The Days of Awe

Every year, at my brother's request, I repost this essay. Please give it a few minutes of thought. And then say "I love you" to someone who needs to hear it ...
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A book by any other name

Titles are hard. An author routinely makes about 200,000 individual decisions about what goes into a novel and what comes out, but those last few words are a group project involving the author, the editor, the marketing department, and the art director. A book's title has to reflect the story, but it also has to be marketable and not so abstract as to be impossible to illustrate. It's a multi-faceted and collective decision. Some wise and pragmatic writers call the book they're writing "WIP" for work in progress. I always have a working title  and often that title gives me a thematic ...
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Still looking for a thread of grace

Seventy-five years ago, on September 8, 1943, hundreds of Jewish families fled a Nazi round-up in France by climbing the Maritime Alps, hoping to find shelter in the hills of northwestern Italy. Now there is a yearly march to commemorate that exodus -- Marche de la Mémoire  -- when the descendants of those refugees gather to remember those awful days and the extraordinary decency they found in Italy. But this is not only the stuff of history. Now, at this moment, the world is slamming doors on those who flee oppression and genocide, making A Thread of Grace is tragically, ...
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Coping.

There are a lot of variations on "those who do not study the past are doomed to repeat it." My response has always been, "Those of us who do study the past are doomed, too. We just feel worse about it." We are living in a country that past presidents warned against. We have institutionalized the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower predicted. We have the "unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics" that Teddy Roosevelt railed against. We have a Supreme Court that has ruled that money is the same as speech and that corporations are people. Gotta admit: I might have ...
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Not on my watch.

If you've read more than one of my books, you probably won't be surprised by my politics. If you follow me on Facebook, you certainly know where I stand in great and vivid detail. Ordinarily I confine this blog to book-related posts. Today, I can't remain silent. When I was writing A Thread of Grace, I interviewed an elderly Italian immigrant to the US who had saved many lives by warning Roman Jews when the Nazis were planning a deportation sweep through their neighborhood. When I asked Carmello Furnari where he found the courage to do that, he pointed to his eyes ...
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Some wonderful books available now

My review of Charles Frazier's superb new novel Varina was published yesterday by the Washington Post. And it has been my pleasure to read and blurb three other novels so far this year. Madeline Miller's Circe is a reimagining of the story of Odysseus, told by the minor goddess Circe, who loves him in her way.  "Written with power and grace, this is an enchanting, startling, gripping story that casts a spell as strong and magical as any created by the sorceress Circe." "Reading David Sosnowski's Happy Doomsday is like watching an Olympic gymnast soar into air, do six impossible things, and stick ...
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SOLD!

Two months ago, I wrote that my agents had sent Unremembered Lives out to publishers. In that blog, I compared the publishing process to selling a house. Well, last month, the right buyer took a good look at the property and said, "I love this. Let's talk." Tara Parsons is the editor-in-chief at Touchstone Books, a Simon and Schuster group. She is especially drawn to novels and nonfiction about the lost or hidden history of women -- forgotten but important figures who shaped today's world. Unremembered Lives is the story of the women who formed the backbone of a copper miners' strike ...
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The Earps in childhood

When I base characters on real people, I pay particular attention to their childhood. I believe our first fourteen years are the basis of much of what comes afterward. We build on a solid foundation, or we spend years trying to repair the damage, or we wander in the wreckage of those years. When writing about Wyatt Earp in both Doc and Epitaph, a single source allowed me to glimpse the father who raised the famous Earp brothers: the Sarah Rousseau Diary. I think Wyatt spent most of his adulthood trying to be a better man than the one who raised ...
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For Sale: One Manuscript

"Publishing a book is one accomplishment you get to celebrate over and over." That's what my friend Karen's mom used to say. You finish the first complete draft. YAY! You finish editing it. You sent it to your agent. YAY! The agent likes it but suggests changes. You finish editing it. YAY! The agent sends it out for sale. A publisher accepts it but suggests more changes. YAY! You finish editing it again. It goes to the printer. It is released. It gets noticed and reviewed. YAY! It sells well. Your advance pays out. You get a royalty check. YAY! That whole ...
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Advice for a novice writer

From the morning email: "Hi Mary! I'm Teri I'm from California. I'm your biggest fan. I'm a novice writer. What is the most important advice you can give to someone who is beginning to write a novel? And why? I hope you are having a great day. Thank you very much!" Study grammar. Look up any unfamiliar word before using it. Be careful about spelling. Get the basics solid. Read, read, read. Read 19th century classics. Read the very best. And read trashy airport paperbacks. Learn the difference. What's literary popcorn and what's a six-course sit-down dinner with a white tablecloth? Read good ...
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