Writer Resolutions

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Therese here. Just a quick reminder that our second Writer Unboxed Twitter chat will take place today at 1 p.m. EST on Twitter.com. Anyone can participate; just look for — and use — the ‪#‎WUChat‬ hashtag. Be sure, too, that you’re following host Heather Webb (@msheatherwebb) and the Writer Unboxed Twitter account (@WriterUnboxed). Let’s recap 2014 — favorite books, accomplishments, and more — and discuss goals for 2015, including how to create new pathways to better fiction writing. See you on Twitter at 1 p.m.! Until then, please enjoy today’s post by Erika Robuck!

“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” ~Henry David Thoreau

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, we are just on the other side of the solstice, in the dark, dark days. Light is precious, especially when many of our waking hours are spent under low, heavy clouds, enduring winter storms, or in the lethargic state prevalent at this time of year. (Can you tell I need my happy light?)

I have great admiration for creatures who hibernate, but since I can’t cozy up in a cave to wait it out, I thought I’d look to the future for momentum. Like many others, I use this time to set my creative goals, which are two-fold: first, to get my forthcoming novel The House of Hawthorne (NAL/Penguin Random House, May 5th) into the hands of the first readers who would most enjoy it, and second, to complete a new historical novel that does not have a famous dead writer as a protagonist, but rather, a very specific setting and time period.

I asked a group of authors whom I admire to share their goals for 2015 with me. Their answers were humorous, heartfelt, reassuring, and inspirational. I hope they are for you, too. [Read more…]

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About Erika Robuck

Erika Robuck (@ErikaRobuck) self-published her first novel, RECEIVE ME FALLING. Penguin Random House published her subsequent novels, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL, CALL ME ZELDA, FALLEN BEAUTY, and GRAND CENTRAL, a collaborative short story anthology. Her forthcoming novel THE HOUSE OF HAWTHORNE releases in May of 2015. Erika writes about and reviews historical fiction at her blog, Muse, and is a contributor to fiction blog, Writer Unboxed. She is also a member of the Historical Novel, Hemingway, Millay, and Hawthorne Societies.

Interview: Ellen Edwards, Executive Editor at Penguin Random House

image001I have been with Ellen Edwards at New American Library, a division of Penguin Random House, since I became a traditionally published author. In an age where writers often lament that they do not get edited, I can firmly say that not only do I get edited, but Ellen’s sharp eye, brilliance, and insights have greatly enhanced my work. She is a master at finding the diamond in the rough, and like any great coach, she encourages me to grow and learn from each writing experience. My editorial relationship with Ellen has been one of the most positive aspects of my career, thus far.

I am honored that Ellen took time from her merciless editing cycle to answer some of my questions for those of you hoping to publish or already published with a traditional house. Even those of you who have gone an independent route, I think, will find some of her advice very helpful.

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How many years have you been involved in publishing, and what were some of your titles?

I have been in publishing for 36 years, the last 16 of them at New American Library, a division of Penguin Random House. I specialized in romance for the first 20 years and am proud to have worked with Kathleen Woodiwiss, Catherine Anderson, Lisa Kleypas, Loretta Chase, and Laura Kinsale. Titles with NAL include WHISTLING IN THE DARK by Lesley Kagen, ROOFTOPS OF TEHRAN by Mahbod Seraji, and FLIGHT OF THE SPARROW by Amy Belding Brown. Some current authors are: Monica McInerney, Jeff High, Stephanie Thornton, Simone St. James, Susan Meissner, Donna Thorland, Jeanne Mackin, C. S. Harris, Kate Carlisle, and of course Erika Robuck.

What changes over the years do see as positive for the industry? [Read more…]

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About Erika Robuck

Erika Robuck (@ErikaRobuck) self-published her first novel, RECEIVE ME FALLING. Penguin Random House published her subsequent novels, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL, CALL ME ZELDA, FALLEN BEAUTY, and GRAND CENTRAL, a collaborative short story anthology. Her forthcoming novel THE HOUSE OF HAWTHORNE releases in May of 2015. Erika writes about and reviews historical fiction at her blog, Muse, and is a contributor to fiction blog, Writer Unboxed. She is also a member of the Historical Novel, Hemingway, Millay, and Hawthorne Societies.

Negative Reader Reviews: The Antidote

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~ photo by DecoyRobot at Deviant Art ~

“What other culture could have produced someone like Hemingway and not seen the joke?”
–Gore Vidal 

I have to be honest with you; the above quote makes me despise Vidal, but my loyalty to Ernest Hemingway makes my opinion irrelevant and unreliable. In general, I think critics have a place at the table, as long as their dissection is supported by the work. For better or worse, our online culture has given everyone a platform for expression, and that sometimes turns personal, especially because contemporary authors are so accessible.

Since the publication of my novels, I have received some touching and beautiful reader correspondence. It would be dishonest, however, if I tried to pretend it has all been pleasant. Some of the worst emails (which are mercifully few and far between) have left me quaking with anger and longing to respond in an equally venomous fashion; however, my mentors have advised me never to respond to nastiness. So what do I do? After I call off the dogs (aka, my husband, family, and best friends), and talk myself out of making a little pin doll for the offender, I write a response to the email and then delete it.

In talking with other published writers, I have learned this is a common problem, so I sought out the advice of some of my favorite authors—who just happen to be some of my co-contributors on GRAND CENTRAL (Berkley/Penguin, July 2014), an anthology of post WWII stories set at Grand Central Terminal. These writers have advice from the feisty to the Zen for dealing with unpleasant correspondence or reviews that I hope will help you once your work is public. I know it has helped me.

