Monday, March 31, 2014

HOUSE OF GLASS awarded RT BookReviews Seal of Excellence!

Thrilled, thrilled, thrilled to announce that HOUSE OF GLASS has been awarded the RT BookReviews Seal of Excellence!

From RTBookReview's blog - "Each month the RT editors select one book that is not only compelling, but pushes the boundaries of genre fiction. This book stands out from all the others reviewed that month, in the magazine issue and on the website. March 2014's RT Seal of Excellence — the editors' pick for best book of the month — is awarded to Sophie Littlefield's latest mainstream novel House of Glass."


My TOP trick for finishing that book!

A couple of weeks ago at the Tucson Festival of Books, I gave my old standby "Finish That Book" workshop - with a twist: I taught with a friend so new I had only just met her that day. Laura Fitzgerald, author of VEIL OF ROSES and DREAMING IN ENGLISH, has an ambitious new multi-volume project underway, and she shared lots of fresh thoughts and ideas about productivity and best writerly practices.

Near the end of our talk, someone in the audience asked for our "best tips and tricks." And naturally I thought of my 45/15s (super simple: set a timer, do nothing but write for 45 minutes, then take 15 minutes off to do whatever you like - and repeat). I talk about 45/15's so often I fear that you all are probably desperately bored with me, but they really are the secret to just about all of my books. I do at least four per day while first-drafting.

Still, I probably wouldn't have written about 45/15s here, if it wasn't for an email I received - by coincidence - right after the Tucson workshop. Kim had been in the audience two years ago when Julie and I gave the productivity workshop at RWA National. She'd been listening to conference CD's in the car, came home, and gave it a shot:



"I applied your little trick of 45/15.
Wow!
My word count jumped from 300-500 in a day to 1750!"

Of course there's more to this whole gig than just putting words on a page...you have to revise them and embellish them and cut them and sew them into pretty shapes and blah blah blah. BUT you can't do *any* of those things until you've got words.

Give it a shot! I'd love to know how it works for you.

Monday, March 24, 2014

IN DEFENSE OF OLD-FOGEY-ISM: AN INTROVERT’S CONFERENCE RX


I’m writing this while the wounds are still fresh.

After spending the last two weeks at the Tucson Festival of Books and Left Coast Crime, all I want to do is burrow deep under my covers and stay in my bed like a mole. Preferably for an entire month.

For extroverts, it’s impossible to understand how something so glorious as brilliant conversation with likeminded souls, set against perfect spring weather in Tucson and Monterey, could possibly take a psychic toll. Over the past weeks, I saw tons of people I genuinely like and don’t get to see near enough, and made some sterling new friendships. Every volunteer was friendly and helpful. Even the lines in the bathroom were marked by witty repartee.

And yet. I’d made plans for each evening—catching up with friends over drinks, attending parties, going out to dinner—and after the first night, I flat-out bailed. I wish I could take those invitations and spread them out over the rest of April, which is mostly travel-free. Given my solitary occupation, there are many days that I’d relish the chance to go out and socialize.

But to undertake such a schedule without breaks between is simply beyond my means. I’d liken it to trying to do pushups without a break between. There is no way I could do 55 pushups in a row, but by breaking them up into five sets with a minute rest between, they’re manageable.

A conference doesn’t allow you that “minute rest,” so you must provide it for yourself. I learned this the hard way. The remarkably hardheaded, dense way, actually. For years, I went out every night, coming back to the room during the wee hours, catching a few hours of sleep before starting the next day. (There was one conference where I think I and my early-bird roommate Sue Ann Jaffarian barely saw each other.)

The toll this behavior took on me went past sheer exhaustion: I became emotionally vulnerable, plagued by insomniac, irritable, had little appetite, and my focus went entirely out the window.

Finally, out of sheer desperation, I started begging off and retiring early. I didn’t want to risk falling ill and I couldn’t jeopardize my work schedule, given impending deadlines. I was astonished at the difference. I slept better than I do at home, no doubt because my body is smart enough to recharge from the rigors of the day. I took the time to chronicle what I learned each day and turn ideas into future action items, and to circle back to the connections I’d made so that—while I might have missed a chance to socialize over drinks or dinner—I’d laid the foundation for future collaboration and friendship. Our work is not done in sprints, but over the long haul; and I’m a firm believer that a collegial relationship nurtured over time is far superior to the mad-dash air-kiss see-ya-gotta-run sort.

