject head-on in his essay "Against Enthusiasm: The epidemic of niceness in online book culture." (Thanks to Mike for pointing it out to me.)

Jacob Silverman, critic, writer, and, yes, Jeopardy champion
Silverman addresses the increasingly hysterical epidemic of fawning praise heaped by authors upon each other - and its roots in increasingly voracious self-promotion. (And fear. Giant, overflowing, noxious buckets of fear - about the direction of the industry, about one's sales, one's future, one's talent.) 

Okay, oops, I guess I showed my hand there. If you know me at all, you know that I loathe self-promotion. I'll go a bold step further and say that it detracts mightily from any sort of honest discussion we might have as practitioners of our craft. The minute you put out a "follow back?" vibe - no matter how subtle, no matter how well-intentioned - you're out of the game, at least as far as I'm concerned. You're a huckster, not a critic; a peddler, and no kind of sage.

But if one wishes to stay employed, can one really refuse to play?  As Silverman says, "Not to share in the lit world's online slumber party can seem strange and mark a person as unlikable or (a worse offense in this age) unfollowable."

And I've dipped more than a toe into these murky waters. Though perhaps not as frantically as some, I've sent out "buy my pal's book" tweets and blogged and posted about friends' good reviews and new releases.

I like to think that it's different when I do it. For one thing, I only do it for people who are genuinely my friends, and NEVER (i am fairly scrupulous about this) because I think doing so will advance my own interests. And, I am careful to congratulate, not praise, unless the praise is genuine.

For instance, just last week I posted here about some friends' new releases. Neither of these friends write in genres that I frequently read. As it happens, I have read them both, and they both truly are gifted authors. But the purpose of the post was, as the title implies, merely congratulatory - and, I suppose, me doing my very small part to spread the word, because I love them and hope for their success.

Early this year, I was speaking to a room full of people and I used the words "odious" and "whoring" to describe the practice of review trading. (Two people agree to say nice things about each other's books in any of a variety of forums, often without having read each other's work.) Then I worried I had crossed a line and obsessed about my comments for a while. Then I decided I truly meant it.

I have some dear friends - people I care deeply about - who are unstinting with their praise for, well, seemingly everyone, and particularly those who might wield influence in social media. Every time I read their post or tweet - even if, and perhaps *especially* if, I am the recipient of the praise - I feel a little sick. I feel like the dialog has been tarnished just a little bit more. And I certainly doubt everything they say.

See, I feel that when we say we love a book, we really should LOVE it. We cherish our words; we make our art with them; do we really want to diminish our voices by making them empty?

I know I'm suggesting an impossibly high standard and I'll fail it myself. But I pledge to try. See, I plan to be around for a long, long time and I plan to keep reading and thinking and learning. Some day, I swear to you, I will write the equivalent of Updike's NYTBR reviews, in whatever format exists at that time. And I want you to trust that what I am saying reflects what I believe, and not just what I think you want to hear.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

RWA National Snapshot

Oops - I think I lost a week there somehow. I vaguely remember coming back from Anaheim, but I had Nicole Peeler in the car, which gives everything a sort of surreal slant. After a couple days' shenanigans with Dr. P, I think I finished a book. Yeah, that's right. And then...suddenly it was today.

Anyway, I have a few pictures from the conference. Unfortunately I'm wearing the same frightening polka dot dress in most of them. I don't know what possessed me to buy that thing. I like clothes I can hide in. I felt like those damn dots were wearing me around.

Other than my usual sartorial blunders, I had a great time. Who wouldn't, with Juliet Blackwell for a roommate and Martha Flynn and Rachael Herron and LGC Smith and Nicole to hang out with? I did have a mortifying episode in the company of the awesome Heather Osborn, but it seems I'm forgiven, so all's well.

A highlight for me was spending time with Irene Goodman Literary's newest agent, Rachel Ekstrom, who is in charge of keeping the globe spinning while Barbara's on maternity leave. Rachel's pretty wonderful.

I also had a smashing time with my Harlequin gang, including a chance to catch up with JT Ellison - there's a picture from our dinner below - and also at the Pocket dinner, my first social event with that bunch. My, they're fancy!  Good thing I remembered to tuck my bib into my shirt and....aw, just kidding. I was seated next to my old MurderSheWrites friend Laura Griffin on one side, and  Carrie Lofty and Cherry Adair were across the table and my dear old editor Adam Wilson was close enough that i could have popped him in the eye with an ice cube if I'd wanted. Mostly I talked Laura's ear off; she's one special person.

with Jennifer Haymore:



My roomie Juliet, with a friend we made last year in Colorado, SMP editor Holly Blanck

At the literacy signing event with Beth Kery

I always love catching up with Heather Graham

my other literacy signing neighbor, LoveInspired author Teri Wilson

Yup it's Rachel Ekstrom!

Before the workshop Juliet and I gave. Hard to be nervous with all your best pals in the front rows!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Props to Pals; Book That Caught My Eye

Haven't read the new issue of RTBookReviews yet?

In that case, you may have missed the awesome 4-star reviews garnered by a couple of my dear friends, Gigi Pandian and Cecilia Gray.




Also, browsing through the latest PW I came across a few books I'd love to read, books that I think represent the breadth of subject matter possible under the umbrella of commercial fiction.

I've become exhaused and, frankly, bored by the relentless chorus from the naysayer gallery that "Traditional publishers won't take a chance on anything that hasn't been done before." Tell you what, y'all, maybe take a break from the vitriol and open a book, eh?  Try one of these, none of which tread a familiar path, and all of which come from a single issue of PW:

SAN MIGUEL by T.C. Boyle

LOVE BOMB by Lisa Zeidner

THE FORGIVEN by Lawrence Osborne