From Kristina McMorris, bestselling author of The Pieces We Keep:

“For me, the most helpful way of recovering from a bad review is to immediately read a slew of one-star reviews of my all-time favorite novels — because how could any sane person not love those books, right?! It quickly reminds me just how subjective reading is, and that an author’s words are responsible for only half of a reader’s experience; the other half comes from the reader’s own life, thoughts, and history.”

From Jenna Blum, New York Times bestselling author of Those Who Save Us: [Read more…]

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About Erika Robuck

Erika Robuck (@ErikaRobuck) self-published her first novel, RECEIVE ME FALLING. Penguin Random House published her subsequent novels, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL, CALL ME ZELDA, FALLEN BEAUTY, and GRAND CENTRAL, a collaborative short story anthology. Her forthcoming novel THE HOUSE OF HAWTHORNE releases in May of 2015. Erika writes about and reviews historical fiction at her blog, Muse, and is a contributor to fiction blog, Writer Unboxed. She is also a member of the Historical Novel, Hemingway, Millay, and Hawthorne Societies.

Seeing with New Eyes

I had been “warned” by biographers that the Common Journal of the subjects of my new novel was a bit of a bore. Several of them lamented the lack of action, so I was fully prepared to yawn my way through this historical document; it certainly would not be the first time that has happened to a writer of historical fiction.

Imagine my surprise when the pages of the journal had me so entranced that I was late to appointments, meetings, and bed because of my obsession with it. The document revealed more about my quaint transcendentalists than any of the academic works over which I had pored. Not only that, but their musings on nature were so profound, and so knitted to their characters and relationship, I was as rapturous over the progress of the vegetable garden as they were.

Something else happened in this pre-writing phase: I learned to see the world with new eyes, which improved my writing. Here are three things I learned that I hope will assist you in your craft.

1. Be still.

When angry, it is good advice to stop and count to ten before unleashing one’s tirade. I would suggest that ceasing activity to think and breathe would improve many areas of life, particularly your writing life.

When I hit a red light or stand in line at the grocery store, I am inclined to pull out my phone and do a manic check of my email and social media accounts. What I find that I am missing is the time I used to spend watching people and nature. It takes determination for those of us addicted to our mobile devices, but when you leave your phone in your pocket you encounter the most fascinating things.

Just this week I saw a hawk track and attack a vole. Perhaps you don’t want to see such a thing, but I assure you, there is satisfaction in watching a bird of prey successfully hunt. I also saw a seemingly gentle and lovely woman wrap her fingers around her son’s arm like a claw and get in his face, hissing at him through clenched teeth. It was more terrifying than watching the hawk, but it gave me character ideas.

2. Surprise your reader. [Read more…]

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About Erika Robuck

Erika Robuck (@ErikaRobuck) self-published her first novel, RECEIVE ME FALLING. Penguin Random House published her subsequent novels, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL, CALL ME ZELDA, FALLEN BEAUTY, and GRAND CENTRAL, a collaborative short story anthology. Her forthcoming novel THE HOUSE OF HAWTHORNE releases in May of 2015. Erika writes about and reviews historical fiction at her blog, Muse, and is a contributor to fiction blog, Writer Unboxed. She is also a member of the Historical Novel, Hemingway, Millay, and Hawthorne Societies.

Nourishing Fiction

Book NourishmentI think of books as sustenance. Words nourish an inner place the way a meal fortifies the body. There’s room at the table for all kinds of dishes: appetizers, hearty proteins, sides, desserts. All have a function and touch a particular organ the way all kinds of books fill our needs. Today I want to focus on the essential ingredients, the words, and emphasize the way they promote the health of our fiction, and thus the health of the reader, when they are nourishing.

The following three quotes provide a small flavor of the greater lyricism of the works from which they come. Choosing just one passage in each case was a challenge because I had so many sentences highlighted, underlined, or dog-eared. The words I’ve selected made me pause to consider a new idea, see an approach to a familiar subject in an original way, or absorb a deep realization. These authors remind us, as writers, not to forget the power of language to support character and story.

The Lost Wife, Alyson Richman

The Lost Wife begins at a wedding in the present day when an old man sees an old woman, and realizes she is the woman he married in WWII Prague, before the Nazis tore apart their lives. It shows with devastating contrast the time before and after the war for the Jewish families living in Europe, but also the incredible capacity humanity has for creativity, love, and resilience.

This quote highlights the way words can reveal character and relationships through specific vocabulary and nuance. It gives an alternative to back-story for a character who is an artist, and shows the reader important connections between a mother and a daughter.

“At night, I am tucked in by a mother who tells me to close my eyes. ‘Imagine the color of water,’ she whispers into my ear. Other nights, she suggests the color of ice. On another, the color of snow. I fall asleep to the thoughts of those shades shifting and turning in the light. I teach myself to imagine the varying degrees of blue, the delicate threads of lavender, or the palest dust of white. And in doing so, my dreams are seeded in the mystery of change.”  [Read more…]

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About Erika Robuck

Erika Robuck (@ErikaRobuck) self-published her first novel, RECEIVE ME FALLING. Penguin Random House published her subsequent novels, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL, CALL ME ZELDA, FALLEN BEAUTY, and GRAND CENTRAL, a collaborative short story anthology. Her forthcoming novel THE HOUSE OF HAWTHORNE releases in May of 2015. Erika writes about and reviews historical fiction at her blog, Muse, and is a contributor to fiction blog, Writer Unboxed. She is also a member of the Historical Novel, Hemingway, Millay, and Hawthorne Societies.