I’m aware that all of this sounds like an excuse for a downward slide to old-fogey-ism. Except for this: the dawn of a new day at any conference can be far more exciting, with its bristling energy and potential, than last call the night before.

So if you see me sneaking off the elevators at future events, please don’t take it personally. Chances are I cherish our friendship, but I need to rest and rejuvenate so I can be my best the next time we meet.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

MAKING HISTORY AT THE TFOB



Unlike prior visits to the Tucson Festival of Books, which stand out in my memory as a whirlwind riot of sensory overload and carnival food, there was a theme to my experience this year: immersion in historical fiction.

I’m deeply grateful to the organizers for making this possible for me. Fellow panelists Laura Fitzgerald, Kristina Mcmorris, Christina Baker Kline, and Nancy Horan used their recent novels to shine a light on subjects ranging from internment, immigration and acculturation, the depression-era “orphan train” migration, various aspects of World War II, and the romantic lives of beloved figures in the arts.

While I’d stop short of suggesting that any of us put a social agenda ahead of the desire to write a deeply affecting story, it was clear to me that each author sees the value of fiction as a means to education. Kristina, author of THE PIECES WE KEEP, calls this her “Advil” trick – the sugar coating on the outside means you’re not even aware of the medicine on the inside.

There are those who take to the study of history like ducks to water, and are quite happy to lose themselves in non-fiction accounts and biographies. I’m not one of those people, and judging from the enthusiastic response of audience members to Kristina’s explanation, many of us absorb history best when it’s wrapped in fiction. We story-learners, as I’ve come to think of myself, need a character to serve as an axis – a character we can love or identify with or despise, but one who causes an emotional response in us – before we can begin absorbing historic details as a background task.

My first memory of reaching the end of the book without really noticing that I’d received an education probably harkens back to THE OLDEST LIVING CONFEDERATE WIDOW TELLS ALL. Until that book, I was extremely vague about what went on in that wretched time. And certainly, the book didn’t paint a broad picture, but focused on the experiences of a single family in a specific location. Still, certain details of that book will never leave me (the wedding ring on the charred finger, anyone remember that?) and each brings with it a host of background information.

Like the best historic nonfiction, I think we must allow the details to draw readers to their own conclusions. But novelists do that automatically, I think, because we are coached to “show don’t tell” from the start. In one panel, Nancy Horan was asked if she actually liked Frank Lloyd Wright, one of the subjects of her novel LOVING FRANK. She answered charmingly, but what struck me was that this reader (who loved the book, incidentally) had arrived at the end without really knowing how the author felt about her character. It’s this very ambiguity that tells me that Nancy did her job, because she provided all the pieces—the conversations, the details of setting, the event narrative—without ever intruding her own biases.

This isn’t a bad goal for any novelist, of course, but I think it’s especially important in historical fiction. When I think back to my novel GARDEN OF STONES, I may have aspired to this automatically, because character is so overwhelmingly more important to my imagination than any other aspect of the story. Meaning that my dearest wish as the words unfurl on the page is that my reader truly knows my characters, that their actions and reactions always ring true.

One other observation from this weekend: it occurred to me at one point that my upcoming book, THE MISSING PLACE (October 2014), which is set in the contemporary North Dakota oil boom, was deeply informed by my experience of writing historical fiction. It is impossible to consider the current boom outside of the context of those that preceded it, and—for me, at least—impossible to visit the boom towns without the sense that you are immersed in history in the making. The acts of today – whether at the individual or collective level – are reactions to and predicators of our living history. What I mean is that those who come to work in the camps are prompted by historic events, often the economic downturn; and their experiences will have a lasting effect on their lives and those of their families, on the values and practices of their communities. Likewise, the events precipitating the boom—a voracious hunger for domestic energy and the technological advances to obtain it—will undoubtedly have consequences that we can only guess at today, and which will be scrutinized and judged by future generations.


I never anticipated that I, ignorant of history to an embarrassing degree, might become its chronicler. But it feels like an exciting privilege, and I loved spending the weekend in the company of others who practice it.